Ukulele Pickup: 4 Best Pickups to Amplify your Ukulele

Published Categorized as Buying Guides, Guitar Accessories Selection, Ukulele

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Welcome one and all to today’s roundup of some of the best products on the market. Today we will be looking with an analytical eye at some of the options for those looking to take their musicianship and performance to the next level with a ukulele pickup, so stay tuned and strapped in as we explore some of the options that are going to have you amplified loud enough to shatter self esteem!

Table of Contents

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Types of Ukulele Pickup

The first and primary way to differentiate from the multitude of options for the ukulele pickup is to judge where the pickup will be placed on the ukulele’s body. Even the slightest change in space for a pickup or for any audio can have a massive impact on the overall tonal quality, so it stands to reason that the overall position of a ukulele pickup is likely going to have a considerable effect on the overall sound produced through the pickup and out into the world by whatever medium the ukulelist in question deems fit for the job.

Under Saddle Transducer

The Under Saddle Transducer pickup (UST), otherwise known the Piezo pickup, is the first of our different types of ukulele pickup, the latter name originating from the Greek word for ‘pressure’. This is etymologically sound, for the UST Piezo pickup works on precisely this precedent. The UST ukulele pickup is installed in the ukulele’s bridge, where it seeks to turn the vibrations of the strings which exert pressure on the bridge into electrical signals.

Seeing as this type of pickup could be rather temperamental and contextually difficult to manage in different acoustic environments, you are more than often going to see these kinds of ukulele pickup paired with a dedicated preamp which will be installed into the body of the instrument. This will enable any ukulelist to modify on the fly the tonal qualities of the electrical signals as transmitted via the pressure on the bridge, resulting in a more collaborative tonal effort between a PA and sound engineer and the musician themselves.

These specified preamps can be installed into a ukulele after the fact and after its creation, though this will of course take the work of a dedicated and qualified engineer. If said engineer is worth their salt, then you should not have any problems, but such an operation on the instrument could very easily go the wrong way, so do proceed with caution.

Herein lies the largest drawback of the Piezo ukulele pickup, the fact that, if you did not purchase your ukulele with one already installed with one and a corresponding preamp, then you are likely going to need to hire a professional and qualified engineer to install one after the fact, unless you are of course just such an engineer yourself, in which case you should have no problems whatsoever!

Soundboard Transducer

Another option in the search for the ukulele pickup that is best for you would be that of the Soundboard Transducer (SBT). Where the Under Saddle Transducer can produce a rather bright and obviously electrically produced sound, the Soundboard Transducer is far more friendly to those seeking a warmer tone overall. The bright tone can simply be rather undesirable, and for many is precisely the opposite of what they are seeking a ukulele and ukulele pickup for.

Where the UST is so named for only being used and placed in one place, that being right beneath the bridge, the placement of the soundboard transducer can be and is in fact placed in a number and large variety of different spots on the instrument, obvious seeing as the soundboard itself is large and provides largely different tones depending on where we are hearing it from.

It is the different tonal qualities of the soundboard’s different positions that make this such an interesting but also frustrating choice of ukulele pickup. The sound fidelity and tonal qualities can vary massively depending on just a fraction of movement, so if you are looking for a specific sound and tone, then it would be best if you seek the help of a professional in getting the pickup set just how you like it.

If, however, you are more open to a decidedly more experimental approach, then go right on ahead at your own behest! These pickups are far more prone to feedback when amplified, placed as they usually are on the precipice of the soundboard’s void, so this is no doubt something to consider. However, if you are indeed more experimentally minded then this should not be a problem, right? Nor should the fact that the pickup’s sensitivity can pickup various undesirable sounds (such as the buttons on one’s shirt sleeves)!

Microphone

Yes, a microphone is technically a pickup in itself! If this all sounds confusing, then just think about what a ukulele pickup is doing in converting vibrations to electrical signals. This is very much what a microphone is doing in every circumstance, absorbing the vibrations from the air and converting them to electrical signals which are then transmitted elsewhere.

