In 1935, shortly after the electric guitar was invented, Gibson set the industry standard for pickup design, and Gibson has continually raised the standard ever since. From the original Gibson "bar" pickup, through the P-90 and the Humbucker, Gibson pickups have not only led the guitar industry, they have dramatically influenced the evolution of popular music.
Gibson introduced its first electro-magnetic pickup in the EH-150 Electric Hawaiian model. In 1936 the "bar" pickup (so nicknamed because the single-plate "polepiece" looked like a bar under the strings) first appeared on a standard electric guitar, the ES-150. Jazz pioneer Charlie Christian used the ES-150 and the fancier ES-250 -- both equipped with the "bar" pickup - in his seminal recordings from 1939-41 that established the electric guitar as a unique new voice in jazz. The Gibson "bar" pickup is so closely identified with him that it is known today as the "Charlie Christian" pickup.
By 1940, Gibson introduced the first in a series of new and improved electric guitar pickups, culminating in 1946 with the P-90, a powerful single-coil design with two Alnico III magnets (aluminum, nickel and cobalt) and individually adjustable polepieces. In 1948 Gibson put two pickups on the ES-300 model, giving guitarists a broad new palette of tones to choose from.
Gibson introduced its first electric solidbody in 1952, enlisting the world-famous guitarist/inventor Les Paul for both his musical expertise and his engineering background. This relationship proved to be the most successful artist endorsement in the history of musical instruments. The two-pickup Les Paul Model introduced another industry first -- separate tone and volume controls for each pickup.
By the 1950s Ted McCarty, an engineer by training, was president of Gibson, and McCarty assigned Walt Fuller and Seth Lover the task of designing a pickup that would not be prone to "humming" in the presence of transformers, rheostats and other electrical interference. Lover began work in 1954 and a year later filed a patent application for a pickup that utilized two coils to cancel or "buck" the hum. A triple-coil "humbucker" appeared on a electric steel guitar in 1956, and the double-coil version debuted in 1957 on the Les Paul Custom and Standard in 1957. The PU-490, as the pickup was officially named, featured twin coils wired in parallel and out-of-phase, adjustable pole screws on one coil and German silver metal covers to resist outside electrical interference. Although the patent was granted in 1959, Gibson's humbuckers bore a small decal on the bottom baseplate with the words "Patent Applied For" until mid-1962. Gibson humbuckers from that early era (1957 to 1962) command princely sums in the vintage guitar market today, and in the eyes of knowledgeable players, they remain the Holy Grail of pickups. In the 1980s, with the rising popularity of sunburst Les Paul reissues, Gibson began redesigning the humbucking pickup to bring it back to legendary "Patent Applied For" specs. The '57 Classic, as it was named in 1990, recreates the classic sound of the late '50s Gibsons.
In the 1990s Gibson continued to refine and develop pickup designs, with such innovations as separate bridge and neck polepiece spacing, commercially available high-output pickups, the P-100 vertical double-coil, the Tony Iommi Signature poleless humbucker and the P-94 single-coil in a humbucking frame. In the new millennium Gibson's BurstBucker broadened the range of classic "Patent Applied For" sounds and illustrated Gibson's continuing commitment to providing the finest pickups for every style of electric guitar.