I bought my Dobro – a DWC90 model from 2004 – second hand and it came with a magnetic pickup at the neck. It’s taken me a while to get around to it but I’ve always wanted to add a pickup or a mic to somehow bring out the acoustic/resonator sound when playing with the band. We wanted to use it on a few songs in our New Brunswick 2013 Battle of the Blues gig in Redcar, the North East heat, and I had some free time at the end of Jan so I thought, “Right, let’s sort it!”
Lots of advice from guitar shops, luthiers, facebook friends and forums and what have you but, in the end, I followed the advice of two cracking slide guitarists from the North East (Lee Bates and Jim Murray) and ordered a Schatten RG03 pickup – “The Original center mount pickup designed specifically for Dobro style spider bridge instruments”. I went for the passive model, to be used with a pre-amp.
In case something went wrong and I had to call in the cavalry, I kept a record of how the fitting went. Actually, it went well but anyway for posterity here it is… Or skip to the end to hear it and read about our misadventures in Redcar!
Loosen the strings but keep them attached – for testing the sound and set-up as you go.
Remove the cover plate. I see the saddle is very slightly offset but only enough to get a screwdriver to the main screw. I’m curious about this as I’ve had a few intonation problems.
Experimenting with string gauges, shaping the bridge a little and moving the spider and cone back as far as possible seems to have just about cured it but if it starts to get on my nerves again, I might consider a compensated/more offset spider. Lots of posts on this here.
The piezo pickup sits just under the cone, but not in contact directly – you insulate it with a ring of putty
At this stage, I strung it back up and checked the tone, volume and general playability. Everything seems okay. As I already had had an endpin jack for the magnetic pickup, I didn’t have to drill through the body so on to the electrics.
The new pickup was pre-soldered to a jack and it looked like it handled a stereo plug (hinted at in the instructions referring to ‘mono use’). It turns out the active Schatten pickups don’t use a battery stored inside the guitar – which makes sense, you wouldn’t want to have to take the cover and cone off every time you change the battery – but instead get power through a stereo cable from a external pre-amp unit. I guess it’s just easier to included a stereo endpin jack whatever, even though my passive pickup doesn’t need one.
Not being the most technical/electrical type, I emailed Schatten and Rothbury Music to query this – Both came back promptly and helpfully confirming that indeed a stereo end pin was included. So, if I wired it up right, I could use the stereo endpin jack to output the magnetic and piezo sounds on different channels. I’d only have volume knob control over the magnetic element of the sound, but no worries – maybe something I’d revisit later.
Dismantling the existing endpin, I noticed the wiring included an earth wire in contact with the tailpiece (the black wire in this pic). With a bit of head-scratching, I worked out how to wire up the new endpin.
Fixed endpin with provided washers and nuts.
Tightened up with a screwdriver and fitted the outer strap button (a bit surplus here).
Fed the earth wire back through before screwing the tailpiece back on.
I swapped to a slightly more meaty strap button – having had a few close shaves and nearly dropping the guitar on stage.
Refitting the spider and cone, cover and restringing – the moment of truth: No stereo cable! Was sure I’d had one somewhere! But I did find that plugging a normal guitar cable in just gives the new piezo sound. And it sounded very promising – bringing out the zing of the cone and the percussive depth of the wood of the dobro’s acoustic sound. We managed just one rehearsal with the dobro before the New Brunswick gig.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get much of a soundcheck on the night and the sound on stage wasn’t so good – I may have overdone the pre-amp volume as there was a bit of feedback and to compensate the sound-guy had the dobro really low in the monitors. Listening back later however, the sound out front wasn’t too bad but I think we tried to cram too much into the 20 minute set and everything was a bit rushed and scrappy.
I got the balance better at the Northern Blues Festival in March (using a stereo cable to blend the signals) but it was at the Monkey Junk Blues Club in April that I really felt happy with the new sound. Standard guitar lead, into the desk through a DI I think – with Andy on the sound desk used a few tricks passed on by Jim Murray. Here’s a rough vid of one of the dobro songs…