Which pickup should I put in my guitar?

I recently received an email from a Strumviews reader and I thought it was a good opportunity to give a detailed response. 

Many people invest in piezo pickups and are later disappointed by the sound they give, because it is limited to electronic "transducing" of the string and top vibrations, but mostly the string vibrations as they travel through the saddle directly to the under-saddle transducer.

The transducer is unable to pick up the overtones, ambience, and true acoustic "wood" sound of any guitar, so they often sound "tinny" and electronic, although they are designed to sound acoustic.

The reader wrote:
------------

"Hi Aaron,
 
I need to replace the fishman thinline pickup in a SM6 and are looking for any information you can supply me with for a replacement.
I found a "High Sensitive Piezo Under-saddle EQ Pre-Amp Pickup for Acoustic Guitar.
Pickup Length: Approx. 2.75 inch / 7cm ; Width: Approx. 0.12 inch / 3 mm" ebay for $6.00, but question if I'm doing the right thing.
Thanks for any input,
Keith"
 
____________
My response is this:
 
Hi Keith,
 
My personal preference for thinline pickups would not be to go cheap.  
 
I believe you are referring to the Seagull SM6 guitar, which is a classic S6 made in the 90s - the closest available Seagull comparable is found here.
 
It all depends on what results you want.
 
If you want authentic acoustic sound- I would spend more and get a blender installed.
 
A blender has a microphone and a piezo transducer in 1 installed system, or I would go with a non-invasive professional microphone (transducer) pickup.
 
Fishman makes great ones - they blend a piezo with a soundhole microphone that you can adjust to get more authentic sound.
 
Piezo pickups alone sound "tinny" and electronic because they do not pick up the nuances of the tonewood and the air space in the guitar - just the vibrations of the strings and the guitar top.
 
Believe me when I say that I have spent way too much money testing different pickups on my own guitars.
 
My first mistake was getting a soundhole magnetic pickup that is more of a humbucker before a concert a friend and I performed in college.  They just do not sound acoustic and are disappointing, making every acoustic guitar sound like a cheap, electronic version of an acoustic guitar.
 
The second mistake was getting a local guitar shop to install a Martin "thinline.  
 
This was disappointment #2 - when I discovered that a thinline, although has great gain and no real feedback issues, still sounds like a tinny, electronic rendition of my strings vibrating.  Piezos, transducers, thinlines, any of these under-the-saddle pickups that do not also include a noise cancelling transducer microphone cannot replicate the true acoustic sound produced by the body design, air-space, and tonewoods.
 
 Just doesn't do the job.
 
What I learned from my expensive mistakes was certainly valuable in knowing what not to buy and what kinds of pickup technology actually make a true acoustic guitar sound.
 
The piezo is called a "transducer" and the microphone is called a "condenser".  The magnetic soundhole pickups are usually called "humbuckers" and nothing sounds compeltely acoustic except a microphone transducer, because it picks up the airy sound and natural wood sound that resonated from the guitar body construction and tonewoods.
 
I would go with a pickup that has both a "transducer" and a "condenser" to get a truly acoustic sound and have it installed professionally, especially if your guitar is older.
 
Some of them require that you have a hole cut in the side of the guitar body, which should only be done by a professional installer.
 
 
fishman-presys-blenderFishman also has a $50 model called the Fishman Presys Blen 301 that they altered slightly from their uke version and it is found here
 
There are others that do not require cutting into the side of the guitar body, and can be mounted through the soundhole, without any cutting on the guitar body.
 
It depends on how much of a pre-amp control you desire right on your guitar.
 
If your guitar is a classic or collector's model, I would definitely not go with a side-mounted pre-amp where they have to cut into the side of the guitar body, as it is a delicate process and can change the sound and strength of your guitar body.
 
There are other pickups out there that offer a system that does not require a side-mounted pre-amp, as you can run the risk of altering the intergrity of the guitar body at this stage.
 
When you are doing research for guitar pickups, a lot of them are not properly named and they loosely use the word "microphone" when it is just a transducer or humbucker that fits in the sound hole.  
 
You must find the word "transducer" to get a true microphone sound that replicated your guitar's acoustics most accurately.
 
LR-Baggs-Lyric-acoustic-guitar-pickupOne of the best brands that professionals have used for the last 30 or 40 years is made by LR BAGGS and you can find a non-invasive version called the LR BAGGS LYRIC here for about $199.  
 
This is the best option for getting the true acoustic sound amplified for your acoustic guitar, and without having to cut into the body.  
 
It all installs through the soundhole and can use your previous end-pin jack hole that was previously cut for your 1/4 inch amp jack (line out).
 
So essentially, if you want a true acoustic sound reproduction, regardless of your acoustic guitar model, you want a quality pickup with a condenser microphone.
 
If you have a classic guitar or do not want to take the risk in cutting into the side of the guitar body, #1 - have a professional install the pickup and #2 - do not buy a pickup that has a side-mounted pre-amp that requires cutting into the side of the body.  Instead, buy a good quality LR Baggs pickup that has a condenser microphone.    
 
If you want more gain, make sure to have a pickup that contains both a piezo transducer and a microphone condenser.  You can always blend the sound outside of the gutiar with a pre-amp that is not mounted.
 
Hope this helps!  Please leave a comment or other pickup suggestions that you have found to be very high quality.  Also, please share this response on social media if you found it helpful.
 
 
 

Comments

This is a nice post. Your writing skills are very good and I follow your posts regularly. Keep up the great work on guitar related articles!!

Thanks for reading and commenting. Glad you are enjoying the site! Aaron for Strumviews - a top rated guitar reviews website.

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