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What pickup should I put in my acoustic guitar?

Much of our email correspondence with customers is dedicated to answering this question. It should be said at the outset that pretty much any pickup solution is a compromise. There is no way to duplicate the sound of wood vibrating from strings. Guitar manufacturer's spend years designing bracing systems and guitar shapes and wood types in order to create the best tone qualities. There is no that this sound can be adequatley transmitted through wires and maintain its integrity. However, acoustic sounds do not carry all that well when being played before hundreds of screaming fans. We need to think of a way to electromically transmit these tones as carefully as possible.

Playing your guitar into high end microphones can produce perhaps the clearest representation of tones. However, this is not always practical on stage. There are even times when playing on sage that the actual tone of an acoustic guitar may not be the desired or appropriate tone for the job. There have been several very good amplification system produced. We will try to give a summary of the basic pick-up systems here.

There are basically four pickup systems to consider: the undersaddle, soundboard, soundhole and microphone. The undersaddle is typically a pietzo strip that fits under the saddle. This system picks up the vibrations from the strings through the saddle while picking up some of the soundboard wood tembre. This system is typically fairly feedback resistant but tends to be somewhat non-natural sounding. This is by far the most typical system used. The soundboard is typically a strip that is applied under the soundboard near the bridge. These work on the vibrations of the soundboard and often provide a much more accurate tonal reproduction. These can cause some feedback concerns. The soundhole pickup is typically a magnetic pickup system that works off the vibration of the strings. These often offer a more full mid to lower endand are fairly feedback resistant. Microphones can pick up an accurate representation. When mounted outboard the guitar is restricted by remaining near this microphone. When mounted inside the guitar there is often a woofing sound to deal with. This system is most prone to feedback issues.

Each of these systems can be provided as passive systems - with no pre-amp added. The signal can tend to be weak when run through a system. Many systems are provided with a pre-amp system mounted in the guitar. Some of these mount in the side of the guitar, some mounted inside the guitar, some in the endpin jack. You can also acquire an external pre-amp system that boosts the signal. These can also provide some tone modifications like EQ or phase.

Guitar mounted pickup systems offer great flexibilty. However this flexibility often comes with a price; that is tonal compromise. Several systems combine these pickup systems thereby using the strenghth of one system against the weaknesses of another. For instance you can have the clarity and punch of an undersaddle pietzo mixed with an inboard mounted microphone. The mike can mix in a bit of the airy woody tones.  At low volumes the mike can be fairly resistant to feedbak while softening the harsh piezto tones.

You will need to consider several items in considering the system for you:

  • Do you primarily play acoustically or electrically? Public or recording?
  • In what size venue will you be using this system?
  • What size band will you be playing with?
  • What woods make up your guitar?
  • What is your playing style; strumming, fingerstyle, lead?
  • Do you mind making modifications to your guitar to install the system?

If you play public with a large band you will likely need a pickup that can cut through all the peripheral (drums, lead singer, keyboard) noises. Best bet is usually a soundhole magnetic or an undersaddle transducer. These may tend to offer the least accurate reproduction but when you need punch and volume the actual tone quality of an acoustic guitar may not be the best shot. The brands we carry do an excellent job of reproducing tones yet providing punch.

If you play solo or smaller venues you may want to look at some of the dual source units. There is always benefit in being able to modify your tones from one type of pickup to another. A soundboard pickup offers a more airy tone but just doesn't typically carry the punch. Dual source system can be a bit more pricey and may need some EQ modifiactions but typically offer a very pleasing sound.



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