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View Full Version : Plugging In...thump! whack!



Outrider
06-14-2011, 11:23 AM
I have a Lanakai LU-21CE uke with a piezo bridge pickup and an onboard pre-amp.

I'm finally wanting to plug this lil' guy in and jam with some friends. I've played guitar in bands for years and have a collection of amplification gear, so I have several options for plugging in thru different guitar amps or into the PA. I even have a pedal board that has some fun amp simulators & effects.

Here's one problem I'm encountering...
Whenever I play "plugged in", there's a LOT (imho) of noise! Not feedback, but thumps and whacks as I strum, and handling noise. Is this all the result of sloppy technique or does everybody just learn to live with it? Acoustically, I've never noticed that I make an excessive amount of noise, but when it runs through the amp or PA, it's almost like I'm my own percussionist.

Another thing...
I'm just not happy with the tone. I see recordings on YouTube of live uke shows and basement strummers, and some of them have beautiful, round, warm, sustainy tones. Mine sounds thin to me, no matter how I EQ it.

So...those of you who play "plugged in" in live situations...tips? Tricks? New gear? Different uke? Other Suggestions?

Wagster
06-14-2011, 12:31 PM
Many of the electronics that come out of China leave alot to be desired. My Kala has an on-board pickup and suffers many of the ills you speak of. Plugging it in an amp directly resulted in much noise and feedback. I finally bought a preamp for it and that cured my woes. Now I can really crank it up without all that clatter. So I think it's just a matter of getting the impedences to match up.

The preamp I bought was in the $130 range, but I think you can find something that will work for less.

OldePhart
06-14-2011, 12:32 PM
Probably some sloppy technique, though if you've played guitar for years I'd think you'd not have too much of that going on. I have found that piezo pickups on ukes can tend a bit toward the "thuddy" if not EQ'd properly. I'd experiment with outboard gain and EQ. High gain is kind of a disaster with piezo pickups so the first thing I'd do is cut that back, then work the EQ to get a tone you like, then gradually bring the gain up. EQ the bass down early in your chain to eliminate aforementioned "thuddiness." Depending on how low your centerpoint is on your midrange control you may need to EQ that down a bit, too.

Edited to add - if you're working with a passive pickup (not sure what's in your Lanikai) I highly recommend that you get a preamp that plugs into the jack on the instrument. These aren't terribly expensive and they'll help buffer the signal before sending it through a longish cable to amp or board.

John

uke4ia
06-14-2011, 03:34 PM
You may bump the uke with your knuckles on the follow-through of your strum. I do it a lot, even made a thread about it a couple months ago. I didn't know about it until a friend mentioned it, because I don't hear it from my side of the uke. When my playing was videotaped it was noticeable. I got self-conscious about it for a while, till the same friend said not to worry, that it just came off as part of my own style and that it didn't distract from what I was playing. I try to minimize it now, but I don't worry if it happens. I really liked one instrumental I played, where it sounded like I was being accompanied by a tabla player!

Kekani
06-14-2011, 05:38 PM
You've gotten good responses so, there's not a whole lot to add, just reiterating for the most part. One way to explain your unhappiness is what a lot of players don't realize (though, you should with your background): No matter what electronics you put between the instrument and the speakers, all amplification does is make a crappy instrument sound crappy, only louder. Add to that, if you have crappy electronics, the crap equation goes up exponentially (seems like it anyway). Yes, I had fiber this morning.

I'll take some stabs in the dark as well - first off, its a Lanikai, and its going to sound "thin". If you got Aquila's, even more so. If you try to shape your sound with too much EQ, you're pushing a "false" sound, which a whole lot of people do, especially with the bass frequencies (already alluded to). Better to attenuate than boost.

That said, I've not had any problems with any of my instruments plugged in with LR Baggs Element, or Fishman Matrix (in the past). I prefer the Element for its natural sound, but the Fishman is easier to install and is really sensitive, almost to a fault (but sounds more quacky, like the MiSi, but more so). Of course, the variables are very similar on my side - Tenors, pickups, good strings (D'Addario or Savarez). Mileage may vary, but I know what to expect when the sound come out of speakers - I'd run it through a Para Acoustic DI if I'm not running sound, if only to notch out problem frequencies, and shape the sound for the environment (tell the sound guy to flat everything).

Just my $.02.

Aaron

ricdoug
06-14-2011, 06:06 PM
Mileage may vary, but I know what to expect when the sound come out of speakers - I'd run it through a Para Acoustic DI if I'm not running sound, if only to notch out problem frequencies, and shape the sound for the environment (tell the sound guy to flat everything).

