Acoustic guitars are excellent for a wide variety of music, but they can struggle to project in loud environments. If you’re playing in a band or for a crowd, you’ll need amplification to rise above the noise. The most versatile way to achieve this is with an acoustic guitar pickup.
Many guitars these days come with electronics built-in, but that locks you into the pickup chosen by your guitar manufacturer. If you want full control over your amplified sound or if you fall in love with a fully-acoustic guitar, you can install your choice of pickup.
The best acoustic guitar pickups offer excellent tone reproduction without feedback or noise. There are several types of acoustic pickups to choose from. Each one of these pickup types brings out a different nuance in your guitar’s sound.
- magnetic soundhole pickups
- piezo pickups (under-saddle and soundboard)
- microphone pickups
- hybrid or blended systems
In this post, we go over everything you need to know about acoustic pickups. We round up the best pickups of each type, and give our recommendations. With this guide, you can easily convert your existing guitar into an acoustic-electric and get playing!
Different Types of Acoustic Guitar Pickups
Acoustic guitar pickups are some of the most important elements of any acoustic-electric guitar. While the guitar tonewood affects the natural sound, the pickup is what determines the guitar’s tone once it’s plugged in.
- Magnetic soundhole pickups. These acoustic guitar pickups consist of coils of wire wrapped around a magnet and can be easily installed in the guitar’s soundhole. The magnetic field created moves through the coils and creates a current, which is then sent to an amplifier to convert into sound waves. While magnetic soundhole pickups work well for amplification with low feedback, they sound more “electrified” and don’t have the warm tone or natural sound quality of an unplugged acoustic guitar. However, these pickups are well-suited for music styles that require more pick attack, such as blues, folk, and country.
- Piezo pickups. These acoustic pickups use a piezo crystal that converts sound waves into an electric signal. They’re slightly more authentic in their tone compared to magnetic soundhole pickups, but they still have a ‘sharp’ or ‘brittle’ feel to their sound. This type of pickup is typically installed under the bridge saddle and requires sanding down the saddle to compensate for the extra height. These pickups are also called “under-saddle tranducers” (UST). However, piezo pickups can also be installed on the underside of the soundboard, which provides better replication of the wide range of harmonics in your guitar’s sound.
- Microphone pickup. Similar to an external microphone, a microphone can also be mounted inside the body of an acoustic. This leads to the most authentic tone, as it amplifies the full-bodied resonance of the guitar. Its only problem is that this type of acoustic pickup is prone to feedback, so you can’t play at very loud volumes.
- Hybrid pickups, or blended systems. Blended systems combine at least two of the other acoustic guitar pickup types in one unit. This eliminates most of the cons of using one pickup type by itself and allows you to dial in the exact sound you want. You may get a hybrid pickup that combines an under-saddle transducer with an internal microphone, for example, and you’ll have the ability to customize the sound by blending the mix between the two.
Which type of pickup is suitable for you depends on several factors, including the type of guitar, your playing style, the genre of music, the installation you want (permanent or temporary), and the overall sound you’d like, as we discuss next.
Choosing the Right Acoustic Guitar Pickup For You
There are several factors to consider when choosing the best acoustic guitar pickups for your instrument. Some of the things you’ll want to keep in mind as you choose pickups for your acoustic guitar include:
- Size and shape of the guitar body. This affects both the installation procedure of the pickup, as well as its sound. If you have a small guitar body, a piezo pickup may be a better option for you as they’re easier to install. But if your guitar is already treble-heavy this can make it sound sharp. For larger-bodied guitars, a magnetic pickup may be easier to install in the soundhole. Microphones are not as easy to install as they usually require some drilling.
- Type of guitar (steel string, classical, etc.). This will tie into the shape and size of your guitar body too. Steel strings tend to be more resonant than nylon strings. Classical guitars are generally incompatible with magnetic pickups, so you’ll have to choose between a piezo (for more pronounced picking) or a microphone (for more natural tones and resonance).
- Style of music you play. Piezo pickups suit just about any genre of music since they allow the clean tone of your acoustic guitar to come through. Magnetic pickups are more suited for more ‘electric’ styles like blues, country, and so on. Both of these tend to be on the sharp end, so if you want a completely natural acoustic tone, you should go for a high-end microphone pickup or a blended system. Remember to trust your ears when choosing what sounds best to you.
- Budget. Pickups come in all price ranges, from dirt cheap magnetic models to high-end blended systems. Microphone pickups and hybrid pickups are often the most expensive, while you can pick up (pun intended) a piezo pickup or magnetic model for much cheaper.
Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to choosing acoustic guitar pickups. But if you keep these factors in mind, you’ll be one step closer to finding the perfect acoustic guitar pickup for your playing style.
The 16 Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups Out There
Now that we’ve gone over the basics of acoustic guitar pickups, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. The guitar pickups on this list are the best out there, and we recommend models of every type and in every price range.
1. LR Baggs Anthem
The LR Baggs name is synonymous with incredible craftsmanship and technology, and it should be no surprise that the Anthem lives up to it. The LR Baggs Anthem is the company’s top-end offering when it comes to hybrid pickups, incorporating a built-in preamp, an under-saddle transducer, and a microphone.
The Anthem is a multisource pickup, combining both the under-saddle transducer’s amplification and the internal microphone’s sound sensitivity. It uses the LR Baggs’ Element system, which is their preferred transducer, and this gives it incredible sensitivity combined with a wide range.
The Anthem also features LR Baggs’ ‘Tru Mic’ technology, which gives excellent amplification even at low frequencies. Its noise-canceling ability reduces internal hum and the boxy sound from the soundbox, ensuring that the audience can hear nothing but the natural sound of your guitar.
You can also consider the Anthem SL series, which takes the ‘mix’ control out of the equation for a perfect balance between the mic preamp and the transducer. This is suitable for tonal purists who just want a great tone out of the box without having to tweak anything.
The main con when it comes to the Anthem is its complicated installation, so you’ll probably need to hire a luthier. You need to install both the transducer and the Tru Mic hi-fidelity microphone, and having a luthier do this for you will help you figure out the placement that sounds best to you.
If you’re serious about turning your acoustic guitar into a gig-ready shred machine, look no further than the LR Baggs Anthem system. It’s got everything you need to deliver a jaw-dropping performance with pristine, nuanced sound.
2. K&K Pure Mini
The K&K Pure Mini promises extra power and resonance with its three-transducer pickup system, and it doesn’t require batteries even with its high output. The Pure Mini is a passive pickup system that produces a fuller and richer sound preferred by many guitar players over the thin sound offered by most passive systems.
Since the system isn’t placed close to the strings like an under-saddle pickup, it can transmit an even sound from all areas of the soundboard. This placement also protects the pickup system from feedback. Installation isn’t too complex — all you have to do is glue the pickups onto the bridge plate inside the guitar. The overall sound delivered is rich, with layers of harmonics and a nice body.
While it’s more expensive than other transducers, you’ll likely appreciate investing in this pickup simply because of how good it will make your instrument sound. If you’re in need of a pickup that will amplify the best bits of your guitar’s sound without settling for any less, the K&K Pure Mini should be your go-to.
3. Fishman Rare Earth Humbucker
The price tag on the Fishman Rare Earth Humbucker might put you off at first, but hear us out. The Rare Earth Humbucker is a combination of a magnetic soundhole pickup and an active preamp, so it requires either a 3V lithium or two 1.5V LR44 silver oxide batteries (delivering over 240 hours of playing time).
The Rare Earth produces a magnetic field around the strings of your guitar using neodymium magnets. The acoustic tone this produces can surprise even the most experienced player, and the “Bright” switch allows you to switch between high and warm tones. This provides the player with a level of control that very few magnetic pickups can offer.
It’s easy to clip this acoustic guitar pickup onto your soundhole and set it up. There is some minor work and some drilling required if you want to install it permanently, but it works just fine as a temporary installation — you can just leave the cables hanging from the soundhole.
Overall, if you’re looking for a versatile pickup that combines a magnet with a preamp, this is a great option. And if you want to go one step further, you can even get the Rare Earth Blend with a microphone for a hybrid pickup system!
4. K&K Trinity
K&K is well known for making some of the most technologically advanced pickups on the market, and the Trinity is no different. The Trinity system combines a 5” gooseneck microphone with a transducer system, and the beauty of this model is that it offers you the choice of either using both pickups together or separately.
The K&K Trinity comes with separate controls for the microphone and the transducer, which, while a little cumbersome, offers you incredible flexibility to experiment with the tone and sound of your instrument. We recommend the installation be done by a luthier for the best sound. The placement of the transducer pads around the sound hole is vital to the sound of the entire system as a whole, and installing the preamp can be quite difficult if you’re a beginner.
Speaking of sound — there is no tone loss whatsoever when you plug in the Trinity system, so you get the full natural tone of your acoustic. Unlike the harsh sound of a piezo system, the Trinity has a warmer and rounder tone, which you can tweak further using the preamp. It supports both fingerstyle and strumming, but you have to be careful with the mic system since that could incorporate some unwanted feedback.
