Just wondering what you guys typically recommend when a customer needs an acoustic pickup installed.
When customers ask how to get the most natural acoustic sound, my answer is always the same: use a microphone! But when this is not possible due to the venue, electric playing bandmates, stage antics, etc., I almost always recommend a UST from one of the big names. I prefer active (not much additional cost and big difference in ease of use for most). I absolutely prefer external pre-amps over adding a preamp. In my mind if the instrument is worth the expense of adding an onboard pre-amp, it is probably also worth thinking twice before cutting a huge hole in the side. There are many good external models available at reasonable prices also.
I'm sure this has been discussed here quite a bit, but I couldn't find any post newer than a few years old and this is one area where a few years really makes a difference.
What's been sounding good to you guys?
For soundboard transducers, I'm completely sold on the K&K Pure Mini passive unit. My recommendations for that type of pup starts & stops right there. They're super easy to install and their performance is unparallelled. I recommend these for solo/duo acts.
TOO MANY acoustic players are reluctant to use magnetic soundhole pups. The Baggs M1A and M80 are fabulous. I recommend them when the guitar will be used in an ensemble situation.
I do not, as a matter of kindness to myself & my clients, recommend the use of under saddle transducers. They work, but it seems whenever the customer changes strings, they inevitably screw up the saddle/transducer setup.
However, I also remind my clients that it all comes down to the front of house engineer & the quality of the PA system. They determine what the audience hears, regardless of the pup type.
I hope some of that info was useful :)
I'd have to agree that soundhole pups are a bit underrated. The sound isn't bad and I never had feedback issues. I don't like to recommend them because I've seen too many guitars with two small, matching triangles of missing finish on the soundhole's edge. This could be from over-tightening, or poor storage... but I'm hesitant to recommend anything that I have seen cause damage, even if the damage may have been caused by improper use.
Two votes for the K&K mini! Might have to revisit these.
For the last year or so the big hit in our neck of the woods is the Baggs Lyric. It's one half of the Baggs Anthem but without the UST of which I agree with the guys about the perils of USTs in client hands.
The Lyric is the most natural sounding acoustic pup that I have experienced to date. As a builder of acoustics what I want from a pup is simply an amplified version of the instruments natural tone. Since the Lyric is a mic located inside the box this seems to be what I get, an amplified version of the natural tone of the instrument... for better or worse I will add....;)
It's super easy to install too, beyond reaming the input jack hole everything else is self-stick and placement is not at all critical as it can be with the K&Ks.
I was a K&K fan, still am, but after installing and hearing dozens of Lyrics if I was buying a pup for my personal OM or L-OO it would be a Lyric.
And yet another "me too" for the K&K pickups. No batteries, easy to install, great sound, reasonably-priced and the list goes on.
They're manufactured in my backyard (well, down in Newport, OR) and the customer service is great. 5-stars.
I've gotten some great sounds from blend systems that included a mic, but when playing at high volumes the mic would often get "blended out" in favor of a more feedback friendly transducer or magnetic. This design is a bit different than other mini mics. How does it handle volume?
Hey Jon: I would say most of the Lyrics that we have installed went to semi-pro and pro players who play out frequently and so far no complaints. In fact we have been contacted after the installation just to let us know that folks were thrilled with the Lyric.
Can't speak specifically to the blending out thing because it has not been anything that has been mentioned to us.
The Anthem which has a loyal following and is a great system too has the Lyric's mic with the Element's UST and seems to be the most versatile of the Baggs stuff.
The only nit that I have with the Lyric personally is that since it's a mic sitting in front of the amp to make adjustments can get you some feedback, move away and it's better.
Paul mentioned using the mini for solo/duo but not for someone playing acoustic in a full band. How do the rest of you guys feel about that? Is feedback the issue here? And what would you recommend in its place if you don't like it for full bands?
Also, not feeling much love for the battery here... Is that just because you don't like messing with the battery or is there another reason? I'm usually a fan of the active versions. The downsides I see: 1) cost and hassle of a batteries 2) potential of the dreaded dead battery buzz when you really don't want it Anything else that bugs you about batteries?
I've had an Anthem SL system in may main flattop for about 3 years? (not long after it was introduced) and it's a great performer. Sounds natural, relatively low maintenance, transparent. Almost all of the internal gear is invisible. And now, the rest of the story... .
