Installing DIY Piezo Pickup

Yesterday I posted what I did to make my homemade, diy piezo pickup for an acoustic guitar.  Here’s what I did to actually get it in the guitar:

6. Using some painters masking tape I tested the pickup in multiple spots on my guitar.  I tested different spots on the guitar. I tested different spots inside the guitar.  My favorite was inside the guitar, under the bridge but not touching the strings or string pegs, and up a little bit so it is closer to the low E string. Sorry, no pictures of the inside of my guitar.  The painters masking tape worked well, came off easily, and didn’t seem to impact the piezo pickup.

Note: Getting the piezo pickup inside is easy when you use tape and tissue to pull the strings apart, but it does take a while to retighten and retune the guitar strings each time you try a different piezo pickup placement inside the guitar body.

7. When testing the piezo pickup inside the guitar, I got a lot of feedback when it was amplified. Well, I don’t know if it was a lot, but it was easy to get feedback and I figure that isn’t good. And the piezo pickup had a lot of treble and had some sort of “trebbly” echo. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great.  So, following suggestions from the web, I got some plastic dip tool handle gunk at my local hardware store. It is this plastic stuff that you dip tool handles in and it coats it, which is what I did to the piezo part of the pickup.

8. I did two layers of plastic dip.  After it dried I tested the piezo pickup again and it still worked!  And the “trebbly” echo sound was pretty much gone. This is when I got a little overly excited and went straight for installation inside the guitar.

9. This was a multiple step process.  First, I drilled a 3/8th inch hole in the side of the guitar for the jack.  Then I tried to put the jack in the hole, but my arm wouldn’t fit all the way into the smaller sound hole of the parlor guitar.

So following instructions from the internet, I used a chopstick through my drilled hole to easily slide the jack to the pre-drilled hole.  Only my big plastic chopstick was a bit big for “sliding.”  The jack actually grabbed on to the chopstick and I just pulled it to the hole.  It worked even better than trying to slide the jack.

I then slid the washer and nut down the chopstick on the outside (which cleared with no problems) to secure the jack in place.

The jack was now secure in the new hole I had drilled.  I could’ve used an endpin jack to go where the strap button goes, but those are at least 4 times the price of the jack I used and this is all just experimentation on a guitar where failure is an option.  I think I will use an endpin jack for when I do this to my Ibanez AW-100 acoustic guitar.

11. Now it was time to affix the piezo pickup to the inside of the guitar.  I had the place already located and I could reach it with my hand through the sound hole (just couldn’t reach the jack hole).  But this is when I got a little overly confident.  I went straight for the hot glue gun. I glued the piezo piece in place, let it dry, and plugged it in.  It worked!  It sounded pretty good too!

I started playing lots of different stuff on my new electric/acoustic guitar.  When I got to my small repertoire of blues licks I got my first negative.  The string noise is very loud!  Any slides or movement on the strings is amplified and a bit harsh.

This is by no means the end of the world, but it surprised me.  My earlier tests with the painter’s tape had not done the same thing.  Either I didn’t play the guitar enough during my testing faze or the hot glue provided a stronger connection to the bridge.  One of the online articles talks about the string noise and how only attaching half of the piezo pickup to the bridge will reduce that.

I don’t know if this could have been prevented, but I should have used double sided tape first, then gone for the more permanent hot glue after testing the positioning.  Again, not the end of the world. I can go back into the guitar and using a hot knife separate the piezo piece and reattach it, but I’m lazy.

Of course I always could just learn to play better with less finger movement and more precise fingering of chords and stuff!  Either way, I’m really enjoying my kids’ new acoustic/electric guitar.  And for a $5 total investment, I’m very satisfied!

Making DIY Piezo Pickup

I posted links to some online tutorials and videos about how to very cheaply make a piezo pickup using radio shack purchases and how to install the piezo pickup in an acoustic guitar. And now I have done it!

I started with the Olympia OP-2 by Tacoma parlor acoustic guitar I got for my kids to bang on so they leave my guitars alone.  I’ve mentioned in the past that it doesn’t sound the greatest, but it is a guitar, the neck is straight, and it can be used to make music (at least in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing). I also have an Ibanez Artwood AW-100 acoustic guitar I picked up at a garage sale (thanks to some good friends) that I eventually want to turn into an acoustic/electric, but I thought I’d try it out on the Olympia parlor acoustic before I start messing with a guitar I currently like playing.

So, the project:

1. I got a piezo transducer (part #273-0073) from Radio Shack for $2.19. I walked in and asked where they keep their piezo transducers and the guy looked at my like I was crazy.  The girl working there told him it was a buzzer and he showed me the cabinet with all the little drawers for electronic parts.  I dug around the buzzers cabinet, but had to ask for help because it wasn’t in the proper tray.  It was on top of the “electronics parts” cabinet in a pile with a bunch of other parts. Apparently customers dig around collecting possible parts they need and then dump whatever they don’t want on top of the cabinet instead of putting them away for the next customer.  Be a conscientious shopper and clean up after yourself…you might just be the next customer.

2. I didn’t take any pictures of this next step, but you need to take the piezo pickup out of the plastic casing.  It isn’t too hard, but be careful that you don’t bend or cut the piezo’s brass disc. I just used wire cutters to cut the edges of the plastic off and then cut the top of the casing into quarters using the hole on top. If you get one, you’ll see what I mean.  There is a shop that sells just the piezo without the metal casing. I didn’t go that route this time, but may in the future. I personally would recommend getting the wired ones.  I got a piezo transducer out of an old fire alarm and quickly ruined it trying to solder wires to the base and the crystal layer. The crystal layer had some type of coating on it that I applied way too much heat to…which is not good.

