Is this CHEAP Epiphone with P-90s worth it? (Les Paul Special I P-90 guitar review)

This is the definitive review of the cheapest electric guitar you can buy with P90 pickups, the Epiphone Les Paul Special I P-90 Limited Edition that is a Guitar Center / Musician’s Friend exclusive.

If you’ve never played a guitar with P90s, or maybe you’ve never heard a guitar with P90s, they are a special kind of pickup. They look more like a humbucker, but they’re actually single coils. One of the most famous players to play guitars with P90s was Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath (one of my favorite guitarists!), but they have been used by lots of well known guitarists over the years.

The most important thing for you to know is that they have a sort of mid-range punchy tone. That might be what you’re looking for. That might not be what you’re looking for. But they are versatile and I was very excited to buy and review this cheap Epiphone Les Paul Special due specifically to the P-90 pickups.

Of course, I bought this guitar with my own money, and it was on sale for $151.05 + tax.

Want to hear about deals when I hear about them? Join the free Riff City newsletter to learn about guitar deals, news, and site updates:



I promise only to email you with interesting guitar news, Art of Shred updates, and deals. No spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

Why You Should Trust Us

Hey, I’m Karol (like Karl not Carol). I’ve been playing guitar for 20+ years, but I’m still an amateur and learning every day. In my younger years I played in a band, but nowadays it’s for fun. I’m not a guitar snob, and I think everybody should just have fun with it.

Why should you listen to this Epiphone Les Paul Special I P-90 Limited Edition review? Because I don’t care about selling you anything and I want to help you make an informed choice about this and every other guitar I review. I started Art Of Shred because I was unimpressed with the obviously biased paid for guitar and musical equipment reviews online. I only get paid if you use one of my referral links to buy a guitar or a product on Amazon. Everything I write here is unbiased. Keep in mind, of course, that these are just my views. I don’t know everything and my opinions are my opinions.

Epiphone Les Paul Special I P-90 Limited Edition

8.4 out of 10
$199$151.05
Epiphone Les Paul Special P-90

Epiphone Les Paul Special I P-90 Limited Edition in TV Yellow

Weight: 6.9 lbs

Made in: China

Looks
7 out of 10
TV Yellow looks better than I expected, but I wouldn’t say it’s as nice as higher end TV Yellow guitars
Setup (out of box)
10 out of 10
It only needed a string height and intonation adjustment, pretty standard on a guitar no matter the budget
Feel
7 out of 10
A fat “baseball bat” type neck that isn’t for everyone
Sound
8.5 out of 10
For a cheap guitar with cheap pickups, these P-90s have a nice midrange bite!
Price
9.5 out of 10
Hard to beat since it’s the only P-90 guitar in this price range

Pros

Looks good! Matte TV Yellow looks better than I expected

Epiphone's quality control is good and this guitar arrived with no issues

It's the cheapest guitar you can buy with P-90 pickups, a fun rarity!

Cons

Cheap tuners

P-90s are single coil pickups so they are noisy (but still good!)

It's now discontinued so they won't be available as new for long

Epiphone Les Paul Special I P-90 Limited Edition Video Review

Don’t want to read? This 11 minute video review of the Les Paul Special I P-90 on ArtOfShred’s YouTube channel covers most of what you need to know, including an extensive sound demo. The sound demo includes a semi-produced track with drums as well as guitar-only segments with clean and dirty sounds using the various pickup options.

If you want to know what my first impressions of this guitar were I also filmed the unboxing and first impressions:

The Basics of this Affordable Les Paul Special

The Gibson Les Paul is a classic guitar body shape. One of the original mass availability electric guitars, after all! The Les Paul Special was introduced in 1955 as more of a budget model.

As for this Epiphone Les Paul Special I P-90? Well, it’s not really true to a more expensive Gibson Les Paul Special beyond the general look. The specs on these cheap Epiphones are all very similar to one another and the main differences are the pickups (and colors and body styles). The hardware and other electronics (bridge, tuners, nut, pots, 3 way switch) are all the same.

The regular price of this guitar is $199, but I do often see it on sale for around $150-180 and I bought it for $151.05. Unfortunately, it looks like they are discontinuing it because it goes in and out of availability and it’s only available new from Guitar Center / Musician’s Friends.

