|Documentation & Support||10%|
|OVERALL RATING = 3.5
3.6 stars or better: Outstanding, WIHO Award
3 stars or better: Worth considering
2 stars or better: Suited to specific needs
1 star or less: Not recommended
When LightWave introduced bass guitars featuring optical pickups, we were blown away by the sound quality. The instruments were silent when plugged in, had sustain that lasted for days, unparalleled acoustic sounding tone, and no degradation of tone when reducing volume from the instruments’ controls. Fast forward a couple of years and LightWave has adapted their optical pickup technology to the acoustic guitar.
The Atlantis is an electroacoustic guitar that has the feel and playability of an electric guitar but with the tone of an acoustic guitar. The optical pickups deliver true acoustic tone without the annoying quack of a Piezo element, without any of the noise of a magnetic pickup or internal microphone, and without creating any feedback problems when played on a loud concert stage.
Although not as revolutionary in the tone department as LightWave’s bass guitars, the Atlantis is a fine sounding acoustic guitar, ideally suited to genres of music where a darker guitar tone is preferred over bright, jangly stuff. And if you ever wished you could have an acoustic guitar on which you could really shred, the Atlantis neck gives you Strat-like comfort that will enable you to play more complex acoustic guitar music than ever before.
Our LightWave Atlantis featured a chambered mahogany body with a flamed maple top (a basic spruce top is also available). The thin-profile body (less than two inches front to back) has a gloss polyurethane finish, while the bolt-on mahogany neck features a satin polyurethane finish.
The Atlantis neck features some familiar electric guitar specs: 25.5” scale length, 21 frets, rosewood fingerboard with mother of pearl dots, a C-shaped neck curve, and a Graph Tech TUSQ nut and saddle. It features a four-bolt design, and has an adjustable truss rod.
It’s in the electronics department where the Atlantis dives into depths never before reached by other electroacoustic guitars. Unlike conventional pickup systems for acoustic guitars that rely on Piezo under-saddle elements, sound hole-attached magnetic pickups, or internally mounted microphones, LightWave’s proprietary optical pickup technology is installed within the custom bridge.
Unlike a conventional magnetic pickup that generates a magnetic field to interact with your strings — and thus alter (and decrease) the strings natural vibration, optical pickups use infrared light to observer the strings natural vibration and translate that vibration into sound while remaining transparent to the signal path. Have no fear — this is still pure analog audio. There is no analog-to-digital stuff going on here. But while various magnetic pickups are optimized to change the tone of an instrument in some particular way, the optical pickup’s job is to capture the sound as transparently as possible.
One nice detail of this pickup design is that individual string volume can be adjusted (10 dB range) via trim pots on the logic board installed in the back of the guitar. And steel strings aren't even necessary! Go ahead and throw some nylons or other synthetics on the Atlantis, as the optical pickups will work fine with those, too.
A built-in rechargeable NiMH battery keeps the guitar running for days. An LED indicator on the bridge lets you know when the battery is running low on power. When the LED is lit, you’re good to go, and a full one-hour charge provides approximately sixteen hours of playing time. When the light goes out, you still have power for about an hour or two. The battery charger (provided) can be plugged in for a quick charge before a show, but if you can’t wait, the charger will charge the battery while you are playing.
A volume knob is tucked inconspicuously into the bottom corner of the bridge, and pulling up on the knob provides an alternate overall instrument tone. Unlike LightWave bass guitars, there are no dedicated EQ controls, and there is no onboard tuner. The output jack is located on the bottom of the guitar.
The LightWave Atlantis played like a dream, provided that you dream of shredding on an acoustic guitar that feels more like an electric Strat-style guitar. This neck proved super comfortable, and it enabled us to play full chords with ease as high as the fifteenth fret, a feat rarely achieved on traditional acoustic guitars!
The action was set nicely for fast playing, and legato runs were delivered in ways that made multiple editors and friends of ours grin. If you lack the superhuman acoustic shred abilities of prog metal band 3’s singer, Joey Eppard, this guitar will definitely give you a major speed boost.
Play the Atlantis anywhere! Although the name would suggest suitability for use in the shower, we don’t recommend that, but we do recommend using the guitar in loud rock music settings. If you’ve ever dealt with the issue of amplified acoustic guitars feeding back horribly on stage based on your proximity to monitors or speaker stacks, your salvation is at hand. The optical pickups, lacking any magnets or microphones, are not influenced in any way by your proximity to those feedback-generating devices. Can we get an “Amen?”
The bridge provides a very smooth and comfortable position on which to rest your picking hand while playing delicate arpeggios, but unfortunately its bulk rendered it impossible for us to play palm mutes on the strings. Strumming, plucking, and picking: no problem. But muting strings in an electric guitar style: not happening. The dream of becoming a famous rock star: priceless.
The LightWave Atlantis sounds very good, with a dark tone that will be most welcomed by musicians in alternative and modern rock bands, and rock/metal musicians. With the shallow body depth, the sound is tighter and more focused than the blossoming tone you’d get from a traditional dreadnaught design.
Whether due to old (and heavy gauge) strings on our review guitar or the combination of body design and tone woods, we found the overall sound to be a bit on the darker side.
