PAFs or P90s?


Platinum Supporting Member
Most of us will never own a 57, 58 or 59 LP. However, PAF-equipped ES models from 58-59 are not always entirely out of reach. Also, 53, 54 and 55 LPs (staying with wrap tails) can be had for similar prices. So given the choice between a PAF ES or a P90 LP, which would you pick?


Deputy Plankspanker
Platinum Supporting Member
P90. Love the wraptail goldtops. They can cover any music and are just beautiful.

Of course, a custom from that era with the P90/stapletop combo is amazing as well.


You need one of each: a PAF ES-335 (or 345, 355) and also a great Les Paul P90 guitar. They are night and day different.
true.the OP asks but there is no satisfying answer.
The question: what would you pick depends on the guitar and your budget and wishes.
I like both types and pick my LP or ES depending on the gig.
I have a slight preference for P90 as i feel i can do more with them.They have something happening in the mids that i like.So, if i gig in a trio or a 4-piece it's usually p90s. In a loud band with heavy players, guitars, keyboards and/or horns i need a tad more clean cut and often use humbuckers.
Having said that, i have played many gigs with both types independent of circumstance.Oh, and the amp is a very important factor in all this.


There is somethings so sweet about those 50's p90s... But at the same time, I'm sure an es from that era would knock my socks off


Gold Supporting Member
Okay, today's prices are up there and hard to justify especially to my wife. At one time, like 1980, picked up a 58 ES335 with PAF's, huge neck and no binding for $1500. Had also picked up this refinished white SG Les Paul Jr that had a hot original pickup that really screamed (9 Kohms) for $500. But you could also easily find perfect examples of original SG Les Paul Jr's for $500 but that guitar was a little compared to the usual herd. Got tired of Gibson and sold them all off thinking that would be it for them forever. Wrong.

Became married, and hard to explain the prices that have gone through the roof and trying to satisfy a renewed Gibson itch.

Picked up a 64 SG special, clubby neck, reset neck, guitar a little beaten up, but the tone and feel is there and a somewhat more explainable price. The neck on this thing is something to behold and that old Brazillian board feels very buttery.

Picked up a 63 sunburst ES345, both PAF's, repaired headstock, price way less than an unrepaired example. This machine beats out that 58 especially in the bridge position, the neck pickup beats out the 58 too, but the neck pickup in the 58 had a certain buttery sound to it, although the 63 neck is way more moderate in size. The bridge pickup in the 58 was quite weak, somewhat underwound. And yes this 63 definitely was relatively cheap.

So these are not guitar collector quality, but they take you all the way there with their Brazillian fret boards.
As a compare against the Gibson's that were in the closet back in the early eighties, 68 Les Paul Standard converted to sunburst and humbuckers (not done by me), early 60's SG Jr, 58 ES335, 66 ES345, these two more recent Gibsons kind of win out. And yes you can take these guitars out of the house to play them since they are not guitar collectors pieces.


In general the answer to your question really gets thrown back on you. The ES-3x5 and LP are two very different guitars. Not that they aren't somewhat interchangeable but they are significantly different. The same goes for PAF (and PAF like humbuckers) and P-90s. Not that you can't play the same set with either pickup but they are different. Figuring out what you want, what works for your style and sound isn't easy but it's not easy to give advice about either.

Before I spent money on a vintage LP or ES with either set of pickups, I would make sure that I had spent enough time playing more modern versions of the same configurations.


I’m a sucker for a Les Paul with P90s.
That said, if I had the money for a burst, I’d buy a burst, but if I had that money I’d still have to have a P90 Les Paul or maybe two; a wraptail Goldtop and a Custom with that staple front pickup.


I have some Lollar p90s on a '61 melody maker I salvaged. They don't sound exactly like the ones in my '60 330 I've had forever but pretty similar. I was doing a gig with a guy, mostly rock/blues/TX songwriter kind of stuff and he did a country song. Now, I've played a ton of country on a tele or strat, but didn't have one. I had a para EQ on the board, did a scoop of the mids, added a little high sparkle and it wasn't a tele, but man, it was close enough for on the fly. I tried that with humbuckers, not even close. Plus the p90s are GREAT blues and slide pickups, nice bite and growl when you want it. I've also played a fair bit of jazz on that 330. They cover a lot.

I was playing a H535 on those gigs with the MM as backup, and I started to play the MM more and more. Love the h535 but man, them p90s ...


Well if I’m buying the guitar to play and gig I’d always go for the P90 Goldtop over a PAF. If I’m buying it to look at on my wall again it’s the Goldtop. If it is an investment then it’s the PAF ES3XX. The PAF stuff is going to be more valuable IMO. If I consider all three together then the desire to gig with a P90 wraptail Goldtop has an enormous weight and would guide my wallet towards it. I have ‘57 ES 225 and love the P90s and the vibe, a Goldtop would just compliment it so well.

I gigg with a Hertiage Goldtop 150 with Tyson Tonelab 60s P90s through a Tungsten CW. No pedals just a cranked amp. I have been approached many times by people that did not know P90s could sound like a PAF, well aside from the occasional 60 cycle hum, they sound very similar.
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Silver Supporting Member
Man - you're comparing apples and bananas. The answer is both - they are completely different tools.

Looking at my collection, you would definitely say I'm a PAF guy - and specifically ES-3x5 guitars with PAFs, there are certain tones that you can only get with a PAF (or PAF-type) pickup.

But when it comes to vintage Les Pauls, nothing tempts me more than a P-90 goldtop with wraparound tailpiece. Vintage P-90s are such a distinct sound, super articulate and versatile.

(Note: the best bargain of all is the two combined - an ES-330 with P90s!)


I prefer p90s for 90% of the stuff that I play, and I've played real p.a.f.s quite a bit. I prefer the extra clarity and bite, and they sound a little tighter.

When you need a creamier sound p.a.f.s are better, especially in the neck position.


Ol' CuRmUGeOn
Got to say, love the tone out of my 59 LP Special! Something about the way the P90s sound, just cuts through the air, with a crisp clarity that a humbucker can't match.


Gold Supporting Member
IMHO they don't sound the same and are different enough that I'd choose one or the other based on what I was trying to get out of the guitar. Having said 59 LP jr is the greatest sounding guitar I've ever played. I've not played PAF's....but there is some mojo in those P90's.

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