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Guitar Player 05/1999

From the Article: Quack Attackers

By Joe Gore, Guitar Player magazine May 1999

EMF Acoustics B-Band Pickups

A new acoustic guitar pickup from Finland eliminates the "quacky" harshness often associated with piezoelectric transducters by combining the attributes of piezos and microphones. Like a piezo pickup, the EMD Acoustics B-Band installs under the bridge saddle. But while piezos use tiny crystals to translate plucked strings into electrical energy, the B-Band relies on a strip of electret film that reportedly behaves more like the diaphragm of a condenser microphone.

B-Band pickups come in three configurations: the CR1 Core System ($150) includes the transducer, wiring, and hardware; the CR2 ($220) adds an internal condenser microphone mounted on a flexible post; and the NF1 New Frontier ($220) omits the mic, but features a control panel (which requires professional installation) with dual tone knobs, a volume control, and a battery-status light. Each system requires a 9-volt battery that is accessible throught the soundhole.

CR1/CR2

I listened to a pair of new Martin D-1 flat-tops fitted with CD2 and NF1 systems. The CR1 and NF1 are monaural, while the CR2 utilizes a stereo jack to output the mic and pickup signals separetely. The individual outputs allowed me to evaluate the CR1 by simply disconnecting the internal mic on the CR2-equipped Martin.

Even without the support of the mic, the B-Band system produces a tone that combines piezo and miked timbres. Like a piezo, the pickup's sound is precise and crisp, yet it also has a smoothness that simulates a miked instrument -- there's none of the quackiness you often hear when you play hard on a piezo-equipped acoustic. In particular, high frequencies are less explosive, so the tones tend to be warmer and more balanced. Still, from its location beneath the saddle, the B-Band unit doesn't impart the spaciousness you get from a good mic placed inside the guitar's body or near the soundhole.

The addition of the CR2's internal mic dramatically increases the sonic dimension of the system. You get a satisfying mic of punch and airiness -- with a strong sense of the resonance of the guitar's top -- and all of the little finger and strng noises that make an acoustic guitar sound alive. Though the CR2 has no tone controls, you can emphasize highs or lows by angling the mic towards the treble or bass strings. The mic's rejection of off-axis signals and low-frequency resonances seems very good, as I was able to play quite loudly without producing feedback. (EMF says the system can also accommodate microphones from other manufactures.)

NF1

The sound of the single-transducter NF1 system was a bit anticlimactic after experiencing the natural openness of the CR2. Still, it's a good choice for high-volume situations that make and internally mounted mic impractical -- as well as for those players who plug into electric-guitar amps rather than specialized acoustic amps or mixing boards. The system's active "edge" and "bottom" controls (low- and high-pass filters in paraller with the direct signal) add brilliance and thump, but the lack of a midrange knob means you can't attenuate the honky mids that often plague acoustic-electric guitars. The CR2 system -- sans controls -- seem a better choice for professionals who rely on a soundperson to fine tune their tone.

The .02"-wide B-Band transducer fits most bridges without modification, but, as with all permanently mounted acoustic pickups, you should factor in the cost of a professional installation. (Depending on complexity of the job, this should run between $50 and $150 -- EMF Acoustics also makes 7-string and classical guitar pickups, as well as an under-the-saddle transducer for Strat-style electrics.) With prices that stack up favorably against most piezoelectric and hybrid systems, these exciting new pickups merit investigation by acoustic players who find that piezos sound too harsh or too thin.

Joe Gore

© Copyright 1999 Joe Gore / Guitar Player