When I stuck to Bluegrass, I avoided amplification. If I amplification was necessary a mic would do.
Since expanding my repertoire... [OK let's face it, I was never 100% comfortable staying exclusively with Bluegrass anyway. I am more influenced by David Grisman for style and David Gilmour for note choices than Bill Monroe.] and gigging in amplified situations more often than not, I have found a need not only to plug in but to have some personal tone and volume control.
I have done a lot of gigs with sound engineers who understand what a guitar should sound like, but have no experience with mandolins. I most often perform with a sideman guitar player and many times his guitar is louder in the mix than my mandolin!
I had noted UK luminaries like Brooks Williams and Show of Hands have these preamps mounted on mic stands. When they change instruments, they slap a mute button and unplug. No need to check with engineer to avoid the horrible crunch of a live cable coming off an instrument.
Then my friend and sometime band member, Mark Gamon, showed up with one and I decided I had to get one of these thingies. It's an Orchid guitar preamp. http://www.orchid-electronics.co.uk/acoustic.htm
Mute button? tick!
Volume button? tick!
3 way parametric EQ? tick!
XLR output to the desk
instrument lead input to unit
separate output to a tuner unit (cool feature!)
Handy mic stand mount? tick!
I added a Boss G-7 EQ pedal to the chain to give myself some boost for fiddle tunes and lead breaks I just set the EQ on the pedal flat and pushed the level fader up the slightest little bit. Works like a charm!
Played a gig for Romford Folk Club a few nights ago with both me and Paul, my guitar player, running through Orchids to a new Bose system and the sound was brilliant.
No more relying on sound engineers to maintain decent levels in the monitor! No more asking them to drop the treble by 20%!
I need to spend some time experimenting with the EQ pedal to see if I can optimize my amplified tone. But that will happen with time.
Of course, now if anything goes wrong, it's my fault!