Microphone-based systems for projecting the sound of your guitar

  • 10 November 2017

There are countless ways to project the sound of an acoustic guitar. Piezo and contact style pickups recreate resonance through the wood’s vibration, while magnetic pickups capture movement from the strings. Microphone-based systems do all of this and more.

A microphone pickup is a small diaphragm capsule mounted on a guitar or other stringed instrument. Depending on where the mic element is placed, these systems can capture all the “air” and natural character of an instrument in a way that contact-based pickups never could.

Among all styles of acoustic guitar pickups, microphone systems are the most picky. They almost always require a preamp with variable EQ settings to achieve their full potential. Aside from the generally high cost of the pickups themselves, players should also factor in the need for a high quality preamp when determining cost and usability.

While many systems are mounted internally, some microphones are mounted externally to the body of the instrument. While these external systems can be slightly more obtrusive, they are far easier to adjust on the fly and make for quicker maneuverability when experimenting with different mic positions.

Internally-mounted mics tend to be the most popular option these days – and for good reason. Despite a more involved installation process, systems offer a number of built-in features that give great opportunities for players. However, they’re not particularly favored by the acoustic purists due to their bulkiness. Almost all of the internal systems require internally mounted 9-volt batteries, which will inevitably need to be replaced.

While internally-mounted microphone pickups have grown in popularity, it’s best not to overlook the externally-mounted options and their own set of upsides. Where internal mics generally require a bulky 9-volt battery and a fair amount of real estate within your guitar, the external options are generally lightweight and powered separately. This kind of mic is as light as a feather and operates via phantom power from a mixer or external preamp. Featuring an extremely well-made capsule and flexible gooseneck; this mic can be used on nearly any stringed instrument as well as on brass and woodwinds.

The world of acoustic guitar pickups is ever-expanding with new technologies and designs popping up seemingly every week.

Choose What Works for You

It’s true that microphone-based pickup systems are not for everyone. If you play in a group that features a loud rhythm section, for example, or you play primarily in small rooms with less than adequate acoustics, the simpler piezo, magnetic, or even contact style pickups will likely yield better results.

But if you perform solo or in smaller groups and simply cannot afford to compromise the natural character of your instrument, there is no doubt that these systems can help enhance and define your live sound in an impactful way.