On Amplifiers

When bassoonists first explore the world of amplified playing there are some basic concepts that are taken for granted in the guitar world that translate to the bassoon, but are a bit unclear to the uninitiated. There are new things that happen to your sound when you amplify, especially when using a direct pickup like mine or even the Telex, that you have to consider when developing a sound that you like.

Think of this: An acoustic guitar, with a really high quality condenser microphone in front of it. That microphone is plugged into a preamp and into a recording unit of some kind. The microphone choice and preamp will color the sound, with the final result being slightly different from the natural sound of that guitar in the room. Ultimately though the goal should be a natural and realistic guitar sound. Even with this, the possibilities of getting there are nearly endless.

If you go into the studio to record a natural bassoon sound you’ll probably do something similar.

Now, think of this: An electric guitar plugged into an amp. The nature of an electric guitar into an amp is not the same as a microphone into a preamp. The goal is not to sound as natural as possible. The pickups just simply don’t work that way, which is why electric guitar bodies are not always hollow – they don’t need to be for the sound so much. Why? Because the pickups get the strings directly, and the moment you introduce a pickup like this the pickup becomes critical to the sound, and the amplifier is at least 50% of the final product you hear.

Electric guitar players know this. This is why there are thousands of different guitar amplifiers out there. Half of the sound of an electric guitar is the amp they are using.

Likewise with a pickup like the Little-Jake. The pickup is a large component of the sound, getting the sound of the air column directly (like an electric guitar pickup gets the vibrations of the strings directly), and the amplifier provides the rest of the sound.

So when you’re checking out using a pickup, you can get a cheap amp, sure. It’ll get you louder than you ever could acoustically. But different amps will sound different, sometimes dramatically so. I have found that a really good acoustic guitar amp can really capture the natural bassoon sound quite well when using a Little-Jake. Electric guitar amps (like a Fender Twin) will be very mid-heavy, and don’t get all of the colors I want. My Hughes & Kettner Tubmeister is a great sounding guitar amp, but I can’t see wanting to use it with bassoon except for as a special effect. They’re designed for totally different things.

So consider your amp purchase carefully. It’s more important to your electric bassoon sound than the bocal you use.

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