Best P90 Pickups – The Perfect Hybrid Pickup?

The P90 pickup offers a fuller sound than traditional single coils and a brighter sound with more attack than a humbucker. Imagine a sound somewhere between the meat of a Gibson ES-335 and the brightness, power and richness of a Strat – that’s what the P90 pickup gives you. No wonder guitarists love them.

The one downside is that P90 pickups are found on Gibson guitars, and Gibson’s don’t usually come cheap. The good news is you can get the iconic sound of a P90 on your existing guitar, without having to fork out for a Gibson.

Soap bar P90 guitar pickups

In this article we’re going to look at what P90 are, why you might want to buy one, and which P90’s on the market are worth considering so you can get that lush Gibson P90 sound without having to break the bank.

If you’re in a rush, here’s the products we review:

At a Glance: Our Choice of the 8 Best P90 Pickups on the Market

PREVIEW PRODUCT FEATURES

Lindy Fralin Hum-Cancelling P-90 Dogear Pickup Neck - Black

Lindy Fralin Hum Cancelling P90
  • Hum-cancelling effect when both pickups are used
  • Highly controlled production
  • Plenty of custom choices
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Seymour Duncan SPH90 Phat Cat P90 Electric Guitar Pickup - (Bridge Position) (Nickel)

Seymour Duncan Phat Cat P90
  • Production quality is high
  • Utilizes braided cabling
  • Brightens the tone of a guitar
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Pickup - Kent Armstrong, Stealth 90 - Noiseless P90 Bridge, Black, Plastic Cover

Kent Armstrong Stealth 90
  • Tons of tonal flexibility
  • Has a hard crunch and low hum
  • Cheaper than other P90s
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Gibson Gear IMP9R-CC P-90 Single Coil with Creme Soapbar Cover

Gibson P90
  • Richness of sound
  • Versatile approach that can suit any musical style
  • Precision of tone
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DiMarzio DP163 Bluesbucker Humbucker Pickup Nickel Cover Regular Spacing

DiMarzio DP163 Bluesbucker P90
  • Adjustable hot coil
  • Can function as single coils
  • Low cost
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Wilkinson Cream P90 Set Neck Bridge Guitar Pickups Set Soapbar Us Seller

Wilkinson Cream P90
  • Sound is smooth and vintage
  • Extremely budget friendly
  • Easy to install
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Seymour Duncan Antiquity P90 Dog Ear Pickup Set Black, Neck & Bridge w/ 2 Sets of Strings

Seymour Duncan Antiquity P90
  • Excellent precision of sound
  • Vintage look and sound
  • Respond to playing style with extreme accuracy
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Gibson Gear IMP4T-BS P-94T Humbucker Sized P-90 Single Coil, Black

Gibson Gear IMP4T-BS P-94T
  • Easy to install
  • High level of control over dynamics
  • Excellent sustain
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Here’s what we’re going to cover in this article: feel free to jump to a section of interest, or read from top to bottom to make the most of the advice.

What are P90’s?

There are three main types of pick up: Fender type single coils (used on Fender Strats and Telecasters), Gibson type humbuckers and Gibson type single coils (known as P90s). The P90 pickup gives you a full sound with a brightness you’d expect from a humbucker.

P90’s are a type of single coil pickup but they have a very noticeably different sound to other single coils. They were originally positioned as a budget version of the humbucker pickup, and were found on Gibson’s mid-level instruments. Regardless of their budget beginnings, the P90 was a massive success and was the chosen pick ups of many great bands and guitarist. Carlos Santana, Pete Townsend and Tommy Iommi of Black Sabbath among many others used P-90’s to great effect.

What the P90 Pickup Sounds Like

With a beefier sound than a single-coil and more articulation than a humbucker, the P90 is the muse of many a guitarist. To hear what they sound like, check out this video (forward to 2.00) to hear P90s on a Jazzmaster.

Benefits of P90s

As I’ve mentioned, the P90 has a very appealing centre ground between Fender single coil and humbucker pickups. The P-90 sound has more punch in the mid and high range than a normal single coil, which enables them to provide a much fuller sound. They also have a brighter sound and more attack than a humbucker and deliver plenty of top end response.

