Radial claims that its Tonebone PZ-Pre is the most pow­er­ful acoustic pre­am­pli­fier ever to be put inside a pedal. Note that they say “acoustic”, not just “acoustic gui­tar”. That’s because its designed to work with any acoustic instru­ment: gui­tar, banjo, vio­lin, cello, man­dolin, con­tra­bass, bouzouki, lute…

At the heart of the PZ-Pre is a com­bi­na­tion of selec­table dis­crete class-A boost­ers for piezo pick­ups, a super-quiet pre­amp cir­cuitry that will adapt to any pickup sys­tem – not just piezo – and a whole bunch of con­nec­tiv­ity options. There are: two footswitch­able inputs (so you don’t have to futz with a sep­a­rate A/B box on stage if you need to switch instru­ments), a semi-parametric EQ with bass, fre­quency, midrange and high con­trols; a dual-Q notch fil­ter for locat­ing and zap­ping feed­back, a high pass fil­ter for cut­ting low fre­quen­cies, a phase reverse switch, and the abil­ity to assign dif­fer­ent tasks to its cen­tral footswitch: loop, boost, or both. That last fea­ture is a hint: the PZ-Pre also includes a switch­able effects loop, which keeps every­thing neat and inte­grated on stage. Other con­nec­tions include a ¼-inch on-stage instru­ment amp out, a bal­anced XLR pre-EQ direct out for the mix­ing desk and a sep­a­rate bal­anced XLR post EQ out for stage or in-ear mon­i­tors. There’s also a ded­i­cated tuner-out with mute switch.

Like all Radial gear, it’s ridicu­lously road-tough. The case is heavy and chunky, and the knobs require a lit­tle bit of heft to turn, so you don’t need to worry about them get­ting bumped and mess­ing up your set­tings at a gig. And they’re rub­berised, so even if they do take a knock, the impact energy will be spread around instead of cracking.

I plugged an Ova­tion CC24 into the PZ-Pre to see what it could do. The CC24 is a very well-made, playable gui­tar, but its pre­amp doesn’t give you very much to mess around with, so of all the acoustics cur­rently fill­ing the house (and which you can read about in this issue), I decided it was the best for test­ing. The PZ-Pre is designed to sound good but to also sound rel­a­tively trans­par­ent – it doesn’t aim to make your gui­tar sound like a dif­fer­ent instru­ment entirely, but instead it seeks to work with what you have and to improve it. Part of this is achieved via the Class A booster cir­cuit for piezo pick­ups like that of the CC24. It helps the sound to become fuller and more robust, tak­ing away some of that frag­ile crackle often asso­ci­ated with piezos. Next, I plugged in a Mar­tin Per­form­ing Artist model with a Fish­man Aura F1 pre­amp, a much more sophis­ti­cated sys­tem. With the Mar­tin I found that I didn’t require much (or any) tweak­ing from the PZ-Pre, but I appre­ci­ated being able to tog­gle between the Ova­tion and the Martin.

Per­haps the coolest thing about the PZ-Pre is that you can use it as a vir­tual base sta­tion for your entire onstage expe­ri­ence, par­tic­u­larly if you’re a soloist. You can plug two instru­ments in and tog­gle between them as needed; you can add a suite of effects via the loop as needed then remove them when not required; you can send an out­put to the house mixer and another to either a record­ing device or a pow­ered mon­i­tor; you can mute the sig­nal between songs while send­ing an out­put to your tuner; and you can route the instru­ment sig­nal to an onstage amp – all at once.

The PZ-Pre is a vir­tual brain for your entire acoustic gui­tar rig. It may not add ambi­ence and dimen­sion to the bare piezo sound (that’s what its effects loop is for) but it can cer­tainly help you con­trol it, and, more impor­tantly, it will help you take con­trol of your stage environment.

By Peter Hodgson

Price: RRP $479
Dis­trib­u­tor: Amber Tech­nol­ogy
Phone: 1800 251 367
Web­site: www.ambertech.com.au

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