Acoustic guitars benefit from pickups when you need to amplify the signal in live settings. Having a microphone on stage fixes the player to one spot, and the sound might suffer from bleed or being off-axis should the guitarist move at all. The best acoustic guitar pickups provide consistent sound quality and the freedom to roam the stage.
What Makes a ‘Good’ Acoustic Guitar Pickup?
Sound reproduction, ease of installation, and feedback resistance are all considerations for a good acoustic guitar pickup. It can be a little tricky to pinpoint one that excels at all three, but most of them do an adequate job considering the limitations of amplifying an acoustic instrument in this manner.
Types of Acoustic Guitar Pickups
Piezo Pickups (Undersaddle Pickups)
Piezo-style undersaddle pickups mount just under the bridge. They work by detecting vibrations from the strings and amplifying them. Piezo pickups sense just the strings with disregard for the guitar’s body, so the sound you get is very direct — sometimes bordering on thin.
A piezo system sometimes requires a preamp to boost the low voltage signal, and you may also need a professional tech to install it. However, undersaddle pickups are virtually feedback-free, which is a selling point for many players.
Magnetic Soundhole Pickups
These are the most common acoustic guitar pickups you’ll find. These pickups fit across the guitar’s soundhole and work just like an electric guitar pickup; it senses string vibration and converts that into an electrical signal for amplification. Not surprisingly, the sound is similar to what you’d get from a clean electric guitar tone.
Soundhole pickups are slightly more prone to feedback than others, but they can get the job done. They’re also easy to install with no major modifications.
Soundboard Transducer Pickups
Finally, we have soundboard transducer pickups. Sometimes called “bottle caps,” these are another style of piezo pickup. The biggest difference is that it can be mounted anywhere — near the bridge, inside the body, outside the body underneath the neck — anywhere. Since they amplify both the strings as well as body resonance, the sound is quite natural. Bottle caps are ideal for percussive playing that might also incorporate tapping the body.
Usually soundboard transducers have a sticky side you just attach to the guitar, and you can remove it without damaging the instrument. Some versions require modification.
The 9 Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups for Any Playing Style
Best Acoustic Guitar Piezo Pickups
The Fishman Presys+ system includes an undersaddle piezo pickup with a preamp and tone shaping controls. There’s also a built-in tuner, making it one of the most feature-rich acoustic pickup systems you can get.
This popular undersaddle piezo pickup is actually very easy to install, is feedback-resistant, and even comes with special noise-cancelling technology to minimize boxy frequencies.
Fishman is well known for their incredible active pickups for electric guitar, and the Matrix series for acoustic features the same detail and quality. Volume and tone controls help you shape the ideal tone for the situation, and it naturally reproduces a balanced sound across all of the strings.
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Best Acoustic Guitar Soundhole Pickups
The M80 is an awesome soundhole pickup. For one, it’s easy to use, and it captures a more detailed image of your acoustic sound by also picking up body resonance in addition to string vibration. The result is a full and natural sound that doesn’t ruin the acoustic’s characteristics.
This is an acoustic humbucker with adjustable pole pieces so you can get the proper string balance. It fits soundholes ranging from 3.75 to 4″, and it includes a 14′ cable. Just mount the pickup in the soundhole, plug it into an acoustic amp, mixer, or PA, and you’re good to go.
Here’s a passive acoustic pickup that’s extremely responsive to all of the nuances of your playing. The overall sound you get is balanced and natural, basically providing the power of an electric guitar pickup while retaining the intimate sound and detail of an acoustic guitar.
Best Soundboard Transducer Pickups for Acoustic Guitar
It doesn’t get much simpler than this. This one-piece pickup sticks to your acoustic instrument with the included adhesive patches. From there, just run a cable out of the pickup and into the signal destination.
The K&K Sound Pure Mini is a three-head bottle cap transducer for steel string acoustics. Designed to attach under the bridge from the inside of the instrument, it might be a little tricky to fix yourself, but it’s definitely doable. The sound is rich and natural, though, so it makes a good choice for a longterm solution.
Here’s one of the most affordable acoustic guitar pickups on the market. For just $30, you get a soundboard transducer designed to attach to the outside of the body. You can also remove and reattach the pickup repeatedly without damaging the guitar’s finish. Simple, reliable, and decent quality for the money.