What this means is that – with P90s – you have sound that is more versatile than other pickups. There are a few P90’s that have the “hum” of a single coil pickup, but it’s more common to find ones that are able to cancel this out.

Any Disadvantages?

Talk to any seasoned guitarist and they’ll know that single coil pickups have one big drawback: unwanted hum. P90s are single coils remember, so it’s inevitable you’re going to get a bit of hum. Noise is less an issue with the modern P90s we review here though.

Buying Tips: What to Look for When Purchasing P90 Pickups

There are a few other things you need to know about P90’s before you go rushing into buying one.

P-90 Pickup Styles

There are three flavours of P90 pickups that mostly relate to the shape, so the guitar you’re planning on mounting it on will influence which one you ultimately purchase: each guitar can only fit certain shapes of pickup without also modifying the body (which would obviously have an impact on the guitar’s sound).

The two main styles are:

Soap Bar

The original P90 pick up was a soap bar style pick up. Used on solid body guitars, with these pickups the mounting screws are placed between the strings so that it appears to have eight rather than six poles (they’re often mistaken for pole pieces). Since the mounting screws are within the middle of the pickup, they don’t need to fix into your pickguard.

Dog Ear

Dog ear P-90s are similar in shape to the soap bar, but with a triangular plate extending from either end of the pickup on which the mounting screws are placed. This means that they will affix into your pickguard on one side, so if this is not an option on your guitar then you will want to take a look at the Soap Bar design. Gibson hollow body guitars in the 1960s used these dog ear P-90s.

P90 in Humbucker Casing

If you want to put a P-90 on a guitar designed for humbuckers such as a Les Paul, you have to make modifications to the guitar (you’d have to modify the way the instrument is routed which can cause structural and/aesthetic issues). To get around this, humbucker casing is available P-90s so you get the P-90 sound in a humbucker body.

P90 Pickup Magnet Materials

One of main considerations is magnet material. Magnets in pickups come in two varieties, alnico ferrous steel and ceramic (which will often use iron to produce the magnetic field). Alnico has a brighter sound than steel, and is usually arranged differently within the pickup casing (and is usually used in high-end pickups). Ceramic-based pickups have a more aggressive tone that suits overdrive and distortion better than others, and the full, fat tone of steel has a better mid and low punch than Alnico, but suits cleaner tones more than Ceramic. Of course, this is by no means gospel and experimentation with all three magnets can lead to some interesting results when you play with these ‘rules’.

Both Alnico and Steel magnets are available in different strengths (grades) and they influence how powerful the signal generated by playing the guitar is. Although an Alnico magnet of the same grade is generally more powerful than ceramic, they are more expensive so it is often the case that a ceramic magnet can be made to a higher grade for the same price. The shape of the magnets will also have an impact on your tone.

The magnets are arranged in poles, one under each string. Alnico pickups typically have one pole per string. Steel pickups have a bar at the bottom, with a pole rising up from this under each string. There are plenty of crazy different configurations that different guitarists like for all sorts of reasons, but in p90 pickups you’ll generally find that these two setups are the most common.

Product Round up & Reviews – Best P90 Pickups in 2018

Ok let’s look at each of our favourite products in more detail. To make things easier for you, we’ve added pros and cons for each one, as well as a video demonstration so you can see them in action. So without further ado, let’s take a look…

 

1. Lindy Fralin Hum Cancelling P90

Lindy Fralin Hum-Cancelling P-90 Dogear Pickup Neck - Black

This popular pickup is available in multiple configurations. You can choose to have either Soap Bar or Dog Ear casings, depending on what suits your guitar!

The magnets are also available in a choice, between Alnico and Steel rods, for either a cleaner and brighter sound or a retro tone.

The hum cancelling function on this pickup is extremely effective, so you can expect the silence of a humbucker whilst enjoying the bright sound of a P90!

