Acoustic Plugged in – Electric Unplugged

Hello everyone,

I’ve been delayed in posting for a while as I’ve been knee deep practicing material for some upcoming Korisoron shows and recording later this summer.

(If you happen to be in upstate New York, we’ll be playing July 10th as part of the kick off event for the BuckMoon arts festival – https://www.facebook.com/events/792648237521231/)

Some video of one of the songs we’ll be playing is here:

I’ve talked before about some aspects of practicing on an acoustic guitar, but performing with KoriSoron has taught me a lot about what a different animal acoustic electric really is.

The biggest thing has been how radically different the experience of a mic’d acoustic versus a piezo-equipped acoustic really is.  With an unplugged acoustic, what you hear is what you get – but unless you’re actually recording it with a microphone – what you hear – particularly for lead playing – is not what comes across in a live room.  This is an even bigger chasm of experience when dealing with a piezo pickup.  This wasn’t a huge difference when playing with my ZT amp but going into a pre-amp pedal and out to a PA (or recording direct) became a head scratching experience.  Now that we’re looking at recording some demo material from live performances (and getting the tablas and percussion a little more front and center) – I’ve been researching  how to get a simple system that amplifies sound and records what were doing.  We’ll do our first live run at Buckmoon this Friday – but I’m feeling pretty good about the initial options here.

For the mixing desk – we’re using a TASCAM DP32-SD.  It’s a standalone recorder kind of like an updated version of the 4 track cassette version some of you remember from your own early forays into recording.  It seems like an odd choice – but here’s why I liked it.

  1. My laptop is a little too unstable for live use.  I tried running some signals from a previous show to the laptop and it look close to an hour to set up and a 1/2 hour to tear down, and I wasn’t psyched with the end result.
  2. Increasingly, I like the idea of a limited function machine.  It doesn’t check email or make videos it just processes audio.
  3. The Tascam does what it does well.  It records 8 tracks simultaneously (more than enough for a trio) to an SD card is is DEAD quiet.  The faders are non automated and old school but useful for my application and it features lots of routing options, some onboard digital effects (compression, EQ and verb are useful for monitoring – in this case going out to the house) and a pretty straight forward interface.  I like the fact that I can set it up and just move on.
  4. The Faders and monitor out allow me to run a signal to a powered speaker and act as a gentle push for live sound.  The ZT amps work great for live use – but sometimes we need to get the tabla and other percussion out in front a bit more.

With that in mind, we’re trying to run the least amount of mics on stage as possible, so we’re currently using some Yamaha gear to help with that.  I’ve been using a Yamaha THR5a in lieu of my AG Stomp and I have to say that I dig the amp as a practice model.  You can tweak the sounds with a computer interface to a much greater degree than just the amp controls – but it sounds quite good for what it does.   I wish they got rid of the battery compartment and added some XLR outs (the only out options are USB and headphone out – the biggest drawback to the amp) but I really cant complain about it as a live interface.

Practicing acoustic plugged in to get ready for the show has really been a revelation.  It’s forced me to make major adjustments in my left hand and focusing on it like a classical player and pay deep attention to the nuances of tone.  Again, playing it acoustic it sounded one way, but practicing it plugged in gave me a much more realistic impression of what the audience was hearing – and that’s making me dig deeper and really tear apart all of my 2-string building block shapes and work on getting them to sound clear with the piezo.  It’s a bear, but that work really pays off and has made a difference in the overall tone of the acoustic playing as well.  It’s the exact opposite of my advice to play electric guitar unplugged to make sure that you could make out every articulation – but both roads lead to the same conclusion.

As before, I need to give a lot a credit here to Miroslav Tadic and Jack Sanders who really did a lot to open that perception for me and make it something I could develop!  I just wish I pieced it together earlier – but better late than never.

So we’ll see how all of this goes on Friday and we’ll see if I’m still chipper about this next week. I guess the lesson here is – don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions – often.  Very often I teach lessons with students who say, “Oh I know that” and when we go deep into it they start to realize just how little they know.  The teacher is also the life long student – so even when confronting something and saying, “Oh – I know that” it’s amusing to see the beginner belt come out and realize that all roads lead to Kata – the basics – the fundamentals – and you can never know them as deeply as you think you do.

I hope this helps!

If you’re in the area, I’ll be playing with KoriSoron at the FM Theatre at Fulton-Montgomery Community College at 8pm on Friday, July 10th.  The event is free and open to the public.

Thanks!

-SC

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