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Fuzz 10/1997

From the Article: EMF B-BAND Under-saddle acoustic guitar pickup and CORE Integrated preamp/endpinjack

By Paul Guy, FUZZ magazine #10, Dec 1997

** Warm, responsive and dynamic **

The Finnish EMF Acoustics B-Band is a new type of undersaddle "strip" pickup which uses an electret (a capacitor with a permanent charge) to sense the vibrations of the strings. It should therefore be classified as a condenser pickup, as opposed to practically every other undersaddle pickup on the market thus far, which use either piezo crystals or piezo film as a transducing medium. (Piezos sense changes in pressure, whereas condenser pickups are sensitive to vibration, if my understanding is correct.) EMF state that their electret film contains microscopic lens-shaped gas bubbles which provide correct acoustic impedance matching characteristics to wood.

The pickup looks very strange at first sight. It is only 0.3 mm (12 thousandths of a inch) thick, and the same width as the bridge saddle. The whole length looks the same, a little semiflexible metallic ribbon with a small connector at one end. The first 80 mm (3.15") of the ribbon is active, the rest is just "wire". The B-Band is available in three models - two long, for large-bodied steel-string guitars with 3/32" (2.3mm) or 1/8" (3.2 mm) bridge saddles, and one shorter one, for nylon-strung guitars (which usually have smaller bodies), in the 3/32" width. In common with piezo film pickups the B-Band pickup has a very low output level. It needs a preamp with a fairly high gain. The EMF "Core" preampwhich comes with the B-Band pickup is internally mounted on the endpinjack, and is driven by a 9 volt battery mounted on the neck block. The Core is a Class A design using discrete transistors - no IC's here.

The system is very impressive. As the pickup is only 0.3 mm thick you do not need to remove material from the bottom of the saddle to maintain action height. (At the 12th fret the action will be raised by half the thickness of the pickup - 6 thousandths of an inch...) No soldering is necessary - all (all two; pickup - preamp and battery - preamp) connections are "plug-in". The only down side of this is that the pickup must be installed from inside the guitar (as the "plug" won¹t go through the hole in the bridge saddle), which can be a bit like trying to thread a needle in the dark. (But if you put a toothpick in the hole you can hold the pickup between your thumb and forefinger with just the very end sticking out, and feel for the toothpick to find the correct location.) The up side is that it¹s easy to remove the pickup again without cutting or desoldering anything. The mechanical construction of the preamp is similar to the Fishman endpinjack mounted unit, and feels very stable. A high quality battery holder with mounting screws, several self-adhesive cable clips, and richly illustrated installation instructions, are all provided in the package.

Having installed literally hundreds of undersaddle pickups I can comfortably state that this was the fastest and easiest installation of an undersaddle pickup and preamp system I have ever done. The only little quirk about the job is that the hole in the saddle slot for the pickup to pass through should be drilled at a 45 degree angle to avoid bending the ribbon too sharply. The generous active length makes the pickup suitable even for guitars with very wide E - E string spacing at the bridge. (It can be difficult to find undersaddle pickups for the widest classical and 12-string guitars.) EMF have also provided for the addition of a volume control on the guitar, with instructions on how to wire it, and very worthwhile advice on reinforcing the wood around the pot hole. These dudes have really thought everything through.

Soundwise the B-Band is a very pleasant surprise. It lacks the "quack" in the high register that most often accompanies piezo systems (the "MTV Unplugged" effect, as I call it), and is very warm, responsive and dynamic. You can turn up the volume prettyfar before it starts to feed back, and it doesn¹t distort on the attack when you really lay into the strings (many piezos "spit" at the beginning of notes). The B-Band sounds far more natural than the vast majority of piezo systems, due in large part to the fact that it picks up more of the "wood" than piezos usually do. This adds a great deal of realism to the sound, in my ears. Of course you pay a price for this realism, the B-Band is also fairly sensitive to finger noise on the strings (when glissing, for example). An acquaintance who tried it gave it the thumbs-down straight away, purely on that objection. (But then he is a wholesaler for a well-known American piezo manufacturer, so take that with a pinch of salt.) It didn't bother me worth mentioning, I thought it just added further to the realism - how *does* a "miked-up" guitar sound?

Think about it...

Warmly recommended!

Paul Guy

© Copyright 1997 Paul Guy / Fuzz.

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