Guitars routed in the Fender or Gibson style won’t work with most “dog ear” or “soap bar” style P-90 pickups. You can still explore that sound, though, by using a humbucker-sized P-90. Whatever shape or style you’re looking for, you’ll find something to suit your needs on this list. Below are our recommendations for the 4 best P90 pickups on the market.
Lindy Fralin P-90
One of the foremost names in aftermarket pickups, Lindy Fralin’s P-90 is available in both a soap bar and a dog ear style. It’s available with steel poles (which will sound the most like the original 1950s P-90s) or Alnico, which will give you a cleaner overall sound. These pickups (see full specs) give you a balanced sound with a vintage vibe, with a bit more color and a brighter edge across dynamic levels than your standard Gibson pickup. Unlike some P-90 style pickups, the Lindy Fralins are noiseless like a humbucker, truly giving you the best compromise between single and double coil designs. These are among the best P90 pickups you can buy.
If you’re looking for a humbucker-sized P-90 for less than a hundred dollars, check out the DiMarzio Bluesbucker. It functions like a humbucker in both the size and the hum cancellation. It uses a combination of Virtual Vintage and Airbucker technology to give you the sensitivity to playing dynamics you’d find from a standard single-coil pickup. The unique design features a “hot” coil with six adjustable poles and a second coil that’s primarily to cancel the hum, meaning changing the placement gives you distinctly different sounds—put the hot coil closer to the bridge to brighten the sound, or closer to the neck to warm it. This versatile pickup sounds great in any context and will fit any guitarist’s budget.
Seymour Duncan Phat Cat
The Phat Cat is a humbucker-sized pickup that can fit into guitars that can’t use other P-90 styles. Like the name suggests, it’s got a big, fat tone with an especially strong attack, making it a great pickup (see full specs) for fingerpickers, whether they play in a funk or country style. Their overdrive performance is also top notch and won’t lose the tonal clarity even when you push the gain. Paired with the precision of the sound overall, this also makes it a great choice for metal guitarists.
Kent Armstrong Stealth 90
The Stealth 90 is a unique new style of P-90 pickups that uses a double-coil design to eliminate hum but at a lower output—and, at just over fifty bucks, for a lot cheaper than a lot of other P-90s on the market. Sonically, it tends to warm up the tone with a chiming high end that’s very sensitive to a wide range of picking dynamics and has a lot of style versatility, from raunchy blues to heavy rock distortion. The ceramic magnet gives the pickup the crunchy sound so desired by players of hard rock or metal. Without a doubt, it’s among the best P90 pickups for the money.
The original Gibson P-90 was what is known as a soap bar style because of its rectangular shape. The screws on these designs are in the center of the pickup, where they’re sometimes mistaken for pole pieces and can lead to a crowded appearance on the front of the pickup. The dog ear style was developed later and fixed this issue by having a triangular screw plate extending from the end of the traditional soap bar design, letting the screw be affixed away from the poles. Dog ear P-90s were common on Gibson hollow body guitars in the 1960s and have a very similar overall size and shape to the original soap bar design.
Both of Gibson’s P-90 designs are unique in their shape. They’re longer than other pickup styles, wider than most single-coil pickups but narrower than humbuckers. This means that if you want to install a standard P-90 pickup on a guitar built for humbuckers—a Les Paul, for example, or most Fenders—you have to modify the way the instrument is routed, which can lead to aesthetic issues or even structural problems down the line. Because of this, some manufacturers started to develop a humbucker casing for their P-90 pickups, giving these guitars a new sonic option.
Choosing the right size and shape for the best P-90 pickups is important inasmuch as you want to make sure it’ll fit on your instrument, but in terms of sound quality, the shape itself will have very little impact. The internal workings of pickups from different brands give them unique sounds, but this has more to do with the way the poles are wound and the materials used than the shape of the cover.
There are two main types of magnet you’ll find in most P-90 pickups. The most common is an Alnico magnet. Made from a combination of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt, Alnico magnets are very stable and give off high energy. Alnico is also very expensive, though, especially as gets into higher grades and outputs. The other frequently seen magnet material is ceramic; these typically use a kind of iron ferrite to generate the magnetic field. If an Alnico and a ceramic magnet of the same grade were compared, the Alnico would be stronger—but since ceramic is so much cheaper, it’s possible to get a higher grade magnet for the same price, ultimately leading to ceramic magnets in pickups generally having stronger magnetic fields.
What this means from a sound perspective is that most pickups with ceramic magnets are brighter in tone than those with Alnico magnets. Alnico magnets are also generally used in the “higher end” pickups, and have earned a better reputation because they’re often made with more care, but this doesn’t mean an Alnico magnet is inherently better than ceramic. If you want a bolder, more strident sound from your guitar tone, a well-made ceramic magnet product might just be the best P90 pickup for your needs. Good luck!