The Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups - Active & Passive

The Highest Rated Acoustic Guitar Pickups

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Even with the convenience and popularity of acoustic-electric guitars, some prefer the freedom of matching their guitar with the pickup of their choice, be it via temporary attachment on the sound hole, or via permanent installation.

Here we feature the best pickups that you can readily buy, based on reviews and ratings data from actual users who have tried the pickups themselves. This 2021 edition follows the same format as the previous iteration, having two main sections that showcase the top rated active and passive guitar pickup systems.

Included in this guide are descriptions and noteworthy features of each pickup system. We've also indicated installation difficulty and we also mention required modifications if needed. And like our other guides, we have summarized user feedback into pros and cons, so you can have a general idea of how the market feels about each of them.

The Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups

Author & Contributors

Alexander BrionesAlexander Briones

He's written about and researched music gear for many years, while also serving as a music director at his local church, in addition to teaching guitar, bass and mentoring young musicians.

The Best Passive Acoustic Guitar Pickups

Guild DeArmond Tone Boss Passive Soundhole Pickup

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$89
GUILD DeArmond Tone Boss Passive Soundhole Pickup

The DeArmond Tone Boss is a magnetic humbucking pickup that's designed to sit in the soundhole.

It is as straightforward as it gets, sporting a passive humbucking circuit design, that requires no battery and attaches without needing guitar modifications.

While humbuckers are more popularly used in electric guitars, this one is especially tweaked to better reproduce the nuances of an acoustic guitar.

Other features include having an onboard rotary volume control that can be accessed on the side of the pickup, and you are given a choice of 3 top trim colors - cream, black and tortoiseshell, so you can match the look of the pickup with your guitar.

Key Features

  • Type: Soundhole
  • Required Modifications: None
  • Installation Difficulty: Low
  • Controls: Volume

Pros

Owners are pleased with the sound of this pickup, although comments about the sound differ, some describe it as a good representation of their acoustic, while others describe it as sounding more like an electric guitar, which they do like. Ease of use and installation is also an important factor for those who rate this pickup highly. It also helps that the Guild DeArmond Tone Boss looks classy and matches different guitar styles and finishes nicely.

Cons

There are a few who report issues with the pickup assembly. Those who prefer the sound of piezo pickups will want to look elsewhere.

Overall

If you're looking for an easy to install passive soundhole pickup that's affordable and stylish, then definitely check out the Guild DeArmond Tone Boss.

DiMarzio Virtual Acoustic DP138

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 80+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$90
DiMarzio DP138 Virtual Passive Acoustic Guitar Pickup

The DiMarzio DP138 Virtual Passive Acoustic Guitar Pickup is a modification-free pickup. It uses two foam inserts to mount the pickup inside of your soundhole.

A compensated volume control minimizes tone loss when lowering your volume and it comes with a 10 foot cable.

12 Adjustable polepieces help you tailor your sound. This gives you a lot of flexibility because you can dial in the sound of the pickup based on the genre you play.

For example, say you’re a fingerstyle musician. You may want to raise the pole pieces above the bass strings to make your basslines more audible. If you’re mostly a strummer, the inverse may be true.

Key Features

  • Type: Soundhole
  • Required Modifications: None
  • Installation Difficulty: Low
  • Controls: Volume

Pros

Clear and Smooth are some descriptions users note about the pickup. Since it requires no modification, vintage instruments can enjoy amplification without damaging or altering the wood. These pickups also run very quietly.

Cons

Due to the position of the volume slider you might want to be careful not to bump it with your picking/strumming hand.

Overall

The Dimarzio Virtual Acoustic DP138 is a good choice for people who prefer not to modify their instruments and need noise-free operation.

K&K Pure Mini

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 1250+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$99
K&K Pure Mini Passive Acoustic Guitar Pickup

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Passive Acoustic Guitar Pickup.

The K&K Pure Mini Passive pickup is a transducer.

What this means is that it picks up the vibrations of the body of your instrument rather than its strings, which results in a more natural and open tone.

It’s great if you’re serious about getting a genuine acoustic tone, rather than the more processed sound of a piezo or soundhole pickup.

Key Features

  • Type: Transducer/Contact
  • Required Mods: Endpin, Gluing the Contacts to the Soundboard
  • Installation Difficulty: Moderate
  • Controls: None

Pros

Mellow and natural sounding tone according to several positive reviews. Great for smaller and brighter guitars. Many users appreciate the Full-bodied sound and muted pick attack especially when playing mellower styles.

Cons

Users report it lacking in upper frequency sparkle and bloated midrange frequencies. This may be an issue for fuller sounding guitars. The installation being almost permanent put off some users.

Overall

For guitars that have too much of an edge when strummed, the K&K Pure mini is a good pick. Be aware that if your guitar is naturally dark sounding, you may need additional equalization on your preamp. Tweak it properly and you will be treated to natural sounding acoustic tone.