The K&K Trinity system is easily one of the best hybrid pickups out there, and well worth the investment if you’re passionate about your guitar’s sound. Blending the mic and transducer together captures all the nuances of your performance.
5. Fishman Matrix Infinity Mic Blend
The Fishman Acoustic Matrix has long been used in factory-made acoustic guitar models which come with pre-installed pickups, so it’s already popular with guitarists. However, they’ve one-upped themselves with the Fishman Matrix Infinity Mic Blend, their latest hybrid pickup system which combines an under-saddle transducer with a soundhole mic.
As you’d expect from Fishman, this pickup sounds sublime. It amplifies both high and low frequencies with equal emphasis, maintaining a balanced tone. Along with that, you get tone and voicing controls so you can customize the sound exactly to fit your guitar — whether it’s big or small, steel or nylon string, and even an acoustic bass.
We wouldn’t recommend installing this one yourself as it’s a bit complex. But the design is well-thought-out and all the controls are easily accessible. It captures authentic tones from every corner of your guitar. Plus, you can separate the outputs in stereo mode for greater control.
If you’re looking for the best acoustic guitar pickup, the Fishman Matrix Infinity is a strong contender. You get exceptional build quality from one of the best brands and incredible sound at a reasonable price.
6. Fishman Rare Earth Blend
The Fishman Rare Earth Blend is a step-up from the Rare Earth Humbucker, as it combines a magnetic soundhole pickup with an internal microphone. Fishman’s always had a huge impact on the guitar industry, but this particular blended soundhole pickup knocks it out of the park.
The main pickup features neodymium magnets and can be mounted into the soundhole temporarily with just a clip, so you don’t need to call a luthier unless you want a permanent setup. The gooseneck microphone is a cardioid design and is easy to position to avoid contact with the guitar body. Plus, you can easily access the control wheel to blend the two pickups for a more natural or brighter tone as required.
The pickup is powered by a pair of 1.5V button-style lithium-ion batteries, which can deliver over 100 hours of playtime. The cable for the pickup is long enough, at six feet, and the female jack can connect to just about any output.
The Rare Earth blend soundhole pickup amplifies both the low-end and high-end frequencies of your acoustic with ease. The bass roll-off switch can help you in genres that require more treble, and lets you use more of the microphone input in high-volume settings without feedback.
The Rare Earth Blend is an excellent hybrid pickup and a great bargain for guitarists testing the waters with their sound. We’re sure that you’ll want to get the pickup permanently installed once you get used to the mixing wheel.
7. Seymour Duncan SA-6 Mag Mic
Seymour Duncan has been a trusted name in the industry when it comes to guitar gear, and the SA-6 Mag Mic is one of their best offerings in hybrid acoustic pickups. The Mag Mic combines a magnetic pickup with a condenser mic, and it’s a solid option for guitarists who might be hesitant to invest in a more expensive pickup system.
This pickup system captures the full extent of your instrument’s sound, and it picks up the lower-end frequencies with ease. Since this is a hybrid system, it offers you a mixer dial for the microphone, letting you play in both high volume and quieter venues without worrying about feedback.
The tone is lively with a sharp pick attack, and once you make the condenser microphone respond to the levels you like, you can get a very natural sound with warmth and body.
It’s easy enough to install temporarily and just plug and play. The pickup also eliminates buzz and background hum, which is what you’d expect from pickups at this price range. However, dialing in the microphone can pick up a lot of higher frequencies and increase feedback, so you might want to be careful about that and make minor adjustments.
For permanent installation, it’s best to get it done professionally. And a 9V battery is all this pickup needs to get going. If you want a good hybrid pickup without breaking the bank, the Seymour Duncan SA-6 Mag Mic is a serious candidate from a reputable brand.
8. LR Baggs Element
The LR Baggs Element features the same transducer used in their legendary Anthem pickup system and is one of their most popular products. It offers a “compact but sensitive” acoustic pickup system, which does the job while remaining conveniently hidden inside your guitar.
Unlike other more complicated pickups, the Element promises easy installation because of its simple design. But you might want to get it installed by a luthier just so you can get everything adjusted how you want it.
The pickup comes with volume and tone controls, both of which are easily accessible while playing. It’s also got a built-in low-frequency compressor that evens the sound while maintaining dynamic range.
The LR Baggs Element is true to your guitar’s natural sound as it doesn’t add any tonal qualities while amplifying. Compared to other comparable pickups, this won’t burn a hole through your pocket either, making it a fantastic transducer that you can get without hesitation.
9. LR Baggs iBeam
This is another incredible pickup from LR Baggs, and the iBeam’s design is the best aspect of the device. Since this is a transducer pickup, you don’t have to worry about installation as it is fairly easy, and you can do it yourself temporarily.
