Let’s say that you can’t imagine your life without your trustworthy acoustic guitar and at the same time you’re very serious about your music career. This means that at some point, you inevitably will face the challenge of making your guitar sound louder than naturally possible. Presumably, your first choice would be to mic your guitar up, but if you’re looking for a more practical solution, an acoustic amplifier should do the trick. So in this article, we will tell you about the best amp settings for acoustic guitar.
A few tips before you dial in the amp
Since the production of the sound isn’t limited by just an amp but rather is a result of quite a few interconnected processes, it might be a good idea to take into consideration a few other factors. For example, your guitar matters quite a lot, although it has nothing to do with its price range and country of origin. Obviously, your guitar should be able to grant you the possibility of connecting to the amplifier, which means it must have an internal pickup with a preamplifier. After you sort out your guitar and its built-in pickup, it’s finally time to think about the actual amplifier. But as with all things in life, it’s better at least try to be methodical, so we shall start at the beginning.
About your guitar
The good news is that if you’re completely fond of your old acoustic guitar and it doesn’t have a factory-made preamp with a pickup, you still could use it with an amplifier. All you have to do is to order an aftermarket pickup and install it in your guitar with the help of a power drill and a few hand saws. But, of course, it would be better to acquire assistance from a seasoned luthier if you’ve never dealt with carpentry before. In terms of choosing the right pickup, any will do but to be safe use the one that Tommy Emmanuel uses. Other than that, just make sure that you have fresh strings, your guitar neck is straight and you’re golden.
Adjusting your preamp
Once your preamp is successfully installed, the next logical step would be to adjust it properly. Depending on the preamp of your choice, it would have an EQ module of some sorts and a volume slider. If you intend to use your guitar only with an acoustic amplifier, the EQ module wouldn’t be very helpful or might even confuse you since your amplifier already has one. In this case, leave every band flat and adjust it if needed on the go.
If you want to connect your guitar straight to the mixer or record it directly with your audio interface, then the EQ might actually be of great help. If this is the case, you can adjust it in the same way as you would do the EQ module on your amplifier, which we will cover a bit later. When it comes to the volume slider, turn it all the way up and dial it back just a notch, so you’d have a little bit of headroom if you need one.
What amp to choose
Choosing the right acoustic amplifier is rather easy since the only thing you should worry about is if it’s loud enough for your particular needs. The rest comes down to personal taste and preferences, so, obviously, the amplifier should be chosen empirically. If you want to, you even can use an amplifier for an electric guitar, but if you want your tone to be as natural as possible, make sure that you’re using it at the lowest gain possible to get the cleanest sound.
Best amp settings for acoustic guitar
Whatever amplifier you choose to get your hands on, it would most likely have a very basic EQ module, controls for presence, and built-in reverb. There are a lot of ways how you can set your amp up, but they all will depend on your initial goals. In this article, we will cover the settings that would let you achieve the most natural sound possible. It makes perfect sense since this is the sound that most acoustic guitar players would go to. But if you’d feel like this particular sound isn’t your cup of tea, at least you could use those settings as a starting point for your experiments. You can always take inspiration from such artists as aforementioned Tommy Emmanuel or John Butler when it comes to the acoustic sound.
Bass, evidently enough, controls the low-end frequency spectrum of your guitar. You have to be as careful as possible with this setting since too much bass will result in a very boomy and distracting sound and moreover, it will make your guitar be more susceptible to feedback. Too little bass, on the other hand, will result in a flat and unconvincingly lifeless sound. So your best bet would be just to leave the knob at 12 o’clock and increase it just a bit if needed.
In order to achieve a more clear low-end, you may consider lifting your acoustic amplifier off the ground. Disconnecting the bottom of the amp from the floor will result in a lot less unwanted resonance which will give you a more objective picture of the soundscape. A simple and inexpensive guitar amp stand should do the trick just fine.
It’s not hard to guess that mids are responsible for the middle portion of the frequency spectrum. Decreasing it will result in an even flatter sound which most of the time isn’t particularly desirable. Depending on your acoustic environment, your best bet to achieve a more natural and meaty sound would be to place the knob somewhere between 1 and 2 o’clock. Use this as a starting point and decrease it ever so slightly if you feel like your guitar sounds a bit boomier than you’d want it to. You may decrease it even further but be very cautious and careful not to overdo it.
The high-end of the frequency spectrum is controlled by the treble knob and you should treat it with great caution, because, unless you want your audience to feel like you are sawing a foam plastic, turning this knob all the way up isn’t such a good idea. You may consider leaving it a 12 o’clock and see if it works for you. If you want your guitar to have a warmer sound, decrease it to approximately 10-11 o’clock. If you want a brighter sound, put the knob somewhere around 1 to 2 o’clock and see if it works for you. Generally speaking, since acoustic guitars have a very broad frequency response, it’s a good idea to EQ them with great moderation.
This setting is completely optional, which means that your amp might not actually have one. But if it does, you might as well use it since it was designed to increase clarity and to make the sound more pronounced without affecting the overall frequency balance.
Well, that’s not completely true since essentially, Presence control boosts upper-mid-range frequencies, so essentially, it’s a very broad high-shelf EQ. This means that you should also treat it conservatively and do your best in order not to overdo it. Usually, a few notches should do the trick just fine, but if you feel like your guitar still sounds a bit dull and lifeless, increase it more. The exact settings very much depend on the particular amplifier that you’re using since different manufacturers take various approaches to the presence.
The good news is that most acoustic amps that you might encounter have some sort of built-in reverb. And this matters because we got used to perceiving acoustic guitars in some sort of environment, which means that acoustic guitar’s sound without any reflections would be considered weird, to say the least. And this is exactly the sound you would get straight from the amp since there’s no reflective environment between the pickup and the amp. You can always address this problem by adding a microphone signal to the chain, but it’s practical only in the studio. On the stage, using a built-in reverb from your amplifier should compensate for the flatness of a pickup.
Use the reverb carefully, though, since the signal from the amp also reverberates in the environment. So the less reverb you dial in, the better.
Before dialing in your best amp settings for acoustic guitar, you may set up your acoustic pickup first and make sure that the instrument is properly adjusted. Use the built-in EQ module of your amplifier to slightly increase the mid-range and leave bass as it is. Add a bit of treble if you want your guitar to sound brighter, or dial it back if you desire a warmer sound. Slightly boost the upper-mid-range with presence if you find the sound a bit dull. And add just a smudge of reverb to increase the sense of space.