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Gypsy Jazz Amplification/Pickup System Overview

Hi All,



Amplifying a Selmer style guitar is one of the biggest problems we all deal with. Just about everyone has some system they swear by, but in the end no one ever seems to be entirely pleased with their amplified sound.



The truth is, there is no one system that does everything well. How well any given system works depends on a myriad of factors, including volume levels, performance setting, type of amp or PA, type of guitar, etc. What is best for any given person depends on a mix of their own personal aesthetics and the performance situations they tend to play in.



I thought I'd do a little run down of the most popular options:



Magnetic Pickups (Stimer):





image







Magnetic pickups were the first method of amplifying Selmers. Django, and most people today use the Stimer type pickup which externally mounts on the top of the guitar. These pickups can sound very nice and can be driven very hard before feedback. However, the result is nowhere near an approximation of an acoustic sound. The magnetic pickup sound is an aesthetic on to it's own. The sound is highly compressed with few dynamics, rather muddy and ill defined, especially in the low end.



The Good



High output before feedback.



Warm tone.



Requires no install.



The Bad



Very unnatural sounding (sounds like an electric guitar).



Overly compressed.



Uneven response across strings (especially the B string, which is usually much louder then the rest.)



Doesn't handle rhythm playing well.





Recommendation



Magnetic pickups are best for people who need to play lead at high volumes and are willing to sacrifice an "acoustic sound" to do so. Not recommended for rhythm players.





Bigtone (and other piezo type systems):







image





One of the biggest breakthroughs in acoustic guitar amplification has been the introduction of piezo technology. The use of piezo crystals has allowed for a more "acoustic" sounding reproduction of an instrument by providing more dynamics and clarity then magnetic pickups. However, piezo systems usually suffer from tonal problems which can give it a harsh, brittle, and quacky sound. High end acoustic amps and pre amps can considerably improve these problems, but they never totally disappear.







The Good:



High volume output before feed back (especially if installed in the bridge like a Bigtone).



Very present, and clear sound. Rarely muddy or diffuse.



Bigger dynamic range then most other systems.



The Bad:



Quacky, brittle sound. Often very harsh.



Requires expensive modification to guitar (must drill holes and change bridge).



Recommendation



Good for players who need to play lead at high volumes and are willing to accept some brittleness and harshness to do so. Also works well for rhythm players.



Piezos are also the most user friendly....most are just plug and play with little or no extra wires, tweaking, etc.





Schertler Pickups (DYN or Basik)





image





Schertler is one of the few companies to offer systems which aren't based on magnetic or piezo technologies. These pickups produce a very natural reproduction of an instrument. They can mount anywhere on an instrument, so they give the user a lot of flexibility.



The main drawback is they are more susceptible to feedback then piezos. They can still reach very high volume levels in the proper setting (on a concert stage or w/a Schertler amp in a good room.) But if you're siting right next to your amp and want to play very, very loud you will have some feedback issues. The Basik can get louder and is generally a better choice for Gypsy guitars. In conjunction with a Schertler amp, the Basik can get almost as loud as most piezos before feedback.



Another issue with the Schertler pickups is that they're almost too natural sometimes. They pickup a lot of the natural reverberant qualities of the guitar, so you get this full sound. But when you're playing at high volumes with other musicians, you often want a very dry, clear sound. The "woodiness" and reverby qualities the Schertler picks up can diminish the clarity of your sound in these situations. The Reson control on Schertler amps will help clear up a lot of this...



The Good



One of the most natural sounding pickups.



Very flexible, can be mounted in many ways to achieve different sounds.



Great dynamic range.



Requires no install.





The Bad



More susceptible to feedback then piezos.



Can lack clarity at high volumes.



Requires more knowledge and experimentation from user (i.e. placement, settings, etc.)



Recommendation



These pickups are for people who want a very natural sound at medium to low volume levels. Or, if you mostly perform on concert stages, these pickups also work well.





Microphones



The most natural way to amplify a guitar is to use a microphone. However, feedback is a huge problem, which makes microphones only practical on concert stages (with a sound man and a PA) or at very low volume through an amp.



Even sound hole or internally mounted mics suffer greatly from feedback.



The Good



THE most natural sounding way to amplify your guitar.





The Bad




Most susceptible to feedback.





Recommendation



Mics are only really feasible for full time pros who mostly play in theaters or clubs with an attentive audience, a sound man, and a good PA. Excessive feedback will prevent the use of mics while playing at smaller, nosier venues like your local bar or restaurant.





