The vintage sound in a small soap-bar
There’s a time at the point of every guitar player’s music career when they feel they have to improve their old guitars with newer pickups. So, if by any chance you’re looking to give your guitar that raw early rock’s sound, boy, you’re in the right place.
I have reviewed the best 6 P-90 pickups you can buy right now. A replacement set of these pieces can truly revamp your guitar and give your sound a new life.
- 1 About changing pickups
- 2 About P90 pickups
- 3 Review of the top 6 P90 pickups
- 4 1. Seymour Duncan SPH90 Phat Cat P-90 Pickup
- 5 2. DiMarzio Bluesbucker P-90 Pickup
- 6 3. Gibson Golden Age Parsons Street P-90 Pickup
- 7 4. Lindy Fralin Soap-Bar P-90 Pickup
- 8 5. Fender Pure Vintage ’65 P-90 Pickup
- 9 6. Tonerider Hot P-90 Bridge Pickup
- 10 Final Considerations
- 11 FAQs
About changing pickups
It’s good for you not to fall on the hubris of wanting a new guitar every time you want to enhance the quality of your music. Instead, swapping the pickups can be less expensive and could even bring you better results.
If you generally like how your guitar looks and feels, then changing the pickups could not only solve the issues of your ax (like too much noise); it can also bring you a whole new tone, more power, and a professional sound.
See, in modern guitars, pickups are the element that influences sound the most. So don’t be guilty of wanting something that you can’t or shouldn’t afford, which might end up in a substitute, sub-par model to remedy your cravings. Instead, swap the most important pieces of the guitar and enjoy the sound of an instrument that’s essentially different and new.
Here’s some more insight about when and why you should change your guitar’s pickups.
Installing a new pair of the best P-90 pickups on your old guitar can work miles towards getting you a professional sound. But if changing the pickups on your guitar won’t make you play it more often, then why do it?
About P90 pickups
P-90 pickups were created by Gibson as an alternative to the single-coil tapers. The company introduced these devices in 1946 and became a standard for their guitars for years to come.
These units debuted on a Gibson Les Paul model and became a staple for classic rock music.
They are large and flat coils with a flat Alnico bar magnet under the coil, instead of magnetic pole pieces.
The result is a versatile tone that’s unique, raw, and growly. More so, it delivers less noise than single-coils, thus it can work as a middle ground between the two kinds of pickups.
The sound is chunky and almost as beefy as a humbucker. However, it has more clarity and space than a dual-coil pickup, although it won’t reach its levels of power. Also, unlike one-coil pickups, they have a moderately fat mid-low attack.
Overall, the tone is bright, warm, and thick, and represents a tonal blend between the single-coil and a humbucker.
On distortion, the P-90 has an edgy output that’s become very popular for alternative rock, hard rock, punk, grunge, and post-grunge. Rhythm guitars of these genres thrive especially well with P-90s. However, when you put it through high levels of gain or distortion, these pickups will lose bass response and become thin and brittle.
On clean, they work great for jazz, soul, R&B, and similar genres. And when you put it through overdrive or tube amps, they deliver a fiery sound that belongs in blues, rock & roll and classic rock.
Lastly, these units look like a humbucker and can fit in both humbucker or single-coil cavities (although there are exceptions).
You can check this section to see which artists have used P-90s; and which guitars ship with P-90 pickups.
Remember the iconic solo of Pink Floy’s “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2”? It’s played on P-90s.
Review of the top 6 P90 pickups
Although Gibson invented these pieces, other companies like Seymour Duncan and Fender have learned the trade and even bested the master.
Either way, any of the following pickups you choose is almost equally great and sells for similar prices.
Keep in mind the best P-90s conserve all of the advantages I listed above whilst minimizing its drawbacks. More so, the sound tends to be twangy and powerful enough for rock, country, and blues.
The best alternatives also create a humming or feedback sound that’s similar to 60’s rock and early metal.
