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Manuel Marino Music Composer

The Sound Of Music
Photo by Kaptain Kobold

Pickups are a vital component that revolutionized the electric guitar and made it possible. Manufacturers have continuously pushed the boundaries of acoustic amplification by introducing pickups that enhance the beautiful acoustic sound.

Every year, we are amazed by the new advancements and wonder, “How can they surpass this?” Yet, they consistently raise the bar higher. The top systems introduced over the past few years are here to stay, and we are only at the beginning of a new path in acoustic amplification.

Let’s take a look at some of the popular pickups introduced by various manufacturers in recent years.

The Expression System (made by Taylor Guitars) – This is one of the most advanced pickup systems available today. It addresses the issue of the beautiful acoustic sound being altered when amplified. Taylor set out to solve this problem.

The system uses strategically placed sensors in the neck and body, known as “Dynamic String Sensors.” These sensors detect string vibrations throughout the guitar and convert them into an electrical signal that is sent to the preamp. In short, it utilizes a contact pickup system.

The reason the Expression System produces such a natural tone is its multifaceted approach to capturing the acoustic sound. Instead of relying on a single specific location, like a microphone at the soundhole, it utilizes the body and neck of the guitar.

You can shape your sound using three discrete knobs. However, the guitar sounds so good on its own that you may not even need to use them.

I have not come across another pickup system quite like this, and I don’t expect to find one that matches it for a while. I encourage you to check it out for yourself and hear the difference.

Piezo System – This type of pickup is typically found under the saddle and consists of a strip of piezoelectric crystals that line up beneath the strings. They pick up the vibrations and convert them into an electrical signal. While they are often used in student-level instruments, some companies have taken them to a new level.

Companies like Fishman and L.R. Baggs have used piezo technology to deliver great sound quality. The main issue with these pickups is that they can sound quite bright and have a weak output. They are a good choice for those who prefer simplicity and affordability. You may need to spend some time working on your tone, but you can compensate for it by using a few different pedals or using a soundboard.

Aura System (made by Martin) – I appreciate the ingenuity of this pickup system. Martin combined the best of two worlds to create something called the “Aura system.” Essentially, it’s a blend of an actual microphone and the piezo element to provide a more natural sound.

I use Martin as an example here because they did an excellent job. However, there can be some feedback issues with these pickup systems that can jeopardize your performance if you’re not paying close attention.

Magnetic Soundhole Pickups – These pickups are modeled after electric guitar pickups and function in a similar way. They resemble magnetic pickups and rarely encounter feedback issues.

The downside is that they can look awkward, and you’ll have a cable hanging from the side of the guitar unless you have a jack installed at the end of the guitar. It’s a bit of a bummer because adding a jack costs extra. However, if you’re looking for something affordable and straightforward, this can be a good option.

Now let’s discuss sound projection.

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When playing different guitars, it becomes relatively easy to hear how the physical dimensions of an acoustic guitar, including its body shape, project, shape, and balance the tone it produces. Over the years, there have been a few model shapes that have remained popular and iconic.

While different companies may make slight variations on these models, they generally retain the classic shapes to some extent. Here are the four most commonly known shapes available today, along with a description of the sound they produce:

  1. Dreadnought – This shape was made famous by Martin guitars, and it derived its name from the large British battleships of World War I. Dreadnought guitars have a rich and full tone, with a pronounced bass response and excellent treble tones. They are known for their versatility and are slightly chunky in size. Many players prefer the dreadnought for its wide tonal palette.
  2. Jumbo – If you thought the dreadnought was big, the jumbo takes it to another level. Introduced by Gibson, the jumbo has been the preferred choice for many artists, especially in Nashville. It produces a significantly louder sound with a deep tone. On a six-string guitar, the treble can sometimes get overpowered by the bass, but when strung with 12 strings, the jumbo offers a wider range of frequencies and a well-balanced sound. That’s why you’ll often see jumbo guitars used as 12-string instruments.
  3. Concert – This is the smallest body shape among the four. It is great for stage performances as it allows for better control over feedback issues and offers a tighter handle on the fretboard. However, with a smaller body, certain frequencies can be lost, and the guitar tends to have a brighter tone with less emphasis on the bass. Despite that, the concert guitar still delivers a pleasing sound, particularly in the higher frequency range.
  4. Auditorium – The bass response of an auditorium-shaped guitar is somewhat less pronounced compared to a dreadnought. It may also have slightly less volume. Other than that, the main difference separating this shape from the dreadnought is its size. The auditorium guitar is more comfortable and easier to handle, making it a popular choice for many players.

Each of these body shapes has its own unique characteristics, allowing guitarists to choose the one that suits their playing style and tonal preferences. Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal preference and finding the guitar that feels and sounds right to you.

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