This post is inspired by the recent launches of the Hotone Omni AC and Mooer Tone Capture Pedals. Before that, the long-standing champions of Acoustic Simulation were the Boss AC-3 and smaller Mooer replica - the Acoustikar. While SIM1’s slightly pricey XT-1 is a sort of more elaborate version of Tone Capture - coming with several high quality presets onboard by default.
Each of these pedals does things slightly differently - although there are degrees of overlap for some of these. I was for a while considering the acquisition of a Boss AC-3, but reckon I would more likely go with the Hotone solution nowadays for my own needs and convenience.
We of course have a variety of enclosure sizes and price-points here, and some of these technologies are more instantly plug-and-play, while others require some element of setup, but should be able to yield better results in the long run. There will be different applications here which appeal to different sorts of players and setups. We will see where we’re at on the other side of the overview.
Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand then model as usual:
The benchmark standard for this genre for many years - possibly its grip on this category is starting to slip somewhat nowadays. You get 5 controls here - Level | Reverb | Body | Top | Mode, with 4 modes onboard - Standard | Jumbo | Enhance | Piezo. Like with many other effects this is not really gong to simulate fully a top-of-the line Martin or Taylor, but will give you a decent ballpark tonality very obviously on the acoustic side of things. Many players really dislike this pedal as they don't feel it comes quite close enough to the subtleties of the real acoustic instruments, while other players have learned to work with this pedal and produce some very tasteful results. It's a tool like any other, and a simulator as such - so it can only get you so far. Most masters of this genre use additional EQ's and other complementary tone components - including Treble Boosters or Fuzz Faces even with the Fuzz dialled right down - to give you that brighter sparkle some acoustics have.
Hotone's new entry here looks suitable simple, but much like TC Electronic's Tone Print - most of the settings are hidden under the bonnet here as such. The device itself has only 3 controls as such - Master Volume and Function knobs, and a Ground Lift switch on the side of the pedal. The pedal comes loaded with 15 presets, and you access and further fine-tune those via the Omni Edit App - which includes 4-Band EQ + Gain. A USB port means that we will obviously see more presets here along the way - meaning this could become quite a formidable toolset / library for acoustic style tones. It's obviously a smaller form factor than the Boss, not quite as small as the Mooers - and a significant part of the functionality is best accessed by the App - which may put some off, but the control interface on the pedal is also pretty decent.
This is quite obviously derived from the Boss AC-3, but a significantly miniaturised and streamlined version thereof. You get 4 controls here - Level | Body | Top Frequency knobs, alongside 3-way Mode switch - Piezo | Standard | Jumbo. As with most things Mooer it gets you very close to the source inspiration pedal here and is pretty great at this diminutive format. While many would feel that if the Boss AC-3 is not quite cutting it for them, then this is even less likely to do so - albeit these don't exactly sound the same - so some may prefer the tonality of one over the other.
Mooer's new Tone Capture pedal gives you a different way to simulate acoustic tones - and it depends largely on whether you have existing acoustic guitars or access to such. Essentially you capture the playback response / frequency dynamics and feel from an existing guitar and can then trigger those tones by using another guitar. You start by essentially 'recording' the tone/dynamics you want to one of the 7 presets, then you record the dynamics of the guitar you are going to be playing through. The Mooer pedal analyses the frequency response and dynamics of each and as such puts a sort of 'Macro' in place which matches and translates the dynamics of the playback guitar to the desired recorded tone. You have 3-Band EQ plus a sort of Parametic Mids / Mid Shift. Obviously not quite as simple to use as the more hands-on alternatives here, but still pretty straightforward, and capable of some impressive results. Obviously this is intended to capture the dynamics of any guitar - but works very well in particular for acoustic tones.
Easily the largest and most pricey option here - which I've covered a couple of times on this site already. This is in some ways a more complex version of Mooer's Tone Capture technology in terms of matching a certain recorded playback profile to the dynamics of a different guitar. And while I believe the Mooer comes totally blank - i.e. with no presets loaded as far as I'm aware, the XT-1 does come loaded with profiles which have been worked on for a good while to get them refined and enhanced. I feel the SIM1 is still a great technology if you don't balk at the price and size of the device - it had a lot of proprietary technology to produce some highly realistic tones. Of course as with any device - mileage will vary for different players.
As I've said above - different players will likely prefer different solutions here depending on exactly how 'Authentically Acoustic' they're trying to achieve. Practicalities though always play a key importance in my own pedal selection - usability and versatility - and plug-and-playability to a degree here too. On balance I would probably go for the new Hotone here - it's still not the perfect solution for me as I would prefer a few more hands-on surface controls. But I like the availability and easy selection of multiple presets.
Most of the pedals are around the same price - while the SIM1 is in a category of its own. For the amount I'm going to use this pedal I could not really justify a SIM1 level investment, nor do I really want to sacrifice quite that much real estate to a single lesser-used effect for me.
And while the Tone Capture GTR technology is certainly cool - you are limited to 7 presets which you need to setup wholly yourself from scratch. I still think the Boss AC-3 holds its own here mostly - it sounds easily good enough for my purposes. While what I really would want is the Hotone with just a few more knobs!