Contact or stick-on piezo pickups have been around for a long time but I’m very happy to see the inclusion of a volume control on the pickup itself with the KNA UP-2. I’ve review lots of pickups for guitar from contact mics, under the saddle piezos, to wireless microphone systems but the affordability, simplicity of design, and ease of setup on these little pickups are great. I started out playing casual gigs with contact piezos in my 20s. In short, if you want to mic your classical guitar there is no easier or more affordable way to do it. For that reason alone I’ll always recommend having one of these around. In fact, even when I use more complicated and expensive gear I still bring a contact mic just in case I need a back up if technology fails. Luckily, there is almost nothing that can go wrong with a contact piezo. The KNA UP-2 actually sounds quite good for this category and price so I’d recommend having one around for certain situations.
KNA Promo Text: “Light, small and versatile, UP-2 is a stick-on guitar pickup that allows acoustic musicians to amplify their instrument and control volume from the stage. The versatile UP-2 passive piezo attaches safely to just about anything that vibrates. In addition to being a surface-mount guitar pickup, UP-2 can be used for harp, drums, and percussion…The piezo element is encased in laminated birch with an elegant and stylish mahogany top. The lightweight assembly offers maximum tonal sensitivity.”
How Does it Sound?
It sounds like other piezo contact mics, but maybe a bit better and with a volume control. It’s possible the lightweight wood construction helps it get a more sensitive sound. I’ve played with contact piezos before so I’m used to the sound they make. It’s not like having a real microphone, it’s an isolated and responsive sound. As with any contact piezo you get a little bit of the hollow body electric sound with lots of mid range. I find it sounds best when placed near my bridge but that will depend on your guitar. The great thing is that you can experiment so easily to find the best spot and sound for your guitar. Just move it anywhere on the guitar to get different sounds. The main concern is big bass and mid-range tones but experimenting with placement helps a huge amount and then tweak it at your amp for further adjustment. Compared to most systems I found it easy to get a good sound with very minimal effort. Considering the price and ease I think this is the best option for casual gigs unless you want to buy a gig-dedicated guitar with internal electronics. Also, adding some reverb on the amp really helps piezos sound a bit more natural as it give them some space and dimension to the sound. As with all contact piezos, feedback is generally good especially if you cancel it by touching reverberating strings when it’s happening. As always, don’t leave the volume up way high and walk away from the instrument but again the volume control on this is great for breaks. I also like the KNA NG-2 with volume control (behind the saddle piezo pickup) which might sound a bit better if you want to upgrade.
- Affordability – It’s way less expensive than other mic systems. There are cheaper contact mics but I think the quality of this one is decent. My old Schaller ‘Oyster’ pickup is a good build quality but the lack of a volume control and heavier weight makes it obsolete for me.
- No Installation – You just put on the guitar and plug it in. So simple, so easy.
- Volume Control – This is a huge plus when playing casual gigs. From weddings to cocktail parties, as soon as someone wants to make a speech you have to be dead-quiet and sometimes you are not able to be super close to your amplification due to plugins or optimal feedback placement.
- Small and Simple – It fits in your pocket and virtually nothing can go wrong with it.
- Super Light – It’s super lightweight so stays sticked to the guitar very easily.
- Sound Isolation – It’s not a microphone so it won’t pick up other sounds around you. That said, contact and piezo mics have their own set of amplified sounds (see below).
- You don’t have to loosen your strings – I also like the KNA NG-2 with volume control (behind the saddle piezo pickup) but it’s a pain to loosen all your strings and it’s more fragile. This is easier even if it doesn’t sound quite as balanced. So depending on your needs you can choose between the two. I would say the NG-2 sounds a bit better if you want to upgrade.
- Sounds good – For the price I think it actually sounds pretty good for a contact piezo. As with any contact piezo you get a little bit of the hollow body electric sound with lots of mid range. I have a gig guitar with internal electronics which is slightly better but I’d be comfortable playing casual gigs like cocktail parties or even weddings with this.
- Sounds from the Guitar – All piezos and contact mic systems amplify the sound of the wood on the guitar. But that is normal and the KNA UP-2 did well in this regard. Minimal left hand string noise was nice. Touching the pickup itself or the cord was quite loud but that isn’t a problem once you have it on there, just place it out of reach of the right hand. Being able to turn down the volume when you want to stop or adjust something is essential.
- Build – Maybe not as rock solid in build quality as my Schaller but it’s way lighter and the volume control and removable cord are much better options.
- Attachment – Using the putty, the pickup did come off once but I was being pretty careful about pushing it down lightly. Place it near a brace so you can get it on there nice and tight. The double sided sticky pads are an option for more important gigs. Overall not a real concern for me.
- Hum – I didn’t notice any hum from the pickup during use with my amp but I did hear it when plugged into my interface, although only with earphones on. It was there but not a concern for me.
Recommendations for Use
- I will happily use this pickup for casual gigs like cocktail parties, outdoor gigs, etc. I have some expensive gear and mics and a guitar with internal electronics but these little mics are great for just showing up, plugging in and playing with no setup. Also, I don’t enjoy playing my gig guitar so attaching this to my primary instrument is sometimes preferable. I doubt I’d use this for stage concerts where I’d want a more traditional classical guitar sound. You can’t beat real mics.
- If you have a French polish high-end guitar I’d recommend using a protective static cling product. Kling-On Protectors are guitar specific but I’ve been using a non-guitar one called Grafix ClingViynl which is way way cheaper. On my cheaper Cordoba I don’t care and just stick it on. Check with your luthier if these products are safe with your finish.
Contact piezo pickups have been around a long time but the KNA UP-2 is a winner in its category. The affordability, simple design, wood finish, and especially the volume control are the key elements. Having a volume control nearby is essential for gigs and I won’t play without it. The sound was better than I expected. Depending on your needs you could explore the KNA NG-2 behind the saddle piezo that also has a volume control and might sound a bit better. Either way, this is an easy mic solution for anyone who wants to avoid big price tags and complicated setups.