Does your acoustic guitar pickup sound flat and uninspiring? In this video, we check out how impulse responses might just be the key to transforming your live acoustic tone! Here we'll be featuring a great new acoustic preamp pedal from the team over at NUX. Ready to give that piezo pickup 'quack' the boot? Let's jump in and take a look!
NUX Optima Air: https://amzn.to/2NGFjvV
LR Baggs Session: https://amzn.to/3qZ18Fn
Sea Turquoise Delay: https://amzn.to/3dNfKDX
Fishman LoudBox Mini: https://amzn.to/3byIXje
Hi, you're in the studio with Luke from GuitarIQ.com. In today's video, we're checking out the tone-shaping magic that is using impulse responses to enhance and improve the sound of your acoustic guitar pickup. Now, don't worry if you don't know what impulse responses are, or how to use them, or why they're even relevant in the world of acoustic guitar playing—we’re going to cover all of that in today's video. So if you find this interesting, please hit that ‘like’ button to let me know and with that let's jump into the video!
Okay, so if you've watched any of my other videos recently, you’ll know that we're looking at a compact acoustic rig that I've finished putting together in the last few weeks. And more specifically, we're zoomed in on this Optima Air pedal by NUX. The guys over at NUX sent this out to me to check out a while ago and I've had it on the board, running it through its paces, and testing it out for the last few weeks. And this pedal not only inspired the topic of today's video but it's also going to be the centerpiece which this video revolves around. And the reason for that is that the Optima Air is not only a preamp for acoustic guitar, it’s not only a DI box with a three-band EQ and a dedicated reverb but (crucially in the context of today's video) it's also an impulse response loader. In other words: A little pedal that allows us to use different acoustic guitar profiles with the sound coming from our guitar pickup.
So before I explain in more detail what this pedal does, and what impulse responses are, and why you should even care about them, I've dialed in a sound that I like here. So let's just do a quick A/B comparison with everything in bypass and then with the Optima Air engaged. For those of you who are interested, the signal chain is my main acoustic guitar, going straight into the pedalboard, the pedalboard then runs out to a little Fishman Loudbox Mini amp here on the floor, and that's what I'm going to use to monitor everything today. The sound that you're hearing is a direct feed from the DI out of the amplifier into the front of my interface. And it sounds a little something like this:
So hopefully you can hear there's a pretty substantial difference between when the pedal is engaged and when it's in bypass. There's nothing else happening on the pedalboard, the amp is set flat, and all the reverb you're hearing is actually coming from the pedal itself. So, although I've got a little bit of EQ happening, here the majority of what you're hearing when the pedal is engaged is from the impulse response that I'm loading up.
So what actually is an impulse response? And why is it helpful when we're playing acoustic guitar? Those of you who have been around the studio will probably be familiar with impulse responses. We use IR’s all the time with reverb plugins to capture the sounds of different spaces like halls, and theaters, and cathedrals, and studio live rooms. They're also used all the time in amp simulators to capture the sound of different speaker cabinets. So impulse responses themselves aren't a new idea. What is relatively new and innovative (at least in the world of acoustic guitar) is that a number of companies are starting to come out with some products like the Optima Air that allow us to use impulse responses in a small pedalboard-friendly format, that’s designed specifically to be used with the pickups on our acoustic guitar.
So why is something like this such an exciting product for acoustic guitar players? Well, in my opinion, the best application for a pedal like this is in a live environment. When we go to play live, most of us are going to be amplifying our guitar with some kind of pickup system onboard the guitar—and most of the time, that's going to be some kind of piezo-style pickup that sits under the saddle of the guitar. Now, there's nothing necessarily wrong with the sound of an acoustic guitar pickup. It’s a sound that we're very familiar with. They do a great job of amplifying what you're playing, they're relatively low noise, and they capture quite a large frequency range. What they don't do, however, is a good job of replicating the authentic sound of your guitar when it's unplugged. They’re often described as having a ‘plasticky’ or ‘quacky’ quality about them. And they don't really resemble the type of natural resonance and sustain you get from your guitar when it's unplugged in its natural environment.
So, in this context, an impulse response allows us to profile the sound of an acoustic guitar that's being played acoustically and then layer that on top of the sound that's coming out of our guitar pickup. As well as having a number of impulse responses pre-loaded onto the pedal when you get it out of the box, the Optima Air also allows you to capture your own profiles of your own acoustic guitar. So if you have a small recording setup at home (a little interface and a microphone) you can actually profile your own guitar. Which is a fantastic feature for those who are wanting to delve in deep into the world of impulse responses using the Optima Air. Now, I haven't profiled this guitar—that’s something I can certainly explore in a future video if you're interested. For this next example though, I just wanted to go through some of the impulse responses that are pre-loaded on the Optima Air itself. So there are a number of impulse responses on this pedal. I’m just going to show you the ones that are optimized for the piezo-style pickup like what's on my guitar (as I mentioned earlier). So here we go. For this demo, I'll switch off the EQ so you're just hearing the impulse response by itself:
So, you can notice a couple of interesting things there. First of all, all of those impulse responses sound quite different—so you can get very dramatic effects depending on the impulse responses that you're using. And secondly, some of those impulse responses (at least in the context of using this guitar) sound much better than others. And that points to a really important concept: The result you end up with when you're using an impulse response isn't just about the profile itself, it's about how that profile reacts with the sound that's coming from your guitar pickup. So when you're trying out different impulse responses, you’re really looking for something that works with the sound of your guitar pickup in a way that sounds the most natural and pleasing to your ear.
A secondary feature that I really like about the Optima Air pedal specifically, is that once you've found the impulse response you want to use, you can then dial in some EQ to complement the impulse response that you're using. So if I switch it back to the profile I like (which is profiled on a D45 guitar), I can then dial the EQ into taste. You can see here I've just attenuated some of the boominess on the bottom end and rolled off a little bit of top end. So for this final example, I'm going to engage the EQ and I'm going to engage some other processing as well to really reflect how I would be using this pedal in a live situation. So I'll switch on some subtle compression with the LR Baggs session pedal. I’ll add a little bit of delay—you probably can't see that pedal (it’s off screen), it’s the Sea Turquoise Delay by One Control. And I'll dial in a little bit of reverb from the acoustic amp itself. So I'm blending a couple of different reverbs together, we have the darker sound of the Optima Air reverb mixed in with the lighter, brighter sound of the Fishman Loudbox Mini. And here's what all that sounds like:
So that's my look at transforming your acoustic guitar tone using impulse responses, featuring the Optima Air by NUX.
Well, that's it for this video, I hope you found it interesting. If so, please leave your questions, and comments, and thoughts, and feedback in the comments section below. Of course, if you are interested in more videos like this one then please subscribe to the channel. I’ve actually featured the Optima Air pedal in a number of videos, including a full walkthrough of the entire pedalboard. So if you want to check that out, I'll link to all the relevant videos in the description below. And last, but certainly not least, if you're looking to go deeper with your guitar playing, and supercharge your skills, and take your playing to the next level, then please mosey on over to GuitarIQ.com at your leisure and check out some of the great resources I have for you over there. That’s it from me. Thanks for watching and I'll see you in the next video!