The best 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 they give you.
The downside is they’re found on Gibson guitars, and Gibson’s don’t come cheap. The good news is you can buy aftermarket ones that fit your existing guitar.
In this article, we’re going to look at the best P90’s on the market and break down for you the pros and cons of each.
If you’re in a rush, here are the products we review:
At a Glance: Our Choice of the 8 Best P90 Pickups on the Market
- Lindy Fralin
- Seymour Duncan Phat Cat
- Kent Armstrong Stealth 90
- Gibson P90
- DiMarzio DP163 Bluesbucker
- Wilkinson Cream
- Seymour Duncan Antiquity
- Gibson Gear IMP4T-BS P-94T
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 is a P90?
- Buying Tips: Key Considerations
- Product Round-up & Reviews – Best P90 Pickups in 2018
- Which Should I Buy?
What is a P90?
As guitar pickups go, the P90 has more punch in the mid and high range than a standard single coil which gives it a full sound, and a brighter sound (more attack and articulation) than a humbucker and delivers plenty of top end response. It was a massive success and chosen pickup of many greats, e.g., Carlos Santana, Pete Townsend and Tommy Iommi of Black Sabbath among many others.
However, it has one big drawback: unwanted hum. P90s are single coils remember, so it’s inevitable you’re going to get a bit of hum (especially with the older ones). Noise is less an issue with the modern P90s we review here.
Buying Tips: Key Considerations
P-90 Pickup Styles
There are three types of P90 pickup.
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 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.
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.
One of the main things that affect sound is the magnet. Magnets in pickups come in two varieties:
- Alnico has a brighter sound than steel, and is usually arranged differently within the pickup casing and traditionally 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.
Product Round-up & Reviews – Best P90 Pickups in 2018
Ok, let’s look at each of our favorite products in more detail.
1. Lindy Fralin
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-canceling function on this pickup is hugely effective, so expect the silence of a humbucker while enjoying the bright sound of a P90.
- 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-canceling effect when both pickups are used (may not be possible if your guitar only switches between one pickup at a time)
- Fairly expensive
- Choosing anything beyond the stock set is 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
2. Seymour Duncan Phat Cat
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. The Phat Cat uses an Alnico magnet which provides a vintage sound, and when used on the bridge pickup gives you both chunkiness and clarity.
- If your guitar can only mount humbuckers, you can still enjoy the sound of a P90
- The production quality is exceptionally high, made in the USA and utilizes braided cabling, making it much more resilient.
- Brightens the tone of a guitar, and brings a lot of life into the bridge position.
- 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.
3. Kent Armstrong Stealth 90
A rather interesting take on the P90, the Stealth 90 uses a double-coil design to eliminate the last vestiges of hum. It has a ceramic magnet that offers a full-throated roar, while brightness is accessible when needed. These are truly versatile pickups and are available at quite a friendly price.
- 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
- As it’s a double-coil design, it’s debatable whether this is a “true” P90 pickup or merely another variation on the design.
- 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 others, so if you wanted a brighter tone, this is not the way to go.
4. Gibson P90
We couldn’t talk about these pickups without mentioning Gibson’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.
The richness of sound, precision of tone and responsiveness to style are all present here, though these goodies do of course come to a high price.
- 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 suit any musical style, aren’t too bright, too muddy or dull.
- An excellent choice for getting a readily identifiable tone.
- The soap bar design looks a little old-fashioned to the point of seeming stuck in the ’50s, especially if you opt for the cream.
- Although brighter than your average humbucker pickup, getting a significant twang out of these is a challenge.
- Surprisingly expensive for a stock guitar component.
5. DiMarzio DP163 Bluesbucker
Cheaper 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 alter the character of this pickup easily. They’re designed like humbuckers, but function as single coils and the sound is impressively bright and twangy!
- The adjustable hot coil means you are able to 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 comes to life
- Although the secondary coil does reduce the hum significantly, it isn’t as effective as a Humbucker.
- Although you are able to adjust the coils, it’s easy to overshoot what you were aiming for and takes some fiddling around with to get it ‘just right.’
- Replaces humbucker-sized pickups, so if your guitar isn’t routed for this size of the pickup, you will need to consider modifying the body or trying a different pickup instead.
6. Wilkinson Cream
The affordable Wilkinson pickups are perfect for those who are curious to try them out 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.
- Extremely budget friendly.
- A smooth sound which works well for soft rock and country
- Easy to install and the soap bar design means it doesn’t need to attach to a pickguard
- Doesn’t have the distinctive sound of a more expensive pickup
- Still hum a bit, humming, in the way more high-end P90s and humbuckers don’t.
7. Seymour Duncan Antiquity
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.
- Hum canceling function, at a reasonable price.
- Excellent precision of sound
- In the neck position, this pickup has a really smooth tone
- They are a little bit microphonic – which causes feedback and other unusual noises at times
- The vintage sound may not suit all styles of playing
8. Gibson Gear IMP4T-BS P-94T
As well as their soap bar, Gibson offers a pickup that will fit in the place of a Humbucker. It is 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 allow your notes to ring and ring.
- 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!
- 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
Which Should I Buy?
If you need a humbucker sized P90, then either splash out on a Gibson 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’re able to splash the extra cash, the Lindy Fralin is an exciting option as you can customize everything about this pickup literally, choosing everything from the magnet material to the casing. Its hum reducing qualities are also really noticeable – it’s true when they say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
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.