Guitarists – stop hurting the audience at small gigs


 

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An amp stand that angles the cabinet towards your ears. The audience doesn’t know how much one of these can improve their lives.

I walked out of a gig last week. The bands were well-rehearsed and the front of house engineers were doing a good job. The venue was great and I was amongst friends, colleagues and students. But I walked out because I couldn’t stand the physical pain of being an audience member in that room any longer.

The gig in question was a showcase of songwriting talent (of which, say it ourselves, there is quite a lot at the University). For most of the performers, it was the first time these particular songs had been played in public. New lyrics, new melodies, new arrangements and new ideas for an audience to experience – and for the performers to reflect on and refine. Creativity in action. Exciting stuff.

Except that it wasn’t. There was no opportunity to experience the lovingly crafted lyric metaphors, exquisite keyboard melodies, subtle drum grooves and carefully programmed laptop soundscapes that the bands had worked so hard on in their writing and rehearsal sessions. Because a Fender guitar amp was one metre out of place.

The scenario unfolds like this. The guitarist arrives at soundcheck and sets up the amp and floor pedals. The amp is placed on the floor, or sometimes on an amp case, and the FOH engineer puts a mic in front of it. This means that the amp only has to be loud enough for the guitarist to hear it on stage. The front of house PA system can do the rest – the guitar can be as loud as it needs to be for the song.

But the stage is not very deep, so our guitarist is standing a metre or so in front of the amp and all of its sound is coming out at waist height. In physics, treble and upper mid frequencies (around 2kHz-5kHz) are more directional than bass and lower mids, so this means that these all important upper frequency areas literally go straight past the guitarist, bypassing the ears. The audience are standing further back, and the amp is pointing directly at them, and (due to height of the stage) roughly at head height. So they get the ‘proper’ guitar sound as it is meant to be heard, with all those lovely Fender Strat twangy guitar tones cutting effortlessly through the mix. Add a bit of distortion from a good quality tube amp (in this case, a beautiful Fender Hot Rod Deville) to performance skills, great songwriting and well-rehearsed material, and you have a recipe for a wonderful evening for lovers of guitar-based music.

Except that the guitarist isn’t hearing any of this great tone because the amp isn’t pointing at his or her ears. In fact, the guitarist can’t hear very much at all, what with the drummer going for it with the (head height) crash cymbals and the singer doing all that loud high-in-the-mix emoting coming back through the stage monitors. But wait, thinks our guitarist (and here is the point at which the seeds of destruction are sown, condemning all those musicians’ artistic endeavours to immediate and certain doom). If I can’t hear myself, I’ll just turn up the amp.

So the amp gets louder. The singer (who, from the audience’s PoV, is always the most important person) immediately has a problem, because the guitar sound is now drowning out the vocal on stage (the electric guitar sits in approximately the same frequency range as the human voice, and its harsh upper midrange can obscure the harmonics of vowels that support singers’ diction and pitching). From a vocalist’s perspective ‘in the moment’, the problem isn’t that the guitar is too loud – it’s that the voice is too quiet. So the singer employs a universally understood combination of mime, pointing, head gestures, frowning and over-the-PA instructions to get the mix engineer to turn up the voice in the onstage monitors.

The FOH engineer does his or her best, but is constrained by the need to control feedback – you can’t turn up a stage monitor indefinitely because the mic will eventually squeal, which will be equally unpleasant for audience and band alike. And the root cause of the original problem (the on-stage guitar amp being not loud enough for the player and too loud for the audience) can’t be solved by the front of house mix; the guitar, by this point, is at zero on the desk, because too much guitar sound is already coming from the stage. The engineer has no room for manouvre – and is being unfairly blamed by audience and band alike for the terrible mix in the room.

Meanwhile, the keyboard player, who operates in roughly the same pitch and harmonic spectrum as the guitarist and vocalist, can’t hear the keyboard, which is coming back through the monitors, and sometimes, at small gigs, on the same monitor mix that’s carrying the vocals. Cue a separate set of (slightly less flamboyant, less well-lit and less sweary) mimes and gestures to the FOH engineer. So the engineer has to turn up the keyboards in the monitors. We now have three people who are supposed to be playing music together making war on each other through an arms race of sonic attrition.

Sound is about air molecules bouncing off each other, causing a chain reaction that travels from the sound source through the venue, and eventually reaching your eardrums, which resonate in sympathy with the vibrations of the air. Which is why in space no-one can hear you scream (and the foley budget for Star Wars could have been a lot less). And the more air is bouncing around on stage, the more difficult it is for the sound engineer to control the mix, especially at small pub and club gigs where the backline amplifiers can be heard by the audience.

