Learning how to play an instrument is probably one of the most fruitful decisions a person can ever make. The discipline, focus, responsibility, and coordination that come together with learning this new skill have great benefits that can greatly improve a person’s life. The guitar is an instrument that can bring much joy, even if only for the personal satisfaction of learning how to play your favorite tunes.
How Do Guitar Pickups Work?
As much as we like to think that playing an instrument is the hobby of creative people, much of how said instrument works is a matter of… physics! You will hear a lot of terms related to pickups, like smooth, mellow, or hot. But what do they mean, and how exactly does a pickup work, anyway?
Magnetic pickups are, of course, based on magnets. A pickup has a thin copper wire that’s wrapped around the pickup’s body. This is where physics comes in (Faraday’s Law of Induction, to be more precise). This law states that when a magnetic field changes, it creates an electric field that passes through a nearby wire. For the principle to work, the wire has to be part of a closed circuit (which is the case of the aforementioned wire, which is wrapped in a coil).
Here is the simplest explanation of how this works. When you move your fingers to touch the strings of your guitar, you create a vibration. Strings are normally made from steel and nickel, which are ferromagnetic materials. In translation, the magnets on your pickup are attracted to the guitar strings. As the magnetic field changes, there’s a current flow that picks up the string’s vibrations, causing the pickup to work.
Electric Guitar Pickups
As a lot of professionals will tell you, picking the right pickup for an electric guitar is a complex process. You need to consider the type of electric pickup that matches your guitar. Intuitively, depending on the model of your pickup, you can generate different kinds of tones. This can also depend on the position where your pickup is related to your guitar. There have been cases where identical pickups sounded differently simply because they were in a different position.
For example, if the pickup is placed closer to your guitar’s bridge, the results will be a sound of a higher frequency, compared to the ones you get when the pickup is placed closer to the neck of the guitar. If your guitar has more than one pickup, that will also contribute to how much tone control you get.
There’s a broad classification for electric guitar pickups, and we’ll go over them in the following paragraphs.
Single vs Double Coil
Back in the day, pickups used to have a single coil of wire, and the result was a lot of background hum. The solution that manufacturers discovered implied using two coils that were wired in opposite directions, with the purpose of them canceling one another. Double coil pickups are commonly known as humbuckers because, as the name suggests it, they are hum-bucking. They can produce a warmer tone compared to pickups that are based on single-coil technology.
On the other hand, single-coil pickups are known for generated a clearer sound. If you are not sure which of these two types of pickups to choose, consider the following. The size of the pickup holes will determine if a single coil unit is better than the double version. Then, it depends on what type of sound you most like. And, keep in mind, there are guitars that have a mixture of these two products.
Active vs Passive
Passive pickups are a popular choice when dealing with guitars that have magnets wrapped in wire coils that don’t need electricity to work. Active pickups are powered by a battery pre-amp, characterized by higher output and the least amount of noise. Passive pickups are known to be the favorite choice between the two. Of course, the choice depends on the music genre you most like to play.
Switching Your Pickup
As we’ve mentioned above, there are players who prefer having multiple pickups installed, and switching between the setups. This opens up a multitude of possibilities and sound shuffling, to create unique and intriguing play styles.
History of P90 Pickups
P90 pickups were originally made just after the Second World War and were the standard pick up on Gibson guitars.
Although it was fairly short-lived as towards the end of the 1950s the humbucker came onto the scene. Featuring thicker tones and a focus on midrange frequencies, the humbucker became immensely popular. For a long time, the P90 was to be found on inexpensive and cheaper Gibson model guitars.
It wasn’t until the Les Paul gold top was released in 1968 that the P90 started to pick up traction again and it began to be used by many big names including a lot of well-known punk artists such as Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers as well as Mick Jones of The Clash.
So, P90 pickups have had a bit of a varied history from being the standard pickups on Gibson guitars to being relegated down the chain in favor of the humbucker. They’ve regained popularity again but there are some things to think about before buying a P90.
Things to consider with P90 Pickups
Before you buy any P90 pickups, we’ve put together a few things you might want to think about first.
There are different variations of the P90 pickups that you should be aware of.
Dog-ear – the dog ear P90 pickups are characterized by the extensions at each side which resemble dog ears – hence the name! They are fairly similar in appearance to the soap bar pickups but with the side extensions.
Soap bar – these have a very minimal and straightforward design which isn’t always a bad thing. They have a rectangle shape and have screws around the sides of the coil. This type of P90 has been in use since the early 1950s.
Humbucker casing – these variations of the P90 are larger and as the name suggests, closely mirror the humbucker pickups. They were originally made for larger guitars.
Something else to consider with P90 pickups is the pricing range.
They can vary quite widely from just a few dollars to a few hundred dollars depending on which model you buy. It is something to think about in conjunction with the budget you have to spend. Just because one model is a lot more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it is better or will suit your playing style.
