Christian Musician Magazine - iBeam

By Bob Kilpatrick, March/April 2002

Christian Musician – March/April 2002

I have used an L.R. Baggs Ribbon Transducer pickup in my Goodall Koa dreadnought guitar for several years. In fact, James Goodall installed it as the pickup of choice for his guitars. Well, don't be surprised if Goodall and many other guitar builders change their minds about that. Say hello to the iBeam.

The iBeam is a collaboration between Lloyd Baggs and acoustic guitarist/singer Jackson Browne. They were looking for a way to get that "Jackson Browne Sound" in a simple and affordable package. That they succeeded is an understatement. They got the sound down. They got the price down. They got a few extras in the process, one of which is an ease of installation unheard of in high-quality pickups. Though I didn't install mine, I could have (which is saying that it is VERY user-friendly.)

The pickup affixes to the inside/underside of the sound board, just below the saddle, with double-sided tape. There is no replacing the saddle and no drilling. If you already have a pickup, then you have a jack receptacle, probably replacing your endpin. The jack from the iBeam will fit right in. The iBeam itself is made of a composite material that is very lightweight. The combination of that and the strong adhesive make for a tight bond between guitar and pickup.

And now to the sound. I have used my iBeam for nearly a year now. I have tested it before 25,000 people when Toby, Mike and Kevin from dcTalk joined me at the end of their Monterey, California concert for an impromptu sing-along. I've used it before an audience of 100 in a small church with a less-than-perfect sound system and a less-than-musical sound man. I have recorded with it in the studio. I've used it by itself, in combination with another Baggs pickup in the same guitar, through the Baggs Para DI, through other high- and low-quality direct boxes, into amps- I've tried to take it every place I could imagine. It performs well under all these circumstances -- exceeding my expectations handily.

Of course, you expect any guitar to sound good through a huge system at a large music festival. You reason that they have the gear to make your Korean knockoff sound better than the real thing. Hmmm, well, maybe, but it¹s a lot of work. And the sound men at events like that don't have the time to spend it dialing in that perfect guitar sound for you when Michael W. Smith, dcTalk, Third Day and the Newsboys are waiting to go on and, furthermore, already have their sound pre-dialed. Generally, they're looking for you to bring a great sound with you. It makes their job easier, which makes them love you. The sound guy at one festival last summer told me that my guitar was the best sounding acoustic he'd ever heard. He didn't use EQ on it at all. It went straight out of the iBeam into the system. I believe him.

On the other end of the spectrum is that little church I mentioned earlier. Wherever you play, there are sound men whose objective seems to be to wreck your sound as completely as possible. Yes, I've worked with them. I have no vitriol left for them. I have made my peace with them. However, I am always appreciative when I can get them to just leave good sound alone. After getting the iBeam, I began to include in my sound rider the request that the sound man set all EQs to flat, no effects, and make changes only if absolutely necessary. Interestingly, most of the sound men exhibit a kind of humility when they hear the sound of the guitar (I'm not making this up); it seems that they recognize how wonderful it sounds all by itself! It's really hard to mess it up.

My favorite gear combination is to run a stereo plug from my guitar -- carrying both the iBeam and the Baggs Ribbon Transducer pickup -- into a Mixpro and from there into the Baggs Para DI. The Mixpro allows the addition of a little high end sparkle from the other pickup while maintaining the body of the iBeam. The Para DI gives me control over the EQ before it reaches the house, has a notch filter specifically pitched for guitar frequencies, and has a phase reverse button, which helps to alleviate feedback in the monitors while not adversely affecting the house sound. When I'm playing through this setup, I feel like I'm in acoustic guitar heaven! I have to be careful to remember that there is an audience, otherwise I¹d get carried away in my own reverie.

The iBeam doesn't have that boxy, microphone-in-the-guitar sound. It acts like a mic in that it picks up fret noise and percussion on the top- both of which are desirable to me- while rejecting the feedback and midrange boost common to mics in guitars. It doesn't have the thinness of a pickup, either. It sparkles. It can tend to be boomy, but that may be due as much to the characteristics of the guitar, as the iBeam is reproducing what it "hears."

The Last Word: If you're an acoustic guitarist looking for pristine sound, clear ringing highs, strong, tight lows and clarity (it sounds like each string is individually mic'ed) of tone, you should test drive the iBeam. But take your checkbook with you because you¹re going to want to drive it home.

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