The spec breakdown is very similar to other budget Epiphone guitars:

  • Made in China
  • Mahogany body and neck
  • Satin matte finish on the body and neck
  • ’60s Slim taper D neck profile (the same neck on all of the very budget Epiphone guitars)
  • 24.75 inch scale length
  • 12″ radius on the fretboard
  • Plastic nut (but it was cut well)
  • Fretboard wood: other? It’s a mystery
  • 22 medium frets
  • Wraparound bridge with compensated saddles
  • P-90 pickups!
  • 3 way pickup switch
  • Controls: 1 volume, 1 tone
  • Worn TV Yellow (also comes in black)

First Impressions

I’ve mentioned this before about Epiphone and I have to mention it again because it’s always impressive: their quality control. As you read in my Epiphone SG Special review their guitars almost always arrive without major quality control issues. If you don’t know how to do setups buying a guitar without quality control issues is a must.

So you won’t be shocked when I say this guitar came without any major issues! No fret buzz or fret sprout. The only thing I needed to adjust was the intonation and string height and the bridge didn’t have the same issues I had with the Epiphone SG Special. It has the exact same bridge as that guitar so it’s nice that that issue was a one time thing.

This guitar did come the allen wrench to adjust the bridge, but didn’t come with the truss rod allen wrench like the SG Special came with. I don’t know why that is, tbh, but not a major issue. (You can buy a set of allen wrenches at the dollar store.)

Something you might notice, which I mentioned in the SG Special review as well, is how the fretboard looks light reddish brown. With a little lemon oil (I use D’addario but you can use whatever) it darkens up a little and this is simply a visual thing that does not affect the guitar in any way.

Cons

There are not many cons with this guitar. It did have a few high frets, but even after lowering the string height I didn’t get any fret buzz so they didn’t require any work.

Of course it does come with cheap tuners and a plastic nut, but I haven’t had tuning stability issues with it.

As mentioned in the Epiphone SG Special review the ’60s Slim Taper D neck is more akin to a baseball bat style neck. It’s a little fatter than what some people like, but I don’t find it’s a problem. You might have issues with it if you have exceptionally small hands, though.

The TV Yellow color, which I’d say is more mustard yellow on this guitar, is also not everybody’s favorite. It does also come in black.

Pros

There really is a lot to like about this cheap Epiphone Les Paul, in particular that it comes with P-90s!

  • P-90s are great!
  • It’s fun to play because the sound is just different enough to what most people are used to
  • Unique and cheap is a great combo as far as I’m concerned

What Kind of Setup Did I Do?

Thanks to having to fret sprout or sharp frets and nothing else wrong this guitar did not need more than a basic setup. That means I removed the strings, polished the frets and fretboard, replaced the strings, lowered the string height, and set the intonation. If you’re a beginning guitar player I wouldn’t worry about any of them but I would recommend you eventually learn basic setups.

What I use for guitar setups:

🪛 FretGuru Ultimate Fret End File (didn’t need to use this for this guitar) (I also own FretGuru’s sanding beam, fret crowning file, and string gauge)
🏖️ Micromesh fret polishing pads
💂 Fret guards (lots of different options here, any will be suitable; I personally use blue painter’s tape)

If you need a refresher on how to set intonation, it’s essentially the same with any guitar:

There is some quirkiness with setting intonation on a wraparound bridge like what this Les Paul Special has, but that video will still help you.

How Does An Epiphone Les Paul Special I P-90 Limited Edition Sound?

The full sound demo is in the YouTube review of this guitar, but here is a short semi-produced demo with drums:

What Would I Upgrade?

If this is your first guitar I honestly don’t think it requires any mods or upgrades.

But if you want to keep this guitar for the long haul I might possibly upgrade the following:

  • Pickups
  • Tuners
  • Nut
  • Bridge

I like these P-90s a lot, surprisingly, but there are definitely better sounding pickups out there. So if you’re going for recording or live playing that might be something to look into.

As always I’d replace the tuners with locking tuners (not just because they make string changes fast & easy but also for better tuning stability from these cheap tuners). I haven’t had an issue with these cheap tuners so far but with cheap hardware like this it’s often a matter of when not if.

Finally, there are wraparound bridges with individual string adjustments and I like those, but if I’m being honest I probably would not upgrade the bridge unless I was having issues with intonation.

Epiphone Les Paul Special I P-90 Limited Edition Photo Gallery

Final Thoughts on the Epiphone Les Paul Special I P-90 Limited Edition

This is a great choice if you’re looking for a budget guitar with P-90s. The only other cheap guitars that have P-90s cost in the $200-300 range (Indio and Harley Benton brands come to mind). There is very little to dislike about this guitar and a lot to like. Kudos to Epiphone for this one.

