There is nothing like a high-caliber guitar pickup. When searching for the perfect tone, your pickups play priority much of the time.
Now obviously acoustic guitars don’t necessarily need pickups to produce a tone at all, though when playing with ensembles or bands, a pickup can allow you to be heard while moving freely.
While many major acoustic guitar manufacturers utilize built-in electronics that can be used with a quarter-inch, many don’t.
If you have a plain old acoustic guitar that you are looking to electrify, we’re here to help. Let’s take a look at some of the best acoustic guitar pickups on the market.
Top 5 Acoustic Pickups
*Ease of Installation (1=Easy, 5=Hard)
**Clarity (1=Least Clear, 5=Most Clear)
If you’re looking for a high-quality, natural sound, and have the money to spare, the L.R. Baggs ANTHEM is one of the best acoustic guitar pickups around.
With incredible clarity, tone, and style, it’s the perfect pickup selection for pros. The Tru Mic System provides you with a top-of-the-line tone similar to that of a studio mic’d performance.
Because the Tru Mic hovers just a few millimeters under the bridge, it takes advantage of the PZM effect, giving you both the sound of the guitar body and the sound of the strings.
Essentially, you get a noise-canceling mic that takes priority in the guitar’s sound, and the Tru Mic acting as a secondary source.
This set includes a control system that allows you to adjust the volume of both mics as well as adjust the phase. The replication of your guitar tone is immaculate with the ANTHEM, and the dynamics it allows for are unparalleled at the price point.
Unlike most mic-based pickups, this one terminates feedback, allowing you to play at a much higher gain than other pickups.
Bottom Line: If you’re willing to pay the premium price, the ANTHEM will provide the premium sound. It is easily one of the most versatile pickup systems around and helps professional acoustic guitarists everywhere to achieve the ultimate tone.
If you want to install your pickup without any guitar modification whatsoever, we recommend grabbing something like the DiMarzio Virtual Soundhole Pickup.
This unit utilizes two foam inserts that help to fix the pickup to the inside of your soundhole. The inserts can also be adjusted, making the pickup perfect for small acoustic guitars as well.
The compensated volume control feature helps to fight tone loss when you lower your volume, allowing you to play more dynamically throughout a show without sacrificing your desired sound.
The 12 pole pieces onboard are completely adjustable, allowing you to achieve a variety of tones. Many fingerstyle guitarists will raise the bass-string poles to get that low warmth while flat-picking guitarists will raise the high-string poles to get that airy shimmer. Lastly, this pickup comes complete with a 10-foot cable that can easily be removed when not in use. With that said, you can also have it permanently installed by a guitar tech if you choose.
Bottom Line: With a dynamic sound, helpful volume controls, and easy-as-pie installation, the DiMarzio Pickup is an excellent soundhole pickup for pros and amateurs alike. If you fear modifying your guitar, yet still want to amplify the sound, this pickup is the perfect choice.
Best Budget Option
At a price that won’t leave a large dent in your bank account, the Dean Markley DM3000 is inexpensive without sounding terrible.
With a simple, easy-to-install design, you can simply stick it to the face of your guitar and get to playing. The adhesive is 100% safe too and you can easily replace it if need be without ruining the finish on your guitar.
Now of course when you get into the budget realm of pickups, you do sacrifice some of that high-fidelity tone. If you don’t need that across-body, natural tone, and just want to amplify your sound with ease, the DM3000 can do it well.
The cool thing is, the single-transducer design allows you to move the disc around to experiment with your sound. Placing it closer to the saddle will give you a far different sound than placing it closer to the edge. Thanks to the simple removal, you can take it off and place it on your violin, cello, or other wooden, stringed instrument to achieve the same amplification.
Bottom Line: For amplification without the hefty price tag, the Dean Markley DM3000 provides you with ample tone and easy installation. It’s the perfect transducer pickup for beginner acoustic guitarists or those on a budget.
The K&K Pure Mini Pickup is a transducer pickup, meaning it works by picking up the body vibrations of your guitar instead of the strings.
If you want a warm and woody sound rather than something bright, a transducer pickup like this one is your best choice. Because of the method that transducers like the K&K use, you will likely be playing at lower volumes to avoid heavy feedback.
The beauty of this pickup is that it doesn’t require a guitar tech to install, as you can simply stick it to the wood and you’re ready to go.
