In the Rear with the Gear

Toys. We love them. We love the new effects box, the new tuner, the new garageband software, you name it, we’ll spend an afternoon pouring through it.

Guitars. If we love toys, we go insane over new guitars. I want to try out the Ibanez S5470 so bad I can taste it…but no one local has it. If I am to own it (at $1300) I have to order it sight unseen (if you know where I can find one in the SF Bay area to try out, please email me!!!).

Amps. If the effects sound great, and the guitar feels great, than your amp will rock! Well, it should…right?

Maybe.

When I was a teenager, I would crank up my Peavy when my parents were out of the house and it was still daylight. Woo hoo, rock star! And I got into bands and I played in dark, damp, cold garages and it still sounded ok. So my amp was tried, tested and true.

Uh, no, not quite.

Cranking it in your 15×15 bedroom has it’s own acoustics. Playing in a garage has HORRIBLE acoustics. It echoes all around with the concrete floor and the flat, hard sufaces around. And when you finally get your amp out there in Club X or Uncle Stevens birthday in the recreation hall, you’ll find out something we all go through.

My amp doesn’t sound ANYTHING like it did!

What you’ve been doing all this time is adjusting your tone to the warm and cozy ambience of your bedroom, with the carpet, and posters on the wall and a big bed to absorb sound. The garage is the opposite, but it’s still close quarters. But now, with an elongated hall in front of you, the game has all changed.

Now don’t panic. Have you ever heard of a sound check? The band always has a sound check in the afternoon for the gig at night. Every stadium, club or hall has it’s own personality, so the sound engineer will work with everybody’s sound, the vocals, the bass, the drums, the guitars, the keys, everybody and mix the sound that sounds best to the room.

For a small club you may not have the luxary of your own sound guy. You’ll notice that your amplifier needs to have it’s own tonality hiked up. What sounded warm and nice in your bedroom sounds flat and tinny in your venue and you’ll have to warm it up, boost bass and midrange and take some off the treble. If it’s a warm room with carpet and drapes, you might want to bring the teble up more, reduce the midrange and add reverb. It’s a subjective thing but a second opinion does not hurt. Keep in mind that if you are playing with a smaller amp, like me, you’ll want it elevated. Something waist high or a bit higher will do. I used to carry a restaurant stand and used that. Some people use crates to stack it on. If you don’t, you’ll have a hard time hearing yourself, and the other band members will too.

If you’re using a small amp (like me) you’ll need to be mic’d through the PA for many gigs. My small Line 6 amp with 1 10″ speaker just isn’t going to have the spread needed. You’ll hear me if you’re right in front of me but across the room you won’t. Mic me and put me through the PA columns and I’m now live and in color. The only problem is I won’t have control over my sound. I’m going to have to trust the sound engineer to pay attention and make sure I’m heard over everybody else.

By being mic’d through the PA I have one more nice thing – monitors. Monitors are the small speakers that line the front of the stage and point up at a near 45 degree angle at the performers. It might seem unnecessary at first with all these speakers everywhere to actually need some pointed at the performers but monitors are wonderful. In a small club, you may not need them but in larger venues, you just won’t hear yourself, you won’t hear vocals, you won’t hear bass. Nicely mixed monitors are very much “instant feedback” as to what you sound like and a real necessity. Try playing a High School gymnasium without monitors and you’ll soon find your sound bouncing back at you off the back wall, creating a feeling of mush as you play. Sound smeared on sound. Monitors can help with that.

I would really like to someday own a Marshall full stack (the full stack comes in two 4×4 cabinets and are modular) but right now I live in a limited living space and just can’t afford the room, plus I’m upstairs. Not practical. In the meantime I’m going for the smaller amp and going mic’d.

If you have different experiences with this subject, I’d love to hear from you.

Rock on,

Spencer

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