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.
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.
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).
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.
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!