The P90 debuted in the post-war Gibson models in the late 1940s. They were designed to rival Fender’s single-coil pickups but became synonymous with a bold attitude and pugnacious mid-emphasis. For better or worse, they fell out of fashion somewhere along the timeline and were confined to the atypical rigs of rock/punk guitar players.
However, the last decade has borne a massive resurgence of P90 guitars. After all, they are excellent no-nonsense yet fittingly versatile guitars – more powerful than single-coils and with none of that imperiously bright ‘Fender twang’. As ever, several big-name brands introduced easy-playing, lower-line models with austere specs to woo new consumers.
Even so, owning a P-90 guitar is still a measured choice, one that has to be dipped in love for a vintage-tinted classic crunch. Luckily, I know all there is to these inter-generational instruments as I have duked it out P90s since my formative years.
That’s why I’ve marshaled seven of my favorite P90-equipped guitars. The hope is to help you navigate the current market for your next old-school axe. As always, I’ve based my selection on value and performance and included wide-ranging options to ensure that you’ll find something that suits budget and level of expertise.
On that note, let’s look at our top picks for P90 guitars and move on to the individual reviews.
- Our Top Three Picks:
- Fender Noventa Telecaster – Our Top Pick
- G&L Tribute Series ASAT Junior II – Best Budget Option
- Gibson Les Paul Special – KGR Editor’s Choice
- Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin II CW
- Gretsch Guitars G2622T-P90 Streamliner Series
- Epiphone WILDKAT Semi-Hollow Body Guitar
- Guild Aristocrat P90 – Newark St. Collection
- Final Thoughts
Our Top Three Picks:
The Fender Noventa Telecaster equips the iconic Tele profile with the new ‘middle ground’ MP90 pickups with great aplomb. Although minimal, it has some new trinkets such as the exclusive “cut” bridge and 60s C neck profile. The guitar sounds raw n’ perky, and it’s loaded with a midrange bite that every rowdy rock incarnate dreams of. It’s a little pricey but nevertheless worthy of Our Top Pick for this segment.
Rock tones, raw output, and P90s done right. The G&L ASAT Junior II is cost-effective, easy-playing, and reasonably versatile. It’s truly a punk rock guitar – one that comes at you with feisty mids and a go-getting attitude. It’s a pert, not a polished sound – one that can square up to the bite of a Gibson LP Junior but without the chunky neck to contend with. It’s not dirt cheap but priced competitively enough to be the best budget option in the P90 category.
Six decades of glory ratify the Gibson Les Paul Junior, and we have no plans to deviate from eulogizing it. It’s an elemental instrument for straight-ahead rockers who want all the tone without the fuss and frills. While it’s one of the most expensive options in our roundup, it’s cheap by Gibson standards. Factor in the accessory kit and a hardshell case, and it’s instantly earned out KGR Editor’s Choice.
Fender Noventa Telecaster – Our Top Pick
Fender guitars are the gold standard in the single-coil segment. They’ve even forayed into the humbucker territory. For reasons best known to them, P90 pickups remained conspicuously absent from their catalog. Well, not anymore.
In February 2021, Fender created an uproar when they announced a new Noventa series featuring Mexico-made guitars with P90s. This includes a Telecaster, Stratocaster, and Jazzmaster model. That they’ve planted their flag in the segment with flair and full force.
The Noventa Telecaster, our top choice, ranked ahead of the Noventa Strat and Jazzmaster because it’s an exceptional stripped-down rock machine. With two knobs, one pickup, and a half pickguard, the Noventa Tele looks minimal but sounds majestic.
It features an alder body with a bolt-on maple neck with a 9.5″ radius. The fingerboard is made from Pau Ferro and houses 21 medium jumbo frets with dot inlays. The C-profile 60s neck is slim and playable and the alder tonewood echoes in the bright and balanced tonality.
