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Thread: Live Sound Setups

  1. #1
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    Live Sound Setups

    For those of you who gig, I’d like to know how you all handle live sound. It’s sort of mentioned in passing relative to things like amp settings, “fitting into the mix”, etc., but I haven’t seen a discussion about it, and I think it’d be informative (for me at least….) Sooo…maybe start off saying what sorts of places you play, if you typically use house PA’s or a rig that you bring, if you usually have a dedicated sound guy, or anything else that you think relevant as background. Then go ahead and describe what you do for live sound, and any justification for the decisions you’ve made.

    I’ll start it off. For the background part, we’re a 4 piece with 2 guitars, bass and drums. The rhythm guitars is the lead vocalist on all but a handful of songs, but the drummer and I do a couple and over half of the songs we do involves harmonies.
    We gig once or twice a month doing strictly covers, and three quarters of the clubs are roadhouse sorts of bars with a mid-40s crowd who are there to dance and drink…and eating is not the main attraction at these sorts of places. Loud is generally accepted, but quieter usually is appreciated. We’ll play maybe 3 or 4 gigs at A-list clubs that have a younger crowd and Loud is usually not only OK, but expected. We’ll also play 2 or three private gigs at larger halls that feature eating in the beginning and dancing later on. Quiet is essential for these particularly during the eating part. Music is a mix of geezer rock to 90s pop to modern country to oldies dance stuff depending on the crowd. We only use house PAs and a sound guy if it’s forced on us.

    Now for the configuration. We use the following:

    22 channel Mackie ProFX mixer

    A small 4U rack that sits under the mixer that has a Lexicon effects unit, a 2 channel compressor and a 2 channel graphic EQ

    Active QSC153 active mains and QSC 18” active subs

    QSC K10s as monitors, one each for me, the lead singer and the drummer

    Shure SM58s for me and the other guitarist and some sort of head mounted mic for the drummer

    Although the Mackie has built-in effects, I don’t use those, but rather use the Lexicon to add delay and a touch of chorus to the vocal mics. Effects are dialed back in the mix though and aren’t over the top for the main mix. They are even less on the monitor mix because it tends to cause monitor feedback issues. The two available monitor channels on the Mackie are sent through the 2 channel EQ to tame that as well.

    The Mackie only has 2 monitor channels, which we live with by giving me and the drummer the same monitor mix. We actually could configure it so that we assign a subgroup as a monitor mix for the third monitor, but it works well as-is.

    For small venues we mic the kick and snare only and the bass is put into the main mix as well from a direct out from the bassist’s amp. The only difference for large venues is that we mic the entire drum kit.

    We never mic the guitar amps. I know that conventional wisdom says that you should, and FOH sound should be determined by the main mix, and the amps should be used as monitors. For me though…and we do occasionally play larger clubs, the FOH sound is just muddied doing this….either through our own gear or through club gear. Maybe if we were playing the enormo-dome with line array speakers and mega power amps it’d work well. I haven’t seen the club setup yet (either ours or other bands I see) where the main mix isn’t all mushy when guitars are added in. And it really tends to screw with the presence of the vocals.

    So, we’ve had to determine how to place our amps relative to where we stand so that when we’re getting acceptable levels of ourselves relative to the rest of the band the FOH sound is good also. After a while, you can look at the configuration of the room and see how to set up and get it pretty close. A factor that helps is that our drummer is really good at sizing up the situation and playing appropriately.

    The rhythm guitarist tends to want to hear a ton of his guitar, so we put his amp pretty much right up his butt tilted up at him. I can live with much less of my guitar even though I do leads so my amp is pushed back behind the drums so I’m getting pretty much what the FOH gets minus the rhythm since he’s forward and to the side of me. The bassist uses his amp only as a monitor and is standing pretty close to it.

    Lastly, we run our own sound. It just works better in my experience. I usually have the mixer set up within reach, and it’s up to me to tweak things on the fly if necessary. Since we’re not relying on the PA to bring up the guitar for example on a solo, not a lot of this is required.

