Invented after World War 2 when Gibson resumed guitar production—if there is any other word that supersedes “classic,” then that would be the right word to describe the P90 guitar pickup.
The P90 pickup has a legendary tone and twang that has sonically graced the palettes of diverse musical genres and styles. From jazz, to punk and down to rock-and-roll, the P90 pickup gives that irreplaceable and “hard-to-imitate” sound that sets it apart from other pickups.
In the year 1946, Gibson introduced the P90 to the guitar world and ever since it has remained one of the greatest inventions and innovations ever. Although, technically, the P90 is a single-coil pickup, it, however, doesn’t look, feel, or even sound like one.
Sonically, the P90 has the brightness and tonal clarity of a single-coil pickup, but it surprisingly has more of a mid-range punch like the humbucker pickup. It has the best of both worlds.
This gives the P90 the unrivalled ability to “cut through” any mix, regardless of how dense or busy. Legends like Bob Marley, Billie Joe Armstrong, John Lennon, Pete Townsend, Joe Bonamassa, and many others have all used the P90 pickup.
The P90 pickup was pretty much regarded as the standard pickup until the late 1950s when the humbucker pickup finally arrived. The P90 pickup has [undoubtedly] made its mark on not just the guitar world but the music world as a whole.
Today, many guitar players still love and long for the legendary tonal character of the P90 pickup—that is quite understandable. Although originally produced by Gibson, today, many guitar tech companies are producing some very amazing P90 pickups.
This has helped in maintaining the legacy of this legendary pickup which has contributed a lot to how we perceive the guitar tone today. If you are among those that still revere the legendary P90 pickup, then this article is for you.
In this article, we will bring to you, the 12 best P90 pickups you will ever lay your hands on. It doesn’t matter what your stylistic preferences are, there will be something for you.
Table of Contents
12 Best P90 Pickups
- Gibson P-90
- DiMarzio Soapbar
- Bare Knuckle Supermassive 90
- Mojotone ’56 Quiet Coil P-90 Soapbar
- Lindy Fralin Hum-Cancelling P-90
- Seymour Duncan Antiquity P-90
- Seymour Duncan Phat Cat
- Lace Aluma 90
- Fishman Fluence Greg Koch P-90
- Kent Armstrong Stealth 90 Noiseless P90
- Lamsam P90
- OriPure Alnico 5 Soapbar
Review of 12 Best P90 Pickups
In the end, it all comes back to Gibson and their original P-90 pickup. There are two basic forms, the “dogear” and the “soap bar.” Essentially, these are both the same pickups and the differences are strictly technical and aesthetic.
Their tone is pretty much the same. But other than that, Gibson’s P-90 takes you way back to the 1950s and the old-school tone of the early blues musicians. We’re looking at Alnico 5 pickups that can go either on neck or bridge positions.
Although single-coils, Gibson’s P-90s are completely different from what you’d expect to hear. They’re far from your usual Strat and Tele kind of tones. Sure, they’ll retain their brightness and even some of the well-known “twang” but there’ll be much more raw power in them.
One could argue that they’re something between your average single-coil and PAF-style humbucker. The overall tone is smoother and “rounder” compared to regular single-coil pickups.
And when you hit the strings, there’ll be that perfect combo of clarity and smoothness. By lowering the volume parameter, you’ll notice that Gibson’s P-90 can even help you achieve a variety of dynamic nuances when paired with a tube-driven amp.
It’s like your guitar was given a completely different dimension. In the bridge position, you’ll even have some of the humbucker-like sonic characteristics, maybe even the “chugging” kind of tone.
Meanwhile, the neck position will provide you with smooth creamy potential that works great on lower and higher-gain settings.
|Genuine authentic old-school Gibson tone
|Might require more expensive pots and other components to use the full potential
|Great dynamic potential
|Can be noisy
|Responds well to different volume levels
DiMarzio also has an incredible alternative to Gibson’s original P-90 pickup design which they’ve been making since the late 1990s. Although there are a few different aesthetic versions in terms of polepiece and plastic cover colours, it’s all the same pickup.
Although still bringing the true spirit of the original P-90s, the DiMarzio version sounds just slightly different. The main focus is on the lower mids and high mids.
