We switched out the Boss CE-5 with the Boss CH-1 while also updating the article's formatting and our buy buttons. We've also removed all the Amazon add-to-cart buttons and reformatted the "top two" section.
An acoustic guitar rig doesn't always have to be played clean.
And believe it or not, your acoustic guitar isn't entirely functional without at least a handful of pedals. Basic compression, volume control and a three-band EQ are all really important for acoustic players.
I'll show you what pedals are the most ideal for acoustic guitars, as well as some other pieces of gear that can really boost your rig, like the best acoustic preamps, DI boxes and combinations of the two.
All of it is acoustic guitar-friendly.
Backed by my own experience and extensive research, these effects and guitar pedals are some of the best that money can buy and will certainly be the most optimal and functional for your acoustic guitar setup.
My reviews will include the following pedals, DI boxes and preamps.
Acoustic Guitar Pedals, Preamps and DI Boxes in this Post
If I could pick two...
BOTTOM LINE: The L.R. Baggs Para Acoustic DI is one of the most popular pieces of acoustic guitar gear in existence and rightly so. It’s a five-band EQ, feedback controller and D.I. box all in one, making it one of the best starting spots for acoustic guitar rigs.
BOTTOM LINE: A volume pedal is more important for an acoustic rig because acoustic guitars often have no volume control and a volume pedal at the beginning of your chain can help reduce gain and feedback. This one is universally helpful and a must if your acoustic pickup doesn’t have a volume knob already.
You probably have some questions, right?
Some of those questions might include the following:
- Do I have to buy only acoustic guitar pedals and effects for an acoustic rig?
- Is there a significant difference between acoustic and electric guitar pedals?
- Should I use an electric-guitar amp with an acoustic guitar?
Each of these issues and more will be addressed, in addition to a list of what I believe are the best pedals, preamps and effects options for an acoustic guitar rig.
First we’ll cover the products, then go through a little Q&A on the topic of the acoustic guitar effects reviews.
Before either of those, let’s talk about the method behind this post.
How this post works
I’ve built this list of recommendations around two main things:
First: The practical useability of certain effects with acoustic guitars, basically answering the question: What makes a great acoustic guitar pedal or preamp?
It’s a difficult question, because there are some effects that work well with an acoustic guitar and some that do not, or simply are not used by many acoustic players. Thus, as mentioned in our other acoustic guitar pedals post, there are general effects categories we should target for an acoustic pedal board.
They would include (and are mostly limited to) the following:
- Chorus, Flanger, Tremolo
Second: The technical cohesiveness between the effects and the electrical components of acoustic guitars and amplifiers.
This topic is more of a gray area but still an important consideration, even though it’s at the mercy of our own technical knowledge about guitar gear.
So, if you put these two things together:
Usability and technical cohesiveness are two qualities we must consider to build a list of “safe” acoustic guitar pedal and preamp purchases.
And that’s what we want, isn’t it?
We want the best acoustic guitar pedals and preamps possible, for what we’re paying.
We want it all to work.
And ultimately, we want to know that we’re not wasting our money on pedals or preamps that either won’t work with our acoustic guitar or will sound terrible when they do. So, I’m happy to bring this report with good news, that there are a lot of effects units, both stompboxes and preamps, that will work great with your acoustic rig.
Let's get started.
The Aura Spectrum DI box from Fishman does several things, but its primary functionality might be easy to miss.
Imaging technology in the Aura Spectrum DI box allows you to attain the sound quality of a studio mic, meaning it mimics a tone that sounds like your acoustic guitar is mic'd in a professional recording studio.
This tone is then blended with the natural resonance of your acoustic guitar's pickup.
The algorithms used to create these tone models provide 128 pre-loaded images that ship programmed into the Aura Spectrum DI box which you can use right away. They draw on a number of different acoustic guitar brands, models and even microphone types.
If you want to dig deeper, you can download more images via the Aura Gallery software, either for Windows or Mac.
