Steel-string acoustic guitars dominate the playing field and so do the music gear and accessories for those styles of guitars. But there are those of us who love the delicate and warm sounds of a nylon-strung guitar.
The classical guitar is growing in popularity as more and more beginners embrace its warm and delicate tones. Thanks to that, there is a growing number of classical guitar pickups in today’s online market.
It’s still nowhere as many as electric or steel-string acoustic guitars, but there are a plethora of choices nonetheless. If we have to categorize them, I would say you have four choices when it comes to amplifying classical guitars. The following are the options available -
- Under saddle classical guitar pickup
- Goose mic with or without a preamp
- Soundboard mounted piezo pickups
- Pickup System – a combination of the above
In this post, I share with you my top picks and a brief buying guide to inform your purchase. They all do a commendable job at amplifying a nylon-string guitar given the price. So, regardless of your budget and style, you should find the best one for you in this roundup.
Table of Contents
1.Fishman SBT-C Soundboard Transducer
What can get better than a Fishman pickup for an acoustic instrument? Fishman electronics and pickups are nothing short of an industry standard. They are the ‘stock’ p’up on numerous acoustic and nylon-string instruments. The SBT Series pickups are a good alternative to the KNG-NG1 if you want to opt for a branded product.
- Soundboard Transducer
- Clean but somewhat boxy tone
- Easy Installation
- Good Value for Money
I’ve picked up the Fishman SBT-C – a soundboard transducer pickup for classical guitars. Its selling point is its ease of use and pleasantly natural sound. It's one of those p'ups you can install yourself without any drilling and just by following the instructions that come with it.
The sounds are clean but you may find it a tad boxy with some loss of low-end. The projection is mellow too. Passive pickups don't offer a lot of volume, so you will need a preamp or volume boost of some sort. It's not comparable to the premium options in this list. The pickup works best of personal practice or fooling around. You won't find much use in a loud band or stage setting.
All in all, the SBT-C is a top choice in the sub $100 category. Plus, it has the QA of Fishman attached to it. It offers excellent value and reliability. It may not deliver a fantastic classical guitar sound, but the tones are as good as one can expect in this price range. I recommend it as an entry-level pickup or for casual players.
2.K&K Pure Classical Guitar Pickup
Pure Classic is the flagship nylon-string pickup by K&K Sound. Don’t confuse this with the K&K Pure Mini. The Pure Classic has four sensors instead of three to pick up the soft and subtle vibrations of a classical guitar.
- Soundboard Transducer
- Very transparent and natural tone
- High-quality components
- Excellent Value
K&K Pure Classic gets integrated into a guitar without any modifications to the instrument. The pickup is installed under the bridge by gluing the sensors to the top. Alternatively, K&K provides extra-thin stick tape, but then you need a preamp because of a 30% reduction in the output.
Each transducer is designed to pick up vibrations from the soundboard without harsh or percussive frequencies overpowering the sound. The resulting tones are harmonically rich and represent the natural tone of the classical guitar used with it. The overall tone is warm, but there is some heft in the low-end that can be EQ-d out of the signal.
That said, the pickup won't magically transform the tone of a cheap laminate-made classical guitar. It is transparent and does a perfect job of recreating the tone of your instrument. The other downside is, there is no preamp. You may need to purchase one separately if you desire more tone sculpting possibilities.
If you want a killer classical pickup, K&K gives you all the reasons to look no further. Pair it with any good quality nylon-string guitar and it will bring the natural tone of the instrument to life. if you want a high-quality classical pickup with a transparent tone. K&K’s Pune Mini Classical is the benchmark in the segment.
3.Myers Feather Classical Guitar Pickup
The Myers Feather classical guitar pickup is the most versatile pickup among those available. Yet, this comes with some complexity and a sharp uptick in price. The product includes a 48-inch microphone, cork padding, windscreen, battery-powered mini preamp and mounting clips.
- Goose mic pickup with preamp
- Top-notch quality and tone-sculpting
- Good for tone hounds and professionals
- Excellent Value
This isn’t a typical pickup. It’s a goose-style mountable guitar microphone with clips to place it on your nylon-string instrument. Generally, such microphones are placed at the edge of the should hole. You can adjust it as required to get the best sounds and tone of your instrument.
