Fishman redefine the acoustic interface. By Steve Henderson
The last 25 years has seen the rebirth and, in many ways, meteoric acceptance of the acoustic guitar. From a period (the ‘80s) when music stores struggled to sell acoustics at any price, and even venerable institutions like CF Martin were considering the state of their future, the instrument received an unexpected reboot in the ‘90s as artists and audiences turned on to the honesty and immediacy of acoustic performances.
MTV debuted its Unplugged series on November 1st, 1989. Being the go-to place for music in a visual format, MTV brought the acoustic guitar to the marketplace as it hadn’t been seen since the ‘70s, and became one of the a driving forces in the renaissance of a more organic music presentation. Suddenly, it seemed, acoustic guitar companies were booming again, and specialist companies began making support gear like amps, pedals, pickups, etc.
PRACTICAL FEATURES FOR A HAPPIER GUITARIST
The Fishman Amplification company – makers of some of the best gear for acoustic players – has recently released the ToneDEQ preamp. The ToneDEQ is a multi-effect floor unit with a practical array of features in a deviously simple format. The analogue signal chain is sensible and easy follow: from the input, there’s a trim pot (next to the input jack); then a tone stack that includes a bass shelving switch; then to a compressor, the modulation effects, the time-based effects; and then to a boost, at which it splits to jack and cannon outputs – one to your Fishman combo and the other to the desk. The XLR can also grab the signal pre-everything (for a dry signal) or post-everything.
Plugging in a couple of favourite guitars (a Maton MSH-210D and a Simon & Patrick Pro Parlor) the first thing you hear is that there’s nothing much to hear – it’s so quiet. Dialing in various tonal options with the EQ, the bands are nicely interactive and the treble circuit has a generous +/- 15db. The Low Cut switch works great, too. It takes out that low-end clutter: all that stuff that’s usually so hard to eliminate without completely killing the bass notes. After the EQ, the single-knob compressor works a treat, without adding to the noise floor. This is a very subtle compression circuit that takes out the spikes when required, but doesn’t squash the signal into the ground.
FROM THE HALL TO THE SWAMP
The ToneDEQ is super easy to use. The preamp/tone stack is always on, and the three footswitches access (1) the boost (up to 9db), (2) the modulation effects (trem, flanger, and two types of chorus) and (3) the time-based effects (two types of echo and two types of reverb). These effects are well-tuned for woody, acoustic sounds, so you won’t find anything too radical: the chorus can be either soft or not so soft, and the flanger is pretty restrained, adding some simple movement rather than jet plane sounds. The tremolo can be quite definite, but there’s no square wave “chopper” tone (why would you even want that for acoustic?). The trem is quite noisy, which strange when all of the other sounds are so quiet. Delay 1 is a single repeat (with a secondary shadow) and Delay 2 offers multiple repeats; Reverb 1 has a small hall-type ambience and Reverb 2 carries a larger and bouncier sound. All four sounds are eminently usable, and none of the effects swamp the natural guitar tone.
I MUST COMPRESS
The ToneDEQ provided clear and uncoloured processing of the test guitars. In other words, as much as I might have compressed or EQ’d the signal, both guitars retained their individual character throughout: the rosewood-bodied Maton Dreadnought has that smooth midrange and bottom-end thump, and the Parlour has characteristically-focussed mids and chirpy highs. The ToneDEQ has great tone shaping capacity, with a transparency that is refreshing in a multi-effect unit. The parallel effects (first chorus/flanger/trem, then reverb/delay) are nicely tuned to the nature of acoustic instruments – guitar especially, but mandolin and banjo also sound great.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The ToneDEQ is a fabulous device for the serious acoustic player. It has plenty of control and the effects are first rate. For the two digital effects, Fishman have wisely chosen to run them in parallel with the analogue signal path, retaining the integrity of the core guitar tone. The compressor can be dialled out if not required, and there are LEDs here and there to keep track of what’s on and what’s not. It’s a shame the boost knob is a side-mounted trim (surely there’s enough face panel real estate?) but once you understand it, it’s a set-and-forget control. If you’re into having this level of control for guitar or other acoustic instruments, the ToneDEQ is a professional quality (and cost effective) way of achieving it. And, at around one kilogram, it’s not a difficult lug.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Class A preamp
• Full tone stack
• Soft-knee compressor
• Eight effects (two at a time), plus boost
• Jack and balanced line out (XLR)
• Great control
• Practical effects array
• Simple to use
• The trem is a bit noisy