The Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups - Active & Passive

Acoustic Guitar Pickups

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Acoustic guitar pickups may confuse even veteran musicians. Selecting the best pickup to project your guitar's tone properly via the PA or an acoustic amp is important since the wrong choice may not complement your instrument's tone.

Some pickups mount easily onto your guitar while others may require modifications on your instrument. This may be something to look out for especially when you own a vintage instrument.

We based our acoustic pickup recommendations on analysis of over 3,700 review and rating sources and selected the best of the best. We've categorized them by active and passive systems and indicated installation difficulty and modifications needed (if any).

The Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups

The Best Passive Acoustic Guitar Pickups

DiMarzio Virtual Acoustic DP138

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 90+ 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. The DP138 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.

DiMarzio Super Natural Plus DP136

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 50+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$90
DiMarzio DP136 Super Natural Plus Soundhole Passive Acoustic Guitar Pickup

The DiMarzio DP136 Super Natural Plus Soundhole pickup has several similarities with the DP138 including the mounting and 10-foot cable. Compared to the DP138, the pickup is more focused, with a tighter bass and a greater high-mid and treble presence.

Key Features

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

Pros

Reviews mention the convenience and sound quality to be excellent. A reviewer noted that the wooden aesthetic complemented his guitar well.

Cons

Some users noticed some noise with the volume slider. Another problem users had with the volume slider was how easy it is to hit with hard strumming.

Overall

For those who want to brighten up a dark sounding acoustic or want added shimmer to cut through the band mix, the DP136 is a good choice. Because of the hassle-free installation, vintage instruments won't need any modifications.

K&K Pure Mini

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 600+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$99
K&K Pure Mini 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 Modifications: 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 175+ 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.

The pickup features construction unique to LR Baggs with a second hum-cancelling coil suspended by a proprietary mount below the main coil. This 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 Modifications: 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 most 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

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ 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 Modifications: 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-mic'ed tone or the actual sound of their guitar as they hear it acoustically.

Cons

May 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.

Fishman Matrix Infinity Narrow

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$170
Fishman Matrix Infinity Narrow Active Acoustic Guitar Pickup & Preamp System

Fishman is the premier name in acoustic guitar amplification and the Matrix is Fishman’s flagship series. It features a redesigned endpin mounted preamp, controls for volume and tone, a low-battery indicator, and a voicing switch. The voicing switch cuts specific frequencies to approximate the electric signal with your acoustic's tone. The onboard EQ has a custom range from mid boost to more scooped tones.

Key Features

  • Type: Piezo
  • Required Modifications: Bridge Installation, End Pin, Sound Hole Controls
  • Installation Difficulty: High
  • Controls: Tone, Volume, Voicing

Pros

Despite the high difficulty of installation, some users who did it themselves found it to be easier than they thought. Some mention the Matrix Infinity minimizes the pitfalls that piezo systems have such as unnatural attack and quacky midrange.

Cons

Some guitars may still sound unnatural and harsh with the pickup because of their construction as some users reported. These guitars usually benefit from other styles of pickup. One user found the pickup overemphasizes the guitar's low frequency although they did not mention what type of guitar it was.

Overall

If you prefer the detail and attack of piezo systems, The Matrix Infinity series might be worth a shot.

Fishman Matrix Infinity Wide

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 40+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$170
Fishman Matrix Infinity Wide Active Acoustic Guitar Pickup & Preamp System

The Matrix Infinity Wide shares the same features as the Matrix Infinity Narrow. The only difference on the units are the width of the undersaddle strip. Check and measure your guitar's specifications before deciding on which version to get.

Key Features

  • Type: Piezo
  • Required Modifications: Bridge Installation, End Pin, Sound Hole Controls
  • Installation Difficulty: High
  • Controls: Tone, Volume, Voicing

Pros

Positive user reviews for the Matrix Infinity Wide share similar sentiments as the narrow version. Several users have both versions of the pickup in multiple guitars because of their positive experiences with the tone and response.

Cons

Some users report the wide version requires better sanding of the saddle since the point of contact is wider. Uneven sanding results in volume mismatches across each string.

Overall

If your guitar has a wider saddle slot, the Matrix Infinity Wide is the model to get.

Seymour Duncan SA-6 Mag Mic

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$189
Seymour Duncan SA-6 Mag Mic Active Acoustic Guitar Pickup

The Seymour Duncan SA-6 Mag Mic Active Acoustic Guitar Pickup is a combination of a magnetic pickup and an omnidirectional condenser mic. This allows the guitar's tone to have a natural sounding resonance while providing clarity via the magnetic pickups. You can blend between the two to achieve natural, percussive or feedback-reducing tonalities.

Key Features

  • Type: Soundhole/In-Guitar Mic
  • Required Modifications: None
  • Installation Difficulty: Low to Moderate
  • Controls: Volume, Blend

Pros

A few users noted how easy it was to dial in the sound they have in mind with the blend control. Mostly glowing remarks for the natural tone.

Cons

Some users had to take extra time dialing in the blend of the magnetic pickup and condenser to avoid feedback.

Overall

Seymour Duncan is usually a name you'd associate with electric guitar pickups. They hit a home run with the SA-6 Mag Mic. If your tonal preference requires you to precisely blend a mic and magnetic pickup tone, the SA-6 Mag Mic is perfect for you.

LR Baggs Anthem Tru-Mic Microphone/Piezo and Active

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

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

The LR Baggs Anthem Tru-Mic Microphone/Piezo pickup is the piezo-equipped version of the Anthem SL. The system features an in-guitar microphone combined with piezo sensors - this combination makes it suitable for both steel string and nylon string guitars.

Key Features

  • Type: Piezo/Microphone
  • Required Modifications: 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 it's 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 basically electric guitar pickups mounted on an acoustic guitar. These pickups have a very clear and balanced sound, though they do have a tendency to sound a bit sterile. However, higher-end soundhole pickups compensate for this in different ways. Many combine a standard magnetic pickup with something akin to a transducer, creating a great combination of clarity and warmth. 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 a blended systems is that they’re significantly more expensive than any of the options above. 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’s 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 guitar 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 one 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 guitar 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

This guide was first published on October 20, 2017 written by Mason Hoberg. The latest major revision was published on September 11, 2019 by Raphael Pulgar.

We began by looking at all the acoustic pickup systems for guitar available from major online American music gear retailers, then narrowed that list down to a short-list of 25 - you can see them in the Music Gear Database. We then collected over 3,700 ratings, reviews and comments with feedback on each acoustic pickup system from online retailers, discussion forums, review sites and major music gear publications. We then used the Gearank Algorithm to process these sources to produce scores out of 100 and selected the highest rated active and passive options to recommend above. For more information about this process please see How Gearank Works.

Comments

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.

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.

I'm looking for a review of

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

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