The bottom ends aren’t as pronounced, which might set them apart from your usual P-90s. Nonetheless, their specific EQ curve still gives them enough bite for any setting.
The versatility of potential genres is still there and you can cover anything from classic blues and up to classic heavy metal. These pickups also work pretty great with different distortion and overdrive pedals.
They might be a bit too tricky with some fuzz effects but it’s far from an impossible task to make it all work. Overall, these are some of the best pickups on the market, not just with the P-90 variants.
There’s the expected vintage-oriented twist in their tone but they’re also surprisingly great if you want to play some of the more modern clean prog rock parts.
|Great deal for the price
|Can be noticeably different from most “standard” P-90 variants
|A few different aesthetic options
|Easily cuts through the mix
Their designated name “Supermassive” pretty much describes what Bare Knuckles did with these pickups. Mostly known for its modern-style pickups, the company did an incredible job on this new variant of the P-90s.
Of course, Bare Knuckle also have a few other P-90 variants but this one just feels the best overall. There’s even an abundance of options and you can add a metal cover with different finishes.
This not only changes the aesthetic aspect, adapting it perfectly to your guitar but also affects the tone. But no matter the variant, the Supermassive 90 comes with a very rich tone, as well as a noticeably higher output.
Sure, there’s still the classic raw feel of the usual P-90s. But this one takes it a step further and can seriously drive your tube amp over the edge. Honestly, you probably won’t need an additional clean boost or an overdrive.
Just use it with your amp and other gear and adjust the levels with the volume knob. At the same time, the tone never loses its definition. You won’t experience any unwanted oversaturation and muddiness, even if you push the gain knob on your amp up high.
Yes, it will probably require some tone-shaping skills for higher-gain tone but it’s far from an impossible task to make it work even in these kinds of settings.
|Some of the options might be a bit expensive
|Doesn’t lose definition even with higher-gain settings
|It can be too “hot” compared to usual P-90-style pickups
|Great design, a lot of options to choose from
What Mojotone aimed to do is make the genuine tone of the P-90 pickups made back in the 1950s. Now, obviously, Gibson is also doing this since we’re looking at a pickup that they initially perfected.
However, many would argue — and for a good reason — that Mojotone has done a more convincing job at replicating these kinds of tones. Overall, we can notice the usual bright punch of single-coil pickups.
However, in the spirit of classic P-90 pickups, Mojotone’s ’56 still adds a substantial amount of beefiness in the bottom ends. Nonetheless, things are still pretty tight but can get muddier if needed with the right settings.
What’s really important to add here is that these are — as the designated name suggests — much quieter single-coil pickups. Similar to your usual “noiseless” design, this P-90 is a so-called “Quiet Coil.”
This means that there’s significantly less noise than usual. Sure, you’ll still hear the usual cycle hum. Nonetheless, Mojotone removed the excess noise without adding any complicated electronics to the equation.
The output is slightly tamer than usual and the lack of noise may make it sound less genuine. But in other aspects, this is pretty close to the original P-90 sound from the good old days.
|A bit expensive
|They work really well with vintage-style tube-driven amps
There’s a chance that you may not be as familiar with the name Lindy Fralin. But the brand makes some of the finest pickups on the market. And this also includes their versions of the P-90 pickups.
Among three main variants, the one that stands out is the Hum-Cancelling P-90. However, even within this category, you have quite a few options to choose from. And the best part is that they’re not all just aesthetic in nature but also include different winding options.
You can go with 5% fewer or 5% more windings for different outputs. And, apart from choosing different lead wires, you can also customize the string spacing. This means that you can also order one for any standard Fender or Fender-style guitar.
Once again, we have a P-90 pickup with significantly reduced noise. At the same time, all of the wanted sonic traits of classic P-90 pickups are there as well.
There’s the well-known “bite” in the tone but you can also round it out and make it sound smoother when needed. Although it might not be the cheapest option on the list, it’s more than worth the cost.
|A variety of options, including pickup pole spacing for Fender-style guitars
- Soapbar P-90 Single-coil Pickup Set with Aged Look Tone – Black
At this point, Seymour Duncan is a brand famous for replicating all of the established guitar and pickup makers of the past. In fact, some may even argue that they’re making better Gibson-style pickups than Gibson, although we’ll leave that to you.