The Fishman Aura Spectrum DI box plugged in. Image via Fishman
Other Features of the Fishman Aura Spectrum DI Box
Aside from the imaging technology, the Aura Spectrum DI box is stacked with acoustic-friendly features, namely the following:
- Balanced XLR output
- Effects Loop
- Feedback Suppression
- Three-Band EQ
- Chromatic Tuner
A balanced XLR output on the Fishman Aura Spectrum DI box for running straight to a PA system or mixer. Image via Fishman
Together, all this functionality makes your acoustic guitar sound crisp and clear (as you would expect from a studio mic) when plugged in, giving this DI box a lot of practical application for both the studio acoustic player and the live performer.
Cost and Context
The Fishman Aura Spectrum DI box is expensive, retailing around $330 in most markets.
Used options can dip into the $270 area, or lower if you get lucky.
However, the value is seen in the fact that you only have to buy one box to obtain such a high degree of functionality. EQ, compression, tuning, the XLR output and a number of other acoustic guitar tasks are handled in one purchase.
While it might seem like a high dollar amount, the Fishman Aura Spectrum DI is a tremendous value, given someone who needs a catch-all solution for their acoustic rig.
If you prefer to go that route, and avoid making several separate purchases, it's an ideal fit for you.
The L.R. Baggs Session DI acoustic preamp has two primary functions in the form of an analog saturation control and multi-band compression. In short, these features give your acoustic guitar a post-production, recording-studio tone quality that can be primarily described by two characteristics.
- Tighter and more focused signal
- Enhanced warmth and attack
Mutli-band compression and saturation knobs are what control these two tone-shaping components, where they can both be used independently of one another or at the same time.
The two most important controls on the Session Acoustic DI preamp. (View Larger Image)
Using the multi-band compression
The multi-band compression is responsible for creating the tighter, smoother and more focused EQ. As mentioned, this results in your acoustic guitar having a "post-production" tone quality, like you would expect from an acoustic guitar on a professionally-mixed album.
The Comp EQ knob is what controls this feature.
Depending on your acoustic guitar rig setup, you'll want to start by experimenting with the Comp EQ control by itself (turn the saturate knob all the way down for now).
Use the following steps to find your acoustic guitar's ideal compression spot:
- Play the acoustic guitar clean
- Engage the Session DI preamp with the Comp EQ knob at 50 percent.
- Move the Comp EQ to 100 percent.
- Move the Comp EQ back to 25 percent.
At this point you should be able to tell which compression level is most ideally suited for your acoustic guitar. I'd recommend going through this process every time you setup your acoustic rig in a new environment.
Your preferred compression level is a matter of taste, but the multi-band aspect does mean that different levels of compression are good for different situations.
Simply put, experiment and see what sounds the best.
Using the saturation control
Next to the Comp EQ knob you'll see a control labeled Saturation.
This knob should also be dialed in using the same tactic, first independent of the Comp EQ control.
Turning the saturation knob up will give your acoustic guitar a warmer and more analog tone that will also sound a bit gritty if turned high enough. It's almost like a slightly distorted or modulated sound depending on how hard you attack the strings.
Once you find a setting you like, add the compression for a harmonizing of both tone-shaping features.
The results are astoundingly good as the combination of both controls truly give your acoustic guitar a studio-level sound quality, regardless of where you're playing.
The Session DI preamp's perks continue.
The Notch feedback control and other features
The Notch control is a unique feedback suppression tactic that is best employed via the following steps.
First, you need to wait until your acoustic guitar starts feeding back. If it's not, don't turn the Notch knob up.
It's not meant to be simply preventative.
- Wait until your hear feedback
- Begin turning the Notch knob up slowly as your acoustic guitar is feedback back
- As you turn the knob up, feedback will fade out
- Once feedback is no longer audible, remember that spot where the Notch knob is and leave it there
Other features include a gain and volume knob, where you'll have a clipping indicator next to the gain control.
