Pickups & Pedals: Quick Tips for Ukulele Performance Gear


Part of being a seasoned performer is understanding every aspect of your performance. This includes everything that helps carry your sound to the ears of your audience. Here is a quick rundown of pickups and effects that can affect your sound.


Passive Pickups (K&K, Fishman AG Series, Etc.)

PROS Wider dynamic range and supposedly more “natural”-sounding; no battery means that the ukulele is lighter

CONS Prone to feedback, especially when there are other instruments onstage; requires a pre-amp (such as a LR Baggs Venue DI or Fishman Aura Spectrum DI) to boost the signal to the soundboard

Active Pickups (LR Baggs 5.0, Fishman Pro-Blend, Etc.)

PROS Battery-powered onboard preamp produces a cleaner sound with much less “body” noise compared to a passive pickup; easier to shape your sound with the onboard EQ.

CONS Heavier due to the battery; more things can go wrong since the pickup system is a bit more complicated.




A compressor pedal helps on two fronts. Because a ukulele performance can be very dynamic (such as going from strumming to picking), a compressor can help make our sound a bit more consistent by smoothing out some of those harder hits. The other way that a compressor can be used is to help boost our ukulele’s sustain. These tiny instruments don’t have as much natural sustain as a guitar, so a pedal like the Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer is a fantastic tool to help cleanly increase your sustain and to give more options and feel to your playing.


Because of its small size and somewhat limited note range, the ukulele is not the fullest- sounding instrument out there. Since it emulates the effect of sound bouncing off walls, a reverb pedal will instantly give more body to your ukulele’s sound. Reverb can also be used to help create an effect that would be impossible to achieve in a space, such as making a small room sound like a cathedral. I always warn my students to tread lightly with this effect because too much can be a distraction to your sound. One of my favorite reverb pedals is the T.C. Electronic Hall of Fame.


A looper can be an incredible tool both on and off the stage. Ukulele artists like Kalei Gamiao and Karlie Goya can create a whole backing-band by creating different “layers” of sounds. Loopers can also be very helpful as a practice tool for working on your timing and improvising. With one, you can record yourself playing the chords in a section of a song and then practice soloing over your chords. Many of us did this the old-fashioned way—by recording ourselves playing a progression over and over on an old cassette recorder and then playing it back while practicing the solo or other phrases along with it.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Ukulele.

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