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FDP Forum / The 'Pup' Tent / How I learned to like the P100 and overcome the visual illusion



Dec 1st, 2017 02:50 PM   Edit   Profile  

A couple of decades ago (actually a bit more than a couple) I bought an ES-135. It came with P100 pickups, which everyone at the time cheerfully said, "it's like a P90 that doesn't hum!" The guitar itself played beautifully in spite of some factory cosmetic sloppiness, and I'm happy to say that 20+ years later, it still does. The ES-135 has a few weird quirks, one being the balsa wood center block. It isn't a 335 and it isn't like a full-hollow ES either. It is a thing unto itself.

Well, I played it for a while and after the newness wore off after a few months, just wasn't happy. A P100 really doesn't sound at all like a P90. It's like looking at a wine glass full of delicious looking cabernet and taking a sip to find it is really just grape juice. It could even be really good grape juice, but once the eyes decide it is cabernet and then you taste Welches, well, it just ain't what you expected.

So I did what everyone else did - put in a set of P90 clones. They were pretty darn good ones. They sounded like P90's - hot ones. But for whatever reason, I slowly lost interest in that guitar and it spent more time in the case and I went back to my MIJ mid-eighties Stratocaster. (which I also still have, and it is a very good guitar that's seen a lot of gigs)

Began to think about selling the ES-135 not long ago and since I religiously keep original parts, I put the P100's back in.

Then the enlightment happened.

I didn't expect P90 sounds anymore. I knew in spite of their visual appearance, they weren't. I just let them be themselves. What I discovered is they really suited the odd acoustic character of the ES135 and its balsa center block. I got the snappy highs of the balsa the bridge makes a killer crunch with a little gain. The more I played it, I realized that they sound a whole lot more like a conventional humbucker than they ever did a P90. Treat them to the same sort of amp and gain settings that suit my ES335 dot-reissue's "57 classics" and they made more sense and honestly, sound pretty good.

Why did I hate them so much back then? Why does everyone complain about the P100 for that matter. I think it is largely because it *looks* like a P90 and it just *ain't* a P90. Like getting grape juice instead of wine, or a chicken burrito when you ordered beef. The juice or the chicken burrito might be perfectly delicious on their own, but not what you expected to taste. Like I said, a P100 can work just fine in its own right - but it will never sound like a P90.

In retrospect, I think that if the P100 looked physically different, it might have had better acceptance. But I also think if it looked different, it never would have sold either. I completely get the whole marketing angle thing of "vintage looks" being what sells and the misguided notion that jamming something other than a P90 into a soap-bar or dog-ear housing was going to be better than just putting a P90 in there in the first place.

But - letting my ears do the deciding, rather than my eyes and my expectations - I'm here to say, it isn't a bad pickup at all and in some guitars anyway, probably a good one. A LP Jr reissue with a P100 in it is just flat out wrong. But in the ES135, they work. I know the later iterations of the 135, Gibson switched to regular humbuckers and in the 137, they also went to a maple block. All good moves, especially taken together, so it is kind of a down-scale ES335 now.

I know it is heresy, but that's how I see it after all these years.

Contributing Member

So. Cal. USA

Dec 1st, 2017 05:24 PM   Edit   Profile  

Enjoy the grape juice! Cool analogy!

I had an LP Jr. with the P100 and hated it. I traded away the guitar in part for an ES-137 actually.

Contributing Member

Roisin, I wanna

fight your father
Dec 2nd, 2017 12:58 PM   Edit   Profile  

Welcome to the club! I have a 2000-era 135 with a pair of P100s, and it's a tone beast.

That is the beauty of different guitars and different pickups: they each have their own personality.

I should play it more... Thanks for giving me a kick in the 135 pants!



Dec 4th, 2017 11:29 PM   Edit   Profile  

You know I totally get the deal with a LP Jr that has a P100 stuck in it.

When I see or play a LP Jr, I know what I want it to be. I've played enough real ones to know what they're supposed to be, from the never possible to get right intonation, down to the wooly-bite of the P90 on a mahogany slab.

Put a compensated bridge on it and a P100 and well, it just ain't what it is supposed to be.

I had the 335-Dot and the ES-135 out again today. The 135 is brighter, with a snappy kind of sound to it - largely due to its construction and woods. Good in its own way. The 335 has more output and more of a the mid-range focus that is part of that whole thing.

I was planning to sell the 135. I've had for over 22 years now. It was my 30th birthday present to myself. Figured I'd put it back to stock and sell it, but now it is harder to let go of it. Both that it was a milestone guitar for me and fun to play with.

Also stuck trying to decide about a MIJ 1987 Stratocaster. I put the original japanese non-staggered p'ups back in it too and have decided, it ain't half bad either. It still plays good. I called it the gig-o-matic back in the day. Played the hell out of that guitar and it shows!

I was working music shop in the early 1980's when CBS sold Fender. We got the first MIJ Strats in 1983 I think. I still remember that red MIJ - it was the first actually good new strat any of us had seen in years. Everyone in the store was floored by it. Most of the customers wouldn't touch it because it was MIJ.

FDP Forum / The 'Pup' Tent / How I learned to like the P100 and overcome the visual illusion

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