How Do Humbuckers & P90s Differ?

Seth Lover's hum90. p-bucker... How should we cal this thing? Let's jus stick to 'humbucker prototype in p90 format'!
Seth Lover’s hum90. p-bucker… How should we call this thing? Let’s jus stick to ‘humbucker prototype in p90 format’!

Since its inception in 1946 until 1955, when Seth Lover’s humbucker was introduced, the P90 was the standard pickup for Gibson. You could find it on guitars from their mid-priced level up to the most revered and expensive instruments. Those P90s were some of the hottest pickups around at the time, and even after the introduction of the humbucker they’ve still been used for some great hard rock tones. The humbucker was initially in the shape of a P90 but the fact that it was quite a bit hotter and quieter helped the rise of many new different genres, as players were able to play louder without noise (and it helped in the development of rock guitar tones by allowing players to get bit more overdrive from their non-master volume amps).
Structurally, these two pickups are quite different. For starters the humbucker uses two coils and the P90 just one, but the entire coil geometry and magnet configuration are different too. This results in some marked tonal differences. The humbucker, with its single bar magnet under the coils, is generally less gritty, crunchy, raunchy or dirty than the P90. Let’s compare a few ‘vintage’ styled pickups Seymour Duncan has to offer.
Seymour-Duncan-and-Seth-LoverSeth Lover SH-55 
The ‘Seth Lover’ is the archetypal PAF style humbucker: it’s loaded to the brim with vintage appointments such as a maple spacer, silver nickel baseplate, vintage-accurate the wire gauge and insulation, and many other specs. Its tone is warm and sweet, clean and sightly sparkly, just as many old PAFs of the day were! Even though it’s warm it never gets mushy or overly ‘woofy’ in the lower ranges.
Just click on the ‘Play’ button to see and hear this pickup in all its glory!

Antiquity Humbucker
A slightly ‘aged’ version of a PAF, this pickup enjoys similarly accurate appointments as the Seth, but with a different voicing. It’s a bit louder, bit ruder, less warm and sweet and overall a touch more raunchy. It’s got an amazing bark to it, and harmonics fly out easily. I’ve tried a few ‘real’ 1950s PAFs and the Antiquity is every bit as amazing as those pickups!
If you’re in need of a sonic representation, may this clip suit your fancy.

The Antiquity neck model is a passive pickup designed to look and sound the way they were built in the 50s.
The Antiquity neck model is a passive pickup designed to look and sound the way they were built in the 50s.


Vintage P90
This pickup is a true replica of a P90 of the Golden Era! It’s got the right wire, right bobbin, right coil geometry, right magnet… It’s a bit cleaner than a humbucker when you roll down the volume, but at full whack it delivers a great punch and crunch, despite a slightly lower output. In the neck position it retains its clarity, even under high gain. If you can handle the buzz, this pickup will do miracles for you.

Antiquity P90
An even more historically accurate and slightly aged version of a P90. It’s voicing is like the Vintage P90 but perhaps even more balanced. The transition from full power to clean has even more nuance to it and works even better for a sonic versatile setup. I am extremely fond of this pickup in a guitar with super-thin lacquer and lighter woods. It seems that the pickups ‘comes alive’ with those kinds of parameters!

No matter what you chose, you could always find yourself at the wrong end of the spectrum. What if you have a P90 rout in your guitar and you desperately need a full powered, smokin’ humbucker? Thankfully there are a few options available for that scenario as well as having a humbucker route while being in need of a P90.
Phat catPhat Cat
The Phat Cat was initially designed for Hamer Guitars. This pickup is a P90, in all ways possible, but under a humbucker casing. It’s got the sweetness, the rudeness, the raunchiness you expect of a P90, but you can simply drop it in place and be done with it. I am also a huge fan of the Phat Cat in the middle position of a Les Paul. Set it up low, wire it to a push pull pot and be amazed at the clean, sparkly tones you get from your Les Paul when you run it through a great clean amplifier. Bit of reverb, slight edge to the tone and you’ve got a tone and a vibe that could easily get you through the night. Just don’t forget to sip your scotch every once in a while!

P90 Stack
You love the P90. We get it. But as a true single coil, there is a certain degree of background noise. That’s why we have the P90 Stack! Based on our original ‘Stack’ single coils, this pickup’s got the same powerful, dirty P90 tone with all the liveliness we all know and love but without the hum. You can even wire it to a series/parallel switch to get a cleaner, ‘under wound’ P90 sound for ultimate versatility.

No matter what kind of guitar you have, there’s always a way to get the right sound you want! And if you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can contact the Custom Shop for something completely designed to your needs.
For those that use a P-90 what do you like most about their tone?

Join the Conversation


  1. Absolutely love the “growl” of my p90’s. To me,for blues and blues/rock there is nothing to compair!

  2. Have played with P90s but nothing serious. Just want to know if folks who gig with them can noise gate the buzz away without losing meaningful tone and head-room.

    1. Try the P90 stack. See Soren Andersen demo on this page. Mr Seymour Duncan gives info on the P90 stack.

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