Introduction: Acoustic Guitar Pickup

Picture of Acoustic Guitar Pickup

Turn your acoustic guitar into an acoustic/electric! This is a simple and inexpensive design you can make at home to get that special one-of-a-kind sound you've been looking for.

Step 1: Making the Pickup

Picture of Making the Pickup
Parts you will need:
1. Piezo Buzzer Element
2. about 1 foot of shielded audio cable
3. a 1/4" audio jack (that can be mounted on the guitar body)
4. a small amount of medium density foam. (just a couple square inches)
5. soldering iron, solder, wire strippers, hot glue gun, and hot glue

  • The first step is to design and create your pickup. The heart of the pickup is a piezo buzzer element. You can find these for just a couple dollars at your local parts store. (Radio Shack) Sometimes the Piezo Buzzer packages don't have that much information on them, but you want to find things as close as possible to the information listed on the "Specs:" page. In other words, they are pretty cheap so go for a good one. Also note that you do not need a fully functional buzzer device... just the Piezo element.
  • A word about Piezo Elements. Piezo elements are made from two conductors separated by a layer of piezo crystals. When a voltage is applied across the crystal layer, the crystals pull on one side and push on the other. This in turn bends the metal conductor layers. When a sinusoidal signal (audio) is applied, the conductors are pushed and pulled very quickly, creating sound waves. The beauty of the Piezo element is that it also can be applied reversely. If sound waves push and pull on the conductors, an electrical signal is created and can be output to an amplifier or recording device. This is exactly how we will use the Piezo Buzzer element in this project. It will be attached to the inside of the guitar body, and, as the body vibrates, the sound will be turned into an electric signal by the Piezo buzzer element.
  • Now that you have the Piezo Buzzer, you need to carefully break it open and get out the piezo element. Be careful not to hurt the metal device inside. Bending the element may cause it to break or lose some of it's sensitivity.
  • You are now ready to solder the device together. Strip the ends of the shielded audio cable. On one end connect the signal wire to the center of the Piezo element and the ground/shielding to the metal/brass surface of the piezo element. On the other end of the shielded wire, connect the signal wire to the signal tab on the 1/4" audio jack and connect the shielding to the ground tab.
  • We have found that a small piece of medium density foam improves the performance of the pickup over a large number of frequencies.(If you are familiar with circuitry, feel free to experiment with combinations of capacitors and resistors to cut undesired frequencies) Cut a piece of foam the same size of your piezo element and about 3/8" tall. Place a large drop of hot glue on the back side of the piezo element (where the wires connect) and then press the foam on until the glue cools.
  • Your piezo pickup device should now be ready to install. You may want to make sure it is working by plugging it into an amp and lightly tapping on it.

Step 2: Specifications:

Picture of Specifications:

Transducer Type: Piezo-electric
Transducer Size: 1.1"
Audio Range: 106 dB
Noise Level less than -111 dB
Output: 1/4" Female Audio Jack
Wiring: High quality shielded audio cable
Installation Time: about 1 Hour

The first graph shows a guitar with my pickups installed vs. an Alvarez Yari 12 string (This guitar is a professional model and has individual pickups for each couplet of strings. That's 6 pickups in all), and a Fender Stratocaster. The Fender Strat. is included because it is known for its full vintage sound with professional pickups.

From the graph you can see that the Alvarez is the best due to its overall amplitude and trend. It does however seem to be somewhat inconsistant above 6.0kHz. The Fender electric guitar has a very smooth curve, but as you can see, the high frequency response is low and the overall amplitude is well below the Alvarez. The green curve shows the frequency response spectrum of my piezo-electric pickup installed on an inexpensive guitar. While the amplitude is slightly lower from .4 - 1.0kHz, it more than makes up for this by its great mid. and hi frequency amplitudes. It sounds great plugged-in and lets you turn up the amp pretty loud before giving any feedback.

The second graph shows the difference between our piezo pickup and a generic piezo pickup installed on a guitar.

The green curve on the top is my homemade pickup while the pink curve on the bottom is the spectrum of a generic piezo element. It can easily be seen that getting an element with good specifications is very important. The piezo element I chose has a fuller sound across the entire spectrum. Also notice that the generic pickup lacks smoothness.

This is why it is important to choose wisely from all of the parts at your local electronics store. Getting a piezo element with the specs above will help to get you on the curve we obtained from our pickup, making sure you get a full, rich sound every time you plug-in.

Step 3: Installation: Step #1

The first step is to get all of you supplies together. This is what you will need to turn your acoustic guitar into and acoustic/electric guitar.

  • 1 Piezo-electric transducer pickup. (The main part)
  • 1 Electric drill.
  • 1 3/8" drill bit. (Use a spade bit)
  • 1 Roll of double-stick tape / or hot glue (recommended) / or sticky putty
  • 1 Roll of masking tape.