Due to the FOH engineer’s lack of control, the audience is hearing a downer of a mix. The vocal is obscured by the guitar so the front person’s stage presence and character isn’t communicating properly. The lyricist’s craft is lost on everyone. The singer is out of tune because the vocal isn’t clearly isolated in the monitors. The drummer and bassist are surrounded by a cluttered midrange of noise, meaning they’re not hearing the pulse of the music (or the sound of their own instruments) as clearly as they would like. So they play louder. Which clutters the mix more.

Our guitarist, meanwhile, who had a perfectly usable on-stage mix at the soundcheck, can’t understand which he or she now can’t hear the (already too loud) upper midrange that defines the guitar’s rhythmic attack and tonal quality. Probably best to turn the amp up, then.

Not everyone is as middle-aged and grumpy as I am, of course, so not everyone will walk out. But when the mix sucks, everyone in the venue has a terrible time, and the band’s artistic intentions will fail.

Rewind. The guitarist can fix this. An amp stand that angles the speaker towards the guitarist’s ears is all that is needed. Even if you’re on a tight budget (as I was in my gigging days in the early 1990s) it’s possible to balance the amp on a few beer crates to get it at head height. The problems I experienced last week (and have seen at literally hundreds of small gigs over the years) can be solved just with a few seconds of care during the soundcheck.

Guitarists. Make a better world for us all. Buy an amp stand.

Comments

  1. Here Hear !!

    • P.S. Even in large theatres or concert halls this can be a problem when an amp sitting on the stage is at head height to row G of the stalls, creating a terrible guitar hot spot!

    • lunaticky says:

      I’ve got two of those stands! Best sonic appliance you can have!

    • The tilt back legs on the old Fenders were there for a reason. Most amp makers won’t do it because they have to hit a price point and tilt back legs ain’t in the budget. How many amps besides Fender use tilt back legs…….Not many,
      See in 1 paragraph problem solved………..

  2. bueno

  3. Great article … totally relevant in my band’s circumstances … except of course for the keyboard player reference 😉 The killer on the article,l however, is the fact that our guitar player uses an amp stand 🙂 As the keyboard player, my monitor amp is perpendicular to me; not projecting to the audience at all (nor the singer), and I run through a stereo Direct Input box into the main board. Since, I am currently responsible for running sound in our band, I can attest to the escalating volume debacle … right on! I have even furnished the guitar player, his own monitor mix with his guitar and a bit of keys, since he does not get any stage volume from me. It is futile and definitely upsets the band every gig. Forget the audience … they can leave 🙂

    • When I have been playing keyboards in a band, my set up is exactly the same as Ronnie’s. I bring my own monitor and face it at me and away from the audience, and give a separate feed to the main desk. However, this comes with its own problems too; in some halls the monitor sound (being mostly midrange and treble) can easily bounce off the back wall and fire back at the audience and FOH, which means the main feed gets turned down to compensate. If you have your monitor turned up too loud, you run the risk of playing a good set, only to find the audience weren’t so impressed, saying “it’s a shame, we couldn’t hear you!” So make sure your monitor feed is as close and as isolated to you as you can get, then be prepared to leave your ego behind and turn it down if it’s not blending nicely with the rest of the band.

  4. LOL….and try explaining that to about 95% of the guitar players out there. Good luck….

    • I was the bass player for a good blues band in Southern Maine 20 years ago. We worked so hard rehearsing and getting tight and when we started gigging, we discovered that the lead guitarist insisted on playing way too loud. He had to “Get that tone”. Venues asked us repeatedly to turn down and then did not rehire us. It was sad.

  5. The DEEFLEXX system is 100% better then this idea. An Austrian guy solved the whole problem and now some of the biggest names are using his system. They work. I use them.

  6. I agree with the writer of the article and I have a related comment. I’m a musician and was at a concert last night in what appeared to be a three thousand person auditorium. I was sitting toward the back in the balcony. The concert was old time rock and roll featuring several well known bands of the 1960’s era. The PA system was brought in to the venue as the built in system could not handle the volume levels of rock music. Trouble is the production was unable to handle the mix of several guitars, keyboards, bass and vocals from where I was sitting so all I got was mud, and some guitars with a little vocal. The vocals were always drowned out and the bass was all upper midrange. I wish these sound guys could here what I’m hearing instead of using their direct headphones.

  7. I learned this lesson a long time ago and now I’m in my 50’s and I wear hearing aids. 100 watt Marshall JCM 800…check, Two 4×12 Cabs…check, One genuine Gibson Les Paul Standard modded with an original Floyd Rose Bridge (I was young and dumb, what can I say)…check. That was the ’80s and switched to a Strat in the ’90s. Started really noticing deafness about 2012.

