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This article was originally published in issue #3
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Trace Elliot - the bass amp brand that swept to prominence during the 1980s - is, these days, part of the Peavey empire and while the TE range has undergone a major overhaul in recent years, being intended for bass players it needn't detain us for too long. Trace Acoustic, on the other hand, should definitely be commanding your attention - particularly if a big part of your music making is acoustic based. Designed by Paul Stevens, the man whose electronic and acoustic expertise has made the bass models so respected, Trace Acoustic's amps promise similar levels of performance for amplified acoustic instruments - and judging by the 200 Watt TA200 I've been trying, could be just what you've been looking for.
In fact Trace has a good claim to having more or less invented the specialist acoustic instrument amplifier, in the late 1980s and while almost every amp maker today offers an acoustic combo, very few have investigated what an acoustic guitarist needs with the thoroughness of Paul Stevens. The result shouldn't be confused with barely modified guitar amps. This is a purpose-designed tool - as much a mini-PA as it is a guitar amp - so it isn't cheap. But for a Pro player, or anyone else who takes their sound really seriously, this is the sort of product you need to be looking at.
When I'm required to play acoustic live, I'm usually at the mercy of the stage monitoring, and even worse, the monitor engineer! In the studio, I usually combine a direct signal from the guitar into the desk, with a nice mike on or around the soundhole. So a purchase like the TA200 can go a long way to giving you back some control over your acoustic sound on stage, and give you some very cool sound-enhancing options when recording. After chatting with Tommy Emmanuel during this issue's interview, it became clear how important the right acoustic guitar matched with right acoustic amp really is. He gets a fantastic live tone using his Maton into an AER, and he told me that his amp is so important for him to do what he does. It would be very interesting to hear Tommy's thoughts on this amp, because I was very impressed. If like Tommy, it's just you, an acoustic guitar and an audience, then the TA200 could well be the one, because even if you only have a more modest budget acoustic, they seem to be able to up their game once plugged in.
Then there's the mic side. One of the main uses for this style of acoustic amp is for solo performers who sing as well as play - which is where so many acoustic amps let you down. They do an OK (ish) job with your guitar, but really can't handle that and your vocals at the same time. What you really need, in effect, is a miniature PA system and that's what this Trace Acoustic is - a five speakered, hi-fidelity, miniature stereo PA system with all the acoustic shaping, effects and gizmos you could possibly wish for and with a good 100 Watts per side, delivered through high quality neodymium Celestions.
For this review, I plugged in a Yamaha, a Peavey Ecoustic (very rare, but great) a Martin, and the Faith FNCE Neptune, which I reviewed in Issue Two and loved. The TA200 made each guitar sound fantastic, without colouring the purity of the instrument, and the amplified sound brought out the best from each.
But an acoustic amp isn't just for solo work. The TA200 would also be a great tool if you play live in a band, where sometimes the subtleties of acoustic playing can be lost in the mix when you start playing harder. The TA200 could be set up behind you with the backline and you could still give a signal from the amp to the monitor guy and front of house, where they could just push up the fader and not worry about any effects, compression or reverb, because you have done it for them.
It isn't just the sound that impresses, either. I was shocked when I picked the amp up to find it weighs next to nothing, and comes supplied with a very cool gig bag. In fact you could easily stick the amp on your back if you didn't want to take the car, and with your acoustic in hand, you could happily jog to your musical engagement, thereby keeping lean, mean and fit at the same time.
I won't list the Trace Acoustic's features here, because we were fortunate to have Trace's Paul Stevens drop into our studio to talk us through the design ideas behind the amp and to take us through some of its finer points. You can see the conversation we had in our accompanying video. In fairness, this was probably just as well because this isn't a simple amp to get to grips with. Like all top-flight acoustic amps it has a lot to offer and a big job to do - and that means it takes some getting to know.
If had to be picky, I'd have say this is not a cheap amp. But saying that, there has been no compromise in build quality and development and none at all in terms of performance. It is not built in the Far East like so many amps and guitars today, but is assembled in the Peavey factory in Mississippi. Personally, I like that fact, and would be prepared to pay the extra for quality products. Not that there is anything wrong with products made in China but, right or wrong, when it comes to guitars and amps, I'm a bit of a purist.
If you are serious about your acoustic sound, then you should definitely check out this Trace Acoustic range. It's about as good as it gets in acoustic instrument amplification. It's also very important to realise it comes with a five year warranty, which is pretty much unheard of these days and shows how much faith the maker has in its build-quality!