Use this indicator to set your levels by turning the gain knob up until you're clipping in the red only at your most intense playing. In other words, you should see it clip red just sporadically.
If your signal holds red for a few seconds or more, turn the gain back down.
Once you have a spot where you're only seeing spurts of red during your more intense strumming, leave the gain knob there and then set your desired volume.
Price and Context of the L.R. Baggs Session DI Preamp
While this acoustic guitar pedal is cheaper than the Fishman Aura Spectrum, it takes your tone in a different direction and is a far more specialized preamp. You still get an XLR output and some new sounds, but the emphasis is put heavily on the tone-shaping capability of the multi-band EQ and saturation controls.
Those are the primary attraction, along with the unique approach to feedback elimination, which works incredibly well.
I love this preamp both for session acoustic players and live performers, since it'll allow you to bring the clean and defined tone of the studio to your live gigs.
For people who plan to take full advantage of that feature, $230 is a bargain.
The Zoom A3 does a lot of stuff.
It's a preamp, DI box, effects processor and more, all in one fairly affordable silver stompbox.
Once again, it's a definitive all-in-one acoustic solution, negating the need for a lot of other gear.
Here's a quick list of what it handles:
- Acoustic guitar effects (40 total) and popular acoustic models (28 total)
- Feedback suppression
- Gain boost
- Preamp with three-band EQ
- Balanced XLR output
All told, there's little this box doesn't do.
In its simplest form, you can use it as a preamp/DI box via the EQ controls and the XLR output which allows you to go straight into a PA system.
The effects processor built into the box is just a bonus that gives you a wide array of sounds and acoustic guitar models to work with, making it an ideal solution for those who like to tinker with different acoustic sounds and have it all in one place.
Here's a closer look at the LCD interface:
A closeup of the Zoom A3 effects processor interface. (View Larger Image)
Other features of the Zoom A3 acoustic guitar effects processor
Mic and pickup mixing options along with a wet/dry balance control are also included.
There's a stereo output on the left side of the pedal where the mono output can serve as a headphone jack.
There's also a pickup style selector switch on the right side of the pedal's exterior.
Stereo outputs, pickup selector and pickup input on the Zoom A3 acoustic effects processor. (View Larger Image)
Price and Context
The Zoom A3 is more a jack-of-all-trades compared to some of the other acoustic preamps. It just does so much that it's hard to lean too much into any one feature.
But the sound quality is great and there's the added benefit of a somewhat cheaper price tag at $199 retail in most markets.
I like the Zoom A3 as a recording tool or a fun intro pedal for beginner and intermediate acoustic players. Moreover, it's a box that you'll likely want to keep, even after graduating into the ranks of a more seasoned acoustic guitarist.
The Zoom A3 is applicable to all skill levels and all styles with plenty of functionality if you don't mind the lack of specialization.
This is one of the most important pedals you can have on your acoustic rig.
First, a volume pedal helps you to control feedback and "fine tune" your output after it has been set on your preamp.
But there's also the possibility that your acoustic guitar doesn't have a preamp and that you're using a soundhole pickup, like the Woody from Seymour Duncan, pictured here:
A close look at the Seymour Duncan "Woody" acoustic pickup. Image via Seymour Duncan
If your acoustic guitar is setup this way, a volume pedal is a must, since it's the only way you'll be able to control the volume of your acoustic signal.
It's particularly valuable if you're a live performer and have to change volume on the fly.
The VP Jr. from Ernie Ball is one of the cheaper volume pedals out there and is designed specifically for passive electronics. From a quality and economy perspective, it's your best option.
Smaller size and a taper switch (allows you to adjust swell rates) are nice finishing touches.
One of the most appealing aspects of the ToneDEQ's stat line is that it runs an entirely analog signal path, which is a little harder to come by when you're dealing with acoustic guitar effects and signal processing.
A lot of the gear is digital, because it's just easier (and often cheaper) to produce.
