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Thread: factory pickup comparison?

  1. #1
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    Question factory pickup comparison?

    Both ukes I am considering are similarly featured and the main comparison IMHO is the factory installed pickup. I can't find a review or comparison online of the two pickups I am considering: the fishman that is in lanikai ukes and the kala pickup. I can't compare both due to lack of local availability(one is an hour away at elderly and the other is sold about 3 hours away at sweetwater.)

    Anyone have experience or opinions on my two options? Thanks in advance for any insight.

    https://www.elderly.com/departments/...SABEgKqWfD_BwE

    https://www.sweetwater.com/store/det...as-cec-natural
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    Ukulele start date: November 1st, 2013
    Cordoba 15CM concert uke

  2. #2

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    I do have experience with both.

    Straight out of the box, the Fishman is better quality.

    The Kala's pickup is likely to be a "Belcat" unit.
    Their quality is not very good out of the box. For these kinds of stock pickups, I always do an upgrade by replacing just the undersaddle unit with this ARTEC one:
    https://www.ebay.com/itm/ARTEC-Piezo.../112510228690?

    The ARTEC plug goes right into the existing preamp unit, no problems - and the output sounds tons better (clarity and balance).

    With this upgrade, the resulting pickup would actually sound better than the stock Fishman.
    I don't know for sure whether the ARTEC is compatible with the Fishman preamp.


    If you had to pick between the two, and don't wanna tinker with after-market parts, I'd go for the Fishman pickup (Lanikai).

  3. #3
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    The actual pickup elements for undersaddle are generally of two types rigid piezo ceramic or flexible piezo coax. The elements of many more expensive brands are 100% identical to those of the cheaper brands - I've had them apart. The biggest differences are between the types rather than the brands, and the biggest differences of all are in the preamps, not the elements.

    The rigid elements, in my experience, have more issues with balance between strings - especially the ones with raised bumps. If they, or the saddle, aren't completely flat and level then the output from different strings can be uneven. Swapping the element out usually fixes that.

    The expensive preamps sometimes have more reliable tuners, but other than that the quality is generally not much different from the name brands. I have found Cherub preamps to be every bit as good as Fishman and some Belcats to be fine too. Remember, these things are all mass produced in the same or similar facilities in SE Asia.

    Artec stuff is generally pretty good. I've had pickups and FX from them and never had a problem.
    And whether the blood be highland, lowland or no,
    And whether the skin be black or white as the snow,
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    As long as our hearts beat true to the lilt of a song.

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by buddhuu View Post
    The actual pickup elements for undersaddle are generally of two types rigid piezo ceramic or flexible piezo coax. The elements of many more expensive brands are 100% identical to those of the cheaper brands - I've had them apart. The biggest differences are between the types rather than the brands, and the biggest differences of all are in the preamps, not the elements.

    The rigid elements, in my experience, have more issues with balance between strings - especially the ones with raised bumps. If they, or the saddle, aren't completely flat and level then the output from different strings can be uneven. Swapping the element out usually fixes that.

    The expensive preamps sometimes have more reliable tuners, but other than that the quality is generally not much different from the name brands. I have found Cherub preamps to be every bit as good as Fishman and some Belcats to be fine too. Remember, these things are all mass produced in the same or similar facilities in SE Asia.

    Artec stuff is generally pretty good. I've had pickups and FX from them and never had a problem.

    Those are some very interesting insights, and I've also observed many of the same things.
    It's not so much a disagreement per se, but I have personally taken a different perspective on the importance of piezo element vs preamp.

    From my experience, I am inclined to believe that the piezo element plays the bigger role in the quality of sound the pickup system produces.
    If a pickup system is performing a bit poorly (eg: weak output, harsh tone, unbalanced strings volume) - it appears to be virtually always the fault of the piezo element itself. Replace the piezo element (where compatible), and I often see a game changing improvement in the quality of the overall pickup.

    I'm not entirely sold on the notion that expensive, branded pickup systems are worth what they sell for.
    At the end of the day, preamp units - cheap or costly - appear to arbitrarily do the same thing. They amplify the raw signal from the piezo into levels an amplifier likes, and have Tone and Volume control. I've not noticed thus far an expensive setup like a Mi-Si or LR Baggs doing it any better than a humble Belcat or Mahalo system that has it's sad-excuse-for-a-piezo replaced with a decent one like Artec.

    As for Fishman's using the same undersaddle units that we see in stock, generic units - I've noticed this too.
    That's probably why I find entry Fishman systems that often come stock on ukuleles to be mediocre.
    It's the piezo unit letting them down, not the preamp.

