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When I play acoustic instruments (ukulele/harp/acoustic guitar) I like to add reverb and other various effects to them, even if I'm just playing. None of my instruments have any kind of line-out, so I need to use a microphone. I'm currently using my iphone with an app that has a realtime effects generator and it uses the iphone's microphone. So I put the iphone right next to the instrument, then plug in an aux cable from my iphone to a usb rechargeable speaker (ue boom 2) to get the sound out.

This works good but I was wondering what is traditionally used for this in the music realm, hardware wise. I'm curious because I saw there's so many pedals for this and they have a ton of effects.

But the problem is they seem overkill. First they're not battery powered so I need to get an external battery. Second, they don't have a mic so I need to get a microphone for them and somehow power it too, and also they have a pedal. Why is a pedal important? I just want to get sound out of it.

Upon further investigation I saw people do this with pedal boards. So they'll have an external battery connected to various pedals. But it seems overkill and weighs alot and is not as portable compared to my iphone setup. Which is important because sometimes I play outside. Is there any reason to go hardware though? maybe I'm missing something.

  • There are acoustic guitars with built-in reverb and delay. Sorry don't know the brand. – Randy Zeitman Oct 21 at 18:05
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Just about everything sounds better with some reverb on it.

For steel strings you can get magnetic pickups that require no power to function. For nylon strings you can get a piezo pickup but the output will be very low compared to magnetic pickups unless you have a preamp or other signal boost on it.

For other instruments, just about anything that vibrates (ie. any musical instrument) can be fitted with a piezo to work as a transducer.

One other thing to be aware of: if you do get a piezo with a preamp, the output level may be very high compared to the output from a magnetic pickup. So always switch things on with the preamp volume very low or off and turn it up to produce a clear signal.

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    Strongly disagree with the first sentence. – leftaroundabout Oct 21 at 7:37
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    @leftaroundabout "Some" doesn't have to mean "lots". :) – Graham Oct 21 at 8:12
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    I also disagree strongly with that sentence. – danmcb Oct 21 at 11:52
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    @leftaroundabout probably not for all instruments as it can muddy the sound. but think of playing in a cave with a ton of reverb, versus playing on a football field. I'd probably choose the cave most times. – foreyez Oct 21 at 13:45
  • can you two please show me examples where no reverb at all sounds good? – theonlygusti Oct 21 at 21:49
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As Laurence says, adding reverb is more generally done at the mixing desk. The problem is that you (on stage) can't hear what sounds good for an audience. It may sound great to you, but awful out front, which is why performers have foldback speakers (also known as monitors) with a different mix.

One reason things sound better with reverb is that you can't distinguish pitch quite as clearly, so it can cover up for less able singers. The downside of this is that singers need to be able to hear their own voice accurately to pitch notes properly, so the sound in the monitors must have no reverb whatsoever.

All that said, some singers do want to manipulate their voices in the mix. As well as typical guitar FX pedals which take a line-in signal, you can also get FX pedals designed for singers which have an XLR microphone input. This would be more suitable for what you're doing.

You do then need to add a mic, of course. These FX pedals don't generally provide phantom power so you're limited to dynamic mics, but that's generally not a great hardship. Shure SM57 are the classic instrument mic, but Sennheiser drum mics are recommended too (just detach the drum clip), or the Sennheiser MD421 (and derivatives) if you've got a lot of money.

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You can put a pickup on a ukulele if you want, and run it through all the effects a guitarist might use. A multi-effects setup will often include one or more pedals for volume and wah-wah. A single effect box normally uses an internal battery, with the option of an external power supply.

More typically, a uke is just miced and put through the PA. Maybe some reverb will be added at the mixing board.

Sounds like your lash-up is working fine though. Carry on!

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If what you’re doing works fine for your particular situation, keep doing it.

However your iPhone mic will be picking up all sorts of other sounds from your environment and applying the onboard effects to those sounds as well. Your current solution will let you down badly as soon as you want to perform with other people, or if you were playing through somebody else’s amplification system. You must also need to stand/sit extremely still to keep your iPhone mic at the correct position to pick sound up, which will hamper any form of performance.

Why pedals? They’re built for stage use, you can turn effects on and off by stamping on them (which of course will also work with your iPhone, but only exactly once), and they give far superior sound quality. There are also loads of single and multi-effect pedals that work off battery power, so that’s an erroneous objection.

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If all you want is reverb and you're just playing at home, try a different room or facing the wall. Try the bathroom or entry hall.

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Before you ask this question, you need to ask whether you are helping things by being amplified in the first place. After all, most halls already have reverb that occurs naturally - the electronics is a simulation of that. Why add a simulated version of something that is already there?

It depends hugely on context - style of music, the venue, the acoustics, the quality of the PA and the competence of the sound engineer (for the style of music). Also note that if you, on stage, do not hear more or less what the audience hears, your chance of giving a quality performance takes a nosedive. So the quality of the monitoring is also a big factor.

I think that acoustic performances are often over amplified. I saw Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra in a hall for maybe 10000 people - only two mics on stage, one for flute, one for vocal. They sounded great. I have also seen another big band (who shall rename nameless but also well known and respected) in a 2000 seater hall, with about 20 mics on stage and it was awful.

I posit that music was almost always performed acoustically until aroun 1940, and widespread use of amplification didn't start until the 60s. Now we have a situation where (outside of the classical and operatic world) many performers feel insulted if asked to perform without a sophisticated and powerful sound system, even in small venues. In some cases, use of a mic/PA becomes a prop for poor technique or musicianship. (Although I do accept that the mic has become an integral part of the singers sound in popular music.)

While a good sound system can be a an asset to a performance, it is not always necessary, and is never going to be better than the engineer behind the desk. So my approach is 0 "use with discretion". (And I speak as someone with both musical and technical know-how and real-world experience.)

  • OP is most likely a bedroom player (when he's not outside!). Not quite into performing to a crowded auditorium. (Ask him!) – Tim Oct 21 at 15:55
  • Ok, but anyone at all can be reading. – danmcb Oct 21 at 19:32
  • @dmb I agree, but I think that battle has been lost in a lot of performance situations – Steve Mansfield Oct 23 at 8:33
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I think they are generally overkill on an acoustic instrument generally, unless very subtle. I did once try a Boss "Psycho acoustic processor" which added to the steel string sound, and perhaps a tiny bit of chorus with modulation for an occasional "different" sound. However generally, I wouldn't bother

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There are no written laws for music and musical sounds... If it sound better: do it. Haters will be haters, but even if would be the only person in the world to use a reverb (or any other effect) on an accoustic guitar and you think it sounds good: use it!

On a side note... I have an expensive martin guitar with line out and everything that has a built in reverb... So yes: it's very acceptable to use one

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I think every effect I've ever come across for musical applications has the ability to become overkill in it's use, however they can usually be dialed back to become complimentary to the music being performed. It is up to the performer to determine the level of the chosen effect and the audience can accept or reject the results according to their own individual preferences. As far as I know, that's pretty much how things work in general when it comes to music.

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