So you and the band decided to make like Travis Meeks and cash in on the acoustic craze. Problem is, the group just depleted its bank account buying new acoustic guitars, not too mention a mandolin and a fiddle, and there’s barely enough money left for the next van rental. Fortunately, Engineered Products Marketing has come along with a batch of excellent pickups that will fit almost any scenario and budget.
For guitarists who want to go acoustic with minimal cost, and without modifying their priced instrument, EPM offers two magnetic soundhole pickups: the AGT-400 Acoustic Ace Bronze and the AGT-500 Ace II. These single-coil pickups come in an attractive maple housing with foam-lined grooves that slip onto the rim of your soundhole. EPM has cleverly fitted both models with a two-foot cable that terminates in a vinyl sheathed female connector; this, in turn, slips over your strap pin. The thin profile of the pickups, combined with the strap pin hangar, made installation a breeze and left my Martin D-18 with nary a scratch.
Plugged into a Fender Pro, the AGT-400 had a clear, even output, similar to Telecaster’s neck pickup with the tone rolled back a notch or two. Dynamic response was remarkably true to the acoustic original, with very little pickup compression. The “hot B-string” syndrome that plagues almost all magnetic soundhole pickups was minimal, and the plain strings balanced very well with the wound strings. Feedback was nonexistent unless I deliberately turned and stood a couple of feet from the amp.
The AGT-500 is the stage model of the Acoustic Ace, so its output was hotter, which a noticeable peak in the high midrange, which is ideal for cutting through drums and bass on a live gig. The hot B-string was more noticeable on the AGT-500, but the pickup’s individual, adjustable pole pieces allowed me to balance string-to-string output. Both the AGT-400 and AGT-500 get points for ease of installation and aesthetic appearance.
If your acoustic guitar is spending its prime time in the studio but you don’t have the bucks for a dedicated guitar microphone, the AGT-200 Quick Mount or the AGT-300 Perma-Kit may be the answer to your prayers. Not much thicker than a few stacked nickels, the AFT-200 attaches to the face of your guitar with a clear, reusable adhesive that leaves not a trace of residue. Like its magnetic cousins, the AGT-200 has the handy strap pin hanger on its output cable.
The AGT-200 captured the tonal distinctions between my D-18 and my Ovation Custom Balladeer as well as any good condenser mic. However, I would shy away from using the AGT-200 for live performances, since its superior sensitivity makes it all the more susceptible to fierce resonant feedback. This is an ideal tool for recording almost anything that vibrates. Should you decide you want to permanently mount the AGT-200 in your guitar, the AGT-300 Perma-Kit provides the pickup, hot-melt glue, output wire, and endpin jack. Installation is easy, and, if you ever change your mind, the pickup can be removed with the help of a hot spatula.
Lastly, we tested the Quantum EQ system, which consists of a saddle mount pickup, onboard electronics with volume and three-way eq, and an endpin jack. Naturally, installing a system like this means you’ll have to make a few alterations to your guitar, which includes cutting a 1” —by— 3” hole for the controls. I chose an overbrace ply-top Korean import for installing and testing the Quantum EQ.
While Piezo pickup systems are well-suited to live amplification of acoustic guitars, they tend to produce a rather brittle tone. The Quantum EQ’s three-band equalizer went a long way towards warming up the tone, allowing me to shape the output for different mixes. My Korean import came through with flying colors, providing a hot yet, well-balanced signal, with minimal feedback.