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ManufacturerGibson Brands
TypePassive single-coil
Magnet typeAlnico 3 (early), Alnico 5 (later); aftermarket pickups with other magnets are available
Output specifications
Voltage (RMS), V241.1 mV at 6.405 kHz resonant frequency[citation needed]
Impedance, 7.5 to 8.5 kΩ[1]
Sonic qualities
frequency, Hz
6.405 kHz

The P-90 (sometimes written P90) is a single coil electric guitar pickup produced by Gibson Guitar Corporation since 1946, as well as other vendors. Compared to other single coil designs, such as the ubiquitous Fender single coil, the bobbin for a P-90 is wider but shorter. The Fender style single coil is wound in a taller bobbin, but the wires are closer to the individual poles. This makes the P-90 produce a different type of tone, somewhat warmer with less edge and brightness[citation needed]. As with other single-coil pickups, the P-90 is subject to mains hum unless some form of hum cancellation is used.


Around 1940, Gibson offered a new bridge pickup cased in metal for the ES-100/125 series as an alternative to the classic Charlie Christian pickup.

Officially, P-90 pickups were introduced in 1946, when Gibson resumed guitar production after World War II. The name refers to the part number as designated by the company.[2] They were initially used to replace Gibson's original "bar" or "blade" pickup, also known as the Charlie Christian pickup, on models such as the ES-150, and by the end of the 1940s it was the standard pickup on all models.[3] The soap bar-style P-90 debuted with the Les Paul electric guitar in 1952.[1]

The P-90's reign as the Gibson standard pickup was short-lived, as a new design of pickup, the humbucker, was introduced in 1957. Equipped with double coils, the new pickup boasted greater output and less hum, although with less high end response. This new pickup, occasionally named PAF (or Patent Applied For), very quickly took over as the preferred choice for all Gibson models, relegating the P-90 to budget models such as the ES-330, the Les Paul Junior and Special, and the SG Junior and Special, such as those used by Pete Townshend and Carlos Santana for their brighter, rawer, sound. This trend continued throughout the 1960s and particularly in the early 1970s, where the P-90 all but disappeared from the entire Gibson range. By the 1970s, smaller single-coil pickups, mini-humbucking pickups, and uncovered humbucking pickups began replacing the P-90 pickups on Gibson's budget and lower-end models.

In 1968, Gibson reissued the original, single-cutaway Les Paul, one version being a Goldtop with P-90 pickups.[2] In 1972, they produced Limited Edition reissues, called the "58 Reissue" though actually based on the 54 Goldtop Les Paul, with a stopbar tailpiece; and the 54 Custom, the "Black Beauty," equipped with a P-90 in the bridge and an Alnico 5 pickup at the neck. Total production of these guitars was quite small. In 1974, Gibson put the P-90 pickup in their Les Paul '55, a reissue of the Les Paul Special from that era. It was followed in 1976 by the Les Paul Special double-cutaway (DC) model and in 1978 by the Les Paul Pro (which had an ebony fingerboard with trapezoid inlays). Since the 1970s, the P-90 pickup has seen some success in various models in the Gibson line, mostly through reissues and custom versions of existing models. Currently it is featured most prominently on the Les Paul Faded Doublecut, and certain models in the Historic range.

In the early 1970s, punk rock guitarists such as Johnny Thunders of The New York Dolls began using Les Paul Juniors and Les Paul Specials equipped with P-90s because of the cutting overdriven sound and the inexpensive nature of the guitars. In both The Dolls and The Heartbreakers, Thunders influenced younger punk rock guitarists who adopted his look and choice of guitar. Mick Jones of The Clash and Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols both owned Les Paul Juniors, and the double-cutaway Junior became the first choice for punk rock guitarists.

The P-90 was also marketed by Gibson in the 1970s as the "Laid Back" pickup, as part of a line of "named" pickups.[4][page needed]

For the 2014 model year, the Les Paul Melody Maker featured a variant of the P-90 pickup called the P-90S, inspired by the original pickup of the Gibson ES-125. This variant possesses six rectangular Alnico-slug pole pieces with no individual height adjustment.


