People often ask me specifics about the instruments and equipment I use. I've never really been much of a technophile, so I often can't answer some of the more in-depth questions. I usually just find a sound I like and go with it.
Essentially, what I am trying to achieve is a sound that is true to the natural, acoustic sound of the instrument as possible...and one that is loud enough for folks to hear me clearly from the back of a crowded room.
As many performers will attest, accomplishing both of these things simultaneously is easier said than done.
I have been fortunate over the years to have had some good friends who have allowed me to use their instruments and/or equipment so that I could get a feel for what I like.
Sometimes, stumbling onto a sound that I like has just been dumb luck.
Regardless, I'm pretty happy with the sound I get now, and based on the number of compliments and inquiries I have received from musicians over the years, it seems that others appreciate it, as well.
I'll start with the obvious...my guitars.
I do the majority of my performing with this guitar. It has a cedar top and mahogany back and sides. It has probably received more than its share of "character marks," but I'm not really too bothered by this fact because I have no intention of parting with it.
Besides, the first ding is the only one that really hurts. After that, they become badges of honor. At least that's how I rationalize it.
The body style is what is known as a grand auditorium, meaning that the waist is a little narrower, while the bottom is the same size as a traditional dreadnought guitar.
Every guitarist has a guitar that just "feels right" in terms of body size, neck size, fingerboard width, etc. The 514ce is that guitar for me.
It is a truly great sounding guitar, with an even, clear sound from top to bottom. It also has a wider fingerboard, making finger style playing (of which I do a lot) a little easier.
The sound most heard from this guitar is the amplified sound. I will get into the pickup system I use (which I believe is the most important factor in any acoustic guitar's amplified sound) later. But for now, I will just say that I have the same after-market pickup system installed in all of my guitars.
This is a 2005 Martin D35. It's also a great guitar, and I love it...just not quite as much as the 514ce.
The D35 has traditionally been used as a country/bluegrass guitar, one that is often strummed rather than picked. It has a solid sitka spruce top and rosewood back and sides. The back is a distinctive 3-piece design that the D35 is famous for. I didn't bother to take a picture of it, but there are pictures of D35's all over the internet if you are interested in seeing the back of one.
The D35 sounds great acoustically, with a big, booming sound, and a fuller bottom end that the 514ce. Again, the sound that most hear from it is in large part a function of the pickup system.
It's a standard dreadnought, and honestly, one of the reasons that I don't use it as much is that the dreadnought body style is a little bigger than what I am comfortable with for my primary guitar.
Next, the 12-string...
2005 Martin D35
This is a 1996 Taylor 750 that I have actually had longer than any other guitar. I bought it in 1997, not long after my original 514ce that I exchanged for the one I have now.
It is the same dreadnought body style as the D35, and it has the traditional solid sitka spruce top and rosewood back and sides.
The 750 has got a beautiful acoustic sound that will fill up a room. I also like the fact that as the guitar ages, the finish is starting to become a little darker.
Again, the same pickup system is used in the 750 as in the other guitars, so rather than repeat myself for a third time, let's just go to that system...
1996 Taylor 750
The LR Baggs Dual Source pickup system uses an under-the-bridge ribbon transducer along with a microphone mounted inside the body of the guitar. It allows the perform to control the volume and--perhaps more importantly--the mix of the sound.
One of my favorite features of the setup of all three of my guitars is that the pickup system is completely contained INSIDE the guitars. There are two small dials discretely mounted just inside the sound hole that control the volume and the mix. There are no controls, preamps, or other gadgetry visible from outside the guitar.
The only hint of electronics is the unit shown above, visible inside the sound hole, which is probably about as good as it gets if you're a purist.
I try to run at 100% microphone sound whenever possible, though depending on the room, I can use as much as a 50/50 mix to avoid feedback.
Generally, a mic'ed sound is vastly superior to anything else, in my opinion, when trying to capture the true sound of an acoustic guitar, and the Dual Source does a terrific job of this.
Of course, it's also important to have the right strings...
LR Baggs Dual Source pickup system
Elixir Phosphor Bronze strings
It may seem simple, but any acoustic guitarist will tell you that the right (or wrong) strings can make ALL the difference in how a guitar sounds.
I absolutely LOVE Elixir Phosphor Bronze strings. Obviously, I am not alone. Phosphor Bronze strings are renowned for their crispness, and Elixir pioneered the process of coating their strings, essentially allowing these strings to last about twice as long as normal strings do.
I used to use D'Addario Phosphor Bronze strings. However, I found the Elixir's sound at least as good as the D'Addarios, but last about a month rather than a week or two.
Naturall, Elixirs are just about the most expensive strings available (Lord loves a workin' man).
One down side that I have experience with the Elixirs is that the "G" string tends to break a lot. Under certain circumstances, that might be considered a good thing (especially during a live performance), but in terms of guitar strings, not so much.
Next is guitar effects...
Like most acoustic guitarists, I actually use very few effects...a little reverb from the PA system along with the Boss AD-3 for some chorus and occasionally a little anti-feedback--if you can even consider the absence of feedback an effect.
The anti-feedback feature on the Boss AD-3 is very nice. As soon as I start to hear the guitar feed back, I step on the left pedal and the AD-3 finds the frequency and filters it out.
After years of creating new dance moves trying to get my guitar pointed away from the source of feedback, I can say that this is money well spent.
The chorus effect is essentially used to make the guitar sound bigger. It's a little tough to explain, but a couple of examples of songs that I do with the chorus effect are "Up on the Roof" and "Solsbury Hill."
Two of the most impactful recent additions to my gear have been a loop pedal and a vocal harmonizer. I've had both items for a few years now, so they are not necessarily state-of-the-art anymore, but both function very well, so I'll probably only replace them when they stop working.
A loop pedal lets me record myself playing live, whether it's a phrase, a percussion pattern, or something else, that will then play back in a loop, allowing me to solo over it (or play an entire song) until I stop it. My loop pedal is the Boss RC-20XL.
Perhaps the biggest change in my act in all my years playing has been the addition of a vocal harmonizer. This piece creates consistently accurate vocal harmonies, based on what I am playing on either guitar or piano. I can instantaneously add up to two extra harmonies in addition to what I am singing, including doubling my voice, adding an octave above or below, or adding harmonies either the 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th above or below what I am singing, depending on what chord I am playing and what scale degree I am singing at the time.
I use the Digitech Vocalist Live 3.
Digitech Vocalist Live 3
When time, space, and load-in allows, I also bring my piano. The Yamaha CP33, while not spectacular, is a very nice stage piano. It has the full 88 graded-hammer weighted keys (meaning that it feels like I'm playing a real piano, not a circa-1987 Casio keyboard), and several different sampled piano, electric piano, and organ sounds.
There are plenty of keyboards out there with more features, but the CP33 covers all of the basics and sounds a lot like a real acoustic instrument, which, as it is with my guitars, is priority #1.
I run everything through a Bose L1 Compact system. It is clean, powerful, and fills a room quite nicely. It also tears down into a VERY portable and light two-pieces. Along with a tiny, six-channel unpowered effect mixer, it replace an entire five-piece, heavy Yamaha PA system. I recommend it to anyone.
Bose L1 Compact system
Finally, it doesn't travel with me, but I like it. This is our Kawai GM-10 Baby Grand.
Kawaii GM-10 Baby Grand