The LMP Z-Series™ Manifesto

Some changes are coming from Lawing Musical Products, the makers of Zexcoil® pickups.

We started this company about 7 years ago, after a preceding 2 or 3 years of development, to market our unique line of one-coil-per-string, hum-canceling pickups. We founded our company on a few underlying principles:

  1. A commitment to providing great products for the best price we could,
  2. A commitment to domestic supply and manufacturing, and
  3. A commitment to establishing a viable, independent and growing company that would help sustain us, as well as employ others, at a living wage.

We’ve learned a lot in these 10 years or so, both about the musical instrument business and about how to build great pickups. What we’re about to do now is borne out of both of those learnings.

We’ve come to realize that our relatively complicated pickup design is too expensive to produce, to the point that we can’t achieve all of our goals under the current paradigm. We needed to make some significant changes to how we produce these pickups to really become viable. What we’ve done is redesign the Zexcoil pickup to make it as inexpensive as we can. We’ve done this by eliminating redundant parts, commonizing parts where we could and streamlining the process required to build a pickup. As a result of this effort we have a less expensive pickup that retains the Core Zexcoil design, and because it’s inherently more efficient, sounds at least as good and in many ways better than our Legacy models. The only significant practical difference between our new Z-Series™ and Legacy™ Zexcoils is that the Z Series pickups are potted in their covers. This makes the Z-Series covers non-removable, while the Legacy pickups have interchangeable covers.

After much thought, we’ve also decided to continue with our direct internet business model. This allows us to cut out all of the middle men and give our customers the best possible price on these pickups. While we know that our superior performance can and always has commanded a premium, that’s not what this is about. It’s not about making as much money as possible. It’s about making enough money to be viable and sharing the benefits of our efficiencies with the end user as much as we possibly can.

So here’s what’s happening. Our model line and pricing structure will change significantly. We will be introducing the new Z Series pickups with the full range of analogs to our current Legacy models, and at the same time expanding our output range into the lower end of the scale, with new models that are closer to vintage pickup specifications than we have ever been.

Our Z-Core™ 5 family of pickups will be priced at $79.99. That’s 20% lower than any pickup we’ve offered to the general public before. The Z-Core product line represents pickups designed by us and assembled at our US partner factory, the same factory where our coils have always been wound. The initial Z-Core offerings will include our most popular voicings, with analogs to the Legacy SV5 and SV5O, and some new lower wind AlNiCo 5 voiced pickups that are closer to vintage single coil specs than anything we’ve ever made. These new lower wind sets are also designed for the same 250 kΩ controls that most conventional single coil equipped guitars use.

We will have a range of Custom Shop options based on the new Z-Series platform (including new Tele bridge pickups), with voicings analogous to our Legacy models, priced from $89.99 – 109.99. These Custom Shop models will include our 2, Fat 5, Convertible, Juicy and Throaty voicings. Custom Shop models will be built by us, and our handful of local builders, by hand. As demand warrants, we plan to migrate as many Z Series models as we can from the Custom Shop to the lower priced Z-Core line. Design and performance of Z-Series Custom Shop and Z-Core pickups are identical, the only difference being the economies of scale at which they are manufactured.

We will be offering a range of sets featuring 3 Z-Core 5s starting at only $225, and multiple options for mixed Z-Core/Custom Shop sets below $250. We also have Custom Shop Tele bridge/Z Core (Strat) neck sets starting at just $170.

We will continue to offer our Legacy product line through the Custom Shop, although the prices will be adjusted to reflect the realities of the costs involved in producing these pickups. We’ve designed the Z Series product line to cover all of the same bases as our Legacy pickups and there are Z Series analogs of just about every Legacy model. All of the new pickups incorporate the design concepts and philosophy of our Legacy products, in fact we believe that they represent the most advanced evolution of our approach to pickup design. The Z Series pickups are just a more efficient and streamlined version of the same great one-coil-per-string hum cancelling idea we’ve always had.

We will be raising the prices of our Legacy models to $129.99 with the full release of the Z-Core and Custom Shop Z-Series lines. We are targeting August 1, 2017 for the full release, and we will take orders for the Legacy models at the current prices up to that date.

 

How Does a Pickup Really Work?

In the first couple of installments, I outlined my early efforts at pickup development, up to the point at which the Zexcoil® platform as it currently exists was more or less solidified. Before we continue with the Zexcoil story, let’s set the stage. We’ll back up a bit and re-consider for a second what an electric guitar pickup is and how it really works.

An electric guitar pickup is an inductive sensor that consists, in its simplest form, of a coil wrapped around a permanently magnetic pole piece or pole pieces. This is the architecture of some of the most important and popular pickup designs, including the conventional Stratocaster® pickup (Figure 1). This inductive sensor sits below a ferromagnetic string. When the ferromagnetic string vibrates, a signal is generated in the coil. It is this signal that gets amplified to create the sound of an electric guitar.

