Simply in one word: sound.
I absolutely love the silky-smooth sounds of a well-played nylon string guitar and I can appreciate an equally well-played acoustic steel string. Conversely, I absolutely hate the sound of an acoustic guitar played through a piezo pickup, whether a nylon or a steel string. It’s the worst “musical” sound ever. It sounds like a rusted thin wire wrapped in plastic scraping against… plastic. Okay, I threw the rusted part in, but piezo pickups sound awful when you are trying to achieve a natural acoustic amplified sound. So, why would I recommend practicing with one?
Why Practice with a Piezo Pickup?
It is precisely because playing with a guitar, that has a piezo pickup, sounds so terribly bad. It allows you to work on making it sound good. The piezo pickup on the guitar is going to exaggerate everything, and I mean everything. Every move you make will be amplified. Every missed note, every string squeak, every buzz, every poorly executed shift, the guitar will let you know it. The pickup is very unforgiving and it will sound appalling at first. However, it’s exactly those things that are being exaggerated that lets you know what you need to work on.
Are you squeaking when your hand shifts position? Practice shifting until it’s clean. Are you buzzing notes? Work on that section until it is crystal clear. This may take some time to clean up, but it will force you to play better and cleaner.
Never Perform with a Piezo Pickup
Okay, I know, it’s a personal opinion, but I recommend never performing with a piezo pickup for the same reason as I recommend practicing with one. The sound is dreadful. If you have practiced for long hours and you’re playing is spotless, then by all means, go ahead and perform on one. However, could you imagine how good your performance will sound, if you have spent that time cleaning up your playing and then performing it acoustically (i.e., using a microphone instead)? I’ll give you one word: professional.
This is not a rant against piezo pickups. They do what they do. The slightly plastic sound works well in jazz music for example. It sounds like it’s supposed to be there. However, when trying to achieve a purely acoustic sound, I haven’t seen many people be able to pull off a sparkling sound with one. If you can play clean on a guitar, with a piezo pickup, and making it clean and not sound like plastic on plastic then, please, by all means, send me the video.
Not the Only Solution
I want to be clear here. I’m not asking you, or telling you to only practice on a piezo pickup. Only that using the piezo pickup, like other things, will reveal weaknesses in our playing. Just like other techniques such as practicing in front of a mirror, recording yourself, or filming your practice, this will show you where you can improve you playing.
If you don’t have a piezo pickup in your guitar, there’s no need to go out and purchase one. Many acoustic guitars and even classical guitars come with one. Nevertheless, if you have a guitar with a piezo pickup, give it a try and see if you can improve your playing.
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