    Anyway, now I play through a Rivera Era Fender Super Champ with an amp stand and a newer, better Strat and a Tele. That little amp can still be obscenely loud, but at 18 watts and one 10″ speaker pointed at my head with a Senheisser e906 side address mic, my current band mates love me, the FOH guy/gal love me and the audience…it depends on how much they’ve had to drink. I’m glad to see that someone is preaching the amp stand gospel.

  8. Ah yes, it’s always the sound engineer’s fault! Though he/she expertly positions the guitar amp during soundcheck, diplomatically communicates to the guitar player the importance of stage volume and placement in relation to FOH volume and “Please help me to help YOU sound YOUR best”. Don’t even get me started on mic-shy vocalists who insist on standing more than a foot away from the mic on a tight stage! Who’s fault is all the resulting feedback? Right; the Sound Engineer. One solution is the little amp baffles/blockers we make and slip in front of a combo amp positioned on the floor. It’s made from 3/8″ or 1/2″ plywood about 24″x20″ with a 2×4 footer across the bottom. We glue egg crate foam or packing quilt material on the back facing the amp. The sound from the amp speakers is then dispersed out the sides or up the baffle saving the ears of the audience and helping the lowly humble sound engineer to get contorl over the mix. Here’s a link to picture of the ground floor stage at Tootsies. Hopefully the link works. Notice the baffle? https://scontent-sea1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/10308358_10152419686511703_8066872718090555747_n.jpg?oh=efdf84d286c432f2e431546bc2329c01&oe=57AF3EC9

  9. OMG! If ever there was a “nail on the head” article, this is it! Great article. Thanks Rick Latorre for sharing with me on FB

  10. I couldn’t agree more. When I am doing stage set-ups, I put guitar amps on stands towards the back of the stage, and often will angle them so the guitarist can hear what they are doing. I may even put in a clear shield. I always take a DI signal from the amp and when I am mixing,I will keep an eye on what is happening. I usually end up in a “battle” with lead guitarists, they turn themselves up, I turn them down. More often than not, as well, older guitarists (I am also older) tend to try and accommodate their diminishing hearing by turning their gear up. My job is to make sure that the audience get the best sound and often in order to achieve that I mask the direct sound from the stage and provide the mix through the main system. There will always be some direct sound and usually the nt best place to stand (from a sound perspective) is front centre. I am usually about 1/3 to 1/2 way along the audience depth and I use my ears to gauge what I think is the best balance. Being too close may allow you to see all the action close up, but also inevitably you also get to feel all the action.
    I have worked with some exceptional musicians and invariably it is the real professionals who will trust that you will do your job,as you trust they will do theirs.

  11. A cheap solution I use on all my amps: http://www.tedweber.com/gadgets/beam-blockers

  12. Great idea – where do I get one for my Marshall stack? 😉

  13. ways as a guitarist i fix this, angle my amp or put it WAY back ( amp stand method) have the right amp for the job, my 50 watt mesa boogie doesn’t come out to play really often… most days it’s just too much amp, my 20w with a pentode/ tirode switch is a a LOT friendlier, also a beam blocker on your speaker ( a small object attached to the grill cloth dead centre will cancel/ diffuse the highest harmonics and cut some of the shrill off the amp sound…. and don’t touch your settings until the sound man says to… if you can’t hear cope, this is why we practiced

  14. good article about raising and angling combos. My answer is small amps for small venues. but when I have to use my Marshall rig, I use homemade high end diffusers from softballs and moving straps aimed right at the cones. Works real well. I also use a load box on the cabinet, which works real well to tame that beast down, without losing the crunch.

  15. The guitar volume issue is not always inadvertent. I’ve played with guitar players that simply found that they receive more crowd attention when their instrument is louder than everyone else. in fact I once belonged to a group of 50 to 65 year old musicians whose lead singer also played rhythm and occasionally lead guitar. His solution to a loud lead player was to refuse to allow himself to be surpassed in volume. This meant that the singer was mostly trying to sing over the sound of his own guitar while trying to match the lead volume. For one gig, I arrived while the other guys were playing a sound check number and, as I walked in to the venue, the volume level was unbelievable. While setting up, stunned, I mentioned this to the other band members who then looked at each other shrugging and saying, “no it sounds okay, right?”. Everyone but me seemed in agreement but after the first song. I witnessed several audience members looking at each other with puzzled expressions and we lost literally half the audience as we kick off a second inappropriately loud piece.

  16. It’s because anybody can play guitar – and they do – and most of them are tone-deaf no-talent fools. The standards are much higher in the world of Classical music. Those who can’t handle it wash out at an early age.

