We love acoustic guitars for their raw, natural sound. That unplugged quality is tough for electric instruments to match. But while acoustic guitars have built-in … acoustics … you might still need to amplify them every once in a while. Like a stage gig that needs extra oomph.
Or maybe you’re playing outdoors and the sound has to carry beyond the trees, birds, and nature’s mufflers. In such cases, your semi-acoustic (or semi-electric) guitar will rely on its pickup to push your playing. But what’s the best acoustic guitar pickup for you? Let’s find out!
Quick Glance: The Best Acoustic Guitar Pickup
The Best Acoustic Guitar Pickup on the Market 2021
1. LR Baggs Anthem Acoustic Guitar Pickup + Mic
Transducer pickups are generally discussed in the same breath as piezos. This is because they work in the same way – they convert physical vibrations into electrical signals that can then be enhanced, tweaked, shaped, and amplified. The difference is in the mounting style and positioning. LR Baggs Anthem is a transducer installed inside your guitar under the front.
It has several cables but they are hidden beneath the body and they connect to an output jack at the base of your guitar. So you don’t have to worry ab0ut unsightly wires and tripping hazards. The only thing you’ll see is the cute off-white control panel with its tiny dials. The panel has two buttons and two dials so you can manage volume, invert phases, or trim.
The control panel also lets you mix your sound, play with frequencies, and check your battery. Because this pickup has a mic built-in, you get the best acoustic blend and achieve the brand’s patented Trumic sound quality. LR Baggs picks both body and string vibrations, and because it sits inside the hollow of your guitar, it captures that unplugged acoustic resonance as well.
This Anthem contains a pre-amp so it’s an active pick-up. The microphone has noise-canceling capacity so your sound system has less feedback and no interference or signal disruption. The Trumic catches the top ranges while the Element Pickup collects lower frequencies so you get a sound that’s fuller and louder. It’s a balanced pickup, but remember to check the lithium cell.
LR Baggs combines convenience with style. It sits discreetly under your guitar front and has a mic so it comes ready to blend. But it needs technical skills to mount so it’s not for novices.
- It comes with a condenser mic for convenient mixing and blending.
- The control panel is visible for easier access and control.
- The pickup is customized for steel strings (or other metals).
- It’s a complex, permanent alteration and you do have to open up your guitar to mount it, so unless you’re an experienced guitar technician, don’t try this at home …
2. Fishman Matrix Infinity Pickup + Pre-Amp
When you’re trying to order the best acoustic guitar pickup online, you may get puzzled about sizing. After all, we’ve all accidentally bought an item that turned out to be miniature or jumbo. The specs don’t always help since they can be puzzling for ordinary consumers. Well, from the jump, this Fishman acoustic pickup is designed for smaller guitars right down to ukuleles.
It will fit any guitar with a pickup of 2.65 inches and ukuleles whose pickup is 2 inches. String spacing matters too because you have to carefully reach beneath the strings when you want to touch the control knobs. On guitars, this pickup works with strings spaced 2.5 inches from low to high E. On ukuleles, the minimum spacing that works with the Fishman is 1.85 inches.
This narrow acoustic pickup comes as a kit with storage bags, cables, mounting hardware, and pre-amps. But while it claims to be ‘easy to install’ it’s not a casual weekend project so have it done at a reliable music store. The Fishman’s transducer sits under the bridge on the inside front of the guitar, so it accurately mimics the sound of externally positioned pickups.
The preamps also allow active sound shaping. The under-saddle pickup used here is the best-selling Acoustic Matrix. The pre-amp mounts using an end-pin jack and the LED indicator reminds you to change the battery. The battery itself has a working life of 384 hours.
Your Fishman Matrix Infinity will keep going for a long time. It provides high sound fidelity, dynamic sensors for maximum string reaction, and a pre-amp for professional active play.
- The controls are visible and accessible on the side of the soundhole.
- You can mount it on guitars and ukuleles.
- It contains the Acoustic Matrix under-saddle settings.
- It does need professional installation, and you should triple-check the sizing. It fits minimum string spacing of 1.85 inches and minimum pickup lengths of 2 inches.
