Wednesday, February 10

Gear Review: Fishman Aura Pedal (Concert Version)

So I've been an acoustic guitarist for the entire time that I've been playing. My current forays into the world of electric guitar nonwithstanding, I've spent literally every moment of the past few years trying to make an acoustic guitar that's been plugged into a soundboard sound like an acoustic guitar that is sitting a few feet away from you. I've done all of the research; piezo-pickups, contact mics, soundhole mics, anything and everything to make my acoustic guitar sound like an acoustic guitar. I'm the kind of guy who gets really hung up on something as seemingly insignificant (and potentially unnoticed by the listeners) as that.

I went through a lot of "answers". First, I was looking for the best piezo-pickup, but even the very best are a bit quacky and don't have the depth that a real acoustic instrument possesses. Next, I thought it was the Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend, which literally puts a small microphone into the soundhole and blends the signal between that microphone and the pickup. And it is a fairly elegant solution, but feedback quickly becomes a problem. Contact microphones are good too, but I didn't have a ton of time and money to test out different placements. In the end, the biggest issue comes from the fact that each of these solutions are only partial; a bridge pickup only gets its sound from the strings, and can't capture the depth of tone of the soundboard, because it's just not attached to the soundboard. Even a microphone in the soundhole is gathering sound from a place where no human ear normally is. I was beginning to think that the only way to get a good, honest acoustic sound was putting a great microphone in front of the acoustic. Well, that's what Fishman did. Sort of.

Fishman introduced their Aura system a year or two ago, and they've been sticking that technology into everything they could think of; from a super-customizable DI to these individual pedals to integrating it into their newest pickup systems. For something to truly blow your mind, check out this new Telecaster from Fender with, you guessed it, the aura system embedded. It's not the best sound I've ever heard, but it's pretty damn cool.

Sort of like (okay, exactly like) an Anderson Crowdster Plus, except the electric sound is all Tele. And the Crowdster's acoustic tone is beyond reproach, mostly because it is literally an acoustic guitar with no soundhole. Maybe if they did it with a semi-hollow Tele....the mind boggles!

Anyway, this technology is the real deal. I've posted an example that I whizzed through in ProTools to show you what it's like. The first phrase is just my guitar plugged straight in. For reference, that guitar is a Breedlove AC25/SR Plus with a Fishman Classic 4 pickup. I'll admit, it's been a long time since I've listened to my guitar, dry, closely, through a sound system, and it's not as bad as I'd remembered. But engage the pedal, and it's a whole different world.

The second phrase is after the pedal's been turned on, with the blend knob set to about 25%. The third phrase, blend is at about 50/50, and the last phrase is the blend up to 75%. It's actually not usually correct to put the blend all the way up, as the pickup does add a lot of definition, whereas the image can get kind of muddy.

Also, this is set on image #7, as there are 16 different choices, each different and great. I like this one for general playing (strumming and picking), though I haven't thoroughly explored them all. Different images bring out different frequencies in the guitar, making some more suited for different situations than others, but Fishman recommends finding one that sounds most like your guitar and sticking with it.

Is all this overkill? In a full-band situation, yeah, sure. If you've done any mixing, you'll know that, with electric guitar, drums, bass, piano, all that, the only sound that often comes through in the mix is the percussive sound of the attack. Putting all of that effort into getting a nice acoustic sound in that situation is rather pointless, since no one will hear it anyway. But if it's just you and an acoustic, or if you're at a point in the worship set where you're fingerpicking or otherwise featuring the acoustic, it's great to have something to kick on to really add depth to your tone. As you can hear, even as little as 25% of the blend adds tremendously!

Definitely a gem for my solo acoustic times, and one of those pedals that will define my sound and never leave my pedalboard, and likely never get turned off!


  1. Nice... I actually have a interesting pickup system that blends a piezo and a mic in the soundhole. Its amazing. Before I got this guitar I was loving what your Fishman did. Bravo, great warm sound!

  2. Very cool review, that pedal really works great for a very natural sound. Right now I mainly play electric but I plan on doing some acoustic stuff and I might check out that pedal. I'd first mess with my pickup though cause I have a B-Band UST but with the option on my preamp to add a AST and blend the two for a more natural acoustic sound.
    Man I really want to play acoustic now.