Acoustic Guitar - iBeam
The iBeam is Highly Responsive and Easy to Install
Product: iBeam Active System
A pioneer of undersaddle piezo technology, Lloyd Baggs surprised the industry with a new contact pickup at this year's Winter NAMM show. The I beam-shaped pickup mounts to the guitar's bridge plate (it's about as long as an average saddle), weighs only about eight grams, and is available in passive ($129) and active ($189) versions. One of the biggest differences between the iBeam and other contact pickups is its foolproof installation. Baggs includes a clever jig that allows you to fit the pickup perfectly into position beneath the saddle by using the bridge-pin holes as guides (on guitars with pinless bridges, two small holes may have to be drilled through the saddle slot). The pickup itself is attached to the bridge plate with double-stick tape, and the active pickup's preamp is mounted in the endpin jack. Installing the iBeam was quite easy, and most players should be able to do the job themselves (unless their endpin hole needs to be enlarged, in which case I'd recommend seeing an experienced luthier or repairperson.
The iBeam proved to be a very sensitive pickup that was highly responsive to every part of the guitar. It sounded more like its undersaddle counterparts than other contact pickups, which isn't surprising since it's installed in almost the same place. A heavy attack resulted in a touch of "quack" and also produced a bit of string noise, but softer picking and fingerstyle playing resulted in a sound reminiscent of good undersaddle pickup/mic combinations, but with a feedback threshold higher than what internal mics provide. It had a softer, more natural sound when I moved the pickup closer towards the bridge pins. Where some contact pickups become tubby as they're turned up, the iBeam was very controllable at all volumes and had excellent punch and presence. There was very little difference between the sound of the active iBeam and the passive version used with an external preamp, but the passive pickup lacks a built-in EQ curve and may need more tweaking.