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Sound Advice

Guitarists, Lend Me Your Ears by Jim Yakabuski

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the sound coming out of a guitar player’s speakers at the microphone is exactly the tone he is trying to achieve. It may be closer to the truth to say that most of us don’t know what the guitar sound is like right at the point where the speaker meets the microphone because we usually don’t stick our heads that close to a screaming speaker. All we have as a reference is the sound that reaches our console through the mic.
What the guitar player usually perceives as his sound is the tone that meets his ears at the place where he stands, or the pocket he moves around in for most of the show. He generally will make tonal changes and level adjustments to the amp controls to please his ears, which are at a much greater distance from the speakers than where the mics are placed. For this reason it is not enough to simply turn up the guitar mics in the PA, and upon discovering the sound is not quite right say, “this is how he wants his rig to sound or he wouldn’t have EQed his guitar speakers this way.”
What you should do, especially the first few times you are soundchecking a new band, is walk up on stage and have a listen to how the rig actually sounds from where he is hearing it. It is usually considerably darker and warmer than what is going into those guitar mics. If you only have to move the position of the guitar mics in relation to the speakers, then your life is easy and you’re done. More likely you will have to also go back to the mixing board and EQ a little bit until things sound more like they did on stage. The point is that the guitar player has spent countless hours getting the sounds he wants from his rig, and if you were to ask him how he wants his guitar to sound, he would most likely ask you to come on up and have a listen. So it’s a good idea to beat him to the punch and get an earful of what he is hearing, so you have the reference to make his guitar sound the same through the PA as it does on stage.

This article was excerpted from Jim Yakabuski’s book entitled Professional Sound Reinforcement Techniques, reprinted with permission of the publisher.

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