The search for the ultimate acoustic guitar amplifier: interview with designer Michael Eisenmann


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When acoustic guitar amplifier guru Michael Eisenmann joined forces with Hughes & Kettner to create a brand new acoustic amp, we at Blog Of Tone were excited, curious, and a little bit… apprehensive. What would they come up with? How could Eisenmann improve on his previous designs, which are celebrated by acoustic guitar players worldwide? But he’s done it, and the result starts a whole new era for acoustic amplification. Read the story of how the amp came about, and scroll down to watch our exclusive interview with Michael Eisenmann below!

Playing the acoustic guitar is one of the purest ways to express your emotions through music.

In fact, that’s probably the reason why so many people seem to have a dusty old six-string under their bed and a handful of chords they can wheel out to play around the campfire whenever the need arises.

Anyone can play guitar, after all – and as Thom Yorke of Radiohead once very famously sang – and as many guitarists know, it’s a great way to impress people of both genders. If you can get your fingers round More Than Words while singing in tune, that is.

So why amplify an acoustic guitar at all?

Well, as loud as the boomiest of dreadnoughts go, at some point you’re going to run into a situation where the instrument alone is not going to cut it.

You might be playing shows with a band, or busking on a busy city street corner, or playing as part of an orchestra or ensemble, or similar. And this is when you need reinforcements.

Enter Eisenmann

Chances are you’ll know the Michael Eisenmann name if you’ve ever even considered buying an acoustic amp.

Hughes & Kettner era 1 designer Michael Eisenmann hard at work.

Hughes & Kettner era 1 designer Michael Eisenmann hard at work. He’s clearly the old-school ‘pen and paper’ type.

He’s designed many of the best of them over the last quarter of a century, after all.

If you haven’t, though, let’s fill you in a little.

After studying electrical engineering in the 1980s, a young Eisenmann was freelancing in his field – developing small speaker systems was a specialty – when he met a local music shop owner by the name Udo Rösner.

The two men bonded over the desire to build a solution for acoustic guitarists wanting amplification. It became something of a fascination for Eisenmann.

Ideas of the perfect acoustic amp

Their dream amplifier had to be small, dynamic, great-sounding, easy to use, and streamlined in appearance. As they talked to more acoustic guitarists about the idea, and presented their works in progress, it became apparent that transparent sound was a necessity.

The perfect acoustic amplifier must color the tone of the instrument plugged into it as little as possible.

In fact, if the guitar player and audience couldn’t notice the difference, then that would be a monumental success.

Kind of boring, when you consider the all-singing, all-dancing MIDI programmable beasts we usually talk about on the Blog Of Tone.

But then an electric guitar amp is an instrument of itself; we praise the influence of preamps and power tubes, and cry over cathode followers – or the lack of them – in our never-ending quest for the ultimate in electric guitar tone.

In the world of the acoustic, transparency is king.

A 25-year journey ends in a new era

Eisenmann has put his hand to a great many killer acoustic amps over the years. The first major player was the Akusticube in 1991, and now, just over a quarter of a century later, we have era 1.

And this is it: the Hughes & Kettner era 1 in its black (left) and wood versions. Nice.

And this is it: the Hughes & Kettner era 1 in its black (left) and wood versions. Nice.

In the meantime, technology has improved, features have come and gone – the good ones stuck around, of course – and shapes, sizes, and sounds have changed.

But what has stayed the same is Eisenmann’s desire for an amp that lets the acoustic player hear his or her instrument, only louder.

era 1 does that, and how. Check out these clips of acoustic guitar genius Petteri Sariola putting the amp through its paces:

 

 

But you’ll need to experience it in the flesh yourself to really appreciate era 1’s true majesty.

Everything the modern acoustic player needs

As well as the sounds, era 1 has everything a 21st century guitarist could need:

  • Loads of pristine clean headroom (it has a 250-watt power amp) for incredible playing dynamics
  • Two identical channels for guitars and vocals, with powerful EQs to get the most out of any instrument or voice type
  • Two more channels for adding in anything else you fancy – a smartphone for backing tracks maybe, a MacBook for samples, or a drum machine
  • An incredible built-in FX section (with different reverbs and delays, chorus, flanger, and combinations of all of the above). Sure, era 1 is about preserving your guitar’s tone, but sometimes you need FX, be it to flesh out the sound for creative reasons, or to ring your tone to life in a dry room
  • A bunch of connections for every situation you could imagine: an FX loop for stompboxes of your own, a DI for sending the amp to the PA or mixer, an optical out to go to high-end studio equipment, a stereo line out, tuner and headphone outs, and more
  • Eisenmann-approved size and weight: era 1 has an 8” speaker (and a 1” dome tweeter) and weighs less than 22 lbs./10 kg, and it’s easy as pie to transport and set up. Plus it can easily be mounted on a pole, and it comes with a tilt stand, so you can set the amp at the perfect angle for your ears – or your audience’s

The long and winding road

It’s taken Eisenmann a long way to get this far because perfecting amps is a long process.

