Do electronics degrade an acoustic's sound and feel?

Emigre

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In my limited experience, the guitars I've bought with electronics seem dead sounding and overbuilt. That's a Taylor 414 FLTD and a Yamaha NCX900 nylon string.

My guitars without electronics are lightweight, lively, loud and a pleasure to play. For example, my Martin 00-18, Esteve Manuel Adalid classical and even my student Almansa classical.

Played acoustically, even my student classical easily buries the Yamaha electric nylon string.

Would these overbuilt eletric/acoustics have some advantage when plugged in? for example would the reduced dynamics actually help the amplified sound? Would the livelier guitars be unmanageable when amplified?

Also, would adding a pickup to my non-electronic acoustics degrade their sound and feel?
 

Bluedano1

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My PU/preamp system was aftermarket on a very lightweight Sitka/Mahogany Martin D. Many years ago.

- no holes in guitar (except small one in bridge to insert piezo film element), and no controls either. Maybe 4-5 ounces ( ?) of added weight, including 9V battery.
And it has been a no-brainer, natural sounding PU ( EQ curve and boost are pre set, goes right into PA channel)
 

mccreadyisgod

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No doubt an on-board active preamp will add a fair amount of weight to the guitar. But there's no reason that an A/E model would be any heavier, or more "built", than the comparable pure acoustic version; that is, if you took the A/E model and stripped all the electronic components, then it should be pretty much identical to the acoustic model (with some holes in the body where the electronics had been, obvi).

There's a bit of an argument that the preamp dampens the body and can become a source of unwanted vibration. There's also an argument that an under-saddle pickup can interfere with transfer of sonic energy to the soundboard, or that a contact pickup could dampen the soundboard, or that a soundhole pickup could dampen the soundboard. But these effects *should* be negligible, or at least they should be the cost of being able to easily amplify the guitar.
 

redir

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As mentioned above you cannot really compare different guitars like that. You would need to very carefully study one guitar then install a pickup system then study it again. I've been building and repairing guitars for over 25 years now and have installed hundreds of pickups in guitars and have never had a customer come back complaining it changed the instrument in any way for better or worse. I don't notice it myself. I'm sure on paper a physicist could prove to you that it does indeed change the tone of the instrument, because it does! But a philosopher would convince you that the change is so insignificant that it doesn't matter.
 

rowdyyates

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Depends on several things. An under saddle piezo always has a negative effect on acoustic sound. It has always seemed to me the better the guitar, the more negative the result. Placing electronics inside the body, and especially on the top, can change the tone. Once again, the better the guitar, the more noticeable the effect.

This is one reason I only use K&K with no onboard electronics into a “Vintage “ Jack (no drilling required).
 

Frozen Rat

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In my own personal experience, yes. Every Songwriter I've owned that had the Fishman Aura up under the soundhole vibrated a bit better when that was removed, along with the battery pack. All that gear impedes the movement of the top ever so slightly. It doesn't make a huge difference, but I can feel more vibration in the top when that equipment is removed. It's held on with a magnet, so it's easy for me to test.

Taylor also states in their descriptions that their non-ES guitars are built with thinner woods. So there is something to the build being different, at least for that maker.

The system that seems the least invasive is the L.R. Baggs units with the tiny little knobs up near the soundhole. That setup is pretty small and will have almost no impact on the movement of the top. Under-saddle pickup systems that don't have anything glues underneath the soundhole will be the least invasive.

Lastly, I prefer the sound of a Mic'd guitar anyway; I never want electronics in my guitars. I feel the electronics never replicate the sound of the guitar accurately: you get a different sound. A mic on the otherhand transmits the sound waves coming naturally off the guitar, and is therefore accurate.
 

Emigre

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Thanks for all the responses.

On acoustic I play fingerstyle, I don’t just strum or flatpick, and I play a lot of classical on nylon strings. Perhaps that’s more sensitive to the way the guitar vibrates, as there is less energy when finger picking?

I haven’t played heaps of guitars but I’ve begun to notice a pattern. Perhaps it’s just these particular guitars, but the non-electric acoustics I have seem like a joy to pick up; the electric acoustics feel like a drag.

So as a question, is there a benefit to a guitar being more “damped” for amplification? Would a livelier guitar be difficult to take or too dynamic when amplified?

Would a good acoustic also make a good amplified acoustic?
 

Tony Done

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I fingerpick, and have used a few different kinds of transducers and preamps. I do not believe that anyone could detect the presence or otherwise of an onboard preamp in a blind test, but many acoustic aficionados did, maybe still do, prefer to choose their own (outboard) preamp and pickup system, rather than buy a guitar with a pickup system installed. Also believe that most kinds of hard USTs would not be detectable in a blind test, though their quacky amplified tone isn't to everyone's liking. When I was gigging, I used combined UST and magnetic through an external preamp mixer, and my old L-00 now has a Baggs M1 active soundhole pickups installed, while my other electrified acoustics, another flattop and two resos, have home-made magnetic pickups.

I've found that resos in open tunings are a lot more feedback-prone than flattops, but apart from that, I haven't found much difference.

"Good" is a combination of personal preference, guitar, transducer and amplification system, and I have always bought acoustics on the basis of their acoustic tone, not amplification potential. Of the commercially-available electric-acoustics that I have heard playing gigs recently, which I admit is not too many, my favourites by a fair margin have been Matons with their AP5 system, and I also like the acoustic tone of many Maton dreads.
 

Emigre

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Many thanks for your thoughts @Tony Done.

I'm sorted for non-electrics with my Martin 00-18 and Esteve Adalid classical.

