Happy Humbucker-Sized P-90s!


Just in time for the single-coil holiday season: my comparison review of 16 humbucker-sized P-90 pickups is live at Premier Guitar. This heartwarming holiday fun-fest has it all: Mouth-watering adjectives. Freshly baked audio clips. Irate manufacturers. Don’t miss it!

This was a fun, if challenging project. Comparison pickup reviews are such cans of worms! Not only are they sadistically labor-intensive, but the differences between one pickup and the next are easily overshadowed by other variables in the tone chain.

After much thought about how to create meaningful comparisons, we came up with an intriguing process: I tested all the pickups in the same guitar, with identical setups, and ReAmped them through the same combo amps with identical recording settings. If this were an amp or pedal review, I would have used the same performances throughout, but of course, each example had to be played anew with each pickup, so I spent much time matching performances to guard against misleading variations in touch and intensity. It’s not a perfect solution, but better than most, and in the end quite revealing.

And what did it reveal, exactly? You’ll find out at the link. Beyond that, I can report that:

  • All the products sounded pretty good.
  • They sounded more similar than you might expect.
  • I’m gonna find me a guitar to house a set of my favorites β€” though I’m not sure which ones are my faves! Really, they’re close enough that, say, the tone of a particular body wood alone would be enough to sway the decision. It’s not so much a case of “better or worse” as “brighter or darker” and “louder or quieter.”

As mentioned in the article, there’s no “gold standard” of P-90 tone β€” or rather, every P-90 lover has his or her own standard. Gibson’s ’50s original are notoriously inconsistent in their output, even their magnet type. Plus, the mere fact that you’re winding coils around a narrow, tall humbucker bobbin rather than a wide, low P-90 one has sonic implications. So I tend to think of this entire pickup category as either “single-coils that are ballsier than Fender single-coils,” or, in the case of hum-canceling models, “humbuckers with brighter highs and clearer mids.” (Or as my ol’ pal Steve Blucher from DiMarzio calls them, “humbuckers that hum.”)

Funny thing: I love P-90s, but don’t own any guitars fitted with them. Not yet. :satansmoking:

So talk to me about P-90s! Your faves? Beloved P-90 guitars? Fave P-90 players and performances?

69 comments to Happy Humbucker-Sized P-90s!

  • “Plus, the mere fact that you’re winding coils around a wide, low humbucker bobbin rather than a tall, narrow P-90 one has sonic implications. ”

    Actually, humbucker bobbins are taller than P-90 bobbins, which are wide and squat. But you are correct about the problem; you can’t wind a regular P-90 coil in a humbucker case because the humbucker cover is too narrow, so the coil has to be made taller to compensate, and often it is wound with thinner wire. Both will alter the tone.

    I had a nice Gibson ES-330TD once, with the chrome dog ear P-90s. They weren’t wind as hot as the later ones in the SGs, and had a nice clear tone, like a fatter Strat pickup. I always found the ones in some of the 70s SGs to be wound too hot, but that’s great if you want that midrange honk. These days with bridge pickups being wound hotter, a combination of the two would be perfect!

    I enjoyed your sound clips at PG. πŸ™‚

    • joe

      Thanks for making me look less stupid, David. πŸ™‚ Good catch. Fixed it.

      That was just a cut-and-paste about the relative bobbin formats. I’m literally a bit sick and tired.

  • Jeremy

    Oh cool.. a gratuitous excuse for posting a photo of my favourite band, Urge Overkill, since they’re very much P90 fans. Nash Kato has P90s in his various Ibanez Iceman guitars, and King Eddie Roeser has played the pictured SG Jr on most of the UO records, though more recently he’s been rocking a Nik Huber Krautster II with both a humbucker and an P90.

    On a less self-indulgent note, I remember reading a Leslie West interview many years ago where he said the secret of getting the best from a P90 is to keep it pretty low in the body.

    I’ve got a couple of Kent Armstrong humbucker-sized P90s ready to go in one of my guitars; maybe the Christmas break (and this article) will give me the impetus to actually wire them in!