Unlike the UST or the SBT, the microphone is going to be your best for picking up the truest possible acoustic representation of the ukulele’s sound while on stage or in the studio. This is, however not to say that it is a perfect representation, for each microphone has its own tonal biases and none is going to perfectly capture the sound of an instrument or anything for that matter, especially if it is in a live music setting.

It is not unheard of for ukulelists to use a standard vocal microphone when performing live concerts, with the microphone aimed at the soundboard or thereabouts, to capture the sound as it is projected outwards. This will no doubt be a little limiting to those wanting to move more freely all about the stage, especially those who are otherwise not using a vocal microphone to sing, whistle, or otherwise speak.

There’s an app for that! Clip on Lavalier microphones were developed for just such a purpose, wherein they are attached to the ukulele in question so that its true acoustic qualities might be projected and yet still enable the performer to move about the stage freely, lost in the throes of musical passion. These solutions are all, of course, prey to the various pitfalls of vocal microphones on a stage, prone to feedback and various other related technical problems that can cause havoc to your resident sound engineer.

Sweet Home Alabama Ukulele

Passive vs Active

Just as there are inherent differences between the kinds of ukulele pickups outlined above, there are even further denominations with which to classify the pickups in question. Where the denominations above are related to how and where the sound vibrations are converted to electric signals, the differences between passive and active pickups is to do with the communications between the pickup and the speaker itself, which can itself have a major impact on the overall tonal quality, operating on one of the two main points of connection between the various inner machinations of the ukulele, the ukulele pickup, the preamp, and the eventual audio out.

Passive Ukulele Pickups

The passive pickup was the first kind of pickup used on an instrument, specifically an electric guitar, transmitting sound through a raw signal to the output jack and then outwards to an external amplifier etc.

This raw signal will always need a dedicated preamp to process the signal before it can be converted again to sound signals in another medium. This is to do with a musical technology oddity known as impedance mismatch, wherein the impedance of the pickup transmitting the signals does not match that of the device receiving these converted signals.

The specifics need not concern you; the point at base is simply that these raw signals cannot be heard without an intercessory preamp. Thankfully many amplifiers already come with just such a preamp built within that can be used for this purpose, and many UST pickups come with a built in preamp too!

Many stand by the various benefits of passive speakers despite the various pitfalls and pains that the need for a separate preamp can incite in a musical context.

Many, for example, would suggest that (as long as you have a solid preamp and speaker setup) the dynamic range of a passive ukulele pickup is far greater, perhaps because there are specifically designated and singular areas where the signals are being translated and processed individually. The same apparently goes for the frequency range, too, with proponents of the passive ukulele pickup suggesting that they are indeed warmer than their active pickup counterparts.

These benefits can even be attained with a relatively cheap preamp and amplifier, and is rendered more or less invalid when processed through an external set up such as those on the mixing desk of a performance venue.

Active Ukulele Pickups

By contrast, an active ukulele pickup amplifies the signal from the pickup immediately to be sent and amplified elsewhere, so that it might do so instantly without the interference of a preamp intercessor. Everything needed to make the sounds amplified and accessible via all ears is already there in the pickup, so a preamp can be elided altogether.

A partner of mine recently got just such a pickup installed on her new classical guitar beneath the bridge. The active nature of it meant that the output jack could be installed where there might be a pin for using a guitar strap, while also ensuring that there was no need for a preamp unit to be installed into the guitar’s body, which would have required much more work and finances to implement properly.

Alongside these benefits, there is also the added plus that they have a lower natural output for signal and audio, meaning that there is much less background noise than on a passive ukulele pickup, there is a far stronger grounding so that external signals are not so easily transmitted to the respective amp via the active pickup.

