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Electric Guitar Manual

P90 Pickups: Everything You Need To Know

P90 Guitar Pickups

LEARN Everything You Need to Know About the Extraordinary P90 Electric Guitar Pickups: Gibson, Lollar, and Seymour Duncan.

P90 Guitar Pickups History

Before the solid-body electric guitar began to be commercialized, it was already possible to get an electromagnetic pickup that more than matched the perfect sound of an instrument that didn’t exist yet.

Gibson Creates the Premier Single Coil P90 Pickup

Since in 1946 the P90 single-coil pickup developed by Gibson was created, as an improved version of one of the first models of guitar pickups: the one known as “Blade”. A pickup that, like the P90 model, was installed in its hollow box or jazz guitar models.

Although precisely the same year of the creation of this pickup model, a certain Les Paul would offer Gibson the idea of creating a solid body guitar. But the proposal was rejected by the manufacturer. Possibly one of the biggest trading mistakes in history.

Consequently, Fender preempted Gibson, although the latter did not release its first solid-body guitar model until the early 1950s.

Gibson Launches Its First Solid Body Guitar with P90 Pickups

Gibson finally released their first solid body guitar model in 1952 mounted with P90 pickups. Although they would be replaced in 1958 by the new double-coil system (Humbucker) that provided greater output, and at the same time eliminated the background noise of the typical Single Coil pickups, as in the case of the P90.

The P90 would remain after the appearance of the Humbuckers, relegated to their cheapest guitars such as the Junior or Special models. And by the 1970s, they would come to be installed on a few models in the Gibson catalogue.

However, during the early 70s, guitarists such as Johnny Thunders from the band The New York Dolls, pioneer in the development of Punk music, began to use Les Paul Junior and Les Paul Special models equipped with P-90 pickups, due to to its sharp overdrive sound and its affordable price.

Gibson Les Paul P90 Pickups

The tradition of the use of P90 pickups was completed by punk music bands, after being used by great stars of the genre of the late 70s, such as Mick Jones from “The Clash”, or Steve Jones from “The Sex Pistols”. Something that made the Les Paul Junior models the main choice for Punk music guitarists.

This caused the resurgence of the P90 pickups. Although they have always been an essential part of the history of classic Les Paul models, and of emblematic guitars such as the Epiphone Casino.

Types and Sound of P90 Pickups

The sound of the P90 would fall somewhere between a Humbucker and a standard Single Coil.

The P90 has more definition, brightness and twang compared to a double coil pickup, but less sharpness compared to the single coil pickups developed by Fender. In addition, they have a higher output level compared to a traditional Single Coil, and have a crunch that we cannot find in other types of pickups.

Due to the characteristic thick tone of the humbucker pickups in the neck position, some manufacturers choose to install a P90 in that position for its more defined character, together with a double-coil pickup in the bridge position, as in the highly recommended Yamaha Pacifica 311H.

The P90 comes in a plastic or metal casing in two basic types:

  • Soapbar: It is rectangular in shape with two clamping screws through the coil, typical of Les Paul models.
P90 Pickups Soapbar and Dog Ear
  • Dog Ear: with extensions on both sides of the pickup, as if they were ears in which the fixing screws are integrated. Typically used on Gibson hollow body models, and solid body guitars like the Les Paul Junior.

These would be the basic versions, although we will review other types and formats later.

Best Brands of P90 Guitar Pickups

Gibson P90 Soapbar and Seymour Duncan SP-90

We can get the classic Gibson P90 Soapbar for a price of around $100. Although we can have quality recreations from other brands, such as the classic-style Seymour Duncan SP-90 1, mounted with alnico V magnets.

Beware of the Seymour Duncan P90 models as they have three detailed versions as 1, 2 and 3. Number 1 would be the classic P90 as mentioned, and numbers 2 and 3 would be higher output versions, mounted with ceramic magnets.

P90 Lollar Pickups

Another manufacturer that every P90 lover should know is the Lollar brand. In this brand we can find comfortable sets of pickups such as the Lollar P-90 Soapbar, with one of the pickups with reverse wound and polarity, to reduce background noise when both pickups are used in unison, generally detailed with the RWRP description.

This set mounts demagnetized alnico V magnets that provide a classic P90 sound, but with slightly softened treble.

Some magnificent pickups made in the United States and wound by hand. This wound by hand generates an irregular coil that provides a more organic and dynamic sound.

Something that is really appreciable in a good guitar equipment. Because if we plugged our hand-wound pickups into a low-quality amp, it wouldn’t make any difference.

Humbucker-Sized P90

If we wanted to easily install a P90 on a guitar that mounts Humbuckers pickups, we won’t have any problems. Since we can have P90 models in double coil pickup size, such as the legendary P94 developed by Gibson. This model mounts alnico V magnets, and they are used by Nick Valensi in his famous Epiphone Riviera.

Humbucker-Sized P90

If we need a model closer aesthetically to a traditional humbucker with a nickel cover, we have the Seymour Duncan SPH90-1 set mounted with alnico II magnets that provide a softer string attack, at a fairly reasonable price.

If on the other hand, we want a P90-style sound for our Stratocaster, we can opt for the Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound SSL-4, at a price of around $300 for a set of three pickups. A Single Coil with more than twice the output of a traditional single pickup, mounted with larger alnico V magnets.

Stacked P90 Pickups

As the P90 is a single coil pickup model with the aggravation of its higher output, it generates the typical background hum, which some P90s in double coil Stack format can eliminate. But for my taste this would be “cheating solitaire”. Since a single coil design can never be recreated as a double coil no matter how close you want to get. So there is not much more to add on this topic.

The P90 pickup was ahead of its time. Since it was the oldest electric guitar pickup in history, which is still being manufactured today with the same characteristics as in 1946. Used in classic genres such as Jazz or Blues, and in other more contemporary ones such as Punk or Hard Rock.

Guitar Pickups: Different Types