PROS

  • Plenty of custom choices available regarding casing, magnet material, dog ear size, finish and so on
  • Highly controlled production to specifications for delivering the perfect sound
  • Has a hum-cancelling effect when both pickups are used (may not be possible if your guitar can only switch between one pickup at a time)

CONS

  • Fairly expensive
  • Choosing anything beyond the stock set can be complicated if you don’t have a solid grasp of all the terminology and interactions between the inner workings of pickups
  • If you’re looking for a classic P90 sound you might be disappointed by how much closer this sounds to a humbucker

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

 

2. Seymour Duncan Phat Cat P90

Seymour Duncan SPH90 Phat Cat P90 Electric Guitar Pickup - (Bridge Position) (Nickel)

If your guitar fits humbuckers, but you’re desperate to get the sound of a P90, the Phat Cat solves this problem by having a humbucker sized casing (not like the Humbucker casing we mentioned earlier – this is a standard Humbucker size)

The Phat Cat uses an Alnico magnet which provides a vintage sound, and when used on the bridge pickup you can expect both chunkiness and clarity!

PROS

  • If your guitar can only mount humbuckers, then you can still enjoy the sound of a P90
  • The production quality is extremely high, made in USA and utilizes braided cabling, making it much more resilient.
  • Really brightens the tone of a guitar, and can bring a lot of life into the bridge position.

CONS

  • Slightly ‘off’ from the classic sound of a P90
  • The hum is much more noticeable than any humbucker you would be replacing this with.
  • Having a humbucker and a Phat Cat will not mix well if both pickups are used at once.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

 

3. Kent Armstrong Stealth 90

Pickup - Kent Armstrong, Stealth 90 - Noiseless P90 Bridge, Black, Plastic Cover

A rather interesting take on the P90, the Stealth 90 uses a double-coil design (so P90 purists might take a little offence) in order to eliminate the last vestiges of hum. It has a ceramic magnet that offers a full throated roar, whilst brightness is accessible when needed.

These are truly versatile pickups, and are available at quite a friendly price!

PROS

  • Has a lot of tonal flexibility
  • Has a hard crunch and low hum making it an ideal candidate for guitarists that like to play harder styles
  • Much cheaper than many other P90s

CONS

  • As it’s a double-coil design, it’s debatable whether this is a “true” P90 pickup or simply another variation on the design.
  • Unlike most P90’s this pickup doesn’t play very well when used with 250k pots, but it responds very well to 500K
  • The high end is darkened compared to the sound of other P90’s, so if you wanted a brighter tone, this is not the way to go.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

4. Gibson P90

Gibson Gear IMP9R-CC P-90 Single Coil with Creme Soapbar Cover

It would be a little silly to talk about P90 pickups without mentioning the father of all P90’s. Despite its elderly status, the venerable Gibson P90 is still one of the top dogs in the competition. Although you might be wondering why on earth you’d want to replace pickups with another set of stock pickups rather than some fancy aftermarket whizz, there’s a reason they are used as a standard!

Richness of sound, precision of tone and responsiveness to style are all present here, though these goodies do of course come at quite a high price.

PROS

  • As one of the most common P90’s in existence, it’s easy to hear the difference it’ll make on your guitar without having to go through the hassle of switching them first as you’ll be able to find videos all over the internet to compare to (see the video below).
  • They have a versatile approach so they can suit any musical style, aren’t too bright, too muddy or dull.
  • If you want to swap out a set of regular single coils or even another set of P90’s that just aren’t doing the right job, Gibson’s P90’s are an excellent choice for getting a readily identifiable P90 tone.

CONS

  • As the standard P90, there’s nothing crazy going on here.
  • The soap bar design looks a little old-fashioned to the point of seeming stuck in the 50’s, especially if you opt for the cream. Then again, this might be exactly what you’re after!
  • Although brighter than your average humbucker, getting a significant twang out of these can be a challenge that is undertaken better by more high end P90’s
  • They can be surprisingly expensive for a stock guitar component.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

 

5. DiMarzio DP163 Bluesbucker P90

DiMarzio DP163 Bluesbucker Humbucker Pickup Nickel Cover Regular Spacing

A cheaper P90 than many of the others available without sacrificing on quality. The DiMarzio Bluesbucker uses dual coils to cancel out hum and has adjustable poles on the active coil that allow you to easily alter the character of this pickup.