The design incorporates a pair of film sensors that vibrate like the diaphragms in a stereo microphone. The response pattern for the iBeam is one-of-a-kind and does not allow feedback or ‘squeaking’ from guitar strings. The lightweight design does not change the acoustics of the instrument and mounts onto the bridge plate with the adhesive which comes with the pickup.
The iBeam sounds natural and the closest to being miked that you can get without setting up an actual external microphone to your guitar. The only qualm with the pickup would be that the volume dial is a little small to access, but if you can get over that hurdle, the iBeam will not disappoint.
10. LR Baggs iMix
The LR Baggs iMix is a strong contender for a budget preamp pickup system. This model combines the iBeam’s bridge-mounted transducer and the Element undersaddle piezo along with a stereo mixer — yes, you heard that right, this is a hybrid system that has a piezo and a transducer instead of a mic pickup!
Installation isn’t the easiest, however, and we recommend that you get the iMix installed by a professional luthier so that you do not damage your guitar and get the best sound that the pickup has to offer. There are no installation manuals included with this either. While this may rack up the costs, the pay-off is worth it.
The sound from the iMix is robust and clear, with consistent intensity across all dynamic ranges. The dial which comes with the iMix gives you complete control over mixing both inputs, so that you can get the sound you want. You won’t get any of the harsh feedback which comes with mic-based hybrid systems, and tweaking the dial a little ensures that your guitar is ready to go regardless of which genre of music you decide to play.
The iMix is the perfect choice for professional guitarists who want a pickup system that won’t break the bank while also giving them the sound they want. If you’re hesitant about going for a mic-based hybrid pickup, the iMix is the hybrid system for you.
11. KNA UP-2
There’s a reason the KNA UP-2 is the only contact piezo pickup on our list — it’s the only one you need. The UP-2 excels in affordability, design simplicity, and setup ease. If you’re a classical guitarist who’s struggling to find a pickup for your instrument, look no further.
The company mentions that the pickup can be used for just about any instrument and that its lightweight design makes it extra sensitive to tone. The volume control is on the pickup itself, which works in favor of the KNA UP-2, and as with other piezo pickups, this one also amplifies mid-range frequencies prominently. If you’re concerned about bass and higher range frequencies, then you can always tweak the pickup’s location until the sound is just right.
For how affordable the pickup is, the UP-2 is a certified workhorse. It needs no professional installation, is super light and small, and also isolates the sound from the instrument as it amplifies it. If you’re a guitarist who plays outdoor gigs and is in need of a simple, great sounding acoustic guitar pickup that does the job and can easily be removed afterward, the KNA UP-2 is for you.
12. KNA SP-1
The KNA SP-1 is a single-coil magnetic pickup that boasts handmade craftsmanship from Bulgaria. The pickup is encased entirely in mahogany, so the design should sway anyone picky enough about what their guitar setup looks like (with sound quality to match).
Under the hood, the KNA SP-1 uses ferrite magnets to amplify the natural sound of your acoustic, and even though it does ensure your guitar retains its tone, it tends to favor the mid-range more. The installation is easy enough, and you can clamp the pickup onto the soundhole of your acoustic using a screwdriver to gently tighten the screws which come with the pickup (don’t overdo it if you want to preserve your finish).
If you’re looking for a pickup that does the job without disrupting the natural aesthetics of your acoustic, you might want to look into the SP-1. It looks as great as it sounds.
13. Seymour Duncan Woody HC
If there is such a thing as the perfect magnetic pickup, the Seymour Duncan Woody HC comes close to the title. The elegant wood grain design perfectly complements all styles of acoustic guitars, and the installation is beginner-friendly. Being a passive pickup, it doesn’t need batteries either.
The HC in the name of the pickup refers to its unique hum-canceling technology. True to description, the Woody HC eliminates electrical hum no matter how close to the external amp you are. The sound is bright, clear, and crisp, amplifying high notes in particular while also making bass notes richer and warmer. But if you want more control over your sound, you may consider pairing this with an external preamp that has volume and tone controls.
The price point is also a major plus for the pickup, as it won’t break your bank. Plus, it includes a 14-foot studio-quality cable. Overall, the Woody HC is one of the best pickups you can get. If there’s ever a pickup you could depend on, it’s this one.
14. LR Baggs M1 Active
The LR Baggs M1 Active is not your ordinary magnetic pickup, and its features should surprise even the most seasoned guitarists. While it may look like your average run-of-the-mill design, it’s got a few neat tricks up its sleeve.
