If you play live acoustic guitar, you’ll need good acoustic guitar pickups, but choosing those pickups can be difficult if you’re not sure what you’re buying. As most guitarists know, there are two basic types of acoustic pickups without getting into microphones and all of that jazz. The two big types are piezo pickups and magnetic pickups.
Choosing the right acoustic guitar pickups for you will depend on your budget and the type of sound that you’re trying to get. Here’s a look at the main differences between piezo and magnetic pickups and how you can make a decision about what to buy.
Piezo Acoustic Guitar Pickups – Piezo pickups get their name from the piezo crystals that vibrate in their electronics to create and transmit an audio signal. They’re the most common type of acoustic guitar pickup, and if you’ve bought a guitar that came with pre-installed pickups, chances are good that this is what the guitar had installed in it.
Piezo pickups are a solid live choice, but they can have harsh mid and higher frequencies. This is due to the technology of the pickup; piezo crystals aren’t microphones, and they tend to collect harsher tones. To get around this, many piezo acoustic guitar pickups have a built in equalizer. The equalizer allows the guitarist to get the sound that he or she wants.
The best piezo pickups can sound pretty good, but they’ll be more expensive and they’ll feed back substantially. An average piezo pickup should be fine for most live settings. You will not want to record piezos, though (or at least I wouldn’t put them into any of my home recordigns).
Magnetic Acoustic Guitar Pickups – Magnetic pickups work with-you guessed it-magnets. They take a sound wave the same way that an electric guitar would create a sound wave. The vast majority of guitarists would agree that magnetic pickups can get a more aggressive, more pleasant sound than a piezo pickup which hasn’t had equalization.
However, they’re not right for all guitarists. Magnetic pickups won’t work with classical guitars, since the strings are made of nylon rather than metal. They can also sound too aggressive for some guitarists, and the jury’s still out on whether they make good recordings. Personally, I’d use a mic for any sort of recording, but if you have to choose between the two, I think that magnetic pickups give a more balanced and natural sound.
Magnetic pickups create less feedback than piezo pickups. They can also be much more expensive.
In the end, you’ll have to hear a few pickups to decide what to buy, so check as many as you can at your local music store. Your decision will depend on the money that you have to spend and how involved you want to get (e.g. whether or not you’re ready to saw a hole in your guitar for an expensive piezo pickup). Listen to a few and you’ll be able to pick the right choice for your style.
Have any questions about piezo and magnetic pickups or suggestions for a great acoustic sound? Post below.