ACOUSTIC GUITAR PICKUP TYPES: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE

ACOUSTIC GUITAR PICKUP TYPES: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE

When mentioning guitar pickups generally, most of us just think of electric guitar pickups due to their popularity. However, there is another type of guitar pickup that needs mentioning. That is the acoustic guitar pickup. The acoustic guitar is considered to be one of the most widely-used and recognised instruments in the world. Therefore, a wide variety of components have been designed for supporting it in handling many different music styles and performances. Acoustic guitar pickups should be compulsory for those who want to take their instrument further and add more amazing effects to their playing. In this article, we will take a closer look into acoustic guitar pickups as well as investigate the five different types available on the market.

WHAT ARE ACOUSTIC GUITAR PICKUPS?

The Guitar pickup is a type of transducer that senses the audio signal or vibrations from the guitar, then converts them into electrical signals and transmits them to the external audio system. The pickup allows you to connect the guitar to an amplifier and make it louder to reach the furthest audiences in a large hall or venue.

Generally, the guitar is classified into 2 main groups: Acoustic and Electric Guitar. And the pickups are both used on all of them. As a result, depending on the type of your guitar, the pickup going with them will have correlative features.

+ Acoustic Guitar Pickup: You can attach the pickups in both acoustic or classic guitars. Based on the brand of product and the product line, the pickups will be pre-installed in your guitar or you can upgrade them. In the acoustic guitar, the pickup is shaped like a small horizontal bar located under the guitar’s bridge. Usually, an acoustic guitar only has one pickup. The categories of pickups basically do not differ much. And if there are any differences between them, it is only the difference in size to suit many types of instruments. Acoustic guitar pickups will allow you to turn any typical acoustic into an acoustic-electric instrument, adding more amazing effects to your songs.

+ Electric Guitar Pickup: For an electric guitar, the pickup is considered to be the soul of it because the electric guitar can not work without the appearance of the pickup. Pickup works accordingly to the principle that sound is created by the phenomenon of magnetic induction. When the guitar string vibrates, it becomes a source of magnetic flux. The frequency of the electric current generated relies entirely on the frequency of the oscillation, producing signals of various frequencies. Then the signal will go through the amplifiers and the sound which comes out of the speakers will have a wide range of tone and pitch. An electric guitar often has more than 1 pickup (can be 2 or 3 pickups). Based on the kind of electric guitar, we can choose a pickup for the most appropriate use.

On the whole, pickups are more commonly used in the electric guitar than with the acoustic one. While the acoustic guitar has a thicker neck and larger body to bear the pressure of weighty strings, the electric guitar owns lighter strings that only require the combination with a thinner neck and smaller body. In respect of sound, the pickups in the electric guitar enhance the process of learning since they project the sound, and a lighter touch along with the lighter strings will make the electric guitar easier to play. Because the vast majority of musical instrument pickups are found in electric guitars, there are many articles focusing on the pickups of the electric guitar. In this guide today, we will learn more about the pickups in their counterpart-acoustic guitar, especially the 5 different types of them in the next section.

The Types Of Acoustic Guitar Pickups:

There are a lot of different pickup types for the acoustic guitar, but in general, the usage of them is relatively similar, and each pickup is suitable for the unique requirement of different guitar artists.

Below I will give you a summary of 5 different types of pickups which are commonly used in the acoustic guitar:

•         Undersaddle pickups (Piezo pickups)

•         Soundhole pickups (Magnetic pickups)

•         Soundboard transducer pickups (Contact Pickups)

•         Microphone pickups

•         Blended systems (Hybrid pickup systems)

1. Undersaddle pickups (Piezo pickups)

Undersaddle pickups are the most popular choice of pickups for acoustic guitars. As the name suggests, the undersaddle pickups are the thin strip of six piezoelectric crystals located below the guitar’s bridge receiving the pressure from the vibrating strings and converting them into electrical signals. Undersaddle pickups also run on piezo-electric technology like pickup soundboard, but instead of being placed on the guitar’s body, the undersaddle pickups are entirely located inside the guitar’s body, under the bridge saddle, using Piezo strings to directly record the vibration frequency of the string right underneath the bridge. Because the undersaddle pickups do not appear on the outside of the body, they do not detract from the aesthetic of your guitar. Sound from the undersaddle pickups is nearly the same as natural sound. Moreover, when you put the undersaddle pickups at the end of the strings, the sound generated will be brighter and thinner. However, the sound volume is relatively low, hence they require the installation of an additional preamp to boost the original signal. Even so, the undersaddle pickups are extremely popular because they perform brilliantly on stage. They allow the guitar artists to play at a much louder volume without any annoying feedback, and the treble and midrange even sound clearer.

*Advantages:

– Their aesthetic position protects the visual appearance of your guitar

– Compared with other kinds of guitar pickups, they are the most resistant to the feedback of all types, allowing you to make a loud performance

– They are wonderful for amplifying a nylon string acoustic guitar because they work on the basis of detecting physical vibrations rather than generating a magnetic field

*Disadvantages:

– They require difficult and fiddly installation. You may need a small hole that is drilled into the bridge of the guitar and you must be very careful to make sure that the pickups are well fitted between the bridge and the saddle

– They have excessively huge dynamic range, so they do not have the ability to respond well to a weighty attack. To overcome this issue, you may need a preamp with a compressor to spread the levels equally

– In some low-cost models, the output created sounds a bit brittle as they are badly affected by the piezo quack effect.

