Amplify or Electrify Your Ukulele
Something that every professional ukulele player will need to experience at some point is amplifying the ukuleles sound.
Who wouldn’t like to have a louder, richer sound to their music? Isn’t this the way every good performance should be?
If you think about it, amplifiers and pickups are so interesting. Aren’t you excited to get your first pickup device?
Even if you already have an amplifier, the excitement to get a new one is never less than the first time because different pickups types don’t sound the same.
I have been playing the ukulele for over ten years, and today I am willing to take you through everything you need to know concerning amplifying your instrument.
What are pickups? How do they work? What are the different types of pickups you can use for your ukulele? These are the main questions I am going to be answering in this article so, without further ado, let’s jump right into it.
What are pickups?
A pickup device is a transducing device that receives (picks up) the vibrations or sound produced by the Strings of your ukulele and then converts these vibrations into electrical signals.
These signals then go through an amplifier that makes them louder through a loudspeaker in a sealed speaker setup.
This, without a doubt, allows you to play for a large crowd, not to mention that in a way, it gives you the ability to add some sound effects to your song and make it sound better,
What are the different types of pickups you can use?
Every day, something new comes up, there’s always a big variety, a lot to choose from, something that almost always confuses us.
So let’s discuss the different types of pickups you could go chasing
First, you need to understand that a pickup device could be an under saddle transducer (UST), soundboard transducer (SBT), or an internal microphone. Each of these comes in its active or passive forms.
The first step to decide which pickup device to get is to make up your mind whether you need an active or a passive transducer.
I will be explaining to you the difference between these two and which is more suitable for what purposes. But, before I do that, let me talk to you about UST, SBT, and internal mics a little bit.
Under Saddle Transducer (UST)
As the name implies, this type of pickup is added under the base of the saddle slot.
Usually, a UST is permanently installed into your instrument with an endpin jack.
This is because it requires holes to be drilled into the ukulele for the wiring which makes installing them more difficult than installing other types of pickups.
The major advantage of using this type of pickups is that there’s a lesser chance of
Picking surrounding noise so it generally sounds much clearer than other pickups.
This is only because of the direct transfer of vibrations from the strings to the UST.
Soundboard transducer (SBT)
This is a small transducer that has a disk at its end. This disk sits on the soundboard of the ukulele from the inside.
The SBT has a jack that is installed in the end block to pick up the electric signals.
Occasionally, you can find external SBTs, however, these are not permanent and SBT are usually installed internally.
Unlike UST, this type of pickups can be affected by the surrounding noise. More often than not, they can pick up the sound of your hand movements on the instrument. However, if you make sure to position them correctly, you will get a fuller and more natural tone than that of UST.
This is my least favorite pickup because it is extremely sensitive to all the sounds around it, using it on stage is not that easy.
Yet, a lot of players like to use microphones while performing, especially big condenser mics.
Difference between active and passive pickups
Generally, pickups consist of copper wires that coil around a magnet. When the pickup is placed on your element, the vibrations produced by the strings disturb the magnetic field of the pickup causing an electric current to pass through its wires indication the pattern of the song you are playing.
This electric current is then amplified and changed into a sound that you can hear through the speakers.
An active pickup has an internal active preamp which is powered using batteries. This is why they have a higher output than that of passive pickups
Batteries used with active pickups can be: 3V watch batteries, 9V batteries, 2 AA batteries (18V) and a supercapacitor depending on your pickup.
Another difference between active and passive pickups is that an active pickup has fewer coils than a passive one.
This makes them less receptive to background noise.
The only advantage of this type of pickups is that it has a wide dynamic range.
Not only do they allow you to go from very soft and calming music to very loud strong beats, but also, they allow you to enhance the frequency of your music.
The downside when using passive pickups is as mentioned before, they have a lot of coils, which makes them susceptible to humming and background noise making them sensitive to feedback. In addition, they need an external preamp so they can’t be directly plugged into your speaker.
Final thoughts on pickups
Whatever the type of pickup you decide that it suits you best is, in my humble opinion, it’s always a smart idea to look over the internet first for different brands and reviews.
You can even check on YouTube and learn about the experience of other ukulele players using pickups and you will also get to hear how they sound like before buying them or trying them out yourself.
With all that being said, I hope you have made up your mind about which pickup type you should be chasing down and that you found this article helpful.