Your Source For Steel Guitar Pickups


Z Series pickups utilize the industry standard wide or narrow mount bases and will mount on any steel guitar that uses this mounting arrangement.  The Z series pickups are approximately the same height as most popular steel pickups and should mount using the same screws and springs or surgical tubing as previously used.  Note that the uninsulated red wire solder terminal on the underside of the pickup cannot touch any metal or the pickup will be grounded out, therefore a plastic guard is provided to prevent this.  Guitars with pickup mounting plates (some MSA, Emmons, Rains, possibly others) will require ¼ inch tall spacers to mount the pickup flat and allow room for the cable and pole screws underneath the pickup.

The pickup uses a foil shielded cable with red, black, and a drain wire.  The red wire is the hot and the black wire is ground.  The uninsulated shield drain wire and the black wire should be twisted together and soldered to the ground point. To gain access to the wires the outer jacket must be removed.  This can be done several ways, but the recommended approach is to use a standard wire multi tool, these are readily available at hardware stores.

Using the 14 GA Solid 16 GA Stranded wire strip setting, hold the tool stationary and slowly clamp the jaws together to cut the jacket, after you do it a few times its easy to feel when the jacket is cut. The 3 interior wires are slightly smaller than a round 14 Gauge wire and will not be nicked from the clamping.  Now that the outer jacket is pierced, release some of the pressure on tool handle, and then the jacket can be pulled free and slide off the interior wires.  It is important to release some pressure or sometimes one of the wires can be nicked in the process.  It is recommended to practice this a couple time before the cable is cut to final length.

In addition to the shielded cable, it is recommended to shield the entire pickup cavity to the aluminum surround using adhesive backed copper shielding tape.  The aluminum side walls of the cavity should be grounded already, but the flat bottom may be bare wood or an ungrounded plate.  Apply the shielding tape so all surfaces have electrical continuity.  There are multiple videos on youtube that show this process, search “shielding a guitar”.

The recommended spacing of the pickup  from the strings is 1/8 inch to 3/16 inch from the top of the pickup to the bottom edge of the strings.  It works best to get the overall height set first for desired tone, and then adjust the pole pieces for balanced relative volume between the strings.

The design intent is that the majority of the pole pieces are flush with top of the pickup.  This creates the most even and efficient magnetic field to the strings, with the pole pieces working in concert with the two outer rows of magnets.  Therefore, if a particular string is louder than the others, adjust its pole piece down, rather than adjusting the others up.

These pickups are designed to operate into a resistance of 100K to 1 Meg ohms, and as with all pickups the tone will change somewhat depending on the resistance, with higher resistances being brighter.  If you use a 500K pot pedal into a Peavey amp with an input resistance of 220K, the pickup is operating into the parallel resistance of 153K ohms.  Active volume pedals often have an input resistance of 1 meg-ohm and will be brighter.  The resistance can also be easily varied by soldering a resistor across the output jack of your steel.  If you are using a active pedal with input resistance of 1 meg-ohm, and you solder a 220K resistor across the jack the pickup is now seeing a parallel resistance of 180K ohms.  There are also various preamps available where the input resistance is adjustable.

Below are frequency response graphs for the Z series pickups which were generated in circuit simulation software, and they illustrate what happens at different resistances.  As you can see, it’s predominantly the 2 kHz to 5 kHz range that is affected by the resistive loading.  Adjusting the resistance gives a different result than the adjusting the treble knob on your amp, which affects all frequencies above roughly 500 Hz.  One approach that I find works well is to set the amp treble so the lower strings have the correct tonal balance, and then adjust the pickup resistance to dial in the tonal balance on the high strings.  Since the pickup resistance is affecting only 2 kHz and above it has very little affect on the low string tonal balance.