Pickups are basically transducers that change one type of energy to another. For example, a coil-magnet assembly inside a passive pickup changes the mechanical energy from a vibrating guitar string into electrical energy that is fed to the amplifier. Choosing the right style of pickup for your acoustic guitar will greatly influence the way it sounds and this in turn will have an impact on your performance upon the stage. While choosing a pickup for your guitar, you will be faced by a lot of options, but here are the major ones.
Choosing the right acoustic guitar pickup
Undersaddle Pickups: These are installed beneath the guitar saddle, and the input to these pickups is delivered by a tiny wire passing through the bridge and top, via a tiny hole drilled right beneath the saddle. These are resistant to feedback, however using them will result in the loss of direct coupling between the saddle and bridge.
Soundhole Pickups: These became popular back in the 60’s, because they were super cheap and really easy to install. They are still popular, because of their affordability and the fact that they require no permanent installation. This type of pickup is wedged right underneath the strings, into the soundhole. Soundhole pickups employ magnets to convert the vibrations of the strings into electrical signals, and they produce a somewhat electric-sounding output, with a certain degree of tonal warmth to it.
Soundboard Transducers: These are attached either to the top, or the underside of a soundboard located behind the bridge of an acoustic guitar. They are secured to the body of the guitar by using tape, putty, or a fabric fastener. They deliver a much more subtle tone in comparison to under saddle pickups and are also less expensive than the former. These are ideal for performing in low volume scenarios, such as small venues.
Internal Microphones: Internal microphone style pickups consist of a cluster of high-quality compact microphones that are placed inside the belly of a guitar, rather than right beneath the sound hole. This results in a much fuller pickup since the microphones can sense the vibrations from a much greater area of the instrument rather than just the bridge. The result is a much more complete frequency range, with an enhanced midrange and a really natural tone.
If you’re ready to go out there and purchase your brand new acoustic guitar pickup, make sure to check out the following picks. So, choose the pickup which appeals to your needs and playing style the most.
HDE Guitar Pickup Acoustic / Electric TransducerPro: Easily fits any full size guitar, clip-on design
Con: B string sounds a little electric
The HDE acoustic guitar pickup is an excellent choice for just about any type of acoustic guitar, since it is so easy to install and use. Just strap it on top of the sound hole of your full size guitar, and it will handle both 6 and 12 string configurations. The transducer is a piezoelectric type, and picks up subtle vibrations very well, while at the same time suppressing noise from peripheral vibrations, wind, etc. The amount of gain that it provides is rather commendable for such a cheap pickup, and it comes with a 9-foot cable that has a 0.25” jack attached at the end for plugging into your amplifier or any other audio output.
AXL Acoustic Guitar Transducer PickupPro: Piezoelectric transducer, easy to install stick-on design
Con: Struggles with picking up lower frequencies
This tiny little piezoelectric transducer style pickup is no bigger than a clip-on microphone head and is light enough to stick onto the base of your acoustic guitar with some adhesive. There is a 9-foot cable that comes out of the transducer head, and it has a ¼” connector at the end so you can plug this pickup into your amp, DAC, or EQ system. It does not provide professional grade amplification, that’s for sure, but the amount of midrange boost and gain is just enough to give you a great small-venue solution at a really cheap price.
Dean Markley DM3001 Artist XM Acoustic PickupPro: Adhesive mount design, piezoelectric transducer
Con: No volume adjustment switch
Similar to the AXL Acoustic, the Dean Markley BM3001 acoustic guitar pickup is a button-shaped piezoelectric transducer that is mounted to the guitar body, just underneath the bridge. The transducer itself is contained inside a true maple wood housing in order to give the output a wooden, warm tone. There is a special mounting adhesive pre-applied to the tiny button shell of this pickup, so you can remove it after a performance and stick it in once again right before your next performance. A 24” cable connects the transducer to a DAC or amplifier, via a female ¼” interface. The tones on this transducer are perfect for country music and jazz, blues or rock. They are warm, soft, and well defined, while the bass is there, but is not too overpowering compared to the clean mid-tones.