The primary downside ukulele enthusiasts report for the active pickup is the lack of heart in the tone produced. Though they are fantastic for blocking out external signals and producing an overall cleaner signal, there is a significant lack of warmth in the final result, not to mention a notably reduced dynamic range and audio response to the finer details and intricacies of a ukulelist’s playing style.

In some cases the active ukulele pickup is even powered by an external battery, which can add some weight to your ukulele – important to note if you are a more mobile performer. Since the ukulele itself is usually rather light, this extra weight will indeed be noticeable.

A Selection of the Best Ukulele Pickups

Now, without further ado, we will reveal to you some of our choices as to the best examples of the ukulele pickup out there on the market today, all of which will be filed by the various criteria up above. Before you proceed, it might be useful to make a note of the various pros and cons of the types of ukulele pickup listed above, paying particular attention to those that you feel would be of greater benefit to you and your various musical peregrinations.

GOSONO Clip-on Ukulele Pickup

We will begin our quest with about one of the cheapest you can expect to find that actually works. Though this little gadget is exceptionally cheap, it does the job without a doubt, and will more than fill the boots of a ukulele pickup if you need one that simply works and is easy to use, perhaps as a stand in while you fix your more expensive instrument or ukulele pickup / amplification system.

The best part about this pickup is arguably the fact that it can be used with just about any other instrument with strings, regardless of inherent tonal qualities or size etc. Seeing as it is essentially a contact microphone – a microphone that works by transmitted the literal vibrations received by contact instead of through the air – you can get really experimental with it and use it for transmitting various other kinds of vibrations, such as those on a kitchen appliance, or just about anything you can think of.

For example, I am rather partial to a certain noise musician by the name of Territorial Gobbing, who has been known to use contact microphones pressed against his throat to capture the sound of his innards held hostage. I even saw him perform recently, wherein he attached a few of these contact microphones to a table and proceeded to smash a bunch of plates to pieces upon it, with the contact microphones transmitting these devilish vibrations through an external PA system. Anything is possible folks!

PROs

  • Insanely cheap considering just what it is capable of, in theory of course
  • Installation could not be much easier, for you simply attach the pickup via a clip and then thread the cable through the strap to the external amplifier system

CONs

  • The build quality and attention to detail is beyond the realms of shoddy, but you have to expect as much considering the criminally low price point.
GOSONO Clip-On Pickup for Acoustic Guitar Mandolin Bouzouki Violin Banjo Ukulele Lute (for Acoustic Guitar)
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SUNYIN Self-Adhesive Contact Microphone Pickup

At a similar price point we have this self adhesive contact microphone which, in this instance, can be used as a ukulele pickup. Unlike the previous offering, however, this particular ukulele pickup is attached to said ukulele via an adhesive pad, meaning there is slightly less of a boundary between the pickup and the vibrations being absorbed and translated by said pickup.

As before, one of the best parts about such a pickup is, for me, the fact that they can be used with plenty of other instruments, regardless of inherent tonal qualities or size etc. In this instance, you can even use the pickup on non string instruments, as there as no barrier between pickup and instrument. If you can stick it on, you can hear it.

Like the previous offering, it is essentially a glorified contact microphone, which you can indeed get quite experimental with, using it to transmit a panoply of other kinds of sound vibrations, such as those on a kitchen appliance, and about anything else you can think of.

PROs

  • Again, this is a steal of a price considering what you are getting, as well as the fact that you will have replaceable adhesive pads attached
  • Added volume control allows for more customisation with regards to the final outcome of the sound

CONs

  • This volume control will, however, come in rather handy considering the low signal output at the root of the pickup – you will more often than not need to pump it all the way, especially in a live music environment
SUNYIN Acoustic Guitar Pickup,Piezo Transducer Contact Microphone Self-adhesive Easily AMP UP for Acoustic Classical Violin Ukulele Mandolin Banjo Cello Kalimba Drum (Black)
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KNA AP-1 Portable Piezo Pickup

In line with the Piezo (under saddle transducer) pickups outlined above, this is one of those pickups which makes use of just such a mechanism, transmitting vibrations from the root of the bridge into signals that can be processed externally with a preamp or even just a normal amplifier or PA system.

