Some people have the nous to get an instrument and stick to it. Best of all a loud one that you don't have to put in the back of an articulated lorry, one that plugs into a Marshall stack or that penetrates deep into microphones, all with no apparent loss of tone and plenty of gain. One thinks of Fender Strats and trumpets in particular.
But life is not so easy for those silly people who struggle with the wonders of pre-20th century instruments or those who are exploring and finding new and foreign ones at every turned stone. Such people have rights too! They need to get up at festivals or even in the local pub and compete dB for dB with the usual suspect -- the 5 drum kit! I mean, what is the point of playing if you can't be heard? We are talking stringed instruments. Not the infinitely amplifiable Les Paul but weird acoustic ones.
Over the years I've been collecting such items and trying to cajole a sound out of them. Of course, yes yes yes, there's nothing to beat the natural sound of the natural instrument and there are no wormy wires to trip over, but when you gotta be loud you better be proud. Anyone with half an ear open will notice that even Folk has become Loud. I've tried everything from tie-pin mics to magnetic pickups to piezo bugs and vibrational strips and combinations of the lot. Some are better than others.
So through the Folk Roots nomadic instrument circuit came, via the fair city of Dublin (don't ask...), a Paul Hathaway flat-back Bouzouki fitted with an internal Headway Electronics Bz1 piezo type pickup. I plugged it in. Nothing happened. Dismayed, I panicked until I heard a tell-tale rattle inside the body. I had already broken it! Shaking with fear at what the editor (not to mention the owner) would say, I peered inside. Imagine my relief when I found a PP3 battery floating about.
One of my main bugbears is instruments that you have to take apart all the time and I am glad that Headway makes an external "no holes" version of their product which means that every time the battery goes flat (2 years with a new Lithium battery) you don't have to pull the thing apart and wrestle inside the body to attach the thing. Another good point is that the battery will only go on one way -- there is no such thing as too much idiot-proofing, I reckon. So after having slackened the strings, plugged in the PP3 and tuned up, I was away.
First impression: loud. Second impression: no feedback. Third impression: good bottom end. Fourth impression: no unpleasant mid-range squonk noise. Fifth impression: watch out for the palm of your strumming hand bashing the bridge. Sixth impression: hey! that sounds good if you meant to do it! Seventh impression: when can I get some of these for my other (weirder) instruments like the saz, cumbus, bozok, bass-pulur?
The 2 controls are set into the body in a dual concentric format -- meaning there are 4 things you can do. Volume/Mid and Treble/Bass. The tones have what they call detents, meaning they have a little notch that tells you where you are "flat" -- i.e. in the middle with no boost or cut. I played around with these and mainly all the settings seemed useful -- Oh! that'd be OK when I'm strumming, and that for lead. The other good thing is that the volume pot doesn't seem to alter the tonal quality so you really can keep a little in reserve and play at 85% volume and whack it up when needed. Mind you, you have to watch out that the action doesn't move the mid-range control but a bit of wiggling made all the difference.
So, what can I say? I'm getting some. They are pricier than some cheaper things but so what? I want to get the best sound out of my instruments and I look forward to getting some of these fitted and going through an amp.
Headway Electronics, PO Box 12043, Chingford, London E4 6YJ. Tel/Fax 0181 524 1855. email: firstname.lastname@example.org