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Pickups are one of the most important things in an electric guitar, and deciding about them is always something to worry about. Even more so if you consider their prices. It’s not something you would be buying by the dozen.
If you are here it’s because you are thinking about deviating from the norm of single coils and humbuckers, and that’s amazing.
A “less common” pickup format will surely give your guitar when complemented with your playing a unique sound.
So you might be wondering, should I get a P90 or a mini humbucker? What are the differences between them?
Well, if you want a short answer for that, here it is:
The main difference between P90s and mini humbuckers, although they have similar outputs, is that the latter cancel hum and have a more treble present, mid-scooped tone. P90s have more punchy mids and are noisier. Rock players gravitate more towards P90s while cleaner rhythm players prefer mini humbuckers.
If you want to stick with us for a bit longer, we will first describe the main features of these 2 kinds of pickups, and then we will talk about their differences. Finally, we will give you our insights into whether of these you should choose.
Let’s get started!
P90s main characteristics
P90 pickups were introduced by Gibson in 1946. They are single-coil pickups.
You might, then, ask yourself how it is that P90s sound so different from traditional Fender-style single-coil pickups.
That’s because these Gibson-designed pickups have a shorter but wider bobbin. Also, their wires are further from the individual poles.
This difference in construction, which you really don’t need to understand deeply, makes for the P90s to have a warmer, darker, less edgy sound.
And that’s a sound that a lot of players really like.
These pickups were the standard for the Les Paul until the Les Paul ‘57 when the humbucker was introduced and history began to be made.
Original P90s come in 2 variations, the “soapbars” and the “dog ears”.
These are actually the same pickup in design but differ in their mounting mechanism. Soapbars have their mounting screws contained within the coil perimeter. Dog ears have extensions on their sides that hold these screws.
Soapbars were named that way because in their original white finish they looked like actual bars of soap. Dog ears, because of their side mounting extensions.
The tone that these 2 variants output is virtually the same, although some would argue that the mount of the dog ears lends to a better transfer of vibrations from the body of the guitar.
Mini humbuckers main characteristics
The mini humbuckers came later, as a variation of their full-size relatives. They were originally designed for Epiphone by Seth Lover, the one who invented the original humbucker.
Given its smaller size, a mini humbucker captures a shorter length of the string’s vibration. Also, its size means that there’s less space for the wire to be wound around the bobbin.
These particular features that are consequences of only its size make for a very particular sound that many players love about the mini humbucker.
It’s said to be tonally in a place just between single coils and original humbuckers.
And if you have been paying attention, this place in the pickup range puts them in a very similar spot to the P90s.
Here is where comparisons begin to happen.
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Main differences between P90 and Mini humbucker pickups
If you want to get a broader view of the most common pickup spectrum, here’s something that might help you order your thoughts:
P90s are bigger single-coil pickups, while mini humbuckers are, obviously, smaller humbucker pickups.
This is like having 2 different approaches when trying to achieve the same thing: A pickup that sits just in the middle of single-coils and humbuckers.
Of course, the result of these different designs is not the same. You can think about them of different flavours of a tonal concept if you like the idea.
As for the differences, mini humbuckers, as they name claims bring hum bucking to the party. It isn’t a tonal difference, but it’s a feature that many would look after.
Now, if we talk about tone, the situation might be opposite to what you might be thinking about when we said that ones are bigger single coils and the others are smaller humbuckers.
Actually, P90s are the warmer and rockier of the 2, while mini humbuckers tend to be a bit less present in the mid-range and have lower output.
Many jazz players really like the minis, however, P90s can work amazing clean tones too.
Mini humbuckers are said also to balance better with single coils than regular-sized humbuckers due to their reduced output, while still maintaining that Gibson tone.
P90s have more grunt and grain, with a sound full of mids, and also can get noisy, they are amazing for rock tones that retain some of the openness native to single coils.
Mini humbuckers are more present on the treble side, with a more mid-scooped output. This character makes them to cut amazingly in the mix, especially for rhythm tones.
Are mini humbuckers and soapbar P90s the same size?
Soapbar P90s and mini humbuckers are the same size. So if you’re wondering about fitting a new pickup to your guitar: Yes, a mini humbucker will fit in a P90 slot, and a P90 will fit in a mini humbucker slot.
Which one should you choose?
Here in GearAficionado, we don’t like pointing you in one direction blindly. Picking a piece of gear is a very personal quest and you should arrive at your conclusions on your own.
We are here only to provide you with information that ultimately will help you decide.
What we recommend is that you try to get your hands on guitars that have these kinds of pickups to at least get the hang of what they sound and what they feel like.
That will be the most informative experience you could have when trying to decide between them.
However, if you want our insights into what you might like better, here they are:
- If you prefer the tone of Fender-style single-coil pickups, try out a mini humbucker
- If you enjoy the traditional Gibson sound of humbuckers, maybe check out a P90
- If you play overdriven rock tones often, a P90 might work for you
- If you are more on the clean side or focus on rhythm playing, a mini humbucker might cut it for you
- If you have a noise gate or don’t mind about hum, a P90 will be a great choice
- If you really hate noisy pickups, a mini humbucker would be great for you
The good thing about this decision is that if you’re not happy with your choice, you can always swap the one you chose for the other since P90s and mini humbuckers fit the same sockets.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.