Advancements in acoustic amplifier technology, like programable digital effects and built-in multitrack recording, have given modern acoustic performers more access to broader amplified sonic palettes than ever before. One such development is the introduction of Bluetooth apps that allow guitarists to remotely adjust amp effects, control loopers, and more, all on their smartphone or tablet.
Founded in 2006, Nux sells a wide range of digital and analog products, from amplifiers to digital drums to keyboards and effects. For the acoustic guitarist, the company offers its flagship Stageman II AC-80 ($449 street), an 80-watt combo amplifier that includes a Bluetooth app, among many other cool features geared towards gigging musicians. I put the amp through its paces and was impressed as much by its flexibility as its sonic versatility.
The Stageman has a 6.5-inch speaker and 1-inch tweeter and is encased in a dark sienna-tinted wood cabinet with a cream-colored control panel. It’s a compact package, weighing in at just 22 pounds in a roughly one-foot cube. The amp is ideal for gigging in a variety of settings. It has two channels—one with a 1/4-inch input and the other with 1/4-inch and XLR combo inputs—and, to accommodate buskers, it can operate on battery power alone for an estimated maximum of 4.5 hours.
As soon as I plugged my Taylor AD12e into the Stageman, I was struck by the amplified signal’s fidelity to the original acoustic sound. Even the best electronic setups can compromise the organic tone of an acoustic instrument, but in this case, it was like hearing my first impression of my guitar a second time, just louder. The AD12e’s gentle, bright sound came through nearly as distinctively as it does when unplugged.
The amp’s built-in settings for Channel 1 are controlled by a three-way toggle switch that allows you to choose between Strum, Finger, and NOR settings. Strum gives you a rounder, deeper sound that’s strong in the lows and mids, while Finger drops that effect in exchange for a bright, sparkling evenness that’s ideal for fingerpicking. NOR is just a flat EQ.
To get the most out of the Strum and Finger presets, I left each of the three frequency knobs at 50 percent; I did, however, prefer to decrease the low end just a bit for the Strum setting as it was a little too heavy for me. That might be because I’m primarily a fingerpicker—naturally, the Finger setting was my favorite, and I found that it even improved the quality of my tone by blending that brightness preset with my personal expression.
The EFX knob offers 12 options of chorus/delay/reverb, which can be selected on the app. It’s nuanced, especially when kept in the middle (less is more!), but it’s also fun to crank up for those songs you might want to add an unconventional color to. Whether applied lightly or more heavily, it can create a nice outer-space-sounding embellishment that works well with both fingerpicking and strumming. The EFX sits in between the Reverb knob and the Gain knob. The former, as it goes from dry to wet, maintains about the same decay with minimal diffusion (just making the projected space feel larger without excessive reflection), while the latter cleanly adjusts the level of the input signal without adding any distortion.
Channel 2 has a two-way toggle switch, with options of Phase and NOR. Otherwise, its settings are the same as those on Channel 1. When using both Channel 1 and 2 together—with a guitar and mic—the effects are processed separately for each channel, allowing you to apply different levels of reverb or EFX to each one to suit your taste.
After the essentials, a bonus attraction of the Stageman is its drum/loop feature. The amp comes with Nux’s NMP-2 dual footswitch, which can be used to trigger a metronome or stock beat and record loops up of to 60 seconds, or to toggle on and off reverb and a second selected effect. (You hook the footswitch up to one input on the back of the amp for the former pair of functions, and another input for the latter pair.)
The handiness of the footswitch is enhanced when coupled with the free Stageman app, available for both iOS and Android devices. The app allows you to choose from eight different Impulse Response (IR) acoustic guitar profiles, which you can adjust using high and low cut filters. There are 12 different effects and four different reverbs, each with adjustable decay, dampness, and mix levels. The drum machine has ten beat options, along with a BPM control, mix level, and tapping feature. The looper can also be controlled from the app. Plus, on the Effects screen, the app lets you save whatever settings you apply.
When using the IRs, there are options for acoustic profiles that use either magnetic or piezo pickups; your guitar will be compatible with the profiles that match the pickup it has. (My AD12e acoustic/electric is equipped with Taylor’s ES2 electronics system, so I was working with the piezo profiles.) The profiles include a Gibson Hummingbird, Martin D-45, and Taylor 814ce.
It’s incredibly fun to play around with the shapeshifting IRs. The Gibson Hummingbird profile transformed my Taylor into a jangly, vintage-sounding instrument, while the Martin D-45 profile re-created the warm, rich tone of the iconic dreadnought. Hopefully, you’re already playing a guitar whose tone you love—but with the help of the IRs, you can have eight more to test out.
In experimenting with combining the footswitch and the app, I found that applying delay and reverb at the same time didn’t cause the two sounds to be muddied. Instead, they complemented each other, as the setup runs the effects independently and blends them in the final mix; a subtle yet key functionality.
The Bottom Line
Altogether, I found the Nux Stageman II AC-80 to be not just accurate in its reproduction of my guitar’s tonal personality, but multipurpose with its effects options, the accompanying IRs, and drum/loop setup. You don’t have to make use of loops to get something out of this amp—its natural sound is enough to make it a valuable piece of equipment. But, hardly superfluous, the functions of the app offer myriad ways of boosting creativity in all aspects of performance. The total package is well worth the investment.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.