There are many different kinds of pickup, and it can be tough deciding what kind to get. One big decision is whether to go for an installed pickup in your ukulele, or just get an external one that clips or stick on. There are benefits and drawbacks to each option, and it’s good to ask yourself a few questions before deciding.
This article will go through the top things you should consider before buying either an external pickup for your ukulele, or one to install permanently.
How Often Will You Be Using A Pickup?
If you just need the pickup for occasional use, using an external one will save the hassle of installing it into your precious ukulele. You can keep the pickup in your case or gig bag, and be ready at a moment’s notice, but still have a completely acoustic ukulele most of the time.
On the other hand, if you’re going to be plugging in a lot, it’s probably better to install a pickup or buy an acoustic electric ukulele. It’s one less thing to forget at home or at the venue, and you won’t need any set-up prior to plugging in.
Do You Have Multiple Ukuleles?
Are you a UAS sufferer? That stands for “Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome,” and it strikes many ukulele players! If you have multiple ukuleles, it can be costly and time consuming to install a pickup on every single one. A clip-on or stick-on external pickup is the perfect solution, giving you the flexibility to choose which ukulele you want to amplify.
It’s good to be realistic about which ukuleles you really want to play, though. If there’s a ukulele that you always pick up when you’re heading out the door, that might be a sign that you should think about installing a pickup on that one in particular.
Do You Need The Absolute Best Tone?
There’s no two ways about it, a properly installed pickup is going to give your ukulele better results. That’s not to say that clip-on and stick-on pickups are bad; in fact, many high-end ones offer great sound. But placement is key, and a good installation means that the pickup is permanently placed in the absolute best spot on your ukulele for sound.
Most ukulele pickups operate under the same basic principle, using a concept called piezoelectricity. A piezo pickup turns the vibrations of the ukulele into electrical signals, which can then be sent through a preamp or amplifier. The key is to find the best place to pick up those vibrations for optimal tone and balance between highs and lows.
That best place is the bridge, where the strings come directly into contact with the saddle, transferring their vibrations to the soundboard. It’s a lot easier to get closer to that sweet spot if you can mount a pickup inside the ukulele, rather than simply placing it somewhere on top of the soundboard. It also helps isolate the sounds you want (the vibrations of the strings) from the sounds you don’t (handling noise), which are often picked up more on external pickups.
Thinking of just getting a new uke? Read our guide to the best acoustic-electric ukuleles on a budget…
Another thing to consider is how the pickup is actually mounted. Internal pickups may use a thin layer of glue to stay on the soundboard, or (in the case of undersaddle pickups), nothing at all. External pickups, on the other hand, usually use a sticky putty that helps the pickup adhere to the surface of the ukulele. Even with a relatively small amount of putty, there’s something in between the pickup and the soundboard that can dampen vibrations a bit and make it less sensitive overall.
Now, this probably doesn’t matter if you’re just fooling around, or want to play at a couple open mics here and there. Again, external ukulele pickups can still offer a really good sound, certainly good enough for most uses. But if you need the best plugged-in tone you can get out of your ukulele, installing a pickup is the best way to go.
How Nervous Are You About Modifying Your Ukulele?
There’s no way to get around the fact that installing an internal pickup means drilling holes into your instrument. This makes some people nervous, and for good reason! There’s always that small chance that something might go wrong, and it’s awful to think of ruining a beloved ukulele.
Luckily, the process is not very difficult, and usually only takes a power drill and a steady hand. There are plenty of tutorials and videos available online to guide you through the process as well. If you’re still a little too nervous to starting drilling holes, take your uke and the pickup into your local music shop. They’ll probably be able to do it quickly for about $50-80, and you’ll have the peace of mind knowing that a professional is handling your precious ukulele.
Still, if you’re nervous or just can’t bear the thought of a hole in your pride and joy, an external pickup is an easy way to get that plugged in sound with the drill. The putty that external pickups use is specially made not to leave a residue, so once you take the pickup off, you’ll never know it was ever there. If you want to keep your ukulele pristine, this is the way to go.