A few weeks back I bought the new L.R. Baggs M1 Active acoustic guitar pickup. Because this pickup is relatively new, I had a difficult time finding information and user reviews on the web, but I decided to take the plunge based on the good buzz surrounding this product. Here are a few of my impressions so far.
Installation was easy. The M1 seats on the edge of the soundhole and is secured by two screws. There is no padding between the pickup and the guitar but it looks like the surface of the pickup is smooth and, unless over-tightened, shouldn’t mar the finish of the guitar. Baggs suggests that the area could be padded with small pieces of cork, noting that this will deaden the response of the pickup. Assuming your endpin hole has already been drilled out, the pre-wired endpin jack can be installed in a snap. Because you have to put most of your arm inside the guitar to connect the endpin jack, you’ll at least need to loosen the strings significantly, if not restring, for the install. Also, if your endpin hole needs to be hollowed out, find a qualified guitar tech with the proper tools to do this for you.
So far, I’ve really enjoyed the pickup. It definitely adds the warmth that I’ve missed with my undersaddle piezo and soundboard transducer systems. The magnetic sound of the pickup is enhanced by the fact that the pickup also reproduces the vibrations of the guitar top. This gives the sense that you are listening to something close to a dual source soundhole pickup/soundboard transducer system. The individual pole pieces can be raised or lowered to adjust string balance, and adjusted for the balance between the strings and the body signals. (The the closer the pole pieces are set to the strings the less you’ll notice the resonance of the body and vice-versa.) For the first couple of days I left the pole pieces alone and played with the pickup as it came shipped, which was fine but after some tinkering, I decided that I preferred the pole pieces just sligtly higher than the preset position. Baggs also includes extra pole pieces for different types of strings, but I haven’t used these at all yet. Also, the 2nd string pole piece is set really low. So low, infact, that I actually thought that there wasn’t one down in there for a while.
Because the pickup is active (Baggs even provided a spare battery- nice!) there is no need for an outboard preamp to raise the signal level. This suits me just fine because I hate to use any more outboard electronics than necessary. There is also an on-board volume control which the older, passive M1 model does not have. I love this feature because I perform wireless and often move too far away from the board for quick level adjustments. I think most guitarists will want to EQ the sound a bit, but otherwise the pickup sounds great right out of the box. The M1 is extremely quiet although there is some faint noise which is easily masked by the playing sound, and I have rarely experienced feedback, but it usually occurs at high frequencies and seems to be coming more from the body vibrations than from the strings.
There are only a few things that I don’t like about the M1. First the color. Not the tonal color, the color color. I know that this is superficial and silly, but the cream-colored pickup really calls attention to itself as it sits in the usually dark soundhole. I suppose that this may be the point – to raise the “visibility” of the pickup on stage. Still, I would have preferred dark brown or black myself. Musically, my one major gripe is that 5th fret harmonics don’t seem to ring out with as much clarity as I’d like to hear. I think this may be due to the placement of the pickup along the length of the strings. Unfortunately, this is not adjustable for the time being. I once saw a photo of David Wilcox with a Sunrise pickup mounted “upside-down” in the soundhole. In other words, in the lower portion of the soundhole, turned 180 degrees so that the 1st string pole is now under the 6th string. This might be an experiment worth trying, but I’d have to remove all of the polepieces and reinstall them in reverse order. I’ll update if I ever try it.
I’m very pleased with the M1 Active and would strongly recommend it to anyone. The M1 is a great sounding system with minimal installation and setup hassles. One final plug: I was not able to find a local retailer who carried the M1 so I ordered online from Shoreline Music. I had never ordered form Shoreline before, but these guys had a great price, no shipping and handling charges. and were responsive to my email, and I will be sure to remember them the next time I can’t find what I need locally.
Well, I did rotate the pickup to the lower half of the soundhole and the 5th fret harmonics now ring out loud and clear. In order to keep the correct type of pole pieces under the strings, I then had to switch the 1st and 2nd pole pieces with the 5th and 6th. I’m not sure I have the height adjusted to my liking yet but it definitely works. When screwing the poles into their new positions I felt some resistance, so I called Baggs to make sure swapping the pole pieces wouldn’t cause any problems. Not only is it safe, but swapping the poles is how the pickup can be customized for left-handed instruments. Unfortunately, this move put the pickup directly under my right hand and causes a nasty noise anytime my nails or pick hit it, so I ended up reverting to the original pickup position.