Epiphone Casino P90.jpg
Manufacturer Gibson
Period 1946–1957, reissues since 1968
Type Passive single-coil
Magnet type Alnico 3 (early), Alnico 5 (later)
Output specifications
Voltage (RMS), V 241.1 mV at 6.405 kHz resonant frequency
Voltage (peak), V
Noise, dBV
Impedance, kΩ 747 at 6.405 kHz resonant frequency
Current, µA
Sonic qualities
frequency, Hz
6.405 kHz

The P-90 is a single coil electric guitar pickup produced by Gibson since 1946. Having a more complex architecture and larger dimensions than Fender's single coils, it is occasionally mistaken for a humbucker. According to the Gibson website, "the lean and mean P-90 offers a stellar combination of high output and biting treble response."



P-90 pickups were introduced in 1946 when Gibson resumed guitar production after World War II. They were originally used to replace Gibson's original "bar" or "blade" pickup (also known by many as the "Charlie Christian pickup") on models such as the ES-150, and by the end of the 1940s it was the standard pickup on all models, including the Les Paul introduced in 1952.

  • SIDENOTE: There was also a short period between 1940 and 1942 that Gibson had already done away with their original Charlie Christian pickup (introduced 1936) and moved on to the "P-13". The P-13 was the predecessor to the P-90 that was used up until Gibson shut down shop for World War II.

The P-90's reign as the Gibson standard pickup was short-lived, however, as a new design of pickup known as the humbucker (occasionally named PAF) was introduced in 1957, and very quickly took over as the preferred choice for all Gibson models. The P-90 was then used on more budget models such as the ES-330, the Les Paul Junior and Special, and the SG Junior and Special, such as those used by Pete Townshend. This trend continued throughout the 1960s and particularly in the early 1970s where the pickup all but disappeared from the entire Gibson range. By the 1970s, single-coil pickups, mini-humbucking pickups and uncovered humbucking pickups began replacing the P-90 pickups on Gibson's budget and lower-end models.

In 1968, however, Gibson re-issued the original, single-cutaway Les Paul - one version of which was a Goldtop with P-90 pickups. In 1972, they produced Limited Edition reissues - the "58 Reissue" - actually based on the '54 Goldtop Les Paul, with a stopbar tailpiece; and the '54 Custom, the Black Beauty, equipped with a P-90 in the bridge and an Alnico 5 pickup at the neck - the total production of these guitars was quite small. In 1974, Gibson put the P-90 pickup in their Les Paul '55, a reissue of the Les Paul Special from that era. It was followed in 1976 by the Les Paul Special Double-cutaway model and in 1978 by the Les Paul Pro (which had an Ebony fingerboard with trapezoid inlays). Since the 1970s the P-90 pickup has seen some success in various models in the Gibson line, mostly through reissues and custom versions of existing models. Currently it is featured most prominently on the Les Paul Faded Doublecut, and certain models in the "Historic" range.

In the early 1970s, many Punk rock guitarists such as Mick Jones of The Clash, Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols, and Johnny Thunders of The New York Dolls began using Les Paul Juniors and Les Paul Specials equipped with P-90's because of the cutting overdriven sound and the inexpensive nature of the guitars.

The P-90 was also marketed by Gibson in the 1970s as the "Laid Back" pickup, as part of a line of "named" pickups.[1]


There are three major varieties of P-90 casing:

