Dirt Cheap Acoustic Guitar Pickup




Build a cheap(But good sounding) acoustic pickup from house hold items.

Step 1: Materials

Gather these materials.

1-Old smoke detector/co2 detector.( Be sure to only use one that is not being used.Fire and co2 detectors have their vital purposes,you're safety)
2-Old computer mic cable.
3-Pill bottle cap
4-(optional) 1/4 adapter jack,these come with most store bought headphones.

Step 2:

Take apart the smoke/co2 detector.In the one i had after i removed the housing the Piezo beeper fell right out.Try not to drop it or damage it,this will be you're pickup.The piezo element is a small silver disc with another disc on the inside.This is what makes that annoyingly loud beeping sound when you over cook you're meal.We will be soldering the wire to this disc reversing the function so that instead of making sound,it will pick up sound when attached to you're guitar.

While you're at it now's a good time to do some prep work for the Pill Bottle cap.The cap will be you're housing for the pickup.
Drill a hole in the middle of the side big enough for the wire to be threaded through.You will need to have the wire already through for the next step.Thread the cap a ways down the wire so it won't be weighing/dragging down the wires when you are soldering as explained in the next step.

Step 3:

Soldering time:

Now you will need to take the working computer mic cable and strip the wires.You might have to play around with it a bit to find the ground wire,on mine the ground wire was the bare unshielded one.What you want to do is solder the ground wire to the outside of the piezo element.There should be an inner disc,you want to solder the other wire to that part.

The picture below shows the completed soldering job with the wire already threaded and knotted through the pill bottle cap.

Tip:A fair knowledge of soldering is a must.There are several soldering instructables.If you're not sure of you're soldering abilities do a search and learn how to do it right.

Step 4:

Now you have a working pickup.What you want to do is make sure that you aren't getting any feedback from it.If the ground wire is touching the inner disc due to a mistake with the soldering job now would be the best time to re do the joint.Make absolute sure that the bare wires are only touching what they are supposed to.Plug you're wire into a guitar amp with the 1/4 plug or the mic input of you're computer.If you are getting a buzz that's no goofd,it's time to go back and find out what you did wrong.

Now that you've tested it and it sounds good to you it's time to glue on the housing.

Tip:Buzzing can occur for many reasons,If you have a faulty cable that isn't shielded properly or has something wrong with it an excellent solder joint will do nothing.Make sure you have a good enough cable.

Step 5:

Now you will need to glue on the housing and you're done.
Calculate a good length to knot the cable.The knot will ensure that when the pickup is mounted and you step on the cable it won't snap off at the solder joint.With the distance judged so as that the cables aren't moving freely inside the cap you want to knot the cable at the correct length.If the wires move too much within the housing they can fray and snap off

You will now need to glue on the cap to the back of the pickup.I used in this case Krazy Glue.I beaded the glue around the edge of the cap and carefully placed the pickup on.Depending on the type of glue you may want to set it down and place something on top of the cap to ensure proper adhesion and clamping pressure.
When the glue dries you will have yourself a pickup.

To mount the pickup you will now need some sticky tack.Roll it in you're palms to make a small strand.Take that strand and make it into a ring then tack it to the bottom of you're pickup then mount it onto you're acoustic.Depending on you're tastes different parts of the guitar will produce the "sweet spot" you might be looking for.

Final Thoughts:I made this pickup for some simple home recording.I would not recommend playing on stage with this fragile pickup.Although if you are very mindful of where you are at all time or spend most of you're time sitting this may be a good option.I have not yet tested this in a loud environment so i cannot see how it will be effected by loud stage volumes.However it is designed to work sort of like a mic,therefore i am guessing it will be very feedback prone when amplified as these types of pickups are prone to.

Thank you for you're time.
Enjoy and post you're own creations below :D



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    28 Discussions


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Presumably you are aware that a smoke alarm sensor element contains a radioactive source! You have not shown how to identify this item or give any safety notes on it. A little bit of knowledge in this case is indeed a very dangerous thing!

