The sound of an acoustic guitar is one of the most soothing and versatile sounds. In this article I’ll help you get the best acoustic guitar pickup for amplifying those sounds without losing quality.
In order to amplify your guitar, you will need a pickup. A pickup translates the vibrations of the guitar strings into electrical signals that can then be amplified.
That means you either need to purchase an acoustic-electric guitar that is already equipped to work with an amplifier. Conversely, you can retrofit your acoustic with a pickup (which, thankfully, is easy to do).
Other alternatives include using a high-quality microphone. Microphones are common for rin recording studios, but that is about it. A good pickup is going to greatly expand your mobility and playability. Use my list to get the acoustic guitar pickup that will set your sound apart.
Table of Contents
- The Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups
- 1. Review Of The L.R. Baggs Lyric
- 2. The K&K Pure Mini: A Less Expensive Option
- 3. The MXL 770: The Best Pickup For Recording An Acoustic Guitar
- 4. Seymour Duncan SA-6 Mag Mic
- 5. Fishman Matrix Infinity
- 6. DiMarzio Virtual Acoustic DP134
- 7. Seymour Duncan Woody HC
- 4. The HDE: The Best Cheap Acoustic Pickup
- 5.The AXL Transducer: Best Cheap Selection For An Acoustic Sound
- Types of Pickups
The Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups
There are so many different pickups to choose from. If you find yourself getting lost in the “piezo” and “magnetic” options, click here to read our buying guide.
1. Review Of The L.R. Baggs Lyric
Just because a pickup is expensive doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best.
However, if you want a studio-quality pickup, it is going to cost you.
Most studios will actually set mics on stands near the instrument for recording. This delivers a super high-quality sound that also captures a lot of the squawks and scrapes of fingerstyle playing.
While delivering excellent sound, these condenser microphones are not only expensive ($400+), they also are cumbersome, requiring you to remain in one place the entire time you play.
An excellent “compromise” is the L.R. Baggs Lyric system. Installed inside your instrument, this system delivers studio-quality sound without compromising your mobility during stage performance. It’s the first system that comes close to letting you create that studio-level output during your coffee shop gig.
L.R. Baggs has long been a leader in creating products that capture the true essence of your guitar. Their Anthem series has been setting the standard for several years, now.
However, with their recent release of the Lyric, they used their years of experience they gained from the Anthem series to create a microphone system that is truly decades ahead of itself. The Lyric not only captures the microphone sound, it uses unique circuit board technology to identify and cancel out interference to deliver crisp, clear, natural tones.
The Lyrics also uses a lot of the same installation tricks. So it mounts 3 mm away from the underside of the bridge, giving it the perfect distance for taking advantage of the boundary effect and delivering the perfect, even tone that you love about acoustic guitars.
The only downside with the Lyric is that everyone who bought the Anthem SL is wishing they had waited a couple of years to get this new system.
The lyric also works well in conjunction with other systems. For example, if you wanted to also install the K&K piezo pickup and solder it into the Lyric, you could do that, and it gives you that added string clarity for live performance in a band.
Is the Lyric Better Than The LR Baggs Anthem Tru-Mic?
While the two systems look quite similar, the inner-workings of the Lyric is so much better. The circuit board design enables this little microphone to capture more sound than any other system before it has been able to do.
And when you listen, there is a pretty clear difference in the quality of sound. I mean, if you find the Anthem SL on sale for half the price then sure, grab it! But dollar for dollar, the Lyric is worth its money and delivers some the most natural sound, in my opinion.
2. The K&K Pure Mini: A Less Expensive Option
I wanted to make sure that this list offers a high-quality pickup for around $100.
If you still want the classical sound offered by the L.R Baggs, but you want to save some money, the K&K Mini is an excellent choice.
Unlike the Lyric, the K&K Mini uses a bridge plate soundboard transducer system to capture the vibrations. This makes it ideal for those of us who may not have a high-end, quality instrument that we want to amplify ( lower end guitars simply will not have the tonality needed for the Lyric system reviewed above).
They K&K Mini really does make anybody look good. It has nice, warm tones, and works with both finger-picking and strumming styles. It does a good job with the amplification of the true output of the guitar without adding that tinny tone found in most Piezo pickups.
The K&K amplifies fairly well, although you may find some feedback issues if you get too loud. A lot of folks find that for larger gigs, a little pre-amp is a perfect choice for more sound control and volume.
For the price, the K&K is a very pleasing electric guitar pickup for everyone from the hobbyist to the serious musician. It is also commonly used in conjunction with the with the LR Baggs Lyric.
3. The MXL 770: The Best Pickup For Recording An Acoustic Guitar
So, you are ready to start recording some of your songs. Maybe you want to cut that high-quality youtube video and become as famous as Boyce Avenue.
Pickups have been slow to advance technologically. The Lyric by L.R. Baggs (reviewed above) is one of the most advanced products being manufactured that is currently on the market — and it is simply a tiny condenser microphone.