Gibson P-90 soap bar
  • Soap bar casing has true rectangular shape and the mounting screws are contained within the coil perimeter, positioned between the pole pieces, between the second and third strings and between the fourth and fifth strings, thus creating an irregular and somewhat unusual pattern. Occasionally they are mistaken for pole pieces, thus sometimes the P-90 is erroneously said to have eight pole pieces. The "soap bar" nickname most probably comes from its predominantly rectangular shape and proportions, and the fact that the first P-90s on the original Gibson Les Paul Model of 1952 were white. A variant of the Soap-Bar P-90 is one which uses the "dog ear" mounting plate, or frame, but the "soap bar" cover. The reason for the variation was to mount the pickup from a flat overlaying pickguard, such as is found on the Gibson SG Special (and other SG guitars using P-90's). The "dog ear" mounting plate is fitted with screws and springs that attach it to the flat pickguard and allow the pickup to hang within the body route. The soap bar cover is used, and the soap bar mounting screws are used to affix the cover to the dog ear plate.
P90 dog ear
  • Dog ear is a casing type with extensions at both sides of pickup that somewhat resemble dog's ears. These are extensions of the predominantly rectangular cover that encompass the outlying mounting screws. Dog-ear P-90 pickups were commonly mounted on Gibson's hollowbody guitars like the ES-330 and occasionally on solid body models like the Les Paul Junior. The same pickups were also available on Epiphone models (since Gibson was building Epiphone guitars in the 1950s) and the design is best remembered for its appearance on the hollow body Epiphone Casino of the mid to late 1960s. All three Beatles guitarists bought one, and recently[when?], Paul McCartney said, "If I had to choose one electric guitar, it would be this one."
  • Humbucker Casing The Gibson designed P-90's come in a unique shape, wider than a Fender-style single coil but narrower than a humbucker, and longer than both. If one wanted to install a P-90 in a guitar routed for humbucker pickups (a Les Paul Standard for example), the existing route in the body would have to be modified. This may result in aesthetic issues, due to gaps between the body and hardware, or even structural problems, as is the case when re-routing the neck humbucker opening on a Gibson SG guitar. Because of this, "pseudo" P-90s in a humbucker-sized casing are common (see below).


Being a single-coil design the tone of a P-90 is somewhat brighter and more transparent than a humbucker, though not quite as crisp and snappy as Fender's single-coil pickups. The tone therefore shares some of the single coil twang, but having large amounts of midrange and often described as brisk. Popular guitars that use/have the option of using P-90s are the Gibson SG, Gibson Les Paul, Ernie Ball Axis series and the Epiphone Casino. Fender Jazzmaster pickups are often confused with the P-90, however, their only similarity is cosmetic since there are many significant visual, dimensional and electrical differences.

All Gibson P-90 pickups (vintage and otherwise) were machine wound on Lesona coil winding machines, although their electrical specifications may vary slightly due to operator error. In common with many other modern pickup types, there are two versions of modern P-90: neck and bridge version. Their DC resistance tends to be around 7-8  for neck pickups and 8-9  for bridge pickups. Earlier pickups (around 1952) had Alnico 3 magnets, but in 1957 Gibson switched to Alnico 5.

To illustrate the sound by way of contrast, here is the sound of a Seymour Duncan vintage Soapbar, and here is a Seymour Duncan 59 (PAF) humbucker, playing the same riff with exactly the same guitar and amplifier.

Hum-canceling and humbucker-shaped versions

One drawback of the P-90 pickup is its susceptibility to 50 Hz / 60 Hz mains "hum" induced in its coil by external electro-magnetic fields originating in mains powered electrical appliances, motors, lighting ballasts and transformers, etc. This susceptibility is common to all single-coil pickup designs, however the P-90 having around 2000 more turns of wire in its coil than Fender single coils produces a large amount of hum and for some players is objectionable enough to drive them to use side-by-side humbucking pickups instead. Several manufacturers now make hum-canceling pickups that share the form-factor of a P-90 and claim to have a similar sound.

There are two types of noise canceling P-90, stacked coils and side-by-side coils. In the first case, a second coil is placed below the main one; due to its position, the amount of sound picked up from the strings' vibration is almost negligible (as can be proven by selecting only the bottom coil in a four-conductor stacked pickup) but, due to its close proximity to the main coil, the amount of hum it picks up is very similar and it is effectively canceled by connecting both coils out of phase. A flaw of this design is magnetic coupling between the coils means the string signal is canceled almost to the same extent as the hum.[citation needed] In the second case the operation is the same as in a typical humbucker: both coils sense the strings' vibration and, being connected out of phase but with the position of the magnet giving them opposite magnetic polarities, the signal from both coils is added, while the hum (which is not affected by the magnetic polarity of each coil) is effectively canceled. Consequently these types of pickups sound more like a humbucker than a P-90, since they are in effect the same as Gibson's mini-humbucker.

Obviously in both cases the arrangement of coils and magnets is different from the standard P-90, so the sound can never be an exact replica of the original. How close they come to it is left to the judgement of the reader after conducting the necessary listening tests.

