Stay in Tune vol # 92
By Luthier Patrick Podpadec
Well we had an extra week off from writing an article for the Voice. I'm all charged up now and ready to go! Where to? is the question. I listed a few music festivals in the last few issues of the Voice and there is
This time of the year is always pretty busy for me. It seems as though all of the musicians want to break out there instruments after the long dry winter and when they do they find things have changed a little bit. Sometimes the action has changed or maybe a new crack has developed or maybe they just want all the strings changed and re setup for the summer playing season. Along with trying to attend music festivals, building and repairing instruments, mowing the lawn , planting the garden there just doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day. I'm not complaining I just need more hours in the day.
Well I know I mentioned a little bit about the Riverside Music Festival that I built a beautiful Liam guitar for that was raffled off for just “Ten dollars” . I finally have some good pictures of the guitar put up on my website. I also got it back for a week or so to install a new pickup system into the guitar. I installed a L R Baggs piezo pickup system underneath the saddle . It comes with a powered preamp built into the output jack and has a small thumbwheel volume control knob that mounts conveniently in the sound hole of the guitar. I usually use a Fishman system, but after reading some good reviews on the L.R. Baggs system, I thought that I would give it a try. I was very pleased with the system. It has a very good full spectrum sound having the piezo running the whole length of the saddle. It seems as though the Baggs system has figured out a way to reduce the “quackiness” that piezo pickups have been associated with in the past. The small on board volume control thumb wheel is a nice added feature too. Another plus is that it is about 20 -30 dollars cheaper than a Fishman system. Coming in at about $130.00,(material only , labor is additional $60.00 ) I think this is a good deal for those of you thinking about adding a pickup to your acoustic guitar. I don't want to say that I don't like the Fishman system , because I do. For 20 or 30 dollars more the Fishman system has an additional thumbwheel that controls the tone of the pickup too. This also helps with the “quackiness”. I guess it all depends on how much control that you want to have at your fingertips. Of course there are other less expensive systems that are available, but most of the sound manipulation would have to be performed at the source of power, being the amplifier or the p.a. system.
One other thing to take into consideration about acoustic pickup systems is to make sure that they have a preamp with them. This requires that they have a battery.(usually a 9 volt ) Without a “preamp” to boost the weak signal that is produced from the piezo. there would be very little control over the tone and volume of the pickup. On both the Fishman and the Baggs system , this battery is mounted on the inside of the guitar with a velcro bag with double stick tape. This can be a bit of a pain in the %^*& to change because it usually requires you to loosen the strings to be able to reach your hand inside the guitar to get the bag and remove the battery. This can be a hassle if it happens to go bad on you at a gig. The good thing is that the battery life is pretty long . I have had batteries last almost a year if I didn't play it that much. Other systems ( usually more expensive ones) have all of your controls, a 4 band EQ , sometimes even a tuner which is pretty cool, and a space to house the battery in a flip top box mounted on the top side bout of the guitar. This makes battery changes very quick and easy. The only thing for me is that I'm not a big fan of cutting a large hole in the side of a well made acoustic guitar. I will do it if I'm being paid to do it, but I'm not a big fan of the idea of it. To me, that type of “boxy” contraption doesn't look good on a guitar, and once there is a hole in the side there is really no way to reverse the process. There will always be a big square hole in the side of the guitar. I know that there will always be people who will disagree with my opinion but it is just an opinion, there like a-holes , everybody has one!
I do like the types of controls that Taylor has developed for their “Expession” system. It has three small unobtrusive knobs that are located on the upper bout close to the neck heel and the battery box is located down in the bottom with the output jack. This is a nice system that works and looks good. I am working on a system myself that I will be installing in my guitars in the future that is a bit similar but is different enough to not have any patent infringements.
In the past week alone I have installed 4 pickup systems into acoustic guitars. They are usually a pretty straight forward procedure , but there are a few things that need to be done to ensure that the installation goes well. It's important that you use the right size drill bits to drill the two different holes that need to be drilled. These can be different for the different pickups, so make sure you read the instructions if your planning to do it yourself. The other thing , which is more critical is that the bottom of the saddle is in perfect contact to the pickup along with the distance between pickup and string height is of equal value. Not always easy to do This will give you the proper pressure that is needed for the optimum response for the piezo element to perform correctly. If all of this sounds too difficult you can always bring the instrument to me and I will be glad to install a pickup for you, or guide you to the right system that will fit your particular needs. Well enjoy the long awaited Summer weather and please Stay in Tune!
Patrck from Liam Guitars/ Wood-n-Strings