The Great Debate – Mics vs Pickups for Resonator Guitar


Things have come a long way for squareneck resonator guitarists. When I got started an OMI Dobro was the only choice in guitars, pickups for resonator guitar were poorly designed or non-existant and every gig was a sonic adventure in trying to dial in the sound I was looking for. Over the years I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time and money chasing after a live performance rig which would give me the sound I was looking for and I’d like to share that story with you.

Long before the “who makes the best squareneck resonator guitar” discussions on the reso forums, one of the great debates centered around the use microphones vs. pickups for live performances. Advocates of microphones argued that only a good microphone could faithfully reproduce the sound of a resonator guitar. Pickups were viewed as a necessary evil, or worse, depending on one’s point of view.

FWIW, I lived on both sides of that debate and, starting with microphones, over the course of time I’ve experimented with a wide variety of different makes and models, including the Shure SM57, SM98, KSM137, AKG C1000, C535EB, Rode NT5, AKG C414, Audix  F9, DPA 4099G and finally settling on a Shure KSM32, which I still use today.

One of the missing elements from those discussions, a fact of life that I had to learn for myself – is that the only thing consistent about live performance venues is their inconsistency. Everything in the signal chain contributes to live performance  sound – in order of importance – venue acoustics, your guitar, microphone or pickup, amplification system, speakers, sound engineer (or lack thereof), even the number of people in a room and their attentiveness (or lack of).

It all matters.

“The sound heard in an auditorium by a listener is a complex combination of the sound produced by the gear and the way that it interacts with the room. It’s a fact that most of the sound heard by any listener gets there only after many, many interactions with the room’s surfaces. Each reflection modifies the sound a bit, and after several interactions, it looks nothing like what left the loudspeaker in the first place. The room places its own signature on all sounds radiated into it, which can either enhance or corrupt the sound. Good gear doesn’t sound good when used in a bad room.” – Audio expert Pat Brown

In a great sounding room even a mediocre microphone will sound good and a high quality microphone might sound amazing. One of my favorite places to play where I live in Chicago is at the Old Town School of Folk Music which was formerly a library which was donated to the school by the City of Chicago. The building has classic architecture with tall ceilings, wide open spaces and classrooms of many different sizes, and also includes a 425 seat theatre. As a sidebar – I’ve played in the theatre many times, but truthfully I love playing my resonator guitar acoustically in almost any room in that building. The natural reverb of playing in those spaces is a wonder to behold. A great joy. For resonator guitarists, playing in a great sounding room is the equivalent of an electric guitarist playing on a big stage through Marshall stacks. It doesn’t get better! The problem with live performance sound is that there are far more bad sounding venues than good ones – big echoey halls, small dead rooms, bars with low ceilings and noisy crowds, electric guitarists and loud drummers. If you’ve ever played in those types of environments using only a microphone you’ve experienced this inconvenient truth firsthand: any microphone, regardless of brand or quality, will feedback if pushed beyond a certain point. 

When I got started playing squareneck resonator guitar my first gig was playing in bars with a country band with two electric guitarists, a bassist and a drummer. Just a few months prior to joining the band I had spent a small fortune outfitting my OMI D60 Dobro with a Bill Lawrence guitar pickup (which I stuck on my guitar with double sided sticky tape) and an internally mounted Shure SM98 which I ran through a Pendulum acoustic instrument preamplifier. I was really excited that I’d be getting a chance to plug in and rock out with the boys in the band. This was the day of the two-pronged approach to acoustic instrument amplification – getting the best of both worlds by blending the acoustic tone of a microphone with the reliability and consistency of a pickup. Although that rig was one of the more advanced approaches for its time, the truth is, it didn’t work very well. The pickup made my guitar sound like a lap steel and I found it difficult to get enough volume through the internally mounted microphone to cut through the mix. I used that rig in a lot of different venues but I never could dial in the tone I was looking for, not to mention getting enough volume to compete with electric guitars, a bassist and a drummer.

