Live Setup for Acoustic Bluegrass Guitar Performances

Presenting your sound in a live setting presents a unique set of challenges when being amplified through a PA. In the old days, acoustic guitars were primarily amplified directly using a microphone. This works well for acoustic ensembles, but when drums or electrified instruments are added to the mix, acoustic amplified instruments are quickly drowned out.

Throughout my musical career, I’ve always used electronic pickups to amplify my acoustic guitar. At first, a passive direct box did the trick but after awhile it became necessary to have more control over the signal being sent to the house. I’ve spent over a decade of live performances and experimentation trying out different gear setups for my acoustic-electric guitar. My first upgrade from a passive D.I. was the the Radial Engineering J48 Active Direct Box. I then moved to the LR Baggs Para Acoustic D.I. which I had for several years as part of my pedal board before switching to the Avalon U5. Eventually, it became necessary to travel a bit lighter and downsize my setup.

In this post, I’ll detail every bit of my current live setup, how it’s configured and what musical situations I use it for.

(Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.)

My current setup consists of an L.R. Baggs Venue direct box, a Boss DD-20 delay pedal and a Fishman Acoustic amplifier. I also run a commercial-use fan which I consider to be an important part of my overall rig. Let’s explore some of the specifics about my current live setup.

L.R. Baggs Venue D.I.
Because each pedal and cable that your signal flows through will weaken and slightly color your tone, the first point of contact from the line coming out of the guitar should be the direct box. That way, the clean signal from the instrument is fed directly to the house. Like a lot of guitar players, I like to use extra pedals to shape my tone. The L.R. Baggs Venue D.I. is a great all-in-one direct box which includes a tuner, quarter inch output and a throughput for effects pedals or other processors via quarter inch cable. The house input line will go directly into the D.I. box.

Boss DD-20 Delay Pedal
The only effects pedal I currently use is the Boss DD-20 Delay Pedal. This is an effect that I use sparingly and only when I need a bit of delay or reverb. For example, it allows me to fill space and be more dynamic when taking an up-the-neck style solo. This pedal is probably not necessary for most guitarists but may be a good addition depending your musical situation. Considering the amount of settings this pedal has, I could probably get away with a less expensive model but I’ve been using this particular pedal for over ten years and it has served me well. It’s also good for practicing as a loop station.

Fishman Acoustic Amplifier
Another important part of my overall on-stage live guitar setup is my Fishman Acoustic Amplifier. While this model amplifier does have an XLR direct output, I don’t use it. The amp is just there as a personal monitor for my guitar. It gives me more control over what I’m hearing on stage and frees up the other monitors for the other musicians in the group. I run directly from the output on the Venue D.I. to the amp so the signal never touches the house.

The cables and cords you use in your setup should always be in good working order. It can be difficult to diagnose signal problems in real time if there’s a damaged or partially working cable in your line. I always carry one or more backup cables in my bag just in case I need to swap one out, there’s nothing worse than asking the sound technician for a quarter inch cable! Consider investing in good, shielded cables that will hold up to wear and tear. Here are a few high-quality cables i’d recommend (can you tell I really like Monster cables? 😉 ):

Floor Fan
Lastly, I’d like to include a bit of gear that I consider to be very important: my fan. I travel with my Stanley Floor Fan to every gig, whether in the middle of summer or the dead of winter. Conditions on stage can vary dramatically and the ability to at least have some control over the temperature is fundamental to giving your best performance. This fan also doubles as a power strip in emergency situations, but it can interfere with audio signals and create ground hum if shared with equipment connected to the PA. While the particular Stanley model I use appears to no longer be in production, I’m including some off-brand alternatives that seem to be the exact same fan under a different name brand.

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