Just my $.02.

Aaron

I second the L.R. Baggs Paracoustic D.I.. It allows you to notch out offending frequencies, or what is called "piezo bark". Ric

kissing
06-15-2011, 01:53 AM
Many of the electronics that come out of China leave alot to be desired. My Kala has an on-board pickup and suffers many of the ills you speak of. Plugging it in an amp directly resulted in much noise and feedback. I finally bought a preamp for it and that cured my woes. Now I can really crank it up without all that clatter. So I think it's just a matter of getting the impedences to match up.

The preamp I bought was in the $130 range, but I think you can find something that will work for less.

Every acoustic-electric Kala I've tried had Shadow Nanoflex pickups, which are actually somewhat high-end pickups. They were actually some of the best pickups I've used on a uke. I think they might even be made in Germany. If I recall correctly, Shadow's cheaper pickups are made in China, but the Nanoflex series are made in Germany.

Just out of curiosity, what kind of amplifier were you plugging into? It should not have noise and feedback in an acoustic-amp. If so, then the pickup could be faulty.
And yes, I have encountered a Kala with a faulty pickup. Had three Kalas with the same pickup. One hummed, while the others were a joy. And I've tried quite a number of other ukes with the same Shadow pickup in stores thru their amps - sounded clean and pleasant to me..

Unless of course you have a Kala with a different kind of pickup (I have seen some models with pickups that were not the Shadow pickups), and they have issues of their own...?




Another thing...
I'm just not happy with the tone. I see recordings on YouTube of live uke shows and basement strummers, and some of them have beautiful, round, warm, sustainy tones. Mine sounds thin to me, no matter how I EQ it.

I think that comes down to equipment. High-end acoustic amps and pre-amps will help to model that kind of sound.
Regular electric amps designed for electric guitars will not produce that kind of sound..

FiL
06-15-2011, 04:24 AM
Another thing...
I'm just not happy with the tone. I see recordings on YouTube of live uke shows and basement strummers, and some of them have beautiful, round, warm, sustainy tones. Mine sounds thin to me, no matter how I EQ it.

Perhaps in the videos you saw the ukes mere mic'ed instead of plugged in. Usually, a good mic will give you a more natural sound than a pickup.

Outrider
06-15-2011, 05:23 AM
I realize that the Lanakai isn't top-shelf gear, but it's what I've got. Trying to make the best of it. It has an onboard preamp with vol, bass, & treble sliders, but isn't Fishman electronics by a long shot.

I have a couple of items on hand that might help...a Tube Pre (preamp) that I bought for recording, and a guitar EQ pedal that might serve as a notch filter/shaper. If any of you have tried these in your chain and can offer advice, pls do. I'm just trying the existing gear before I go buying stuff...If this becomes a successful or regular gig, I'll definitely be looking into upgrades.

I'll keep an eye out for the D'addario or Savarez strings. I've forgotten what's on there now (they're black.)

Thump...I probably need to be more careful when strumming and try to brush the strings rather than "strum the guitar." Playing bass for 25yrs may have eliminated the level of subtlety I need for a clean uke strum...I get a little carried away.

Kekani
06-15-2011, 08:23 AM
I'll keep an eye out for the D'addario or Savarez strings.

You'll need more than an eye for Savarez, you'll have to know exactly what you're looking for - they don't make `ukulele specific strings, and the ones from D'Addario that's worth anything are simply repackaged Classical guitar strings.

On a side note, instead of throwing everything at your instrument to change the sound, just play it the way it is. The nice thing about live sound is just that, its live, and its what you sound like, only louder. If your instrument sounds to plinky in the mix, adjust the volume to match. I think the best way to look at it that way is to listen to Train's "Soul Sister" - that recording (and video) has an `ukulele that is plinky and thin, but they sit it well in the mix. Still sounds thin, especially for a tenor, but the drums (and bass of course) give it balance.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVpv8-5XWOI

olgoat52
06-15-2011, 08:34 AM
You've gotten good responses so, there's not a whole lot to add, just reiterating for the most part. One way to explain your unhappiness is what a lot of players don't realize (though, you should with your background): No matter what electronics you put between the instrument and the speakers, all amplification does is make a crappy instrument sound crappy, only louder. Add to that, if you have crappy electronics, the crap equation goes up exponentially (seems like it anyway). Yes, I had fiber this morning.

I'll take some stabs in the dark as well - first off, its a Lanikai, and its going to sound "thin". If you got Aquila's, even more so. If you try to shape your sound with too much EQ, you're pushing a "false" sound, which a whole lot of people do, especially with the bass frequencies (already alluded to). Better to attenuate than boost.

