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Posts Tagged ‘acoustic guitar’

I just got my brand new BOSS Katana Artist this evening! OMG! What a beast. Since the family was home, I couldn’t really crank it, though I doubt I’ll ever really crank it at 100 Watt because it’s LOUD – even at .5 Watt. So I played around with it with my Les Paul, trying out the different gain settings, and trying out the effects.

But what I was REALLY interested in was the Line Out because I want to be able to plug this puppy into a board. On top of that, I wanted to see how my acoustic guitar sounded through the amp and the line out, because I will using the amp this Sunday at church and will be plugging it into the board.

But before I did that, I set up the amp to get a good sound through the speaker with my acoustic. It really didn’t take long at all. I just had to get the right Gain and Volume settings and do some minimal tweaking of the EQ by rolling off the highs (if I have time, I’ll probably use the 7-band Graphic EQ in Tone Studio to really dial in the EQ. But rolling it off just a smidgen got me real close.

Once I had it dialed in, I plugged in the Line Out and hooked it up to my audio interface and into GarageBand. It sounded extremely close to the live sound! I did set the Line Out Air Feel to “Live” for a distant mic simulation, but even the “Rec” setting, which is a close-mic simulation didn’t sound all that bad. But the extra “air” gave the guitar a little depth.

Inspired, I recorded a few quick tracks to demonstrate how good it sounds. Check it out:

All tracks were recorded with my Gibson J-45 Avant Garde equipped with a Seymour Duncan Mag Mic acoustic pickup. For the strummed “Take It Easy” I didn’t have a pick and used my fingernails. The muted tones are not the amp, they’re my finger. 🙂

As expected, yes, there are bits of digital traces in the tracks. But you really have to listen for them. Plus, I’m using a regular instrument cable running from the Katana to my audio interface (I have a couple of TRS cables on order). I’m expecting much better sound once I have a balanced cable. But the important thing is that running into a board, it’s going to sound awesome! What I’m looking for is a usable tone that I can send to the PA without having to mic the amp, and that tone is much more than usable.

Mind you, these tracks were recorded with no EQ or filtering whatsoever. The reverb and slight delay were applied at the amp and not in GarageBand.

One thing I was particularly keeping an eye on was the waveform for each of the tracks. If the Line Out was overly processed, there would be very little dynamics in the wave form. But the waveform for each track looks like the guitar was miked!

The picture says it all. The Line Out maintains the dynamics of what I’m playing. No compression; or little if there is any at all. It really is awesome. The sound is natural with none of those midrange transients so reminiscent of a plugged-in acoustic guitar that you hear on recordings. I’m going to have no problem using this amp plugged into a board or an interface!

To be completely transparent, I didn’t lay down any tracks with my Les Paul because I didn’t like how the wave forms were looking. But that was more a function of adding a track to an already mastered song. I will do a raw recording once I get used to dialing in the overdrive settings.

I know, providing sound samples is a little backwards compared to my usual method of doing a review, then following it up with a studio test. But I was so impressed with how the Line Out worked with my acoustic that I just had to put it out there!

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Summary: This has all the classic, balanced mojo of a J-45, but in a thinner, “jumbo” body. And though some might consider it heresy that it’s a cutaway, having reasonably easy access to the upper frets makes it so nice for playing solos.

Pros: Fantastic, classic J-45 tone that’s expectedly just a little brighter than the original Dreadnought – more midrange. This guitar has a full, articulate voice that the Sitka Spruce top projects in a BIG way.

Cons: The ONLY con I have is for the LR Baggs Element piezo pickup that comes installed in the guitar. But I would give negative marks to any guitar that has just a piezo. But that said, the guitar sounds okay plugged into an amp. But as with any piezo, plugged directly into a board or into an interface, the sound is lifeless.

Features:

  • Body Style: J-45
  • Back: Walnut
  • Top: Sitka Spruce
  • Bracing: Traditional Hand-Scalloped X-Bracing
  • Binding: Multi-Ply Top, Single-Ply Back
  • Neck: Two-Piece Maple
  • Neck Profile: Advanced Response
  • Nut Width: 1.725”
  • Neckjoint: Compound Dovetail Neck-To-Body Joint
  • Fingerboard: Richlite
  • Scale Length: 24.75”
  • Number of Frets: 20
  • Nut: Tusq
  • Inlay: Mother-Of-Pearl Dots
  • Bridge: Traditional Belly Up, Richlite
  • Tuners: Mini Grover Rotomatics
  • Plating: Nickel
  • Pickup: LR Baggs Element
  • Controls: 1 Volume  
  • Case: Gibson Hardshell

I have to be completely honest here. If this guitar had no pickup, I’d give it a 5 on its natural voice alone. But I have to be fair and take down marks for the pickup. It’s serviceable in a live situation and plugged into an amp, but directly into a board or interface, you know you’re using a piezo.