Since that time the market has exploded and the technology for amplifying a squareneck resonator guitar has evolved – from the early days of magnetic pickups to the McIntyre FeatherSchertler Basik, Fishman Classic Series Passive Resophonic Pickup and finally to a piezo pickup like the Fishman Nashville Series pickup which is designed to be used with the Jerry Douglas Aura pedal and based on acoustic imaging technology. The Fishman pickup/Aura combination may not be inexpensive – retail price for the pickup is $199 while the JD Aura pedal retails for $319 (street prices may be lower) – but it comes very close to replicating the sound of playing through a good microphone and resolves the shortcomings of previous pickup technologies. In my opinion, the Fishman Nashville Series Pickup/Aura rig is the best sounding pickup for squareneck resonator guitars currently available. A word of caution: unless you are a handy person and familiar with these sorts of things, professional installation is recommended for the Fishman pickup.

Since installing the Fishman Nashville Series Pickup in my guitar (I had the work done by noted luthier Kent Schoonover using his modular spider) I’ve done a lot of experimenting with different preamps and spatial effects – reverbs and delays – to dial in the sound I like. In future posts I’ll provide reviews of the Radial PZ Pre Acoustic Instrument Preamp, Neunaber Stereo Wet Reverb, TC Electronics Flashback Delay, TC Ditto 2X, Peterson Stomp Classic and the Electro Harmonix Freeze.

One of the reasons the mic vs. pickup debate has faded from popular discussion is because the technology in amplifying a resonator guitar with a pickup is no longer an issue. The debate is no longer a case of “either or” but a matter of personal preference and/or needs. There will always be a place for microphones for the resonator guitarist. At the very least, having a pickup installed in your guitar is like having an insurance policy – you can always try using a microphone and plug in as needed. At their best, however, pickups provide superior consistency in live performance sound and go a long way toward helping you to cut through the mix. In addition, if you are willing to experiment, playing with a pickup opens up a brand new world of possibilities with looping pedals, reverb, delays and other sound shaping devices which, if used tastefully, can really enhance creativity and help you communicate your music to your audience more effectively.

Howard Parker shares the following key takeaways:

Several of observations as an early adopter myself:

1. As Rob pointed out it’s not a question of p/u -or- mic. It’s often a question of p/u -or- nothing. Either the environment is not suitable for a mic or the music requires the player to modify the signal with spacial or dynamic effects, something very difficult to accomplish with a microphone.

2. Amplification does not mask bad technique either from the player or the band. If fact poor player technique will be more obvious. I hear “where did that pick/string noise come from?”. The answer is pretty obvious. 😉

“I can’t hear myself in my bluegrass band” is a poor reason to go down the amplification rabbit hole. Identify and correct the problem be it player technique, uncooperative band mates or poor sound reinforcement.

3. The Nashville pickup and Aura pedal do not make a complete setup I’m afraid. Rob detailed the basic expenses but be prepared to pay much more. At the very least be prepared to add spacial effects (reverb & delay) back into to the signal chain. Those effects allow you you emulate a natural space. That natural space will cost you….

So…Think before you leap. Amplification is a valuable tool. When required there is not an alternative.

When not absolutely required it’s just a waste of money.


Rob Anderlik is a professional musician specializing in dobro and Weissenborn guitar. He is an active member of the music scene in Chicago and a frequent collaborator with players in a variety of musical genres and maintains an active schedule of gigs and studio projects. He can be found on the web at

Chasing After Our Heroes by Rob Anderlik


“And so Galahad decided that it would be a disgrace to set off on a quest with the other knights. Alone he would enter the dark forest where there was no path. This is the myth of the Hero’s Journey” – Joseph Campbell

Every musician has a story to tell which usually starts by being inspired by one of their musical heroes. Heroes play an incredibly important role in our own development as musicians – they inspire us to begin our journey and provide us with a treasure trove of musical DNA which leads us on our way. When we’re inspired by our heroes something gets stirred deep within our souls. We stand in awe of what we’ve experienced in their music and we see – perhaps for the first time – a glimmer of those possibilities within ourselves. Part of what inspires us about our heroes is their uniqueness. The greatest musicians are completely authentic in every detail, with their own catalog of tunes, unique tone and signature licks. And while we may appreciate the skills of musicians who can imitate others  – even with virtuosity – we are rarely inspired by them.

