Unlike most electric guitarists, acoustic-electric pickers tend to worry about preamps. A lot. This front stage is critical because acoustic players often rely on unruly PAs for amplification, especially if they don’t own a dedicated acoustic amp. It becomes doubly important because piezo and soundhole pickup systems can vary widely in audio quality. Fishman comes to the rescue with their Aura Spectrum DI and ToneDEQ preamps.
Let’s paint a picture. A guitarist owns an acoustic/electric with built-in preamp and pickup, yet their tone at gigs is still wanting – it’s thin and generally sounds like anything but a studio-miked acoustic. This is where the player will seek out an external preamp like the Aura Spectrum DI, whose primary job is to fix the tone exiting the PA. The box has a built-in ¼" output and effects-loop out, as well as an XLR output for sending a balanced, noise-free signal to the mixer.
The Aura has other important tools at its disposal, including an Imaging knob. Using the curved slider switch, players can choose the body type that matches their instrument (dreadnought, concert, nylon, 12-string, etc.). Each preset offers 16 digital “images” of actual instruments and mics recorded at Fishman’s sound lab, such as a spruce top and rosewood body with a Neumann mic, or cedar top and mahogany body with a Shure mic – a grand total of 128 presets to match any given guitar. Once a sound is dialed in, the Blend knob mixes this digital image with the internal pickup. This is a tremendous asset for the gigging musician, as every room or outdoor venue sounds different. Now players can deploy the Aura to find the exact sweet spot.
The Aura also offers a three-band EQ, anti-feedback tools (a Phase switch and triple-feedback control footswitch), internal tuner, bypass, and a fantastic Compressor knob to tame dynamics and volume fluctuations. The Aura can solve a great many sound problems. It also has a USB jack to download even more digital images, adding to its flexibility.
Fishman’s ToneDEQ approaches the acoustic-electric preamp from a different angle. Instead of offering a wide array of digital images and feedback-fighting tools, this stompbox is a pre- and a multi-effects unit in a single stompbox. Players get a four-band EQ (Bass, Mid, Treble, and a Low Cut switch to knock out boomy bass frequencies); ¼" and XLR outputs; and mini switches to control input level (Trim) and the footswitchable Boost (3-6dB). The ToneDEQ also offers a one-knob Compressor and footswitchable Reverb, Delay, Chorus, Flanger, and Tremolo digital effects.
Plugged in, the ToneDEQ sounds great, particularly when dialing in delay, reverb, and chorus. You could argue that flanger isn’t the most useful effect for acoustic guitar, but it lives in the modulation family and therefore makes sense, circuit-wise.
Now the hard question: Why would a guitarist choose one or the other? Simply put, the Aura is for serious players who crave precise control over every aspect of amplified tone and plan to get their “sweetening” effects (such as reverb or chorus) elsewhere. Conversely, the ToneDEQ is all about convenience – it’s a complete front-end preamp and EQ, plus effects covering most of one’s acoustic/electric needs in one pedal. Both are outstanding tools that will help solve many preamp headaches acoustic/electric players deal with every day.
This article originally appeared in VG May 2017 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.