From the January/February 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY JAMIE STILLWAY
Lloyd Baggs first made a name for himself in the music industry in the 1970s as a luthier with a high-profile list of clients including Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Ry Cooder, Janis Ian, and others. Before long, Baggs’ interests shifted to solving the problem of accurately amplifying the acoustic characteristics of his handmade instruments in a live setting. Over the years, his eponymous company, L.R. Baggs, has developed a reputation for producing high-quality amplification gear for acoustic instruments by releasing a bevy of pickups and DI boxes.
The recent introduction of the Align Series (see Doug Young’s review in the October 2018 issue of AG) finds L.R. Baggs delving into the world of guitar effects, with stompboxes designed specifically for acoustic guitarists. Purists might scoff at the idea of using steel-strings with effects pedals, but if you consider that anytime you plug in you are essentially playing an electric instrument, you can think of pedals as instruments for carving out unique tonal palettes. I tested the latest pedals in the Align series—the Delay and Chorus—and found them to be smart tools, to say the least, whether used individually or in tandem.
I Repeat, I Repeat
Both pedals share a sleek and simple design and are housed in a durable casing with a wood-like finish. Each is powered by a 9-volt battery or optional AC adapter. The battery compartment is accessed with a Philips screwdriver and removal of a back panel, so if you gig frequently, I’d recommend investing in a power supply for peace of mind. Trust me, forgetting to bring a screwdriver and extra 9-volt batteries to gigs grows old quickly.
To audition the pedals, I used my Santa Cruz OM/PW, outfitted with Schertler’s Magnetico AG6 soundhole pickup and external S-MIC-M condenser mic, plugging the pedals directly into a Schertler David amp. You could also run the pedals first into a DI box and then a PA system or a home recording setup. However, if you’re plugging them directly into a PA, you will want to make sure you have an accurate monitor sound, as you really need to hear the effects in order to avoid potential sonic disaster, especially when it comes to delay.
The Align Delay has four knobs—delay, tone, repeats, time—and an engage switch, which is easily controlled with your foot. Delay, which might be better labeled as “mix,” blends the tone of your dry instrument signal with the wet signal. The tone knob allows you to control the sound of the delayed repeats, from dark and analog at the counterclockwise end to bright and digital-sounding when turned clockwise—all without altering the guitar’s initial attack.
The repeat knob controls the number of echoes, while the time knob adjusts the period between delays (with a maximum delay time of one second) and can also lead to some cool glitchy sounds if you turn it while notes are delaying. The tempo is also adjustable via the tap button in the middle of the pedal. However, as this button is virtually inaccessible with your foot, the top of the pedal has a jack for an external tap tempo control (not included), which I would recommend if you need to switch tempos easily and quickly. Conveniently, there is a small green LED that gives a visual representation of the tempo’s setting.
After getting acquainted with the parameters of each knob, I took a deep dive. (Full disclosure: delay is one of my favorite effects.) To tease a slapback echo effect out of the pedal, I started with the delay and tone knobs at 12 o’clock and both the repeats and the time knobs dialed all the way to the left. I wasn’t quite getting a short enough delay, so I used the tap tempo button (which overrides the time knob) and managed to get a short and snappy delay, perfect for some Merle Travis–inspired thumb picking.
Next, I increased the time and set the pedal for three repeats of each note; established a constant open E bass note in 4/4 time; and, playing in unison with the delay, ran through arpeggios and descending diatonic lines. As the pedal did its work, a beautiful cascade of ghostly notes and unexpected textures emerged.
Another convenient feature of the Align Delay is its division button, which makes it possible to switch the delay from a quarter note to a dotted eighth. After engaging that button, I increased the repeats and tempo even more, picked up a flatpick, and played simple, single-note motifs, allowing the pedal to do all the heavy lifting. This created a sound reminiscent of U2’s the Edge.
As I was putting the pedal through its paces, I noticed that when the delay time was long and I stepped on the engage button, the sound would repeat in the delay signal for a few cycles, which could be a little maddening for those aural perfectionists. I did also hear some residual noise when using the tap button to control the tempo. While not particularly suited for enhancing strummed open chords in the most sonically pleasing way, delay can be used to great effect with fingerpicking or a more staccato style of rhythm playing.
Swirly and Ethereal
If you’re looking to dip your toe in the pool of pedals, a chorus effect—which adds a choir-sounding fullness to your guitar tone—would be a great place to start. As with its delay counterpart, the Align Chorus features an easy-to-decipher layout. The four knobs are volume (controlling the overall loudness of the effect), tone, chorus, and size. Turn the size knob counterclockwise and your guitar will sound more like a small choir, while moving it in the opposite direction will evoke the sound of a larger ensemble.
In order to get acquainted with the range of choral possibilities, I started with the volume, tone, and chorus knobs at 12 o’clock and the size knob turned all the way clockwise while I strummed open-position chords. As the result was a little woofy, I dialed the tone knob clockwise, to brighten the tone of the chorus to great effect.
I then set the size knob at noon and fingerpicked through a slow progression, laden with sus chords, and noticed how as I increased the size of the chorus, I was inclined to play more spaciously, in order to give the pedal room to breathe. With that in mind, I tuned to open D and, with the chorus and size knobs turned fully clockwise, fingerpicked harmonized string pairs, strummed chords, and plucked harmonics all over the neck. The combination of the chorus and the sympathetic ringing strings of an open tuning yielded a swirly and ethereal blend.
Depending on your musical needs, with a little tweaking, you might find a perfect set-it-and-forget-it setting and always leave the pedal on. Or you may just consider it a special sonic spice, like cardamom—sometimes you want it, sometimes you don’t. As with the delay pedal, I was getting some transient noise when engaging the pedal via the footswitch, which would be something to consider with use in a quiet listening situation or a recording session.
I suppose now would be a good time to mention that once you start experimenting with a pedal, well, like a potato chip, you’ll likely have a difficult time trying just one and will soon want to experiment with multiple pedals. To wit, I daisy-chained these pedals and with both engaged found some inspiring textures. You could create even more dramatic soundscapes with the addition of one or more of the other pedals from the Align series. But if the Delay and Chorus are any indication, L.R. Baggs has succeeded in creating acoustic effects that can enhance and expand your sonic toolkit—while preserving the natural tone of your acoustic guitar. If you are looking to experiment with pedals, be sure to check out these user-friendly and great-sounding effects.
Align Series Delay
Analog/digital hybrid, true bypass; max delay time: one second; delay, repeats, tone, time, div, and tap controls; 1×1/4″ input; 1×1/4″ output; 1×1/4″ jack for optional external tap; 9-volt battery (optional 9-volt DC power supply); 2″ x 3.25″ x 5″; 0.85 lbs
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MADE IN China
PRICE $179 street
Align Series Chorus
Analog, true bypass; volume, tone, chorus, and size controls; 1×1/4″ input; 1×1/4″ output; 9-volt battery (optional 9-volt DC power supply); 2″ x 3.25″ x 5″; 0.85 lbs
MADE IN China
PRICE $179 street
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.