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Reviews and Compliments

"You wouldn't think there could be anything really new in guitar pickups, but Scott Petersen keeps coming up with one great idea after another"...Buddy Minx

Vintage Guitar Magazine-Tom Guerra


Vintage Guitar Magazine-Tony Nobles

'Choosing a Pickup'

Top Tele Pickups:

"Amongst this group were a few great pickups...I'll rank them in order, according to my taste:

  • Harmonic Design Super 90
  • Barden "T"
  • Fralin Vintage
  • Duncan Nashville
  • Fralin Steel Pole
  • Duncan Hot Rails
  • Duncan Broadcaster
  • Duncan Quarter Pound

Top Rated: The Harmonic Design Super-90 "Almost ideal, my favorite."

"This pickup is constructed like a P-90 that fits a Tele. It does not attempt to recreate a Vintage sound, but rather attempts to create the ideal sound. The pickup retains the clarity associated with single-coil pickups, but delivers a much bigger tone. The adjustable pole-pieces allow for great balance.
The output is mid-scale, the texture is very smooth, with the right amount of high-end to my ears. The pickup does not color the tone of the guitar as much as other pickups with its level of output, and also it is very dynamic and responsive."

Guitar Player Magazine, Editor Art Thompson

From an article comparing various pickups tested in the same guitar

"With the active EMG module, the Dodge Convertable Guitar instantly became louder and almost painfully bright."

"The Lace Sensors yielded smooth, brown tones with little definition."

"Duncan Custom humbuckers with a switchable preamp offered tons of gain, but tended to sound muddy and compressed."

"The punchiest and most robust sounds were delivered by Harmonic Design Z-90 pickups. These humbucker-size units offer the tough, effervescent tones you'd expect from P-90's. They sounded as if they were on steroids, producing a ballsy tone that was right in the middle of a humbucker and a single-coil. The Z90's proved a perfect match for this guitar."

ToneQuest Magazine

Cover Story

"These pickups are Harmonic Design's stellar Z-90's, created to fit in a standard Humbucking rout. Cool appearance aside, the tone of these pickups is not to be believed. Peter Stroud (Sheryl Crow) and I used this guitar for several afternoons of tube evaluation in Fender and Marshall amps, and we were both mightily impressed with the range, depth and characteristic 'exploding tone' of these pickups."

Sweet Harmonic

Harmonic Design Z-90 Pickup

By Scott G. Laurence Immedia Wire Service

If you want the biggest sound from an electric guitar, you need to consider getting a custom-designed, hand-made pickup. That's why some of the most respected guitarists have taken the time to work with an electronics expert to get their pickups to sound exactly they way they want. But what happens when the long research-and-development phase is over? Sometimes the unique tone remains just that: unique. But often, the tonal secrets are put into a new line of pickups that are built on a more-or-less regular basis. They can still be hand-made, but the cost can now come down because all the experimenting is done.

This means you can afford to put a set of superb pickups in your guitar for not that much more than you'd pay for a so-called high-output set of mass-produced pickups. One of the best places to find this type of custom pickup is Harmonic Design in Bakersfield, California. Scott Petersen, Harmonic Design's owner, has made more than 14,000 pickups since founding his company in 1983, and they've been used by artists working with everyone from Elvis Presley and country-rock legend James Burton to jazz great Larry Carlton and pop icon David Bowie. Some of the endorsement guitars from the biggest name-brand company's custom shops are actually fitted with HD pickups.

Harmonic Design sent me one of their Z-90 Vintage Plus pickups (list price $149) to put into one of my guitars. The Z-90 is an ultra-wide single coil that was developed to replace traditional humbuckers. Now, let me say that I love the sound of some humbucking pickups, such as the new Tony Iommi signature 'buckers from Gibson, which are about as creamy smooth as anything on the market. But let's face it, most production line humbuckers have a somewhat constricted sound.

Some time ago, I acquired an inexpensive guitar that had a great neck but very poor electronics. Needless to say, it had a cheesy humbucker. I recorded this pawnshop special using a variety of settings, then took the guitar to Nick Roubas of String Instrument Repair for the installation.

Roubas has a great reputation among musicians. He's honest. He's fair. He's friendly. He's a pro. And although he will work on your guitar, the name of his shop is quite literally correct: if it's a string instrument, he'll take a look at it. Symphonic players entrust him with rare violins worth tens of thousands of dollars.

After installing the Z-90, Roubas praised the tone: "The sound is just plain bigger than most humbuckers. It's deep and sparkling at the same time, with a sound that's a bit like the old Gibson P-90s, but without much noise. The pole pieces -- the magnets -- are physically larger than in almost any other pickup ever made. That boosts the output, and gives you a richer tone even when you're bending strings a whole step." By utilizing a larger single coil design, the HD Z-90 gives you extended dynamic range and increased sensitivity to how you play, which is part of the reason they seem so expressive to everyone who uses one.

Tone-hound G.E. Smith of the Saturday Night Live Band raved about the "huge sound and incredible harmonic spread" of the Z-90 after dropping one into his vintage '58 Dot-neck 335.

In playing my now-valued pawnshop prize, it's a lot more fun to switch to the 'bucker position, instead of going for it only when I need to avoid a problem with hum. I recorded the same riffs under the same settings as with the old pickup, then played them back-to-back through a studio rig using an Audio Centron RMA-1650 power amp and Yamaha NS-10M near field monitors. The results were extremely impressive in favor of the Harmonic Design Z-90. Even adjusting the volume down when playing back the Z-90 samples couldn't hide the richness and fullness of the tone.

During the past week, I played the before-and-after tape and received the following comments about the Harmonic Design Z-90: "Wow." "Whoa, that's a great sound." "Big sound." "Very Cool." "It has that full range where you just seem to hear and feel everything." And finally, the most bottom-line comment of them all: "Where can I get one?"

The Tech:

Nick Roubas, String Instrument Repair 7507 Sunset Blvd., 2nd Flr. Hollywood, CA 90046 (323) 851-9998