So lets start this article off by saying “there are no Weissenborn specific pickups on the market right now”, they are all designed for conventional six string acoustic guitars. This is never more evident than when you notice the spacing of the magnetic poles on some pickups which are spaced for narrower six string instruments and not the wider spacing of the strings on a weissenborn. However do not fear it’s not really a major issue to use these pickups on a weissenborn as the mis-alignment of poles seems to make little or no difference in practical functionality. It’s safe to say if it’s designed for an acoustic guitar it will be able to be used on a Weissenborn.
However that said, with everything there are going to be pickups more suited to a Weissenborn than others, both practical and sonically due to the instruments unusual design and earth, woody mid tones, so that’s what this article will focus on. I have tried to include every pickup that i know has been used successfully on a Weissenborn by various artists down the years (amateur and professional). You should be safe in the knowledge that if it’s NOT included in this article it’s probably not there for a good reason i.e. 1; it’s not that good, 2; it’s not suitable for using on a Weissenborn, 3; it was released after this article was published (something i will rectify if happens). Some picksups are just better than others wether it be for regular or Weissenborn guitar. We have the usual suspects and market leaders all represented here such as LR Baggs, Seymour Duncan, Fishman, K&K and Sunrise.
Next point to be mindful of. Some pickups can driven hard through valve amps in a band setting (some can’t), some are prone to feedback when pushed to hard, some colour the sound and tone straight out the box, some add warmth, some maintain complete tonal clarity, some are very expensive, some are great value for money. Everyone will have a favourite but it’s important to understand what they get out of their choice that other pickups don’t offer them. If someone offers you a recommendation it’s important to put it into CONTEXT, be clear WHY they chose that pickup and what their set up is, a small intimate solo performer playing recitals or part of a loud 4 piece band, it’s all very relevant. What’s for sure is the more you get into Weissenborn playing the more equipment you will end up trying until you find something that suits you and your individual needs. Hopefully this feature will help you make an informed decision on your first purchase.
Another point I would like to mention here which I might get some people in non agreement with is. Playing a Weissenborn as a solo performer through an amp or PA straight from the pickup to the speaker will probably result in a sound that’s a little flat or bland. So here’s my advice, use REVERB! adding reverb to you signal chain will make it sound 100% better guaranteed! I am a reverb junkie and admit I over use it a lot and I regularly go to RA (Reverb Anonymous) but it’s pretty much undeniable putting a quality reverb pedal/effect (FYI a Styrmon ‘Blue Sky’ is simply the best money can buy, Thomas Oliver swears by them as do i) between your pickup and Amp/PA, or utilising the reverb control on your amp will in EVERY single case improve the sonic lushness and fullness of your instruments sonic output. Lastly another piece of kit you should think about investing in if you want to sound like a pro is a Pre Amp or Multiband adjustable EQ unit. These units help you sculpt your Weissenborns’ colour and tone and can add or detract specific EQ parameters such as bass, mids and treble as well as presence, gain and volume boost. Most goods one will offer a notch filter too to help overcome any feedback issues you may encounter live.
So to be clear there will be no black or white recommendations here (sorry for that folks but it’s just not that easy) because every pickup listed is perfectly suited to a Weissenborn, each has its own unique set of pros and cons, each one has its advocates and a few critics. I will endeavour to generalise and summarise the pickups cross section overview based on feedback gained from the Weissenborn community here at TWiE, guitar forums and websites alike. I will also try and include the manufactures spec and description too to help you decide what might be right for you.
So without further a do here we go…. The 7 featured pickups featured below represent the majority of what Weissenborn users out there are currently using in their instruments from my research and feedback. I would generalise and say they make up about 70% of all the pickups ‘post purchase’ installed and ‘during construction’ installed in Weissenborns the world over. NB; all of these sound hole pickups will need a 1/2 inch hole drilled into the base of your guitar to accommodate the jack socket, admittedly some of them can have a wire running out of the sound hole across the top of the body to the amp but this is not a long term solution if you are going to use it regularly to play live or practice with. Some of these pickups systems will need professional installation in a workshop some preferably at time of construction if you’re having a Weissenborn custom made to spec so please bare this in mind, when deciding.
Seymour Duncan Mag Mic SA-6.
This pickup is very popular among Weissenborns user the world over at the moment.
Here is what Seymour Duncan themselves say about this pickup….