  • smgear

    saw the article (excellent) and was going to find your old mention here to ask which set you kept for yourself… apparently as yet undetermined. I am a huge p90 lover, but only have them in one guitar at the moment. I’ve been ‘researching’ for about a year to decide which HB size set to get to drop into one of my underused guitars. I think I’m leaning towards the Kinman clean skin which seems to have a good mixture of punch and high def glory. The interesting thing was that while listening to your samples on my mediocre laptop speakers, I could barely discern any differences between the samples. They were easy enough to pick up when I put my headphones on, but I completely agree with you that most of those pickups would sound extremely similar in a band context. But, hypothetically speaking, I’ve got a mahogany ESP LTD that I plan to throw hb sized 90ishsomethings into. I’ll probably use it mostly for some earthy roots/blues stuff and I’d like the low end to have some robustness and I want the high end to have some definition, but more on the round side than the harsh/bitey side, Is that wishful thinking or does one come readily to mind that you’d suggest for such a scenario? Also, since that axe had actives, it has a nice 9v compartment perfect for fueling some on-boards. I’m looking forward to that mod.

    • joe

      I honestly don’t know which I’d buy! If it were for the test guitar, I’d go with the non-hum-cancelling Fralins. But really, I’d be thrilled to play most of them. Did any particular ones grab your ear?

      • smgear

        oh yeah, and also a huge thanks for recording these fingerstyle which is how I generally play. For me, the main issue is how the bridge sounds because I think nearly all of them sounded nice enough in the neck position. I think the lollar p90 might be a great fit in the bridge of a tele that I’m building which I think I’m going to put a gold foil in the neck position. For the ESP, I think maybe a Fralin P92 in the bridge and a Kinman in the neck. But then again…

  • Elliot

    I just read that review and noticed your name so I jumped over here to see what else you might have said about it.
    I’ve always been intrigued by P90s since I like warmer tones but like the clarity of singles, but never owned any. Until a couple weeks ago when I got a Fender MP Jag with P90-style pups. I love em! Immediately noticed the thick midrange which just sings in my rig (I love mids alot).
    A friend also just put one of the GFS Mean 90s in his semi hollow’s neck, and though I thought they seemed a bit too cheap to be good your review has got me considering it for an upcoming pup-grade in my Paul-style Ibanez. How would it pair with a vintage style bucker in the bridge?

    • joe

      Wow, good question! I’ve only done a little experimentation with mixing PAFs and humbuckers, and didn’t love the initial results, so I didn’t pursue it further. Which isn’t to say that someone won’t find a magic recipe. (I think I tried combining a Duncan Phat Cat and a Seth Lover β€” two great pickups, but I didn’t find them particularly magical togeher.)

      If anyone’s had good results mixing P-90s and humbuckers, I’m eager to hear! πŸ™‚

      • Yes, I have a humbucker (stock one) and a Gibson P94 (bridge position) in my SG standard (2009). I didn’t like the bridge humbucker that came stock (to weak, not “mean” enough) but love the sound of the humbucker in the neck position.
        I just love the clean sound of the 2 pickups mixed together (on a Maz18nr), almost acoustic like. The bridge P94 sounds very good on its own with the amp cranked up… but (of course) is not as loud as the neck humbucker… which is a problem when I want to solo using the bridge position (treble in Gibson’s language). The first times I used that pickups combination, I would find myself buried in the mix when switching to the P94 to play solos. I was simply not loud/ cutting enough… not a good experience.
        So I end up mostly playing with the toggle switch in the middle position- both pickups are engaged- and lowering the volume on the neck pickup when playing rhythm. When soloing, I push the volume on the neck. That gives me a nice fat but “mean” sound for my solos (or at least I think it does…) If I solo with the P94 only- so I can cut more- I use a boost pedal or switch to the high input on the Maz.
        I basically try not to switch directly from the neck to the bridge.
        Hope this helps a little.
        Thanks a lot for your articles M. Gore. Always very well written and useful!

