For an inexperienced player, choosing ukulele pickups can be one of the most confusing situations imaginable. What is a pickup? How do they work? What is the best kind for me? Once you have picked the most suitable pickup for your style of play, what then? Here we discuss the different ukulele pickup types and how they can be used.
What is a Pickup?
Essentially, when using an electric or acoustic-electric ukulele, a pickup is the electronic unit that is used to 'pick up' the sound made by the ukulele, and transfer it to the amplifier. The pickup does not play any part in any alteration of the sound, it merely takes the organic sound made when you play and sends the signal to be amplified.
What are the Different Kinds of Pickups Available?
Of course, there are several different types of pickups to choose from, and each may or may not be suitable for your style of play. Everything depends on the sort of sound you’re trying to achieve. Some may help to produce a warmer, more well-balanced tone, while others simply relay the exact sound of the ukulele.
Soundboard Transducer / SBT
This type of pickup is basically a small disc that sticks to either the inside or outside of your ukulele. It works by picking up the vibrations made when you play, so placement is extremely important when using this sort of pickup. If positioned correctly, using a soundboard transducer can help to get a warm, rich, balanced sound, and help to eliminate non-play sounds such as arm movement.
Under Saddle Transducer / UST
An Under Saddle Transducer is slotted into the saddle slot in the bridge of the ukulele, and works by picking up string vibration and sends the signal directly to the transducer. Although requiring some slight modification before use (a small hole needs to be drilled on one or both sides pf the saddle slot for a wire), this type of ukulele pickup is the most popular for performers due to its sound consistency and relative ease of use.
Whilst utilizing this method may seem a little unorthodox at first, using a microphone as a pickup is actually a quite commonly used method. Just think about it – drummers very often have microphones pointed at their drums when performing at larger venues – why can’t ukulele players use this method too? Other than using a microphone attached to a stand, users can also use a 'gooseneck' which attaches a small microphone to the inside of the ukulele. If used correctly, a microphone can produce a magnificent amplified sound when compared to other types of pickup.
Active or Passive?
These pickups have a built in preamp, which is used to balance and boost the signal sent to the amplifier. The sound the amplifier receives from the preamp is precisely what the ukulele makes. The preamp can be powered by several methods, ranging from heavy 9v batteries, to a super capacitor - a lightweight rechargeable form of battery.
- Sound consistency
- Balanced signal, making it suitable for use with almost any amplifier
- Tend to be heavier due to the circuitry, and require a power source
Unlike active pickups, these don’t have a preamp built into them. The signal they send to the amplifier can often be weak and/or harsh, resulting in a poorer overall sound. Despite this, if run through an external preamp, passive pickups can produce a fantastic range of sound.
- A fuller, more organic sound
- Much lighter than active pickups
- Often require an external preamp to attain a good sound
Even though the concept of pickups may come across as a little daunting at first, once you have picked up the basics, they are relatively easy to understand. Essentially a small device to help amplify the sound of your ukulele, pickups can be used in all sorts of different ways, from a simple amplification of the sound, to helping modify the signal to attain different sound effects.
For a great all-rounder, try the Kremona UK-1 – an easily attachable, unobtrusive pickup that will help deliver a well-balanced, natural sound to the amplifier. Unlike some ukulele pickups, this model does not require any modification to your instrument, and will fit almost all ukes, regardless of scale, and can be detached easily or remain installed for ease of use. Weighing in at only 3.2 ounces, you’ll hardly even notice it’s there, except for the magnificent sound coming from the amplifier!