It’s spring. Time for new projects around the house and the yard. New grass, new weeds, cleaning and fixing whatever you see. Also a time I decided to freshen up the JR.
Leslie West described the Les Paul JR as a plank with a mic on it, and he’s pretty much right. Not much there means there’s not much to go wrong. His tone was a very early influence for me so I’ve had a couple of JR-ish guitars over the years and now I have a stock 2009. Not Custom shop, not Billie Joe, just a JR. I bought it used and it was stock except for a Tone Pros adjustable wraptail bridge.
Stock Gibson P90’s aren’t junk. I’ve enjoyed all the ones I’ve had, but I felt the need for a change. The typical recipe for a P90 is 10,000 turns of 42 gauge wire on an A5 Magnet. Magnet strength changes whether by age or intent and has an effect on tone. So one A5 isn’t like every other A5 unless you seriously over or underwind or change magnets the sound is the sound. And yet over the years I’ve had P90’s built by others and they do sound different from one another.
The David Allen “Cool Cat” P90 is an A5 42 gauge P90. It is built with the wood spacer and other original touches. It measured 8.9K at room temp, which does make a difference. If you measure a pickup you just took from the box UPS left on the porch in Connecticut in Febuary versus a pickup UPS left in a box on your porch in Arizona in July you’ll be surprised at the difference.
And so I installed the Allen CC P90 into JR. JR already had an Emerson wiring kit and repro Bumble Bee capacitor, so the spring freshen is complete, just add strings.
One am I use is a Tweed Deluxe Speed Shop 5E3 repro. It’s loaded with GOS (good old stock tubes) and a 1961 Jensen P12Q. I also have an Emery Superbaby. It is currently loaded with a 5751, JJ KT88, and a Mullard GZ34. The speaker is a large oval back pine 1×12 with a Warehouse Reaper 30 watt.
Just a note, I never use the tone circuit on the Emery. When I plug in, the signal is through the tubes, very few PTP wired components and to the speaker. Honest tones of what you plug in.
So what have I got? It sounds great. It’s alive and articulate and very responsive to my picking dynamic.
What did it do before? All of the above, but less so. Less enough to notice.
The Allen Cool Cat measures 800k hotter than the stock pickup. Sometimes those windings add up to a closed off congested kind of tone especially when the pickup is on “10”. In this case the stock P90 congested more than the Cool Cat when full up. So the tone of the Cool Cat on 10 is much closer to the tone of the Cool Cat on 8 whereas the Gibson goes through a much larger tone change and “darkens” from 8-10.
There’s more to pickup tone than windings though, and the Cool Cat sounds crazy good and wide open when you turn it down a few numbers. Turn up the amp and run the guitar on less than full volume and chords have a ring and a note separation that almost sounds like you stepped on a magic pedal.
Played into the Emery/Reaper combination I can get a really good LP bridge pickup sound. OK I’ll say it, like a good PAF, like an old Allman Bros tone. It’s got a real strong snarl if you want but that is more up to the way you attack the strings than the DNA of the pickup. Leslie West squeals and snarls are all there.
There are a whole lot of vocal qualities to be found on the first 7 frets. Picking style really brought this out. My pick choice and picking style is brighter than a friend’s who came over to try it, and it was very noticeable.
This isn’t an all mids kind of P90. There is plenty of treble, and it smooths out really well when you dial back the tone knob on the guitar.
Set the guitar on “10” and yes of course you can get all the Neil Young you can handle plugged into the 5E3. The Cool Cat will do Cinnamon Girl all day. Cortez the Killer? Hell yes.
Yet the 5E3 and the P90 are so much more than Neil Young. Roll back the pickup and let the amp do the lifting and the beautiful lush chords of a Ryan Adams song come into full bloom. For Americana type music this really P90 works. For ripping power chord rock the Cool Cat really works.
I’m certainly pleased with this Cool Cat. It did what I wanted. It doesn’t do anything I don’t want. It’s a win on all accounts.