Signal Output Levels of Acoustic Guitar Pickups

FAQ #3342 Updated January 12, 2010

Question:

What are typical maximum output levels of acoustic guitar pickups? I have heard the signal levels can be excessive and therefore not compatible with the inputs on wireless transmitters.

Answer:

The following information came from an article in "Acoustic Guitar" magazine, July 2007. The article was entitled "Electric Round" and focused on the amplification of acoustic guitars.

Rick Turner of D-TAR/Seymour Duncan: As an experiment, we dropped a small ball bearing directly onto our pickup and saw (an output signal) of 100 volts [+40dbV]. I believe that when using a heavy pick, the output level will be between 12 to 14 volts [+22 dbV].

Larry Fishman of Fishman Transducers: From our gear, I see an output level of about 3 volts [+9 dBV].

Udo Rosner of AER: We go up to 44 volts [+33 dBV].

Note: It was not clear from the article if the above output levels were measured at the output of the pickup or at the output of the pickup preamp.

As a point of comparison, a typical output signal from a microphone is 0.001 volt [-60 dBV]. A wireless bodypack transmitter is designed to handle this tiny signal. The guitar pickups had maximum output levels that are 70 to 100 dB greater! Therefore, a typical acoustic guitar pickup must be heavily attenuated before it will work properly with a typical bodypack transmitter. Without adequate attenuation, the pickup signal will easily overload the audio input of the wireless transmitter.

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