Originally published on dolphinmusic.co.uk in 2013 BY Danny Edwards on
Essential Gig Gear Checklist
Make sure your band are prepared for your next gig/tour with our detailed Gigging Gear Guide. Find out the answers to all your gigging questions such as: "is my amp is powerful enough for gigs?" and other useful gigging tips, with a chance to ask us your own questions below.
Here is a rundown of each band member. We will look at the gear they are expected to take to a gig, with some advice on what to look out for when buying that gear.
The singer has the easiest job out of them all when it comes to bringing along the gear. If you are playing in a venue that regularly has bands in, the chances are they will already have the frontman's gear set up and ready. All the singer has to do is turn up.
If you are playing in a venue that does not have a PA system, the singer will be expected to bring along a PA system, a dynamic microphone, a microphone stand and an XLR cable.
What is a PA System?
A PA system stands for "public address system" and is made up of an amplifier that is connected to a speaker. You plug in a microphone to the amplifier and - you guessed it - your voice can be heard through the speaker.
There are two types of PA systems - active (powered) and passive (un-powered). An active PA system is more simple to set up/use as the PA amplifier is built-in to the speakers, whereas a passive PA system are more complex to buy, set up, maintain and get a good sound out of.
Active vs Passive PA Speakers
We recommend an active PA system for small bands as they are generally more reliable, compact and are easier to get sounding professional. Passive speakers should only be used if you know how to match an amplifier with speakers otherwise you will find yourself running up expensive repair bills rather frequently.
Wiring Passive Speakers - Series or Parallel?
The way you wire your speakers to your amplifier has an effect on the impedance. Wiring your speakers in a parallel series will decrease the amount of ohms. For example, if you wire two 8 ohm speakers in parallel the impedance will be 4 ohms. Four 8 ohms speakers in parallel would be 2 ohms.
Wiring your speakers in series will increase the impedance by adding together the ohms. For example, two 8 ohm speakers would be 16ohms. Make sure your amplifier matches up with the impedance (ohms) of your speaker setup - otherwise, you risk damaging your amplifier/speakers.
For this reason, we recommend active speakers as they are much easier to setup - you simply plug in and you are ready to play.
Check out our blog if you want to know The Difference Between Active and Passive PA Speakers.
Floor Monitors vs In-Ear Monitors
When performing you need to be able to hear yourself. The main PA speakers will be aimed towards the audience, so you will have a hard time hearing yourself. Floor monitors are commonly used at gigs on the edge of the stage, pointing towards the band. This allows you and the rest of the band to hear exactly how you sound and can consequently improve your pitching - it is not recommended to sing without a monitor. Floor monitors plug into your amp/mixer and are extremely easy to set up, but if you have it too loud it can cause feedback and contribute towards the risk of hearing damage.
In-ear monitoring allows you to move around freely without needing to stand where you can hear the monitor. You eliminate any chance of feedback and free up some extra space on stage, but these can be harder to set up and can interfere with other wireless signals such as microphones or wireless guitar systems. Here's an example of how in-ear monitoring works:
Speaker stands are used to position the speakers more effectively - having your speakers positioned at knee height will sound muffled and pretty bad. The chances are that people at the back of the room won't even hear the sound. If you don't have speaker stands to get the extra height, at least use some tables/chairs from the venue to give your speakers that extra boost - it makes a big difference!
There are plenty of PA packages out there that eliminate the potential headache that PA shopping can give you. The Peavey Audio Performer Pack is one in particular to look out for - whilst being outrageously cheap for a PA system, it has 4 inputs (one for each band member!), includes speaker stands (which can have a dramatically positive effect on your sound), and has 200w of power, with 2x PVi 100 dynamic microphones and cables. Fender, Yamaha & Mackie are names to look out for if you have a bit more money to spend.
Which Type Of Microphone For Live Use?
There are a few different types of microphones out there that are good for different situations. When playing live, it is strongly recommended that you use a cardoid dynamic microphone. They are sturdy enough to live up to the demands of gigging musicians, and a lot less sensitive than other types - meaning you won't pick up the sounds of anyone else on stage.
Many people would suggest a Shure SM58 as the best dynamic mic but there are plenty of others out there that sound great too. Sennheiser, AKG & Beyerdynamic in particular make some brilliant microphones that give the SM58 a run for its money.
Wireless vs Wired Microphone
If you are going to be moving a lot on stage or your performance involces audience interaction or for you to leave the stage, then a wireless microphone would be the best option. They are convenient and make the stage a lot more tidy, but cost a lot more and can be awkward to set up. If you are using multiple wireless microphones you run the risk of interference - especially if you are using any wireless in-ear monitoring.
There is a debate about the quality of wireless microphones - most people believe the sound quality is the same as a wired microphone, especially in live situations. However, one wireless system might sound great with a 2nd tenor singer, yet may sound great with a soprano. If you can get a chance, it is worth testing a wireless microphone with the voice/instrument you plan on using it with to ensure you get the sound you are expecting.
Guitarists have to bring their own gear - but this isn't a bad thing. Getting the right tone is a difficult thing to do, and the only way to be consistent with this is to use the same gear at each gig. If you used the same guitar through a Fender amp and a Marshall amp, both would sound completely different to one another. Some guitarists are forever striving to improve their tone - some of it is down to gear, and some of it is down to playing technique. Rather than you going down the same tone-fulfilling quest, we can try and point you in the right direction.
Is Your Guitar Good Enough To Gig With?
