I often get asked what should I do when I perform in regards to amplification. Questions often are - Should I put a Microphone in front of my uke, or should I instal a pickup. Then should I buy an amp or plug straight in to a PA system.
Well the first things to consider is where are you performing, and what is the quality of your uke. Finally how much money you want to spend on your sound. Let's look at these questions and see if we can simplify your decisions for you.
Well if you plug in just to amuse yourself in your lounge room, then the ultimate sound might not be that important. The same to if you just want to plug in at your local uke club meets. Then maybe it is not so important what pickups or microphone you use.
However if you want to perform at a real venue to the public, then maybe you should think about what sound your uke/ukes are producing.
Getting your sound - Pickups
So when looking at sound you have a few things to consider - Pickups/Microphones, Amps/PA. So let's first look at pickups. For me, I would only ever use 3 brands of pickups - one passive (K&K pickup) and two active (LR Baggs 5 O or Misi Trio). Let's face it one of the reasons you most likely bought the uke/ukes you have was because of their acoustic sound.
If you will want a pickup that reproduces that sound for you. This is why I love K&k passive pickups. When I plug into a good acoustic amp with a uke with a K&K in it, I get a louder version of what my uke sounds like acoustically. K&K pickups reproduce the natural acoustic sound of your instrument and in my opinion it is the only pickup in the world that does so.
Next the LR Baggs 5 O or Misi Trio active pickups. These pickups being active offer a high signal and produce a real in ya face presence in tone.
Of course, the pickup is only as good as the amp you plug into. When it comes to ukes or any acoustic instrument for that matter, you should use an acoustic amp. Don't go and pull out your Marshall stack and plug in and expect to have a sweet natural uke tone coming out. Once again there are many acoustic amp brands out there in the world. Depending on the money you have to spend will determine what you buy. Golden Rule however , always buy the best amp you can afford.
If you are on a budget I would consider a Roland acoustic amp something in their AC series. I used to own a AC 60 rosewood cabinet and it was a great little amp. I also have been told of the Boss (Roland) Acoustic "Singer" Pro (120w) and 'Singer "Live" (60w) the person who told me about these amps was raving about how good they were and both are under $1000
But if you got money to burn and want to get serious about your sound you may want to look at a Schertler or AER acoustic amp. These guys are serious amps and will set you back between $2000 - $4000. But wow the sound they produce is amazing. There are a few amps within this price range that really kick butt. I have only mentioned the Schertler and AER because I personally have played through them and highly recommend them. The old adage you get what you pay for is so true when it comes to amps. Do your research on what is out there and ask people that have an amp you are thinking of buying and get some feedback.
If you decide to plug straight into a PA via a DI box your sound will vary. A lot of the sound quality will depend on the quality of the PA that you plug into. Another thing to keep in mind about plugging straight into a PA as opposed to an amp is you are then at the mercy of the sound engineer. If you are unlucky and get someone that doesn't know there PA and job, you could end up with a terrible sound. However I have had some amazing sound plugging into a PA at gigs with an engineer that really has it together. I always suss out the engineer to determine how good he is and also look at his/her PA system. If it is a bit sad, I will pull out my amp instead. I never go to any gig without a backup plan and a good amp in the boot of my car.
let's look at the other option using a mic on your uke. The same as amps, the quality of the mic you use and if it is an instrument mic specific for your purpose will determine once again what you hear. There are many mics specifically designed to mic up acoustic instruments. So if you want to go down that path do your homework and find a good quality one within your price range.
You could spend as little as a $100 or up to thousands of dollars. A good range of mics at a good price are the Rode brand. They punch way above their weight. They have a great range of acoustic instrument mics. The Rode M5 works really well on a uke and are price around the $150 mark depending on where you buy one.
I hope this little article hasn't confused you more. If you have any questions about pickups, amps, or uke related questions at all don't hesitate to contact me via my website.
Trevor Gollagher Music for all your uke needs - Australia’s Leading Custom Uke store - www.trevorgollaghermusic.com