Performing Live: The amp setup

Okay, if anyone can provide a cite to where I can get basic/advanced info on the setting up of Amps, while performing live.
I am unsure of what type of amps are required for vocals, why there are amps that face inward toward the stage, not outward.
How many amps should each instrument have?
I am not talking about huge venues, just small local band type shows.

note: 2 guitars, 1 bass, drums.

Any help would be great. :slight_smile:

Sorry, I don’t have a link, but this might help;

  1. IANAP (professional), but the small amps that face the band are called moniters.
    Moniters shoot some of the sound back towards the band so they can hear whats going
    on, this is really benifical for the drumer who is most likely set up behind the guitar amps. And moniters
    are hooked up through the PA, if you’re playing small venues you probley won’t need moniters.

  2. Everytime I played in small places (car-holes, youth-centers, and wearhouses) the mike
    was hooked-up through the PA, which is usally provided at the venue. Failing a PA, i don’t
    see why you couldn’t just hook the mike up to any old amp provided there’s a plug for it.

  3. If you’re playing someplace small, you really only need one amp per guitar. For normal
    guitars, a 150-200 Watt amp should be fine, and for bass guitar I would suggest somthing
    around 300 or more, but if you’re in a band, your bandmates should have this coverd
    seeing as each should have their own equipment.

  4. And for set up, one thats worked for me is to have the bass amp in the middle, next to
    the drumer, and the guitars set up on either side.

Hopefully this helped, but Im sure much more knowledgeable people then I will be along
shortly to answer this question in better/more accurate detail.

IMHO you almost always need monitors. The reason is that when the PA is in front of you, even by a foot, it shoots all the sound away from you and all you are left with is the bass. I played a small club once when the monitors were broken and it was the worst gig we ever played. All I could hear was the ride cymbal crashing over and over in my ear. Couldn’t hear my guitar, the other guitar, bass or vocals. It was terrible. And this was in a club with a GIANT PA system on stage, but I was standing a foot behind it and couldnt hear shit.

Agreed, it depends how loud you are (especially the drummer!) and how large the venue is.

Monitors are usually unnecessary unless you are playing to more than around 50 people or you play ear-ringingly loud (ie. such that a 100W guitar amp is turned up higher than around 4).

Guitars require guitar amps (100W or more, less and you are risking burning them out), bass requires bass amp. Vocals can be done on the cheap using another guitar amp, but usually require a PA (Public Address) system consisting of a mixer + amp + two speakers on tall stands. This tends to be the most expensive thing for a band, starting off at around $500 for a poor second hand system.

If the venues/music are this small/quiet, you can get away (feedback-wise) with having the PA speakers level with the vocal mic and have the instruments simply go through their respective amps (without mics).

Like I said, it’s really all about the drummer. Tell him to use the lightest possible sticks and make sure no-one’s amp goes higher than about 4, and everything should be OK volume-wise.

Depending on the size of the place and whether you’re just playing on your own equipment or there’s a rented PA system with a sound guy and microphones for the drums etc…

Drums: You might not have to do anything about them, or you could run them through the PA. Drum mikes are expensive, but the sound guy might have some.

Bass: I’m a bass player, and my amp is too small for anything but rehearsing by myself in a soundproof cupboard on the dark side of the moon, unless I breathe loudly. I usually play through the PA. You’ll need a DI box for that, if the PA is rented (or owned by the place you’re playing) the sound guy probably has one.[1]

Guitar: Electric guitars through their amps. You can put a microphone in front of them and run that through the PA, too. Underpowered guitarists are rarely a problem, in my experience - they’ll expand their Mount Marshall until you don’t have room for the instruments in the room and have to tie them up with guitar strings to make them stop (don’t worry, the strings will break before the first set is over anyway). Depends on the kind of music you play, of course.
Accoustic guitars through the PA, or at least that’s what we do.

Vocals: PA. If the place is very small and you’re not going to play Sound of Silence more than Smells Like Teen Spirit, it might be a small PA[2], and then you might want to borrow a bass amp rather than let the bass compete with the vocals through the PA.
You’ll want to have a microphone.

