Acoustic Guitar Amplification: Pro Setups


Russ Barenberg
In the past Barenberg has mixed his own AKG stick-on piezoelectric pickup with whatever high-quality condenser microphone is available at the venue he's playing. He prefers AKG 451 or 460, Shure SM81, and Neumann KM84 microphones and uses a custom-built preamp/parametric equalizer to get the pickup sound right. He plans on experimenting with internal microphones to see if he might be able to replace the external one he now uses.

More recently, he's been using a Baggs pickup in his stage guitar (a cedar-top Olson), with a Chard Stuff preamp, a Yamaha SPX-90 effects unit, and an external mic.

Pierre Bensusan
From "Pierre Bensusan: France's Leading Acoustic Export" GP June 1995 (Doug Sprei): Bensusan still deploys a multi-effects rig and MIDI foot controller. His venerable Lowden guitar, outfitted with a Japanese piezo pickup and internal dynamic microphone, is run into a stereo preamp made by Dutch designer Theo Sharpath. From there it goes into an Ernie Ball volume pedal, a TC Electronic chorus pedal, and an ART SGX-2000 processor. The signal then moves to a TC Electronic 28-band digital EQ (which is also an analyzer), an Alesis Quadraverb, and finally a TC digital delay with 65 seconds of delay or looping time.

Mary-Chapin Carpenter
From "State of the Heart" AG May/Jun 1992 (Holly Crenshaw): Mary-Chapin Carpenter raves about the two main acoustic guitars she plays, both of which were made by John Greven (1108 E. First, Bloomington, IN 47401).... Carpenter also praises the reissue Martin D-28 herringbone she bought in the early '80s. And she says of her most recent purchase, "I just picked up an interesting little number called a Guild Songbird.... It's like a little hybrid acoustic-electric, one of those thin-body electrics. It's real fun...." On stage, all her guitars are equipped with Andy Adams transducers [which she runs through a Brooks DI box].

Peppino D'Agostino
From "Peppino D'Agostino: Italy's Elegant Fingerstylist" GP June 1995 (James Rotondi): My main guitar is a Taylor XXRS 20th Anniversary spruce-top model, but I also play a Taylor 812-C cutaway. I use the Lloyd Baggs Micro-Duet system, which is a combination of piezo and condenser mikes inside the body; I use an external AKG CK-460 condenser mike in addition to that. I like to keep my sound acoustic, but I'd like to open it up with reverb. I'm experimenting with the looping capabilities of the new Oberheim Echoplex, plus some multi-effects and a preamp.

Alex de Grassi
[de Grassi] uses a combination of a Baggs saddle pickup with an internal preamp, and an AKG 460 external condenser mike. His pickup runs into a volume pedal, a T.C. Electronics 2290 effects unit, and a Lexicon LXP-1 reverb unit, then to the house.... De Grassi also indicated a desire to experiment more with the newest internal microphones.

Cliff Eberhardt
Cliff plays a Martin (with a custom neck) outfitted with an L. R. Baggs under-saddle pickup, and uses the BBE 386 Acoustic Preamp.

From "Testimony" AG Jul/Aug 1993 (Simone Solondz): Ferron plays a Martin D-35 from the '70s... [and] a Schoeberg Soloist.... She uses a Fishman pickup onstage.

John Gorka
From "The Daily Planet" AG Sep/Oct 1993 (Steven J. Givens): John Gorka performs with six- and 12-string Larrivee guitars.... Both Larrivees have L. R. Bags pickups mounted under their saddles, although Gorka also mikes his guitars in performance, usually with a Shure SM 57. "I know there are better ones," he says, "but [SM 57s] are durable." In concert, he sings into an SM 58. He uses a rack-mounted Pendulum preamp and parametric equalizer.

Michael Hedges

Bert Jansch
From "In The Moment" AG Sep/Oct 1993 (Colin Harper): Jansch uses an acoustic-electric Yamaha LT24 for most of his live performing. In a band setting, he uses only the built-in pickup and preamp. Solo, he adds an external mic. He uses a Peavey Pro-Fex for effects on stage.

Phil Keaggy
Keaggy's setup is ever-evolving; I've seen him at least a half-dozen times, and each time there is at least one item altered or added to his rack. Keaggy is presently using and endorsing the L. R. Baggs Micro Duet (Baggs under-saddle piezo transducer with onboard preamp and internal condenser mic), which came installed in his currently favored concert instrument, a Langejans custom acoustic. In September of 1995, he was processing the Duet signal with a Korg G2 Acoustic Processor, a Boss volume pedal, and a Lexicon JamMan delay unit before sending the signal to the house. In March 1996, he was using only the JamMan, with a dbx 166 rack-mount compressor. In Winter of 97 he added a Boss Superchorus pedal to this setup. Who knows what he's using now?!

