You want to install a pickup in your acoustic guitar, but don’t want to hurt its retail value. In this article we’re going to explore whether an aftermarket pickup in an acoustic guitar increases or decreases the value of the instrument.
In general, a pickup system rarely increases the value of a used acoustic guitar. Factors that play a role in this are the style of pickup, the age of the pickup system, and the invasiveness of the installation procedure.
Should You Install a Pickup in Your Acoustic Guitar?
Ultimately, this is something you need to answer for yourself. However, I believe that you should do whatever you can to maximize your enjoyment and utility out of your guitar.
If you have good reason to install a pickup in your acoustic guitar then go for it. Don’t worry about the resale value if adding a pickup is going to make playing live or recording easier. The value of a guitar is more than just money, but the utility to you as a player.
If you don’t play live or plugged into an amp then there is little to gain from installing an aftermarket pickup. Worst case scenario, you install a pickup system that is expensive, and invasive, provides little value to you as a player, and ultimately devalues the guitar.
Best case scenario is installing a pickup that increases the utility of the acoustic guitar, it gets heavily used, and resale value is less of a concern because the guitar is a tool which provides value outside of the intrinsic instrument worth.
Reasons Why Installing a Pickup Will Decrease the Value of Your Acoustic Guitar
- Invasiveness. If a pickup installation requires invasive procedures such as drilling wood or cutting into the guitar body, the long term effects on value are going to be negative. It’s fair to assert that the more invasive the procedure the higher the impact to guitar value will be. More on this in the Pickup Installation Invasiveness section.
- Quality. If the pickup being installed is not of a quality matching that of the guitar, the value of the guitar will decrease. For example, if you put a cheaper permanent under-saddle style pickup into a Martin HD-28, the value of the guitar will be decreased more than if you put a high end L.R. Baggs Anthem in it for instance.
- Serviceability. Is the pickup manufacturer still producing that product? Is the company still around? Some older pickup systems are basically impossible to fix because parts no longer exist or the company has long since closed its doors. Depending on the impact of the pickup system on the guitar, a lifeless pickup could impact the value of the guitar quite a bit more.
- Desireability. If a prospective buyer would rather have a K&K pickup system as opposed to an L.R. Baggs pickup system, then that $300 pickup could decrease the guitar’s value. In the prospective buyer’s mind they’d have to pay for the removal and installation of the pickup they actually want in the guitar. Remember that acoustic pickup choices will vary from player to player. Don’t assume that just because it’s from a quality brand, everyone will want it.
There are many factors that will aid in the decrease of your acoustic guitar’s value. If you’re at all worried about that then don’t install an invasive pickup system into your acoustic guitar.
Reasons Why Installing a Pickup Will Increase the Value of Your Acoustic Guitar
The only reason that installing a pickup system into an acoustic guitar would increase the value of that guitar is if the prospective buyer wants that specific pickup system. In this case, they will save the money of having to have the pickup installed. Typical installation costs range from $75 to $150 for an acoustic pickup (plus parts cost).
Like I mentioned above, if the pickup system is not what a prospective buyer wants then they’ll view it as an additional cost to remove and install the pickup system they do want.
Why are guitars with pickup systems from the factory more expensive? Oftentimes, manufacturers will offer their acoustic guitars with pickup systems installed. Sometimes these are proprietary or built specifically for that guitar like Taylor or Martin. Other times, a guitar builder will choose a specific system that they feel fits their style of guitar best. In these cases, the recommendation of a system from the builder themselves goes a long way and will have less of a devaluing move than if someone were to install a pickup later.
A great example of this is Goodall Guitars offering K&K pickup options.
Process of Installing an Acoustic Pickup
Least Invasive, No Permanent Alterations Necessary
Pickups that fall into this category are either soundhole pickups that simply slide into the soundhole and are either held in place by friction and soft padding, or by padded clamps that screw onto the edges of the soundhole.
These pickups have a cord running off the guitar, while some do offer a ¼” output jack which requires drilling through the end-block.
The pickups that don’t require any alterations to the guitar are easy to install and easy to remove. They are typically cheaper than more permanent options and will not affect the value of the guitar because no alterations have been made to the guitar.
If you rarely plug your guitar in, these can be the perfect answer. Just slip the pickup in when you need to plug in and that’s it.
Semi-Invasive, Some Alterations Necessary
These are the majority of acoustic guitar pickup systems. Pickups that fall into this category are the L.R. Baggs Anthem, K&K Pure Mini, and the Fishman Matrix Infinity.
All of these systems require drilling through the endblock, enlarging the endpin hole to allow for the output jack to come through. Some of these also use an undersaddle transducer which requires drilling through a small hole below the saddle that goes through the bridge, top and bridge plate of the guitar. While not severely invasive, a fair bit of wood is taken out when performing this install which could certainly affect resale value down the road.
