While the Highland Royal HEG-500 was a fantastic playing guitar, the pickups were just too hot and a bit unmatched sounding. Make no mistake; the guitar was capable of some good sounds stock, but I wanted to up the ante and get some great tones. Based on all the hype surrounding GFS Mean 90’s on several forums and the very affordable price point of around $70 a pair, I decided to give them a shot.
Getting access to the wiring within a semi-hollow is already a tough job and in this case, all the wiring was bundled, wrapped, and tightly secured to prevent any wires from being seen through the f-holes. I tied a string to one of the volume pots and fished it through the f-hole to look at the wiring and saw that the existing humbucking pickups were single conductor. As such, I replaced the volume knob and chose the cheap and easy route of switching the pups…cutting the leads in the pickup cavity and soldering the new pickups to the old pickup leads. To keep the newly soldered hot lead from accidentally shorting out, I neatly wrapped the joint with a small square of duct tape.
The GFS Mean 90’s are a great complement to the guitar. While I did lose some of the fat warmth of the neck pickup, I picked up better definition and a tighter low-end. In the bridge position, the swap is a huge upgrade, smoothing out the highs and adding a much needed low-mid growl. The output is now more medium in nature versus the overly hot stock Alnico 5 humbuckers, allowing a much wider usable dynamic range. Additionally, the pups are matched extremely well and are very complementary to each other. Much to my surprise, the Mean 90’s are also fairly quiet despite their single coil design requiring a hefty amount of gain before exhibiting an excessive amount of hiss. My only gripe is aesthetic in nature: the neck pole pieces do not line up directly under the strings. While it does take slightly away from this otherwise very beautiful guitar, the improvement in tone more than makes up for it.