The classic Stratocaster pickup is considered by many to be one of the ''best pickups you can buy''. Well, if you ask me, there's another. Don't get me wrong, Strat pickups have created some of the greatest tones ever played on an electric guitar. But I honestly believe that a different single-coil pickup, one that's older than many others, is better. What's it called? The P-90 Pickup.
In recent years, the P-90 has surged in popularity. In fact, when compared to other very popular pickups, this pickup has regularly remained a fan favorite. But that's not to say everyone feels that way as the P-90 has a bad rap among some players. Sure, the P-90 isn't for everyone and many of its problems are rightly criticized. But even then, I still believe the P-90 to be one of the best pickups around. So much so, that I had to write this article. So, let's jump right into it and look check out P-90's history and discuss the tonal characteristics and advantages, along with some of its problems.
A Brief History Of the P-90
Back during the '30s, Gibson introduced a brand new electric guitar line known as the ES, or "Electric Spanish" guitar. This guitar was created with amplification in mind so that it could be heard as part of an ensemble format or big band. A particularly famous guitar in this line was the 1936 ES-150, one that I'm sure many have heard of. This infamous guitar came equipped with straight bar "Charlie Christian" pickups, which soon after evolved into a diagonally-slanted format. This diagonal single-coil later became the P-90, which debuted in 1946. By the end of the '40s, it was Gibsons standard pickup.
The P-90's reign as the Gibson top pickup was short-lived, though, as the infamous humbucker soon replaced it when it was introduced in 1957. Even then, the P-90 remained popular with many musicians throughout the '50s and '60s, especially with Jazz musicians who loved the pickups fatter, more impactful tone. A few examples of great musicians that used the P-90 includes Herd Ellis and Joe Pass.
Over the years, Gibson would reintroduce the P-90 on select guitars, mainly in the form of reissues. And while it faded in popularity during the rise of the humbucker, it has seen a resurging popularity in recent years.
Characteristics Of The P-90
There are a lot of things that makes this pickup special in its own way. The first thing I'll mention is a bit personal but true if you listen to it carefully. The P-90 pickup has the high-end response that you want and the perfect blend of output. Also, the tone of this pickup is a bit fatter, with more mids and more ''beef'' when compared to other pickups like the Strat single-coil, for example. It might not be as thick as the tone you get with a humbucker but, for me, it's the sweet spot.
Despite employing a similar single-coil design, the sound of a typical Strat pickup and a P-90 are very different. The fatter, more midrange intensive tone that the P-90 outputs is due to the short, flat bobbin that it uses. The Strat, on the other hand, uses a tall, thin bobbin which makes the tone between them very different.
As for the drawbacks of the P-90, and a big reason why the humbucker eventually took over, is its susceptibility to hum, notably in the 50 to 60Hz range. While typical single-coils are also susceptible to this type of noise, P-90s feature much more winding than a typical single-coil, meaning that the noise is more apparent. And while there have been many P-90 type pickups that claim to cancel the hum, they often don't resemble the originals sound.
Is It Right For You?
While it's not perfect, I still believe that the P-90 is one of the best pickups around. While it might suffer from hum, it combines a series of tonal features that other pickups simply don't have. If you want a pickup with a thick, punchy tone but with some of the single-coil cut and boosted mids, the P-90 is definitely a pickup you should take a closer look at!
Note: This article was written by a guest writer and do no necessarily reflect the opinions of the editor.
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