December 08, 2022
Even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool rocker, the occasional “unplugged” show is a great thing to do. If you’re a singer-songwriter with an acoustic, it’s all you do. But unplugged is pretty much always a misnomer, as it’s rare to see a totally unamplified acoustic guitar on stage.
So, if you’re just getting started bringing your acoustic out in public, here are some of the basic things you need to know to amp up and get heard.
Often, we don’t make a distinction between a true acoustic guitar and what’s properly called an acoustic/electric. So, first things first, determine which you’re working with. An acoustic/electric is an acoustic guitar with a pickup. In the absolute simplest terms: if you have a quarter-inch plug on your guitar, you’ve got a pickup.
It should be apparent that you can’t really “amp” a true acoustic. All you can do is mic it. This is done all the time, but on stage, especially if there are a lot of other elements in a band, it can be hard to do well. Feedback is especially likely when miking a true acoustic on stage. You can also install a pickup, transforming it into an acoustic/electric. From here on out, we’ll talk about acoustic/electrics.
It’s worth mentioning that the easiest way to get your acoustic/electric guitar into the mix on stage is to go straight to the PA. Some small PA systems and mixers have quarter-inch “instrument” jacks and this will work great whether you’re working with an active or passive pickup.
If you’re on a bigger stage and you need to connect to the house sound system, you’ll need a direct box like Carvin Audio’s FDR60 Direct Box, which works with any guitar with a piezo style pickup.
Put simply, a direct box transforms the signal from your pickup to a mic-level signal that can be plugged into an XLR input. Since big stages and house sound rigs typically have XLR snakes and no direct “instrument” inputs, you’ll need this box to get directly to the PA.
If you want better control of your tone, you can forgo the direct box in favor of Carvin’s KOA Acoustic Guitar Preamp. The KOA features both an XLR and ¼” output, an effects send, and a throughput for your tuner. Starting with a classic, flat acoustic tone, the KOA also lets you carve your signature sound with extensive tone controls. It’s the perfect tool for playing big venues and to couple with small PAs.
Many acoustic gigs don’t involve a house PA, and you may not have a big PA of your own. No problem, you can always use an actual amp. However, for a clean, unplugged sound, you’re better off with an amp designed specifically for acoustic guitars.
Technically you can use an electric guitar amp with your acoustic/electric guitar – no damage will occur. But electric amps are made for electric guitars – they’re grittier, distort easily, and don’t present a smooth, natural tone – and they generally use only one type of speaker which operates in the midrange.
Acoustic amps, on the other hand, typically include an extra tweeter in addition to the main speaker, which helps them produce the more detailed, organic timbre of an acoustic guitar. There’s also typically more dynamic range, more low end, and generally a less aggressive attack.
Many modern acoustic amps also include features that serve singer-songwriters, such as mic and aux inputs for adding vocals and even extra backing tracks. Some acoustic amps even have built-in loopers, handy for acoustic players looking to capitalize on that trend.
There’s a lot more detail you can get into about acoustic/electric guitars and amplification. Active vs. passive pickups, installing your own pickup, utilizing external pickups, and so on. But at the end of the day, an “unplugged” vibe is all about keeping it simple. So, dig in to the research if you like, but in the meantime keep playing.
September 15, 2023
August 18, 2023
It’s not like the guitar is ever boring. But sometimes you just want to branch out and see what else you can accomplish. This is true if you’re in a noise band or hyper-experimental act, but it’s also true if you’re in a straight-ahead rock band looking to add a few crazy moments to your show or record. So, let’s look at a few advanced effects you can try for that experimental vibe.
July 31, 2023
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"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all of the earth; make a loud noise and rejoice and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp and the voice of the psalm." - Psalm 98:4-5