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andrewjunior

p90 tone question, need answer asap!

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my buddy is getting a 1967 gibby es330 with the dogear p90's with metal covers. is there a tone difference between the metal covers and the plastic ones?

which do you all prefer?

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I took the metal covers off my Casino and replaced them with plastic, and IMHO, it sounds much clearer. Not louder, but you can hear every note much better and everything is a little better balanced. My friend got a 64 330 with nickel covers and he did the same thing, replaced with plastic, and again, even A/B-ing them together was a massive difference. They just get clearer. Much better sounding with plastic. Nickel looks really nice though...

 

I thought I read somewhere about metal covers interfering with and dampening the magnetic fields generated by the pickups. The theory went something like: the polepeices and screws bled electricity into the covers, which pushed the electromagnetic fields across the entire metal surface instead of directing the fields at the strings (i.e., the cover became the polepeice, instead of having the 6 individual polepeices). When Gibson tried to copy the Casino later in the ES330's original lifespan (you know, block inlays, metal covers, the "this was never intended to be a low end guitar" shpiel), they tried chroming (or nickel plating) the plastic covers in an effort to stop this effect. I don't know if that ever worked or not, I haven't seen anything either way.

 

They have very different tones, the plastic and metal. I think the metal should give you a slightly muddier, jazzy tone with a noticeable chunk in the low end...the plastic should really open up and be a little brighter and clearer with a more throaty P90 tone. I think the great thing about the Casino/330 is the fact that the hollowbody adds so much character to the P90, and I think with the plastic I hear that character a bit better.

 

Not that you'll see a million Casino owners run out and cut the chrome covers off their pickups (thank you, Mr. Lennon)...but plenty of people play both ways. Thom Yorke and Ed O'brien from Radiohead play metal 330s, Lou Reed played a Casino with plastic covers (I think)...I think overall there are just a ton more metal dogear guitars out there that people see and associate with a particular sound.

 

YMMV, but IMHO the plastic is better. FTW. MISHHA.

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Thants interesting.

 

Gosh am getting a bit confused though, friend of mine told me that the metal covers were in fact better for shielding than the plastic covered P90's as on his Gibson. Said something about a Faraday Cage ;) and stuff. All wizzo way over my head.

 

It would be interesting to do an A/B test with a similar guitar. Though wouldn't be much help comparing my Casino to his Gibson Melody Maker.

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Ah I wouldn't confuse shielding for tone though. Think about it...people love P90s for their wide open chime and surprising depth. P90s, for many people, are the benchmark in tone excellence. With humbuckers you are essentially sacrificing tonal characteristics for a quieter operating pickup that is less susceptible to 60 cycle hum. Same thing when you go to Fender, the stock single-coils are by far the best sounding, and their noiseless pickups have to sacrifice a bit of that bite in order to run noiseless.

 

Metal covers serve two purposes. First of all, they look "classy". (I personally like the look of plastic more and more, but everyone seems to agree that a nickel plated P90 belongs on more upscale guitars.) Secondly, they provide some minimal shielding, kind of like a Faraday Cage. Keep in mind though that their shielding the pickup output is killing off a lot of the tone. Take the metal cover off and you'll notice a distintive shine and fullness to the sound that you just can't get with the metal on it. With a P90, as I understand, you're not so much shielding it as you are dampening and dispersing the electromagnetic field to a point where it is less prone to electronic interference. That dampening and dispersal is having the effects that I stated above, where the polepieces bleed into the metal and you end up getting a muddled, more overdriven and less chimey mess.

 

It isn't always the rule, but generally a better shielded/noiseless pickup won't sound as alive, present, and open as an unshielded pickup. Those are generally the first characteristics you lose when you shield it. Now, I'm not saying that those shielded pickups or humbuckers sound horrible (I have a nice set of 57 classics in my 335 copy), nor am I saying that you'll hear an incessant annoying hum all the time with unshielded pickups. I find with both that a well wired harness is important (you can get hum with humbuckers if you have a crappy wiring job), and that knowledge of your surroundings helps a ton. My Casino won't hum unless I'm really close to a switch on a wall or near the TV or something very electric. The same thing happened when I had the metal on. The difference is with plastic there is a definite and noticeable difference in the way the pickups respond. They sound far more organic and natural with plastic, and they sounded uninspired and bland with metal on.

 

Either way, the Casino is a fantastic guitar, easily one of the best guitars that ever had P90s. Pick up an LP Jr and play that next to a Casino or 330 and you'll notice the badass chunk and energy that the Casino/330 adds.

 

If you're looking for a better tone, I'd do plastic covers. If you're super concerned about shielding, keep the metal. I'm just saying that in my experience, the shielding doesn't make too much of a difference with P90s because they are so powerful anyways.

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