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Ukulele Pickups – 5 Great Options

Aloha friends! This is something I’ve meant to do for a long time. I’m always busy with orders and listing new product, but last night I bit the bullet and installed 5 pickups in the same model Pono. I needed to do this for my own knowledge as well. I usually hear pickups in isolated situations, instead of a true A-B scenerio. But there’s also another reason I needed to do this. Some of these are brand spankin’ new!Dieter Kaudel, founder of K&K, came to Hawaii last month from his home in Oregon. Him and his wife Karla (the second K) are both incredibly knowledgable engineers and have made great developments with acoustic pickups. Dieter got a Pono from us to experiment with and upon return he got right to work. What he developed wasn’t new technology, but an adaptation of his most loved guitar pickups. These two new pickups are passive soundboard transducers. Meaning they are small plates that stick to the sounboard and turn vibrations into an electrical signal.These type of pickups have long been appreciated for their natural acoustic amplification.

The Island Big Spot is a single passive soundboard transducer. It will hit a new level of affordable (available installed for only 64.99 at TheUkuleleSite. Even though it’s passive, or doesn’t have a battery powered preamp, it has tons of gain and clarity.

However, the new K&K I preferred most was the Twin Aloha dual passive soundboard transducer. It has more warmth and a transparent quality I really liked. At $99 installed I’m sure it will have many fans quite soon. I didn’t want to confuse the demo, so I didn’t show this, but the Twin Aloha, coupled with the small K&K external preamp was quite a bit more impressive than the pickup on it’s own. Much more body like the LR Baggs. Also, I would have EQ’d out a touch in the mid range and it would have been even more “sweet” or “true”, but this test was comparing with a flat EQ. Well, almost flat.The treble was cut a touch. In my opinion, this benefited each model except the LR Baggs that would have been better left completely flat. A touch of play with gain/volume levels and the LR Baggs would have been even more wonderful. The Misi also uses the LR Baggs pickup strip but then runs through Misi’s rechargeable preamp.This had a nice balance but can use more boost when compared to the Baggs preamp.

The Pono pickup offers a great balanced and a very clean and clear signal. It is superior to many passive under saddle strips because it uses four individual crystals, one dedicated to each string. With an external preamp this pickup really comes alive. It’s very “moldable” and great for live and recording purposes.

My opinion…you can really hear the work LR Baggs has put into their 5.0 ukulele pickup system. They cost us the most and take the longest install, but the tone is so full! A few tweaks and it’s easily as good as you will find IMHO. But each one of these pickups will give a strong signal to work with. From there you can EQ it however you like. That’s the power of plugging in 😀

Any thoughts on this demonstration, or considerations I did not discuss? And the obvious question, what did your ear like?

Comments 37

  1. MiSi, hands down for sounding most natural, that is, least augmented tone, most like the straight ukulele, only louder.

    LR Baggs sounds syrupy by comparison, to me.

    Actually, though it’s not fair to compare the recorded pickups to my Islander MT4-GPU here at home, I like the Islander best. Very clean, clear tone reproduction.

    Although reducing treble for all seems okay, I would have preferred to skip the reverb, Aaron’s explanation notwithstanding. I think the reverb may have hurt the LR Baggs, in particular, because the full sound is just way too thick.

    My ears.

    A very helpful comparison. Having one acoustic-electric, I’ve been thinking about a second, straight acoustic, and having a pickup installed. I know which one I’ll get, now. Thanks.

  2. Nice comparison. A lot of work went into that, Andrew. Thank you.

    I’m curious…does HMS sell amps? I don’t think you do, but uke players spend so much time on pickup selection, then just throw it on their teenage son’s Marshall half stack (raises hand).

    I’d trust your judgement on a small but quality amp selection. Maybe you could stock a couple low, middle and high end small (shippable) acoustic amps?

    Thanks for considering it,Andrew. —Steve.

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      Thanks Steve. We used to sell amps, much smaller showroom now. Maybe we will again one day, appreciate the feedback.

  3. Yea Andrew I agree, that is a lot of work, but it is the best comparison of pickups I have had the pleasure to view and listen to. I have used LR Baggs in several acoustic instruments over the past 20 years and without this comparison I would have just gone with what I knew. Now I have more information for a more informed decision. Thank all of you for the effort.

  4. I am getting ready to modify a uke in several ways and electrifying it is one of them. It had seemed to me before I read this article that my options for options for installing pickups were more limited than they are. Thanks!

  5. I had HMS put in a K&K Twin Aloha in my Pono AC that I ordered recently. I really like it. The K&K’s sound is nice and even across all strings. It’s the best sounding passive that I have. I personally prefer passive pickups – less to go wrong and screw with inside the uke. I would highly recommend looking at one if you are considering getting a pickup installed.

