P90 Pickups: Are They Any Good?


Everybody has heard of single coil and humbucker pickups, but not as many people know about P90 pickups.

In this post, I’ll go through exactly what P90 pickups are, how they sound, and what they’re good for. So let’s get started!

Quick Answer

P90 pickups have a balanced tone. They sound somewhere in between a single coil and humbucker pickup, in that they have a good treble response, so they sound bright and crisp, like single coils. However, they have a more boosted mid-range compared to single coils, meaning the tone is fuller and warmer, but not quite as much as a humbucker, 

P90 pickups have a versatile tone, so they’re well suited to a range of different styles of music including rock, blues and country. However, they are not as well suited to metal due to their weak bass frequencies and tendency to have a background humming noise if you increase the gain too much. 

P90 Pickups Explained

So in order to explain what P90 pickups actually are, I thought I’d break it down into three questions. So here’s what P90’s look like, sound like, and what they’re best for. 

what do P90 pickups look like?

P90 pickups essentially look like a single coil pickups, that have been stretched to make them wider. But that’s not the whole story. 

Pickups consist of magnets, created by coils of wire wrapped around a core material. These magnets are encased in a bobbin, which holds them together properly, and stops them from being exposed on the guitar’s body.

P90 pickups are essentially the same as single coils, the real difference between them, is that the bobbin is wider and shorter (in terms of height). This causes them to look more similar in size to a humbucker pickup. This structure is what causes them to sound differently than humbuckers and single coil pickups. 

pickup shape

what do P90 pickups sound like?

P90 pickups sound somewhere in between humbuckers and single coils. They blend the brightness of the single coils, and the fullness of humbuckers. They have a punchy mid-range causing the tone to sound thick. However, they still have plenty of bite, so you’ll get good clear note separation.

As P90 pickups only have one coil, you can get humming issues, if you crank up the gain quite high, similar to what you’d get with single coil pickups, but usually not quite as obvious.  

what are P90 pickups good for?

P90 pickups are good for a range of different styles of music, because they have a versatile tone. They’re well suited to blues, country and rock. The only style that they aren’t usually as well suited to, is metal. This is because you can get some humming when you crank up the gain, as they only have one coil. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t use them for metal though. Some players really like the brightness of a P90 you get, compared to a humbucker. This can be really useful for lead guitar players who need plenty of mid-range, but don’t want their tone to sound too warm and mellow. P90 pickups have enough snap and clarity to counteract this. 

P90 vs Single Coils and Humbuckers

Like I mentioned before, P90 pickups sound like a cross between humbuckers and single coils. They combine the warmth and depth of a humbucker, with the brightness and sharpness of a single coil. With P90’s you’ll get a more balanced kind of sound. 

P90 Pickups vs Single Coils

P90’s and single coils, both only have one coil. The difference in structure between the two, is that P90’s have a wider and shorter bobbin. This causes them to cope better with high gain amplifier settings, without having as much of an issue with background humming. 

P90’s don’t sound as bright and crisp as single coils, as they have less emphasis on the treble frequencies. Instead, they have more of a mid-range frequency boost, causing them to sound fuller and warmer. 

P90 Pickups vs Humbuckers 

P90 pickups sound brighter and sharper than humbuckers which sound more warm and mellow. With humbuckers, you won’t get the background humming noise, as they consist of two coils running in opposite direction to cancel this effect out. 

P90 pickups consist of only one coil, so you will get this humming issue when you use a lot of gain. Hence, a lot of hard rock and metal guitarists, prefer humbuckers over P90’s. 

P90’s are a better option if you find humbuckers too warm and mellow though. If you’re looking for more snap and brightness, then you may find them a more suitable option. 

It can actually be quite hard to hear the difference between the different pickup types, so have a try at this blindfold test below, and see if you get the answers right!

Disadvantages of P90 Pickups

The main disadvantage of P90 pickups, is that they do not cope with high gain amp setting particularly well. This is because they only have one coil, so you can start to get a background humming noise if you crank the gain.