But Fishman is an authority figure when it comes to acoustic guitar preamps and effects, so it shouldn't surprise that they're giving us an analog acoustic pedal with all the extras.
The ToneDEQ does a lot and can handle most (if not all) of your acoustic guitar signal processing needs, by itself.
Let's talk effects first.
Fishman ToneDEQ effects
The following acoustic guitar effects are included in the ToneDEQ:
- Reverb (two types)
- Delay (two types)
- Chorus (two types)
The acoustic guitar effects and their controls on the ToneDEQ pedal. (View Larger Image)
The effects are essentially broken up into two different buttons on the pedal, one labeled reverb/delay and another labeled chorus.
This allows you to cycle through the effects fairly easily.
Time, rate and level controls are also provided giving you plenty of tweaking options for each effect.
Additional Features of the ToneDEQ Acoustic Pedal
The rest of the ToneDEQ's functionality is helpful, if not predictable.
A boost control (has its own button), balanced XLR output, onboard compression and feedback control (via a selectable phase switch) are all included.
This feature set is similar to what we see in the Spectrum Aura.
At $299 retail, it's a big purchase, so you'll want to make sure that you're in a position to take full advantage of the ToneDEQ's features and capabilities.
One thing to take note of is the analog circuit path.
If you're going to spend that much, this feature should matter to you.
Because part of the cost is going towards the analog circuit which does give you a more rich and organic-sounding tone. Analog circuits can be thought of as the tubes of the guitar pedal world. They often sound better, produce a richer tone and are generally preferable to their digital counterparts.
Case in point, you're paying for the analog circuitry.
Another big part of the cost is the effects that are included. If you don't plan to use these, and you're only buying the ToneDEQ as a preamp or DI box, I'd recommend going with a unit that puts less emphasis on effects (see the Fishman Platinum Stage below).
Having said this, if you dig the analog guts and you plan to take full advantage of the effects that are included, you should pull the trigger with confidence.
As far as color and modulation, reverb is one of the best effects you can employ for an acoustic rig. It's not too heavy, easy to use and sounds great with the natural resonance of an acoustic guitar.
The Descent Reverb pedal from Walrus Audio is pricey, but it’s one of the most involved and complete reverb pedals in existence.
This flexibility is important with acoustic rigs, especially since the Descent gives you so much control over the dry and wet signal balance. There are actually two separate knobs devoted to this task, one for the dry mix and another for the wet mix.
True bypass (a staple of boutique guitar pedals) is also an excellent feature to look for in acoustic-friendly pedals, and one that the Descent Reverb delivers.
I should also mention that I touched base with the Walrus Audio folks and they confirmed that this pedal, in the midst of its complexity, is a great fit for acoustic rigs.
Since it has so much control, you'll get the most out of it in a studio environment. For live gigging, I'd recommend adding an expression pedal. In the spirit of due diligence, I checked with Walrus Audio about which expression pedals work best with the Descent Reverb.
Judging by this response, compatibility isn't a major concern:
If you want to be on the safe side, the EV-5 is an easy pickup.
Per the user manual, here's how you would use and program an expression pedal with the Descent:
Now, to be clear:
An expression pedal isn't a must to use the Descent in a live situation. At the same time, it's not to say that you won't be able to make use of the expression pedal option in the studio.
It's helpful in either scenario.
Though it will have some added benefit while playing live, simply because you can control more of the pedal with your foot, without having to bend down and change knobs by hand.
At any rate, the Descent from Walrus Audio is a fantastic way to add some basic layering and effects flavor to a dry acoustic signal.
The chorus effect comes with three major benefits to acoustic rigs:
- It provides subtle modulation and texturing
- It functions well in both a rhythm and lead guitar context
- It doesn’t encourage feedback or change the output of your signal
If you want to add a little bit of color or texture to your sound, a chorus pedal is an excellent go-to, requiring only basic EQ and level controls. The Boss CH-1 accommodates with an EQ knob, RATE and DEPTH controls, all of which fall under an E.LEVEL knob functioning as a wet/dry mix control.