  6. Great Job. Good selection. I kind of likethe K&K for the price. THey all sound good to me!

  7. I’d like to know more about amps too (even if you won’t be carrying them any time soon at HMS). Any recommendations where to look for that info?

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      Sure, a good starting point is an acoustic amp. Being voiced for acoustic is a big step in the right direction. One little amp I like is the Roland AC-33. It has a looper built in and learning to loop is fun and can really improve your playing. But the sound on that amp is nice, transparent.It’s also light weight and can run on batteries. The AER amps are nice if you are willing to spend more. The little vox DA3 is actually good for a cheaper and more portable option.

  8. Thanks for the reviews on the uke pickups. I use a passive one on my Martin guitar and have found it to work well. I was looking for one for the uke so your review was quite timely.

  9. Thanks for the review. I actually have an appointment to get the K&K installed on my KoAloha Tenor.

  10. Have the lr baggs installed in my koaloha dvi. It has great tone and volume. Gives a really warm tone.

  11. Thank you so much for the rewiev! It’s been very helpful.

    This is my first step towards getting a ukulele with pickup.
    I’ve decided to go for the L.R Baggs Five.O pickup, and I would like to put it on a Tenor ukulele. So far so good, I just don’t know how to get it there since I haven’t got the Tenor ukulele yet. Can I buy a Tenor with any active pickup and just plug it in or should I order the 5.0 pickup from the internet first and then go to a music shop to get the Tenor and install the pickup there?

    Thanks

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  12. To me the LR Baggs sounded a little hot and needed a slight EQ adjustment. But otherwise, very nice.

    I am currently using a Pono pickup and am quite happy with the sound. It would be nice to be able to adjust the volume on the fly in the manner that you can with the Five. O.
    Andrew, would you have any suggestions on adding a volume adjustment to my PTEC-CE that has a Pono pickup?
    I notice Mi-Si do a volume and tone control …

    Kind Regards

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      Hey Rob, We can hook up a volume control on that. But easiest way is an outboard preamp.

  13. Have you had any experience with the volume & tone add-on module for the Mi-si? I really like the idea of not messing around with a battery, but I would also like on-board volume control, too. I keep going back and forth between the LR Baggs and the Mi-si. Maybe the Mi-si add-on module can settle this for me. Thanks!

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      Hey Ian,
      We only install those on our Pono electrics. We used to get them with volume control but now we just stock the regular uke-trio. The LR Baggs is a bigger warmer preamp and I think through most acoustic amps/ PA’s/ recording devices the body and natural warmth helps against a shrill piezo sound so easy to get with a uke, like many of the preamps in inexpensive electric acoustics. But both of those 2 are good and the best is actually the Misi system Pono does for the TE models. Individual styles and rigs will be more of a factor than the preaamp being Misi or Baggs.

      1. Hi Andrew,

        I am curious with your comment. So is it possible to get a Misi system + volume control on a Pono-MT? You mentioned the Misi system Pono does for the TE models…is that something that can be done on an acoustic model?

        Thanks!

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          Aw man, I should not have made that comment, lol. Yes you can get the Misi with volume. We just don’t stock it right now. Maybe we will soon.

  14. Hey, the LR Baggs 5.0! 🙂 how much would it cost for that model of Ukulele with that pick up in it?! Message me back ASAP! 🙂

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  15. Andrew, I just bought a big, warm sounding Mahogany baritone uke by Ohana. I’ve never put a pickup in a baritone before so I’m curious if the considerations are the same as a tenor or smaller ukulele? With the LR Baggs be too big of a sound for such a ukulele or ok? Would you recommend something else? Interested in your thoughts ASAP as I’d like to play it out at gigs.

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  16. Thanks for the comprehensive review. How difficult is it to change the battery in the LR Baggs? On average, how many hours of playing time do you get on one battery? Also, what size battery does it take?
    Thanks

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      The Baggs takes single 3V battery. I think it’s the CR232. It’s not difficult at all to change but it helps to loosen your strings. Just takes a minute to pull it out and switch.The battery life is 300+ hours. Don’t leave it plugged in because that drains the battery. Thanks!

  17. Great video!
    I’ve got a Martin C1K ukulele which I love and am now trying to determine the best option… It’s a loud and punchy sounding uke, which I love, but am unsure of which direction given pickup clarity and overdrive risks. Have you come across any of these ukes with a pickup installed? Any suggestions? I loved the Misi, the big island spot and LR Baggs personally.
    Thanks!
    Ry

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      The K&K don’t work so well for loud punchy ukes we’ve found. They have more of a “barrel” tone with not enough focus when plugged in and feedback easier. The Misi or LR Baggs is what I’d suggest.