As mentioned in the video review I don’t necessarily think a beginner should get a guitar with P-90s as a first guitar, but you could do worse than buying the Epiphone Les Paul Special I P-90 so I can definitely recommend it if that’s what you’re looking for.

Overall: 8.4 / 10.

Do you own a Epiphone SG Special I Limited Edition? Please let me know below what you like and dislike about it.

4 thoughts on “Is this CHEAP Epiphone with P-90s worth it? (Les Paul Special I P-90 guitar review)”

  1. I bought the Epiphone Les Paul Special with P-90 pickups a few years back, (I can’t remember when but it was around the time they first came out) so these are my thoughts.
    I got the so called “TV Yellow” model. I thought it was pleasing to the eye. It reminded me of some of the old vintage Melody Maker double cut LPs of old. (Like what Johnny Thunders and Billie Joe Armstrong played) But looks aren’t everything. I had been wanting a guitar with P-90 pick ups for some time. I already had a Gibson BFG LP with P-90 pick ups but that was a limited edition (They stopped making them as soon as they started) so I wanted something that I could afford, and was cheap enough to take out of the house. (I’m not gonna cry too much over a $150.00 guitar if anything happened to it)
    Well, there was no need to set it up. Other than a little tuning, (Which is to be expected when ordering by mail) it was pretty much perfect out of the box. No fret issues, no need for adjustments, etc. well, you get the idea. I could just strap it on and start playing.

    THE CON: It didn’t sound quite as good as my Gibson BFG LP. In fact, at first I didn’t really like the way it sounded at all, but the more I played it, the more that I started to think what this guitar might actually be GOOD for.

    For some reason, as I was messing around with it, Neil Young popped into my head, and all of a sudden I found myself playing Cinnamon Girl. It was PERFECT for Neil Young songs.

    I could bash it around and maybe get some good Ramones songs or maybe a Who cover or three, but it really seems to work best for Neil Young covers.

    So I’m slightly disappointed with it, but, if I ever want to do a whole Neil Young set, this would most certainly be my go to guitar for that.

    For everything else that you’d want a Les Paul with P-90 pick ups for, I’d recommend going with an Indio 66sb DLX Gold Top. (Just as good as the other guitars that run in the thousands, and I would put mine up against any guitar of that nature)

    Oh, one more thing I should mention about the Epiphone LP Special with P-90 pick ups: IT’S WEIGHT RELIEVED! It’s not heavy at all! It’s amazingly light weight for an LP Guitar. You said you wouldn’t recommend it for a beginner, but I think this is a good beginner guitar. It also would work for some grunge and perhaps some Black Sabbath style “Doom” metal.

    And, as of this writing, I just visited Musician’s Friend, and, even though it’s on back order, they still have them for about $150.00, so if anybody REALLY likes jamming Neil Young, and maybe wants to throw in some Ramones, Nirvana, Black Sabbath, and possibly some Who or Alice in Chains (If you’re REALLY adventurous) I would seriously recommend getting one of these. However, if you want to play something else, I’d look elsewhere, as I found the sound of this guitar a bit limiting and restrictive. Still a good guitar for the money, though.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Adam! I agree with pretty much everything you stated here.

      Note: I actually have an Indio 66SB DLX that I wanted to review but it arrived with a cracked neck. (Ugh, shipping companies, haha) It’s still playable but I can’t give it a full review in that condition. They sent it to me to review and I’m waiting for a replacement. But the regular price of that one is $250, even though it’s often 10-20% off.

      1. Last November, Monoprice had dropped the price of the 66sb DLX down to $200.00, and they SOLD OUT QUICKLY!
        I just visited Monoprice, and they’re getting a new stock in THIS WEEK, so you should be getting yours soon. Hopefully your new one will be in perfect condition when it arrives. When I got mine, all I had to do was tune it slightly. everything was PERFECT right out of the box.
        They are a bit heavy, like one would expect from a regular Les Paul, but they are amazing. They sound great, they handle well, and the neck was well rounded, but not impossible to navigate. (At least not for me)
        As I said previously, I would put it up against the more expensive model by the well known company I won’t name. (You know, the one that was once in Kalamazoo, Mich. but moved to Nashville, Tenn.)
        Can’t wait to read your review and thoughts on the Indio 66SB DLX once you receive yours.
        Have a good week.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optimized by Optimole