July 17, 2015

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.

Steve Vai Legacy 3 Tube Amp HeadV3 100W 3 Channel All Tube Amp            

  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…) V3M Micro Tube Amp Head

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. V3M with Slant Cabinet 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.

MA12 amp stand
Bass players should keep in mind that the wavelength of your low E note is 28 feet so your sound is literally bouncing off the walls.  In some places it will be louder than others (where the peaks and valleys of the waveform line up they reinforce and negate one another respectively).  If you can’t hear yourself well you might find a change in cabinet position, orientation or the place you stand on stage can make a big difference.  
 If you find the sound is “boomy” you can use a sweepable equalizer  to search for the overemphasized frequency:  Turn the knob to maximum cut and sweep the frequency control until you find the spot, then adjust for the least amount of cut that solves the problem. Our Bx series heads have the exact tone shaping controls you need for this purpose.

BX Series Bass Amp Heads

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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