What’s the Difference Between A Humbucker And A P-90 Guitar Pickup
Both the humbucker and the P-90 pickup were initially the concept of the Gibson Guitar Corporation. The original version of the P-90 was branded the PU-90 and was developed by Guy Hart and Walt Fullers within the 1940’s – the Les Paul version came later, consisting of exactly the same standard plate but minus the side brackets. It was not until 1956 that the now legendary humbucking pickup designed by Seth Lover of Gibson appeared on the scene.
So what is the difference between these two styles of pickup
Well to begin with the P-90 is a single coil pickup and the humbucker is made up of two coils. Not only do they sound somewhat diverse but electronically there are some very different things happening.
An average P-90 is constructed with approximately 10,000 winds of 42 AWG enamel-coated wire wrapped around a black plastic bobbin, that are subsequently covered in a black paper tape. These winds give a meter reading of roughly 8,000 ohms. Positioned beneath the black bobbin are two Alnico magnets in a magnetically opposed configuration. The initial examples used Alnico 3 magnets but the kind of Alnico varied over time. Screws attach to a centre steel bar which is set between the magnets and directly above a steel baseplate. Braided wire is used and a cream or black plastic cover.
A normal humbucker is put together with approximately 5,000 winds of 42 non virgin human hair AWG enamel-coated wire around two black plastic bobbins. These winds give a joint reading of approximately 7,800 ohms. The 2 bobbins are wound in exactly the identical direction but the start and end of every coil might be magnetically out of phase with each other while connected together. One side hot and the other side ground. This very clever system is what produces the hum canceling effect craved by a substantial amount of guitarists requiring quiet, hum free pickups. The coils are covered in black paper tape, and sit above one Alnico magnet. Once again, the rating of the Alnico magnets varied with time. Screws pass through one bobbin into a steel bar and steel slugs go through the other bobbin. A steel baseplate, braided hookup wire and a nickel cover complete the pickup.
In regards to overall performance it’s all the way down to personal preference. The humbucker is more popular as many players really love the quiet, flexible functionality, however the P-90 has won numerous fans on account of its raunchy growling sound. Nowadays both variations come with diverse overall performance specs for various music styles including varied magnets and windings.
It must be said that both versions sound fantastic to my ears and look exceptional on an aging vintage Les Paul.
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