These style pickups make up the large majority of systems and thankfully are easy to swap out. You’ll also find the majority of professional musicians having these types of systems installed on their guitars. If you’re plugging your guitar in or playing live on a regular basis, consider getting one of these pickup systems installed.
A pickup utilizing an under-saddle transducer will also require the bridge saddle to be sanded down to compensate for the space the transducer takes up (typically just a millimeter or so). While this isn’t particularly invasive, it may add additional installation cost depending on the saddle type.
Highly-Invasive, Extreme Alterations Necessary
While rare, systems like the Fishman Presys+ do exist that require a hole to be cut out of the side of the guitar. These systems are highly invasive and will always have a negative impact on a guitar’s value. They are not easily swapped out as different preamp units use different sized holes. If the product is ever discontinued, or newer models use different sizes, you could be left with a broken pickup system and an ugly scar on your guitar.
I don’t recommend these systems for aftermarket acoustic guitar pickups. If they are installed from the factory that’s a different story, but the risks are too high to install one in a guitar later. There are better options out there that don’t require large holes in your guitar.
Internal Acoustic Pickup Without Reaming the Endblock
There is a cool product on the market by Tapastring called “The Vintage Jack.” This jack is the size of a standard acoustic endpin and allows for a ⅛” connector to be plugged in rather than the standard ¼” instrument cable.
While this system does require a ⅛” to ¼” adapter, this is an awesome alternative to drilling out the guitar’s endblock to accept the output jack. If you want the best of both worlds (the quality of an internal pickup system without the drilling into the guitar’s body) consider the Vintage Jack.
Will Installing a Pickup Increase or Decrease the Value of an Acoustic Guitar?
These numbers were gathered and composed by analyzing the prices of similar condition, make, model, and year of used acoustic guitars listed on reverb.com.
These numbers are a guide and potentially useful for estimating the approximate value of your guitar on the secondary market if you decide to install an aftermarket pickup.
This data tells us that the higher the value of acoustic guitar without a pickup installed, the greater the decrease in value from the installation of an aftermarket pickup. Lower value acoustic guitars see an increase in value on the secondary market because of a pickup being installed.
|Acoustic Guitar Value Without Pickup||Used Value Increase or Decrease with Pickup Installed|
|< $800||10% – 25% (increase)|
|$800 – $1200||0% – 11% (increase)|
|$1200 – $2500||0% – 8% (decrease)|
|> $2500||7% – 21% (decrease)|
Will Adding a Pickup System Affect the Natural Sound of an Acoustic Guitar?
If installed properly, a pickup system will have no effect on the acoustic sound or tone of the guitar. There are two areas where the guitar’s tone could be affected. These are buzzing and a choked, minimized sound.
Buzzing Caused by Acoustic Guitar Pickup
Installing a pickup system into an acoustic guitar means adding components that may vibrate as the guitar vibrates naturally. If these vibrations interfere with parts of the guitar, you’ll start to hear nasty buzzing.
The most common reason for this buzzing is loose wires. Typically, with most pickups, wires run from the battery, controls, preamp, transducers or contact pickups, and output jack. If these wires are not secured properly they can start to buzz.
Buzzing can also come from an improperly fitted transducer, or loose output jack.
Loss of Volume Caused by Acoustic Guitar Pickup
Another common issue caused by an improperly installed acoustic guitar pickup is a reduction in overall volume, or certain strings that sound dampened or dead. The reason for this is when a transducer pickup is installed, the saddle has to be properly filed or sanded down to account for the additional height of the under-saddle element.
If the saddle is not perfectly flat on the transducer, or is binding on the sides (between the saddle and bridge), the vibration of the strings will not properly be transferred both to the top of the guitar and to the pickup element.
Make sure to listen carefully before installation (and record it if possible), then compare to the post-installation sound to make sure that no tone loss has occurred. If the pickup installation is done properly, there should be no loss of tone in your acoustic guitar.
Should I Buy an Acoustic Guitar With or Without a Pickup?
My general advice is to buy a standard acoustic guitar without a pickup unless you know for a fact that you will be plugging the guitar in on a regular basis. A pickup will add complexity that isn’t necessary, especially when learning to play.
On the other hand, a lot of acoustics that come with pickups also feature the cutaway in the lower bout which gives easier access to the high frets and looks pretty cool. If that is a feature you really like then go for the option with the pickup.
Most tuner systems that are built into pickups aren’t really that good. My advice is to pick up a good clip on tuner and use that instead. The batteries last longer in the clip on tuners anyway.
You can always add an aftermarket pickup into a guitar, so if you really want one later it’s always an option. However, if you don’t ever use it you may regret having the pickup in the guitar which you can never take out.
If you have a guitar in the $800 – $1500 range, adding a nice acoustic guitar pickup can increase the value slightly, however if your guitar is worth more than that, the value is generally decreased by the addition of an aftermarket pickup system.