Let’s talk about acoustic guitars for a moment. They are wonderful, terrible beasts. They can make you happy and they can also make you want to break things. The amplification of one of these little devils is frightfully tricky stuff. I know perfectly fine luthiers and technicians who won’t bother with acoustic guitar electronics at all. But once a few things are understood, you can get great results.
The most common type of pickup for acoustic guitar is called a “piezo” pickup. This type of pickup utilizes a set of crystals wrapped in foil which sits below the saddle inside the saddle slot. In order for it to make a ground connection there must be a state of perfection between the saddle and saddle slot which is difficult to achieve. The bottom of the saddle must be perfectly flat and perfectly square. Also, the saddle slot must be perfectly flat and perfectly square. And the saddle must have a slightly loose fit in the slot in order for the string tension to create the downward pressure necessary.
The pick up acquires its ground connection by constant even pressure across the saddle pressing it down evenly across its length. If anything is even slightly off in this relationship, you will get hum in the signal. Additionally, over time this constant pressure will wear out the foil wrapping the pick up thus rendering it useless. Piezo pickups always need a preamp to bring them up to a level hot enough to be amplified. This means that it will need a battery onboard the guitar.
The K&K is a series of three contact pick ups which are glued to the underside of the plate underneath the saddle inside the guitar. In this way it does not rely on string tension for good signal. This means we can shape and sculpt our string saddle to be one that sounds good without respect to allowing room for a pickup tucked underneath.
I have installed over 500 pickup systems over the years. I would say that close to half of those were K&K. My shop is in the Tampa Bay area. I’m located five minutes from the Gulf of Mexico. Many of my customers make their livings playing acoustic guitars near the beach. As you can imagine, the heat and salt air play havoc with virtually every aspect of an acoustic guitar and its pickup system.
The K&K avoids nearly all of the pitfalls of a typical under saddle pickup system. With this system you get the tone of the guitar not the strings. Most piezo based pickup systems give you a sound that is usable and pleasant but does not represent the guitar’s tone. The K&K takes the sound of your guitar and makes it possible to amplify THAT sound.
Having no batteries on board is a plus. A lot of my customers are very busy and tend to forget such things at exactly the wrong times. I’ve converted a lot of my customers to using the system along with outboard controls instead of the traditional onboard preamp. When you get used to using a volume pedal, you realize how easy it is to make changes on the fly while playing and singing.
In my personal experience, the install is not for amateurs. In order to guarantee a successful outcome it should definitely be installed by a professional. Are there other good pick up systems out there? Yes. Several of them as a matter of fact. But this one is my favorite. It’s the one I use in my own guitars.