P90 vs Humbucker: The Pros and Cons of Each

You’ve undoubtedly heard about humbucker pickups if you’ve looked into this type of thing. Along with single coil pickups, they’re the most popular pickups. But there is another type of pickup, called the P90 pickup that looks like something in between the two, and it’s also pretty popular in certain genres. How then do P90s compare to humbuckers?

We’re going to look at P90 vs humbucker pickups. After this article, you’re going to know the pros and cons and what’s right for you. I’ll even give you a few recommendations for each if you’re in the mood for shopping.

P90 vs Humbucker- A Quick Look


  • Punchy, gritty, bright tone
  • More vintage sound
  • Good clarity
  • More highs and mids
  • Not as much volume as humbuckers
  • Tend to hum or buzz
  • Great versatility
  • Works well clean, overdriven, and distorted
  • Good for jazz, blues, indie rock, punk, reggae


  • Smooth, warm, full tone
  • Less clarity than P90s
  • More mids and lows
  • Good volume
  • No hum
  • Longer sustain
  • Works well clean, overdriven, and distorted
  • Versatile
  • Good for rock, metal, and blues

What are P90 Pickups?

2 What are P90 Pickups

P90 pickups are actually a type of single coil pickup. But as I alluded to before, they are something between single coil pickups and humbuckers. They have a single row of magnets like single coil pickups, and most of them have that same hum that single coils have too. But like humbuckers, they have a higher output, although not quite as high as humbuckers.

The result is a clear, hot, punchy tone with more mid frequencies. This allows them to be versatile, whether you want clean tones or love distortion and overdrive. They’re popular for indie rock, punk, jazz, and even metal. Despite the clarity, they also have a gritty sound which works well for harder genres.

P90 pickup have been around since the 1950s when they were first created by Gibson. They were quite popular at first but then fell out of favor when humbuckers improved. Around the 70s though, punk guitarists favored the unique and versatile tone of the P90s and their popularity surged again and hasn’t really waned to pre-70s levels again.

They are often called soap bar pickups because of their shape. This is the most common P90 shape. They also come in dog ear shape which basically has the panels for the screws extending in a triangular shape. The dog ear P90s are often more difficult to put on a guitar because they are bigger and shaped differently to the general rectangular shape of most pickups. While they used to only be available in white, they now come in a range of colors with plastic and metal cases available.


  • The tone is somewhere between single coil and humbucker pickups
  • They sound bright with more mids
  • The sound has good clarity
  • They are versatile (great for guitar solos, good for strumming, clean, distortion, overdrive)
  • Some companies make P90 pickups that have no hum


  • They hum when the guitar isn’t being played but is plugged in
  • They aren’t as loud as humbucker pickups

The Best P90 Pickup Recommendations for any Budget

Kinman P-90 Bucker (Zero Hum)

These pickups may be pricey, but if you want noiseless P90 pickups, here you go. They’ll also fit into humbucker slots (52mm Tune-O-Matic bridges and up to 54mm saddle spreads), if you feel like switching from humbuckers to P90s. These pickups give you a rich tone with long sustain, clarity, and good mids. They look good in black and silver too. These P90s are best in the bridge position since they are designed to make the mids shine.

Seymour Duncan Antiquity P-90 Soapbar Pickup

If you love the old Gibson Les Pauls and their iconic, now vintage tone, but want a modern pickup that looks and sounds the same, this one is for you. Plus you’ll be getting the quality that Seymour Duncan is known for. Most people love the sound, finding it authentic and feel that this pickup is very high quality. This pickup is a beautifully understated black.

Metallor P90 Soapbar Bridge and Neck Pickup Set

If you’re on a budget, but still want decent sounding pickups, these will be suitable until you can upgrade your guitar at a later stage. They have vintage ferrite and alnico 5 magnets making them good for heavier music that requires a lot of distortion. Most people find that they stand up pretty well to better brands and sound decent. The cream color of the casing gives them that vintage look.

LAMSAM P-90 Pickup Set

Another option for if you’re on a budget, this set is a good choice. These soap bar pickups have alnico 5 magnets with adjustable poles to tweak your tone. These pickups are wax potted to keep noise to a minimum. Most people feel that these pickups sound hot but not overly bright and really deliver on overdrive and distortion. Many feel that they can compare well to more expensive brands.

OriPure P90 Dog Ear Pickup

This is a good option if you can spend a little more but not enough to buy one of the high-end brands. You can choose whether you want a neck or bridge pickup. They have alnico 2 magnets which are weaker than some of the other pickups on this list, resulting in a lower output and gentler tone. They are wax potted to reduce noise. Choose between black or cream.

