Replicating the sound of your acoustic guitar can already be difficult enough as it is in-studio, never mind on stage. That’s why we wrote this guide to the “best acoustic guitar pickups”.
Playing on stage with a microphone in front of your acoustic never works out the way you envisioned it, making a pickup essential for live performances. But because of many different factors it’s important to choose the pickup that best suits your needs and preferences.
However, we consider what makes a good acoustic pickup as simply one that is reliable, does not get in the way of playing, and plays as true to your guitars sound as much as possible. With these criteria in mind, lets take a look at the best acoustic guitar pickups.
- Active pickups have a battery pack within the pickup, which in turn gives a boost in volume or gain to your overall sound. Active pickups also usually have basic controls for EQ and volume.
- Passive pickups do not have a battery, making them a simple choice for many guitarists. All you have to do is plug it in to your amp and you’re ready to go.
Type: Acoustic pickups do not just differ in power supply as we discussed earlier, they also differ by type (placement). Essentially there are three types of pickups: Sound hole, Under-Saddle, and Soundboard.
- Sound hole (arguably the most popular) pick ups are a simple way to power your acoustic. Just as it sounds, you slide the pickup in to the sound hole underneath the strings and the magnets within the pickup convert the string’s vibrations in to sound. Sound hole pick ups can also be swapped out with in seconds to use on another guitar and do not require any modifications to your guitar whatsoever. But because of this ability to take the pickup in and out, Sound hole pickups have the potential to get in the way somewhat.
- Under-Saddle pick ups sit underneath the saddle of your guitar, which means you’ll need to remove your strings, saddle, and usually drill a hole or two to make it work. This usually isn’t ideal for beginners, but the sound is a near-natural one and the placement of the pickup is tucked away nicely.
- Soundboard pickups also require a hole to be drilled to place an input jack, but have some of the best sound replication out of the three. Soundboard pickups work by picking up vibration from the bridgeplate, as opposed to vibrations from the strings. Soundboard pickups, like under-saddle, are essentially hidden and will not hinder playing.
Sound/Tone: This is an obvious one when it comes to any kind of pick up. Is the tone natural? warm? bright? Does it feedback at a certain volume level? We’ve outlined the differing tones in our individual reviews below.
Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups
Seymour Duncan Woody
Features: Passive, Soundhole, 14 ft. cable
You won’t find a better sounding pickup that’s as easy to install than Seymour Duncan’s Woody.
The Woody does a good job of balancing cost vs. quality, giving this pickup our Best Buy Award. It has a nice tone for its low price point, but running it through a pre-amp with EQ will definitely help you get the tone you want, because as with most Soundhole pickups they do lean electric-sounding a bit.
If you’re able to overlook the cumbersome cable sticking out of your sound hole, this is one of the best pickups out there – not to mention I’ve personally been using it for over a year!
K&K Pure Mini
Cons: Cost, Requires Guitar Modifications
Features: Passive, Soundboard
The K&K Pure Mini is arguably the best sounding pickup on the list.
Not only is the sound great, but for a passive pickup we felt the output was surprisingly strong, meaning you can hook up directly to a PA if needed. In terms of tone it definitely gets it right with about as close to an acoustic tone as possible.
Despite needing modifications (hole drilling, gluing), it’s not that difficult, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind if you’re completely against any mods.
All in all the Mini is one of the best acoustic pickups on the market.
L.R. Baggs M80
Features: Active/Passive, Soundhole
The M80 has a top-notch sound quality, but that’s to be expected from a higher priced pickup.
One of the coolest features on the M80 is the ability to flip a switch between ‘Active’ and ‘Passive’. When choosing the Active settings you can use the on-board volume control, but if your battery dies just switch it right back to passive.
The secret to Baggs’ great quality comes in part to the second coil being suspended, much like a dynamic microphone. This combination is like having a Soundboard pickup and Soundhole pickup all in one.
The pickup also comes with a short cable for permanent mounting, or the ability to just run it freely like any other Soundhole – leaving you with plenty of options.
Fishman Matrix Infinity
Features: Active, Under-Saddle
With the pickup placed beneath the saddle, the Fishman Matrix Infinity gives a nice even tone across all six strings.
Installation might be a bit tricky, but once in the Infinity is a clear and reliable pickup. Furthermore, Fishman added a volume and tone knob to help you get the right sound. They notched the volume knob so you’ll be able to find it quickly on stage by feel.
We prefer the K&K Mini over the Infinity, due to its great quality and cheaper price point, but the Infinity offers a bit more in the way of customization. Ultimately, it comes down to the musicians needs at that point.