The Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups for Steel & Nylon Strings
Looking to get your acoustic guitar amplified? See our updated list of top rated acoustic guitar pickup systems, featuring pickups that work great for steel string and nylon string acoustic guitars.
This page is sponsored by Sweetwater so you can click through to get the full specifications, the latest price, and purchase any of the Acoustic Guitar Pickups stocked by Sweetwater that we have recommended.
Things to Consider when Buying Acoustic Guitar Pickups
Saving on the cost of having to buy a separate pickup is one of the main reasons why acoustic-electric guitars became popular. These days, acoustic guitars with no electronics are mostly either entry-level models, or uber expensive ones. If you're planning to add a pickup to an expensive acoustic guitar, we would recommend that you invest in a premium non-invasive pickup because the value of the guitar will drop when the body is modified. For cheaper guitars, you'll want the pickup to be of good quality without being more expensive than the actual instrument. It will also be easier to do body modifications because you won't be worrying too much about value depreciation.
Steel vs Nylon String
Steel string and nylon string guitars have different tonalities and work in different ways (you can't use a magnetic pickup on nylon strings), as such, you'll want pickups that are specialized for the particular instrument that you are going to use it on. These days, most of the pickups available on the market are meant for, or at least tested on steel string guitars, which means that you'll have a lot of options for your acoustic guitar. Some of these popular pickups will also work with nylon strings, but it is much better to go for specialized pickups that are tweaked to handle the nuances of classical/flamenco guitars.
Invasive or Non-Invasive
If you don't want to make any modifications to your precious acoustic guitar, then you'll want to go for non-invasive pickups. These pickups temporarily attach themselves to the guitar, be it on the body or inside the soundhole, and they are easy to remove when you want them to. The disadvantage of these non-invasive pickups is reliability and consistency, since they are not permanently and precisely positioned, they can move around or worse be detached while performing. If you want a more reliable and "fixed" solution, then you'll want to consider undersaddle transducers, just know that they may require permanent modifications to the body.
Passive vs Active
Active pickups require batteries to power the preamp which is built-into the pickup design. This is the design that majority of manufacturers use because they get more control over the resulting sound via the preamp. There are only a few good quality passive acoustic guitar pickups in the market, but they can be a great option if you want full control over your sound via an external preamp.
There are four types of acoustic guitar pickups and they are listed below for your convenience. Each one links to an explanation of how the pickup types work, along with highly recommended examples that are available in the market today. See the list below:
For best results, you'll want to blend different types, professionals have been doing this to achieve higher fidelity and flexibility. Investing in multiple pickups is recommended if you're looking to do professional gigs and recording, they will give you a broader tonal range to work with, and will help minimize the weaknesses of each type.
1. Undersaddle Transducers
Most of the acoustic-electric guitars that we have today come with undersaddle transducers, this type of pickup is preferred by many players because of its feedback resistance, sonic flexibility and organic sound. As the name implies, a thin film or string like device called a piezo pickup is put under the saddle, getting the sound through the vibrations rather than basic miking. Because of where the pickup is positioned, it will usually require modifications on your guitar. The reward however is appreciable as the pickup system works great for fingerstyle or strumming. Word of caution though, hitting the strings hard will produce an unwanted 'quacking' sound.
Fishman Matrix Infinity
Because Larry Fishman could not find a good sounding piezo pickup for his acoustic double bass, he decided to make one for his own. The resulting pickup had musicians talking, resulted in him making pickups for others, and eventually getting his first big customer, which was Guild guitars. Soon his basement business boomed into a full fledged company when more major brands came to him, including the likes of Martin, Gibson, Taylor and many more. The fact that these competing brands trust Fishman pickups is a testament to the quality, practicality and reliability of their products.
The Matrix Infinity pickup and preamp system is Fishman's flagship model, and many would say it is the best undersaddle acoustic guitar pickup out there, and we agree. Although it will require modifications to your guitar, the pickup is designed to install with as little change to your instrument as possible, with the controls designed to discretely mount under the soundhole. With Fishman's reputation for high headroom and feedback resistance, this is the pickup of choice for loud gigs, especially when playing with a band. Transparency and dynamics are not that bad either, viable for any solo instrumentalist or singer songwriter. There's even a switchable voicing feature to better match the acoustic tones of different guitar bodies and sizes.
