June 30, 2018

Many tone-minded musicians spend a significant amount of time in the rehearsal studio turning knobs on their amps and pedals, figuring out how to get a better sound for the next gig. However, what often happens is that a rig that is perfectly dialed in in the studio sounds completely different at a show. This can be frustrating, especially if you don’t have a soundcheck or have limited time to set up your sound. Each gig is a different beast with its own set of variables.

It’s a given that there are always differences in room acoustics that affect your sound and that these have to be compensated for via equalization, gain, and even playing technique adjustments. As such, it helps to have a general starting point for your tone that you can adjust as necessary. There are a few simple things to keep in mind to minimize the amount of knob turning you have to do on the gig.

  • Save your settings. Take a photo or make a mental note of your amplifier and pedal settings. A more foolproof solution is to draw knob positions on piece of tape, or to use a pen with removable ink to mark where the knobs should approximately be set on each piece of equipment. Some manufacturers even make a special pen for this purpose. Remember, your saved settings are just a guideline, so don’t fret if you have to change things around when playing live.
  • Understand the Fletcher Munson curve. In a nutshell, this phenomenon of human hearing describes how as volume increases, the bass and treble become more prominent. So if your EQ settings are the same as you left them in the practice room, but you’re turning your amp up louder at the gig, the audience might be getting blasted with a harsh high end and/or booming lows. Set your EQ and amp at gig volume and be extra careful about problem frequencies when you’re turning up the volume.
  • Enlist the help of a friend. Not everyone has roadies! If you have a trustworthy band mate or friend who can go and stand out in the audience to help you dial in your sound, take advantage! If you don’t want to rely on someone else, grab an extra long cord and walk out into the audience during soundcheck, or better yet, go wireless for even more mobility.
  • Keep it simple. The more components you have to your tone, the more you’ll have to work to make sure each one is dialed in properly. This is not to say that simplicity is necessary for great tone, rather that stripping down your rig to its most essential parts can in some cases reduce the guesswork on a gig.
  • Realize that “your tone” may not be possible at every venue. In life and rock and roll, not everything goes as planned. Your guitar or bass tone you worked so hard on may not jive with the acoustics of a particular room or your band’s mix in a particular instance. Don’t let it get you down, just focus on playing your best. In many cases, your audience might not even notice you sounded a little different than usual.
What tricks do you have to keep your sound consistent from the rehearsal room to the stage? Let us know in the comments section!



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