Lastly, keep in mind some Gibson or Fender guitars (or made with their designs) won’t accept “soap bar” or “dog-ear”-shaped pickups. If this is the case, you can go for a humbucker-sized P-90. (You can go to the FAQ section if you have any doubts about pickup sizes).
Let’s now go on to the reviews of the most reliable and popular P-90 pickups you can buy right now. Before we begin, though, I advise you to check this section about understanding pickups to learn about pickup types, construction materials, outputs, cavities, and more.
Gibson P-90 pickups are hard to find sold separately, which is why they’re not prominently featured on this list.
1. Seymour Duncan SPH90 Phat Cat P-90 Pickup
Seymour Duncan has created top-notch pickups for over 40 years. It’s hard to find anything wrong with the brand. They are so good that even Fender, Ibanez, Gibson, and other leading brands use Seymour Duncan pickups on their guitars.
Most prominently, David Gilmour’s 1952 Fender Esquire guitar was packed with Seymour Duncan pickups.
The Phat Cat is their most iconic P-90 model and honors the rich tradition of the company. It uses Alnico II magnets, which give you an improved sustain and a gentler attack.
These pieces have great tonal clarity and retain it on overdrive. It also has a metal cover that shields the coils and reduces noise, which results in a cleaner, tamer sound.
Overall, the sound is crispy clean and it has a lot of headroom for your overdrive. It also has plenty of sustain and presence to cut through the mix as both lead and rhythm guitar playing.
I have to add these tapers have the shape of a humbucker, so it fits on a dual-coil cavity, as well as bridge or neck single-coil cavities. It’s also an excellent alternative to vintage Gibson pickups as it delivers the vintage growl you might be looking for.
The Phat Cat is also really eye-catching as it’s wrapped in nickel or gold clover, an option to add a classy aesthetic to your guitar.
Lastly, these bars are handmade in California. You can expect a lot of craftsmanship as only the finest materials and builders are poured into these pieces.
On the downside, this is a noisy pickup. Even when it’s wax-potted to prevent feedback, it’s noisier than most P-90s.
2. DiMarzio Bluesbucker P-90 Pickup
I chose the Bluesbucker because it’s an affordable modern pickup. If you’re looking to improve the sound of your guitar without wasting your rent’s money, I bet this choice is exactly what you’re looking for.
It would be your mistake to underestimate this piece because of its price, though. Even when it sells for lower than most, it doesn’t sacrifice quality in a bit. It just doesn’t look special like a Seymour Duncan unit.
Let’s focus on what’s great about it, as it packs a few quality features that enable you to get the most of your guitar.
DiMarzio designed the Bluesbucker like a humbucker in terms of shape and size. However, it operates with single-coils just like a P-90.
What I love about Bluesbuckers is its unique design. It features two single coils, one of which is a “hot” coil (meaning it has a higher output than regular single-coils); and the other one has the sole job of eliminating the noise.
The result is a noise-free hot P-90 pickup with plenty of headroom and a warm sound. If you place them near the bridge, they can deliver a brighter sound.
It’s similar to a coil-split humbucker, which is a humbucker made for a single-coil cavity. Said design mutes the sound of one of the two coils and reserves it for noise cancellation features.
On the downside, the Bluesbucker won’t feature the vintage sound you might covet. Instead, these are more modern alternatives with a sound that’s more of its own thing. That said, it might alter the tone of your vintage guitar too much, or might greatly react to your modern guitar.
3. Gibson Golden Age Parsons Street P-90 Pickup
Here’s my beginner’s choice, and you’ll soon see why…
The Golden Age P-90s are the closest alternatives to the original Gibson pickups that shipped on their most affordable guitars. Those pickups are no longer sold.
They carry the original vintage, raw sound of early rock and blues music. They are modeled after the ‘50s original Parsons Street P-90s, and feature a black plastic bobbin with vintage-output unpotted coil wire.