Amplifiers



Your amp is as, or more important then the pickup itself. Most Gypsy jazz guitarists use either an AER or a Schertler amp. Here's the run down on what these amps will do:





Schertler (Unico or David)







Schertler Unico Acoustic Amplifier









The Schertler amps are basically a PA in a box. They are very natural and transparent...they won't alter the tone of anything you put into them. For that reason, they do really well with microphones and other natural sources. If you're using a Schertler pickup, you'll get the best results if used with a Schertler amp. The Schertler amps have a special "Reson" control which will greatly reduce feedback with the Schertler pickups. It also clears the sound up tremendously, so you can approximate the volume and clarity of a piezo.



Piezo pickups also sound good through the Unico or David's STAT channel. There's a special "warm" button which greatly reduces the quack and brittleness of piezos. The STAT channel is essentially the same as an AER amp. Like the AER, it has a preamp built-in, so it is like a little AER emulator. The nice thing is that if you don't want to use the preamp, you can just use one of the other channel (Mic or DYN). With the AER, you ALWAYS have to use the preamp which can sometimes be a problem with mics and other types of pickups.



Magnetic pickups also work well....the Schertler amps can sort of sound like a jazz Polytone amp when used with a Stimer or and Archtop w/a humbucker.



With three channels, and loads of EQ and mixing options, the Unico is unbeatable in terms of flexibility. You can actually use it as a little PA for a 3 person band.



AER Compact 60







AER COMPACT 60/2 ACOUSTIC AMPLIFIER & GIGBAG







The AER amps are, IMO, acoustic GUITAR amps. That is, they tend to significantly alter the sound of anything put into them in a way that most guitarists will like. This is great when used with more artificial sources like a piezo (Bigtone) or a Stimer (magnetic). But is really bad if you use a microphone or a Schertler pickup (which are both more natural to begin with.) The AER really alters those signals for the worse. But does an exceptional job with the Stimer or Bigtone. So if that's all your going to do, the AER is great.



The reasons for this is that the AER has a built-in preamp. This preamp does all the tonal and gain adjustments needed for a piezo....but has a tendency to severely corrupt other types of signals.



The AER doesn't have as many EQ options, and only has 2 channels. So it can't function like a little PA as well. It's more of a personal guitar amp...not as flexible. But again, really good with artificial guitar like sources.



The most outstanding feature of the AER compact 60 is it's small size and weight. At only around 18lbs, it's feather weight but very, very loud! There's some compromise in sound, but you can't beat it for portability. And the sound is still quite good, but not as refined as some of the bigger, heavier amps.





GypsyKat







GYPSYKAT AMPLIFIER







I've tried this amp out for a few weeks on my regular gigs. I'm really

liking it and here's why:







The GypsyKat blends some of the best qualities of the AER and the

Schertler amps into one. It has the deeper bass response and clarity of

the Schertler amps, but handles magnetic and especially piezo pickups

really well. You can plug a bigtone into the GypsyKat with the EQ

totally flat and it sounds great with no tweaking. If I plug the same

bigtone in the AER I have to boost the bass and cut the treble all the

way to get it to sound good. And even then, it doesn't sound as good as

the GypsyKat. The GypsyKat sounds particularly good with magnetic

pickups....both Stimer and an archtop with a humbucker sounded fat and

clean. Much better then an AER with the same pickups. Of all the light

weight amps, the GypsyKat definitely sounds the best with magnetic or

piezo pickups. But the Evans beats out the GypsyKat at higher volumes.The Schertler is still better with Schertler pickups or

mics.





What I don't like about this amp is that it isn't that loud. It's rated

at 120 watts, but the AER is WAY LOUDER and the Evans is WAY, WAY, WAY LOUDER!. The Schertler UNICO is just a

bit louder. If you've got a lower gain source going into this amp

you may have serious problems getting it loud enough. But with a

high gain bigtone or magnetic pickup I was able to get loud enough for

some of my most volume challenged gigs (i.e. really noisy restaurants

and bars.) It can do the job, but not much left to spare.







Also, I've found that the second channel on this amp has very, very low

gain. It's OK for a mic signal. But instrument level signals like a

bigtone or stimer could barley be heard when cranked to 10. So if you

need multiple channels to run dual pickups then this is not the amp

for you.







The GypsyKat is a bit heavier then the AER. It's 25 pounds, so it's

easy to carry. Same weight as the Evans. Unfortunately it doesn't have the super cool, pocket

laden type gig bags that the AER and Schertler amps have.







