Installing Pickups In Your Acoustic Guitar – Tips

Installing Pickups In Your Acoustic Guitar – Tips

Installing the pickup in the acoustic guitar: under the saddle

A word about the terms: The component that is called “saddle” in English is called “bridge insert” in German, while the German “saddle” is called “nut” in English. The “undersaddle pickup” is located under the saddle. Before ordering the pickup for the acoustic guitar, you should measure the thickness of the saddle, because of course it has to fit exactly into the slot.

Undersaddle pickup Fishman AGX125

Undersaddle pickup Fishman AGX125

Now it’s time for the installation. First, the strings and the saddle are removed. A hole with a diameter of about two to two and a half millimeters is now drilled into one end of the slot in the bridge for the pickup cable. Of course you have to be careful when drilling that none of the strips inside the guitar are drilled and damaged. The hole is usually on the low E string side. Depending on the pickup type, it is drilled vertically or at an angle – the latter if it is a pickup that looks like a thicker, braided wire, such as that offered by L.R. Baggs . This “wire” must not be kinked!

L.R. Baggs Element Active System VTC

L.R. Baggs Element Active System VTC

Installing the pickup in the acoustic guitar: the socket for the cable

Most pickups for acoustic guitars come with a so-called end pin socket, a component that looks like a belt button, but has a hole in the middle into which you can insert the jack plug. It could hardly be more subtle! To install, you have to remove the old strap button – it’s usually just screwed in – and use a suitable drill bit to drill the hole to a half-inch diameter. That’s the equivalent of 12.7 mm. You can use a drill or a reamer for this. 90° countersinks from the hardware store with the right diameter are also very practical, because they do not damage the paint or the wood.

Allparts Endpinbuchse Chrom T-Style

Allparts end pin socket chrome T-Style

Now you can install the end pin of the pickup for acoustic guitar. To do this, it must be inserted through the sound hole from the inside through the bore. This can be tricky depending on the size of the body, but it’s easier if you put the bushing on an auxiliary tool inserted from the outside, for example a six millimeter thick wooden stick like you can get at the hardware store.

Installing pickups in acoustic guitar: the critical phase

Now comes the most critical part of the installation, namely dressing the saddle. Because it has to be ground down by the thickness of the acoustic guitar pickup in order to get the same string action as before after installation. The underside of the saddle must also be absolutely straight, because otherwise the transmission is uneven and individual strings are louder or quieter than the rest.

The thickness of the pickup is measured – it is usually in the range of one millimeter – and marked on the saddle with calipers. With a sheet of sandpaper on a flat surface, the bridge insert is now sanded down to the mark. The pickup cable is now routed through the hole in the bridge slot and the pickup and bridge insert are brought to their place of work. So that nothing wobbles and falls out again, you can secure the whole thing by stringing up the low E string and stretching it slightly.

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Install pickup in acoustic guitar: Electronics

We’re talking about pickups for acoustic guitars that are largely invisible after assembly, i.e. they don’t have a control box in the frame. However, some of these pickups have volume and tone controls that can be reached through the sound hole. These now need to be installed. You have to be careful not to touch the bars and struts in the body and still find a flat surface for the adhesive strips. And you only have one try at placement…

Most pickups these days are sensibly active, therefore requiring a battery for the preamp. If this is not housed in the electronics itself, you have to mount it somewhere in the body. Most installation instructions suggest the top block in the body as the optima location. Here you have to make sure that you do not cover the access to the steel rod for neck adjustment. You can also stick the battery bag to the left or right of the frame just as well.

Install pickups in acoustic guitar: Finale!

The last step when installing a pickup in an acoustic guitar is to gather all the cables neatly together and attach them to the sides with the mounting pads that are usually included so that they do not rattle. Nothing is more annoying than a constant background noise that cannot be located, but often comes precisely from exposed cables. Understood? Then it’s time to put on all the strings and do a first test run on the amplifier.

As you can see, this installation of a pickup in an acoustic guitar is anything but trivial, and you should know exactly what you’re doing before a guitarist dares to do this work. In 99 percent of all cases, especially when the individual strings are not evenly transmitted, the fault lies in the installation and not in the pickup. In case of doubt, this is a job for the master.

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Joe has been singing since he can remember and started playing guitar when he was 10. He's been using it as a songwriting tool ever since. He is passionate about melody and harmony and admires musicians who create these in unique ways. Check out his alternative / indie projects Best of Feelings and Zef Raček.

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