3. Luvay Transducer Pickup for Acoustics and Electrics (Our Top Pick)
Style icons and fashion police will tell you to leave the bling for dark spaces. This Acoustic guitar pickup follows that advice. Its distinctive gold glint catches strobe lights and dim club settings, adding a little sparkle to your stage performance. It’s a low-fuss pickup that clips into place so it’s the best acoustic guitar pickup when you have limited set-up time and low tech skills.
With Luvay, you don’t mess with the screws or tuners. You don’t even have to take off your strings. Just slip the pickup over the soundhole and snap it into position. It works best on sound holes that are about 3 inches in diameter. And because it’s a magnetic pickup, it needs metallic strings. But this is a pocket-friendly pickup so you won’t get too many specs and controls.
The Luvay does have two knobs for volume and tone but you can’t shape your acoustics beyond that. But you can’t do this on the pickup itself since it has no controls on its body. You can only use the knobs on your amp – which you have to buy separately. It’s a plug-and-play piece of hardware so you can use it on regular, semi-acoustic, and fully electric guitars as well.
In general, magnetic pickups are good for strumming. But because this one has entry-level hardware, it’s not very sturdy. You may want to avoid thrumming or power playing. Stick to finger work and loose harmonies that won’t physically damage your clipped-on pickup.
This guitar pickup needs zero skills to install. It has the vintage feel of 60s Japanese guitars and the gold globules are pretty. But it’s a lite piece, so don’t strum too hard or it may break.
- Installs (and uninstalls) in seconds. No de-stringing required!
- The 10-foot cable gives you more space to play.
- The gold-tone is visually distinct.
- You can clip it on any acoustic guitar but it does need metal strings. Also, it’s a clip-on soundhole pickup so yes, the cable will ‘float’ at an awkward angle.
4. K&K Pure Mini Acoustic Pickup
When you first see the K&K Mini, you may be throw by how simple it looks. It’s probably one of the easiest internal pickups to install, but you’ll still need to open up your guitar and safely re-seal it. So if that’s not something you routinely do, as for help. The K&K comprises three sensors and a female connector that you’ll screw onto the amp port at the bottom of your guitar.
The sensors attach inside the guitar, on the underside of your bridge. It’s an analog system so you don’t need batteries. And it comes with a ¼-inch jack so you can plug it directly into your amp. It doesn’t include an amp cable though, so don’t forget to order one. And it’s designed to work with steel strings, so if yours are nylon, consider restringing before installation.
You may worry the K&Ks barebones frame will affect sound quality. Instead, the lack of frills and hardware lets the device focus on its task – giving it a sort of one-track sound, pun intended. But because it has three transducers and is placed directly below your bridge, it’s hypersensitive to every movement and vibration. Meaning you can link it without passing through pre-amps.
The system has enough juice for direct connection and each of the transducers ‘harvests’ dedicated vibrations from a designated pair of strings. It also picks vibrations from the soundboard it’s mounted on. Also, while it’s described as a mini, this pickup works with any guitar size or shape. It’s designed to transmit maximum power and it doesn’t need a battery.
The K&K Mini looks delicate but it’s tough enough to service large guitars and bypass pre-amps. You can install it with putty and superglue, but you may need a luthier’s help to open your guitar.
- It comes prewired so you don’t need to cut or solder anything.
- The pickup has three transducers for extra sensitivity.
- The pickup ships with a ¼-inch jack.
- You don’t need any technical ability to install it but you do need to open the guitar so …
5. DiMarzio DP 138 Virtual Acoustic Pickup
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Once the word ‘virtual’ is attached to anything, you know to expect simulated results. But that’s not always a bad thing. Certainly not in the case of this acoustic guitar pickup. The Dimarzio DP 138 VT is a slight piece of hardware with a surprising sound for its size. Emphasis on ‘for is size’ because it’s not the loudest amplifier. It barely hits the right registers for outdoor gigs.
But for quieter indoor playing, this DiMarzio works fine. It’s part of the brand’s Virtual Vintage line so it aims to reproduce that typical acoustic sound. The principle matters to DiMarzio because many pickups make your acoustic guitar louder … but they also make the guitar ‘sound electric’. At best this is a flat, tinny sound. At worst, your music loses its organic character.
