9 - Guitars, Is Louder Better?
When I started playing the guitar, the dream was to be on stage in front of a huge wall of Marshall cabinets. I’m pretty sure a lot of people share this dream too. But I want to delve into if this is necessary with the help of the OHANA guys.
Do you need a huge amp?
Realistically, if you’re reading this article, the short answer is no; you don’t need a huge Marshall valve head with matching 4x12 cabinet.
Why are we drawn to playing huge amps?
Because it unleashes our inner-rockstar? Or most likely that the assumption is bigger/louder is better. Well, this approach won’t make you popular with stage managers or front of house engineers.
“I’ve personally seen the light fade from sound engineers eyes at the sight of bands loading in their gargantuan rigs of doom” Luke
Why you should use a smaller amp for the best tones?
If you want any kind of distortion/saturation from an amp, you’re going to need to get it into its louder range. If you have a huge amp, with a large amount of headroom, this is going to get extremely loud…fast!
Chances are, if you’re playing small venues, you’ll be told that you can’t actually have the amp as loud as you need it and therefore you sacrifice the tone you’ve worked really hard to craft.
Using a smaller amp has many advantages, the first of which is getting your signature tone at a lower volume. With your amp being miced up for 99% of the gigs you’ll play, if it’s not loud enough then it can just be turned up through the PA. This lower stage volume puts the control of the levels back into the hands of your front of house engineer which means two things...
You’ll get a much better live sound as you give the engineer more headroom to work with
You’re front of house engineer will like you a lot more as they won’t be constantly battling the venues loudness limits
“The most satisfying live tones I’ve ever achieved are through punishing my poor little Blues Junior combo” Luke
Beyond the performance itself, having a smaller amp is a lot more practical in many ways
A lot of the time you’ll be paying for the power of the amp. The more watts or speaker cones you have, the greater the cost. You can look at it in two ways;
You can save money by getting a smaller amp to spend on other things such as pedals
You can use the same budget and get a much smaller but better-sounding amp, than the huge monstrosity you initially intended on getting.
Instead of buying an amp purely because it makes a loud noise, why don’t you spend that same budget on a smaller, but fantastic sounding combo or small valve amp?
“In the era of lunchbox heads and compact cabs even if you're seeking the power stack, you can now get it on a much more practical scale, at a lower price. Win-Win!” Jamie
Having a large amp is a pain (mostly for your back). It’s going to be impractical to move and creates a headache when trying to transport it to and from a studio or live venue.
It also makes it really difficult if you’re not the headlining act. As a support act, you want to take up as little real estate as possible on the stage. Having a huge amp, with a large physical footprint might be enough to put off a promoter from booking you for a show. You want to make the promoters job as easy as possible (check out the blog about surviving the gig here) so having a huge amp will only create another problem for them to deal with.
Following on from that, if you’re the support act, it increases the load in times and sound checking. The dream support act (and therefore someone who gets repeatedly booked) is someone who can load into the venue, without any fuss and gets on and off the stage as quickly as possible.
“When supporting in time-sensitive cases you will often only get a line check, as opposed to a full soundcheck. The quicker you can get your gear set up, the quicker the sound engineer can start getting you a good live sound” OHANA
Having a huge amp will also become a problem if you start touring, especially as a support act. Touring is stressful enough for the headline act or tour manager without worrying about how to transport the support band’s massive rig. On some tours I’ve played on, traffic can be so bad that you end up getting to the venue with only 30 mins to spare before the start of the show. Having a neat and concise rig means I could get in and out of venue quickly without any fuss.
As mentioned before, by having a smaller amp, you can achieve your tone at a lower volume and therefore have a much lower stage volume. This allows you to have options for accurate and balanced stage monitoring, in-ear monitoring and more importantly, protecting your hearing. At the end of the day, your hearing is the most important thing, so any measures to prevent damage must be taken.
“Wise words from Joe there, look after your hearing everyone!” OHANA
Go and check out OHANA's debut EP "From The Roots" - https://open.spotify.com/album/3O58jCRpvYLGdFU2d1eTxk?si=2NIt5WxbRCaEIOaodqrW9Q
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