Why this acoustic guitarist is giving up on pickups

I’ve been playing acoustic guitar for 30 years, and for most of that time, I couldn’t afford a high quality guitar. What I needed was something I could plug in to any PA, get a reasonable tone, and be ready to gig. My PA was generally one of those Peavey 6 channel mixer amps and a couple of JBL Control 1 speakers, the whole lot would be chucked into the back seat of my borrowed Skoda and I’d be off. If I’m honest, most of the venues I played in around the North East weren’t really suited to perfect acoustic tone and fancy woods. On one memorable night, the Ship Inn on Holy Island was  so packed that a  couple of people fell into me, taking out my mic stand and knocking the jack socket through the side of my guitar.

Times have changed, and my needs have changed with them. For a while, I’ve been using an Acoustic Collection Stadium, an all solid guitar with a high quality piezo system. It sounds quite a lot like the acoustic tone, but not quite like it. I’ve got a Boulder Creek jumbo, also with good piezo. Last winter I added an Epiphone Olympic archtop, again with piezo, this time a little further from the acoustic tone. I was struggling with my ukulele playing into a dynamic mic, so I drilled a hole in it and fitted a pickup. I bought a nice mandolin and guess what, I paid to put a pickup in it. These all sound at least ok, but you know, I love acoustic tone. When I buy a guitar, I buy the look and the feel and the acoustic tone, and the amplification is a bit of an afterthought. Not only that, but if you’re using two or three guitars, a mandolin and an ukulele in a set, that’s a lot of disconnecting and reconnecting cables between songs, and if you have a not too alert soundman, you may break everyone’s ears too.


The final straw came with the acquisition of even more instruments. First, an acoustic Gretsch parlour which I intended only to be used as a home guitar, but was too charming not to gig. Then, a Loar LH-700, and a wonderful 150 year old double bass came along too, and piezo’s time was gone.

The solution? Well, it was staring me in the face. In the back of the alcove full of kit I laughingly call my office was a large diaphragm condenser mic, from the days when I did more  YouTube music. Coupled with an AKG C1000 small diaphragm condenser pointing at the neck, that should get me really good acoustic tone, and I’ll be able simply to approach those mics with whatever instrument I’m using, no noisy unplugging. Of course, I can’t rely on every house PA to have or understand phantom power, so I’ve got a Presonus Blue Tube two channel preamp with phantom power, which should also afford me a bit of extra tonal control too. Perhaps this would be too feedback prone in a loud rock band, but in an acoustic country folk duo, I think I’ve found my perfect solution. Goodbye, pickups!