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Fitting a pickup to a resonator guitar

Background: my musical life started in folk clubs. Yes, back then! Whether to amplify wasn’t even a question – amplification wasn’t even thought of let alone heard of. In any case, the only electricity in the room was probably that for the single bare lightbulb hanging in the centre, casting its pallid light on the peeling yellow paint and into the coal-less fireplace. So my understanding of “acoustic” has been simple and puritan: no amplification.

More recently, I have had to wrestle with, and accept, that “acoustic” sessions may take place with microphones and guitars with pickups. Fair enough – that kind of music does have more in common with my puritan meaning of the word than it does with an electric rock band. And doing a few gigs in restaurants, bars and cafes, as I do, I’ve come to realise a couple of things. One is that the delicate, shimmering complexity of the sound from a conventional wooden, acoustic guitar, or the rather different but equally subtle complexity of the sound from a resonator WILL NOT BE HEARD in a place that, quite rightly, is filled with hubbub. The beauty of purely acoustic sound production CAN only be heard in three circumstances: a small space with perhaps a dozen attentive listeners; a professionally but minimally produced recording; or, let’s allow for this, in a concert setting with professional microphones and high-quality, professional amplification.

So I came to realise that wrestling, as I have, with a microphone for voice and harmonica and another microphone for the guitar, struggling to keep the guitar in exactly the right position for sound to come through with adequate but balanced volume and without boom or screeching feedback was really not the way to do it.

My conventional wooden acoustic had a pickup fitted when it was built, and when I finally started to use it a few weeks ago, it was a joy. It needs a preamp, but suddenly I was free to let the sound of the guitar look after itself, leaving me to think about playing the damned thing and singing. But I usually play both that and a resonator. Not that I’m one of those novelty acts where people play with two guitars at the same time! I just change between. Resonators are of course not normally fitted with pickups when they are made. In the first place, they are much louder, which is part of what they were invented for, and there are those who say that you can use a resonator with a microphone much more easily than you can use a conventional guitar, because of its loud, forward projection. That might be okay for somebody who is just the “resonator player” in the band, but I was attracted to the idea of playing it with the same freedom that I now felt when playing the wooden six-string. It was time for a pickup.

I looked around on the net, and settled on a “K&K Pure Resonator BB”. Not the very most expensive, but has a good reputation, and I certainly didn’t want to go for one of the “quasi-electric” ones that use the magnetic effect of the steel strings like an electric guitar. I was a bit nervous about fitting it, although the reality was largely problem-free, so for anybody else contemplating this possibility, a description of the fitting process follows. The “BB” refers to “biscuit bridge” – resonator owners will know whether they have a single-cone biscuit bridge or a triple-cone spider bridge. I had also decided to use the “external mounting” system, as it is less invasive and quicker.

First obtain your pickup. The K&K site did not show me any dealers anywhere near me, so I shot them an email. Full marks – they shot one back saying, “Oh, but we do have,” and gave me the details. Ordered online on Saturday morning, processed on Monday morning, arrived on Tuesday morning.

The box:


The contents:

The pickup itself:

Assemble your tools: a small crosshead for the presumably eight little screws that hold the cone cover in place, a larger screwdriver, probably cross-head again, for the tail screw, and a drill with a bit of the right size. I used a 2 mm bit.

Loosen the strings. The well-known trick of putting a capo on the 10th fret to hold things in place is not necessary, but it does help. Disengage the strings from the tailpiece.

Clear:

Loosen the tailpiece. In the past, I have taken it right out, but then you have to fiddle about engaging the screw with the block of wood inside the guitar body, so if you can simply loosen it you will save a lot of time and fiddle.

Undo the cover screws. Note the drinking glass storage unit, so that they don’t get lost!

Remove the cover:

Withdraw the cone and the bridge:

Underneath the bridge you can see the screw that holds the biscuit in place. Undo it and remove the biscuit/bridge assembly.

Hmm, the cone is dirty…

… but it’s easy to wash, as long as you hold it very gently:

Carefully identify the place where the pickup will be screwed to the biscuit. You need to make sure that the pickup is not touching the actual bridge, and also that it doesn’t protrude over the bottom edge of the biscuit.

The hole is essential as a pilot for the screw. We don’t want to split the biscuit! Drill the hole:

Screw the pickup onto the biscuit:

Screw the biscuit back onto the cone and put it back into the guitar:

Replace the cover, tightening the screws firmly but not stupidly in a criss-cross pattern:

You may want to thread the wire under the tailpiece tidiness:

Reinsert the strings:

Tune up – and there you have it!

The whole job should take well under an hour, assuming no mishaps, even with a lot of care.

With my little rig, by the way, there turns out to be absolutely no need for a preamp, but YMMV, of course.