“…The Seymour Duncan Mag Mic combines a high-quality hum-cancelling stack magnetic pickup with an omni-directional condenser mic-all in one unit. This clever design blends the natural warmth with the full-spectrum detail of your instrument. The magnetic pickup captures the strings and adds warmth while the omni-directional condenser mic conveys the instrument’s resonance, airiness, and unique character. Together they provide crystal clear acoustic tone that sounds just like your guitar, but at the volume you need it. The Mag Mic’s magnetic pickup is always on. A convenient volume control allows you to blend in as much of the microphone as you want.The Mag Mic can also handle loud volumes. It can even take on overdrive and intentional feedback.”
It normally costs around £180-£200 and is easy to install with two screw clamps which hold the pickup in the sound hole securely. It is quite bulky and heavy though and because it’s an “active” pickup it has to be powered by a large rectangular 9v battery which has to be attached to the inside of the guitar via velco. It is a bit tricky and inconvenient to change battery and some people i have spoken to say it drains batteries quiet quickly if played for long periods of time, but others have had no issues. The blend dials are easily adjusted with one finger on the fly and dials in microphone levels and volume. The magnetic poles are adjustable and can be raised with an allen key to the desired height to provide the correct signal strength. It’s popular for a reason as the tone and warmth it puts out are very pleasing on the ears, the microphone offers real punch and clarity but can be dialed back if you want to play louder in a band situation.
Quick Summary of Seymour Duncan SA-6 Mag Mic;
Sound hole or under bridge/in body type; It’s fitted into the sound hole via two clamps and tethered to a jack plug socket.
Active or passive (Battery type); Active – Uses a large 9v battery attached to inside of body via velcro.
Ease of install. Easy, DIY in 30mins (assuming you already have a 1/2 hole in guitar body for jack socket).
Size and appearance. Black, bulky and plastic looking, a bit of an ugly duckling.
Adjustable poles or volume control; Volume and microphone blend dials
Microphone, poles or vibration; Microphone and magnetic poles
Cost; Around £180-200 UK, $190 US
Tonal characteristics; Great presence, volume and natural sounding qualities attributed to the ‘mic’ part of the pickup.
Manufacturers website address; http://www.seymourduncan.com/acoustic/mag-mic
Who uses one in their weissenborn; Ben Harper, David Lindley, Xavier Rudd, John Wilde.
Administrators comment; Very popular and great value for money, great warm natural sound, bit bulky and some battery issues (both installation and life), one thing is for sure you won’t be disappointed in the sound you get from this pickup. Has good versatility via the dialing in of microphone to magnetic pole to suit it’s application and environment.
LR Baggs M1 & M1a.
Next to the SA-6 the M1 & M1a pickup from LR Baggs are almost equally popular among Weissenborn guitarists. In my opinion it looks sleek and more refined than the SA-6 and the cream and brown colour scheme are much easier on the eye. It still fits in the sound hole via two screw clamps and has adjustable magnetic poles too. The M1 is available in “Active” and “Passive” models. Basically the active one needs a small disc battery to operate (the volume control) and the passive model has no battery, but they are virtually the same size and weight, once again a bit on the bulky/weighty side. Like the SA-6 this pickup is well suited to live environments and can be driven quite hard. It offers in some peoples opinion a ‘less natural’ tone than other pickups and the lack of internal microphone would be the main reason for this opinion it seems but it does offer great clarity and punch albeit slightly more sterile/electric tone perhaps, which i’d say suits people wishing to use effects in their signal chain as feedback issues seem to be a rarity with this unit.
Here’s what LR Baggs have to say about their own product ….
“The M1 is for players who love big acoustic tone with high feedback resistance on any stage. Combining the natural characteristics of your guitar’s soundboard with a punchy string attack, the M1’s body-sensitive design provides enhanced realism while cutting through a loud mix. The M1 is a patented humbucking pickup with a twist. In a common stacked humbucker, the lower coil cancels hum, but doesn’t contribute anything positive to the sound. We unlock the lower coil with a carefully tuned support that allows it to capture higher frequency resonances. As the pickup moves with the guitar’s soundboard, a body signal is created in the suspended coil that adds presence and realism to your amplified sound.”
Quick Summary Of LR Baggs M1 & M1a;
Sound hole or under bridge/in body type; Soundhole installed via 2 screw operated clamps.
Active or passive (Battery type); Both active and passive models available, active version uses a small 9v disc battery.
Ease of install. Easy, 30 mins tops (assuming you already have a 1/2 hole in guitar body for jack socket).
