I can’t believe I survived this weekend. To say that it was challenging was a MAJOR understatement. Two shows, one Friday night with my new band, and one Saturday running sound for a very popular band, had me very stressed out. The last month or two has been some changes to my equipment, which caused a not so inconsiderable amount of grief. I just wanted to put down some thoughts on what worked and didn’t, and what I learned (and need to continue to work at)
- What worked
- The van. Best idea I’ve had in FOREVER… I picked up an ’05 Dodge Grand Caravan with Stow-and-go seats. By putting the seats away, I basically have a very nice cargo van, and the PA fits wonderfully in the back.
- The ’59 Les Paul reissue. This is my new main guitar, played it at my gig on Friday for the first time. I’ve been a PRS only guitarist for many years. I’ve tried some different guitars, including Les Pauls, but nothing has really ‘stuck’. Enter a Les Paul Custom Pro that I picked up two years ago. This guitar rocked my world. Good quality, great sounds, and very versatile. This had me revisit my ‘no Gibson’ stance. I happened across a WONDERFUL 2013 Les Paul that is a reissue of a 1959 Les Paul. This is the best guitar I’ve played in both feel and tone. I have some awesome PRS guitars, including Private Stocks, and the Les Paul just captures something that the PRS don’t.
- The Axe-FX II XL. This is a digital modeling platform for guitarist. I’ve been struggling to get a great sound out of my tube amps and pedals that I own. The amp + pedals have been wildly inconsistent. Some nights, the tone is amazing, and other nights are a struggle. To get it to sound even remotely good, there needs to be some volume, and the way that most guitar speakers are oriented, the sound is aimed at the player’s knees. The Axe gives me a consistent sound that can be run through a monitor rather than a guitar cab and the monitor can be aimed at my head. A lot less volume is needed, and the sound is phenomenal. It needs to be tweaked for the PA a bit better, but that is an easy fix. I did have one issue where the wah pedal was engaged on each setting by default. I had to turn the wah off each time I changed patches. Easy enough to fix, but needs be done before next practice.
- Husky roller crate. Bought a crate with wheels for all of the cables and ‘stuff’. Makes for a lot less trips between the van and the gig.
- Third and fourth sets with the new band. Things came together, and people danced almost from beginning to the end of the sets.
- What was OK
- The Mackie DL32R. This has been a godsend and a curse all at the same time. My Line 6 mixer only has 12 XLR inputs and 4 guitar inputs. For the sound gigs I’ve been doing, 16 inputs is not enough. Mackie just came out with this new mixer that allows for 32 inputs, 8 of which have the dual 1/4″ / XLR connectors, and 14 outputs. And, the mixer fits in a 3 space rack unit that is very portable. The mixer relies on having an iPad and a wifi router to work. So far, the mixer is working well, but I am missing some features that the Line 6 mixer had. Multi band compression, separate limiter from the regular compressor, built in feedback suppression, a spectrograph on the EQ screen for each channel, output level views and few presets have made me feel like I’ve taken a step backwards. I’m hoping that NAMM will bring an updated release to the firmware & iPad software to add some of these features.
- What sucked
- Trying to play with a new band and set up a new mix at the same time. This was a VERY bad idea. First problem was getting to the gig only an hour and a half before we were supposed to play. Normally, that’s not a problem, as I have presets set up for my old mixer. The new mixer, however, had not been used for the current band. I was struggling all evening to mix and play, which never works out well. There were a couple of points where I just had mental breakdowns trying to solve problems. Sorry guys.
- My knowledge. One thing that I haven’t been doing at home lately doing any mixing. I’ve been running sound for bands, but not really doing my ‘homework’ of figuring out how the new systems react. I’ve been a bit spoiled by the Line 6 Stagescape mixer, as the presets are darned good, and usually require minimal changes to get a good sound. The Mackie mixer doesn’t have all of the presets, so I have to figure out how to get things to sound great. After Friday night’s gig, I spent some serious time on Saturday working on understanding some EQ curves for the vocals. Saturday, I was able to get a much better sound for the band.
- Loading in and out and setup. For some reason, even though I’ve bought containers for the equipment for less trips, it seemed to take longer to setup and tear down. The Saturday gig, we arrived 2 1/2 hours before the show, and we still felt rushed, and didn’t get a proper sound check. Last Saturday’s gig was similar. We really don’t have any more equipment than before, but things seem to be taking longer, rather than shorter.
- The Line 6 speakers. This is the most frustrating one. The speakers sound AMAZING. BUT… one of the speakers has some gawd-awful issue where it starts to ‘splutter’. This is the digital equivalent of a loose cable. The problem is that if the speaker starts to do this, all of the OTHER speakers are affected. This happened last night almost all night. I thought it might be a bad power line, as it seemed that if I moved the power cable up, or held it up, the nonsense stopped. I was able to swap the cables, but that brought on a DIFFERENT problem. I either reset the speaker too fast, or something else was wrong, because at that point, the downstream speakers stopped getting signal. Part of the issue might have been that I was daisy chaining two AES cables together (NOT recommended). In the end, I was able to resolve the issues, but I now have a lack of faith in the system.
- First two sets with the new band. Between trying to fight with the PA, being late to start, playing a song we’ve never played (with a guest singer, no less), and having two new members of the group, the first two sets were, shall we say, ah, rough? By the middle of the second set, everything had settled down, and hopefully, no permanent damage was done.
Last part of my thoughts is some solutions:
- Buy the correct digital cable from Line 6. A 50′ cable exists that Line 6 recommends. Not cheap, but certainly cheaper than loosing the gigs.
- Try running the Line 6 speakers in ‘analog’ mode, as if they were just regular speakers. This would eliminate the problem of one speaker going crazy and taking out the whole PA.
- Creating a check list for setup & tear down. That way, the next step is alway visible.
- Practice, both with my playing and my mixing.
- Get in contact with the people at Mackie and either get on the beta group or at least contact the product manager to give suggestions.
Hopefully this weekend’s lessons will be learned and solutions applied in the future!