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P90 Vs FilterTron: What’s the Difference & Which Is Better? [2021 Edition]

If you’re curious about P90 Vs FilterTron guitar pickups, this article is for you!

I’ve been a guitar player since 2003, and although I definitely don’t have it all figured out when it comes to this instrument, I thought I’d share my research on these two pickup designs.

Is It All Just Classic Single-Coils and Humbuckers?

As far as pickups go, there are two main groups: single-coils and humbuckers. And it’s not uncommon for guitar players to fall into one camp or another. You either love Gibson-style humbuckers or Fender-style single-coils. There’s nothing in between, right?

Technically, you have just these two groups. But there’s more to it.

Two pretty interesting variations that we want to look into are P90 and FilterTron pickups. The P90 is a single-coil pickup with some unconventional traits. And FilterTron is a humbucker with its own twist.

P90 Vs FilterTron: Head-to-Head Comparison

Both P90 and FilterTron are out of conventional norms for pickups. So it’s not unusual for guitar players to consider each of them in pursuit of a unique sound. However, many don’t get the chance to try them out and compare them.

It’s not uncommon to ask which one is better either. So let’s compare them and see what’s so special about them and which might be better for you and your situation.

P90

P90 is one of the oldest pickup models that’s still in production. Maybe even the longest-running one. Gibson introduced them back in 1946, and they have remained almost the same after all these years.

It’s essentially a single-coil pickup. However, there are some different traits that make it sound unique. Sure, there are the regular pole pieces. However, it has bar magnets underneath the pole pieces. These are usually Alnico 5. Meanwhile, regular single-coils have magnet polepieces, not a magnet bar.

Furthermore, a P90 pickup has a wider and shorter bobbin. The copper wire is a bit further away from the pole pieces. And there are more turns of wire compared to single-coils.

P90s have 10000 turns for the bridge position and 9500 for the neck. Meanwhile, regular single-coils usually have around 8000 turns, and the wire is closer to the pole pieces.

Finally, P90s are much wider than classic single-coil pickups. They take up about as much room as humbuckers.

P90 Tone

These traits can make a big impact on the tone. It’s a single-coil pickup, so there’s some brightness and twang involved. However, they’re a bit smoother compared to regular single-coils.

The attack in the tone is reduced. There’s probably a bit less brilliance in the tone. But, at the same time, you get more of those beefy bottom-ends. Additionally, the P90 gravitates towards the mids.

This also makes them very versatile. A guitar with two P90s can cover anything from jazz to doom metal. In fact, Tony Iommi recorded early Black Sabbath albums with an SG Special that had two P90s.

Overall, it’s a smooth-sounding pickup with some brightness and twang in it. It also has a substantially stronger output compared to standard single-coils. And your tone can get absolutely massive if you add tube-driven distortion to it.

But since the P90 is a single-coil, it still suffers from mains hum. You’ll notice a lot of it with the distortion on.

Here’s a deeper look into P90 pickups:

FilterTron

Contrary to popular belief, Gibson wasn’t the first to come up with humbuckers. It was actually a man named Joseph Raymond Butts. His close friend, and guitar legend, Chet Atkins was tired of the mains hum of single-coil pickups. Ray came up with the idea to connect two coils out of phase and in series.

After a while, he struck a deal with Gretsch. The pickup got its official name FilterTron and came into production in 1957. The company, unfortunately, changed the pickup design during the 1970s to one that has been decidedly less popular. However, in more recent years, Gretsch went back to replicating the original FilterTron tone.

That said, many believe that the tone is not the same anymore. TV Jones produces awesome replicas of the original. And even Gretsch uses TV Jones’ version in their high-end guitars.

The standard humbucker these days is inspired by Gibson’s legendary P.A.F. design. But FilterTron is different. First, it’s smaller than a regular humbucker. This also makes its bobbins narrower.

Another important trait is FilterTron’s larger magnet. The pickup’s pole pieces are also screws that hold the construction together.

Finally, if you own a FilterTron pickup, don’t ever adjust these pole pieces screws. It won’t affect the tone directly and it’s part of the construction.

FilterTron Tone

FilterTron is technically a humbucker. But all the traits mentioned above still impact its tone. Aside from the lack of unwanted mains hum, it has some classic humbucker tone traits.

It also has warmth and a more controlled tone. And you may notice a lack of attack and brightness compared to single-coils. However, it gravitates towards this bright single-coil tone.

Additionally, it has some of that nasally feel to it. You can notice that it’s a humbucker, but it sounds a bit thinner. You may especially notice this if you select both pickups on a guitar.

These are vintage-oriented humbuckers designed mainly for hollow-body guitars. They have much lower impedance, making them slightly louder than average.

They’re quite popular among rockabilly and classic rock ‘n’ roll musicians. However, you can also find them among jazz players.

Here’s how FilterTron pickups sound in action:

P90 Vs FilterTron: Direct Comparison

Both P90 and FilterTron pickups are outside the norm when it comes to guitar pickups. But then again, there are some obvious differences in their tone. First, the P90 brings out more of the bottom-ends. The tone can get pretty massive and thick.

Meanwhile, the FilterTrons are more sparkly and nasally. They have that classic humbucker sound, but with a thinner twist to it.

Although both have some brightness to them, it’s not exactly the same. I think FilterTrons sounds a bit thin. Meanwhile, P90s have more of that classic single-coil twang.

It’s really impossible to say which one is better. They’re pickups for different tones. Sure, I’d say that P90s could have wider use. But this doesn’t mean that FilterTrons are worse. They’re just more specific.

If you can swing it, I recommend having one guitar with P90s and one with FilterTrons. This way, you can use either one depending on the sound you want.  

P90 Vs FilterTron: Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you learn more about the differences between these pickups and which might be best for you.

And if you want to read more about guitar pickups, check out the following posts.

Lastly, feel free to let me know of any questions you may have about this or another guitar-related subject in the comments below!

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