The triple transducer design helps to capture a wider surface area of sound, giving you a tone that is far more natural than most cheap, single transducer pickups. Because they run across the soundboard of your acoustic, the spread softens your tone.
Many inexpensive transducers seem tinny, so the fact that they’ve captured the ability to better represent your acoustic tone as a whole is pretty awesome.
Bottom Line: With discreet mounting capabilities, easy installation, and a soft, warm tone, this passive pickup is perfect for steel string and nylon users everywhere. Thanks to the simple and lightweight design, you won’t even notice that it’s there.
When you look into acoustic guitar amplification, Fishman is a name that pops up quite a bit. This is because these pickups are some of the most versatile in the game while still retaining affordable prices for amateur musicians.
The Matrix is one of Fishman’s most popular pickups. It comes complete with an endpin preamp, volume and tone control, and a low-battery indicator for those who worry about going dead mid-performance.
One of the coolest features onboard this pickup by far is the voicing switch. The voicing switch allows you to cut out certain frequencies that tend to resonate too heavily depending on your acoustic’s body shape.
Essentially, you can use it to get rid of tones that aren’t natural to your acoustic, or tones that come on too strong. These tone controls are very easy to adjust on the fly as well thanks to the accessible soundhole position.
Bottom Line: When it comes to tone shaping and shimmering string response, the Fishman Matrix is one of the best Piezo (under saddle) pickups in the game. You can even purchase it in two different saddle widths to best fit your acoustic.
Acoustic Guitar Pickup Types - What Are They and Which One Should You Choose?
Piezo pickups, otherwise known as undersaddle pickups, sit tucked underneath the saddle of the bridge and pick up string vibrations, similarly to pickups on your electric guitar. They are easily the most commonly used type of acoustic guitar pickup thanks to the budget-friendly price and easy installation.
Piezo pickups tend to be a bit brighter than most, as they give you more of a string sound than a body sound. The beauty of bright sound is it will cut through the band like a knife, allowing you to be heard in even the largest of ensembles.
If you’re looking for a more elementary solution to your acoustic amplification, a soundboard transducer might do you well.
These bad boys are the easiest to install, as they simply stick to the body of your guitar with a non-harmful, adhesive material.
Do note that soundboard transducers are the least expensive pickup type, and they don’t provide tons of volume or a high-fidelity sound. If you are simply looking to be heard and don’t care much about having a “rock-the-house” volume or bright, jangly tone, a transducer will do you just fine.
There’s no doubt that you’ve seen a soundhole pickup during a live performance before. They’ve been around for many decades and are incredibly easy to install and remove.
These pickups sit directly underneath your strings within the soundhole, hence the name. They act similarly to electric guitar pickups using coils and magnets to harness and amplify your guitar’s sound.
They provide astounding clarity and tons of body warmth, allowing you to fingerpick with every note heard. From humbuckers to single-coil, the type you get is up to the sound that you’re after.
If you want to get the most natural tone out of your acoustic guitar, the best type of pickup to use is a microphone. They are generally more expensive than other types of pickups, though help to pick up a broader spectrum of vibrations, giving you the sound of the majority of the body instead of just the strings.
Because of the sensitivity, they can pick up feedback, though you can adjust them to avoid it once you have a good understanding of the correct placement.
When installing an internal mic, we recommend getting the help of a professional guitar tech, as the process can be quite complicated.
Active vs Passive
When looking through your acoustic guitar pickup specs, you might see the words “active” and “passive”. These words are referring to the power type.
Active pickups output a very strong signal, meaning you’ll be able to run through just about any PA system without worrying about a weak signal. Passive pickups, on the other hand, might require some sort of DI Box or preamp to output a louder, clearer tone.
It comes down to your preference whether or not you would rather always have to carry around a battery or have to worry about the possibility of not having a loud enough tone on standard PA systems.
Now Pick Up Where You Left Off
Hopefully by now you understand all of the things you need to look for when purchasing an acoustic guitar pickup. There are so many different types to choose from so it all comes down to your preferred style, tone, and budget.
If you’re looking for the best of the best, there is no doubt that the L.R. Baggs ANTHEM is top-of-the-line. Make sure to explore your options, watch some demo videos, and get the pickup that is right for you.
Strum on my good friends!