This page documents my explorations with adding a pickup to a rennaissance lute. Along the way, I've asked the lute discussion list for advice, and have reprinted what I've learned on this page.

I initially purchased a clip-on pickup in order to better use an electronic tuner, but later decided to mount a permanent "Shadow SH-2000" transducer pickup sold by MusicYo.com.

It is a little strange looking to have an "electric renaissance lute" but the sound is quite nice (useful for recording, and playing live [not just tuning], but this only matters if you're recording oriented) and the low price ($36) is remarkable.

If you're ever going to play in environment where people will be talking (an art gallery, or restaurant), you'll likely need to amplify your instrument to be heard at all.

If all you need a pickup for is to use a tuner, then a clip-on microphone is a better choice for you, since you will not have to mar your instrument by mounting a pickup to its face, and the cost (about $15) of a clip-on mic is negligeable.

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John's match-stick & lavalier technique:

I take a large wood (kitchen) matchstick, clip off the flammable end, then lift the loops on 1st & 2nd courses on bridge, and place the piece of wood underneath these two strings, so that about 1/4" sticks out under the bridge and is secured by the tension of the loops on the bridge. ˙

Then, buy yourself a nice Sony Lavalier clip-on microphone (the kind that TV news folks use), and clip the mic onto this little stick.

The sound is quite good, and this setup has the following advantages:

1) doesn't modify your lute in any permanent way

2) the mic (which is not that inexpensive) can be transfered in real time between several instruments at a gig.

3) the placement of the mic doesn't interfere with playing

I've noticed that a small amount of amplification is best, especially if it's a little bass-oriented (cut the treble) because then the natural sound of the lute is still there, with its characteristic high-end harmonics, and the amplification isn't very noticeable. ˙Best is to buy a small amp, hang some fabric on it, and use it as a seat -- that way the sound is all coming from you and most people can't tell that there's an amp.



Note: Sean's suggestion doesn't use a wood match-stick, but a sanded and carved piece of wood. ˙For those of you with woodworking skills, this may be easy for you to manufacture, but I've found that the wood match-stick works well.

Note that Joe Baldassarre uses a similar technique, but with a larger piece of wood (described below).

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Back when I was starting on the lute, I wrote this document. I now mostly disagree with the viewpoint in it -- I now don't like to mar the surface of a lute with a sticky pickup, and most builders won't put a pickup in an instrument for fear of what it'll do to the tone.



Here is a photograph of the Shadow transducer pickup is originally mounted on my cheap pakistani lute. You will want to mount the pickup somewhere on the top of the lute where the vibrations from the bridge are carried through.

On my lute, there appears to be a piece of wood running top-to-bottom under the bridge, so the vibrations are nicely carried through the wood directly under the bridge. You can experiment with pickup position by moving the pickup (unglued) while listening with headphones (pick the position with the loudest sound).

If you are having a lute built for you, consider having a pickup mounted inside your lute before the lute is closed up. This way, you won't have to later mar the surface with a contact mic. Barcus Berry sells a pickup for this purpose. It costs about $90, and the model number is the "Barcus Berry 1455 insider."

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Ron Andrico wrote to about his Fishman transducer (presumably the SBT Series Passive Soundboard Transducer):
My lute has a Fishman classical guitar soundboard transducer installed on the inside of the belly near the treble side. The lute's builder, the late Robert Lundberg, seemed to really enjoy the process and, true to his nature, he went through a long process of experimentation to find the best location for the transducer. Bob shortened the lead considerably and adapted the mini plug jack to fit inside the endpin. You would never know it was there without looking for it. The Fishman transducer is extremely hot and I have never had to boost the gain past 2 on any amp (mine was a Trace-Elliot). It sounds fine on its own but even better with a Fishman or Baggs preamp.

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Ben Cohen wrote to me about his pickup from KK Sound (note that there are at least 3 KK models to choose from: 1 2 3):
I've had great results with the pickups from K&K Sound, at www.kksound.com. They make a variety of inexpensive, powerful and excellent sounding contact transducers which can be mounted on the outside or inside of an instrument soundboard. I use them on my mandolin family instruments and guitars, and recently ordered one of their "Twin Spot Classic Internal Mount" transducers to have installed in a small theorbo which is being built for me by Italian lutier Guisseppe Tumiati. Sadly, I'm still waiting on that instrument and so have not heard how it sounds yet, but Mr. Tumiati reported to me that the installation went fine. The K&K transducers are small and should not interfere with the acoustic operation of the lute. They mount with either the supplied sticky film / tape (removable), or with super glue (more permanent). The internal mount version terminates in a 1/4" jack which can double as an endpin for a strap. With a right-angle plug patch cord and one of those new nifty battery-powered amps, the amplification would scarcely be noticeable.

The K&K Sound transducer that is being installed in my theorbo is the Twin Spot Internal, which has only two transducer elements attached to the strap-button output jack. I put one of these transducers on my tenor banjo (underneath the banjo head, under the outer bridge feet) and it sounds great. It's less expensive than the 3 or 4 headed Pure Classic Western guitar transducers, which I have installed on my 6-string guitar. I don't doubt that the 4 pick-up elements on the current guitar transducer would also sound great on a lute, and at K&K's prices, why not go for the extra transducer elements? Probably provides a hotter signal.

