D-TAR Mama Bear

September 20, 2006

Using what D-TAR calls AGE (Acoustic Guitar Emulation), the Mama Bear’s mission is to bring back the full, organic sound of your guitar’s body, rather than the quack typically produced by under-saddle pickups. At the heart of the Mama Bear are three controls: Input Source, Target Instrument, and Blend. The 16-position Input Source selects the input signal to be processed, from ceramic piezo, coaxial film, magnetic soundhole, piezo-equipped electric, and more. The Target Instrument control offers 16 “sonic signatures,” from small-bodied parlor guitars and funky blues boxes to various dreadnoughts, orchestra models, and resonators. All of the 16 target instruments are created with digital filters derived from actual recordings of classic acoustics. Blend controls the mix of the Mama Bear processing, from 100 percent effected to 100 percent source input (no effect), and all points in-between.

Using two dreadnoughts as source guitars—a Tacoma DR12 and a Guild D-40 Bluegrass, both equipped with D-TAR’s Wave-Length piezo system—I plugged the Mama’s balanced XLR output (a q" out is also available) into a PreSonus Firepod preamp, and recorded the results into Apple GarageBand. Mama Bear indeed brought a more natural timbre to the piezo-equipped test guitars, and it did this trick without resorting to sonic quick fixes, such as gimmicky delays or reverbs. While Mama Bear didn’t completely de-piezo the Guild and Tacoma—you still hear some level of piezo sheen—its Mahogany Orchestra Model yielded a richer, bigger, and warmer sound; the Parlor selection delivered an accurate skinny, pointed tone; and the supremely cool Tricone Resonator setting imparted the appropriate funky honk.

At $350 street, Mama Bear will cost you more than a reasonable condenser or dynamic mic, but a microphone can’t transform your dreadnought into a resonator or a parlor guitar. In addition, you can’t mic an acoustic while an entire band is tracking without risking massive signal bleed from the other instruments into the guitar mic. With Mama Bear, however, you can get a convincing “miked acoustic” tone by plugging in and avoiding the bleed factor. The Mama Bear is a powerful tool for acoustic guitarists tired of being prisoners to a less-than-inspiring plugged-in sound, and it goes a long way towards giving piezo-equipped guitars their day in the tonal sun.

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