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Jinder

Conclusions from my voyage around the world of soundhole pickups...

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Hi all,

            Some time ago, I decided that the world of USTs was something I wanted to leave behind. I'd used Matrix Infinity pickups and the occasional Element or Wavelength for many years, and had grown tired of the tone and response of USTs and the aural fatigue that I experience with them after long periods on the road. I should add the caveat that I have had sensitivity problems with my ears for many years-I have periodic hyperacusis and other problems. These issues don't affect my perception of sound and tone, but they have uncomfortable and debilitating symptoms, and are usually triggered by aggressive frequencies and harsh attack transients at high SPLs...hence my desire to move away from USTs, which often exhibit exactly those characteristics.

My journey began right here on the forum last year, when our very own Buc McMaster kindly passed on his Sunrise pickup to me. This superb pickup has been the benchmark for all my soundhole pickup adventures, and is the gold standard against which all other soundhole pickups just be judged. 

So...here are my thoughts, ratings and findings:

 

12: Gretsch Deltoluxe

This pickup is a visual treat-it looked gorgeous in my cherry J180. Supposedly based on the DeArmond Rhythm Chief, it is of course passive and VERY gritty, honky and old-school. I didn't like it at all, it didn't suit my style of playing and I found it very hard to get anything approaching a musical tone out of it. I play a vast range of stuff in many styles, but none worked very well with the Deltoluxe.

11: Lace California

I picked this up as an eBay steal as I couldn't resist trying one out. It's light and small, easy to fit and convenient when used with the breakout cable. Tone wise, it had a pretty high end but was otherwise unsophisticated sounding and rather one dimensional, but acceptable. Unfortunately it's propensity for 60hz hum made it largely unusable for live work. It now lives as a permanent install in my stepson's Fender Sonoran Mini, which he plugs into my Vox amp in his bedroom for crunchy fun. He loves it and it sounds good for his blues work.

10: Fishman Rare Earth Humbucker

There is nothing wrong with the REH, it's a functional pickup which gets the job done. Sounds okay, no hum (obviously!), Easy to install and use. It's the least inspiring of the Rare Earth range tonally to my ears however, it has a blocky sounding low end and the string balance is a little off, with the plain strings popping through the mix a little too boldly for my taste. This will suit some styles and players, of course. Overall, does the job on a professional level, but is just sort of okay rather than glorious and inspiring. 

9: Mi-Si Duo

This is small, convenient, lightweight and beautifully made, with jewel-like machining and detail. This pickup needs charging for a minute or so before performance using the endpin jack PSU, and is then good for up to 8hrs of playing. This is a clever concept, but one that I found stressful and finicky in reality. I don't like having to rely on finding somewhere to charge my guitar just before stagetime, I want to focus on performance and mindset at this point rather than searching for a convenient socket in a place where my guitar isn't going to get knocked over or trodden on. Tonally the pickup is very good, clear and punchy but suffers from the same balance issues as the REH. 

8: DiMarzio Angel System (mag and piezo)

This only just qualifies as it's essentially a dual source pickup with an onboard blending facility. I really like the tone of the Angel/Black Angel mag pickup, but the piezo adds nothing except phasing issues which are impossible to remedy onboard as there is no phase switching. It charts here due to the excellent magnetic pickup, but don't bother with the piezo blend system, just go for the mag IMHO.

7: Fishman Rare Earth Blend

I enjoyed the REB more than the REH, it's eminently useable but the condenser mic is VERY sensitive to positioning and feedback, and the gooseneck mount is prone to flopping around arbitrarily in transit, so requires repositioning every time. The mic mitigates some of the inherent balance issues with the REH which is the basis of the REB, but not entirely. A good pickup and concept, but not without issues.

6: Fishman Blackstack

This pickup is purported to be "very close" to the Sunrise, by people including Doug Young and others. That certainly wasn't the case to my ears, but it's a capable passive mag that is a little one dimensional but very solid. Fires off effects very well and is extremely feedback resistant, but lacks the lush, expansive low end of the Sunrise and the general impression of boutique quality. It's unsophisticated but works well. The case candy (flightcase, poker chips, deck of cards) is all weirdly unnecessary and feels oddly apologetic in some way, as if Fishman are trying to compensate for something. No need, guys!

5: Takamine Tri-Ax

I really like this pickup. Very high quality tone and build. It's essentially a Baggs M1A in black with a passive/active switch. As is well documented, it has an irritating propensity to click when hit with a pick, but is otherwise very good indeed for all purposes. I'd happily tour with this pickup with no second thoughts, genuinely very good. 

