Shadow’s new Nanoflex-6 pickup system takes a very practical approach to the concept of hexaphonic pickups, which effectively consist of a pickup for each string.

Hexaphonic pickups, which effectively consist of a pickup for each string, are a concept of amazing possibilities. In practical terms, however—and in the context of most traditional guitar music—they can represent a potential headache that only a mad scientist could love. However, Shadow’s new Nanoflex-6 pickup system takes a very practical approach to the concept: It can be used in mono or stereo, and it’s built around an intuitive interface with six volume controls—one for each string—that you can adjust on the fly to suit any musical situation.

The Great, Wide Open
Shadow sent us a Nanoflex-6 installed in a Martin HD-28 with Indian rosewood back and sides and a Sitka spruce top. Adding this system to a guitar does require a hole to be cut in its shoulder, which can be a tough sell for some players. If you’re looking to make a workhorse guitar a little more versatile, however, it’s worth considering.

The Nanoflex-6 pickup is an undersaddle unit that responds to both saddle pressure and, according to the company, vibrations in the instrument’s body. Shadow says that’s because it’s actively amplified directly at the pickup itself.

The preamp in our HD-28 was an SH 4020A, with a Volume, a 3-band EQ, a phase-invert button, a Pan control, a built-in tuner, and six gain controls for each string’s pickup. The latter are tiny, recessed knobs that you can adjust them with a fingernail or a pick.

Widescreen Sound
As you’d expect, the Pan control is for use with a stereo cable, and it is especially effective running through a PA. Keeping Pan completely counterclockwise yields a rich mono signal. When you turn it clockwise, the signal splits into a more panoramic sound. At 100 percent clockwise, the low E is distributed 100 percent to the left speaker, 75 percent of the A string is sent to the left speaker while 25 percent of it is sent to the right, and the D string output is equally distributed to the left and right speakers. Output from the highest three strings is distributed in a mirror image. This is incredibly cool, especially in a good room where people shut up and listen. Things open up even more when you start exploring effects on individual channels of your PA or amplifier array. A little reverb on one side—or different reverbs on each side— can lend an enormous, Phil Spector-esque production feel. Or you can create movement by adding a little chorus on the treble side, and maybe an octaver on the bass side. The possibilities are remarkable.

The Gain controls for each string are extremely useful, too. When I played in DADGAD with another guitarist who plays a lot of tunes in C, sometimes the ringing high D against his C and F was more irritating than cool. So I dialed back the first string about a quarter turn, and the results were amazing. The D was still there, but it was more of a delicate accent—as if a good mix engineer were optimizing the performance for an album. I also boosted the bass and the volume of the sixth string just a touch to compensate for the lack of a bass player. It boosted the volume of the low D, while the rest of the strings remained balanced and audible.

Through a good PA in a nice listening room, the stereo effect can be striking. At extreme settings, it makes a huge, enveloping sound—a real fantasy come true for some of us who dream of hearing the acoustic guitar as something much larger. Even over a monitor mix, I could hear the ambient sound in the room—pretty impressive. And you know you’re on to something when a soundman says he wants the gear that’s facilitating it all!

The Verdict
The Shadow Nanoflex-6 could be a secret weapon in the hands of an adventurous player in the vein of the effect-loving John Martyn. Envelope-pushing players may completely reinvent their sound and performance with this system. However, I’d like to see a direct-box version to avoid having to cut up a guitar. That said, the ability to control the Nanoflex-6 on the fly is a big part of this system’s remarkable potential. And given the clarity, power, and richness of the pickup, it’s a natural for high-end and harmonically complex instruments. If you’re looking for a way to lend color, space, and size to your acoustic playing, the Shadow Nanoflex-6 system has a world of treats in store.

Buy if...
your workhorse needs a pickup upgrade and you’re ready for some serious acoustic adventures.
Skip if...
you don’t want to cut a hole in your guitar.

Street $249 - Shadow Electronics -