The sound of a magnetic pickup on a steel-string guitar can be a unique thing. Just listen to old recordings of Lightnin’ Hopkins to hear the way his DeArmond soundhole pickup helped provide a sound world not possible with a straight acoustic or electric guitar, mixing the woodiness and warmth of an acoustic with the grittiness of an overdriven tube amp.
Pickup wizard Curtis Novak recently launched a new line of magnetic soundhole designs that deliver a wide range of vintage-style tones. These pickups are available in three models—the single-coil G-coil and D-coil, as well as a humbucker—with a variety of mounting options. From various gold-foil styles ($225) to a more low-key slimline design ($195)—all of which can be enclosed in materials like ebony, maple, rosewood, ivoroid, or tortoiseshell—these are handsome pickups that make a striking impression.
I was taken by the gold-foil D-coil before I even tried it. The pickup’s retro diamond design and ivoroid mount added just the right flair to my Iris OG. I easily demoed the pickup on my guitar using Novak’s suggested adhesive for short-term use, though it can be installed permanently using the included brackets and installing an input jack.
Sure enough, I plugged into my 1949 Fender Deluxe and it instantly sang. The D-coil offered a warm, compressed tone that easily pushed my amp into overdrive, with controllable feedback at a low volume. The optional volume and tone control unit ($50) made it easy to dial things back, but I found myself keeping everything turned up for maximum effect. With this setup,
I felt transported back in time, and bluesy riffage flowed out naturally. That feeling wasn’t lost when I tried other amps, including a couple of silverface Fenders and an old Ampeg Mercury.
The G-coil has a similar sound, but with a more subtle and dimensional tone that feels more obviously acoustic while retaining the electric warmth of the D-coil. Whatever the choice, Novak’s new line definitely fills a much-needed niche in high-end acoustic guitar pickups, offering well-crafted models that provide tonal options outside of typical acoustic-electric sounds.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
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