What we can say for sure, however, is that their Antiquity P-90 is an incredible single-coil pickup. And you’ll especially love it if you’re looking for that good old P-90 kind of tone.
What’s also interesting is that these come with Alnico 2 magnets. The output is not that hot, although your usual sonic characteristics of an average P-90 pickup are there. With this in mind, Seymour Duncan’s Antiquity P-90 serves as a pretty great choice for British-style tube amps.
With smaller headroom, you’ll be able to keep things clean when needed but it will also react pretty well to your playing dynamics. This makes it a great choice for those crunchy kind of tones with moderate overdrive.
This goes for both bridge and neck positions. What’s also great about this pickup is that considering its qualities, it’s not really that expensive. Of course, this is to be expected from Seymour Duncan
|Great deal for the price
|Nothing for this price level
|Helps with achieving overall dynamic response
|Works really well with tube-driven amps
- Genuine P-90 Sound – Experience true P-90 bite and growl with the Phat Cat Humbucker-Sized Pickup Set – no guitar modifications needed!
- Vintage Grit, Modern Fit – Transform your humbucker-equipped guitar into a vintage tone machine with Seymour Duncan’s retrofitted P90 pickups.
- Timeless and Authentic – Phat Cat pickups offer authentic and focused mid-bite, with harmonic richness for that timeless and iconic tone.
- Sustain and Articulation Boost – Enhanced by two Alnico 2 magnets, relish compressed attack and enduring notes – a musicality that elevates chords and solos alike.
Of course, Seymour Duncan’s collection is pretty big and it also includes other P-90 variants. Additionally, it’s impossible not to mention at least one more of their pickups since they’re all pro-tier stuff.
Next up, we’re bringing Seymour Duncan’s Phat Cat. Compared to the previously mentioned Antiquity P-90, this one comes with a metal cover. There are two colour options to choose from, nickel and gold.
But the difference is purely aesthetical. Once again, we have a pickup with Alnico 2 magnets in place.
The output is also pretty modest, also making this a great choice for tube-driven amps, particularly crunchy overdriven tones that allow for some serious dynamic control.
Tone-wise, they’re fairly similar to the Antiquity variant. However, there are some subtle yet important differences in the way they will react to your pick attack and dynamics.
Although, obviously, a single-coil, the Phat Cat will gravitate more towards the tone of a classic humbucker.
|It has a slightly lower output compared to usual P-90 pickups
|Great dynamic response when paired with tube-driven amps
- Light Weight
- Resistance: 2.4k
- Peak Frequency: 2343
- Inductance: 3.0 henries
Although the P-90 pickups are usually pretty straightforward, there are some interesting options on the market that put some unusual twists to the classic design.
Lace Music Products created this Aluma 90 pickup some years ago which uses the fundamental P-90 traits but with a twist. Instead of making everything revolve around copper, as is the case with most pickups, this one — as the name suggests — is doing it with aluminium.
As a result, this pickup is much quieter. If you’re annoyed by the usual single-coil cycle hum, then this is the pickup for you. Additionally, it brings the usual beefy bottom end that we love with the P-90 pickups.
But, overall, it has a pretty wide frequency range due to this design trait. All this also comes with a pretty noticeable “growl” that’s more typical of humbuckers. At the same time, it still retains the brightness of most single-coil pickups.
Sure, it’s not the cheapest option on the market and it’s not that close to your usual classic P-90 pickups. But if you’re looking for a more modern and quieter twist, then Aluma 90 is the way to go.
|Quiet operation, almost no audible hum
|Great and unique tone, especially with tube-driven amps
|Its tone may not sit well with those looking for classic P-90s
- Active P-90 Electric Guitar Pickups with Multi-voice Fluence Ce – Set
Over the last 10 years or so, Fishman has been changing the game in the guitar pickup market. Now present on some of the most famous models of big guitar brands, they’re capable of helping you achieve some pretty incredible tones, both modern and traditional.
But if you want the perfect blend of both that’s done on the P-90 foundation, you should definitely check out their Greg Koch P-90 set. The prog-rock and jazz fusion legend teamed up with them to bring this super-quiet single-coil pickup.
