REVIEW: EMG-ACS

EMG are rightfully known for their revolutionary active pickups for electric guitar, which are used by players as diverse as David Gilmour, Steve Lukather, Reb Beach, Zakk Wylde and James Hetfield, so it makes sense that they apply their active technology to acoustic pickups too. Active pickups have characteristically high headroom, which is especially handy for maintaining the fidelity of a clean guitar.

I mounted the ACS in a mid-level dreadnaught acoustic guitar. Installation is a cinch with EMG’s very popular Qwik-Connect plug-in connectors: secure the battery bag to the neck block, replace your existing strap pin with the supplied Ultrajak strap pin/output jack (drilling a half-inch hole if you need to), run the cable through the body, pop in the pickup and hook the units up – although in my case, since I was just borrowing the ACS for the purposes of review I secured the output jack to the surface of the body so I didn’t have to rout out the strap pin hole. EMG supplies Velcro to secure the wires to the underside of the guitar’s top, and also so that if you need to temporarily remove the pickup for some reason, you can stash the pickup cable out of sight within the body.
The height of the pickup’s pole pieces can be adjusted with a supplied 3/32” Allen wrench to achieve an even volume level from string to string. This is a distinct advantage over other acoustic pickup designs (and microphones), and it also means you don’t have to squash your dynamic range with a compressor just to even out the volume.

With only a single volume control on the pickup itself, this is a very simple system. There’s no particular need for bells and whistles like EQ, limiting, feedback elimination or a tuner.

The first thing I noticed with this pickup was the healthy dose of high end. This is especially good news for fingerpickers who need absolute note definition, and for strummers who need their pick attack to cut through the mix. If the treble is a bit too much, EMG suggests removing some or all of the pole pieces altogether. I like this very practical and straightforward way of customising the response of the pickup, and it feels a bit more ‘real’ than simply attacking the problem with outboard gear.

I kinda wish I had a guitar on hand with a piezo pickup in the bridge too, because a lot of companies now are combining different kinds of pickup in the one acoustic guitar, and it would be interesting to see how the ACS sounds when combined with the timbre of an undersaddle pickup, and to compare the two, because while piezo pickups are typically very high-end-heavy, it’s a different type of treble and attack to that of the ACS. The ACS definitely sounds more natural and realistic, and doesn’t need a whole bunch of processors and controls to do so.

This pickup is a good option for those who want a more natural sound from their acoustic than a piezo can typically provide, and it’s easy to install and customize. It may not sound as authentic as micing your acoustic up in the studio with top-flight microphones, but in terms of stage use, practicality and reproducibility it’s a very attractive option.