This lightweight and compact acoustic amp will keep your guitar’s organic signal intact, and at a fair price.
Preserves authentic signal with accuracy. Wide dynamic range. Very portable. Affordable.
Balance between gain and master can be sensitive. Chorus effect is limited.
Fishman Loudbox Micro
Lyle Lovett once told me in an interview, “There’s nothing that sounds better to me than an acoustic guitar played into a microphone or into the air in a room.” That’s an understandable sentiment, and since Lovett and other acoustic guitarists rely primarily on natural sustain, many wrestle with adding electronics to the sonic recipe. Undersaddle pickups, DI boxes, and then, at the end of the signal chain, amplifiers, all pose threats to acoustic fidelity, which purists don’t take lightly. Measuring at 8.1" x 10.4" x 9.5" and weighing in at 9.1 pounds, the bantamweight Fishman Loudbox Micro ($299 street), however, is an affordable and compact option that may put their ears and nerves at ease.
Simple, Set, Go!
The Loudbox Micro is very straightforward. It has instrument and mic channels distinguished by 1/4"and XLR inputs respectively. The instrument channel’s controls include gain, low, mid, high, reverb and chorus intensity, and a phase switch. (The chorus also has two preset voices—one softer and subtler, the other pleasant but intense—that are adjusted from either side of noon on the chorus intensity knob.
I’ve been an almost strictly acoustic player for the past 16 years, until recently, when a switch inexplicably flipped and I shifted my gaze to electric. When I plugged my Washburn Bella Tono Elegante (with an L.R. Baggs Anthem SL undersaddle pickup and preamp) into the 40-watt Loudbox Micro, it had been three and a half months since I’d heard it at all (I almost shed a tear). Amplified, my guitar tends to sound pretty clean and uncompromised, and these characteristics were plainly audible through the Loudbox Micro.
The desired effect of an acoustic amp is to plug in, start playing, and say, “Is it on?” With the master volume at noon, gain at 8 o’clock, and the 3-band EQ controls all at noon, the Loudbox Micro pretty much pulled that off, save for the tiniest bit of speaker hiss. The Washburn is a warm guitar with pretty high end presence. Both attributes can be heard clearly through the 5.25" poly cone woofer and the .8" soft dome tweeter. The Fishman preserves that critical brightness in fingerpicking tunes, and keeps string separation intact when strummed. If anything, the tone from the Fishman was a little bit rounder than when unplugged, but only slightly and certainly not so much so that it weighed down the clean tone.
At lower master volume and higher gain levels (in this case at 8 o’clock and 3 o’clock, respectively) I found that the tone got a little too round and some fidelity was lost. With the higher master volume settings, I was able to turn the gain up to 10 o’clock before I heard feedback. At the lower master volume, I could turn the gain to near-maximum levels. If your ears fail you for some reason, you can also consult the clipping light on the console that indicates when the gain is too high.
I enjoyed hearing the reverb convert my decently sized living room into something like a concert hall. The reverb has relatively low diffusion, and I heard it as subtle and distinctive, with enough decay to achieve a large hall effect. With my recent dive into electric guitar, I’ve become a bigger fan of chorus, so I was a little disappointed to discover that I could only really hear much of it in the mix when turned halfway up on the second, more intense preset. That’s a minor drawback. Heavy chorus is not the most commonly sought-out acoustic color. Still, it’s nice to have a strong voice to experiment with.
The Loudbox Micro is a reliable amp that, with the right settings, will keep your acoustic tones authentic and true. Its diminutive size and 40-watt power make it an ideal companion for gigs in small to medium rooms, and its onboard reverb and chorus are a plus. At $299, it might even keep Lyle Lovett happy.
See how this 100W, 6L6-howlin' head complete with an all-tube reverb and harmonic tremolo—plus a bias tremolo option—takes John Bohlinger's '50s goldtop, a late '60s Tele, and a custom 3-humbucker PRS.
Two-Rock Joey Landreth Signature
Get an early look at this splendid piece of machinery: the Two-Rock Joey Landreth Signature amplifier. It’s a beautiful head with 3-band EQ; controls for gain, master volume, and presence; and independent all-tube harmonic and bias tremolo circuits with their own speed and intensity controls. It’s also switchable between 100 and 50 watts. It’s hand-wired point-to-point and all tube, with a four-6L6 power section. There’s a footswitch for the tremolos, and an all-tube reverb circuit, as well. PG’s John Bohlinger plays this lux head through Two-Rock’s new 3x10 cabinet. And only 75 of the amps are being made. Along the way, Bohlinger switches from a stock 1954 Les Paul to his Telecaster Thinline. You can practically bathe in the warm sound. The reverb is at noon initially, but Bohlinger rolls it back to display the grace of the harmonic tremolo, followed by the bias (a little “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” anyone). Next up: the mid, bass, and treble boost switches that dwell over the EQ section of the front panel. And yes, they can all the activated at once. To hear the amp with modern humbuckers, Bohlinger switches to a PRS and demos how the two flavors of tremolo can be combined. (Spoiler alert: It’s super sweet and dimensional!) And you can hear John play Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” Does the amp have an effects loop? Thought you’d never ask. Yes! And John has a Keeley Halo and a Karma overdrive in line. Not surprisingly, Two-Rock Joey Landreth Signature is also a welcoming pedal platform. And John plays the demo out with a little Fleetwood Mac. If you’d like to learn more about Two-Rock’s line of amplifiers, visit two-rock.com, where extensive information on other signature models, the Bloomfield Drive, the Burnside, the Traditional Clean, Classic Reverb Signature, and more can be found.
