From the October 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY NATHAN BELL
Get two or more acoustic-guitar players together and the conversation inevitably turns to live sound and the search for the best way to amplify the guitar. Some, like British pop-star Ed Sheeran, prefer an altered sound, with varying combinations of pickups, effects pedals, sampling, and modeling. Others—Dakota Dave Hull comes to mind—swear by a simple microphone or two. But generally speaking, acoustic players have always had to choose between an acoustic sound or the ability to create a range of interesting effects.
This is about to change.
The revolutionary ToneWoodAmp (TWA) is a combination acoustic effect generator, DI box, and IOS interface. It gives you the ability to play acoustically and to create effects—effects that up until now were only easily available through a pickup and an extensive collection of pedals.
To understand why this device is so unusual, start with the unique feature that gives the ToneWoodAmp its name. After mounting this small, portable, and easily removable amp to the back of your electro-acoustic guitar, the selection of DSP effects (reverb, delay, tremolo, auto-wah, and distortion) are broadcast through the instrument’s back, where they interact with the natural sound of the guitar itself.
In effect, the body of the guitar is transformed into an amp.
The TWA does this by taking the signal from an under-saddle or soundhole pickup and combining it with the company’s own effects technology to create a seamless blend of natural guitar sound and effect.
Compact & Simple to Mount
The device is approximately the size of three iPhone S Plus handsets stacked on top of each other. It’s held on to the outside back of the guitar by an X-Brace magnetic unit, which is attached via double-sided tape inside the back (you can adjust the position for sound and comfort through trial and error before applying the tape to the inside back of the guitar).
In most seated situations, you won’t notice the device once it’s mounted. I also tried it while standing and found that it was fairly unobtrusive. The magnets do a great job of holding the unit in place, but if you are going to leap around, I’d suggest augmenting the magnetic X-Brace unit at the site of the TWA.
One warning: these are strong magnets and people with implanted medical devices will need to position the TWA as far from the device as possible. Luckily, the TWA worked terrifically in the multiple positions I tried.
The Effects Features
In order to make use of the acoustic effects, your guitar must have either an undersaddle transducer or magnetic soundhole pickup. Internal microphones and ambient pickups will work fine for the DI and IOS interface features, but quickly cause feedback in acoustic-only mode.
The effects have depth and warmth, both when played acoustically and when used directly to an amp or PA. I found the room, reverb, and delay effects to be the equal of more expensive units. I was particularly taken with the Leslie effect which, when used judiciously, gave greater width and depth to the sound from a OO- or OM-body style.
The effects can’t be stacked (yet), but each effect has three adjustable parameters that allow ta range of possibilities. Combine the IOS interface and you have a staggering number of sonic options. You’ll have little trouble creating personalized sounds—and you can save them through presets for quick recall. The TWA also provides notch filters that work in tandem with the effects. With the TWA, you may be able to eliminate your current preamp altogether.
The Test Drive
After a short time, I was blending sounds from the DI effects option and the IOS option (using Sample Tank) to get a variety of beautiful, controllable sounds from my Larrivee 00-03. The effects blended seamlessly with the guitar’s signal to create a live approximation of the Larrivee’s natural sound and tone.
When I wanted to do something a little more tonally aggressive, I dialed in a small amount of virtual fretless bass (IOS interface) that added a subliminal low end that really brought out the swampy, gut-bucket nature of a finger-picked blues.
The TWA folks thought ahead and provided two micro-USB ports for the inevitable software updates and expansions. One of those ports is designed to allow for a remote option, so the user can switch the effects in and out.
The company even provides both right- and left-handed models, the kind of smart touch that one rarely finds in the first generation of a new product. You’ll want to spring for the IOS adaptor, but all of the other cables are included with the TWA. Extra X-Braces are easy to order so you can use one TWA with multiple guitars. And if you don’t already have a pickup, TWA can sell you one with a modified chord for use with the unit. In addition to being easy to just take out of the box and start using (my preferred way of learning how anything works), there is a terrific online video manual with effective and clear instruction on how to set up and use the TWA as a combination multi-effect unit and DI, and how to use the IOS interface option to utilize apps like Sample Tank and Amplitube.
The ToneWoodAmp is an affordable, cutting-edge product that serves the traditional needs of the performing guitarist. It belongs in every guitarist’s toolbox. In fact, you may find, as I did, that it becomes your entire toolbox.
Nathan Bell is a singer-songwriter based in Chatanooga, Tennessee.
At a Glance
5 ½-inches by 3 ¾-inches by 1-1/8 inch
8 effects with 10 memory locations each
3 programmable parameters for each effect
5 guitar settings with master gain and 2 notch filters each
Programmable volume & gain for each effect
¼-inch guitar input; ¼-inch output to an amp
2 USB ports
3 AA batteries
Made in the USA
This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.