Guitar Player Magazine – Art Thompson
iBeam-equipped Goodall Concert Jumbo
SNAPSHOT: The Goodall Concert Jumbo ($4,695 retail as tested/street price N/A) is a lovely, handmade instrument that offers excellent playability, beautiful woods, and head-turning looks. Equipped with an L.R. Baggs iBeam active pickup system, the Concert Jumbo is well suited for stage use and direct recording. It receives an Editors' Pick Award.
Goodall Concert Jumbo
Since 1978, Hawaii-based Goodall Guitars have been building high-end steel-string flat-tops that rival offerings from boutique builders such as Breedlove, Dana Bourgeois, Collings, Lowden, and Santa Cruz. The Goodall Concert Jumbo ($3,400 base; $4,695 as tested with Englemann spruce top, "bent custom" cutaway, and L.R. Baggs iBeam pickup) combines superior tone and playability with tasteful appointments and plenty of eye-catching details.
CONSTRUCTION: You can literally feel the quality of this guitar as you run your hand over its gloss-finished rosewood body and take in the beautiful koa bindings, mosaic back stripe, and abalone rosette. The neck has a nice, rounded shape, and its satin finish is warm and inviting. The polished frets are shaped well and their ends seem practically invisible as you slide your hand along the fretboard's edge. Other cool touches include a polished bone nut and saddle, vintage-style diamond position markers, and an ebony heel cap and peghead facing.
The CJ's interior reveals carefully shaped wooden parts and a generally clean appearance, despite some excess glue spotted in a few areas. The optional L.R. Baggs iBeam pickup ($295) mounted under the bridge plate feeds a discrete, class-A preamp hidden inside a cylindrical endpin jack. Nestled in a small, woven-nylon pouch, the 9-volt battery resides near the neck block. There are no controls on the instrument, so all tone and volume adjustments must be made externally.
PLAYABILITY AND TONES: Thanks to the great-feeling neck and spot-on setup, the CJ is a delight to play. The wide fretboard is ideal for fingerstyle or chord-melody playing, and the cutaway (a $595 option) makes it easy to reach the highest frets. You could play this guitar for hours without fatigue, and its broad, rich tones are endlessly satisfying. The lows are deep and strong, and the highs crisp and sweet. Everything is in balance, and even the complex midrange doesn't overshadow the other frequencies. Though its body is large, the CJ isn't about dreadnought-style punch. Rather, this big-sounding instrument fills the space around you with lush, vibrant tones.
AMPLIFIED SOUND: To audition the CJ's electric side, I plugged into several acoustic combos (including a Trace Elliot TA100R, an Ultrasound 2x8, and a Hughes & Kettner zenAmp dialed to an acoustic preset), and also documented the direct sound by running straight into a Sony DAT Walkman and a Zoom MRS-1044 hard-disk recorder.
Even through the Trace -- which tends to highlight the worst qualities of piezo pickups -- the Baggs system yielded smooth, balanced tones. I had to strike the strings extremely hard to elicit any of the harsh transients that piezos are famous for. One thing I did notice when running into an amp was a persistent overtone that became rather distracting at higher volumes. According to Baggs, this is because the iBeam"hears" not just the strings, but also the guitar's top -- which, in this case, was resonating at around 440Hz. Baggs further explained that because the iBeam's preamp is voiced for direct use, running through most acoustic amps (which typically boost the lows and highs while attenuating the mids) will exacerbate the presence of "wolf" tones.
It was another story, however, when recording direct. In this mode, the iBeam captured the CJ's clarity and warmth with astonishing realism. Listening to the playback on headphones, it was easy to believe that the recordings had been made with a quality mic -- the sound was that airy and dimensional. Quite impressive considering that this test was done without the benefit of Baggs' Para Acoustic D.I. outboard EQ/direct box ($209).
BOTTOM LINES: With its fine acoustic tone, superb playability, and top-notch electronics, the Concert Jumbo certainly has a lot to offer. Songwriters and solo players will dig its inspiring tones, and you can rely on it to sound great even when plugged straight into a P.A. or recording console. Given the number of high-end guitars available these days, choosing one to fulfill your dreams is no easy task. Granted, the Concert Jumbo is an expensive proposition, but you could probably play it for a lifetime without feeling a moment of buyer's remorse.
