Mic vs. Pickup


Hi, I’m wondering if I should go with a good mic or a good internal pickup for a mandolin. We are not a rock band so we don’t really play at extremely high volumes. If you have opinions, what mic or pickup would you recommend? Thanks!


Totally depends on how much you want your instrument to sound like itself. mics are more realistic.

I always prefer mics when possible on any acoustic instrument…but that’s my preference…yours may be different.


I’ll second @fiddle_wood. Go with a mic if you can find a good one.


Third! Honestly, a “good” mic depends on how you will use it. For live use, you can get away with an SM57 or 58 (or similar mics from others). They are durable and easy to use… You just have to stay close. If your stage volume is not too loud, I prefer the sound of a condensor. However, they are much more delicate and prone to feedback (you need a good/great sound person). You might notice the mics Ben has been using lately: the SM7b. I have one of those I use primarily for vocals, but it does instruments well too. However, it is a big step up in price from the 58, and sounds pretty much like a “better” 58. Basically, 4 or 5 times the cost for a moderate increase (certainly noticeable) in sound quality. However, it is a durable thing. Mine has been out in the world 100s of times over 5 or 6 years and it has never given me a problem.


I just play with some family at a local small local event. It doesn’t seem to be a huge price difference either way so I think I’ll probably take the mic suggestion.
Also do any of you guys have experience with using a line array system for live sound?


I have used a Audio-Technica PRO 35 clip-on mic and a Shure sm57 (I have not tried an internal mic) I prefer the Sm57

The response is better across the mandolin range and I like the dynamics of being able to move in and out. Usually I share with a guitar when he does not use his own amp.

A line array sounds like a big deal, so you are over my head on that. We occasionally play at venues our system can not handle because there is a lot of noise and the space is real deep. But I have no desire to spend big on a sound system and have to haul it around because we are seriously amateurs and way down at the bottom of the Bluegrass food chain.


Thanks for the help, everyone!


Yeah, we have the JBL stacks at a place I play often. Any particular question? From a player’s perspective, it’s just a PA.


I just have one Bose L1, so I am trying to figure out how to set it up as a single main.


Maybe look here…


Alright y’all, thanks for your help. I just bought two SM57’s off of eBay.


Just a recent experience to pass along: Last night I got asked to play mandolin with a group I hadn’t played with before. We didn’t have a real confident sound person, just a friend who would adjust things if we asked her to do so. The music was just a 20 minute thing. The mic on the mando was not very hot compared to the other sound levels. We got loud on a few of the songs, and I was doing all I could to keep the mix balanced. I even whacked the top of my mando with the pick a few times, marking in ways I never had before :frowning: / :slight_smile: In the end, Afterward, I heard that I wasn’t really audible unless you were standing close enough to hear the stage mix. There were some music parts I rather liked, so it was a bummer it didn’t get out.

Anyway… my point for posting… if at all possible, practice with the sound system you will be playing out with and try to get someone to actively listen and become confident enough to be “the sound dude/dudette.” From the stage, players can’t really tell what it sounds like on the other side of the speakers.


Yes, we will be practicing with the mics and sound system. Thanks Mike!


I confess I have a love of pickups. Let me give you the case for pickups, and what you should be prepared for with either pickups or mics if you play out a lot.

To start, I am both a sound person and a musician.

As a sound person pickups are a lot easier to work with, as long as they aren’t cheapies that quack like a duck. The most common problem is dead batteries in active pickups. Another common problem is guitar players with preamp pedals that don’t know what the preamp knobs do, and do stuff like turn the treble all the way up or down. It’s vital to identify those during a sound check.

To dial in a musician’s sound I make the musicians play solo, without amping, and then dial in the sound so they come out the mains sounding true to their tone. It’s a simple A/B comparison.

I find that kind of fixup is needed regardless of whether it’s a mic or a pickup. I’ve had violins that came in too hot on the treble side when micd, and dialing them back slightly reproed their sweet acoustic tone.

I’ve had musicians move mics on stage during a set because they didn’t like where it was, and I had to emergency fix the balance, but if they moved it too far away, they were lost, as I couldn’t bring them back without getting feedback.

I’ve had singers with mics on stands that liked to sway as they sing, and they fade in and out as they do it. Mandolins work the same way if you move too much. The good singers know to ‘eat’ the mic, but you can’t put a mic 1" from a mandolin or a violin, there is too much motion going on.

I use high-pass, parametric and shelving EQ as my main tools. And compressor is my 3rd most used tool. In a band setting, your soft notes will get lost if you are balanced for the loud stuff, a compressor (very gentle compression, 2x just little on top) evens that out a bit. It takes some practice and some know-how, but it help all the subtle stuff that usually gets lost come out a bit more. We have great musicians, it always irks me when they play fantastically but nobody hears it. My job as a sound guy is to make everybody heard, in as musical a way as possible.

As a mandolinist I bought a pedal that has all my fave tools in it. (zoom MS-60B is the only cheap one I could find). I find most sound guys in a five minute sound check can’t do as good a job as I can with hours at home to fiddle around.

IMHO a mic, can in theory, give you a better sound, in a perfectly controlled environment.

  • works best with very low stage volumes or a recording booth.
  • best when you remain perfectly still.
  • is best when there are relatively few musicians being miced, that’s the stage volume thing again.
  • longer sound checks to get the mics dialed in, and people told not to move or fiddle with the mics, etc.
  • an acoustically powerful (read expensive) instrument is better with mics because it will overpower the background noise a bit better.

In less controlled environments, pickups will excel.

  • you can move around and your sound stays the same.
  • background noise won’t come through your pickup as much as it will through a mic.
  • a pedal with some EQ can fix up pickup oddities so your dialed-in sound goes to the board every time, regardless of board or environment or sound person competence.
  • you can use a looper pedal to listen to yourself in the mains - this is priceless for adjusting your sound, and working with a sound person.
  • effects (like gentle compression) are useful in a church setting.
  • a mid level instrument is indistinguishable from many high-end instruments with a pickup, because acoustic power is irrelevant, yes this is heresy, but it is still true This makes additional options available for what instrument you gig with.

Blugrassers are generally acoustic purists, and will use mics (I could have just said this and skipped this post I guess), same for studios, many other folks use pickups, depends entirely on your environment.

All my mandos have pickups, but I will use mic or pickup as the venue calls for.

So, choose between gearhead, or acoustic purist. If you don’t want to worry about the gear, use a mic, and learn to work with one like singers do. If you want consistent good sound across multiple environments and various sound people, get a pickup, and learn to send a good processed sound to the board, thus relying on the sound person primarily for balance.

Yes, Sierra Hull has been known to play with a pickup when it’s a large band and she wants to move around. If she can do it, so can you. :slight_smile:


Great post!
I agree, and if everyone is plugged in a pickup is the way to go.

Only thing I’d add is that acoustic musicians normally prefer mics for two reasons:

they want to control the dynamics of what they play…no soundman in the world can control knobs fast enough to keep up with the subtle, constantly changing dynamics of a decent bluegrass performance, and a pickup hands that control to whoever is at the board

Secondly, they like the sound of their instrument and I’ve yet to hear any pickup that faithfully reproduces an acoustic instrument.


I have not experienced much problem with the SM57. Most problems are with vocal mics and bass and guitar amps and the monitor quality balance. Not being able to hear yourself is a problem.