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Thread: Help! Need to amplify but HATE the sound!

  1. #1
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    Default Help! Need to amplify but HATE the sound!

    Hi there,

    I've played ukulele for a couple of years, not a beginner but well short of expert. Now wanting to do some solo work... I have a concert soprano uke (acoustic, nylon strings) made by Bailey guitars, with a stick-on (well, glued on now) transducer and a Headway pre-amp. Have tried the Headway piezo under-saddle pickup also.

    Problem is, the uke sounds AMAZING without amplification, such a beautiful tone, great intonation, etc. As soon as it's amplified, it all goes wrong: terrible string squeak, string thumping, and loss of the brilliant acoustic overtones, especially the more I try to filter out the evil sounds.

    I've tried using an external mic, but it's only useful for recording, in a live situation it just feeds back or isn't loud enough. Should I try something else? Is it my technique? I'm at my freakin wit's end. Please help before I smash the thing (it was pretty expensive). Okay, wouldn't do that, just sit in the corner and cry. And then play my uke to the furniture.

    Cheers,
    Laura

  2. #2
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    I use microphones successfully for LIVE performance. If you want the best sound then its your best choice.

    Since you have given us no information on your microphone setup I'm guessing, but the usual culprits are the quality and type of microphone, your technique for setting up the microphone, the quality and setup of the PA system and a biggie, too much foldback.

    Turn off any foldback to start with and only introduce a tiny amount if you need to. I play solo without foldback. Generally close miking is the way to go but you need to position carefully for maximum volume without feedback. Condenser microphones are best for instruments and one with a tight pickup pattern can help a lot.

    Plugging a piezo pickup into a amplifier is easy. Using a microphone takes a bit of knowledge and skill.

    Anthony

  3. #3

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    As per other posts to this thread, we need more info about your live setup before useful advice can be given.

    Having said that, you will need to be using a cardioid or super-cardioid mic that is pretty close to the uke (not more than 1 foot away), going either into a mic preamp at your feet, or a proper PA mixer (that has built-in mic preamps), with the levels set for being loud enough and having either a notch filter or parametric eq to mitigate the offending frequencies causing feedback. While these are generalizations, these are also minimum requirements for getting a decent live sound from a mic.

    As far as your issues with using a pickup, I'm a bit unclear on the trouble your having based upon the description given.

    It's common wisdom in this forum that while you can get a pleasing and useful sound from a uke from a pickup, but the sound via a pickup is NOT one that replicates the natural acoustic sound you hear with your ears, and for that kind of sound (if that is your intent) you would use a proper mic setup.

    Having said, THAT, you can get a close approximation of a uke-like sound with most any pickup, just dont expect any kind of surface or under-saddle transducer to reproduce the exact sound that you hear through the air with your ears. Wood-via-piezo will not resonate the same as wood-via-air, it's simple physics really.
    Guinea proverb: "A cow that has no tail should not try to chase away flies."

  4. #4
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    Feedback can also be caused by positioning the mic where it is pointing directly at the speakers. Keep the speakers way off to the sides and in front of the mic.

  5. #5
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    Have you tried one of the modelling acoustic amplifiers like the small inexpensive THR5a? They allow you to simulate a mix of mic and undersaddle and create a very sweet tone if used properly.

  6. #6
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    Having just very recently "gone electric" after 50 years of acoustic guitar I'm probably not well equipped to comment, but one concept that hasn't been mentioned is the "feedback buster", basically a perforated disc that fits into the soundhole of an acoustic guitar and reduces the amount of sound that can actually feed back into an instrument. Doubtless they also reduce the level of sound that comes out, but careful microphone positioning should be able to compensate for that, whilst retaining the natural sound of the instrument. I'm thinking small, probably directional condenser microphone on a small stalk or bracket mounted directly on the instrument, much like one sees on violins or even flutes.

    Just a thought ... hope it might help
    There are those who will wax lyrical about the ability to play a double shuffle with a split fan and a tight G-string ...
    it just makes me walk funny!

  7. #7
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    Just a suggestion, the higher you crank the volume, the more it distorts the sound. I've found that you don't need as much volume as you would think to project the sound out. Sometimes I can't hear the amp over my uke, and I'll ask my wife later if I need to crank it up a little, and she will say it is just fine where it is. Also, let the amp do the work. Playing a lot softer results in a much cleaner sound. Let the amp give you the volume that you need, don't try to get it out of the uke. But again, it doesn't take all that much volume to reach out.
    Last edited by Rllink; 11-24-2015 at 05:27 AM.
    I don't want to live in a world that is linear.

