Acoustic amplification redefined: portable volume and real tone. By Steve Henderson
The acoustic guitar is the basic element of most of our music. It was the instrument of choice for early blues artists, before they amped it up in Chicago; it was the core of early rock and rockabilly; it was, and still is, the defining sound of country music; and it’s the serious singer/songwriter’s partner in musical crime. This wonderfully simple instrument has endeared itself to musicians of a great many styles – it is rhythmic, harmonic and melodic, all at once. And, for eight centuries, it has remained basically the same.
25 YEARS YOUNG
Curious, then, that the amplification of such a popular instrument is a relatively recent development. While the electric guitar amp has been around for over 80 years, and the piezo transducer (FRAP, Barcus-Berry, Ovation) for about 50, the dedicated acoustic guitar amp has been around for only 25 years, give or take. It’s only been in the last ten years, too, that technology has enabled these amps to be small, light, sufficiently loud, and most importantly, accurate.
Just a few years ago, Fishman – one of the leaders in acoustic pickups – took another look at the personal acoustic guitar amp, rethinking every parameter, including the aural environment that it might create. While other companies were creating larger amps, Fishman made portability and efficiency priorities. The heavy acoustic amps of the ‘80s (Trace, Peavey, Crate, etc.) have made way for small, portable, Class D-powered combos with practical, stage-ready features. These days, nobody wants a complex array of knobs, and nobody wants a heavy lug.
The Loudbox Mini is a super-portable combo that pumps out a solid 60 watts through a 6.5” woofer and a 1” tweeter. The Mini is just 305mm tall, and with a 349 x 247 footprint, it doesn’t take up too much real estate onstage. Weighing in at 8.9kg, it’s surely the lightest professional acoustic amp on the market – and professional it is: two channels, one for instrument (jack) and one for microphone or balanced pickup (XLR). Each channel has volume, a dedicated tone sets and a reverb control. Channel 1 also has a phase switch and a clever two-stage chorus effect: from 0 to 5, it’s quite subtle, and from 5 to 10, it’s rich and lush. The reverb circuit is digital, but it has a warm, full character that is perfectly suited to the acoustic guitar/mandolin/violin/etc. There’s also a master volume, an Aux In, and a post-EQ/pre-master volume DI.
Setting all the tone knobs at 12 o’clock and plugging in a Maton MSH-210D Custom dreadnought, there’s an immediate woody sweetness and a confidently robust delivery. In spite of its size, the Loudbox has plenty of volume, and fills the room in a broad, three-dimensional way. The dispersion is quite different to an electric guitar amp – not nearly as directional and not as dependent on being on-axis to hear the full-range tone. The Fishman engineers have created a speaker and cabinet design that allows the player to hear all of the frequencies from almost any angle. Likewise, so do the band and the audience.
Playing with a small band, the Loudbox easily held its own and cut through nicely. As the volume crept up, I rolled off a touch of bass and the guitar remained focussed and defined. Adding a touch of the “mild” chorus gave the guitar more presence against the keyboards, and the reverb (a guitarist’s best friend!) added some “natural” ambience and depth. Want more volume? The built-in DI sends the tone and effects to the house system, and the Mini becomes a personal monitor. Simple!
Playing solo is a different deal, and Fishman have provided for this with a second channel for a vocal mic. As a mini PA, the Loudbox gets the job done very well, and its 60 watts delivers plenty of power. For the coffeehouse performer, this may be the best piece of kit you’ve bought for a long time.
Banjo, mandolin, fiddle – even a concert harp: they all sound sweet and accurate though the Loudbox Mini. Full disclosure: I tried one a couple of years ago and bought it straight away, ditching a 200w Crate Acoustic. You need to try your own guitar through a Loudbox just to be sure, and when you do, and you start using your own acoustic amp, you’ll be amazed at the consistency of tone and delivery you can rely on.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Just like your electric rig, an acoustic amp becomes part of your sound, and the Fishman Loudbox Mini ticks all the boxes for the pro or the enthusiast. The Loudbox Mini is a powerful, portable and professional amp at a great price.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• 60 watts
• 6.5” speaker plus 1” tweeter
• Two channels
• Full tone set per channel
• Reverb and dual chorus
• Great tone
• Plenty of power
• Simple to use
• Would be great if it came in other colours (ie. black)
• One purpose item: amplifying acoustic instruments