  • Bryan

    Hey Joe, awesome review! I would have commented over at PG if their commenting system didn’t suck so much.

    Have you tried the Seymour Duncan P-Rails? I’m curious about how it would have compared to the pickups in your review. Even though it’s kind of an oddball, it seems like such an natural option for someone looking for a HB-sized P-90.

    • joe

      The P-Rail is a super-cool design created by my pal Frank Falbo, who is now working with Fishman and building exceedingly beautiful acoustic guitars. It works as promised. The problem for me, though, is I just don’t dig the rail pickup sound. (Personal choice β€” some great players love it.) If you like, say, rail-style Strat pickups, P-Rails might be a cool choice.

      I demoed the P-Rails a while back: https://tonefiend.com/pickups/cheap-guitar-makeover/

      But bear in mind that they’re heard here in a rather mediocre guitar as part of a makeover project. They’d sound more awesome in a more awesome guitar.

      • Aidon Meanmabey

        I was thinking of putting some P-Rails into a semi-hollow Ibanez, but your remark got me thinking here.

        How come semi-hollow body electrics only ever use humbuckers or P-90s, but never (ah that IS a long time) Strat type single coils? I guess lipstick tube types are not unheard of there. On the 50’s style solo-jazz side, nobody’s using tons of gain but most of those guys used humbuckers and turn the treble way down (a sound I don’t particularly relate to).

        Here’s a slightly more objective question – of the 3 main types of pickups (HB, SC, P-90) does one of them show a GREATER difference in tone when installed on a solid body vs. semi-hollow? I’ll take my answer off the air.

  • I put Lollar Single-Coil for Humbucker Set in my Eastwood Airline Map when I was looking to upgrade its p-ups. They have been great for surf (I usually play with both p-ups on). The Lollars are really responsive to the amount of pressure from my picking hand, breaking up nicely when pushed. My original attraction to them was that they are HB sized. A bit pricey as you mentioned, but worth every penny IMHO.

    • joe

      Thanks, Hank. I share you high opinion of that pickup! πŸ™‚

    • Aidon Meanmabey

      On my dual humbucker Ibanez I can be getting a pretty clean sound from the neck and also both pickups on together, but snap the bridge on by itself and we’re starting to get some snarl (distortion) going. But I figured this was simply the result of voltage levels vs. the gain structure of the amp. Are there some (passive) pickups which distort no matter how much you reduce the amp gain?

      • joe

        Great question, Aidon! The pickups themselves don’t generate distortion β€” it’s just a question of how soon they kick the amp into distortionβ€”as you put it, “voltage levels vs. gain structure of the amp.” One pickup might sound crispy-clean with your amp’s gain knob on three, a little furry at 5, and smokin’ hot at 8. Another pickup might get you to smokin’ hot at 3. I’m not sure I’ve encountered a pickup that ALWAYS sounds distorted, but there are certainly a lot of them always distort at what most of us would think of as normal amp settings.

        Whether you want your bridge pickup to distort a lot more readily than your neck pickup is matter of personal choice. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, builders weren’t even considering this β€” they just popped in pickups. But the notion of hotter bridge pickups became increasingly popular, and today most pickup sets are done that way, though the differential varies between “a little extra kick from the bridge” to “total armageddon when you switch to the bridge.”

        So yeah, there are probably pickups, like a DiMarzio Super Distortion, that FEEL like they’re always distorting.

  • NotSoFast

    After reading and watching you play here I can tell right away when a Premier Guitar article is written by you even without looking at the byline. Either the cool finger style around (and over) the edge of breakup, or the ridiculous completeness of the comparison test, or (the biggest tell of all) flat wounds. Thanks! I’m tempted to put some P90s into a Brian Moore I have but I already own the weird per-string capo thing and… well… I can’t keep up.