2. Soundhole pickups (Magnetic pickups)

The operating principle of soundhole pickups bases on electromagnetic induction. In simple terms, the magnetic field inside the pickups will sense vibrations of steel guitar string and then convert those vibrations into a voltage, which is similar to the way the electric guitar pickups work. Unsurprisingly, the sound created by them is quite similar to the one in the electric guitar pickups. Most soundhole pickups are easily installed and uninstalled without the risk of damaging your beloved guitar. Soundhole pickups are usually mounted above the soundhole of the guitar, taking the sound directly from string vibrations. Obviously, to a great expectation, the sound of the notes is separated and balanced from the magnetic soundhole pickups. When installing the soundhole pickups, sometimes there may be a cable hanging on the outside of the guitar. Even so, you do not need to be so worried about this issue since you can easily overcome it by hiding that string inside the soundhole and making some more mods for a more aesthetically pleasing look. About their varieties, there are 2 types of soundhole pickups: single-coil and double-coil (often referred to as humbucker) and they can be used in both single or pair status.

*Advantages:

– They are really easy to assemble and there is no need for complicated or fiddly installing steps. You just fit them across the soundhole and then turn some screws to tighten it.

– They own the great capability of being resistant to unwanted feedback because they sense the string vibrations without the direct recording. Therefore, this upside makes them especially perfect for your live-performances.

– The tone generated by them sounds warmer than the output from the undersaddle pickups

*Disadvantages:

– Like the undersaddle pickups, they do not capture the warm rustic sound from the acoustic guitar. That means even though your guitar will still sound like an acoustic, it will not get the resonance of its unplugged tone

– They are only appropriate for steel string guitars, hence you can not use it with nylon string acoustic guitars

–  As they span the soundhole of your guitar, the undersaddle pickups are a little bit unaesthetic.

3. Soundboard transducer pickups (Contact Pickups)

Soundboard transducer pickups implement a technology which is similar to the undersaddle pickup, using the piezo effect to sense the vibrations of the guitar body and the bridge, then converting them to the electronic signal and transmitting them to the amplifier. However, unlike the undersaddle pickup which is just put under the bridge inside the body, soundboard pickups can be flexibly placed in many positions of the guitar.

*Advantages:

– Regardless of their random position, soundboard pickups can sense the vibrations of the soundboard or the bridge itself as opposed to the strings. Therefore, they produce a natural sound, creating a rich and warm tone on the acoustic guitar

 – They are among the easiest pickups to be installed because you can almost set them up anywhere you like: under the bridge, inside or outside the body is possible

*Disadvantages:

– Because these pickups take the sound directly from the vibrations of both the strings and the body, they are easy to meet the problem of the feedback at high volume affecting multiples instruments when we are playing all of them together on stage.

– The top of the guitar will have hotspots and deadspots which can produce a great number of vibrations. Therefore, if you locate them on the underside of the guitar’s body, you will encounter lots of difficulties in determining the best place to stick the contacts. 

4. Microphone pickups

Microphone pickups have both internal and external models but the internal microphone is more common and popular than the other. The internal microphone is a minor condenser microphone that is positioned on a flexible arm within the internal cavity of the guitar, permitting the guitar players to easily adjust the location of the microphone. Condenser microphones are what you will find in the studio when you want to record the sound of your acoustic guitar. To accommodate a similar setup for the live stage, a small condenser microphone placed inside the body captures all the nuances of the string and the body. Besides, external microphones are often put on a goose neck adjustable arm, which allows the guitar players to set up the microphone in a suitable place that they do not hinder the picking hand. In terms of sound, microphone systems are considered as the top layer which creates natural and realistic tones.

*Advantages:

– Among the acoustic guitar pickups, their range of frequency is the widest one, hence, microphone pickups are ideal to preserve the natural and realistic tone of your guitar.

– Due to their size and location, they are visually unobtrusive, which protects your guitar appearance.

*Disadvantages:

– Because these pickups are more sensitive than the other types, they tend to be susceptible to unwanted feedback, which creates a very bad effect when you play with the band or perform in a noise venue.

– To own these pickups, you must be ready to pay at a higher cost for them because they are one of the most expensive pickup types on the market.

5. Blended systems (Hybrid pickup systems)

As its name suggests, the blended system is a “blend” of two (or more) separated pickup types in a bid on making use of the specific strengths of each to deliver the highest quality of tone. There are a lot of options for the combination, but in general, a good microphone often goes with one of the other 4 options to create a blended system. To explain the reason for this method, we will need to understand the particular operation as well as the audio output that each pickup can generate. The blended pickup systems will incorporate the authentic natural tone of a microphone pickup with the clear output of the soundboard transducer pickups or undersaddle pickups, providing you with a great representation of your guitar’s attack. Moreover, this combination will help guitar players to catch the resonance of the guitar’s body from a condenser microphone and the attack and detail from a piezo system. Since both undersaddle pickups and soundhole pickups are driven by the strings themselves, nearly all guitarists do not combine them in order to avoid the problem of clashing frequencies and all sorts of sonic abnormality.

*Advantages:

– Through the combination of multiple pickups, blended systems can capitalize on the benefits of each type. As a result, they can help to control the tonal quality and offer better sound

– Their versatile feature can support you to avoid irritating feedback in your guitar performance

*Disadvantages:

– These pickups are significantly more pricey than any of the other pickup types

– Because they are a combination of various pickup types, they require difficult and professional installation. Unless you really have a deep understanding of them before starting setting them up, you may get into trouble with them

TO SUM UP

The purpose of this guide is to provide you with an ultimate overview of different types of acoustic guitar pickups. Generally speaking, there are 4 different categories of pickups in addition to a blended system combining multiple ones. In the article we have looked at the differences between the different pickup types including the created output, placement, aesthetics, complexity and price. Gaining deep insight into these types (including their pros and cons) will allow you to decipher the most suitable guitar pickups to meet your needs. Thanks for reading.

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