We have included a diverse range of P90 pickups on our list so that all budgets can be accommodated for.
Top 10 P90 Pickups for Your Guitar
P90 pickups may have similar tones, but they have different shapes and sizes. By combining the buyer’s guide above with our suggestions below, you should be able to find the ones that match your guitar, to be able to enjoy a sound just like you’ve always dreamed of.
Top 5 Options
FLEOR Alnico V Single Coil Soapbar P90 Neck/Bridge Pickup
Label: best value
A lovely looking P90, the FLEOR Alnico 5 Single Coil Pickup Soap Bar P90 is suited to a Les Paul guitar but will fit onto various other guitars as well.
Available in Chrome and Cream, this stylish-looking soapbar neck and bridge pickup might just be what you need. The five magnets that make up the pickup have adjustable poles, while the spacing of the poles is 50 mm and 52 mm, for the neck and bridge, respectively. The cover is waxed, to prevent unwanted noise.
The FLEOR Alnico V Single Coil Soapbar is looking to provide the best of two different worlds: the fat sound that’s typical to humbucker, but with the clarity and brightness of a single-coil unit. The end result is an affordable P90 pickup which might not be best one we’ve ever seen, but definitely a good starting point for beginners that are still looking to add identity to their sound.
Who Should Purchase This?
The FLEOR P90 pickup is perfect for buyers that are on a budget, or for beginners that want to avoid purchasing a very expensive product, without knowing if it really matches their playing style.
These P90 pickups probably aren’t going to emit the same quality as some of the higher-priced models but for the cost they represent very good value.
- Magnets with adjustable poles
- Wax potted
- Screws included
- Good feedback, no unwanted noise
- Good price
- Have a lovely black finish
- Great for Les Paul guitars and will fit other guitars too
- Questionable durability
- Mounting screws are a bit short
- Sound quality is OK but nothing special
|Product Weight||8.6 ounces|
|Product Dimensions||3.5 x 0.6 x 1.4 inches|
|Colors||Chrome, Cream, Black|
|What’s in the Package||one neck pickup, one bridge pickup, four screws, four springs|
This Seymour Duncan Antiquity P-90 "Dog Ear" Neck Pickup is designed like a '59 gold top with the same hand-fabricated bobbins, wire, and "flatback" tape used in the originals
Available for both the bridge and the neck of your guitar, the Seymor Duncan is the type of pickup to die for! The dog-ear cover is impressive but not as impressive as the vintage tone that takes your sound to the next level (or the previous level, depends on how you look at it).
With crisp and bright chords, the Duncan won’t interfere with your single notes, so you will still get a well-rounded result. Despite its spicy price, the Duncan Antiquity is one of those products where you know you’re paying extra, but you have the assurance of buying a high-quality pickup.
Who Should Purchase This?
The Seymour Duncan Antiquity is not a cheap product, which means that it’s more of an upgrade for people who’ve been using a basic pickup so far, and would like a product that’s well known as being one of the best choices for a guitar bridge.
- Well-rounded notes
- Crisp chords
- Hand-fabricated bobbin
- Durable plastic case
- Both bridge and neck models available
- Have an aged look and lovely aesthetics
- Produce an authentic P90 sound
- Construction is very close to the original P90s
- At the higher end of the pricing scale
|Product Weight||4.8 ounces|
|Product Dimensions||6 x 3 x 1 inches|
|What’s in the Package||one pickup|
Lindy Fralin pickups offer the best overall tone available. If your looking for chime and warmth, these handwound pickups are the best you can obtain.
Right off the bat, we have one of the more expensive P90 pickups with this model. The Lindy Fralin P-90 Soapbar Pickup is definitely not at the budget range but it does have a lot of great advantages. It has a vintage look with the soap bar shape and it has been crafted as close as possible to the original Gibson P90s so you have that vintage sound as well.
These pickups are for guitars that have pickup screws in the body. They can’t be used on guitars that have the pickup connected through a scratchplate.
Everything about the Lindy Fralin screams quality. People often purchase this product because of its fat mid-range, creating a sound that’s truly noiseless. The reverse-wound bridges do an excellent job at canceling hum, especially when both pickups are mounted on the guitar.
With a solid sustain, the notes are thick, and the chords have an amazing ring to them. The result is a crystal-clear sound that even professional guitar players have praised throughout the years. The set features Alnico IV magnets, plus steel poles, resulting in a lot of sound sustain.
Who Should Purchase This?
Since they are a bit pricey, the Lindy Fralin pickups are not very popular amongst beginners. Instead, they are the choice of people with more guitar-playing experience, as they combine the best elements that remind us of the original Gibson specs.