    Anyway, sorry for the long post.
    Long story short - my alternate take on the observations is that it's the piezo element that makes or breaks the pickup system, not so much the preamp.
    I've never really been fussed over how cheap preamps behave - the piezo element is often the weak link of the pickup system.

  5. #5
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    Some interesting and good info posted above, but one thing that is missed here is not whether or not the piezo or preamp electronics are good or bad, but more important is how well they are matched to each other.

    I've said countless times before, and it seems often forgotten, that impedance mismatch is the scientific reason why pickups can sound bad, whether passive or active (with a preamp).

    Piezo elements, no matter who makes them have an impedance of at least 1M Ohms. That's 1 MILLION Ohms.

    The preamp needs to be matched or calibrated with proper electronics on the INPUT to the preamp to accept the specific output impedance of a specific model of piezo element (which can vary widely +/- 15% even from the same manufacturer).

    The cheaper pickup/preamp combos likely have little or zero calibration in them, and the difference in price to the higher end Fishman, LR Baggs and Mi-Si pickups, is likely due to the fact that they ARE calbrated, each to the individual piezo element sold in the box as part of the QC process.

    I have spoken with design engineers from both LR Baggs and Mi-Si and can confirm this from first-hand conversations.

    Many folks want to gloss over all the technical reasons and just play, and that is fine,

    Maybe the reason that the Artec piezo rod pickups sound better with the cheaper preamps (like Belcat, whose web site gives a 404 for me now) is that they are a better electrical and impedance match to the cheaper preamp units than the dozen-for-$10 cheap Chinese piezo rod pickups that are typically the same thing sold as stock items when installed in most Kala, and other similar Asian-assembled ukes.

    Budget varies widely amongst buyers, as does tolerance for learning the science behind how it works.

    Some folks are easily satisfied with anything that makes a sound, but after working professionally as an audio engineer, I have experience enough to tell the difference between the low-cost vs high-cost units.

    I will admit that I am normally a frugal person, but this is one case where for critical listening and better sound, you get what you pay for.

    Since we do not all have the same goals, YMMV. It's all good to me, and I will not put down the choices other folks make, but please educate yourself as to why things sound the way they do before you spend the money.

    You can read my previous encyclopedic explanations about pickups, mics, recording, and how to improve the sound of all of this via the FAQ link in my forum signature below.

    The main thing, is use whatever you can afford and just keep making music if all of my tech talk gives you a migraine, I wont mind, and I am only trying to help by sharing my knowledge and experience here.

    Shaka...
    This FAQ link will help you learn about:
    - Magic Fluke Company ukes
    - Pickups, Preamps and Impedance Mismatch
    - Home Recording and Mics
    - String Upgrades
    - iPad Microphones
    - Wolfelele Uke Kit
    - How to string a Baritone uke as a piccolo bass
    - Strings I used for GDAE and CGDA fifths tunings

  6. #6

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    Thanks for your deep insights - I actually enjoyed reading the tech and learned quite a bit!

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by kissing View Post
    Thanks for your deep insights - I actually enjoyed reading the tech and learned quite a bit!
    Thanks for th kind words kissing - I would not have known about the Artec products if it were not for you, and while your experiences are different from mine, I find it very interesting and informative as well to read about them.

    Thank you for your contributions to the forum.

    We missed you while you were away for a while, and I am glad you are back now.
    This FAQ link will help you learn about:
    - Magic Fluke Company ukes
    - Pickups, Preamps and Impedance Mismatch
    - Home Recording and Mics
    - String Upgrades
    - iPad Microphones
    - Wolfelele Uke Kit
    - How to string a Baritone uke as a piccolo bass
    - Strings I used for GDAE and CGDA fifths tunings

  8. #8
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    My two cents don't even address your question. I wouldn't buy the Lanikai with any pick-up. Why amplify an instrument with unacceptable intonation issues?
    If everybody wanted peace instead of another TV, then there would be peace.
    -John Lennon-

  9. #9
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    just out of curiosity I would like a little more background on the lanikai intonation from you stevepetergal as the two lanikais I have examined in the past were fine. Was it this specific model that had issues or ones that were in this price range? What were your experiences?
    Youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/BuddyJesusSmokes
    http://www.reverbnation.com/musician/ohmless
    Ukulele start date: November 1st, 2013
    Cordoba 15CM concert uke

  10. #10
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    btw, thanks for the education folks. will definitely get a preamp after I get the uke(too busy saving dough at the moment.) As I am cheap, until I get the preamp I will see if the sound can improve with just using my boss eq pedal that I used with my RISA.
    Youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/BuddyJesusSmokes
    http://www.reverbnation.com/musician/ohmless
    Ukulele start date: November 1st, 2013
    Cordoba 15CM concert uke

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