Onstage Acoustic Guitar Amplification

It was fun being featured in the January 2013 issue of Acoustic Guitar Magazine. The magazine has been around for decades and carries some of the best info on working guitarists and technique of the wooden instrument variety.

I was asked to shoot a video talking about my onstage amplification setup, for an article and a series of videos “Real-World Rigs From Acoustic Guitar”.

Watch folk-blues artist Mokai explain his Onstage Acoustic Guitar Amplification for Acoustic Guitar Magazine

The print article devoted a page each to several SF BayArea guitarists, including my buddies Garrin Benfield, and James Nash (of Waybacks fame), such luminaries as Jackie Green, and grammy-winner Laurence Juber (of Wings fame), as well as one of my favorites, Northern California’s own Nina Gerber.

I motored up to Marin from the City (‘motoring’ being the proper term for traveling north over the Golden Gate bridge to sunlit Marin Co.) to the offices of AG mag in bucolic San Rafael. I was greeted by production manager Hugh O’Connor and senior editor Teja Gerken. Teja had hosted me at his Fingerstyle Guitar Showcase in nearby Fairfax, and we’ve struck up an easygoing rapport. Teja is all about guitar, like Hugh and everyone else at the magazine, but Teja is really all about fingerstyle, having recorded and released two CDs of instrumental guitar, he lives and breathes guitar–plainly obsessed as am I.

And mostly likely, editor Scott Nygard is as well. Acoustic Guitar Magazine puts a lot of care into the contents of their pages, and they’ve been working hard to try to keep their print publications alive and to be involved in the shift to online media, with a free community forum online, and a lot of free content, such as video guitar reviews and guitarist interviews on their youtube channel.

Their “private lesson” series of large-format printed books contains some of the most complete and accessible tutorials I’ve seen. I’ve been going through the Alex de Grassi Fingerstyle Guitar Method, and its a well done, substantial volume, not just because of the profundity de Grassi’s imparts (boy, and how…), but just to be enjoyed as a well laid-out book that’s fun to work with.

They also have an online version of the magazine available to subscribers, and “Acoustic Guitar U”, a website of instructional videos available for a monthly fee.

Stepping into the office, I was whisked into a photo studio, and the design and production director, Barbara Summers, doubling as photographer (this is not a huge, corporate operation,) quickly took some shots, and we went on. In a separate video studio, we talked for a few minutes about what we intended to do. Teja wanted to highlight a few things about my simple and versatile onstage rig. Lots of players wonder what is the best pick-up for acoustic guitar, and how to solve the problems of onstage feedback when amplifying acoustic guitar.

Many players get a great sound using a magnetic pick-up–I’ve especially seen good results from sunrise pickups, as some of the other players in this video series show. But for a true acoustic guitar sound, you need a microphone. Most ideal would be a sound-person who can mic an acoustic guitar onstage. Lacking that, you end up with a choice of sounding tinny and being drowned out, or feedback. The answer for many guitarists is a system like those in my guitars, where a tiny condenser mic is installed inside the guitar. This is augmented by a under-saddle transducer mic.

With the video rolling, I did a quick tour of my Fishman performer amp for them, showing how it works with my the set-up in my Gibson Jumbo. Using a stereo cable into one of the two channels on the Fishman, the amp splits the signal and lets me EQ the mic and transducer separately. I can also deal individually with the different kinds of feedback each of those might be more susceptible to. Using this amp, I don’t need to deal with a guitar pre-amp (though I would like to add one of the Fishman or L.R. Baggs options to my arsenal. )

Next, I demonstrated a different guitar, my Recording King Nick Lucas model, set-up with the L.R. Baggs Anthem, which also has a mic and transducer installed, but comes out of the guitar as mono signal into a single channel of the amp. This leaves the XLR input of the second channel available for a mic input for vocals in a small venue.

Take a listen to the end of the video, where I performed a version of my tune “Holy Guacamole”, a fun fingerstyle instrumental. The video came out well, and there’s definitely info in there I wish I’d had years ago when I was starting out, trying to make my acoustic guitar sound good when amplified. The same goes for the other guitarists videos in the series, including set-ups like Garrin Benfield‘s pedal board or James Nash’s computer driven rig, that I would never attempt.

Or would I? Maybe someday, you just never know. You can see all these guitarists videos on YouTube.

About Mokai

Fingerpicking Fool

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