It’s adept at the quintessential mid-rich P-90 tones. From punchy overdrive to chiming clean tones, you can milk some stellar sounds from the responsive pickups and touch sensitivity. It sounds great for rock, blues, country, and punk thanks to the enhanced midrange. Even so, the guitar doesn’t stray too far from the ‘Fender sound’ thanks to its snappy and brighter-than-usual P90-meets-Tele tone.
The guitar also features a “cut” bridge with 3 brass barrels designed expressly for the Noventa edition. It’s available in three finish options: 2-color Sunburst, Vintage Blond, and Fiesta Red. The guitar is undoubtedly pricey, especially for a MiM Tele, but it delivers everything you’d expect from a soon-to-be cult classic. Plus, the deluxe gig bag provides some respite.
Verdict: Fender scores another big hit with the Noventa Series. The Telecaster with P90s is ideal for anyone who prefers punch n’ crunch from a plug n’ play guitar. The price-tag is a little rich, but the Noventa Tele is a good reminder of why the world has a hard time getting past Fender Guitars.
G&L Tribute Series ASAT Junior II – Best Budget Option
George and Leo’s instruments are more likely to end up in bass guitar roundups, but for once, they’ve caught our attention with the ASAT Junior II. The G&L Junior is a soapbar version of the humbucker-equipped ASAT Deluxe II.
The guitar features a mahogany slab body with a hard maple neck and a C-profile neck with a 12” radius. The neck sports a Brazilian Cherry fretboard with 22 medium-jumbo frets. Other notable features include a TonePros bridge/tailpiece, adjustable truss rod, and sealed-back tuners.
It looks like a single-cutaway Tele but lands closer to a Les Paul Junior in the tonal spectrum. The electronics comprise of two P-90, a 3-way toggle switch, and two knobs for volume/tone. The G&L P90s deliver graceful sustain and well-rounded tones.
The guitar is primarily a plug n’ play rock machine that sounds distinctly throaty and raw when overdriven. It won’t be your first choice for jazz but it can quack through blues, country, and rockabilly uses.
In a nutshell, the ASAT Junior has reasonable harmonic complexity, but it’s not a terribly versatile guitar. The guitar is built for devil-may-care rock guitarists who enjoy the simplicity of a 2-knob panel and an inherently crunchy tone.
There is some additional bite thanks to the maple neck but the tinted neck finish looks unkempt – it’s a hit-or-miss feature based on your aesthetic preference. You can think of it as an alternative to the Les Paul Junior or Special, especially if you don’t like the Gibson-style fat 50s neck-profile.
Verdict: The G&L ASAT Junior II is a stripped-down rock machine. It’s not a guitar with spades of ‘wow’, but it’s comfortable, playable, and affordable. It’s easy to get dial in a good tone – one that sounds excellent for the price. You may buy it because of a limited budget, but there’s a good chance that it’ll turn out to be a keeper.
Gibson Les Paul Special – KGR Editor’s Choice
The LP special is, well – special – because it’s one of the models that made Gibson relevant. It’s a classic from Gibson’s Golden Era, and sixty years later it’s still every bit as alluring. The enduring legacy may not need our endorsement but it’s the KGR Editor’s pick nonetheless.
The LP runs the same specs an LP Junior – mahogany slab, vintage 50’s mahogany neck, and a 22-fret rosewood fingerboard. The 24.75-inch scale length may feel familiar to Epiphone/Gibson fans, and the 12″ 50s neck is chunky, just as an LP neck ought to be.
Gibson has thrown in an accessory kit, a hard case shell, and other easy-to-overlook minutiae to add more value to the product. Some of the notable features include hand-wired orange drop capacitors, vintage deluxe tuning machines, and a wraparound bridge.
The LP Special sounds fantastic and plays like a dream. It’s fitted with two Gibson P-90s and a control panel featuring a 3-way selector and volume/tone knobs. The soapbars are responsive, dynamic, and fully capable of cutting through any mix. Plus, there’s ample sustain and a noticeable warmth thanks to the mahogany body.
