How to Install a Guitar Pickup for Acoustic Guitar – The Ultimate Guide

Playing an acoustic guitar is a personal experience for a musician. The warm, resonant tones provide you with intimate moments alone with your instrument, but at some point, you need amplification to share your playing with an audience.  

This is where pickups come in. Some acoustic guitars have built-in electronics that allow you to plug straight in to an amp, but when your beloved acoustic doesn’t have this facility, it’s difficult to project the sound with enough volume to fill a room. Thankfully, if you follow the right procedures, the process of installing a pickup into your acoustic guitar is pretty straightforward. 

black bass guitar pickup with strained strings

In this article we’ll take a detailed look at how to install a guitar pickup for your acoustic guitar, so that you can plug into an amplifier and share your songs with others. Generally speaking, there are four categories of acoustic guitar pickups: under-saddle pickups, soundhole pickups, internally fitted microphones and soundboard transducers. Let’s get into the specifics of each type, and then we will explain how to install the pickups onto your acoustic guitar.

Under-Saddle Pickups

Under-saddle pickups highlight the treble frequencies of an acoustic guitar, focusing on the sparkling highs and producing clear articulation. This type of pickup is well suited to guitarists who play intricate, melodic styles. The pickup works by pickup up the vibrations of the strings at the bridge saddle. If you play classical guitar or predominantly use finger-picking techniques, an under-saddle pickup would be the ideal choice.

These types of pickup are passive, and utilize six piezoelectric crystals which produce a small amount of voltage in reaction to the strings vibrating. One of the main reasons guitarists choose under-saddle pickups is due to the fact that they’re hard to spot when installed on an acoustic guitar. Sonically, they produce a fast attack and are great for minimizing feedback.

Soundhole Pickups

Soundhole pickups are a common choice for acoustic guitarists due to them being generally low in price and relatively easy to install onto your acoustic guitar. These pickups don’t need to be permanently installed, so you can remove them whenever you like. Similar to a pickup on an electric guitar, soundhole pickups are equipped with magnets that take the vibrations from the string and convert them into electrical signals.

In terms of sound, when these pickups are installed on an acoustic guitar they produce an overall warm, full-bodied tone which has an abundance of power when plugged into an amplifier.

Soundboard Transducers

Before we get into the process of how to install a guitar pickup for acoustic guitar, let’s look at the final pickup type you could choose. A soundboard transducer is most effective when installed behind the bridge, on the top of the soundboard or on its underside. This passive pickup is small in size and needs to be stuck onto the guitar using some kind of adhesive.

The advantage of a soundboard transducer pickup is that they are very easy to install and can be removed whenever you want. The tone they produce has less clarity than the pickups we’ve previously described, and are therefore best suited to intimate performances in small settings due to their relatively low volume.

How to Install a Guitar Pickup for Acoustic Guitar: Under Saddle Pickups

Detail of guitar as very nice musical background

The most common type of pickup that guitarists install into their acoustic is the under saddle pickup. In the following section we will look into the process of how to install an under saddle pickup onto your acoustic guitar. The other pickups described previously are all pretty self explanatory when it comes to installation.

Under saddle pickups are the most complex to install, and require some modifications to be made to your acoustic guitar. Therefore it’s recommended that you don’t try this installation for the first time on an expensive acoustic guitar. If you have an old guitar it would be a good idea to try it on that initially, but if you are confident and follow these instructions correctly, it shouldn’t be an issue.

In order to install an under saddle pickup to your acoustic guitar, you will need to get your hands on the following equipment:

  •   New pack of strings
  •   String cutters
  •   Cordless drill
  •   String winders
  •   9 volt battery
  •   Spanner (adjustable)
  •   Ruler
  •   12mm spade bit
  •   Sanding paper
  •   Round needle file

Once you acquired your under saddle pickup and all of the aforementioned equipment, it’s time to start installing the pickup. The first thing you need to do is remove the old strings from your acoustic guitar and be sure to put the plastic holders somewhere safe. You then need to remove the saddle, being careful not to damage it. The space where the saddle sits should be smooth with no plastic inside.

One you’ve removed the saddle, you need to take a measurement of the thickness of your new pickup. Then, take away the thickness of the pickup from the bottom of the saddle to avoid raising the height of the strings. Then it’s time to reduce the bottom of the saddle by sanding it down until the overall height of the saddle with the new pickup installed is the same as the original height.

At this point it’s imperative to make sure that the bottom of the saddle is flat. Holding it against your ruler or another perfectly straight surface is a great way to check for parts which need to be further sanded.

Once you’re happy that the saddle bottom is consistently flat and that the height of the saddle plus the pickup is the same as it was previously, now you need to drill a hole which the under saddle pickup will go through. Check where the wire lines up on the pickup and then drill your hole through the bottom of the saddle’s opening until you go through the guitar.

The pickup’s wire should easily fit through the hole you’ve just drilled. Make sure that there are no kinks in the wire and that it has enough room to comfortably come through the hole. Now it’s time to put the under saddle pickup into the saddle slot, which depending on your particular acoustic guitar could be from the top, or inside the soundhole. The pickup is fragile so be careful not to force it too much when fitting it into place.

The next step is to drill a hole where the end pin of the guitar is. This hole needs to be 12mm in order to fit a standard jack lead input. When the hole has been drilled, you can now plug in the battery, pickup and controls into the preamp. Your pickup should come with instructions as each one can vary when it comes to connecting the electronics. Velcro is very handy for attaching the battery bag onto the inside of the neck, and self-adhesive will suffice for attaching the volume wheel.

Now all that’s left to do is install a 9 volt battery, replace the saddle back into position and plug the guitar into your amplifier. Restring the guitar, and you should have successfully installed a pickup in your acoustic guitar!

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve read our comprehensive guide on how to install a guitar pickup for acoustic guitar, you can follow the process and be playing through an amplifier in no time. Make sure to be cautious if this is your first attempt at installing pickups, it’s a simple process but if the instructions aren’t followed it could end up harming your guitar. 

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