We usually classify guitar pickups in two large groups – single coils and humbuckers. The problem with such classification is that the P90 pickup is often overlooked. Although essentially a single-coil pickup, the P90 is a class of itself. It features a unique design and delivers a pretty distinctive tone.
These pickups were originally produced by Gibson but these days, pretty much every major pickup manufacturer has these pickups in the offer.
Although essentially a single-coil pickup, the P90 features a different coiling. The bobbin is wider and shorter, which is the main reason for different tonal characteristics.
It’s hard to describe the tone of this pickup is a couple of words. In some way, it stands between humbuckers and common single-coil pickups. On one side, you can count on a typical single coil hum and the tone that is far more brighter compared to humbuckers, and also quite gritty. One the other side, this is still far away from the single-coil brightness and edge, so we can say that the P90 is actually a quite versatile pickup, which offers a little bit of both worlds.
Another thing that may look confusing to you is the design of the housing. Practically, there are two different looks of P90 pickups. The first one is called soap bar and mounting screws are placed within the housing. The other one is called dog ears and in this case, mounting screws are placed on the side. Still, the housing shape doesn’t affect the tone, so all of them sound the same.
P90 pickups are widely popular these days, so it’s no wonder that the offer on the market is huge. We’ve picked some of the best P90 pickups for you and here they are:
The 5 Best P90 Pickups For Your Guitar
1. Gibson P90 Pickup
Of course, the best way is to start with the original P90 pickup. This one features pretty much the same design as the original model from the late 1940s. Therefore, you may count on the original P90 tone, which perfectly combines the high output and amazing clarity of an Alnico V design.
It delivers a genuine P90 tone, which is bright, but not too much. Also, it features a waxed finish, which reduces microphonics. This is particularly great if you need it for a hollow-body guitar. This model comes in a classic soap bar housing and original look for a genuine vintage playing atmosphere.
2. Seymor Duncan Phat Cat
The Phat Cat is one of the most popular P90 pickups for several reasons. Of course, it comes from one of the most renowned pickup manufacturers in the world. Also, many guitarists like the fact that this model comes in a standard humbucker size, so installation doesn’t require any modifications on guitars with stock humbucker pickups.
These are great benefits but the main reason for the popularity of Phat Cat is the tone. This is an Alnico II pickup, which in practice means a little bit lower output compared to most P90 pickups. On the other side, the tone is incredibly smooth, which makes it perfect for hollow-body guitars, although there’s no doubt it will work excellent on Les Pauls and other solid-body guitars as well. Also, the pickup is waxed and features pretty thick cover, so there’s no chance you will have microphony issues. Finally, the price is quite attractive, considering what you’re getting in return.
3. Kent Armstrong Stealth 90 – Noiseless P90
Kent Stealth 90 pickups stand somewhere between humbuckers and common single coils. In the spectrum of sounds, this one comes a little bit closer to humbuckers, compared to most other P90 pickups. The main reason lays in the fact that this one is double coiled.
The biggest benefit of such a design is that there is no hum. The pickup is noiseless, but tone characteristics are notably different compared to other P90 pickups. It sounds darker, while the output is a little bit lower. Those who prefer hi-gain styles will definitely like this pickup.
4. Seymour Duncan Antiquity P-90
If you’re looking for the authentic P90 tone, search no more. According to most reviewers, Seymour Duncan pickup is something that comes closest to the original pickup from the ‘40s. Therefore, it’s no wonder that many guitar players don’t mind paying the extra money, as this is one of the most expensive P90 pickups on the market.
Under the dog ears cover, you will find a design that closely resembles the original pickup. The same bobbin and wiring, plain enamel mag wire, flatback tape, and other essential features are here, so it’s no wonder that the sound feels pretty authentic. Speaking of the tone, it is very bright, with a lot of attacks. Chords on this one sound pretty clear, while single notes seem quite rich as well.
5. Lindy Fralin P90
If you’re looking for vintage P90 sound characteristics, this is the pickup for you. The Lindy Fralin comes with loads of features that characterized original P90 pickups. You may count on Butyrate P90 bobbins, USA-made alnico IV bar magnets, and 42-gauge plain enamel wire, the same things that can be found in Gibson’s P90 pickups from the ‘50s.
Such a design ensures plenty of mid-range tones, while the sustain seems quite decent. Single notes are well-rounded, while chords sound pretty clear. Another important thing to mention is that this is probably the only pickup of this type that is completely noiseless, thanks to a reverse-wound bridge. All in all, this pickup seems perfect for all those who need a well-rounded P90 with genuine vintage sound colors.
A Brief History of P-90 Pickups
The history of P90 pickups starts in the 1940s. At the time, Gibson guitars were equipped with blade pickup and the company was seeking a design that would be a real answer to Fender’s new single-coil pickups, characterized by plenty of edge and brightness. The P90 came with notably different sound characteristics, it was smoother, darker and with less edge.
By the end of the 1940s, this pickup became standard in all Gibson models. Of course, it was initially reserved for hollow body and semi-hollow body guitars, but original Les Paul models were equipped with it as well. By the end of the 1950s, P90 pickups were suppressed by new pickups, called humbuckers. The new pickup design was significantly different, with two coils and a new tone, which became the company’s trademark soon after.
At first, P90 pickups remained in entry-level models, like Les Paul Junior and similar ones but by the end of the ‘60s, they completely vanished. There were some occasional comebacks for special edition models, meanwhile. Also, this pickup was popular among punk musicians both because of the tone and cheap design. However, the real comeback happened in the last two decades.
Once again, you can get pretty much any Gibson guitar model with these pickups. Moreover, there is a huge offer of P90 pickups from outside companies, renowned pickup manufacturers. Some of these pickups closely resemble the original tone, while modern variations are available as well.
That’s our list of the top p90 pickups for your guitar. Keep in mind that there are many more P90 pickups on the market. They come with various design characteristics, with a distinctiveness that measures in nuances. Some of them deliver genuine vintage tones, others are well-balanced. Also, keep in mind the housing, as there are many pickups that come with humbucker dimensions, which seems highly beneficial in terms of the installation process.