Monitors: The Beatles, in the infancy of stadium rock, played without hearing themselves. This was no problem, because people were screaming and fainting to loudly[3] to hear them anyway.[4] For the rest of us, hearing what we’re up to is nice. Yes, you can get away with not using monitors and listening to the PA, but only if you stand in front of the PA, otherwise it will sound muffled, and standing in front of the PA brings feedback problems and isn’t good for your hearing, either (the audience has the option of moving around away from the speaker, you can’t leave the stage). Depends on the music, of course. On the other hand, violinists playing softly get hearing problems too.[5]
The last three gigs I played: The first we had monitors, smaller speakers facing the stage, at the front of the stage and next to the drummer (depending on the size of the stage). They come from the PA, and you can adjust how much of everything you want in the monitors.
We were placed like this (ok, this was a bit hard to do in ASCII, so…): PA speakers at the front of the stage or on the floor, on each side. Two monitors (one each, only three of us) at the front of the stage, microphones a bit to the side of them (to avoid feedback), us behind the microphones (well, duh). Drummer behind us, guitar amp next to him, and his monitor on the other side. I played through the PA, so no bass amp. If we’d had another guitar player, his amp would have been on the other side of the drummer, probably, although who stands where depends on who plays together, sort of.
Second gig was a smaller room, we used our own PA. To save room we didn’t use monitors, and placed the PA speakers on the stage behind us - meaning that we could hear what we played, but we had to be really careful to avoid feedback. Like this:
PA, drummer, guitar amp, PA. In front of the first PA; me, then my microphone (so that I was between the PA and the microphone. Don’t move around too much). Same on the other side with the guitar player.[6]
Third: Played a few songs at the guitar player’s sister’s wedding. The PA really low, the drummer playing with splitsticks[7] on all the songs because they didn’t sound as loud, guitarist playing accoustic through the PA, and absolutely no monitors. Like this: Drummer and PA squeezed in between the wall and the door to the kitchen, guitar player and me on chairs in front of him with a microphone each, wondering what on Earth to do when someone asks us to play waltz. Semi-relevant point being, it wasn’t loud enough for us to worry about feedback.

If you have a sound guy running the PA but also partly use your own amps, let him be boss. If he tells you to turn down the amp or something, do it, but of course let him know if it means you can’t hear what you’re playing. He can hear what the audience hears, you don’t. If you’re too unsatisfied with him, get someone else next time.
For the same reason, even if you don’t have a PA system and there’s no sound guy, it’s a good idea to have someone you know, preferably someone who know what he’s doing, in the room to tell you if you need to adjust your sound - because while the bass sounds like sweet bliss on stage, it might be seriously disturbing someone’s intestines in the audience. Also, you won’t be able to convince the guitarist to turn down, but someone who tells him ‘Dude, in the audience it sounds like a tortured Nazgul’ might make him fight the guitarist instinct.[8][9]

[1]I’ve often brought along my amp anyway, in case there was a PA problem I’d at least have something, if there was a monitor problem I’d have that, and also you can feel what you’re playing to a certain extent, at least the rythm, if you stand right in front of it or sit on it. On the other hand, I’ve usually brought along a spare battery, spare strings, a spare bass…
[2]Don’t try to sing through the bass amp or anything. Forget it. :slight_smile: And certainly not the guitar amp, especially if he uses a fuzz box or any other effect…
[3]Not thud, but THUD
[4]This is not as great a luxury as it seems, because the singer will lose an eye to a poorly aimed pair of panties, and if you’re playing in a hotel you’ll be stoned to death with room keys.
[5]Beethoven, the Metallica of his day, became stone deaf. Was exhausted, too, having to drink, smash hotel rooms and sleep with a whole band’s worth of groupies all by himself.
[6]If we’d had another guitar player, he would have fallen off the stage or had to sit on top of the bass drum and shouted ‘PSSSH’ every time the drummer hit him in the back, because he’d take the place of a cymbal.
[7]A bunch of thin sticks taped together, looks like something stolen from the kitchen.
[8]Unless it’s punk.
[9]‘Ok, ok, I’ll turn down, dammit.’ ‘Uh, Joe, that’s up.’ ‘Sorry, force of habit.’

