02 Dec T-Top Replicas – A successful tone report!
I guess most “gearheads” and “tonefreaks” are already very used to boutique pickups. It seems that most variations and options offered out there are reproductions of the sought after “Patent Applied For” pickups (PAFs), which are very special in their own right, but also very elusive. The inconsistent character of that era makes reproducing them very hard, as there’s hardly any set “standard” for the true PAF tone.
The quantity of people who offer high quality replicas of said pickups is overwhelming. From $75 to even $200 or even more for a single pickup, there are many to choose from, be it from big names such as Dimarzio and Seymour Duncan, as well as other small winders. Truth is, all of them sound great in their own way, what you get, though, are different tastes.
But I’m not here to talk about boutique pickups in general. Thing is, I have something that might interest you.
I know PAF replicas are probably the pickups everyone go to when it comes to handwound pickups. But especially people over here at SD.com know how good the tone of a set of T-tops can be. And this is exactly what I want to tell you: There ARE guys out there who wind great T-top replicas for a very reasonable price.
T-tops are said to be a lot more consistent than PAFs, so this makes reproducing them a lot easier. Basically, what makes the “T-top tone” is the short-bar A5 magnet, as well as a few small material and construction details. T-tops are actually low-output pickups, usually on the 7.5kOhm range. The short magnet gives the pickup that extra chime and top end, at the expense of some grit and low end. But, in compensation, we get an amazing clarity and note definition.
And now, here comes an actual review of a T-top style pickup.
While looking for a new set of pickups for my Les Paul R8, I ended up realizing the possibility of getting a T-top replica for the bridge position, something I didn’t consider before for some reason. I’ll get a bit into Jimmy Page territory here.
In 1972, after Led Zeppelin’s Australian tour, the double white PAF of Page’s “number one” Les Paul died and had to be replaced. A few months later, as the Summer USA tour began, the guitar reappeared with a chrome covered T-top. This pickup was then used during the rest of the 70s and beyond, until it was replaced with a Seymour Duncan more recently.
So, from 1972 on, Jimmy Page’s live tone, as presented to us on “How the West Was Won” and “The Song Remains the Same”, was heavily characterized by the T-top and its signature middle position “quack”, when combined with the PAF on the neck.
But, the number one wasn’t Page’s only guitar. The famous Gibson EDS-1275 double neck (used for Stairway to Heaven, The Song Remains the Same and other songs that required a 12-string) was custom made for Page in 1971. So, what pickups it had? The only pickups Gibson offered at the time: T-tops.
The same goes for the red “number three”, which was probably a 1969-1970 LP. T-tops? you bet.
What I realized, then, is that both my favorite guitar players used the same kind of pickup very prominently (do I have to mention who the other one is?).
After discovering all of this, I came across Manlius Guitar Pickups, which offered a seemingly very authentic T-top replica. I contacted them right away and after a few mail exchanges, I made up my mind and ordered a set of pickups. I decided to get the Vinyl, which is basically Manlius’ hotter version of the T-top, in order to get a little bit more of grit and also get a bit of Paul Kossoff flavor into the mix. On the neck, a standard PAF to get the most “quack” from the middle position.
After a few weeks, the pickups arrived. I installed them and was very impressed. The first thing that struck me was how more defined and clear the guitar sounded. The bridge was certainly very open and bright, but also rounder and with a very complex and tasty midrange. Only now I realize how different the Burstbuckers 1 and 2 (which came stock on my Les Paul) really are. Even when compared to the PAF replica I now have on the neck, the BBs seem to have a more pronounced midrange bark, as well as some shrill high end overtones that are not very pleasant, especially when the guitar volume was at 10. The BBs are still great pickups, though, but the new ones are of a totally different league.
And most importantly, even being hotter than a standard T-top, the pickup already sounded very similar to what I’m used to hear on old Led Zeppelin soundboard bootlegs. What this meant to me is that this replica was really made after the original T-tops from back then and that it sounded just right.
The Landmark PAF on the neck also sounded fantastic to me. Hollow, warm, sweet, just as I think a neck pickup should sound.
Back to the original topic, the T-top replica seemed to really do its job wonderfully. I was looking around Ebay for a few original T-tops and was shocked to find out that prices are increasing. I couldn’t see myself paying that much for a single pickup, so I really didn’t regret not getting an original.
Why? Old pickups usually are unreliable. You never know for sure what it will sound like. Magnets get weaker over time and the possibility of a certain pickup sounding like crap is very considerable. This is why, usually, a modern and well made replica would be a better option. You know they will sound good and they will cost less, so what could go wrong?
These replicas sound just as good as – if not better than – what I expected.
If you don’t believe me, here’s a clip to prove my point:
As for AC/DC, here’s a little something. I didn’t plan to upload this, but i guess it’s good enough. Please ignore the small recording imperfections and etc. I know it’s not a JMP through a 4×12, but I think it sounds pretty close for a Les Paul and a 18w combo with EL84s and a G12H, don’t you think?
And all of this made me wonder… The Angus Young Signature pickup is truly fantastic (I have it on my SG), but after playing around with the T-top, I realize how different it actually is. The midrange is a lot more complex on the T-top, and it really sounds a lot like what Angus would sound like in the 70s. Manlius prices are also very reasonable.
What I’m questioning here is not which one is better, but if the AY sig. truly is worth the $169, while the Manlius T-Top Replica, for example, costs considerably less and is a true replica of the pickups, let’s say, Mr. Young used back in the 70’s. Wouldn’t the T-top replica be a better option if you really want that authentic “vintage” sound, then? Wouldn’t it be closer to the tones he got on those classic albums?
Considering original T-tops are going for $200 or more (with the risk of not sounding that great at all), I think it’s a no-brainer (IMHO), especially when I have the pickup in question loaded on my guitar to tell the story.
Oh, right… Here’s Manlius’ website if you want to check Mick’s stuff out. He’s a great guy to deal with. Just shoot him a mail and he’ll help you out.
There are more winders out there, of course, but I’m naming him because I know he does a great job too!
Ah. And by the way, you can actually do a ‘knock-off’ T-top replica with a Gibson 490R. I’m dead serious. Just replace the A2 magnet with a short A5 and that’s it.
I hope this little review was useful to some of you. 😛