What is the difference between an undersaddle and a bridge plate pickup?
The most obvious difference between and undersaddle and a bridge plate pickup is the placement of pickup: An undersaddle pickup sits under the saddle, and a bridge plate pickup sits inside the guitar, under the bridge.
Deciding which pickup is best for you depends on a number of factors, like your playing style, where you play, and what kind of amplification you need. The way pickups work is by picking up sound vibrations from the instrument. (Here’s a more detailed introduction to how pickups work.) Those vibrations are then translated back into sound waves, which is what ultimately comes out of an amplifier, only louder.
The placement of the pickup on the instrument plays an important role in how sensitive it is to those vibrations and how well it works in different situations. Undersaddle pickups are very close to the strings, so they do a good job picking up sound from the strings itself. The sound they produce is often described as “bright,” which means they are a good choice when you’re playing in high-volume situations and need the sound of your guitar to cut through other instruments and noise. However, a guitar is more than just strings. The difference between a $50 guitar and a $5000 is in the body, the materials used, and the craftsmanship — and undersaddle pickups are really not capable of doing the complete sound of a guitar justice.
That’s where bridge plate pickups come in. Because they are placed inside the guitar, on the sound board, they can “listen” to the whole guitar better than an undersaddle pickup can. So the natural variations in tone of different guitars and different playing styles come across. Bridge plate pickups tend to sound richer and more rounded, and they are usually the go-to choice when musicians want to reproduce the “natural” sound of their guitar.
Another key difference in positioning is that undersaddle pickups are installed by wedging them under the strings of the guitar, right by the saddle. This can make the guitar sound percussive or harsh, and it can affect string balance. A lot of these problems can be helped with a preamp or an EQ, which can balance the strings and adjust the sound levels.
We sell both undersaddle and bridge plate pickups, but our best-selling pickup is a bridge plate pickup, the Pure Pickup. It seems to fit most guitar players needs and produces excellent tone even without a preamp or EQ. For players who want the best of both worlds — volume and tone — we make the PowerMix Pure System, which combines our undersaddle pickup (the FanTaStick) with our Pure Mini bridge plate pickup, and adds a preamp to blend the signals.
Dieter's Sound Bite
Undersaddle vs. Pure: This podcast tries to describes the tonal difference you get from an undersaddle pickup system versus a bridge plate system like the Pure Pickup. Right-click to download: Undersaddle vs. Pure Podcast
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