Probably because I have three fantastic sounding Martins, M-36, Custom Shop D-35 Seth Avett and Custom Shop Sinker D-18 I have become less and less affected by the affliction we guitarists call GAS: Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. That is the never-ending search of the perfect guitar that probably doesn’t exist. All three of those Martins have distinct and fabulous voices and they are all quite different. Each suits an aspect of my playing style very well but in reality any one of them could cover my bases just fine. All are equipped with passive pick-ups, K&K in the two dreadnoughts and Dazzo in the M-36. So they all sound terrific either acoustically or amplified. But the final link in the amplification chain is where I’ve really been obsessing for the last couple of years: the amplifier.
I think in the last five years or so I’ve tried most of the higher end amps and quite a few lesser ones. Most had strong points and weak points, whether in design or sound. About the only brand that I just do not like is Fishman. To my ear, all their amps have a very artificial and unnatural sound. I know they are very popular however and many guitarists like them just fine. In the higher end makes that I’ve owned such as AER, Schertler, Henrickson and a couple others I’ve found that while the bass end is BIG and deep, the treble end – which is feel is so important in performance – is lacking. I’ve tried to mitigate that through the use of a LR Baggs Align Series Equalizer and that works reasonably well but that means one more piece of equipment to worry about and bring to gigs. Simplicity is almost as important as sound to me; the fewer pieces of gear I have to carry to a gig, the better.
In that regard, it looks like I will be playing at least a couple of gigs at a really nice facility in Boca Raton, Florida when we head down there in a month or so. The dilemma is space. My Tacoma truck has a pretty big back seat but considering we are driving down (and need colder weather clothes for a while), going on a cruise and then staying in a couple places for an extended period of time the packing challenge must be dealt with. I also like to fish, so those toys have to come along. My music gear will consist of my M-36 in a gig bag, my Bose S1 Pro amp, a (collapsed) mic and IPad stand, and a gear bag with various devices, cords and spare parts. My wife and I each will have a large suitcase plus a smaller bag or two. You can see what I’m up against!
But getting back to sound. That Bose S1 is a pretty good sounding amp considering its size and with three inputs I can cover all my amplification needs. However, compared to my primary amp, an ACUS OneForStrings 8 it sounds pretty bland. Not bad, just not rich and sonorous like the ACUS. But that one, while still small enough to be manageable around here is just too big to take on the trip. I am hoping that these gigs at the very fancy place I think I’ll be playing will lead to others, hopefully next year. I would dearly love to get enough work down in Florida in the winter to justify the expense of being there. So you see why I’m so concerned with sound quality in this particular instance.
Am I done buying sound reinforcement gear? Probably not. Many of the big and smaller players in the music world are cranking out new and better amplifiers and devices to improve the sound of an amplified acoustic guitar. I read with great interest my monthly copy of Music Trades magazine, the main publication of the music manufacturing industry. Right now the huge NAMM show is going on in Anaheim, the one I attended last year and I’m sure many companies will be introducing fantastic gear. I couldn’t justify the expense of going to the show this year but I anxiously await reports.
Another piece of equipment that has entered my musical life is an amazing little recording device call the Spire Studio. It is a stand-alone recorder that is paired with a smart phone or tablet (I use my IPad) and some amazing recordings can be done. Among the many great features the Spire has are a built-in, high-quality condenser mic (or inputs with phantom power for other mics, which is what I do), and a built-in compressor/limiter that during a brief “sound check” phase before recording self-adjusts to eliminate distortion even when strumming pretty hard. Eight tracks are available for over-dubs and there are two channels. During the mixing phase you can bring up a track (such as a lead guitar break) and also adds effects such as reverb if needed or wanted. I have finally stopped using CD recording with my students and gone completely to using this device. I record what the student will be practicing and then email them a sound file, which they can then open and save to whatever sound programs they have (such as Itunes) on their phone, tablet or computer.
Almost all my students seem to love this convenient way to get recordings of what they will be practicing. The sound quality is superb and no more worries about CDs that only work for a few songs (or not at all), scratching or losing the CD, and funky things like sound files on supposedly “new” CDs – woo boy, I could tell you stories about that (!!). One or two students have resisted a bit as they are older and somewhat intimidated by the technology knowledge required but if I carefully and patiently explain how the process will work I’m sure they will be fine with it in a short amount of time. And I’d dead certain they will appreciate the quality of the recordings compared to the CDs. Younger students who have grown up with rapidly changing technological advances have no problems whatsoever.
Another cool aspect of the Spire. If you send files to a person who also has the Spire recorder, they can add tracks and send it back to you! I’ve been doing just that with one of my advanced students and we are having a ball. His playing has also improved as he recognizes the importance of getting the “little things” right in his playing….a recorder doesn’t lie or cover up mistakes!
So as time passes and I learn more and more ways to optimize both sound and the use devices that help with it I will let you know. It’s all very exciting!
Peace & good music,