Acoustic guitars sound great when un-plugged, but what if you want to make the volume a lot louder? Which type of pickup is best to do this, a soundhole pickup, or a piezo pickup? In this article I’ll compare these two types of acoustic guitar pickups so you can decide which is the best option for you.
The Quick Answer
Soundhole acoustic guitar pickups are easier to install than piezo pickups, however they are much more visible. Piezo pickups are less susceptible to feedback and typically sound clearer and brighter than soundhole pickups which sound warmer. Most new acoustic-electric guitars come with piezo pickups.
Check out this table comparing the advantages and disadvantages of piezo and sound-hole acoustic guitar pickups.
|Soundhole Pickup||Piezo Pickup|
|Very visible (located on the soundhole)||Not visible (located inside the guitar)|
|Detect vibrations in the strings||Detect vibrations from the wood|
|Easy to install||Complicated to install|
|Generally sound warmer||Usually sound brighter and clearer|
|More susceptible to feedback||Not susceptible to feedback|
|Does not require a pre-amp||Requires a pre-amp|
|No onboard controls||Has onboard controls|
Soundhole pickups are mounted onto the guitar so they sit across the soundhole. They are usually placed close to the neck and detect the string vibrations using magnetic fields, hence they are also sometimes referred to as magnetic pickups.
Piezo pickups are placed inside the body of the guitar, underneath the saddle area so are also referred to as under-saddle transducer pickups. These work by using compressed crystals to detect pressure changes (vibrations) from the wood.
So know we know how each type of pickup works, let’s take a look at their pros and cons in this next section. I’ll be comparing the following aspects:
Piezo pickups have better clarity and sound brighter compared to soundhole pickups which sound warmer. However, some piezo pickups are criticised for sounding “quacky” and “nasally” particularly when heavy strumming, so are best suited to fingerstyle and lighter strumming.
Cheaper sound hole pickups are sometimes criticised for sounding more “electric”, however more premium pickups tend to sound warmer and more natural than piezo pickups since they have a better bass response.
Check out this YouTube video to hear examples of piezo and soundhole pickups. The soundhole pickup example starts at 2:22 and the piezo example starts at 5:02.
Soundhole pickups are more susceptible to feedback than piezo pickups. Since soundhole pickups work by detecting string vibrations, they tend to produce quite high levels of feedback. This feedback can be reduced by using a soundhole cover, however it is still higher than when using a piezo pickup.
Piezo pickups produce relatively low levels of feedback because they detect the vibrations in the wood. This makes them very useful for playing live performances when you need higher volumes.
Piezo pickups produce a very low signal strength which means they require a pre-amp to boost the signal to an appropriate volume. The use of this pre-amp means the signal is also compressed which will change the tone of the guitar. In some cases, this can sound “nasally”. However, some players like the compression because it means the guitar is more responsive to how hard to pluck the strings.
Soundhole pickups produce a higher output which means they do not need boosting much to get the volume up to a good level.
Soundhole pickups are very easy to install and in most cases are simply slotted in and secured using screws which is a quick process.
Piezo pickups are more complicated to install since they are located inside the body so you’ll need to cut and drill sections of the body. This process is typically performed by a professional and DIY installations are not recommended unless you are confident you know what you’re doing.
Piezo pickups typically cost between $50-$250 in the USA and £50-£150 in the UK. Soundhole pickups generally cost between $50-$250 in the USA and £50-£200 in the UK. Hence, they are fairly similarly priced.
The only other thing you’ll need to factor in is the installation cost if you are hiring a professional to install the piezo pickup. This will usually cost at least $50 but up to $150 depending on how complex the wiring system is.
Blending Pickup Systems
If you are really torn between soundhole and piezo pickups, then you don’t actually have to choose one or the other. Some players like to blend systems by using both types of pickups together or use a microphone as well. This is a more complicated and expensive solution, but it’s definitely an option if you find that using a single pickup type is producing the right tone for you.
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