5 Best Gibson Les Paul Guitars with Single Coil P-90 Pickups

Updated on May 13, 2017
Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

The great Charlie Christian was one of the early heroes of both electric and jazz guitar. The pickups used in the guitars Charlie played were referred to as blades, bars, or just Charlie Christian pickups. World War II came along, and Gibson stopped production altogether. Materials were in short supply then, and the war effort required able bodied persons to work towards victory in other industries.

In 1946 the war was over, and the USA was on top of the world. Gibson resumed production of guitars and introduced a new pickup, the P-90. The P-90s would reign as the king of Gibson pickups until 1957, when the patent applied for (PAF) humbucker pickups were introduced. The PAF would become a legend, but it was never a better pickup than the P-90, it merely cancelled the 60 cycle hum a single coil produces, and the PAF had a different tonal character.

The P-90 pups came in two major varieties, the soapbar and the dog-ear. The soapbar is a true rectangle, and the two mounting screws were located between pole pieces, causing some to mistakenly believe the P-90s of this variety had eight poles. Soap bar pups were always used on the solid body guitars. The dog-ear P-90s had the mounting screws on the dog ears, and these were used on the semi hollow body and hollow body guitars.

What's awesome about a Les Paul with P-90s

I can never express enough how much I love and appreciate both Gibson and Fender electric guitar designs. They are so very different from each other in style. Each of the two seemed to always approach guitar building from the opposite perspective of the other, and this has benefited everyone for the diversity of feel and sounds available.

Gibson was the first great American electric guitar builder, and years before Fender ever created a guitar, the Gibson single coil P-90 was widely in use. The Gibson P-90 is as different from a Fender single coil pickup as the Les Paul is different from the stratocaster. God bless America, you know.

The first several years of production saw every single Les Paul guitar with P-90 pickups. There's literally nothing so traditional as a P-90 Lester Polsfuss. The P-90 is super retro-cool. In a world where there are more Gibson in house model pickups and then aftermarket custom pickups to choose from than anyone can count, why not go retro with the P-90? It's a classic. What other pup has been around since 1946, and is still in demand?

What is truly awesome about a Les Paul with P-90s is the sound. These are different sounding animals than Lesters with humbuckers. The P-90, as all single coils will do, has more of a twangy tonal character than humbuckers, and more mid-range too. So if you want a Les Paul with lots of the thunder and growl of the humbucker, but also a hint of single coil brightness, then one of these may be just what will satisfy your soul.

Les Paul '60s Tribute 2016 T
Les Paul '60s Tribute 2016 T

1. Les Paul '60s Tribute 2016 T

The 60s Tribute T, for 'traditional' LPs offer an outstanding bang for your bucks ratio seldom had from Gibson's flagship solid body electric line. For under a thousand dollars you get everything a Lester is known for at a price a working person can afford. You buy one and then at a later date you can come up on a hard shell case for it.

The 60s Tribute Traditional implies the 60s neck profile. It's a slim taper neck, the same neck profile which some today refer to as a 'fret-less wonder.' The mahogany body is chambered for both weight relief and resonance, so the guitar doesn't weigh so much you slump over like Keith Richards.

Is there some kind of catch here? How can such a great guitar sell for so little? There is no catch, the guitar has no body binding, and no neck binding. That binding looks great wherever it is used, but it takes a lot of laborer time to install it. By cutting out the binding Gibson can build and sell you a great guitar for a lot less money. Great craftspeople don't work for cheap in the USA, and Gibson employs some of the best crafts-persons in the business.

Then there is the matter of the maple top. The carved maple top on this guitar features no figuring, no flame. On a solid body electric guitar the maple being figured or not makes not a solitary iota of difference insofar as the guitar's sound. The finish on these guitars still looks great. It's a simple elegance, and one heck of a great buy.

Gibson Les Paul '60s Tribute 2016 T features:

  • Tuners: Traditional tuners
  • Neck width: Historic original 1-11/16" neck width
  • Nut: Graph Tech nut
  • Neck heel: Classic Les Paul neck heel
  • Carrying case: Padded gigbag
  • Modern weight relief: Maple and mahogany body with modern weight relief
  • Pickups: Two vintage-style P-90s
  • Fingerboard :Thicker one-piece rosewood fingerboard
  • Setup: Comprehensive hand-finished setup
  • Neck profile: Slim 60s-style neck profile

 Gibson 2015 Les Paul Special Double Cut Electric Guitar Heritage Cherry
Gibson 2015 Les Paul Special Double Cut Electric Guitar Heritage Cherry

2. Gibson 2015 Les Paul Special Double Cut

There are two major things which make the 2015 Les Paul Special Double Cut very different from the other four guitars discussed here, and the first of those things is very easy to see, for the shape of the guitar is much different from the others. It's one with a double cutaway. Double cut Les Paul guitars are not especially common, but this one is also different from most double cut Lesters for a few reasons.

