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This article was originally published in issue #38
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Think DiMarzio and you picture some of the hottest electric guitar pickups on the market. But the veteran US maker has a quieter side too, it turns out. As used by this issue's acoustic star, Antoine Dufour, the DiMarzio Black Angel has a growing reputation among demanding acoustic players. Lewis Turner checks it out.
You can make a ten thousand dollar acoustic guitar sound very average the minute you plug it into an amp or PA system. Since man first wanted to amplify an acoustic there have been problems - feedback, lack of bottom end, no warmth to the tone, lack of dynamics, the infamous piezo 'quack' - the list goes on. The trouble is it's very hard to capture that amazing tone your acoustic may have via pre-amps and pick-ups, even high end manufactures struggle, so much so that it is still common place in a studio to record an acoustic with a couple of very expensive microphones. There are also a whole host of pickup and pre-amp options on the market - even pickup, pre-amp and mic combinations - should you wish to plug your acoustic in, or up-grade the existing undersaddle piezo pickup that probably came with our guitar, but which one should you choose?
DiMarzio seems a logical place to start as the company certainly know a thing or two about the subject, and the fact that their Black Angel is used by this issue's interview subject, Antoine Dufour, makes it ideal for us to review. As always, be sure to check out the video to see and hear the product for yourself.
The off-putting thing about fitting/changing a pickup on your beloved guitar is the fact that some require you to be a bit of a master carpenter to undertake the job. No one really wants to take a woodworking tools to a vintage Martin but often that can be the only option. That's certainly the first and perhaps most obvious deterrent to fitting or replacing an undersaddle transducer but I am pleased to say there are no such issues with the Black Angel, which is of the soundhole type - a category that has made a major resurgence in the past few years. Installing a Black Angel to an acoustic with an existing jack input, as almost all that come with a piezo system will have, is very straightforward. The pick up clamps to the soundhole, you run the cable through the body and screw in the new jack socket, easy - and no drills or saws need to be touched (unless you don’t have a jack socket...).
The Black Angel is a passive magnetic pickup, which has no hum and no battery. Plus its magnetic circuit is acoustically isolated to reduce finger noise. It’s designed to hear the entire range of the guitar as well as tracking left and right hand dynamics.
In use the pickup is all of the above and much more. It really does “pick up” beautifully wherever you play, meaning no massive volume changes from the open low strings to the high E string at the 15th fret. Dynamic response was superb, reacting to every subtle change I made with either hand, including just left hand legato. The reduced finger noise that it offers will be up for debate. No doubt that it really does reduce the noise, but whether people will want/like that is a different matter. Think about all those old acoustic recordings where you could hear the player’s fingers moving around wasn’t that part of the charm? I'm not sure, I know some producers get annoyed with the background noise while others aren't bothered, so I guess it comes down to personal preference.
In a market flooded with various acoustic pickups the Dark Angel sticks its head above the parapet and delivers on all its claims. I don’t normally get excited over these things (not being a hardcore acoustic head), but this really was something special. The dynamic response and tonal colour it offered were truly amazing. It's perhaps a little on the pricey side, but I think it’s a case of you get what you pay for. Easy to fit and sounds awesome, what more could you want?