The 7 Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups – Amplifying Your Acoustic Sound
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Last Updated: November 19, 2019
Table Of Contents
- The Top 7 Acoustic Guitar Pickups:
- What Makes a Good Acoustic Guitar Pickup
- Soundboard Transducers
- Undersaddle Pickups (Piezo)
- Soundhole Pickups
- Internal Microphones
- Does It Have a Preamp?
- A Word on Amplifiers
- The Final Word
However, by definition, acoustic guitars don’t actually need pickups. That’s the joy of having an acoustic – you can play it unplugged anywhere, anytime. But for those guitarists who want to perform to larger groups, play with a band, or conveniently record with their acoustic guitar, a pickup becomes more of a necessity.
Some of the best acoustic guitars from brands including Martin, Taylor, Breedlove, Takamine, and Gibson all feature quality electronics. At the other end of the spectrum many budget acoustic guitars (think Rogue and Ibanez) are also fitted with pickups – some of which can be pretty good systems for the price.
However, to keep costs low, many acoustics simply don’t have electronics. Other brands know that a pickup is personal choice, so don’t include them – instead allowing the guitarist to choose what is right for them.
To help you make an informed decision, we have prepared a chart highlighting seven of the best acoustic pickups around, covering a wide range of price categories – from budget to high-end. Then stick around for our guide to acoustic guitar pickups which follows the chart.
The Top 7 Acoustic Guitar Pickups:
|Image||Pickups / Rating||Summary||Check Price|
|+ -|| LR Baggs Anthem Tru-Mic |
Total of 4.84/5
A premium pickup system that delivers impeccable sound.
|+ -|| Fishman Rare Earth Humbucking Pickup |
Total of 4.76/5
Lovely natural tone on offer from this excellent Fishman humbucker.
|+ -|| K&K Pure Mini |
Total of 4.76/5
Mini by name, mighty by nature!
|+ -|| Fishman Matrix Infinity Undersaddle Pickup |
Total of 4.74/5
A very popular undersaddle pickup system with on-board controls.
|+ -|| Seymour Duncan Woody HC |
Total of 4.72/5
One of the most popular acoustic pickups with zero hum.
|+ -|| Fishman Neo-Buster |
Total of 4.64/5
This Neo-Buster is also a feedback-buster!
|+ -|| Dean Markley DM3000 Artist Transducer |
Total of 4.52/5
A cheap but cheerful transducer pickup from Dean Markley.
We kick off this chart with the exceptional Tru Mic system from LR Baggs, offering the natural sound of a high-quality studio-mic’d guitar anywhere. Interestingly – and to great effect – the brand flips the traditional hybrid setup on its head, allowing the noise-canceling mic to dominate the sound, with the Element pickup the secondary sound source.
This delivers perhaps the truest, most detailed replication of a guitar that we have heard in an acoustic pickup, with superb dynamics. Another plus is that you can reach very high gain before feedback becomes an issue.
This system includes a set of easily-accessible controls including volume, a phase switch, and a mix control. The only drawback is that such a premium product comes with a premium price tag. Still, worth it for the tone.
If you aren’t in the market for the highest-end pickup, the renowned Fishman Rare Earth humbucker is a great compromise between affordability and premium sound.
Sitting across the top of your soundhole, this active pickup features Fishman’s Neodymium magnets to deliver a rich and natural acoustic tone that’s excellent for both strumming and fingerpicking styles. While a single-coil version is available at a lower price, this humbucker pretty much eliminates the dreaded 60-cycle hum, and is recommended for gigging guitarists.
Another plus is the handy built-in volume control, that sits on the underside of the pickup. Negatives? It’s not as subtle in design as some others in out chart, but it remains slim and unobtrusive, and installation is pretty simple. Quite hard to fault!
Another hugely popular acoustic pickup comes from K&K Sound – their Pure Mini, which is an award-winning three-head bridge plate transducer which delivers on many different levels. It’s by no means the cheapest on this list, but for under one hundred bucks you are getting a true, sweet sound with a big output and clarity, and lots of warmth.
This passive pickup provides an excellent replication of the guitar’s natural sound – it’s not identical, but the similarities between plugged and unplugged tone are clear to hear.
One negative is that it’s quite tricky to install – not impossible, but set aside plenty of time or get a professional to do it for you. For the price, the Pure Mini is highly-recommended.
This highly-rated undersaddle piezo comes from pickup gurus Fishman, and delivers a relatively affordable way to get a clear, rich and natural tone from your acoustic guitar.
The system features one of the most popular undersaddle pickups on the market today, the Fishman Matrix, providing a full, warm tone with great brightness (and very minimal quack). It’s very responsive and the dynamics are great, while feedback is kept very quiet.
The system also offers subtle soundhole-mounted rotary controls, allowing easy onboard tweaking of volume and tone. Combine the pickup quality and easy controls, and you have a very versatile system, suitable for fingerstyle, strumming and lead playing. Note that this is an active system, so a 9-volt battery is required.
Seymour Duncan certainly know a thing or two about aggressive, distortion-saturated humbuckers – but how do they fare when it comes to acoustic pickups?
Very well actually, as their hum-cancelling Woody proves. Available in maple, walnut or black-stained housing, the Woody is a passive magnetic pickup that slots into any soundhole, without the need for modification to your prized acoustic. It does a great job of replicating your natural tone, with great warmth.
While a single-coil version exists, this hum-cancelling version is particularly popular as it delivers a rich tone with a slightly thicker sound – one that is delivered without excess noise from hum or feedback. It’s a versatile pickup, perfect for all playing styles and proves good value for the price.
