P90s--school me

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by beautiful liar, May 16, 2011.

  1. beautiful liar

    beautiful liar Member

    Dec 29, 2008
    I have zero experience with P90s and would like to acquire some. What do I need to know? Good models bad models, how they interact with other PUs, dos and don'ts of installation, bring it all on.

    Help me learn now so I don't learn the hard way.
  2. SW33THAND5

    SW33THAND5 Member

    Aug 4, 2006
    D4LLA5, T3X45!
    #1 its my opinion that this is a pickup that gibson still does really well. of course everyone here will suggest something boutique and more expensive. there are other fantastic p90s out there. i am just saying try a gibson

    #2 they are generally a little noisy even for a single coil (i play only single coils and really don't mind actually hearing something when at idle

    #3 they are throaty and have great gritty to smooth overdrive for a single coil. they are wound a bit hotter than other types of vintage single coils

    #4 you can still get that single coil chime with them even though they are a little hotter

    ...the best guitar (sounding...not the most expensive) that i ever had and teh only guitar that i have ever regretted selling had p90s. i love them.
  3. Jim S

    Jim S Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 6, 2002
    Incline Village, NV (Lake Tahoe )
    IMHO Gibson P90s are harsh and not sweet.

    IME (in my experience) Lollar and Bare Knuckle really shine here as do the other bootique boys like Zangbucker, Wolfetone, etc and it's worth the extra $.
  4. Stormin

    Stormin Tele's and Plexis Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Aug 2, 2005
    Raleigh-wood, NC
    I now have (2) P-90 loaded guitars: and ES-135 semi-hollow and a PRS Custom 22 Soapbar. My experience has been that it takes a while to get the feel of P90's, and how to make them work the best for you. Once you understand them, they are just beautiful!

    They are not like humbuckers, although they have the grind and the punch. They are not like single coils, although they can have the shimmer and the cut. They are more sensitive to height adjustment than any other pickup I've tried.

    What the P-90 does best is tone. It's an old-school sound that works surprisingly well in most areas where a Tele would work well. With most good tube amps, they just sing. With a cranked tube amp, they flat out rock. They seem to just have more dynamics than most other types of pickups I've tried. When I pickup my PRS and play it thru my Shiva, I get the greatest Allman Brothers / Gov't Mule vibe. When I play my ES thru my Boogie, it's like Setzer meets Thorogood with a dose of BB King thrown in.

    Spend an hour or two playing a P-90 loaded guitar at your local shop - you'll understand after that...

  5. snod911

    snod911 Member

    Sep 17, 2007
    The Gibson P-90s definitely rock, but be advised that they are not generally RWRP--that is, when both are on, they are not hum-canceling. Not a problem for many (hey, there's always that volume control), but it bugs some people.

    The best P-90s I've ever played are Fralins, with the Lollars close behind. What's best for you really depends on what you're looking for: nasty in a good way (Gibson), polished and hi-fi (Lollars, Harmonic Design), or a bit of both (Fralins).
  6. hour9

    hour9 Member

    Oct 3, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I have a P-90 PRS like Stormin above and it's one of my favorite guitars. I play it more than my other guitars. He's right about pickup height. P-90's can have a TON of output. I've lowered them on my PRS quite a bit. They really do bridge the gap between a vintage single coil and a humbucker.
  7. starjag

    starjag Supporting Member

    Feb 18, 2008
    +1 for Fralins. Very nice P90s!!!
  8. coldfingaz

    coldfingaz Member

    Jan 28, 2008
    They are great pickups. Wonderful for everything from primal rock to blues & even jazz. But, they're not for the player that wants silence. They spit, growl & snap. Though their bite can be tamed a bit, it's natural for P90's to produce some noise. Without that noise, you lose a bit of the luster & uniqueness.

    My favorites are Lollars, but man that's very subjective... you've got oodles of great brand options out there these days.
  9. XKnight

    XKnight Member

    Apr 8, 2007
    Republic of Texas
    Based on the ones I've tried my favorite thus far are the Thorn GT-90s and Haussell P-90s. Gibson P-90s are pretty good as well. The standard Duncan Soapbars that come in PRS guitars I do not care for as they are too harsh for my tastes. Duncan Phat Cats are nice though.
  10. randelli

    randelli Member

    Oct 12, 2010
    Austin, TX
    Thanks for this description. It is very helpful to add decriptions other than "BRANDX is the best!" now I have an idea what these different models sound like.
  11. jcv

    jcv Member

    Nov 27, 2006
    I've had a Reverend p90 guitar for years and I love how it sounds. It has the character of regular single coils but a fatter, warmer sound. I recently bought my first Gibson - a 60's tribute les paul - and this thing snarls, growls and screams! Holy moly, it's a whole different animal. I wouldn't even think about going with an aftermarket pickup for this guitar. I just love the sound. As is said often on this forum: everyone should have at least one p90 guitar
  12. dspellman

    dspellman Member

    Mar 26, 2008
    And I disagree. I think the Gibsons are still the best pure P90 out there, and while they have a bit of a mid spike, Gibson is still making P90's that are true to the originals. The boutique boys mostly cut back on the number of winds, which cuts back on their power, to quell some of the noise, but that takes away the P90's balls. Some of them screw with other magnets, pretty much to the same effect. Sadly, they're trying to move P90's to what some people like in a humbucker, and I think that's a lame move, except to make some bucks. Definitely NOT worth paying more money for. YMMV.

