I've been looking for a new system to amplify my electro-acoustic guitar because I was unhappy with the sound I get when I plug straight into the amplified console used by the band I play in. In a survey of reviews and discussions I found five basic amplifier setups that most acoustic guitar players seem to use. Here is a brief round up of the five solutions.
1. Direct To A Mixer or PA
A simple solution for many situations is to plug your guitar output directly into the mixing table of a PA system. Many music venues have a house PA system so you don't need to carry extra equipment around, just your guitar and a cable. Such PA systems usually deliver plenty of power so obtaining loud enough sound is not a problem.
On the downside, the sound of your guitar is at the mercy of the PA system it's plugged into. You might find a portable PA that makes your guitar sound good, but if you use house PAs you may find some sound less than satisfactory.
2. Pre-amps and Effects Units
Pre-amplifiers or effects units designed for acoustic guitars obtain the favours of some players. Boxes designed for piezo or magnetic pick-ups can help to enhance the output signal to create a more "acoustic" guitar sound before sending it to a PA amp.
Devices that receive favourable reviews include Boss AD-5, Zoom A2.1u, Fishman Pocket Blender, products from LR Baggs, and tube pre-amps. I personally tried out the Zoom A2.1u but I found it did little to enhance the sound when going through a PA amp.
3. Acoustic Guitar Amp
There are many amps specifically designed for acoustic guitar. Many of these amps have circuitry designed to convert output from piezo or magnetic pick-ups into a more realistic acoustic sound.
Acoustic amps are also quite small and portable, with only a single box to carry around and less cables to set up. For small venues and situations where you don't need a lot of power they are an excellent solution. For situations that require more power, several players run the amp's line-out to a more powerful PA system, using the amp as a stage monitor.
4. Electric Guitar Amp
A solution preferred by some players is to plug their guitar into an electric guitar amp. Such amps are not designed to reproduce the sound qualities of an acoustic guitar, but some players enjoy the warm sound of old tube amplifiers.
I've tried this kind of amp with my electro-acoustic and it does work well for some styles of music. Of course, if you play both acoustic and electric guitar this also reduces the number of amps you need to buy.
5. Bass Amp
A number of acoustic guitarists report very good results from bass amps from Carvin and Peavey. Piezo pick-ups can produce annoying high frequency sounds when strongly amplified. A bass amp's lower frequency response can soften these sounds to give a pleasing result.
If you use this solution look for a bass amp with a good overall frequency range and equalization that allows you to turn down the bass frequencies so they don't overwhelm your sound.
That summarizes the basic options you have to amplify your acoustic guitar.
One thing I have learned while researching solutions is that there seems to be no clear solution that suits all players tastes and all playing situations. Regardless of the equipment, there is always somebody unhappy with it and somebody else very happy with it.
So I'm heading to my local music shop to test out as many different options as I can to make up my own mind.
Acoustic Guitar magazine surveys some famous player's favourite acoustic amplification systems.
Some amps with good reviews (often expensive models)...
- Ultrasound Amps
- SWR California Blonde
- Peavey Session 2000 Stereo Amp
- Carvin AG100D
- JBL EON 10 or other powered speaker
- Marshall AS50D
- Roland AC-60
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