For a long time he used a more complicated setup, centered on the three-transducer system he had in his Olson guitar (he has since updated his Olson setup to be similar to his Langejans setup). Here are two fairly recent descriptions of this older setup. The first is closest to the setup he uses in his Acoustic Guitar Style video, although for the video he also used an external microphone. Phil discussed the pros and cons of the Olson and Langejans setups in the Spring 1996 PKC (Phil Keaggy Club Newsletter). You can learn more at the Way Back Home Keaggy Web Site.

From "Out of the Mainstream" AG May/Jun 1992 (Dave Urbanski): "Phil Keaggy plays two cutaway acoustic guitars handcrafted by James Olson... he also plays a Takamine classical guitar.... For guitar amplification, Keaggy blends the output from a Sunrise soundhole pickup, an L.R. Bags saddle transducer, and a Fender M-1 internal microphone. To get his signature sound, he has a fairly large rack that contains an O'Neal Custom Equalizer, an Alesis Quadraverb, a DBX compression unit, a Roland SDE-3000 Digital Delay, a Furman PL-8 Power Conditioner and Light Module, a TC 1210 Spatial Expander and Stereo Chorus/Flanger, and a Carver Professional PM-300 Magnetic Field Power Amplifier." He uses the latter to power stereo monitors.

From "Phil Keaggy Tried and True" FG #4, 1994 (John Schroeter): Keaggy's guitars are outfitted with a Sunrise soundhole pickup, an L.R. Baggs under the bridge, and a Fender M1 internal condenser microphone. Greg Gualteri, of Pendulum Audio, built for Keaggy a custom preamp for combining the three signals. From time to time, Keaggy uses effects, such as an SDE3000 Roland digital delay, for getting into the "playmate" mode, locking in a particular rhythmic pattern and playing around it.

Phil briefly described the evolution of his setup as follows; from "Phil Keaggy: The Master and The Musician" GP June 1995 (Matt Resnicoff): Around '84 James Olson built me a guitar with a cedar top that I used for years. I also came across a phenomenal Langejans cutaway with an L. R. Baggs Duet system---a Baggs pickup and mike, which you can blend. I had a complicated setup with the Olson, with a five-pin cannon going in connecting a Sunrise, a Baggs, and a Fender M1 mike. I went through a Bob O'Neill preamp, then a Pendulum stereo preamp. Then I had conflicts blending the Baggs and Sunrise, and a lot of my rack equipment ended up getting damaged on airlines. So I went real simple with the Langejans, which has a built-in Baggs preamp [a Micro Duet?], direct into the Roland [SDE-3000 Delay] and the [Lexicon] Jam Man [looping delay].

John Knowles
He confesses that some time ago he gave up on amplifying his nylon-string guitars with microphones. Instead he uses a Baggs piezoelectric saddle pickup, a Demeter tube direct box, and a reverb unit before sending his signal to the house sound system.

Leo Kottke
From "Words and Music" AG Nov/Dec 1992 (Jim Ohlschmidt): Leo Kottke records and performs primarily with his Taylor signature 12-string and a concert-sized six-string built by Minnesota luthier Jim Olson.... As for amplification, Kottke says, "I used to be frustrated all the time. What's happened for me is I now have a system that works great with a piezo setup, a system that works great with a magnetic setup, and I've found three guitar mikes that I like a lot, and I just bounce from one to the other. Which one I'm using depends on what month you run into me." [He uses a Sunrise soundhole pickup (although he somewhat prefers the no-longer-available Bill Lawrence) with the Sunrise tube preamp; a Fishman piezo pickup through a Pendulum Audio Guitar Preamp; and a Shure SM-57, AKG 451, or Beyer M-201-N microphone.] "What I'll do sometimes is take everything on the road, with the Pendulum and the different modules, because some systems will not work with a piezo, while others won't work with a magnet. Most of my guitars have two jacks in them, so I can decide when I get there which one I'm going to use. It all depends on how 'live' the room is. If it's one of those washed-out, lively rooms, the magnet is great because it has such a strong fundamental. If the room is deader than a doornail and it's like playing inside a sock, the piezo is the thing."

More recently, Kottke has been using a Rane AP13 to process his pickup signals (using the AP13 mic channel for the Sunrise signal).