LR Baggs M1

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 225+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$159
LR Baggs M1 Passive Acoustic Guitar Pickup

LR Baggs is a premier manufacturer of pickups for acoustic instruments, with their pickups being the stock option on many of Gibson's guitars.

The company’s pickups are used in a wide array of genres, with notable endorsees including: Cage the Elephant, Ricky Skaggs, Sierra Hull, Brad Paisley, and The Old Crow Medicine Show.

This pickup features construction unique to LR Baggs with a second hum-cancelling coil suspended by a proprietary mount below the main coil which is done to catch the resonance of the body aside from the strings.

The result is a natural sounding signal that sounds close to the acoustic tone of the instrument.

Key Features

  • Type: Soundhole
  • Required Mods: None
  • Installation Difficulty: Low
  • Controls: None

Pros

Users love how natural the tone sounds while attenuating feedback. This is a common compromise for transducer based pickups as they tend to pick up vibrations of the body more than magnetic pickups directed towards the strings.

Cons

Users found they needed a good preamp to get a strong signal to the mixer. Sometimes this is remedied by adding more input gain on the mixer end but since this is out of the control of many stage musicians, a preamp would solve this.

Overall

The LR Baggs M1 gets consistent high marks for its good reproduction of your guitar's sound. Take note that the better the guitar, the better this pickup will perform.

The Best Active Acoustic Guitar Pickups

LR Baggs iBeam

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$149
LR Baggs iBeam Active Acoustic Guitar Pickup System

The LR Baggs iBeam is a transducer pickup that attaches to the bridge plate of your guitar (where you poke your strings into).

It sits directly in front of the ball end of the strings (towards the tuning pegs).

Key Features

  • Type: Transducer / Contact
  • Required Mods: Endpin, Gluing to Bridge Plate
  • Installation Difficulty: High
  • Controls: Volume

Pros

Users note that the pickup reproduces treble frequencies well without sounding tinny. Some describe the tone as being like a close-miked tone or the actual sound of their guitar as they hear it acoustically.

Cons

It might not fit into some guitar bridges. Lacks a tone control. Users also note to reserve this pickup for your best sounding instrument as it does not offer any enhancing features for less-than-stellar guitars. Installation is said to be easy but to get the best tone, proper positioning of the pickup under the bridge plate is a challenge.

Overall

The LR Baggs iBeam is designed to mimic the response of a microphone. A quote from the website sums this up: “A key advantage over typical bridge plate sensors is the iBeam’s ‘cardioid’ like response pattern that inhibits feedback and string squeak while selectively admitting rich tone producing vibrations.” Jargon aside, this means that the design limits feedback while improving the overall frequency response. If you're looking for a tone somewhere between a transducer and a microphone, the iBeam is a good choice.

LR Baggs M1A

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 500+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$199
LR Baggs M1 Active Acoustic Guitar Pickup

The LR Baggs M1A is an active soundhole pickup with a modified stacked humbucker design.

It features a suspended coil design which allows it to resonate in response to the guitar soundboard. The lower coil is also tuned to capture higher frequency resonance.

This distinct configuration results in a sound that's closer to the natural sound of acoustics, while benefiting from the convenience of soundhole magnetic pickup design.

It works similar to the LR Baggs M1, the main difference is that this comes with an active preamp, which runs on a 3V lithium coin cell for up to 1000 hours.

Key Features

  • Type: Soundhole
  • Required Modifications: None
  • Installation Difficulty: Low
  • Controls: N/A

Pros

Owners are pleased at how natural the resulting sound is, regardless of which guitar they put it on. There are reports of it working great with a wide variety of guitars, including a Taylor Big Baby, expensive Martin D-35, D-16 and more. Tone also gets a lot of thumbs up, described as having a genuinely woody tone that you normally wouldn't expect from easy to install soundhole pickups.

Cons

Those who prefer the sound of piezo pickups may find themselves unimpressed, although there are some who have change their minds after the LR Baggs M1A's sound grew on them.

Overall

This is a great pickup to get if you need to sound good on stage without having to mess with your guitar's construction.

LR Baggs Anthem SL Microphone & Active Pickup

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 300+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$199
LR Baggs Anthem SL Microphone & Active Acoustic Guitar Pickup

As the name suggests, this pickup combines an actual microphone with a piezo pickup and an active preamp, while having minimal control options.

The piezo pickup is meant to go under the saddle, while the microphone is attached on the underside of the bridge plate.

Finally, the control section is discretely attached under the soundhole, which allows you to reach its volume control.

