Are you looking to find the best pickups for your acoustic guitar?
Perfect! In my latest guitar insider guide, I'm going to talk about the following:
- Should you even use a pickup for your acoustic guitar?
- How do acoustic guitar pickups work?
- Costs to install a pickup for an acoustic guitar?
- Which pickup is best for an acoustic guitar? (my top 5 picks based on experience)
And much more!
Below is a quick list of all my top products. Keep scrolling to learn more about how to select the best pickup types for your acoustic guitar.
L.R. Baggs ANTHEM-SL Acoustic Guitar Pickup
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Fishman Neo-D Magnetic Humbucker Acoustic Pickup
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Seymour Duncan Woody HC Hum-Canceling Soundhole Pickup
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K&K Pure Mini Acoustic Guitar Pickup
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LR Baggs Active Magnetic Soundhole Pickup
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My Overall #1 Rated Pick
After thoroughly reviewing these five acoustic guitar pickups, I’ve decided to name the L.R. Baggs ANTHEM-SL Acoustic Guitar Pickup as my number one choice.
The Anthem LS pickup completely captures the essence of the guitar you’re playing. It’s unlike anything else on the market as far as pickups go (save for high-quality studio microphones).
It offers simple controls that allow you to amplify your acoustic guitar and not completely mask the natural sound that makes your instrument unique.
In short, it sounds incredible and should be number one on your wish list if you’re looking for a quality pickup for your acoustic guitar.
Top 5 Best Pickups For An Acoustic Guitar
In a hurry? Check out my top 5 pickups below! Keep reading to learn more about these best guitar pickups for your favorite acoustic guitar.
What Is An Acoustic Guitar Pickup (Should You Use One)?
Acoustic guitar pickups are specialist devices that allow acoustic guitar players to plug in their instruments directly to an amplifier.Without pickups, the only way to amplify a guitar is with an external microphone, which means having to be stationary while you’re playing – not always easy to do, especially in a live performance.
An aftermarket acoustic guitar pickup is a great tool for anybody looking to play their existing instrument for an audience, without having to invest in an acoustic-electric guitar as well.
What Are The Different Types of Pickups For Acoustic Guitars (Are They All The Same)?
Sound hole pickups are named so because they simply slot into the soundhole of an acoustic guitar, right behind the guitar strings.
These pickups are by far the easiest to set up and use – in many cases it’s just a case of slotting them into the soundhole and plugging in. Although, some do require screws or clamps to hold them in place.
One of the biggest benefits of a soundhole pickup is that there is no permanent modification to your guitar.
This makes them especially handy for vintage or high-value acoustic guitars that you don’t want to modify or to risk damaging.
Soundhole pickups offer a good balance between clarity and warmth, making them a good choice for both picking and strumming. Do bear in mind that magnetic acoustic guitar pickup systems aren't suitable for nylon strung guitars.
Soundboard Transducer Pickup
Soundboard transducers, sometimes known as bottle-cap transducers are another flexible, non-permanent way to amplify your acoustic guitar.
These pickups use a small sensor that attaches to the outside of your guitar’s body and plugs right into your pre-amp or straight into the amplifier itself.
This type of pickup is a favorite of those playing with a percussive style, as it captures the vibrations from steel strings, and the guitar body itself. The downside of these pickups is that they pick up vibrations and noise from the whole room, and can suffer from feedback issues.
Piezo pickups, like soundboard transducers, work by detecting the vibration of the body of the guitar. These pickups are usually mounted inside the cavity of the guitar, underneath the saddle.
The reason for these pickups being undersaddle mounted is because that’s where the strings are at their tightest. Piezos are prized for their super clear and bright sound, as well as their resistance to feedback.
Microphone pickups, much like vocal mics, detect sounds and turn them into an electrical current that can be amplified. A Guitar microphone pickup offers the purest possible amplified acoustic guitar sound, making them a great option for recording.
While passive pickups rely on the current generated by a disturbance in the magnetic field of the coils, active pickups are battery-powered. By giving the pickups an actual power source, it makes them less prone to feedback and gives them a clearer tone.