Seymour Duncan Woody HC Hum-Canceling Soundhole PickupPro: Magnetic transducer produces unique electronic sound, strong gain and feedback
Con: Output can seem fairly low on some weaker amps
If you wish to transform your acoustic guitar into an acoustic-electrical hybrid, then the Seymour Duncan Woody HC can help you with that. Just like the name indicates, it delivers an extremely woody sound, with a soft and bright upper midrange, as well as sharp treble. The actual transducer itself is a magnetic type and is enclosed inside a maple ply wooden shell. The magnetic transducer implementation on this pickup is among one of the most unadulterated and clean ones in the music industry, it barely changes the tone of the original acoustic guitar that it is mounted on, and does not let off an overly “electronic guitar” sort of vibe. Noise is kept at a near-zero level, and the amount of gain is enough for small to mid-sized venues.
Fishman Neo-D Passive Magnetic Soundhole PickupPro: Low profile battery free design, neodymium magnet transducer
Con: May not work with Rocksmith’s, no string distance adjustment
Like the Seymour Duncan Woody HC, this one is also a bridge mounted magnetic type pickup that converts the vibrations of your acoustic guitar strings into electric signal by using a bar magnet and some coil winding. The magnet quality is much better than most other pickups out there, it is a neodymium type which is more powerful than a regular ceramic bar magnet, and provides plenty of gain and bass boost. Also, the low profile battery-free design of the Neo-D allows you to use it on just about any acoustic guitar with no problems whatsoever. It lacks mounting adjustment, so you cannot move it farther away or towards the strings. If you are looking for the best acoustic guitar pickup – this one is our pick!
K&K Pure Mini Acoustic Guitar PickupPro: Triple wired transducer pickup system, battery free design
Con: Not the best for larger venues, or where extra amplification is required
As the name implies, this one is a super compact acoustic guitar pickup. It uses three contact-point piezoelectric transducers that are mounted on three separate wires, and all of them lead into a single ¼” output. Each of the three transducer heads is designed to pick on a specific string pair (in a conventional 6-string guitar), and there is no preamp or sound modulation in the device, so it transmits the exact audio signal that your acoustic guitar produces. Without any battery or onboard electronics, the Pure Mini delivers authentic, noise-free, and crisp sound with nearly zero feedback. These pickups sound full and rich, with plenty of brightness and a very balanced tonal range.
DiMarzio Angel System Acoustic Guitar Pickup – DP232Pro: Huge impedance, lots of gain
Con: You’ll need some EQ adjustment to attain the right sound
The Dimarzio Angel acoustic guitar pickup is built for a regular 6-string acoustic guitar, and it utilizes a bridge mount. The transducer used in this pickup is a hybrid piezoelectric-magnetic type, and it also utilizes single conductor wiring for maximum gain and delivers chunky, deep bass that is good for playing both metal and hard rock. With DC resistance of 1.66 Kilo Ohms, this beauty will produce plenty of gain and is ultra-good for larger venues and live performances where absolute power is required. You can choose to operate in either piezoelectric mode or magnetic mode, each with its own unique sound signature. Or, if you’re in the mood to try something new and unique, you can use both at the same time. Trust us, it sounds really good in the hybrid mode, unlike any other pure pickup you’ve ever heard.
LR Baggs M80 Magnetic Soundhole PickupPro: Active/ Passive operation, adjustable pole pieces, feedback resistant
Con: No pads provided for mounting purposes
Since it is a bridge mounted pickup, the M80 can deliver a wide range of tones as it is capable of picking up on a larger portion of the vibrations in your guitar string. There are adjustable pole pieces for getting the distance right between your strings and the pickup head, and you can choose between both active as well as passive mode with the flick of a button. In active mode, you will get a slightly modulated, electronic sound, with tons of gain and lots of chunky bass- perfect for hard rock or heavy metal. In passive mode, you will still get a lot of gain but this time the sounds is going to be a lot more woody and suits classical or jazz music.