  17. I have found it effective to work with a plexiglass shield in front of my amp. It allows me to get sounds that make me happy, protect the audience from the direct frontal assault of the shrill tones. Soundtechs like it, because they aren’t catching me hot from the stage and can work with me in the PA. My leads are still fairly loud on stage, but vocals aren’t happening at that time and the energy it gives me enhances my performance. Trying to play expressive lead guitar with a wimpy tone is like trying to make love with a limp ____.
    I’ve found it to be especially effective in small venues, yet still helpful on festival stages. You never want the sound tech to read you hot from stage.

  18. You do not need a stand. Fender still sells the legs that you can use to tit the amp. that way it goes much higher to your ears and not out onto the stage. One other tip for my fellow guitar players and other musicians. When you cannot hear, turn everyone else DOWN….. hey there is a thought… and drummers…. 99% of the time there is no need to play like Neil Pert in Shea Stadium…. but a good sound guy is a necessity if you are doing the whole band thing. One of the reasons I like small trio or acoustic duo gigs these days… a lot less to hassle over.

  19. Better still, if the amp is miked up anyway, put the amp in front of the guitarist angled up towards his ears. Win/win.

    • Exactly Trevor ! The guitarist then has a monitor and the FOH tech can put a mic (or DI) on it for the house PA. Many amps can be heard form the back too, no? Thing is, some guitarists think this doesn’t look cool…

  20. no good if the guitar player does not di into desk or mic amp up to desk and aims his amp at his ears for only means of monitoring guitar if he has a mic there too and sings … good idea for none singing player who dont have a di mix

  21. Reblogged this on Music Business Etiquette: The Ground Rules and commented:
    Excellent words. Many guitarists don’t realize how much tone they aren’t hearing due to this issue (on top of slaughtering the audience and ruining the mix!).

  22. Reblogged this on jsalfity.

  23. Would love to also hear comments around the same argument towards bass rigs. The less-focused range at the lower end of the spectrum can be another pain when the bass player turns up because he/she believes they can “up the energy” of the collective group with a little bump in the bottom (sigh, yes that’s a direct quote).

  24. This article is a load of nonsense. I am a guitarist, I have owned a recording studio, I have engineered and mixed well known albums.

    The guitar amp is focusing frequencies at waist level, not at the guitarist’s ears, for the very simple reason that *THAT’S WHERE THE GUITAR IS*!!!

    And the interaction between guitar and amp is crucial to things like sustain and controlled feedback. If the speakers were aimed at the player’s ears, the volume would have to be louder to get the desired response out of the guitar. This is basic physics. And the audience would “suffer” even more.

    If you want to listen to electric guitars, some basic minimum threshold of volume is essential, at least for some genres. I am well aware what it did to Pete Towshend’s hearing. Both as a player and as an audience member, I pack earplugs.

    • I hear you but don’t agree 100%. I played with a drummer who insisted that his snare sound a “certain” way. While this is commendable in theory, in practice it meant that he hit the snare almost as hard as he could in every song, causing the band and audience all kinds of trouble until he was finally canned. Musicians on the front line face less than ideal scenarios, sound-wise and your comment reminded me so much of that uncompromising drummer that it gave me flashbacks lol

    • Seriously!!! Career guitarist and Live Engineer here, and the article is spot on. More often than not, especially less experienced guitarists EQ’s their amp way too toppy precisely because they aren’t hearing the highs from their amp because of where it’s pointing. Particularly on shallow stages. Try this one. Get a guitarist to crouch down while they set their amps, and it will invariable end up mellower. Many times when I’ve convinced a player to tip their amp up, they’ll respond with “Ouch, thats ugly” then proceed to re-EQ.

  25. yeah, right. Don’t even get me started. Like drums, anybody can buy a guitar and with practice become proficient enough to land a public gig. 99% of them give musicians a really bad reputation for a lot of reasons, and especially with the volume issue.

  26. Never heard of ear pieces?

  27. Most bands I’ve worked with for the past 40 years play to the level of the drummer. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some really good drummers who can keep time AND play to a moderate level. Unfortunately I’ve also had to endure too many who believed they could only keep their ‘feel’ by hitting the skins (particularly the snare) as hard as humanly possible. If I can’t hear my backline I have few options but to turn up.

    It’s different when everything’s mic’d up. In that case I use in-ears and rely on the sound man to get both my on-stage and front of house levels right. But too many of my stage level problems have started with a loud, heavy-handed drummer.

    • Yes… the drummer who was playing at a reasonable level during sound check is suddenly trying to kill his crash cymbals. Anyone nearby is going to be turning up, not only the guitarist.

  28. There’s another school of thought, which is that in small(er) venues you build the live sound from the back line and only put the vocals, keys, and drums though the PA, not the guitars and bass.