3. Next I took some shielded stereo wire I had laying about from a past project and soldered the shield to the white wire.  I don’t know if shielded wire is absolutely necessary, but I was worried about feedback and hum being made worse by using unshielded wire, so I followed the advice of one of the online tutorials I read…plus I had some shielded wire. I then soldered the red wire to the piezo pickup red wire and the piezo pickup black wire to the white/shield wire.  I then used heat shrink on each wire (don’t forget to put the heat shrink in place first so you can then slide it over your solder joint) and a big piece of heat shrink over the whole thing to give it some strength.

4. I then wired the other end of the wire to my jack. The white/shield wire went to the sleeve of the jack and the red wire went to the tip of the jack.  The length of the wire is a basic estimate of how much I think I will need (plus a little extra to be generous) once it is all inside the guitar.  Since this was my test guitar, I figured I could cut it down if I needed to.

5. Then I tested it.  I plugged it in and tapped on it.  It worked!  I held the piezo pick up to my desk and tapped around it with my finger.  It worked!  I held it against the top of my acoustic guitar and strummed.  It worked!

Tomorrow I’ll post an entry about how I installed this bad boy into the guitar.  Stay tuned… (get it, that’s punny).

It Worked!

I don’t have time to put together an entire blog entry about my kids’ former acoustic guitar that is now an electric/acoustic guitar, but I will in the near future…because it totally worked!  With $5 worth of parts I actually did it! I made and installed a piezo pick up into an Olympia OP-2 (by Tacoma) parlor guitar and it works!  And it sounds pretty decent too.

Thank you internet. I couldn’t have done it without you!

Finger Picking Fingernails

For the last three weeks I’ve been growing out my fingernails on my right hand. Since I tend to play more with my fingers than with a guitar pick and since I am starting to learn to do some finger picking, I wanted to see if I liked finger picking with my fingernails rather than the pads of my fingers.

In short, I like using fingernails…for finger picking, but all other aspects of my life, I prefer shorter fingernails.

Perhaps I’m just not used to it.  Perhaps I need to give it more time.  But it is awkward and I’m not patient enough to wait it out. Plus it really impacts my feel when holding a foil for fencing and that is something that does matter to me. I’m a much better fencer than guitar player (which isn’t saying much when you look at it from my guitar playing skill level).  And I don’t like typing with long fingernails (which I do a lot of at work).

I know there are many people in this world with long fingernails, and more power to them, but it just isn’t for me.

However, I will say, I like the versatility of fingernails for finger picking an acoustic (or even electric) guitar.  It is so easy to get the warmer, finger pad sound.  Or switch to the sharper, plucked fingernail sound.  Or go straight into a lightly strummed fingernail sound.  Or big, booming thumb and finger strum. And with all the acoustic guitar meddling I’ve been doing with my piezo pick up projects, I have really had an opportunity to test these fingernails out.

I prefer this flexibility and sound over traditional flat picks or finger picks. But I’m not going to keep them.  And I still don’t like traditional finger picks because it seems like you can only use them one way.  You can pluck, but not strum.  Fingernails seem to have the best of both worlds.

And besides, I can grow them out again if I want to in the future.

Anyone know of any alternatives out there?  I once read an article about a guy who has custom made “finger picks” made that actually go over the finger nail rather than over the finger pad. But I can’t remember who it was and I can’t find the article.  So maybe I’m not the only one who has felt so positive, yet so negative about playing with long fingernails.

And a final note, don’t grow out your left hand (fretting hand) fingernails because that is just plain awkward!

More tutorials on DIY piezo pick up installation

Great tips on how to install an internal piezo pick up. This link takes you to a great 2 part article about how and where to put a piezo pickup in a cigar box guitar, which is pretty similar.  Here’s another article on how to wire one up. Here’s an instructable on it too. In the following video I particularly like the tip on how to easily get an open jack (not an endpin jack) installed.

And here’s how to solder a piezo.  Wish I had watched this first before ruining the piezo I pulled out of an old fire alarm/smoke detector.

And here‘s how to install one according to this guy’s blog.

And the same guy put one in a drum box/acoustic stompbox.

Cool Looking Guitar

Funny how the internet finds stuff for you.

I started with this awesome band covering Rammstein.

That drummer/harpist is awesome!  Anyway, that led to this guitarist covering Rammstein.

Which led to me finding this guitar.

The discontinued ESP LTD RZK600 Richard Z electric guitar in silver is really interesting.  It is certainly a metal machine, but it looks very cool.  Kind of like a super strat , but a super Mosrite.  And the fact that the youtube guitarist swapped out the EMG pickups for some Gibson Burstbuckers makes me think it may have more tonal capabilities than your standard metal machine.

Ah, the internet. Leading you wherever you want to go!

Kids Rock!

My nieces and nephew sent me a picture of their latest project.

Budding luthiers? I think so!

How many of us made cardboard guitars or used tennis rackets for rocking out when we were kids?  I have a picture of me using a 2×4 when I was 5…but that won’t be up here any time soon because I pretty much look the same just with less hair.

However, let’s hear about your early “guitars”!





I’ve thought about this in the past, but never on a grand scale like this.

Bertram on gUitarREN made this oscilator guitar effect and housed it in a metal bowl.

The knobs look so big in the picture (which I didn’t get permission to use, but I hope he is ok with my use). At first I thought it was a huge mixing bowl with industrial sized pots, switches, and knobs! But it isn’t.  It is a small bowl with normal sized pots, switches, and knobs.

I need to make a switch enclosure out of a little metal bowl for the channel switcher I made for my Boss SD-2. Maybe I’ll dip the part that goes on the ground in rubber or latex or something “non-slip.”

Anyway, inspiring!