5 Best P90 Pickups In 2018 (REVIEW)

At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best P90 Pickups On The Market

Preview
Lindy Fralin Hum-Cancelling P-90 Dogear Pickup Neck - Black
Seymour Duncan SPH90-1N Phat Cat Electric Guitar Pickup (Neck/Nickel) w/ Strings
Pickup - Kent Armstrong, Stealth 90 - Noiseless P90 Neck, Black, Plastic Cover
Gibson Gear IMP9R-CC P-90 Single Coil with Creme Soapbar Cover
Editor's Choice
DiMarzio DP163 Bluesbucker Humbucker Pickup Black F-Spaced
Product Name
Lindy Fralin Hum-Cancelling P-90 Dogear Pickup Neck - Black
Seymour Duncan SPH90-1N Phat Cat Electric Guitar Pickup (Neck/Nickel) w/ Strings
Pickup - Kent Armstrong, Stealth 90 - Noiseless P90 Neck, Black, Plastic Cover
Gibson Gear IMP9R-CC P-90 Single Coil with Creme Soapbar Cover
DiMarzio DP163 Bluesbucker Humbucker Pickup Black F-Spaced
Customer Rating
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Lindy Fralin Hum-Cancelling P-90 Dogear Pickup Neck - Black
Product Name
Lindy Fralin Hum-Cancelling P-90 Dogear Pickup Neck - Black
Customer Rating
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Preview
Seymour Duncan SPH90-1N Phat Cat Electric Guitar Pickup (Neck/Nickel) w/ Strings
Product Name
Seymour Duncan SPH90-1N Phat Cat Electric Guitar Pickup (Neck/Nickel) w/ Strings
Customer Rating
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Pickup - Kent Armstrong, Stealth 90 - Noiseless P90 Neck, Black, Plastic Cover
Product Name
Pickup - Kent Armstrong, Stealth 90 - Noiseless P90 Neck, Black, Plastic Cover
Customer Rating
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Gibson Gear IMP9R-CC P-90 Single Coil with Creme Soapbar Cover
Product Name
Gibson Gear IMP9R-CC P-90 Single Coil with Creme Soapbar Cover
Customer Rating
Editor's Choice
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DiMarzio DP163 Bluesbucker Humbucker Pickup Black F-Spaced
Product Name
DiMarzio DP163 Bluesbucker Humbucker Pickup Black F-Spaced
Customer Rating

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The P90 pickups are an essential element of a Gibson guitar’s characteristic sound.

You can get that iconic sound too on your existing guitar without having to fork out for a Gibson.

Sound cool? Good. Let's take a look at the best P90 pickups.

Buyer's Tips: What to look for when buying P90 pickups

P90’s are a type of single coil pickup, but they have a very noticeably different sound to other single coils. They occupy a funny little niche between single coils and humbuckers.

They have more punch in the mid and high range than a single coil, giving them a much fuller sound. They also have a brighter sound than a humbucker can typically produce.

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

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 as they each guitar can only fit certain shapes of pickup without also modifying the body (which will have an impact on the guitar’s sound)

The three main styles are as follows:

  • Dog ear
  • Soap Bar
  • Humbucker casing

Let’s take a look at each one in a bit more detail.

Dog Ear

These have a predominantly rectangular shape, but at each end there is an extension 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 then you will want to take a look at the Soap Bar design.

Soap Bar

These are very similar to Dog Ear P90 pickups, but the mounting screws are placed between the strings so that it appears to have eight rather than six poles. This design was the original P90 variation. Since thew mounting screws are within the middle of the pickup, they don’t need to fix into your pickguard.

Humbucker Casing

The name suggests that this type of P90 will sound closer to a humbucker than other types of P90’s, but this is misleading, and only refers to the shape. Although they look more like a humbucker than a single coil, they are thinner and longer. The shape may preclude you from using this type of P90 without modifying the body of your guitar.

Alright, so that’s the basics of shape. There are a few other things you need to know about P90’s before you go rushing into buying one, as the shape of the casing isn’t the only difference between them. You should note however, that the shape of the casing has no bearing on the tone of the pickup, that’s where the other design elements come in (and this is the reason why there are so many of different aftermarket P90’s out there!)

You will find that magnets in pickups come in three main types. Alnico (a composite of various materials) 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. 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.

5 Best P90 Pickups in 2016

Ok let's look at each product 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

Click to learn more / buy from Amazon

Very popular, and available in multiple configurations. You can choose to have either Soap Bar or Dog Ear casings, and the magnets are available in a choice between Alnico and Steel rods, for either a cleaner and brighter sound or a retro tone.

  • 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)
  • 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

Let's take a look at this product...


2. Seymour Duncan Phat Cat P90

seymour-duncan-sph90-phat-cat-p90

Click to learn more / buy from Amazon

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)

  • 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.
  • 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.

Let's take a look at this product...


3. Kent Armstrong Stealth 90 Noiseless P90

pickup-kent-armstrong-stealth-90

Click to learn more / buy from Amazon

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 makes gives a full throated roar that has an accessible brightness when needed.

  • 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
  • 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.

4. Gibson P90

gibson-gear-imp9r-cc-p-90-single-coil

Click to learn more / buy from Amazon

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!

  • 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 middle of the road 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.
  • 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.

Let's take a look at this product...


5. DiMarzio DP163 Bluesbucker P90

dimarzio-dp163-bluesbucker-humbucker

Click to learn more / buy from Amazon

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

  • 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
  • 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.

Let's take a look at this product...


So 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 try the DiMarzio as it’s 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 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.

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!

Featured image source: Dustin GaffkeCC BY 2.0

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