Roger Landes
Reported by David Kamerer (, October 1995: Roger Landes was the guitar and bouzouki player for Scartaglen, and now he works in a duo format with Connie Dover. He had a great sounding rig: Collings OM-1 with a sunrise and a highlander, going into a pendulum, which was also fed with an external mic. The pendulum was in one of those "flyer" cabinets from Daedalus, which served as Roger's stage monitor. He also kicked a line out to the house system. It set up in about two minutes, and sounded great to boot.

Adrian Legg
Noting that the ideo of accurate electronic amplification of an acoustic guitar is an oxymoron, Adrian Legg has instead adopted the approach of considering the "amplified acoustic" to be a new type of instrument, optimized for producing a harmonically rich, feedback-proof tone that is interesting in its own right, rather than attempting to be a louder version of an acoustic tone. His setup consists of an Ovation Adamas guitar, strung with very light strings, with the signal from the Ovation under-saddle pickup going through a ZOOM multi-effects unit to a Trace acoustic guitar amp for stage monitoring, and to the house PA for the house sound. Adrian described his philosophy about amplifying acoustics in a post to RMMGA in November 1995 as follows:
I guess if you were to work only in places with great acoustics, or really small and quiet folk clubs, then a condenser mike works fine, if it's going into a decent quality p.a.. I would say that 90% of the gigs I work are completely unsuitable for any kind of music, let alone miked acoustics, and come with atrociously cruddy p.a.s, so I work with an Ovation, which produces a signal that is flexible enough for me to eq my way out of most of the problems, but which seems to be a much vilified instrument in this 'hood.

I wrote a three part piece for an English music magazine (Making Music) six (seven-eight??) years ago, and we put together a book (called What Acoustic) which tried to cover the various options; their up-sides and down-sides. The simplest way to express it I always found to be to think of the guitar as a spectrum -- at one end a simple acoustic, at the other, the electric. In order to achieve some of the volume possibilities offered by the electric, it is necessary to accept a loss of some of the characteristics we all like about the acoustic, so where we end up on that spectrum is dictated by the kind of gigs we want to play, and how we need to use the guitar. I hope you understand the implications of this. My bottom line has always been simple -- I want to communicate, so whatever it takes to do that is what I use. This seems to be too pragmatic for a lot of people, who romanticise the acoustic guitar -- and why not? It is a romantic thing in the sense that it is, historically and currently, a very significant vehicle for many of the disparate ethnic and social elements that go together to make American culture. I guess if you're going to share music with your friends in your kitchen, then the practical choices that I have to make don't concern you, but if you want to go further outside that circle, then immediately you have to defy the dictionary definition of "acoustic" and use some kind of electric or electronic enhancement. At that point you cross the Rubicon, and I believe that to try to draw the line between acoustic and electric further back from there is futile and specious, and that the intellectual dishonesty involved merely hampers progress and narrows the whole guitar musically.

What you use to record is likely to reflect similiar considerations to your live solutions, but will include budget -- e.g. can you afford soundproofing for mikes or is it simpler just to plug a pick-up straight in; can you afford a Neumann or two, or a 460 series AKG and the cats-cradle mounts for them? has your mixer got phantom power ? And so on it goes...

I always thought that if you asked six guitarists, you'd get ten different opinions.

Adrian further discusses and demonstrates his setup on his instructional video, Beyond Acoustic Guitar.

Taj Mahal
From "Blues Across Borders" AG Mar/Apr 1993 (Steve James): Taj Mahal has lots of guitars.... He is emphatic, however, about his present preference for guitars by Matt McPherson.... Onstage he eschews ambient miking in favor of the signal from an L. R. Baggs pickup system. That signal is preamped and altered by a number of outboard effects including chorus and digital delay before being fed to a conventional tube guitar amp, which is miked through both mains and monitors.

Tom Prasada-Rao
Tom plays a cedar-top Lowden with a Fishman under-saddle transducer and a crown mic. The pickups go through a Rane AP13 stereo preamp, with a volume pedal and a Quadraverb Plus in the effects loop (the volume pedal is used to smoothly fade in and out reverb effects; see his song, "Over My Shoulder" on The Way of the World for an example of this technique). When convenience is a prime consideration, he instead uses a Fishman Acoustic Blender.

Preston Reed
From a concert review posted to RMMGA by David Kamerer (

Harvey Reid

Tony Rice
From " Picking Power" AG Nov/Dec 1993 (David McCarty):

Paul Simon
From "The Sounds of Simon" AG Jul/Aug 1993 (Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers): Paul Simon performs with custom-made Yamaha acoustic guitars.... These guitars come to him with pickups and volume and tone controls installed, but he's been adding internal mikes for amplification.