That being said, the Lindy Fralin P-90 Soapbar Pickup, even with its price nature, is definitely one of the best out there. With its ideal mid-range round, vintage design, and overall great craftsmanship, if your budget can stretch it is worth considering.
- Excellent noise cancellation
- Includes two pickups
- Available in a dog ear design
- Creates both vintage or a bright tone
- Superior quality
- Features Alnico IV magnets
- Recreation of the original Gibson P90
- Rather expensive
- Requires both pickups installed for best noise canceling results
|Product Weight||2 pounds|
|Product Dimensions||10 x 8 x 10 inches|
|What’s in the Package||two soap bar pickups|
Making its debut at the 2012 summer NAMM show, this design uses the hum-cancelling properties of opposing coils but defies the normal high output that would accompany similar resistance designs.
Label: best double-coil pickup
The Kent Armstrong pickup is a bit different compared to the other ones in this round-up, mainly because it’s a double-coil unit, while the others feature a single-coil-type of technology. There are ups and downs to this feature. First off, if you read the buyer’s guide at the beginning of the article, you know that dual-coil pickups do bring some downsides as far as the resulting sound is concerned.
Compared to other P90 pickups, you will get a sound that’s less bright, but the dual-coil technology is better at cancelling hum. If your music style is more aggressive, the Kent Armstrong is the right product for you. The hard sound best fits metal music, especially due to the crunchiness of the audio result.
Who Should Purchase This?
If you like playing more aggressive music styles, this product might be straight up your alley. Since this isn’t a high-end pickup, it’s also very affordable, and might be a good option for players who are on a tight budget.
- Superior noise-canceling
- Crunchy sound
- Heavy overdrive sound
- Great for aggressive music styles
- The plastic cover feels a bit cheap
|Product Weight||8 ounces|
|Product Dimensions||3.36 x 1 x 36 x 0.74 inches|
|What’s in the Package||double coil neck pickup|
The traditional P-90 has a sound that is more powerful than a single coil, but is cleaner and clearer than a humbucker.
Seymor Duncan has found its way into our round-up once again, mostly because it has about just as much experience in making these babies as we’d like to see. As far as pickups are concerned, you know that SD is a brand you can trust, and the Phat Cat pickup set is here to prove just that.
First things first, these P90 pickups look amazing. Their shiny nickel finish is stunning so if aesthetics are important this is an ideal product. What about their sound? Well, they perform brilliantly as well regardless if you are playing country, heavy rock or jazz.
Better used on hollow body guitars, these pickups won’t leave you disappointed and if you want something a bit cheaper than the Lindy Fralin P-90s, they are an ideal choice.
The Alnico II magnets that are found on this pickup are here to give you as much sustain as you’d expect to get from a high-quality product, with a soft attack that can define your play style. The clarity of the tone is clearly superior to other models we’ve tested. Even more, clarity is here to stay even if you push the overdrive. The elegant color is combined with a rugged case, resulting in a sound that you’ll want to hear and play over and over again.
Who Should Purchase This?
The Seymour Duncan Phat Cat set of bridge and neck pickups is the right choice for pretty much everyone. Because of their quality and the results they give, they are not the least expensive products in our round-up, but rest assured that every penny you pay for them is worth it.
- Excellent build quality.
- Elegant nickel color.
- Compatible with humbucker guitars.
- Great noise reduction.
- Improved sustain.
- Can be used for a wide variety of music styles and genres
- Have durability and very good performance
- The bridge pickup is a bit too bright.
- They are sold individually
You might also consider:
TFW Replacement Pickup Set – P90, Humbucker Size
The TFW Replacement Pickup Set – P90, Humbucker Size have ceramic magnets and also come in a set of two which are a bonus.
They help to produce a great sound as well and are very much a ‘plug and play’ product which is ideal if you don’t like messing about. You can use these as a humbucker pickup as they are the same size and represent very good value for money.
These P90 pickups aren’t the best out there but they are far from the worst. For the price and for the sound they deliver, you can’t really go too far wrong.
- Good value for money and in the budget category
- Provide a decent sound
- Have good quality ceramic magnets
- Don’t deliver as much as the higher priced models
Kmise MI0159 Cream Ivory Guitar P90 Soapbar Pickup Dog Ear Style
If you are really on a budget and need a cheap P90 pickup then the Kmise MI0159 Cream Ivory Guitar P90 Soapbar Pickup Dog Ear Style is what you should be after. These are very cheap so will appeal to all budgets.
OK, so they don’t offer the high quality and superior sound as the first few P90s on our list but if you really are strapped for cash, these P90s are a good choice. The sound isn’t particularly bad but it can be described perhaps as ‘decent’ at best.
That being said, they have a nice basic and straightforward design although be warned that they will be too large for some guitars. Overall a very budget P90 but one that will do the job if you need it to.
- Very cheap so ideal if you don’t have much money to spend
- Simple and elegant dog ear design
- Performance is fairly good for the cost
- You’ll find better sounding P90s out there
- Won’t fit on some guitars due to their size
Soapbar P-90 Guitar Pickup
If you are building a guitar yourself – either electric or a cigar box guitar – then this P90 is an ideal choice and represents a budget option.
The Soapbar P-90 Guitar Pickup comes with everything you need in a pre-wired rig so that you can easily add this to your latest creation. It has a fairly no-nonsense design and its soap bar look is distinctive and harks back to the vintage style for the P90s.
Performance-wise it isn’t going to set the world alight however for the cost and if you are building your own instrument it isn’t really bad either. A pretty niche product if you are using it on your own build but its components are compatible with various guitars too.
- Cheap and cheerful P90 with a vintage look
- Ideal for hobbyist building their on guitar
- Components can also be used on various guitars too
- Sound quality isn’t amazing but OK for the price
- Won’t appeal to everyone
OriPure Solid Sound Soap Bar P90 Pickup
The OriPure Solid Sound Soap Bar P90 Pickup is another vintage looking product that really does go for the simple and understated look.
There isn’t really anything massively wrong with these P90 pickups. They don’t feature an elegant aesthetic like some others and the sound is OK without being absolutely fantastic but they are an inexpensive option.
With these P90s you’ll get an easy to install a product that can complete a vintage feel to your guitar and the performance is standard for its price category. Certainly worth looking at if you want to save some money and avoid the higher-priced P90 pickups.
- Basic design but can look good on various guitar models
- Easy to install so you shouldn’t have any issues
- Inexpensive so will be affordable to most
- Like many cost-effective P90s, there are better options out there
Recommended for bridge position, solid body guitars with soap pickup cavities.
We are going to finish on a P90 pickup that is towards the higher end of the pricing table.
The DiMarzio DP210 Tone Zone P90 Pickup Black has a great look to it with its sleek and back finish. This humbucker P90 pickup gives off a high output and a great sound. You’ll notice that the sound is close to the original Tone Zone and this is achieved by firstly increasing power and secondly by broadening the magnetic field.
They are of good quality too in terms of their construction and you’ll get durability and longevity from these pickups.
Installation can be a challenge. This is mainly down to reports of the bottom mounting screw hole and its alignment with the routing for the pickup harness. Not a massive deal breaker but just something to be wary of and not everyone has had this problem.
- High-quality P90 pickup that isn’t too expensive
- Has a lovely black finish
- Produces a great sound
- Some installation issues but nothing too major
FAQs About P90 Pickups
What are the different P90 pickups?
There are three variations of the P90. The soap bar has been used since the 1950s and has a rectangle and minimal design; the dog ear which is a wider variety of the soap bar model and finally the humbucker that is larger overall.
Do I need an expensive P90 pickup?
Not necessarily. Just because some models cost a lot more than others doesn’t mean they always produce better sound. We have included expensive and cost-effective options on this list to suit everyone.
Are P90 pickups difficult to install?
They should be fairly straightforward. Some are a bit harder to install than others but you should get instructions with your purchase and there are many online videos that can help.
Will these P90 pickups fit on my guitar?
It depends on your guitar design and what pickups it was manufactured to work with. Most guitars can fit P90s but make sure you check first before you make a purchase.
Can I add P90 pickups if I build my own guitar?
Yes. There are many hobbyists who are turning to DIY guitar kits to make their own instruments which can be a very rewarding experience. P90s can be used if you are building your own electric, acoustic, or cigar box guitar but always check the sizes and compatibility first.
Our Verdict: Which is the Best P90 Pickup?
P90 pickups have retained a loyal following and even though their popularity dipped many decades ago, they are firmly back as the choice pickup for many people. There are so many models out there and different variations but they all try as best they can to replicant the original and distinctive sound that a P90 makes.
Our list of the 10 best P90 pickups has included both expensive options as well as more budget models so everyone has something that they can purchase. What is the best P90 pickup from our list, though?
We are going to say the Seymour Duncan Antiquity P-90 Dog Ear Pickup.
The price isn’t the cheapest. If you are on a tight budget then you might want to consider one of the more inexpensive options that we have listed. However, if you can get the cash together for this P90 pickup we recommend that you do.
Not only does it have a lovely finish that has a real aged look, but the sound quality is fantastic as well. It looks and plays at home in both pricey and cheaper guitars. The Alnico 2 bar magnets help to produce that real gritty sound that P90s are known for so if you want an authentic pickup this is definitely it.
There aren’t really any major downsides to this Seymour Duncan pickup. Would we like it to be a bit cheaper – yes. Do we mind paying a bit extra money for something that is of such high quality? Not at all.
If your budget can stretch, opt for the Seymour Duncan Antiquity P-90 Dog Ear Pickup because you won’t be disappointed.
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