If you're looking for an undersaddle pickup from a brand that even the best guitar makers rely on, then get the Fishman Infinity Matrix. Retail Price: $159.95 | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
LR Baggs Element Active System VTC
Popular for their quality pick ups, Lloyd Baggs actually started out as a guitar builder. He transitioned into building pickups when his friend Ry Cooder showed him an early acoustic-electric guitar from Takamine, which incidentally is a "copy" of his guitar design. The story goes that he studied Takamine's piezo pickups and thought of a way to make them smaller and easier to install on other guitars. The result was the LB-6, a unitary saddle with piezo pickups built-in, which helped launch the L.R. Baggs company. Fast forward to the present, L.R. Baggs is now one of the biggest names in acoustic guitar pickups and amplification, and considered by many to be the best in terms of quality.
The LR Baggs Element Active System VTC is an excellent example of what the company can do, an easy to install undersaddle transducer that provides good quality amplified acoustic tones. To make it easy to install, LR Baggs went with a streamlined and ergonomic design that removes all unnecessary internal components. In addition to setup ease, its efficient design allows for a more robust and open acoustic guitar tone. The VTC model comes with soundhole mounted volume and tone controls, allowing for tone shaping.
This easy to install undersaddle pickup is a safe pick if you're looking for an open sounding acoustic guitar pickup. Retail Price: $129 | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
2. Soundhole Pickups
Soundhole Pickups used to be the most common type of pickup available, this has since changed with the advent of undersaddle piezos. Still, the convenience and non-intrusive installation of this pickup type makes it a viable choice for many musicians. These are usually attached or clipped on the sound hole area and work like typical magnetic pickups, albeit tweaked to better capture the added punch and dynamics of acoustics. The downside of this method is that it does not capture the acoustic vibration of the actual wood, making it sound more akin to an electric guitar. The higher headroom and clearer sound however makes this a great pickup when jamming with other musicians. It also works nicely when blended with other pickup types, adding fullness and warmth to the typically thin sound of piezo equipped acoustic-electric pickups.
Fishman Rare Earth Humbucking Pickup
The Rare Earth soundhole pickup is Fishman's easy to use soundhole pickup, allowing you to go straight to amp, PA or direct recording without unnecessary modifications to your instrument. It's as easy as can be to setup, simply attach the pickup to your soundhole, tighten the grip, and plug-in to your favorite amp or straight to PA. Note that you can opt to drill a hole to permanently place the output jack if you don't want the cable dangling, but you can use it either way without sound issues. Speaking of sound, the Rare Earth is well loved for its super quiet operation, thanks to its stacked coil humbucking design, while retaining an earthy tone courtesy of the neodymium magnets and discrete circuitry that are tweaked for acoustic guitars.
The Fishman Rare Earth Humbucking acoustic guitar pickup uses active electronics, which means that it can fine tune the sound a bit, to add more warmth and low end than expected from conventional magnetic type pickups. Finally, it is packaged in a smaller discreet frame which would not distract from the natural beauty of your guitar. You will find mostly favorable reviews for this highly recommended acoustic guitar pickup.
If you're looking for a high headroom pickup that's easy to setup and remove, then the Rare Earth humbucking Pickup is highly recommended. Retail Price: $169.95 | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
Seymour Duncan SA-35C Woody HC
Known for their electric guitar pickups, Seymour Duncan has been expanding their business into other territories, including guitar pedals and acoustic guitar pickups. With their expertise on magnetic pickups, it is no surprise that their soundhole mounted pickups are of high quality, ensuring their spot on this list. To be specific it is the SA-35C Woody HC (Hum-Cancelling) that got our attention, with its super quiet operation, passive no-coloration design, and cool looking "woody" exterior design - it also helps that this pickup is very reasonably priced.
