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Amplification? Acoustic Amp or Powered PA Speaker w/small mixer EQ and Reverb?

I recently posted a question about which acoustic amp should be considered (see What's the best acoustic amp for under $500?). I got a few responses, which I appreciated greatly. Thanks to those of you who took the time to respond. I took the advice and went to my local independent guitar shop Huber and Breese (Metro-Detroit, MI)(Sorry Guitar Center. I won't step foot in one) to try several out. The staff was great and did not push me to buy anything, but encouraged me to try several and then thoroughly confused me.

I was looking to buy a stand alone acoustic amp (probably about 50-100W) to play at small venues, because being the novice at these things, that's what I assumed one did. The sales rep said that might be great for me, but also suggested that I look into a powered speaker with a small mixer EQ with reverb. The Mackie Thump TH15A ($349) speaker he showed me, among several others, had considerable more power (400W) and it would be more versatile with multiple instruments and I could add another speaker if I wanted to for stereo.

I am not a touring musician or even a coffeehouse regular, although I do play the occasional one. I teach (elementary not guitar) and play at the school and church at least once a month as well in jam sessions with friends and other musicians. So perhaps the PA might be too much for my needs.

The cost is about the same, maybe even less for the PA speaker/mix option. The portability is better for the stand alone amp. What is most important to me, as I assume is true for you all, is the true acoustic sound I get naturally from my SWD Special unplugged. I have about $500 to spend.

With that said, what's your opinion? Powered PA speaker combined with a mixer with reverb or a stand alone acoustic amp?

Tags: EQ, amplification, amps, mixing

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My experience is that decent PA's have superior audio quality, feedback resistance, and flexibility. As you point out, the major benefit of an acoustic combo amp is its smaller size and portability.

David is right about PAs.  They are less prone to coloring the sound of an acoustic guitar or miked instrument.  Plus you have the added EQ and reverb controls.

I forget if you said in the previous post if you are singing.  If you are singing and playing then a PA costing < $500 will probably get you "more bang for the buck" and there's no reason not to get two speakers.  You can always bring just one speaker and reserve the second for larger places.  For a PA I would recommend considering a PA package.  A package has everything you need and many include speaker stands, vocal mics and mic stands.

If you are just amplifying your acoustic guitar an acoustic guitar amp should suffice.  Take a look at these here.  The UltraSound, Fender, Marshall, and Acoustic brands are good ones to start with.

IMO, if you want amplification for guitar and vocals, the systems designed for acoustic guitars and vocals are better but pricing starts at around $1,000.  These are the Fishman, Boseand higher wattage models of the previously mentioned brands.  The advantage with higher wattage is the extra headroom and it will actually sound better at lower volumes.  When you start pushing an amp or PA near or at its peak you begin to lose sound quality.

Usage is a big factor in determining what to go with.  If you are just having once a month jam sessions then an appropriate wattage acoustic amp will suffice (remember - higher wattage provides more headroom which in turn provides better quality sound).  Though, my assumption is you are planning to sing and play solo at the occasional coffeehouse as well - true???  Well, something else I am thinking of now is this.  Every coffeehouse I've played at in this area has had their own PA system (the house system) and it was used for vocals and instruments.  If the coffeehouse(s) in your area have their own system then you may only need the stand alone acoustic amp for your jam sessions???


I am singing, or someone else is.  Most of the open mics I go to have their own stuff, but it's hit or miss at the coffeehouses.  I am certainly torn.  Both options have their plus and minuses.  There's much to consider.  I am a complete novice in the amplification department.  I know a few brands of amps and have done enough research, but am clueless when it comes to brands of PA or small mixing boards.


I appreciate all the help!


I tried a lot of acoustic amps most left me wanting.  I found me a 1970's Fender Acoustasonic JR.  Looks like a mini version of a Fender Twin only brown.  It has a mike input on a separate channel.  Clear as a bell.  The new ones are not the same.  i have seen these on line for 420-450.  I bought mine broken and had it fixed.  Cost me about 230 altogether.  Best of all.  It has the Fender reverb.  No DSP.  Found out about them from my brother in law who is better than 40yrs a pro entertainer.  You'll have to pry his out of his cold dead hands.  After playing through his I considered making that happen but I found one pretty quick.  He paid more LOL.

