Installing a Pickup in your Acoustic Guitar

Fishman Pickup Installation Instructions


If you have just purchased a cool, new pickup to install in your acoustic guitar so that you can play it through an amplifier, you may have obtained one like this Fishman pictured above.  Aside from following the manufactures installation and pickup selection information, here are some installation tips, tricks and how-to information that you may find helpful:

You will need a set of dial calipers or a very accurate way to measure the thickness of the pickup crystal before you begin the process. Since they may vary from one to another I recommend that you always measure them before you start. The reason is that the transducer will sit under your bridge saddle and raise your playing action unless you remove that same amount from the bottom of your bridge saddle.

I loosen the strings and since I plan on using these strings again because they are new, I first tape them to the neck of the guitar at about the 7th or 8th fret. I then I bring the ball end of the stings back and tape them out of the way so I can do my work. If you are going to change the strings anyway, you should remove all the strings at this time. 







I then measure the pickup’s thickness. You read the caliper by looking both at the numbers starting at 0 where the jaws are agape and at the numbers on the dial. This one measures fifty thousands of an inch. I then write that measurement down and remove the bridge saddle. I mark the saddle so I can remove the same amount of material from the bottom of it as the thickness of the saddle (fifty thousands of an inch).







When removing material from the bridge saddle I am careful to keep things square.  If the bottom of the saddle isn’t flat and perpendicular it will not make full contact with the pickup element and will not respond to the vibrating strings rendering uneven response. WARNING: If the bridge slot is too shallow to accommodate the new pickup I will have to deepen it by setting up a special router and guide. This is usually not the case but in case it is I will not be describing it in this series AND it may eliminate this step, it may alter the final measurement that gets removed from the bottom of the saddle OR it may render the existing bridge saddle unusable and you will have to construct a new one. This is not covered in this series. The goal is to have the playing action unchanged from the pre-installation height. If you run into difficulties know when to quit and hand the job over to a professional!

You will need a drill bit that is larger than the wire, but barely!







Always use a mirror and check the inside the guitar before you drill and follow the manufactures recommendations for hole location. After the hole is drilled I remove the endpin and ream the endpin hole until it is large enough to accept the endpin jack. This reamer is expensive but without a doubt it makes the job clean and easy. It costs around $45.00 and is available through Stewart MacDonald. It is part number 4323. 


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Threading the wire through the newly acquired hole in this $2,100.00 Taylor (that makes it a little scary, doesn’t it?) is easy and I reach through the sound hole and gently pull the end through. I thread the cap, nut, flat-washer and lock-washer on next then, through the enlarged endpin hole I thread a long piece of 3/8″ celluloid binding (because I own a repair shop I have lots of things like this at my disposal … handy for me, huh?). 



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Taping the end of the wire to the binding allows me to pull the wire through the endpin hole and carefully strip about 3/4″ of the outside plastic insulator from the pickup’s shield wire, then gently twist it into a strand between my thumb and index finger.



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Stripping the insulation from the shield and the hot wire (this is a mono setup) and twisting them carefully into bolt is necessary for the next step. Start by carefully bending the long tab back about 45 degrees and soldering the recommended wires in the recommended places according to the instructions that accompany your pickup. I like to place a very small amount of the 1/16″ Rosin Core solder (the recommended solder for this job) on the tip of my soldering iron before I get started. I feel this helps with the heated surface coming into more even contact with the underside of the piece being soldered.


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Bending the bolted wires with a small pair of hemostats ahead of time helps the job along as well.


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The moment the soldering is completed I unplug my iron and move it to a safe place away from the guitar and then clamp the wire into place as shown below. Out comes that piece of binding as well. It happens to snugly fit inside the jack. I make the necessary adjustments at the nut after assembling the cap on the inside then pull the piece through the endpin hole until I have exactly 1/4 inch protruding.


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Install the other flat washer then the nut and tighten hand tight then snug with the appropriate wrench and install the cap. The photo doesn’t show this, but it will (and should) cover the nut. Restring, tune to pitch and plug in! 


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Thanks for hanging out with me for this series on installing a Fishman Pickup.