The Venerable P90


Senior member
I was just describing how I made up some telecaster variants with a P90 at the neck and humbucker at the bridge.  Gibson did that on their BFG, which I had, actually liked a lot.  Chunky neck was great.  Very light chambered body.  They also accepted refinish work like a blank canvas to an artist....

That got me thinking of another P90 guitar I converted and refinished.

Which started life as an SG Special "faded" (crap finish), which also had a fairly chunky neck, and I liked.  Those came stock with the Gibson 490/490 pickup set.  This one got the black cherry burst with Mohawk toners and a lot of Deft lacquer spray.  Also has the neck pickup set about 3/8 back from the "normal" P90 position, so I didn't have to route the tenon area at all.  Naturally, the pickguard was custom cut.
So... all of this got me thinking.....
Most players realize, admit, discuss, even argue the differences in all the flavors of humbuckers.  Most players feel the same way about Strat pickups, or Tele pickups.  All sorts of flavors.  Then ask them about a P90, and its sort of a one flavor pickup.  They'll say "I'm thinking about putting a P90 in my guitar", or "P90's are too fat, too rough, too (whatever) for me, so I'm taking it out".  They treat 'em all the same.
They ain't the same.
I've had the good fortune of having just a wee bit of experience with some P90 pickups as Gibson produced them.  For a time, the P90 was used in archtops, and in thin hollow body and thinline guitars, but after humbuckers were invented and mainstreamed, the P90 was only put in entry level guitars, and when that happened the recipe was changed.  You'll find very very light and sweet original P90's that were in ES guitars like an ES-125 or the top line ES-5, or can find original heavy, raunchy, roadhouse tone pickups from old LP Junior or SG Juniors. 

From Wikipedia: "In common with many other modern pickup types, there are two versions of modern P-90: neck and bridge version. Their DC resistance tends to be around 7-8 kΩ for neck pickups and 8-9 kΩ for bridge pickups. Early P-90 pickups made before approx 1974 were manufactured with no difference in the bridge and neck position and were interchangeable."Dont believe everything you read on the internet.  From as far back as the 1990's, Gibson has had only "P90" pickups, no neck, no bridge variety.  However, there is considerable winding differences.  I've measured the P90 from the early-to-mid 1960, at as high as 13.5k, others in the 10k range.  Earlier than that, from ES-225 at only 6.5k - all original.  Gibson never announced anything special, or different, but they were.  Wikipedia says they changed to Alnico 5 magnets in 1957, and I'm not sure that's the case, but its possible as the output was hotter than hot, and not too muted in tone due to the high winding resistance. 
The pickups I used, were all from the early 2000's, bought new.  In the high 7k range, with some variation.  The Gibson P94 was hotter, in a smaller package, dunno how they did that.  I will say, the P90 at the neck is a nice tone, but hard to balance with any humbucker in the bridge, unless you get a really hot shredder special.  When you do that, the tone is not the best balance.  I found the Burstbucker #3 to be a decent compromise and a good bridge pickup at any rate, even without a P90 at the neck.  Even so, that P90 had to be set rather low and the Burstbucker rather high to get a good balance when both pickups were used.Lollar had a few flavors of P90's, not sure what he offers these days.  Ditto Fralin, but Lindy makes a P90 close to what Gibson did in the late 40's/early 50's.  If you want a more raunchy, in-your-face tone, get one of his overwound pickups.And... that's my little PSA on P90 pickups.
I've come to really like P-90's in certain guitars and the Tele is most certainly one of them, along with the 335.

I have a friend who had custom wound "T-90's" made for his tele, and they sound wonderful all around.  Basically P-90's in Tele Pickup form.
TonyFlyingSquirrel said:
I have a friend who had custom wound "T-90's" made for his tele, and they sound wonderful all around.  Basically P-90's in Tele Pickup form.
Hmm, sounds like a good idea.
I've always dismissed P90s as the opposite of a "best of both worlds" scenario - just some lame compromise with no winners.  Lately, seems I'm noticing more and more folks being excited about them - might have to check out one/a pair one of these days...
Tony sez:"I've come to really like P-90's in certain guitars and the Tele is most certainly one of them, along with the 335....."
Tony not singling you out, but using the example. Substitute "humbucker" for P90 and my point is made.  People throw "all" P90's into the same "its a P90" group, whereas they're not, and, they wouldn't do so with a humbucker (or to a large degree, single coil Tele or Strat set).
Guys who fooled with radios back when radios were just invented.... discovered the difference between a short wide coil and a tall thin coil, each of the same inductance.  The magnetic circuit of the P90 is part of its overall flavor (in a wider sense), but the coil shape is equally a part. 

I like P90's.... for the same reason I like Tele pickups, and certain humbucking pickups:  They're available in all sorts of flavors
I consider P90's the most versatile single coil pickups because you can make them sound close to the strat clean tone and close to the overdriven HB tone. They are the easiest pickups for my taste, I haven't played with one I didn't like. From cheap to boutique every P90 I tried sounded good to me. Proof of that is I have left stock my Korean PRS I purchased years ago. I have thought of several replacement pickups but it sounds fine as it is.

It's true Gibson has made from weak to high output P90's and they usually don't give any info about them, you only see P90's in the specs of their guitars. By far my favorite P90's are the set my '13 ES-330 has. The only info about them Gibson disclosed is they are underwound but I haven't measured them. I don't want to mess with anything because the guitar feels & sounds amazing, clean or dirty. I haven't played with any other hollow guitar, based just on this specific guitar and specific set of pickups I prefer P90's in a hollow body guitar.

Like with HB's, Gibson had made P90's with Alnico II & Alnico V. Probably with Alnico III too. Count the DC resistance and there's a lot of variation.

I first fell in love with the P90 when I got my hands on an Aerodyne Telecaster about 12 years ago.  They were a contoured basswood-bodied, rear-routed, single-bound guitar with a standard Tele bridge pickup and Fender's Black Dove soapbar at the neck.  I had never owned a Tele up until I got the Aerodyne because I really had no use for the conventional Tele neck pickup, but when I laid my hands on this model, it was all over.  Since then I've owned a Gibson LP Jr. Faded double-cut with two P90's, and that only reinforced my love of the soapbar pups.  The guitar itself was not my cup of tea, however. The shorter scale and the two-volume/two-tone scheme never felt right.  The Aerodyne and the Gibby have since been rotated out of the lineup, but my main electrics are two half-Warmoths, including my green 'Hog, loaded with Roadhouse True Blue P90's (no longer being made):
My Number One (mahogany body, canary neck w/ebony fretboard):

The Aerodyne Tele (still an elegant piece of work, I'd own another if the chance arose and the price were right):

I have determined the p-90 is the ultimate neck pick up.  My go to set up has been a neck p90 and bridge humbucker that can be tapped to single coil.  The toggle in the middle position also creates some dynamic tones!!!
P90 at the neck is a very very nice thing.  Of course, so is a Tejas Especiales neck pickup on a Strat, or a 52 reissue neck pickup on a Tele.  They each have their place.  But, the P90 is rather dear to me....