Playing an acoustic guitar envelops you in a sense of beautiful immediacy that is impossible to beat, but if performing with other musicians is your thing, you’re either going to position a microphone in front of your soundhole or buy one of the best acoustic guitar pickups.
First off, we’ve got some different types of pickup to consider. The most common types are the under-saddle piezo, the soundboard transducer and the soundhole pickup. Some of the models featured in our best acoustic guitar pickups guide use a combination of devices.
For example, the LR Baggs Anthem uses a combination of condenser mic and soundhole pickup to pick up as much of your instrument’s tone as possible. Others, such as the Fishman PowerTap Infinity, have body sensors to pick up soundboard vibrations and work in tandem with an under-saddle piezo pickup.
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Best acoustic guitar pickups: Guitar World's choice
The LR Baggs Anthem (opens in new tab) is a firm favorite with the pros and for good reason. If you’ve got a special acoustic guitar, you need a pickup that’ll let it sing when amplified - and this will definitely do the trick. Using under-saddle piezo and LR Baggs’ True-Mic technology, the Anthem encapsulates your instrument’s entire dynamic range, delivering studio-quality tone.
Players who use a hybrid style incorporating soundboard percussion and other rhythmic techniques should definitely check out the Fishman PowerTap Infinity (opens in new tab). It combines Fishman’s much-loved Matrix pickup with a body sensor to spectacular effect. As with the LR Baggs choice, the sound is naturalistic, noise-free, and good enough for the studio, making it one of the best acoustic guitar pickups for recording.
Best acoustic guitar pickups: Product guide
Once again, when it comes to the best acoustic guitar pickups it’s nigh-on impossible to see past LR Baggs Anthem pickup and microphone setup. It is used by the likes of Jake Bugg and Marcus King, and perhaps should be considered the industry standard. It’s not cheap, but nor is it prohibitively expensive, and if you are serious about your tone and need a pickup option for the stage or studio, this is it.
There is none of that thwacky artificiality that you sometimes get with acoustic pickups. No feedback. The Anthem system positions a piezo-style Element pickup under the saddle and combines it with a condenser mic that’s mounted 3mm from the underside of the bridge plate. The mic performs just as a studio mic would. It is noise-cancelling and has a flatter frequency response that is responsive to your instrument.
The soundhole preamp is discretely mounted and gives you control over volume, phase inversion, mic trim and mix, the latter letting you dial in the right amount of low-end from the element pickup. There is also a battery check feature, too, so you know you’ve got enough juice to get through a show.
Fishman’s flagship acoustic pickup system has been upgraded with a Tap body sensor complementing the Matrix under-saddle pickup to help capture every nuance from your playing. This is the best acoustic guitar pickup for guitarists who play percussively – you'll love its feedback-free performance and the transparency.
Elsewhere, we’ve got the redesigned soundhole-mounted controller as seen on the excellent Matrix Infinity VT outfit. The Unique Tone control enables you to cut mids and boost lows and highs for quick scooped tones. The repositioned voicing switch allows you to match the pickup’s performance to the guitar, the amp or indeed the occasion. There are options for narrow, wide and split saddles and the pickup/preamp serves steel or nylon strings equally.
As ever, installation is not for the inexperienced, so we would co-sign Fishman’s advice to get a professional in to do the job.
Mojotone’s Quiet Coil NC-1 is a fantastic option for anyone who’s sick of acoustic pickups changing the personality of their instrument. Mojotone has apparently “solved the soundhole pickup problem”, and we think they’ve got quite a persuasive argument.
The Quiet Coil NC-1 is, as the name suggests, noise cancelling. It’s got a 6V active preamp that supplies the necessary power to suppress any extra noise and feedback, so it’s great for live work as well as for use in the studio. The two CR2032 batteries have up to 1,000 hours of life in them and with two bright LED indicator lights, you’ll never get caught off guard with a dead battery.
The NC-1 is specifically voiced and EQ’d like a microphone to emphasize your guitar’s pure, natural acoustic tone. It’s also designed to have perfect string balance and volume with bronze or phosphor bronze strings, hence the lack of adjustable polepieces, or the need for specific NC-1-friendly strings. It’s lightweight and compact too, so your picking hand can carry on doing its thing without worry. Unfortunately the NC-1 is currently only available in the US, but is still a fantastic option for anyone who wants an extra special acoustic pickup.
As a fuss-free, wallet-friendly option, this hum-cancelling option from the Californian pickup titans is hard to beat. For a start, it's easy to install and similarly easy to remove. Those looking for the occasional electro-acoustic solution for gigging will find a lot to like in the Woody. It looks good, too, with natural finish options including actual real maple and walnut that should complement a wide range of acoustics.
The Woody is non-intrusive fit any acoustic with a soundhole radius between 3.85” and 4.1”. The pole pieces are adjustable, so you can fine tune output for each string. And best of all, this Woody is humbucking; sometimes the last thing you want when playing a delicate fingerstyle passage is 60-cycle mains hum in the background.
Of course, if you’re on an even-tighter budget and need it for amped-strumming at the odd gig where a little hum is not too big a deal, you could save 20 bucks and go for the singlecoil Woody. This could make it the best acoustic guitar pickup for beginners – also check our guide to the best acoustic guitars for beginners.
Another LR Baggs pickup, another naturalistic sound performance. If the platonic ideal of an acoustic guitar pickup is to translate the voice of your guitar faithfully so it may be amplified, this is as close as it gets. The M80 is also super-versatile, with features that make it a pro-quality choice for stage or studio.
