Fitting a pickup to your acoustic guitar allows you to amplify your playing without perching in front of a microphone. Broadly speaking, there are three options when it comes to the best acoustic guitar pickups: the under-saddle piezo (which you’ll find built in to most mid-price electro-acoustics), soundboard transducer and soundhole pickup.
Each type of pickup offers a different tone, so experiment to see which suits your style of playing best. We’ve saved you some time by sampling a range of models to suit every type of acoustic guitar player.
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What is the best acoustic guitar pickup right now?
The LR Baggs Anthem Tru-Mic acoustic guitar pickup is the best all-rounder. It combines a piezo pickup with a mic to achieve more of a ‘true’ acoustic sound. In this case it’s a noise-cancelling mic mounted inside on the guitar’s bridge plate close to the guitar’s top – the primary source of its tonal character.
Americana songwriters Brian Fallon and Sturgill Simpson are two recent converts to the Anthem’s Tru-Mic charms with the Element piezo used here already highly rated too. The mic adds the crucial ingredient of helping to capture your guitar’s natural sound more effectively.
Best acoustic guitar pickups: what you need to know
The most common type of pickup on electro acoustic guitars is the piezo and can usually be found under the bridge saddle, out of sight. They pick up the vibrations of the strings and the guitar’s top at the saddle position.
Unlike a traditional pickup with a magnetic field, they use compressed piezoelectric crystals to detect vibrations. A preamp then usually translates them before the guitar’s output – though if they’re passive there will be no preamp and the output will be lower as a result – often including EQ-shaping options for the player.
While piezos are regarded as more ‘acoustic’ by their very nature, they can often sound much brighter than magnetic pickups (we’ll get to those soon), especially as they’re detecting vibrations where the strings are at their tightest on the guitar. So they’re articulate, but not necessarily the ‘woodiest’ sound after a preamp has boosted and compressed their character. This can lead to the dreaded ‘piezo quack’ – an overload that leads to a brittle, plastic-y character.
More expensive pickup systems will combine a mic positioned inside the guitar with a piezo to help offset this – they’re often called mic blend systems and players can choose whether they want more or less from the mic source in their mix compared to the piezo, and vice versa.
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A soundboard transducer is a popular additional pickup for players who use percussive techniques because it is a piezo-based design that detects vibrations and can be fixed anywhere on or inside the body as required. It’ll often need some EQ tweaking to take out boomy bottom end and the more organic nature means it works better for solo performers as it can get lost in a band mix if it’s your sole source.
Electric players will recognise magnetic soundhole pickups; they use the magnetic field to capture vibrations and the way the pickup is wound affects how those vibrations are interpreted. Relatively easy to install on your guitar, they’re available in single-coil and humbucker styles with passive or active options – the latter boosting output more.
Now let's take a look at the best options. We've also sought out the best prices on the web for you.
The best acoustic guitar pickups to buy right now
The combination of a piezo and a mic in one system sounds like the promise of the best of both worlds with warmth and clarity. And when it comes to retrofit acoustic pickups this is the closest to that dream scenario we’ve heard. The Tru-Mic technology here delivers a much more open sound than the boxy character some mic blend systems can suffer from by picking up more of the soundboard detail.
The mic is fixed three millimetres from the guitar top, while the Element piezo pickup is fitted under the bridge saddle (it’s also available to purchase separately) and the two sources can then be blended together with a mix control to suit your needs.
According to Fishman, the Matrix is the world’s best-selling undersaddle pickup and the company offers a range of options now including mic blend models (around $300) plus narrow and wide saddle width options. The reason for its enduring popularity as one of the best acoustic guitar pickups is simple – it offers a fulsome and clear acoustic sound with onboard tone (this cuts mids while boosting treble and bass) and volume controls that can be stealthily positioned inside the soundhole.
While we’d advise getting one of these installed by a repairer, it can be done yourself with the right tools and care if you feel confident enough.
The LR Baggs M1 stacked humbucker is a bit of a classic now, but the company’s M80 improves it in three useful ways – offering the option to switch between passive and active modes to utilise the built-in preamp, and a battery life LED meter so you’re never caught short onstage.
More importantly, the M80 improves on the M1 Active in its enhanced body sensitivity – a huge advantage that both models have over the competition.
The M80 includes a free-floating humbucker coil that acts as a 3D body sensor, so in addition to acting as a magnetic humbucker, it’ll also capturing more of your acoustic guitar’s character.
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We certainly like the look of this acoustic soundhole pickup for starters – that housing is hand-polished rock maple for a very acoustic-friendly aesthetic (walnut also available). The tone is brighter and clearer than many passive magnetic models we’ve encountered too, making it a great option for your first acoustic guitar pickup.
It’s also non-permanent, allowing you to have the output cable running outside your guitar and into a PA or amp - just fit it whenever you need to plug in.
Aimed at classical guitar players but suitable for any acoustics, this soundboard transducer can be mounted on any flat surface of the guitar, or whatever stringed instrument you choose, so you can experiment with positioning to find the optimum sound.
One of the advantages here, and with most transducer pickups, is they don’t require battery power for a preamp. And this pickup will also be great if you’re using percussive techniques on your acoustic’s body similar to players like Jon Gomm and Mike Dawes. You may choose to use it as a second output alongside a magnetic or undersaddle pickup to amplify that side of your playing.
Players like John Butler use dual outputs on their acoustics to blend two different pickup sounds. Percussive players can use mics or transducers alongside a piezo and soundhole pickup so their guitar bodies are sensitive to the different techniques they use.
British acoustic virtuoso Mike Dawes’ guitar is a prime example – and it led him to develop this passive soundhole pickup alongside Larry DiMarzio and British luthier Nick Benjamin.
Because the main risk of multiple pickup sources on a guitar is going out of phase, the Black Angel has a phase switch built in to make combining with other pickups more controllable. It helps that it sounds surprisingly organic for a magnetic pickup by itself.
An acclaimed transducer offering good output and a warmer, full sound for a passive option with three sensors (the classical model has four) that are glued to the underside of your guitar’s bridge plate. And this area is less likely to produce feedback than fixing it to the soundboard itself. You’ll need good light and a mirror to do the work yourself but the payoff is the best passive system we’ve heard for producing a truer ‘acoustic’ tone.
K&K also produces a Pure Preamp (£100/$99) with bass, mid, treble and volume controls to give you tone-shaping capabilities. It even has a belt clip for keeping it close at hand onstage.