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  • MICHAEL KELLY HYBRID GUITAR

    Greetings, fellow gearheads and guitar players! I’m Jon Chappell, guitarist and gear junkie, and this is my first Pro Review for Harmony Central.

    Remember, the format for a Pro Review is that the reviewer (that’s me) takes the lead in presenting a product review, and forum users (that would be you) respond in real-time (or nearly so) as my words hit the boards. This way, you can ask questions, seek clarification, expand on any relevant points, and even disagree with me as we discover the product together.

    Also, the manufacturers of the products under review are in on the process, so they too can respond either to the reviewer or to questions posted by forum users. It’s real-time and interactive, and your voice becomes part of the review. We write the review together -- sort of like Wikipedia for gear. So let’s get started!

    The Michael Kelly Hybrid guitar (http://michaelkellyhybrid.com) is a classy and attractive guitar that uses a hybrid pickup system. A hybrid system combines magnetic and piezo technology, providing controls to blend the two sounds.

    The concept is not new, but often you find a manufacturer has simply retrofitted or tacked on a piezo (and the associated electronics) into a guitar that was otherwise perfectly happy as an electric. It may be a bit of a novelty to hear a solidbody with a piezo -- especially when the workings are invisible -- but it’s not all that compelling.

    What is startlingly refreshing is the way Michael Kelly Guitars has designed their Hybrid from the ground up to be a guitar that is equally appealing to both acoustic guitarists and electric axe slingers. And to do that, you have accomplish a lot more than simply including two types of pickup systems.

    I have been hearing about this guitar, but when I first saw in in the flesh, I was struck by its acoustic grace -- with set-neck construction, a chambered mahogany body, a gorgeous triple-A flame-maple top that sports stylishly swooshy f-holes, a rosewood bridge, fingerboard and control knobs, and a gently sloping cutaway. A tasteful headstock design and Grover tuners complete the guitar's physical attributes.

    The piezo pickup is under the saddle, and therefore invisible, but the humbucker pickup is located about midway between the bridge and fingerboard and is housed in a wood-grain cover and ring that match the top. The bound f-holes, triple-bound top and headstock edges, and rosewood bridge and control knobs belie its $499 street price.

    Yes, that’s right: under $500. And we haven’t even talked about the electronics yet.
    Jon Chappell
    Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jon_chappell
    Check out my website: http://jonchappell.com

  • #2
    Eye Candy

    Below is a photo of the front of the Michael Kelly Hybrid. Note how the humbucker's light-wood cover and ring help the pickup blend into the flame-maple top.

    The two knobs are volume controls for each pickup (the top knob controls the humbucker, the bottom controls the piezo), and a three-way switch (barely visible here) allows you to select humbucker, humbucker + piezo, piezo. Pretty straightforward stuff.

    Jon Chappell
    Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jon_chappell
    Check out my website: http://jonchappell.com

    Comment


    • #3
      Okay, so what’s under the hood?

      Hum and Rattle
      The Hybrid's humbucker is the Rockfield SWC (Select Wound Custom), which is the same pickup used in the company’s popular Valor Custom. The piezo pickup and preamp are made by Fishman, specifically for this guitar. Fishman calls this their Powerchip Piezo/Magnetic Onboard Mixing Preamp, and it’s powered by a 9V battery that will last up to 200 hours.

      Cavity Search
      Check out the photo I snapped after removing the backplate. Other than the wires you see on the right, the three principal parts are (L-R): humbucker pot, 9V battery enclosure, and the piezo pot. Note that the “brainy stuff” (in the form of a circuit board and a trim pot) lives underneath the piezo volume control. The trim pot adjusts the overall output of the piezo. Mine came from the factory exactly how I like it (the hummer and the piezo dead equal), so I didn’t need to adjust anything here.

