We’ve all gotten to sound check, plugged in our acoustic guitar and expected a nice warm sound to come out of the PA (ah, we were so young and innocent once). You walk out ontstage, take a deep breath and hope for the type of sound that inspires you to play.
Often what we hear back is a sound reminiscent of nails on a blackboard.
A lifeless, scratchy, irritating, demoralizing sound. You ask the sound person to make adjustments but they seem more interested in their twitter feed. You step out front of the stage and its virtually the same sound. It’s not just the monitors. What do you do? You realize this isn’t going o be the most comfy gig you’ve had.
Live sound is problem solving. To maintain great live sound you have to know how to react in various situations when they’re less then ideal. Sometimes it’s a sound battle field folks!!
I take my Mini Pedaltrain board with me for most gigs. Even if they’re acoustic guitar gigs, a few of my “staples” come in handy. Sometimes a little reverb calms the burning rash that is the DI signal. Other times a little slap back delay eases the nausea. Those are pretty obvious choices.
Using an Fulltone OCD as a light compressor and eq isn’t what you would expect. In a pinch I’ve been able to use the OCD as a band aid for bad acoustic guitar sound. There are times when the signal feels too dynamic. The gentle compression can tame the DI signal just enough. The OCD is primarily a overdrive pedal, but on its lowest settings it doesn’t have much crunch. Just a very subtle compression.
Most times the signal is just too bright. I can use the tone knob on the OCD to knock the beheading highs that occur when my pick even thinks about hitting the strings.
I usually pull the drive all the way back and push the output to match the volume of the signal on bypass. Then I simply adjust the tone knob to taste. It’s not my preferred sound per se. But it’s great in a guitarists emergency tone kit.
I definitely like to do this with a resonator guitar. It can be really shrill through the PA. I always tell the sound person to cut the highs. If they’re good at their job they know exactly what I mean. In which case it’s gonna be an easy going ride. This happens plenty I might add. There are a lot of great sound people.
There are times though where the sound person is good but the PA they’re dealing with is less then desirable. Enter emergency tone kit.
Other times….. Well let’s just say you walk into soundcheck and it’s clear the sound person gets their nourishment from beer over cereal for 3 meals a day.
Enter rope, duct tape, a friend in Mexico, and an emergency tone kit. (Seriously when they wake up they’re gonna love their new surroundings.) In the event you can’t get them across the border you can still “tune” your guitar tone so you don’t have violent fits of the dry heaves upon every strum.
There are eq pedals that are better equipped for the job of-course. I don’t have one on my “gig around town” pedal board. Mostly because I so rarely use one. The point of this article is using something that you probably have on your board in an unusual way. Who doesn’t have a drive pedal on their board? Really who would get caught like that? Like that would be soooo like pedestrian!!
Next time you’re struggling with getting a bearable acoustic guitar sound live try it. Oh, and if you have a parametric or graphic eq on your guitar, make sure everything is set to unity. That means essentially no EQ. The great sound guys will thank you. Sometimes a live sound engineer can’t help you if you’ve boosted all the highs and cut all the lows. Take a peek before you plug in and send them a nice neutral sound.
Learn more about my Session Guitarist Mark Marshall