Step 4: Installation: Step #2

Picture of Installation: Step #2

The second step is to mark where the hole will be in the body of the guitar. Unless you are handy with a soldering iron and have an endpin-jack on-hand, do not place your hole in the end of the guitar. This is where the pin that holds the strap is located. There is a block of wood there and the provided jack will not work in this position. I recommend marking the hole about halfway through the curve on the end of the guitar. It is, however, up to you where you choose to put it. Be creative! You will probably want to mark the spot with pencil first, then take the tip of the drill bit and twist on the mark by hand (not in the drill) to make a small indentation in the wood, as seen in Figure 1. Endpin jacks are a stronger and more professional solution, but will also probably double the cost of this project for you.

Step 5: Installation: Step #3

Picture of Installation: Step #3

Next we must drill the hole. This is the most difficult part of the installation process. It is in your best interest to take the tension off of the strings to get rid of forces that may be pulling on the wood. You may want to practice drilling holes on a scrap piece of wood if available to get a feel for the drill. Using a good sharp 3/8" spade bit, as seen in Figure 2, very slowly (fast drill speed, very little pressure) and carefully drill the hole in the body. Be steady and smooth or you may cause the body of the guitar to splinter around the hole.

Step 6: Installation: Step #4

Picture of Installation: Step #4

Carefully clean the edges of the hole, shown in Figure 3. Take the washer and nut off of the 1/4" jack. You must now feed the jack into the guitar body and direct it towards the hole you just drilled. Depending on the size of your hand, you may need to take the strings completely off to get your hand in far enough to guide the jack towards the hole. I usually just loosen the strings, (very loose) and squeeze my hand in as far as it will go, as seen in Figure 3b. It is almost certain that you will not be able to reach the drilled hole. This is okay. Just be patient and keep fishing for it. You may find it helpful to use something such as a paperclip or a pencil to help guide you through the hole. Once it is through, put the washer and nut back onto the jack to hold it in place. Do not overtighten the nut. Make it too loose and it will come off... Make it too tight and you will have a guitar with a crack in it... A little loose is better than too tight! If you are worried about the strength of the jack in the side of the guitar, you can easily make a sheet-metal washer for the inside of the guitar to help support it.

Step 7: Installation: Step #5

Picture of Installation: Step #5

This step is a very important part if you want your guitar to have a nice sound. You are now going to mount the piezo element. Be careful with the element. Piezo pickups can be broken if you bend them. Although it may seem odd, your pickup will produce a much better sound if you mount it hanging off of the guitar, 50-50. In other words, half of the element (brass side) is taped to the bridge (or a brace), and the other half is hanging out in mid-air. The best place to mount the piezo element is on the back side of the bridge. (the side towards the endpin) To apply the pickup, take a piece of double-stick tape, just enough to cover half of the element, and place it on the element. You may also want to use hot glue once you have found the best place on the guitar, as this improves the .4k-1.0kHz range of the pickup. A lot of people also use a sticky-putty, available at a local office supply store. The half of the pickup with tape (or glue or putty) will be the part that sticks to wood on the inside of the guitar. The other half will be hanging off. Try to keep the adhesive (tape/hot glue/putty) as thin as possible as this will help overall performance. It is also important to note that the placement of the piezo element can also be used to boost frequencies from .25-3.0kHz depending on how much of the device hangs in mid-air. Play around with different placements if you want your guitar to have a unique sound. Typically, the closer the pickup is to the bridge, the warmer the sound.

Step 8: Installation: Step #6

Picture of Installation: Step #6

The hard part of the installation is over. Now for the finishing touches. First, you must secure the loose wire that runs from the pickup to the jack so that it does not flop back-and-forth when someone you the guitar. Go in through the sound-hole and place generous pieces of masking tape to secure the wire. Next you may want to snug the nut on the jack to finalize its placement. Then tighten up the strings and plug it in! That's it. You just made your acoustic guitar into an acoustic/electric!


Test To Fail (author)2015-10-10

Do i need to get acoustic/electric strings or will my regular acoustic strings i have work

BudH5 (author)Test To Fail2015-10-11

Your Acoustic strings will work fine.

tinyweasel made it! (author)2014-12-27

I did this for my uke! Thanks!

tinyweasel made it! (author)2014-12-27

I did this for my uke! Thanks!

Benjamick (author)2014-07-05

Exactly what kind of foam do you need ? Is that yellow foam rubber ok?

sconner1 (author)2014-05-06

I've used this technique on toy pianos to grand pianos and harps. The trick is to find the best spot to mount the element and what to mount it with in order not to muffle the high frequencies.

bassmann (author)2008-10-14

does aneyone know if this works for acoustic bass ????

sconner1 (author)bassmann2014-05-06

This works on anything that vibrates.

sn3102 (author)bassmann2009-06-01

Bassmann....You might want to consider the same parameters for your bass. Pickup placement is critical. Experiment and you will see the variety of tones you can get.