      Blend vs. Split
      To achieve the blending and split-signal configurations, the Powerchip preamp employs a “smart switching” scheme, where if you plug in a regular guitar cable (Tip/Sleeve, or mono), both sounds are summed, and you adjust the blend using the volume controls. If you use a stereo Y cable (Tip/Ring/Sleeve on the base end, TS and RS on the two legs), the guitar splits the humbucker and piezo signals and sends them out on separate paths.

      The Possibilities Are Blendless
      Having two independent signals creates all sorts of tone-blending opportunities. For one, you could use two separate amps to process the humbucker and piezo signals. Or you might use one amp with dual inputs and channels for an effect that wouldn’t be quite as dramatic (or have quite the spatial separation), but nevertheless gives you independent control over each sound.

      This certainly beats the bad old days of miking the anemically buzzing strings of solidbody electric in the control room with the monitors off!

      No Need to Call the Cable Guy
      In a nice touch, the Hybrid includes this specialty cable with the purchase of the guitar, though it’s not very robust (at least compared to the cables I use for gigging), and at about 80 inches (6-2/3 feet), it’s not as long as, say, your standard 20-foot guitar cable. Still, if you need a longer cable, you can buy one or even make one.

      Sonic Sculpting
      When dialing through the sound combinations, I found eminently usable settings over a wide range. There are no markings on the knobs, so you have to blend by ear. If I were to play out with this guitar, I’d probably affix little markers on the knobs so I could dial in a variety of settings without having to rely on ear and trial and error.

      Okay, enough kicking the tires. Time to take this baby for a ride!

      Jon Chappell
      Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jon_chappell
      Check out my website: http://jonchappell.com

      Comment


      • #4
        What kind of output impedance does the piezo section have? Is it active with a low impedance out? If so, how's the noise level?
        _____________________________________________
        There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

        Comment


        • #5
          Spec Talk

          The Powerchip manual doesn't list the output impedance, but it does mention that the piezo signal is buffered, so it is an active system.

          (Buffering, for those who are rusty on terms, is the electronic process for converting high-impedance signals to lower ones.)

          But I'm not sure how low this buffer takes the piezo signal, so I've contacted the manufacturer. I've also asked them for their noise specs, but the quiescent noise level of the piezo is above the humbucker (which is expected). Also, the noise does not diminish when you put the pickup selector switch in the middle position. In other words, the noise level produced by the piezo is the same whether in the middle position (hum + piezo) or back position (piezo only).

          None of this bad or even unusual, but if you haven't played on a hybrid system before, you might find it useful to know for a recording situation where the guitar is exposed.

          Speaking of specs, here's what's listed in the manual for the electronics section:

          • Frequency range = 20-20,000 Hz
          • Trim control range = 18 dB
          • Maximum output voltage = 15V peak to peak
          • Battery life = 200 hours
          • Current draw = less than 2.8 mA

          There's also a phase jumper on the circuit board which you can easily switch to help eliminate any phase problems between the piezo and humbucker.

          Between the trim pot and the phase jumper, I suggest users take the backplate off when they first get the guitar to experiment with any settings.

          I realize what I said in my previous entry, that MK Guitars had set the balance of the piezo and magnetic to "just the way I like it" may not be the most objective observation.

          Specifically, the trim pot for the piezo was set to about 7/8 of its travel -- almost maxed out. It's hard to imagine wanting the piezo to be louder than the humbucker (which is what would happen if you cranked the trim and then opened up the pots), but you could gain a little more favorable signal-to-noise ratio if you boosted the trim up from the factory setting -- perhaps, say, in an overdub situation?
          Jon Chappell
          Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jon_chappell
          Check out my website: http://jonchappell.com

          Comment


          • #6
            The Down-low on the Impedance Question

            I just heard from Todd Rockfield (yes, the same Rockfield who designs the pickups), and he stated that the output impedance of the piezo by itself is in the 1k range -- still considered low impedance.

            This is good news to recording guitarists, because it means you can plug the MKH directly into the mixer -- no need for a direct box, preamp, or other impedance matcher.

