A few years ago I began to teach an Over 60’s Ukulele Group. It was a joyous little gathering of about a dozen players, all eager to progress on this four-stringed, portable and dainty little instrument. For 90 minutes we were an intimate and close group sharing ideas with myself giving hints and tips on chord positions, rhythm and strumming techniques. As with the rest of the group I’d bring along my tenor Uke and stand at the front; easily heard and playing at the same volume as all other members. It wasn’t long, however, before the group was to grow and grow….
Fast forward a couple of years and the group had amassed 20-30 players and it become obvious that I’d need some form of amplification to be heard as band leader. I’d already purchased an electro-acoustic Ukulele for the purpose of using at wedding functions, which I’d plug directly into the P.A. we used in the band. Hauling a P.A. round to ukulele band practices seemed a little impractical and over the top, so I hit upon the idea of purchasing something more portable. An acoustic amplifier.
What Are The Differences Between A Ukulele-Acoustic and Electric Amp?
First of all I considered plugging in my ukulele to my Fender Stage 160 electric guitar amp. Well why not? It amplifies the sound; what more do you need? It was only when I looked at the benefits of using an acoustic amplifier for the purpose of amplifying the Ukulele that I thought this was definitely the right move.
A Ukulele-Acoustic Amplifier Enhances The Tone Of Your Ukulele.
The main difference between an electric guitar and an acoustic guitar or ukulele is that electric guitars are often solid bodied and it is the electric amp, it’s different sound channels and speakers that helps create the wonderful sound of the electric guitar we all know and love: the sustain, the distortion and sheer volume. Acoustic instruments are different in that they each have their own unique sound depending on size, what type of wood they’re crafted from and have their own unique resonance. The acoustic amp will amplify the range of tones from your instrument from its full range of depth, mid-range and top end without transforming the sound to that of which you’d associate with an electric guitar. An electric guitar amplifier will give you more of a tinny and trebly sound: not the sound you want to achieve from your ukulele!
What Other Features Are Included With A Ukulele-Acoustic Amp?
The great thing with an acoustic amplifier is that it’s like plugging in to a normal P.A. but you have more control over the instruments tone. I bought a Marshall AS50D which includes chorus and reverb effects which I occasionally use. It has bass and treble controls and also an anti-feedback filter to prevent distortion and screeching. The phono inputs are really useful if I want to use backing tracks from my iPhone or play an example of a song recording to the group. It also includes an XLR microphone input so I can have both my ukulele and vocals through the amp. Obviously, the amplifier wouldn’t be suitable for a huge venue, but for intimate gigs and band practices it is ideal. One final benefit of using an acoustic amp rather than an electric guitar amp is they tend to be lighter and more portable.
Will I Break My Amplifier If I Plug My Electric Guitar Into It?
You wouldn’t break your amplifier, but all you’d achieve sound-wise would be a very plain sound from your electric guitar without any of the strident features you’d expect from the instrument such as distortion or that heavy chugging rock sound.
Can I Plug An Electric Bass Into My Acoustic Amplifier?
This is where you have to be very careful as the bass frequencies associated with the the instrument could probably end up vibrating the speaker cone so much it could rip a tear into it. Having said that, I’ve used both an a out bass ukulele and my Hofner Violin Bass on low volume and in the 3 years of doing this the amplifier is still working fine. This is probably due to the fact that both instruments don’t have the full depth associated with, say, a Fender Precision Bass and I do keep the volume just loud enough to provide a kind of metronome backing for my ukulele group. In fact, the Hofner Violin Bass is pretty close to being an acoustic bass and the Marshall amplifier gives it a really rich and warm sound.
What Will I Need To Use My Ukulele With An Acoustic Amplifier?
First of all you can either purchase an electro-acoustic ukulele which include a piezo pickup or a sound hole pickup. The piezo pickup will recognise the vibrations from the saddle of the ukulele and will generate the sounds from the body of the instrument. The sound hole pickup which is literally fastened across the sound hole picking up the vibrations of the strings. I personally would favour the piezo pickups as you tend to get a fuller and richer sound, and although the sound hole pickup is a cheaper option you will get more of a tinny sound more akin to an electric guitar. They are also susceptible to feedback. The other option would be to buy an acoustic ukulele and get your local retailer to convert it to electro-acoustic. You can also buy a stick on pick up which uses a light adhesive pad you can stick onto the body of your ukulele.
So, here is a quick run through the benefits of using an acoustic amplifier:
1. More richer and warmer sound to bring the best out of your ukulele
2. Other options include plugging in a microphone and phono inputs to plug in an external sound device
3. Cheaper in price than buying a Guitar amplifier or P.A.
4. More portable than using a guitar amp or P.A.
Here are some Acoustic Amplifiers I can highly recommend:
Are you the gregarious type of ukulele player who might like to walk across a room, through a crowd or down the street playing your uke? Need to give your Uke that extra volume boost? We’ll look look no further! Here are some examples of great micro-amplifiers you can plug your ukulele into, attach to your belt and off you go!