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you really are” – C.J. Jung

Dobro superstar Rob Ickes – “As far as the evolution of it when I started my goal was to sound like Mike Auldridge; that was all I wanted to do. And then I got into Jerry Douglas, Josh Graves and Brother Oswald, those are my four main influences. As I got older I listed to those guys so much, absorbed a lot of it and started to wonder, “what do I sound like?” It felt funny to play a Jerry Douglas lick. I felt like I was stealing every time I played an Auldridge lick or Josh Graves and I really got curious about “what do I sound like” or “how would I play this.” And it helped me to make that switch. A lot of people don’t do it. They might get to where they can play like Jerry and they stop right there. That’s o.k. but I was always curious about what I sounded like and it’s been a continual search.”

Imagine all of the incredible music the dobro world would be missing if Rob Ickes had played if safe. After all, he was one of the best and brightest dobro players to come along in a long time. More importantly, what happens if we decide to play it safe and never begin the search for things of our own? Dobro/guitarist David Hamburger put it this way

“I once asked Gatemouth Brown when you should start working on having your own style, and without batting an eye he said, “as soon as you’ve got the basics down.” Now, what it means to have “the basics down” is kind of open ended, and of course one really good way to learn is to figure out how the musicians you love are making the sounds you want to be able to make on the instrument. But how is only half of the equation; the other half is why. You can never own someone else’s why, you have to come up with your own. If you just learn to play like other people, you’ll always only have half the picture. What do you want to play? What do you think it should sound like? What’s your personality, and how is it going to come out on the instrument? Once you start to get a handle on that, you’ll have something all your own, and that’s the bedrock every musician ultimately needs to find.”

“Every generation stands on the shoulders of the previous one” – Tim O’Brien 

Developing basic skills, learning your musical ABC’s is an important first step in our development as musicians, but hopefully there comes a time where we step out of the well worn paths provided by our hero’s and begin to search for things of our own. You may just discover pure gold in the form of your own music and musical expression.

Rob Anderlik is a professional musician specializing in dobro and Weissenborn guitar. He is an active member of the music scene in Chicago and a frequent collaborator with players in a variety of musical genres and maintains an active schedule of gigs and studio projects. He can be found on the web at

The Courage to Create by Rob Anderlik


“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” – Teddy Roosevelt 

One of the most incredible features of music is how it can break down walls and bring people together. Everyone loves music. We’re wired for it. Music is true soul food and as musicians we experience this in some truly profound ways. Yet in order to develop to our full potential as musicians, eventually we need to get in the arena, put our music out there and allow ourselves to be seen and heard. For some folks getting in the arena may mean playing an original song in front of family and friends, for others it may mean learning a tune and posting it on YouTube for the first time. Maybe for you it means going to your first jam session or trying out for a band. Taking those first steps can seem a little daunting, but you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The world needs to hear your music and you need the feedback in order to develop to your full potential. Deep in our hearts we know that even our best performance has at least some imperfections. But the goal of creating music and sharing music with others isn’t about perfection. At it’s best it’s about connecting with others and expressing yourself through an incredibly powerful art form. Remember that beautiful music isn’t necessarily difficult to play.  Whether you are just getting started or have been playing for many years I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and get into the arena.

Rob Anderlik is a professional musician specializing in dobro and Weissenborn guitar. He is an active member of the music scene in Chicago and a frequent collaborator with players in a variety of musical genres and maintains an active schedule of gigs and studio projects.  He can be found on the web at