The double cutaway is very attractive. It will distinguish the owner from the hordes of players who've bought a Gibson Lester, that's for sure. This guitar is also very distinct in another way, as it does not have a maple cap or top on it. The body is all mahogany, like an SG body is.

You will also notice some major differences with the hardware on this LP Special Double Cut.There is only one volume and one tone control knob. And where is the bridge? The bridge and the tail piece are one and the same thing.

Here we have the old school and retro cool wraparound compensated bridge and tail piece all in one bit of hardware. This is not less good than the typical Les Paul bridge and tail piece, this is the kind of thing Paul Reed Smith will put on a ten thousand dollar guitar. It's just old school, and that is cool in and of itself for that reason.

The guitars on this page are in order from least expensive on up to most expensive. These 2015 double cut specials are priced just over a thousand bucks, but they come with a hard shell case. Weighing only a hair over six pounds, these guitars are significantly less burdensome on one's shoulders than a normal Les Paul. So if you gig long and often, and you love the P-90 sound, this may be the optimum choice for you.

Gibson 2015 Les Paul Special Double Cut Electric Guitar features:

  • Body shape: Double cutaway
  • Body type: Solid body
  • Body material: Solid wood
  • Top wood: Not applicable
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Body finish: Gloss
  • Neck shape: SlimTaper
  • Neck wood: Mahogany
  • Joint: Set-in
  • Scale length: 24.75"
  • Truss rod: Les Paul
  • Neck finish: Gloss
  • Fretboard Material: Rosewood
  • Radius: 12"
  • Fret size: Medium jumbo
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Block
  • Nut width: 1.795" (45.99mm)
  • Neck: P-90SR
  • Bridge: P-90ST
  • Control layout: Separate volume, tone
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Bridge type: Fixed
  • Bridge design: Wraparound
  • Tailpiece: Lightning bar
  • Tuning machines: G Force
  • Color: Nickel/chrome
  • Special features: Body and neck binding
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Accessories: Warranty card, adjustment tools
  • Country of origin: United States

Les Paul Less Plus P-90
Les Paul Less Plus P-90

3. Les Paul Less Plus P-90

The Les Paul Less Plus P-90 guitar was a limited edition instrument from 2015. These guitars were to combine features from the early 1950s with more modern ideas. What modern ideas? The body is thinner so the guitar weighs less than a traditional LP, and also present are the G-Force automated tuners.

For the most part, the consumer public has decided against the G-Force tuning machines. This in no way means the G-Force machines were terrible, or that you won't like them. For the most part, the innovation wasn't much of a splash because persons who purchase or want to purchase a Les Paul want one which is much the same as the ones their guitar playing heroes own.

In 2015 Gibson also introduced the Z-FAN, or zero fret adjustable nut, and this is the nut used on the LP Less Plus P-90. What is a zero fret adjustable nut? It's an adjustable nut, so you can set it for your preferred height and angle, the thing is made of titanium, and so it is durable beyond the pale, insofar as nuts go. As you know, the bridge on a LP is already adjustable, and when you also have an adjustable nut, you can really hone your guitar's action towards your particular style of play.

These are great guitars, they just aren't traditional. From a frontal view they look for all the world to be recreations of the legendary early to mid 1950s goldtops, but then there are the more modern and somewhat experimental specs added in. I personally love how Gibson will forever try new things. The 2015 vintages of Lester have been somewhat maligned by some, but I advise you ignore the naysayers of the world, and lay hands on one yourself.

Gibson Les Paul Less Plus P-90 features:

  • Body Type: Less Plus thin body
  • Top: Maple
  • Body: Mahogany
  • Neck Profile: Rounded .818 - .963
  • 22 Fret Rosewood Fingerboard
  • Cream Binding
  • Pearl Trapezoid Inlay
  • Neck Pickup: Alnico V P-90
  • Bridge Pickup: Alnico V P-90
  • 2 Volume, 2 Tone Controls
  • Nickel Tune-o-Matic Bridge
  • Titanium Saddles
  • Nickel Hardware
  • Nickel G-FORCE Tuners

True Historic 1956 Les Paul Goldtop Reissue.
True Historic 1956 Les Paul Goldtop Reissue.

4. Gibson True Historic 1956 Les Paul Goldtop Reissue

If you will recall, 1956 was the last year where the P-90 was the flagship pickup for Gibson electric guitars. The next year the Patent Applied For humbuckers would come into use. As the 1950s progressed, Gibson was getting better and better at making their Les Paul guitars, and so the 1956 gold top LPs are often thought to have been the very best ones.

When Gibson does reissue guitars, you are getting some serious devotion and dedication in the craftsmanship. You're also going to be paying handsomely for it. The most care from the best crafts-persons in the shop go into these reissues. Of course everything is done towards making a product as precisely like the ones made in the specified year.

