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Best acoustic guitar pickups 2020: acoustic pickups for all budgets

Best acoustic guitar pickups 2020: acoustic pickups for all budgets
(Image credit: DiMarzio/Fishman/Seymour Duncan/LR Baggs)

There might be a beautiful immediacy about playing an acoustic guitar that is impossible to beat, but if you want to perform with other musicians, 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, on the Fishman PowerTap Infinity, body sensors pick up soundboard vibrations and work in tandem with an under-saddle piezo pickup. Others, such as the LR Baggs Anthem, use a combination of soundhole pickup and condenser microphone to pick up as much of your instrument’s tone as possible.

The best acoustic guitar pickup for you depends on your playing style and budget, but there are plenty of options at all price points, and we’ve got all bases covered right here.

Best acoustic guitar pickup: Guitar World’s choice

The LR Baggs Anthem is a firm favorite with the pros and for good reason. Using under-saddle piezo and LR Baggs’ True-Mic technology, the Anthem captures all the dynamic range of your instrument and your playing, delivering studio-quality tone. If you’ve got a special acoustic, you need a pickup that’ll let it sing when amplified. This will do the trick.

Players who use a hybrid style incorporating soundboard percussion and other rhythmic techniques should definitely check out the Fishman PowerTap Infinity. 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: buying advice

As you'll see in our guide to the best acoustic guitar pickups, 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. 

You could use them for a motion-sensor alarm, or in mobile phone touch pads… Anywhere were the mechanical movement applied to the device generates a voltage, such as your acoustic guitar’s soundboard. 

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.

The downside is that they can get a little ‘thwacky’ 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, and the best systems will use a mic to round out the signal that’s coming from your guitar. 

Related but different is the soundboard transducer. These can be convenient solutions for those reluctant to mod their acoustic. Just fix them to the body, typically using some mounting putty or any recommended adhesive (just check it's friendly to your guitar’s finish before applying it).

These might need some careful EQing afterwards but that’s OK. Those of you playing with other musicians might want to look at something with more output, or combining a transducer with another pickup. That leads us nicely on to the magnetic soundhole pickup.

These will be mounted across the soundhole of your acoustic guitar, and have a more conventional pickup design with a magnetic core, around which you’ll have windings of conductive material, say, copper. This magnetic field picks up your string’s vibrations and turns them into a voltage.

The beauty of these is that they're easy to install, and you can choose between singlecoil or humbucking variants, and active or passive. Some, such as the LR Baggs, are switchable between active and passive circuits, so when the battery runs out for the active circuit you can use it as a passive pickup. And the show goes on…

Now, which is the best acoustic guitar pickup for you? Let’s take a look at the top options available now...

The best acoustic guitar pickups to buy now

Best acoustic guitar pickups: LR Baggs Anthem Pickup for acoustic guitar

(Image credit: LR Baggs)

1. LR Baggs Anthem Acoustic Guitar Pickup

The best acoustic guitar pickup overall

Price: $299/£329 | Key features: Soundhole-mounted controller, TRU•MIC system, under-saddle piezo-style pickup, battery check

Outstanding transparency
Feedback and noise-free
Suits all styles
You’re on a tight budget

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.

Best acoustic guitar pickups: Fishman PowerTap Infinity Pickup for acoustic guitars

(Image credit: Fishman)

2. Fishman PowerTap Infinity Acoustic Pickup

A comprehensive under-saddle and body sensor option

Price: £219, $299.95 | Key features: Fishman Acoustic Matrix under-saddle pickup and Tap body sensor, blend control, stereo/mono output switching, Unique Tone control, LED battery check, solderless connections, voicing switches, soft-touch endpin-mounted preamp | Options: Wide (1/8" Gibson), narrow (3/32” Martin) and split (Lowden) saddle formats, gold hardware

Great for percussive players
Dynamic and transparent tone
Wide variety of options
Installing it is fiddly

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.

Best acoustic guitar pickups: Seymour Duncan Woody SA-3XL pickup for acoustic guitars

(Image credit: Seymour Duncan)

3. Seymour Duncan Woody SA-3XL

The best-value humbucking soundhole pickup

Price: £69.99, $69 | Key features: Stacked hum-cancelling magnetic pickup with adjustable pole pieces | Options: Maple, walnut, black

Easy to fit, easy to remove
Great value
Hum-cancelling
No volume and tone controls

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.

Best acoustic guitar pickups: LR Baggs M80 pickup for acoustic guitars

(Image credit: LR Baggs)

4. LR Baggs M80 Acoustic Guitar Pickup

The best acoustic guitar pickup for a naturalistic sound

Price: $249/ £279.99 | Key features: Soundhole-mounted magnetic pickup with built-in volume control, active/passive modes, battery check

Transparent and dynamic tone
Hum-cancelling
Switchable active and passive modes
Another tricky installation 

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. 

Best acoustic guitar pickups: DiMarzio The Black Angel pickup for acoustic guitars

(Image credit: DiMarzio)

5. DiMarzio The Black Angel

The soundhole pickup that plays well with others

Price: $164.99/£159.99 | Key features: Hum-cancelling magnetic soundhole pickup, built-in phase switch, 1⁄8-inch to 1⁄4-inch Switchcraft endpin jack (install version), quick-mount 10-foot cable

Phase switch for multi-pickup systems
Hum-cancelling
Easy to install
Expensive

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.

Best acoustic guitar pickups: K&K Pure Sound Mini pickup for acoustic guitars

(Image credit: K&K Sound)

6. K&K Sound Pure Mini

The best passive transducer on the market today

Price: $99/£99 | Key features: Triple-transducer system, pre-wired, passive

Good preamp options
Ace tones for steel-string guitars
Easy installation, easy removal
You want an active unit

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.

Best acoustic guitar pickups: EMG ACS pickup for acoustic guitars

(Image credit: EMG)

7. EMG ACS Acoustic Guitar Pickup

An easy-to-mount active soundhole pickup with plenty of output

Price: $159/ £129 | Key features: Active pickup with internal preamp, EMG Quik-Connect | Options: Black, White, Ivory, Green, Red

High output
Great clarity and definition
Easy installation

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.

Best acoustic guitar pickups: Dean Markley XM Artist pickup for acoustic guitars

(Image credit: Dean Markley)

8. Dean Markley XM Artist

The best acoustic guitar pickup for solo players on a strict budget

Price: $29.99/£32 | Key features: Passive piezo pickup with maple housing and self-adhesive

Super-cheap
A cinch to install
Adhesive isn’t great

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.