In order to amplify your nylon-string acoustic guitar for live performance, you’ll probably want to invest in the best pickup for classical guitar. It’s theoretically possible to just mike the instrument on stage, but you run the risk of bleed and feedback, especially as part of an ensemble. Classical guitar pickups offer the cleanest, most reliable amplification of nylon-string instruments.
What Factors Should You Consider When Choosing Classical Guitar Pickups?
Like electric guitar pickups that come in various styles (humbucker, single-coil, active, passive, hot rails, etc.), so too do acoustic guitar pickups. It can be a difficult decision, which is why we’re attempting to help narrow the selection as much as possible.
Different Pickup Styles Will Reproduce Certain Sounds Better
The three main styles of classical/acoustic guitar pickups are magnetic, piezo, and microphone.
A magnetic pickup is the closest relative to the electric guitar; it produces a magnetic field, and vibrations from the strings enter the field for amplification. They’re typically easy to install and capture string detail beautifully. However, they won’t reproduce any of the complex body resonances from acoustic instruments.
Piezo are a kind of transducer pickup that captures vibrations from the instrument. The most common ones sit between the bridge saddle and the bridge, while others have several “heads” that attach underneath the soundhole inside the body. Piezos have a distinct sound that can be bright and clear (near the bridge) or slightly calmer and mellow (inside the body). Usually, the biggest drawback to piezos is that they sound brittle; they can also be trickier to install.
Finally, we have internal microphones. Exactly what they sound like, these are small mics fitted inside the body of the guitar. Internal microphones capture the most natural sound because they “hear” the strings as well as body resonances, percussiveness, and overall sound development. It’s critical to get the placement right as the sound will vary drastically depending on placement, and it’s worth nothing that they’re often prone to feedback. Internal mics are generally fairly quiet by themselves, so you’ll sometimes see them paired with a piezo system.
If you don’t feel like drilling or otherwise retrofitting a pickup to your precious investment, then you’ll want to find a professional who does! At the very least, choosing a pickup with minimal installation requirements may be in your best interest. All acoustic pickups require some patience and even a bit of practice to install, so if it’s a concern at all, we’d recommend going to a qualified tech to handle it for you.
What Is the Best Pickup for Classical Guitar? (Our Top Picks)
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The Duncan Wavelength is an undersaddle piezo system with an omnidirectional microphone. The system is conveniently powered by two AA batteries. Two onboard controls include mic volume and master volume, allowing you to create the right blend that doesn’t feed back and sounds just right.
For ease of use and installation, the KNA NG-1 is near the top of its class. This passive piezo pickup conveniently slides underneath the nylon strings on the tie bar; string tension holds it in place. The included 1/8″ to 1/4″ cable outputs from the pickup for easy plug-and-play.
LR Baggs’s Anthem system is a microphone pickup that nestles neatly inside the soundhole of a classical or acoustic guitar. Amazingly, it manages to buck the persistent issues with mic pickups, like feedback and boxiness. Instead, it offers stunningly clear acoustic sound that’s natural and pleasant.
The Oyster system by Schaller consists of two passive piezo pickups leading to a 1/4″ jack. They attach securely (and safely!) to the body of the guitar using included adhesive tape that won’t damage the instrument. Different placement leads to different results, though Schaller includes a quick rundown of common placements for specific styles of playing.
The SBT soundboard transducer is an affordable and more practical alternative to bridge-mounted units. While not required, it’s possible to pair the pickup with a Fishman preamp to have a complete, customizable tonal system for your acoustic guitar. Fishman recommends professional installation to accommodate the 1/4″ jack.
K&K’s Pure Classic is a brilliant passive pickup. It consists of a four-head transducer designed to mount under the bridge plate inside the body for the guitar. The positioning gives it a nicely balanced tone with enough direct string sound and enough body sound to accurately represent the guitar’s truest character.