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P-90ST and P-90SR Pickups: Versatility with a Vintage Vibe

Craig Anderton
Gibson P-90ST and P-90SR Pickups

The P-90 has a well-deserved reputation as a single-coil pickup with a big, fat, high-output sound—not the thin character often associated with single-coil pickups. So in designing the Les Paul Melody Maker, the daunting task for Gibson pickup guru Jim DeCola was to invent pickups that were worthy of the P-90 name, but could accommodate the Melody Maker’s mission to be the best value ever in a no-compromise Les Paul guitar.

The P-90ST and P-90SR pickups (the “S” stands for “slug”) featured in the Les Paul Melody Maker deliver a broad range of tones for jazz, blues, and rock, with a bright, percussive attack at the bridge (treble) pickup and a clean, articulate voice for the neck. That vintage vibe comes courtesy of Alnico V rod magnets, made famous by the classic Gibson ES-125 models of the late ’40s; the sonic versatility owes much to these magnets, as well as to a slightly lower inductance than the traditional P-90. This combination preserves the power but adds a perkier, more touch-sensitive character.

The neck coil uses the same plain enamel wire, with the same gauge and number of turns and manufacturing technique, as a traditional P-90. However, the bridge pickup increases the number of turns to calibrate the neck and bridge pickups for equal outputs. This not only helps maintain consistent levels when switching between pickups, but the middle pickup sound is a precise blend of the two pickups rather than favoring one pickup over the other. Furthermore, the bridge pickup is reverse wound/reverse polarity so there’s hum cancellation when using the two pickups together. Because this is a parallel humbucking technique and not series humbucking, there’s no change in tone; it just minimizes the hum.

The higher output and slightly brighter sound of alnico V magnets complement the “fatness” of a traditional P-90. The result of this balancing act is a new pickup that retains the tradition of the P-90 design, yet adds a bit of sparkle to the naturally powerful tone and is also more sensitive to your touch. The new P-90SR and P-90ST pickups are a major reason why the Melody Maker represents value in not just construction and playability, but also sound quality and versatility.

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