Key Features

  • Type: Transducer/ Microphone
  • Required Modifications: Endpin, Gluing Pickup to Bridgeplate, Mounting Soundhole Control
  • Installation Difficulty: High
  • Controls: Volume

Pros

Users are very pleased with the blended tone they get from the LR Baggs Anthem SL, describing the amplified sound as detailed and fuller. Reviews show that it works nicely with different branded guitars, including Gibson, Epiphone, Taylor, Martin, Guild and many more. Many also consider this pickup as a great value addition to their guitar, and are happy with how the positive responses they are getting from their listeners.

Cons

Given its mic plus piezo configuration, some may find the installation to be difficult. Thankfully there are video tutorials and installation manuals available online.

Overall

If you're looking for a complex mic plus piezo pickup system that installs discretely, then check out the LR Baggs Anthem SL.

LR Baggs Anthem Tru-Mic Microphone/Piezo and Active

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 250+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$299
LR Baggs Anthem Tru-Mic Microphone/Piezo and Active Acoustic Guitar Pickup

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Active Acoustic Guitar Pickup.

The LR Baggs Anthem Tru-Mic Microphone / Piezo pickup is similar to the Anthem SL, only this one has more control options.

The system features an in-guitar microphone combined with piezo sensors - this combination makes it suitable for both steel string and nylon string guitars.

It also allows you to adjust how the sound of the pickup and microphone are mixed, along with other useful controls that include phase, volume, battery check, and there's also a mic gain control that usually have to set once to match your preference.

Key Features

  • Type: Piezo / Microphone
  • Required Mods: Endpin, Setting Pickup in Bridge, Mounting Soundhole Control
  • Installation Difficulty: High
  • Controls: Volume, Mix, Phase, Battery Check, Mic Level

Pros

Users that play in larger ensembles and bands prefer this over the SL for its piezo tone. Piezos get a bad rap for sounding nasal and harsh but in the right context, such as a dense band mix, a blend of the piezo tone allows your guitar to carve its own space in a dense mix. It also has great feedback suppression according to a number of user reviews.

Cons

Some didn't like how the pickup sounds for solo acoustic work since the pickup favors the treble frequencies. Using the mic exclusively runs the risk of feedback.

Overall

If you're a guitar player in a band or ensemble and want a pickup that can help you cut through but still blend in some natural tonalities, the LR Baggs Anthem Tru-Mic Microphone / Piezo system is a great fit for your goals.

Things to Consider When Buying Acoustic Guitar Pickups

Figuring out which pickup is going to work best for you requires that you know a few key pieces of information. If you feel like you don’t know enough about acoustic guitar pickups to make an informed decision, or you just want to brush up on your knowledge before you pull the trigger, check out the sections below.

Types of Acoustic Guitar Pickups

There are four main types of acoustic guitar pickup, all of which are explained below.

Piezo

Piezo pickups are placed under your bridge. They’re essentially crystals that convert the vibration of your strings into a signal. These pickups are generally inexpensive, and while they don’t produce the most natural tone they don’t sound bad. They’re also very bright, which is a plus if you’re playing in a band because they’re great at cutting through a mix.
The main benefit of piezo pickups is that they’re the least likely to feedback, so if you’re looking to perform regularly they’re worth a look. Though, keep in mind that this type of pickup does require that you modify your guitar.

Soundhole

Soundhole pickups are magnetic pickups similar to those found on electric guitars. These pickups have a very clear and balanced sound, though they do have a tendency to sound a bit sterile, because they are getting the sound directly from the vibration of steel strings. This is the reason why some higher-end soundhole pickups compensate by combining magnetic pickups with a transducer, this configuration adds warmth and body to the resulting sound. This type of pickup is more resistant to feedback than transducers and microphones, though they’ll still feedback more easily than a piezo pickup.

Transducer/Contact

Transducer pickups, also known as contact pickups, are the most natural sounding pickup. They convert the vibrations of the top of your guitar into a signal, so they capture more of your acoustic tone. However, they’re also the most prone to feedback. This can make it hard to use these pickups at larger venues, especially if you’re playing in a band.

In-Guitar Microphone/Blended Pickup

Microphones obviously aren’t pickups, but many companies have units that combine one of the pickups above with a small microphone. The cool thing about this is that you can blend between the two different sounds. At lower volumes you can dial in more mic, which will give you a more natural tone. Likewise, if you’re playing at higher volumes you can dial in more pickup so that your guitar won’t feedback as easily.
The only downside of blended systems is that they’re significantly more expensive than any of the other options. However, they also offer more flexibility and a better sound quality.

Pickups That Require Guitar Modifications

The very first thing you want to consider before you purchase a pickup is whether you’re willing to modify your guitar to install it (and have the means to do so). There are pickups that require modification in order to install, which you may not want to do if you have a guitar with sentimental value.

Piezo pickups always require modification because of how they’re designed, and most soundboard transducers do as well. Soundhole pickups, with the L.R. Baggs being a notable example, generally don’t require modification because you can simply drape the cord out of the soundhole. With that being said, many of these pickups allow you to do both.

