We are always being asked what the best mandolin pickup is. Being familiar with these and having installed hundreds over the years, a few have risen to the top. All three of these recommendations are passive pickups. While there are several other good options, these should be at the top of your list.
Our top pick is the K&K Twin Mandolin Pickup. This provides good amplified tone with limited feedback. It is one of the least expensive of the quality pickups, yet is one of the best. We recommend the internal version, but there is also one that can be installed externally as well. This has a hot signal for a passive pickup. We do recommend a preamp for the best results.
Our runner up is the LR Baggs Radius Mandolin Pickup. This costs slightly more than the K&K twin and offers a warmer tone. The warm tone comes at the expensive of punch and this pickup is also more sensitive to handling noise. This is fine if your preamp or mixer has good EQ control, but most players will have to put some effort into tailoring the tone. The Radius comes with a carpenter jack and can be installed internally or external with no additional parts needed. This would be a better choice if you planned to swap the pickup to multiple instruments.
In last place is the Fishman Mandolin pickup. This isn't last because it is inferior, but due to the install process. The Fishman comes imbedded in a nice Ebony mandolin bridge. The bridge will require custom fitting to the top of your mandolin. If you are up for it (or paying to have it done), the Fishman has the best feedback rejection of the three and the added benefit of a potential bridge upgrade. This is the only one that has the ability to improve the acoustic tone of your mandolin as well. Because the pickup is inside the bridge, there is not as much of the mandolins top being amplified. This is why the M-200 has better feedback rejection, but it will not sound quite as warm as the other two. This would be a good choice for those playing in high-volume situations, or someone that wanted to do a bridge upgrade anyway.
It is important to note that all of these have gotchas. First and foremost, all three of these mandolin pickups are meant to run into acoustic Preamps. Not directly to the board or through anything with a low impedance input (guitar amps). Not all acoustic amps have the correct input impedance for pickups. You generally want 10 Mega ohms, but at least 1 mega ohm.
Internal installation means drilling a hole in your mandolin. This is the best install method. The clamps that come with these are of good quality, but need something to grip onto. If your mandolin has no recurve, the clamp can pull off.
All Mandolin pickups sound best with good EQ. This is especially true of the Radius. The Radius has a fuller tone, and thus pickups up handling noise. If you run a low cut, this can be cleaned up and vastly improve your amplified tone.
Comments will be approved before showing up.