Because of its passive design, the SA-35C Woody HC is highly regarded for its transparency and flat-response. You will still need to do EQ as you prefer on your external preamp, but at least you have total control over the coloration, rather than the manufacturer deciding the tone shaping for you by default. This flat-response is also one of the reasons why left handed guitarists love the SA-35C, because it works just as well even when the orientation of the guitar is for lefties. Installation is easy and discrete, while the woody finish options will let you choose one that blends better to the wood on your acoustic guitar.
Finally, the Seymour Duncan SA-35C is affordable, so if you are looking for a budget friendly passive soundhole pickup, this is highly recommended. Retail Price: $69 | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
LR Baggs M80
For something that's easy to install and use, the LR Baggs M80 soundhole pickup offers impressive transparency and realism. Instead of the expected thin and high-frequency focused sound of other magnet-based pickups, the M80 has a surprising warmth and openness when it is plugged in. This is made possible with a second coil within the pickup, which captures the movement of the body. The sound of the strings as captured by the magnetic pickup, and the sound made by the resonating wood as captured by the second coil, are blended together for a more natural sounding acoustic tone.
Compared to other soundhole pickups, the M80 captures percussive taps and slaps on the guitar body much like a microphone would. This makes the resulting sound fuller, and makes the M80 viable for modern percussive instrumental acoustic playing style. The price tag is a bit daunting, but the sound quality and convenience of being sound hole mounted make the M80 a worthy investment. See singer songwriter Matthew Perryman put the M80 to good use on the live performance video below:
If budget is not an issue, and you're not too picky with the way the pickup looks on your guitar, then you should consider this great sounding pickup. Retail Price: $249 | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
3. Soundbooard Transducers
Soundboard Transducers are said to be the closest you can ever get to sounding like your unplugged tone, making your guitar sound like it is being mic'd. These pickups are normally just attached to the bridgeplate or somewhere along the soundboard and listens for vibrations. The result is a more natural sounding tone. The drawback for this type is its feedback problems, making it somewhat hard to use for big venues or loud music.
LR Baggs iBeam Active
Instead of going the conventional piezo strip under the saddle, the iBeam pickup features a transducer that attaches to the bridge plate on the inside of the guitar. This configuration captures more of the body and string resonance, while reducing the quack of piezo pickups, specifically when attacking the strings hard. And since this one is from LR Baggs, quality and reliability is assured, but you will have to invest a considerable amount to get your hands on this one.
As a testament to its quality, many musicians and stores recommend this pickup as a replacement for the default pickups that come with acoustic-electric guitars. A good description of the sound is somewhere between a mic and a piezo, having enough clarity while still having good feedback suppression for small venues. Installation for this pickup is relatively simple, the transducer itself has a peel and stick adhesive so it can securely attach to the bridge-plate. Professional installation is recommended, but the instructions are clear enough for any guitarist with the tools to install the pickup. The preamp runs on a 9V battery that allows for around a thousand hours of playing time.
If you're looking for more clarity and details than check out the LR Bags iBeam Active. Retail Price: $149 | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
Kremona was founded by a Dimitar Georgiev, a gunsmith turned guitar builder after he saw how guns wrecked havoc in World War I. He started by building mandolins in his home country of Bulgaria, expanded into violins, and guitars. Fast forward to today, Kremona is still building acoustic steel string and nylon string guitars, and have joined in on the acoustic guitar pickup market. The Kremona NG-1 allows nylon string guitar players to get their instrument amplified with zero modifications to the guitar, add to that its affordable price tag and it becomes a great detachable pickup for classical guitar.
And it's not just students because even experienced players found this pickup to be very convenient and impressive sounding. Installation is very easy, all you have to do is loosen your strings, and secure the passive piezo strip on the tie bar of your nylon string guitar. It will be held in place by the string tension and will be able to capture the sound of your instrument in that position. It also comes with a detachable cable which you can cheaply replace if needed be, making this pickup easy to service. Note that since this is a passive piezo pickup, you will need an external acoustic guitar preamp.
