To process or not to process? it’s up to you, but when it comes to effects on the acoustic side of the guitar equation, there are essentially three schools of thought.
Purists feel that effects have no place in the acoustic realm. Period. It is true the majority of acoustic giants have eschewed effects. Can you imagine Segovia using a chorus, or Paco De Lucia with a giant echo, or Maybelle Carter’s impeccable archtop tone slathered in reverb? If you choose traditional acoustic tone, you’re in good company.
The attitude here is that acoustic effects should be a slight enhancement—subtle and tasteful bits of reverb, modulation, compression, overdrive, and so on. The key to being an adept dabbler lies in the ratio of dry-to-wet signal in the mix. The processing should stand out to the listener, yet it should be palpable. Lots of modern pedals offer a Mix control, but that’s not essential if you employ good judgment at each step in your signal chain. Think like a vocalist wanting effects to make his or her voice sound a bit more vibey, but not to alter or overwhelm their natural sound.
This lot wonders, “Why should electric-guitar players have all the fun?” Consider what the late Michael Hedges accomplished via heavenly reverb. The late New Age icon is enjoying a huge wave of renewed interest among percussive fingerstylists, and pedals such as the L.R. Baggs Align Series Reverb (reviewed on p. XX) are helping players pay worthy, cathedral-esque tribute. A tap-tempo delay is an essential ingredient for any Processor. In his MAY 2018 Frets feature, Tim Reynolds detailed how he relies on the reverse and pitch-shifting capabilities of the BOSS-DD5 Digital Delay to create trippy sounds when he does acoustic duo gigs with Dave Matthews.
Overdriven sounds are becoming more prominent, as well. Mike Dawes (Holiday 2017) informed us he used a Joyo JF-14 amp-simulation pedal for high-gain tones on his latest record, ERA. Dawes and Petteri Sariola (February 2018) utilize magnetic soundhole pickups for overdrive effects, but piezo pickups can work too. Amazingly, ukulele maestro Jake Shimabukuro has evolved from Dabbler to Processor. Shimabukuro (GP December 2016) told us that acoustic artists have to be very picky about adding overdrive to piezo signals, which is why he used a Tech 21 Richie Kotzen Signature RK5 Fly Rig for his basic overdrive sound on 2016’s Nashville Sessions. Shimabukuro even uses an Electro-Harmonix Micro POG to simulate the sound of baritone, tenor, and soprano ukuleles playing simultaneously.
The final decision for the Processor is to loop or not to loop. While singer/songwriters often make no bones about using loops to augment a performance, percussive fingerstylists don’t want to appear to be “cheating.” Sariola leaves his loop pedal at home in order to avoid any confusion, while Dawes issued a kind of acoustic public service announcement: “Don’t be afraid of a bit of live looping, kids! It’s a fun tool, much like any guitar effect. Be musical.”