L.R. Baggs is famous for making some of the finest and most accurately representative acoustic guitar pickups around, so their entry into the acoustic guitar amp business is big news.
The Core 1 Acoustic Reference Amplifier was one of the most anxiously awaited pieces of gear to come out in years. Lloyd Baggs has a passion for acoustic guitars, and I’m happy to report this amp reflects that devotion in every detail. But before we plug in, I should note that the Core 1 is one of the coolest looking amps ever. Sleek, high-tech and yet elegantly appointed, its muted warm tones and retro styling make it an instant eye-catcher. Mr. Baggs must have wanted something that would look incredible next to your coffee table or on any stage, because he definitely got it.
Of course, the speaker itself is the biggest news; the patented Balanced Mode Radiator makes its world debut here. It’s a completely new type of speaker created by designer Graham Bank. The BMR is specifically “tuned” to the acoustic guitar, incorporating a flat 8” honeycomb- diaphragm, which generates a 140- degree conical sound field, a far greater spread than any conventional speaker. The spread eliminates the need for stage monitors in many environments, which means fewer issues with feedback. There are two main channels with identical controls. They are combo 1/4”/XLR ins, which is very handy as you can use either a vocal mic or an additional D.I. for your guitar. Both channels have phantom power and can be muted independently. The Gain knob controls both gain and level for each channel. The VU meters allow you to set levels with the channels muted before you even turn up the master volume, ensuring maximum headroom and perfect balance.
Looking elsewhere, the EQ section is like the legendary Baggs ParaAcoustic D.I., with independent bass, treble, low-mid and high-mid controls. It’s possible to minutely sculpt the exact sound you want with this much control. The spring reverb is smooth and sweet, a one knob control which can be used independently on both channels.
The master volume controls 200 very efficient watts, and features a built-in limiter, preventing most distortion. Meanwhile, the Core 1’s feedback filter targets the feedback range of the acoustic guitar and is effortless to use. It also has an Aux-in volume control so you can run another musical instrument through the input on the back, Aux sends and returns for each channel, and balanced and unbalanced direct outs.
“There are two main channels with identical controls. They are combo 1/4”/XLR ins, which is very handy as you can use either a vocal mic or an additional D.I. for your guitar. Both channels have phantom power and can be muted independently. The Gain knob controls both gain and level for each channel. The VU meters allow you to set levels with the channels muted before you even turn up the master volume, ensuring maximum headroom and perfect balance.”
To test the Core 1, I plugged in a Gallagher A-70 with a D-TAR WaveLength and a Gallagher GA-70 Custom with a Baggs iMix. This is the Holy Grail, folks – my guitars have never sounded more like themselves, or more perfectly balanced across the entire harmonic range. The Wavelength is a slightly dark sounding pickup, so I cut the bass slightly, took a bite out of the low-mids around 200Hz and boosted the treble. It stayed warm, woody and very clear.
I also decided to test the iMix with just the transducer, and then just the iBeam. For the transducer side, I cut the bass and boosted the low-mids at around 350Hz. Again, I got woody warmth with no “snot” and brilliantly clear, non-abrasive highs. With the iBeam, I just shaved the bass a tiny bit, boosted the low-mids at around 800Hz, cut the high-mids pretty deep at around 3K, and tweaked the treble up ever so slightly. I think this was the most magical sounding combination I tested – gorgeous low-end and shimmering highs, with a perfect balance across the entire harmonic spectrum. When the two pickups were blended together, it was – forgive my cheap portmanteau – guitargasmic.
I also tested a nylon-stringed John Dick spruce top Double Forte with a K&K pickup, which sounded lush and creamy. I shaved the bass just a hair, cut the low-mids pretty deep at around 300Hz, cut the high-mids about the same amount at around 3.5K, and boosted the treble about halfway. The result was, as expected, gorgeous and extremely well balanced.
The Core 1 even handles mic duties admirably, although my acoustic guitar pickups provide a hotter signal than my vocal microphone, so I struggled to get the vocal level up to where I needed it. The first solution was to insert a Rode D-Power Plug into the mic line, which adds no coloration, just gives to a 20dB boost. However, the best option was the Audix VX5 stage condenser, which has 20dB better stage noise rejection, and didn’t require the D-Power Plug. I used it with my trio and had absolutely zero feedback.
Taking this amp into the field proved its solid design. The first restaurant we brought the Core 1 to was a medium-sized establishment with plenty of chatter. I was astounded from the get-go by the amp’s volume, clarity, richness, punch and warmth. Turned up about halfway, it filled the lounge very clearly and provided more than just ambient volume in the dining room. My drummer even plugged his electronic drum kit into the Aux channel – we had plenty of headroom for him, and a perfect balance between us.
Even in louder environments, the Core 1 shined brightly. Whether it was an outdoor festival (under a metal roof, at that) or a loud, smoky bar with bass and acoustic drums, this amp allows acoustic guitarists to be heard with glorious clarity – not just a muddy approximation of your tone. The fact that this amp is versatile enough to provide power and headroom to an ensemble, or even act as a life-saving stage monitor, adds to its street cred.
We did have one minor mishap. They didn’t send us a cover with the Core 1, although I am told they have a nifty, high quality one. The amp suffered a quick tumble down some slippery stairs, but came out in perfect condition, working perfectly when we frantically plugged it back in. I can say without reservations that it’s road worthy, but be sure and get the cover!
The Final Mojo
In my time as a performing guitarist I have used a lot of acoustic combo amps, and a lot of them are mediocre to useless, or at the other end of the spectrum, prohibitively expensive. The Core 1 mixes innovation, perfect sound and high style with affordability and value. If you’re an acoustic guitarist, this should be your amp.
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you need gorgeous acoustic amplification for a single or duo.
you need more than two main channels.