Martin Simpson
From "Martin Simpson: A Work in Progress" FG #3, 1994 (John Schroeter): In my main Stefan Sobell [Sicilian model] guitar, I have a Highlander. I've not had anything that I've liked as much. It's a soft transducer---it doesn't "quack" like many transducers do. It has its own preamp. When you plug it straight into the system, and watch the sound man's face, you know it's the right stuff. It has great response on the treble strings, and it's fantastic for playing slide. Like any transducer, though, you've got to be careful with the balance. It's got to be installed right. I have a wooden shim underneath the saddle, and that immediately sorted out the balance problems.

For stage work, I frequently play an [Ithaca Guitar Works] Oneida guitar, equipped with a Highlander and an internal mic. It's a small-bodied guitar, which is great for playing while standing. Played through a PA head and a Daedalus speaker cabinet, it has great tone, an it's loud!

[Reader Josh Pincus reports from a conversation with Martin after a concert that Martin partly attributes the success of his Highlander sound to the fact that he uses very heavy unwound strings; his first string is a 0.015!]

James Taylor
From "Shed A Little Light" AG Jul/Aug 1992 (Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers): James Taylor plays three guitars by James Olson. Two have an SJ body shape, one with a cutaway, one without.... The third is a dreadnought.... He also has a reliable, good-sounding Yamaha and three sizes of guitars by Martin Whitebook.... Taylor's Yamaha has Yamaha electronics for amplification; the Olsons have L. R. Baggs pickups. Taylor does not mike his guitar on stage. He runs the pickup output through a Pendulum preamp, and he says that the preamp's notch filter helps him get the best results from the piezo pickup; he can zero in on and cut the worst-sounding parts of the midrange, then add "crispies" and a little bit of bass.

Richard Thompson
From "Walking on a Wire" AG Nov/Dec 1993 (Henry Kaiser): Richard Thompson performs acoustic shows with his well-worn, cedar-topped Lowden L-32 C.... Thompson uses a Sunrise electromagnetic pickup (mounted in the soundhole) wired through a Sunrise tube interface box. He says, "It gives plenty of gain. It sounds pretty acoustic. For me, I'd rather have that faint metal edge that you get with a SUnrise, that faint electric guitar edge, than the kind of piezo edge you get with the other kinds of acoustic pickups." He runs the signal through a T. C. Electronics parametric equalizer, a Demeter Tremulator, and a Boss DD-3 digital delay. He depends upon his soundman to mix in other subtle digital effects from the mixing board.

David Wilcox
From "Tuning In" AG Nov/Dec 1994 (James Jensen): David Wilcox plays a concert-size guitar with a cedar top and rosewood back and sides, made by Jim Olson (11840 Sunset Ave., Circle Pine, MN 55014).... On stage Wilcox utilizes a Pendulum stereo preamp to mix the sound coming out of the two pickups in his guitar: one is an L. R. Baggs saddle pickup chosen for its bass response, and the other is an Acoustech, which he feels really helps with the mid and high frequencies. Wilcox also travels with two microphones, an AKG 535 for his vocals and an AKG 460 for his guitar, which he mixes with the pickups at 50 to 60 percent, depending on the venue.

More recently (fall, 1995), David's Internet fans report that he is using the Baggs pickup in combination with a Sunrise rather than the Acoustech; the two are processed with a Pendulum stereo preamp.

Brooks Williams
Since May 1996 Brooks' main guitar has been a mid-1980s Martin D-16M (with specially shaved braces). For slide work he uses a 1964 Gibson B-25M. Both guitars are wired with Sunrise soundhole pickups and run through a Pendulum HZ-10SE acoustic guitar preamp. When he needs to travel light, the Pendulum remains at home in favor of a Fishman Pro-EQ and a Passac EC-1 preamp. In terms of strings: for the Martin, Brooks prefers a combination light/medium phosphor bronze set that John Pearse Strings calls the "slack key" guage (.056/.045/.032/.024/.017/.013). The Gibson is strung with medium phosphor bronze strings (.056/.045/.034/.026/.017/.013). Brooks uses medium guage picks (mostly) - the fat end - and uses his middle-ring-little fingers in addition to the flatpick. Depending on the desired sound, Brooks has both metal and glass slides; both commercially-available and custom-made. Green wine bottle necks are by far his favorite! Blue are the best, if you can find them. [Thanks to the Murri Agency for this information about Brooks's setup!]