Preamps & Effects Pedals

TC Electronic BodyRez Pedal Review

Released in 2015, the TC Electronic (TC-E) BodyRez Acoustic Pickup Enhancer is, according to the manufacturer: “Designed to restore the natural acoustic resonance of your instrument when using under-saddle pickups.” The name is clearly an amalgamation of the words body and resonance and pretty much sums up the mission of this pedal: to restore these qualities to the sound of an undersaddle pickup on an acoustic instrument. Continuing in the marketing copy, it apparently does this through “…a vast amount of pre-configured filters combined with subtle quick compression in order to bring your amplified tone back to life.” More on that later. At time of writing the full user manual (as opposed to the quick start guide) is not available on the TC Electronic website; however, I managed to track down a copy on manualslib.

Let’s start with the basics: the pedal measures (as in, I actually measured it) 44mm/1.74″ in width, 94mm/3.70″ in length and 45mm/1.77″ in height, from the base of the pedal to the top of the single control knob. It is thus quite a small pedal and readily disappears into the string pocket of a gigbag or guitar case. Here it is alongside my MXR bass preamp and one of the newish Fishman pedals:

Size Comparison: MXR Bass Preamp, TC-E BodyRez, Fishman Acoustiverb

As expected, a pedal of this size cannot accommodate an internal battery: there is a power input on the right side for any standard pedal power supply, i.e. 9-volts, center-negative, 100 milliamps minimum. A simple power supply is included with the pedal. Above the DC input is located a mini (not micro) USB connector for firmware updates. As of September 2023, TC-E have not released any for this pedal. And no, you cannot power the pedal using a USB power supply connected to the USB port; I’ve tried. The input and output sockets are on the right and left sides of the pedal respectively and are not labelled at all – this could be confusing for pedal newbies. On the plus side, the sockets are offset to allow for closer pedal spacing with other TC-E mini pedals such as the polytune mini or hypergravity. Thoughtful!

The pedal has an input impedance of 1 MΩ (megaohm), making it compatible with most pickup systems be they magnetic or piezo. Users of passive piezo systems should probably try the pedal in-store to see if there is any high frequency loss.

The pedal is true bypass, meaning that it acts like a straight piece of wire when not engaged, and will even pass signal when no power supply is connected, which is a useful failsafe for players such as myself who use a rechargeable battery pedal power supply. The solitary footswitch clicks positively but not obnoxiously and the solitary knob turns smoothly with no backlash and just the right amount of resistance. Overall the pedal feels well built and a quality piece of gear.

So, what does this pedal actually do? TC-E are quite tight-lipped about this, referring to it as “…a sound engineer in a box…” (user manual page 7) with ‘pre-configured filters’ as mentioned in the introduction. Fortunately, the effect of this pedal on one’s acoustic tone is quite obvious to the ear, and it is possible to work out what is going on under the hood by listening while adjusting the knob. Having used and lived with this pedal for six weeks now, this is what I’ve found:

With the BODY knob set fully counterclockwise (about the 7 o’clock position), switching the pedal on appears to activate the audio compression only – this is something you can both hear and feel, and is particularly obvious when strumming, as it knocks the peaks off your playing. The compressor in this pedal is very musical and has clearly been designed with undersaddle piezo pickups in mind, helping to reduce the brashness and ‘in your face-ness’ of their sound.

Rotating the BODY knob clockwise from the minimum position progressively applies several EQ filters to your signal – the depth and width of these filters seems to increase the more you turn the knob, with the compression appearing to stay relatively consistent. Once again, these assertions are based on my listening tests alone.

From the 7 o’clock to the 12 o’clock position, a midrange frequency cut is applied, which is perfect for reducing the ‘quack’ of virtually all undersaddle piezo pickups. I found that both my Cort acoustic guitar fitted with the Fishman Matrix Infinity pickup system, as well as my Takamine guitars fitted with their iconic Palathetic pickup system benefitted from this. I found 10 to 11 o’clock to be the sweet spot, allowing me to eschew any use of the tone knob on the Fishman system. On the Takamine CT4B-II preamp, this position allowed me to boost the low end without it becoming muddy and meant I only needed a touch of mid cut. The overall effect was clarifying and satisfying, much like brushing a dusty pair of leather shoes or cleaning a water-spotted window pane. A touch-up, in other words.

Beyond the 12 o’clock position, a bass and treble boost are applied, along with increasing midrange cut. On a quality pickup system, this to my ear results in a tone that sounds hollow and brittle and, ironically, lacking in body! I suspect this area of adjustment is meant for dealing with primitive and/or bad-sounding piezo pickups where the tone is almost entirely midrange, which need to be taken by the scruff of the neck and flung rather than gently ushered into their musical place. It would also work for those players who like a really scooped sound.

The great news is that this pedal is both extremely simple and extremely versatile – by playing, listening and turning the knob in small increments, I suspect that most players would be able to find tonal satisfaction at some point. It is NOT a toy or gimmick – the engineers at TC-E have clearly done their homework and designed a complex signal processor with the simplest possible user interface. I would be happy to play out with nothing but this and a reverb pedal, that’s how good it is.

The compression in particular is the unsung hero of this pedal: for years I have tried to find a solution to the unavoidable difference in volume between fingerstyle and strumming. I’ve tried compressor pedals, boost pedals, multi-effects pedals with onboard compressors, the list goes on. With the BodyRez, when playing fingerstyle I keep the pedal off, switching it on when transitioning to my pick. The compression keeps the volume from exploding and the EQ touches up the tone – one stop shopping!!! Can I get a witness?!

