July 31, 2015
What’s a Cello Pickup (& How Can One Improve My Sound?)
So, you’ve been playing the cello for a few years, know all the basics, and are ready to start experimenting with your sound. Chances are, you’ve come across a cello pickup in music stores or while browsing online, and are curious about what it is and how it can improve your sound. For most beginner and intermediate cellists, the idea of installing and using a cello pickup can be intimidating, especially since there are a variety of brands, styles, and types for you to choose from. Fortunately, we’ve put together this guide–use it to become familiar with cello pickups, and keep it handy when browsing for cello pickups online or in your local Music & Arts store.
First, What’s a Pickup?
Pickups are a small device that attaches to your instrument in the bridge area. It’s intended purpose is to convert physical vibrations into a digital signal that elevates the sound of your cello as soon as you plug it into an amplifier. Pickups aren’t exclusive to the cello, and are manufactured for and used by a variety of stringed instruments, including the electric guitar, the electric bass, and violins. As mentioned before, the primary purpose of a cello pickup is to amplify your sound, making it ideal for playing in venues where everyone else is amped and playing loudly. While playing directly into a microphone is suitable, pickups produce a better and more natural sound. Plus, you’ll have the freedom to walk around the stage or venue instead of being tied to the microphone stand.
In general, pickups for stringed instruments are divided into two main categories: permanent pickups and removable pickups. Here, we’ll explore each type so you can purchase the pickup that’s best for your situation.
What Are Temporary Pickups?
Temporary, or removable, pickups are just that–pickups that are easy to remove and replace. Many players have only one cello, and rely on it to play in amplified and unamplified settings. If you’re one of these musicians, a temporary pickup is probably the best choice for you. In general, the more expensive the cello pickup, the better the tone (and the more difficult they are to install), although it’s worth experimenting with different types and price levels to find the pickup that you prefer best. When it comes to removable pickups, there are a few different types, which we’ll explore in detail below:
- Easy-fit pickups: Think of these pickups as entry-level–they’re easy to install and remove, but are pretty low-fidelity. They do a pretty good job of transmitting your instrument’s tone, but won’t produce the same quality sound as the others on this list. If you’re just starting out or aren’t even sure if you need a pickup to begin with, try experimenting with a lower cost easy-fit pickup first.
- Bridge mounted pickups: Since bridge mounted pickups are actually mounted on the bridge of your cello, they provide a better, stronger, and more reliable tone than easy-fit pickups. With that in mind, they’re also slightly more complex in nature and are more difficult to install and remove. If you’re an amateur player who has somewhat high standards for tone, but can’t justify spending too much money on a pickup, bridge-mounted pickups are a great place to start.
- Under-the-bridge pickups: Although these are not permanent pickups, you’ll probably want to leave under-the-bridge pickups on most of the time, as installation and removal can be quite tricky. Since they collect vibrations from both the bridge and the top of the instrument, the sound produced is well-rounded.
- Clip-on microphones: Although attachable microphones produce excellent tone and are easy to install and remove, they do have two main drawbacks: mic direction and placement must be precise for optimal tone, and they’re prone to feedback if they’re placed to close to amplification sources.
- Contact microphones: Many cellists prefer contact microphones since they’re the perfect mix of pickups and mics. They can be safely installed and removed, even on finer instruments, and provide excellent tone reproduction. Similar to clip-on microphones, the placement of contact microphones must be near-perfect, and feedback can be an issue
What About Permanent Pickups?
Permanent pickups, on the other hand, actually integrate with your instrument, meaning it’ll always be there. For anyone with more than one cello who can dedicate one for permanent amplification, a bridge replacement pickup offers excellent tone and hassle-free amplification every time you pick up your cello. Most bridge replacement pickups consist of a standard maple bridge with embedded piezo pickups with a wire that connects to an output jack. The only downside to a permanent pickup is that the wire is always exposed, which may prohibit some cellos from being played in a classical or orchestral setting. These pickups are typically more expensive than temporary pickups, but require very little maintenance and, if taken care of properly, won’t need to be replaced for years.
Do I Need a Cello Pickup?
As explained above, cello pickups are really only necessary if you plan on performing in venues where amplification is necessary. Just think about it: without any sort of amplification, how would your cello be heard over the strum of an electric guitar or the beat of drums? If you don’t plan on performing in front of a live audience for a while, a cello pickup probably isn’t necessary. But, at the same time, it’s a step in the right direction if you feel you’re ready to start experimenting with your instrument. As always, your music teacher should be able to help you decide if purchasing a cello pickup makes sense for you and your personal situation.
Buy Cello Pickups at Music & Arts
At Music & Arts, we’re dedicated to bringing you the best offering of professional band and orchestral instruments, products, and accessories in the world. As a one-stop shop for students, parents, and educators, you’ll find cello pickups from some of the top manufacturers, including Fishman and Headway. Remember, when selecting a cello pickup, you should take your price range and desired sound into consideration. If your child is a student, a great place to start is by speaking with their music teacher or band instructor.