This amp is best described as FAT. It just makes everything sound fat,

warm, and smooth. All the guys I play with noticed it and commented on

how good it sounds. That's the best endorsement I can think of....







I'd highly recommend it for anyone using a bigtone or a stimer

pickup. If you need more channels, flexibility, or portability, the AER

or Schertler maybe a better choice. It's one of the best sounding amps at low to medium volumes. But looses it's tone at higher volumes and lacks the headroom of an AER or Evans.







Phil Jones CUB AG-100








AAD Phil Jones CUB AG-100 with Gig Bag



Phil Jones CUB AG-100 with Gig Bag











This is the ultimate micro amp....it's hard to

beat with 100 watts, only 11lbs, and a price under $500. If all you

need is a portable, inexpensive, no frills amp and don't want to

sacrifice tone then this is it. The CUB is really warm, even, with a

full spectrum of

response from deep lows to sparkly highs. It sounded fantastic with the

Stimer....much, much better then an AER compact 60 which is a bit harsh

and mid rangey by comparison. Often with the AER I'm constantly

tweaking the controls to just get a tone that I can live with. However,

with the CUB it sounded great no matter what I did with the tone

controls. You could really use the tone controls to taylor the sound

rather then just find something that's passable.







I've also used an archtop with a humbucker and a bigtone with the

CUB and got better results then with an AER.

















The biggest issue with the amp is volume. If you're not using a high

output pickup then you probably won't get enough volume. The Stimer

through the CUB produced more then enough output for a pretty loud

restaurant gig. I just had to be conservative with the tone

controls....if you cut too much mids or bass you'll loose a lot of

volume. But since the amp sounds great with a totally flat setting it

wasn't a problem.

This is one area were the AER compact 60 really performs....it's easily

twice as loud as the CUB. But the CUB has a better tone.







One good thing is that the CUB sounds great with the volume on 10. No

distortion or harshness. I've found that if I use some external device

to boost my input gain (like a preamp or volume pedal) then I can

squeeze even more volume out of the amp. The Cub can actually get pretty

earsplitting if you do this...but you start to run the risk of

distortion.







The CUB only has one channel with a 1/4" input and only has basic tone

controls. There are no effects, but it does have an effects loop if you

want to add them. If you need multichannel functionality, xlr inputs,

or effects then this amp is not for you. It's bare bones, but sounds

great if all you need to do is just plug and play.







The amp comes with a great little gig bag w/shoulder strap and is just

joy to transport. So light, you'd hardly notice it. It's like carrying

a purse!





Synopsis:



Most players go through several, or all of these systems at one point or another. Many will use a different system depending on the gig. For example a mic for a concert hall, a Schertler for a small Cafe gig, and a Bigtone or Stimer for loud bar gig. Many players also mix these systems together. For example, many combine a mic (internal or external) with a Bigtone. Or some, like Romane, use a magnetic pickup in conjunction with a bigtone pickup. This combo approach can take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of these different systems to achieve a better sound.



One important thing to remember is that the guitar still matters! Even though the pickup and amp make up a big part of your amplified sound, an inferior guitar will simply not amplify as well. Often a guitars inadequacies will be exacerbated when amplified, so beware. For example, I tried a both a Stimer and a Bigtone on a Gitane DG-300 and a Dupont VR. I've always noticed that the Gitanes tend to be too wet (reverby) and have lots of weird high partial overtones. The Duponts are very dry, with a strong fundamental and little sympathetic ringing. When amplified with either a Stimer or a Bigtone, the Gitane's problems just got worse. A huge wash of high overtones and sympathetic ringing accompanied every note while the Dupont was clear as a bell.





I hope that helps some people make their own amplification choices. I encourage everyone to ring in with their own experiences. These are just my own impressions and are by no means the only opinion on these issues.



-Michael
«13456710

Comments

  • FopaFopa San FranciscoNew
    Perfect timing Michael. Just when I'm checking out amplification!
    -fopa
  • JMPJMP Berkeley, CA✭✭
    Michael--thanks for the very thorough (and for me, timely) overview.

    Do you--or anyone else--have experience with the McIntyre pickups? I assume these would be put in the soundboard transducer category; given that, would you guess that there would be a noticeable difference in how they would perform matched with either the Schertler or the AER amps?

    I'm looking to amplify my Manouche 12-fret D hole, primarily for rhythm playing in a range of stage settings.

    Thanks again.
  • JMP wrote:

    Do you--or anyone else--have experience with the McIntyre pickups?