Getting a J-45 has literally been a dream come true. Ever since I played one a few years ago, I have had a goal of someday owning a J-45. As I mentioned in a previous post, the J-45 represents the archetype of acoustic tone for me. And to finally have one and play it, well, it’s rather awe-inspiring.

So to address the purists, no, it’s not a traditional J-45. It has a cutaway. The body is made of walnut, not rosewood. The fretboard is Richlite (which feels like ebony). The nut is Tusq, not bone. I DON’T CARE. This is a great guitar regardless of its build materials. Others have brought up that it couldn’t really be a J-45, but I beg to differ. It has the same profile as the J-45. But more importantly, all the tonal balance that I expect out of the J-45 is there, and how it sounds is incredible!

Fit and Finish

I posted these pictures previously, but I’ll post them again:

I snapped those pictures right after I unboxed the guitar. There were no flaws or scratches. No gaps. The walnut back is freaking incredible! It looks like a piece of ultra-fine furniture.

How It Sounds

Again, I posted these previously, but I’ll post them again:

I had to back off the mic for the percussive strumming, so it turned out a little thin on the recording. But in a live situation, this guitar is LOUD! I played it at church over the weekend, and in that volume challenging environment, when I was really strumming hard, I could barely hear my amp! That’s how well the guitar projects. How naturally loud it is is a bit mind-blowing.

And compared to my Simon & Patrick PRO, which is a dreadnought, to my ears at least, it’s easily twice as loud when comparing them both with a light strum.

How It Plays and Feels

It actually took me a few days of regular playing to get used to the neck. The “Advanced Response” neck is both thicker and a touch wider than all my other acoustics. And with my small hands, wrapping my hand around the neck to use my thumb took a little while to figure out. But to be honest, in order for me to do that, I have to put my arm in the correct playing position with my elbow out away from my body. Once I’m in the correct position, I have zero issues playing the guitar.

As for the Richlite fretboard, this is the first time I’ve played a guitar with a fretboard made of this material. I once thought that it would take away from the guitar. But truth be told, it’s as smooth as ebony and makes the guitar an absolute dream to play. I played several solos yesterday and the fretboard felt like butter. Combine that with the absolutely perfect action and I was in solo heaven!

Overall Impression

What can I say? I love this guitar! And because I didn’t dig the piezo pickup, I just installed my Seymour Duncan MagMic into the guitar. Now I have no issues. With that pickup, the Tone Bone score automatically goes to 5.

A Word on Sustainability

No, I’m not a tree-hugger, but one thing that Gibson bills about this guitar is that it’s made from sustainable material. Walnut is absolutely plentiful and Richlite is made from resin-infused paper. The Sitka Spruce is started to get a little less plentiful, but from what I understand, Gibson is part of a coalition to help harvest Sitka in a sustainable way. So while I’m not a tree-hugger, I do appreciate Gibson’s efforts.

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Wow… That’s usually first – and only – thing I can say when having a visceral reaction to an experience. And a visceral experience was exactly what happened when I finally got my guitar set up for last night’s gig. After I played the first song, I had to pause for several seconds soaking in the tones that the combination of my Simon & Patrick PRO guitar and the Duncan MagMic produced. I already had a good idea of the dynamics of the pickup and how well it worked with my guitar, having had a few days before my gig to record with it. But until I actually gigged with it, I really didn’t know how it would perform in a live situation; especially in a room with a 25-30-foot vaulted ceiling.

It was not without its challenges. The sound system at the restaurant I work with is total shit. The board is going on the fritz and I wasn’t sure I was even going to be able to play last night! But the gig gods were smiling upon me and just when I was about to pack it in and go home, I tweaked something on the board and it started working. Whew!

When I got my nerves settled with a few deep breaths and a long drink of water, I started my first song: “You’ve Got a Friend.” I felt that it would be a good song to start with because with any JT song (I know, it was written by Carole King), the fingerpicking patterns are sophisticated as JT plays a bass line in addition to a hybrid claw-hammer technique. I’m not nearly as adept at it as he is, but I tend to do the same. So with that song, I knew that I’d get the full presentation what the guitar/pickup combination had on offer.

