If Fishman’s biggest Loudbox is the only one intended for performing, Sam Wise wonders what the others are for…
Fishman must be getting pretty confident about sending us Loudboxes – over the years the range has been in production, they’ve sent us every model but this, and from the tiny Mini to the larger models, we’ve loved them all. Fishman has been delighting acoustic guitarists since 1981, when Larry Fishman first started developing piezo pickups, and for some time, theirs were the only pickups anyone talked about in polite society. The rest of the world has caught up to some extent, but Fishman still rarely make a bad product, and their amps are no exception.
Build quality and features
Fishman doesn’t go crazy with the styling on the Loudbox range; they all look much the same. The tried and tested recipe is followed here; a brown vinyl-clad box with protected corners, and slanted creamy brown front and rear panels, with all the controls mounted thereon. For more accessibility of the front panel, the whole front grille leans back a little, which gives this unit, already taller than the rest of the range, a sense of leaning nonchalantly against a wall, whistling to itself like the Fonz. There’s even a handy kickstand on the back, ideal if you want to lean the amp back further to use it as a monitor, or if you’re missing your childhood Raleigh Chopper. It’s good looking enough, if you like brown (and we do), and more importantly, it’s tough. We’ve seen a few Loudboxes with chips in the paint, but you have to drop one pretty hard to damage the case, and the one we’ve seen that was dropped hard enough still worked.
This is a two channel affair, and rather than make assumptions about what will get plugged in, Fishman provide two entirely equal channels. Both have a combined XLR and jack connector, a gain control, three-channel EQ, a notch filter to tackle feedback, and a mix control for one of the two banks of built-in effects. There are also push buttons for a 10 db pad (to control higher output pickups, with a built-in clipping LED to warn you if you’re about to punch a hole in the speaker), phase switching, and to engage or disengage the second bank of effects. Effect A has dedicated controls for effect selection (two reverbs, a delay and an echo, since you ask) and for delay timing, whilst Effect B (two choruses, a flanger and a slap echo) has a selection control and a depth control. We also have an aux level, a master volume, a headphone jack, and a selection of small controls for phantom power, mute (which kills both channels and XLR outputs without touching the aux input, allowing you to ensure your instruments stay quiet while you play background music) and a rotary control to attenuate the tweeter to suit your tone.
On the back panel, we have a power socket and switch, a connector for a footswitch which functions only to mute the channels and Effect B, and 1/4 inch and 1/8 inch aux jacks for your external sound sources. There’s also a range of I/O sockets on the back, including a post-effect DI output, and effects loops and pre-EQ outputs for both channels.
There’s no question that this is a professional grade package; with 180 watts to play with, it has all the features you really need on stage, and none of those you don’t, all put together in a box that can take the knocks.
We plugged in our notoriously pernickety all-mahogany Washburn dreadnought, a deep, chocolaty-sounding guitar equipped with a Fishman-sourced Martin pickup, which provides a challenge for any amp. With the EQ set flat, it reproduced the tone of the guitar beautifully, with all the detail of the blossoming mids and lows coming through wonderfully. This is a good benchmark; this guitar sounds good through a decent sound reproduction system, but getting the most out of the tonewoods is something not every amp manages. A bit of judicious EQ tweaking satisfied us – there were plenty of options should your guitar need taming, or indeed should you need to find a tone which doesn’t come naturally to it. A little scoop to the mid, and some boost to the treble with a dash of reverb and we have a lovely bright tone that’s not a million miles from spruce and mahogany; not bad at all for this guitar.
By way of a test of the notch filter, we turn the level up well into howling feedback, but with a bit of fiddling with the feedback control and the phase switch, things are back under control, and we suspect this amp has set the entirely subjectively measured record for loudest feedback-free performance in our testing space. The effects on the Performer are very useable, particularly the first bank, which provides excellent reverb control. The second bank’s chorus and flange controls can unwittingly send you into the 80s, but used subtly they are worth having.
This is not a cheap and cheerful amp, but it really will do the job of a PA, provided you only need two inputs. Soloists, singer-songwriters and duos will find that they can do bigger venues than you would imagine possible with this sort of rig, and as you graduate to bigger venues, you can DI into the house sound system, and continue to use the Fishman as a foldback system. It’s rugged, professional, well-equipped, and it just works. We can do no more or less than to recommend it strongly to anyone who needs a dependable amp for live performance. Sam Wise