Choosing the right acoustic guitar pickup can make a significant difference in the sound quality and performance of your instrument in live situations. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming to determine which pickup is the best fit for you and your guitar. So how do you choose which pickup is right for your guitar?

Types of Acoustic Guitar Pickups

There are several types of pickups available for acoustic guitars, and each type has its unique features and benefits. The most common types of pickups are:

Piezo Pickups

Piezo pickups are by far the most common type of acoustic guitar pickups. They work by converting the vibrations of the guitar's soundboard into an electrical signal. Piezo pickups are typically mounted under the bridge saddle or on the soundboard and produce a bright, clear sound that emphasises the high and midrange frequencies. 

The LR Baggs Element, Fishman Infinity and Pro-Sys and Martin Gold Plus are good examples of piezo pickups.

Magnetic Pickups

Magnetic pickups work by using a magnetic field to detect the strings' vibrations. They are similar to the pickups found in electric guitars and produce a warm, natural sound that emphasises the lower frequencies, and are usually easily placed in the soundhole of an acoustic guitar. One notable downside to these pickups is that they perform best with Nickel strings, limiting your choice of strings.

The most popular magnetic pickups include the LR Baggs M1 and Fishman Rare Earth and NEO-D pickups.

Microphone Pickups

Microphone pickups use a small microphone or a combination of microphones to capture the guitar's sound. They produce a natural, warm sound that is well-suited for fingerpicking and strumming. Microphone pickups tend to emphasise higher frequencies, but can lack clarity in the low end, which is why the are often paired with another pickup system for a balanced tone.

The most well-known microphone pickup available is the LR Baggs Lyric, which is a perfect accompaniment to a piezo or transducer system, but also sounds great as a stand-alone pickup.

Soundboard Transducer Pickups

Technically, piezo pickups are a form of transducer, but generally when we refer to transducers we're talking about contact pickups that sit on the inside or outside of the soundboard. These pick up vibrations in the same way as a transducer, but are designed to pick up more of the body of the guitar as opposed to the bridge. These pickups give a natural, full-bodied and woody tone, but require careful EQ'ing to shape the sound and avoid feedback.

The K&K Pure Mini is the all-time classic transducer pickup, known for its sweet and natural tone. The Journey Instruments JourneyTek and Schaller Oyster pickups are also great transducers at a lower price point.

Dual Source and Hybrid Systems

Probably the most popular systems available are those that utilise more than one pickup source to create a fuller, more realistic tone. The LR Baggs Anthem is an industry standard, combining an Element Piezo with a Lyric microphone, along with a powerful onboard preamp, and similar systems are available from Fishman.

 

Passive or Active?

An important part of the pickup puzzle is whether to choose an 'active' or 'passive' system. An active pickup system has a preamp onboard, along with a battery to power the preamp. The preamp may be inside the endpin jack, or may be mounted on the inside or outside of the guitar, along with volume and tone-shaping controls. Some side-mounted pickups even include a tuner. There are several benefits to active pickups: as well as easy-to-access tone-shaping, the preamp buffers the raw pickup element and gives it enough gain to plug in directly to most PA systems, DI boxes and amplifiers without any extra equipment.

A passive system has no electronics or battery in the guitar, making it simpler, lighter and more durable. However, the tone of most passive systems can vary depending on the input impedance of what you plug into, and usually require some form of EQ and gain before it reaches your amplifier. Combining a passive pickup with an external preamp, EQ pedal and active DI box usually gives the best results, and systems such as the Fishman Aura or LR Baggs Voiceprint will have all of these features in one box.

Sound Quality

The most critical factor in choosing a pickup is the sound quality. You want to choose a pickup that produces a sound that you like and that complements your playing style. Experiment with different pickups to find the one that best suits your preferences.

Installation

Consider the installation process and whether it is something you can do yourself or if you need to take your guitar to a professional. Some pickups require drilling or other modifications to your guitar, which may affect its resale value.

Compatibility

Make sure the pickup you choose is compatible with your guitar. Some pickups are designed to work with specific guitar models or styles, so be sure to choose one that will work with your instrument. Of particular note with piezo pickups is the width of your saddle slot - most companies have multiple sizes available to suit different guitars.

Cost

Pickups can range in price from under $50 to almost $1000, so it's essential to consider your budget when choosing a pickup. Keep in mind that the most expensive pickup is not always the best, and there are plenty of high-quality options available at a reasonable price.

Versatility

Consider the versatility of the pickup and whether it is suitable for different playing styles and genres. Some pickups may be better suited for fingerpicking or strumming, while others may be more versatile and suitable for a wide range of playing styles.

 

Choosing the right acoustic guitar pickup can make a significant difference in the sound quality and performance of your instrument. Consider the sound quality, installation process, compatibility, cost, and versatility when choosing a pickup that best suits your preferences and playing style. With the right pickup, you can enhance your sound and take your playing to the next level.

Check out our full range of acoustic guitar pickups here.


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