Given that not everybody craves the bright, glistening tone of certain premium acoustic electric guitars, though, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re writing angry or sad and brooding material, the bright country twang sound of a Taylor probably isn’t going to work for you, but Atlantis just might be your ticket to the bottom of the ocean.
Unplugged, the Atlantis isn’t a very loud guitar, but given that it’s meant to be plugged in, this is a good thing, since you want to hear the amplified tone more than the natural tone. That said, when playing on your living room couch, you’ll find a very even response across the tonal spectrum, with no hot spots in the tone jumping out.
We first tested the Atlantis in a recording studio setting, and it sounded fantastic! We ran it through an ADL 600 preamp and PreSonus StudioLive 24.4.2 mixing board directly into Pro Tools 9, and recorded a number of audio clips to let you hear the guitar. One of the first things that immediately struck us — as with the LightWave basses that we fell in love with — was just how quiet the optical pickups were. When you’re not playing the guitar, it’s not making any noise. And how nice, not having to worry about adjusting our body position away from the precisely positioned microphones usually trained on our acoustic guitars!
We found the Atlantis guitar’s even sonic character required no special EQ on our part when played through our studio monitors, and the two-position tone control gave us equally useful sounds, with one being a bit rounder and the other a bit brighter.
The optical pickups deliver fine detail in the guitar tone and string sound without any of that annoying quack you get from Piezo elements. In fact, you get a much warmer sound overall.
The guitar boasts excellent sustain, though we can’t really compare it with the unholy sustain of the LightWave electric bass guitars. The real feature advantage of optical pickups on the acoustic guitar (over conventional amplification schemes) is near-zero-noise and zero feedback, but the sustain was similar to other well-made acoustic guitars.
Leaving the comfort of the studio, we put the Atlantis to use in a few different live scenarios. First was playing it through a PA system, in which case the sound wasn’t quite as exciting until we ran it through our favorite “secret sauce” of acoustic electric amplified guitar tone: the L.R. Baggs Para Acoustic D.I. box. We were able to get great acoustic sounds from Atlantis in this manner, and also dial in some high-end presence that wasn’t as obvious with the previously flat EQ.
We also played the Atlantis through a BOSS AD-8 Acoustic Guitar Processor, which added some dreadnaught-like body to the sound. Not enough of a difference to make us race out and purchase an AD-8 (it was in for review at the time), but it’s certainly worth experimenting with various acoustic guitar D.I. products — the Atlantis responds nicely to them.
Not content to leave well enough alone, we did the unthinkable. The unspeakable. The unimaginable. The act that we always say not to do, even though we know you’re going to try it anyway. Yes, intrepid readers, we plugged the Atlantis straight into our ENGL Powerball II guitar amp. And guess what? We came away happy! Without any feedback, our acoustic guitar was perfectly usable through our clean channel (ENGL amps are renowned for their studio-like clean tones), and being able to take advantage of our large assortment of effects on the acoustic guitar led to some very inspired music creation (adding some chorus and delay let us unleash our inner Craig Chaquico).
But wait… there’s more! We dialed in some dirt, and loved it. With some light overdrive on our amp’s crunch channel, rolling off the Atlantis’s volume knob retained our clean tone (since it wasn’t pushing the input of the amp hard), but when turned on full, we heard beautiful, slightly distorted tones that worked great for alt rock. Singer/songwriter types will find this versatility extremely useful. We can envision throwing an overdrive pedal on the acoustic pedalboard for moments when the acoustic artist wants to add just a little bit of dirt to a powerful chorus section.
It should be noted that your choice of strings can greatly impact the sound of this guitar. Because optical pickups deliver a very pure representation of the instrument’s tone, your choice of different string materials (flat-wound, cryogenically treated, uncoated, etc.) and gauge can easily give your instrument a personalized tone that makes it just a bit different sounding than your friend’s Atlantis. Season to taste.
If LightWave can expand their acoustic guitar line to include more traditional dreadnaughts incorporating optical pickups and a bigger, rounder, and brighter tone, expect to see even more players embrace this technology. Nashville needs something like this!
We created some audio clips in the simplest manner possible to give you a glimpse of what the LightWave Atlantis sounds like. We recorded the guitar directly into an ADL 600 studio preamp's instrument-level input, into our StudioLive 24.4.2 mixing board, and then into Pro Tools 9. There is no processing, cleaning up, EQ, compression, effects, etc... even on the track with a few overdubs of guitars, all we did was pan them left and right a bit.
Song: Four tracks of Atlantis, nothing else
Documentation and Product Support
The LightWave Atlantis includes excellent documentation that fully explains the pickup technology, instrument controls, adjusting intonation, caring for the rechargeable battery, and even making adjustments to the optical pickups should that become necessary (if you decide to customize the nut height, for example). Allen keys and a mini screwdriver are also included — a nice touch.
The guitar also includes a generous three-year warranty.
The LightWave Atlantis with a flamed maple top (MSRP $1,995) sells direct for $1,495, and includes a nice Pro-Tec deluxe gig bag. This is a good price for a pro-level electroacoustic guitar with very good sound quality and superb playability.