Guitar rig setup: How to get your own tone from your equipment
Alright guys, a while back I uploaded an article on how to set your pedals up to get the least amount of interference and on how to get your pedals set to get your own sound out of them. This one will be on how to set up your amplifier so that you can get the best sound possible for your style of music, and so that you don’t get confused if the same settings you use at home don’t work when you’re playing live.
First up, you need to know exactly what the EQ dials on your amplifier are doing. Most amplifiers have three dials on their EQ: treble, middle and bass. Some amplifiers may also have a presence dial or such, but most will have these three at least.
Treble: this is the high frequency range for your guitar. It is essentially the ‘sharpness’ or ‘attack’ of your guitar. When you turn the treble right up, then the very subtle scrapes and plucks you make when you hit the strings will be more pronounced and each note you play will sound a little bit more ‘sudden’ if you understand what I mean. Your guitar’s higher frequency sounds will be mixed into its overall sound more. Turning it down will make you guitar sound ‘mushy’ or ‘soft’ as this takes all of the sharpness out of the sound. If you are going for a thick chocolaty, metal kind of sound then you may want to turn the treble down slightly. But be aware that this will take some of the attack out of your sound, so people looking for a more aggressive sound may want to turn it up if you’re playing something like Pantera or Slayer.
Middle: this is the mid range level of you guitar, and is the dial that is probably the most important when you’re playing live in terms of making your sound cut through all the other instruments, but is also probably the most misunderstood of the dials. This dial probably has one of the most noticeable effects on your sound, as most guitar notes are mid range: the middle dial is essential acting like a guitar ‘voicing’ dial. The higher you turn the middle dial, the more clear your guitar will sound, and the better it will cut through the other instruments around you. When you turn the middle dial down it becomes less clear and almost helps your guitar to ‘blend in’ with whatever instruments are already playing, but can make it hard for it cut through the sound of the rest of the band. Turn it to the right your guitar sounds more clear; turn it to the left and you guitar sounds more muddy. Some people prefer to keep the middle dial lower to help get a darker sound, but although this works while they’re playing alone, it may turn out that the middle dial should be turned up when playing with a band to help them be heard.
Bass: this is the low range level of your guitar, and generally dictates how ‘thick’ or ‘meaty’ your guitar sounds. The higher you turn this dial up, then the more powerful your chords should sound and your guitar should also sound darker as a result of there being more lower end to the sound. Turning this dial down tends to make your guitar sound thinner and also brighter. Particularly when you are playing with quite a lot of gain on an overdriven guitar, bass plays a large part in the overall ‘size’ of your guitar sound. Be sure to check this dial if you feel that your guitar simply isn’t sounding as ‘big’ as it did when you are playing at home if you’re setting your equipment up for a live performance. Bass is also responsible for a lot of the 'warmth' to your tone if you are playing through a clean channel.
Next up: what exactly should you do to your equipment to make sure that nothing unexpected happens during a live performance?
First things first, it doesn’t matter if you guitar has strap buttons larger than a supermodel’s bust, always put strap-locks on your guitar, as then there is absolutely no risk of the guitar falling off your shoulders during the gig.
Next, you should check the equipment you are using and do your best to ensure that any wires and cables are out of the way and/or secured so that you can’t pull them out accidentally. How do you do this? Look for any handles on the equipment, e.g. the handles on the amplifier cabinet, and loop the wires through them. This will take longer to set up and to take down, but will ensure that the cables won’t get pulled out by mistake.
Apart from this you should bring a spare battery if you are using active pickups on your guitar, and no matter what always bring a backup guitar. It doesn’t matter how low-rent this second guitar is, but you do not want to keep the audience waiting while you re-string your guitar if a string breaks, which is always possible no matter how good the guitar or strings are. Even a squire stratocaster is better than nothing.
Finally, what are the main differences you should make to your settings when you are playing live rather than at home?
- During sound-check, make sure that your guitar is loud enough to be heard over the other instruments.
- Make sure that your guitar is cutting through the other instruments to the degree that you want, and adjust the dials as necessary. Pay close attention to the ‘middle’ EQ dial during this.
- Be aware that valve/tube amplifiers are much better for live performances than transistor amplifiers unless you are using a high quality Pa, and even then a valve/tube amplifier will cut through much better.
- Be aware that the high volume of a live performance will cause feedback, and position yourself in such a position that this doesn’t become a problem. Players will often make a note of where to stand to encourage feedback and only go to stand there when they want to get that feedback, e.g Gary Moore for his Parisienne walkways long note.
- Check that your clean channel volume and you dirty channel volume are roughly the same, so that you don’t encounter problems with volume when switching channels.
- Ensure that your equipment is in the right position for the audience to hear it. What the band hears and what the audience hears is going to be slightly different, so keep this in mind.
- Remember that the audience will want to see you play, so don’t stand with your back to them looking at your equipment.
- There is only one true chance when you play live, so be sure that even if you make a mistake that you keep on going, as if you stop playing then everyone will notice, versus maybe two or three musicians in the audience who would notice you mistake.
That’s pretty much it for this article. Hope that this has helped some of you out there, and let me know if there’s anything that you feel needs changing or going over.
Take care guys and I’ll see you next time!