Guitars: Amps, Mic's, and Nerd-Speak
Continuing on our foray of all that’s cool in the COTM world of guitar—here is the obligatory continuation of what happens after the world of the pedalboard... Woe to all who pass this point who are not prepped for nerd-speak...
We are currently using wired setups on our guitar rigs although we will switch to wireless on occasion as needed but for both reliability and improved audio, I will always opt for a wired rig. So from the pedalboard output, we convert from unbalanced 1/4” connection to an XLR cable. This allows us to utilize the balanced XLR line and pass the guitar signals to the amp via the audio snakes and patchbay... We have a very stable yet extensive audio patch system so “buzzes” and “gremlins” are not that prevalent but you can never be too careful...
From the patchbay, the signal gets routed to the farthest corner of our backstage area via some understage conduits. This is where we house four rolling isolation-boxes—each with its own dedicated power circuit (as you can see in the photo, our Stage Manager has discovered they also make a great out-of-the-way place to store all of our stage stools and tables). We do have several Radial interfaces that we use as needed as well—these Studio Guitar Interfaces do a nice job to keep the signal hot and clean for the 150’+ run to the amps. Although with these particular pedalboards, the guitar dudes have used some pretty high end gear and we haven’t had to utilize the buffers...
Here’s a couple of shots of how simple it is for the iso-box housings to be rolled out of the way:
Regarding the actual iso-boxes: Back in the touring days, I used to make good use of our large-frame console lids and utilize them as makeshift guitar deadening boxes that could be buried in the backstage hallway of some unsuspecting arena... The boxes pictured here are just a simple version of this same idea. We applied several layers of bed liner to the outsides of these boxes to deaden the resonance of the wood and fastened several layers of packing quilts to the interiors (leaving air gaps between each layer). These work great, are lightweight to deal with, and didn’t take a lot of time or coin to put together.
Next are the true winners of the beauty contest—the amps and Leslie that we are using at the moment. These do get switched around from time to time depending on what’s going on or what amp is getting serviced, etc., but this is the current lineup.
One thing to note is Chico (the magic man strikes again) installed a kill switch to each dedicated backline amp circuit—this made it possible for a stagehand, musician, or engineer to be able to quickly kill the power to any of the rigs without moving an isolation box.
On this first Dr. Z (MAZ 18 Jr.), the front mic at the moment is a Shure KSM32 and an Audio-Technica 4050 on the back—this has proven to be a nice combination of mics. I haven’t traditionally used something like a 4050 on the back of a guitar rig but I’ve never really been one to abide with too many rules in this area. Rather, I’d prefer to go with the flow of what seems to enhance the amp sound while still giving me the proper “flavour” I’m looking for out front without having to EQ the thing to death.
On the next Dr. Z (Stang Ray), the front is mic’d with one of my good friends, an AKG 414 and the back is a Shure Beta-56. Yes, I do understand the 56 is a bit unorthodox but you should hear what a good engineer I know can do with an SM-58 on a kick drum! This combination just seems to bring out the natural crunch of the front and the gentle warmth coming off the back—the performance has been solid.
And our go-to guitar 3 rig is just straight up awesomeness. A VOX AC-30 with a tried and true Shure SM-57 on the front and...wait for it...wait for it...wait for it...another 57 on the back! Yes! Shoot me or scoff, whatev. I don’t care as this combination sounds really slick for this particular amp and makes for a great all-around guitar sound.
For the #4 spot, we depart from guitar heaven and threw in the B-3 Leslie—this Leslie is one of the new speakers they’ve started building with all the funky mumbo-jumbo added for good measure—I don’t really know much about all the electronics on board this one but I will say this—it’s amazingly loud and sounds just rich, warm, and stud—exactly what you’d expect from our old wooden cabinet. I can go with just about anything to mic a Leslie cabinet—a pair of 58’s, 535’s, 414’s, even 81’s. I’ve had good luck with many of these over the years but for now, two more of the Audio-Technica 4050’s do a nice job. Instead of mic’ing the low end drum like a traditional Leslie—this one has a direct out that is hitting a Radial DI—since we don’t use a ton of low-end off of this—the DI works out great (you can see it winking at you a wee bit near the base of the mic stand in this photo).
There you have it, that’s it for the nerd-speak for awhile... As far as the real genius of the guitar tones and whatnot—that’s for the Muso’s to lay out but as far as the production and audio end of getting the guitar goods out to the people in the seats—we’ve been able to put a great system in place that allows us to “tame the beast” as bit as well as getting the artistry out front where it belongs...
In my estimation, there is no right and wrong way to capture a proper guitar tone as almost anything can get the job done to some degree. My thoughts on the subject do tend to ebb and flow as the music, players, or context changes but hopefully this demonstrates that you can tackle this from many different angles—all achieving a totally acceptable result. For those about to rock, I salute you.