I’ve always thought that a piezo pickup on an electric guitar was a great addition. The ability to have a reasonable imitation of an acoustic guitar sound at the flick of a switch has always appealed to me in a live setting, especially as an alternative to the old acoustic guitar on a stand thing that Yngwie does. A piezo pickup on an actual acoustic guitar sounds almost identical anyway, and they never sound good, so what’s the difference? It’s vastly more convenient.
In a recording situation, of course the obvious choice is to get yourself a good quality acoustic, some great mics, and some bomb preamps and have it miked by an engineer who knows what they’re doing. This is a bit time consuming and expensive, but yields ideal results.
Well, sometimes you don’t have those kinds of resources. All the above listed can run you a pretty penny, even if it’s just renting a studio with access too all of them. So the solution for home recording aficionados has been to go direct, which is less than ideal, but it’s something you can sometimes get away with in a larger mix with a little EQ and some reverb. I’ve done it before. It’s…. fine. It’s whatever. But isn’t there some middle ground here?
Enter Universal Audio’s Wood Works plugin, by Sound Machine. It’s an ideal solution for the home recording enthusiast, as well as a creative tool for professional engineers. It’s a plugin that processes your guitar’s direct signal and somehow makes it sound like a mic’d acoustic guitar.
If you’re recording an acoustic guitar the old fashioned way, even if you’ve got it mic’d up well, it’s a good idea to take a direct signal as well. Combining the two can add clarity – but if you’ve got Wood Works, your level of control over the sound of that DI is greatly increased. You can match the settings to the type and size of the guitar being used so the sounds are close, and tweak from there.
I used the plugin on my Ernie Ball/Music Man JP7’s piezo pickup signal, and I was extremely impressed at the realism of the sound it produced. It’s as convincing of an acoustic guitar as I have heard, and with 16 models to choose from and 2 mics (more if you stack the plugins in parallel) to dial in, the variety of sounds were nearly limitless. As I mentioned in the video, it’s not quite the same as the aforementioned ideal signal path of recording a real acoustic, but the amount that it is better than the direct, unprocessed signal is absolutely enormous.
I can see myself using this on a recording in a number of ways. Recording acoustic lead guitar parts on my electric has many advantages – playability, range, familiarity (I don’t play acoustic all that much). Reinforcing mic’d acoustic guitars is an obvious one, and using the split outputs on the JP7 to simultaneously record electric and acoustic sounds from the same performance has me dreaming of very cool ideas. I know for a fact that John Petrucci used the piezo on his guitar to record a solo on Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence.
There are hardware versions of this idea – Fishman makes the Aura preamps that do essentially the same thing, and make for an ideal live solution – but when you record through one of those, you can’t change it at any point. You’re stuck with that sound. Wood Works is a mix engineer’s dream for acoustics – change the body size and miking during mixdown? Yes please!
If you’re looking for a better way to record your piezo source and you already use Universal Audio hardware, then the Wood Works plugin is $299 well spent. If you don’t already have an Apollo, it’s a really cool interface with some really great features that would make a great addition to any studio anyway, and the two together will still run you less than a nice acoustic.