If you're looking for a budget friendly detachable pickup for your classical guitar, then check this one out. Retail Price: $69 | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
4. Microphone Hybrid Pickups
The name itself is self explanatory, microphone pickups utilize compact mics that capture the actual sound of the guitar instead of merely detecting string or body vibrations. Like studio mics, these pickups capture the sound of a guitar down to the nuances, making it ideal for solo singer-songwriters or instrumentalists. The downside of having a microphone pickup is its vulnerability to feedback, so to alleviate this, manufacturers normally combine mic pickups with other types, resulting in today's sought after hybrid pickups. The downside of having multiple pickups in one unit is the heftier price tag, but the investment is well worth it considering the quality and flexibility they afford.
LR Baggs Anthem
While strumming and plucking is still a thing in this day and age, there are a growing number of acoustic guitar players that are taking the instrument further by combining dazzling fretboard flexibility with tight percussive taps and scratches (gasp!) on the body of their guitar. Because of how they use both the strings and the body to make sound, these one-man-band acoustic guitarists require multiple pickups. This is where the LR Baggs Anthem Tru-Mic comes in, with its combination of a condenser mic and LR Bagg's Element undersaddle pickup system, providing impressive naturalism while maintaining high feedback resistance, thanks to the company's special feedback suppression technology.
The goal of this type of pickup is to make your amplified guitar sound as close to what you hear when you're guitar is unplugged, so there's no tone shaping going on, other than ensuring that all the details of your guitar sound are captured and represented - from the sound of the strings, to the vibrations of the wood. The control panel mounts discretely on the soundhole, giving you the ability to adjust the volume, mix of the mic and pickup, and phase for feedback suppression. Again, professional installation would be a good investment if you want to get the best out of this premium pickup, but if you have the experience then the instructions provide enough details to get it done.
If you have the cash and are willing to invest, the LR Baggs Anthem will not disappoint. If you don't have the cash but want the sound, then start saving up! Retail Price: $299 | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend
The Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend combines their best-selling undersaddle Matrix pickup with the Ellipse soundhole mounted microphone, giving you the best of what Fishman has to offer. The Fishman Matrix piezo system by itself is already well loved, so adding in the microphone option which you can then blend makes things much more interesting to say the least. And what's nice about this system is its discrete installation, with soundhole mounted controls that stay out of sight.
Being one of the world's best selling undersaddle pickups, there's not much more to say about the Matrix piezo, other than it is partly responsible for the many amplified acoustic sounds that you hear, from small stages to big stages, and from indie recordings to pop star albums. Great as it is, it can still be improved by adding a microphone into the mix, and this is what the Ellipse Matrix Blend is, having a flexible gooseneck condenser microphone that you can position as you like near the sound hole for a fuller, and more detailed sound. Controls allow you to adjust the volume and lets you blend of the two pickups, while a phase control helps you fight feedback issues. As expected, this premium pickup comes with a hefty price tag, but users and experts all agree that it is well worth the investment.
If you want nothing less than Fishman's top selling pickup for acoustic guitar, then ready your budget and get this one. Retail Price: $260 | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
LR Baggs Lyric Classical
While standard undersaddle piezo pickups should work fine with nylon string guitars, having one that's specifically designed for your instrument is much better. The LR Baggs Lyric Classical is a true microphone only pickup system for nylon string guitars. The mic is tweaked to better capture the sound of classical and flamenco guitars, while the preamp section specializes in processing the sound to make it sound as good, if not better than how it sounds when un-amplified.
When it comes to recording acoustic guitar, there's nothing better than having a good microphone, but mics are not practical for stage use because of feedback issues. So LR Baggs developed a way to make a microphone work even in live situations, and they did so by using modern noise-cancelling technology and precise undersaddle positioning. In line with this, the pickup has to sit less than 3mm from the top of your guitar, so professional installation is advised. Nylon string guitars need their lows and highs to be full sounding, so the preamp is tweaked appropriately, as evidenced by the many users and experts who are very pleased with their live sound after installing the Lyric Classical.
If you're looking for a premium pickup for your nylon string guitar, then the LR Baggs Lyric Classical is highly recommended. Retail Price: $199 | Get the latest price & reviews at Sweetwater.com
So there you have it, if you have good or bad experiences with any of the pickups above, or you want to recommend an acoustic guitar pickup that you particularly liked, you can share your thoughts to everyone in the comments section below.
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