picking an acoustic guitar pickup

“Picking a pickup” sounds funny. Here is advice that I just gave to a friend. He recently bought an awesome new used acoustic guitar, but it didn’t come with any pickups installed. Typically newer acoustics come with electronics built in, but to upgrade a vintage model or an acoustic-only model is not that difficult. This is only my opinion ^_^

The LR Baggs M1

I don’t have any experience buying acoustic pickups. Fishman and LR Baggs are the best options based on the reviews that I have read. Seymour Duncan and Dean Markley are other cheaper removable models. I bought a Barcus Berry clamp-on bridge pickup for Erin‘s violin and I like that one, but I don’t know anyone that uses the Barcus Berry “Maplebar” acoustic guitar pickup.

You can either get a removable pickup that has the cable coming out of the sound hole, or have one professionally installed and mounted through your tail block. Getting it professionally done isn’t the cheapest option, but it does look a lot better and will last longer since you won’t be pulling it in and out of the guitar all the time. “Passive pickup” means that the output is lower in volume and generally needs to run through a pre-amp or active DI (like my BBE Acoustimax or the LR Baggs Para DI), but doesn’t require installing a battery. “Active” pickups sometimes mean there is a preamp with EQ and battery installed in the guitar, which could require taping electronics inside the guitar body since you typically wouldn’t want to cut a hole in the side of an already-built guitar for the electronics. Other active pickups don’t require a preamp to be mounted, they just use a battery.

Anyway. Read reviews. Make sure that your sound hole is the right size for these. I would go with either:

  • Fishman Rare Earth Pro-Rep-102 Humbucking Soundhole Pickup ($160)(Musician’s Friend Link) – I think that they might have copied the LR Baggs M1A but did it well, lots of pros use this.
  • LR Baggs M1 Soundhole Pickup ($140)(Musician’s Friend Link) – Passive so no batteries to worry about. You would just have to install the strapjack that it comes with. This might involve drilling a larger hole in your tail block using a step drill.
  • LR Baggs M1A Active Soundhole Magnetic Pickup ($170)(Musician’s Friend Link) – This is the active version of the M1. Mitchell (of Battleshy Youths fame) put this in his vintage Martin and likes it a lot as far as I know. I would recommend this if you want to spend that much. On a nice guitar, it is worth it to install nice electronics. Like the passive version, you have to install the strapjack in the tail block. A professional can do this pretty easily if you don’t want to risk it. The battery is at the bottom of the pickup, so you don’t have to worry about wiring a battery or taping anything inside the body of the guitar.

If I had to choose something that would last and sound good, I would pick the LR Baggs M1A. It looks like all three of these come with cables so that you don’t have to permanently install anything at first, you can just run the cable out of the sound hole until you drill the tail block and mount the strapjack. Make sure that the pickup fits the sound hole before you do anything though!

Let me know if you have any questions ^_^


I wrote this post last week but didn’t want to finish it until after my trip updates were posted ^_^

Something my pastor mentioned in passing last Sunday (while wearing my Canada trucker hat during the sermon) is that recreational time is “re-creational.” We need time off to be created new. Time to be refreshed, but also reborn. This road trip was just that for me. It gave me time to focus and de-stress and learn and grow and think and write and pray, away from the distractions of my very small world.

I recently changed the strings on my guitar. For someone playing every single day like I do, this should probably happen once a month, but I do it closer to every 6 or 7 weeks. Anyway, this seems like a simple or menial or annoying task to most people… When I open a pack of strings, I think about the engineer who designed the strings, the metals, the machine to mass produce them. I think about how differently these new strings will sound from my last set, which I lamentably have to toss in the garbage. I think about acoustics and sound waves and bridges and soundboards and the minute changes in tone and timbre these new strings will have and how they will sound the first time I get them in tune; how they will sing with me the next time I take the stage. The guitar is re-created with a new medium for voicing notes and chords. Metal is a good friend. That’s all.