Band on Stage at a Gig

How to Survive a Gig with a Small Amp

October 27, 2016 10 Comments

 Have you ever had to play a gig with an amp that’s completely unsuited for the job? If so, don’t worry- it happens to the best of us, and despite our better judgment. Maybe the sound guy said that an amp will be back lined, only for you to find that it does not have nearly enough power to hang with your band. Or maybe another band on the bill is providing the equipment, but that equipment only works well for them. Or maybe it’s even your fault and you underestimated the amount of rig you would need for the show! Whatever the circumstance, it always helps to have a backup plan if you have to play on a big stage with a small amp. Here are some tips to survive this gigging situation with your sanity (and the amp) intact.

1. Don’t crank the amp past its limits. If you’re playing through a relatively small solid state amp, cranking it up is the recipe for disaster. Not only will you risk blowing speakers, the bass sound will likely be distorted, harsh and very flat sounding.

2. Avoid excessive bass frequencies. If your amp is underpowered and you know it, you will need to pay extra attention to your EQ. Dialing a big boomy bottom end works great if you’re running a Carvin Audio B2000 with two BRx10.4 cabinets, but with lower wattage and less speakers, excessive low end utilizes a lot of your amp’s valuable power. Instead, try dropping the bass back and adding in a little more midrange.

3. Use the PA to your advantage. A good PA system can be a lifesaver in this situation. Have the engineer mic your amp or run a DI from your bass or the amp, if the model you’re using is equipped with one. This will get you heard in the audience and put minimal strain on your amp, since you only need to turn it up enough to serve as your personal monitor. If that’s not cutting it, ask the sound engineer for more bass in your monitor.

If the amp you’re using does not have a built-in DI, you can use a quality DI box like Carvin Audio’s FDR60.

4. Place your amp correctly onstage. Not to feed your ego, but your band mates need to hear your bass (along with the drums) clearly onstage to help them establish chord and song changes and vibe with the overall rhythm and feel of the song. If you are going through the PA, angle your amp towards your band mates, specifically your drummer. If you can, elevate it to ear level so it’s not projecting at everyone’s legs. This will help the show run more smoothly for everyone in your band.

If you show up to the gig happy that you didn’t have to bring your big rig, but then find the amp provided is not going to cut it power or speaker wise, it may seem like a stressful situation. Stay calm and remember that there are some workarounds to this predicament!



10 Responses

Richard Erdman
Richard Erdman

October 30, 2016

This is precisely the reason that I have learned over the years that despite it being a chore to lug a big rig around it can save the day. Yes, loading more than one choice and then having some gear sit idle may seem a waste but I have run into situations where had I not done it I would have had a bit of a time trying to compensate. You can always turn a big rig down but relying on a smaller one then finding it falling short can be a very frustrating experience. Often I will take 3 cabinets along, an 8×10, a 1×15 and a 2×15. This leaves me a few options. I just need to get a 4×10 to complete my collection!

Bernie "G"
Bernie "G"

October 29, 2016

New comment…..dah, AMP STANDS NOT guitar stands!!!

Bernie "G"
Bernie "G"

October 29, 2016

I always bring 2/50 watt amps and two guitar stands…to elevate my sound so I CAN HEAR WHAT I AM PLAYING…The second amp is on the opposite side of the stage… perpendicular to the stage so others can hear. Both amps have volume controls……use them….IT AIN’T ALL ABOUT YOU!!!! Bass AND guitar through the VOCAL MONITORS??? “REALLY” : (

David Ochal
David Ochal

October 28, 2016

Great solid advice. I use these ideas everytime I perform live. Keep your ego down to earth appreciate the people your playing with and you will sound great all night.

Old Miserly Guitarist
Old Miserly Guitarist

October 28, 2016

Bring a small speaker cabinet and a lightweight stand to all of your gigs. Leave it in the van if you don’t need it. If levels aren’t working out, get the speaker out of the van and point it at your face.
This one looks pretty good:
http://carvinaudio.com/products/vx112-12-inch-open-or-closed-back-birch-cabinet
And Maybe this for adapting the cabinet for the speaker stand:
http://carvinaudio.com/collections/hardware/products/th3-8-top-hat
Remember to spray-paint the legs of the stand yellow or something. Tripping hazard.

Karl Barnes Jr.
Karl Barnes Jr.

October 28, 2016

I was always told, “bring more than enough”, if you can of course.

Ernest Foss
Ernest Foss

October 28, 2016

Two small Stands, a stereo rig delay and separation. Two Amplifiers

Mark Jaroszewski
Mark Jaroszewski

October 28, 2016

I forgot to mention that I have been using my Vintage 16 head in the 5 watt mode.

Mark Jarozewski
Mark Jarozewski

October 28, 2016

My band plays various venues from small clubs to outdoor events with hundreds of people. For about a year now, I have been using my Vintage 16 head with a 2×12 cabinet. I have the soak on full and have never had the master volume over 4. I have gotten compliments from numerous sound guys not only on my tone but on the fact that they get a much better sound with the PA with me using a lower wattage amp. For my acoustic electric, I run my guitar into the clean channel of my SX200. Using the line out, I run that into a direct box and then into the PA. This gives me a fuller stage presence and enables the sound guy to get a nice sound. Also, should something go wrong with my Vintage 16 head, I already have a backup amp onstage. This method has worked well using both floor monitors and in ear monitors.

Uncle Ralph
Uncle Ralph

October 28, 2016

Another effective strategy is to stick the headstock of your guitar through one of the speakers in each of the others player’s amplifiers. Keep doing that until their volume matches yours. There is ALWAYS more than one solution to a problem.

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