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While guitar and bass pickups all generally attach to the instrument in the same way, when it comes to mandolin pickups you have a lot more options in terms of where and how the pickup is installed on your instrument. Depending on the body shape of your instrument, you’ll likely find certain styles easier to install than others. This is likely going to be one of the main considerations as you’re choosing a pickup, along with how well the pickup’s overall tonal color complements the natural sound of your instrument.
Below we’ve reviewed what we consider the 4 best mandolin pickups on the market. Take a look, and, afterwards, we go over what you should look for when selecting the right pickup for your instrument.
Fishman Classic Series M-200
This pickup will fit the bridge of any archtop mandolin and includes a side-mounted Carpenter-style ¼” output jack for convenient plug-in. The sound out of this pickup (see full specs) is very natural, staying true to your mandolin’s acoustic tone. A preamp will help you get the most volume and tone control, but it will still sound great without it, with a smooth, clean tone across the range. The piezo-ceramic pickup element has a bright overall color, perfect for bluegrass and folk styles. The element is embedded in an elegant—and adjustable—ebony replacement bridge.
LR Baggs Radius Mandolin Pickup
The Radius pickup is designed specifically for high-voice instruments like the violin and mandolin. It uses neodymium magnets to give you a smooth and accurate response across the frequency range. The transducer uses a very flexible beam with a film sensor material similar to that used in diaphragm microphones that floats between the magnets, giving it a quicker and more sensitive response while keeping your tone natural and free of artificial colorations.
The Radius (see full specs) can be mounted easily to either the outside or the inside of your instrument and works well in a variety of placements, making it especially convenient for players who don’t want to use a pickup all the time. This should be on anyone’s list of the best mandolin pickups.
Schatten BM-1 Pro
The BM-1 Pro attaches to the bridge that’s already installed on your mandolin, meaning there are no costly modifications required to start using it on your instrument and it can work with the majority of instrument shapes and models. It uses a unique mounting system that’s more secure and less likely to scratch or damage your mandolin, with the jack assembly adhering conveniently to the underside of your tailpiece.
The sound production is clear and accurate, while the pickup is light-weight so there’s no deadening of your sound. It’s designed to work without a preamp (though you can use one if you want more EQ options) and has integrated volume control for easy dynamic adjustment.
K&K Sound Twin Fusion
This dual-headed transducer is made specifically to work with high-end and professional mandolins. Unlike the Twin Internal, it doesn’t require any permanent alterations of your instrument, nor does it require a professional luthier to install. The pickups attach to the interior using adhesive tape while the jack stays on the outside of the instrument for convenience.
It can function either as a passive pickup or in conjunction with a preamp system to help limit feedback. In either setup, it gives you a natural and accurate sound reproduction. The Twin Fusion is an incredible value at just over $50, giving you both convenience and great sound quality in an affordable package. It’s like the best mandolin pickup for the money.
Similar to other acoustic string instruments like violins and ukuleles, there are two major categories of pickup for the mandolin: permanent and removable. A permanent pickup requires you to replace your existing bridge with one that has a transducer built into it. Because a professional luthier has to do this, it can be a costly procedure, but if you’re planning on using amplification every time you perform it’s far more convenient in the long run.
Removable pickups, on the other hand, are designed to be installed and removed relatively easily by the musician. Beyond that, their mounting system can take many forms—as you can see from the pickups on this list, all of which are adhered to your instrument in a slightly different way. The main concern is to minimize the impact of the pickup on your overall sound. The strength of the mount is also an important consideration; the vibrations from your playing can shake less secure mounts loose which can lead to unwanted noise in your tone.
Selecting the Best Mandolin Pickup – Tonal Differences
Unlike the pickup for an electric guitar, which is expected to make an impact on the overall color of the instrument, it’s more common for a mandolin player to want to come as close as possible to the natural, acoustic sound of their instrument, and most pickups are designed with that in mind.
The differences in tone between pickups for the mandolin is generally more subtle than when you’re comparing electric guitar pickups, and is largely dependent on the magnet material. A ceramic or ferrite magnet will give you a brighter, crisper tone that’s perfect for most bluegrass players. Neodymium magnets, on the other hand, have a rich, smooth tone that’s great for folk music.
You can also get an active pickup with a preamp if you want to have more tone shaping options. This will give you a choice of EQ settings beyond what’s available on your amp, letting you tweak perfect your signal at the source. Because they rely less on coils of wire to capture your sound, active pickups are also less susceptible to feedback and other unwanted noises, making them especially good if you like play at higher volumes. Active pickups that use a preamp do require an external power source, usually a 9-volt battery, so be sure to carry plenty of spares with you to gigs.
Aside from the individual components of the pickup, the sound of a removable pickup can be affected by where it’s placed on your mandolin. Your strings aren’t the only part of your instrument that vibrates to create your sound. The wood of the body has a big impact, as well, and putting a pickup on certain parts of the body could dampen this vibration and make your sound flat or muddled. If you notice this when you use your pickup, try shifting it to a different location to see if it improves the quality of your amplified sound.