For some reason, a lot of people think humbucking pickups and P90s are similar.
But they are not.
Comparing P90 pickups vs humbuckers reveals far more differences than similarities.
In fact, the only real similarity is that they perform the same function.
The way in which they perform is is completely different.
For that reason, most guitarists are far better served with one of these pickup types than the other.
Which one depends on your genre, playing style and prefered sound.
Keep reading for a detailed comparison of humbuckers vs P90 pickups. It will help you figure out which pickup is the better choice for you.
Table of Contents
- 1 P90 Pickups Vs Humbuckers
- 2 Humbuckers Vs P90: Final Thoughts
P90 Pickups Vs Humbuckers
We will begin our comparison of humbuckers vs p90 pickups by looking at each type of pickup individually, before comparing them directly and going into the advantages of each. We will finish by looking at the type of guitarists who would be best suited to each pickup type.
P90 pickups are single-coil style pickups originally designed by Gibson. They first appeared in 1946, but were in the works much earlier. As the story goes, the second world war interrupted production, so Gibson picked up where they left off, once the dust had settled.
In contrast to the earliest designs of single-coil pickups (such as soap bar pickups), P90s offer a tamer tone with more warmth and less pronounced highs.
All single coils, including the P90s, have difficulties regulating the alternating electrical current. Their sound has a characteristic hum to it as a result.
The original P90 pickups are passive, meaning that they feature straightforward circuitry that works mechanically, for the most part. Since many other brands now make their own versions of P90s, it is possible to find active P90s today, too.
Knowing that hum was (and still is) a huge issue for many guitar players, many brands sought to create versions that feature hum-canceling properties.
Some of the most popular versions include the Stacks by Gibson or Syemor Duncan, Gibson’s Sidewinders, and Kinman’s HX P90s.
Unlike P90s, humbuckers are double coil-style pickups. They were designed to reduce the power line hum that was plaguing nearly all guitars equipped with a single coil pickup. See our single-coil vs humbucker comparison for more on this.
The process of creating the humbucker as we know it today involved several people from different companies (Electro-Voice, Arnold Lesti, and finally Seth Lover), but it was ultimately Gibson that created a fully-functioning, aesthetically pleasing humbucker, which you can commonly find on vintage Les Paul axes.
Without going into the technical details, what separates humbuckers from all single coil-styled pickups is the reverse-polarity, reverse-wound system.
The opposite poles and winding pattern keep the alternating electrical current at bay, resulting in a more balanced sound without the annoying hum.
Difference Between P90 And Humbucker
In many regards, P90s can be considered the polar opposite of humbuckers. They sound different, boast a dissimilar soundstage, are suited for different music genres, produce different levels of power line hum, and they differ when it comes to the overall volume.
Starting with the tone, P90s are famous for producing a bright, sharp sound. They are primarily focused on giving you the edge when it comes to highs. Thus, they are surprisingly quiet. Humbuckers offer a better-rounded tone and can handle much higher volume levels.
The feedback, or the lack thereof, is arguably the most important difference between the two. As single coil-styled pickups, P90s suffer greatly from power line hum.
Humbuckers actually get their name from their ability to efficiently block said hum. However, there are variations of P90 pickups that rock hum-canceling attributes. That brings them closer to humbuckers in this one aspect, but they retain their other usual characteristics.
Since P90s aren’t too loud and have a brighter tone, they as well-suited for rock and metal, but they excel in “tamer” styles, such as blues, jazz, or pop.
Punk, alternative, and various experimental genres are also no strangers to P90s. In these genres, their humming noise can be an asset, rather than a hindrance.
Similarities Between Humbuckers And P90s
Although P90s and humbucking pickups have very little in common, there are a few areas where they are somewhat similar.
If I were to compare a P90 with a noise-canceling feature to a regular humbucker, I’d say that they sound much different, but feel pretty close.
As someone who has spent years with a single-coiled Fender, I’m accustomed to assuming that a guitar has humbuckers if its tone is buzzy and wilder than it probably should be.
Design-wise, both humbuckers and P90 pickups feature metal coils that create sound waves by transforming the vibrations they receive from the strings.
If we compare the earliest versions of P90s and humbucking pickups, we could only tell them apart by their size. Obviously, the dual-coil humbuckers feature an additional coil, which means more wire and a larger than a P90. But the difference is not huge.
Historically, the Gibson brand played an important role in the creation and popularization of both humbucking and P90 pickups.
Advantages Of P90 Pickups
The hum and feedback of a P90 are not necessarily bad for your tune. Before humbuckers were invented, players not only got accustomed to this noise, but played with it, rather than around it. It opens up the opportunity to add more variety to your tone.
With a greater emphasis on the mids and highs, your tone will be quite airy with P90s. Players who aren’t into their quietness and the lack of bass typically go for active P90s, bringing the best of both worlds together.
Advantages Of Humbuckers
Disregarding the fact that humbuckers were invented to replace P90s (and are considered as upgrades by some), I think that the biggest benefit a pair of humbucking pickups can offer is their versatility.
With a full-bodied, more rounded tone, you get a better sonic canvas to paint on with guitar pedal effects. They’re much hotter than P90s and enable touring musicians to go unscathed through a gig with a smaller amp.
They were designed to completely remove unwanted feedback from the tone, and that is what they do best. Even though there are many variants of P90s that have power line hum-canceling features, nothing beats a humbucker in its home field.
Lastly, even though they are mainly preferred by metal and rock guitarists, the versatility of these pickups makes them great for any playing style or music genre.
Who Should Get P90 Pickups?
P90 pickups can work like a charm for guitarists who are pursuing a highly specific tone. While they aren’t as versatile as humbuckers, their sharp, punchy tone quite literally cuts through the noise.
If you don’t mind a bit of “unwanted” noise and love playing jazz or blues, P90 pickups are perfect for you. They are a bit complex to master, but they offer great rewards for players who know how to properly utilize them.
Who Should Get Humbuckers?
The all-around performance of humbuckers makes these pickups very flexible. You can play any genre of music with a pair of humbucking pickups. They are hotter and louder, and they are equally as suited for beginners, as they are for seasoned pros.
Humbuckers Vs P90: Final Thoughts
Comparing P90 pickups vs humbuckers shows us just how different these two types of pickups are. P90s are a single coil pickup, while humbuckers are a dual-coil pickup.
As a result, they produce a completely different type of sound. P90s also produce the hum we all know (and maybe love) from single coils. Neither pickup has a better or worse sound. They just produce a different sound.
Which one is better is a personal decision. Since they are so different, most people will have a clear preference between the two. But that preference will be different from one person to the next. Hopefully this article helped you figure out which one is better for you.