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Under saddle pickup robbing tone and volume


tremolo arm
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OK, this may be a topic which ahas been over debated, but I am interested to know opinions specifically regarding the combo of an SJ-200 and the LR Baggs Anthem.

I recently acquired a 2016 SJ-200 Standard. 

Whilst I love the guitar's appearance and its tone, I can't help but notice how subdued it is in terms of projection, volume and just the physical feeling of vibration. 

The guitar came with a LR Baggs Anthem installed, featuring a piezo strip, which sits between the bridge and the saddle.

I just installed a fresh set of DR Sunbeams 12-54 and the tone is really sweet, but once again I can't help but notice that it's just quiet (certainly much quieter compared to my Yamaha and Martins). I know the maple construction has a lot to do with harmonics and sustain, so I have factored that in. It is still a very quiet guitar for being a super Jumbo, even when strummed hard. 

I was wondering if removing the piezo strip would get the guitar to sound louder? Of course it's a simple test but like I said, I just installed a fresh set of round core strings, so if I slacken them, they will risk loosing their winding bond, so thought about asking the forum before I throw $15 down the drain. 

Thanks

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Personally, I have always found my guitars to be louder, more present and more responsive with the UST removed. A few years ago I switched to soundhole pickups and have never looked back.

Your SJ200 is almost certainly being held back to some extent by the UST and all the Anthem hardware attached to the top. Some guitars can punch through it all with the extra mass etc, but some suffer. Definitely worth experimenting with to deduce whether an improvement could be had. A bone saddle would help, too.

 

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13 minutes ago, Jinder said:

Personally, I have always found my guitars to be louder, more present and more responsive with the UST removed. A few years ago I switched to soundhole pickups and have never looked back.

Your SJ200 is almost certainly being held back to some extent by the UST and all the Anthem hardware attached to the top. Some guitars can punch through it all with the extra mass etc, but some suffer. Definitely worth experimenting with to deduce whether an improvement could be had. A bone saddle would help, too.

 

Thank you! I just put a TUSQ saddle in (as the older one was worn) at the same time when I changed the strings. In your opinion, would a bone saddle improve the energy transmission (compared to TUSQ)?

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Supposedly a tusq saddle is more comparable to an under saddle pickup than a bone one, if an under saddle mechanism is still there..  At least that’s what I’ve read as the reason Gibson now uses tusq saddles in their acoustic-electric guitars.   I’ve seen that info in various places, although it may just be opinions I’ve read.

 

QM aka “Jazzman” Jeff

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'Just wanted to add- if you partially de-tune, then put a capo on, say, the first fret, then detune enough to get a hand inside the guitar to pop the pins out (careful- put your other hand over top of the pins in case they "launch"), then, the strings would be out of the way, allowing you to get the UST out of there without having to completely undo those round core strings from the tuners. I believe I've seen where removal of the LR Baggs Element UST reduces string height at the bridge by .030" (?). If you were to install a taller saddle to compensate for this reduction in string height there (not necessary, but if ), then there might be another saddle material that would give a little more volume. 

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Unless you never intend to play anywhere, ever, finish - I would leave the Anthem in the guitar. Set up properly with the mic part adjusted , it is a great pickup system. And quite expensive to have installed. I recently got my 2002 Gibson J50 back from my luthier with a setup, new bone nut and saddle AND a full Baggs Anthem. Superb in all directions now! The other week I posted a soundclip of the guitar recorded acoustic only and a few commented it was one of the best J50s they had heard! If the Anthem is upsetting the sound it is in a real good way!😤

 

 

BluesKing777.

 

 

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9 hours ago, 62burst said:

'Just wanted to add- if you partially de-tune, then put a capo on, say, the first fret, then detune enough to get a hand inside the guitar to pop the pins out (careful- put your other hand over top of the pins in case they "launch"), then, the strings would be out of the way, allowing you to get the UST out of there without having to completely undo those round core strings from the tuners. I believe I've seen where removal of the LR Baggs Element UST reduces string height at the bridge by .030" (?). If you were to install a taller saddle to compensate for this reduction in string height there (not necessary, but if ), then there might be another saddle material that would give a little more volume. 

