Soundhole pickups have been around for eons, and they still provide one of the easiest methods of amplifying a flat-top guitar that is not equipped with electronics. As the name implies, this type of pickup simply fits into the soundhole using a mounting system that, while differing between manufacturers, is designed to hold the pickup securely under the strings without marring the rosette or finish. Soundholers range from passive designs that only sense the strings (and may not even have a volume control) to more sophisticated active models that can feature body sensors and even built-in mics—both of which are intended to enhance the realism of the amplified acoustic sound. These pickups typically have controls for volume and blend.
Some soundhole pickups have built-in B-string compensation (to overcome balance issues that are caused by the B string being thicker than the high E string and the solid cores of the wound strings), while others have adjustable polepieces for even more precise control over string balance.
The best reason to consider a soundhole pickup is convenience, and they certainly can be a great option for players who want to keep their prized guitar purely acoustic, but still have the ability to “go electric” when the situation demands.
Keeping a soundhole pickup in your gig-bag is also great insurance in case the electronics in your guitar happen to go south when you’re ten minutes away from downbeat. I’ve witnessed this happen, and the performer is usually an instant believer in the soundhole solution! [Note that all of the pickups listed here are for steel-string applications only].
Bartolini Pickups 3AV
This moderate-output passive pickup uses ceramic magnets and features stacked, hum-cancelling coils for quiet operation in demanding environments. The adjustable plastic brackets can accommodate guitars with soundholes of 3 7/8" diameter and larger, and the attached 10-foot cable has strain relief for long life. bartolini.net
DiMarzio DP-134 Elemental
The Elemental is a ceramic-magnet pickup that has 12 adjustable polepieces for precise adjustment of string balance, a slideaction Volume control, and foam-padded mounting brackets for easy installation. Designed to be very sensitive to picking nuances, the Elemental is particularly suited for fingerpickers who play guitars that have small-to-medium-sized bodies. A 12-foot cable is included. dimarzio.com
A key feature of the ACS is its built-in preamp (with Volume control) that has been tailored for acoustic guitars to provide extended frequency response, high output, and low noise. This model has adjustable polepieces for string balance adjustments and comes with EMG’s exclusive Quik-Connect cable, an end-pin jack, battery bag, and hex wrenches. For pro applications, the ACS can take up to 27 volts for maximum headroom. emgpickups.com
Fishman Neo-D Humbucker
This dual-coil version of Fishman’s standard Neo-D is a humcancelling pickup that uses neodymium magnets for enhanced clarity and string-to-string balance. A passive design that requires no battery power, the Neo-D offers high output, easy installation, and comes with an attached 12-foot cable. fishman.com
L.R. Baggs M80
The M80 features a secondary coil that is floated below the main coil to cancel hum and sense the entire frequency range of the top, back, sides, and neck resonances in three dimensions. The M80 can operate as an active or a passive pickup. In Active mode, a high quality, all-discrete preamp provides optimal noise cancellation and a higher output level. In Passive mode, the M80 bypasses the preamp, allowing you to use the pickup with an external soundhole cable (sold separately) to avoid having to permanently modify your high-end or vintage guitars. Other features include a Volume control (Active mode only), adjustable polepieces, and a spare 3/8" pole for use with acoustic sets that have an unwound G-string. lrbaggs.com
The pro-grade S-1 passive soundhole pickup has six individually adjustable polepieces and comes with a 24" lead wire with a 1/4" jack attached (model S-1LWJ). The wire and jack are intended to drape on the outside of the guitar for applications where no alteration of the instrument is desired. For demanding live-performance applications, Sunrise also offers an optional buffer box/ preamp that is specially designed for this pickup ($275 street). sunrisepickups.com