    I haven't used these personally, and have never known anyone else to use them. But I believe they're a piezo contact type system. Those are OK, but most of those systems can't generate as much gain as a bigtone, and therefore suffer from feedback and tonal problems. In my experience, if you like using piezos, the bigtone is your best bet. You can get a lot louder before feedback and generally the tone is better too.

    'm
  • klaatuklaatu Nova ScotiaProdigy Rodrigo Shopis D'Artagnan
    Michael -

    Do you have any experience with the Schatten pickup?

    What is the difference between the Schertler Basik-Set and the Basik-Pro. The latter says it is for "pro audio and recording studio applications," but what does that mean in practical terms?
    Benny

    http://www.swingology.ca

    "It's a great feeling to be dealing with material which is better than yourself, that you know you can never live up to."
    -- Orson Welles
  • klaatuklaatu Nova ScotiaProdigy Rodrigo Shopis D'Artagnan
    NEVER MIND -

    found the answer in another topic.
    Benny

    http://www.swingology.ca

    "It's a great feeling to be dealing with material which is better than yourself, that you know you can never live up to."
    -- Orson Welles
  • Jeff MooreJeff Moore Minneapolis✭✭✭✭ Lebreton 2
    I haven't tried Schertler or Schatten, but I have tried many of the peizo choices (I-beam, feather, and built in systems like Taylor etc). I thought all of them suffered from piezo quack.
    I've installed K&K in all five of my own guitars (3-GJ types) and have been more than satisfied with output, dynamics, and convenience. I also use an Audio Technica Pro-70 condenser and a regular magnetic pickup, but the K&k is my bread and butter source when playing GJ.
    At about $70 and easy to install, its a good option.

    Jeff
    "We need a radical redistribution of wealth and power" MLK
  • BluesBop HarryBluesBop Harry Mexico city, MexicoVirtuoso
    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for the info I found it very helpful.
    I have a Basik pickup and I'm looking for an amp...
    Could you talk a bit more about the differences between the Unico and David?
    Thanks
  • Hi Enrique,

    The David has less power and a smaller speaker. It's great for small and medium size rooms. But if you need to be really loud...like a loud bar or outdoor gig, then the Unico will serve you better.

    'm
  • StringswingerStringswinger Santa Cruz and San Francisco, CA✭✭✭✭ 1993 Dupont MD-20
    I have tried a bunch of things. Here's my take.

    Bigtone: Works great for the gigging musician. Not the best acoustic sound, but pretty good. You are stuck with one bridge. Selmer type guitars are VERY responsive to humidity changes, so being able to change bridges is a good thing. Bigtones seem to vary depending on who made them. My Shelly Park bigtone is loud and even. My Dell Arte bigtones (long gone) were not. Bigtones sound great with an AER amp (more on amps later.

    Schertler: You need a Schertler Amp with one of these things and having tried one, I think that having a pickup that is outside the guitar and needs to be in a "sweet spot" is a hassle! I got rid of mine.

    Schatten: A few friends have tried this option. Not as full as a bigtone and has a tendency of robbing the acoustic volume of the guitar (bigtones can do this too).

    McIntyre: Paul Mehling uses the McIntyre soundboard transducer (not the feather) so I had one installed in my Dupont (by Paul Hostetter). It needs lots of EQ (from the amp and a direct box), but does sound quite acoustic. Feedback is also an issue.

    Stimer: I have two an original and a Dupont reissue. See Michael's comments regarding this option. I agree with what he has said. The original sounds brighter and is probably better for rhythm than the reissue. Any good guitar amp (Fender, Mesa, Polytone, Acoustic Image, Evans, Jazzkat, etc.) will work with a Stimer. The AER works well with it too.

    Clip on mikes: Feedback city unless you are just playing rhythm.

    Amps: With the dollar sinking, AER's and Schertlers may get to the point where other alternatives seem useful. Most "Acoustic" amps (Acoustisonic, roland etc.) don't match the AER/Bigtone combo or the Schertler system for Gypsy jazz. I have found that an Acoustic Image Clarus head with a Raezer's edge extended range cabinet works great for gypsy jazz with a bigtone. There may be other amps to consider.

    It is all expensive and imperfect, but the gig must go on!

    Cheers,

    Marc

    www.hotclubpacific.com
    "When the chord changes, you should change" Joe Pass
  • BluesBop HarryBluesBop Harry Mexico city, MexicoVirtuoso
    What about using the Basik pickup with an AER?


    Which one's louder the AER Compact 60 or the David?
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