            But he said that in stereo mode (when used in conjunction with the humbucker), the output impedance increases to about 3.3k (to better match the humbucker's output).

            Speaking of Todd Rockfield, if you haven't checked out the video of him demo'ing the MKH, you really should. The guy can play, and he shows off the guitar's features well.
            Jon Chappell
            Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jon_chappell
            Check out my website: http://jonchappell.com

            Comment


            • #7
              Hello all you guitar nutz!
              I wanted to help answer an earlier question about noise levels. The Fishman engineers Measured this out for us this afternoon and here is what they Found:

              Baseline Noise:

              Mag channel: -106dBV

              Piezo channel: -100dBV

              Both readings A-weighted, 22Hz-22kHz bandwidth



              0dBV=1Vrms

              Not bad for $499.99

              Later Everyone!
              Todd Rockfield

              Comment


              • #8
                Hey, those are pretty impressive noise specs. Thanks for taking the effort to measure them.
                _____________________________________________
                There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                Comment


                • #9
                  Hey, those are pretty impressive noise specs. Thanks for taking the effort to measure them.


                  Noise?! What noise?

                  Electric guitarists entering into the acoustic arena via the Michael Kelly Hybrid might not realize the importance of the quiescent noise factor, or the level of noise when no signal is present -- you know, when you're not playing. Acoustic music is generally more dynamic than electric -- louder louds, softer softs -- and it's the softs where we worry about the noise floor being too high. Acoustic music can also be more exposed -- longer periods of just the acoustic all by its lonesome. How many songs can you think of that start with just an acoustic intro before the "wall of sound" kicks in on verse 2? Pretty many, I'll bet.

                  I've just come from a workout with the MK Hybrid, where I put it through a Crate CA30DG Taos acoustic amp and a Fender Vibro-King.

                  I'd like to take a step back to remind ourselves that the "Hybrid" in this guitar's name refers to the conception and design of the guitar, not just its electronic scheme. This becomes screamingly obvious when you play the Hybrid. You're instantly aware that the guitar borrows the best of both camps. It has the wide fingerboard of an acoustic, but the easy action of an electric. Strumming the guitar unplugged gives a satisfying keraaang that further bolsters its acoustic strengths. Yet string-bending is fast and facile. I spent a long time getting just my acoustic sound together, not because it was difficult, but because there was so much to work with. And it was fun.

                  With my acoustic hat on, I appreciated the wide fingerboard (I measure it to be 1-5/8" at the nut), which is especially nice for fingerpicking passages. The action is low, and the strings are light (.009), but striking the guitar hard did not make the guitar buzz out, nor did it overdrive -- or even noticeably compress -- the piezo.

                  Then I brought in the electric sound. Keep in mind, as you work with the guitar in stereo (which I did first, in my live tests), that the placement of the amps in the room has an effect on the sound. Most backline situations will require you to place your amps side by side (or sometimes stacked), but you can really enhance the sound by actually separating the amps in space.

                  Obviously, this won't make a difference if all the audience hears is miked or D.I.'d signals through the mains, but it's worth noting for you guitarists who play smaller venues, where stage volume contributes to the overall sound.

                  So, by virtue of the fact that my two amps are separated by 6 feet of space, and I was too lazy to move them together, I experienced another benefit: the spacial separation between the electric and acoustic sounds. (Here again, though, the 6-2/3-foot cable may be a limiting factor.)

                  I realized quickly that, although in practice I run my acoustic sound right into the Crate, I always run electric guitars through a multi-effects processor -- in my case, a Line 6 PODxt. But that, of course, is easy with the Y-cable. So I did just that, and got to work on my "base" sound.

                  The humbucker pickup, which is placed midway between the bridge and fingerboard, has all the loud and bass-rich oomph of a neck pickup, and most of the brights of a bridge. You can't get quite the bite of a humbucker placed right at the bridge, but I found I missed none of the sharpness normally associated with the more traditionally placed "lead" pickup. I'd love to hear what designer Todd Rockfield has to say about his approach in the windings, etc., to the pickups that end up on the Hybrid. (And while we're at it, maybe he can supply the fingerboard radius!)

