The LAVA ME 3 guitar has effects and a loop pedal built-in – is it the end for stompboxes?
The LAVA ME 3 is an acoustic guitar with dozens of effects, a tuner, looper and training software built-in. Is this guitar the ultimate tool for solo guitarists?
• Appropriate choices of effects for acoustic guitar
• Looper provides instant song-writing inspiration
• Rock-solid intonation
• Easy-to navigate software
• Training software seems to improve playing quickly
• Stepped volume control lacks subtlety
The acoustic guitar has been around for a hundred and fifty years and, apart from minor changes to body shape and construction, has remained pretty similar throughout that time. Similarly, the electric guitar has been around for around 80 years and the core technology hasn’t significantly changed since the late 50s.
Effects pedals and software effects modelling have allowed an increasingly wide range of sounds to be applied to guitars during live performances, recording and in post-production. However, these require stompbox effects or audio interfaces and software to capture and apply these sounds to the raw sound of the guitar.
Guitars with built-in effects aren’t novel. Manson guitars have been building electric guitars with a wide range of effects built into them for Matt Bellamy of Muse and others for a very long time and BiLT guitars in America specialise in this as their USP. All of these examples use existing effects that have been inserted into the body of the guitar and are normally limited to one or two sounds. However, these are all adapted electric guitars, and they are also incredibly expensive.
The LAVA ME 3 smartguitar is something that we’ve never seen before. It’s an acoustic guitar with effects processing, a tuner, metronome, training software and a recorder/looper built-in. To get all of this, you’d normally need a computer, or at the very least, a smartphone, which is a good analogy really – because that’s what the LAVA seems to have installed on its top bout. Where the pickup controls would be on a normal electro-acoustic guitar is a credit card-sized touchscreen providing access to all the software functions.
The instrument itself is a dreadnaught-shaped electro-acoustic guitar with the sound hole on the upper bout rather than under the strings. There is probably a very important technical reason for this to do with feedback limitation but aesthetically provides the LAVA ME 3 with a striking and unique look.
Carbon fibre is an unusual choice of material for an acoustic guitar but has some advantages in that it’s incredibly strong and is likely to survive pretty much anything thrown at it. The rigidity of the neck will also create a stable instrument that should allow for very few tuning or intonation problems. It’s a slightly shorter scale length than other dreadnaught guitars but not unnaturally so, and a slightly smaller guitar will make it more accessible to a wider range of players.
The acoustic sound is surprisingly big for a small(ish) guitar and has a real depth to the bass frequencies when played acoustically. The sound is reminiscent of plastic-backed guitars, made popular by Ovation, from the 80s and 90s. They provide excellent clarity of the guitar’s upper and lower frequencies and, importantly, are less prone to feedback. This issue is important once a guitar is plugged in – and the LAVA ME 3 is designed to be used with all of the on-board electronics.
The addition of some appropriate reverb, delay and modulation can really enhance and fill out the sound of an acoustic guitar. Fortunately, the designers behind the LAVA ME 3 have been sensible with their effects choices. Most of the included preset effects are effective on acoustic guitar – there are a lot of reverbs and delays, some useful modulation effects, some pitch-shifting effects to create bass lines or doubling and some sensible boost functions.
It would have been very easy to fill the guitar with dozens of overdrives and fuzzes, that will work on acoustic, but generally don’t sound that great, and tend to cause the instrument to feedback. The included drive sounds are at the subtle end and give the instrument some grit without trying to pretend it’s a Gibson Les Paul through a Marshall stack.
The effects themselves are all presets with names that are designed to indicate what sort of sound they might be – some are more obvious than others. Blackhole implies it’s a massive reverb like the similarly named Eventide effect (it is), but Lollipop could be anything (it’s a modulated delay and reverb). The addition of these effects inspired us to play in a different way. When we normally play acoustic, we default to chords or fingerpicked parts, but the addition of the effects found us playing electric-style parts and different choices of chord inversions.
The LAVA ME 3 includes a built-in recorder that can capture song ideas or loops whenever they strike. There are two different modes – the recorder will capture linear ideas (whole songs or riffs) and store them in the built-in memory. The looper will capture patterns at a fixed tempo for a set number of bars. If you have the LAVA+ app these recordings are then uploaded to the cloud for you to listen to on your phone and share with others via social media.
The linear recorder didn’t get much use after initial experiments – but the looper got a lot more use. The loops are all synchronised to the built-in metronome or drum loops, and it was very easy to get little tracks captured. After the initial learning curve, we started combining drum loops, and octave effects to record a bassline and then playing and singing over the top of our recorded loop. Although the LAVA ME 3 can only capture three loops at a time, this was more than enough to perform decent full-band renditions of songs entirely on one instrument.
The built-in looper and recorder aren’t anywhere as feature-packed as a DAW recording or the Boss LoopStation pedals, but for people looking to experiment with this style of playing, the LAVA ME 3 could be just the inspirational tool they need without the need to purchase extra equipment.
The LAVA ME 3 also contains a training application for players to improve their technique. We experimented with this by giving the guitar to someone with virtually no guitar skills to see how they got on. We asked them to explore the chord training app and practice increasing their speed of changes. The app can actively check whether the chords have been played correctly and gradually increases the speed of the changes to encourage the player to improve. The other elements including scales etc. work in a similar way – but our test student wasn’t advanced enough to master these just yet!
Many players now learn through YouTube and other digital resources – but these don’t provide any feedback on progress and accuracy. The integration of some technical elements in-between learning songs can drastically help improve technique, and the feedback provided by the LAVA ME 3 had an almost immediate improvement on our guinea pig novice guitarist.
The LAVA ME 3 is an amazing instrument. The integration of the effects, recorder and loops make it an instrument that truly inspires people to pick up their instrument and play. There is no getting around the fact that at over £1,000 this is an expensive instrument to buy on a whim. However, when you add up the cost of all the things that it includes if you were to buy them separately, it’s a bargain. The main value of this guitar though is the inspiration that it provides to the player – and you can’t put a price on that.
Find out more at lavamusic.com.
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