You have an acoustic guitar and you want to plug it into a PA system.
There are several ways to do it and the most optimal method will certainly depend on your own rig, the type of acoustic guitar you have, and several other variable factors that should be considered.
In this article, we'll cover the most likely scenarios and tell you how to plug your acoustic guitar into a PA system.
These are the questions you should be asking yourself.
Let's get started.
Need an acoustic? Checkout our list of best acoustic guitars.
Does your acoustic guitar have an onboard preamp?
Most acoustic guitars are what's called acoustic-electric guitars, meaning they have electronics built into the exterior of the guitar's body, with an interior pickup. This means you can plug an instrument cable into your acoustic guitar, just like you would an electric guitar.
These small preamps usually sit on top of the guitar's body, right above the soundhole, as in the picture below:
From there, you have an unbalanced TS cable (a typical guitar cable) that can be connected to an external preamp - like an acoustic preamp pedal - or an actual acoustic amplifier.
However, those are not necessary for getting into a PA system.
In most cases, you can simply use a DI box.
With a DI Box
To get to your PA system from an onboard acoustic preamp, plug the instrument cable coming from the guitar into the DI box, then plug an XLR cable from the DI box into the desired channel on your mixer.
Here's how the sequence breaks down:
- Acoustic preamp out
- Instrument cable to DI in
- DI out via XLR cable
- Mixer channel in from XLR cable
Here are a couple DI boxes I've used for this setup:
If your acoustic guitar has no onboard preamp
In the unfortunate event that your acoustic guitar doesn't have an onboard preamp, getting your signal to a mixer is significantly trickier, with only a couple options:
- Buy/install a sound-hole pickup
- Mic your acoustic guitar and run the signal to your mixer via an XLR mic cable
Both of these tasks are beyond the scope of this article, and we wouldn't recommend the mic route for a live acoustic performance.
Here are some sound hole pickups we recommend: Best acoustic guitar pickups
Do you have an acoustic pedal preamp?
Perhaps you have an acoustic guitar preamp, like the LR Baggs Venue DI, pictured here:
Here's a link to the Venue DI on Sweetwater:
If you look at the above pictures, you can see that this acoustic preamp has an input for your instrument cable - coming from your onboard preamp - an unbalanced output, and a balanced XLR output. A device like this one allows you to bypass the DI box since the XLR output is already included in the pedal preamp.
Does this negate the need for the onboard acoustic preamp?
Because acoustic preamp pedals like the Venue DI still need a source signal, which is where the onboard preamp comes in. Moreover, most acoustic preamp pedals are far more flexible and versatile than onboard preamps. They just give you a lot more control over your acoustic's tone.
On preamps like the Venue DI, the balanced XLR output saves you from needing a separate DI box to get to the PA system.
You can use an unbalanced output in your pedal preamp if you want, but then you'll still need a DI box to get to your PA system. This might be used if you're sending your signal to an acoustic preamp.
Can't I just plug my acoustic guitar directly into the mixer's channel?
Technically you can do this, but even with an onboard preamp, this would be an unbalanced signal. It's better to send a balanced signal through XLR, which means we'd at least recommend a basic DI box. Having the DI/preamp combo is an even better option if you want to send an acoustic signal to your PA system.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have the right gear for the job. Don't cut corners by simply running an instrument cable from your acoustic preamp to your mixer.
What about acoustic amps?
Almost all acoustic combo amps will have a balanced XLR output, allowing you to send your signal directly to a mixer.
For example, here's the DI out on the back of the Fishman Loudbox:
This would essentially take the place of a preamp pedal like the Venue DI or another DI box. If you want something that includes a speaker, allowing you to practice and connect to a mixing board, the acoustic combo amp might be a more ideal option for you.
We've given you the most common and straightforward methods of connecting your acoustic guitar to a PA system. To recap, we do not recommend mic'ing your acoustic guitar, nor do we recommend sending an unbalanced signal into your mixer.
Instead, invest in a DI box, a soundhole pickup (if you need one), and a pedal preamp to give you plenty of flexibility over your acoustic's tone before it gets to a mixer channel.
Do you have questions about our recommendations or about plugging your acoustic guitar into a mixer, in general?
If so, leave them in the comments section below.
I'll drop in and help out as much as possible.
We'll see you there.