The 48” microphone is specially designed to suit classical guitar players. The size and weight of the mic and preamp are negligible. Yet, there is no compromise in quality. The pickup is highly responsive and allows you to make volume adjustments from the enclosure.
The Myers classical guitar pickup includes a mounting clip and a preamp with a mounting clip to attach it to your pocket, belt, or any other place within easy reach. This system ensures that you don't need to drill or cut out the wood from your precious guitar. Plus, it gives you all the choice on how you wish to access the volume.
The Myers Feather system is a powerhouse. It's pricey, no doubt, but it does a stellar job at capturing notes cleanly. Plucked chords sound plush and warm and licks/runs are well-defined. Performing musicians are more likely to appreciate this option compared to beginners.
4.L.R. Baggs Anthem SL-C Classical Guitar Pickup
The Anthem SL-C is LR Baggs best pickup for intermediate or semi-professional nylon-string guitars. It is easy to install and fits every type of regular classical guitar thanks to its one-size-fits-all saddle width. For the money, it delivers an exceptional performance with a tiny, non-intrusive footprint.
- Under saddle classical guitar pickup
- Feedback resistant with excellent battery life
- Good for practice, stage, and studio applications
- Ideal for live plugged-in performances
The LR Baggs Anthem SL-C is an ultra-slim, low-profile classical guitar pickup. Under the hood, there is a microphone specially designed to capture the natural warmth and tone of nylon-strung guitars. The battery life is impressive, with a single 9V battery offering 170 hours of use.
Feedback is a common issue in on-stage amplification and the SL-C is highly feedback-resistant. The sound is balanced across the strings. The pickup has controls mounted on the soundhole remote to tweak your sound. You can trim the volume and microphone (blend) to sculpt the amplified tone.
The pricing is middle of the road. It may seem too expensive for amateurs or hobbyists who just want to amplify their instrument for couch practice. That being said, it’s a top choice if you perform at cafes or small venues frequently. This one is every bit of a stage-ready, performance-worthy classical guitar pickup with the good name of LR Baggs to back it up.
5.Seymour Duncan Wavelength
Like LR Baggs, Seymour Duncan has a long history of creating top-notch guitar pickups. They offer an under-saddle piezo pickup for nylon-string guitars. It's a no-fuss solution to amplify acoustic and nylon guitars while keeping feedback at bay.
- Under saddle classical guitar transducer pickup
- Preamp and mic optional – available as an add-on
- Versatile, high-quality tone with good headroom
- Ideal for all applications
The classical guitar pickup delivers clear, natural sound without feedback issues in most stage applications. It can fit any soundhole between 3.75 to 4 inches, which ought to accommodate the full spectrum of saddle widths. Performance-wise, it does an exceptional job at capturing the warm tones of the instrument.
The SD Wavelength Series has three options – a) Solo, b) Volume + Tone (add on pre-amp unit), and c) Duo. I recommend the Solo with the preamp unit as it offers more control over your sound compared to the Solo.
Alternatively, you can also opt for the Wavelength Duo pickup that includes an omnidirectional condenser microphone paired with the under-saddle piezo pickup. It costs an extra $50 and would be a better choice for professional guitar players.
Again, the pickup has a fantastic string-to-string balance and a discreet footprint. The volume and tone controls are mounted on the inside of the guitar's sound hole. That makes it discreet while allowing for quick access to tone-shaping on the fly. It's a stellar choice for nylon guitar players who need a natural amplified tone for rehearsals, recordings, and live performances.
6.KNA NG-1 Passive Piezo Pickup for Nylon String Guitar
The Kremona NG-1 is a passive piezo pickup that can amplify the sound of any nylon-stringed instrument. It’s a unique detachable passive pickup that works for any standard or regular size nylon-string guitar. The unique feature of the NG-1 is you can install it easily without any help.
- Under string sensor-based classical guitar pickup
- No preamp or control knobs
- Lightweight and detachable cable
- Ideal for beginners and hobbyists
The pickup is enclosed in a tonewood casing and is extremely compact and light. It uses the string tension to attach itself to the tie-bar on the bridge. In simple words, you loosen the guitar strings, place the pickup under the guitar strings and tune the guitar to tighten the strings.