They’re designed like humbuckers, but can function as single coils, and the sound is impressively bright and twangy!

PROS

  • The adjustable hot coil means you can alter the pickup to match the overall sound of your guitar, making it thicker or brighter as needed.
  • Low cost makes it one of the most affordable aftermarket pickups
  • In the bridge position this pickup really comes to life

CONS

  • Although the secondary coil does reduce the hum significantly, it isn’t able to do this as well as a Humbucker can
  • Although you are able to adjust the coils, it’s very easy to overshoot what you were aiming for and it can take some fiddling around with to get it ‘just right’.
  • Replaces humbucker sized pickups, so if your guitar isn’t routed for this size of pickup you will need to consider modifying the body or trying a different pickup instead.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

 

6. Wilkinson Cream P90

Wilkinson Cream P90 Set Neck Bridge Guitar Pickups Set Soapbar Us Seller

The affordable Wilkinson pickups are perfect for those who are curious to try out some P90s, but don’t want to spend a fortune!

The sound is smooth and vintage, it wouldn’t suit the heavier player but it’s great for those who like it soft with the ability to cut through.

PROS

  • Extremely budget friendly.
  • A smooth sound which works well for soft rock and country
  • Easy to install and the soapbar design means it doesn’t need to attach to a pickguard

CONS

  • Doesn’t have the distinctive sound of a more expensive pickup
  • This pickup doesn’t promise no humming, in the way more expensive P90s and humbuckers do.
  • The soapbar style doesn’t appeal to everybody.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

 

7. Seymour Duncan Antiquity P90

Seymour Duncan Antiquity P90 Dog Ear Pickup Set Black, Neck & Bridge w/ 2 Sets of Strings

The Seymour Duncan Antiquity pickups offer an excellent precision of sound as they respond to your playing style with extreme accuracy.

They have a vintage look and sound and offer a fullness that is perfect for recording with.

This is a professional product that will serve you well.

PROS

  • Hum cancelling function, at a reasonable price.
  • Excellent precision of sound
  • In the neck position this pickup has a really smooth tone

CONS

  • They can be a little bit microphonic – which can cause feedback and other unusual noises at times
  • Vintage sound may not suit all styles of playing
  • Dog ear style isn’t appropriate for every guitar

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

 

8. Gibson Gear IMP4T-BS P-94T Humbucker Sized P-90

Gibson Gear IMP4T-BS P-94T Humbucker Sized P-90 Single Coil, Black

As well as their Soapbar P90s, Gibson offer a pickup that will fit in the place of a Humbucker.

It will be easy to fit to a guitar that has humbuckers already, so if you’re craving that P90 sound without having to make too many changes to your guitar, this is the product for you!

It also has superior sustain. These pickups really can allow your notes to ring and ring!

PROS

  • Humbucker sized, so it’s easy to install onto to a guitar that is made to fit humbuckers.
  • Responsive enough to enable a high level of control over dynamics
  • Excellent sustain, for those who like their notes to ring and ring!

CONS

  • The hum will not be reduced in the way it would using a humbucker
  • Doesn’t quite offer the smoothness of a standard P90 pickup
  • Replaces humbucker sized pickups, so if your guitar isn’t routed for this size of pickup you will need to consider modifying the body or trying a different pickup instead

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

Which Should I Buy?

Whew! I know this was a pretty technical look at things, so well done for making it to the end!

If you’re still having a little trouble deciding on which of these is the best P90, there’s two very attractive options you should keep in mind.

If you need a humbucker sized P90, then you can either splash out on a Gibson product, or try the DiMarzio. This is much more affordable, and has a great tone, especially once you’ve adjusted the poles to hit the perfect sound.

On the other hand, if you can splash the extra cash and know which shape to go for, the Lindy Fralin is a really exciting option as you can customise literally everything about this pickup, choosing everything from the magnet material to the casing. Its hum reducing qualities are also really noticable – it’s true when they say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone!

If you’re serious about owning your own signature sound, then there’s very little else you could do beyond having full control over what your pickups are packing! We hope that these reviews have helped you to come to a conclusion about which P90 is right for your axe!

Stay smooth!  🙂

Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.

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