For subtle modulation just set every knob at about 11 o’clock. You’ll get a thin, shimmering layer over your acoustic guitar’s tone that doesn’t drown out the natural resonance of the instrument.
The pedal doesn’t boost your signal or add any kind of volume. All you’ll hear is clear modulation.
Additionally, the CH-1’s stereo outputs allow you to easily split your signal between two amplification sources. Simply plug your primary source into output A (mono) and the secondary source into output B.
Per the user manual:
The connections diagram, showing you how to use the CH-1 in stereo for two different signal paths. Image via Roland
Cutting the RATE and DEPTH knobs too high will cause the effect to sound overpowering and chaotic, especially over an acoustic guitar’s signal. This is more so an attribute of the chorus effect in general and not a knock on the pedal itself. Moreover, these more extreme settings can sound really good with an electric guitar, and are just harder to place with an acoustic tone.
With that in mind, we would advise taking Roland’s “formal” CH-1 settings suggestions (pictured below) with a grain of salt, as long as you’re using the CH-1 with an acoustic guitar.
In most cases, we found that the pedal performed best on the lower settings, particularly with the RATE and E.LEVEL knobs cut in front of 12 o’clock.
To calibrate the pedal with your acoustic rig, start with each knob around 25 percent (about 9 o’clock) and gradually bring them up one by one. This way you’ll be able to get a better feel for the impact that each control has on your tone.
Some settings suggestions for the CH-1 chorus pedal from Boss. Image via Roland
Using the LEVEL knob for better chorus tone
If you do want to turn the RATE and DEPTH of the chorus up to higher levels, you can use the E.LEVEL control to drop the wet/dry mix down for a higher percentage of your dry signal, which might make the more intense chorus sounds more workable with your acoustic rig.
Having more dry signal from your acoustic guitar accomplishes two things:
- Helps prevent feedback
- Maintains a more subtle effect, thus preserving your natural acoustic tone
When using a heavier chorus EQ, aim for a 70-30 split between your dry and wet signal, respectively.
Other settings that sound great with an acoustic rig
Here are a couple CH-1 chorus settings that we found to be effective for an acoustic guitar, tested using a Taylor 114CE going straight into a mixing board:
E.LEVEL: 3 / EQ: 4 / RATE: 4 / DEPTH: 4
If it’s too subtle, move the LEVEL and EQ up a couple notches, per the following settings:
E.LEVEL: 5 / EQ: 6 / RATE: 4 / DEPTH: 4
Though it’s not technically a pedal, the LR Baggs Acoustic D.I. box adds a tremendous amount of flexibility and customization to your acoustic rig.
It's basically a combination DI box, acoustic guitar preamp with a five-band EQ and feedback controller all in one unit. You'll also have adjustable gain for either passive or active electronics, making it a helpful companion to all types of acoustic pickups.
There are a few situations where this box is particularly helpful.
First: For any kind of live acoustic gigging, the Para Acoustic is a fantastic companion.
It's almost like having your own tiny little mixer, allowing you to control the tone, volume and feedback of your signal right from your pedalboard. If you play live and go straight into a mixer, this box will make your life a lot easier.
Second: In the recording studio, whether you're just fooling around with your own music or working with clients in a session environment, the additional tweaking and control that the Para Acoustic gives you is extremely helpful.
It's the difference between having a one-dimensional signal that you hope comes out right or being able to dial in and shape a variety of different acoustic tones and levels that you know will sound exactly the way you want them to.
Third: If your guitar doesn't have a preamp (like we mentioned in relation to the volume pedal) the Para Acoustic can become that preamp and function as your primary EQ.
Those who need to use a soundhole pickup stand to benefit the most from the L.R. Baggs Para DI box, simply because without it, they have little or no control over their acoustic signal. Being able to control volume, gain and basic EQ is going to make a massive difference in your playing (whether live or recording) if you're used to going without those things.