4: Fishman Rare Earth Single Coil

This pickup is tonally exceptional, a really superb sounding pickup with wonderful note separation, warmth and headroom. The only thing that lets it down is an occasional susceptibility to 60hz hum due to earthing issues or interference from lighting, which makes it difficult to use as a touring pickup if you're playing stages with dimmer racks etc like old theatres. I play a lot of venues like this, so it hasn't stayed in my live arsenal but in every other way this pickup is genuinely superb.

3: Baggs M1

If you're happy to use a preamp, this pickup is an excellent choice. Using a good quality outboard pre, this will outperform it's active sister pickup (the M1A) and you have a lot of options. Through something like a Demeter Tube Direct, Sarno SGBB or Ridge Farm Gas Cooker, this pickup will really sing and breathe beautifully. Straight into a PA, it still sounds acceptable if a little flat, but you have a world of options preamp wise and this pickup is a stellar platform to build your outboard processing around.

2: Seymour Duncan MagMic

I genuinely love this pickup and wouldn't want to be without one. It sounds superb in all applications and has twelve adjustable polepieces so you can fine tune string balance to the absolute Nth degree of OCD quelling. I use it in my '41 reissue SJ100 and wherever I go I get compliments on the tone. It handles percussive playing, distortion, weird effects and so on with aplomb, but really excels for straight playing. The mic is much better than the REB unit and generally rejects feedback very well. I can use distortion with the mic in the mix within reason, which is remarkable. I'd recommend the MagMic unreservedly to any player of any style. Superb.

1: Sunrise

This pickup is SO good, so musical, so rich and so high quality that it's almost in another league entirely to the others I've written up. They're expensive, but an investment for life if mag pickups are your thing. I own two now, one is in my Maple AJ and the other in my '97 D18GE prototype. They must be used with a preamp (many recommend the Sunrise buffer box or their outrageously expensive Tube DI), I use mine with my Boss AD-10 and have superb results. There is a real sense with a Sunrise that you know it will provide superb, high-end, professional performance and tone wherever you are and whatever situation you're in. They are built to last forever, they have a transferable lifetime guarantee and don't degrade in sound at all. Buc kindly gifted me a recently made one, and the other one I own is from the early '90s, an eBay purchase and, to my surprise, they sound absolutely identical. The musicality, response and dynamic range of the Sunrise is startling, yet subtle. It encourages you to up your game as a player and supports you in the pursuit of just that. I love mine and am constantly banging on about them to all and sundry. My favourite bit of gear that isn't a guitar, and something I can never imagine being without, now. Many people use them as the basis of a dual source rig, but for me, the Sunrise alone as nature intended is absolutely what I'm after. Yes, they're a heavy unit (although very easily removable, even when permanently installed, thanks to the mini in-line jack) and look arguably a bit clunky, but instantly recognisable. So many players have said to me "oh, you use a Sunrise! Wow. I've never seen one in the flesh before" or similar, and are always floored when I plug in. Absolutely and unreservedly recommended.

 

I hope that helps anyone who is keen to explore the world of soundhole pickups. Bear in mind, what works for me might not work for you, and vice versa...different strokes and all that!

Edited by Jinder
Punctuation error

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Lots of good info here Jinder, thank you for putting it together and posting.   Sunrise is still king!

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A great review from a seasoned pro.

Thanks for taking the effort and the time Jinder.

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 That was great Jinder.  thanks for taking the time to write all that up and post it here.

 

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Thanks all, glad you think it might be of use. I'll add to the post in time as/when I try different pickups out. I should have added that the pickups have all been used in different guitars:

2014 Custom Shop J180 (Deltoluxe, RESC)

1967 J45 (Lace California and REH)

2016 Fender Sonoran Mini (Lace California)

2002 AJ (REH and DiMarzio Angel System)

2004 Avalon Bronze Series OM (Mi-Si Duo)

1990 Hummingbird (REB)

2015 SJ200 Standard (Blackstack)

2003 SJ200 Historic Collection (Tri-Ax)

1968 F25 (RESC)

1986 Takamine F360S (M1)

2014 '41 Reissue SJ100 (MagMic)

1997 Martin D18GE prototype (Sunrise)

2016 Advance Jumbo Flame Deluxe (Sunrise)

 

Quite a big spread there...my only regret being that there is nothing in the way of Rosewood, bar the '02 AJ I no longer own and the lam rosewood back and sides of the F360S, which is owned by my producer, the great Peter James Millson. I'm not much of a Rosewood guy, although I'd like to change that sometime soon. Got my eye on things like Mossman dreads or perhaps a vintage D35.