    This was all developed through trial and error on our part for the types of places we play. I’m interested in finding out what others do…

    Anyway, some pics of how we're set up at practice, which is pretty much how we layout for most gigs (ignore the crappy drum set...the drummer doesn't like to haul or leave his good kit for practices...)

    Mixer and Effects


    A main and sub


    One of the floor monitors


    Typical guitar amp placement (rhythm on right of pic, my rig on the left)


    View from the drummer's perspective

  2. #2
    SuperD Boogie's Avatar
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    That's a really similar setup to us, except you have quality PA gear. We have 2 guitars, bass, drums and a lead vocalist. Drums and vox only thru the PA, which is predominantly old Peavey crap, using SM58s and drum mics that I can't recall. Besides most of the vocals being handled by our front man, all of us have songs we sing and the drummer and I handle most harmonies. We have monitors for the drummer but the rest of us have been using IEMs for over a year. Overall, it's an old school approach that has worked, for the most part, for about 4 years.

    We we play bars/road houses mostly, with some private stuff thrown in. I don't consider us loud, per se, but for the venues, they want us to be the the showcase of the evening. If people want to have a conversation, go to Bob Evans. We've been background music for weddings and reunions but our music doesn't lend itself well to that. But a gig is a gig and we strive to please. Over the past year I've worked to duplicate my 2x12 sound with a 1x12 solution and help bring my projected volume down. But I'm pretty obstinate about changing my amp settings once they're dialed in, regardless of how loud that is. David Grisson was a bad influence in that regard!

    Playing a really good rig at volume is a kick in the pants. I totally love playing out and get antsy when we are on hiatus. My gear really delivers for me and it keeps me constantly tweaking and striving for improvement. And that's what my PRS gives me...confidence and satisfaction. And that makes me play better. The feel of the bassy crunch puts a grin on my face and seems to contrast well with the other guitarist sporting a traditional LP/Marshall setup.

    In all, I think our approach and execution are very similar, Aristotle. Except you take much prettier gear to your gigs.
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  3. #3
    For me the ideal band is drums, bass, keys, guitar, vocalist. The reason I like this kind of group is that every instrument/voice has a unique place in the overall mix and presentation, and instruments aren't competing in the same audio and frequency ranges (even when keys and guitar are in similar ranges, the timbres are quite different).

    I've played bass, keys and guitar in these kinds of bands over the years - it's interesting how one's perspective evolves sitting in all three instrument seats, so to speak. Sometimes vocalists have played acoustic guitar, or maybe a 12-string, just to give the band a different flavor at times.

    But in general, one electric guitar player is plenty, It's just a lot easier to not have two guitar players conflicting with each other in the same frequency/timbre range.
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    Thanks for the replies guys. For Boogie, those QSC speakers are beat to hell and have been bounced around a bunch, so no pretty gear there! Must look better in pictures I guess. I haven't thought to send people who complain about loudness to Bob Evans. I'll have to remember that trick. Our material isn't geared towards background music either, but in some of the clubs, folks seem happier in general if they can hold a conversation at the back of the bar....and if we had our way, it'd be too loud for that. Other places have the attitude that if it's too loud then you're too old, which is the most fun. Sounds like the main difference in setup then between us is tat we pipe the bass through the PA. Haven't tried in-ear monitors actually. Not sure why come to think of it. If we have a problem with feedback, it's almost always from the monitors, so bulk aside, it'd be a better solution.

    And I agree Les that 1 guitar with keys is the optimal composition. Our lead singer does about a quarter of the songs with an acoustic direct into the PA and from an overall sound quality point of view that is indeed best. Some of our stuff is pretty rocking though and does work better with a second guitar in the mix even outside of the solos. We've thought about adding a keyboard player but the bass player and the drummer worry about upsetting the apple cart in terms of personalities (which work pretty good as-is.) Then there is the fact that we'd have to work a bit harder to up the pay to the point that we'd break even (that isn't so much of a concern for me personally since it's a money loser in any case...but I respect the fact that the guys see pay as a sort of yardstick for how we're doing as a band...)