  18. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for this great video and the comprehensive review!

    In the next weeks, I’ll be building my own soprano ukulele during a series of ten 4-hour workshops, with the help of two professional luthiers. I’ve already selected the wood: spruce top, rosewood back and sides.
    I’d like to build a pickup into it, but I’m not sure whether I should go for under-saddle or soundboard.

    My first thought was to go for a passive soundboard transducer, because I love their fuller, more natural and less “stringy” sound. And those K&K’s seem reasonably priced for the great sound they produce. (Sure, the LR Baggs sounds even better, but I’m not sure my musical qualities justify using a pickup of that price :-D)
    But then I read the cons of soundboard transducers: “Feedback issues at higher volumes. Difficult to use in larger ensembles or band settings due to feedback problems.”

    I play in a bluegrass band, so there’s the fiddle, the banjo, the guitar, the bass, six voices aaaaand… my tiny ukulele. It’s only when I play with the band that I need to amplify my ukulele, apart from that I almost never amplify it.
    Would you advise against using a soundboard transducer?
    In my current ukulele, I have an under-saddle pickup, and I’d love to avoid that thin and airy sound with my new ukulele. But I don’t want to spend the entire concert dealing with feedback…
    Do you have customers who use their ukulele in band and who have soundboard transducers?
    And if soundboard transducers are an option, would you rather recommend the Aloha Twin or the Big Island Spot for a spruce/rosewood ukulele being played in a band?

    Thanks in advance for your expert view on this!

    Vincent

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      Hi Vincent,

      I think it really matters alot what you are going through and coming out of when it comes to live sound. But I would say from what you are looking for the LR Baggs would be my first choice. I do not prefer the soundboard transducers I’ve dealt with in those types of situations. When I ran sound at Higher ground for a few years I did regularly deal with various players and pickups, band scenarios etc. so I have some experience, but I’m sure there are people that get good results from these types of amplification, soundboard transducers. A lot has to do with what you are going into and how you are working with the sound in your environment and situation.

  19. This is hands down the best and most helpful “pick up shoot out” ever done, thanks Andrew. I like the LR Baggs the most, natural full sound that can be EQed to your preference. The volume control wheel is SO handy, if you have never had one it makes things very easy. I have the 5.0 in several tenor ukes and a Misi in a Pono baritone. Listening to this test a couple years ago helped me immensely in choosing and I have been very happy with the LR Baggs and the Misi.

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  20. Hi Andrew,
    Can you make a recommendation on what pickup I should consider.
    Looking at purchasing your baritone NUI rosewood back and sides with a spruce top.
    It will be played through a Fishman Loudbox Artist or Performer.
    On board volume is nice but not a must.
    Mostly strumming style playing in a 6 piece rock/blues band.
    Yes price is an issue. 🙂
    Thanks for your time.
    Pierre

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      Hey Pierre, The Pono passive pickup is good. Very natural and plenty output to get enough volume from those amps. The Mi-Si or LR baggs sound great with the Nui as well but cost a bit more.

  21. Thanks heaps for the comparison.
    I have a Pono Radius fretboard Tenor with a K&K twin spot fitted and I love the clean sound it produces. A bit of a pain having to plug into a DI or similar to get access to the EQ, but very happy all the same. Thought the K&K big spot brought out a lot of bass, and the Braggs was also too heavy in the sound for me.
    Perhaps, if you do another comparison, you might like to list the pickups you test in the order you do them, as a backup to your vox presentation – which was great, by the way.
    I have a couple of plugged acoustic ukes as well as two unplugged, and the Pono/K&K combo of course. I would appreciate your thoughts/comments/demo on the clip-on type of mics. We were supplied with these clip-ons for a festival opening about a year ago – some 40 musos in all, and apparently the sound was great – but that might have been due to very good mixing.
    Thanks for a great site Andrew.

  22. Thank you for the initiative and hard work to make this video. Very helpful.
    Is there a pickup you recommend for a KoAloha Opio Tenor (mine is spruce/acacia). I have the Baggs 5.0 in my KoAloha Koa Thinline that I purchased from HMS, and I’d like to add a pickup to the KoAloha Opio. KoAlohas seem to have a fairly beefy low G – is there a pickup, in your experience, that really is the best pickup then? In the past I had a K & K Twinspot that I was okay with on a KoAloha tenor (depending on the amp I used, with no preamp) – I don’t have the ‘ukulele anymore and I know that pickups have evolved. I do get a little “concerned” with active pickups because I’m expecting the battery to die in the middle of a set. LOL I have the MiSi on a custom koa/maple Kimo ‘ukulele but at the moment I’m not sure I’m crazy about it (could be the newness of the instrument).

    Thank you!
    Jill

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