I’m continuing my acoustic pickup journey with a look at an incredibly popular — but more unusual — undersaddle pickup. Say hello to the Takamine Palathetic pickup
Takamine Palathetic Pickup
Way back in 1979, Takamine introduced the PT-007S model. Inside that guitar was a weird, and very effective, pickup.
Dubbed the ‘Palathetic’ pickup (no, I haven’t a clue what it means), it changed games. A decent amplified sound with an impressive resistance to feedback meant the Takamine made an appearance on a lot of stages around the world.
The Palathetic pickup is a proprietary Takamine design and, though it shares a (very) basic construction with other piezo pickups, it differs considerably in a number of ways.
Palathetic Pickup Construction
Nothing about the Palathetic pickup design is understated. Where most under-saddle pickups you’ll encounter are relatively small and delicate, the Palathetic is a hulk of a thing.
The first thing to note is that big housing at the bottom. This is a serious hunk of metal (aluminium or an alloy thereof) to stick in an acoustic guitar.
The housing has a threaded screw hole either end for mounting and a receptacle to hold the rest of the parts.
And the first into that receptacle is a printed circuit board (PCB). This acts as the positive conductor and its job is to pick up the signals generated by the piezo elements.
Those piezo elements are BIG. Compared to a regular under-saddle pickup, they’re huge. The elements are cylindrical, not unlike the pole piece slugs in an electric guitar’s magnetic pickup. Six of them (one for each string) sit in a holder (some polymer, maybe silicone). Their bottoms contact the PCB beneath and each has a snuggly-fitting metal cap on top. The caps form part of the unit’s shielding.
This whole contraption hangs under the bridge. It mounts through a slot in the guitar top/soundboard and each piezo element has a corresponding hole in the bridge.
There’s a lot going on here so I’ve made another diagram showing a cross-section through the bridge and guitar top.
The piezo elements, with their little caps, poke through the holes in the bridge and protrude into the saddle slot.
Over them, there is a thin metal strip. A hole at each end accepts the mounting screws which screw into the housing.
And the whole thing comes together. The screws pull the whole unit up to the bridge and press the metal strip along the tops of the elements. The string saddle fits in the usual slot in the bridge where it presses on the metal strip (and therefore the piezo elements).
Oh, and there’s a couple of little round inlay dots to cover the screw heads. They pop out easily enough if you ever need to work on these.
That’s a lot to take in in one go. It’s ok if you need a breather — I made a cup of tea at this point. 😉
So what’s the point of all this weirdness?
Well, the folks at Takamine had some good reasons for their decisions.
With those much bigger piezo elements, Takamine claim a more dynamic system, allowing for good output on quiet or hard strumming.
And, because the whole unit is essentially squeezed together by those mounting screws, it’s very efficient at actually transferring those string vibrations to the piezo. String-to-string balance is typically less of a problem than it can be in other UST designs.
That big hunk of metal housing all the internals is grounded, so it acts as a very effective shield to keep nasty environmental EMI and RFI away from the sensitive bits.
Each piezo element also has a metal shield cap that contacts the metal strip at top. Remember that strip is screwed to the metal housing and is, therefore, electrically connected to it.
All of this extends the shielding over the top and along much of the sides of the piezo elements.
So, at the time of writing, Takamine say the following, "The pickup casing is mechanically attached to the guitar's top and bridge creating a sonic linkage with the soundboard. The result of this design is a signal that possesses the articulation of an isolated string signal and the rich harmonic content delivered by the resonating soundboard for a full, complete and accurate acoustic guitar tone at high sound pressure levels."
In my experience, the information about high sound pressure levels is accurate. These pickups are great at resisting feedback. My own feeling on why this is contradicts Takamine's marketing claims. Oddly though, my thoughts are that the feedback resistance is because the coupling between pickup and guitar top is not so solid as it might be.
The two screw points are connected to the soundboard but the elements themselves pass through holes to contact against the saddle. To me it feels that the soundboard coupling must be somewhat impacted by this method of mounting and that this has the benefit of minimising transfer of feedback-causing vibration. I could be completely wrong about this but, the upshot is, this pickup is pretty good at resisting feedback.
The bottom line
It can be a bit of a surprise, the first time encounter a Palathetic pickup. It’s a lump of metal screwed to the guitar top. It seems weird and wrong.
But, there’s no arguing with its effectiveness. It does the job it was designed for very well indeed. That’s probably why it’s been popular for nearly forty years.
The Palathetic pickup is a Takamine proprietary part. That said, although not massively common elsewhere, you will find similar pickups here and there.
Phew, again. More tea, anyone?
P.S. Those exploded isometric diagrams are a massive pain in the ass to make. You should be making me tea. 😉