I bought my Epiphone 339 back when they first released them in 2011. I missed that first run that delivered in the fall of 2011, so the one that I got was made in that second run. That means that I had to wait 4 or 5 months to get mine. I ordered it in November, and got it the end of March or first of April. One change that they made between the first run and the second that I didn't see them announce anywhere was that the original 339s shipped with their Probucker pickups and the second run shipped with their Alnico Classic Pro pickups. I had actually been looking forward to getting to try the Probuckers out, but the Alnico Classics sound good to my ear, so whatever.
Never gave it a whole lot of thought after that. Like I said, I wasn't unhappy with the pickups it came with. I had always heard that the Alnico Classics were Epi's version of Gibson's 57 Classics and the Probuckers were Epi's version of Gibson's Burstbuckers. I had put a pair of Burstbuckers in an old Les Paul I had, and I really liked them. Never really bonded with the guitar, but I thought the pickups sounded good. I had a Gibson 335 for a while that had 57 Classics and I really liked them too.
In my head, I always said I preferred the 57 Classics. I'm not really sure why. Honestly, I think I liked them better because that's what it seemed that most Gibsons I liked were getting when I started paying attention to that brand, and they were advertising them as being "like PAFs." In the last few years, I've realized that they now seem to be putting Burstbuckers, 490s, MHS, and another pickup or two in guitars as much as they are the 57s. When I saw that, I realized that several of those are also said to be "like PAFs." Now, I must confess, I'm not really sure what a PAF sounds like, but being a good gear hound and sometimes cork-sniffer, I know that PAFs are the sound that everyone thinks they should have. So, if it sounds like a PAF, that's the next best thing to actually having a PAF, right?
Now I'm just confused. All these PAF-like sounding pickups, and they all seem to sound a little different to my ear. What's the real PAF sound? No clue. At that point, I realized I had been sniffing a cork or two, and figured, I wasn't unhappy with the way that 339 played or sounded. As well, from a similarity standpoint, I had the real 57 Classics in that 335, and, to my ear, they didn't really sound all that different from those Alnico Classics. If I really sat and listened to them, I thought Epi version may not have been quite as clear and articulate on the low end, and they may not have been quite as harmonically rich when driven, but they sounded good. Just playing at church on Sunday or at the local blues jam, and nobody was going to hear a difference in the two. So there was no reason to change the Epi pickups.
Then last fall, I picked up that Epi LP Standard 50s (or whatever it's called). I immediately bonded with that guitar. Loved the neck! Loved the sound! And did I mention the neck? I had been playing that 339 predominately for nearly 18 months when I got that LP, and the 339 suddenly found itself relegated to hanging on the wall. One of the things I really liked about that LP were the pickups in it. They seemed super clear and articulate, and sounded good clean or driven. Maybe it was the guitars. Maybe it was the pickups. Maybe it was a bit of both. Either way, it had the Probuckers in it, so I was once again questioning what the 339 would sound like with Probuckers instead of the Alnico Classics.
So I started looking for a set of them. You could get them direct from Epiphone, but they were (1) $150 a set, and (2) out of stock. So Reverb was my option since I don't like eBay. Someone from Thailand was selling them starting at $50 a set with a wiring harness. That's a good deal, right? Seemed super sketch to me, so I passed on them. I'd see others showing up here and there, but they were running about $50 a piece (or more). I found a pair that someone pulled out of a new Epiphone where they were asking $70 for the pair. I messaged them for pics of the back of the pickups, and, when he sent them, it turned out they were actually the Alnico Classics like I already had. I let him know what he actually had, and that I'd pass since they weren't the ones I wanted. His ad hasn't changed. So be careful if you come across that ad; they're not actually Probuckers.
The next afternoon, I noticed someone had posted a set of Probuckers for a super price. Looking at the ad, the pics all looked right, so I was convinced they were real. According to the ad, the seller had just pulled them out of a new Epi LP Modern that they had gotten. Pics looked right, and the story sounded legit. Looked at the price again, and three other folks had already made offers on them and someone had them in their cart. So, since the price was really good without asking for a deal, I pulled the trigger. I will say that they are the Probucker 2 and 3 pickups where my LP has the Probucker 1 and 2.
Finally got them swapped out, and the Alnico Classics are now sitting beside me on the desk. What's the verdict on the 339 now that it has the Probuckers in it? I like them better! I think they have a clearer low end. I'm not sure the difference in the Probucker 1 in the LP neck and the Probucker 2 that is in the LP bridge and the 339 neck, but I still like the Probucker 1 best of all. To my ear it really sounds good. Either way, again, to my ear, the Probuckers have a clearer low end and are just a bit more articulate than the Alnico Classics. They also seem to be a little bit smoother and not quite as harsh when driven. When turned up, they also don't sound as hot to me. The Probucker 1 is easily my favorite, but the 2 and 3 I also like better than the Classics. Granted, in a blindfolded side by side, the only one I think I could pick out of the mix would be the 1. That is, if I could pick it out of a crowd. But trying to be objective sitting in my quiet little music room, I believe that I hear a difference in the two types of pickups.
So, I have to say that I think the Probuckers are great pickups. They're half the price of the Gibson Burstbuckers, and, to my ear, they're not that different. Granted, I haven't A/Bed them at this point, but from what I remember of that pair I had, they're pretty close. Given the chance, if I had another Epi with those quick connect ends, if it didn't have the Probuckers in it, I'd see about finding another pair. I'm not sure that all the hype around the Probuckers isn't at least a little marketing, but, I think, they're well worth the money. Like I already said, they're not the Gibson (or Duncan or Lollars), but they're close enough that nobody but us gear hounds are going to hear the difference. Bang for your buck, especially if you get them used, I don't know that you're going to get anything better.
Snarf is a wannabe musician who currently resides in the great state of Texas. His wife is his favorite. He believes chocolate milk made from milk that is anything less than whole milk is basically water and deserves to be dumped down the sink so nobody has to suffer through it. He hates having to shop for clothes. But he has a thing for really cool bags, and, consequently, has more gig bags than guitars and a closet full of messenger bags and backpacks. He still misses his dog who was taken by cancer years ago. Check out his Reverb shop and see if he has any gear he's trying to get rid of.