In addition to the five-band EQ, the NOTCH and MID controls can be fine-tuned by two additional bands. There's also an overall level knob, allowing you to control the volume of the signal going out from the box.
Both XLR and quarter inch outputs are included, along with an effects loop and gain button for easy boosts.
Having used this box quite a bit, I would consider it one of the single most prudent purchases an acoustic guitar player can make.
Getting into standalone DI boxes, this one is priced high (just under $200) because it's what you might call "feature-rich," coming with 48V phantom power, a balanced output, ground lift and left/right inputs.
And that's just the beginning.
These features are designed to provide a more natural transition to the XLR output, which is helpful for acoustic guitars that you want to keep from sounding like a tin can. The J48 includes a 15db cut switch that helps to control feedback and tame louder signals with just one button.
180 degree polarity is also a tool for controlling feedback which does a great job in conjunction with the ground lift, eliminating any residual electrical hum and noise.
The box is just a flawless piece of equipment, evidenced by the pros that use it:
- Tommy Emmanuel
- Phil Keaggy
- Josh Turner
- Guthrie Trapp
With such a strong collection of features and control, the J48 is a popular studio and recording companion, though is rugged enough to handle road and gigging duties as well.
The J48 also comes with a low cut option that will take any unwanted bass frequencies out of the mix.
You can see that and other controls on the side of the box:
Side view of the Radial J48. Image via Radial
The left and right mixes that I mentioned earlier can also be merged into mono if you don't want to use both inputs.
It's a bit on the expensive side for a DI box but, literally everything your acoustic guitar needs out of one is included in the J48.
In my opinion, it's well worth the investment if your preamp and effects situation is already taken care of.
Radial's Tonebone is one of the most complete and thorough acoustic guitar preamps in existence, offering every feature you could possibly want, plus a little extra.
Owner's of the Tonebone will be treated to the following:
- DI box functionality
- Feedback controls
- Boost switch
- Effects loop
- Stereo outputs
- Group lift
- Five-band EQ
Those who will get the most out of it are players who need everything for their acoustic rigs: DI boxes, EQ source, boost pedal - all of it. Once you buy the Tonebone, your acoustic guitar rig accessory shopping is essentially over.
Seeing that it's a perfect studio tool, some might prefer to leave it at home or in the studio for recording, while using different gear on the road. At the same time, the Tonebone can handle travel and is a great gigging companion.
I would add that if you're running an acoustic rig where you already have pedals and an acoustic amp, the Tonebone's effects loop and dual outputs could be a great fit.
The following diagram illustrates:
Pedals can be run through an effects loop which would cut down on noise and allow you to blend the pedals through your Tonebone preamp's EQ.
You'll then have the ability to send the signal to both your mixer and a third-party acoustic amplifier.
It's a lot of pedal and it's not cheap but if you need everything, and don't want to buy each part separately, Radial gives you a fantastic all-in-one deal that will be far cheaper than buying a preamp, AB switch, DI box, boosting pedal, EQ and volume control all as separate purchases.
For those who want a more affordable acoustic DI box and preamp, the Platinum Stage from Fishman retails around $150 and provides both DI and basic EQ functionality.
This is a particularly useful tool if you're using a soundhole pickup for your acoustic that doesn't have an onboard EQ and preamp. Moreover, the Platinum Stage is probably cheaper than having a preamp installed in your acoustic guitar.
As with the ToneDEQ from Fishman, the Platinum Stage is an all-analog device with a class A preamp that gives you some extra headroom (helps avoid unwanted distortion).
It's also recommend for both acoustic guitar and bass, with a toggle switch that you can set depending on which instrument you're using.
Basic Functionality of the Platinum Stage Acoustic DI Box
The analog preamp provides a four-band EQ, automatic ground life (helps reduce unwanted electrical noise), phase control and a balanced XLR output.
All the basics you would expect from an acoustic guitar preamp are there.
