Fitting pickups to gypsy jazz guitars

Of course I did write a post about the joys of playing without amplifiers a couple of weeks ago and this is now our favourite way to play. Unfortunately many venues have very bad acoustics and noisy audiences so we do have to use amplification on many of our gigs.

Our new Gitane guitars did not come fitted with pickups so we had to decide what sort we wanted to fit. We didn't want to change the natural acoustic properties of the guitars or their appearance so that ruled out any soundhole pickups or ones with control boxes fitted onto the front of the guitar. That left internally mounted microphones and/or piezo pickups mounted in the bridge. We choose Big Tone bridge-mounted piezo pickups because that seems to be standard kit for gypsy jazz guitars (e.g. Dell Arte guitars, the Robin Nolan trio etc.) and because you can get a higher level of amplification without feedback.

These pickups are quite difficult to fit and we were very fortunate to find Ged Green, a Manchester-based luthier, to fit them for us. He tells us that you have to saw the top off the wooden bridge, rout a cavity for the pickup, stick the pickup in with epoxy resin glue and put the top back on the bridge, and then you have to run the cable into the body and out through a strap button jack socket. Rather him than us! He has done a wonderful job on both guitars and they sound good through our amplifiers. The only quirk is some acoustic feedback from the tailpiece which is easily solved by a piece of felt between that and the body.

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