Thanks, I will buy a bone nut and will experiment with that. Can the UST be temporarily folded aside to do this experiment (leaving enough room for a new saddle to be dropped in), or does it need to be removed completely from the saddle cavity?

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1 hour ago, tremolo arm said:

Thanks, I will buy a bone nut and will experiment with that. Can the UST be temporarily folded aside to do this experiment (leaving enough room for a new saddle to be dropped in), or does it need to be removed completely from the saddle cavity?

Fairly tight quarters in the groove for the saddle. The hole drilled in the bass side of that groove to pass the woven UST through the bridge is the same diameter as the UST itself, so it could be pulled into the body of the guitar, but if that was to be done temporarily, you'd have to either completely remove it's wiring going back to the endpin (which would require accessing the internal nut on the endpin jack- and that's not easy), or figure out how to secure it somewhere that it would not move around. 

Have a look at some installation videos to see all of what's going on in there. Seeing all of that stuff that's getting installed, with wires running around, and things being attached, is what makes people just want to know there's nothing but acoustic energy going on inside their guitar when they're playing.

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I used a mechanic's mirror and spotted a great place to "clamp" it back to the wiring. I think I used 1/3 of a longer and thicker twist-tie, but made sure not to go nuts with the twisting. Not loose, but not twisted so tight as to potential damage anything. 

fwiw, to you original line of questioning, I felt it had a little but of a note definition improvement when I did mine. I ended up putting it back in place last Autumn, but that's because I plan to us it.  

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4 hours ago, tremolo arm said:

Thanks, I will buy a bone nut and will experiment with that. Can the UST be temporarily folded aside to do this experiment (leaving enough room for a new saddle to be dropped in), or does it need to be removed completely from the saddle cavity?

 

 The transducer under the saddle is thin, metallic and delicate. If folded, it will get a kink or wrinkle and no longer work well if you tried in the future to re-install it.  There is no room in the slot to put it anywhere other than where it is as installed.  If you do try to fold it - you'll mess up the contact of the saddle with the bridge and worsen the balance of your tone and volume. So, you either leave it as is - or remove it completely from the bridge slot. Which, as 62B noted - requires going inside the body.  I've got one in mine - don't use it hardly ever. But since it was installed correctly - I don't think it affects the tone or volume by more than a smidgen. So, I've left it there.   It will add value if you ever decide to sell.  Though, I can't imagine doing that ! 

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16 minutes ago, fortyearspickn said:

 

 The transducer under the saddle is thin, metallic and delicate. If folded, it will get a kink or wrinkle and no longer work well if you tried in the future to re-install it.  There is no room in the slot to put it anywhere other than where it is as installed.  If you do try to fold it - you'll mess up the contact of the saddle with the bridge and worsen the balance of your tone and volume. So, you either leave it as is - or remove it completely from the bridge slot. Which, as 62B noted - requires going inside the body.  I've got one in mine - don't use it hardly ever. But since it was installed correctly - I don't think it affects the tone or volume by more than a smidgen. So, I've left it there.   It will add value if you ever decide to sell.  Though, I can't imagine doing that ! 

Thanks. Would you advice to put a bone nut as a way to increase volume and transfer of energy?

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Left my nut as original - but I put in a bone saddle.  But I also added new stings - so I cannot say I heard any difference.  I personally would not think the nut material would be as significant as how well the nut was fitted and filed.  Just like the pick you use can affect the tone more than the pins!   But - I also prefer the sound of year+ old strings, so I would take what I say with a grain of salt.   SJ-200s are not renown for volume and punch - but for tone.  That said, you should clearly feel the back of the body resonating against your chest/stomach when you play certain chords or notes.  If you don't - yep, you have an issue.  You could have a luthier look at the nut to see if it's OK while he completely removes the UST and all it's gear and recommends what to do with the end pin.  

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On 6/11/2020 at 5:05 AM, Jinder said:

Personally, I have always found my guitars to be louder, more present and more responsive with the UST removed. A few years ago I switched to soundhole pickups and have never looked back.

