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Home : Trade Secrets Archive : Issue 166, Upgrading an inexpensive semi-hollowbody with P-90 sound
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Minor Investment, Major Upgrade
Upgrading to P-90s Erick Coleman
Epiphone Casino My customer, Nathan Moore, loves the way his Epiphone Casino plays, but he’s not so crazy about the sound of its pickups.
Published:
June 7, 2012

Sport Fishing USA Nathan plays in a local band, Sport Fishing USA. Talking after one of their gigs, Nathan told me the pickups in this Epi are considerably overwound. They don’t give him the P-90 tones he feels the guitar should have.
He wants to get that sound without sinking a lot of money into this guitar. We discussed whether to rewind the stock pickups or replace them. Nathan wanted to switch to Golden Age P-90s – Parsons Street model. They’d be perfect except that they’re soapbars, not mounted in dog-ear frames like his guitar’s pickups.
Soapbar vs. Dogear
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Lucky break: As it turns out, it’s pretty easy to transplant a Parsons Street into a dog-ear frame if the polepiece spacing matches the holes in the cover. Here’s how I did a quick P-90 transplant:
Measuring string spread 6" Steel Rule
Out come the stock pickups
They were soldered to their covers, but a quick hit with a soldering iron broke the joint easily:
Removing the pickup Guitar Tech Screwdriver Set
The bobbins unscrew from their metal frames
I removed the two screws holding the dog-ear frame to the bobbin and unsoldered the ground wire:Removing the pickup
Parsons Street transplant
Two screws held the P-90’s bottom plate, too. I took those screws out, but didn’t remove the plate:

Disassembling a P-90

Golden Age P-90 Pickups
Assembling a P-90 I left this plate on to show how simple this swap can be. Removing the plate would be no big deal: I’d just have to resolder a ground wire to the Epiphone’s dog-ear frame. But the P-90 screwed right onto that frame, baseplate and all. It fit tightly, with the metal plates establishing a good ground. Easy!
P-90 and cover Reassembly
Now it's time to solder the cover back on. Using a couple of spring clamps to hold the frame tight to the cover, I reflowed the solder joints that hold the cover and frame together.
Soldering the cover
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Finished pickup What about rewinding?
The Epiphone’s neck pickup was way overwound, reading over 12k on my multimeter! It sounded super muddy. Modern Epi P-90 neck pickups use a different string spread than the bridge pickup, even though vintage Gibson P-90's are the same string spread for both neck and bridge positions.This means we can't transplant a Parsons Street P-90 in this dog-ear cover. The polepieces wouldn’t match the holes.
Fieldpiece Digital Pocket Multimeter
Broken-down pickup The thing to do here is to rewind the stock pickup to get a more usable DC resistance. I cut the wire off the coil and broke down the parts. I underwound the coil with about 8,500 winds of AWG wire to give it more clarity and punch. P-90 Pickup Kits
Pickup winding It came out right around the high 6k range; that’s a perfect complement to the 8k Parsons Street bridge pickup.
A little less power on the neck pickup has a balancing effect, since there’s so much more string motion at the neck position compared to the bridge.
Schatten Pickup Winder
stewmac.com tab
Tip: For details on winding P-90s, check out our free pickup kit instructions.
Finished installation The P-90 transplant and the rewound pickup dropped right back into the guitar. They look factory, but they don’t sound factory.
Wiring, and Nathan Moore Since I had the guts out anyway, I took this chance to redo this wiring harness with vintage push-back wire, CTS pots and a Switchcraft jack.
Nathan’s stoked: his Casino is finally sounding the way it should. Rock it, man!
Erick signature
CTS Control Pots
Problem-solving products for this kind of work:
Vintage Push-back Wire
Unshielded single conductor wire for vintage-style guitar and amp circuits, supplied in an economical roll.
Golden Age P-90 Pickups
Two Golden Age P-90 models carry on the raw sound of early rock and electric blues.
Guitar Tech Screwdriver Set
If there's a set of tools every guitar tinkerer will love and use everyday in the shop and on tour, this one has gotta be it!
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CTS Control Pots
First choice for long life and smooth response. 250K and 500K-ohms.
Pickup Coil Wire
The right wire for pickup coil rewinding.
P-90 Pickup Kits
Assemble and wind your own classic Gibson® single-coil pickup.
More More More

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