    I just want everyone to understand that I am not a ukulele expert, even though it may look at times like I'm pretending to be.

    https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_n...tective+Agency

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rllink View Post
    Just a suggestion, the higher you crank the volume, the more it distorts the sound. I've found that you don't need as much volume as you would think to project the sound out. Sometimes I can't hear the amp over my uke, and I'll ask my wife later if I need to crank it up a little, and she will say it is just fine where it is. Also, let the amp do the work. Playing a lot softer results in a much cleaner sound. Let the amp give you the volume that you need, don't try to get it out of the uke. But again, it doesn't take all that much volume to reach out.
    I agree and disagree with parts of this post.

    Yes, the amplified sound is louder than musicians think it is. Speakers project sound forwards and in order to minimise feedback musicians need to be behind or beside the speaker. The fact that it doesn't sound loud to the performer is GOOD. What I disagree with is saying that you should only play quietly and get the volume out of the amp. The truth is complicated. In order to minimise feedback you need a good strong signal so that the microphone gain doesn't have to be turned up too high which makes it susceptible to feedback. The microphone gain needs to be set to the playing level, INDEPENDENTLY of the output volume. Player dynamics are important too. This is a bit technical.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kekani View Post
    This is why we need to th e OP's setup & settings.

    One thing to note, unless you have a really great instrument, and far be it from me to say this, but here goes - most people could care less how your uke sounds, as long as it sits well in the mix.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm VERY critical about amplified sound, and appreciate when comments are made about how the uke (or bass) sounded during the gig. But honestly, that comes from musicians, and not the general crowd. When the crowd says "you guys are good" it's not because of how the instruments sound, it because of the whole performance, which is really what matters, right?
    There are a LOT of DRUNK or otherwise punters out there who are out for a good time and will just tell you things sound great because they don't want to hurt your feelings or start a fight at a party. Listen to the musicians if you want to sound good.

    Anthony

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kekani View Post
    This is why we need to th e OP's setup & settings.

    One thing to note, unless you have a really great instrument, and far be it from me to say this, but here goes - most people could care less how your uke sounds, as long as it sits well in the mix.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm VERY critical about amplified sound, and appreciate when comments are made about how the uke (or bass) sounded during the gig. But honestly, that comes from musicians, and not the general crowd. When the crowd says "you guys are good" it's not because of how the instruments sound, it because of the whole performance, which is really what matters, right?
    I agree with you. There is much more to it.
    I don't want to live in a world that is linear.

    I just want everyone to understand that I am not a ukulele expert, even though it may look at times like I'm pretending to be.

    https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_n...tective+Agency

  10. #10
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    Hi there,

    Firstly, thanks so very much to all who responded... with family visiting for Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations, it's taken a while review everything and collect the requested data. So here goes...

    First part, addressing the hardware:

    The luthier had installed a couple of different pickups at different times for experimentation purposes... he thinks (but isn't completely sure) we landed on the K&K Pure Mini.

    The preamp is by Headway, and here is a pic of the last settings I used (note that the Mute button is set as a matter of course on startup, the notch filter IS theoretically being used... settings analysis provided by my husband who is an electronics engineer, in combination with what I'd estimated was the most likely frequency range of a uke-string hit, which is what I'm trying to cut out... and I've varied between the channel inputs because I'm not sure if stereo is being output from the pickup, doesn't seem to be a difference though):
    Attachment 86445

    A custom, high-quality cable is being used from the uke to the preamp (I don't remember the exact specs, but ordered fancy parts from Thomann because I couldn't find a high-quality short cable with an angled input):
    Attachment 86446

    The amps/PAs used varied from a Vox Valvetronix (set to completely clean output), a Stagg 20 AA R, a very crappy PA setup, and a very high-quality PA setup. In all cases, the worst problem I hear is the percussive hits on the strings when strumming, and sliding noises from fingerpicking (not from the chord hand, have that sorted). The loss of overtones and such, although annoying, are not nearly as much of an issue. The percussive sounds and fingerpick streaks are enough to completely distract me from playing.

    Second part, the quality of the instrument and my playing:

    As mentioned, maybe an advanced beginner... here are 3 rough recording done in the first year of playing, just ambient with one of those old style silver 50s type mics, in my friend's studio:

    http://sederunt.com/transfer/songs/B...d-and-Gray.mp3
    http://sederunt.com/transfer/songs/Broken-Heart.mp3
    http://sederunt.com/transfer/songs/Without-You.mp3

    And here is an example of playing through the nice PA setup... I think there was quite a bit of post-record processing (and misses the guitar completely) as the hits and squeaks were much more audible live, as I remember (starts about 2 min in):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9FS-k5-ukE

    In general, I think I play fairly lightly, perhaps not very controlled though... but it seems when plugged in I should play harder.

    Third part, live mic-ing:

    We tried it a couple of times, with a Beyerdynamic MC836... it just didn't seem to work due to the feedback (no monitors involved). I put it down to the pub being so noisy... probably would work in a concert hall but no plans for anything like that...

    Thanks in advance for your responses,
    Laura

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