Size and appearance. Big and slightly bulky again but very classy looking cream and brown colour combo.
Adjustable poles or volume control; Adjustable magnetic poles, and the active version has volume dial.
Microphone, poles or vibration; Magnetic poles and vibration.
Cost; £120-160 UK, $140 US (passive) and £140-180 UK, $140 US (active).
Tonal characteristics; Clean and sterile some say slightly electric guitar sounding but has great punch to its delivery.
Manufacturers website address; http://www.lrbaggs.com/pickups/m1-acoustic-guitar-pickup
Who uses one in their weissenborn; Martin Harley, Adam Bay.
Administrators comment; A popular choice for many band members or solo artists looking for some volume and punch to their sound. Works great with effects and rarely feedbacks when pushed hard and loud, not for the natural tone purists i’d say but a superb pickup that will never sound bad in a live situation where you are trying to cut through a band or noisey enviroment.
Fishman Neo-D Humbucker.
A real trusted, dependable pickup with amazing clarity and depth of tonal integrity. If it’s good enough for Ed Gerhard, Thomas Oilver and John Wilde then it’s good enough for you trust me! A simple no nonsense pickup which mounts in the sound hole as per the rest do and is only available as a passive option so no battery change issues, but no volume control either. It’s cheap too around £60-80. It doesn’t add much to the tone it’s a real conduit pickup, meaning if you have a world class weissenborn it will simple articulate the already amazing tones of the instrument, but if your instrument is say more low-mid ranged it might actually highlight its tonal short comings more profoundly than you would like it too.
Here’s what Fishman have to say about the Neo-D Humbucker….
“This value-priced cousin of the award-winning Rare Earth pickup shares the same neodymium magnet structure for exceptional string balance and sparkling acoustic clarity. The Neo-D’s low-profile, high-impedance design needs no battery. Available in single coil and humbucking models.”
Quick Summary for FIshman Neo-D Humbucker;
Sound hole or under bridge/in body type; Soundhole clamped.
Active or passive (Battery type); Passive only
Ease of install. Easy, 30 mins tops (assuming you already have a 1/2 hole in guitar body for jack socket).
Size and appearance. Smaller than most on the market, Black, plain and relatively slim but still deep.
Adjustable poles or volume control; Neither
Micophone, poles or vibration; Magnetic encased bar not poles.
Cost; £70 UK, $80 US
Tonal characteristics; Clear and honest, slightly ‘electric’ bias tonally.
Manufacturers website address; http://www.fishman.com/products/series/neo-d/neodmagneticsoundholepickup.php
Who uses one in their weissenborn; Ed Gerhard, Thomas Oliver, John Wilde.
Administrators comment; This pickup is what i would call a ’noiseless’ pickup after all it only works when strings are moved so it can sound a bit electric and sterile in my opinion, but it does offer great clarity and crystal clear tone which if that’s what you’re looking for at the start of your signal chain then great, but once again i would suggest it’s not for the instrumental purists as it lacks warmth and colour when used on its own with no effects or Pre Amp.
The legendary Sunrise pickups hand made by Jim Kaufman in the USA are possible thought of as the holy grail of acoustic guitar pick up systems. The great David Lindley said “They have magic stuff inside them”. They have a mythical boutique aura about them that when you see the price £300+ you think it might be guitar snobbery or hype over performance, right? Well you would be wrong because this is in my opinion the best acoustic pickup i have ever used in my Weissenborn, and i have tried all of them in my Weissenborns! The instant you install one of these in your guitar you will be left speechless. The tonal integrity of this unit is amazing, the crystal clear sparkle and brilliance of this pickup are simply stunning. They work on vibration and magnetic poles and are so quiet you don’t even realise your amplification system is even turned on. Another point to mention is these units are made on limited 1000 runs per year and are not always available to purchase as Jim hand makes these in set batches and sells them on a first come first served basis. The system offers an external ’buffer pre amp boxes’ with the pickup as an optional extra but if you already have a preamp theres no real need to get this extra bit of kit, but purists say it does make a subtle difference in your signal chain if you use one. If money is no object get one and never look back!
