20 Aug Northworthy Guitars

So for a while I’ve been looking into the best pickup system for my guitar. Previously I’ve used a microphone in front of the guitar to capture my percussive playing live as the standard Fishman under saddle pickup you get with the Martin just doesn’t cut it in the percussive playing department. The percussive elements to it’s sound are none existent, and to my ears plasticy. The trouble being also that the microphone was always getting in the way and it generally started to restrict my performance so I thought there must be a better solution. So, first thing, lets look online to see what other options are out there? What’s the best pickup system for percussive finger style acoustic guitarists? Initially the google searches proved inconclusive and it was really quite difficult to get a good quality recommendation or any solid advice on the subject.

So next stop I thought I’ll go into a guitar store and seek their advice. The first experience was actually pretty good. I went to Foulds in derby, they predominantly stock the LR Baggs systems and they have a demo guitar set up that allows you to try out three different Pick up systems. The one that worked the best for me was the IBeam. It was sensitive to percussive playing and sounded very pleasing all in all, but had the major draw back of proximity over pronunciation. The closer you play percussively to where the IBeam was situated the more over pronounced it became so I decided that wasn’t a suitable route.

At this point I thought right, well if those guys have a pickup system tester I’m sure other places must…………………….this is not the case. I rang up maybe 20 shops in my local area. None offering anything productive other than one question “how much money do you have to spend?” – Answer being “as much as it takes to solve my problem but at the same time I’m not writing you a blank cheque mate”

With feigning hope I decided to look at other percussive players and see what they used. Eventually I stumbled on to a product called the Fishman Rare Earth Blend system. A soundhole pickup system that has a gooseneck microphone installed and you blend the balance between the two signals. Great I thought that sounds like it might work. I had a listen to a couple of online demo’s….it seemed ok….To my tastes It still had that horrible quacky sound to it but well the percussives seemed to work well so I thought what the hey lets go try one out…..no where had one to try out…..

Rapidly reaching the end of my tether I decided to continue on and see if there was any other options that I’d not thought of. Eventually I stumbled on an Andy McKee video where he talks about his pickup system. He has installed a K&K Trinity system. Similar to the rare-earth blend in that it combines two sources one being a microphone. Now K&K systems are quite hard to get hold of in the area I live in it seems. I went on to the K&K dealer guide on their website and the nearest one was London….Still looking at shops. So I tried Luthiers. As it turns out there was one only 10 miles away from me so I called. Halleluiah!!!

I got through to a man called Alan at Northworthy Guitars who was not only very very helpful but suggested something quite unique. He questioned if I actually needed a microphone system…..the reason being that I planned to use it predominantly for live performance and the amount on mic signal I could mix into a live situation without feedback would be negligible and potentially not add a great deal to the sound. We decided that we could try out some systems he had in stock and experiment with a few solutions to see what might work best for me. Not only was this music to my ears but the fact that someone a) took the time to understand the problem and b) was willing to help me come up with a suitable solution for me was refreshing and something of a relief.

I had an awesome afternoon chatting about guitarists tying out new solutions and ultimately I ended up with a system that works really well for me. The solution we ended up with was to install a dual system. He installed a K&K Pure Mini System for me but rather than using the standard positioning we placed the three transducers spread out across the spruce top. The results are surprising, the percussives are clear and strings sound great too. I decided on keeping my Fishman under saddle pickup in place and using that to bolster the strings sound a little blending the two sources with an external Headway Preamp. This solution works great for me and now the percussive elements come through like a charm.

I’d like to thank Alan for that brilliant experience and suggest that anyone reading this who is having similar problems, if you live in the area go see Alan and Northworthy or if not speak to your local Luthier before you go to a shop. I know I’ll be using his services again that’s for sure and I’ve got my eye on a new guitar from him to 😉

Oh and FYI it didn’t cost the earth either…….K&K Pure Mini’s retail at around £60 – £90 in the UK + installation.

Here’s one of the guitarists that Alan suggested I go Listen to. I recommend you guys do too.

Much Love

Jamie Beau

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