All guitar players are aware of the superb benefits of having a pickup on your guitar. It helps create an electric sound to amplify your guitar’s sound especially when you’re playing to an audience and need volume. What you may not know is the importance of choosing the right pickup for your acoustic-electric guitar.
I play my acoustic guitar every day on my couch and it’s always fun to keep practicing. Playing the guitar is a nice way for me to wound my week as its rich tone calms me. Besides, playing in the house on my own, I sometimes play for my friends and family and I make use of a pickup. The pickup is a great way of amplifying my sound, especially during my novice days.
So, why not get your hands on a new pickup for your acoustic guitar to enhance your playing? In this review, I have highlighted some of the best pickups for your acoustic guitar, their features as well as advantages to guide you when you go to make a purchase.
Best acoustic guitar pickups – A Comparison Table
LR Baggs Anthem Pickup
It has Mix, Volume, Phase, Mic Level, and Check controls
It has a Soundhole-mounted controller
Comes with an in-guitar microphone
There's a battery check feature
Check Price Pickup
K&K Pure Mini Pickup
It has 3 transducers
Fishman Matrix Infinity
It contains a stereo/mono output switching
The battery check is LED
The connections are solderless
It has a blend control
It comes with a tap body sensor
Installing it may require expertise
DiMarzio Acoustic DP138 Pickup
It has a volume control
There's a 10ft cable
The installation difficulty is low
DiMarzio Black Angel Pickup
The Soundhole is magnetic
The phase switch is inbuilt
It has a 10ft quick-mount cable
LR Baggs iBeam Pickup
It's easy to install
It imitates a microphone's response
It has controls for volume
Best acoustic guitar pickups – Top Picks For 2021:
This pickup from LR Baggs is the best pickup on the market as is used by the likes of Marcus King. It’s a combination of a piezo and a mic in one system giving the best of both and it’s the closest thing to a retrofitted acoustic pickup. It combines an in-guitar microphone and piezo sensors which is ideal for nylon and steel guitars. The mic is mounted 3 millimeters from the bridge plate’s underside and the piezo element is also under the saddle and can be bought separately. Your guitar won’t suffer from noise as the mic is noise-canceling. The soundhole amp gives you control over the mix, volume, phase, and many more since it’s discretely mounted. You can ensure you don’t run out of charge using the battery check feature. This pickup delivers a much open sound using the Tru-Mic technology. The required mods include Endpin, mounting soundhole control, and setting pickup in the bridge.
- It’s noise-free
- It suitable for all styles
- It’s a good investment if you regularly play live
- It’s not easy to install and you may require a professional
- It’s costly
The K&K Pure Mini Pickup- a K&K acoustic guitar pickup is universally accredited since it’s cheap and comes with a three-band EQ that can be attached to your belt loop. It’s the best passive transducer in the market giving you a full and warmer sound and you might find it to be the best when you’re recreating that natural, resonant acoustic guitar tone that we all enjoy. It includes the sensors held to your guitar’s bridge plate by superglue and delivers that warm and natural tone while cutting back on any feedback. If you get the classical model it has four sensors. This soundboard pickup is easy to install and you’ll need a mirror and good lighting to do it yourself. This pickup is a great addition to your steel-string acoustic guitar or the less-invasive soundhole pickups.
- It gives you good preamp options
- It’s easy to install and remove
- It’s ideal for a natural and mellow tone
- It’s great on small and brighter guitars
- It has a lower output than active pickups
Fishman is a household name in acoustic guitar amplification. Fishman’s Matrix Infinity a Piezo pickup comes in three formats- the Wide, Narrow, and split. Fishman upgraded its pickup system with a Tap Body sensor that complements the under saddle in capturing every nuance that comes with your playing. It also features a Unique Tone control that enables you to cut mids, boost hugs, and lows for quick-scooped tones. The LED battery checks help you monitor your charge and be able to power it up in the nick of time. It has controls for volume, voicing, and tone. It comes with a repositioned voicing switch that enables you to match the pickup and guitar’s performance. If you play percussively, then the transparency and feedback-free performance of this pickup are worth dying for. However, installation is not easy and you may require a professional.