  • Seymour Duncan manufactures a stacked version of the P-90 called the STK-P1.
  • Circa 1970 Gibson replaced the P-90 on several models with a mini side-by-side humbucker that was originally used on Epiphone models such as the Sheraton and was interchangeable with the P-90, the most notable being the Les Paul Gold Top Deluxe (it should be noted that, in this case, the aim was not to replicate the sound of a P-90: among other differences, the output level of a mini-humbucker is much lower than a P-90, and even lower than a standard PAF-type humbucker). In response to a resurgence of popularity of the P-90 Gibson later came out with their P-100, which is a stacked version (see above) of the P-90. They reduce hum but some guitarists claim that the P-100 shares few of the characteristics of the single coil P-90. Gibson also makes a new P-90 version called H-90. This version is built into the Gibson Billie Joe Armstrong Signature Guitar (Les Paul Junior). The H-90 has two stacked coils but Gibson claims that it does not lose the characteristics of a P-90. It also has a higher output.
  • Kinman Guitar Electrix manufactures a pickup called P-90 Hx, meaning hum canceling. It has identical appearance of a P-90 and has six adjustable screw poles in the middle of the pickup. It comprises some 202 parts making it the most complex of all pickups; a single coil P-90 has 13 parts. The P-90 Hx has an extremely efficient laminated steel noise sensing coil arrangement which has a remarkably low impedance of 600 Ohms. There is a strong correlation between impedance of noise sensing coils and sonic fidelity.[citation needed] The design is subject of two US Patents, one being *7,022,909, and one pending. Claims that the P-90 Hx delivers authentic P-90 sound without hum have not been disputed. Independent YouTube demonstration videos seem to confirm the claims.
  • DiMarzio produces their DP169 Virtual P90 and DP164 DLX 90 which use side-by-side coils for hum cancellation. DiMarzio also offers humbucker-sounding pickups with a P-90 form factor, such as the DLX Plus, P-90 Super Distortion and Tone Zone P-90 (all are side-by-side hum-canceling designs meant to emulate the sound of full-sized humbuckers).

Since many electric guitars have their body and/or pickguard routed for humbucker pickups, some manufacturers offer P-90ish sounding pickups with this form-factor so that guitarists can replace their existing pickups and get a sound similar to that of a P-90 without having to physically alter their guitars. Again, since the design these pickups differs from a standard P-90 in the number, arrangement and/or dimensions of their coils and magnets, the sound is not an exact replica of the original, the degree of success of each of them being the subject of debate among guitarists in various guitar-related internet forums and discussion groups.

  • Harmonic Design Z-90 The original Humbucker-size single coil pickup. Developed in early 1990s by enlarging the P-90 tonal and dynamic range. Predates Gibson P-94 and other attempts at a 'P-90' sound in a humbucker-size replacement.
  • Seymour Duncan SPH90 Phat Cat P90 (single coil) and SHPR1 P-Rails (a P90 coil and a single rail-type coil side-by-side, with the overall size of a humbucker)
  • DiMarzio DP163 Bluesbucker (side-by-side coil design, hum-canceling)
  • The Creamery "Humbucker Sized P90" (Single Coil) - They also make a P90 sized Humbucker that looks exactly like a standard P90
  • Tonerider Rebel90 R90 (single coil)
Duesenberg Domino (humbucker-shaped) P90
  • Kent Armstrong S-905 (single coil)
  • Lindy Fralin P-92 and Twangmaster (split coil, hum-cancelling. Similar coil arrangement as post-'57 Fender Precision Bass pickups, with each coil covering half of the strings)
  • Häussel P90-HB (single coil)
  • IronGear Alchemist 90 (single coil)
  • Klein Pickups in Texas is a manufacturer of authentic, hand-wound P-90's, all from hand-made parts and offers 2 vintage and a high-wind version.

Finally, there are also some attempts at emulating the P-90 sound in a single coil-sized pickup, such as the Vintage Vibe Guitars SP-90. The Lindy Fralin bridge position "SP-43" is also an exact P-90 replica built to fit in a single-coil slot, and their "SP-42" models also have sound characteristics similar to the classic P-90.

Other brands

The Epiphone WildKat is a good example of a guitar that utilises the P90 pickup. Other guitars do not use it, for the most part.

Notable users

P90 Soapbar-3, made by Seymour Duncan

The soapbar or P-90 pickup is known for having a distinct single-coil sound that is fatter and thicker than Fender single coils, and has been used by guitarists across almost all genres. P-90s have been used for jazz, blues, progressive rock, classic rock, psychedelic rock, glam rock, and punk rock. Famous users of P-90s are:


  1. ^ Brosnac, Donald (1983). Guitar Electronics for Musicians. New York: Amsco Publications. ISBN 0-7119-0232-1. 

External links

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