Having moved to a dreadnought from an OM, I was concerned that the bass would be a bit boomy. It was not. It was certainly deep as I expected from a big-body guitar, but not at all over-powering. Another thing I was concerned about was not losing the shimmery highs my guitar naturally produces. But here’s where the MagMic really performs. The condenser mic is tuned to focus on mid-highs to highs. In fact, I had to roll off the condenser level a bit to subdue the highs. The sweet spot that I discovered leading up to the gig was setting the condenser level about 90%. This setting translated incredibly well to a live situation.

Another thing that had me wondering about the MagMic was the lack of an EQ. I’ve had the luxury of an onboard EQ in all my acoustic-electric guitars up to this point. But I found that with the higher-end, third-party pickups that none of them have that feature, as they’re designed to pick up the natural tone of your guitar; which kind of says you better have a good-sounding guitar in the first place before you install one of these babies… But as I mentioned above about the condenser mic’s focus on the high-mids and highs, adjusting its level is much like adjusting a treble knob. But it’s no problem in any case, as instead of setting EQ on my guitar, I can just set it on the amp.

With respect to the guitar itself, besides the larger size, I’ve had to contend with the absence of a cutaway, which makes playing notes above the 12th fret a little challenging. But it’s not undoable. I just make adjustments and play on a different part of the neck. The neck width is also much wider than my Yamaha, but this is also not a bad thing as it forces me to put my left hand and arm in the proper playing position. I certainly can’t be lazy with my posture with this guitar. 🙂

The other thing about the guitar is that it is naturally loud. It was built to project volume from the soundboard. So I definitely had to find the right balance between volume level and attack. Plus, the MagMic picks up pretty much everything with the guitar. In contrast, my Yamaha APX900 and its electronics are very mid-range focused. But with my S&P PRO, the audio content is so much more complex and robust. Combined with the MagMic’s sensitivity, it forced me to be very aware of how I was playing to the point where I felt some of the songs I played were a bit mechanical, or I was concentrating so much on the guitar that I’d mess up some words. 🙂 I’m confident that once I get everything dialed in I’ll be able to relax a lot more.

I do have to say that I love playing a dreadnought. My very first “real” acoustic guitar was an old Yamaha FG-335 dreadnought. When I moved to smaller body guitars, I missed the full sound. And now that I back to a big body guitar, I’m loving it! But the S&P PRO takes the sound to a completely new level. To think that it sat in a shed for 15 years prior to me getting it – and to sound this good still – is incredible to me.

I did a minor setup on the guitar when I got it to straighten out a slight bow in the neck. But after last night’s gig, I’m probably going to have the action lowered a couple of millimeters. It’s not that it’s super high, but it’s higher than I like and playing a 4-hour gig, it takes a toll on the fingers. I suppose I could go with lighter gauge strings (I’m playing 12-54), but I’m not sure I want to sacrifice the resonance I get with the thicker strings just to make it easier to play. Oh well, there’s always a tradeoff somewhere. 🙂

Okay… so very first gig complete, and it was a total success! I absolutely LOVE the MagMic.

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fender_fa135ce

Fender FA 135 CE Concert Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Summary: Part of the Fender Classic Design series, this lower-end model is a real surprise; especially in the sound department. Nice, low action, and a great feel. If you’re looking for a starter guitar or getting your child his or her very first guitar, you can’t go wrong with the FA 135 CE.

Pros: Some reviews have questioned the build quality of this guitar, but I’m very impressed with how solid this guitar is built. The guitar stays in tune and playing it is so, so easy. And for a smaller concert size guitar, this has a very rich sound; it’s quite unexpected.

Cons: The only nit that I have – and it’s really just a nit – is that the tuners are bit fast for my tastes. Fine tuning is a little challenging at first, but it’s easy to get used to.

Price: $179 street

Features:

  • Laminated bass wood sides and back
  • Laminated spruce top with X-bracing reinforcement
  • Nato wood neck
  • Rosewood fretboard
  • Compensated rosewood saddle
  • Single cutaway
  • Fishman Ion-T Preamp with built-in tuner

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 ~ For what it is, I can’t help but give this guitar a great rating. Fender really surprised me with this guitar!

My 12-year-old son has been taking Ukelele lessons for a couple of years, and after he finished his last lesson, he came out and told me that he wanted to start playing guitar. His teacher, Michael, had accompanied him out of the lesson room and told me that he was ready. And since his birthday was coming up, I thought I’d get him a new one, as opposed to fixing up one of my old ones. My thought is that just like my dad did for me, I’d give my son a brand new guitar for his first one.

So today I went to Guitar Center and spent a couple of hours in their acoustic room evaluating all sorts of acoustic guitars. I didn’t want to spend over $200 for this guitar, but luckily, as a big-box retailer, Guitar Center has a pretty wide selection of “value” guitars. I tried guitars from Mitchell, a used “Little Martin,” several Yamaha guitars, and even a Gretsch.

