When it comes to live amplification for guitar and bass players, there is a critical balance between the sound requirements for the audience and the stage volume needed by the artist to comfortably perform. While the same is true of any musician, it presents a particular challenge for guitar and bass since the amplifiers are designed to color the sound of the instrument, and many vintage designs don’t sound their best at lower volumes. The refrigerator sized bass stacks and hundred watt non-master volume amps of the past are examples of amps with too much power to use effectively in any but the highest volume situations.
In the 21st Century we have many great sounding portable amps, but many musicians still automatically gravitate towards those traditional rigs despite the disadvantages of trying to use amps best suited for bigger rooms. It might be a good idea to ask yourself if the amp is there to contribute to great sound or to project an image. Either is valid so long as you make a conscious choice (oh, and figure out how to make the band sound great while you’re at it).
Some of the best modern guitar amp designs, including the V3, and the Steve Vai Legacy VL300, offer power scaling so the musician has a choice of several different output levels. Carvin Amplifiers offer selectable power outputs from 15 watts to 100 watts depending on the model. This allows the guitarist to “push” the amplifier as desired to achieve their tone without having to exceed a manageable sound level on stage.
It is also a big advantage if your amp has multiple gain stages and equalization to allow high levels of saturation (distortion) at reduced volumes when needed. (The Steve Vai VL300 for example has both a channel volume, high gain switch and a master volume allowing you to achieve high gain saturation without the blistering high volumes unless of course you feel the need to peel the paint off of the venue’s walls…)
Sometimes a micro amplifier head like the V3M can be very versatile when combined with different speaker configurations.
One step that is often overlooked due to tradition is orienting the speaker systems towards the people that actually need to hear them. A good professional stage mix allows everyone in the band to hear one another and is consistent wherever the musicians move on stage. But when most bands set up they stand right in front of amplifiers designed to project a couple dozen yards rather than the few feet between them. An excellent solution is to combine a variety of smaller speaker systems in creative ways to cover the stage area rather than “back-lining” the amps in the traditional manner.
For example, you might use a pair of smaller cabinets like the 212S 2x12” vertical slant cabinet or the BRx10.2 dual 10” bass cabinet on either side of the stage plugged straight into the guitar or bass amp. You’ll get much better coverage when the speakers are spread across the stage. You could also put cabinets on the side of the stage pointing in towards the band or put a full range mix into some monitors (often referred to as side-fills). Try putting instrument speakers like our GT12-8 12” guitar speaker into wedge shaped cabinets that you can point back at the guitar and bass player for extra level without pointing them at the audience (added bonus- no more turning your back on the audience to get those notes to feed back). You can also angle your amplifier by tilting it back, raise it closer to ear level with the MA12 amp stand , or do both at the same time to hear yourself better without reaching for the volume knob.
Or consider upgrading your entire PA system with a high power portable sub-woofer like Carvin Audio’s TRx3018A and use a smaller bass combo for your personal stage monitoring needs.
Ultimately, creativity is the only limit to the options you can explore. You can try using more than one amplifier in a bi-amped setup (with or without a crossover), use an effects pedal or processor and two amps to create a stereo stage rig, or use multiple amps with selector pedals so each can be dialed in for a specific sound. Just remember to keep all equipment properly grounded when interconnecting amplifiers for electrical safety as improperly grounded amplifiers can be a shock hazard.
Designing an effective stage amplification system can be a lot of hard work. But the reward of having an amplifier perfectly tuned and ready to go for your stage performance is well worth the effort. With several choices from Carvin Amplifiers you’re sure to find an amp with the best all around power match for the venue.
Take control of your sound and let your amplifier become an extension of your instrument and a creative tool at your fingertips.
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Practice the Art of Being a Team Player
In the same way that learning the other players' parts will help you to fit in well, so too will learning to become a team player. Any guitarist can tell you that your amp sounds great when it's shaking the rafters. But if you crank up indiscriminately, it makes it hard for the other musicians to play at their best. Remember, they need to be able to hear as well. So, when they tell you they need you to adjust your volume, try to accommodate them to the extent possible. A good stage mix allows the whole band to hear not only themselves, but all the other parts as well. It does not require the ultimate guitar tone; that is essential out front, but it isn't always the top priority on stage.
In this article, you will learn how to focus your efforts on the areas you need to improve the most, and we will see how important it can be to see the 'big picture' when playing in a band. Last time, we learned some effective practice strategies, but how do you know which areas in which to invest your time? How can you improve your ability to "see" where you are taking your music?
If you are really serious about becoming the best musician that you can be, it makes good sense to cultivate habits that will help you achieve your goal, rather than hinder you. In this series, we will learn seven habits that will help you become a better musician. There is a lot to learn when mastering a musical instrument, but these basic principles will help you achieve success more easily, and they apply no matter which instrument you play.