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Hands-On Review: Shadow Sonic Pickups

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The Do-It-Yourself way to electrify your acoustic guitar

By Dan Day
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer

When I was asked to write a Hands-On Review of the Shadow Sonic Series pickup systems I immediately came up with a candidate for upgrade from acoustic to acoustic-electric: my trusty old Guild D4-NT. Not an expensive acoustic, but it’s been my go-to guitar for a lot of years. I usually found myself leaving it at home when called upon to play a gig requiring amplification. I had bought a soundhole pickup for the Guild but wasn’t real happy with the sound I was getting and the pickup itself interfered with my fingerpicking.

Sonic Series

There are four products in the Shadow Sonic Series. Each consists of a pickup and an acoustic guitar preamp that is mounted just under the rim of the soundhole:

  • SH Sonic Nanoflex system uses the same undersaddle pickup as Basic but the preamp has separate treble and bass controls, as well as a phase switch that inverts the signal and cancels overall feedback.
  • SH Sonic NanoMAG has the same preamp as the Sonic Nanoflex but the NanoMAG pickup is mounted at the end of the fingerboard.
  • SH Sonic Doubleplay uses both the NanoMAG and Nanoflex pickups and a dual preamp with blend, tone, and volume controls as well as a phase switch.

No special skills needed

Before I embarked on installing the Sonic Doubleplay system in my Guild, I knew I would need some help. No special skills like soldering or tricky procedures like gluing are required, but drilling is necessary to widen the hole for the endpin and to create a small hole in the bridge to install the Nanoflex pickup. I could have borrowed a drill and tried it myself but I didn’t want to make any mistakes drilling holes in my Guild while installing pickups. I enlisted the aid of a tool-equipped colleague as my installation buddy, guide, and wingman which made this DIY project a DIO – Do It Ourselves.

Installation

We set up in a clean, well-lit workspace. We both read the instruction booklet and discussed our plan of action. We gathered our tools: a power drill and interchangeable bits, a rasp to file the holes, ruler, replacement strings, peg winder/string cutter, amp, cable, and tuner.

We placed the Guild on a protective mat with a neck support. At this point, we figured it would be a good idea to test the pickups and preamp to make sure they worked before we removed the strings and drilled any holes. We placed each pickup under the strings and attached the wire leads to the preamp. We connected the preamp to the endpin connector, plugged in a cable to connect the preamp and guitar amp, and then strummed the strings to confirm we were getting a signal.

Shadow Sonic DoublePlay Acoustic Guitar Soundhole Preamp with Nanomag Soundhole and NanoFlex Undersaddle Pickup

After removing the strings and the plastic endpin from the Guild, we used the drill and rasp to increase the hole size to 12.5mm and installed the endpin connector from the inside. This is where rolling up your sleeves and having long, slender arms is helpful because you need to reach into the soundhole and push the endpin connector through the newly widened hole. (If you have Popeye-like forearms, some long pliers or a hemostat should help.)

We installed the Nanoflex pickup by removing the saddle from the bridge and drilled a 3.1mm hold in the lower corner of the saddle slot on the base string side. The Nanoflex pickup is threaded through the hole from the inside of the guitar. This took only a couple of attempts before the pickup came peeping through the hole. We pulled it through and placed the Nanoflex along the bottom of the slot. The saddle was placed back in its slot on top of the Nanoflex. Installing the Nanoflex does raise the saddle slightly, resulting in higher action. At some point I may want to file down the underside of the saddle or install a new one to bring the action back down a bit.

Before installing the preamp on the inside of the soundhole with adhesive strips, you should attach the leads from the endpin and connect both pickups to the preamp. It’s much easier doing it at this point rather than waiting until the preamp is mounted inside the guitar where you’d have to do it all by feel.

The NanoMAG pickup was easily attached to the end of the fretboard with adhesive strips. We attached two supplied wire clips that keep connecting wires from flopping around inside the body. We made sure all the wiring was secured in the wire clips and there were no stray vibrations, especially from inside the body that could be picked up up by the Nanoflex.

Shadow Acoustic Guitar NanoMAG Pickup with Endpin Preamp

We then put a new set of strings on the Guild, making sure the saddle maintained its correct inclination and was not pulled in the direction of bridge.

Plug and play

The preamp powered up when we inserted a guitar cable into the endpin connection. The 3V coin-type battery should last about 180 hours of playing time. An LED indicates when the battery is low. After adjusting the volume and blend controls we fired up the amp, gently nudged up the volume, and—presto!—the acoustic Guild has transformed into an acoustic-electric. We used the Blend control on the preamp to adjust the relative output from each pickup. We noticed the NanoMAG pickup—placed directly under the strings at the end of the fretboard—has a stronger output than the NanoFlex placed under the saddle. Sliding the blend control over to favor the Nanoflex, we achieved a very pleasing balance between the warmer, rounder tone of the NanoMAG and the clean, dynamic treble tones the Nanoflex pickup produces without the harshness of a piezo pickup. The Tone control on the Sonic Doubleplay preamp affects the overall sound from both pickups, adjusting bass and treble simultaneously. The resulting sound from the Guild was well-balanced and natural-sounding throughout the tonal range with crisp highs and tight lows for rich, full chords, and percussive, articulate fingerpicking. Adjusting the blend control to full NanoMAG we got a more “electric” sound with more jazzy mids like a semi-hollowbody. The phase inverter switch helps eliminate feedback so you can turn up even louder than you’d normally expect on an acoustic-electric.

Final analysis

Looking back, installing the Sonic Doubleplay system turned out to be a lot simpler and easier than I first thought it would be. If all goes well, the two pickups, endpin, and preamp can be installed in about an hour. It was time well spent to make my trusty Guild a terrific sounding acoustic-electric that will now get a lot more playing time outside my home studio.

Features & Specs


Sonic Nanoflex Acoustic Guitar Soundhole Preamp with Nanoflex Undersaddle Pickup

  • Soundhole-fitted preamp with volume, tone control, and phase invert switch
  • Active Nanoflex pickup
  • Endpin connection
  • Wire clip
  • Adhesive strips formounting preamp and wire clip
  • Easy battery access (2 x 3V batteries - included)
  • Low battery LED

Sonic NanoMAG Acoustic Guitar Soundhole Preamp with NanoMAG Soundhole Pickup

  • Soundhole-fitted preamp with volume, tone control, and phase invert switch
  • Active NanoMAG fingerboard pickup
  • Endpin connection
  • Wire clip
  • Adhesive strips formounting preamp and wire clip
  • Easy battery access (2 x 3V batteries - included)
  • Low battery LED

Sonic DoublePlay Acoustic Guitar Soundhole Preamp with NanoMAG Soundhole and NanoFlex Undersaddle Pickup

  • Soundhole-fitted dual preamp with volume, blend, tone control, and phase invert switch
  • Active NanoMAG fingerboard pickup
  • Active Nanoflex undersaddle pickup
  • Endpin connection
  • 2 wire clips
  • Adhesive strips for mounting preamp and wire clips
  • Easy battery access (2 x 3V batteries - included)
  • Low battery LED

Tags: Pickups Guitar Accessories & Parts

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