Soapbar P90s vs Dog Ear pickups: Is there a difference?

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When it comes to buying, building, or even modding a guitar, pickups are always one of the central features that would define its tone.

Alongside tonewoods, construction type, and hardware, the pickups you choose are going to be a key aspect that ends up defining that instrument.

And there are many options to choose from. The list is endless, but maybe P90s caught your eye (or your ear).

When you dig a bit deeper you notice that there are 2 variants to these kinds of pickups, the soapbars, and the dog ears.

But is there a difference between soapbar and dog ear P90 pickups?

The main difference between soapbar P90 pickups and dog ears is their mount type. Dog ears come with 2 side extensions that hold the mounting screws. Also, due to this mount type, dog ears don’t have height adjustment screws. Components are the same. If there is a tone difference it is because of the mount.

If you want more than that short answer, stick with us. We will first define the main characteristics of these 2 kinds of P90s, and then we will talk about their differences. Finally, we will give you some insights into which ones would work better for you.

Let’s get started!

Soapbar P90s main characteristics

Soapbar pickups are, probably, the third most common electric guitar pickup alternative in the market.

They were introduced in 1946 by Gibson and they came in the original Les Pauls until the humbucker was introduced in the 1957 Les Paul.

Its name comes for their earlier iterations that were white, and well… shaped like a bar of soap.

P90s are single bobbing pickups, but not the same as the more ubiquitous Fender single coils. Their main difference is that Fenders are wound in a taller bobbin, but the wires are closer to the individual poles.

This technical difference makes for a distinction in tone that many players describe as the P90s having a darker, less edgy warm tone.

Dog Ear pickups main characteristics

Dog ears are just a variation in the casing of P90 pickups. The “dog ears” are extensions on the sides of the pickup that hold the mounting screws.

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They were commonly used by Gibson in their hollow-body models since it was an easier setup, but later they started using them in the Les Paul Junior, for instance.

Nowadays they are commonly seen in a lot of other solid and hollow-body guitars.

In the core, the dog ear P90s are the same pickup, but with a different mount and no height adjustment screws due to their construction.

Main differences between Soapbar P90s and Dog Ear pickups

The main differences between Soapbar P90s and Dog Ear pickups are their baseplate and mounting mechanism.

As for the rest of their components, they are the same. Both are what’s defined as P90 pickups.

A point in favor of soapbars is that their routing leaves you with more options in the future for a replacement. A mini-humbucker pickup will surely fit in the same hole as a soapbar, and there are various other P90 sized pickups that could work out for you.

Dogears are said to have a more positive connection to the body. This might mean that there is a more efficient transfer of vibration given the kind of mount these pickups use making them sound more “alive” for some players. 

Eddie Van Halen was a big endorser of this last idea.

Soapbars are a bit more isolated from the movements of the guitar body, and some argue that affects tone for better or for worse.

However, these mounting differences make for the dog ears to be fixed in height while the soapbars can be easily raised or lowered.

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The tonal differences given by the difference in mount might be easily compensated or traded off by the height differential that soapbars might have.

The discussion here is very subtle, and being honest, our verdict is that there are no distinguishable differences in tone between soapbar P90s and dog ear pickups.

If there are, there are extremely subtle and only audible to the better ears around there.

Trying to find these small sound differences might require testing both styles of pickup in the same guitar, making sure the pole spacings are the same, the pickups themselves are the same besides their mount, and the height of the coils is also the same.

As many academics say in their papers: We leave this proof for the enjoyment of the reader.

Which one should you choose?

Here in GearAficionado we don’t like giving you a recommendation without substance.

What we always tell you is that you should try the gear yourself and then make your own conclusions. No YouTube video or blog post could ever give you feedback as objective as the one you could get by testing things on your own.

In this discussion about P90s, getting to try these 2 different versions is a bit hard. As we said earlier you would need to try them in the same guitar and make sure the pickups are actually the same, apart from their mount type.

Our thought on this, to be final, is simple: Get the ones that make the most sense for you and for your guitar.

If you want our insights into which factors could tip the scale to one side or the other, here they are:

  • If you’re replacing a mini humbucker, a soapbar P90 would most likely fit in the same routing
  • If you consider that a pickup more receptive of the guitar body’s vibrations would sound better, get a dog ear P90
  • If you’re likely to be replacing your pickups frequently and might enjoy trying out different tone options, a soapbar P90 routing in your guitar will give you more replacement alternatives without further woodwork
  • If you like guitar models that traditionally come routed with dog ear P90s there will be no significant difference in tone that justifies replacing them for soapbars
  • If you are a perfectionist about the position of your pickups and would likely want to adjust pickup height, get a soapbar P90