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Nicely done, a really broad range of guitars and pickups.  I'm no acoustic maven, and pickups are the main reason.  Thanks for that!

rct

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The "Compendium of Acoustic Pickups."   Thanks Jinder.  Great info and you have probably saved us all a bunch of time and money.  One question, you have pretty much addressed this but we're any of the units difficult to install?

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That was great Jinder.

 

I use the Baggs M1 passive in my Martin D15. It needs a little gain boost, but the sounds is fantastic in my opinion. And  reliable - I dont have to think about it too much.

 

If I were in the market, I would certainly check out the Sunrise based on your reviews...

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9 minutes ago, J185cat said:

The "Compendium of Acoustic Pickups."   Thanks Jinder.  Great info and you have probably saved us all a bunch of time and money.  One question, you have pretty much addressed this but we're any of the units difficult to install?

None were particularly difficult in comparison to a UST with all the finicky saddle adjustments etc or an SBT with the placement fine tuning. The MagMic requires a neck block battery bag to be mounted and the wires for that to be stowed, but the rest were very straightforward. The slightly floppy gooseneck on the REB was probably the most awkward bit of all of them, and that was relatively minor.

I could write a similar post about the different USTs and SBTs I've used, but I find it harder to get fired up by them...I really love the mag pickups and, with the exception of the K&Ks in my Hummingbird 12 and '67 J45, I can't imagine using anything else.

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13 minutes ago, ThemisSal said:

That was great Jinder.

 

I use the Baggs M1 passive in my Martin D15. It needs a little gain boost, but the sounds is fantastic in my opinion. And  reliable - I dont have to think about it too much.

 

If I were in the market, I would certainly check out the Sunrise based on your reviews...

That's my thoughts exactly, and why I rated the M1 passive so highly...no batteries, simple, reliable and fantastic sounding. A really pro bit of kit. I'm not surprised that David Gilmour uses them!

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1 minute ago, Jinder said:

 

...I really love the mag pickups and, with the exception of the K&Ks in my Hummingbird 12 and '67 J45, I can't imagine using anything else.

Not to derail Jinder, but do you use a pre amp with the K&Ks and if so - which one?

Rgds - billroy

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6 hours ago, billroy said:

Not to derail Jinder, but do you use a pre amp with the K&Ks and if so - which one?

Rgds - billroy

I do! I use a K&K pure, the non-XLR model, which then goes into my AD10 for further tone shaping and a spot of compression. I often run the Hummingbird 12 string straight into the AD10 which sounds fine, but the '67 J45 benefits from the K&K pre being in the chain as it needs a bit more midrange cut, which the Pure pre really zeroes in on nicely.

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What no Dearmonds?.  Ahhh Grasshopper, your education has been neglected.

While I am a big fan of the Sunrise and do feel it is he best soundhole pickup currently in production,  from my experiences  the best pickup of all time remains the Dimarzio DSP-139.  

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Nicely written, Jinder! Thanks.

 

Now....

I always cackle a bit when I read Bob Womack's posts on the AGF - he uses a footer to each of his threads with a very appropriate quote from Fellowship Of The Ring:

"It is said, 'Go not to the elves for counsel for they will say both no and yes.' "
Frodo Baggins to Gildor Inglorion, The Fellowship of the Ring

With that in mind, back to soundhole pickups.....

I have just about all of them, and the Sunrise is the top of the heap as Jinder claims. I love mine, BUT it sounds like...an electric guitar. A 1980s sound.

I bought soundhole pickups so I can use a removable pickup on delicate guitars that I don't want to alter. The main catch for me is that I have to seriously alter my playing style, and a lot of things I just can't do with a soundhole pickup. For example, fingerpicking country blues with thumb bass and fingers picking the high strings just doesn't work for me. Works for that Thompson fellow, but not me.

So what does the current best touring acoustic guitar player use for live replication of an acoustic guitar sound? Tommy Emmanuel uses Matons with the brilliant latest Maton AP5-Pro pickup system plugged direct to a junction box with a split to his amp and to his PA. Attached is a video of Tommy live in Pensacola - have a listen at about 40 minutes on when he has warmed up. That is Matons played direct to a PA with a piezo pickup WITH a condenser mic in the guitar, a soundhole plug to stop feedback and a set of controls to get the sound ON the guitar....Vol, bass, treble SWEEPABLE MIDS, vol for piezo pickup, vol for mic.

 

Here it is.

 

 

 

 

 

Phew!

Tough to follow that!

