Recently I have been considering how I monitor my guitar and the rest of the band during live situations. There are a few different options available to us guitarists, and I thought I would discuss some of them from my experience, in the hope it could help out some of you too.
When I first started gigging with a band, the vocalist was the only band member who had a wedge monitor. The rest of us (guitar, bass and drums) simply used the backline to hear what was going on. That is of course if our amps were man enough to be heard over the drummer! Luckily, we all had amps with sufficient power to be heard – much more power than was really necessary, in fact. The result was, to be honest, a very loud mush of sound filling the pub, which although the punters didn’t mind too much, meant it was too loud on stage. We were all competing to be heard over the drummer, and each other. As the gig went on, further up went the amp volume controls!
Controlling 0n stage volume
These days, people don’t want live music that is going to make ears bleed. Yes, it needs to be loud and full of energy, but there are ways to achieve this without Environmental Health getting involved.
If you are in a band with a simple P.A. system used purely for the vocals, make sure the vocals can be heard over the drums (ask your drummer to hold back a bit and introduce some dynamics if needs be) and then bring the guitar and bass (and other instruments) up to a suitable level. This is the mix the audience will hear.
Now the trick is to be able to hear yourselves at these levels. To achieve this, I find it best to have amps at the back, a few feet away from where you’re standing if at all possible, and to have them positioned so you aren’t directly in front of them. After all, you want the audience to hear every note, so don’t get in the way! I hear the amp better if it is positioned, at the back facing forward, to the side of where I am standing, facing inwards a bit. Some players like to angle the amp up to aim at their ears; however, I have always found this to sound too bright and uncomfortable. The sound you need to cut through a crowded pub isn’t necessarily the one that inspires you to play, so finding a balance is best.
Once I progressed to playing with a bigger and more successful band I found myself playing bigger stages with a full 5-10k PA rig, complete with individual wedge monitors for each player. This was incredible in many ways, however now being in a band of 8 musicians, rather than 4, meaning there was much more stage volume, and with everyone turning up loud, the monitors were having to be driven harder and harder, adding to the problem. At this time I opted to start using musician’s earplugs to protect my hearing, and tame things a bit. I was never really happy with this setup as although I was protecting myself, I felt I was losing too much of the life in the sound of my playing, and the band’s performance. Adding to the problem was my wedge monitor mix didn’t sound particularly inspiring as it was heavily EQd in order to combat feedback and other sound related issues.
After persevering like this for about a year, our keyboard player, who had been using in-ear monitors (IEMs) for a while suggested I give them a try. I purchased some Shure SE215‘s and drove them with a simple Behrenger mixer. The first gig I played with IEMs was the Boston Gliderdrome, a famous music and dance hall. We had the luxury of dedicated monitor engineer, and for the first time, I could hear the band and my guitar clearly, at a manageable volume, that I could control myself. Unfortunately, not all monitor engineers are born equal, and I soon realized over a number of gigs that a poor monitor engineer or even a good engineer with next to no sound check time could easily mean a poor mix for my IEMs. I am very much a player who enjoys tone every bit as much as playing, and without a good sound in my ears I feel distracted and ultimately this affects my performance.
What my band does
For the most part, our band uses an Allen & Heath GLD80 digital console, which enables us all to balance our own mix via the use of an iPad app. In theory, I should have a great mix every time, but the reality is due to time constraints and however the sound in the room in which we are playing is behaving, quite often the mix in my ears is not what I want it to be. So, what is the workaround? How do I get a sound I am happy with, at a manageable volume, and still get a good sound front of house? I run a second microphone on my amp, directly to my small Behrenger mixer. I put it on the cab wherever it sounds best that day, and set up my amp controls, and my pedals to sound how I want them to sound in my ears. Our engineer then mics the cab however he wants, and does whatever he needs to do to my sound to make it work front of house. A simple solution, everyone is a winner! And when I say everyone, I mean the rest of the band as well. I am able to have my amp set quieter on stage, reducing overall stage volume, meaning the other players aren’t having to have their monitors turned up any louder than necessary to achieve what they need.
Now, I appreciate not everyone will have the same experiences I have had. Some of you may get on fine without any advanced form of monitoring; perhaps some of you will have found decent earplugs and are very happy with what you are hearing. If that’s the case, then brilliant! But if like me you have tried something and it isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to investigate other options. Yes you may have to invest some time and possibly a little money in finding what works for you, but ultimately, if you can find inspiring tones to play on stage with and hear clearly, you will be a happier guitarist, and if your anything like me, you will play better, and enjoy the whole situation far more as well.
The products in this post
||Behringer Xenyx 502