Nothing can improve the sound of your existing guitar like an upgraded pick up. Whether you are playing, blues, rock, country or metal, installing new pick ups can be like removing a wet blanket from your amp. Mostly, you need to decide what sound you are looking for: vintage or modern, active or passive, crushing distortion or sweet overtone.
The first question is active vs. passive. There are a few active pickups on the market from companies like EMG, Seymour Duncan and Bartolini. These pickups are the ultimate in output and clarity. They produce little to no hum, and they give greater overall frequency response, which provides clarity that can be useful at high gain settings. Active pick ups do require a battery to operate and are usually more complex to install because most of the volume and tone potentiometers need to be replaced. Some people would consider a drawback of active pickups to be that they tend to even out string dynamics and pick attack. Some people think they have less “character” than passive pick ups. I would tend to agree. There is always a give and take!
Passive pick ups do not require a battery to operate. They would be considered the original style of pick up. They send the raw signal from the pick up to the amp, which can be altered by the volume and tone controls. They do not require a battery and there are lots of variations that can effect what sound you get. Basically, a pick up consists of magnet and winding. The magnet is typically Alnico magnet, or ceramic magnet. Alnico tends to be lower output, but with smoother frequency response. Think vintage tone with Alnico. Ceramic puts out a higher output and is more pushed that Alnico. Think hard rock with ceramic. Also, the number of copper winds can affect the sound. The higher the wind count, the hotter the output, but the overall tone is more midrangy and has less top end clarity. Hot pick ups don’t necessarily mean a better sound, just louder and more compressed. Different combinations of wire, magnet and shape can affect the tone of the pick up. There is no better or right way for a pickup to sound. It is all personal preference.
Choosing an Acoustic pickup
The trouble with finding an acoustic pick up is trying to accurately reproduce the acoustic sound of your guitar without incurring too much feedback. First, look to your application. Are you recording, playing in coffee houses as a solo acoustic act, or playing in a full on rock band? Usually, the louder your sound volume, the more prone the guitar will be to feedback. There are several different types of pickups available for acoustic. First, decide if you want to spend the money on active electronics. They are more expensive, but produce a much richer and louder tone in an acoustic pick up. Then decide if you want a sound hole or internal mount. The cheapest and most popular is the sound hole mounted style. These use traditional magnetic flux to sense string movement over the pick up. It works exactly like an electric guitar pick up. The problem is, you are only getting the sound of the strings, not the resonance of the body, and they are mostly passive. Some of the more expensive sound hole pick ups, such as the Fishman Rare Earth or the LR Baggs M1 do an excellent job of using active technology and cutting edge magnets to help produce a warm acoustic tone. You can still tell they are sound hole pick ups, but just barely! Interior mounted discreet pick ups such as the Fishman Matrix Infinity or the LR Baggs element use an under saddle pick up to sense the vibration of the string underneath the saddle. This produces a much more acoustic sound, but many people complain of the “quack” of the under saddle pick up. The feedback issue can also be a problem unless you use a sound hole cover. That being said, the under saddle piezo transducer is the work horse of the acoustic guitar pick up community. They have a good response, are loud and EQ very well in a sound mix and come at a pretty reasonable price. The other type of pick up to consider is the sound board transducer. These come in the form of the K and K Western, the Fishman SBT and the LR Baggs I-beam. They use a sensor to pickup the movement of the top. You get a good acoustic sound, closer to a microphone. Unless you use a microphone, these pickups will most accurately reproduce the sound of your guitar. They come in either active or passive. Make your choice between active and passive based on the level of flexibility you desire. We always recommend either an outboard or onboard preamp with these.
Other combinations include on-board condenser mics and new technologies like digital microphone modeling. These are best left discussed with a professional guitar technician, as the options become dizzying.
Let us guide you through the process of amping up the tone of the electronics in your guitar. Pickups are expensive and delicate. Having a professional’s know-how to guide you through the process from choosing a pick up to professionally installing it can save huge amounts of time, money and aggravation.. Third Coast Guitar Service techs are expert in all aspects of guitar electronics. From changing the pots and caps in your Strat, to installing on-board acoustic preamps, we have the knowledge and experience to make your guitar stand out.