Then everyone says here - I hate Matons, they stink, they sound thin, they are ugly with a face like a hog's bum etc. I want to play my(...........)fill in the dots.

Well, get a Tonedexter preamp, which works with most modern undersaddle and soundboard pickups, all the famous names to make the pickup sound more like an acoustic that is being mic'd. Baggs Element, Fishman undersaddles, K&K etc..etc...

 

BluesKing777.

 

P.S. after watching more of the TE video above, it is a tough choice whether to put my foot through my guitars or go out and buy the exact model Maton he is playing at about 55 mins.... $AU 6,399....😎 at my local music shop.

 

Edited by BluesKing777
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On 7/23/2019 at 1:19 AM, BluesKing777 said:

 

Nicely written, Jinder! Thanks.

 

Now....

I always cackle a bit when I read Bob Womack's posts on the AGF - he uses a footer to each of his threads with a very appropriate quote from Fellowship Of The Ring:

"It is said, 'Go not to the elves for counsel for they will say both no and yes.' "
Frodo Baggins to Gildor Inglorion, The Fellowship of the Ring

With that in mind, back to soundhole pickups.....

I have just about all of them, and the Sunrise is the top of the heap as Jinder claims. I love mine, BUT it sounds like...an electric guitar. A 1980s sound.

I bought soundhole pickups so I can use a removable pickup on delicate guitars that I don't want to alter. The main catch for me is that I have to seriously alter my playing style, and a lot of things I just can't do with a soundhole pickup. For example, fingerpicking country blues with thumb bass and fingers picking the high strings just doesn't work for me. Works for that Thompson fellow, but not me.

So what does the current best touring acoustic guitar player use for live replication of an acoustic guitar sound? Tommy Emmanuel uses Matons with the brilliant latest Maton AP5-Pro pickup system plugged direct to a junction box with a split to his amp and to his PA. Attached is a video of Tommy live in Pensacola - have a listen at about 40 minutes on when he has warmed up. That is Matons played direct to a PA with a piezo pickup WITH a condenser mic in the guitar, a soundhole plug to stop feedback and a set of controls to get the sound ON the guitar....Vol, bass, treble SWEEPABLE MIDS, vol for piezo pickup, vol for mic.

 

Here it is.

 

 

 

 

 

Phew!

Tough to follow that!

Then everyone says here - I hate Matons, they stink, they sound thin, they are ugly with a face like a hog's bum etc. I want to play my(...........)fill in the dots.

Well, get a Tonedexter preamp, which works with most modern undersaddle and soundboard pickups, all the famous names to make the pickup sound more like an acoustic that is being mic'd. Baggs Element, Fishman undersaddles, K&K etc..etc...

 

BluesKing777.

 

P.S. after watching more of the TE video above, it is a tough choice whether to put my foot through my guitars or go out and buy the exact model Maton he is playing at about 55 mins.... $AU 6,399....😎 at my local music shop.

 

I have nothing against Maton guitars at all, several friends of mine play them and they all sound superlative. Very hard to get hold of in the UK, but they do occasionally surface. 

I think it's down to what works for which player, as is always the case...if it was less subjective, there would be one guitar, one pickup and we'd all be blissfully happy in our musical ignorance! 

And yes, I agree that all soundhole pickups generally sound like the pickup with only variations in the sustain and attack which are attributable to the guitar and the way the feel of the guitar brings out different aspects of the player's personality. As a live sound, the Sunrise works brilliantly for me...I like the fact that it has an electric edge and is a big, bold and fundamental sound. It suits my style perfectly and I love the response of it. I can absolutely see why it wouldn't suit others whatsoever though, and for many years soundhole pickups didn't suit my playing. I guess I kind of evolved/changed/grew by happenstance into a stylistic compatibility zone where the Sunrise and I are in sync. 

All this stuff is SO much fun and so interesting to me. Absolutely love it!

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Viva La Preamp!!!!!

I grabbed the Gibson Blues King L-00 and recorded a tune a few times to demo:

1. Baggs Element as sold by Gibson with the guitar via a preamp on Bypass (famous un-named for now).

2. Through Tonedexter with it 'just on'...need to keep the wheel volume low as well, or we get boom. (had the level a bit high - sorry).

3. While I was at it, I grabbed the Sunrise for Jinder...first pass had no level direct.

4. Next pass with the Sunrise through my A&H mixer Hi Z channel.

5. Next pass with the Sunrise preamp buffer box.

 

So to me, #2 and #5 are what I would go with - big improvement on the basic sounds.

 

 

 

 

 

BluesKing777.

 

 

Edited by BluesKing777

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