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Blue Boy Guitars Canada

Handcrafted custom and cigar box instruments

PICKUPS - piezo or magnetic?

I often get asked "which pickup should I choose?" My answer is it depends on how the instrument is going to be used, and what your expectations are,


A magnetic pickup is your typical electric guitar pickup. A CBG equipped with a mag pickup will sound (surprise!) pretty much like an electric guitar.  


        Most people buying a CBG are well acquainted with mag pickups so there's no surprises. They work well with virtually any amp, and are less likely to feed back than a piezo, especially at high volume.


         Mag pickups require electric guitar strings which I don't believe sound as good as acoustic guitar strings when playing unplugged. A mag pickup will also dampen the acoustic properties of the top a bit and can obscure any graphics on the box.


Let me start by saying I won't use a disc piezo. I will only use an under saddle rod piezo which is what is used in an electrified acoustic guitar. Some CBG's have the piezo wired direct to the out put jack, and the volume and tone are controlled on the amp. I strongly recommend using a pre-amp (on board or external) with a piezo. I most often use a built in pre-amp such as an electric acoustic has. With this setup the volume and tone can be controlled on the guitar.


         A piezo pickup is designed to reproduce the natural acoustic tone of the instrument, and some people believe it achieves a more "authentic" CBG sound. You can use acoustic or electric guitar strings but acoustic strings will sound best when playing unplugged. Because it is built into the bridge under the saddle and therefore invisible, it won't interfere with any graphics on the box or dampen the acoustic properties of the top.


         A piezo is more prone to howl or feedback, especially at high volume. If the CBG is not equipped with a preamp to smooth out the sound a piezo can sound somewhat harsh and brittle with poor bottom end response. The preamp is powered by a 9V battery which can be a pain if the battery dies without having a backup available.



         I believe a magnetic pickup to be the best choice in most cases. It's pretty much idiot proof and works quite well for most applications. If I were a gigging musician I would want my CBG to be mag equipped.


         If the unplugged acoustic sound of your CBG is your #1 priority, or if your box has killer graphics you want to show off, a piezo is your best choice. A piezo equipped CBG can sound fantastic if used properly, but can also be a screaming banshee if used inappropriately. A piezo equipped CBG is basically an electric acoustic guitar and for the most part should be treated as such. It works best when plugged into a lower powered amp at lower volume levels. Plug one into a cranked Marshall stack and you'll probably have problems.