But how, exactly, is this signal generated? The most common way you’ll see the string-pickup interaction represented is from a perspective that is centered on the magnetic field of the pickup (Figure 2). In this interpretation, the magnetic field of the pickup gets “disturbed” by the vibrations of the string. The ferromagnetic string, because of its magnetic permeability (which we will talk about in more detail in a later post) kind of pulls the pickup’s field around as it vibrates, causing the coil to generate a signal in response to this changing magnetic field. This is the perspective on pickup function that you’ll generally see in books, websites and forum posts written by pickup winders, guitar players and gear heads. Go ahead and search, “how does an electric guitar pickup work?”, and this is almost all of what you’ll get, in one form or another. It’s easy to see why, given the prevalence of this perspective, that the role of the magnetic field geometry of the pickup itself has been given so much emphasis in the discussion of pickup design, tonality and performance.

But there’s another perspective, one that is more prevalent in books about pickups written by physicists and engineers (Figure 3). It’s also the one put forth by the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (but, hey what do they know, they’re just Scientists). This interpretation is centered on the string itself as a magnet. The magnetic field of the pickup creates a magnetic dipole in the string in the region above the pole piece. When the string vibrates, it becomes a source of flux, essentially a magnet moving in the vicinity of the coil. In this model, the coil is simply a receiver of the magnetic flux being generated by the moving magnetized portion of the string.

These are two fundamentally different mechanisms of signal generation. In the first, the important part of the equation is the magnetic field of the pickup, and it’s the movement of the pickup’s own field lines that create the signal. The second mechanism, where the string itself is a vibrating magnet, doesn’t really require that the pickup has a magnetic field of its own at all, as long as the string becomes magnetized.

But which is correct? Let’s do an experiment to find out. We built a Zexcoil pickup, complete with everything but magnets. It still has the coils, ferromagnetic pole pieces and structural elements, just no magnets and no magnetic field of its own. We take this no magnet pickup and we suspend it above the guitar, so that it is the same distance from the strings as the magnetized pickup installed in the guitar. Then we switch between them.

What do you think happens?

If the pickup centric model is correct, then the no magnet pickup should generate a much weaker signal than the magnetized pickup installed in the guitar since it is sitting in a region of lower magnetic field strength, as illustrated in Figure 4. The strength of the field generated by the magnetized pickup decays rapidly with distance, and since the no magnet pickup has no field of its own, it would only be getting signal from the fluctuating field lines of the relatively distant magnetized pickup.

 

 

If the string centric model is correct, the signals from the two pickups would be equal in strength, as illustrated in Figure 5, since they are both equidistant from the vibrating magnetized string, the source of the magnetic flux.

 

 

Watch this video for the answer:

Surprise! Much of what you thought you knew about how pickups work is wrong, or at least incomplete. The most important aspect of electric guitar pickup function appears to be as a receiver of magnetic flux, not a generator of magnetic field. In fact both of these electromagnetic phenomena occur in real life, and may be important to varying degrees in different situations. But as the video shows, a Zexcoil pickup with no magnet at all generates a nearly identical signal level and tonal response compared to the standard Zexcoil pickup, indicating that the string-as-a-vibrating-magnet mechanism is more important in 6 string electric guitar pickups.

So we can see that the role of the pole piece as a magnet, as well as the role of the magnetic field generated by the pickup, has been greatly exaggerated. Our simple experiment shows that the most important function of the pole piece as a magnet is to magnetize the string, and the most important magnetic field to be concerned with is the field associated with the vibrating string, not the static field associated with the pickup itself. In some sense, and for the purposes of this analysis, as long as the string is magnetized we can effectively neglect that the pickup encompasses a magnet at all. The most important role of the pole piece in shaping tone then, is not as a generator of magnetic field, but as a receiver of the magnetic flux radiated from the vibrating string. In this string centric view, the importance of the pole piece as a concentrator and filter of the magnetic flux becomes much more obvious. I will get into more detail about the exact role of the pole piece in coloring the tone and the physics of how and why this works in future posts.

That’s a lot to digest, and I’m sure some of your heads are exploding based on my shattering your pickup centric view of the magnetics, so we’ll leave it there for now and pick up again next time.

Evolution of Zexcoil® - Part 2

Evolution of Zexcoil® - Part 2

The Physics of Hum-Cancelling

Any hum-cancelling pickup comprises at least two coils consisting of both coil windings and magnetic fields oriented in opposite directions. Why does this work and why do we need to do it this way? Well, what is the noise that we refer to as “hum”? Hum results from the magnetic component associated with the AC power running through our walls and that powers our equipment. Electric fields are always accompanied by a coupled and associated magnetic field and vice versa. 

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