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Don Alder - Percussion Techniques For The Acoustic Guitarist Part 3: Pickups & Live Sound

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 16 **

In this tutorial we’re going to look at pickup options for acoustic percussion guitar sounds on stage. This is one where I strongly recommend that you watch our accompanying guitar lesson video for examples.

Modern acoustic percussive style guitar players such as Andy Mckee, Jon Gomm, Mike Dawes, Peteri Sariola, Don Ross and Thomas Leeb all use multi-source systems, meaning a combination of pickups. Here are some pickup technologies to consider: under saddle, bridge/soundboard, contact pickups, magnetic sound hole and microphones. There is also a multitude of variations within each of these. All can be either passive or active. Traditionally, manufacturers have equipped their guitars with under saddle acoustic guitar pickups but are slowly offering new options to fit the needs of the modern style performer. After market pickup companies are also providing many options.

Due to lack of space, I’ll generalise - research is up to you!

Under saddle Transducers:
Sense string vibration via the saddle.
Pros - loud volumes with minimal feedback
Cons - don’t sound natural, quacky, limited dynamic range, not great for recording, very limited percussive sounds. 
Users - strumming, finger style

Soundboard Transducers:
Installed inside the guitar and glued on or near the bridge plate.
Pros - sound more natural than UST, may be better for recording, limited percussive sounds.
Cons - prone to feedback with higher volumes, string sound and percussion sounds cannot be separated.                                                                                                                                      Users - strumming, finger style

Contact Transducers:
Multi-head units (1-5) attached inside the guitar on or near the bridge plate in various locations. Many of the top players are using K&K for their natural sound. 
Pros - natural sounding, good for live and recording, good body percussion.
Cons - prone to feedback at higher volume, string and percussion sounds are combined and hard to EQ one without affecting the other
Users - strumming, finger style, tappers/percussion

Mount in the sound hole work like electric guitar pickups.
Pros - creates fatter tones, can be played at loud volumes, easy to install.
Cons - sound a bit sterile, may have midrange honk
Users - strumming, finger style

Typically, used for studio, can be used live. Some can be installed inside the guitar.
Pros - capture the purest sound of a guitar, great for percussion
Cons - very prone to feedback
Users - strumming, finger style, tappers/percussion

My Pickup Rig: I always use a multisource system with dual outputs on the guitar. These feed into a small mixer/DI's for blending. For my various guitars I use a compact dual mono cable or a stereo cable, each with a temporary kill switch and colour coded. Santo Angelo is the only company making these unique awesome cables. I use a variety of pickup systems but the core goal is to blend magnetic, under saddle and mic. The magnetic provides fat low end, saddle adds the bite and the mic is for percussion. While I like the sound of the contact pickups I prefer the percussive sounds from the mic. Both are prone to feedback so I make sure I have access to a volume dial that empowers me to use the mic only when needed.

Recent Innovations to consider:
MISI makes pickups with a rechargeable battery, you just plug a charger in the jack for 60 seconds and you’re good to go. Dazzo contact pickups are quickly gaining popularity picking up where FRAP left off. Yamaha's new A3 series offers a dual source that blends its saddle pickup with mic modelling. LR Baggs has developed the M80 magnetic pickup that also picks up body sounds.

Go out and experiment till you find your sound!

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