If you’re serious about performing on stage with an acoustic guitar, sooner or later, simply using microphones in front of your instrument and a good PA just won’t be enough. This is where acoustic amplifications comes in – using today’s technology to send your acoustic’s sound above the surrounding noise. By taking advantage of modern gear, you can make sure that everyone of your gigs will be as trouble-free as possible.
There are plenty of acoustic electric guitars out there that are built ready for the stage. Known as “stage-ready” acoustics or acoustic electric guitars, these instruments are able to convert sound waves into an electrical signal. You don’t have to buy them pre-built either as you can install pickup systems onto a normal acoustic as well. They come in a few varieties and work differently so depending on your needs, you might find that one fits the bill more than the others.
Before we get into the different types, we should talk about passive and active pickups. Passive pickups don’t require any electronics to alter sound before being sent to an amplifier or PA system. Among all the acoustic pickup types, these are the most akin to simply having a microphone. They pick up the sound, turn it into and electrical signal and then send it on its way. Active pickups on the other hand require battery power and also have a certain amount of gain built in. If you’ve seen or own an acoustic that has a control panel on its side (typically consisting of EQ knobs or sliders, volume control, anti-feedback settings and sometimes even a tuner) then it is most likely equipped with active acoustic pickups.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at each individual acoustic pickup system:
Soundhole Pickups: These type of acoustic pickups are among the most common and easiest to install. Although you simply have to slide them into your guitar’s soundhole, they usually require the end-pin – the button where your strap connects – to be drilled out a bit in order to be able to install a ¼” jack input for the instrument cable. Don’t let the simplistic design fool you as there are plenty of outstanding soundhole pickups out there that come in both active and passive flavors. The Fishman Blackstack Passive Humbucker and LR Baggs M80 are two great choices for soundhole pickups.
Contact Pickups: If performing permanent modifications on your acoustic is something you definitely want to avoid, small, passive contact pickups offer just about the least invasive installation when it comes to acoustic pickups. A passive pickups also known as “bottlecaps,” contact pickups are placed at the top of your guitar and held there with the help of a sticky tack material that won’t ruin your acoustic’s finish. The downside to these type of contact pickups is that they are prone to high-pitched feedback at higher volumes. If you happen to mainly play lower volume type of gigs, they should work pretty well.
Another type of contact pickup is glued inside the guitar under the bridgeplate – the small, usually dark piece of wood where the strings are anchored to the body. A good example of this type of pickup is the LR Baggs iBeam. This type of contact pickup creates very little feedback, sounds great and if installed correctly, are a breeze to use.
Undersaddle Piezo Transducers: These type of pickups come in both active and passive models. If you’ve ever seen an acoustic guitar with a control panel mounted on the upper side, chances are that they are using an undersaddle transducer, a pickup that is installed under the saddle of the bridgeplate. These type of pickups are usually made of strips of tiny piezo crystals that can sense the string vibrations and turn them into an electrical signal.
The installation is not a particularly easy one and should be performed by either a qualified professional or those experienced and confident with modding their guitar. The procedure requires drilling a tiny hole to allow the pickups wire to pass through along with an end-pin-jack installation. Acoustics that are equipped with undersaddle transducers are often paired with other type of pickups or microphones in order to give it a fuller, richer and more natural sound. Take a look at the Fishman ProMatrix Infinity and the EMG AT93U if transducer pickups sound like they might fit your needs.
Internal Mics: More common in high-end acoustics, internal mic systems are mounted inside a guitar’s body in order to capture a more natural acoustic sound. These usually work best in concert hall settings or anywhere you don’t need a high amount of volume as they are prone to feedback if it gets too loud. But even with that said, internal mics can sound amazing. The Fishman Rare Earth Blend Mic is a popular internal mic that is also a breeze to install. You should also consider a multi-source system for situations where an internal mic alone might run into trouble.
Multi-Source Systems: This setup combines two or more pickup types and controls them through a single preamp. If versatility and sound quality is what you’re after, this is your best bet as a multi-source system takes advantage of each acoustic pickup’s frequency response, allowing you to better tailor your tone.
A common multi-source system combines a piezo undersaddle transducer and a mic, such as the LR Baggs DS120. The undersaddle transducer provides a lot of articulations and definition as well as feedback-free volume while the microphone will do a better job at capturing the warm bass and midrange frequencies that make the acoustic sound more airy and natural. Combining the two usually requires the use of an onboard or external preamp but the payoff us worth it as this setup typically captures the best of both worlds, giving you a much fuller, richer sound.
Still can't decide? Check out our entire selection of Acoustic Pickups! And just in case you need a little more help, you can chat directly with one of our pros using the Contact Us feature on the lower left hand corner!