Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Review: Carlos CP-1A Professional Acoustic Guitar Pickup

Here's a prediction: I'm going to run out of superlatives and descriptive adjectives before this post is finished: This pickup is THAT good.


From the American Guitar Center website:

The Carlos CP-1A Professional under-saddle endpin-jack acoustic guitar pickup is the brainchild of guitarist, luthier, technician... Let's just call him a Renaissance Man, OK?... Carlos Juan. According to everything I read on his websites (His personal site and the American Guitar Center site), the coaxial pickup he designed mated with his proprietary preamp circuit is designed to provide previously unavailable dynamic range and fullness of tone.

Color me skeptical: As an electric nylon string player for over fifteen years, I can assure you that ALL undersaddle transducers have limited dynamic ranges - they sound like there is a compressor or limiter in the signal path - and a sound that is thin in comparison with the sound of a good acoustic classical guitar. In fact, it was my disgust with the thin and pinched sound of the L.R. Baggs piezoelectric ribbon transducer system that came stock on my Glissentar that lead me to perform this experiment. I was hopeful, but not overly so.

Man, was I in for a surprise.

As soon as the new strings had settled down enough that I could play a few pieces before needing to re-tune the axe, I started playing it through the programs I had previously worked up for the fretted Glissentar (Using the Baggs system) in my Lexicon MPX-G2 (Which I run through a Bryston 3B-NPB and a pair of Tannoy's in my studio). Good Lord! The thing sounds HUGE! I mean, GARGANTUAN!

The first thing I had to do was adjust the settings on the CP-1A's preamp. There are to mini-pots: One for gain, and the other for mid boost. I ended up with the gain wide open - it's got more output than the Baggs system, but not quite as much as the RMC Polydrive (I wanted to match them as closly as possible, since I switch guitars during my set) - and the mid boost on about 25%. Any more than about half-way with the mid boost and the sound became harsh on the Glissentar (But never did it get the irritating nasal quality that virtually all piezoelectric units suffer from in their midranges).

Next, I had to adjust the tone settings on the Lexicon's preamp. Interestingly, both the Baggs and the Carlos "wanted" the tone control settings in the same ballpark: For the Baggs it was Bass= +7, Mid= -1, and Treble= +3, while the Carlos settled in at Bass= +9, Mid= -3, and Treble= +1. That is the only thing that is even remotely similar about these units, though.

Even though the Baggs system has onboard tone controls, I could NEVER get it to sound "big" at all. It always sounded anemic, small, and like it was suffering from a head cold. With just gain and mid boost, the Carlos sounds infinitely "larger." Larger on a cosmic scale! And the TONE! The tone is round, smooth, full, and rich; and yet somehow... SOMEHOW, the sound allows for the perfect seperation of the strings into individual voices (Something VERY important to me, since I play a lot of countrapuntal music). And remember, this is a fretted eleven-string Glissentar, so we're talking about double-string COURSES, and the sound is still perfectly defined. I can even concentrate on a SINGLE STRING within a course, if I want to!!! It is simply a stunning piece of work, this pickup.

Carlos wasn't lying about the dynamic range, either. From the softest pianissimo fingernail whispers to the most agressive string snaps, the CP-1A responds by telling the most intimate secrets, or with shouts which sound nearly like explosions. NO PICKUP - not for electric guitar, not for steel string guitar, not for any kind of guitar - can match this unit's dynamic range. Period. Hell, a lot of mics aren't nearly this good.

At first, the sensitivity of the thing confounded me - I felt kinda klutzy with it - but within an hour I was achieving expressive nuances that were formerly in the realm of my dreams alone. Simply... marvelous.

The problem with this unit? The problem is that there is no problem. This means, of course, that my decades old dream of amplifying my two Anthony Gaillard Murray concert acoustic classicals is now within reach. Nothing I've ever heard up to this point was even CLOSE to sounding good enough to consider modifying one of my treasured acoustics for. Carlos Juan has changed my thinking about several things, and I cannot thank him enough for GIVING me this CP-1A to experiment with in the fretted Glissentar. I'm very grateful. Beyond grateful.

I'm afraid to even ask how much two of these are going to cost me:



Since the preamp had to be inserted from the outside, I had to glue it in (After I made the preamp adjustments, of course). I used wood glue that is water soluable so that if I ever need to remove it, I can.

I can actually adjust the gain mini-pot through the old battery holder cutout, but the mid boost is hidden within the channel I drilled out for the preamp. I just ended up applying a strip of velcro tape to the back of the large plastic cover for battery placement: It's big enough for both batteries. By replacing the stock plastic battery housing with a simple cap-type 9v connector, I was able to enable both pickup systems to function simultaneously, as I previously intended.


Many classic Mandelbrot renditions tend to downplay or even elominate the three dimensional nature of the geometry, but not this "Buddhabrot" image.


My townhouse is a bit messy. Think I'll do a bit of housework.

Some help would be nice, but I think my mind might turn to things other than housework.


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