For this test I used Yonac’s Tonestack for Clean sounds with Jamup for overdriven and distorted tones.
It’s a lovely guitar to hold. It’s slimmer than a normal Les Paul and that thin nitro coating is not the prettiest thing in the world but it creates a warm, satiny feel. That neck is a handful at first (much more so than the neck on the SGJ) but give it time. After a couple of hours, my left hand stopped trying to fight it and worked with it, then it became a very comfortable experience.
Plugged in, clean tone, bridge. Wallop! There are many flavours of the P90 out there, it is one of the classics of pickup design (many say the classic design) – this one is definitely flavoured with a hint of chilli. It is very brash and in your face and through a clean amp model is much more rockabilly than country. Indeed, add a splash of slapback to it and it is a very solid Brian Setzer tone, aggressive but defined at the same time. The pickup does feel too rowdy for classic country playing – and did not feel suited to much hybrid picking. Through an overdriven amp model you get a load of Johnny Thunders coming at you, in fact, if you like that whole American proto-punk thing, from the Stooges on, this will cater for your twisted needs very well.
With a touch of dirt this is a great blues tone, fatter than a hot strat but with more edge and clarity than a humbucker but there are limits. Of course you can add extreme amp models and all the distortion pedals you want and it will do its best, but too much filth sucks the character and life out of it. This is a pickup with it’s heart in the classic rock era, too clean or too dirty and you lose what makes it special.
The neck P90 is fat, fat, fat. Clean it sounds rougher and less liquid than a good Fender type single coil but it has warmth and body. It adds an interesting new feel to those classic SRV-Hendrix neck pickup riffs we all play to ourselves. As with the bridge, it does not do totally clean very well and I’d go elsewhere for clean blues or jazz tones. But a hint of overdrive opens the tone up – it is also very responsive to pick attack.
The middle setting is a surprise, with two quite hot pickups, I was expecting quite a rowdy noise here, but with both pickups together and through a clean amp setting I got a compressed, phasey tone, perfect for funk rhythm playing. It was also a pretty cool tone for clean lead work and had an almost Knopflerish feel to it, especially when you dig the pick in.
Currently you can get this in the UK with a street price of £539 (including a decent gig bag). It is not quite the revelation that the even cheaper SGJ is but for 1/5 of the price of a 2015 Les Paul Standard you have a proper grown up guitar that is well made, feels lovely to play and has bags of character.
It is not a crystal clean country tone machine and it is not built to shred or djent but give it a bit of warmth or dirt and it is filled with great tones and playability. It is a guitar that will make you happy.
Gibson have turned a venerable name into a minor modern classic – C’mon guys, you can’t discontinue this!