“I like to play acoustic guitar really loud,” Bob Weir told Guitar Player at the 2018 Winter NAMM show, where Pigtronix heralded the release of his Real Deal Acoustic Preamp. Weir, Grateful Dead tech Mike McGinn and the Pigtronix team led by David Koltai collaborated on the pedal, which is designed to facilitate a natural acoustic sound at high stage volumes. The Real Deal incorporates variable low- and high-frequency filters that can be used in either Single Source or Dual Source mode, allowing a player to plug in a typical acoustic-electric guitar and play, or use a more complex dual-signal setup incorporating a mic, as Weir does.
The simple story is that the Real Deal came in handy on a gig with a rock quartet, where I ran a Taylor 514ce with Fishman Prefix electronics through an AER Compact 60/3 TE amp. In an instance of synchronicity, we happened to be playing at Weir’s Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, California, and the review unit arrived just the day before. As a result, I only had time to browse the “Getting Started” section of the manual before soundcheck. No sweat. With just a few tweaks, I dialed in a powerful, articulate tone suited to the medium-size hall and impressive to the entire crew.
The Real Deal’s preamps are always on, so even when the pedal isn’t engaged, it delivers a louder version of your basic tone. The unit includes a powerful preamp boost, and while it significantly increases the noise floor, that’s not much of an issue once you’re rocking. The pickup knob controls the gain of the pickup signal ahead of the low-pass filter, so in play it essentially acts as your bass control. The microphone knob does the same for the mic signal before the high-pass filter, behaving like a treble control. The crossover knob controls the frequency at which the filters overlap and can be set from 300Hz to 3kHz.
According to McGinn, Dual Source mode is key to Weir’s way. He runs two signals out from a D’Angelico acoustic-electric. The piezo pickup signal feeds the Real Deal’s first input, and the signal from an internal DPA 4060 omnidirectional lavalier condenser mic connects to the external microphone input, where switchable phantom power is available. The heart of the matter is that the Real Deal’s mic and piezo signals are discretely filtered at the variable crossover point and summed into a mono signal that Weir runs to a Fishman Loudbox amp. He’s able to maximize the more natural sound of the mic because most of the potentially troublesome low end is filtered out. The converse holds true for the notoriously quacky high-end of the piezo pickup. It’s a rather ingenious circuit conceived by Weir and facilitated by Pigtronix into a compact foot pedal.
So what if you don’t have a dual-source setup on your axe? You could utilize an external mic onstage and blend it with your guitar’s mono signal, but that will work only if you don’t move much. For the rest of us, the Real Deal delivers in Single Source mode, which splits your mono signal into both channels. The controls still work the same way: Find the sweet spot for the crossover point, then use the pickup knob to boost or cut bass and the mic knob to control top-end articulation.
Both controls work to dramatic effect. The Real Deal made the AER, with its eight-inch speaker, sound practically like a P.A. It added tons of headroom, and the scooped nature of the summed signal allowed me to make my guitar louder without feeding back. The Real Deal is particularly useful for instruments with simple pickup systems, such as the Epiphone Masterbilt Olympic archtop acoustic that I tested it with at home, which offers no controls of its own. The pedal also makes the signal from such instruments a viable added option in the studio. When coupled with a traditional external mic setup, one can approximate Weir’s stage approach, which he actually developed in the studio.
A bit confusing? Perhaps, but that’s largely because most readily available acoustics with onboard electronic systems involving a mic and pickup simply blend them into a single output. Koltai actually modified Weir’s Fishman system to split the signals. Maybe such dual-output systems will become standard options on acoustic-electric guitars in the future. In the meantime, Single Source mode on the Real Deal accommodates the majority of players via an awesome boost with handy tone-sculpting controls, even if the names on the microphone and pickup knobs seem strange. Cheers to Pigtronix and the Weir camp for pushing the acoustic preamp envelope. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more innovation from them in future.
Bob Weir’s Real Deal Acoustic Preamp
PRICE $279 street
CONTROLS Volume, pickup, microphone, crossover. Toggle switches for dual source, phase, phantom. Main footswitch engages filters.
I/O ¼" input (TS/TRS), ¼" external mic input, 18-volt DC adapter jack
WEIGHT 1.5 lbs
KUDOS Unique dual-source design. Facilitates loudness without feedback. Flexible. Small footprint
CONCERNS Somewhat confusing and perhaps overkill for everyday players. Noisy