Years ago, I had a buddy who fancied himself the next big musical poet. He'd crank up his guitar at the drop of a hat to caterwaul his original songs to anybody within earshot.
One day, he got a gig doing some fill at an event at the local U. Warm afternoon, an outdoor amphitheater, ten minutes, as I recall. I happened to be in the neighborhood, so I stopped by.
My buddy hauled his little amp onstage, plugged in his twelve-string, and commenced to strumming his three-chords and doing his bad Dylan imitation. (Those of you who aren't fans, Bob Dylan's voice is, um, already not the example one holds up of how to sing well. My buddy's croak made Dylan sound like an operatic tenor by comparison.)
To make matters worse, the sound wasn't the best.
Audience members remarked loudly upon this: "Turn it up!"
He turned it up.
Then it was too loud. "Turn it down!"
Never the most patient of men, he finished his second song and elected to show his irritation: "Listen, I can turn it up or I can turn it down, I can't do both! Which is it?!"
Such a straight line to a college audience. I groaned when I heard it.
You know what is coming, right? Somebody with a good set of lungs and volume yells out, "Turn it off!"
I offer that to illustrate that I am about to enter the realm of amplification, at least in a small way.
The group with which I jam varies in composition, but most of the time, the instruments include another guitar, a harmonica, a mandolin, banjo, and keyboard. Sometimes there are two keyboard players, and now and then the keyboardists swap off on an electric bass. There comes a woman who does washboard. We've had visits from a ukulele, and promises of a fiddle player. Most of the instruments are acoustic, save for the bass and keyboards, but the mandolin, banjo, and second–sometimes a third–guitars are all steel stringed. Unamplified, they aren't all that loud, but they are all considerably louder than my nylon-stringed classical. Which means I can barely hear myself playing, and none of them can.
Which, you might point out, and I certainly have thought, is maybe not such a bad idea. A flubbed chord change goes unnoticed, thank you very much. I can hit clams all night, and nobody hears them but me.
The host, who has several guitars, has offered me a steel string flattop to play, so that I might be heard, especially on such songs as I fingerpick–"House of the Rising Sun," say, for the arpeggios, but those skinny, narrow necks aren't my forte since I'm used to the extra-wide classical neck.
Since I won't do that, they have offered that I should consider some kind of electric pick-up. They also mention that, if, by some miracle, we ever do an open-mike, or otherwise get up on a stage, they will plug in, and I might as well bring my air guitar for all the sound I'll make.
So. To bring myself to parity with the louder instruments, I am going to become a gearhead. At least on a little scale. Since I don't want to punch holes in my guitar, which you must do to install onboard pick-ups and straps and all, I'm going to get a clip-on internal microphone and an itty bitty amp. Doesn't have to be much, I'm not looking for a stack to reach the cheap seats, only a slight rise in volume. Thus I expect I'll be making a run to Guitar Center or ordering some stuff online in the near future.
For those of you who care about such things, a short discourse on how best to make a quiet classical guitar louder.
First, you want to maintain as much of the woody-tone the instrument has, and the best way is a mike stand with a good condenser mike pointed at the strings from a foot or so away. Through a mixer/pre-amp for the phantom power, into the amp, presto!
It isn't so good with magnetic pick-ups, since the strings aren't steel
Unfortunately, the dedicated-mike method works best when the guitarist is alone and in a nice, quiet studio; for the gain on the mike needed for enough sound by itself also results in it being too high when the other instruments crank. The mike picks them up, overloads the amp, and the result is feedback, i.e., that awful, ear-smiting squeal you've heard when somebody steps up and swallows the mike: "Hello? Is this thing on? Testing–EEEEEEEE–!"
"Turn it down!"
"Turn it off!"
The don't-punch-holes-in-the-guitar method that seems to best alleviate feedback is a small clip-on mike mounted inside the guitar, usually on gooseneck, so that you can move it around for the best sound. It's not a perfect, all-around solution, but for a jam out in the clubhouse, it should do the trick.
Neither the mike, nor the micro-amp, which can be battery-powered, need be all that expensive, since we aren't talking recording-level quality.
TMI, but what can I say? I blather on like this to make my living.