Sounds like you have almost the same exact performing profile as myself. I'm an old 60's-type folksinger with a small-bodied Martin acoustic. It has a Fishman Acoustic Natural 1 saddle pickup system. When I have to run it through an occasional PA system, playing with a group, I use a Baggs ParaDI and a Sonic Stomp pedal to bring back that natural acoustic sound. But when I'm by myself, I use a Crate CA-60. It has two channels for mic and guitar. Plus, it has a decent reverb and chorus section. The speakers are a little on the light side but for small coffeehouse venues, it's dang near perfect. It needs a little reconditioning because I've had it for about 10 years and most of the controls are getting pretty scratchy. But it has served my needs really well.

My son is a professional fingerstyle acoustic guitarist and he really likes his twin Mackie SRM-450 powered speaker rig. He runs them from a 4-channel Mackie mixer in stereo. There's a couple of other pedals in the mix, but it's a brilliantly clean, sparkly sound. You probably couldn't go wrong either way. Good luck!


J. D. Woods 

I myself have an "old" Crate CA-60, and love the thing.  I'm not partial to the new ones; but love the old ones, and they are hard to find.  I got a great deal about 10 years ago on mine.  I also use an SWR California Blonde that I love also.  I am partial to the discontinued SWR Strawberry Blonde if they can be found.  I know a shop in the NOLA area that has one and has a good price on it.  If I were looking for another amp, I would give this a serious look. 

I've owned both the  Roland AC-60 and the Fishman Loudbox 100.  For what you are doing these would work great.  They are very portable, great sound, low hiss (common problem with acoustic amps), both have 2 channels.  The Roland was nice because I could mount it on a speaker stand but it was kind of hard adjusting any settings once I had it up high.  I recently switched to the Fishman Loudbox and love it.  The sound is very clear.  The difference in sound between the two is that the Fishman has an adjustable tweeter to adjust the crisp highs with an 8" speaker.  The Roland had two 6" speakers and was a little muddier but still fairly clear.  Both have reverb and chorus, direct outs, Aux In for iPod or CDplayer, notch filters.  Also both are right around your price range.  The Fishman mini is only about $300. 


All the best

Thanks to all.  I've got a lot still to consider.  It seems, from the posts, that both are good options depending on my specific needs.  I appreciate the feedback about possible specific amps or gear to use.  While I've played a while for the joy, I've been playing out more, which has been great fun, too.  Keep the posts coming, it's been wonderful reading the wisdom of those more experienced and I've learned a lot.


Thanks to all!



I dealt with this same dilemma a year or so ago. I used a few (borrowed) PA's with limited satisfaction, but I thought they lacked options for creativity.  Besides, if you opt for one thing or the other, you could simply use it for awhile, and if not satisfied, change.  Ultimately, I ended up with a Fender Acoustasonic Jr. DSP.  While you can get a clean acoustic sound, you also have the options of modifying that sound with the effects provided, especially the very flexible reverb/delay selections.  Additionally, you have a separate dedicated voice channel, with an XLR input,  If pressed, the voice channel can be used for another guitar.   The amp comes with tilt-back legs, like a Twin Reverb, and it's small size is unobtrusive for intimate venues.  I bought mine used for $250 in mint condition last year.  I WILL admit that, IF I could have found a pre-Fender SWR California Blonde for the same price, I might have gone that way instead, as I liked the "clean" sound of the Blonde better than the Fender, but it wouldn't have had the effects.  Of course, if cash is plentiful, go for the Bose tower system (with the subwoofer) and a Yamaha AG Stomp microphone modeling pedal (which can only be found used).   Anyway, that's my two cents, for what it's worth.  Good luck.

Hard to beat the Roland ac 60 for the money. I've had one for about 2 years and have used it in a variety of situations.

Even when we had to double as a PA for the lead singer it worked well. If the venue was large or noisy you would want an extension cabinet for a "fuller" sound. Reverb and Chorus are good. Compact size and light weight. If you get the carry case you have plenty of room for cables or "just stuff".


I personally use a SWR California Blonde and highly recommend it; but it's over your $500 amount, but well worth the extra.  Also, I have had the SWR Strawberry Blonde which has been discontinued but you can still find them new at some stores and used for around $500 and below.  Both are great, I just upgraded to the California Blonde  Both are stage/professional/studio quality.

   I try to play unplugged as much as possible, even in coffee houses, but I can get pretty loud when I have to, but I have a Troubador 80 amp that I use and it plugs mic and guitar and I have found it to be more than enough for larger venues.  BUT, and here is a big BUT, I find myself inviting ohters to play  with me for certian gigs and wishing I had gotten a PA system, then I could have a couple of mics and instruments, instead of having 3 or 4 amps spread across the stage.  What ever you think you need get something bigger, because down the road you will need it, I would recommend a PA system package that would acommadate at least 6 inputs, thats what I wished I had bought.


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