The sound is vintage, gritty, and growly. It’s designed to sound professional and react amazingly to modulating effects like chorus, reverb, and delay; and react organically to a tubular amp and overdrive pedals.
The Parson Street pickups are shaped as a single-coil and work for single-coil cavities on the bridge or the neck. They work especially well to replace old pickups on Gibson Les Paul Juniors, Gibson SG Juniors, Epiphone Les Paul Junior, and Epiphone SG Special, which are all beginner guitars.
These pieces are made of Alnico 5, which gives you a higher output than others on this list and an overall high output for your guitar.
Lastly, these pieces are budget-friendly, which makes a great choice for improving your old guitar.
I wouldn’t say these pickups have a drawback. But, for what you’re paying on for what they are, which is a beginner’s choice, don’t expect your guitar to instantly turn into a professional behemoth ready to capture the arena.
If you have sub-par pickups, like those coming on your typical budget guitar, the Golden Age P-90s can indeed greatly improve your performance.
4. Lindy Fralin Soap-Bar P-90 Pickup
We’ve reached a premium choice now. These beautiful cream or black soap-bar-shaped P-90 pickups are a truly noiseless solution that sells for a higher price.
It features a reverse-wound design, reason enough to eliminate the hum, noise, and feedback even if you turn two of them on in the same guitar.
More so, the sustain is solid, the single notes are thick, and the chords ring out with plenty of clarity and a slight compression for balanced volume output.
These options are premium and specific. They follow the historic vintage specs of Gibson’s pickups: Butyrate P-90 bobbins, USA-Made Alnico 4 materials for the magnets, a 42-gauge Plain Enamel Wire, and an old-school electronic circuit for an authentic vintage tone.
The Alnico 4 is a specially good choice as it offers a cleaner sound with plenty of sustain. Furthermore, its sound contains a minor hum that hides beneath the mid and low-range notes.
You would find a huge versatility on these pickups as well as you could be playing country, jazz, blues, rock, pop, soul, indie, etc.
More so, a soap-bar size and shape can fit into almost any old and new guitar, either in single-coil or humbucker cavities.
I have to finish by saying the price is definitely premium, and if you risk it, you’ll find these are worth every penny because of their superior build quality and a reliable electronics circuit.
It’s even better than a Gibson P-90.
It doesn’t have any drawbacks aside from its unfriendly price-tag, which might detract you from choosing this option.
5. Fender Pure Vintage ’65 P-90 Pickup
Our 5th pick is a fan favorite. It’s a recreation of Fender’s popular ‘65 Jazzmaster pickup set, and it can easily fit on any Fender guitar or Fender-shaped guitar.
These Fender pickups stay true to the original models and benefit from clot wire and fiber constructed bobbins that mirror the manufacturing methods of older times.
The magnet wires are also enamel coated to give a vintage warmth. The magnets are made of Alnico V, which delivers a hot output and a highly dynamic response.
It’s also wax-potted to prevent feedback and noise.
The tone it delivers is the coveted Fender vintage tone. It’s authentic, it’s quality, and it looks elegant.
Furthermore, the price is super-affordable as it always sells as a pair. They are exceptionally well-made and have a balanced string response all over the fret. If you’re into the genuine Fender ‘60s Jazzmaster-vibe tones, then go for this option.
If you’re looking for the authentic Gibson sound, though, you’re not gonna get it. That said, the real “downside” of this item is you not liking the Fender sound. If you do, then this is going to be great for you.
6. Tonerider Hot P-90 Bridge Pickup
Let’s finish the list with another budget entry.
This is one of the cheapest pickups you can find, and it’s also one of the best regarding sound quality.
The tone is balanced: it has a pristine bass response, articulate mid-range, and bright trebles. It allows your guitar to cut through the mix in a beautiful manner.
