Love your ukulele? Want to plug it into an amplifier and let your music be enjoyed by a larger audience? If so, it’s time to add a ukulele pickup. While there’s nothing really complicated about pickups, it’s a really good idea to be well-informed before you shop.
What Is A Ukulele Pickup?
At its most basic, a ukulele pickup is a tiny piece of electronic equipment that you tuck inside your uke’s soundhole, where it “picks up” the sound your instrument makes.
There are a couple of different types of ukulele pickups:
These pickups rely on a ribbonlike transducer to pick up the vibrations your ukulele makes while you’re playing. Piezo crystals inside the pickup transform the vibrations into a signal that moves through the preamp and into the amplifier, which emits those vibrations as amplified music from your ukulele. Of all available ukulele pickup types, this one is best. It produces the purest tones, plus it isn’t prone to emitting feedback.
Simply put, soundboard transducers are technically piezo pickups that are designed to fit right on the underside of the soundboard. They’re suitable for ukuleles with fixed bridge saddles – in fact, they’re the best pickup option available for this style of ukulele. They are prone to a bit of feedback and they tend to pick up other noises, like the sound of your ukulele brushing against your body. This isn’t true of all soundboard transducers – particularly the pricier ones – but it’s an issue to keep in mind.
Just like the name sounds! Microphone pickups use a tiny microphone that goes into the ukulele and connects directly to the amp. Microphonic pickups are cheap and simple to use but there’s a huge drawback that makes them less popular than their Piezo cousins: They’re prone to feedback, and that can ruin your performance. Of course the choice is yours but I think you’ll be far happier with a Piezo pickup.
If you’re familiar with electric guitars, you’ve probably heard of humbucker pickups. This type of pickup only picks up the vibrations of the ukulele’s strings, so a lot of the warmth and richness from your uke’s tonewood is lost in translation. Still, this might be a good choice for some styles of playing; for example, it’s a popular choice for those who play jazz ukulele.
The 3 Best Ukulele Pickups
Now that you have a better idea about what’s involved, let’s take a look at some of the best ukulele pickups on the market right now.
Incredible sound and fairly affordable pricing are the top two reasons to go with the LR Baggs Five-O ukulele pickup. This active pickup isn’t just designed specifically for ukuleles – it’s also got a convenient volume control that’s mounted right on the soundhole for easy access. A tiny 3V battery provides power for a minimum of 300 hours, and the entire system weighs about the same as a 9-volt battery, so your ukulele feels nearly as light as before. If you’re looking for an active ukulele pickup, this is easily one of the best around.
- Engineered specifically to track the ukulele’s voice
- Cost of installation is included
- Not priced for entry-level market
Looking for a passive ukulele pickup? If so, the Fishman AG is one of the best we’ve found. An endpin is included for complete installation, however there is no onboard preamp – which isn’t exactly required, but which is recommended unless you’re using a compact amp like the Roland Micro Cube with an audio link jack.
- No battery needed
- Good sound with plenty of warmth
- Brand has a great reputation
- Easy plug & play enjoyment once installed
- It’s up to you to determine the width of your bridge slot when ordering
- Doesn’t sound very good without a preamp (sold separately)
- No installation included; you’ll have to do it yourself or have it done locally
It’s the best “cheap” ukulele pickup we’ve seen in a while – and it sounds OK! This portable piezo pickup is easily mounted to your ukulele using the dot and adhesive putty that come in the package. Just plug it in and start strumming. If you want to, you can leave the pickup mounted on your ukulele and simply detach the cable when the fun comes to an end, but keep in mind, this might alter the appearance of your ukulele’s finish.
- No professional installation required
- Easy to use
- Comes with everything you need to get started except for the preamp / amplifier
- Passive pickup – no volume control
- Prone to producing feedback
- Might take you some time to find the “sweet spot” – there’s some trial and error involved
Got A Guitarlele? Bonus: Best Guitarlele Pickup
Good news for those of us who love playing guitalele (aka guitarlele!) There’s a pickup for that. We recommend the LR Baggs VTC element active pickup system, which is designed to help you amplify your guitarlele and wow your audience. The sound is amazing, the preamp is included, and both volume and tone controls are mounted right on the soundhole. Battery life is an impressive 1,000 hours. What’s not to love?
- Engineered to work with your guitarlele
- Fairly light weight, uses one 9V battery
- Beautiful, realistic sound
- Installation is included in the price
- Not priced for entry-level market
How To Install A Ukulele Pickup
The technique for installing a ukulele pickup will vary depending on the type of pickup you choose. In general though, you’ll need access to a woodshop with a router and a drill, plus some fine woodworking knowhow. Check out this quick video from Ukulele Underground If you’d like to see a ukulele pickup being installed. It’s a delicate procedure but Aldrine Guerrero makes it look easy!
What if you aren’t skilled with tools, don’t have access to a shop, or simply don’t want to risk ruining your instrument? No problem. Have your ukulele pickup professionally installed, instead!
How much does it cost to install a ukulele pickup?
Prices for installation vary depending on the type of pickup and where you’re having the work done. If you’re using a local shop, a quick call or email should give you a good idea about how much you’ll be spending on ukulele pickup installation.
Often, the cost of installation is included in the pickup’s price. This is true even if you’re shopping online; just ship your ukulele to the dealer, have the pickup installed, and your newly electric ukulele will be returned to you ready to plug in and play.
That’s it for now! Aloha, and Happy Strumming!