The NG-1 stays in place and can be readjusted if you change tunings or change the strings. It features a completely detachable cable. It means you can leave it on when you are not playing the guitar. It will not change the unplugged tone or cause additional wear and tear on the strings.
The downside is the lack of knobs (control panel) to sculpt your tone. You need to access the control panel of the amp to make adjustments. Or, you can invest in a preamplification unit, which will add to the cost of the rig.
I recommend the KNA NG-1 pickup to amateurs and hobbyists who want to amplify a nylon guitar without breaking the bank. It does not have the versatility or quality for studio recordings or stage use. You may be able to play in café or small venues using the NG-1. But it is best used as a cost-effective, easy-to-install, and beginner-friendly classical guitar pickup.
Buyer Guide: How to Choose the Best Pickup for a Classical Guitar?
Classical guitar pickups are not the same as acoustic steel-string guitar pickups. You can use them interchangeably, but classical pickups are 'voiced' differently. There is a significant difference in the sound. Here are some things to keep in mind when you buy top quality classical guitar pickups:
Installation and Operation
Ensure that the process is simple if you plan to install the pickup yourself. Many guitar players prefer not to cut or drill holes in the wood of their instrument to fit the pickup. This is especially true for premium guitars where woods play a major role in the tone.
Secondly, ensure that the pickup (if mounted in the soundhole) doesn't interfere with your playing style. The ones in this round-up are sleek and slim. Lastly, check if you have easy access to knobs so that you can alter your tone easily while performing or recording.
Sound and Component Quality
Cost-effective music equipment uses cheaper quality components to keep costs down. If you need a pickup for stage or studio applications, ensure that you invest in a reliable and high-quality pickup. Top-drawer components will reproduce the natural sound of your instrument without tone coloration.
They are also capable of capturing projection and retaining the character at louder volumes. Cheaper pickups tend to squash the sound, making your classical guitar sound boxy and over-compressed. Construction quality is also critical as it will determine the durability and longevity of the design.
Value and Price
You can find pickups for classical guitars between $50 to $300. The price is proportional to the quality, electronics, and output. Beginners won't benefit from a complex pickup 'system' if they just need one for amplification while practicing at home. In the same way, semi-professional or up-and-coming musicians should invest in a high-end pickup because it will play a critical role in their plugged-in tone while performing.
Premium vs. Entry-level Classical Guitar Pickups
The truth is that all entry-level classical guitar pickups sound the same. Yes, I said it. That’s a truth we all must accept either by the wisdom of others or through bitter experience. Cost-effective pickups have too little depth and add color that is very hard to dial out.
I'll go one step further and square up with you. If you get cheap classical guitar pickups, expect a direct signal with one-trick flavoring. In simple words, it will help you amplify a classical guitar – more volume. Will it sound life-like or jaw-dropping? I highly doubt it.
That’s the bottleneck when it comes to classical guitar pickups. They will squeeze or squash the tone of your instrument. That's why it's crucial to get a high-quality pickup. That’s why I have avoided many more "budget" options in this selection.
Seymour Duncan, LR Baggs, K & K, and others may cost more, but you also get what you pay for in this case. As for goose-mics, they refer to a tiny microphone mounted on the guitar. The problem with microphones is that they lead to too much feedback.
You can make it work in the studio because of the soundproofing and top-notch equipment. But it's may not be the most practical solution for live performance if you have no control over the environment and venue. The feedback will drive you up a wall in poorly designed sonic spaces.
Among the given choices, I recommend the best you can afford as a semi-pro or gigging musician. Conversely, you could accept the limitations and make peace with the fact that some boxy-ness is inherent to the task of amplifying nylon-string instruments.
The choices in our selection vary in uses and cost, so you should find something in the list that is in tune with your needs. The delicate and earthy nylon-string sounds are hard to capture for most pickups. There will be some loss of warmth compared to mic’d recordings in the studio. My objective was to acquaint you with the best you can buy for the money, and I hope you will be able to achieve that through this post.