From mid-heavy lead tones to cleans with reigned in brightness, it’s a rowdy-rock-riffin’ machine when you goose it with dirt pedals. Push your amp to a point of breakup and it moves into Gary Moore territory. The cleans are equally impressive and the mid emphasis is a notch above the others in this segment.
Verdict: Gibson started the P90 mania with the 50’ Les Paul and they still reign supreme. Rock, blues, jazz, or indie/punk – the Gibson Les Paul Special is where it’s at. It’s as good as a Gibby can get without breaching the premium territory. Cheaper alternatives include the lower-line LP Special Tribute or Epiphone versions. However, if you want to go for glory, the flagship model is the most powerful, versatile, and definitive of the lot.
Laminated archtops are not for everyone. However, for those who need a versatile and sweet-sounding electro-acoustic archtop, the Godin 5th Avenue is – as the name suggests – the Kingpin. The guitar is available in four finish options: Black, Natural, Burgundy, and Cognac Burst.
Kingpin guitars debuted as a ‘50s-style” molded archtop for jazz enthusiasts and old-style music lovers. They gradually evolved, taking the Gibson ES-125 route, into a single-cutaway with dog-ear P90s.
The Kingpin II is crafted with a laminate Canadian Wild Cherry body, f-shaped sound holes, and a 24.84-inch scale length. It features a Silver Leaf Maple neck with a rosewood fretboard with a 16-inch radius. Other notable features include a double-action truss rod, contoured headstock, adjustable Tusq bridge, chrome tailpiece, and a floating pickguard.
The guitar has exemplary build quality but the frets are relatively small the neck position is higher than usual. The Cognac burst and ultra-thin gloss make it one of the most gorgeous guitars within the vintage illusion.
Plugged in, the Kingpin II has a rounded tone with a smooth-nose attack – one that jazz/blues guitar players will adore. There is scope for rock(abilly) but as a laminate hollow-body guitar, it’s prone to a midrange honk and feedback issues as the gain goes up.
Overall, the pickups are low-to-moderate output and fairly versatile within the archtop framework. The control panel features volume/tone knobs and a 3-way selector to coax some rather pretty and restful tones out of it.
Verdict: The Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin II is primed for blues and jazz, but as an arch-top, it lends rather well to amp-less rhythms as well. It has survived into the hi-tech age due to its characterful tone and vintage styling. The build quality and electronics are fantastic for the price. It could, however, greatly benefit from an initial setup.
Gretsch offers a handful of no-frills P90 guitars with old-school ‘soapbar’ mojo. I’ve selected the the G2622 model as it offers great value for the price. Plus, it’s available with or without the Bigsby and features a spruce center block makes it fairly resistant to feedback.
The G2622 features a laminated maple body with oversized f-holes, and a 24.75” scale length. The U-shaped Nato neck is playable and the double-cutaway allows easy access to the higher register. The guitar features a Laurel fingerboard that houses 22 medium-jumbo frets. The art-deco add-ons, aged white binding, and purfling add charm to the vintage styling.
Tone-wise, the G2622T is loud, flamboyant, and has a distinct fullness to it. The output of FideliSonic P-90 pickups is a touch above the rest in this segment. The neck pickup is warm, rounded, and sweet-sounding whereas the bridge pickup brings the bite and twang to the table.
It has a ‘Gretsch-like’ timber that is hard to dial out throughout the settings. They have warmth but also deliver a brightness on account of the distinct presence in the treble. This enables the guitar to sound loud and well-defined even when you crank the dirt. Moreover, it has a twang that will sit well with country and rockabilly guitarists.
That said, the G2622T is not the only Streamliner with P90s. Other options within the $500 to $1000 price range include the G2655-P90 (without Bigsby) and G655T-P90. I recommend the versions without the Bigsby at this price point, unless you really need the bends and warbles.
Verdict: The Gretsch G2622T-P90 ranks as the best option for those who want a versatile gain-friendly guitar. The build quality, tone, and finish give it a premium feel whereas the charismatic design and relaxed playability make it a shoo-in for Gretsch fans. With or without a Bigsby, it’s a solid option for a P-90 equipped semi-hollow body electric guitar.
