By Nicolas Grizzle
Acoustic guitar pickups have the all-but-impossible task of replicating the unplugged sound of the guitar itself. To do this, they need to sound as neutral as possible while not producing feedback during live performances. For years, many acoustic guitarists have avoided electronics all together due to the problems of unnatural sound, feedback, and other issues related to plugging in. But recent advancements in pickup technology have made the sound of a plugged-in acoustic guitar downright desirable.
In addition to better pickups, microphones specifically designed for acoustic guitars have started to show up more and more in the past few years. It used to be that for live performance, there often wasn’t much choice aside from the ubiquitous Shure SM57 to mic up an acoustic guitar—much to the chagrin of nylon-string and other electronics-free guitarists. But there are now a variety of clip-on mic solutions and stand-held mics that can highlight your guitar’s full sonic spectrum and dynamics without having to install a pickup.
This roundup of acoustic guitar pickups and microphones includes three pickups and two microphones that are specifically tailored to the needs of acoustic guitar players. Click the links in the descriptions to read a full review of each pickup or mic in this roundup.
Here’s a quick guide with links to each amplifier mentioned.
- Curtis Novak Magnetic Soundhole Pickups
- Fishman PowerTap Rare Earth and Infinity Pickups
- Mojotone Quiet Coil NC-1 Acoustic Guitar Pickup
- Beyerdynamic TG i51 Dynamic Microphone
- DPA 4099 CORE Instrument Microphone
Curtis Novak Magnetic Soundhole Pickups
Curtis Novak’s Magnetic Soundhole pickups deliver a wide range of vintage-style tones for acoustic guitars. 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 for either temporary or permanent use. The D-coil offers a warm, compressed tone that can easily push an amp into tasty overdrive, with controllable feedback at a low volume perfect for bluesy riffs. The G-coil emits a similar sound, retaining some electric warmth but with a more subtle and dimensional tone that feels more obviously acoustic.
- Available as a G-coil, D-coil, or humbucker
- Variety of temporary or permanent mounting options
- Variety of finish options and enclosures available
Fishman PowerTap Rare Earth and Infinity Pickups
Fishman’s PowerTap series of pickups, which includes the PowerTap Rare Earth and PowerTap Infinity pickups, pairs either a soundhole or undersaddle pickup to its new TAP (which stands for Touch, Ambience, and Percussion) body sensors. The sensors are designed to capture percussive elements, body resonances, and performance dynamics that pickups alone tend to miss. The TAP—mounted on the top under the bridge—complements the pickups, and there is a blend knob to adjust between the two to your liking. Both versions come with battery-powered active onboard electronics and offer either mono or stereo output, the latter of which allows you to send separate channels for TAP sensor and pickup independently. The PowerTap Rare Earth is a soundhole version with a neodymium humbucker, designed to fit soundholes as small as 3-5/8 inches in diameter. It has a very fast response so it’s a good match for fast flatpicking and aggressive fingerstyle snaps and pops, while its warmth works well for mellower fingerpicking and quiet strumming. The PowerTap Infinity uses an undersaddle pickup that’s a bit more elaborate. It’s available in three different sizes to accommodate various guitar dimensions, and offers volume and tone dials in addition to the blend control. The TAP sensors added depth to this pickup to create a more 3D sound. They seem to enhance the tone on the top and on the bottom of the frequency spectrum as well, adding both air and body to balance against that undersaddle midrange.
- TAP body sensor mounts on to under bridge
- Stereo output allows individual sends of TAP sensor and pickup
- Blend control
- Battery powered (pair of LR44 1.5V batteries or a single CR11108)
PowerTap Rare Earth
- Soundhold neodymium humbucker
- Fits soundholes as small as 3 5/8″
- Undersaddle Acoustic Matrix pickup
- Available in 3 different sizes
- Volume and tone controls
Mojotone Quiet Coil NC-1 Acoustic Guitar Pickup
Imagine, if you will, a soundhole pickup with the sound of a condenser microphone and the high feedback resistance of a magnetic pickup. That’s the idea behind Mojotone’s Quiet Coil NC-1 Acoustic Guitar Pickup. It’s a handmade active single-coil pickup that incorporates noise-reduction technology with an extended frequency response for a more natural, less electric tone. The tone is unique, with a sense of ambience, prominent higher frequencies, and less electric-guitar color than expected. Powered by a pair of common CR2032 batteries, it’s predicted to last for 500 hours of playing time before needing new batteries. It includes a battery test button as well as a small volume control on the body of the pickup. Installation is easy—you won’t even need to loosen the strings on your guitar.
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- Single Coil (Noise-cancelling preamp)
- 6V Active (2 x 3V CR2032 lithium batteries included)
- Battery Life (500+ hours)
- Master Volume
- Battery Test Button
- Switchcraft Stereo Endpin Jack
- Minimum Soundhole Diameter (83.8mm or 3.30”)
- Voiced and EQ’d like a microphone to emphasize guitar’s natural acoustic tone
- Simple soundhole installation with cork pads protect guitar’s finish
- 1.6 ounces
Beyerdynamic TG i51 Dynamic Microphone
The nuance and detail of expressive acoustic guitar playing, combined with the wide range of overtones that a well-constructed instrument can offer, seem more suited to the sonic capabilities of a condenser microphone than a dynamic mic. But the Beyerdynamic TG i51 Dynamic Microphone offers a fast transient response that lets the detail come through both on big, strummed chords and single-note runs. Being a dynamic mic, it doesn’t need phantom power, and it’s also better suited than condensers for live applications due to its strong feedback rejection. The cardioid pickup pattern means it does have a proximity effect that boosts the bass at close range, but at about 3 feet away the bass boost dissipates. This mic also works well on percussion and guitar amps, making it a versatile workhorse for live and studio applications.
- Dynamic mic
- Cardioid pickup pattern
- 33–19,000 Hz frequency response (80–19k @ 3 feet)
- Rugged housing includes mounting hardware (no need for mic clip)
- 7 ounces
DPA 4099 CORE Instrument Microphone
For guitarists who prefer a microphone to plugging in via electronics for live gigs, you’d better have a mic stand (and clip!) and be prepared to remain stationary while playing. Not so fast, says the DPA 4099 CORE Instrument Microphone. This clip-on, small-diaphragm supercardioid condenser mic goes where you go, providing consistent levels and quality all the while. The adjustable clamp and gooseneck design allow for easy, quick adjustments on the fly, with no tools required. Once you find the sweet spot for a particular guitar, this microphone offers an elegant, high-fidelity alternative to pickups or stand-mounted stage mics. It’s designed for a variety of stringed strummed instruments, including guitar, ukulele, mandolin and dobro, and is especially useful for instruments that do not, or cannot, have electronics installed.
- Pre-polarized small-diaphragm condenser mic
- Supercardioid pickup pattern
- 20Hz–20kHz frequency response
- 142dB SPL handling
- 71dB (A weighted) signal-to-noise ratio
- Sturdy case and Microdot-to-XLR adapter included
- 0.95 ounces
- Includes mounting bracket for guitar