    • joe

      Thanks β€” I think! πŸ˜‰

      But believe it or not, those aren’t flats! I don’t use those for magazine reviews, ’cause so few players do, and I want to give more readers a better idea of what to expect. But sheesh β€” I’m probably just getting to the point where I sound the same no matter what I pick up.

      • smgear

        ha, I recently just had this conversation with a young player – You spend the first few years trying to identify and refine ‘your sound’ and then the rest of your life trying to break free from it. πŸ™‚

  • Oinkus

    I was hoping you would do a set of the hum – cancelling Fralins (standard sized) and managed a post over on PG too. When I was talking to Lindy a few months back he was telling me that the actual difference between the two types he makes have very small differences and a very similar sound. He didn’t go into what changes he made but we did talk about them for a loooong time. He really likes that set and I am probably going to put them in my next project guitar since I don’t have anything with P-90s. The article is great and the amount of work you put into it is staggering bro, way above and beyond the call of duty. Maybe I will try and put those in this slab of mahogany/sapele I have leaning against the wall? :cuckoo:

    • joe

      Yes, Lindy is totally cool that way β€” even though he’s a “brand name,” he takes the time to discuss products and options with non-celeb players. I did find, however, that his P-90s and hum-canceling P-92s sounded fairly distinct from each other, at least in the test Les Paul.

      • joe

        Oh β€” I had another chat with Lindy yesterday about an unrelated detail, but we talked a little more about the difference. He had two possible explanations: the 1/4-inch variation in the pole piece location between his P-90 and P-92, and the fact that the P-92 I reviewed had fewer winds than the P-90. I guess that, in that particular Paul, I preferred the sound of the hotter pickup, even though I generally love under-wound pickups and think many modern pickups are wound too hot.

        The point I made in the article is true: Most pickup manufacturers are perfectly delighted to discuss your needs on the phone, and suggest adjustments to the basic formula. Don’t be shy about asking, or confessing your areas of ignorance.

  • Z-90 impression is pretty dead on. Not horribly P-90 flavored, more like super-sized Strat pickups without the nasally twang and with big bass. Wide sounding with a krang on the top when you dig in. Best concept I’ve had for describing the tone is to compare them to the sound of an EVM speaker–the low-end bigness is dominant but isn’t the whole story. Also, these guys are very sensitive to height adjustment and given the output you don’t really have to worry about losing anything as a trade-off–just find the best balance for your rig and sound.

  • mwseniff

    The article was great I read it the other day. You did a good job of playing the various sets of pickups very uniformly much better than most pickup comparisons I’ve read. That really helps when comparing the pickups as well as being able to switch between the Sound cloud streams rapidly. God I can’t even guess how much time it took you to do those comparisons having to swap out the pickups is no little task. Thanks for your hard work.

    The favorite P90s I have are the stock ones in my SG 60s tribute which are not too hot and sound gorgeous combined but the P90s in my Fender Modern Player Jaguars are not far behind in tone they are hotter and fatter sounding.

    I have had the Phat Kat P90s in a couple of of Oscar model Switch Guitars for a number of years (Les Paul clones molded out of polyurethane foam) they definitely filled my need for more sparkle, touch and texture from those guitars. Tho’ the original humbuckers weren’t bad I wanted to hear my fingers plucking the strings more clearly. I have another Oscar that has a one piece bridge that is like a Les Paul Jr with the Mean 90s and I agree with your characterization of the highs not gushing but they are hotter pickups which I think affects the highs. The Mean 90s sound great with distortion and fuzz and really growl for slide work. I hoped you were doing the Dream 90s as well as they are not wound as hot, I’ve never tried them but the might be just the thing for an Xavier guitar I got a deal on recently the price is right.

    • smgear

      Matt, what’s your take on the Xavier’s? They’re so dang cheap and look to be decent platforms for mods, but I’ve never seen one to take for a spin.