Just to add to the good advice already given: the monitors are usually provided by the venue’s soundman, who will mike up all the instruments through the house PA. You just go in with your usual setup of instruments and amps and he sets up microphones in front of the amps so he can control how loud each instrument is coming through the PA system on his mixing board. The monitors let you hear the mix that’s coming through the house PA. If you’re just playing a small party you can just get by with the setup you use to practice, like SentientMeat said.

You can sing through a guitar amp while practicing for a while, but eventually the vocalist will have to break down and buy a personal PA system (much smaller than the house PA at venues) because you just plain can’t hear vocals through a guitar amp. You can either mike or direct other instruments through the singer’s personal PA or just let everyone do their own thing volume-wise at smaller gigs, depending on what works best for your band.

Wow, wow, wow.

Awesome info.

Thanks so much! :slight_smile:

If you’re playing some place without PA, I would recommend using a bass or keyboard amp instead of a guitar amp for the vocals. Guitar amps tend to feed back too much, IMHO.

If you do have a PA setup, you have to ask yourself if you trust the sound man. I’ve been playing rock and roll for seventeen years and I can probably count on one hand the number of soundmen I have played with who were actually able to operate the bewildering array of equipment in front of them, much less provide me (a bass player) with some kind of coherent monitor mix. Don’t be surprised when you get up there and can’t hear yourself or someone else. A valuable life skill to learn is how to translate the mess you hear on stage into music. Practice cueing off the drummer, as you will always be able to hear him. If you can hear the rest of the band, it’s gravy. If not, you won’t be paralyzed. DO NOT, under any circumstances, listen to the vocalist to figure out where you are in the song. He (or she) will be the first thing lost in the stage noise.

If you do trust the soundman, he will tell you to turn down. “Stage volume is the enemy,” as someone said to me once. This is true–from HIS point of view, not necessarily from yours. Some amps (like certain Marshalls, for example) need to be turned up to produce the sounds you want. If you depend on squealing guitars for your sound, you’re gonna have to crank those mofos up and let the soundman deal with it. If your sound is cleaner, you’re better off doing what he says.

Playing in a circle in the practice room and being on stage are two totally different experiences. There is no way to adequately prepare for the moment when you’re standing up there with your (proverbial) dick hanging out in front of God and everybody and realizing that this sounds NOTHING like it did in practice. You can’t stop to tweak the sound, and asking the soundman for “More backing vocals in my monitor, please” will do absolutely no good whatsover. You’ve just got to jump in there and do the best you can. It’s the most fun you can have with your pants on.

To give you a little more overview, you have 2 basic choices for your band.

  1. You can hook up instruments directly to amplifiers, and everybody sets their own volume right up on stage.

  2. You can hook up all the instruments to a mixing board, typically placed out front of the stage, from where the amps are adjusted by a single person.

Choice 2 is a MUCH better option. The sound mixer has a much better idea of what the band sounds like to the audience, and can adjust any instruments accordingly.

A decent mixing board can do more than one mix simultaneously. The allows you to run one mix through the stage monitors (the ones facing the band), and a separate mix out to the house PA. In fact, a lot of boards can do 4 or even 8 mixes, so you can do a custom mix for each musician, and a different mix for the house. So if you really need to crank up the keybpards in the stage monitors so the band can hear them, you can lower them a bit in the house mix. There’s any number of variations you can do to achieve the best possible sound.

And of course you can mix options 1 and 2, and run various signals to BOTH a mixing board and a direct-out amp. Typically, electric bass players want to control their own stage monitor, but the signal can be split, sent to the house mixing board as well, and added to a separate mix.

I think I went a bit overboard with my previous post… :slight_smile: I planned to just write a short reply, but nope, four pages (ok, so I’m still using 800*600 resolution).