P90 Guitar Recommendations

Yamaha Pacifica PAC611 Solid-Body Electric Guitar

The Pacifica 611 guitar comes with Seymour Duncan SP90-1 and Custom 5 Trembucker pickups. The combination of these two pickups give you a lot of versatility. Full tone from the SP90 and good high end from the Trembucker. You get a 3-way pickup selector and push-pull coil split controls. There are also master volume and tone controls. It has an alder body and maple top. You can choose between the HFM and VFM. Simply put, the VFM has a tremolo bridge. Most people love this guitar for its versatility.

Guild Guitars Starfire I Jet 90 Semi-Hollow Body Electric Guitar

If you’re a fan of semi-hollow body guitars and vintage looks, the Starfire I Jet 90 has that classic look from the 50s. It comes with stock Guild Franz P90 pickups. You get a 6-way rotary pickup selector, Guild vibrato tailpiece and a Tune-o-matic bridge. It does clean playing well but also handles overdrive with aplomb. The body and top is maple. Most people find that this guitar has a lot of depth and clarity to the tone. The main complaints were about defects, many that may have been caused by improper shipping.

Gibson Les Paul Special

If you want a P90 guitar made by the original inventors of the P90 pickup, here’s the Gibson Les Paul Special. With that vintage look, even the nitro finish stays true to this classic guitar. Just be sure to by a nitro-safe guitar case and guitar stand if your guitars spend a lot of time in either of these.

You get two P90 pickups with a tone and volume control for each and a 3-way pickup selector. The body is mahogany. For those with hands on the larger side, this guitar has medium jumbo frets. Most people find that the P90s on this guitar play beautifully clean but that they really growl on overdrive. The guitar is highly playable with minimal setup necessary.

You can get it here at Sweetwater.

What are Humbucker Pickups?

3 What are Humbucker Pickups

Humbucker pickups have two rows of magnets and a higher output. This makes them good for overdrive and distortion. This isn’t to say that you can’t play clean, but they don’t have the same level of clarity that single coil and P90 pickups have. You can still crank out awesome riffs and solos with humbuckers though thanks to their smoother tone. They have a fuller, darker tone than P90 pickups and are a favorite among rock and metal guitarists because of this.

One of the perks of humbuckers are that they don’t have that hum that most P90 pickups have. This is because the two coils phase out noise. Hence, the name humbuckers. Essentially, they buck the hum. The first humbuckers were invented in 1934 for by Electro-Voice for use in audio equipment. In the 1950s however, Gibson and Gretsch started manufacturing them for guitars.


  • They have a warmer, fuller, smoother tone
  • There is no hum
  • They work well for strumming and picking
  • They have good volume


  • Because of their full tone, they can get lost in the mix if the sound engineer doesn’t know what they’re doing

The Best Humbucker Pickup Recommendations for any Budget

Seymour Duncan JB and Jazz Set

These hot rod humbucker pickups are versatile. The sound is well-rounded with the highs, mids, and lows all sounding great. The set has a neck and bridge pickup each tailored for their respective positions. They are suitable for country, jazz, blues, rock, and metal. Most people love the fat, hot sound they get from these pickups and feel they are a good upgrade to their guitars. Plus Seymour Duncan has helpful diagrams on their site for splitting the coils.

EMG ZW Zakk Wylde Signature Humbucker Pickup Set (Active Pickups)

If you’re a fan of Black Label Society, check out these Zakk Wylde Signature humbuckers. They sound every bit as aggressive as his. They offer a long sustain and have tone and volume control. Most people love how versatile they are and that they handle gain and overdrive well. Just note that you’ll need a 9v battery to operate these pickups.

Seymour Duncan SH-PG1b Pearly Gates Humbucker Pickup

If you want something simple but classy, this gold pickup may be what you’re looking for. It gives you a more vintage tone with bright high end. The moderate output means that it’s not quite as aggressive as some of the other humbuckers out there, but still has enough power to handle overdrive and distortion well. Most people like the clarity, sustain, and balanced tone, saying it’s good for rock, blues, and jazz. Plus, they enjoy the way it looks.

SAPHUE Electric Guitar Humbucker Pickups

If you’re on a budget, these high output pickups are pretty good for the price. You can do the neck and bridge with this set. Most people feel that these are clear and perform well when using effects, gain, or when played clean. Choose between black, ivory, or zebra.

FLEOR Electric Guitar Humbucker Pickups

Another budget option, these will do okay until you have the cash to upgrade your guitar to better pickups. These pickups have ceramic magnets and are fully wax potted to minimize noise. These work best for genres that use a lot of overdrive and distortion. Many people are happy with the sound of these pickups. These pickups have been described as not worse than better quality pickups, just different. They sound harsh, which is good for heavier and more aggressive genres but sound good clean too.

Humbucker Guitar Recommendations

Fender Player Telecaster HH Electric Guitar

The Fender Player Telecaster gives you two Player series alnico 2 humbucker pickups and a 3-way pickup selector and a push-pull coil split control. You also get a master tone and volume control. The body is alder with a maple top. It’s available in a few different colors and a choice of a white or pau ferro pickguard. Many people enjoy the more modern but still Telecaster sound of this guitar and the push-pull coil split function.