 

So, Jinder, what soundhole pickup do you use? I've been tempted to get an old-school Dean Markley and see what I thought...

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23 hours ago, Cabarone said:

So, Jinder, what soundhole pickup do you use? I've been tempted to get an old-school Dean Markley and see what I thought...

I had a pro mag gold, didn't really like it.  it worked okay but it was a bit in the way for finger style playing.

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I have a old d Armond slide in pickup if I want to play through a amp.  Or I just go out and buy a archtop for that need.  The pickups they install are tone killers. The nuts and saddles are kind of cheap.    
 

I removed the pickup from my last New J 35.   Nut and saddle were changed to bone ,pins changed out  from plastic to ebony. It made a improvement.  The only thing that through me off was the neck angle that I didnt like.  So down the road the guitar went.  
 

thats probably why there are so many on racks in the stores here.  

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On 6/12/2020 at 3:25 PM, Cabarone said:

So, Jinder, what soundhole pickup do you use? I've been tempted to get an old-school Dean Markley and see what I thought...

I use Sunrise generally (I have them in my SJ200 and Maple AJ) but also have a Seymour Duncan MagMic in my Dove which is very good. 

The Sunrise is the best pickup I've ever used, after trying just about everything else under the sun...I run mine through my Boss AD10 preamp, pretty much flat other than a slight mid scoop. The 'Acoustic Resonance' function of the AD10 adds some subtle air to the tone which really helps the Sunrise to bloom. I use mine as a single source pickup, I know a lot of folks use the Sunrise as part of a dual source rig, but there is something so beautiful and characterful about the tone that I feel I'd be doing it a disservice to dilute that with the tone of another pickup.

I could go on for hours about the Sunrise. I actually acquired my first one via this very forum...the great Buc McMaster had one that he wasn't using, and very generously (especially given how expensive and scarce they are!) offered it for free to the first taker. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and was thrilled to be the first person to put their hand up and say "yes please!"

I installed it in my Maple AJ, plugged it into my amp and immediately had a grin the size of the moon. Somehow, there was the plugged-in tone I'd been hearing in my head all these years brought to life.

I get comments at gigs (or did, when gigs were happening!) about my plugged in tone all the time. The most common one from fellow players is along the lines of "I've never heard a guitar sound like that before...it sounds like an acoustic guitar but is articulate like an electric guitar, how the hell do you get that sound?". 

It also fires off effects SO well. I do some looping and soundscaping at gigs and it is so clean and tracking-friendly with octave pedals, delay, overdrive, boost, allsorts. Almost immune to feedback too.

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On 6/12/2020 at 3:18 AM, BluesKing777 said:

 

Unless you never intend to play anywhere, ever, finish - I would leave the Anthem in the guitar. Set up properly with the mic part adjusted , it is a great pickup system. And quite expensive to have installed. I recently got my 2002 Gibson J50 back from my luthier with a setup, new bone nut and saddle AND a full Baggs Anthem. Superb in all directions now! The other week I posted a soundclip of the guitar recorded acoustic only and a few commented it was one of the best J50s they had heard! If the Anthem is upsetting the sound it is in a real good way!😤

 

 

BluesKing777.

 

 

BK I love the tone of your J50! Absolutely stellar. A great case in point of a guitar that, as I mentioned, is strong and resonant enough to barely notice a UST being in there. I've had a few like that...my 1990 Hummingbird was barely changed at all by having a Matrix Infinity put in it. That thing was loud as hell and absolutely beautiful sounding...but I've come across some guitars that sound a little wimpy and come to life when the factory fitted UST is removed. My old J180 was a case in point, it was really meek with the Element fitted but sounded substantially better with it removed. I think it's very instrument specific. Your guitars sound great with the Anthem though!

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As a way of update, I fitted a bone saddle instead of the Tusq one. Using the same strings, I was unable to hear, feel or tell any difference between the two materials (when playing unplugged). If I have to split hairs, I would venture in saying that the tone with bone saddle probably felt a bit more subdued and quiet, but it could be my imagination. 

I took the opportunity to take a good look at the UST strip and that looked flat and in good order.

