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Thread: Homemade Pickups

  1. #1
    Registered User neil argonaut's Avatar
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    Default Homemade Pickups

    I've recently been considering how best to amplify my mandolin on a budget that unfortunately won't stretch to the DPA 4099v by a long way. After reading somewhere that homemade guitar pickups could be made with piezo transducers, I picked up a few from a hardware store for about a dollar each, and decided to experiment a bit. I cut a guitar lead in half, tied/taped the connections to it, put it in a preamp, taped the piezo roughly to the mandolin, and to my suprise instead of getting some humming/crackling, got very little noise and something clearly resembling a stringed instrument being played.

    Yes, at the moment it's far from sounding like i'd like, and does suffer from the problem common to pickups that it sounds too electric, and not acoustic enough, but I've been suprised how well it worked for about a dollar and 10 minutes effort, and wonder how much better I can get it by experimenting with placement on the instrument, with multiple piezos, with soldering leads instead of taping them etc.

    I know even with hours of work I'm probably not going to get it sounding as good as the cheapest of Piezo systems, but enjoy trying stuff like this for the fun of it and for what I'll learn as much as for the savings.

    I'm sure I can't be the only one to have tried this, what with it being so cheap and easy to try, but can't seem to find any threads on it (which is not to say they don't exist); Anyone else got any experience / tips on this?

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    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    I think you did this:
    http://www.ehow.com/how_5415629_make-piezo-pickup.html

    There are Youtube vids of DIY piezos as well.
    Chronic MAS

  3. #3
    Registered User neil argonaut's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    Yes, that's what I've done but simpler - I found the Piezos themselves for sale so didn't have to take apart a buzzer, and I haven't soldered as yet.

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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    David Lindley has had good luck on some of his instruments using cheap piezo elements sold as earthquake sensors. It's all in the details of the wiring and placement.
    Just one guy's opinion

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    Registered User jim simpson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    I remember an article from Frets magazine in the 80's. The instructions were pretty much like the attachments. I bought my piezo's at Radio Shack and hat to cut them from the covers. They were held in place with a thin bead of silicone.
    I first tried one under the foot of the mandolin bridge and it seemed to work pretty good. I also had success cutting a strip and soldier then glue to an alligator clip which I used for an isolation pickup with a guitar tuner (remember back in the day before clip-on tuners?)
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    I did the same cheap piezo pickup from a RadioShack buzzer, installed it inside my guitar, under the sound board on the bass side, with the 1/4" jack thru a hole drileed on the side.
    It works great thru my amp, there is no need for a preamp, however, I need to dial in some effects to soften the sound. It sounds OK. But don't think it's good enough for acoustic sound.

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    Registered User neil argonaut's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    I've now, after some trial and error, got it sounding ok when I'm playing melodies at my normal volume, but find it distorts if i play them too loudly or strum or chop chords; I'll have to try and figure out what's causing this, if a piezo with different voltage, or more of them in series, will remove it.

    As for mounting under the sound board, I'd love to try that but the soundhole on the mandolin being half the size of that on a guitar doesn't make it easy

    kkmm, when you say you don't think it's good enough for acoustic sound, do you mean homemade pickups with cheap piezos, or pickup systems in general? I realise whatever I do i'm never gonna be happy till I can afford a clipon mic.

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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    Got a small brass disc with the Piezo-electric-crystal bonded to it,
    soldered 1 wire to the brass
    the other to the crystal/ceramic wafer, and it worked..
    added some epoxy and hot glue to take the cord strain.
    and soldered an inline jack on the cord, a few inches of Mic Cable.

    Preamps for Piezos have a high impedance buffer, and add some EQ controls .
    many people using piezo pickups like the sound passing from the pre amp, better.

    I think there are computer speakers that are just a piezo,
    since it works both ways it vibrates with the signal sent in to it
    or vibrating it, makes a wee signal.
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    Registered User neil argonaut's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    Did you have any problems with it distorting when playing loud, mandroid? I can't seem to work round this problem at the moment.

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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    Use the electron, Turn up the Amplification, to play soft but sound loud,
    It seems to mois, .. that is what the pickup is there, to let you do..

    you run it thru a Preamp?
    maybe there needs be more boost to the signal if you have to force it hard

    lots of prior threads on sticking a V pedal in the signal chain,
    but those need a bit more gear , too..

    the DIY piezo is in the gear bag for loaners, since, years ago, I got a Schertler DynM
    to stick on should it matter ..

    But the CHF has gone way up as the people who are messing their National
    currency up , are putting their own money in Swiss Banks.

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    Registered User Bauzl's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    The question is which part in the chain causes distortion. If it is the amplifier's input circuit then you could experiment with attenuating the signal with resistors before feeding the amp.

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    Registered User neil argonaut's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    Yes, I think I'm going to try resistors next. I am using a k&k pure preamp; I know I could just try to play quieter and turn the amp up, but i'd like a situation where I could play whatever way feels natural, and use the technology to then get this to a suitable level, rather than adjusting playing style, and while it's easy enough for me to play a melody quieter, with strumming chords and chopping this is tougher; with all 4 pairs of strings being played it doesn't require me to hit them too hard at all for it to distort.