With its all-new contact transducer, L.R. Baggs looks set to see off the 'bugs' and infest the acoustic world
Guitarist Magazine – Matthew Wig
Imagine the natural, balanced tone that only external mic'ing offers, delivered via the convenience and manageability of a pickup. To this end, L.R. Baggs has developed the iBeam bridge plate pickup, which seemingly combines 'old school' contact transducer ideology with a more microphone-like way of hearing the soundboard, while avoiding typical microphone feedback problems. About the size of a Strat pickup bobbin, the iBeam is designed to sit on the internal bridge plate of a typical X-brace steel-string with a standard six pin bridge. It is firmly attached with a 'single use' adhesive pad. Suggested placement is aligning it with the saddle, but there is scope for experimentation, so you are given spare pads for repositioning. It is possible to fit the iBeam beneath a slotted or non-pin bridge, but the otherwise straightforward installation becomes more fiddley, as the supplied alignment jig relies on pin holes. While something like Takamine's Palathetic pickup may be more solid, the iBeam's exceptional lightness (approx. 8gm) ensures negligible damping on the soundboard. Here's the technical low-down from Lloyd Baggs.
"It's a directionally sensitive body pickup that, like a cardiod microphone, has a focused pattern that admits the good stuff and suppresses certain negative types of vibration information. This results in a signal that is stable and relatively free from feedback. This design is very different from undersaddle pickups where the sensors are placed under high pressure, which results in that squashed, compressed and nonlinear sound we've come to know as piezo." The iBeam Active (a Passive version is also available) is equipped with a quality, class A, all discreet component preamp, fitted into the Strapjack (endpin jack socket). Since the pickup connects directly to the the all-in-one jack/preamp, wiring is minimal. The jack sockets on both the Passive and Active iBeams are stereo to allow a second pickup to be connected, though there are different impedance issues with each iBeam version that restrict the type of pickup it can be paired with. A fixed EQ contour pre-trims the mid frequencies that acoustic guitar pickups usually overemphasize.
SOUNDS: A/B-ing your natural acoustic and iBeam sounds reveals certain discrepancies, but does prove how much other pickup types miss the mark. There's proper acoustic attack here, proper acoustic balance, proper acoustic sustain with its inherent woody damping, plus all the ambiance and percussive elements that you take for granted, but notice when they're not there. The manual admits it can be bass sensitive on some guitars, and that's instantly obvious as low rumbling feedback is is easy to provoke on our test bench Tacoma DR-20 dreadnought to which it is fitted. One criticism is that it delivers a slightly brittle top end, and is a little over hollow, although the kind of warm midrange that makes an acoustic sound good naturally can be overpowering at higher volumes. While you're still going to need some decent outboard EQ and phase switching to tweak and tame the iBeam, an unprecedented percentage of true acoustic essence is preserved.
VERDICT: The pickup is considerably more expensive than your average contact transducer, and a little more than a standard good quality undersaddle piezo, but the coupling with a good value endpin-jack preamp makes the iBeam Active a smarter buy than its passive partner. You can have all the fancy control preamps in the world, but they'll never make a piezo pickup sound as natural and open as this iBeam. Treated subtly at the mixing desk, acoustic amp or other external EQ device, venues will undoubtedly resonate your lush yet intimate acoustic sound. It's something of a breakthrough, that's for sure.
The iBeam is Highly Responsive and Easy to Install
Acoustic Guitar Magazine
A pioneer of undersaddle piezo technology, Lloyd Baggs surprised the industry with a new contact pickup at this year's Winter NAMM show. The I beam-shaped pickup mounts to the guitar's bridge plate (it's about as long as an average saddle), weighs only about eight grams, and is available in passive ($129) and active ($189) versions. One of the biggest differences between the iBeam and other contact pickups is its foolproof installation. Baggs includes a clever jig that allows you to fit the pickup perfectly into position beneath the saddle by using the bridge-pin holes as guides (on guitars with pinless bridges, two small holes may have to be drilled through the saddle slot). The pickup itself is attached to the bridge plate with double-stick tape, and the active pickup's preamp is mounted in the endpin jack. Installing the iBeam was quite easy, and most players should be able to do the job themselves (unless their endpin hole needs to be enlarged, in which case I'd recommend seeing an experienced luthier or repairperson.
The iBeam proved to be a very sensitive pickup that was highly responsive to every part of the guitar. It sounded more like its undersaddle counterparts than other contact pickups, which isn't surprising since it's installed in almost the same place. A heavy attack resulted in a touch of "quack" and also produced a bit of string noise, but softer picking and fingerstyle playing resulted in a sound reminiscent of good undersaddle pickup/mic combinations, but with a feedback threshold higher than what internal mics provide. It had a softer, more natural sound when I moved the pickup closer towards the bridge pins. Where some contact pickups become tubby as they're turned up, the iBeam was very controllable at all volumes and had excellent punch and presence. There was very little difference between the sound of the active iBeam and the passive version used with an external preamp, but the passive pickup lacks a built-in EQ curve and may need more tweaking.
Christian Musician Magazine – Bob Kilpatrick
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.