L.R. Baggs M1 Active Soundhole

Amplifying a flat-top onstage can be a real bear, and those who strive to meet the challenge face tricky design tradeoffs. These include balancing sonic sensitivity against feedback resistance, and ease-of-use against tonal flexibility.

With his new M1 Active magnetic soundhole pickup ($249 retail/$169 street), Lloyd Baggs has found a superb point of equilibrium between such conflicting demands. A big brother to Baggs’ passive M1 pickup, the humbucking M1 Active includes a tiny class-A preamp housed within the pickup shell. Here’s the kicker: The pickup’s stacked coils work together to sense soundboard vibration. This energy is combined with signals generated by the moving strings to create a remarkably animated and dynamic sound.

The M1 Active sports a volume control, as well as individually adjustable polepieces that let you fine-tune the pickup’s response to bronze or nickel strings of virtually any gauge. The pickup clamps easily to the soundhole rim, and attaches to the prewired endpin jack using a standard r" plug. Installation is cake, assuming your guitar has an existing hole in the tailblock for the jack. (If not, hire a pro to do the drilling.) The preamp is powered by a common 3-volt lithium coin battery that Baggs says provides 1,000 hours of operation.

Armed with a well-worn Taylor 512c, I auditioned the M1 Active through a club P.A., and also in the studio, connected directly to the mixer or running through a Line 6 POD. In all cases, the pickup delivered robust lows, round mids, and sweet, detailed highs, and the preamp added no discernible background hiss. Though it doesn’t offer the “air” of an onboard mic, the toneful M1 Active is much less prone to feedback than mic-plus-undersaddle pickup systems, making it ideal for onstage use.