However I want to have electric-acoustics for these times where I play to a crowd. Just as much to be heard as so I can hear myself!

I guess my problem is that I don't like my current electric-acoustics for being overbuilt and not as lively and resonant as my pure acoustics.

The question is, is that normal or even a benefit for electric-acoustics (it seems not) and for my electric-acoustics, should I aim for the same liveliness I look for in my pure acoustics (it seems yes!)

I think having an onboard pre-amp may be more convenient but to some degree it kills the fun for me.

Also I was wondering if I should put a pickup in my existing acoustic but I don't want to **** with it even for the slightest change in the feel and sound. You don't mess with perfection :D
 

Emigre

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Lastly, I prefer the sound of a Mic'd guitar anyway; I never want electronics in my guitars. I feel the electronics never replicate the sound of the guitar accurately: you get a different sound. A mic on the otherhand transmits the sound waves coming naturally off the guitar, and is therefore accurate.
I agree if not for the hassle of having a mic...

Also to me the pickup has a completely different feel when fingerpicking. So much so that if I don't play amplified regularly, I lose the feel and my dynamics are all over the place when I pick up an electric-acoustic again.

Combined with the fact I don't like to play my electric-acoustics, I'm pretty much guaranteed most times when I plug in to spend the first half hour going "aaaarrrrgggggghhhhh ffffuuuuuuuccccckkkkkk!!!!" internally :p
 

Frozen Rat

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I
Also to me the pickup has a completely different feel when fingerpicking. So much so that if I don't play amplified regularly, I lose the feel and my dynamics are all over the place when I pick up an electric-acoustic again.

Combined with the fact I don't like to play my electric-acoustics, I'm pretty much guaranteed most times when I plug in to spend the first half hour going "aaaarrrrgggggghhhhh ffffuuuuuuuccccckkkkkk!!!!" internally :p
I feel like I'd rather just play a dedicated electric guitar rather than play through a pickup into an amp with an acoustic. Whenever I watch live performances, I always prefer the acoustic sound when the player is mic'd opposed to using a pickup.
 
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cvansickle

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I suppose it depends on the electronics. I have a couple of Taylor guitars with factory original Expression Systems, and I would never know they were there unless I needed to amplify them.

I also have a Taylor GS8 that did not have a pickup originally, but the previous owner installed a really nice Fishaman preamp into it. It doesn't take anything away from the guitar itself, and this guitar is my favorite player.
 

mccreadyisgod

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The question is, is that normal or even a benefit for electric-acoustics (it seems not) and for my electric-acoustics, should I aim for the same liveliness I look for in my pure acoustics (it seems yes!)

I think having an onboard pre-amp may be more convenient but to some degree it kills the fun for me.

Also I was wondering if I should put a pickup in my existing acoustic but I don't want to **** with it even for the slightest change in the feel and sound. You don't mess with perfection :D
Based on your comments, I would sorta want to steer you toward adding a passive soundhole pickup to one of your existing acoustics. They can be easily installed, and easily uninstalled. They don't have a preamp or battery pack, so they add minimal weight. And they only contact the soundboard at two spots on the soundhole, so they cause minimal dampening of the soundboard. There are even models that are designed to only be installed temporarily when needed, although if you play amplified often, I'd avoid those, as they are a tad less stable.

For nylon strings, you need something different, since magnetic pickups don't detect nylon strings. I'd look at a soundhole-mounted mic, or else a top-mount contact pickup. Again, looking to minimize weight, minimize dampening, and maximize the ability to remove/restore the instrument to pure acoustic.

If you performed amplified more often, you could explore getting an instrument that you think of exclusively for plugging in. But it doesn't sound like this is the case, at least not currently. So I'd take advantage of the good instruments you have, and are already comfortable with, and just add the basic minimum gear necessary to amplify them.
 

Tony Done

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I also would be thinking in terms of a soundhole pickup for steel string - which is what I have now done. If you go that route, get one with adjustable pole pieces, because string-to-string balance is tricky with acoustic strings. - the 2nd string can really jump out.

Not sure about nylon string, but if you used something like the K&K system on both guitars, you couls use the same outboard preamp for both.
 

kludge

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I think it's more that most guitars sound dead, with or without pickups. Even sticking heavy magnetic pickups in the soundhole doesn't make an audible difference to me.

I'm not sure weight correlates to liveliness that much, either. I handed someone my Mossman rosewood dreadnought the other day, and her immediate reaction was "That's heavy!", because it weighs a lot more than her little Alvarez. Her second response was "WOW!" when she strummed her first chord on it, because the sound is so big and present - "breathy" is the word I use for its sound, and the sound of most really great acoustics. That said, there's a tendency for lighter guitars to sound better, but it's definitely not universal. I've played a lot of lightweight guitars that didn't have a drop of music in 'em.
 

mccreadyisgod

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You wanna try a light-weight guitar with punch, I have a couple Rainsong carbon fiber guitars that sound huge, compared to their size. But it helps to use a material with greater inherent strength, and also they don't need structural bracing, so they're incredibly resonant.
 

Parlorman

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I’m with Frozen Rat. I play mostly acoustic finger style and prefer playing unamplified in small venues or mic’d if needed. None of my acoustics have pickups. To me, they’re no long acoustics when you add a pickup. If need or want electric, I grab the Probett or Strat.
 

Emigre

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Thanks for all the replies! I’ll go with @Frozen Rat and @Parlorman and just mic my top acoustics when I need to.

Meanwhile I’ll be looking out for a great sounding electro acoustic if I find one just in case!
 




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