    A lot of live sound engineers insist on having a guitarist’s amp at very low volume onstage – creating exactly the problem you describe of the guitarist being unable to hear themselves – not because it sounds better, but because it gives the engineer more control. A lot of live engineers dislike guitarists and see them as a problem to control. Often, in small venues, you end up with terrible sound that way: nine times out of ten, the engineer has never heard the band before, has no idea what they sound like, or should sound like, and – as the article says – may be dealing with 3 to 5 acts, often with different amps. The guitarist can’t hear themselves, and so on.

    However, in every gig I’ve ever done when the sound has been built from the back line in a small venue, i.e. when the guitar and bass amps are cranked up but not put through the PA (rather than run at low volume and miked up), the sound has been a million times better, with space and dynamics, a sound with range and depth.

    I’ve played five gigs so far this year, with two different bands. The three gigs when the sound was terrible all came down to a lazy engineer putting everything through the PA and doing a bad job of it. The two when the sound was brilliant – confirmed by everyone in the audience and in the band – were when the guitars and bass weren’t miked up and put through the PA, but were run from the back line, with everything else going through the PA. This creates a setup where you have a full onstage guitar and bass sound, with the vocals, drums, and keys flown over the top of them through the PA.

    So while those stands are a good idea in themselves – or putting the amp on a chair, as I’ve done in some venues – they don’t solve the problem of a bad live engineer at a venue. Building the live sound from the back line and adding the vocals etc over the top, (as long as the singer and other key performers have wedges/stage monitors) almost always gives superior results to cramming everything through the desk and the PA. That’s been my very extensive experience, anyway.

    • Sounds like you’ve run into some pretty dreadful soundmen. IME Letting a single amp onstage provide the entire guitar/ bass signal has two problems: First, a lot of cabinets tend to be quite directional, and the audience on the left ends up with too much guitar, while the audience on the right can’t hear it; I don’t find the “depth” you hear at all;

      Second, not many guitarists at the club level level have a really good control of their own dynamics, or the ability to accurately gauge their own level out front. Sometime, to get a proper balance, the FOH guy has the have the ability to reduce the level of the guitar as well as boost it.

      The caveat is, of course, that the gig must have a PA system capable, in terms of range and power of amplifying an entire band. If the PA is a couple of self powered “15+ a horn” units, it really does need to be saved for the vocals.

      My experience is not that building a live sound over a self amplified backline “always give superior results.” if so, why are many many touring bands using one or two Ac30s or 50W baseman amps instead of having a dozen 4X12s each?

      My own technique is fairly simple I let the band set up with whatever amp volume they are conformable with, and mix to it, unless something is clearly so inappropriately loud that the overall level is going to be too loud out front. Then I ask the guy to turn down or re orient his amp. In those case it generally does turn out to be positioning problem. The guitarist is standing with the backs of his legs touching the font of a 4X12 that is deafening rows 1-12.

  29. One other dilution that I’ve participated in was at a couple of mega churches where the regular guitarist was going on vacation and I was invited to fill in for him in his slot on the rotation. I didn’t even attend these particular churches, but I got the “pickup gig” through a couple of longstanding friendships with the people making the decisions. Anyway, what was done is that I was told I could either bring my own head or use one of theirs. The head was plugged into a mic’d isocab in a room behind the platform and I could crank the amp as loud as I wanted. The band then heard the mix through wireless, in-the-ear monitors and each player or singer had an iPad that allowed one to create their own personal monitor mix. The other guitarist has the same set-up and the acoustic guitarist, the bassist, the keyboardist and the gal on the Roland V-Drums all went DI into the board. It’s really expensive, but if the money is there, this is s pretty cool way to go. It has its downsides, but the FOH guy/gal has a much easier job and doesn’t have to deal with people whining about not having enough of this or that it the mix, obscenely loud stage volumes and poor and painful mixes as a result.

  30. This is a band-aid solution that has been attempted for years to modify a far more serious problem that is endemic to musicians who cleave to luddite philosphies and special needs regarding stage arrangement. Your first, best, and usually only technique needed to reduce •too much stage volume (from any player), •monitor and amp/tone dissatisfaction from the lead singer/guitarist, •overall creeping stage volume, •(rightful) complaints from the FOH engineer regarding stage volume is the following. Put the f*cking drums off center, donkeys. Keep the lead singer and lead guitarists’ ears as far away from the ride and crash cymbals as you possibly can. Angle the drums off center slightly, with the crash cymbal at the back end of the stage, away from ears and vocal mics. EVERYONE plays to the level of the drums. If the drums are attenuated naturally, by placement VOILA…people can hear themselves better….less need for volume. Moderating the problem of anyone being too loud by putting their powerful amplifier CLOSER to their ears is like insisting that they should damage their hearing more efficiently (literally for someone else’s VANITY as opposed to better sound) and have their tone suffer by their amp not opening up to its toneful sweet spot. That kind of arrangement on a stand always begs for a smaller amplifier….yet another purchase the average guitarist may not want to make. With the drums placed completely out of direct line behind •the lead vocal mic, • any other vocal mics, • the ears of the lead singer and/or the lead guitarist…the high energy/high frequency bombast of the cymbals won’t be a cue to the ears and brains that more volume is required for correct stage balance. Say, in a four piece, your drummer is considerably stage left, with only the bass amp all the way left, and the drum kit a little back and angled, and the lead singer and lead guitarist are over on stage right, with the lead singer “almost” center and the lead guitarist stage right, with their amps on the floor and angled away from the FOH engineer., you will find that no longer being affected by this rush of percussive, high frequency volume will seriously moderate the “need” for louder stage volume from the lead guitarist, or anyone, and the sudden, relaxed ability of the lead singer to hear themselves better will spread a GOOD VIBE throughout the band and venue. Or, you can just keep pounding the head against the old tried and true and shitty set up and argue and un-solve everyone into further frustration and eventual deafness. Please try different stage arrangement techniques before wasting money on one of these deafness acccesories.