Ok, checklist:
-Amps and PA: Does the place have PA, or will one be rented for the gig? If not, either bring your own, or bring amps for all instruments and something to sing through. The guitarists probably have to use their amps to get a sound they’re even moderately happy with, but if you can, run the bass and vocals through the PA. If you have PA, ask the sound guy for a DI box for the bass, and that’s all you’ll need.
-Microphones. If you’re renting PA or there’s one there the sound guy might have better microphones and cables than you do, but it won’t cost you much to take them along.
-Instruments, picks, … All the stuff you play, including percussion - egg, tambourine, Zambian wippittyhook, and other strange and twisted pieces of wood and metal.
-Whatever you put the drumkit on to stop it from sliding along the floor and heading out the door and into the forest, where it can cavort happy and free among its kin. We don’t want that to happen, so bring a rug.
-Spare drumsticks.
-Drum key.
-Spare batteries, especially if you have active instruments.
-Keep your old set of strings when changing them and put them in your case, so if a string breaks at a gig you have a replacement.
-All the stands and stuff for the drums (if he has to place them on a chair, you’ll never hear the end of it).
-Duct tape. We had to tape the drum kit to a railing once because the stage was so cramped. Not that we had to suspend the drummer from the ceiling, but we had to place the kit against a railing, and used the tape to soften the blow for the kit when it hit against the railing every time he used the bass drum. So, point being, bring duct tape. You’ve heard it before, and I’m not going to exaggerate its value for comic effect like you normally see, I’m just going to say that you can’t save the drum kit using spare strings, but in an emergency, you can make a new string out of duct tape.[1]
-I bring along a spare bass and amp, but I might be overdoing it.
-You can never have too much time for the sound check, because you might run into problems with monitors or something, and everyone wants to tweak their sound. If the doors open at 8PM, start the soundcheck in February.
-One of our first gigs, the guitar player had too much to drink before we started and we had to sober him up. ‘Throw some water in your face,’ we told him, and he ran over to a dog’s drinking bowl and dipped his head into it. Depending on the size and aggression of the dog, you might want to limit the drinking before you play instead. Also, don’t sniff cinnamon. {blink}CROSS-THREAD REFERENCE{/blink}
-Stage sound: Never mind the conflict of interest with the sound mixer about stage volume, you’re interested in the same thing; sounding good. If you can’t hear yourself, you’ll play badly, and if the sound mixer thought that was ok as long as the sound was good, he would have become a DJ and played pre-recorded music.[2] OTOH, stage volume makes you sound muddy or produces feedback. So no drums in the monitors, nothing that uses amps in the monitors (meaning guitars, and bass if that has a separate amp) - nothing in the monitors that you can hear without it, really. Clear vocals in the monitors because it’s the hardest “instrument,” apart from perhaps fretless bass, to keep in tune and sounding right. You’ll have trouble convincing your guitar players to play through the board and ditch their Marshall sound, and they have a point, but amps on stage, monitors and drums give us sound trouble. So: I suppose you can try placing the amps offstage and splitting the guitar between the board (so you can get guitar in the monitor) and amp, so they get their sound but you can keep the noise down on stage - the downside is that you have to make sure it’s left alone, with all its knobs that the guitarist spent two months adjusting, and most stages aren’t like that. Instead, twist them a bit sideways so they don’t point straight at the microphone, set up a mic, turn it down as much as you can (mumblemumbleMarshallmumblemumble), and get most of the volume from the PA, but the sound from the amp. Monitors don’t have to be right in front of where you’re standing with the microphone, they can be beside you. Notice how this point always becomes a lot longer than all the others? :slight_smile:

I wrote ten times as long as I planned to again.
[1]Made you try it.
[2]I bet they felt the sting of that one. Ooh, the power of the pen.[3]
[3]The guy who came up with “the pen is mightier than the sword” is (I think) the same person who first started a story with “It was a dark and stormy night.” Sort of deflates the quote a bit, I feel.

If there is a sound guy, make sure you/your singer say “can I get some more vocals in the monitor?” after your first song.