Bottom line is, if you try to record with a pickup, it is going to sound “off”. Now, for Youtube, you can get away with a lot. The K&K mini or the L.R. Baggs Lyric would be an excellent choice both for playing gigs and cutting Youtube videos.
But for cutting a real song that people are going to listen to over and over?
For that, you will need a mic.
Granted, when you start micing stuff, it gets a lot more complicated. You have to test the room, and may need to hang some curtains to stop echoes. If you are using this in your house, you’ll have to kill the A/C, unplug the phone and shut off the fridge. Nobackground hums allowed!
Fishman Vs MXL 770 Sound Demonstration:
A better question would be: “What affordable microphone is best for recording an acoustic guitar?”
When it comes to Microphones, a Dynamic microphone is simply not going to be able to capture the full range of your needs You are going to have to go with a Condenser.
Granted, Condenser microphones aren’t cheap. The good news is, there is one microphone that is consistently the clear winner among home recording artists: The MXL 770 Cardioid Condenser.
It does an excellent job with both instruments and vocals, so it is extremely versatile. But for acoustic recording, it really captures the magic and delivers incredible results for very little money.
If you wanna blow away your audience, but keep your pocketbook intact, you’ve got to check it out.
4. Seymour Duncan SA-6 Mag Mic
This acoustic guitar pickup system stands out from the rest in that it is both a magnetic hum-canceling pickup and a microphone combined into a single, easy-to-install unit.
We all know the Seymour Duncan brand and it is no surprise that they have found a way to solve the most common problems you’ll face when trying to add a pickup. This one mounts through the soundhole of your guitar, making it extremely easy to install.
However, don’t confuse it with the cheaper single-coil or piezo units that I review below. This one uses active, hum-canceling magnetic pickups that detect the actual sound of your strings. Then, it brings in a microphone which captures the ambient sound of the acoustic guitar. Both systems run to the endpin for easy output to your sound system.
Because this unit offers both types of pickups, I feel like the resulting sound is better. You aren’t missing the high-end like you sometimes deal with on the lyrics, and the lows have enough power that you don’t get lost when playing with a band.
One of the best active pickups that you can go with, especially for fingerstyle playing.
5. Fishman Matrix Infinity
This under saddle transducer pickup sometimes gets passed over because it is used on many of the acoustic-electric guitars that are sold. This common usage kills some of the novelty.
However, the popularity of this pickup is exactly why you should consider it.
The endpin mounted preamp slides discretely into your guitar and offers more control than many of the more expensive units. The transducer slips under your bridge for dynamic string response.
Then, for control, they give you two tone knobs that mount on your soundhole for easy access to your settings.
It sounds good — just like a high-end acoustic electric should sound. While I feel like this isn’t the best option for the guitarist who mostly plays fingerstyle, it is perfect for folk music, worship music, and country and bluegrass music. The installation is easy and the tone is incredible.
Even if your guitar isn’t the highest quality, this transducer pickup is going to help it sound better.
6. DiMarzio Virtual Acoustic DP134
It is a close call between this DP134 and the Woody HC I review next. These soundhole pickups tend to get a bad rap as they only amplify the strings vibrations and don’t capture that acoustic guitar sound that everyone loves.
However, they are very easy to install, and these higher end versions provide pretty good sound.
This one installs easily with the foam-padded guide arms that hold to your soundhole. The 12 adjustable pole pieces allow you to dial in the sound based on your individual guitar’s characteristics and the volume slider makes it easy to control feedback.
This pickup is pleasantly warm, but keep in mind that it is only detecting the strings. Your playing will sound much like an electric guitar and the warmth and volume that comes with an acoustic will all but be a loss.
No fault of this model, it is just part of the problem that comes with this type of pickup. As far as soundhole versions go, this is one of the best, with some of the lowest noise problems and greatest control.
7. Seymour Duncan Woody HC
I love this dual-coil pickup for its wood color and great sound. It offers a lot of value that other brands struggle to match.
The stacking technology in this one is why you should buy it over some of the cheaper options I’m about to review. If you are playing under fluorescent lights or near the neon-lit coffee shop window, this hum-reduction technology will make all of the difference.
Churches are also notorious for creating hum (it’s always the pianist’s fault, in case you were wondering). This dual coil stack is what is going to let you play on Sundays instead of getting thrown off stage from the hum.
This an easy on-off setup. you can slip it in for gigs where you are running an amplifier, and take it out the rest of the time.
There is an XL version of this which offers adjustable pole pieces that allows you to dial in your sound. I think that is a stellar option, but would probably DP138 instead since I love how it sounds.
Since there is a little play in how it fits in the holes, you can try shifting it a little until you get a sound you are happy with.
This is a great pickup for chording songs during live performances. And a much better sound quality than what you find in the ones I discuss below.
4. The HDE: The Best Cheap Acoustic Pickup
The HDE is a good choice for those needing a cheap selection.
Granted, there are several downsides to this product. To begin with, it is a newer product, with reviews only going back to fall of 2012. So we don’t know how long it will last or how durable it is.
