Upgrading an inexpensive semi-hollowbody with P-90 sound

Issue 166 June 07, 2012

Minor investment, major upgrade

Upgrading an inexpensive semi-hollowbody with P-90 sound

My customer, Nathan Moore, loves the way his Epiphone Casino plays, but he’s not so crazy about the sound of its pickups.

Nathan plays in a local band, Sport Fishing USA.

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 a StewMac Parsons Street model.

They’d be perfect except that they’re soapbars, not mounted in dog-ear frames like his guitar’s pickups.

Soap bar 1
Soap bar 1

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:

Out come the stock pickups

They were soldered to their covers, but a quick hit with a soldering iron broke the joint easily:
Unsolder 1
Unsolder 2
Unsolder 3
Unsolder 4

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
Removing the pickup 2
Removing the pickup 3

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
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


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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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.

Finished 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.

Broken-down pickup

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.

Pickup winding


For details on winding P-90s, check out our free pickup kit instructions.

The P-90 transplant and the rewound pickup dropped right back into the guitar. They look factory, but they don’t sound factory.

Finished installation

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!

Nathan Moore

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