That said, I've not had any problems with any of my instruments plugged in with LR Baggs Element, or Fishman Matrix (in the past). I prefer the Element for its natural sound, but the Fishman is easier to install and is really sensitive, almost to a fault (but sounds more quacky, like the MiSi, but more so). Of course, the variables are very similar on my side - Tenors, pickups, good strings (D'Addario or Savarez). Mileage may vary, but I know what to expect when the sound come out of speakers - I'd run it through a Para Acoustic DI if I'm not running sound, if only to notch out problem frequencies, and shape the sound for the environment (tell the sound guy to flat everything).

Just my $.02.

Aaron

Do you have a sound sample on youtube or something of the Baggs Element. I have been thinking about pickups lately and the MiSi and Fishman and some Shadow seem to be what most use.

The Para Acoustic is not a pre-amp is it? More a direct box?

Wagster
06-15-2011, 12:54 PM
Every acoustic-electric Kala I've tried had Shadow Nanoflex pickups, which are actually somewhat high-end pickups. They were actually some of the best pickups I've used on a uke. I think they might even be made in Germany. If I recall correctly, Shadow's cheaper pickups are made in China, but the Nanoflex series are made in Germany.

Just out of curiosity, what kind of amplifier were you plugging into? It should not have noise and feedback in an acoustic-amp. If so, then the pickup could be faulty.
Unless of course you have a Kala with a different kind of pickup (I have seen some models with pickups that were not the Shadow pickups), and they have issues of their own...?
.

That's very interesting about the Kala electronics. To be honest, I don't know offhand who made the pick-ups in my Kala. I'll have to take a look and see what I can find.

As for the amp, no, I don't have an acoustic amp for it. I play through a silverface Twin Reverb! That's like trying to steer a go-cart with a jet engine on afterburners powering it! A preamp plugged between the two was the only way I could tame it. But now it's got a nice rich sound to it and I can crank it up very loud without any unwanted ill effects.

OldePhart
06-15-2011, 01:17 PM
I think that comes down to equipment. High-end acoustic amps and pre-amps will help to model that kind of sound.
Regular electric amps designed for electric guitars will not produce that kind of sound..

That's a very good point - if you're going through almost any amp intended for electric guitar it is going to have a fairly pronounced mid-scoop designed to offset the pronounced mid "bump" characteristic of magnetic pickups in the typical electric guitar. For natural sound you're probably going to need EQ between instrument and amp.

John

ricdoug
06-15-2011, 07:17 PM
Do you have a sound sample on youtube or something of the Baggs Element. I have been thinking about pickups lately and the MiSi and Fishman and some Shadow seem to be what most use.

The Para Acoustic is not a pre-amp is it? More a direct box?

The Paracoustic is an active direct box, so it is also a preamp and a parametric equalizer with continiously selectable notch filtering. It actively allows you to custom tailor your tone and virtually eliminate annoying feedback, howling and squeals:

http://accessories.musiciansfriend.com/product/LR-Baggs-Para-Acoustic-DI?sku=307160

http://img3.musiciansfriend.com/dbase/pics/products/4/1/8/872418.jpg

http://img3.musiciansfriend.com/dbase/pics/products/4/1/6/872416.jpg

http://img3.musiciansfriend.com/dbase/pics/products/4/1/7/872417.jpg

olgoat52
06-15-2011, 07:27 PM
The Paracoustic is an active direct box, so it is also a preamp and a parametric equalizer with continiously selectable notch filtering. It actively allows you to custom tailor your tone and virtually eliminate annoying feedback, howling and squeals:

http://accessories.musiciansfriend.com/product/LR-Baggs-Para-Acoustic-DI?sku=307160

http://img3.musiciansfriend.com/dbase/pics/products/4/1/8/872418.jpg

http://img3.musiciansfriend.com/dbase/pics/products/4/1/6/872416.jpg

http://img3.musiciansfriend.com/dbase/pics/products/4/1/7/872417.jpg

Well I have never been big on feedback, but I am partial to some howling and squealing from time to time. Thanks for the info.

Kekani
06-15-2011, 09:38 PM
Do you have a sound sample on youtube or something of the Baggs Element. I have been thinking about pickups lately and the MiSi and Fishman and some Shadow seem to be what most use.

The Para Acoustic is not a pre-amp is it? More a direct box?

You got the answer for the Para Acoustic from Ric - I used to think because the Baggs had a pre-amp in it that the Para Acoustic was unnecessary, and I was wrong.

