Acoustic guitarists may not generally require the elaborate pedalboard setups of our electric counterparts, but a few essential devices can go a long way toward achieving a great sound. L.R. Baggs’ new Align series of pedals is aimed directly at acoustic guitarists, with a focus on basics and pure acoustic tone. Each of the four pedals addresses a distinct function: tone shaping, EQ, reverb, and DI functionality. The series signals an acoustic focus with its wood-grained appearance, but more importantly, the pedals are sonically designed for acoustic guitar pickups, with high-impedance inputs, high headroom, and low noise, in addition to the features and design choices of each effect. All four pedals take a minimalist approach, with relatively few knobs and switches, and offer an operational simplicity that guitarists will appreciate onstage.
All pedals in the series mesh well together; they can be used independently and also easily integrated with an existing setup, such as placing the EQ, Session, or Reverb in an effects loop of another preamp/DI. All devices can be battery-powered, or powered by a typical 9-12-volt adaptor.
We’ll take a quick tour of each pedal, in the sequence in which you would probably place them on a pedalboard, from guitar to amplification.
The Align Session inherits its effects from L.R. Baggs’ Session DI pedal, first introduced several years ago. The effects were inspired by the processing that Nashville studio engineers applied to some of Baggs’ pickups during recording sessions. The two core effects, which interact to some extent, are saturation and compression/EQ. Saturation is basically a mild distortion, of the type you may associate with recording to tape or playing through a tube-based system. You may, with the control all the way up, actually hear audible distortion; but at less extreme settings, the effect introduces both warmth and complexity to the guitar sound. The compressor/EQ effect consists of a three-band compressor that acts like dynamic EQ—the harder you play, the more certain frequency bands are cut. Baggs doesn’t specify the frequencies that are affected, but the overall effect is to smooth out the sound, reducing harshness in the midrange.
The only other controls on the unit are gain—which can be used to match your pickup’s output and optimize the operation of the saturation and compression—output volume, and a true-bypass footswitch. An LED indicates clipping and can be used to adjust the input gain.
In use, the Session is subtle, but effective. Once adjusted, it produces a fatter, smoother sound that improves most pickups. This is one of those effects that you may barely notice when it’s used, but miss when it is turned off. The Session is probably best placed at the beginning of your signal chain, and its high input-impedance (5.1MΩ) makes it a good match for any passive or active acoustic pickup. The Session also offers up to 20db gain, making it an effective first preamp stage even for low-output pickups.
The Align Equalizer draws on the circuitry from Baggs’ Para Acoustic DI, and provides six bands of EQ, with 9db of boost or cut in each band. The bands are fixed, but well-chosen to adjust useful frequencies for guitar. Additional controls include a three-position high-pass filter, rolling off frequencies below 40, 80, or 120 Hz; a phase switch; a notch filter; volume control; a three-position selectable gain switch offering 0, -6, or +6 db cut/boost; and a true-bypass footswitch.
With the true-bypass switch, it is reasonable to cascade as many Equalizer pedals as you like to allow different preset EQs to be activated for different sounds or different instruments. The pedal could also be used as a switchable boost, with or without additional EQ. The Equalizer’s 5.1MΩ input impedance allows it to operate as the first effect in your signal chain, but is probably best placed after the Session pedal, when used with the other Align series pedals.
In use, I found the EQ controls to be very effective, with the bass control capable of adding a big bottom end, or tightening up the bass. The 350Hz control can add warmth or remove mud, 700Hz is a common problem frequency for piezo and magnetic pickups, and the remaining higher frequency controls allow you to adjust presence and air.
Like all the Align pedals, the Reverb’s minimalist approach means that aside from the volume and bypass footswitch, the only controls are decay (the length of the reverb), reverb (the amount of effect being added), and tone. The Reverb is introduced as a side-chain, meaning that the original dry signal passes through the unit untouched, and the reverb control simply controls how much reverb is added to the mix. The tone control also affects only the tone of the reverb itself. Unlike many reverb pedals, the Align Reverb is designed to be mono-only, with no stereo outputs.
Reverbs are highly subjective, and the Align Reverb’s minimalist feature set offers fewer options than some other pedals on the market. For example, there is no choice between spring, plate, hall, and other reverb types. Instead, the Align reverb focuses on a simple, fairly dense, and rich-sounding reverb with just a bit of modulation, which I found to be very effective and complementary to the guitar. The tone control enables everything from a fairly dark, muted sound to a bright, ringing effect, and the interaction between the reverb and decay controls made it easy to dial in anything from a subtle ambiance to a drenching wet ambient sound.
The Align DI is perhaps the simplest pedal in the series. Its primary task is to convert a 1/4-inch unbalanced, high-impedance signal from your guitar’s pickup to a low-impedance, balanced XLR output suitable for sending to a PA system. There is also a 1/4-inch unbalanced, low-impedance output, suitable for connecting the pedal to an amp. A typical scenario would be to send a signal to a PA system via the XLR out, while sending the 1/4-inch output to an amplifier used as a stage monitor. The only other controls are a mute switch, input pad (0, -1, -20dB), a ground lift, a phase reverse switch, and an out/thru switch that controls whether the 1/4-inch output is affected by the other controls.
The Align DI is simple and effective, and would almost always be the last item in your signal chain, just serving as an interface to your amplifier or PA system.
With the Align Series, L.R. Baggs has supplied the essential elements of a high-quality acoustic signal chain, breaking out some of the features of their more integrated products into individual elements. The unique wood-grained look is eye-catching, but the clean, clear sound of the DI, the powerful EQ, and the sonic richness of the Reverb and Session make these pedals worthy of consideration for any acoustic amplification setup.
ACTIVE DI: 1/4″ input with 2.2MΩ input impedance; preamp gain 0dB, -10dB, -20dB; frequency response, 20Hz–60kHz; phase reverse and ground lift controls; 1/4″ (unbalanced) and XLR (balanced) output; mute switch
PRICE: $159 (MAP)
EQUALIZER: 1/4″ input with 5.1MΩ input impedance; Equalizer ±9dB at 85Hz, 350Hz, 700Hz, 1.6kHz, 4.8kHz, and 10kHz; Preamp gain +6dB, 0dB, -6dB; notch filter -20dB, sweepable 40Hz–300Hz; high-pass filter, selectable 120Hz, 80Hz, 40Hz
PRICE: $179 (MAP)
REVERB: 1/4″ input with 2.2MΩ input impedance; preamp gain 6dB; Volume, Tone, Reverb level and Decay rate controls; 1/4″ out
PRICE: $179 (MAP)
SESSION: 1/4″ input with 5.1MΩ input impedance; preamp gain -14dB–20dB; Volume, Gain, Saturate, and Compression EQ controls; 1/4″ out
PRICE: $179 (MAP)
MADE IN: China
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.