P-90 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 kΩ at 6.405 kHz resonant frequency Current, µA Sonic qualities Resonant
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.
There are three major varieties of P-90 casing:
- 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.
- 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 kΩ for neck pickups and 8-9 kΩ 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. 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. 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)
- Kinman Guitar Electrix P-90 Hx and P-90 Hx Inaugural Series
- 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
- Bare Knuckle Mississippi Queen (Single Coil)
- Gibson P-94 (single coil)
- Tonerider Rebel90 R90 (single coil)
- 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)
- Duesenberg Guitars Domino (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.
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.
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:
- Carlos Santana used a Gibson SG Special on his earliest recordings, such as Evil Ways and Black Magic Woman. Santana's performance in the film Woodstock shows him playing this P90 equipped guitar.
- Martin Barre used a Gibson Les Paul Junior on the classic Jethro Tull album Aqualung (Jethro Tull album)
- Allen Collins, in the early years of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Collins had a Gibson Firebird, with a dog-eared P-90 pickup in the bridge position, and a mini-humbucker in the neck position before he switched to a Gibson Explorer with humbuckers, but later also used a double-cut Gibson Les Paul Jr. with a P-90.
- Mike Bloomfield, in his days with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, used a 1954 Gibson Les Paul with P-90 pickups for their landmark East-West album.
- Joshua Cain, Guitarist for rock band Motion City Soundtrack. He's most notable for using a Gibson SG Junior with P-90s.
- Mike Campbell, founding member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers used a 1955 Les Paul goldtop with soapbar P-90s with the covers removed from years 1975-1987. Campbell also uses a 1962 Gibson SG Special with soapbars.
- Zal Cleminson, Founder member of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, whose distinctive sound on the bands albums comes from a Gibson SG with P90's.
- Eddie Cochran, Pioneering rock guitarist used a Gretsch 6120 with a P-90 in the neck position.
- Scotty Moore, Electric guitarist for Elvis Presley, used P-90 equipped guitars such as the ES-295, L5 CES and Super 400 CES
- John Fogerty, formerly singer and guitarist of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Gibson Les Paul Goldtop with P-90s during his CCR years and his solo career
- David Gilmour - Gibson Les Paul Goldtop for the solo on "Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)". Also made use of a different Les Paul Goldtop, with Bigsby vibrato tailpiece, for recording several songs on his On an Island album, and for the subsequent tour. Most noticeable on "This Heaven".
- George Harrison - Epiphone Casino, bought at the same time as Lennon's
- Noddy Holder - singer and guitarist of Slade often used a Gibson SG with one P-90 especially at the beginning of his career
- Tony Iommi - 1965 Gibson SG Special, featured chrome covered P-90 in the bridge and a John Birch Superflux in the neck. Used on first six Black Sabbath albums.
- Alan Wilson - Gibson Les Paul
- Robby Krieger of The Doors - Gibson SG with P-90, stolen at the end of Doors era
- John Lennon - Epiphone Casino, starting around the recording of The Beatles' Revolver LP and continuing through his early solo career
- Steve Marriott - Used a Fender Telecaster fitted with a P-90 in the neck-position. Epiphone Dwight during the Humble Pie years
- Paul McCartney used a Epiphone Casino for guitar solos on The Beatles' "Taxman", "Ticket To Ride" from Help! album, etc.
- Jeff Lynne used a Gibson Les Paul Goldtop with the ELO and through all his solo career
- Wes Montgomery, influential 1950s jazz guitarist
- Les Paul, inventor and jazz/session guitarist
- Tom Scholz of Boston 1968 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop.
- Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke uses Gibson Les Paul Juniors, SG Juniors and Specials.
- Richard Thompson - Used a gold top Gibson Les Paul during the recording of Fairport Convention's Liege & Lief album. Now uses a custom "Ferringtoncaster" uses a P-90 in the neck position.
- Johnny Thunders, used Gibson Les Paul Juniors with a single P-90 pickup throughout his career with the New York Dolls and with the Heartbreakers.
- Mick Jones of The Clash used a Gibson Les Paul Jr. during the recording of their debute album
- Pete Townshend - Gibson SG, during The Who's Tommy era and the "Live At Leeds" album
- Muddy Waters, legendary Bluesman, used a Gibson Les Paul Goldtop.
- Leslie West of Mountain, Gibson Les Paul Juniors
- Neil Young - Gibson Les Paul Gold Top, affectionately referred to as 'Old Black', with one P-90 at the neck, as well as more traditional '50s Gold Tops, used on the recent Greendale and Freedom of Speech tours
- George Thorogood uses a thinline Gibson ES-125 with twin P-90s.
- Chris Spedding used a Gibson Les Paul Jr. of one type or another for most of the 1970s and 80s.
- Derek St. Holmes, singer and guitarist of Ted Nugent used Gibson Les Paul Juniors.
- Bob Marley often used a Gibson Les Paul Special with two p90s while on stage.
- William Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain uses an ES-330 and appeared with one in several videos.
- Billie Joe Armstrong uses Gibson Les Paul Juniors and even has a model named after him that contains a special soapbar pickup called an "H-90"
- Mike Ness' primary guitar being a 1971 Goldtop Les Paul with Custom Shop Seymour Duncan P90 pickups in both the neck and bridge position
- Lars Frederiksen
- Thom Yorke uses a Gibson ES 125-T, a Gibson ES-125 and a Gibson ES-330.
- Ed O'Brien uses a Gibson ES-330TD and an Epiphone Casino.
- Troy Van Leeuwen (from Queens of the stone age) uses his signature guitar (Yamaha SA503 TVL) and a custom Yamaha AES1500
- Lee Tyler McAdams multi-instrumentalist & singer for Lee McAdams & The Cosmic Factory (uses them in an Italia Rimini guitar)
- Dallas Hodge bluesman who's played with Johnny Winter, Delbert McClinton, Bonnie Raitt, Canned Heat, Alto Reed tours with a 1968 Les Paul Gold Top '52 re-issue with P-90s
- Geordie Walker influential guitarist with Killing Joke, famous for his Gibson ES295's & highly original sounds
- Jussi Ylikoski - guitarist of Disco Ensemble uses a Gibson SG '61 Reissue
- Billy Lunn - guitarist/vocalist of The Subways uses Gibson SG with P-90.
- Bill Steer - former guitarist of both Napalm Death and Carcass, currently heading up Firebird and also plays guitar in Gentlemans Pistols and Angel Witch. Steer plays a number of '50s era Les Paul Juniors outfitted with the original P-90 pickups.
- Keith Richards - Used an Epiphone Casino in the early days of The Rolling Stones and has used a couple of Gibson Les Paul Juniors since the 1970s.
- Brian Jones - Gibson ES-330.
- Phil X - Lead singer and guitarist for The Drills. Uses Gibson P-94 in LTD Viper
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