There are switchable active and passive modes. Use the active mode for a little contouring on your EQ. There is a battery check mode but if you are caught short you can switch it to passive mode and continue the show.
But the real genius is in a design that preserves your acoustic’s voice by using a free-floating second pickup coil as a 3D body sensor, with the other coil bringing out all the frequency response and dynamics of the string movement.
Fishman’s Rare Earth soundhole pickup has been an industry stalwart for a long while, and in its many forms has helped open up a world of opportunity to many acoustic players all across the globe.
This latest iteration of the Rare Earth humbucker has been re-voiced and re-tuned to deliver a delectably smooth treble response - something which many acoustic pickups struggle to achieve. An active humbucker equipped with a neodymium magnet, the Rare Earth offers incredible string balance and sparkling clarity, without sacrificing the natural warmth and depth of your acoustic tone.
Preamp-wise, the Rare Earth is basic - but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The low-current design of the preamp is actually one of its biggest strengths, allowing up to 300 hours of battery life. Along with easy installation thanks to the redesigned mounting system, the Rare Earth is great for anyone who wants the reassurance of an industry-leading brand on their pickup.
This hugely impressive active EMG acoustic pickup is quintessentially EMG in its build in the sense that it uses the Quik-Connect system for fast installation. Step away from the toolbox; there’ll be no soldering, no rerouting required here.
Like its electronic siblings, which revolutionized electric guitar design by making active humbuckers a mainstream feature, the EMG ACS has a high-output performance that’s hum-free.
And yet consider the ACS. It has adjustable pole pieces so you can adjust its output to match your instrument and playing style. Its active preamp is tuned especially for acoustic guitars.
There is a lot to like about the Black Angel. It is a simple and non-invasive set-up, easily mounted in the soundhole. The build features two coils with a rare earth magnetic core, each sitting on a parallel axis to the strings, with an acoustically isolated magnetic circuit to reduce finger squeak.
Don’t let the fact the Black Angel is magnetic put you off – it is quiet, and it takes effects well. Best of all, there is a phase switch that enables you to combine it with multiple sources without issues. Those looking for something to complement their piezos or transducer will love it. Otherwise it is an excellent, if pricey, passive pickup.
K&K’s flagship acoustic guitar pickup is universally lauded for good reason. First off, it’s cheap. For an extra 100 bucks you can get a preamp with a three-band EQ that you can attach to your belt loop.
All this and you haven’t even modified your instrument. If you have a steel-string you feel is too precious for surgery but you want a pickup, this makes a good option to consider alongside the less-invasive soundhole pickups.
With three sensors that are superglued to the underside of your bridge played, the Sound Pure Mini delivers a naturalistic and warm, full tone – and the positioning of those sensors helps cut down on any feedback.
While the XM Artist transducer isn't going to compete with the premium LR Baggs or Fishman units in this best acoustic guitar pickups guide, it's worth mentioning in dispatches for its ease of use, solid performance and utterly unbeatable price.
Not everyone is going to need a pro-quality piezo, and this is easily mounted and as cheap as chips. You might take a few goes trying to find the sweet spot on your guitar, but the adhesive won’t damage your finish so you can experiment freely. If you’re only playing the odd open mic night, or need a backup, this is a more than respectable, wallet-friendly choice.
Best acoustic guitar pickups: Buying advice
You’ve probably noticed in this guide to the best acoustic guitar pickups that the most common type, and one occasionally deployed on the best electric guitars (and premium axes such as John Petrucci’s Ernie Ball Music Man Majesty), is the piezo, short for piezoelectric. What, you ask, is piezoelectricity? Well, it is the creation of a voltage when piezoelectric crystals are put under any kind of mechanical stress.
Typically placed under the saddle, the piezo detects the soundboard’s vibrations from your playing and translates this into a voltage. This signal can then be sent through a preamp or an amplifier. The benefits include: they articulate string definition well, they’re bright and typically hum-free.
You could use them anywhere where the mechanical movement applied to the device generates a voltage, such as your acoustic guitar’s soundboard - or a motion-sensor alarm, or in mobile phone touch pads…
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The main downside however, is that they can get pretty bright and ‘crispy’ sounding after going through a preamp – after all, they are positioned under the bridge, where the strings are at their brightest. There are ways around this though, with the best systems using a mic to warm up and fatten up the signal that’s coming from your guitar.
Another fairly popular option is the soundboard transducer. Just stick them to the body of your acoustic guitar, typically using some mounting putty or any recommended adhesive (just check it's friendly to your guitar’s finish before applying it). The soundboard transducer can be a super useful option for anyone that doesn’t fancy modding their guitar too much. Unfortunately the soundboard transducer, by nature, has a fairly low output so if you’re playing with others, you may want to look at some other options… leading us nicely on to the magnetic soundhole pickup.
Mounted across the soundhole of your acoustic guitar, this type of pickup will have a more conventional design consisting of a magnetic core, wound with a conductive material such as copper. This magnetic field picks up your string’s vibrations and turns them into a voltage, which means you’ll be bathing in sweet, sweet tone.
The beauty of a soundhole pickup is that they're easy to install, with very little internal modification needing to be done, if any. Much like the best electric guitar pickups, you’ve got bags of choice between active or passive singlecoils or humbuckers. Some, such as the LR Baggs, are even switchable between active and passive circuits, so when the battery runs out for the active circuit you can use it as a passive pickup. Clever, eh?
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