David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
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location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: performance, preferences, sound engineering, @musings info

On gear and performance

I used to rehearse with a band at very low volumes and then we'd carry that low volume to the stage. We thought we were doing the FOH guy a favor by giving him more room to mix. That, I now know, was the wrong thing to do.

The first problem is that smaller clubs (the kind of venue I normally play at) have very small stages set against a wall. There's no real depth or overhead room to the stage, so anything coming from the monitors reflects off the ceiling and walls and right back into the vocal mics. This makes it almost impossible to get a decent amount of acoustic gain through the monitors.

The mains, of course, fire out into the club and have more room to breathe. The mains are much louder than the monitors, so the reflection from the back wall overpowers anything you're getting from the monitors on stage. The problem with that is there's a round-trip delay of 100 to 200 milliseconds from the mains back to the stage. It's really difficult to concentrate when you're hearing something you played a half-beat earlier.

The next problem is that getting a variety of tones at very low stage volumes requires a channel-switching amp or extra pedals. That's a lot more settings to try to balance during sound check, and more to think about during performance. I'm not much of a dancer - I found that tapping footswitches was very distracting.

The solution, of course, is more stage volume. Run a decent single-channel thirty- to fifty-watt amp hot enough to get some power-stage distortion and use the resulting touch-sensitivity to get a range of sounds from clean to crunchy or from crunchy to saturated - no footswitches needed.

Less gain really is a good thing on stage. Too much gain compresses the dynamic range of the guitar, and gives you nowhere to go either up or down in volume without relying on a boost switch or a volume pedal in the loop. Again, my foot is clumsy where my fingers are nimble.

The other problem with too much gain is that you lose the different timbres on the note's attack and decay - it all turns into a single sound for the duration of the note. If you want sustain, use enough volume and change your position with respect to the amp to get your guitar right on the edge of feedback.

Use your amp, and not the the stage monitors, to hear your own playing. If the club is very small, run your amp through inefficient speakers or a Hot Plate to get the level down by 6dB or so. If the club is large enough, use the PA to reach the back of the room. But mostly, the PA should be for vocals and the mix should be handled by the playing dynamics of the performers.

July 14 2003 05:40:07 GMT