However, considering that you could buy a new one every couple of years, and still not be hurting your coffee money, it’s a prettty solid pickup.
The sound is probably the most important concern, and here it performs decently. It does tend to not pick up the external strings as well, and the Low E and B strings can really overpower the rest. Shifting the pickup so that it is closer to the High E seems to balance things out a little better, but it still is not good for fingerstyle.
However, I have been very pleased with how little feedback and “hum” there is. Once you get it positioned, it seems to deliver a very clear result that was worth the effort of fiddling around with it to dial it in.
Of course, since it is a magnetic pickup, it only works with steel strings.
The resulting output is much more similar to an electric feel than that of an amplified acoustic.
Bottom line is, this soundhole pickup is butt-ugly, but it works better than many that are priced twice as much. For the occasional gig or playing around with effects, this is a great choice.
5.The AXL Transducer: Best Cheap Selection For An Acoustic Sound
The HDE reviewed above is an excellent little selection, but it doesn’t capture that natural tonality and texture that a lot of folk players are after.
For this pickup, I will suggest the AXL. It is piezoelectric, and since it responds to the vibrations of the entire instrument instead off just the strings, it does an excellent job reflecting the overall sound of your playing.
Overall, this product has a lower star rating on Amazon reviews. This owing to an earlier version of the product that had a weak suction cup which refused to stay attached. Since then, AXL has rectified the problem, and it stays attached almost too well.
There are two versions available on Amazon: one which installs more permanently and comes with an endpin, and a second version which only attaches to the face of the instrument body and plugs into your amp with no drilling — especially if you can stay close to your amplification while playing.
At this price point, I would suggest going with the no-drill option. As you can see, drilling is kind of a big deal and something you would want to outsource to a professional.
This is not a professional model. It’s a little quiet. But for amplifying solo playing for that coffee shop gig, it can be a good, inexpensive choice.
Types of Pickups
Active vs. Passive
Active Pickups – These have a battery pack and the ability to boost the volume a little bit or “add gain”. They often also offer some basic equalizer adjustments and the ability to mix your sound a little bit before sending it to the amp. This can make adjustments a little more easy for you to do from the stage.
Passive Pickups – Passives do not require any additional power source. (So, no batteries.) They simply pick up up the sound, and transfer it to the amp. This is the category that most fall in, and often require the least amount of modification to your kit.
Magnetic vs Piezo Pickups — Which is Best?
Magnetic Pickup – Is often considered the best choice. The magnetic unit sits under the strings of the guitar and functions by magnetizing the strings of the guitar and then interpreting the vibrations into electrical signals.
Most people think that Magnetics deliver a more balanced sound, however since they only interpret the tones from the strings, they may not capture the acoustic nuances you are after. In addition, they do not work on guitars that have nylon strings.
Piezo Pickups – These are some of the most common pickups out there. In fact, most acoustic guitars that are sold with a unit already installed will be using a piezo. The Piezo pickup has a small crystal inside of it that vibrates in frequency with the guitar, and then converts that vibration into electrical sound waves.
Sometimes piezos are accused of producing a harsher sound than a microphone or than their magnetic counterpart would. However, if you want to capture the acoustic nuance without being encumbered by a microphones system, the Piezo is an excellent option.
Internal Microphone Pickups – Without getting into the mechanics of how a microphone works, let’s just say that they offer the absolute best sound. Microphones are designed to capture a wide range of sounds and enable you to accurately capture and reproduce not only the notes but also the tone, of your instrument, which is half the art of being a guitarist. This is the choice for all studio recording and is becoming the mainstay of acoustic professionals.
Soundhole Pickups – these are not as popular as they used to be since you are exchanging some sound quality for convenience. You just slip these into the soundhole of your guitar and you are instantly ready to play. It’s basically a single-coil pickup, but that also comes in with the feedback problems of a single-coil. Typically a cheaper option, but not right for everyone.
Contact Pickups – this is a piezo pickup that attaches to the body of your guitar for instant amplification. They provide pretty good amplification, although feedback can be a problem if you aren’t running it through an equalizer. Since they attach to the body of the guitar, they are perfect for picking up percussive drumming and playing on the guitar body itself.
Does It Have A Preamp?
When you buy an acoustic-electric guitar, they normally come with a preamp. This preamp allows you to have some basic tone controls right there on the guitar before it heads to your pedalboard or soundboard. The Equalizer controls are the most common and allow for treble and bass mixing.
Better quality ones will also allow you to mix the inputs from multiple pickups. So if you are running the Lyric and the K&K Mini (a common setup), you can mix how much of each pickup is being fed into the sound system.
A Preamp provides a dramatic level of control on the raw tones and can help you solve feedback problems and deliver a better sound.
Not every pickup comes with a preamp. You can buy them separately and either hire a luthier to help you cut a hole in the side of your guitar and install the equalizer box, or you can go with an external option that allows you to control it from the floor.
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