Seeing as this is indeed a passive ukulele pickup, you will need to externally process the audio in some way, owing to the problem with impedance as discussed earlier in the article. However, unlike plenty of other passive ukulele pickup systems, will not require you to make serious changes to the anatomy of your instrument.

In fact, though the anatomy is changed inherently by the addition of the pickup as glued via adhesive dots to the very base of the guitar bridge, this change can really compliment the look of the ukulele, especially if it is a ukulele whose design makes a point of exhibiting the fact that it is indeed made of wood.

Like the other pickups mentioned in this list, this is a contact pickup that can be used for other instruments, be they acoustic or not, as well as with various other sound sources (for the more budding experimentalist in our midst).

PROs

  • A clear and natural sound, owing to the passive nature of the pickup; warm and a more than accurate representation of the source material
  • Easy to assemble and disassemble, with an adhesive system that is not going to do damage to the body of the instrument

CONs

  • A bulky and sometimes cumbersome piece of kit which can get in the way of the playability of the instrument
KNA Pickups, 1/4'' to 1/8 Cable Universal Stick-on Piezo Acoustic Instrument Pickup (AP-1)
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Fishman Matrix Infinity Ukulele Pickup System

This is probably the most reputable brand on this list, offering a whole host of different options with which to pimp out just about any string instrument you own and want to amplify.

While this is indeed another passive under saddle transducer type of ukulele pickup, it can also be rendered active with an added accessory that we here at Six String Acoustic seriously recommend you buy alongside. The Powerjack Active Endpin Jack Preamp, when working alongside the ukulele pickup system, will leave you with the best of both active and passive pickup solutions, with two pieces of equipment that were designed to work in conjunction with each other, so there will be no technical difficulties like those that can mar the relationship between technologies from differing brands.

The real catch here is the price point, which is pretty damn high, hence why this and other products by Fishman amplification are aimed at the more professional musician, those who have had some experience with working with a ukulele pickup and are ready to take their art and craft to the next level. This will likely apply most to regularly gigging musicians who are taking their music and performances on the road and need a ukulele pickup system that can be relied upon long term without any fusses – touring sure has enough of those already!

PROs

  • Low G setup, meaning that the pickup can handle the ukulele’s high G string being tuned to a low G, no sweat
  • There are plenty of options for customising the setup and making it your own, whether through Fishman or with your own tweaking at home or in the studio
  • The sound is about as natural and authentic as you are going to get at this price point

CONs

  • A flat saddle or bridge will be required if you are looking to use this set up
  • It is also advised that you involve a professional if you have never set up such a system yourself
Fishman Matrix Infinity VT Acoustic Pickup (Wide)
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Final Tones

So, there you have it! Hopefully you are somewhat the wiser about some of the available options for you to amplify your ukulele, for there are indeed many, and that you are perhaps ready to invest either more time or money into such a venture of your own. Amplifying the ukulele can be a very exciting thing indeed, and with so many options available, many of which allow you to mount and dismount them with relative ease, the world is yours for the seizing!

FAQs Ukulele Pickup

Can you put a pickup in a ukulele??

Indeed you can, and there are plenty of options, so you can choose one that suits you and is specific enough to your circumstances. You might, for example, be only using this pickup for use in the home or for other such personal uses, in which case it will not matter too much about the fidelity nor the aspect of feedback necessarily, in which case a cheap passive pickup will do the job, no questions asked. However, if you are seeking to use the ukulele pickup while out gigging or performing, then you will likely be wanting either an active pickup or a passive pickup as processed by a preamp, owing to problems of noise cancellation and feedback, and you will want either of these to be of a higher quality so that they fidelity at which they emit sound is of a high enough standard (unless you are of course simply wanting to make an unholy racket).

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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