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Constructing an Under-Saddle Transducer

Constructing an Under-Saddle Transducer

by R.M. Mottola

Originally published in American Lutherie #68, 2001 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Six, 2013

Piezoelectric transducers or pickups (I use the terms interchangeably) are popularly used to “electrify” acoustic instruments, and are increasingly found embedded in the bridge saddles of electric instruments as well. Manufactured transducers are available from a number of sources, but this article provides instructions for making an undersaddle piezo pickup for a flattop guitar from basic materials. If you know which end of a soldering iron to grab hold of, you can build this pickup.

Piezo material will generate an electrical charge when mechanically deformed. There are four types of piezo materials used in the manufacture of instrument transducers: lead zirconate titanate (PZT) ceramic chips, PZT ceramic “bender” disks, polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) plastic film, and PVDF coaxial cable. PZT chips find their way into first-generation undersaddle guitar transducers, transducers for various bowed instruments, and manufactured archtop guitar and mandolin bridges. PZT disks consist of PZT material bonded to thin brass disks, and are commonly used for soundboard pickups for flattop guitars and for bridge-mounted pickups for upright basses. PVDF film may be found in all sorts of transducers from undersaddle guitar transducers to under-bridge-foot transducers for bass viols. PVDF coax cable is manufactured just like the single-conductor shielded cable used to make instrument cables, except that instead of an insulating material between the center conductor and the outer shielding braid, we find PVDF material. It is used in manufactured undersaddle pickups for acoustic guitars and is the material that will be used to construct a transducer in this article.

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