I use K&K's remarkably inexpensive Big Shot transducers for my mandolin and mandola. I have no internal access for these instruments, and thus must deal with an externally mounted pickup anyway.

You should contact K&K Sound about the importance of mounting pickup elements between the strings. My guess is that these transducer elements sound pretty good wherever they're placed on the soundboard; by the bridge between the strings just happens to be a good location for minimizing feedback and providing an even response. Since it's unlikely that an amplified lute would be played at the volume needed to induce feedback, you might get a better result a little further away from the bridge, where the impedence is less but the motion of the soundboard is greater. (Have I got that right?) I figure that two transducer elements of the pickup I'm putting in the theorbo is sufficient to get a balanced treble / bass response, and will give me a plenty strong signal for purposes of that instrument. All of the K&K transducers I've tried have a suprpisingly strong output - the guitar transducer is about as strong as the under saddle piezo element I have on my 12-string guitar which uses an on-board 9-volt batter
powered pre-amplifier.

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The luthier Stephen Barber had this to say to me about installing a pickup inside his lutes:

We're not going to put a transducer pickup inside one of our instruments; apart from the fact that it would have some adverse effect on the sound (the construction of a lute is much lighter, generally speaking, than say a steel-string or classical guitar, where the mass of a transducer strip or module might not affect the soundboard's workings so much) there would be the clear necessity of having to open the instrument when the battery dies. (editor: not all internal pickups require power) It seems that the solution proposed by Joe Baldassarre is sensible: Joe is an experienced player, and a nice guy - we met him in London last year - and we're sure he speaks from experience (message reproduced below)

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Joe Baldassarre suggested this pickup solution, which is popular since it doesn't affect the lute in any significant way when it's not being used:

"I bought a SONY ECM-44B lavelier microphone (flat, natural response), slipped a popsicle-stick-sized stick under the treble strings allowing about 2 inches of it to extend over the belly of the instrument. Then I clip the mic to the stick and plug it into the PA or amplifier.

This needs no defacing of the instrument, no expensive repairmen, and you can move the mic from instrument to instrument easily. Beauty!.

I attach the laveliere mic with the tie clip provided to the stick and allow the microphone to touch the belly of the lute. (The mic has a windscreen which protects the wood and eliminates vibration.)

When I string my lute, I simply slip the stick under the first 3-4 courses. The weight of the strings holds it in place. No glue, do couble-stick tape, nothing permanent, and nothing to mar the instrument inside or out.

I have this set-up on my medieval lute, oud, vihuela, baroque guitar, baroque lute, 3 of my renaissance lutes, classical guitar and 19th-century guitar. I can move one mic from instrument to instrument thus eliminating the need and expense of multiple pickups.

It sounds good too, unless you have to turn it up, then feecback is a problem, but I think that will be universal until someone comes up with a Telecaster lute.

Originally I used a popsickle stick and stained it to match the color of the bridge., so about that size is good. ˙I attach the mic to the stick with the tie clip that comes with the mic. ˙I had to bend it a bit to get it pointed in the right direction, but it works great.



Sean Smith sent me this photograph of the "stick" that needs to be carved to be placed under the strings to. Note that Joe just used a died popsickle stick, so many variations are acceptable.

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Ed Durbrow wrote:

I would suggest a uni over omni all most everytime, there are exceptions of course, but mic placement is witchcraft and not science. The closer you mic, the thinner the sound, as a general rule. I'm not sure of the distances you are talking about, but I find more of the opposite effect. The further I get the thinner it sounds.

Take it to an extreme, for example. Place a mic at the back of a church and record a lute. Does it sound full and rich or "thin"? I posted a note about proximity effect yesterday. All directional microphones are prone to the proximity effect, omnis are not. We can use the proximity effect (carefully) to boost the bass (warmth).

The main thing to understand about distance recording is that the further from the source, the more room sound you will get. If you are recording in a splendid sounding church and are looking for that kind of sound, then distance may be what you want. If you are recording in your bedroom, be aware that the room may have an unpleasant short, "boxy" reverberation time.

The other down side about distant micing anywhere other than a recording studio is that ambient noise levels are a problem. Try it, you will see. You might not be aware of the truck in the distance when you are playing but if you recorded from a distance, it will come through as well as the refrigerator turning on in the next room. The lute is a very quiet instrument. The further away you mic, the more you have amplify the signal which may contain a lot of ambient noise.

You might try a uni close to the 12th fret, but experimentation is the best teacher, along with cussing a bit.

Why not use two mics? One thing to be aware of when close micing is that any movement on the part of the source is greatly amplified. For example, if your mic is 5 cm from the lute and you move 1 cm, that is a change of 20%. So close, but not too close might be a caveat. "Distance equals depth", if you are home recording, move the mike away from you and see if your lute doesn't sound alot better, and less "mettalic" sounding. Distance equals more room sound. If you like it, go for it.

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Other Lute pages at this site:

- The Lute Beginner web home page

- Lute beginner music and exercises: free tablature downloads to learn by.

- how to replace your lute frets: directions on tying new gut frets.

- How to improve a bargain lute: tips for the lutenist on a tight budget.

- Lute related web sites