Guitar-like instruments with specially made pickup systems

Last modified 8-12-2009

Each of these three guitar-like instruments uses its own unusual and specially made pickup system.

Guitar-like Instruments

Guitar-like Instruments

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Skye Boat Song played on the hide-head guitar

1) The one on the left has a banjo-like goatskin soundboard. It functions well without amplification, but it also has a dual electric pickup system. A homemade magnetic pickup (the sort that electric guitars normally use) is located under the strings. A tiny condenser microphone, wired up from inexpensively purchased components, is located inside the wooden bowls that form the shell of the body. The two are blended in a compact onboard dual pre-amp (not visible in the picture). The amplified instrument has a distinctive sound, not banjo-like and not exactly guitar-like either, but definitely more “acoustic” sounding than a regular electric guitar. You can hear it by playing the “Skye Boat” MP3 above.

2) The instrument on the right in the photo uses a special design for the magnetic pickup that allows it to function as a contact pickup — that is, responding to the vibration of whatever it’s physically attached to, rather than to the movement of steel strings nearby. In this case it’s attached directly to the strings, as if riding on them in mid-air; thus it functions as both pickup and bridge. Since steel strings are not required (as they would be with a regular electric guitar pickup), the guitar is strung with a mixture of brass and steel strings. This pickup system produces particularly deep, bassy, warm tones, and to take advantage of this, the tuning of the instrument is set a fourth below standard tuning. You can hear this guitar by playing the “Capriccio” MP3 below.

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Capriccio by Johan Anton Logy played on the Deep Guitar

3) The instrument in the bottom of the picture is more conventional, but with a homemade pickup designed to bring out the sparkly high end of the string tone.

These pickup ideas, and many more, are featured in the book Getting a Bigger Sound: Pickups and Microphones for Your Musical Instrument, by Bart Hopkin.

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