    When we first started playing out, it was the first time back at it since college days many years ago and we all had memories of rack gear mammoth power amps feeding huge drivers with everything mic'd even at hole in the wall dive bars. Definitely a different sensibility nowadays.

  5. #5
    Senior Member sergiodeblanc's Avatar
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    IDK.. I've never been in a band that played places that required us to bring a PA but having been a bassist, guitarist, and keyboard player in bands (amongst other things) I will say the volume issue got easier to deal with when I brought less stage amplification. That bass rig is f@ckin' way too big if you're pumpin' him through the PA and he's using it to monitor through.. Since bass frequencies are (mostly) omni-directional and your subs and his amp are coupled to the floor I'd say your volume issues could be tamed if old boy started rockin' a smaller kick-back amp aimed at his head, but I haven't seen (heard) you guys so I'm just speculating.




    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    It's just a lot easier to not have two guitar players conflicting with each other in the same frequency/timbre range.
    I agree! But nothing in life that's worthwhile is easy. There's one band that I play guitar with where the singer/other guitarist and I worked super-hard to figure out completely different parts to play so it wouldn't turn into a "guitar" band. If that meant that one of us would drop out and just not play a section, and play shaker or tambourine, then we had to man-up and admit that to ourselves.. What is it about us guitar players that we have the most difficulty with under-playing? It's gotta be a maturity/ego thing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sergiodeblanc View Post
    I agree! But nothing in life that's worthwhile is easy.
    Ha! Check my signature quote.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    Ha! Check my signature quote.
    Ha! I didn't even notice that!

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    Quote Originally Posted by sergiodeblanc View Post
    IDK.. I've never been in a band that played places that required us to bring a PA but having been a bassist, guitarist, and keyboard player in bands (amongst other things) I will say the volume issue got easier to deal with when I brought less stage amplification. That bass rig is f@ckin' way too big if you're pumpin' him through the PA and he's using it to monitor through.. Since bass frequencies are (mostly) omni-directional and your subs and his amp are coupled to the floor I'd say your volume issues could be tamed if old boy started rockin' a smaller kick-back amp aimed at his head, but I haven't seen (heard) you guys so I'm just speculating.
    Oh...the bass player doesn't use that rig out! That's just a cab we have that he throws his tiny little head on to for practice. For gigs he uses some small 1x15 (I think) rig. We don't actually have too much in the way of volume "problems" really. The main thing that took a few times out to sort out was the relative guitar volumes, but strategic placement of amps works well. As to not needing to bring PA equipment, that must be a regional thing. Everybody around these parts brings their own for nearly all of the live venues. A few of the really high-end places have their own, but they are very few and far between. I was mainly just curious about how others configured for gigs.

  9. #9
    Senior Member sergiodeblanc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aristotle View Post
    Oh...the bass player doesn't use that rig out! That's just a cab we have that he throws his tiny little head on to for practice. For gigs he uses some small 1x15 (I think) rig. We don't actually have too much in the way of volume "problems" really. The main thing that took a few times out to sort out was the relative guitar volumes, but strategic placement of amps works well. As to not needing to bring PA equipment, that must be a regional thing. Everybody around these parts brings their own for nearly all of the live venues. A few of the really high-end places have their own, but they are very few and far between. I was mainly just curious about how others configured for gigs.
    Word! Sorry... I don't read so well. :reface:

    I don't know if it's a regional thing or if it's a genre thing, I've played most states but usually wherever I go there's a system already in place or it's been arranged by the promoter or production company. It seems like I do see cover bands having to haul a PA into places that have live music but might not be a "club" where live acts happen every night... I'm such a b!tch when it comes down to just having to load my own stuff and show up for "soundcheck", I couldn't imagine what it would be like to set up a rig.... But then again I am a little jealous at how much money some cover bands get, no doubt they earn it!