The DP 138 is a flexible pickup though. Yes, it’s magnetic, so the cable will hang out. But said cable is 12 feet long so you have more playing positions available to you. It doesn’t generate much noise and there’s minimal feedback interference. But because it’s on the softer side of the pickup world, you might need a piezo, phaser switch, preamp, and mixer to hit the right notes.
Putting in the pickup is easy. It ships with mounting brackets that have foam insulation to absorb any noise and catch stray frequencies and vibrations, ensuring a purer sound. It’s an elemental pickup made in the US and its strong plastic body can take quite a beating. The pickup has 12 poles that you can tweak to get the exact string balance you need. Great for fingerwork.
This pickup has a volume slider. But it’s oddly placed so it can be tricky trying to shift the volume while you play. But it provides realistic amplification and takes no effort to install.
- The pickup ships with a 12-foot cable.
- You can easily adjust volume and tone.
- Installation is a DIY job.
- It’s magnetic so you need metal strings. Also, it’s not a very loud pickup, and because it’s sound-hole-mounted, it can get tricky on low-action guitars.
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6. Seymour Duncan Woody Acoustic Pickup
Can you say best of both worlds? This is a magnetic pickup housed in a wooden case. So the magnetic field amplifies your notes while the wood insulates and dampens any unwanted noise. That makes Woody one of the quietest pickups on the market. It eliminates most of the hum and feedback you’d expect from soundhole hardware. The foam pads help with hum-canceling too.
Their main role is functional though – they hold the pickup snug while you pick and strum. This transducer has a pretty ‘natural maple’ tone so if you’re finicky, you’ll be cleaning it a lot to remove the natural oils and grease that slip off your fingers (and surrounding) as you play.
It’ll get a lot of smudges so don’t buy it if you’re a clean freak or a germophobe. The stack technology on this pickup will prevent interference from neon signs, fluorescent stage lights, or strobes. The guitar also comes with a male jack so you plug it in directly. It’s a small touch but a kind one because yes, you can buy a 3.5mm jack anywhere – it’s such common hardware.
But somehow, when you’re in a rush to play that last-minute unscheduled gig, all the music stores will be (in)conveniently closed so it’s nice that it ships with one. Woody sits comfy on any guitar whose soundhole is 3.75 to 4 inches. You can mount and remove it in minutes.
Woody is a good selection because the timber cancels out that ‘tinny’ sound you sometimes get from magnetic pickups. The foam pads mean you don’t have to force, screw, or squeeze it into place. The pickup is pocket-friendly with good aesthetics and a warm buzz-free sound. It comes in maple (natural), black, or walnut with a slightly glossy finish to ward off moisture.
So yes, this Seymour Duncan Woody pickup is powerful and pretty. It gives you smooth sounds and reliable amplification every time you pick or strum. But you don’t get much tonal shaping.
- The wood exterior looks pretty while you play.
- It also retains some of that acoustic-ness because it’s wood.
- The pickup ships with a make ¼ inch jack.
- It’s wood, so it’s susceptible to warping and moisture damage. Maintain it well.
7. iSolo Wireless USB Guitar Pickup
Yes, there’s an app for everything. And now there’s a wireless version too! The internet of things has infected everything from toothbrushes to broomsticks, so why not acoustic guitar pickups? iSolo is one such device, complete with USB so you can plug it in as needed. It amplifies guitar sounds and other musical instruments as well. iSolo is the first internal mic pickup on this list.
The USB stick doesn’t power the device. Instead, it functions as a recorder, mixer, and interface between your acoustic guitar and your studio software. The pickup itself has a gooseneck attachment so it doesn’t get damaged if you move around while playing and inadvertently turn your guitar (and its attendant cables) at weird angles. It’s a versatile lightweight device.
With this little gadget, you can play and produce guitar mixes of studio-quality even without pre-amps. iSolo delivers high fidelity 16-bit/48khz recordings with zero digital compression. The mic pickup uses one long-life battery and can record and mix on four channels.
