What happens when you replace three mini-humbuckers with a trio of P-90s?
Oddly enough, I’ve never owned a Firebird. I suppose I just never cared for the shape and the pickups, which are usually mini-humbuckers. But a while back I was doing an eBay search for Epiphone guitars and ran across this one (Photo 1). It’s a 2001 Epiphone Firebird VII ’63 Reissue in vintage sunburst. But here’s what interested me: Someone had swapped out the original gold mini-humbuckers for black “dog ear” P-90s.
Of all the pickups from the Gibson side of the fence, P-90s are my favorites. They’re fat-sounding single-coils with a nice midrange bark. So when I saw this Firebird, the picture spoke to me. Something about the tobacco sunburst with gold Vibrola and hardware, reversed headstock, and the look of three P-90s just wowed me. It’s one of those things you can’t explain—guitar love at first sight.
The only bad thing was that the previous owner had done a rather poor job enlarging the pickup cavities for the P-90s and had gouged the wood in a few places around two pickups (Photo 2). I figured once the guitar was onstage, no one would ever see the damage, so I decided to keep an eye on it. At the last minute I sniped it, winning it for $340 plus $45 shipping. The price was a bit above my usual bottom feeder range, but something told me to go for it.
I received it a week later. After carefully unpacking it, I just sat and stared for a moment at the beauty of the guitar. Then I played it unplugged. It rang out nice and strong and for a solidbody, it had a nice acoustic tone. I plugged it into the Vox DA-5 portable amp that greets every new guitar in my house. The neck and bridge pickups both sounded pretty good, but bringing in the middle pickup seemed to throw everything out of phase.
I could have whined to the seller about the wiring, but the guitar does exactly what I need it to do. Besides, if I turn the middle pickup down (each pickup has its own volume control) and just use the selector switch like on a normal two-pickup guitar, I get my main sounds. Down the road when I have more time, I’ll reverse the wiring of the middle pickup, which I suspect is simply out of phase. Until then, the Firebird works just fine with the two main pickups: neck, bridge, and both.
Bottom Feeder Tip #235: Pick your battles. If a guitar is inside your “acceptable” zone and you really like it, let little things slide.
So is it a keeper? Yeah, for now, because it has a nice Gibson P-90 sound, plus it just looks cool! What else is there?