- Its build is quality
- It comes in a wide variety of options
- It has an onboard tone and volume controls
- It’s ideal for a player that plays percussively
- The tone is transparent and dynamic
- The Fishman brand name is reputable
- Installation requires experience
This pickup is great if you want a noise-free operation and at the same time, you don’t want to modify your instruments. It mounts inside your soundhole using two foam inserts and it minimizes tone loss when you lower the volume using a compensated volume control. You can tailor your sound using the 12 adjustable pole pieces giving you a lot of flexibility since you’re able to dial in the sound based on the genre that you play. For example, if you are a fingerstyle artiste, you can raise the pole pieces above the bass strings and increase the audibility of the bass lines. For a strummer, you may want to do the opposite. It also comes with volume control and a 10 ft cable.
- It’s smooth and has a clear tone
- You can amplify the sound without altering the wood
- It’s very quiet
The DiMarzio Black Angel has a simple and non-invasive setup that makes it compatible with other pickups and can be played alongside them. It is made up of two magnetic coils setting parallel to the strings and an isolated magnetic circuit that reduces finger squeaking. Despite this, it’s a quiet pickup. The soundhole is magnetic and hum-canceling and the phase switch is inbuilt and you can combine it with multiple sources without running into issues. The installed jack version is a Switchcraft ⅓ to ¼ inches endpin. There’s also a 10 ft quick-mount cable. For a percussive player, you can use transducers or mic side by side with a soundhole and piezo pickup so that your guitar body is sensitive to the different techniques you use.
- A phase switch that can be used with other pickup systems
- It’s easy to install
- It works well with effects
- It’s expensive
This pickup appeals to its users with its easy-to-install contact-style transducer and is attached to your guitar’s bridge plate directly in front of the string’s ball end. The edge this bridge plate has over the typical one is its ability to limit feedback while improving your overall frequency response. To install it, simply apply the peel-and-stick pickup, then feed the iBeam jack via the endpin and you should be able to plug it into your acoustic guitar. You don’t have to change your guitar’s aesthetics to get a warm and true tone. It comes with controls for adjusting the volume. It’s ideal for a tone between a microphone and a transducer.
- It good at reproducing treble frequencies
- It lacks tone control
- It doesn’t fit in all guitar bridges
What to Consider When Purchasing the Best Acoustic Guitar Pickup
Below are some of the factors you should put into consideration before getting a pickup for your acoustic guitar.
The first thing you may want to consider before buying a pickup is if you’re willing to modify your guitar to accommodate a pickup installation if need be. You may change your mind if you hold on to your guitar dearly. Not all pickups require modification, Soundhole pickups like the LR Baggs don’t need any while Piezos are always in need of modification because of their design. However, most pickups give you the flexibility of doing either.
Active vs passive
You may come across the terms passive and active when shopping for a pickup and you were left wondering what’s the difference. Active pickups use batteries to boost the signal while passive pickups don’t. Due to this, passive pickups’ signal is weak and their tone and output are squashed while active pickups can’t work without a battery and sometimes you may be forced to carry around a spare battery. The good thing about active pickups is that they can be plugged into an acoustic guitar’s amp or PA System.
This is a loop sound caused by resonance. This can be unpleasant to listen to your speakers. Based on the type of pickup, your acoustic guitar can be sensitive to feedback. Piezos have a low feedback risk while Soundholes have a low to medium feedback risk. Transducers have a medium to high while Microphones have the highest feedback risk.
Type of pickup
Acoustic guitar pickups come in four types namely: Piezo, Soundhole, Transducer or contact, and In-Guitar microphone also known as blend pickups. Piezo pickups are usually placed under your guitar’s bridge to convert your strings’ vibration into a signal. They’re good for regular performances as they have the least feedback likelihood and their brightness cuts through the mix making them ideal if you’re playing in a band. Transducers are the most natural-sounding pickups. They allow you to capture more of your acoustic tone by converting your guitar’s top vibrations into signals. Their disadvantage is that they are susceptible to feedback which can make them difficult to use at large venues especially when you’re playing in a band.