I have an old Tusq saddle laying around. I am toying with the idea to sand the bass end of that saddle (i.e. reduce the total saddle length) so that it fits in the saddle cavity with the UST carefully lifted up and pointing up (but not removed) to leave space. I don't think that will damage the UST. I can then put a shim under the truncated saddle to recreate the correct strings height. Granted that the radius of the frankestein saddle will no longer be correct, this should be irrelevant for a short sustain / volume test with and without the strip. All I am trying to ascertain is if the UST strip noticeable affects volume. 

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2 minutes ago, tremolo arm said:

As a way of update, I fitted a bone saddle instead of the Tusq one. Using the same strings, I was unable to hear, feel or tell any difference between the two materials (when playing unplugged). If I have to split hairs, I would venture in saying that the tone with bone saddle probably felt a bit more subdued and quiet, but it could be my imagination. 

I took the opportunity to take a good look at the UST strip and that looked flat and in good order.

I have an old Tusq saddle laying around. I am toying with the idea to sand the bass end of that saddle (i.e. reduce the total saddle length) so that it fits in the saddle cavity with the UST carefully lifted up and pointing up (but not removed) to leave space. I don't think that will damage the UST. I can then put a shim under the truncated saddle to recreate the correct strings height. Granted that the radius of the frankestein saddle will no longer be correct, this should be irrelevant for a short sustain / volume test with and without the strip. All I am trying to ascertain is if the UST strip noticeable affects volume. 

I like the idea of the foreshortened saddle...give it a try and let us know how you get on! I find that having a UST in there sort of nullifies the tonal differences between bone, tusk, FWI etc as there is an interstitial ingredient in the tonal coupling. When it's just strings>bone saddle>bridge>top I find the differences much more noticeable.

Good luck with your experiments! Please report back... following this with interest.

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So I just carried out my experiment of temporarily setting aside the UST strip and installing a shortened Tusq saddle directly on the bridge. 

I cannot say I heard or felt any difference compared to when the saddle was sitting on the UST. I do not have a dB meter to test the volume difference scientifically but I am now of the opinion that the difference is negligible when the the (my) guitar is played unplugged. 

Having said that, I am still curious to ascertain if my particular specimen is different to other SJ-200s. I still feel that it is somewhat quiet for a super jumbo. The tone is lovely, but it just feels like it's stuck in second gear somehow. Of course the best way to judge would be to take my guitar to a shop which has some SJ-200s for sale and compare. In the current (COVID) circumstances this is not possible, but I might do that once shops reopen to the public. But one thing is for sure - the UST is staying put. 

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5 hours ago, Jinder said:

BK I love the tone of your J50! Absolutely stellar. A great case in point of a guitar that, as I mentioned, is strong and resonant enough to barely notice a UST being in there. I've had a few like that...my 1990 Hummingbird was barely changed at all by having a Matrix Infinity put in it. That thing was loud as hell and absolutely beautiful sounding...but I've come across some guitars that sound a little wimpy and come to life when the factory fitted UST is removed. My old J180 was a case in point, it was really meek with the Element fitted but sounded substantially better with it removed. I think it's very instrument specific. Your guitars sound great with the Anthem though!

 

Ha, I got the Anthem installed because I liked the one that came free in my pawn shop 2005 Dove! Apart from sounding great in both guitars, they are both kind with vocals.....some pickups sound good but get in the way of singing without heavy EQ carving.

I asked for an Anthem to be installed a couple of times previously and got the dreaded phone call that the control unit wouldn’t fit between the braces and came home with different pickups than planned.

My Sunrise is a joyous pickup too! With it running through my Sunrise buffer box and then EQ’d in my Fishman Pro EQ, it is a great sound like Jinder describes above. I would install it permanently in one of my guitars but I use the Humidipak system in the soundholes when not playing them. I think the Sunrise sounds better in larger guitars and the best sound I have got temporarily installing it is in my large Lowden O22! I now know why the Sunrise is so popular with Lowden O size players.

The Sunrise is another pickup I bought that won’t fit in the soundhole of the guitar I bought it for! Lots of OMs and 00s have small soundholes. Same with my custom Cargill 00.

 

BluesKing777.

 

 

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