If you really want to get a great pickup, I've said this for a while, get a DTar. Pricey, but, you get what you pay for - the headroom is unmatched. No, I don't have any DTar's personally, but I've played them, and heard them played. Its like LR Baggs on steroids, in a suit, in a Veyron. Forget that I'm a Rick Turner fan, the man just does good stuff.

I can only show some bad, off the camera vids, but here it is . . .
Note: Led plays with finger and thumb picks (and tends to mute by default at times), Ramon plays with his nails - both instruments sound completely different when I play them (which I don't. . .)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ka1UF801Ck

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILomFfSYonI

olgoat52
06-16-2011, 04:01 AM
You got the answer for the Para Acoustic from Ric - I used to think because the Baggs had a pre-amp in it that the Para Acoustic was unnecessary, and I was wrong.

If you really want to get a great pickup, I've said this for a while, get a DTar. Pricey, but, you get what you pay for - the headroom is unmatched. No, I don't have any DTar's personally, but I've played them, and heard them played. Its like LR Baggs on steroids, in a suit, in a Veyron. Forget that I'm a Rick Turner fan, the man just does good stuff.

I can only show some bad, off the camera vids, but here it is . . .
Note: Led plays with finger and thumb picks (and tends to mute by default at times), Ramon plays with his nails - both instruments sound completely different when I play them (which I don't. . .)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ka1UF801Ck

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILomFfSYonI

Sounds very natural. Thanks much for the links. I prefer the acoustic sound 95% of the time but after UWC I can see how a good pickup is helpful from time to time. My guess is that I would not like it for recording over a decent mic. Ya never know till ya try through. Thanks

kissing
06-16-2011, 04:33 AM
I've forgotten what's on there now (they're black.)

That might actually be one of the biggest parts of the problem.
Stock strings that are black are usually really cheapo strings... GHS or something.

Far from the ideal strings to bring out the acoustic potential of a uke, let alone how it sounds with a pickup.

For a bright, full sound, try putting on some Aquila strings.
For a mellow, round sound, try putting on some D'addario Pro-Artes.
For something in between, Fremont black fluorocarbons do the trick for me.
I've also heard great things about Worth strings.

GHS.. hmm.. (though some people like them on particular ukes).



I wouldn't be so quick to blame the pickup and in-built pre-amp.
Believe it or not, companies like Kala and Lanikai, from what I've seen, put good quality pickups on their acoustic-electric models, even if it's a cheaper model. It would be the same model pickup they put on their more expensive models too. That's why I like having some inexpensive (but reliable) acoustic-electrics in the collection. While they might not be as good acoustically with expensive ukes, but plugged in, it'll sound just as good.

However, a good built-in pickup can only get you so far in terms of producing sound.
It's limited by the fact that the people who designed it had to make some compromises to fit the pre-amp into the small instrument body.
The professionals don't usually just plug their uke straight into the speakers. There is usually expensive equipment at play. For example, Jake Shimabukuro has a passive Fishman pickup in his Kamaka, but uses premium quality cables and a premium quality pre-amp (Does anyone know the model?) to produce his signature acoustic-electric sound. Though with some research, you can replicate it without spending too much. That acoustic pre-amp linked above is a superb choice.

A cheap choice that gives quick results is the Behringer V-TONE acoustic modeller. I find it useful on the go for plugging my ukes into PA systems.

http://www.sweetwaveaudio.com/sales/76-191-large/behringer-v-tone-acoustic-adi21.jpg

Kekani
06-16-2011, 06:37 AM
For a bright, full sound, try putting on some Aquila strings.
For a mellow, round sound, try putting on some D'addario Pro-Artes.

Aquila's on a Lanikai? Bright, yes. Full, highly unlikely. This would be going right where the OP doesn't want to be.
Pro Artes mellow? If its the J46, yes. J50's or T2's, not so mellow.

Now that you mention it, Worth's may do well, but may not have enough volume; the J46's would probably be right up the alley. Of course since its going through an amp, could give Worth a shot. . .

hapuna
06-16-2011, 07:14 AM
Gee can't tell Led is a great slack key guitar guy. That uke sounds like a great slack key song.

Ukulele Jim
06-16-2011, 08:13 AM
I have a KoAloha with an undersaddle pickup that was added later, and I have the same thudding problem. I figured out that it's caused by my fingertip hitting the fretboard as I strum due to the action being really low on the instrument. Apparently the pickup is very sensitive and the koa wood really picks up all the nuances of my playing, so it's basically my fault for having a sloppy strum at times. I compensate by turning the preamp volume down and the amp volume up until the thump goes away. I also have a taller saddle that I install ahead of time if I know I'm going to play live.