With the phase control and low distortion, it's an incredibly clean and quiet preamp, even without any explicit noise reduction controls.
Side view of the Fishman Platinum. (View Larger Image)
It's also smaller than most of the preamps and DI boxes we've looked at, and can easily fit on a music stand or on a small patch of pedalboard.
The Ideal Buyer
I think a lot of folks who find the complexity and lengthy task list of preamps like the Zoom A3 and the ToneDEQ to be too much or "overkill" will find a really happy medium in the Platinum Stage.
It's all the basics and none of the extras that you don't want to pay for.
To be certain, effects and acoustic models have value if that's something you'll use. But otherwise, something like the Platinum Stage acoustic guitar preamp is a much better and more affordable fit.
If you need that simplicity, buy with confidence.
The Acoustimax Sonic Maximizer preamp from BBE gives you a lot of the same controls as the LR Baggs boxes, though around half the price.
Like the LR Baggs Venue, the Acoustimax is designed for the both recording and live performance where players need to deal with different rooms and environments. BBE provides this control with a five-band EQ, along with feedback and frequency controls.
The unit has additional value for those who might lack a preamp from their acoustic guitar.
It doubles as a DI box, while also providing a quarter inch line out.
A look at the back of the Acoustimax preamp. Image via MusicStoreLive.com
The rest of the pedal can be broken down into two parts.
First, the preamp side, which is made up of the five-band EQ controls I've already mentioned.
You can see those controls pictured here:
A look at the preamp controls on the BBE Acoustimax. Image via Sheehan's Music
You have the standard gain, treble, mid and bass, while the mid's frequency can be fine-tuned for a low or high EQ profile.
The right side of the pedal is designed to be a feedback controller with a series of knobs that adjust the Sonic Maximizer feature. This trademark of the Acoustimax streamlines your guitar's tone, matching the low and high frequencies of your acoustic's resonance and projecting them simultaneously.
Without this feature, your acoustic guitar's tone can often sound inconsistent, projecting higher frequencies before lower ones.
While it's hard to hear this phenomenon at first, the difference becomes really noticeable after you've heard the signal with the Sonic Maximizer engaged. Once you do, you won't want to play your acoustic guitar without it. In fact, you can get the Sonic Maximizer feature on its own, either in a pedal or rackmount form.
FAQ About Acoustic Guitar Pedals and Effects
Now, to answer some of the questions from earlier:
There’s some mystery surrounding the use of effects and acoustic guitars.
Part of that is technical (electronics, sound engineering, etc.).
But I think most of it is due to the fact that an amplified and processed acoustic signal just isn’t conventional. That said, if you ignore the tradition of the instrument, there’s a lot that an acoustic guitar can do just as well as an electric guitar.
1. Do I have to buy only “acoustic-specified” guitar pedals and effects for an acoustic rig?
What we need to realize is that there is no such thing as an “electric-specific guitar pedal.”
All guitar pedals are electric. And yes, the convention is that they ought to be used for electric guitars, but all they really do is serve as a type of signal processor. That means they take an audio signal, transform it and produce a different output.
Where it gets technical is when you try to use effects like distortion or overdrive with an acoustic guitar that adds too much feedback and noise. Acoustic guitars handle signal processing much differently than electrics, so you have to be knowledgeable about those differences, knowing which boxes work and which ones don’t.
Thus, the short answer is a definite no.
You don’t have to limit yourself to pedals and effects with “acoustic” branded on them. However, you do have to be smart about which non-acoustic pedals you choose.
2. Is there a significant difference between acoustic and electric guitar pedals?
There are some differences between acoustic-specific pedals like the Zoom A3 Processor and other non-acoustic guitar pedals.
Typically the acoustic-branded effects are designed with modified electronics that do more to balance your signal and reduce noise.
Feedback reducers are also commonly used in acoustic guitar pedals.
