Amplifying your acoustic guitar to get a usable sound doesn’t have to be a compromise (other than monetary expense). From this series you have probably learned that technology has caught up with the needs of discriminating musicians, and now there are systems that sound so good that they can be used in the studio as well as the stage.

 But, which system is best for you!

In trying to sum up this series I’m now going to go into full editorial mode. Basically, this is the subjective, opinionated, conclusion by a guy that some say doesn’t play with a full deck of cards. Others may (and quite likely will) have different recommendations, and you may be well served to listen to them as well before making up your mind and shelling out the Robert De Niros. The brand names I mention are not specific endorsements, but rather representative of a type of system. The reason I mentioned the brand is that it is a system I have personally used, and therefore have first-hand knowledge of it. There usually similar systems by other manufactures that are worthy of being investigated by the buyer.

If I were a solo finger-style guitarist who rarely, if ever, played in an ensemble, I would invest in the L.R. Baggs’ Anthem system. This is a combination system of both an under-the-saddle piezo pickup with a newly designed microphone that is mounted inside the guitar on the bridge plate.

Regardless of how much microphone is included in the mix, the pickup is still present to provide the low frequencies. In short, both elements of the system are doing what they do best. There are soundhole accessible fingertip controls that are almost inconspicuously (but frustratingly, not totally) visible that gives the guitarist enough control to sculpt the sound to their preference.

For the more jazz-oriented artist, whether as a solo artist, accompanist, or ensemble player playing a flat top acoustic guitar, I’d look at the Duncan SA-6. The SA-6 is an active magnetic pickup that has a built-in microphone with its own blend control, as well as an overall volume control.

The magnet pickup, on its own, provides a mid-range and bass response that’ll mimic a conventional jazz guitar and the mic will provide the acoustic “air”. It’s the high end sweetness that the mag pickup is unable to produce.

If I were a jazz guitarist already playing an archtop guitar that has a fretboard-mounted magnetic pickup, I’d look at the Fishman Archtop Bridge that returns the instrument to its acoustic roots. This is particularly good where the guitar does the beat 2 and 4 chop: the snare drum backbeat hit.

In a band situation where the acoustic is in the mix, but not really standing on its own…being heard is king. A high quality piezo system: one of the feedback, resistant under the bridge variety, would fit the bill. These have a sparkle on the high end and a nasally midrange that don’t sound truly like a mic’d guitar, but they do carve out frequencies that you can claim for your own in a band setting.

If you’re able to equip your guitar with one of these with a mic being able to be blended in, your guitar can do double duty. The realism that the pickup is missing can be added in in a softer acoustic setting where the mic won’t be amplifying the drummer more than your guitar playing.

If playing in a band situation and acoustically accurate sound is what you’re going for, then the newer digital modeling pedals is the deal. Most live players carry more than one guitar with them. If they all were equipped with the same or very similar piezo pickup systems, the all could run through the same outboard digital modeling pedal in a cost efficient manner: one pedal for many guitars. 

This would also be good for a writer’s night, solo acoustic, or backing situation, but you’d need to bring your pedal (which might also be able to work as a direct box) with you. However, in a plug n’ play situation, you might not want to bother with the extra box.

Hence, the mic-piezo equipped guitar as mentioned above. Or, as an alternative to that…a guitar equipped with an onboard digital modeling system, such as the Elipe Aura. This might be price prohibitive to have on all your guitars, but cool to have on the one you use when you’re only bringing one guitar with you.

If playing in a typical bar band situation or even the big stage where you may want to be able to adjust your own monitoring volume having an amp like the Trace Acoustic TA-200 would fit the bill. All the tone sculpting control is there on stage with you, even if you’re using a guitar with two pickup sources, and you can send a direct out to the board that is unaffected by where the volume knob is on the amp. 

And if I was playing solo in a coffee house or some other smaller venue, I would use the same type of acoustic amp for both my guitar and vocals. Sure, there are small portable P.A. systems such as Yamaha’s StagePass series that work great when a more conventional and slightly larger system is needed, but acoustic amps give you the ability to fine-tune your acoustic guitar sound and enough clean power for having your guitar and vocal heard above the din of the crowd.

Jake Kelly
is a man on the constant search for enlightenment, if anyone finds it let him know so he can get some. For more of this hombre’s ramblings and the rest of L2P check out L2Pbandspace and