    The best noiseless P90's, IMO, are the Kinmans.

    If you're going to have P90's, why emasculate them? They're not supposed to be "sweet." Unless you have them in a jazz guitar, and somehow they actually manage to do just fine there as well.
  13. OM Flyer

    OM Flyer Member

    Jan 16, 2008
    Austin, Texas
    My MIK Casino has stock Epi P-90s that sound great. I've also owned guitars with Gibson, Duncan, PRS, and Fender Black Dove P-90s. I'm partial to the Gibsons, but the Black Dove was a very pleasant surprise, especially in the neck position.

    While I love the P-90 crunch and grit, I think they're underrated as a "clean" pickup. If you roll back the gain and the tone knob a little bit, a neck P-90 can be as warm and smooth as any jazz pickup - especially in a hollowbody.

    For me, the ultimate expression of the classic P-90 tone is found when you pair a Gibson Les Paul Junior with a dimed 5-watt tube amp. THAT is the very essence of pure rock guitar, IMO.
  14. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Silver Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Mar 10, 2010
    Portland ME
    . . . but P-90s are so easy to reverse. A dime-store compass, an analog meter and a soldering iron gets you all the way home in ten minutes.
  15. frankie5fingers

    frankie5fingers Member

    Jan 16, 2009
    I'm no expert but have a few guitars with P90s and have tried quite a few sets before deciding on the ones I've kept. No recommendation, one over another, except to say that it's worth the extra cash to use one of the better winders products. These are four (5?) of my favorites. Lollar, Vintage Vibe, Gibson, and Fralin, in no particular order.
    My opinions are my own, and are based on their standard product, with a 5% under neck, 5% over bridge for a good balance. All of them, as others have posted, are quite sensitive to height adjustment and it takes some fine tuning to get the most from them.
    - I found the Lollars brighter than many. Very strong, very articulate and sweet. It's harder to get them gritty, but when they get there, they get chewy and can really sing. They're my favorites for edge of breakup clean play, modern country, and old Stones. I really like them with a cranked Blackface PR or DR.
    - To me, Fralins are a similar tone to Lollar, though not nearly as bright, and they break up a little easier. They're well balanced string to string, and have more of a growl than a gritty overdriven sound. I really like 'em with pedals and they can get pretty greasy with Marshalls or tweeds.
    - I found the Gibsons a bit thinner and requiring more string to string adjustment to balance them optimally. They overdrive nicely, but can get piercing. I like them for rhythm more than lead work - that goes for current models. A buddy has a beat up old '50s LP with the OE P90s in it...the old ones are an entirely different story. Not sure why, but these older ones were VERY sweet and VERY gritty, at the same time, maybe not as articulate as some but they're so chewy and fat, it doesn't take away. When I played them, I recognized the tone from lots of old songs, good luck finding them though.
    - Vintage Vibe has an interesting approach by supplying different magnet sets (and detailed instructions on how to swap them) with theirs. Probably the smoothest of the bunch. They are quite articulate, have a very sweet clean tone and have a good string to string balance. They break up very nicely, with the A2s being my favorite. They'll overdrive pretty quickly, but they respond real well to the guitar's volume and tone controls and can clean up easily. These are my pick for a old school greasy, gritty tone.
    These are my opinions only, FWIW.
  16. riff1006

    riff1006 Supporting Member

    May 13, 2008
    BFE Nebraska
    My Gibson ES-330 is without a doubt the best sounding guitar I've ever owned. It's all stock and just sings, sings, sings or does the gritty grind! Great pickups.
  17. otaypanky

    otaypanky Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 24, 2006
    the Northern Neck of Virginia
    I have some Lollars in a Bombshell LP Special type guitar that I like a lot. And I have a lowly 50's Tribute LP with P90's that sound amazingly good. I think in both cases a lot of the tone is affected by the guitar and not just the pickups. The Gibson is chambered and it has a sweet round sound if you want it and can really drive if you roll it up. Out of about a dozen and a half nice guitars, it gets more play time than any of the others. Wired up 50's style, the Gibson pups really have a wide range of tones and response. The Bombshell with Lollars is all mahogany with a thick ebony fingerboard and that guitar has a lot of spank, closer to Tele territory
  18. beautiful liar

    beautiful liar Member

    Dec 29, 2008
    I'd be looking to drop it in the middle slot of a Nashville tele, using the traditional tele PUs for traditional tele tones, and engaging the p90 ( in conjunction with one of the other PUs or alone as needed) when I want to make it sing. Definition is important.

    Also, other than just brands, what are the technical apects and reasons behind it? I ask because international shipping and customs would render some of these very expensive. There are less pricey "local" (meaning European) brands available. I'd be willing to try them but i'd like to know the right questions to ask regarding magnets, winds, etc.

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