AMPLIFICATION OF RESONATOR INSTRUMENTS
We are regularly asked about amplifying resonator guitars so have decided to put an information page here to give some idea of the options.
USING A MICROPHONE
The simplest and most natural way to amplify a resonator guitar is to use a microphone. Resonator guitars have such a strong forward throw of sound that they mic’ up far better than a regular acoustic guitar.
A basic, robust and relatively inexpensive microphone like the Shure SM57 or AKG C1000 is perfectly good enough.
For the vast majority of amplification scenarios this simple system of using a mic' is the best, and many pro musicians prefer to play live using this method wherever possible.
Try this first!
The mic’ should be set quite close to the guitar (within 30 cm) and somewhere between the bridge and sound holes. Many players like to “work” the mic’ and alter the tone they get by moving the guitar around while they play. This takes a little practice but you’ll soon get the idea!
Most mic’s need a pre-amp of some sort (this may be within the mixing desk or balanced input on your acoustic amp) so remember to factor this into your set-up.
Set the EQ on your amp or p/a to a slight “frown” (roll off a little bass and treble). This will give a natural tone and reduce unwanted rumble or squeaks.
There is no need to add any reverb to the mix - Our guitars have plenty of natural reverb!!!
Michael Messer and the late Bob Brozman regularly perform with just guitar and mic’. And here is a photo of Louisiana Red using an MM Blues and a Shure SM57 at a gig:
Photo by Liz Aiken - copyright 2009
Visit Liz's excellent website to see more photos of blues artist at lizaiken.com Liz has a great tallent for capturing musicians at work through the lens of her camera.
There are a number of internal resonator pick-ups on the market. We favour those that are bridge/biscuit mounted rather than cone mounted as we have found the bridge/biscuit mounted systems a little more mellow, a little more feedback resistant and they have less effect on the acoustic properties of the guitar.
Many players use an internal pick-up when they want a good resophonic tone but need a little more sound reinforcement or ease of use that that provided by a mic’ alone. A number of “busking” amps and small venue amps only have one mic’ input so a player may use that for a vocal mic and then want to plug their reso into the instrument socket. An internal pick-up is ideal for this application and it makes set-up much easier. Also, if players are concerned about background noise leakage or mic’ feedback, then a boost to the p/a from an internal pick-up can be useful.
The designs come in passive and active versions. Each has advantages and disadvantages. The passive systems often need a pre-amp if plugged into a balanced input on a mixing desk (although most have enough output to go direct into a guitar amp input). The active systems place a battery inside the guitar plus electronics to balance the output, so eventually the guitar must be opened up for these to be changed.
We lean towards the simplicity of the passive systems and an outboard pre-amp if required for the specific application.
EXTERNAL MAGNETIC PICK-UP
.A surface mounted magnetic pick-up gives a very unique and recognisable tone. Many famous slide players have used this option for both the grittier tone they could achieve and the feedback resistant power to get over electric guitars and drum kits. Guitarists like Rory Gallagher, Gwyn Ashton and Chris Whitely all played sets with reso guitars equipped with surface mounted mag pick-ups.
There are not many surface mounted mag pick-ups suitable for resophonic guitars. Here are a couple that we have so far tested and are happy to recommend for specific applications:
The best slim-line mag humbuckers I have tried are the resonator guitar specific pick-ups from the Original Flatpup range hand made by Elmar Zeilhofer in Austria. Most importantly he produces and a phosphor bronze balanced version as well as a nickel balanced version. Although not a sophisticated build, I've been very impressed with Elmar's pick-ups in action - and if you are looking for a cheaper mag p/u tha will work with pb strings then it is a good option. At present, they are around 65 Euros.