Vintage Vibe SP-90 Pickups

Rather than simply taking one of the more common paths of replacement pickup manufacture—attempting to reproduce dead-accurate vintage pickups, or making heavily modified hotrod units – Vintage Vibe Guitars blends a dash of originality with a dash of vintage voicing in an effort to produce something that might prove an all-purpose replacement for many players. 
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The “P-90 in a single coil” format has been gaining ground in recent years, with similar designs coming from makers such as Lindy Fralin, Rio Grande, and Harmonic Design. The main difference between many of these (including this SP-90 set from VVG) and a standard Strat-style pickup is in the placement of two bar magnets beneath the pickup as per Gibson’s original P-90, with adjustable threaded-steel polepieces used in the coil itself, rather than the magnets and polepieces being one and the same, and fixed, as in the original Fender design. The steel-in-coil variation elicits a little more beef and body, while the magnet-in-coil format (the traditional version) is known for its enhanced treble, full lows, and overall clarity. VVG’s SP-90s are wound with 43-guage wire rather than the 42 AWG of the traditional Gibson P-90 or Fender Stratocaster pickup, enabling builder Pete Biltoft to fit adequate turns of wire onto the coil without making them too deep for the pickup routes of most Stratocasters. I tested a set of SP-90s pickups that were loaded into a Fender American Standard Stratocaster, with reference to a set of Custom ’54 Strat pickups in a Fender Custom Shop ’60 Heavy Relic Stratocaster, and the original pickups in a ’64 pre-CBS Stratocaster. As equipped, the SP-90s don’t have significantly more output than either of the standard Strat sets, contrary to what you might expect from the “P-90-style” description, but they do nail the rounder tone of that very different breed of single-coil, with a bit more body overall. The results are heard in tamer highs, a more pronounced midrange, buoyant but slightly softer lows, and a slightly gritty edge in the overall voice, which many P-90 fans agree is part of that pickup’s character. Through a distortion pedal or a cranked amp, all of this translates to a thicker, fuzzier, and somewhat smoother overdrive tone at the expense of a little clarity and definition. —Dave Hunter

---See the full review of the Vintage Vibe SP-90 and H540-42 SW replacement pickups in the September issue of GP