LR Baggs Anthem
Over the years I have heard many pickup systems for acoustic instruments and among them, a disproportionate number of the best have come from the folk at LR Baggs. However, I would have to say that the best pickups have always been a compromise and, I guess, dissappointing from my perspective. It could scarcely be any other way; I put all my energies into producing the best acoustic tone possible from highly resonant and sonorous tonewoods only to hear most of the subtleties of that tone squashed into the same on stage sound indistinguishable from any old "production guitar".
Okay, I might be a little harsh there but I think you now understand where I am coming from.
So it is really a small miracle that I find myself wanting to write about the pickup installation I have just done for a new Tui just gone from the shop. Let me say right off the bat that the LR Baggs Anthem is the best I have heard to date and it is now my pickup system of choice by such a large margin, everything else simply vanishes beyond the horizon in comparison.
The Anthem is a dual source system. The heart being the new Anthem mic that sits on the inside of the guitar just under the bridge. It carries all but the low frequencies. The second source is Baggs' Element under-saddle transducer which you mix with the Anthem. It sounds simple doesn't it, but the small miracle is the Anthem mic, which sounds amazing and Baggs says doesn't suffer from the feedback normally associated with mics.
Before I talk too much about the sound, I'll first deal with some of the practical issues that affect me as a high-end luthier.
1) The Anthem is unobtrusive. I don't have to permanently modify the instrument by cutting holes in the sides for tone controls. The output jack is the only non-reversible modification. For myself, and a lot of clients, it is important to maintain the original integrity of the instrument.
2) It is easy to install, with respect to achieving a balanced sound. The mechanical difficulty of installing pickups does not interest me. I am of the opinion that sound is the only criterion here. Some pickups require so much fiddling around with placement to get the best balanced sound that it can drive this luthier nuts! Suffice to say this system is easy to install on both counts.
Okay, now to the performance:
Firstly, the feedback test.
I plugged into my acoustic amp and sat directly in front of it. I dialed in the Element only, and turned up the volume until feedback was achieved; which I should say was harder than I thought it should be. Then, a little scared, I dialed in the Anthem full, and gingerly took my fingers off the strings waiting for the inevitable scream from the amp. Nothing happened, so I started to pick. No feedback either, so then I launched into some strumming and yes, I finally got the thing to feedback. But it wasn't what I expected, and it seemed to kill itself relatively quickly. I suspect Baggs have done something rather tricky in their preamp to help tame the feedback, but that is neither here nor there; the bottom line is this little mic is extraordinarily stable! In fact it might even be better than the Element which, in all my years, is something I did not ever expect to witness. This system will be at home in any environment you can use an under saddle transducer, but with much better tone!
"Yes, but what does it sound like?", I hear you say.
Well, it sounds fantastic! Just what you expect from a very good mic. It is another step up for onboard mics and gives the truest reproduction of the Tui's actual tone that I have heard to date. I liked it best with the mix around the mid point setting which really says Baggs have done their homework. Of course, you can dial in too much of the mic, but with the right mix, I have to say it is close to perfect!
I have just had a report back from the owner. A musician, performing regularly in Queenstown NZ. He is thrilled with the guitar but also thrilled with the sound he is getting with the new Anthem system on stage. On his first performance with his new Tui, some of the staff, who hear him day in and day out, were actually noticing and asking "what was different about the sound tonight?".
Of course he is playing a Williams now, but the point is, the audience can actually hear it is a Williams!
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