Filtertron vs PAF Humbuckers [Main Differences]

Filtertrons and PAF pickups are a part of guitar history.

They look similar, but are they different?

This is a question many players have nowadays with the resurgence of vintage gear and vintage specs in modern instruments.

If you just want a short answer about this topic, here it is:

The main differences between Filtertron and PAF humbuckers, apart from their construction are that Filtertrons sound like a step in between single-coils and modern humbuckers. They have a twangy high end and sound great clean. PAFs are a bit muddier, not that good at cleans, but amazing when overdriven.

If you want to stick with me for a bit longer, in this article I will talk about the main features of both these pickups and their differences. Finally, I will give you my insights into which one I think might be better for you.

Are you ready to get started?

Let’s go!

Filtertron pickups main features

Filtertron pickups were introduced in 1957. The guitar master himself, Chet Atkins was working alongside one of Gretsch’s engineers on a new kind of pickup that could solve the problem of the 60 cycle hum that P-90s and single coils suffered from.

The result of this search was the Filtertron humbucker.

Since then it suffered changes through the years, but its soul and concept remain the same.

It is a low output humbucker pickup. The first low output humbucker pickup, actually.

As far as tone goes, it can be described as being closer to a single-coil than a modern humbucker.

It has a warm sound, with piercing highs. Those highs are what many players refer to as the “twang” Gretsch guitars are famous for.

To give you a clear idea of what you could expect from a Filtertron, some players say that they have the warm low end and mids of a humbucker, but the bright high end of a single coil.

What helps these pickups generate that particular tone, and being more technical, is that their poles are closer together, they use a larger magnet, and their bobbins are taller. All of these features contribute to a brighter tone.

Are Filtertron pickups humbuckers?

Filtertrons are humbucking pickups and were designed with the purpose of “bucking” the 60 cycle hum of single-coil pickups as one of their main motivations. They, however, sound like a step between single-coil and modern humbuckers, with a low output, a warm tone, and twangy high end.

Are Filtertrons the same size as other humbuckers?

Filtertron pickups are usually narrower and smaller than humbuckers. Their poles are layout closer. Some boutique pickup brands, such as Lollar, however, manufacture regular humbucker-sized Filtertrons. If you are planning on a pickup swap, you should take measurements first to make sure they would fit.

PAF pickups main features

The PAF pickup is the one that defined the sound of the modern humbucker pickup. It was developed by Seth Lover in 1955 while he was working for the Gibson company. Their early versions replaced the P-90s on Les pauls, and since then have been the standard pickup in such guitars.

PAF stands for “Patent Applied For”. This was a legend added just to inform that the technology behind these pickups was patented by Gibson. The thing is that this particular feature caught on among their fans and became the pickup’s nonofficial name.

There have been many iterations across the years, but the tone of a PAF is what you hear in legendary rock records that used Les Pauls from the golden age.

They have a warm tone that shines when overdriven, and a round top-end that doesn’t come by as too aggressive, but with enough personality to cut perfectly through the mix.

PAF pickups can, although, sound a bit muddy and are not considered the best choice for clean tones by many players.

Main differences between Filtertron and PAF humbuckers

Filtertrons and PAFs were designed at about the same time trying to solve the same problem that many guitarists were struggling with.

This is a coincidence that, luckily, gave us 2 very different sounding pickups that solve the issue of the single-coil hum.

Without diving into technical details, the main differences between Filtertron and PAF humbuckers can be summed up in the following table:

Low endPresentMuddy
Mid-rangeWarmSlightly scooped
High endBright, twangyRounded
OutputLower outputHigher output
ToneInbetween a modern humbucker and a single-coilClassic overdriven humbucker tone, not as good for clean tones
SizeSmaller (narrower)Bigger

Both pickups are great alternatives and provide the player with beautiful colors to paint with, however, they both serve different purposes in the palette.

Which ones should you choose?

Here in GearAficionado, I don’t like making the hard choices for you. Such a personal thing as guitar pickups, or even a guitar is something you must decide yourself.

I always encourage you to try all the gear before pulling the trigger since there might be slight nuances that you could hear or listen to that could not ever be described in an article like this or even a YouTube video.

The best way to try something like these 2 kinds of pickups is trying to get similar guitars with them installed and playing them side by side.

If you want to know what is my opinion about which ones I think might be better for you, here it is:

  • If you play mostly with clean tones, try out the Filtertrons
  • If you use mostly overdriven tones, some PAFs might work out better for you
  • If you play jazz or rockabilly, Filtertrons are designed for you
  • If you play blues or rock, maybe you would prefer PAFs
  • If you have a hollow body guitar, Filtertrons are usually a good choice
  • If you have a solid body guitar, PAFs are the industry standard