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This article was originally published in issue #41
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When it comes to electric guitar pickups, Seymour Duncan’s eponymous company needs no introduction. However the company’s acoustic guitar pickup offerings are no less impressive and I’ve had one of the early Seymour Duncan Perfect Timbre accelerometer-based pickups fitted inside my Guild B50 acoustic bass for a good many years. The Woody SA-3 XL and SA-6 Mag Mic represent two different approaches to magnetic soundhole pickups to steel-strung acoustic guitars - passive traditional versus active contemporary.
The Way of The Wood
The Woody XL is, with its wooden body (available in maple, walnut or black stained finishes), its twin hum-cancelling coils, passive construction and its simple soundhole mounting, the more traditional of the pair. The two coils are positioned one on top of the other to produce Seymour Duncan’s Stack stacked humbucker and are heavily potted in order to cut down the effects of any body resonance, thus reducing the likelihood of feedback. Six individual, height adjustable pole pieces allow you to precisely set your string to string balance and, in a nice touch, a substitute G pole piece is provided if you use a plain third instead of a wound string. Fourteen feet of permanently attached low-capacitance cable with a jackplug on the far end carries the signal to your DI box, pre-amp, amplifier or PA.
Mounting is really simple - foam filled side slots in the Woody XL’s top edge make for an easy press-in fitting method in standard 94-100mm diameter soundholes, so you can pop the Woody XL in and out at will, making it very useful in those situations where you turn up to find that the instrument microphones at the gig just don’t cut it.
Here Comes The Mic
The Mag Mic is Seymour Duncan’s entrance into a segment of the acoustic steel-string guitar market that has been, until now, almost the sole preserve of one major competitor. In the Mag Mic you’ll find not only a Stack stacked humbucker with adjustable paired pole pieces, but also a built-in microphone, a Class A active pre-amplifier, a microphone level control and an overall volume control. All these are housed in a casing that is shaped to fit towards the front of the soundhole - or the rear if you turn it around.
Mounting the Mag Mic is a simple enough process, the unit fitting soundholes with a diameter of approximately 83-106mm. As this pickup is designed more for permanent mounting, you’ll need a cross-head screwdriver to tighten the clamping screws so it isn’t a quick-release unit. The microphone is positioned, pointing downwards, on the underside of the pickup towards the bass side.
Power to the onboard Class A active pre-amplifier can come either from a 9V PP3 battery in a battery holder permanently mounted inside the guitar or - if you don’t want to fit a battery box - by a 12V N-type battery that can be mounted on the optional battery clips supplied for the job. Output is courtesy of a length of high-quality cable that terminates in a standard switching endpin jack.
Playing In The Wood
There is a small range of adjustment in the Woody XL even before you get to playing with the polepieces. Since foam is used to keep the pickup in place and that foam sits in quite a wide slot relative to the thickness of a guitar top, you can tilt the Woody XL in the horizontal plane to favour treble or bass strings instead of keeping it flat. If the pole pieces don’t line up precisely with the strings, you can usually improve this relationship by rotating the Woody XL in the guitar’s soundhole and, depending on the guitar and its string spacing, you also may be able to use this rotation for tonal effect.
Once plugged in with a flat EQ, the Woody XL gives a performance typical of a good magnetic soundhole pickup - a reasonably good 'acoustic guitar' performance in the lower positions that sounds increasingly more 'electric archtop' as you go up the neck and play single string runs. However, since the Woody XL has plenty of depth plus an open extended treble, and as I hope that you’ll hear from the video, some judicious EQ can coax some really fine and subjectively 'acoustic' sounds from the Woody XL up and down the neck.
It was a very impressive performance and, given what I could get from it using careful EQ, I would be very happy to gig with a Woody XL when I need to play an acoustic guitar at a relatively loud level.
Mag Mic Magic
Once in position, the Mag Mic proves to be in a different class altogether from the Woody XL, delivering a sound that is, in every way, in a class well above the Woody XL - which is just as well as it costs three time the price!
Seriously though, the Mag Mic performs at an extremely high level. With the microphone capturing an acoustic reality and the magnetic pickup taking care of the body of the sound, balancing the two, even without any EQ, delivers a top-tier performance with very acoustic character across the whole range of the guitar. In the case of the Mag Mic, balancing the microphone blend in the overall sound with EQ settings allows you to precisely tailor what you hear and, as you’ll probably have gathered from the video, I was hearing another really impressive performance of a very 'acoustic' nature that really responded to subtle EQ changes.
I’d very happily gig with the Mag Mic as my main pickup system, especially if I was playing in situation where I needed a fair amount of volume whilst retaining an essentially acoustic character. The Mag Mic also lends itself to the more contemporary combination of percussive tapping on the guitar body and hammered-on notes on the fretboard. I’m no expert at that style (which is why there’s none of it on the video!) but my off-camera attempts proved that the Mag Mic can strut its stuff in that genre.