With the True Historic reissues, the devotion involves more science and technology than one can know from viewing or playing a guitar. The neck and fretboard are attached using hide glue, which many argue sounds better than synthetic glue. Gibson Custom also uses an original spec truss rod, truss rod washer, and anchor. Kluson Green Key tuners feature proper vintage profile, color, and performance specifications. Gibson even analyzed the vintage plastics down to the molecular level to ensure accurate reproductions.

The point to all of this is one need not have the hundred thousand bucks, or whatever the amount may be, to purchase a 1956 gold top LP. A body can purchase a reissue, and it will be as much the same guitar as is humanly possible at this time to recreate. Solid body electric guitars do not get better over the course of five or more decades, they just get more worn in.

Gibson True Historic 1956 Les Paul Goldtop Reissue features:

  • Top wood: Maple
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Body finish: Gloss Nitrocellulose
  • Neck shape: 1956 Les Paul
  • Neck wood: Mahogany
  • Joint: Set-in
  • Scale length: 24.75"
  • Truss rod: Historic
  • Neck finish: Gloss
  • Fretboard Material: Rosewood
  • Radius: 12"
  • Fret size: Medium jumbo
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Trapezoid
  • Nut width: 1.687" (42.8mm)
  • Neck: P-90
  • Bridge: P-90
  • Control layout: Volume 1, volume 2, tone 1, tone 2
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Bridge type: Fixed
  • Bridge design: ABR-1
  • Tailpiece: Stopbar
  • Nickel Color Tuning machines: Kluson deluxe
  • Special features: Limited production
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Accessories: Certificate of authenticity, extra switch plate
  • Country of origin: United States

 Gibson Custom Les Paul '56 Historic Select Electric Guitar Ebony In House Lightly Aged
Gibson Custom Les Paul '56 Historic Select Electric Guitar Ebony In House Lightly Aged

5. Gibson Custom Les Paul '56 Historic Select

The '56 Historic Select guitar is much the same as the '56 gold top reissue in regards to devotion, craftsmanship, and the use of much science and technology. The primary differences here are the color, and the Bigsby vibrato. You put a Bigsby on a Les Paul, and my oh my, what a sexy beast you have there.

This particular Bigsby on this particular guitar is one with more faculty than some others, as this guitar has a Bigsby with a Vibramate. The Vibramate tail piece adds some stability insofar as the guitar staying in tune, and it makes the changing of the strings a bit less tiresome.

I want the reader here to understand the Gibson Custom Les Paul '56 Historic Select with the Bigsby and in ebony black finish costs around fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars more than the '56 True Historic Gold Top Reissue above. But the differences amount to the color and the Bigsby with Vibramate. How much is ebony finish and a Bigsby with Vibramate worth to you? It's a fabulous guitar, one of those Les Paul envisioned looking like a tuxedo.

Gibson Custom Les Paul '56 Historic Select Electric Guitar features:

  • Top wood: Plain Maple
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Body finish: Gloss Nitrocellulose
  • Neck shape: 1958 Les Paul
  • Neck wood: Mahogany
  • Joint: Set-in
  • Scale length: 24.75"
  • Truss rod: Historic
  • Neck finish: Gloss
  • Fretboard Material: Rosewood
  • Radius: 12"
  • Fret size: Medium jumbo
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Reissue
  • Nut width: 1.687" (42.8mm)
  • Neck: P90 soap bar with cream cover
  • Bridge: P90 soap bar with cream cover
  • Control layout: Volume 1, volume 2, tone 1, tone 2
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Bridge type: Tremolo
  • Bridge design: ABR-1
  • Tailpiece: Bigsby
  • Nickel Color Tuning machines: Reissue
  • Special features: Limited production, pickguard and non mounted (comes inside case), lightly aged
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Accessories: Certificate of authenticity
  • Country of origin: United States

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Wesman Todd Shaw


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      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        9 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

        Thank you very much, Jason Johnson, Sir!

        Yeah, I totally understand the love of old school traditional things. Wanting something as close to what Jimmy Page, or Gary Moore, or any of the dozens of other famous Les Paul guys have is very understandable.

        But lets not just up and think Gibson can't make some things better here in 2019, than they could back in the 50's. That's just not logical, in light of all the massive technological improvements.

        Of course Gibson has years which seem like things just didn't get assessed well enough. Or maybe quality control is down again. We've all got the internet to talk about this stuff with, and the producers have got to please the consumers, or their business will absolutely die.

        I hadn't even thought about the hearing loss angle to support the G-force. That's absolutely wonderful that something makes tuning easier for such persons, and any other persons who're open to those things.

      • profile image

        Jason Johnson 

        9 months ago

        I totally agree with your assessment of the DC LP Specials. the G-force tuners got a bad rap cuz of the previous versions sucking. Ive never had any problems with mine & I like it cuz my hearing loss can make tuning really tricky at times so this is perfect. no p-guard but those are easy enough to find or fabricate yourself! Great article on great guitars!


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