      • mwseniff

        I actually have 2 Xaviers a travel sized guitar I got a couple of years ago as a deal and the new one is a XV-550 Semi Hollow Carved Top Two Tone Surf Green. The XV-550 is a small hollow bodied guitar about the size of a Les Paul this one is a blemished model (has a blob of paint on the headstock and a tiny scratch on the body) it was around $125 total with s/h. It supposedly needed a truss rod adjustment for the neck but the neck seems fine and plays like butter (I do play slide most of the time so I am not neck critical but it plays great on the frets). The paint is first class (except for blob), fret work is very good nothing pointy sticking out etc. It is a solid mahogany body routed out except for a section under the T.O.M. bridge with a 1/2″ thick maple top. It has a very even response with nice predictable feedback. The pickups are GFS Crunchy PAFs which definitely crunch in a satisfying manner but I am not a 24/7 crunchy kind of guy so I will replace them with humbucker sized P90s most likely. But that being said I have had a ton if fun playing this guitar it is great for slide and bluesy stuff as well as classic rock. The feedback is very controllable with this guitar it does well with high volume. I got carried away in my basement studio with my recently retubed and recapped Sunn 100S and a pair of 4-12 cabs (and ear plugs). No wolftones no howling just loud guitar I was very impressed. Full size volume and tone pots like the ones they sell no tiny crappy volume and tone pots like most cheaper guitars. I put a Schaller fine tuner equipped stop tail piece and Dunlop strap locks on it when I replaced the strings. Tuners are good so not much to replace for upgrades except pickups. This is a very satisfying guitar to play and it is easy on my back as well.

        I have been happy with everything I got from GFS especially for the price. Their bridges and tuners are good quality from my experience. As for pickups the ones I have tried are well made and sound quite good a definite upgrade to the guitars they went into.

        • smgear

          wow, a glowing recommendation. Thanks for the info. Those semi’s and hollows were exactly what I’ve been looking at… added to the list. πŸ™‚

  • NotSoFast

    Joe you pulled out the flat wounds on your review of the ToneVille Beale St amp. The amp sounded great. My earlier post was meant in full respect and appreciation – thank-you! The weakness is only my lack of time to even begin to scratch the surface on all you cover. Things are easy to buy – knowledge is hard to learn. I’ve got a stack of gear and not much brains…

    • joe

      LOL β€” I always appreciate a compliment, but especially so here β€” did you READ the comments after the Toneville review? A lot of PG readers HATED the way I made that amp sound. I was really kind of shocked by the vehemence.

      Hee hee. :satansmoking:

      • A lot of those folks live in ivory towers, blissfully ignorant of what it takes to gig and record in the real world. And they don’t make records with Tom Waits, do they?

      • smgear

        I think its just a selection bias of that PG audience. I get so much joy reading comments by people who both A. compare everything to X vintage fender they got for $200 in a pawn shop while B. defending Y boutique as being better for faithfully replicating X finder fender for only $2,000. They’re happy spending both amounts of money for THAT tone (which amuses me), but woe be unto the amp maker (or reviewer) who finds a compelling variation. The thing with amp tone is that you’ll either love it or hate. There’s no middle ground and when the mass-market hates it, I’m pretty sure I’ll love it, The real question is whether PG hired Joe to write for the main audience or to be the ultimate arbiter of cool by finding and presenting those bits of gear that fall outside of the mainstream vibes. If we assume the latter, then we can politely filter out most of the haters because they are in fact not haters, but lovers – lovers of a narrow palette of pre-existing tones. Presenting an endless set of duplicate options and reissues for them is just as tiresome as trying to continually generate editorial content convincing them to spend more money to acquire new gear that is guaranteed to please them because it is identical to the tone they already have…. So let them hate out of their devotion, and leave the pandering to the other editors and writers while you invest your efforts in finding gems for the rest of us. Cuz man, that amp sounded awesome!!

