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Electric Guitar Playing Is A Contact Sport: Staying “In the Field” With A Combo Amp

Today I wanted to talk about using a combo amp on stage and some of the sound field problems that can be overcome. Getting the feel and real time presence of the good tone from your amp that you’ve worked hard to achieve won’t be realized and reacted to as well if you’re standing too far away from your amp when you play. This has probably been addressed in magazines and books for the last 40 years, but here’s my take on it. First off, because your guitar amp is the secondary source, with you striking the strings of your guitar being the primary source, there is, however miniscule, a slight delay. The concern is “when am I going to hear what I’m supposed to be reacting to”? There is a definite inspiration that you get when you hit some fat, juicy, creamy notes and you’re right there to catch them and dish out more, and it forces your hand to play more of the same.
I went to Google and typed in the words “Doppler Equation,” and up came 2,290,000 results. I am not going to get all geeked out and try and add to everything all those folks are saying, but in a small way, all that stuff has to be taken into account. Now for those of us that play in small clubs who have no distance problems, this is a moot point. Those that have a choice, however, should stay where they can feel what they’re playing, within their personal comfort zone, of course.
On stage, I use an Epiphone Blues Custom 30 combo amp. When I’m at a moderate volume with this amplifier, I like to stay right in the sound field, close by. It’s like having a steak dinner. It’s very satisfying. Why distance yourself from that? Now every once in a while, you have to step out front and hear what the house is hearing, and make adjustments accordingly, if you can, (if you don’t have a soundman to address this for you.)  It’s important to note that your reaction time will be slower to whoever you’re playing to, or whatever you’re playing with, the further you are away from your amp.
So how can you improve your onstage situation to maximize the relationship you need to have with the amp? Let’s look at several ways you can cure the problem.
  • Placing a combo amp on the floor of the stage can sometimes add unwanted bottom end and also direct the sound at your feet. Try elevating your combo amp so that the controls are within arm’s reach and the center of the speaker cone is at least mid waist. This way you can hear all the intricacies the amp has to offer and also keep the volume at a reasonable level. Amps stands with multiple adjustment points are a good solution.
  • Point your amp in the sweet spot – where you take your solo. Although it seems straight forward enough, I see a lot of guys setting up by pointing the amp at their vocal mic. This is a problem since you would probably increase your volume to solo and decrease it to sing. If you step back to solo and the amp is pointed away from you, you’re inspiration is compromised.
  • The two amp system. One amp pointed into the solo sweet spot, while the other is pointed directly at your singing position. By using an A/B box you can control either amp and also have different volume settings.
  • Enhancers can be used to elevate and angle the amp from floor level and direct the sound where it is needed on stage. Commercially available, these wedge shaped devices fit under the amp and the angle determines the throw of the speakers. Correctly placed, they can also reinforce the bottom end due to a forward facing, open front end of the wedge shape.
– Gary McGill

Posted: 2/5/2009 6:47:13 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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