However, I’ve found that with a good acoustic amp and careful volume control, you don’t always need pedals with an emphasis on this technology. Again, it’s a trial and error venture. So ,while there are some differences, it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to limit yourself to effects with “acoustic” in the title.
3. Can I use an electric guitar amp with an acoustic guitar?
While I don’t like to make broad generalizations about gear, since it all behaves so differently, I can tell you from personal experience and conventional wisdom that electric amps and acoustic guitars can make a happy couple, though there are some exceptions.
Typically, two issues arise:
First, the sound quality - even when it does come through without feedback - can be an issue if you don't take some time to fuss with the EQ on your amp. It’ll sound like a tin can or just really weak, without proper attention given to your dials.
Second, is the feedback and noise you may deal with. This is often going to be a matter of trial and error with whatever feedback suppression measures you've taken. Though even with acoustic amps this can be an issue. If you're going to use an electric amp with an acoustic guitar, make sure you have a decent noise reduction system in place, like many of the ones we've seen on these pedals and preamps.
4. How important is an effects loop?
I like an effects loop with an acoustic guitar rig for a few reasons:
First, it’s often provided as part of an acoustic guitar preamp, which is a convenient combination.
Second, an effects loop can provide a more clear and defined signal, which can make a big difference when adding effects processors.
Lastly, an effects loop matches impedance levels between, say, a rackmount processor and your guitar, which prevents a muddying of your signal.
So, to answer your question:
There are plenty of good reasons to use an effects loop, and I might even say it's a preferable configuration.
However, if you don’t have one, it’s not the end of the world.
5. Are there better pickups I could buy for my acoustic guitar to handle effects more efficiently?
This is a resounding YES, with little hesitation.
Investing in a pickup and/or a soundhole cover can make a huge difference in the quality you get from acoustic guitar effects and processors.
Here are few I would recommend:
- Seymour Duncan Woody Series Pickups
- Seymour Duncan Woody HC SA-3HC Hum-Canceling Pickup
- Fishman Rare Earth Humbucking Soundhole Pickup
- LR Baggs M1 Soundhole Magnetic Pickup
- Planet Waves Screeching Halt Acoustic Soundhole Cover
- Ultra FBR2 Feedback Buster for Acoustic Guitars
Soundholes are extremely affordable, under $10 in most cases, while pickups range from $40 to $200.
If you’re serious about amplifying an acoustic guitar rig, I’d recommend investing in both.
6. What are the most useful/important acoustic guitar effects?
Start by prioritizing your compressor, volume and EQ, if you need them.
These are often packaged in an acoustic guitar preamp.
From there you can get a little more stylistic. Layer effects like chorus, delay and tremolo can work well, and you can also do a lot with reverb, as it’s an acoustic-friendly sound.
In general, the road is wide open after you get the preamp functionality taken care of.
7. What’s the most typical way to setup an acoustic guitar rig with pedals and effects?
Most of the pros will go straight into a preamp and DI box, where the signal is then routed into the acoustic guitar’s channel on their mixing board.
If you use a preamp and it provides an effects loop, pedals can go there, or after the preamp. If you’re just using a DI box, pedals go between your guitar and the D.I. box, before the signal gets sent to your mixing board.
Other Acoustic Guitar & Effects Content
Best Overdrive Pedal for Acoustic Guitar: A look at the best practices and gear to employ when adding distortion to an acoustic guitar.
Best Pedals for the Acoustic Guitar: Recommendations for 10 of the best acoustic guitar pedals and stompboxes.
Best Acoustic Guitar Roundup: Listing and review of our favorite acoustic guitars under the $1000 price threshold.
Taylor 114ce Review: Bobby's full review of his own acoustic guitar.
Concluding with a grain of salt
Keep in mind:
This is meant to get you started and give you some direction.
It’s not all-knowing, all-sensing or all-feeling. But it is a good place to get your bearings.
Otherwise, best of luck on your quest for the perfect acoustic guitar rig.
Flickr Commons Image courtesy of Kmeron