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4 comments / Posted by Bruce Ohms

Guitar Player with Guitar Rig

Today’s gigging musician will play in a wide variety of venues: small bars, clubs, outdoor stages, and so much more! As such, it is important to have a rig that is suitable for a range of venues and performing situations. Conventional wisdom says it’s better to get way more amp than you need to make sure you have enough juice for any situation. You can always turn down, right? That usually is not true, because the tone and dynamics change on guitar amps when turned up or down. It is also financially wiser to purchase a rig for the long haul, with the power and tone that you won’t grow out of anytime soon. That’s in a perfect world at least- in the real world, if your band is playing the local bar circuit or going on your first tour, you are going to be responsible for moving your rig around and setting it up onstage, so having a huge, powerful rig isn’t always the best way to go. Having a modular rig is highly beneficial for players seeking the easiest setup and best sound at every gig, no matter where it may be!

Combos, Heads, and Cabs

Every night, on stages around the world, there are two different types of amps being played through: combo amps, or head/cab setups. Combo amps are generally more lightweight and portable than separate head and cab setups. However, a head and cab setup allows you to mix and match amplifiers and speaker cabinets to your heart’s content, effectively building a custom rig for each and every show you play.  With combo amps, on the other hand, you could be locked to the available tone from that particular amplifier and speaker combination. Some combo amps that are literally heads mounted in a speaker cabinet do have external output jacks and can accommodate running other cabinets with or without the internal speakers. There is no setup that is necessarily better - it is all about finding out which setup fits your needs.

Building a Modular Rig

The most important part of building a modular rig is to examine all your needs. You want to cover your main music passion, the type of shows, and the venues where you perform. After you find the amp, you need to pair it with speaker cabinets, or sets of speaker cabinets, that are suitable for the different playing situations and tone variations. This method allows you to bring what’s needed and nothing that’s not to the stage or studio, adapting your rig to any playing situation.

As an example, let’s say you play guitar in two bands: a wedding cover band by day and a loud hard rock band by night. Now your passion is probably the hard rock band, so you look for a head that cranks out your passion and is versatile enough to cover the paying wedding gigs. We all know that usually the only passion in the wedding gigs is that you are still playing your guitar. You go with a Carvin Audio V3 head for the tone and volume of the hard rock band, and its versatility to dial in many other sounds for the wedding band. Since the wedding band plays mostly smaller stages at lower volumes, you can bring along the V3 and a two 12-inch speaker cabinet like the VX212 straight cabinet. You can turn it up as needed and it is a small simple rig to move around.

Carvin Audio V3 100W Tube Amp Head and VX212 Birch Guitar Cab

V3 100W Tube Head and VX212 Birch Guitar Cab

Because your hard rock band plays at a much higher volume, you can simply add another VX212 cabinet for twice the output, or instead switch to a four 12-inch speaker cabinet, like the VX412T slant cabinet.  With the VX412T you would be able to leave the cabinet at the practice room for the hard rock band and just move the head between bands.

Carvin Audio V3 100W Tube Amp Head and VX412B Birch Guitar Cab

V3 100W Tube Head and VX412B Birch Guitar Cab

And lastly, let’s say your hard rock band landed the arena gig of a lifetime. Instead of buying a whole new rig altogether, you can add an additional VX412B straight cabinet to make sure your guitar is heard loud and clear (and a full stack will make you look cool, too).

Carvin Audio V3 100W Tube Amp Head and VX412 Full Stack


V3 100W Tube Head and VX412 Full Stack

For a quick second scenario, let’s consider you are in a bar band that also plays larger outdoor city festivals in the summer. Here your passion may be from rock to blues or country and the gigs are usually small and late night, so you want vintage tone, in a small, light package. Here a combo amp like the Nomad with a single 12-inch internal speaker brings the sweet vintage tone in a very compact and light package. This alone will cover most bars and in the bigger clubs, with still small stages, it will be mic’ed through the PA.  You are in and out quickly with plenty of tone and volume.

When you get to the huge festival stage if you crank your Nomad amp up enough to get comfortable, it may not put out the same tone or dynamics you enjoy. Here you can add another 12 inch extension like the matching 112E to double your output, or you can go big with a VX412T covered in tweed to match the vintage look with four times the output.  This will make you louder due to more speakers, but the amp will be working in a similar spot as before, producing the dynamics and similar tone you enjoy. Also the VX Series lets you open the back for a tone like the Nomad’s open back.

Carvin Audio Nomad Vintage Tube Amp Combo

Nomad 50W Tube Amp Combo

Building a rig is one of the fun parts about playing music. It is also important for every band member to adapt and have the proper equipment for each venue. Building a different modular rig to meet your current needs is a labor of love!


  • Posted On June 11, 2016 by Doug

    This article kind of states the obvious, but it does point out to beginners that you can pair a monster amp with a cabinet that you can easily move around and still be capable of melting the audience’s faces. Then if you need a lot more bang, you can borrow (or rent) another cab for that outdoor gig and buy one if it gets to the point that you’re going to need it a lot. In that vein, a 50 watt combo can be REALLY LOUD hooked up to a 4×12, should you need to be. The main thing is that you buy quality shtuff. If you can’t afford a 100 watt full stack, buy a great 50 watt combo. Chances are you’ll still be lovin’ it years down the line, where if you get a cheap piece ‘o’ junk you’ll grow out of it in no time. At the risk of sounding like an advert, I’ve got some ancient Carvin gear that’s still as good as anything on the market today.

  • Posted On June 10, 2016 by Michael Hickey

    I am a weekend warrior club musician . I perform country, rock , and blues. I won a Nomad and have never found a situation my Nomad didn’t shine in. In clubs , I never turn up past 3 , outdoors put a microphone in front of it and put it in the PA mix. EL 84 tone is where it is at for guitar.

  • Posted On June 10, 2016 by C.J.

    This was a great article on the advantages of considering the modular approach to building a guitar amp rig. Recommendations make a lot of sense…

  • Posted On June 10, 2016 by Jerome

    Thank You Carvin for the awesome article. I own a Carvin Belair combo amp, 2 Carvin Legacy combo amps, 2 Carvin MTS3200 heads, and a Carvin 412 cabinet for just the reasons you mentioned.

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