        • joe

          Oh β€” I should also add that the Premier Guitar folks have been 100% supportive of my work, and there has been absolutely no attempt to “mainstream” me, or anything like that. Collectively, my fellow editors are pretty darn hip, with personal tastes that I suspect many folks who hang out here would relate to. In fact, my colleague Chris Kies made one of my favorite recent comments about musical taste: “I like any kind of music that doesn’t have the word ‘contemporary’ in it.” πŸ™‚

          • joe

            Oh, one more “favorite quote”: Years ago, Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan joked to me that they were going to start a consulting service called If We Like It, You’re in Trouble. Because everything they liked β€” music, food, books, movies β€” seemed to run counter to the tastes of the marketplace. Big surprise. πŸ˜‰

          • smgear

            definitely! I didn’t mean to imply anything negative about the PG staff. Far from it, I’ve been reading for a couple years precisely because of their broad spectrum. (The ‘other editors’ in my comment was directed at the general market, not PG) I was just poorly trying to express my mild frustration with one of the core mindsets of the broader community that tends to focus on how a certain piece of gear [should] sound rather than how it [could] sound… Anyways, here’s hoping that some of the mainstream group connect to bits of your more esoteric styles/configurations/etc. and expand their horizons a little. As for Mr. Waits, just imagine the cognitive dissonance that mainstream post-swordfish ‘success’ would have caused… πŸ™‚ I hope he’s satisfied knowing that he created his own market and that ‘waitsish’ is a very common adjective among players. Darn you and your name dropping!!!! Gonna have to dig out Alice and go for a long listening walk now…

  • joe

    Aww, thanks, guys! πŸ™‚

    Really, I just think I’m spoiled by the wit and wisdom of folks like β€” well, you two.

    It’s karma β€” I’m every bit as rude and opinionated as the guys who bitched about my demo. πŸ˜‰

  • wrangle

    I was looking forward to this pickup review, and it was every bit as thorough and informative as I was hoping for! I particularly appreciate all of the samples of cleaner tones; it’s crazy how often they’re neglected in guitar gear reviews.

    The only thing I would have liked to see is a few more examples of the hum-canceling pickups, even if they diverted a little bit from the P-90 “vintage ideal”. Though I generally prefer single-coils, I’ve pretty much resolved not to buy any pickups unless they’re functionally humbucking, as it’s so much easier to deal with in a recording situation (although I also notice the difference even if I’m just practicing. Overly sensitive? Probably).

    One small aside: you mention in the article that you installed the Lindy Fralin P-92 pickups with the treble pole pieces closer to the bridge. Unless there’s a separate mirror-image version of this pickup available, I can’t figure out how the opposite orientation (pole pieces on bass side closer to bridge) would be possible. As much as I love hearing twangy bass strings, this is something I’d likely be interested in trying if I were installing these pickups.

  • vami

    My favourite P90 player has to be Johnny Thunders.
    As far as the pickups go, I have an inexpensive SG Tribute with Gibson P90s; they are good enough. The best P90 I had (limited experience) were Lollars. I had them in a Fender Stratosonic guitar. The original pickups were a joke.

    • joe

      You know, vami, I thought those Lollars sounded real nice in the review Les Paul. But I bet they’d sound even better in a Fenderoid. On the test Paul β€” a light, zingy one β€” they could get a teensy bit boomy. I bet they’d be just right in a bolt-on.

      • vami

        Thanks for the tip. The pickups they replaced were called by Fender Black Doves; they had unbelievably cheap construction (looked like cardboard if my memory servers me well) with appropriately terrible tones. Anything would be a huge improvement in that guitar. When I put Lollars in I couldn’t believe my ears; that experience turned me on modding.
        Speaking about guitar modding, a big thing in the Gretsch community is to use these old style bar bridges made from different materials. Nobody else seems to talk (except Tele guys) how much a different material of the bridge influences the tone. There are two guys that make them for Gretsches (and other brands): TruArc and Compton. This is something worth checking out. If you already have half decent pickups changing the bridge might be all you need and influence the tone more than expensive boutique pups. And these bar bridges do increase sustain. Strangely enough, they intonate quite well too.