Actually, the perfect amp probably doesn’t exist. But with each step, each feedback round from professional and hobby players, he gets a step closer.

One thing is safe to say at this point: era 1 begins a new era of acoustic amplification.

Let’s see where Eisenmann goes from here.

Now watch the interview we did with Michael about era 1, where he tells us his story, and the story behind the amp:

 

And we’d love to know your thoughts too of course, so leave us your comments below!

 

First published: June 07 2017. Most recent update: July 26 2017.

Acoustic guitar virtuoso Petteri Sariola is the first official endorser of the Hughes & Kettner era 1 acoustic guitar amplifier.

Acoustic guitar virtuoso Petteri Sariola is the first official endorser of the Hughes & Kettner era 1 acoustic guitar amplifier.

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Leave a comment

Andrea Armenti on June 8, 2017 Reply

I actually was looking for an acoustic amp for my piezo output on my jp6, would this work well with this amp?

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on June 9, 2017 Reply

    Hi Andrea, absolutely! We had Dave Young and Devin Townsend visit us yesterday and Dave played with his Framus signature electric over era 1 (and his TubeMeister Deluxe 40) simultaneously. It worked great! The electric magnetic pickups and piezo together were super fat. There’s a video coming soon, so keep watching our YouTube and Facebook pages, or try the amp for yourself if you see it first 🙂

Jake on June 22, 2017 Reply

This amp looks really exciting!
I gig and busk internationally with my AER Compact 60iii, it will be interesting to hear how this amp compares!
Would absolutely love to get my hands on one!

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on June 22, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for the kind words Jake! Yep, it’s exciting for us too, as we’ve not done an acoustic amp like this before. It does some serious kick ass though, and we’re interested to hear how era 1 holds up for you when you try it, so write back and let us know 🙂 But we’re pretty sure you’ll like what you hear if you already dig the Compact 60…

Dennis E. King on June 22, 2017 Reply

I like the aesthetics, the weight, and the fx’s .
But the 250 Watt amp, combined with the dual 8″, and high end tweeter, interest me the most.
Can it really reproduce the Acoustic tone faithfully ?
I’m going to take one for a test spin. Weigh it’s performance against the price, It might be just what I’ve been looking for..

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on June 23, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for the kind words Dennis, and we’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts when you’ve heard the amp in person for yourself with your guitar! For us, era 1 gets closer to the original tone of the acoustic than any other amp we’ve tested – and we’ve tested a few 😉 We hope it lives up to expectations for you 🙂

Jon-Nolan Paresa on June 23, 2017 Reply

Was Mr. Eisenmann associated with AER? If so, what would make this amp more attractive than the AER? Do you know when the amp will be available in the US and how much is the expected price of the amp?

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on June 26, 2017 Reply

    Hi Jon-Nolan! Yes, Michael was Mr. AER for many years and was responsible for many of their best amps. The new era 1 takes all of Michael’s expertise and the advances made in technology, and adds them to the knowledge H&K has of the global amp market. H&K’s sister company, HK Audio, was also instrumental in the process. Together, we’re confident we’ve made an amp that improves on Michael’s previous offerings in every respect, from sounds to features, to build quality. Of course, when it comes down to it, it’s how it sounds to you, the player, though – so we’d urge you to try one when you get the chance and let us know if you agree with us or if you think we’re talking nonsense 😉

    Hmm, in terms of availability, we’re hopeful the first shipments will reach the US in late summer, and the prices will be made public around then – just check up with your favorite H&K dealer to get a ballpark price. One thing we can say at this point is: the amp is being advertised by many European retailers at €1,199 at the time we’re writing this… we’d expect the USD price to not be much different.

    Hope this helps!

    Team H&K in Germany

Jon-Nolan Paresa on July 14, 2017 Reply

Thank you for your reply. I can’t wait to purchase the era 1 the moment it arrives in the US.

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on July 17, 2017 Reply

    No problem, and we hope you like the amp as much as we do when you get to play it for yourself! 🙂

    Team H&K