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    Quote Originally Posted by sergiodeblanc View Post
    Word! Sorry... I don't read so well. :reface:

    I don't know if it's a regional thing or if it's a genre thing, I've played most states but usually wherever I go there's a system already in place or it's been arranged by the promoter or production company.!
    Ah....mention of the word "promoter" and it's all clear. We're playing drastically different places. My "A-List" clubs wouldn't even make it on your Z-List. Yeah...the "clubs" here that I'm referring to have music 2...maybe 3 nights a week. They do have stages and some do have crappy sound systems...and some are quite big...but they're mainly glorified sports bars that draw pretty big crowds on the weekends. There are certainly bigger places that I'd consider to be more "theater" like that do have entertainment 7 nights a week, but they typically draw national acts or regional hot up and comers. So cool that you're livin' the dream! And you'd be surprised at how efficient you can get loading and setting up. You get it down to a system.

  11. #11
    Senior Member sergiodeblanc's Avatar
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    No, no ,no.... I'm not tyin' to say I'm all that or anything, and living the dream has more potential to give you nightmares than it does sexy dreams. When you add promoters and sound companies into the equation that just means there's more dudes ahead of you for the money to filter through, I'm lucky to get a hundred bucks for a decent gig, and the really good ones haven't been coming along as frequently as I'd like... it's just different, not any better.

    A couple of years ago I was selecting for this reggae singer on tour and we played a never ending series of empty theaters in the south east market, after old boy payed everybody including me (who was the last to be payed) he started having chest pains and decided to become a truck driver instead. I really admire cover band guys for all the hard work they do and how difficult it must be to have all those songs in their brain, promoting yourself, hauling a PA, and being in charge of their destiny... I'd rather play in a "Z-list" bar to an audience who is there to get down than an empty theater. Please believe me, if I was succeeding at what I'm doin' I wouldn't be on a guitar forum all day....

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    Quote Originally Posted by sergiodeblanc View Post
    When you add promoters and sound companies into the equation that just means there's more dudes ahead of you for the money to filter through.
    I once played at a bowling alley in Las Cruces New Mexico. It was a Thursday and it was their billiards room off to one side. They normally did bands on the patio outside but it was being renovated, so they had a rented PA system set up for the bands along with a rented guy to run it. The room was full of people. There were at least a dozen tables, and they were all being played - maybe 50-60 people? Cover charge at the door was something like 8 or 10 bucks. In the end each of the 3 bands that night got paid $21 each. Not per person, PER BAND. And we had driven three hours from Tucson to play this gig. Whatever, touring stories.
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    Senior Member sergiodeblanc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Beef View Post
    Whatever, touring stories.
    Sounds about right... but.... Lets hear more about those systems!!!!

    There's a dude selling these by me, all the EV speakers are in boxes and I would SO rock these!!!!

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by aristotle View Post
    Ah....mention of the word "promoter" and it's all clear. We're playing drastically different places. My "A-List" clubs wouldn't even make it on your Z-List. Yeah...the "clubs" here that I'm referring to have music 2...maybe 3 nights a week. They do have stages and some do have crappy sound systems...and some are quite big...but they're mainly glorified sports bars that draw pretty big crowds on the weekends. There are certainly bigger places that I'd consider to be more "theater" like that do have entertainment 7 nights a week, but they typically draw national acts or regional hot up and comers. So cool that you're livin' the dream! And you'd be surprised at how efficient you can get loading and setting up. You get it down to a system.
    That's us too. We play the crap joints and sh*t hole saloons (some only recently took down the chicken wire. No, seriously! But we typically take home $90-$110 each per night. Private parties may yield up to $200 each but we travel pretty far for those. But like many of you guys, it's not for the money (it's the bare breasts, right??!!).

    Btw, I wasn't referring to your PA, Aristotle, though it is WAY better than our setup. You have the best looking amp collection I know. Guitars aren't so bad either.
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    I just have one question: what kind of vehicle do you use to haul all those 4x12s to gigs?

    One band is in pretty much the same position as Aristotle and Boogie. Our gear is a decent mix of good and cheap. That band plays covers from the 50s to now, from blues to soul to rock. We were a five piece with bass, drums, a rhythm/lead guitar, a rhythm/lead/slide/lapsteel, and an acoustic/keys lead singer. The drummer also sings, and the bass player and I do some harmony (though I do that very poorly). We are now a four piece, as the singer is getting married and she is moving to Germany.

