All pickups were single-coil until 1955. Single-coil pickups sound great, but they can be noisy, transmitting electrical hum and buzz along with the sound of the strings. Then Seth Lover, an engineer at Gibson, realized that combining two single-coil structures into one pickup, wiring them out of phase and with their magnetic poles oriented in opposite directions, cancelled-or “bucked”-electrical hum. And so the “humbucker” was born.
When these revolutionary pickups first appeared on Gibson guitars, they bore a sticker reading “Patent Applied For,” and thus became known as “P.A.F.” pickups. There have been countless variations on the design over the last half-century, yet many players still seek out the original P.A.F. sound. Meanwhile, “humbucker” has become the generic term for any pickup that pairs two coils to reduce unwanted noise. Almost all double-coil pickups are humbuckers, though they are sometimes wired to provide the option of humbucking and non-humbucking operation.