With the Neo-Buster, Fishman have loaded their popular Neo-D pickup into a soundhole cover that actively reduces feedback. This soundhole cover isn’t as subtle as some of the other pickups on this list, so won’t appeal to everyone.
The single-coil Neodymium magnet structure offers a superbly balanced tone and a natural reproduction of your guitar’s sound. The tone has ample brightness, while remaining full and warm. Meanwhile, clarity is excellent, making the NeoBuster perfect for recording and – naturally – performing.
This is because, as the volume gets amped up, feedback stays quiet. Meanwhile, installation is simple, and requires no modification to the guitar, although it’s essential to check that this pickup will actually fit your model’s soundhole.
Coming in at under $30, we arrive at the cheapest pickup on this, although one which still proves worthy of your cash. The DM3000 Transducer from Dean Markley is very simple in design – a single transducer inside a small maple disc, which is stuck to the face of your guitar.
Thankfully the adhesive used allows you to remove and replace the disc with ease (and without harming your guitar’s finish too much, although it did leave a slight tacky feel).
For such a low price the DM3000 offers a surprisingly good sound – not as natural as the higher-end pickups we’ve discussed, but quite well balanced across the strings, clear and even in tone. It’s not perfect, but for those who want to experiment with amplifying their acoustic it’s worth the small price tag.
What Makes a Good Acoustic Guitar Pickup
Acoustic guitars have a wide range of pickup styles that cater for all sounds, playing styles, installation methods, and budgets. Here are the most popular:
The most basic acoustic pickup is the soundboard transducer, which sticks to the face of the guitar to pick up the vibrations through the top. They usually stick with a non-permanent adhesive, meaning installation tends to be the simplest of all the pickups, while removing the device is just as easy.
While the cheapest of the acoustic pickup varieties, transducers also tends to give the lowest sound quality and volume. They are ideal for smaller performances. Take a look at the Dean Markley DM3000 on our chart to illustrate a good soundboard transducer.
Undersaddle Pickups (Piezo)
One of the most common acoustic pickups is the undersaddle piezo. These are made with thin strips of sensory material, which – as the name suggests – sits directly underneath the bridge saddle, picking up pressure changes from the string’s vibrations. Unlike a soundboard transducer, the undersaddle pickup usually isn’t seen.
Undersaddle pickups offer a very direct sound, which is very string-focused (opposed to capturing the general ambiance of the guitar). It’s therefore particularly good for fingerstyle and classical guitarist, with a very bright sound – with more attack and presence than soundboard transducers – and minimal feedback issues. However, these pickups are prone to a slight brittle (or ‘quacky’) sound. The Fishman Matrix Infinity on our chart below is a good example of an undersaddle pickup system.
Introduced in the 1960s, this style of pickup has never waned in popularity because they are affordable, versatile, don’t require any major installation, and can be easily removed. As the name suggests, this pickup sits across the soundhole underneath the strings. While all models differ, they will feature magnets and coils that produce sound in a similar way to a standard electric guitar pickup.
The benefit of sitting directly under the strings is that they deliver a clear and detailed sound, with good warmth that’s perfect for flat-picking/strumming. Their disadvantage is that they can produce a slightly artificial tone, while feedback can also be an issue in the single-coil versions (humbuckers do exist though, usually at a higher price). Check out the Fishman Rare Earth humbucker on our chart for an example of a good soundhole pickup.
Guitarists generally agree that internal microphones are the best way to naturally amplify an acoustic guitar – although they come at a higher price. These sensitive pickups are mounted inside the body of the guitar, and pick up vibration from a larger area of the instrument, delivering a more natural tone that captures the warmth and detail of any acoustic guitar. They are therefore ideal for fingerpicking.
These pickups still have some drawbacks, such as feedback, although the microphones can be easily adjusted to compensate. Installation can also be a bit tricky, and often best left with a professional. Microphones can also be part of a blended or hybrid system, which include an undersaddle pickup for a ‘best of both worlds’ sound. On our chart, the LR Baggs Anthem Tru-Mic is a good example of a hybrid system.
Also, check out this video, which is a simple but clear explanation of a hybrid system (with a little on piezo pickups and microphones individually):
Does It Have a Preamp?
Many acoustic guitar pickup systems come with a preamp, which allows you to shape your sound directly from your guitar. These can range from very basic volume and tone controls, up to more advanced systems, including individual EQ sliders (bass, middle, treble), blend controls (for two different pickups), feedback controls, and onboard digital tuners.
While the simpler systems are usually tucked into the soundhole, the more advanced preamps tend to be attached to the side of the guitar in the form of a control panel, or come as an external device.
If the pickup you like the sound of doesn’t come with a preamp, fear not – these can be purchased separately and attached at the same time as the pickup.
A Word on Amplifiers
It’s worth remembering that even though you could spend $300 on an awesome hybrid pickup system, playing it through a basic amp isn’t likely to give you the high-end sound you were hoping for.
So, when choosing a pickup, consider the amp that will be providing the final output. There’s no need to spend thousands on a brand-new amplifier, but the more you can invest in an amp, the better your overall sound will be.
To get some inspiration, check out our article on the best dedicated acoustic amplifiers to see what’s hot at the moment.
The Final Word
As you have read, there is plenty to consider when it comes to buying a pickup for your acoustic guitar. We hope our chart has given you a little inspiration when it comes to choosing something to suit your playing style and budget, although plenty more pickups exist – these are just our favorites.
Take some time over your decision and, if possible, try out your shortlisted pickups in person. If not, read some reviews and watch some videos of your shortlist in action. If you’re spending a considerable amount of cash – and potentially making permanent alterations to your guitar – you’ll want to ensure what you buy is right for you.
Good luck with your new pickups!