Pretty much all of the different styles of pickups for acoustic guitars can be bought as active pickups. They cost more than passive options, but on the plus side, they can really improve the amplified sound quality of a cheaper acoustic guitar.
Read Also: What are my favorite acoustic guitar amps?
Single coil pickups make use of a single magnet wrapped in a coil of copper wire. These pickups can be given very different properties by using different magnetic materials; cobalt and neodymium are common examples.
Single coil pickups are known for their exceptional brightness and clarity but are susceptible to ‘hum’, which is a noticeable buzzing sound that you may, or may not want.
Humbucker, or humbucking pickups, were invented by one of the lead engineers at Gibson and have been around since the ’50s. A humbucker takes two single-coil pickups and mounts them side by side, but with the polarity of the magnets reversed.
The net effect of the side by side pickups with reversed polarity is that the hum of the single-coil pickup is almost eliminated. In addition, humbuckers also give a guitar a much darker, warmer sound.
How Much Does It Cost To Install A Pickup For An Acoustic Guitar?
There are a few variables that will affect the cost of installing your pickups.
First of all, if you’re using a soundhole pickup, there’s not likely to be any installation cost at all. This really is a DIY job, that can be done without tools, or at most with a screwdriver.
Soundboard transducers are like soundhole pickups in that they don’t really need professional installation either. A small amount of adhesive tape should secure the sensor to the body of your guitar with no issues.
Piezo pickup installation may require some intervention from a professional, so bear this in mind if you’re planning to go this route.
There may be some drilling and routing involved, too, meaning they will be putting holes in your guitar.
This shouldn’t be left to just anybody, so be prepared to pay a reasonable amount for a decent luthier or guitar tech - $50 at the low end should get the job done.
Microphone pickups will also require some permanent modification to your guitar. Generally speaking, this involves routing out the end pin to install a jack and potentially cutting out a square for volume control and tone controls, a battery compartment or a pre-amp.
Again, expect to pay at least $50, but be prepared that it could cost over $200, depending on the experience of the guitar tech.
The ultimate decision rests upon how comfortable you are in permanently modifying your acoustic guitar. If you’re willing to have a go yourself and eliminate all installation costs, there are a ton of online resources that can show you, step by step, exactly how to install an acoustic guitar pickup.
How Does An Acoustic Guitar Pickup Work?
The majority of acoustic guitar pickups work on a similar principle to electric guitar pickups. A coil wrapped around a magnetic pole detects the vibrations of the strings as they are strummed or plucked, and this disturbance in the magnetic field of the coil is translated to sound through the amplifier.
Transducer style pickups like Piezos and bottlecaps detect vibration in the body of the guitar and convert that vibration into electric current, which can be sent through an amplifier.
Finally, microphone style pickups really are just small microphones mounted inside of the guitar itself, capturing the sound right at the source and sending it through your amplifier.
What To Look For In The Best Pickups For An Acoustic Guitar?
When looking for the best acoustic guitar pickups, ask yourself a few questions before committing to a specific type.
Are you willing to drill into, or cut holes in your guitar?
If the answer is no, then you can pretty much eliminate non-bottlecap transducers and Piezos. In this case, a slot in soundhole pickup will work best for you.
Will you be using a preamp?
A pre amp is designed to boost the signal that goes into your amplifier. Some passive acoustic guitar pickups will provide a weak signal to the amp on their own, and that can muddy the sound.
Do you want to alter the sound of your guitar?
If you’re looking to alter the way your guitar sounds with EQ and effects, then a simple magnetic single-coil or humbucker pickup would be your best bet. If you are determined to recreate the way your acoustic guitar sounds unplugged, opt for a Piezo, condenser mic, or a hybrid type pickup.
My Reviews Of The Best Pickups For Acoustic Guitars
The Anthem-SL is a hybrid pickup that uses both Piezo undersaddle pickups and a small condenser mic, which L.R. Baggs refers to as the Tru-Mic system.