Ibanez GRG 7 String Solid-Body Electric Guitar

If you’re on a budget, but would love to explore all that a guitar with an additional string has to offer, here you go. The IbanezGRG has an additional low B string. This means that you can play heavier music without needing to down tune your guitar, and that you have a whole new range of notes to make awesome sounding chords and riffs with. It comes with two Infinity R ceramic humbucker pickups. You get a 3-way pickup selector and two coil split options for even greater versatility. The body is poplar.

Most people find this guitar sounds pretty good when setup just like it is out of the box. But due to the affordable price, it also makes a great guitar for upgrading over time. Get it in transparent black sunburst or light metallic blue.

Washburn Parallaxe 6 String Electric Guitar (Michael Sweet Signature V)

If you’re a fan of Stryper, late 2000s Boston, or the man himself, check out the Washburn Parallaxe Michael Sweet Signature V guitar. It definitely stands out with the yellow and black colors and shape. The gig bag comes included, a plus with the unique V-shape of the guitar.

You get two active Seymour Duncan Blackout humbuckers with the neck and bridge pickups switched, just like Michael Sweet likes it. There’s a 3-way pickup selector and a volume and tone knob. If you have big hands, the frets are jumbo sized. The bridge is a Floyd Rose Special tremolo bride and built in Buzz Feiten Tuning System for perfect intonation. Most people love the tone of the guitar and say it’s great for shredding.

A Few More Things to Bear in Mind

When it comes to pickups, it doesn’t hurt to have more information on your side when it comes to choosing the right one for you.

Tone is Dependent on Many Factors

  • Tone is dependent on the hardware for both types of pickups. The magnets used, how the coils are wound, etc, all can affect the sound.
  • With both pickups, you can play around with the tone controls and pickup selectors to tweak your tone.
  • Placement matters. Generally pickups at the neck will sound brighter and pickups at the bridge will sound warmer. You can find sets, or choose neck or bridge pickups when you purchase. Bridge pickups have a higher output. It’s down to preference whether humbuckers or P90s sound good in these positions. Some people even prefer to switch neck and bridge pickups for a different sound.
  • The acoustics of the wood that your guitar is constructed from also plays a role, especially if you have a hollow body or semi-hollow body guitar.
  • Coil split is only available for humbuckers really because of the two coils. This gives you the versatility of playing in single coil or humbucker mode.

Alnico vs Ceramic Magnets

Alnico stands for aluminum, nickel, and cobalt. This type of magnet has become the more popular choice for pickups. You get alnico 2, 3, 4, 5, and 8. This denotes the strength of the magnet, 8 being the most powerful.

Alnico 5 is the most popular choice because of how versatile it is, being suitable for lighter and heavier genres of music. Alnico 2 produces a very vintage tone. The weakest is actually alnico 3, which is better for music that has a softer tone and shines best with high-end sparkle. Alnico 4 is very influenced by the acoustics of your guitar and is versatile as they are fairly balanced, mainly shining in the mids. Alnico 8 is usually reserved for fusion, hard rock, and metal because of the high output that sounds aggressive.

Ceramic magnets, also called ferrite magnets are mostly used for heavier, more aggressive genres. This is because they sound gritty and harsh. They have a very high output. They often get a bad rap because they’re used in the cheaper pickups, but they’re also used in some of the best brands too. It’s all how you use it. If you’re into rock and metal, they’ll work very well. But it’s all preference too. Maybe you don’t mind a little grit in softer styles of music.

Active vs Passive Pickups

Active pickups are powered by the electricity running through the guitar. Passive pickups require 9v batteries or phantom power. A lot of people prefer active pickups since they don’t have to worry about replacing batteries, but often passive pickups are clearer. Technology these days has produced some very clear active pickups too. So this really comes down to preference again.

Guitar Pickups Are Not One Size Fits All

P90s and humbuckers aren’t interchangeable. The soap bar shape of P90s is longer and thinner than humbuckers. That said, you can sometimes find P90 pickups that are sized like humbuckers and vice versa, although they are rarer.


Pickups contribute so much to the tone of your guitar. Switching your pickups to better ones or simply ones with a different output can dramatically improve or change the tone of your guitar. P90s are versatile, but their gritty tone favors rock and metal quite a bit. Humbuckers are favored for their silence and versatility. The fact that they generally have a smoother tone makes them sound so good clean, but their higher output and volume works so well for distortion and overdrive.

Really, it comes down to preference. Once you’re happy with your pickups, the only limits are your skill level and creativity. So explore, have fun, and practice. Happy jamming!

P90 vs Humbucker The Pros and Cons of Each