The Little Martin was impressive and solidly built and was at a great price of $189, but it wouldn’t be available until Wednesday due to some city ordinance about a waiting period for used guitars. I needed a guitar today. So I sat in the acoustic room, and my gaze fell upon the Fender. I immediately thought to myself that it looked really nice. But, the thought also occurred that it was a Fender acoustic, and my previous experiences with those haven’t been all that good.

But in spite of my preconceptions, I decided to give it a try and was immediately surprised by the tone of the guitar. For a smaller-body guitar, I wasn’t expecting much sound-wise. But this had a sweet, gorgeous, rich tone. It completely took me by surprise. Then I started playing it, and thought, This couldn’t be a Fender acoustic! It sounds and plays way too nice – especially at $179!

Folks, this guitar is a sleeper, and it reminds me of the experience I had with my Squier Classic Vibe Tele. Great sound, great playability at a SUPER-affordable price!

Fit and Finish

The build quality of this guitar is awesome, just like my CV Tele. There are no uneven paint lines, and all the seams are clean and straight. The neck is straight, and the action is set up low, though it does raise just a little bit in the higher registers; but it’s not so bad that it’s not playable. This is a great guitar for fingerstyle playing, but even strummed, there’s no buzz. But more importantly, the setup is perfect for a beginning guitarist like my little boy.

Playability

Quite frankly, the main criterium for choosing a guitar for my son was playability. I could live with a guitar that had only okay sound just as long as it was easy to play. The frets are medium wire. Not great for bending and vibrato, but hey! This is a beginner’s guitar, so that’s not a big issue. The spacing is great between the frets as this is a shorter-scale guitar. For a seasoned player, this guitar plays with ease. For a beginner and a young player at that, the short scale will help them build up confidence.

How It Sounds

For a low-priced guitar, the FA 135 CE is amazingly articulate. As expected, it has a bit brighter voice as compared to a larger body guitar. But it has some nice sustain, and the spruce soundboard resonates with a surprisingly rich tone. Projection is great with this guitar due to the X-bracing under the top to provide stability and to help with projection. What also surprised me about this guitar is that it’s louder than I expected.

Tone-wise, as for me, I prefer a brighter-sounding guitar. While I liked the Little Martin, doing an A/B with that vs. the FA 135, it was as if a blanket was put over the Martin. The sound was much warmer and a bit too subdued for my tastes. That guitar projected very loud, but it would get lost in the mix when played with other guitars. This shouldn’t happen with the FA 135 CE.

Quick Demo

Here’s a quick demo I recorded just before posting this review. Sorry for the sound quality – and background noises – as this was recorded using my MacBook’s built in microphone, my new puppy was being a little playful across the room… 🙂

Preamp Test

As mentioned above, the guitar comes equipped with a Fishman Ion-T preamp. It’s a pretty simple preamp, so I thought I would give it a whirl. It’s not a bad preamp as preamps go, but it’s nothing special. In fact, its output is only okay. In order to record, I had to peg the guitar’s volume and add a lot of gain on my audio interface. Not a big deal. What was important to me was if I could get a good enough guitar signal to use the guitar in a song.

I have to say that I was pretty impressed with the result. I didn’t have to tweak the EQ at all. Of course, I did some production processing, but that was the point of the exercise, which was to see if I could get a good, mixable acoustic guitar sound from a plugged in guitar.

Overall Impression

I love this guitar! Who cares if it was manufactured in China. I have to commend Fender for finding an overseas manufacturer that does a great job at building guitars. The build, play and sound quality of this guitar have far exceeded my expectations. I think this is a guitar that my son will enjoy for years to come!

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Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Fishman SA220 Solo Amp

Summary: Compact and weighing in at just 25 lbs., the SA220 Solo Amp is an ideal PA solution for the solo acoustic guitarist/vocalist, but it’s versatile and loud enough to be used as a PA for a band (if you have a couple of them).

Pros: It may not have the Bose name, but I’d put this up against the L1 Compact system any day. With built-in, independent, 3-way EQ, and a variety of other features, if you’re a solo acoustic artist, you owe it to yourself to check this unit out! I got it set up in less than a minute!