What makes this pickup such a stand out product is the blend of different pickups.
The Tru-Mic takes care of the majority of the guitar’s mid-range and treble frequencies, while the Element Piezo pickup beautifully captures the low end.
The result is an incredibly natural tone that compliments the true sound of your acoustic guitar while blocking out the boxy, honky tones that can plague acoustic pickups.
- Noise-canceling mic technology eliminates ‘honky’ tones
- Soundhole mounted volume and mic trim controls
- Excellent battery life
- Requires permanent guitar modification
- Higher price tag
Fishman Neo-D Magnetic Humbucker Acoustic Pickup
The Fishman Neo-D Magnetic Humbucker acoustic pickup is a close relative of the Fishman Rare Earth Series.
It is a fantastic choice for singer-songwriters thanks to its ability to cut out the background buzz you’d find on a single coil option.
Because of the use of neodymium magnets, it produces an exceptionally clear string response and a beautifully rich tone.
I love that the clamps on these pickups are finished in cork, which obviously provides a secure fit and saves your soundhole area from damage.
Yes, there are cheaper options out there when it comes to soundhole pickups, but the Neo-D from Fishman provides premium level sound without the need for any permanent mods.
- Simple, temporary installation
- Excellent clarity
- Unobtrusive, slim design
- Can be prone to feedback at loud volumes
- Not suited to left-handed guitars
It does a good job of reducing hum, and also has great warmth and richness of tone, especially for the price.
- Simplest possible setup
- Well balanced sound
- Standard 14’ cable
- Too quiet for large audiences without a preamp
- Sounds a little too electric for some guitarists
The K&K Pure Mini Acoustic Guitar Pickup is a fantastic choice for anybody looking for a natural acoustic sound when amplified.
This is a simple bridge plate transducer type pickup, it requires no batteries and no additional wiring.
Unlike other passive transducer systems, the K&K Pure Minis have enough power to plug straight into your amp or PA system.
These pickups manage to replicate the acoustic guitar sound so faithfully when amped up because their sensors aren’t as close to the strings as an undersaddle setup, and so they transmit more of the soundboard vibration.
- Picks up the full sound range
- Doesn’t interfere with aesthetics
- No batteries required
- Will require modification to your endpin
- Doesn’t need a preamp, but not as good without one
Another awesome feature of the L.R. Baggs M1 is its ability to capture high frequencies, a rare feature on a humbucker.
Serious guitarists will love the M1 for live performances, recording, and even just for jamming in the house.
- Built-in volume adjustment
- Gold plated jack for excellent conductivity
- Stunning tone and clarity
- Does require end pin routing
- Less low-end than a Piezo
My Top Pick: L.R. Baggs ANTHEM-SL
I was really blown away by the L.R. Baggs Anthem SL. Typically, my Ovation Celebrity has been my go-to when it comes to playing an acoustic through an amp, but after spending some time with this hybrid pickup system, I’m a convert.
The use of a condenser mic combined with the element transducer is a game changer, and I’ll definitely be upgrading my dreadnought.
Yes, it’s one of the more expensive options out there, but it’s still cheaper, more natural sounding, and let’s face it, less hassle than buying more stomp boxes to suppress the electric output of a normal magnetic pickup.
If you’re on the fence this because it requires a modification to your guitar, then take it to your local guitar store and have a pro install it for you – I promise you won’t regret it!
Final Thoughts On The Best Pickups For Acoustic Guitars
Having a pickup in your acoustic guitar gives you so much versatility that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without one. They give you all the benefits of an acoustic instrument, plus the ability to amplify for recording or live performance.
Before making your decision, think about the end result you’re hoping to achieve.
If you’re just looking to plug in at your local open mic nights then a simple soundhole pickup is probably more than sufficient. If you’re going to be recording, or playing paid gigs, you may want to consider something a bit more robust.
At the end of the day, no matter what it is you’re planning to use your acoustic pickup for, you’ll almost certainly find something to suit your needs from options we talked about here.