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Fig. 1. The L.R. Baggs M1 Active is one of several modern magnetic soundhole pickups that offer handy features and superior performance compared to older designs.
A magnetic soundhole pickup makes a nice alternative to installing an under-saddle pickup in your acoustic guitar. Today’s soundhole pickups perform and sound much better than in decades past, so if you’ve written them off based on their old rep, it’s worth keeping an open mind and doing some research on modern options.
One of my clients wanted a pickup installed in his 2004 Martin D-28 that would not acoustically change its tone. Since under-saddle pickups can and do affect a guitar’s acoustic properties, I suggested a soundhole pickup.
After discussing different models, we decided on a L.R. Baggs M1 Active pickup (Fig. 1). Because the M1 has a built-in preamp, you can plug your guitar directly into a P.A. or acoustic amp and control your level with an onboard volume dial. Powered by a lithium watch battery, the M1 Active is a dual-coil humbucker designed so that one coil senses the strings and the other responds to the guitar’s physical resonance. Six adjustable pole pieces let you balance the output of each string—a handy feature that’s lacking in many older soundhole pickups.
Tip: Before you purchase a pickup, measure your guitar’s soundhole and check the manufacturer’s specs to confirm that the pickup fits your guitar. Soundholes are typically 4" in diameter, but they can vary.
My client wanted to use an endpin jack. To install it, I knew I’d first need to bore out the endpin hole. This operation has to be done carefully, so let’s look at each step. (While these instructions specifically reference the Baggs pickup, the procedure for installing other soundhole pickups is essentially the same.)
Fig. 2. Removing the endpin.
Removing the endpin. Because this D-28 had its original endpin, I began by removing it from the body. In most cases, you can simply twist the endpin out with your fingers (Fig. 2). But if the endpin is glued in, you may have to carefully use a pair of pliers to remove it. In extreme cases, you might have to cut off the endpin flush to the body and use a drill bit to remove the remaining section. Luckily, the endpin on this D-28 came out easily, so I didn’t have to use pliers or a drill.
Reaming the endpin hole. Now I was ready to bore out the hole to accommodate the endpin jack that comes prewired to the M1 Active harness. I used an endpin jack reamer from Stewart-MacDonald (stewmac.com). This tapered tool attaches to a drill and has a stepped ream configuration that provides a very clean, precise bore. It will bore a hole from 15/32" up to 1/2" in diameter.
Fig. 3. Using an endpin jack reamer from Stewart-MacDonald (stewmac.com) to enlarge the endpin hole.
In the past, guitar techs would use a spade bit and hope the hole was symmetrical and didn’t tear up the finish. Spade bits can slip and cause damage, and it’s difficult to keep them perfectly straight as you drill, so the endpin hole can end up crooked. With this reamer, you don’t have to worry about damaging the finish or tearing up wood around the hole. Also it’s easy to keep the reamer straight as you slowly drill (Fig. 3), so the hole ends up clean and accurate. This is the best tool I’ve found for this type of project.