Acoustic Instrument Amp
Fishman Loudbox Mini
Wee Acoustic Guitar Amp
Peter Kun Frary
Many acoustic guitar amps have passed through our shop and I’m always eager to give them a spin. As a gigging nylon-string player, I'm always looking for the holy grail of acoustic guitar amps. Is the Mini just another pie in the sky or God tone from heaven?
Compared to most acoustic amp designs I've used, the Loudbox Mini is pretty bare bones: piezo channel, XLR channel, AUX input, two digital effects presets (chorus and reverb), DI out but no effects loop, notch filter or phantom power. The sealed cabinet is covered with brown vinyl and brushed aluminum, imparting a quasi-retro vibe. It's more attractive than the product pictures. If you drag it to gigs you’ll find it pleasantly light and small. Unfortunately, the vinyl and underlying wood are easily damaged by gentle pressure from straps and carts. It's the most delicate amp I've owned. You'll want to buy the separately sold amp cover!
Fishman Loudbox Mini (images courtesy Fishman)
I set the tone controls flat, jacked in my Takamine LTD2012 Classical and Hirade TH8SS (classicals with Cool Tubes preamps) and my ears pinned back with powerful output. “Loudbox” is well deserved. The master volume was barely cracked but this little guy puts out. Unfortunately, that big tone sounded closer to an electric guitar than a classical: heavy bass, bright lower trebles, weak mids, quacky tone and compressed dynamics. Obviously, under-saddle piezo pickups are no studio mic but it should sound better than this. So I diddled the controls and it improved but I couldn't dial in a pleasing tone. The best timbre with my Hirade classicals was bass-11:00, mid-3:00 and treble-9:00 (clock face orientation).
Some acoustic guitar amps allow the tweeter to be disabled and I suspect the Mini's overly bright tone would benefit from cutting the tweeter from the circuit. As a point of comparison, Cool Tube piezo pickup tone from my 23-year old Trace Elliot TA50R is significantly more natural, complex and sustained. Cool Tube piezo tone from my SHEN-CPK-8T is drop-dead gorgeous. Perhaps these other amps have additional processing to naturalize and de-piezo the tone? They cost twice as much as the Mini so they should sound better, but I’m surprised the Fishman lagged so far behind.
And, yes, this little amp cranks, blowing my Trace Acoustic TA50R out of the water in sheer volume. I mainly play solo dinner and wedding gigs so I never need to play this loud, but an acoustic rocker would be happy, especially with the extra crank of the matched extension speaker.
I plugged in my mid-1990s Trace Acoustic TAP-1 preamp into the Mini and was able to dial in better tone, albeit still not as good as my ancient TA50R. I also tested my Fishman Aura Spectrum D.I. and it rendered more natural classical tone. So you can get decent classical guitar tone if you're willing to carry another box to your gig.
Fishman Aura Spectrum makes the Loudbox sound more natural.
The Loudbox series is highly regarded by many acoustic guitarists so I figured I must be missing the mark somehow. I suspect the Mini is optimized for steel-string tone, so I borrowed a friend's Takamine EF341S and I was right: Loudbox steel-string reproduction is significantly better than nylon-string.
Tilted cabinet for enhanced monitoring and view of the front panel
The single program digital reverb makes amp timbre brighter and harsher sounding, even when mixed in sparingly. Wish this amp had an effects loop as any budget half rack unit will sound better.
I don't normally use a mic for casual gigs but this is feature is handy when you need to mic a friend or blend in a small internal mic for extra ambience. The Mini lacks phantom power so I installed a battery in my Shure 849 condenser mic, set tone controls flat and was greeted with surprisingly natural mic tone. I also tried my ancient Shure SM57 dynamic mic with similar good results, albeit that mic needed a little treble cut. As a point of comparison, the Mini whips my both my TA50R and SHEN-CPK-8T in terms of mic tone.
Rear panel: XLR output, effect loop, line level inputs and power socket.
Straight out of the cardboard, the Loudbox is not ready for serious nylon-string reproduction. The Fishman Aura Spectrum D.I. significantly improves tone, but that's another two or three bills. Nevertheless, the Mini is one of the best buck to tone ratio deals and an excellent amp for steel-string acoustic guitars.
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• 60 Watts with 6.5" Woofer and 1" tweeter
• 2 Channel Preamp Design w/XLR and ¼” Inputs
• All Channel Inputs Mix Together
• 3-Band EQ
• Chorus and reverb with mix controls
• 1 Direct Output (XLR)
• Auxiliary Input (1/4" and 1/8”)
• 19.7 lbs
• 9.7 x 13.7 x 12 inches
©Copyright 2015 by Peter Kun Frary All Rights Reserved