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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    How is the DIY piezo different than the K&K?
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    Registered User neil argonaut's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    Firstly, by about 100 dollars! But I'm guessing it won't be as good quality a piezo, and not one exactly suited in size, voltage etc to being a mandolin pickup, plus the soldering / cables etc won't be as good / will be flimsier (unless you're better at soldering than k&K, which i'm definitely not).

  15. #15
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    Saves $100, but you are not happy with the sound,
    savor the bargain and put up with the sound, I'd say..
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    Registered User Justus True Waldron's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    You can try playing around with how you mount it... I've made a couple different transducer pickups. Probably the best sounding one I actually built into a little block of wood, which I then stuck on with double sided tape, rather than sticking the transducer directly to the mandolin. Direct double sided tape, or tape with foam in the middle can also make a difference, as does placement. As for clipping, I don't know much at all about your preamp, but I would guess you're clipping the input of your preamp. If you can't adjust the input sensitivity, you need to reduce the amount of signal your pickup creates. It's been a while since I messed with these... but I'm thinking that actually means a bigger transducer rather than a smaller one? The smaller and lighter it is, the more sensitive it is to vibration... soooo, get a bigger transducer? Then solder it, so the signal won't cut out under heavy vibration. Then find a good spot to mount it, maybe with a piece of foam tape to isolate a little more if it's still too loud on chops. Idk, those are my ideas. Experiment! Even expensive transducers pickups are all built off these same ideas...
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    Registered User Justus True Waldron's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    p.s. mandroid I'm digging the Daleks in your avatar. EXTERMINATEEEEEE!!!!
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  18. #18
    Registered User Polecat's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    As regards the distortion, according to the service manual, the K&K Pure Preamp has a trimmer pot inside which allows one to adjust the gain - playing with that will probably solve your problem; open the case, locate the trimmer (there probably won`t be anything else that looks like you can adjust it with a screwdriver in there) turn the level down to zero and have someone gradually increase the gain whilst you are playing at max. volume. As soon as it starts clipping, turn it back a wee tad and you`re done.
    In the early 80s I had a Barcus Berry piezo pickup that sounded terrible attached directly to the soundboard, but I found that if I stuck it on with Blu-Tack I could get an acceptable sound. Something like that might also be worth trying.
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    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    There are piezo pickups that cost about $20 new. They quack like a duck.

    I'm looking at installing a K&K twin fusion.
    Chronic MAS

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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    kkmm, when you say you don't think it's good enough for acoustic sound, do you mean homemade pickups with cheap piezos, or pickup systems in general?
    Sorry to answer late, yes it was the cheap piezos that I used to make the pick-up.
    MountainTyler also made similar transducer (about 18$), it just look better as it is sealed in a small disc, wiring and the 1/4 jack included.
    But both sound the same to my ears, very loud, and favor the trebble, got to put is on the bass side of the guitar / mandolin to lower the trebble sound.
    IMHO, they are just OK for garage band practice but not for stage performance.
    I bought the Ovation MCS-148 with built-in transducer, preamp and it sounds really great (no more headache with pickups).
    For acoustic mando, I simply use normal mic on the stand and stay really close to it !!!
    I recorded quite a dozen songs this way, sound just like I hear it without the mic.

  21. #21
    Registered User neil argonaut's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    My situation's been changed a bit by finding a K&K silver Bullet second hand at a reasonable price, but I still plan to experiment with this when I've got the time again (whick I've not got much of due to finding a second hand Bouzouki too ) , thanks for all the advice and tips, folks.

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Ostrander View Post
    There are piezo pickups that cost about $20 new. They quack like a duck.

    I'm looking at installing a K&K twin fusion.
    I'm supposing the $20 ones you're talking about are the jjb ones; I've heard good things about them, that they sound as good as the k&k, but I suppose opinions vary.

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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    If you run them through a good preamp with a suitable (high) input impedance, and mount them carefully, these cheapos can sound surprisingly good. I fitted one recently for someone who had an ultra-restricted budget, and I was pretty impressed. He was very, very happy with it. He used it at an open mic we run the other day (through a pair of Fishman SA220's) and I closed my eyes, and thought "wow". It sounded as good as many far more expensive pickups, and even better than certain ones I've heard. This one was sold as a "Rebel" from someone in the Netherlands, via Ebay. I mounted it internally, close to the treble tone bar. It did not sound rubbish or "quacky" at all, but quite smooth with a typical soundboard transducer sound. Similar to a McIntyre feather or Baggs Radius (which I have on one of my own mandolins).
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  23. #23
    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: Homemade Pickups

    I'm supposing the $20 ones you're talking about are the jjb ones; I've heard good things about them, that they sound as good as the k&k, but I suppose opinions vary.
    No, I'm talking about an off-brand that I bought and found unusable. I have no experience with JJB. I've heard good reviews of them as well.
    Chronic MAS

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