Tips for buying a classical electric guitar or installing a classical guitar pickup

If you are thinking about buying a classical electric guitar or installing a classical guitar pickup, this newsletter will help you out with some useful information.

First an announcement

I am now offering the Pavan TP-30 model guitars with spruce tops. I am supplying Spain with the spruce myself so each soundboard is of excellent acoustic quality. Please feel free to contact me for more information on my line of Pavan Spanish classical guitars.

Now on to guitar pickups. . .

Late one morning years ago I was sitting down to a snack when the phone rang. Suzanne answered it. It was our good friend Thom Larson.

"Suzanne, are you alright?" asked Thom

student spanish guitars"Yes. Why are you asking?" Suzanne responded

"Is Tom there?" he inquired

"Tom is sitting here eating. Do you want to talk to him?"

"Thank God! I just heard he drowned."

" What! " exclaimed Suzanne. "You heard Tom drowned?" My ears perked up.

"Yes. A little while ago I bumped into a friend and she asked me if I had heard that Tom Prisloe had drowned. She had just found out Tom drowned from someone else. I called to see if you were okay."

Over the next few days we received more calls from friends having heard that I had died in a drowning accident. Rumors of ones own death are a bit disconcerting. But drowning? Here I was living in arid New Mexico. Why was there a rumor that I had drowned?

For a couple months acquaintances would bump into me around town and say they had heard I drowned. The rumor ran its course, died away, and life went on as usual.

About six months later a woman came up to me in the grocery store one day. I recognized her but didn't know her by name.

"I think I accidently started a rumor about you." she said

"A rumor? What do you mean? what kind of rumor?" I questioned.

"That you drowned." she stated

"Yeah! I heard a lot about that. What happened? How did that rumor get started?" I exclaimed

"Well, last year we hired you to play classical guitar for our International Day fund raising open house. When the committee met to plan this years events a number of members wanted to hire you to play guitar again but someone said you had been drowned out. I thought they meant you had drowned. It upset me. After leaving I told other friends you had drowned and I guess the rumor spread from there."

I laughed. It was comical to see how the rumor got started.

But the fact is I had not amplified my guitar for the playing job, a good number of people attending the event could not hear the music well and I did not get hired to perform the next year.

So... If your playing guitar for the public you better be able to amplify when you need to.


Questions about pickups and electric classical guitars

A lot of players contact me with questions about pickups and electric classical guitars .

Do I need to get an acoustic electric nylon string guitar?

What classical guitar pickup do you recommend?

Will a pickup hurt the sound of my guitar?

Can I use a classical electric guitar for recording?

What about feedback, onboard electronics, preamps, input jacks, internal microphones, amplification, etc.?

For the sake of definition in this newsletter electric classical guitars are regular acoustic nylon string guitars with a pickup for amplification.

Do I need an acoustic electric nylon string guitar?

If you are a beginning guitar player don't bother getting an acoustic electric. First learn how to play the guitar. You can install a pickup in the future if you need one. There is one exception however. A sizable percentage of males between the ages of ten to sixteen seem to be drawn to electric guitars like moths to a flame. For these hopelessly smitten individuals an electric classical guitar is a good choice.

Performing guitarists who need to be heard with other players or above background noise need to amplify. Gigging guitarists don't always need to amplify but at times they will have to and a classical guitar with a pickup, microphone or both becomes a necessity.

Can I use an classical electric guitar for recording?

Yes, but it won't give you the best possible sound. The most natural amplified or recorded sound you can get from a classical guitar is produced by placing a good quality microphone in front of your instrument. I especially like small diaphragm omni directional condenser microphones for capturing a natural classical guitar sound.

If you already have a classical guitar pickup installed you can record with microphones on one or two tracks and run the pickup directly to the mixer for another track. You can then experiment with the blend in the final mix. But don't have a pickup installed because you want to record solo guitar. Use a decent microphone.

What classical guitar pickup do you recommend?