        • Oinkus

          I am a huge fan of Babicz FCH bridges I put them in every guitar I can fit them into. https://babiczguitars.com/full-contact-hardware.htm I have also found that changing the tailpiece will cause a change in the sound , lighter metal is generally brighter in my experience more mass can increase sustain believe it or not ( Gibson TP-6 ) Didn’t change my Les Paul but on an Epi Dot was huge difference.

  • Eric

    I put a custom set of humbucker P-90s in Schecter Blackjack seven string. I love them madly. Most people that play it are surprised how well they work with seven string guitar. The low end is clear and tight enough but all that glorious high end cut and midrange growl brought the instrument to life. The guitar sounds like an over sized Les Paul Jr now.

    • Eric

      I should mention I got them from Pete at Vintage Vibe, who does great work and never once acted like I was out of my mind for wanting P-90s in a seven string guitar.

  • One of the best guitars I own is a goofy white and black Fender TC90 with two Seymour Duncan ‘real’ P90s. The guitar is a cheap special issue, I think made in Korea. As soon as I saw its picture in Guitarist magazine I just had to have one. It looks like a cross between a Fender thinline Tele and Gibson Les Paul Special, plays well and sounds amazing. It’s hum canceling in the mid position.

    I’ll have to listen to all the demo tracks more carefully, but so far the Harmonic Design Z90s sound good to me. Smooth and fat but with a bright edge.

    I thought the deal with metal covers was that any metal cover (even plated plastic) increases the picukps self capacitance and therefore shifts the self resonance frequency down (which is also modified by the instrument cable capacitance). As I understand it metal covers can also introduce eddy currents which tend to oppose the flux changes due to string movement.

    • Aidon Meanmabey

      “As I understand it metal covers can also introduce eddy currents which tend to oppose the flux changes due to string movement.”

      Do you suppose this makes them better for playing tunes by, for example, Nelson Eddy, Duane Eddy, or “Eddy” Van Halen?

  • mngiza

    My first good guitar, bought in 1969, was a stripped LP Special. I liked its P90 pickups just fine, until I bought my exciting new Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi. Between using that and playing a regular gig where I had to use a cheater to plug my amp into a two-prong outlet with neon signs and light dimmers on the same line… the noise was louder than the music, no joke. I got rid of the guitar, and it’s been hum-canceling pickups ever since.

    Over the years, I’ve viewed several barroom and coffeehouse performers visibly squirming in embarrassment over their loudly buzzing P90 pickups. If you want to be like them, you are welcome…

  • Clay

    Is it sad that when I read the article on PG online and was listening to the clips my first thought was – This sounds like Joe Gore!

    Scrolled down and sure enough there you were in the credits.

  • Colm

    My favourite non-P90-sized P90 is the Filtertron-size one from TV Jones. I also have a set of P92s and a set of Vintage Vibes Humbucker sized in other guitars. I know it’s not necessarily a like for like comparison, but there is just something about the TV Jones that I really like.

  • Colm

    And not forgetting a Rickenbacker-sized P90 that Vintage Vibes made me for my Rick 360. Still sounds like a Rick πŸ™‚

  • Oweh

    Is it too late to add something? I own a Yamaha AES 500 which I bought unused (couldn’t name it Β»newΒ«, since it was build in 1998) a year ago. Standard maple/rosewood neck and alder body. It was equipped with two full and clear sounding humbuckers but it wasn’t easy to cut trough on stage. I got me some Duesenberg PH90 Single Twins. These are splitcoil humbucker sized P90 Pickups. The result is some kind of fat Bill Frisell sound. Don’t have to play loud on Stage, even in complex chords every string is clearly audible.

    P.S: Love your Videos full of wonderful tinkering and very good playing.

  • alex

    loved the review. My issue is that the humbucker route in the guitar i would like to replace the pickup in is routed just narrow enough to fit a humbucker WITHOUT a cover..so most the hum sized p90s come with covers and will not fit in this route. I do not want to mess with expanding the route so anyone know of any of the p90 type humbucker without covers?? thanx

    • joe

      Pickup makers β€” even the big guys, like Duncan β€” are usually delighted to help with special requests. I suspect you’ll have no problem getting anyone offering US-made pickups to whip you up a pair with no covers. Also, routing isn’t as deadly a task as you might suppose. A decent repair person wouldn’t charge much for a small rout.

