The human ear naturally perceives midrange frequencies more prominently, and the guitar tends to sit naturally in that range. However, many factors in a live mix can make the guitar hard to hear for both the guitarists themselves and the audience, and it’s not always the guitarist’s fault. If your guitar is getting buried by your band, there are a few things you can try.
If you can’t hear your guitar, the simplest cause is that it is a volume issue. Your amp simply may not be loud enough or the soundman may not be putting enough guitar in the monitors.
If you have a wireless system or a long instrument cord, a good way to troubleshoot this is to walk out into the audience area during sound check and see how it sounds in front of the stage relative to the other instruments. The reason why you should do this is because onstage, if your amp is directly behind you and/ or on the floor pointed at the back of your legs, you won’t be able to hear it well, but the audience may be getting blasted with guitar. Going out into the audience area will help you get a much better perspective on your overall sound, from your stage volume to the tone of your guitar.
On a similar note, the placement and position of your guitar amp matters. If you have a combo amplifier like a Carvin Audio Belair, try tilting it upwards so that the sound projects toward ear level. This will also reduce the stage volume you need and result in a cleaner band mix in the FOH (Front of House-meaning sound system).
If you can only hear your guitar distinctly during parts of songs where no other instruments are playing, you may need to adjust your amplifier’s equalization and gain settings. Scooping out your midrange may sound great when you’re playing on your own, and is quite fitting for heavier styles of rock, but sometimes it can get your guitar lost in a band mix. The bass will dominate the lower frequencies while the cymbals compete for the high end, so it’s important to have adequate midrange content to fill out the sound. Feel free to make adjustments to your bass and treble controls, too. Not enough bass can make your guitar sound thin, while too much can make it sound woofy (and upset your bassist!) Too much treble bite can be tiring for the audience members’ ears and too little can make your sound muddy. Make small adjustments one at a time until you find the sweet spot.
In conjunction with setting your equalization optimally, using too much gain and distortion can make it harder for your guitar to sit in the mix. A guitar amp like the Carvin Audio V3M has tons of gain on tap and chances are you can actually get by with using less gain than you think you need. Applying too much distortion to your signal may obscure the dynamics of your guitar playing, so try backing it off a bit and seeing if your guitar comes forward in the mix.
Next time you find your guitar being lost in the band mix, try out these tips!