Everyone wrote off the Wildkat as a failure when Epiphone announced its launch. The price tag seemed too incredulous for the features. However, after all these years, the Wildkat is not only time-tested but it’s considered to be one of the best lower-line Epiphone guitars.
The Wildkat sports a relatively small mahogany body (closer to an LP-size) with a flamed maple veneer that improves the aesthetic more than it impacts the tone. The guitar sports an uncommon D-profile tapered neck – the modern flat/oval shape. It’s fast under the fingers and extremely easy to handle over extended sessions
Other important features include a 24.72” scale length, a Bigsby (tremolo), and an Okoume fretboard with 22 medium-jumbo frets. A tremolo bridge can be a hassle even on premium guitars. However, the Wildkat seems to sidesteps the common Bigsby-related concerns unless you go ham on the vibrato for too long.
In terms of electronics, the guitar is equipped with two Epiphone P90R pickups with knobs to tweak individual volume/tone, and master volume. The pickups feature braided two-conductor wiring with full wax potting, so they are fairly resistant to feedback.
The P90s sound snarky – with some mid-range bite – which is why the guitar works best in the blues and rock n’ roll context. It has reasonable sustain, good projection, and a satisfactory range of usable tones. Although not built for it, you can sculpt jazzy tones within the largely dark and rounded tonal palette of the instrument.
The size is close to an ES-335, and the guitar is comfortable to play while sitting or standing. The strings and tuners can be upgraded and the playability may benefit from a good setup. That said, there are no issues with the out-of-the-box string action or intonation.
Verdict: The Wildkat is one of those guitars that have liberated Epiphone from the docket of ‘the poor man’s Gibson’. There are obvious compromises made to keep the costs low. Yet, it’s a rugged and well-balanced package in terms of build quality, tone, and aesthetics. If you look at it purely through the prism of price, it packs more value than most other guitars in this roundup.
Guild Aristocrat P90 – Newark St. Collection
We’ll end our roundup with some respite from the rock and blues machines with a lesser-known P90 guitar – the Guild Aristocrat. The Aristocrat is an inimitable instrument that marries vintage styling to resonant character, yielding a classy instrument with sparkling tones.
The guitar sports a chambered body with a carved spruce top and mahogany back and sides melded with an ivory ABS binding. It’s finished with a subtle vintage sunburst and a polyurethane gloss finish.
The glued-in 3-piece mahogany neck has a C-profile with a 12” radius and a Pau Ferro fingerboard with 22 beefy frets. Other notable features include open-gear tuning machines, a harp tailpiece, and a nickel-plated tune-o-matic bridge.
The guitar is ergonomic, light as a feather, and very comfortable for long sets. Its visual appeal is complemented by Franz P90 soapbars that are sonically flexible and pleasantly unrefined. While it can flex its muscle when teamed with a high-gain amp, it’s best used for sweet blues or smooth jazz playing. The neck pickup is warm and the bridge p’up sounds tight but airy.
There is, without doubt, something unique about the tone of this single-cut guitar with a harp tailpiece. It doesn’t compete with the solid body or semi-hollow body instruments but heads off into an acoustic-like realm that is best described as raw/roots-y, with a mid-spike at the right spot.
Verdict: The Guild Aristocrat P90 is a horse of a different color. It’s a whole new shade of P-90 that is miles apart from the usual fare of rock/blues instruments. Besides being the perfect size and weight, Guild has also nailed the right amount of art-deco. It’s worth checking out if you like a vintage-looking single-cut with its own persona and texture.
P90 guitars are incredibly simple but correspondingly versatile. Their midrange emphasis belies a capacity for intricate solos and full-throttle rhythm playing. Whether you want a roughneck rock instrument or tone-attenuated bluesy sounds, I’ve shared a sweeping selection for you to consider.