Cons: None

Features:

  • Drivers
  • – Six 4″ mid-woofers, patented dual gap, high excursion design, neodymium magnets (200W)
    – One 1″ neodymium soft dome tweeter with level control (20W)

  • Auxiliary Stereo Input with Level control
  • Four Digital Reverb effects with master level
  • Balanced XLR D.I. outputs for both channels and main mix
  • Independent effect loops for Channel 1 and Channel 2 (OMG!!!)
  • Unique Monitor I/O for improved on-stage ensemble monitoring
  • Mute with remote footswitch input
  • Tuner Output
  • Ships with Stand and padded Carry Bag (w/ wheels)
  • Dimensions: 41.5″ H x 5.6″ W x 6.6″ D
  • *Weight: 25 lbs without Stand, 35lbs with Bag and Stand

Price: $999 Street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Talk about ease of use! As I mentioned above, I got the SA220 set up in less than a minute! And my Yamaha APX900 sounds absolutely killer through this, not to mention the great clarity of the vocals. This is a winner, folks!

Year over year, I play between 100 to 150 gigs a year, with about half of them as a solo acoustic act. My solo gigs have consisted mainly of my weekly restaurant gig, but I do lots of weddings and special events throughout the year as well. Of late, the restaurant I gig at moved my act outside in a public patio area as the weather is gorgeous.

To make a long story short, even though the restaurant has a decent PA system, I ended up bringing my own PA last week, which was the first week we did the outdoor show. That worked pretty well, and my PA has a great sound. But it also made me realize that the old mixing board, and big 300 Watt speakers was just too much gear to haul around. Even if I ended up using the restaurant’s PA, which is a nice one, I’d still have to lug the board and speakers and stands down from the office upstairs. Enter the Fishman SA220 Solo Amp.

Plug It In and Go!

I finally received my SA220 today after having to wait for a couple of weeks for it to arrive (had to be ordered). So when I got home, I knew I had to try it out to see how it sets up, and of course, to work out kinks before I gig with it. There’s nothing worse than fighting your rig or sound DURING a gig – especially when you’re solo.

The guys at the shop assured me that Fishman’s claims of easy setup were true. I am now a believer! I had the SA220 set up in exactly 42 seconds!!! That didn’t include hooking up my pedal board, guitar, and microphone, but I had the system on its tripod stand and plugged into power, ready to go, in that short amount of time. That just blew me away! Plus, everything you need to get up and running fits into a single carrying unit that consists of two bags: One for the array/PA, and one for the tripod that buckles to the main bag. Talk about convenience! Fishman really had the solo artist in mind when they built this!

How It Sounds

For my audition, I just plugged my guitar into the SA220 directly, and hooked up my microphone. All I can say is that the sound is spectacular! I was actually concerned about the bass response of the unit, but apparently Fishman distributes the bass response among the six main mid-woofers. It may not get boomy with the bass, but the sound is absolutely rich, and vocals are clear and full. Normally, I use a DI to go into a board – and will probably do the same with this unit, but my guitar sounded clear and natural and full plugged in directly without those annoying high-end transients and flattened tone that is so annoying with plugged in acoustics. Admittedly, the ART system in my Yamaha APX900 has quite a bit to do with that, but Fishman really knows how to condition sound.

At first, I had a bit of a problem with feedback, but setting the phase switch and tweaking the anti-feedback knob (it’s a variable frequency notch filter designed to subdue a resonant peak – just turn it to where the feedback gets reduced or eliminated – very cool), and attaching the rubber sound hole cover on my guitar took care of the feedback problem.

Luckily no one was home when I tested the SA220. I set it up outside so I could see how it performed. Damn! Even with just 220 Watts, the SA220 is LOUD!!! I had the Master volume set at around 10 am, and that will be enough to fill the large patio space I’ll be playing in tomorrow! It’s not a stretch to say that the SA220 can cover a lot of venues.

As far as listening angle is concerned, the SA220 disperses the sound incredibly well! Even at extreme angles, where I was almost even with the array, the sound was clear with good volume. Of course, narrower angles are better, but this unit will have no problem playing in the open space I’ll be playing.

Talk About Bang for the Buck!

The sound is great, but I have to tell you, I was ready to get the Bose L1 Compact, which is a great unit, but the mere fact that if I wanted more EQ control and other features, I’d have to spend another $499 really soured my taste for the unit. On the other hand, Fishman has packed all sorts of features into the SA220 that make it hands-down the better value. Independent 3-band EQ for each channel, phase and anti-feedback control, 4 types of digital reverb, a mute switch (that is REALLY handy!), independent balanced XLR outs to go into a board, and my favorite feature: independent effects loop for each channel! You just can’t argue about with what comes built-in on this unit!

Overall Impression

It’s hopefully obvious that I love this unit! For me as a solo artist, it’s a true game changer! It’s light and versatile, and the sound is spectacular. What more could I ask for?

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