When using an electric acoustic guitar, two things directly affect the tone of the instrument: the tone wood and the pickups. Both react differently with the amp and with each other, making finding the right pickups a somewhat confusing and drawn out process if you aren’t exactly certain of (a) what you are looking for and (b) the effects woods and pickups have on one another.
Finding the best acoustic guitar pickup can, however, be a fairly easy process if you have the right tips to guide you. Narrowing down your choices can be tricky–any musician can tell you, the worst thing about equipment is that there is far too much of it to choose from. Unless you know your woods and your pickups, you may face indecision. That is why I’ve created a guide to narrow your choices down, providing the information you need to make the right choice.
In case you’re in a hurry, and before we get into more detail about about what to look for to find the best acoustic guitar pickup for your guitar, lets have a quick look at our top 5 pickups that we feel would be fantastic introductory guitars, while not skimping on quality. For more information on all 5 of these guitars, just skip to the end of the article, or click here.
The best acoustic guitar pickup does not exist–different pickups will be better for different players and different guitars. If you have the knowledge though, you can find the best pickups for you. Here is a list of steps to follow in order to choose those perfect pickups for your beloved instrument.
Woods are the absolute number one contributing factor in bad pickup sound. Too bright of a wood (such as maple) mixed with a too trebly pickup can result in a piercing, fragile tone thin enough to tear. Too dark of a wood (such as mahogany) mixed with a pickup with too much bass can make for a muddy, unclear tone, causing notes to get lost in the murk of lows. Balance is the key in finding the proper pickup. A good place to start your search is by identifying the woods your guitar is made up of. Neck woods won’t have nearly as much impact on tone as body woods so, fortunately, there is only one real section of your guitar and usually only one wood to worry about.
Active pickups tend to be the most popular pickups used in acoustic guitars. The reason for this is that their high output works well with the hollowness of an acoustic guitar’s body. The clarity and responsiveness of an active pickup also lends itself nicely to an acoustic guitar’s tone, allowing for a more vibrant and clear note, as well as a more powerful and longer resonating chord.
Passive pickups are not as common, nor are they as popular in acoustic guitars due to the heft of the wiring necessary for them, as well as the difficulty of wiring a passive guitar pickup without a pot. While they are not as popular and are more difficult to wire, it is possible to wire a passive pickup into an acoustic guitar. There is a more popular passive pickup option becoming steadily more available which is the sound hole pickup, however many manufacturers have not picked up the trend as of yet.
Amplifiers will always have a monumental effect on the tone of a guitar. Even the perfect pickups cannot mask a poor quality amplifier so it may be difficult to find the right pickups without the right amp.
Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups Available
While picking the right acoustic guitar pickup is generally a personal quest, there are several popular and quality pickups that can and very well may be the right choice for you. With all the options out there, having a solid starting place will help you to make a quicker, and perhaps more satisfying, decision.
EMG is mostly renowned for their electric guitar pickups which are used by hard rock and heavy metal bands all around the world. With the attention they’ve garnered and the money the company has made, they did the sensible: they expanded into acoustic territories.
EMG ACS Active Sound Hole Pickups are clear and they can sustain notes indefinitely. With their world class experience, the quality to attention EMG has given to their acoustic pickups truly shows–these pickups are not only bright and responsive, they can also switch from beautiful to dirty wonderfully and easily.
There is no favoritism being played, EMG makes two of the best quality and best priced acoustic guitar pickups on the market to date. Saddle pickups are known for allowing the natural tone of the instrument to shine through, lending it strength while maintaining the purity of each and every note and chord. EMG acoustic saddle pickups are not only small and discrete, they are also powerful and easy to set up.
The M1A is an active acoustic pickup that has a bit of an old school bite to it. Lending notes the vibrancy and authenticity they deserve, the M1A displays why LR Baggs is one of the most famous acoustic pickup producers in the world.
Few pickups can offer the clarity and depth of tone that the noise cancelling ‘Duncan Woody from Seymour Duncan offers. With a natural wood casing, this pickup is not only pleasing to the ears, it is also pleasing to the eyes as well.
The Fishman Bluegrass Series transforms any acoustic guitar into a twangy, plucky, bright-souled country-ready instrument. This pickup has a lot of personality however, and should not be used by acoustic purists looking to maintain the original integrity of their instrument’s sound.