Scrubsfan1234 (author)bassmann2009-02-01

you may need to find out the frequency of bass notes, then get a piezo that picks up the lower frequencies.

Hassanul_ (author)2013-10-03

I don't currently own an amp. Will it still work if i plug in the jack to my speakers?

mstager (author)2013-09-02

These Piezo elements are cheap - is there an advantage to putting three or four in parallel? or series?
And, how about using shielded cable to reduce noise, wouldn't that reduce noise pickup?


mstager (author)mstager2013-09-02

Sorry, just noticed you are using shielded wire,
I was just at a site where they were soldered with twisted unshielded wire.

abouzaher (author)2013-08-23

Hey guys, excuse the noobism here, I have an input jack that has three connections, so I assume it is stereo, which one should I avoid? Or should I solder two together? Also, do I need to worry about polarity in regards to what is soldered where on the piezo mic and then to the headphone jack? Very basic questions I know, I'm just starting out, this will be my first project after learning basic soldering

jimsreynolds (author)2013-08-12

Out of interest ... is there a difference between the Piezo element in the buzzers (that you break out yourself) and the Piezo Transducers that you can buy directly out of the buzzer casing. e.g. pic below. Maplin in the UK has a selection with resonant frequencies from 1.8K to 4.2K (albeit with an output volume of only around 90dB) but I am wondering if there is any material difference between these and the versions in buzzers. I was thinking of buying a couple of different sizes and trying out combinations in my 12-string, wired in series.

stonykill (author)2013-03-28

I just tried this on a cheap acoustic and it works fantastic. The hardest part was fitting my hand in a 3/4 size guitar hole. Thanks!

ahazbun (author)2012-11-23

Try acoustic pickups here at Ant Hill Music, a small musical instrument repair shop in Fort Lauderdale.

darthstevenus (author)2012-05-18

How exactly could I go about adding a volume control to this setup? Or even a killswitch, if a volume control proves to be too complicated.

rosicky0301 (author)2011-11-28

Must I drill a hole on my guitar?I think we can use a clip to fix our piezo buzzer.

sconner1 (author)rosicky03012012-04-07

Clip or tape it on. I'd avoid a clip with hard pressure, it will muffle the high frequency tones. Then use a longer shielded cord with a male 1/4" and go straight to the amp or direct box with it.

hifdi (author)2012-02-25

Can I use a Electret condenser in place of piezo element ?

sconner1 (author)hifdi2012-04-07

You could but you would need a power circuit and a battery. Plus there would be less gain before feedback. In short, you would be building a different (somewhat more complicated) project than this.

asimmonds (author)2009-04-21

how many prongs is the 1/4" female supposed to have, 2 or 3?

wobbler (author)asimmonds2012-02-20

1/4" mono sockets usually have 2 or 4 connectors (one for the earth/body/sleeve, one for the live/tip). If they have 2, the earth/body (outer of a shielded cable) is theconnector closest to the nut usually. Sometimes they will have 4. This is when the socket is a switched mono socket and is used when you want the insertion of plug to swith something off, usually a speaker. In this case, there are only two which you would use and these are usually easy to spot as they are the ones which will be in touch with the plug when it is inserted, a little like two levers on top.

You can also use a stereo jack socket for a mono one (shown here: Stereo sockets usually have 3 connectors, the one closest the nut for the sleeve, the next for the ring and the last for the tip. To use this as a mono connector, simply either ignore the sleeve connection or connect the ring connection to the sleeve (both are ok and will work) and use the sleeve and tip connections as the earth and live connection.

mrmerino (author)asimmonds2010-12-28

Guitars are generally mono, so You probably need one with 2 prongs. I have an extra one from when I did this (my radioshack sells them in two-packs)

Glockenator (author)asimmonds2009-12-22

the number of prongs varies

beehard44 (author)2011-11-23

i just did mine and good thing i'm thin!
now, time to make an amp...

jphoton (author)2011-07-07

ummm....the easiest way to get the jack in place is to take a piece of wire, like the chunk of coax you mention, and thread it thru the hole in the guitar until you can grab it thru the sound hole. pull it out, stick the wire thru the hole in the jack (where the guitar plug would go) and tie a knot in the wire big enough so the wire won't slip thru the hole. then pull it thru, and you can get the jack's threaded bushing thru the hole. slip the washer and nut over the end of the wire, and thread it on the jack, and tighten it down. then you can push the wire back thru til you can grab it...and simply yank it out. do this AFTER wiring the piezo element to the jack, of course. ;) alot easier than dicking around for an hour trying to get your hand in there!! peace.