                  I spent a good deal of time dialing in the electric-only sound, creating and saving settings in my effects processor. My strategy was that I was using the piezo for chordal stuff and the electric for heavier riffs and leads, so I didn't bother with setting up a mellow, balanced humbucker sound. Just give me the gritty stuff!
                  Jon Chappell
                  Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jon_chappell
                  Check out my website: http://jonchappell.com

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    The acoustic clips on the Michael Kelly site sound great but the electric tone, probably due to the position of the pickup, is not very trebly.
                    Why was the current electric pickup position chosen? Also why not two electic pickups and a tone knob perhaps?

                    Jun
                    100% AxeFX ode to Michael Schenker www.javajunkiemusic.com/Audio/Jun/axefxremix.m4a
                    Bravo mic'ed wet/dry/wet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BXG-kJCCXk
                    Axe-FX direct recording http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDMmA9tYIF4
                    Rivera TBR-1M http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROvOH2NajL8
                    Hafler T3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzEyWzTz8zo

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Your comment about the trebly tone I can see, although, remember that you're listening to audio coming from within a tweazed-out, ultra-compressed video format.

                      But I'd be interested, too, in seeing what went into the manufacturer's decision to place the pickup so centrally between the neck and bridge.

                      As for tone controls: never been a big fan, especially if it's treble I'm looking for. I run the pots (especially the tone) full out for my base sound, and knock down the brittleness later in the chain (though some of my faves, including Jeff Beck, masterfully manipulated the tone control). But then, I use a lot of EQ in my effects, so I don't need to get it from the guitar's passive pots.
                      Jon Chappell
                      Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jon_chappell
                      Check out my website: http://jonchappell.com

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Ask and you shall receive!

                        Magnetic Pickup
                        The Magnetic pickup in the Hybrid is actually the Rockfield "SWC" bridge model. This specific pickup design was something that I had been working on for a while.

                        Taking from things I had learned from long hours of research, old wood shed articles and basically asking questions to whomever was willing to share trade secrets (and no I promised not to kiss and tell so I can’t get too specific) but the best way to describe the "SWC" is it’s basically a PAF style pickup on steroids! It is slightly over wound which does give the pickup a little more output and bite. I used USA 42 gauge plain enamel wire with custom USA ALNICO 5 Magnets.

                        I also use a special method to pot all the Rockfield pickups. A long while ago through trial, error and herds of research I found out that pickups can actually be over potted. I then realized that this can and does affect the overall tone of a pickup. So after more research, development and testing we created a simple solution to potting the Rockfield Pickups, It’s what I call "Precision Potting".

                        Each Rockfield Pickup model has a specific procedure and time limit that we feel doesn’t take away from the actual tone and or vibration transfer but does what it’s supposed to do in reducing or limiting micro phonic feedback.

                        Although a very small step, we found that this method does help the player in getting the optimum tone and sustain out of each Rockfield Pickup.

                        Rockfield Pickup Placement
                        The Placement of the Rockfield SWC was important...We went through dozens of different variations of pickup placements until we thought we had the right tone...
                        Understand that not only did we need the Hybrid to have a killer Electric tone, the question we kept asking was "Can we win in all 3 Phases of the Game"?

                        Electric – Dirty
                        Electric - Clean
                        Electric / Acoustic Blended

                        The only way we felt to do this right was to get it in other Players hands.

                        So we took the original prototypes of the Hybrid that we thought were winners and put them in player’s hands for comments and a long evaluation process until we had one model that undeniably with all the input and testing was the overall winner.


