A pickup is a type of microphone that is directly attached to the instrument so that it converts the air vibrations in the instrument to electricity at the source. The term comes from the electric guitar where pickups were initially based on a magnet and coil of wire that generated an electrical signal from the motion of a steel guitar string within the magnetic field of the pickup so the instrument did not need to generate an audible sound - just an electrical signal that could be amplified.
PiezoBarrel pickups are designed to be attached to wind and brass instruments to pick up the relatively high pressure standing wave inside the instrument near the mouthpiece end. This has the benefit of allowing the instrument to be amplified without feedback or interference from other sounds outside the instrument. Anything that creates a sound from the instrument also affects the air column inside the instrument. For example, a bassoon can be played by sucking on the reed instead of blowing, this sound is faithfully reproduced by the pickup as are percussive effects made with the reed. Mutes on a trumpet change the sound of the trumpet and the sound from a PiezoBarrel pickup on the trumpet mouthpiece shank also pick up the difference in the sound.
The PiezoBarrel 'Wood' is a popular pickup for clarinet designed specifically for the clarinet to provide a natural warm dark sound and add a little reinforcement to the chalumeau register. The PiezoBarrel 'Wood' offers high output, eliminates feedback and prevents spill without requiring external power or a preamplifier, and reproduces the natural sound of the clarinet with remarkable clarity while minimising breath and mechanical noise. It is great for live performance or recording and can also be plugged directly into effect pedals. You can purchase the PiezoBarrel 'Wood' with a clarinet barrel that has a brass adapter already installed, or you can use the supplied fittings to install the pickup on your own instrument. The 'Wood' is also suitable for brass instruments such as Trombone and Euphoneum, and for the Bassoon.
The PiezoBarrel P7 pickup has a brighter sound with more upper partials than the PiezoBarrel 'Wood', and although designed for Saxophone and Bass Clarinet, it works well for a variety of other instruments including the Bassoon and French Horn (and a variety of wooden flutes and whistles). The PiezoBarrel P7 is available with a low cost sax mouthpiece (soprano, alto or tenor) ready to use, as well as being supplied with extra fittings to be soldered onto a sax neck or fitted into a mouthpiece. The P7 is available with brass adapters that can be soldered onto a sax or bass clarinet neck. These are available in different sizes to fit soprano and alto sax necks, tenor or baritone sax necks, flute headjoints and bass clarinet necks as well as alto clarinet, conta alto clarinet and contra bass clarinet necks. You can use the P7 to drive effects pedals or just to get a natural sound without the problems of feedback and spill from other instruments.
The PiezoBarrel V1 pickup is a new design that is specifically designed for saxophones from soprano down to baritone. The V1 was developed to provide a similar natural sound to a stand microphone with less middle frequency warmth that is characteristic of the 'Wood and the P7 pickups while providing more presence, and a higher upper frequency response. The V1 has been popular with early adopters and may replace the P7 for sax players in the future. Unlike the P7, the V1 output will be a lot lower for instruments such as flutes and whistles and therefore is not recommended for these. The V1 is available as a simple screw in upgrade for existing sax customers, or as an alternative to the P7 for new customers.
The PiezoBarrel P9 was developed for trumpet in collaboration with Master Trumpeter, Schilke Artist and Grammy Award Winning jazz musician Darren Barrett. The PiezoBarrel P9 pickup has a crisp warm sound and can be used for trumpet, and high brass instruments. The PiezoBarrel P9 is available with fittings to be soldered onto your trumpet mouthpiece shank (or elsewhere on the instrument), and may be supplied with a low cost generic mouthpiece (standard sizes 3C, 5C, 7C) that has been fitted with a brass adapter ready to use. The supplied generic trumpet mouthpiece is suitable for student use, as a proof of concept or just as an installation example to show how to install the supplied brass adapters. You can use the P9 to drive effects or just to get a natural trumpet sound without the problems of feedback and spill from other instruments or to blend with the sound from a clip-on mic to add warmth.
The PiezoBarrel R1 is specifically designed to overcome the low output of the recorder in the lower register compared with the upper register by boosting the bass response. This means that a stronger signal is produced in the lower register of the recorder without the sound becoming unstable from overblowing. Once again, the output can be fed into effects to enhance the sound. The R1 may also be suitable for other instruments that have a wide disparity in the output levels between registers, but at this stage the R1 is mostly for the Recorder.
PiezoBarrel pickups can be used for a variety of wind and brass instruments including small instruments such as the Armenian Duduk and other small folk instruments, and large instruments such as the Australian Didgeridoo, Bassoon, Alto Clarinet and Contra-alto and Contra-bass clarinets, french horn, oboe, trombone and tuba. Not all instruments are the same, so different models are available to cater for different tastes and also the different characteristics of the instruments. Collaboration with talented musicians such as Linsey Pollak, Ed van den Brekel, Darren Barret, Valentin Conus, Tano Brock, Pedro Eustache and many more around the world have been instrumental in the the development of the PiezoBarrel pickups.
A pickup opens up the world of analogue and digital effects which can provide simple enhancements to the natural sound or a variety of other modern effects that produce harmonies, chorus effects, phase shifting or manipulate the pitch of echoes to enhance a reverb. The instrument sound can be converted to MIDI control messages to drive digitized or synthetic sounds, or used as input to a DAW. The lack of feedback and spill make pickups ideal for creating the clean sounds needed to trigger effects without the 'glitches' normally present with microphones.
Finally, wind instruments can work alongside guitars, keyboards and synths as equal partners. With a PiezoBarrel pickup, the dreams of the Selmer Varitone of the late 60's can finally be realized. The PiezoBarrel pickups are cheap, effects pedals are inexpensive unless you really want to get the latest and greatest, and the pickup can be fitted easily to off-the-shelf instruments. The commercial reasons the Varitone failed are no longer present, and advances in electronics and music in general have moved the goal posts.
A pickup can give many instruments that are too quiet to mic in a big venue without running into feedback problems a chance to be heard, and to be able to solo over the top of a large stage production without being cut back to a whisper to control feedback.
Now is the time to fulfill the dream!
Many thanks to Justin Miller for sharing this COVID safe quartet for one.
A big thank you to Christopher Mothersole for a demo of how to really play an electric clarinet, and what you can do with a few effects
Many thanks to Carl Kirby for sharing this inside look at the how he generates his amazing sounds.
Who would have thought a bass clarinet was so cool - not to mention easy to mic.
The PiezoBarrel pickup design goals provide a robust, well designed high quality pickup at an affordable price, without sacrificing quality or great customer service. Key choices that were made in the pickup designs were:-
If you have any questions about PiezoBarrel Pickups please feel free to email me by clicking the email link at the top of this page -Steve Francis.