We got our hands on one of the hottest acoustic guitar products: the Mama Bear acoustic guitar preamp from D-Tar (Duncan Turner Acoustic Research). The Mama Bear has been making quite a name for itself among acoustic players. In a market that is saturated with modeling amps for electric players, D-Tar is banking on acoustic artists to jump on the sonic bandwagon.
The premise of the Mama Bear is pretty simple. With one knob you dial in your pick-up configuration (tell it what pickup you are using). With another control you dial in a target instrument (16 different guitar choices). Say you play a 1999 Taylor 514. Dial that pickup configuration in as your source. Want to get a hallow body archtop jazz guitar? Dial in number 12 and give a listen. A slope-shouldered jumbo? Number 9. For the full menu, take a look at the complete source and target choices.
You are able to blend from wet to dry, varying the mixture of the source sound and the target sound. This means that the possibilities are quite overwhelming.
Is it worth purchasing?
That’s the real question. With an unlimited amount of gear on the market and a limited budged, you have to make wise choices. We ran the Mama Bear in both live and studio settings, using as our main guitar a 1999 Taylor 714-KCE with a Fishman Blender pickup system. Here is what we found:
Some products will produce tonal results that, while tasteful and effective, are slight. This is not the case with the Mama Bear. She produced some radical results. The resonator settings (#15 and #16) may have been my favorite. I only wish that I could play well enough to give it some justice!
We used settings #5 and #6 for slower songs where the acoustic was the focal instrument. We found that setting all external EQ’s flat gave the best result when switching between sounds.
To use the Mama during a full on rockin’ band set, I’m not sure it would shine (I initially preferred the bypass mode with a full band). A bypass footswitch on the Mama Bear would have been a nice addition. However, you could easily run an A/B box with the Mama Bear (which we did). This gave the on-the-fly option of switching between the Mama and a bypassed source (a DI). With this configuration, we could use the Mama for a slow intro and as the band rocked an arrangement, bypass at the click of the A/B.
I do think that with more time, we would have found a sound that would have worked with a full band. With a high end Taylor and the Fishman Blender, I feel like we started with a strong source for bypassed sound reproduction. The Mama just added some icing on the cake. For us, it did not take a poor sound and make it better, it took a great sound and made it more versatile.
The studio is where the Mama Bear shined. Dan Lampton, our studio engineer (and well accomplished acoustic player) was thrilled with the quality and versatility. Here is what Dan had to say about the Mama Bear:
“I ran it all the way ‘wet’ and used the high pass filter most of the time. My favorite input settings were 1 and 2. #2 has a scooped (smiley face) EQ which made it feel like a bit more bass. Each of the different sounds seemed very usable to me. I really liked #6 and the tri-cone resonator was very cool.”
Upsides: For live applications, the Mama has unlimited creativity, especially in venues where the acoustic is the primary instrument. For well rounded players, you could have a truckload of vintage guitar sounds at your fingertips. The Mama was at her best in an acoustic or small combo setting where you could hear the clarity of the target sound. The instruction manual is easy to understand and even fun to read (a refreshing change). At a suggested retail of $499 (street value of much less), it is in an affordable range.
A single space rack unit would have been nice. I was worried about knocking the unit down and packing it back in the box after each use was a pain. For live applications, a bypass footswitch would be a great addition. Ultimately a footswitch with the Mama packed inside would allow busy guitar players to switch between sounds as well as create their own custom sounds to be saved and called up on cue. My guess is that D-Tar is looking at this possibility based on the popularity of the unit.
Worth adding to the studio? Dan (our studio genus) says, “Absolutely. It brings some versatility to that table that would be worth the price of admission.”
Is it worth adding to your live rig? I think it depends. If you are a skilled player and love experimenting with different sounds, tones, and styles, I would say definitely. In the hands of a simple acoustic player, you may produce a better tone with the Mama, but to realize it’s full function, you need to be better than a G-C-D strumming musician. Save your money, get some lessons, then come back and check out the Mama Bear.
This is a great product and appears to be the first of it’s kind. We had the unit for a 30-day review but I can imagine if you owned the unit, you would continue to tweak it and find the versatility almost endless. The folks at D-Tar tell me that they are finding new capabilities with the unit all the time. That explains why demand is high.
[tags]Duncan Acoustic Research, D-Tar, Seymour Duncan, Taylor Guitar, Acoustic guitar, recording, Mama Bear Review[/tags]