Here’s how Sunrise describe the pickup on their website…
“The Sunrise Pickup has earned the respect of professional players on stage and in the studio for over 20 years. In that time it has proven itself as a reliable, tough, professional unit. This pickup and matching preamp represents the ultimate in the uncompromising search for a truly acoustic guitar sound capable of high sound pressure levels. The Sunrise Pickup mounts securely in the soundhole, and can be wired with endpin and mini connectors, allowing easy removal if desired. A long wire Sunrise Pickup with 24 inch cable is available for temporary installations that run the wire out of the soundhole. Sunrise Pickups work equally well for 6 and 12 string guitars, right or left-handed. Sunrise Pickups will fit into sound holes ranging from 4″ in diameter to 3 1/2″. All Sunrise Pickups have the unique design feature that allows the pickup to couple and sense the body resonance and top of the guitar its mounted in, and still maintain a 116dB feedback threshold. The string volumes can be set with 6 adjustable pole pieces. The pickups have an injection moulded black ABS composite housing sealed in epoxy, and are completely shielded from RF and hum. 2.0K- 2.2K Ohm output. Sunrise Pickups have a transferable lifetime guarantee against defective materials or imperfect workmanship.”
Quick Summary of Sunrise;
Sound hole or under bridge/in body type; Soundhole clamps.
Active or passive (Battery type); Passive only.
Ease of install. Easy, 30 mins tops (assuming you already have a 1/2 hole in guitar body for jack socket).
Size and appearance. Black and very heavy, wide and bulky, not the prettiest looking.
Adjustable poles or volume control; Adjustable poles only
Microphone, poles or vibration; Vibration and magnetic poles.
Cost; £225 -£300 (plus import tax and P&P) UK, $330 US
Tonal characteristics; Amazingly quiet, clear with sparkle and brilliance to the tone.
Manufacturers website address; http://www.sunrisepickups.com
Who uses one in their weissenborn; Knut Hem + Everyone at some point!
Administrators comment; The Rolls Royce of acoustic guitar pickups, it’s legendary for a reason! Crystal clear noiseless operation with a profound clarity, spark and brilliance to its tone.
The K&K Pure Mini
This pickup is a piezo transducer style system and has to be professionally fitted (glued) to the underside of the bridge plate. This system offers a very responsive tone that is loud and warm. It is often used in combination with either an internal microphone or a sound hole pickup, the two signals then being blended externally to sculpt into your perfect sound. It’s a often a favourite installation in high end custom made Weissenborns as it offers the player an invaluable aid to finding that perfect sound with the aid of other pickups and external preamps. It is said the sound is more natural than magnetic pickups and is often regarded as the best practical option to get that ‘acoustic’ sound when playing live. K&K offer a system called “Trinity” which combines this piezo Pure Mini with a internal goose neck mounted microphone and 2 channel preamp box or internal preamp circuit board.
The official blurb on this pickup system….
The Pure Mini is our award-winning, signature pickup for steel string acoustic guitars. The Pure Mini is a 3-head, bridge plate transducer. It features super balanced, flat sound transmission, warm woody tone without any quack and superior dynamic range all over the guitar’s frequency spectrum. Our customers tell us that the Pure Mini’s output is louder than any other passive pickup on the market. Bridge plate transducers are the optimal choice for achieving a rich, natural guitar sound. The Pure’s position on the bridge plate provides the perfect balance of sound, picking up all the strings without sounding harsh or percussive and “listening” to the sound board to amplify the unique characteristics of your guitar. The result is a warm, full-range signal that sounds great even without a preamp! We recommend the Pure Mini (formerly Pure Western Mini) for all acoustic steel string guitars as a first choice. Direct installation with superglue gel is required for optimum performance but the system can be carefully removed without damage to your guitar (you may damage the pickup though). This pickup system will fit all standard steel string acoustic guitars”.
Fishman Rare Earth Blend
One of the newest pickups on the market which many weissenborn users are turning to. The Fishman Rae Earth Blend is an updated version of the very popular sound hole pickup “Rare Earth”. This newer model has the additional goose neck condenser microphone incorparated into the body of the pickup via a stiff goose neck shaft. The unit fits into the sound hole the conventional way via clamps and the goose neck then is positioned underneath the unit. The neck is then adjusted for optimol position. Then with the aid of a microphone dial blend knob on the side of the unit you can dial in the appropriate level of microphone signal. It has to be said the positioning of the microphone is awkward and very sensitive to the smallest of positional changes (lower to the base of the guitar more bass, higher up is sounds very thin etc etc), this can be frustrating during initial setup. Also the goose neck seems a little to floppy for my liking and sometimes won’t stay in the position you want it to stay in. The sound though when tweeked is very warm and pleasing. The magnetic part of the equation is in some people opinion not very transparent and sounds slightly ‘electric’. No reports yet of how it performs live as the condenser microphone is very air pressure sensitive (even heavy breathing on it will pick up) so the jury is out at the moment on this one.
