Onstage Dynamics

By Nygaard, Scott | Acoustic Guitar, January 2010 | Go to article overview

Onstage Dynamics


Nygaard, Scott, Acoustic Guitar


How to mix yourself onstage by working a mic and/or using boost pedals.

If you play in a band where you're required to fill the roles of rhythm and lead guitarist, you know that the onstage volume level needed for each can be very different. Whether you play in an acoustic-electric band with drums, electric bass, keyboards, etc.; in an all-acoustic bluegrass band that clusters around one mie; or any orlier kind of group that uses a combination of mies and pickups onstage, it can be difficult to match the level of your guitar solos and fills with your rhythm guitar level. Most guitarists, especially aggressive rhythm players, tend to play chords and strums harder than single-note melodies, and it's difficult for anyone to raise the level of their solos above the rest of the band simply by playing harder.

Fortunately there are a few ways to adjust your volume level onstage so that your solos, fills, and melodies are audible and your rhythm playing doesn't overwhelm the band. If you play into mies, you can "work" the mie, varying your dynamics by getting closer or farther away from the mie, and if you only use a pickup to amplify your acoustic guitar, you can use a volume or boost pedal to increase the gain when you're soloing. For many guitarists, a combination of these methods works best. In this article we'll look at the options for "mixing" your guitar onstage in different performing situations.

Work the Mic

If you only use a standing mie to amplify your guitar through a PA, your "mixing" options are simple: increase or decrease the distance from the mie to the guitar. The advantage of working a mie is that you can get more volume variations than the two levels of gain you get from a boost pedal. Working a mie is a bit like using a mixingboard fader to control the level of your guitar, and this can allow you to increase the volume slightly for fills or adjust your overall volume depending on the requirements of the song - getting closer to the mie for a quieter fingerpicking accompaniment part or farther away for a boisterous basher.

One disadvantage of only using a mie is that you have to pay close attention to where you're standing onstage. Wandering too far off-mic will effectively silence your guitar from the authence's perspective, and veering into the mie accidentally can produce volume spikes and feedback. If you sing and play guitar, you'll need to pay attention to your proximity to two mies at once.

To get the best results from working a mie, you should become intimately familiar with the mie you're using. If you're a touring musician who plays through a different PA every night, you may choose to travel with your own mie, but most good acoustic sound engineers have chosen their mies to match the rest of their system. You can consult the sound engineer to see if he or she wants to use it, but keep in mind that every mie sounds and reacts differently with different PA components, so bringing your own mie is no guarantee that your guitar will sound the same from gig to gig.

Whatever mie you use, the sound check is your opportunity to check out the characteristics of the mie and determine how to position yourself to get the best volume and tone. Get to the sound check on time (or early) so you can check the guitar first. This gives the engineer time to work on your sound and gives you time to see how the mie reacts. In a bluegrass band, I generally stay about seven to eight inches away from the mie for rhythm and move in as close as I can for solos. But many mies have a proximity effect, which increases the bass response when you get close to it. Make sure your guitar doesn't get so boomy when you move in that the increased bass effectively drowns out your solo. The closer the mie is to the soundhole, the louder you'll be, but most of the time, getting close to the soundhole increases the bass frequencies too dramatically, so it's best to point the mie either at the fretboard around the 14th fret (the best choice for flatpickers) or down by the lower part of the bridge, as long as your hand doesn't get in the way here. …

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