Here is a video that gives you a good idea of what's involved if you're considering modifying your guitar by yourself:

Feedback and Acoustic Guitar Pickups

Feedback is a loop of sound caused by resonance. A frequency goes through an amplifier, the resulting tone is then captured by your pickup, then it is amplified further. This goes on until the initial frequency is the only thing coming out of your speakers, and is really unpleasant to listen to.

Acoustic guitar pickups are very sensitive to feedback, though this varies based on the type of pickup. As a basic rule, the more your pickup “hears” the more sensitive it is. So, for example, a pickup with a built-in microphone is going to be more sensitive to feedback than a piezo. The more frequencies “heard” by a pickup the higher likelihood of feedback, so the pickups that most accurately reproduce your acoustic tone are generally more likely to cause feedback.

Here’s a table that shows a rough estimate of feedback risk for each type of pickup:

Pickup Type Feedback Risk
Piezo Low
Transducer Medium/High
Soundhole Low/Medium
Microphone High

Active vs. Passive

When you’re shopping for an acoustic pickup you’re going to hear the terms “active” and “passive’ thrown around a lot. The difference between the two basically boils down to the fact that one is externally powered (almost always by a battery) to boost the signal and the other is not. Active pickups are the former, passive pickups are the latter.

The cool thing about active pickups is that you’re basically good to plug into any P.A. or acoustic amp around. Because passive pickups don’t have the boost that active pickups do the signal is weak, which results in a squashed tone and a very quiet output. Most P.A.’s and acoustic amps can compensate for this, but there are going to be cases where you need to get an acoustic preamp or active D.I. box to get a strong enough tone.

The only drawback to active pickups is that they usually don’t function without a battery. Thankfully, it’s really easy to compensate for this. All you really need to do is make sure that you always carry a spare battery.

Amplifying Nylon String Guitars

Nylon string guitar players usually fall into two camps, classical/flamenco musicians who are looking for a really natural tone and people who just prefer the feel/response of a nylon over that of a steel string. If you’re really dedicated to getting a natural tone, you’re going to be happiest with an in-guitar microphone or a microphone and pickup combo.

If you’re not as particular about your tone, your best bet is going to be either a transducer or a piezo. Transducer pickups will sound more natural, but are a bit more expensive. Piezo pickups are cheaper, and while they won’t sound quite as natural as a transducer you can still get a good tone.

The only pickup type that really wouldn’t work well with a nylon string guitar is a soundhole pickup. Because nylon isn’t magnetic you’re not going to get any output on the treble strings, which makes this type of pickup basically useless for nylon string instruments.

Best Acoustic Guitar Pickup Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2017 and the current edition was published on

For this 2021 edition, we looked at all acoustic pickup systems that are being sold by major online American music gear retailers, then selected the most popular and highly rated models to form a short-list of 31, you can see them in the Music Gear Database. We then collected and analyzed over 7,100 relevant ratings, reviews, comments and recommendations, including the most recent ones up to September of 2021. All these data were then fed to the Gearank Algorithm, which produced the rating scores out of 100 that we used to select the highest rated active and passive systems which we recommend above. For more information about our methods please read How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Alexander BrionesAlexander Briones

He's written about and researched music gear for many years, while also serving as a music director at his local church, in addition to teaching guitar, bass and mentoring young musicians.

Drawing from his experience in performing and recording, he teaches guitar and bass and mentors young artists to be better musicians. And when he is not busy playing or tinkering with musical gear, he puts on his entrepreneurial hat, which helps fund his passion for collecting guitars, mecha figures and Gunpla kits.

Contributors

Alden Acosta: Product research.
Mason Hoberg: Supplemental writing.
Raphael Pulgar: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com using photographs of the DiMarzio DP136, LR Baggs M1, K&K Pure Mini and LR Baggs Anthem SL.

The video has been embedded in accordance with YouTube's Terms of Service.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers.

Comments

I'm looking for a review of

I'm looking for a review of pickups with on-board preamp / EQ / volume adjustment for gigs.

Your reviews are way off base

Your reviews are way off base. The absolute best acoustic guitar pickup is the Sunrise. None of the pickups you list come close and I know that for a fact because I’ve had every single one. The Sunrise is positively the best acoustic guitar pickup that out performs, sounds worlds better that any of the other pickups especially the LR Baggs when are quite frankly not good.

Thanks for sharing your

Thanks for sharing your opinion. I've heard good things about these handmade pickups but they're only made in relatively small numbers and aren't widely available so they didn't meet our eligibility criteria.

Hello: You might mention and

Hello: You might mention and evaluate the time it takes to change batteries. The MIA is very time consuming and will ruin your gig. The Ibeam active is quick with a pair of needle nose pliers.

Or you could not be a fool

Or you could not be a fool and instead put a new battery in long before a gig.