GuitarsMark Knopfler gearMiscRecordingVintage guitars

Installing a Highlander iP-1X – The best pick-up for the National resonator guitar

I have my National for some years now but never found the time, money, and courage to install a pick-up into this sensitive instrument. But a few weeks ago I decided to order what is said to be the best available pick-up for single cone Nationals: the iP-1X pick-up from Highlander – the same model that Mark Knopfler has in both his beautiful 1937 National and his new National.
I bought it new on ebay for USD 239 (169,- €), quite a lot of money for just a pick-up with an internal pre-amplifier, well, but a lot cheaper than the recommended retail price of USD 329.

What is always annoying here in Germany is that you have to pay not only customs (which in this case were only 2.7 %) but also 19% VAT, and this not only on the price of the item but also on the shipping costs (!?). You even have to pick-up the package from the local customs office.

In the box were the pick-up itself which is installed into a new biscuit (the piece of wood that holds the bridge) – so you have to exchange your old biscuit – the pre-amp which has to be installed in the interior of the guitar, a case for the external battery (replacing batteries inside of a National is no fun and puts stress on the cone construction), a guitar cable (stereo, one lead for the 9v battery power), and some velco tape to fix the cables inside the body of the guitar.

Highlander iP-1X

Installing the pick-up

Unfortunately this is a job that is not easily done, and does not take just a few minutes. The new biscuit with its bridge is much higher than the original one and has no grooves. It took me almost three hours to transfer the shape and height of the original bridge to a cardboard template, then to transfer it from the template to the new bridge, to cut it out roughly with a fret saw, to fine tune the contours with a file, and to saw the new grooves, again using the template. Of course I did this extremely carefully and slowly because I was afraid to cause some irreversible damage. Fortunateley the new bridge soon looked fine and was ready to install.

This picture shows the difference in height and shape of the bridges
This picture shows the difference in height and shape of the bridges. The old biscuit looks much cooler, doesn't it - but you don't see much of it when installed into the guitar.
I used such a cardboard template to transfer the bridge contour
I used such a cardboard template to transfer the bridge contour
The new biscuit after sawing
The new biscuit after sawing
From the installation description - you need to pierce a hole into the cone
From the installation description - you need to pierce a hole into the cone

Normally you would ask a good local luthier for this job, but (a) there was noone near who had experience with Nationals and this pick-up, and (b) I like to do all kind of jobs on my guitar myself anyway. An experienced repair man surely will get this job done much quicker than me.

The external case for the battery
The external case for the battery

One thing that worried me was the fact that you need to drill a small hole into the cone (!) for the cable from the pick-up to the pre-amp. Besides two tiny screw holes on the wood stick inside the body to hold the pre-amp, this is the only irreversible modification of your guitar. I was reluctant when I learned about this before I ordered the pick-up because the cone is extremely sensitive, and also in my opinion a major sound difference between a vintage instrument and a new National. The hole could be pierced with a small prick first, then carefully drilled to 2,5 mm (3/32 “).  After threading the pick-up cable through the hole, I had to solder the RCA connector to the cable that is plugged into the pre-amp.

The rest was easy: the pre-amp is held by 2 little screws, like Mark Knopfler I used the f-hole for the output jack (no drilling required), and fixed all internal cables with the velcro tape.

The sound

After restringing the instrument, I was extremely curious how it will sound. I went directly from the pre-amp into the mixing desk and played the guitar over my studio monitors. What should I say, the sound was …. wonderful, sounds as you hear it from Knopfler’s guitar on his live recordings. The output seems to be rather hot, and the pick-up delivers the full range from bass, middle, to treble end. It is so balanced that I even did not have to adjust any EQ, sounded fine as it was. After adding some reverb it was perfect. I also could not detect any sound difference with the acoustic sound. Even at high volume I did not get any feedback problems, great!

Now it was also time to add a strap button to the heel of the neck so that I could play the guitar when standing, something I did not need before. I did not produce any sound clips because it really sounds just like the recent Knopfler live recordings (he had different pick-ups installed in the past I think), listen to Romeo & Juliet on the roadrunning live CD for example.

I would give 5 stars for this product.

9 thoughts on “Installing a Highlander iP-1X – The best pick-up for the National resonator guitar

  1. Ingo,

    respect that you did it on your own (even more respect that you did it on a vintage). I was to afraid to do this on my own so I let it install by national for 270$ (including pickup costs of course) and it sounds great. The only problem was that the stereo cable that arrived with guitar is not working (looses contact steadily) and I even don’t know where to order such cable. I also hate customs. In my country (Croatia) they ask 23% VAT (transport costs included). Right now I’m trying to install a strap button on the neck too.

  2. Good on you for installing the Highlander. I had to order a new cone due to an accident (be careful shipping resonators by plane, any impact to the coverplate will compress/damage the cone which is the only thing holding the strings/bridge up. In doing so I removed the piezo tail from the biscuit to get old cone off, rather than de soldering RCA plug.
    So I had to reinstall tail into biscuit bridge, be CAREFUL doing this, use a knitting needle to press it into the circular croove very gradually. The preference is to unsolder the RCA to release the piezo and remove cone.
    The guitar works fine …. just some friendly advice here! I was sweating a bit I must say.
    No duty in Australia, just shipping. Expensive enough though but it is the only pickup for a resonator.

  3. I found the highlander to be one of the worst sounding pickups ever made period!
    infact to my ears it sounds distincly out of phase, I bought a new tricone with one installed and to be honest I was horrified as were many others who heard the pickup, I have a very early resolectric which ive gigged with for years it has a LR baggs and a chandlers on its a nice sounding instrument for a chipboard body ,the tricone was purchased to replace the reso ,however i have since sold the tricone never to purchase another contemporary national again (overpriced cheaply made) if you are thinking of purchasing a highlander I highly recommend that you play an instrument with one fitted first …..

  4. Hmm, I admit I did not a/b compare it to any other solution. It sounds great in Mark’s guitar, much better than what he had before I think. In my guitar it really sounds nice out of the box, very naturally. Maybe yours was defective or not installed properly?

    I’ll try to make a demo video of it…

    Ingo

  5. Perhaps they have rectified the problem but my experience was a genuine one
    I still have the actual unit in my workshop some were, I might get it out and get a friend to have a look at it, as it really does sound out of phase .This can easily happen by reversing the initial input wiring, perhaps mine was just a mistake, but at the time i can remember reading a few complaints like mine . One of the finest units ive ever heard is Takamine I just purchased a Tak NP-15c which is an old guitar now roughly about 10 years old, but the overall sound plugged into a PA or recording deck is simply awesome, my Reso with the lr baggs and the chandlers is great, but the taks sound when plugged in gets you really inspired, I guess my point is “one mans meat is anothers poison” “theres one way to get get the best sound for your instrument you can get” and thats by taking your time and A B (test out) as many pickups as you can

  6. I had a highlander installed in my resophonic and was pleased with the result. However, when I played it at a gig with my band, it seemed to feedback from he bass guitar. The first unit stopped working and highlander replaced it. Played it again and the same problem occurred, although cut the volume immediately (hopefully the pickup still works). Has anyone else had this problem? Helpful suggestions welcome. Thank you.

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