  • Joe Gore, great reviews – From what I understand from Lindy Fralin you've recently also tried a slightly higher wound set of Lindy Fralin P92 pickups that you liked a lot, how do they stack up to the Fralin P90's in a Humbucker cover ? I'm trying to decide between the 2 – to install in my 2002 PRS CE22 I play mostly modern worship music with an amp mic'ed backstage and use OD pedals for dirt.

    • joe

      Gosh, they both sound really nice β€” though I didn’t have both models here at once for a side-by-side comparison. I went with the humbucker version for the guitar I use with my digital rig, where the noise from single-coils can be an issue. (I generally don’t mind their slight noise and hum in analog setups.) But the P-92s still sound awfully single-coil.

  • Joe krueger

    Thanks Joe, I’m typically a Humbucker guy myself – so I went with a slightly hotter set of P92’s 8200 neck and 9500 turn bridge – Lindy make great pickups, can’t wait to try em out !!!

  • Joe Krueger

    Just an update, I installed the Lindy Fralin P92’s in my PRS CE22 and installed a Rothstein prewire Kit – sounds fantastic!!!!

  • Hi Joe…amazing breakdown. The Mean 90s brought me here, but now stuck between Fralin and Lollar neck p-90s. I am going to put this on a cheap Epi Les Paul Special II (bolt-on neck) that I am turning into a blues monster with a vintage 59 bridge and a p-90 neck. Which one would you say suits dirty gritty blues better? Looking for sweet honey spice molasses with a little throat and some growl. I play through a Fender Blues Jr. with an 808 tube screamer. Thank you!

  • Jeff Tyson

    I have a 2004 50th anniversary maple fretboard Stratocaster routed to hold a SD SH-4 in the bridge. Over the years ive been battling overpowering brightness through high gain, which sucks because I mainly play hardcore. But ive been looking into putting a fralin hum sized p90 in the bridge to give it more organic (fullness??) Sound. Will this work to counteract the bright fuzziness?, or perhaps another hum sized p90?

    Thank you

    • joe

      Hiya Jeff! That’s a tricky one! The SH-4 is a fairly hot pickup, which often means it’s LESS bright than a cooler pickup. “Organic” is a subjective word, but to my biased ear, something with a bit less power does seem a bit more organic, and it might bend better with the Strat pickups (assuming you’ve got two conventional Strat pickups in addition to your bridge humbucker). Both the Fralin and Duncan are great-sounding pickups! The P-90-family pickups tend to sound a bit rougher, which may suit your music better than a humbucker. But I have to wonder whether your problems with brightness have to do with your amps and pedals, or (dare I say it?) the possibility that a Strat isn’t the best choice for your style. Having said that, there are many ways to diminish your overall brightness: darker-sounding strings, different amp settings, an old-school “lo fi” cable, or even a permanently installed tone cap. One crazy idea: replacing the guitar’s stock 250K pots with darker 100K ones. I don’t know whether any of that helps, though. Keep me posted! πŸ™‚

    • How about this – if your Strat has conventionally wired tone controls you won’t have any treble control (on the guitar) over the bridge pickup. Personally I much prefer to wire the tone control so that the second tone control is for the bridge pickup.

      I’ll often use a slightly smaller cap, perhaps a 0.15uF and I recommend 20% law pots for the tone controls. Many parts sellers describe these as ‘vintage’ pots and may even claim they are 30% law. What all that means is that with the control rotated to exactly half its rotation the resistance between the anti clockwise tag and the wiper is 20% of the end to end track resistance. I find this vintage curve or ‘taper’ works well on tone controls and gives a smoother sweep than the usual 10% curve log pot (use 10% for volume controls).

      Wiring the 2nd tone on the bridge means that when only the middle pickup is selected it has no tone control.

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