The Basics of Acoustic Guitar Amplification

The Basics of Acoustic Guitar Amplification

The Basics of Acoustic Guitar Amplification

Without acoustic guitar amplification, no one will be able to hear you properly when you’re busking on a noisy street or playing a gig in a crowded coffee shop. You may not even be able to hear yourself.

When it comes to amplification, there are two kinds of acoustic guitars: standard ones without electronics and those that have electronics built in, like this, the Martin LX1E acoustic-electric guitar among others. If you’re on the lookout for an acoustic and are planning to build a career in music with it, you need to have knowledge about acoustic amplification. Here are the basics.

Acoustic Guitar Amplification

The Pickup

A guitar pickup is a device that converts the vibrations of the guitar strings into electrical impulses. These signals are then fed to an amplifier to boost the sound of the guitar. Pickups have evolved from being a basic device that cranks up the volume of a guitar to a more sophisticated tool that has the ability to shape a guitar’s sound.

At its most basic form, a pickup is basically a magnet that has wire wrapped around it. It ‘picks up’ the sound waves created when the guitar is played and transforms them into electronic signals.

Older pickups simply made the guitar’s volume louder, like a microphone. The problem with this is that much of the true and natural tones of the guitar is lost. This is why companies specializing in creating acoustic pickups keep on developing their products to capture a wide range of sound and bring it out without losing any of the tonal quality of the guitar.

There are two general types of acoustic guitar pickups. A passive pickup is one that does not need any electronics to change the sound before sending it to the amp. Think of a passive pickup as a microphone that simply picks up the signal and passes it to an amp via a cable. Then there’s the active pickup, which does require electronics (battery power).

The Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Acoustic-electric, or electro-acoustic guitars are called such because they already have the necessary electronics built into them. The most basic pickups on these guitars have tone and volume controls. These guitars are also described as stage-ready, because all you need to do is plug the guitar into an amp.

Electro-acoustic guitars have a control panel, or a preamp, on the upper side. This panel contains the controls for volume as well as treble and other EQ options. Some preamps also come with a tuner. Most acoustic-electric guitars have active pickups.

Standard acoustic guitars that don’t have electronics built it in can be amplified by the installation of pickups.

Pickups for Acoustic Guitars

Some of the pickups designed for acoustic guitars are the following:

  • Magnetic and Soundhole Pickups – these pickups can be easily installed in the soundhoue of the guitar.
  • Undersaddle Piezo Transducers – these are installed under the saddle in the bridgeplate and are usually made of piezo crystals, which sense the vibrations and convert them into electrical signals. These pickups are typically paired with an internal microphone or other pickup types.
  • Contact Pickups – also called bottlecaps because that’s what they look like, these pickups are placed on the top of the guitar and secured in place by an adhesive that doesn’t damage the finish.

If you’re looking to have a guitar you can easily and readily use in an amplified environment, an electro-acoustic guitar is more convenient to use than a standard acoustic guitar. If your guitar doesn’t come with onboard electronics, it’s best to seek the advice of a professional to find what system would work best for your guitar and would meet your needs and tonal preferences.

Mark Blackwell

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