Nashville’s Michael Majett uses two amps—an Ampeg B-15N and a Markbass TTE 500—to go deep and low.
When we spoke, bassist Michael Majett had just checked off an item on his bucket list: playing the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. For Majett, the headlining set with the War and Treaty at the festival’s Blues Stage wasn’t just a gig. It was a way to connect with the history of the festival and what it represents: the deep legacy of American music and culture that’s synonymous with the Crescent City, and especially the Black heritage that birthed rock ’n’ roll, blues, jazz, and R&B, plus some of the world’s tastiest cuisine.
When it comes to bass tone, Majett’s also interested in tradition and taste. “There are two tones I really want to hear,” he relates. “There’s the James Jamerson thing—or maybe a better description would be the Chuck Rainey thing, where you’ve got flatwounds and you’re muting—and then there’s that grind-y rock thing, which is slightly overdriven but has a lot of depth. And I can get right in the zone with my amps, although they’re very different.”
Majett’s 1973 B-15N evokes all the classic charm of the historic Ampeg model but doesn’t fit into a backpack.
At New Orleans’ Jazz Fest, he used a backline amp, of course. But at home in Nashville, where he’s earned a reputation as a live-gig MVP since relocating from Atlanta with the contemporary Christian band Truth 24 years ago, he’s got a pair of workhorses that help propel his penchant for deep-resonating melodic grooves: a Ampeg B-15N and a hybrid Markbass TTE 500 Randy Jackson signature model.
Depth is key to Majett’s playing—in both his round, rich, plump sound, which seems to push more air than a jet engine, and his onstage versatility. He also regularly performs with Billy Prine (John Prine’s brother), country legacy artist T. Graham Brown, soulful singer-songwriter Jason Eskridge, haunting vocalist and songwriter Luella, and prolific songwriter, singer, and guitarist Tim Carroll. His gigs with Carroll, who was featured in this column in August 2021, are especially free ranging. Carroll is an edgy improvisor with a huge repertoire of songs and styles, who drops new tunes into his typical two-and-a-half hour sets without rehearsal. And there’s no set list. So, Majett has to be ready for everything from blasting punk roots ’n’ roll to jams that evoke Led Zeppelin. On top of that, Majett seems to be in the cell phone of every Nashville bandleader who might need a sub, so if you spend even a short time club hopping in Music City, you’re bound to see him onstage.
“There’s the James Jamerson thing—or maybe a better description would be the Chuck Rainey thing, where you’ve got flatwounds and you’re muting.”
For most local shows, Majett carries the TTE 500—a 500-watt hybrid head that generates tones with three ECC83 preamp tubes, plus an ECC81 for its compressor. The amp has old-school controls: 3-band EQ, gain, master, and compressor dials, plus a modern twist in the “colour” knob, a filter Majett says makes the amp sound “more tube-y. I’m an all-tube lover, and this comes really close. I keep my EQs straight up and keep the gain low. The odd thing is, I can turn it all the way up and it really doesn’t distort. It gets a little more trebly, but that’s okay.”
He seems to favor his 1973 B-15N more, but, even with a 1x15 cab, the TTE 500 setup weighs just a little over half of the Ampeg flip-top combo’s roughly 85 pounds. “I got the Ampeg 20 years ago, and back then I didn’t mind carrying it everywhere,” he says. “I wanted one for years, and when I finally got it, it was perfect. It’s only 30 watts, but is really loud and has that great, classic tone.” The all-tube rumbler has three 6SL7 preamp bottles, a 5AR4 for the rectifier, and two 6L6 power tubes, with bass and treble controls and a 15" Eminence speaker.
While Markbass no longer produces the TTE 500, two updated versions—including an 800-watter—are still manufactured.
Whether Majett plugs in his Fender Jaguar or his Nate Mendel signature P bass, the results are essentially the same—a big, warm sound with a dapple of crunch that’s perfect for his mix of melody and punch. His EQ settings for both amps are the same, and he’s found the sweet spot for the Ampeg’s master volume is around 10 or 11 o’clock. Majett also loves the tang of grit that occurs when he jumps the two channels on the B-15N—a stunt also favored by plenty of vintage Marshall owners.
The versatile bassist also digs octave pedals and uses a Boss OC-2 and the dirtier, wilder 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre. His latest acquisition is a Shaw Audio Tube Injection preamp. But the core of his instrumental voice really lies in those amps. “Honestly,” Majett observes, “with both of those amps, I’d have to work hard to sound bad.”