Gibson first started making the single coil P-90 pickup in the mid-1940s. These pickups are known for bringing a lot of volume and a bright, powerful treble that is excellent for blues players and also utilized by guitarists in jazz, rock, and country styles. P-90 pickups have an excellent response, as well, along with clean articulation that makes them a good choice for many rhythm guitar players.
Although they were first used on Gibson guitars, the manufacturer shifted to using more humbucker-style pickups as it developed later models, and many of the best guitars that use P-90 style pickups on the market today are made by newer brands who emulated this iconic pickup design.
Whatever your budget, if you’re looking for a new guitar that gives you both edge and precision, one of these models that uses P-90 pickups will let you find your ideal sound. These are, without a doubt, the best P90 guitars on the market.
Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin II
This retro-styled archtop electric updates the vintage design, with a rounded cutaway that harkens back to its acoustic roots and a body of laminated wild cherry. The precision of the craftsmanship is unparalleled, with a slightly higher neck than most guitars that gives it a relatively high action. Tone-wise, it has a lot of character, handling both clean tones and grit beautifully, with a rounder attack than many P-90 guitars.
The hollow body (see full specs) does limit its dynamic range slightly, but if you’re in the jazz, blues, or folk styles, the smooth, creamy tone more than makes up for it. It comes installed with two Godin P-90 pickups—vintage styled, of course, to complete the aesthetic charm of this unique and beautiful instrument. This should be on anyone’s list of the best P90 guitars.
As you can probably tell by now from this list, Epiphone is the guitar brand making the best use of the P90 pickup that is widely available to consumers. One of the newest models to take full advantage of this pickup style is the semi-hollowbody Blueshawk Deluxe, a long-awaited reissue of the classic design first introduced in the 1990s.
The body shape of the Blueshawk combines features popularized on a variety of different Gibson and Epiphone designs. It uses a similar upper curve and cutaway shape to a Les Paul but puts it on a semi-hollowbody, with the smaller f-holes found on Epiphone archtop models. The hollow spaces inside the body give you more resonance and warmth from the mahogany used for the back and sides.
Epiphone has a reputation for delivering professional hand-craftsmanship at affordable prices, and they uphold this reputation with their Casino model. Like the other guitars on this list, the Epiphone Casino draws its inspiration from decades past—in this case from the model the company released in the 1960s, which was made popular when several of the Beatles purchased and played them.
The re-issue of this hollow-body electric (see full specs) has a maple body with a mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard. Added to these traditional tone woods are more modern upgrades, like the Tune-O-Matich bridge and the two installed Alnico V pickups that are a modern re-make of those that came on the original.
Epiphone Les Paul Special-I
If your budget is more in the $100-$200 range, Epiphone still has you covered with their Les Paul Special-I. It has a solid wood mahogany body with a single cutaway design that both gives the guitar a clean, classic look and a smooth, rich tone. The bright clarity of the Epiphone Soap Bar-style P-90 pickups is enhanced by the adjustable wrap around bridge and tailpiece; the combination gives the Les Paul I a powerful bite. The SlimTaper D neck is designed for maximum comfort and has a relatively short scale length, making it very playable for musicians of all experience levels. If you’re on a budget, hands down, it’s the best P90 guitar for the money.
Gibson Memphis ES-330
The original ES-330 was produced by Gibson from 1959 to 1972. The Memphis model does justice to the original, with the vibe of a vintage Gibson and the craftsmanship and technology they’re known for today. The design mimics that of the original ES-330, from the array of colors and finishes that are offered to the semi-hollow body design and the double sound holes.
The chiming tone of the ES-330 has earned it many devotees in the blues and rock styles, and the hollow body gives it a natural warmth and reverb. Not only does it sound fantastic, the Memphis is a joy to play, with a comfortable neck profile and superb action right out of the box, low enough for fast lines but not so low for extraneous buzzing.
Body Materials and Construction
In the minds of most people, acoustic guitars are hollow and electric guitars are solid. While this is often the case, in reality things are not quite that cut and dry. There are three broad categories of construction when it comes to electric guitars: Solid-body, semi-hollow body, and hollow-body. These terms are fairly self-explanatory, though the effect of this construction on the sound is more complicated.
The wood used in the construction of a hollow-body guitar will have significantly more impact on the final tone than that of a solid-body guitar—the space within the body allows the wood of a hollow-bodied instrument to vibrate more, giving more warmth and depth to the tone. A solid-body guitar will get a larger percentage of its tone color from the pickups and hardware, and is less susceptible to feedback at high gain. A semi-hollow body strikes a balance between these two extremes. If you want resonance from the guitar’s tonewoods but don’t want to worry about squeals and squeaks when you get loud, a semi-hollow body could be the answer.
While tonewoods won’t impact the sound of a solid-body guitar as much, it’s still something you should think about as you’re comparing models. Even with a solid-body, the density of the wood affects how the instrument resonates—and with a hollow-body design, this is even more important.
Mahogany is a popular wood to pair with P-90s. The dark, warm tone of mahogany benefits from the articulation and brilliance of single-coil pickups. Maple is another popular choice for electric guitars, sweetening and deepening your tone without losing any clarity. Spruce is the densest and brightest of the tonewoods commonly used in electric guitars. It’s often used in conjunction with maple or mahogany to prevent the tone from becoming too dark and muddy.
When buying the best P90 guitar, you’d also need to consider the shape of the guitar. With a solid-body, comfort will be the primary concern when it comes to shape. The asymmetrical Florentine cutaway on Les Paul-style guitars makes it easier to reach the high frets, something many classic rock players find to be essential. Changing the body shape of a hollow-body guitar also changes the shape and size of the interior cavity, which will ultimately alter the sound. The narrow waist and double cutaways of the slim line construction on the Epiphone and Gibson models still give you access to all the frets, along with a balanced tone and resonant sustain.