Of the September/October 2022 problem of acoustic guitar | By Kate King
Advances in acoustic amplifier technology, such as programmable digital effects and onboard multitrack recording, have given modern acoustic artists more access to broader amplified sonic palettes than ever before. One such development is the advent of Bluetooth apps, allowing guitarists to remotely control amp effects, control loopers and more – all on their smartphone or tablet.
Founded in 2006, Nux sells a wide range of digital and analogue products, from amplifiers and digital drums to keyboards and effects. For the acoustic guitarist, the company offers its flagship Stageman II AC-80 ($449 street), an 80-watt combo amp that includes a Bluetooth app, among many other cool features geared toward gigging musicians are. I put the amp through its paces and was just as impressed with its flexibility as it was with its tonal versatility.
The Stageman features a 6.5″ speaker and 1″ tweeter and is encased in a dark sienna wood cabinet with a cream panel. It’s a compact package, weighing just 22 pounds in about a foot cube. The amp is ideal for gigging in a variety of settings. It has two channels – one with 1/4″ input and the other with 1/4″ and XLR combo inputs – and to suit buskers it can run on battery power only for an estimated 4.5 max hours can be operated.
As soon as I connected my Taylor AD12e to the Stageman, I was impressed by the fidelity of the amplified signal to the original acoustic sound. Even the best electronic setups can spoil the organic tone of an acoustic instrument, but in this case it was like hearing my first impression of my guitar a second time, only louder. The smooth, bright sound of the AD12e came through almost as clearly as when it was unplugged.
The Channel 1 amp’s onboard settings are controlled by a three-way toggle switch, allowing you to choose between Strum, Finger and NOR settings. Strum gives you a rounder, deeper sound that’s strong in the bass and mids, while Finger Drops offers that effect in exchange for a bright, sparkling flatness that’s ideal for fingerpicking. NOR is just a flat EQ.
To get the most out of the Strum and Finger presets, I left each of the three frequency controls at 50 percent; However, I preferred to turn the bottom end down just a bit for the Strum setting as it was a bit too heavy for me. That might be because I’m primarily a finger picker – of course the finger adjustment was my favorite and I found it even improved the quality of my tone by mixing this brightness preset with my personal expression.
The EFX knob offers 12 options for chorus/delay/reverb that can be selected in the app. It’s nuanced, especially when kept centered (less is more!), but it’s also fun to crank up for the songs you might want to add some unconventional color to. Applied lightly or heavily, it can create a beautiful embellishment that sounds like it’s in outer space and works well with both fingerpicking and strumming. The EFX sits between the reverb control and the gain control. The former maintains about the same decay with minimal diffusion when going from dry to wet (making the projected space feel larger without excessive reflection), while the latter cleanly adjusts the level of the input signal without adding distortion.
Channel 2 has a two-way toggle switch with Phase and NOR options. Otherwise the settings are the same as on channel 1. When using channels 1 and 2 together – with a guitar and a microphone – the effects are processed separately for each channel, allowing you to assign different reverb or FX levels to each channel according to your needs Taste.
Besides the essentials, an added attraction of the Stageman is its drum/loop function. The amp comes with Nux’s NMP-2 dual footswitch, which can be used to trigger a metronome or stick beat and record loops of up to 60 seconds, or toggle the reverb and a second selected effect on and off. (You connect the footswitch to an input on the back of the amp for the first pair of functions and a different input for the latter pair.)
The handiness of the footswitch is enhanced when paired with the free Stageman app, available for both iOS and Android devices. The app allows you to choose from eight different Impulse Response (IR) acoustic guitar profiles, which you can customize with high- and low-pass filters. There are 12 different effects and four different reverbs, each with adjustable decay, attenuation and mix level. The drum machine has ten beat options as well as BPM control, mix level and tapping function. The looper can also be controlled via the app. You can also save all the settings you have made on the Effects screen with the app.
When using the IRs, there are options for acoustic profiles that use either magnetic or piezo pickups; Your guitar is compatible with the profiles that match the pickup it has. (My AD12e acoustic/electric comes with Taylor’s ES2 electronics system, so I worked with the piezo profiles.) Profiles include a Gibson Hummingbird, Martin D-45, and Taylor 814ce.
It’s incredibly fun to play around with the shapeshifting IRs. The Gibson Hummingbird profile turned my Taylor into a ringing, vintage-sounding instrument, while the Martin D-45 profile recreated the warm, rich tone of the legendary dreadnought. Hopefully you already play a guitar that you love the tone of – but with the help of the IRs you can try out eight more.
Experimenting with the combination of the footswitch and the app, I found that applying delay and reverb at the same time didn’t result in the two sounds becoming muddy. Instead, they complemented each other as the setup ran the effects independently and mixed them in the final mix; a subtle but important functionality.
The final result
Overall, I found the Nux Stageman II AC-80 not only accurate in its reproduction of my guitar’s tonal personality, but also versatile with its effects options, associated IRs, and drum/loop setup. You don’t have to use loops to get anything out of this amp – its natural tone is enough to make it a valuable piece of equipment. But, hardly superfluous, the app’s features offer endless opportunities to boost creativity in all aspects of performance. The total package is worth the investment.