The M1 Active gives you the freedom to adjust the response and intensity of each string individually by adjusting the pole pieces. This allows you to also gauge the loudness of the different strings on your acoustic, and make changes as you go so that your strings as amplified just the way you want. While beginners may find this complex, seasoned pros will appreciate the flexibility to get the exact sound they need.
Since this is an active pickup, it does require batteries — a 3V lithium coin cell. But it’s so well optimized that it delivers over 1000 hours of playtime! The volume adjustment dial on the side of the M1 Active is the only preamp control you need, and it makes using your pickup stress-free and intuitive. Plus, the input jack is gold-plated and is hum-free.
Overall, there’s a lot to love about the LR Baggs M1 Active. It’s another trustworthy pickup from a reputed brand that makes some of the best acoustic guitar pickups we’ve seen.
15. LR Baggs M80
The LR Baggs M80 is another magnetic soundhole pickup from the brand, but this time it has a proprietary free-floating humbucking coil. What that means is that the M80 is better. Since it’s an active system, you’ll need a CR2032 lithium battery for this pickup.
The free-floating humbucking coil eliminates feedback and also works as a sensor for the guitar body, which picks up sound from all sides of the instrument. This ensures that your pickup captures all of the unique resonance from your acoustic and amplifies that, to give your audience a better version of what your acoustic sounds like. No modifications — just pure, natural tone.
The M80 comes with a preamp system that has a 3-band EQ system, with dials for bass, treble, mid-range, volume, and an active/passive switch, giving you full control over your sound. Plus, the ten-foot cable gives you enough space to play around on stage. At a slightly higher price point, investing in the M80 is absolutely worth it.
16. Fishman Neo D
The Fishman Neo D is a humbucking magnetic soundhole pickup that could turn even the most humble steel-stringed guitar into the stuff of concert legends. The design is modern, and so is the technology – for a passive humbucker, the amplification is remarkable.
The Neo D comes fitted with the same neodymium magnet as the Rare Earth series, which gives the pickup its name. The humbucker eliminates any of the characteristic hum noise and the clarity of sound is second to none. The Neo D automatically makes your guitar sound heavier and louder, making it the perfect pickup for blues and folk-rock guitarists. The tone is rich and full, and it would compliment almost any acoustic perfectly.
Installation is easy as it requires no drilling; all you have to do is clip the device onto the soundhole before you’re ready to go. It’ll fit most guitars with a soundhole diameter of around 4”, and it includes a 10-foot cable.
If you’re looking for a budget pickup with high-end features, the Fishman Neo-D is a solid choice and one of the best-sounding acoustic guitar pickups in its price range. It’s both beginner-friendly and perfect for professionals that need an extra twang in their sound.
Frequently Asked Questions About Acoustic Guitar Pickups
What is the difference between single-coil and humbucker acoustic guitar pickups?
Magnetic pickups on acoustic guitars are similar to the ones on electric guitars. Single-coil and humbucker Pickups have one main difference, which is the amount of coiling they have. With one set of coils, single-coils produce brighter and crisper sounds, while humbuckers have two coils and lend well to warmer, richer tones with lower feedback and noise.
Most genres lean towards sounds driven by humbuckers, and you’ll find them used in jazz, blues, and rock (especially on an electric guitar). Single coil pickups are found used in genres like surf and country where you need a little more ‘twang’. Humbuckers have one main advantage over single coils, in that they do not have the characteristic hum which one finds in single-coil pickups. Fun fact- this is why they’re named “humbuckers”!
What acoustic pickup does Eric Clapton use?
Eric Clapton is known to use a Carlos Juan CP-1 acoustic pickup in his Martin signature guitar. These are custom, handmade pickups built in Germany, and are quite rare and very expensive. While it’s tough to compare anything with these pickups, you can use a great undersaddle transducer such as the Fishman Matrix Infinity or the LR Baggs Anthem, both of which are hybrid and give you great control over your sound so you can tweak them as you need.
What acoustic guitar pickup does John Mayer use?
John Mayer has commonly used Fishman Gold Plus Natural I acoustic pickup systems on his Martin guitars. But if you want to get close to his tone, you can do that with an LR Baggs iMix that lets you blend two transducers, covering all the harmonics and resonance of your guitar. You can pretty close to the Neon tone with a little tweaking!
Does a pickup affect an acoustic guitar’s tone?
Yes, a pickup can affect an acoustic guitar’s tone depending on its type. However, many pickups can be installed temporarily, so they don’t affect the acoustic’s natural unplugged tone. A permanent installation requires some drilling, which can slightly affect the tone, but nothing negative. As for the amplified sound, each pickup type has a different effect on the sound, with hybrid systems offering the best reproduction of the natural tone with full-bodied warmth.