Dansm's Acoustic Page


Amplification of Acoustic Guitars
I don't profess to know much about acoustic guitar amplification, but here is the little that I do know. There are basically three ways to amplify an acoustic guitar: use an internal pickup, an external pickup, or a microphone. For more information on acoustic guitar amplification, check the rec.music.makers.guitar.acoustic amplification summary.

Internal pickups or internal microphones are by far the most convenient method of amplification. Guitars with internal electronics can be plugged into an amplifier just like an electric guitar. You see these guitars often on stage: Cobain used one in Nirvana Unplugged, Toad the Wet Sprocket used them during their concert at Cornell, and most of the lcoal solo acoustic performers have them. My Martin would have cost about $200 more for electronics to be factory-installed. You can also have the electronics installed later, and the built-in electronics are a great feature if you want to play out. There are three main types of installed pickups: internal microphone, under-saddle pickup, and permanent soundhole pickup. Each have advantages and disadvantages, and blends of two or three of these items are becoming very popular. There are many manufacturers who produce internal pickups, and some of the best are L.R. Baggs, Joe Mills, and EMF Acoustics.

External acoustic pickups are somewhat less convenient than acoustic-electrics, but some are less intrusive and can be used on any guitar. There are two basic types of pickups: pickups that fit in the soundhole, or pickups that attach to the body and pick up the vibrations of the top (called "piezo" pickups). All three types plug into an amplifier just like a regular electric guitar. The in-the-soundhole and piezo types can be removed easily at any time. The in-the-soundhole models can usually only be used with steel-strings. I have a Markley Pro-Mag acoustic pickup (in-the-soundhole); it cost $40 and sounds pretty good. I use it to play at coffeehouses and it is so much more convenient than using an external microphone.

The last option, using a microphone, gives the best sound. However, it is by far the least convenient, and takes the most time to set up. Unidirectional mics work best. Eric Clapton used this method for Unplugged. If you don't mind being stuck to a microphone all night, you may want to try this method, but otherwise you might want to stick with another style of pickup. It gets to be a real pain when you are trying to get into your music in front of 40-50 people and you can't move more than 6 inches from a microphone. But some people like it, and it is much easier to use when sitting than standing. So try it out if you like!

Remember, you may want to try all these methods before deciding on one. I recommend choosing between the internal or external pickup if you plan on playing out frequently, but go with your gut feeling and keep playin'!


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1997 Daniel E. Smith. Last updated 9-18-97