This is the official Fishman advertising blurb….
“An improved microphone and re-voiced electronics offer a warmer, more natural acoustic tone. Easily accessible Mic/Pickup Blend Control offers fingertip control to dial in just the right blend. For unequalled sound quality and ease of use, it’s hard to beat the performance of the Rare Earth Blend. Cutting-edge neodymium magnets provide excellent string-to-string balance, while the pickup’s active electronics and low-noise, discrete circuitry design, keep the sound pure and clean with smooth response throughout the frequency range.”
Quick Summary of Fishman Rare Earth Blend;
Sound hole or under bridge/in body type; Sound hole mounted via clamps.
Active or passive (Battery type); Active, 2 small button batteries at bottom of unit.
Ease of install. Easy(ish) tricky to get goose neck probably positioned.
Size and appearance. Black, quite slim and relatively light.
Adjustable poles or volume control; Microphone blend control only.
Microphone, poles or vibration; Microphone and magnetic bar.
Cost; £260-300 UK, $300 US
Tonal characteristics; Warm and loud with high presence.
Manufacturers website address; http://www.fishman.com/products/series/rareearth/rareearthblend.php
Who uses one in their weissenborn; No feedback yet.
Administrators comment; I own one myself and it’s very expensive for what it is, I would rather spend these big bucks on another Sunrise if i were honest. Very responsive (condenser mic), loud and quiet warm sounding. Tonally not the cleanest or purist but on par with the SA-6 in many respects. I can imagine it would feedback if pushed hard in a live environment, so you would have to dial back the mic and then it would be relying on the not so natural sounding transducer element.
LR Baggs Anthem
The official bio…
“The Award-winning Anthem series, featuring our patent-pending TRU•MIC technology, seamlessly combines a proprietary condenser microphone with our acclaimed Element pickup to deliver the warmth and fidelity of a studio-mic’d guitar anywhere you perform.TRU•MIC TECHNOLOGY. At the heart of the Anthem is a revolutionary microphone engineered to capture a dynamic studio-mic’d sound for any live performance. The TRU•MIC mounts to the underside of the bridge plate and hovers just 3 mm above its surface to take advantage of the PZM or “boundary” effect. This proprietary mounting system, combined with noise cancellation, frees the mic to perform as if it were outside of the guitar in a studio and maintain remarkable feedback suppression for the stage. The result is a balanced frequency response with excellent clarity for the purest sound you have ever heard amplified. We have paired the Element pickup with the TRU•MIC to provide solidity and punch for low frequencies.”
This is what Thomas Oliver told me he is currently running in both his Tony Francis Weissenborns. Quote “I’ve got L.R. Baggs Anthems in my Tony Francis Weissenborns. I need the under-saddle component in order to get a good thump for my ‘kick drum’ when I drum on my Weissenborn, and the mic component carries the ‘hats’ and ‘snare’ that I do on the side (besides which I love the general playing tone of this pickup system).” High praise indeed.
The pickup turns the conventional notion of “the microphone” part of the system just adding a little air to the sound, by reversing the bias the other way round. The microphone is the primary signal source situated in a tiny box attached to the underside of the bridge plate and the ‘element’ part of the equation is positioned just under the rim of the sound hole next to the microphone blend dial. The end result is said to be more ‘Presence” sounding, warm and natural.
Quick Summary for LR Baggs Anthem;
Sound hole or under bridge/in body type;
Active or passive (Battery type); Active (needs battery)
Ease of install. This is a professional install unit, but serious/experienced hobbyists could tackle it with the right tools.
Size and appearance. Hidden elements make for good visual appearance.
Adjustable poles or volume control; Volume and blend controls.
Microphone, poles or vibration; Vibration and microphone.
Cost; £220 UK, $300 US
Tonal characteristics; Warm, transparent with lots of presence.
Manufacturers website address; http://www.lrbaggs.com/pickups/anthem-acoustic-guitar-pickup-and-microphone
Who uses one in their weissenborn; Thomas Oliver
Administrators comment; Seems to be a great pickup that obviously suits a Weissenborn. I haven’t tried this system myself but feel it would be something well worth investing in at some point in the future, lots of good reviews in conventional guitars as well on all the forums.