Other features:

  • Pressing and holding the footswitch mutes the pedal (LED flashes red) – perfect for silent tuning or for guitars with no onboard volume control. I love this feature and use it all the time.
  • Powering up the pedal while holding down the footswitch activates an alternate mode where the pedal alternates between normal (LED steady red) and reverse polarity (LED steady green). In this mode the compression and EQ functions are always active, and the footswitch is used only to control the polarity – useful when fighting feedback on stage.

In conclusion, if you play an acoustic instrument fitted with an undersaddle piezo pickup, the BodyRez is seriously worthy of your consideration. With a street price of around US$120 at time of writing, I think it is good value for money, given the challenge it has helped me to overcome. Having said that, this is most definitely one of those “try before you buy” pedals, as the results will likely vary significantly from guitar to guitar and player to player. I’m keeping mine!

MXR M81 Bass Preamp part deux, or Further adventures in going direct!

In October of last year I wrote a post about my experiences with the MXR M81 bass preamp pedal, in which I said that it had given me the confidence to leave my bass amp at home for the first time since I started playing bass in 2000. Since then, I’ve had a few more experiences with this amp-less setup and have more specific things to share, both as a bass player and as a sound engineer. Let’s start with a picture:

My amp-less setup with the MXR M81 Bass Preamp, Fender American Standard Precision bass, Android tablet with the SQ MixPad app and Community MX10 floor monitor.

Specific things that I like about this setup after five months of use:

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New video! DI Boxes Part 7: Amplifier Emulation DIs

In March of 2015 I published a video entitled “Stompbox/Pedal DIs” featuring the Sansamp Bass Driver DI, a relatively early solid state emulation of a classic tube bass amplifier. Since then, amp emulation technology has come a long way! In this video I discuss how to deal with this type of DI as a live sound engineer, and cover specific features of the Origin Effects Bassrig ’64 Black Panel, one of the best current examples of the type.

As mentioned in my previous post about the MXR M81, the idea of having a DI box with EQ convinced me to leave me bass amp at home for the first time in 20 years. This unit takes things to the next level, and gives you an entire vintage Fender Bassman amplifier in a DI. The only variable remaining is having a sufficiently power and well-adjusted stage monitor system to take the signal back to the bass player.

MXR M81 Bass Preamp: First Impressions and an adventure in going direct.

Since taking up bass guitar in 2000, I can trace a gradual evolution in my attitude towards the bass amp. In the beginning, I saw it as an integral part of my tone, and was reluctant to even connect to the PA system, believing that bass and drums should come directly from the stage. During this period I had some fairly massive bass rigs, including a Gallien Kreuger 700RB-II 2×10 combo which was 700 watts and about 30 kilos/66 lbs, and a truly spectacular preamp/power amp/cabinet combination consisting of an Acme Low B4, an SWR Grand Prix and a Crown CE1000 running in bridge mode for 1,100 watts. In hindsight, this was a time when I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

As time passed and I grew as both an amateur musician and a professional sound engineer, I learned the hard truth that the best way for musicians to serve their engineer and audience is to keep the stage levels reasonable, especially in small venues. I can’t remember who it was who wrote that the hardest assignments for sound guys are the loud gigs in small clubs, not the ones in stadiums! This, combined with the advances in PA systems over the past 20 years have led me to seek out smaller and smaller bass amplifiers, culminating in my recent purchase of a Hartke HD25 – just 25 watts into an 8″ speaker!

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Acoustic Guitar Preamp pedals section added to Amazon Links.

Over the past 10+ years I have been on a constant search for the ideal acoustic guitar preamp pedal when playing out without an amp. Unlike electric guitar or bass guitar effects pedals, there are not THAT many of these on the market, especially from reputable manufacturers. I think this may have something to do with the fact that they are actually quite difficult to design!

An acoustic instrument produces a very fullrange signal in comparison to an electric guitar or bass, and getting this to translate well through a pickup/preamp system has challenged engineers for decades, to the point where using a pickup is still seen as a concession to the exigencies of live performance. No self-respecting recording engineer would ever track an acoustic instrument purely using a pickup system – a microphone would always be employed in the first instance.

Fishman and LR Baggs have ruled this arena for decades, alongside Taylor and Takamine who produce their own proprietary pickup systems. This section contains my thoughts on some of the pedals I’ve used over the years, together with buying links if you would like to support my work.

Boss AD-2 Acoustic Preamp Review

Released in late 2016, the AD-2 is one of the more compact acoustic guitar preamps available. It follows the familiar Boss form factor, being 73mm wide, 129mm deep and 59mm tall. This means that it will fit on standard pedal boards alongside your other floor wizardry, and gives it an advantage over its numerical big brother the AD-3, which takes up significantly more space. The pedal features a notch filter, ambience and acoustic resonance effects and a balanced line out in addition to the standard unbalanced output, making it the simplest pedal of this type available from Boss.

Input impedance is 10 M ohms which means that the pedal can accept passive piezo pickups directly with no need for an additional buffer in the signal chain. This would also allow the pedal to act as a backup in the event that your onboard preamp were to go down. Of course magnetic soundhole pickups will work fine too. The pedal features a buffered bypass which means that it will not pass signal if the batteries fail completely, but in my experience the pedal knows when the juice is about to run out and stitches off the effects in order to keep the buffer alive. Nevertheless an external power supply is to be preferred if at all possible. Battery life is stated to be 6 hours of continuous use.  Continue reading