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The pickups are the single most important thing in determining the sound profile and character of a guitar, so it comes as no surprise that comparing popular models has become a weathered battleground of debate, discussion, and deliberation. Two battle tested gladiators in this colosseum lined with guitar gearheads are the P90 and the Humbucker. As opposed to conventional Fender single coil pickups, the P90 and Humbucker were both pioneered over the Gibson side of the fence. These three different types of pickups form the holy triumvirate of guitar tone and are available in countless forms, modifications, fitted to all kinds of guitars in today’s market. But Leo Fender’s legendary single coils are simply a tale for another time, as today we focus on the equally vaunted P90 and Humbucker. What sounds can we expect from these timeless inventions? What kind of music are they suited to? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Let’s find out.
Single coil pickups like the P90 are best suited for bright, crisp, and distinct tones that can dance with agility and grace through a crowded mix. Suitable for any type of musical challenge, P90’s will afford those who wield them an emphasis on mid and treble frequencies, translating a player’s actions into a bright and glassy soundscape. Slightly less bright than a normal Fender single coil, P90’s bridge the gap between tightly wound single coils and warm and throaty humbuckers. This balancing act on the part of the P90 is one of the main reasons they have been affixed to guitars since the 1930s. Versatility is a hallmark of the sonic design, allowing for a precise and clear tone while still retaining some of the soul fulfilling warmth and crackle commonly synonymous with the Humbucker pickup. This versatility is reflected in their history in the halls of guitar music. Although some may note the P90’s particular rise to prominence in the punk rock movement, P90’s have been prominent across all eras of music, and empower the player to dance between eras and styles with an astonishing ability to provide a potent middle ground between brightness and warmth. Although some may ascribe different pickups and different guitar designs to different genres and artists, we here at World of Music encourage you to embark on your own creative guitar tone journey, eschewing old-head convention and tired tropes. With this spirit in mind, few pickups offer the flexibility in sound afforded by the P90, making it an excellent choice for any player of any level.
Pictured is the Humbucker pickup.
Gibson’s double coil Humbucker pickups broke onto the scene in the 1950s, rising through the ranks as a direct antithesis to the single coil pickup technology prevailing at the time. The Humbucker’s namesake derives from its literal ability to “buck the hum” in the guitar signal, stopping that droning hum endlessly emanating from your amp throughout your sonic adventures. Not only is this pleasantly satisfying for the ambience of your at home guitar playing, it is also incredibly useful for high volume playing in gigging and recording settings, keeping the signal as clean as a whistle as you reach into the dangerously satisfying decibel heights only possible on electric guitar. As satisfying as this feature is, few things are more satisfying than the humbucker sound itself, carrying an unmistakable fullness and warmth through both clean and driven setups. The Humbucker sound is as rich as they come, with a storied texture that either sounds menacing or soothing depending on your taste, with both experiences equally thrilling. Humbuckers are often described as punchy, an apt description for the aggressive sound profile that they emit. Fitting a guitar with Humbuckers is in many ways akin to bolting a human soul into your instrument and only letting it out when you decide to hit the strings, with a deep, complex signal that has enthralled generations of guitarists and audiences alike. Although we still do recommend that any guitar can be used in any different genre or sound setting, it would be remiss to not mention the rich history of Humbuckers in the Rock, Metal, and Blues scenes of their day.
Some may note the specificity of the Humbucker tone as a downside, being that it lacks the frequency versatility of single coils, and certainly it is not capable of the bright and clear single coil sounds of a P90. However, this give and take in sonic capabilities goes both ways, as for all the P90 and other single coils can accomplish, the Humbucker sound is irreplaceable, irreplicable, and powerful in ways that only it can accomplish. A potential drawback of the P90 noted amongst guitarists is the hum that it’s single coil design creates. However, if this part of the guitar signal does not bother you, the P90’s thrilling versatility and ability to cover so much of the tonal spectrum shall surely outweigh this minor drawback that most guitars have.
Pictured here is the Soapbar P90 Pickup.
Both the P90 and the Humbucker are incredible pieces of design and invention, tested by the rigours of time, and still prominent today for many reasons. The P90 is a pickup that bleeds versatility, providing a bright, yet punchy balanced tone that will surely satisfy any facet of your tonal predilections. The Humbucker and its double coil features promises to deliver a truly unique and disgustingly satisfying sound that will continue to ring out through history as long as guitars are played. Both styles are perfect for any player of any level, and their offerings of different sounds are part of what makes playing and trying guitars so much fun. Plenty of guitars with both pickups are available here at World of Music, so don’t hesitate to come and say hi, and see which one suits your taste the best!