                        Oh yea, it’s a 12" radius....
                        Todd Rockfield

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Great questions from tats_dragon! (Thanks)

                          In Quoting Jon from an earlier post:
                          The humbucker pickup, which is placed midway between the bridge and fingerboard, has all the loud and bass-rich oomph of a neck pickup, and most of the brights of a bridge. You can't get quite the bite of a humbucker placed right at the bridge, but I found I missed none of the sharpness normally associated with the more traditionally placed "lead" pickup.

                          I think Jon really nailed it here....It is loud and proud and does have that dark depth you get from a humbucker. But there is still quite a bit of bite!
                          To be honest, in the studio where the sound files were recorded, the EQ was dialed in for me, the way I like to hear it in the room. So basically the Amp was set up and EQ'd with my "Perfect blend of tone". I personally love that fat, thick tone that hits you square in the chest...That’s just me.

                          With that being said, is it as treble hot as a single coil? No way, but remember it’s a custom wound PAF style pickup which normally are darker. Which means there was a bunch more room to “dial” in more high’s if needed?
                          Also, I will add that with most amps and processors out there today, highs are not ever really lacking. If you want them, they are there...

                          For the 2 pickup question
                          (Thanks again tats_dragon...another killer question!)

                          When we first set out to design the Hybrid, all of our test players agreed and wanted a very simple elegant design. One of the test players used the comment, (which I love)
                          "I want to just plug in, shut up and play!"
                          Basically a guitar player’s guitar. They all wanted a guitar that had a killer electric tone, a killer acoustic tone and was a breeze to use!
                          So.....
                          As soon as we started adding pickups, switches and more knobs we started to step away from this request. The guitar really became un-user friendly. So we went back to the drawing board, listened to our customers and the Simple to use current design was born to rave reviews. I guess you could say that we took more of an iPod approach, simple, elegant and we feel effective.
                          Todd Rockfield

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            ok, I'm definitely not a pro, being primarily a bass player for 30+ years, but I loved the mix of electric and acoustic tones. I bought a MK 5-string acoustic fretless 'Dragonfly' bass years back, and have been consistently impressed with the construction, electronics and tone. Since I'm not primarily a guitar player, I don't have any impressive questions about the instrument itself, but I do have a couple of general questions.

                            On the Kelly website, it's listed at $799, but it's touted in the review as under $500. This seems like a major cut via GC, if that's the real deal. Can I assume that the instrument will be testable in the stores?

                            Also, what kind of amp would bring out the best dynamics of this particular model, an electric or acoustic amp?

                            Again, I'm just on the outside looking in, but it's truly a beautiful looking guitar. I'd be interested in feeling out its range.

                            Thanks,
                            Tim from Jersey
                            ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                            Originally Posted by MattACaster : *Runs 2 blocks down the street to Guitar Center, grabs detuned Schecter off the wall, plugs into Line6 Spider and proceeds to bring teh brootalz*

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Hey Tim!
                              Thanks for the support, question and kind words on the Dragonfly bass. It’s nice to know that someone digs what we are trying to do.... makes it all worth it for me.
                              On this subject though... you don’t need to be a pro my friend, you just need to have the desire to have some fun and appreciate some great tone!

                              Anyway, $799.00 is the "Retail or List price". Not the selling price.
                              The $799.00 is also referred to as MSRP or Manufactures Suggested Retail Price. Most don’t actually sell @ this price....its usually discounted by the dealers that are selling the product.

                              The "UNDER $500.00" is Guitar Center Slang for $499.99.
                              This is the Sales Price. GC is the only place you can get one of these bad boys.....And normally you can try one out.

                              For the amp question its best described @ our Instructional video located on youtube.com
                              Here is a link to watch for yourself....

                              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lm9pP4qQAp4

                              In my opinion the best or the most dynamic sounding way to run this guitar is into 2 separate sound sources. Like in the video I used 1 electric amp and 1 true or designated acoustic amp.
                              This to me is the best tone! I have even used a PA for the acoustic side and it was killer...

                              However, you don’t need to have 2 amps....you can use 1 - 2 channel electric guitar amp preferably and both tones with still sound awesome!
                              Todd Rockfield

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