  31. I use the StandBack amp stand to angle my Fender Blues Deluxe toward me ,it’s simple to use and folds flat no metal frame to carry around ..

  32. I’ve been preaching this for years. Tilt that amp. Your ears are in you head not your legs. But some players just don’t hear me because they’ve been playing too loud for too long.

  33. I think a performer of the stature of Bruce Springsteen would be a good example to use and his onstage Marshall cabinets sit tilted back at about 45 degrees.

  34. This is exactly why we side fill everything and take a stance similar to Night Ranger, drums on one side facing the rest of the band and side fill all amplification, nothing points out towards the crowd, in-ear monitor system as well.

  35. An amp stand can certainly help here, especially if your on an elevated stage where the amp is audience head height, but it is likely not the fix all for this. The article points out a bigger problem. The vocal/keyboard and guitar are all in the same freq range. Too often guitarist (myself included) are guilty of creating our tone in isolation so we tend to end up adjusting the Eq to fill up the entire space. The more other musician’s other guitarist, keyboard etc.. you have in your range the more sparse and selective in your playing you need to be, and sparse you need to be with your guitar tone as well. Most recording engineers know this when you cut out and post EQ during a recording session. The same principals work on live too.

    Often I’ve found when people complain about volume levels actual volume is not always the problem. Sometimes it’s overbearing frequency that is offensive to human ear. Find it and reduce it and the volume is perceived as being lower.

  36. lenjennings says:

    No offense Joe. But this isn’t on the guitarist. Sorry. All audio engineers who actually know what they are doing could have fixed this problem before it ever happened. It is THEIR job. Period. No excuses. Yes, had the guitarist had an amp stand this would’ve helped. But the overall presentation of the group’s sound falls squarely on the audio engineer. He/she could’ve grabbed a chair or something. He could’ve made sure the guitarist was advised before the performance that he needed a guitar stand. Whatever the lack on the part of rhe artist, the audio engineer needs to mitigate it as much as possible. The musicians are the colors on the palette. The audio engineer is the artist who makes the beautiful sonic masterpiece. That said, far too many musicians can’t seem to get past their own egos. If every musician spent a little time with an audio engineer for stage and for studio and actually listened to them, a lot more performances would go over a lot better. I’ve even seen seasoned regional and national acts who still have work to do learning about what audio engineers do and why. It matters. So strongly consider all one’s choices as it pertains to delivering the performance in a way that is sonically pleasing. But don’t let them off the hook. They should be teaching, not reacting. They get paid to make artists sound good. They should accept no excuses and neither should the audiences who paid to hear something that sounds good.

    • When I as the sound engineer have to hit the mute button on the mixing console for the guitar can because it is so loud and during sound check it was balanced and running through my FOH speakers it is no longer my fault. I have SPL regulations I have to adhere by, so I can’t “just turn up everything else, including the drums” to match the guitar volume. When I then over the talk back mic ask him to turn his cab down between songs and just get a “it isn’t loud enough I am not turning it down” over his vocal mic through the FOH to the whole crowd, it is not my fault at that point. It is my job as a sound egineer to make the artist sound good, but when the artist doesn’t want to listen or thinks he knows better than me, I can’t do anything about it other than just shut off the cab mic and pray people dont walk out. Another big thing is, when you are playing a small venue like the one I run sound at a lot which is only 25′ wide by 60′ long, you don’t need a half stack with a 130w head. Reality is a single 12 cab or a dual 12 with an 20w tube amp is PLENTY.
      The problem is many guitarists have see big rock shows and want that equipment, but will never play a show big enough for a full or half stack with that much wattage.
      Also, here is the other thing, can’t hear your guitar, then maybe it is time to switch to some in ears and do thing like the big boys do. I don’t know any major artists these days that don’t use in ears, and a bunch of the small local acts around me are using IEM’s as well. Instead of spending $3000 on a half stack and huge 100+ watt head, get a small tube amp combo or a small head and a pair of in ears to go with it. This is 2017, not 1969.

