I used to love heavy metal. I still do, actually, but my taste has evolved to encompass more styles. The less gain I use, the cleaner and more subtle I want my pickup to be. In my search for more vintage-styled tones I stumbled on some older designs, some of which you see far too little nowadays! I want to talk a bit about my four favorite single coil designs – hopefully they’ll inspire you the way they inspired me!
This is single coil that most of us try before we move back to humbuckers or to even cleaner, clearer single coils. The P90 covers that sweet middle ground for so many styles. It gives you a bit more growl and power than a regular Strat or Tele pickup but with the same level of clarity and chime. The P90 differs from most pickups insofar it has two magnets underneath the coil to magnetize the pole pieces: most have either one bar magnet or magnetic polepieces. The only major drawback of the P90 is that it can hum like crazy! Because it’s wound so powerfully it picks up a lot of hum, and the lack of a noise cancelation system ensures that hum is there, and there to stay! Thankfully shielding your guitar can help you a lot. Or just play so fast and loud and long that the hum doesn’t even have the time to reach your ears! Seymour Duncan offers many P90s, from vintage-faithful Antiquity to high-output hum-cancelling versions.
The Staple is a completely different pickup than the P90. The magnets are oriented in a different way, the coil is wound differently and the tone is completely different. Where the P90 is raunchy and dirty and nasty but a bit sweet in the top end, the Staple is clean, warm, lush, transparent. No dirtyness at all! The output is also a bit lower than a regular P90. Perhaps that’s why they pair so well when you put a P90 in the bridge and a Staple in the neck? Here’s the Staple Soapbar and Staple Dog Ear from the Custom Shop. They even make a Phat Staple for a humbucker rout.
The Charlie Christian
I already discussed this pickup before, but I can’t talk about amazing single coils of a Golden Era and not mention the Charlie Christian! It’s perhaps the grandfather of all single coil designs. It doesn’t have adjusting polepieces: instead it’s got a steel bar with a pre-cut notch under some strings to compensate for the output. Huge but rather weak magnets, thick wire and a large surface area of the coil gives it a moderate output. Because the wire is so thick, there aren’t as many turns of wire on the bobbin as we’re used to nowadays, but the trade-off is an amazing clear, clean tone! I’m absolutely smitten with the Charlie Christian pickup. It’s not for every application but to say that it’s only good for jazz would be a major waste of resource. The CC excels similarly in funk, blues, soul and even rock! The Seymour Duncan Custom Shop offers many versions, such as Traditional, Humbucker, Dog Ear P90 and Back Mount and an affordable version.
The DynaSonic pickup looks so much like a P90 but again, it’s a completely different animal. It’s brighter and janglier. Cleaner, less raunchy, but just as powerful. It will surely drive your amp into higher gear. If you’re guitar has a warm voice and you want more cut, top-end sizzle and presence, the Dearmond is an amazing pickup! The all-round, versatile tone will absolutely put a smile on your face. I know it did on mine… Here’s the Custom Shop Duncan Dyno and Dynobucker.
If I had a dime for every time I would hear: ‘why does that Fender have P90′s’, or similarly: ‘why does that Fender have Gibson pickups?’ I’d be able to afford a nice, old Marshall PA by now (still one of my dream amps)! The pickups Fender created for the Jazzmaster aren’t remotely like the P90. The cover is cream which makes the pickup look a bit like a soapbar, just like Gibson’s P90 but what goes on under the hood makes it a totally different animal indeed. Where the P90 has two bar magnets under the coil, the Jazzmaster pickup has magnetic polepieces stuck inside a rather shallow, but wider coil. This gives the Jazzmaster it’s unique, clean, clear, slightly jangly yet broad sound. Of course, if you like the look but you prefer a Jazzmaster humbucker, the Custom Shop has you covered!
There are so many great pickups out there. Unfortunately most of them are designed to go in a specific guitar. It would be very hard to fit the Jazzmaster pickup in a Les Paul that was routed for its standard humbuckers. Thankfully, the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop helps us out here. Those guys there can make you almost anything. Surely, your ES335 won’t sound like exactly like a Teisco, even if you put in Goldfoil pickups. But It will surely look cool and give you a unique sound. Maybe even that little extra edge to cut through the mix just a bit harder!