I got my Anthem before the Lyric was introduced. Experience with the Anthem has led to reducing almost all of the UST component to get rid of the quack and it performs just fine that way on my guitar--a very balanced, great sounding guitar when played acoustically. The mic seems to handle almost everything. Maybe it would be a different mix in a different guitar or performing environment. A band mate has an Anthem SL in a Laravee dred but I don't know what mix he's using. The bigger issue is the battery--when it goes, it goes in a hurry. I can tell as soon as that's happening because I repeatedly need to raise the on-board volume and I get "the look" from the control board operator. So bringing a battery tester and extra batteries is essential at gigs. I've spent more than one break replacing a battery instead of getting ready for the next set. I now test it before every gig. It's easy to skip this because it requires loosening the strings to get to the battery. I also always check it when changing strings but I use coated wires these days so that doesn't happen so often any more.
I'd probably get a K&K if I were to do it again--or a Lyric, if I needed the mic for whatever reason. I have K&K's in amandolin and a flamenco guitar and they're literally plug and play, into the board or amp--no preamp needed. A band mate has K&K in his killer '56 D-18 and it sounds great the same way. We use DI's for the K&K's but that's mostly for insurance and output matching.
Re feedback with the Anthem or the K&K's, not a big problem for me, but we're a mostly acoustic band and don't play all that loud so YMMV.
Thanks, Larry! Sound like I need to check out this Lyric or maybe even a full Anthem. I like the idea of versatility.
If it's all about the tone and if you are playing in a small venue with those of tender ears all you are hearing about peeps faves here is OK.
But if you have a stand-up gig on a loud sound stage and the tone Nazi's are out back at the concession stall sipping red wine or tea I usually recommend a tank-like Fishman Infinity with 6000 hours of battery life, a rock solid and forgiving undersaddle, and a internal volume tone boost package accessible with ones pinky. Installed a ton of these for stage work, they are priced well and the cost of an install is low enough - seldom have any problems except with with extreme cases. A $2000 mike will sound better for sure but you are not going to have on up there, so a little bit of pragmatism goes a long way. Ask your customers where they intend to use their instruments and make your pick based on that.
6000 hours is a reasonable expectation for a quality NiCad/Alkaline (as long as you don't leave your instrument plugged in for a couple of months) - and a lithium battery will also help. If you use a 1 buck battery from the 711 you will fail. I don't understand how a battery can go flat regularly unless its not wired to turn off when unplugged.
Let me expand on my recommendations.
Here’s what I consider a single/duo act:
No other instruments on stage except for a double bass.
The frequency range of the guitar is not adversely affected by the bass (if on stage).
These types of performances USUALLY happen in a coffee house or other intimate settings. Quality of sound is of paramount importance.
An ensemble situation covers any situation where instruments are competing for frequency range and amplitude (volume).
This includes an acoustic in a rock or country band. Both’s SPL’s are about the same nowadays. “Coming though the mix” is the primary goal and quality of sound is secondary.
The ideal “ensemble system” would have either an UST or mag pickup and an SBT or internal mic, each with their own direct output. This setup situation would route the highest quality audio device (SBT or mic) to the Front of House (FOH) mix and the magnetic or UST is sent to the wedge/in ear/side fill monitor system (Mon).
I also want to reinforce that the quality of the SR system AND the competence of the FOH engineer are actually the greatest concern when performing live. Those two factors determine what the audience hears. A great FOH engineer can make a Fishman entry level system sound very good. A hack mixer could make a $1000+ acoustic pickup system sound like doggie doo. This is why Tommy E. ALWAYS introduces and gives props to his FOH guy. A lesser talented engineer could have ruined Tommy’s career.
It’s the “application” that determines the appropriate system, and that is often contrary to what the customer “wants”. That may go against every customer service tenant we’ve come to espouse, but it is, in fact, the absolute truth and the best advice we can give. Installing or suggesting a system which is the absolute wrong system for the “intended application” is NOT a ‘service’.
I learned this first hand when I bought a Baggs I-beam active for my Taylor acoustic. It was right after the product became available. I was using it in an ensemble situation (a church’s ‘worship’ group) and it was awful for that application. I pulled it after the 2nd week. Even a 5 band FULLY parametric EQ couldn’t tame it’s resonance issues. NOWADAYS, Baggs adds a note that it should be used for solo work, but that disclaimer didn’t exist when I bought mine. It was an enlightening, albeit expensive, experience & lesson.
Hesh: Thanks for the heads up on the internal Baggs mic. It’s noise cancelling properties would seem to alleviate most feedback issues (within reason). I’ll try one in my dedicated finger style acoustic as soon as I can afford one. Thanks, man :)
In closing, for ensemble work, I now use a Baggs M1A. It delivers a very good approximation of a mic’d acoustic and is NOT a feedback monster. The battery ( a disc battery) lasts 1000 hours and is a cinch to change if/when necessary. It’s incorporated into the pup’s body.
And... just one more time.... the SR system quality & FOH engineer will be in charge of the sound the audience hears. There’s no getting around that fact. It's OUT of the hands of the performer.