August 20, 2016
The acoustic pickup market is a crowded and rather confusing place to be dipping your toe into but for this blog we thought it might be helpful to take a closer look at our best selling pickup brand, LR Baggs. Baggs have really come into their own in the last few years, appearing on numerous high end brands of acoustic guitars as well as being a very popular after market option for amplifying a favourite acoustic guitar.
There are a number of models of Baggs pickups including microphones, transducers that fit under the saddle or to the bridge plate, magnetic pickups and systems that blend sounds from more than one source. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular ones.
The Lyric is a microphone that sits on the bridge plate (a hardwood reinforcement of the soundboard that sits directly under the bridge) of the guitar. Internal microphones have an advantage over simply miking up a guitar in the conventional sense in that the mic is sheltered from extraneous sounds by the body of the guitar so they are a lot less feedback prone. However the drawback of this is that they tend to pick up a lot of harmonic content that never makes it to the outside of the guitar, giving a cluttered and rather boomy sound that doesn’t really reflect the tonal characteristics of the guitar as you hear it when you play. The Lyric counters this problem with a very clever preamp design that clears up the output of the mic, giving a much more natural and pleasing tone.
The Lyric is probably the best choice for giving an honest representation of the actual guitar it is installed into. Although much less feedback prone than a condenser mic on a stand in front of the guitar, it still suffers from feedback problems in loud environments, so it works best in environments where the pickup is reinforcing the natural volume of the guitar rather than helping the guitarist compete with a loud rhythm section.
We really like the Lyric when paired with a good acoustic amp with a DI output, giving a fair amount of flexibility in terms of volume to the front of house without having too much level and therefore feedback issues on stage.
The I-Beam is a compromise option that falls between the Lyric and the more conventional under-saddle transducer pickups. Like the Lyric it mounts to the bridge plate inside the guitar but, whilst the Lyric is a microphone picking up sound waves inside the guitar, the I-Beam is a transducer picking up vibrations from the top. Like the Lyric, it has the benefit of reading a little more of the tone of the individual guitar than the more common under saddle transducers do, so it’s more natural and honest to the guitar than other pickup systems. Tonally it’s quite close to the Lyric and it is a little less feedback prone, although it’s still one of the more sensitive options when it comes to feedback.
The I-Beam works well if you want something that has most of the tonal benefits of the Lyric but want a little more feedback resistance without the expense of the Anthem.
We find the I-Beam very sensitive to location inside the guitar and have encountered problems with it on instruments where space is tight and we can’t get it located exactly where we want it. If you’re considering an I-Beam definitely run it past our tech first, who will be able to advise as to how well it will be likely to work in your guitar.
The Element is the classic under saddle transducer that sits inside the bridge of the guitar. It works by reading vibrations largely from the saddle, the advantages of which are that it gets lots of signal to work and is better insulated against sounds that can cause feedback, but because a large percentage of the vibrations are coming directly from the saddle rather than the guitar body it’s less true to the sound of the particular guitar.
The Element can be ordered with either a single volume or with a tone control that allows you to tame the high frequencies. We prefer the volume and tone version but we appreciate that not everyone likes an array of dials to contend with, so we carry both in stock!
The Element is great for people playing in a band context with lots of loud instruments to compete with and for open mic type scenarios where you never quite know what sort of a PA you might be faced with. It’s a little more generic sounding than the Lyric and I-Beam but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in some contexts.
The Anthem is a system that blends a Lyric Microphone with an Element under saddle transducer. It’s really the best of both worlds, with the Lyric providing realism and fidelity and the Element topping up the level and allowing the guitar to be used at far higher volumes without feedback than the Lyric would be capable of on its own. The Element also adds a little crispness to the tone so it sounds better as well as being more versatile than either pickup on its own.
The Anthem is not a cheap pickup but it is an exceptionally good one. It’s definitely our favourite system, and its popularity with makers such as Lowden, Patrick James Eggle and Furch is testament that we’re not the only ones who are fans.
The M-1 takes a different approach to the other systems. It’s main source of sound is a magnetic pickup that reads the strings themselves in the same way and electric guitar pickup works, then feeds the signal through an EQ that shapes it to give a pleasing acoustic sounding tone. It also has a small transducer that read vibrations from the soundboard, allowing a little bit of flavour from the guitar itself and making it a little less generic sounding than many magnetic acoustic pickups.
The M-1 shares similar benefits to the Element in that it’s very resistant to feedback and easy to work with where other loud instruments are involved. It has a significantly different sound to the Element with a smoother response and warmer bass, so although it doesn’t quite have the character of the Lyric it’s a great choice for those who find under saddle transducers a little on the harsh side.
It’s all very well reading my wittering and what you really need is to hear them! Fortunately we’re one step ahead of you there: we have a test guitar set up with the three most popular - the Lyric, the Element and the M-1 - so you can try them for yourself in the shop. We also usually have guitars fitted with Anthems should you want to try that one, and our tech is happy to discuss any technical questions. So come in and see us!