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You are here: Home > Advice > Acoustic Guitar Advice Page > Acoustic Guitar Pickups

Acoustic Guitar Pickups

Acoustic Guitar Pickups & Electronics

If you’ll be plugging your guitar into a sound system or PA, you’ll want to think about the electronics that allow you guitar to be amplified. Sometimes it’s most cost effective to buy a guitar with electronics already installed. However, some people want to select a specific type of pickup for their guitar than the one the guitar manufacturer installs, so they will buy the guitar without any electronics installed, buy the pickup, and then install it themselves or have a guitar shop do it for them. There are a few different types of pickups.

Electromagnetic Soundhole Pickups

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This is the most basic type of guitar pickup, and as the name implies, this pickup fits into the soundhole of your guitar. People like to use these types of pickups because they can usually be had for pretty cheap, they are easy to install, and they don’t require any permanent installation or modification to your guitar.Also if you have an electric guitar amplifer you don't need to buy another amp.

The pickup senses the movement of the strings through a magnetic field, which is then transmitted into sound that can be amplified out of your guitar. Out of all the pickups, these can be the most resistant to feedback, which makes them great if you are going to be playing in loud, live settings.

Some people complain that these pickups don’t do a good job of picking up the nuances of your sound. Some also complain that the pickup looks ugly because it mounts in the soundhole of the guitar and usually requires you to run a wire out from the soundhole across the top of your guitar unless you install the wire and drill a hole into the body of the guitar.

Some popular choices for soundhole pickups are the Seymour Duncan Woody, Fishman Neo-D02 and the Fishman Rare Earth Pro-Rep-102.

Microphone Pickup

Microphones tend to give you the most accurate representation of the actual sound of your guitar over any other pickup. They directly capture the sound of the instrument and convert it into an electrical signal which can then be amplified. The downside is feedback can be a huge issue if you are onstage or in a setting that has a lot of stage noise.

One solution to combat feedback is to place the microphone inside the guitar closer to the sound source (the strings). However, in doing this, you end up isolating the microphone to pickup a smaller region of the sound source.

Contact (Soundboard and Under-saddle) Pickups

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Contact pickups are placed directly on the guitar, which then detect and convert vibrations of the instrument into electrical signals, which can be amplified as sound. Some might refer to contact pickups as piezo pickups. Generally, there are two different locations contact pickups can be placed on the guitar: on the soundboard or under the saddle.These pickups need to be ampifed by either acoustic guitar combos,keyboard combos or a PA system.

The soundboard of the guitar simply refers to the top of the guitar. The top of the guitar vibrates and produces sound when you strum, which makes it a good place to put a contact pickup. Soundboard pickups look like little discs no bigger than a quarter, and usually, you will put two or three on the soundboard to capture the sound of the instrument. For a less permanent installation, you can actually place the contact pickups on the outside of the top of your guitar. For a more permanent installation, you can place these pickups on inside of your guitar underneath the top.

Some popular choices for soundboard pickups are the Shadow---- and the Fishman SBT-E .

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Under-saddle pickups

look like a little bar of wire, which are made out of a piezo material, and as the name implies, they are placed underneath the saddle of your guitar. The saddle is the piece of plastic (or bone) that the strings lay over top of connecting to the bridge of your guitar. Under-saddle pickups might be the most popular transducers used by performing artists. They are almost immune to feedback like soundhole pickups, but offer a much more clearer and accurate sound of the actual instrument next to that of a microphone. Compared to other pickups, under-saddle pickups are probably the most difficult to install since you might have to drill a hole for the wire and widen or deepen the saddle slot.We do recomend that you have these installed by a guitar techincian.Please phone for costings.

Source (Blender) Pickup

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Some electronics systems will blend an internal microphone with an under-saddle pickup. A “blender” system like this allows you to control how much of the microphone is being outputted and how much the under-saddle pickup is being outputted. Guitar players using this system will often set the internal microphone to be only high enough to portray the nuances of the guitar in the overall sound that a microphone captures while using the other pickup to account for most of the sound. This allows you to combat feedback while still being able to use an internal microphone,

These systems can be pretty pricey, but many people will tell you they are completely worth it if you are serious about getting the best acoustic guitar tone. Some popular choices for blender systems are the Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend and the Fishman Rare Earth Blend Soundhole Pickup A lot of people though will get a separate onboard or external preamp from the microphone and pickup.

Evaluating Pickups

Now that you know about the types of pickups, it’s important to try a few or several to see how well they work with your guitar. Some pickups may bleed off the high-end, others may have a more pronounced mid-range, still others may really bring out the bass.

As a rule of thumb, a more expensive pickup doesn’t necessarily transfer to “better.” Sometimes they’re just more expensive. So trying out, listening to, and reading reviews on several pickups before you buy a guitar is ultra-important.

In general, what you want to look for in terms of sound is how well the pickups reproduce the natural sound of your guitar; that is, the pickup should have a fairly flat EQ response, or have sliders or knobs that will allow you to dial in a flat EQ response. The best way to determine the EQ response is to plug directly into a PA system and not an acoustic amp that will add its own texturing. Going direct should give you a very close approximation of the natural sound. If you can’t dial in a decent tone, then chances are, you won’t want to get that pickup.