The Tonerider is beefy and it’s made of quality components. It’s also wax-potted to minimize feedback. Plus, the Alnico V magnets add a fat bass and deliver. Overall, it sounds like drive and rude‘90s music.
Lastly, these pieces are available in either black clovers or cream. For the sound and looks, the value it’s excellent.
Keep in mind these fit in bridge positions, either single-coil or humbucker cavity.
I see no downside on these pieces. Just take a loot of its tone and decide for yourself:
After taking a look at my selection, you have probably learned P-90s are versatile and unique. They can play most music genres, gain or no gain, and it would be great for you to try one out.
I can say the sound of a P-90 on your guitar will definitely set your music apart and make you sound more professional…like you know a thing or two about guitars. Plus, if that’s your thing, it will give your guitar a definite vintage vibe.
Whatever you pick, I’m happy for you. You’ve made a considered choice to invest your hard-earned money into your dreams.
What are your thoughts? Leave them in the comments below!
If you’re fond of an old guitar, the best thing you can do is swapping the pickups to keep the legacy alive.
What kind of guitars can use P-90 pickups?
Guitars with humbuckers can fit a P-90 pickup, although not every soap bar or dog-ear-shaped P-90s.
Lucky for you, P-90 models come in various styles and sizes. For example, whilst Les Paul has the original soap-bar P-90, the Fender Jazzmaster has its own design.
I wouldn’t recommend P-90 pickups for guitars made for metal like for example those made by Jackson or already equipped with EMG active pickups.
What kind of P-90 pickups are there?
All P-90 pickups sound similar but come in various shapes. This is an important factor as you can’t fit a P-90 in any guitar.
Here’s the type of P-90s you’ find out there:
- Soap bar P-90s are the original Gibson design. They come in a rectangular shape. The mounting screws are in the middle of the pickup, so they can’t fix it into the pickguard. They can fit on any Gibson or Epiphone guitar. They can also fit in most single-coil and humbucker cavities.
- Dog ear P-90s have a similar design. However, the screws are on a triangular extension on each end of the pickup. These require some modifications on your guitar and won’t fit into the pickguard either. Most times, they fit on Fender and Squier guitars.
- Humbucker casing P-90s have the standard humbucker design but are a bit thinner and longer. They fit in either cavity, in either position.
What are P-90 pickups good for?
These tapers have less wound than single-coils and add a little more growl instead of brightness and clarity.
They are still popular for they provide a mix option between the gain-crazy humbuckers and the cleaner single-coils. Thus, they are the most versatile pickups out there.
Furthermore, they are especially good for hollow and semi-hollow guitars.
On the downside, P-90s are not good for metal and other heavy genres, although they provide great lead tones for blues and rock genres.
What to look for in P-90s?
Your choice primarily depends on your budget, but also on your needs.
First of all, if you’re looking to upgrade or update your sound, then going for a conservative price could possibly not give you the result you’re craving. If this is your case, then go for one of the items on my list.
However, if you’re replacing broken or damaged pickups, you’re probably in a hurry. The best option then is going for a reliable brand like Fender, Seymour Duncan, Gibson, or DiMarzio. Anything you buy from these households will give you good results. More so, go for the same kind of pickups you’re changing (a humbucker for a humbucker, a single-coil for a single-coil).
If you’re looking for a vintage sound, pick something with older materials or designs like the Lindy Fralin alternative. Otherwise, if you want a modern sound, go for a modern creation like the Bluesbucker. Modern P-90s are cleaner and mostly noiseless.
Next, you need to think about your desired output, which means how much gain you want to have before amplification. Alnico 5 materials deliver the highest gain before amplification. Ceramic is cheaper than Alnico and features a cleaner sound with a similar output.
Lastly, wax-potted bars are protected from feedback. You must consider if the feedback is something you’d want to use, or if the feedback is something you’d want out.
How to change a pickup?
It comes down to basic wiring knowledge and tools. However, I recommend you go straight to a professional if you’re unsure about this.