I repair mandolins and never have a problem with them. I have a friend that has asked me to research and install a mandolin pickup but quite honestly, I do not have a clue as to the 'inside' on a good mandolin pickup. I've repaired mandolins with pickup systems that sound great but I'm not up to speed with the blue grass circle enough to determine a good choice. I've asked a few grass players, but none seem to lead me to a one or two choice consensus. My friend didn't seem too hot on the idea of a saddle type pickup so that kind of narrows things down to a contact type pickup. The mandolin in question is a Webber Gallatin which I'm sure will help with any opinions. I suppose I could spend a few days at Merle Fest but its a ways off and I like to see if anyone here has expertice in the area of mandolin pickups...
I have installed a few K&K pickups in acoustic guitars and they work well. The install is fairly straight forward. I would hope they work as well in mandolins?
Am I right in thinking that most mandolin bridges are a kind of fat violin bridge, rather than the pin type bridge seen on flat top guitars? I can think of two types of pickup that might do. Both can be made at home. One type is a temporary pickup which wedges between the bridge and the front and is removed when not in use and the other is built into a new bridge and is a permanent fitting. In either case the pickup is a pietzo type and will require a preamp with a very high input impedance.
These devices are sold as pietzo sounders here in the UK in shops like Maplins and probably in the US in somewhere like Radio Shack. They are brass disks with a silvered ceramic coating (I think) on one side. A wire is soldered to each of the two parts. I glue off cuts from instrument fronts to both sides of the disk. When the glue is set the pickup can be sawn to shape. The solder joint to the ceramic part is very delicate. I usually make a cutout of the wood on this side to clear the solder joint and later cover this with epoxy and wood dust to protect it. I solder the red wire to the core of an instrumental cable and th black wire to the shield. For a removable pickup I would shape it to a wedge shape that is a push fit between the bottom of the bridge and the front. The cable could go to a jack socket attached to the tailpiece. I've seen bits of violin chin rests used as clamps for this as well. A permanent pickup could be built into a new bridge. With the right preamp these can sound as good as regular pick ups. Without the pre amp they are harsh and thin sounding.
I don't wish to sink Ron's suggestion, but I don't think a Radio Shack piezo home-made pickup is the correct answer for a $2500+ mando. I only utilize those for under $100 instruments. The fact that he's unfamiliar with a mado bridge (1st sentence in his post) does not inspire confidence. Sincerely Ron, no offense meant.
I'm also a big fan of K&K pickups. Highly recommended. Also, although your customer initially spec'd a contact PU, there are a few really nice mando bridges available with built in PU elements. All you have to do is replace the bridge, adjust it to the instrument, secure the output jack & you're done. Plus it's not invasive if you mount the jack on the end pin.
One solid suggestion though: Contact the folks @ Weber and see what their experiences have been with adding contact pickups to their products. They know their stuff better than anyone else.
Best of luck (:
I was going to let my post float until I got a few suggestions. Your thoughts on contacting Webber will come in handy as I gather more information. I don't think a bridge pickup is totally out of the question but we'll see.
Also, your posts on What Makes A Guitar A Great Player were dead on. Took the words right out of my mouth and even added a few insights I snapped up. Thanks again Paul for your input and I will closely consider all of your suggestions...
I saw a mic that might work well on a mando.Bartlett fiddle mic puts out great sound .The mic rests wedged under the tailpiece and hovers above but out of the way...Thinkin' I may have to try it.They may even make one for mandos for all I know.Saw mounting instructions on Youtube just yesterday.@200.00 bux
Thanks for your input Tim. Now that you mention it, I've had great success with L R Baggs dual source systems (Anthem) in guitars. I've had to fiddle (no pun) around with the mic placement a little (though they say the mic is very forgiving), but have had excellent results...
I've had really good results on my F5 (Unicorn & Mustang by Taku Sakashta) with a K & K mandolin twin. It's mounted internally and is invisible except for the jack replacing the end pin. I did all the installation work myself except for drilling out the end pin and that was only because I didn't want to buy the proper tool for only one job. Gryphon did the drilling very reasonably.
No issues in more than two years and I gig frequently with the mandolin. It sounds as good or better than it does with a SM57 and gives me great mobility on stage and in the room, especially when I plug into a wireless receiver for the mando.
If wanted, the K&K can be installed on the top as a contact pickup with a carpenter jack but I'd just go for the internal. The two elements mount right under the F holes near the bridge, totally invisible, and if one wants to reverse the installation it's simple to remove the elements and jack and plug and replace the end pin. But that's unlikely--there is no discernible change to the acoustic sound of the mandolin so why go back? There's also a jack available at extra cost from K&K that doesn't require drilling out the end pin hole if originality is an issue.
I'm also the happy user of a K&K classical pickup system in a Ken Miller flamenco guitar but that's another day's discussion. That one was installed by the maker at my request.
Thanks Larry, seems K & K pickups are popular here, I'll give this a serious investigation. I have an email out to Webber and am waiting on a reply, but I do not expect hearing anything until at least Monday. I've been installing L R Baggs dual source systems in guitars primarily because they greatly reduce the "bark/quack' that full range UST's give up so easily. Thanks again Larry...
I've installed hundreds of pickups and combinations of pickups in all manner of mandolin family instruments. The K&K mandolin twins are excellent for warm accurate seeming representation of the unplugged sound most suitable for fingerstyle and old time, etc. If you want to cut through the Bluegrass mayhem most will prefer one of the Fishman M-series bridge pickups. Kent Armstrong makes an awfully nice humbucker that used to be available for the Phoenix Jazz model instruments. I put an Armstrong on a Collings MT wired in stereo with a K&K and it resulted in a terrific variety of useable tones. Short story, smart money says the Fishman bridge pickup is the no-brainer go to for Bluegrass. My opinions only of course.
Hi Robert, and thank you for your input. As you can see from the posts (and why I like opinion here), most excellent information and a consensus is beginning to take shape. Now that I am able to narrow a selection by folks with experience in this area, I have cut through the sea of choices. I am awaiting an email from Webber to get an opinion and I have a feeling it will reside in one or two of the suggestions on this post. Thanks again Robert for your help...
If it is of interest to those who left me answers here, I just received an email from Sound To Earth, the makers of Weber mandolins on their preference of pickups. They suggested the K & K internal twins. Thanks again for your help...
Best - condensor mic + in ear monitors, or a combo of stereo split mic and pickup such as used by Sam Bush (though this gets complicated)
Acceptable - AKG C411 (some adaptation required), LR Baggs Radius, Schertler, or K&K mounted on the OUTSIDE of instrument along with a good preamp and feedback eliminator
Not Acceptable - everything else including the fishman (which makes your mandolin sound worse unplugged as well) and anything that mounts on the inside of the instrument, unless you like a weak, hollow sounding feedback fest
Best compromise for price, hassle free operation, ease of installation - Baggs Radius, on the outside right behind the bridge and a little to the treble side, and don't skimp on a preamp and feedback eliminator or it will all be for not.