    My advice would be to leave the insides of any smoke detector / fire alarm well alone and dispose of the item in the manner detailed in its instructions. In any case the piezo transducer is readily available for less than the cost of a battery to run smoke detector.

    see http://www.maplin.co.uk/p/3v-ceramic-piezo-transdu... for example, - and it comes with the wires already attached.

    3 replies
    bevo_ the_sergalTCSC47

    Reply 3 years ago

    From what I've read about the radioactive material in smoke detectors it is not enough to cause harm.

    TCSC47bevo_ the_sergal

    Reply 3 years ago

    Absolutely wrong. I'm afraid in this case a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.


    Reply 2 years ago

    Just FYI. Not trying to start a war here. I was curious, and looked this up here...


    Not this should not be taken as me condoning one should play with radioactive components without proper protective equipment.

    The radiation dose to the occupants of a house from a domestic smoke detector is essentially zero, and in any case very much less than that from natural background radiation. The alpha particles are absorbed within the detector, while most of the gamma rays escape harmlessly. The small amount of radioactive material that is used in these detectors is not a health hazard and individual units can be disposed of in normal household waste.

    Even swallowing the radioactive material from a smoke detector would not lead to significant internal absorption of Am-241. Americium dioxide is insoluble, so will pass through the digestive tract without delivering a significant radiation dose. (Americium-241 is however a potentially dangerous isotope if it is taken into the body in soluble form. It decays by both alpha activity and gamma emissions and it would concentrate in the skeleton).


    Question 1 year ago on Step 5

    WHAT IS "sticky tack"??? I want the pickup to be movable. I've already built pickups but cannot find a removable reusable sticky material. WHAT IS IT?Please please please email me this info, I'm making a pickup for a friend but need to know what the [expletive] sticky tack is. I promise I'll give you honorable mention in my memoirs someday... davidapfeiffer@hotmail.com ... Oh, if you have a "dollar" type store look for a little speaker that's meant to be used as a headphone replacement. Yank the speaker out, those will be your to the amp wires, attach your existing out wires to the input jack on the device. In other words, put it between the guitar and amp. The ones I got run off 2 AAA's. Works on everything. Sweet little preamp/boost device for a buck and a quarter. Cheers.

    3 answers

    Answer 1 year ago

    Thanks Kiteman. I ended up getting Loctite Fun-Tak Mounting Putty from Wal-Mart. It's blue and looks like that other. It could be a bit softer, but it does work.

    Thanks so much!!
    I have been looking for an easy way to build one of these forever!
    and it works great:)


    8 years ago on Step 5

    what did you put over top of the cap?


    8 years ago on Introduction

    So will taping the cable with electrical tape work? Can I use this to play my ukulele on speakers?


    8 years ago on Introduction

    i made on of these and just taped it to the front of my guitar, it works fine but when i get to close to my amp it makes a loud annoying sound is this normal?

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Yup it's normal.Try putting a sound hole cover on,it should help with the feedback issues.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    that feedback thing does happen with piezo mics with acoustic guitars because the wood vibrates yeah, you can help mute the wood and make it less excitable by putting a balloon in the body of the guitar and then blowing it up until it's juuust pressing on the front and back.

    ALSO you can get piezo elements mega cheap at radio shack - you could ask for a "piezo transducer" but if you get a look or they say it's not in the computer ask for a doorbell buzzer, they're usually in those drawers like where the jacks and stuff are. they come in a nice little plastic house too if you want a little plastic circle like this you hardly even have to take anything apart. they're like two dollars. also, add doorbell buzzers to the list of things you could tear apart looking for a piezo disc. wheeee!

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Cool,i don't have a radio shack near me,pretty remote town i live in.I did however take apart a digital watch and found a small piezo buzzer on the back plate.A little careful prying and i had another one to work with.Wire three of them together and make a surface mounted version of a K&K with three piezo's working together.Sound's like another ible' if i can find some more cheap watches!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    ooo, maybe wire two of them to a potentiometer and put them in different spots and use it like the tone knob on a two-pickup electric

    Yes you could.You would need to be sure if you like the way it sounds though.Just use a shorter length and wire it to the jack.If you wanted to do it this way you could use glue and the pill bottle housing wouldn't be needed.An external preamp would be a good idea though if you were planning to play live as the pickup itself is passive.