beehard44 (author)jphoton2011-11-03

smart but you still need to stick your hand in there to place the piezo

jphoton (author)beehard442011-11-04

true, but the piezo mounting area is generally closer to the bridge...not reaching an endpin jack where ya need to fit an elbow in at an impossible angle. ;)

salbers (author)2011-07-12

This actually worked pretty well for me. The only difficult part was getting the blasted piezo element out of the buzzer. I had to saw the thing in half and just take out the element (tossed the circuit board).

kroy3 (author)2011-06-10

I want to install a pickup on my acoustic....I want to know what extra features do I get by doing this...And also, do I need separate amplifiers??or plain old ones that I use to connect CD players to speakers, would do just fine??

carebare47 (author)2011-02-06

For people getting lots of humming and feedback, try shielding the cable and piezo disc. use shielded wire and cover the piezo disc and 1/4" plug with copper tape, connecting this to the negative wire of the piezo / 1/4" plug. Should reduce interference a lot.

Great instructable, thanks =)

k4nam (author)carebare472011-06-01

Also... try putting a couple of .005 disk ceramic capacitors across the 1/4" jack to try and filter some of the 60Hz signal back to ground.

Tom - Tallahassee FL.

khurlxen (author)2010-08-12

wow...its nice......the question is.....can i also use a microphone to be acoustic guitar pick up..........? need advice.....

asdterror (author)khurlxen2011-05-15

In a venue, sound from the PA or monitors can feedback into a microphone, even if it's mounted inside an acoustic guitar. A piezo won't feedback.

Bobbily: The ground is usually the sheath of the cable. This is more for consistency's sake. GROUND IS A CONCEPT, NOT AN ABSOLUTE. A piezo creates a signal across two contacts. The only difference between the two choices for connection is the phase of the signal.

coolguy2015 (author)2011-01-19

dude i did the same thing u did, but it is also picking up the other external sounds like if u tap on the body or while sliding sounds etc..

1spartan95 (author)coolguy20152011-02-07

I does that on all piezo pickups.

1spartan95 (author)1spartan952011-02-07

I meant to say it

Mattrox (author)2011-02-01

You have a little mistake in Installation-Step-6
so that it does not flop back-and-forth when someone you the guitar

ganibase (author)2011-01-05

At what frequency must it resonate to work and can i use one that gives out about 95 dB from 10cm?

aar0nc0le (author)2010-12-20

Just for the record, you can find a piezoelectric speaker in old telephones. The one i found was used for a buzzer but it can be used for multiple things. It can also be found in old printers. Mine was in perfect condition.

Detman101 (author)2010-11-29

You can also do what I did and drill another hole on the face of the guitar for a 100k Audio Taper potentiometer to fit.

Then wire the potentiometer into the circuit for the audio jack (Or anywhere on the line/cable) and you have volume control!!!


dirtyroger (author)2010-10-11

Piezo pickups are amazing little inventions you can use them for all kinds of musical instuments. I made a wine box kick drum using one of these!

spark master (author)2010-09-28

can you put 3 of them in parallel (or series) so you cover more of the strings w/o a mixer circuit? My use is in a kalimba. I can make them on a box, the low notes are hard to hear, so after seeing a bunch of electric Kalimbas but on a piece of plank they are solid body and need amplification I thought this would be very very useful cause now I can get more tones.


rbneville (author)2010-09-20

If you go to Parallax website they sell just the piezo film for $1.79 US and i believe it is the same type used in most commercial applications.

ski4jesus (author)2010-08-13

Ok, i have a question, can you take a headphone speaker apart and find the piezo buzzer, reverse it and use it? or do you have to buy one? that would be sick if i could, cause i am greatly in need of being able to plug in my acoustic. :P

mdgrover (author)ski4jesus2010-09-14

Headphones use dynamic (electromagnetic) speakers, not piezos. However, piezo elements are often used as speakers in small electronic toys - you may be able to find one inside one of those. If not, a new piezo will only cost a buck or two and they sound great.

mdgrover (author)2010-09-14

I used this exact technique to kit out my daughter's acoustic guitar and it worked great. You can hear it in the intro video on my portable amp Instructable.

Guitartoolbar (author)2010-07-26

I love it! I admit I find it SO COOL when people make their own adjustments on their guitars. Personally I'm a fan of guitar paintings with airbrush, it's just awsome. You can check out some guitar paintings - it will make you want to go and paint your guitar NOW!

About This Instructable




Bio: Background in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Robotics, and Tangible Interfaces from MIT. Currently working at Fiddlewax to create new musical instruments. Other projects I've ... More »
More by adamkumpf:iPad Inventor's KitClothespin Piano for iPadSoft iPhone and iPad Stylus
Add instructable to: