Getting a Great Live Acoustic Guitar Tone
Amplifying an acoustic guitar presents a unique set of challenges. The balance and trade-off are mostly in getting a great tone, loud enough, without feedback. I’ve learned over many years of trial and error how to make an acoustic guitar work in a live setting, whether in a small club, or in outdoor festival and concert environments. The basics are pretty easy: start with a good instrument that’s in tune with good strings. Make sure you have a fresh battery, and after that, try these tips and ideas to capture your live acoustic guitar sound.
Have Your Own Direct Box
The DI is how your guitar interfaces with the PA, and like everything else, it has an effect on your sound. Don’t depend on the house or sound company to have a DI that sounds like you want it to. A good DI is neutral-sounding, and some have built-in effects and equalization.
Some acoustic amps such as the Fender Acoustic 100 have DI interfaces built into them. The TC Helicon VoiceLive Play - Acoustic is an amazing acoustic effects pedal complete with vocal effects and stereo DI outs.
Use Your Own Cables
Use the best-quality cables you can, make sure they are in good working order, and keep them as short as possible. The longer the cable, the more high end it tends to roll off. With overly long cables, there can also be RF interference; basically, your cable becomes an antenna.
The MXR Pro Series cables are great, solid cables with high quality connectors, and oxygen-free copper.
The Fender Standard Series is another excellent cable, giving you true transparent reproduction qualities with a pliable covering. They also have a lifetime warranty.
EQ for sound - not for smiley faces
Small EQ moves can make a huge difference. It’s tempting to cut midrange frequencies and boost high end and low end, especially when you’re playing alone. Midrange is where the guitar lives, and especially if you’re trying to play with a band, mids are the way to occupy your own sonic space in the mix. Start with a flat EQ on your instrument, preamp, channel strip, etc., and try minor adjustments.
Use a Feedback Eliminator
Mic and element-type pickups capture more of the sound inside the guitar’s body, which adds a nice element of air to your sound but can be a potential feedback problem.
If your guitar’s pickup system has multiple internal sound sources (mic, element, piezo pickup, etc.), you can turn the blend control toward the piezo pickup for better feedback suppression. However, if that doesn’t work, the D’Addario Planet Waves Screeching Halt will more than likely fix it. It’s a soundhole cover that stops outside signal from entering your guitar, which can really clean up your sound, especially on loud stages.
Get the right effects, and know how to use them
If you’re going for the sound of an acoustic guitar, only louder, a little bit of effect goes a long way. Chorus and reverb tend to be the effects of choice for acoustic guitar, but too much can wash out a guitar’s body and "oomph".
Experiment with modeling sounds to add depth to your tone. The TC Helicon VoiceLive Play - Acoustic has the TC Electronic BodyRez effect built in, and the Mustang GT digital amps from Fender have a great selection of acoustic focused settings. Look for simple ways to thicken your sound without fundamentally changing it.
Have fun exploring the ways to get the amplified acoustic guitar sound you want. There are so many great products available that you can find the perfect combination and let your music be heard!