How to Identify Gibson Pickups

By Richard Kalinowski ; Updated September 15, 2017

Gibson guitars have been popular for decades and will continue to sell well into the future, as electronic guitar games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band use Fender and Gibson designs for their controllers. According to the Associated Press, Best Buy, the well-known electronics superstore, offers in-store music centers that sell real Gibson guitars alongside faux guitars in the video game department. Unfortunately, a downside is that knockoffs are commonplace, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish true Gibson guitars and parts among the plethora of products on the market. However, with the right know-how, you can identify Gibson pickups in just a few steps, thereby ensuring you’re getting the real deal and not just an imitator.

Look on the back of the guitar pickup for a metal stamp reading “Gibson USA”; the stamp will look like an engraving. On newer Gibson pickups, the lettering is slanted, with the word “Gibson” merely outlined while “USA” is shaded in with a series of dense parallel lines. Unlike Seymour Duncan pickups, there is usually no text on the front of the pickup; always check the back for Gibson authentication.

Look for Gibson’s trademark wire insulation. Gibson’s high-quality, well-insulated pickup wiring is typically silverfish gray and textured rather than smooth. This type of wire is common to even very old Gibson pickups.

Check for coil-tapping. This only applies to humbucker pickups, as single-coil pickups, by definition, cannot be tapped. Gibson humbuckers usually feature coil-tapping capacity—in other words, each coil of the humbucker is wired independently for increased tonal control. A pickup capable of coil tapping will have three wires beneath the silverfish-gray textured insulation: two identical-size wires for each coil and a larger ground wire.

Check the serial number on the guitar from which the pickups came. If you’re harvesting the pickups from an old Gibson guitar, you can validate the authenticity of the guitar and its parts by confirming its serial number with the serial numbers provided by Zachary R. Fjestad’s guide (see Resources), adapted from the "11th Edition Blue Book of Guitars."

About the Author

Richard Kalinowski began writing professionally in 2006. He also works as a website programmer and graphic designer for several clients. Kalinowski holds a Master of Fine Arts from Goddard College and a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.