Gibson P-90 soap bar

There are three major varieties of P-90 casing:

  • Soap bar, which have a rectangular shape and mounting screws contained within the coil perimeter, is positioned between the pole pieces of the second and third, and fourth and fifth, strings.[1] The resulting irregular and somewhat unusual pattern causes the screws to occasionally be mistaken for pole pieces. The soap bar nickname most probably comes from its shape and proportions, and that the P-90s shape and white color on the original Gibson Les Paul gave birth to the retroactive nickname "soap bar" as a means of distinguishing them and others sharing their basic configurations from latter generation P90 pickups.
P-90 dog ear
  • Dog ear have mounting screw extensions on both sides of the pickup.[1] These were commonly mounted on Gibson's hollow-body guitars like the ES-330 and occasionally on solid-body models like the Les Paul Junior. The same pickups were also available on Epiphone models (since Gibson was building Epiphone guitars in the 1950s) and the design is best remembered among them for its appearance on the hollow body Epiphone Casino of the mid to late 1960s.[citation needed]
  • Humbucker style allows a P-90 to be retroactively installed on guitars that came with humbuckers. The existing route in the guitar body must be altered to fit a standard P-90; the humbucker style casing minimizes the effort to install one and any potential alignment issues. As a result, pseudo P-90s in a humbucker style casing are common (see below).


Being a single-coil design, the tone of a P-90 is somewhat brighter than a humbucker,[5] though not quite as crisp and snappy as Fender's single-coil pickups.[citation needed] The tone therefore shares some of the single coil twang, but having large amounts of midrange and often described as “thick". The reason behind the tonal difference between P-90s and Fender single-coil pickups is due to construction methods. P-90s use bar magnets set under the polepieces, much like a humbucker, whereas Fender single-coils use rod magnets as the polepieces. [6] Popular guitars that use or have the option of using P-90s are the Gibson SG, Gibson Les Paul, and the Epiphone Casino. Fender Jazzmaster pickups are often confused with the P-90; however, their only similarity is cosmetic, since there are many significant visual, dimensional and electrical differences.

The placement of the guitar pickups by Gibson before World War II was such that they emphasised the treble response to compensate for the low frequencies of the electronics in the bass. The increased output and high end afforded by the P-90 design allowed the company to position the pickup closer to the neck.[2]

All Gibson P-90 pickups (vintage and otherwise) were machine wound on Leesona coil winding machines, although their electrical specifications may vary slightly due to operator error. 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 8 .[1][5] Early P-90 pickups made before approximately 1974 were manufactured with no difference in the bridge and neck position and were interchangeable. After winding, pickups were hung on a rack holding twenty pickups and assembled according to the model of guitar they were to be used on (Soap-Bar or Dog Ear). Earlier pickups (around 1952) had Alnico 3 magnets, but in 1957 Gibson switched to Alnico 5.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e Hunter, Dave (2008). The Guitar Pickup Handbook: The Start of Your Sound. Backbeat. pp. 57–58, 60, 69, 78. ISBN 9780879309312.
  2. ^ a b c Carter, Walter (2007). The Gibson Electric Guitar Book Seventy Years of Classic Guitars. Backbeat Books. pp. 20, 72. ISBN 9780879308957.
  3. ^ Duchossoir, A. R. (1998). Gibson Electrics: The Classic Years. Hal Leonard. p. 29. ISBN 0-7935-9210-0.
  4. ^ Brosnac, Donald (1983). Guitar Electronics for Musicians. New York: Amsco Publications. ISBN 0-7119-0232-1.
  5. ^ a b Lawrence, Robb (2008). The Early Years of the Les Paul Legacy, 1915-1963. Hal Leonard. pp. 114, 184. ISBN 9780634048616.
  6. ^ "An Extensive Guitar Pickup Primer". Reverb. September 2, 2015.
  7. ^ Price, Huw (April 11, 2022). "The history of the P-90, the most versatile pickup ever made". Guitarist. Retrieved August 21, 2022.

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