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Recording direct with Taylor ES2

Discussion in 'Recording' started by quesne, Jan 24, 2016.

  1. quesne

    quesne Active Member

    I have a Taylor 816e with the Expression System 2, and I enjoy recording with it. I've got two young kids, so my studio time often falls during play and/or homework time.

    On the rare occasion I do have some quiet studio time, I record with two or three of my (decent) condenser mics plus the pickup. I usually capture several concurrent signals (i.e. from 2 or 3 mics plus the pickup) and then mix them.

    Many times, however, using a mic is simply not possible. There is so much ambient noise that the tracks are useless. In those instances, I would like to make the most of my ES2 system and get the best signal possible.

    I have a Zoom R16 and three ART Dual MP rack mounted boxes. I have the Dual MPs set up with a few different 12AX7 and 5751 tubes for various mics and instrument combos. I find most of the tubes work well with mics, but only certain tubes are good instrument preamps.

    I find I get a pretty clean and decent signal going through a non-High Z channel straight into the R16. But the ART Dual MP does not have a 1/4" input which is non-High Z. Each channel has an XLR input, and a High Z 1/4".

    I would like to improve the signal quality when I am going direct with the ES2. I am not really particular about whether it is through the R16, or if the ADMPs are in the chain. I'm just looking for some advice or good ideas to try. Or maybe some experience with a similar setup?

    Thanks in advance :)
  2. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I love recording Taylor guitars and have recorded many of their models, but, as it happens, I don't remember every having taken DI from a Taylor fitted with an ES2. My impression from the rather scant literature is that the ES2 consists of three piezo pickups mounted behind the bridge, and the pickup outputs go either separately or wired in parallel into a body-mounted circuit board which acts as a pre-amp. This should mean that there is a relatively low output impedance at the guitar jack.

    If this is the case, you can use any medium to high impedance DI input on the external receiving equipment. I think you have got a bit confused about this point. It is best to use inputs that are specifically designed for DI and to avoid using a jack that is a line-level input if it can't be switched to DI impedance and sensitivity.
  3. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    What exactly is it that you dislike, or find lacking, when going directly from the Taylor to the Zoom? Does your particular Expression system terminate in a ¼" or XLR?

    I've provided live sound for countless people playing Taylor and Martin acoustics using their built-in pickups. I've heard some that sounded beautiful, some sounded cheap and 'plastic'. My Nashville buddy says if you go to one of the best techs in town, his shop is littered with E systems he's pulled out of Taylors in favor of something else. Meanwhile, I've heard some E systems played live, that sounded as good as any mono ribbon mic in a studio setting could.

    In a live performance setting there are too many factors to know for sure whether it's the guitar, or the electronics, or anomalies in the room. But I do know, both companies know how to consistently make great sounding guitars. But due to natural variations in wood and the human factors, some still sound a little better than others acoustically - before you plug them in. And on top of that, I can tell you the slightest variation in the position of the pickup(s) can affect the tone immensely.

    I own an AKG C411 PP, which is a contact mic. It is a mini condenser made to stick to the body of any string instrument. And what you quickly learn is, that big dreadnought spruce top is like a self-contained acoustic space, and like any room has specific locations that sound better due to varying resonances and nulls, so does every surface of an acoustic guitar. So what you get down on the lower bout is predictably bassy and mellow, and what you get up next to the bridge is bright and trebly. If you pick a spot that you think sounds good somewhere in-between, you can move the mic a fraction of an inch in four directions and get four very different tones. There are as many tones to be had as there are places to stick the mic. I'm only guessing, but I've often suspected that some of the great acoustic guitars that sound less than stellar plugged in, are just suffering from poor pickup placement.

    I guess what that boils down to is; this could be a guitar tech solution, rather than electronic.

    My 2¢
  4. quesne

    quesne Active Member

    Thanks Boswell

    Your description of the ES2 sounds correct: three separate piezo pickups wired in parallel (I think) through an on-board preamp. Each pickup is tuned for sensitivity / frequency response by increasing it's pressure on the bridge by way of a hex screw. You are also correct that I am confused about the relationship between the Hi-Z switch on channel 1 of the R16, and the output from the 816e. I know that the 816e output is low impedance (just as is the McIntyre Feather and my Dean Markley "button" pickup). The sound quality for the low impedance pickups does seem to be better through the low-Z connections. I can put the Dean Markley through an ART Dual MP channel and it sounds pretty nice.

    Where I am confused, for example, is when you say, "This should mean that there is a relatively low output impedance at the guitar jack......If this is the case, you can use any medium to high impedance DI input on the external receiving equipment." If the ES2 output is low impedance at the jack, do I want it to go into the high impedance DI input? If that is the case, I should use the Hi-Z input for the ES2, and the line level inputs for the high impedance pickups. They do seem to work that way, but they do not sound nearly as good.

    Admittedly, a little confused by this! Thanks very much for your help :)
  5. quesne

    quesne Active Member

    Thanks to both of you. I appreciate your feedback. I have definitely learned that going directly into the R16 is best for the ES2. For the McIntyre and the Dean Markley, however, I do find I can get nice results through the ADMP with certain tube brands and types.

    To answer your question dvdhawk: My guitar's end-pin jack is a unbalanced 1/4". It is the newest version of Expression System (tech sheet link below). Also, though you do mention pickups in your post, much of the content seems to referring to live sound and/or mics. I have no problem with live sound, only recording.

    So, in a nut shell, the main problem I get with the ES2 is that the signal sounds vaguely distorted and/or overcompressed as I play a little harder. I am trying to figure out whether I can do something vis-a-vis the signal chain (or input levels?) to address the issue. When I get the chance to do some A-B testing that I can share, I will post the files here.

    Thank you again for your help :)

  6. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Yes, you really do want to go into a DI input, whether the guitar has a high output impedance (piezo pickup with no pre-amp) or has a built-in pre-amp that produces a low or medium-impedance output. Some DI inputs are not very high impedance, and although these will work OK with guitars that have built-in pre-amps, they do not give such good results with unbuffered piezo pickups.

    Does a new battery in the ES2 make any difference?
  7. quesne

    quesne Active Member

    OK. Thanks Boswell. I will try doing some controlled A-B tests between the various Hi-Z and DI options that I have.

    I am not really sure about the battery, but your suggestion is sheer genius ;-) I got the 816e as "new-old stock" about a month ago (2014 model in flawless condition). The battery may be 2 years old, but since the light went on in the sound hole, I never thought to change it. Will do so this evening.

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