They also have a fairly weak bass response. This is an issue if you need a lot of depth to your tone. Although the strong mid-range response is helpful, you’ll usually find that the bass response is too weak for playing heavy metal, or other styles of music that require a lot of distortion. 

Some guitarists also consider the nature of P90 pickups, in that they sound like a cross between single coils and humbuckers, to be a disadvantage. Some players think that P90 pickups are kind of like a jack of all trades, and master of none.

I do understand this point, and I get that sometimes, you’ll be better off with either a humbucker or single coil, rather than something in between. However, I do think that the versatility of P90 pickups is what makes them most useful. So it’s up to you which side of the fence you sit on in this debate. 

Types of P90 Pickups

There are three main types of P90 pickups: the soap bar, dog ear, and humbucker type. 

Soap Bar P90 Pickups

Soap bar pickups are the original type of P90 pickups. An example of this type, is the original Gibson P90. They have a slightly curved rectangular shape, and the pickup screws are in the middle of the pickup itself, rather than at the side (fixed to the pick guard) like most pickups are. They usually have the classic balanced tone that you associate with P90’s.

Dog Ear P90 Pickups

These are similar in shape to soap bar pickups, however, the pickup screws are not in the middle of the pickup, but on an extension at either side of the pickup.

Humbucker style

These are sometimes referred to as humbucker casing type P90 pickups. These look pretty similar to a humbucker because they have the same kind of casing. They tend to sound a bit warmer and more mellow (so similar to a humbucker), than soap bar or dog ear P90 pickups. 

Best P90 Pickups

Now we’ve been through the pros and cons of P90 pickups, you’ve probably decided if they’re right for you or not. If you’re looking to get some P90’s, then here are some of the top picks that you may want to give a try. 

Gibson P90 Pickup

This is one of the most iconic P90 pickup models. It sounds like a true P90 pickup, and blends the brightness of a single coil, and the fullness of a humbucker perfectly, to give you a really well balanced and versatile tone. The vintage cream finish also adds to the retro vibe of these soapbar style P90s. You can check out the classic Gibson P90 Pickup on Guitar Center.  

Seymour Duncan Phat Cat

These pickups are a great option if you want a P90 that sounds a bit more closely related to a humbucker, compared to a single coil. The extra wide bobbin used on these pickups makes them sounds a bit warmer and fuller than most other P90 pickups, so they’re a great option if you don’t want a full fat humbucker, and want a bit more brightness instead. 

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Frequently Asked Questions?

Don’t worry if you still need some more answers about P90 pickups. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions. 

Are P90 pickups single coils or dual coils?

P90 pickups consist of one single coil, similar to traditional single coil pickups, and unlike humbuckers which contain two coils. This means you’ll get a classically bright and sharp tone, that copes less well with gain, than if it was to have two coils. 

How are P90 pickups made?

P90 pickups consist of a coil wire wrapped around magnets, usually made of Alnico. This structure is encased in a bobbin which is usually made of either metal or plastic. This is then covered over my a pickup cover. 

Can you get active P90 pickups?

I have always wondered this question, and having looked into it a bit more, I really struggled to find any manafacturers that really made active P90 pickups. Generally, you’ll only really find active humbucker pickups, and not active single coils or P90’s. If you’ve managed to find some active P90 pickups on the market, then please leave a comment on this post!

Are P90 pickups good for metal?

P90 pickups are not very well suited to metal because they have a weaker bass response and do not cope with high gain, resulting in a background humming noise. It is still possible to use them for metal if you really want to though. Tone is all about personal preference. So give them a try, and see if they work well for you. 

which guitars use P90 pickups?

P90 pickups are less commonly used than humbuckers or single coils. However, there are plenty of different models out there which you’ll find P90’s on. These include the Fender Jazzmaster, Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul and SG, 

which guitarists use P90 pickups?

Again, P90 pickups are less commonly used by guitarists than humbuckers and single coils, but there are plenty of pros out there that use them. These include John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Wes Montgomery, David Gilmour, Bob Marley and Billie Joe Armstrong. 

 

So there you go! That wraps up this in-depth guide to P90 pickups! I hope you’ve found this article helpful, thanks for reading. Here are some other posts you might find useful:

Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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