by A-String at electricuke.com
What is the easy and most popular method of cranking up the magic sound of your acoustic ukulele to be loud enough to play in a large area or to play along with a large or louder group of musicians? And what is the easiest way to isolate the sound of your acoustic from the other instruments during a multitrack recording or live session to allow for mixing? It’s the acoustic electric ukulele.
They exist in as vast a selection as purely acoustic ukuleles do. Many of them actually are acoustic ukulele designs that have a piezo pickup(s) embedded into or beneath the bridge of the instrument. Some models are damped with heavier bracing under the top or by increasing the mass of other areas of the instrument’s body over what commonly is found on a strictly acoustic, non-amplified ukulele.
This building up of the mass of the instrument’s body helps to suppress unwanted feedback but it also can create it’s own problems with tone equalization of the amplified sound. Damping also diminishes the purely acoustic volume of a hollow body ukulele. And at the same time, the embedded piezo pickup (or transducer) is picking up only the emphasis of an acoustic instrument’s sounds at the bridge of the ukulele where it is mounted. When an acoustic uke is played unamplified, your ears hear the resonances of all of the different parts of the ukulele.
Understanding these inherent realities that result from the use of bridge mounted piezo pickups can help to point you in the right direction when processing the sound of your acoustic electric uke. The following methods apply both when amplifying your acoustic instrument live or when mixing the direct wired output of the uke in a recording.
The EQ (tone controls) will need to be adjusted to bring back areas of the instrument’s frequency reponse that are lost and to cut back those that have been overemphasized by the piezo pickup.
This will be different for every instrument. It is important to sweep back and forth every range of frequency that can be controlled by your amplifier’s EQ (or Lo, Mid, Hi) section and to listen carefully to how each control‘s range alters you sound. Notice how changes you make in one EQ (tone) control’s range can cause you to want make further adjustments in the other EQ controls. This is the intricate and necessary interdependency that exists between the lo, mid and hi EQ controls of our amplifiers and recording circuits. You need to go back and forth revisiting each of your EQ ranges (on both the instrument and the amplifier) several times to get your ideal amplified tonal response.
After using your ears to carefully hear how each range of your EQ (tone) controls changes your sound, you will better understand what sounds your complete rig (ukulele together with all processors, amplifiers and speakers) will be capable of producing. After experimenting with and noticing how all of the EQ ranges add up together, you will be understanding what tones are actually possible from your ukulele rig and you will be able to reliably dial in your ideal playing sound. However, in each unique playing situation, you will need to make on the spot tweaks to you usual tone control settings. This is because you rig will sound noticeably altered in each different room and in larger playing spaces.
Some compression (not so much as to totally squash all dynamics) can also be added to your circuit to thicken up the ukulele’s sound which the piezo transducer only detects at the bridge area. This can compensate for what is lost in your amplified sound due to what is lost of the instruments body resonance because the pickup senses only the resonances near the bridge area where it is mounted. However, compression only compensates in a different way for the loss of the body resonances. It will not actually replace the real resonances themselves that are lost.
This writing deals with remedying some of the problems that we run into when amplifying or processing the direct recorded sounds from our acoustic electric ukuleles. Nothing is to stop you from going as far as you wish beyond this point when processing the sound of your acoustic electric uke. Its always good though to understand these characteristics of your instruments sound when you are going after your own unique instrumental voice.