For classical guitars I prefer the under the saddle type of pickup. I use the L.R. Baggs Element for Nylon String Guitars. Manufacturers such as Shadow, b-band, Fishman, K+K, Highlander and others also make good products. I don't pretend to be an expert as to which is the best. I just use what I like and don't keep trying to find the next best thing.

The L.R. Baggs Element has a built in endpin jack preamp with pre-contoured EQ specifically for nylon string guitars. It also has a simple volume control wheel that fastens, with double stick tape, just inside the sound hole.

Under the saddle transducer pickups amplify the vibration of the strings and are less prone to feed back than microphones. If you are a performing guitarist this is a great feature. Less feedback and you can be heard!

Acoustic classical guitars are a bit different than acoustic steel strings when it comes to pickup systems. Some steel string guitarists get excellent results with an under the saddle pickup and an additional pickup inside the guitar usually mounted to the soundboard. The two pickups are then blended. I have tried various pickups inside classical guitars and the results were not very good. The single under the saddle pickup worked best in my experiments.

I don't like internal, inside the guitar, microphones either. I tried using one for about a year. It didn't sound that good and feedback was a problem. The sound inside the body of the guitar is not the same as the sound from in front of the instrument.

and here's why.

Acoustic nylon string guitars are natural amplifiers. Your fingers pluck the strings. The energy of the vibrating strings is transferred through the saddle and bridge to the soundboard of the guitar causing the soundboard to vibrate. The vibration of the soundboard activates the air inside of the guitar. The pressure of the activated air inside the guitar pushes against the soundboard. As the soundboard moves it pushes the air in front of it forming sound waves which radiate out into the room. The sound waves blend and the guitar sounds best a distance away from the instrument.

Recording engineers put the microphone in front of the guitar. Not inside it.

Will an under the saddle classical guitar pickup hurt the sound of my guitar?

I don't think so. In some cases guitars actually seem to sound better after the pickup is installed. The materials the pickups are made with conduct sound vibration extremely well.

You can purchase a nylon string electric guitar with built in tone, volume, EQ and notch filter controls already installed by the manufacturer. Some of these set-ups are pretty good but you will be better off with a separate mixer. I don't like holes cut into the sides of a guitar and a separate mixer of decent quality will be better than the typical onboard controls and offer more flexibility.

For classical guitar amplification a portable PA system works great, offers flexibility, and it will handle microphones and other instruments too. If you do get a PA system be sure that the mixer has one or two channels with phantom power so you can use condenser microphones. There are also a good number of amplifiers on the market designed for acoustic instrument amplification that work well and most have a microphone input also.

I use a
Peavey Escort Portable Sound System, Studio Projects C4 microphones and the L.R.Baggs Element for Nylon String Guitars under the saddle transducer pickup. Most of the time I just use the microphone placed about 12" -18" in front of the upper bout of the guitar at about a 45 degree angle. This set-up gives an excellent natural guitar sound. When using a microphone is not an option I play through the LR Baggs pickup and it sounds very good.

To sum it up.

Don't bother getting an electric classical guitar or installing a classical guitar pickup unless you need to be heard. If your audience is having trouble hearing you definitely use some amplification. A good condenser microphone placed in front of the guitar will give a better sound than a pickup. A simple under the saddle pickup is a great option if you don't want to hassle with a microphone.


Past Issues

To view Issue 1
Relative Humidity and The Exploding Guitar
    Accurate Guitar Tuning Made Simple  

To view Issue 2
    Classical Guitars for Sale
        You don't have to spend a lot of money for a good sounding student guitar

To view Issue 3
    How to have a Great Classical Guitar Technique

To view Issue 4
    How to select the best classical guitar strings for your nylon string guitar 

To view Issue 5
    Classical guitar instruction. Just do it! 

Tom Prisloe builds fine custom nylon string guitars. You can visit his web site at
or call Tom directly at 1-607-387-3875
Prisloe Guitars, PO Box 308, Trumansburg, NY 14886 USA

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All rights reserved but feel free to copy it, post it, quote it, and forward it on to others. If this material is reproduced or transmitted it must contain a credit to Tom Prisloe and a link to his URL