Also, Fishman managed to keep the noise at pretty low levels while staying true to the classic P-90 pickups. There’s still the bright “twang” that you’d expect, although it’s just slightly smoother.
While the pickup does gravitate more towards the modern side of things, they’re still incredibly versatile. In the spirit of Fishman’s special options, these come with three main voicings. They cover anything from super-beefy up to twangy Telecaster-like tones.
|Very quiet operation
|Might not sit well with those looking for old-school tones
|Tube-driven amps respond very well to them
Another “noiseless” twist to the classic P-90 pickup comes from pickup builder Kent Armstrong. Now available as a part of WD Music, we can also find Stealth 90, also known as Noiseless P90 pickups.
What sets them apart from most of the other classic P-90 variants is the construction. They feature some of the hum-cancelling properties of opposing coils. In addition, there’s also much higher resistance than usual, which, unexpectedly, doesn’t affect the tone negatively.
Overall, these are some of the quietest single-coil pickups that you’ll be able to find on the market. But what’s really great about them is that they still manage to keep most, if not all, of the classic vintage sonic traits that we love about the P-90s.
It’s a pretty impressive achievement that no other brand was able to get. What’s kind of a downside is that they’re not as easy to get. Even the price isn’t that much big of a deal, at least not compared to most options out there.
But if you do manage to get your hands on a set of these, you definitely won’t regret it.
|Not that easy to acquire
|Very convincing vintage P-90 tone
|Super-quiet operation with almost no hum
- 【Alnico V Magnets】both bridge pickup and neck pick-up loaded AlNiCo 5 magnets, metal housing helps reduce hum; 42 gauge magnetic enamel wrapped wire,wax potted, shielded wiring
- 【Pickup Pole Spacing】height of pole pieces are individual adjustable, pole spacing of bridge PU is 50mm / neck is 48mm
- 【DC Resistance】Specification of double-conductor wire(end pre-tinned): 2547 26 AWG enamel 80℃ 300V; lead length of bridge – 9.05″ / neck – 14.17″; DC resistance of pickup is for reference
- 【Standard Humbucker-sized Single Coil P90 Tone Pickups, Widely Compatible】have a rich smooth sound, as a nice replacement set or new buildings for a guitar with humbucker-sized pickup cavity
Now, the market is filled with a variety of P-90-style pickups. But while you know that you can’t really go wrong with most of the brands, the problem is that they’re all often pretty expensive.
Well, the good news is that there are some cost-friendly options to choose from. And not all of them sound that cheap. One such example is the Lamsam P90 pickup set.
Also, there’s no doubt that we’re looking at a cheap copy of your usual P-90 pickups. It’s also no secret that you’ll experience the usual hum, sometimes even more than you’d want to.
This is usually the case with some higher-gain settings and they do tend to make it a bit muddy and fuzzy. But, overall, at this price, you get pretty great P-90-style single coils.
So if you really want to get a glimpse of the P-90 tone and not spend a lot, these would be worth checking out. At their price, it’s a minimum risk. We’d just advise that you save these for a cheaper guitar.
|Can be noisy
|Easy to set up
- Bright, bloom, clean, sweet and delicate sound. Classic warm jazz sound of the last century.
- Magnet: Alnico 2 soap bar pickup. Pole spacing: 50mm. Alnico 2 and AWG42 enameled wire means these are a bit sweeter with a little bit softer edge,let your guitar’s natural tone shine through, also give you more sustain and a compressed attack.
- Resistance: 7-8K. Peak Frequency: 5.8H. Position: Neck pickup. Cream cover.
- Metel braided single conductor cable, 42AWG. Vacuum wax potted and sealed to eliminate noise.
Finally, we’d also like to bring up another cheaper option that you can find on the market today. In terms of the price, OriPure is the “in-between” option. You get a somewhat more affordable set without needing to spend a lot.
While, obviously, not entirely there on the vintage-style tone of the old Gibson P-90s, these aren’t all that bad either. In fact, with the right amp and settings, you could be getting some serious blues-rock vibes with these.
And by pushing the gain higher on your tube-driven amp, they get the growl and “bite” for some heavy riffing. There are some different options to choose from as well. One of them includes a bridge pickup with a higher output, making it a more “modern” twist to the classic P-90 tone.
On top of that, there’s also some noise cancelling involved, which is a nice addition at this price but it may not be as pronounced compared to some other pickups we mentioned here.
|Comes with some noise cancellation
|Might lack some definition compared to usual P-90 pickups
|Great deal for the price
|Pretty decent tone
History of the P90 Pickups
What we know as the P-90 pickups takes us back to the early 1940s. This was the time when single-coil pickups were the only option and Gibson equipped their ES guitars with them.
The P-90s as we know them now were officially introduced in 1946 as a replacement for the older variant. By the end of the decade, this became the standard for Gibson guitars.
However, these pickups were perfected and came to prominence during the 1950s. The well-known “soap bar” format was introduced in 1952 for then-new Les Paul guitars.
Eventually, in 1957, Gibson introduced P.A.F. pickups, now known as standard humbuckers. The P-90 pickups then took the back seat for a while and were present on budget-friendly models.
The P-90s were almost forgotten until the end of the 1960s when Gibson re-launched Les Paul in its original form. During the 1970s, the company kept releasing some guitars with the P-90s but it wasn’t until the emergence of punk music that they got some serious attention.
Even before that, however, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath defined heavy metal by using his “Monkey” Gibson SG loaded with the P-90s. Over the coming decades, P-90 pickups also started getting more attention among other genres.
In particular, jazz, blues, and blues rock music saw a more prominent use since they’re capable of producing more vintage-oriented kind of tones when paired with tube-driven amps.
Today, you’ll mostly find them on “simpler” Gibson and Epiphone guitars like the Les Paul Junior, Les Paul Special, SG Junior, and SG Special. However, they’re also present on some of the hollow-body or semi-hollow-body guitars, as well as 1950s-oriented re-issue models of the Les Paul Standard.
What Makes the P90 Different From Single Coil and Humbucker Pickups?
Although technically a single-coil pickup, the P-90 comes with a few specific traits that set it apart from the usual variants that you can see on Fender and Fender-style guitars.
In some way, it’s true when people say that the P-90 is the best of two worlds, humbuckers, and single-coil pickups. Firstly, the P-90 pickup comes with two bar magnets in its base.
The polepieces that you can see and adjust aren’t magnets but rather just usual metal screws. This is the same principle seen with most humbucker pickups on the market and is a completely different approach compared to most single-coil pickups that come with magnetic pole pieces.
The have been some exceptions to this rule but they’re pretty rare. Another important distinction is the bobbin where the wire is wound. It’s noticeably shorter but is also wider.
The windings aren’t as close to the polepieces as with conventional single-coil pickups and there are usually about 2,000 more windings of copper wire around them. There’s also a misconception that the P-90 pickups are humbuckers.
Although, tone-wise, we could discuss some minor similarities, this is simply not true. A P-90 comes with one coil. Sure, it has two bar magnets at the bottom, but there’s still one coil of wire and a set of polepieces.
How Does the P90 Sound, Compared to Other Pickups?
The tone of the P-90 pickups is, in its essence, very much like most of the other single coils out there. But although bright, there’s much more thickness in the bottom-ends and lower-mid frequencies.
As a result, this makes the tone a bit smoother and more “compact” when compared to your usual Fender-style tones. For example, a Fender Telecaster will usually have that “twang” that makes your amp ring with brightness.
But with a P-90 pickup, there be just slightly less of that “edge” in the tone while some of the focus will shift to the lower ends of the spectrum. As a result, you get a “beefy” kind of tone.
On the other hand, compared to humbuckers, a P-90 pickup will be brighter but will still retain some of the smoothness. The main difference here is that P-90s are susceptible to noise, which is a common trait of all single-coil pickups, although there are some variants that partially sort this out.
Famous Players that Used the P90
- Tony Iommi
- Carlos Santana
- David Gilmour
- Steve Jones
- Mick Jones
- Johnny Thunders
- Pete Townshend
- Billie Joe Armstrong
- Scotty Moore
- Greg Koch
- Wes Montgomery
- Matt Bellamy
It’s not far from the truth to say that, tone-wise, P-90 pickups bring some of the main characteristics of single-coil and humbucker pickups. And while they’re usually associated with punk rock music, P-90s are pretty versatile and a great choice for a variety of genres.