My recent posts have been centred on equipment whereas the main purpose is to get on playing and listening to gypsy jazz music. However one does need to look at equipment from time to time and at the moment I am reviewing all our equipment – the first occasion for 7 years so it doesn’t take up that much time really.
My last post looked at the methods of amplifying gypsy jazz guitars and described the hybrid microphone/contact pickup method that we use. If you are not going to use a full PA system then you need a standalone amplifier for your guitar. The first thing to mention, though almost everyone knows this by now, is that an amplifier designed for straight electric guitars will be no use at all and will make a horrible sound. This is because such amplifiers are designed with a huge mid-range bias, which is what we expect for an electric guitar sound, usually the impedance of the input section does not match piezo pickups and there is no microphone input for a hybrid system.
Fortunately, probably due to the popularity of ‘unplugged’ gigs by big name rock bands, there are now many acoustic-specific amplifiers on the market. We have used Trace Acoustic amplifiers for the past seven or eight years and they have served us very well. They are now looking rather battered but they continue to work extremely well. The only reason that we have replaced them recently is that the battered appearance didn’t fit in with the smart appearance required when we play at functions (a relatively lucrative though slightly mind-numbing experience which we tend to regard at worst as paid practice though often it is much better than that with quiet appreciation by the client’s guests). Trace Acoustic amplifiers haven’t been made for at least five years because the company that made them went bust.
This time we have bought AER amplifiers. AER (Audio Electric Research) are a German company who have been building amplifiers specifically for acoustic instruments since 1992. Their amplifiers are used by a number of gypsy jazz guitarists including Angelo Debarre, Robin Nolan and Martin Taylor – which is why we looked at them. There are a number of different models ranging from a 40W Alpha model up to larger multiple input versions that are in effect a mini PA. We bought a Compact 60 model which is 60W and has two separate channels – we use one for the Big Tone pickup and the other for the soundhole microphone. There is an onboard digital reverb if you use that effect, we have a touch on the lead guitar but none on the rhythm guitar. The sound out of the amplifier is great and requires very little tweaking of the EQ, it is also very loud – much louder than you would ever need on a gig but it is a better idea to use the bottom end of a powerful amplifier rather than a small amplifier near its limit. The best feature, for us, of the AER amplifier is its ergonomics. It is a small cube shape that weighs only 8.5 kg and it comes with a well-designed padded gig bag with a shoulder strap. The importance of the gig bag really becomes apparent on gigs because it has side pockets for leads, microphones, tuners and strings so you really can turn up with just your guitar case and the amp in its padded gig bag.
We also bought the Compact Mobile model. This is identical to the Compact 60 except that it contains a battery so you can play for 3 to 4 hours without any electricity supply – great for busking and at outdoor venues, but there is a considerable 7.5 kg weight penalty for this function so no shoulder strap on this gig bag!