    It was definitely a challenge to manage the midrange with the three guitarists. I think this was a driving factor to playing slide and lapsteel. I typically cover the high end of the neck, and love the "little guitar" parts. I think I might have been a horn player in a previous life.

    We mic the snare and bass drum and I run the piezo through our PA. A major revelation for me was moving from old school power amps and passive speakers to a decent set of EV powered speakers. That was really amazing. I also run the board when we are playing places where we bring the PA. I wish I didn't have to, but it's OK.

    The ore band is a four piece with bass, drums, and two guitars, and plays originals and plays venues that supply PAs and sound guys. We tend to mic everything and struggle to control the stage volume. This was a driving factor for me to move away from even 2x12 cabs. I am currently in love with 9-18 watt heads and combos.

    Oh, the first band? Full-on PRS. The bass player has a SICK Grainger, the other guitar player has a couple, but just bought an AP 408 that is by far the best sounding 408 I've heard (it is stunning), and I tend to stick with my SC HB II and P22. Now if I could just get PRS to make a lapsteel...

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    SuperD Boogie's Avatar
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    Ok guys, what do you think about converting from our old school PA approach to a mic everything philosophy? Not only would we have the expense of mics and enough channels on the board, but the speakers and amps would have to be replaced to be a true full range system. Would you do this? If all other variables remain the same (venues, volume levels, etc.) is there any real benefit? Part of our appeal is this '50s rock band persona...seat of the pants, real tube amps, you know...the good, the bad, and the ugly. Kinda Buddy Holly style but louder (but Buddy never covered Motley Crüe). Thoughts?

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    If it ain't broke...

    That said, moving into the modern world of owning decent powered mains and a good board was a revelation for me.

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    I still struggle with that question. In our case, we already had the mixer and mics to accommodate, so tried it that way. Although my favorite amps like to be played loud, I can be plenty happy with a Mesa Roadster, or JVM410 (or Archon now) and all sound great down to bedroom levels to me. We have semi-pro stuff with the Mackie mixer and QSC powered speaker system.., but I still have an issue with the guitar FOH sound coming from the Mains. We can make the mix work out either way with smart guitar cab placement and still get a good stage mix, but when I stand out front with the mic'd cabs, even with just guitar by itself...it sounds...reproduced for lack of a better term. Maybe I could experiment more and put an EQ in there someplace to help things out...but it just doesn't seem worth the effort to me. Or maybe I'd be happier with something like an Axe or Kemper in comparison with mic'd amps... Something to play around with some day I guess.

    Back in the day, it was an easy call. We mic'd our amps, but that was just so that we could push out more volume. And the amps were 150W Peavey Maces!!!

  19. #19
    It never mattered for my bands what the PA was.

    The girls were screaming too loudly for anyone to actually hear the band.
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  20. #20
    Junior Member pima651's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aristotle View Post
    I still struggle with that question. In our case, we already had the mixer and mics to accommodate, so tried it that way. Although my favorite amps like to be played loud, I can be plenty happy with a Mesa Roadster, or JVM410 (or Archon now) and all sound great down to bedroom levels to me. We have semi-pro stuff with the Mackie mixer and QSC powered speaker system.., but I still have an issue with the guitar FOH sound coming from the Mains. We can make the mix work out either way with smart guitar cab placement and still get a good stage mix, but when I stand out front with the mic'd cabs, even with just guitar by itself...it sounds...reproduced for lack of a better term. Maybe I could experiment more and put an EQ in there someplace to help things out...but it just doesn't seem worth the effort to me. Or maybe I'd be happier with something like an Axe or Kemper in comparison with mic'd amps... Something to play around with some day I guess.


    Back in the day, it was an easy call. We mic'd our amps, but that was just so that we could push out more volume. And the amps were 150W Peavey Maces!!!
    What are your thoughts on the differences between the Marshall JVM 410 and the new Archon? How do they compare in your experience?

    Thanks....
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