  37. uncbilly603 says:

    Great article being a guitar player and a crusty old sound guy I’ve been a huge champion of position awareness for amps. IMHO, tilt-back legs are preferable to stands. The amp stands decouple the amp from the floor which takes away some of the bottom of the tone. Also you have to be careful with highly reflective ceilings because that can make a guitar just as loud to the audience. When tilting the point is not just a tilted back but to tilt it at the guitar players head. I’ve also sometimes opened a guitar case and put it in front of the speaker. This works when it’s the direct blast of high-end that’s offensive ( which is usually the problem) . In rooms without a stage I place my very directionally single 12 inch cab on the floor and the direct blast just blows it peoples feet so the troubles spikes aren’t much of a problem. One of the biggest problems also is that most guitar players don’t have an actual volume boost for their solos and they set they’re rhythm level too loud.

  38. This applies to bass players as well. I’m now and then supposed to be playing on the in house bass amp, which may (or may not) be a decent bass amp standing on the floor, maybe even an Ampeg SVT with 8×10″ cabinet, me standing 30cm in front of the speaker due to narrow space. Probably nice sound at knee height but I don’t hear a thing. I am always swapping this with my own, a 12″ combo tilted back so that the sound direction hits my ears. Problem solved!

  39. In the past days there was a significant increase of requests and questions about the product Deeflexx because of this thread.
    As the inventor I was asked to put down some words about the differences of the named solutions compared to a Deeflexx System. And I can tell you, over the past 30 years I checked out everything what I can read here (amp stand, tilt amp, monitor wedge, sound shields, …) and tried to solve the sound problems of players who came to me.

    I was invited to sound checks or contacted by some well known names. They had in common that they (and their guitar techs or FOH/Monitor sound engineers) all have used these things and then again tried to find something better because – THEY CHANGE THE SOUND.
    Some quotes:
    • When I raise or tilt my amp I hear a massive loss of the bass and body of the guitar – it sounds so thin and lifeless!
    • The rebounding reflections in between speaker and sound shields cause phase cancellations. The guitar sound on the PA and monitors always sound strange.
    • My beam blocker changes the character of my amp, it sounds small and boxy. I have lost many sweetspots for the microphone too because you can hear the comb filter effect.
    • When I use my amp stand the beam hits my ears. After playing a gig I have a ringing in my ears.
    • Using amp stands for my stereo/dual amp rig I hardly cant find a sweet spot to play. As soon as I move to the side the beam of one amp overpowers the other amp completely.

    All named solutions are simple and cheap and work in some way to manage the shrill beam somehow. So if you are happy with it – everything is fine.

    But the highest goal for me was to GET A SOUND LIKE I was standing in the SWEETSPOT of the amp.
    You may have noticed that right here you have a fat and clear sound and it feels like you are directly connected to your amp – but THE AMP HAS TO STAND ON THE GROUND!
    I dont want to repeat some basics here and please you to read it here …
    http://hoovi.at/know-how-2/?lang=en

    I was told that a Deeflexx offers this sought after feeling to play guitar on the sweet spot – but ANYWHERE around the amp. Therefore besides many experienced players in Europe some US players like Johnny Winter, Greg Koch, Jon Herrington and some more were/are using this Deflection Systems.

    I really can understand the appeal of Joe to use stands so that the audience really can enjoy a concert. But if you want to hear a pleasant, fat and clear guitar sound, leave the amp on the ground and try a Deeflexx System and have your world changed!

    In case of requests please use this contact page – you are welcome!
    http://hoovi.at/footer-menue/contact/?lang=en
    See you – HooVi 🙂

  40. This is a problem that most of us guitarist experience but this article is kind of wrong. If you stand directly to the amp’s speaker what you hear the most is the speaker’s beam, and this is very annoying. Not the ideal guitar sound (see mic placement for example). If you tilt the amp, and more important, put the amp to a stand you loose all the bottom end. Once again not ideal! So we end up with the amp hitting the audience which is of course band the audience in small venues. The beam is hitting directly in them. A very good solution that came up recently is the Deeflexx made by a German company called Hoovy. Please note that a have no relation at all with this company and haven’t tried it yet. The reason is the price of it! Unfortunately its still a bit expensive for small giging musicians but promises a lot. Check it out. “The Deeflexx is a high-end sound-deflection system for guitar and bass amps or cabinets. The diffuser deflects the beam of a speaker and converts it into a homogenous sound area.”