Soundhole pickups produce a clear and balanced sound that may also be a bit sterile. Most higher-end soundhole pickups combine the standard magnetic pickup with something similar to the transducer to create a warmth and clarity combo which compensates for the sterility in cheaper models. Soundholes are more resistant to feedback compared to microphones and transducers but less than piezo. The last type of pickups; the blended ones are simply a blend of one of the above pickups and a small microphone. This gives you the freedom to blend two different sounds. For example, you can dial in more mic at lower volumes to give you a more natural tone and at a higher volume, you dial in more pickup to reduce feedback.
Style of playing
You have to know what style of music you play and how a pickup will suit it. Is it strumming, or fingerstyle, or Flatpicking? Also, where and with whom will you be playing? Are you a solo or a duo band? You don’t want to be the odd one in the group because your pickup is giving a different vibe. The size of the audience also matters since you wouldn’t want to fail in terms of audibility or your active pickup battery giving up on you while you’re killing the show on stage. If you’re recording in a studio, you’ll need to consider which pickup to go with.
Preamps allow you to directly shape your sound from the guitar ragging from a simple tone and volume control to advanced systems like treble, middle, and bass, digital tuners, and feedback controls. You’ll find these preamps inserted inside the soundhole on the simple systems while on advanced ones, they’re usually attached to the guitar in the form of a control panel or an external device. If your pickup has a great sound but doesn’t come with a preamp and you want to keep it, then worry not as you can purchase a preamp separately and attach it.
How much will it cost to install a pickup?
The cost of installing a pickup on your acoustic guitar depends on budget and preference. Pickups come at varying costs depending on whether they’re high or low end. You may also require the services of a professional with some pickups like Piezo and soundboards.
The benefits of a pickup surpass the cons that they may come with. Manufacturers are coming up with better ways to improve these pickups to minimize their weaknesses. All the pickups mentioned above are some of the best pickups for your acoustic guitar giving you some of the best sounds your guitar can produce. If you’re playing on a professional stage, then the piezo will do the job. Alternatively, you can get a top acoustic-electric guitar. However, the choice is all yours and you don’t need to break the bank to get a great pickup since you have a variety of budget-friendly pickups to choose from.
NB: Try seeking the help of a professional when installing a pickup. If you decide to do it by yourself, we recommend you use the help of a DIY video to guide you. That way, you’ll minimize damage to your guitar.
Is it necessary to purchase a pickup for my acoustic guitar?
You don’t need a pickup on your acoustic guitar when you’re playing in a small or medium room. Most acoustic guitars need a pickup to be heard when playing in front of a large audience. However, some players choose no to use a pickup instead choose to play into a microphone to amplify the sound. The type of pickup for your acoustic guitar depends on your needs, preference, and budget.
Can I turn my acoustic guitar into an acoustic-electric?
Yes. You may be interested in changing the tone of your acoustic guitar instead of buying a new acoustic-electric guitar. You can use advanced technologies like the use of pedals, or fitting some pickups, and many more. However, it’s worth noting that you need the right fit and installation expertise so as not to mess your guitar.
Does the pickup height affect my guitar’s tone?
Your guitar’s pickup height is an important factor when it comes to your guitar’s tone, and getting it right is key. If you set it too low, your pickup will end up being weak and inefficient. On the other hand, if it’s too high, then your pickup will cause you problems like your strings pulling and pushing out of tune. When you set it to its correct height, the pickup magnets create a strong magnetic field which in turn gives your guitar the right tone.
To measure the height, press the Low E string down at the highest fret, hold it, and measure. Then measure the distance from the top of the Low E pole to the bottom of the string. Repeat this for the High E String.