An added function of the gooseneck is angling the mic to capture the right sounds – especially since it’s noise-canceling. This internal mic pickup is tiny – 6 inches by 2.5 inches by an inch. And it clips onto your guitar so you can use it anywhere. You can also use it for phone or laptop recordings. It uses ISM 2.4G for its wireless transmissions and has a 3-stage gain. (0 to 12+db).
Because it comes with a dedicated USB stick, you don’t need to download drivers or update software. The rechargeable lithium battery lasts and the built-in pre-amp offers immense ‘vocal power’. The pickup is compatible with GarageBand and other song-editing apps. And while the jargon may confuse you, yes, you can use the mic for live performing. The USB just records.
iSolo is easy to use but can be puzzling. Clip it to your soundhole and let the gooseneck mic float inside your guitar body where it can swing freely and pick maximal acoustic vibrations.
- It’s a multifunctional mic pickup that amplifies, mixes, and records.
- The omnidirectional condenser mic ships with a USB interface.
- It clips on the guitar so no screwing or drilling is required.
- It’s a mic pickup so it generates some feedback and may need a license in certain places. Also, while it’s sold as a ‘clip-on’ it comes with Velcro pads and these don’t always work.
The acoustic guitar pickup you select can be passive or active, so always confirm before your buy. That said, the three main types of acoustic guitar pickups – magnetic aka soundhole pickup, piezo aka bridge pickup, or internal microphone pickup. Transducers are often grouped with piezos. The pick-up you opt for will depend on your musical needs, so let’s dig into that.
Magnetic or Piezo
Each pickup type depends on your needs. Magnetic pickups are easy to install because you don’t have to drill, cut, or alter your guitar. You just position the pick-up inside the soundhole and tighten it. The screws don’t pierce through the guitar – they just cinch either side of your guitar top. But magnetic pickups have feedback and they’ll make your acoustic guitar ‘sound electric’.
Naturally, magnetic pickups require ferrous materials so they won’t work with nylon strings of classical guitars. Plus they leave your cable hanging out of the soundhole, which can be cumbersome as you play. Piezo pickups are bridge pickups. They convert and amplify physical string vibrations but they won’t ‘catch’ the acoustics of the guitar body so you lose character.
Transducer or Inner Mic
Transducer pickups are similar to piezos but they sit under the soundboard so they catch those vibrations as well. Transducers and piezos work with any kind of string – metal or plastic. But you lose that recognizable acoustic resonance, so your guitar might sound unnaturally crackly. Also, piezos are not a DIY project. Finally, internal mics can be drilled or clipped into position.
They sound best but they’re also the ‘softest’ pickups. They maintain the fidelity of sound, resonance, acoustics, and a strong vibration but they lack power so you may need to pair it with another kind of pick-up. Plus, it’s equally prone to feedback and it does leave loose cables floating around the soundhole. Mic positioning maters as well. Piezos are best for fingerwork.
As we’ve mentioned, internal mics give the ‘truest acoustic sound’ while sound hole pic-ups and transducers can sound tinny, quacky, or artificial. They kill the acoustic-ness of your guitar’s sound. But mics don’t carry as far and they sometimes need professional installation so unless they’re clip-ons, they will permanently change your guitar. Think drills, screws, and cables.
But if you mostly play small venues and cozy spaces, a mic is best for ambiance and musical character. Soundhole pickups need metal strings while mics and piezos work with any type of string. Transducers need a battery. All three may sound ‘tinny’ but are best for outdoor play and large crowds. For best results, blend mic pickup with either one of the other three but don’t mix.
Rhythm and Soul
Given all the factors we’ve looked at, we recommend Luvay as the best acoustic guitar pickup:
- The gold-tone is aesthetically pleasing and carries sound well.
- It comes with a 10-foot amp cable.
- The transducer can clip into position – no drilling or screwing is needed!
- You can install without taking off your guitar strings.
- The Luvay measures 5.3 inches by 1.1 inches by 0.4 inches.
- The cord plugs into any ¼-inch port (3.5mm).
- Because it’s a clip-on, it works with any guitar shape or size.
What acoustic guitar pickup do you use? Show us a photo in the comments!