  41. Unplug everything …use a real piano….make music.

  42. Amen. Been there, done that.If I’ve said it once, I’ve said that a hundred times. Often very loudly, too btw.

  43. Well Stated Sam….If ONLY we could get all musicos & sound guys to read “The Physucs if Music” Alexander S Woods…For those who are serious!

  44. Believe me, singers and bassists have been asking guitar players to turn down for decades! A lot of them have tube amps and insist that they can’t get their tone unless they are turned up far too loud for stage monitoring :/ Honestly a lot of guitarists sometimes seem more interested in personal gratification than a good mix.

  45. It’s amazing how many musicians and sound people have no concept of good sound.

  46. As a guitar player who is consistently told to turn up (and generally, I won’t. I have no desire to escalate the volume wars), I’m going to say that the problem is larger. When everyone in the band is more concerned with their own sound than the overall sound of the music and spends more time listening to themselves than they do to the rest of the band, the result is a crappy performance. If you can’t hear everything that’s happening on the stage, you can’t blend properly, you can’t lock in properly, you can’t play with proper dynamics. Assuming a decent FoH engineer (and monitor engineer, if you’re lucky enough to have both), your job is to hear each other and play as a musical unit, not a group of soloists who just happen to be appearing on the same stage at the same time.

  47. Hot Rod Deville model Fender amps are deafening. I once left a jam at a club, because one guitarist had one cranked and drowned out everything! Although I have many graduated amps, up to stacks watt wise, for a small room, I always brought a 20 watt amp. When I was young, you could not play a Mashall half stack in a club at any volume! We started playing 25 watt Silvertone head through a Marshall cabinet, and that seemed to bring the volume down, but still sound good. It just takes one bad apple who insists on cranking a 50 watt amp at a gig in a small room. People will leave, with their ears ringing. You would think guitarists in general would learn that simple concept!

  48. Early in my carreer as a session guitar player I already noticed that. All the while I thought the drums and keyboard are drowning my sound so I keep cranking it up. Now, I put my Marshall or Cube 80 on a tilting stand so I hear its sound correctly; volume, tone, and all.

  49. a guitar amp on the floor, not angled up even slightly, is, and always will be, an absolute pain in the arse for the soundman . unless ye have ears on yer arse , or yer heels

  50. At the Mint years ago. Taj Mahal’s Guitarist stuck a cardboard beer case in front of his amp and had the sound man mic it. It was great. He stood in front and the top of the box was open so the sound came up to him but didn’t cannonball through the audience. Total control by the sound man. I’ve never been able to talk any guitarist into doing this. Really effective tho.

    • Hello Tom – just explain from the view of a guitarist:
      If a cabinet is open on the top or on the side the speaker cannot reproduce low frequencies because of the physical effect “acoustic short-circuit”. No guitarist playing rock, country or pop would like to miss the low end as it is an essential part of the sound and music style.
      If you place a reflecting device straight in front of a speaker it comes to another physical effect – phase cancellations – which change the sound and the character of an amp.
      And you know if a guitarist buys a British sounding amp – he definitely wants to hear this character! 🙂

  51. primalmime says:

    I’m a mix engineer and love this article. I hate to go hear most live music because I only hear good mixes in my head already. The majority of live shows hurt my ears and give me a headache.

  52. I was asked one night by a colleague/friend to drop in to his gig because the venue sound chimp didn’t show up. I did and, after a few minutes of figuring out how the system was wired, I did sound for the night. It’s a place known for earsplitting hard rock and punk. On the bill were two other bands other than my friend’s band. The stage is a small alcove set into a wall with the FOH stacks on either side. The alcove has a way of gathering up the stage sound and shooting it into the room like a horn, and nobody comes through there with anything smaller than full Marshall stacks. I spent the entire evening with all of the backline mostly OFF at the board for the reason you’ve illustrated: no bass, no guitars, just a shimmering of the kit, but the vocals were full up. After the gig, the owner came up and told me it was the best sound he’d ever had in the room—he offered me the job (which he rescinded when I named my price). It was the first time the vocals had ever been heard in that club, so there is the additional danger in your scenario that the FOH engineer will not be experienced enough (like the guys who usually blow sound at the venue I just described) to know to shut off the screaming amps in the mix, making the room sound all the worse. Great topic.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Although this isn’t about a worship service, the lessons apply. Joe Bennett explains how one l… […]

  2. […] are particularly prone to exposing people to musical mayhem… I recently saw this article written on joebennett.net which discussed the problems with setting up amps at a gig, and the huge […]

  3. […] Some good truth-telling from Joe Bennett–former music editor of Total Guitar and currently head of academic affairs at Berklee. When the sound of the guitar is hitting you in the ass, by the time it “sounds right” to you, you’re killing the audience. Joe was nicer in his headline than we were. Check out “Guitarists – stop hurting the audience at small gigs.” […]

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