Picking a guitar is a very personal task. The old saying "one man's trash is another man's treasure" applies here. In the end, it all comes down to the feel and the sound of the guitar.
Some guitars that are fine for home practice just don't make the cut when it comes to gigging time. Signs that your guitar might not be up to scratch are: having to tune it in every time you want to play it, a loud "hum" when playing through the amp at low-medium volume, and regular string breakage. Upgrades such as new machineheads, pickups and bridges can solve these issues, but sometimes the upgrade cost can total more than the guitar is worth. There are some great intermediate guitars out there that may be a better option than upgrading.
If you are experiencing any problems such as a buzzing noise on the frets or you think your guitar doesn't feel right to play, you might benefit from a professional setup. There are many experienced luthiers that can do wonders to a guitar - and having a bad setup can make even the most expensive of guitars feel bad to play.
Things that affect the tone of a guitar are mainly the type of wood used and the pickups. For this reason, some guitars are "better" suited for certain types of music than others. For rock/high-gain tones you might find Gibson, Epiphone and PRS to your liking, whereas clean enthusiasts might prefer a Fender, Squier or Rickenbacker. Metalheads might go for Ibanez, Jackson and ESP. These are only rules of thumb and a good player can make any guitar sound good - Adrian Smith used a telecaster to create the distinctive riffs of Iron Maiden - who said Telecasters couldn't do metal?!
Is Your Guitar Amp Loud Enough?
Some guitarists may go as far as saying the amp is the most important part of a guitar rig.
Whether you pick a valve or solid-state amp, it needs to be loud enough. We recommend no less than 20 watts for a valve amp, and no less than 50 watts for a solid-state. You can get by with 1x 12" speaker, but if you want to sound your best it is recommended to spend a little bit more and get a 2x 12". The extra headroom this gives you makes a huge difference - you might not notice it at home when practicing, but when you are gigging a 1x12 can sound pretty weak in a large room.
It doesn't matter whether you go for a combo or a head/cab setup - both have their pros and cons. Combos are slightly cheaper and take up less space, whereas you can swap in between cabs if you are using a head to try and get different tones.
Some great options for a valve amp might be Orange, Fender and Blackstar, whereas solid-state fans might prefer something like Line 6. Again, it is all about personal preference.
Multi Effects Or Pedal Board?
Multi-effects unit or a handful of your favourite pedals? This is a decision that all guitarists face, and is becoming harder and harder as multi-fx pedals become more advanced.
Individually building a pedal board has the obvious advantage of picking your favourite effects to get the best sounds possible. This can be quite expensive and means you need to invest in a pedal board and a multi-power supply but is worth all the effort once you have it setup.
A multi-effects unit has the convenience of everything in one place. One power supply, one pedal - with every effect you'll ever need. Navigating the menus can be a little more tricky than single pedals, but once you find the tone you want you can store it as a preset - no more losing your settings when your pedals are in transport! They work out cheaper and are recommended for guitarists that haven't yet decided which effects they need.
Cables, picks and straps should also be remembered!
Much like the guitarist, the bassist will be expected to bring their own gear. However, some venues will handle bass differently. Some like to DI (direct input) into the PA system, meaning no amp is required, whereas some would expect you to bring your own amp along. Either way, it is best to have one, and as previously mentioned, an amp can hugely affect tone.
Which Bass Guitar?
Four, five, or even six strings? How low will you go? Many bassists find that the traditional four strings is enough for their playing style, although some country bands and metal bands favor 5 string basses for the low B note as they are usually tuned to B-E-A-D-G. If you like to solo on your bass you may find the extra strings useful for some fancy fills, but they aren't for everyone.
The bassist needs to be happy with the feel of their bass. A smaller scale length can make playing more comfortable for smaller players, and models with thin necks are available from Ibanez that might appeal to bassists that like to solo. The most popular basses around are from Fender - the Precision and the Jazz designs - which still remain unbeaten to this day.
If you like the zingy sound of fresh new strings it might be worth changing them the day before the gig - especially if you play slap bass. However, some players prefer the sound of old strings, so it is worth experimenting with so you can get your bass sounding as good as possible at gigs. Here's a quick and easy video on how to change your bass strings:
Pickups and body wood are the main culprits when it comes to tone - choose active pickups for bright, percussive tones and choose passive pickups for warm, full tones. If you use active pickups, be aware that they require a battery to work. If you notice your bass sounding rather dull, you will need to replace the battery - make sure you have a spare one with you at all gigs! Look out for names such as Fender, Ibanez and Yamaha in the bass world.
How Loud Is Loud Enough?
So you know that some venues might ask you to DI, and some will expect you to bring an amp. If you want to be heard with the rest of the band, it is recommended that your amp is at least 100w as a general rule of thumb.
The most common speakers are 10" and 15". 10" give a punchier sound and are lighter to transport, whilst 15" move more air and produce lower frequencies. You can get a great sound out of both speakers, and it is a matter of preference as to which is "better". Some bassists go as far as mixing a 2x 10" cab with a 1x 15" cab to get the perfect combination of high/low end.
A 100w head with a 1x 15" speaker or 2x 10" speakers would be enough for small-medium sized venues. If you want a more simple setup, a combo amp would be ideal - but get one that has an extra output to add another cab just incase you decide to expand your speakers in the future. Look out for Ashdown and Ampeg if you need an upgrade.
Bass DI - Active or Passive?
A direct box acts as a bridge between input and output, eliminating 60-cycle hum and DC noise from your signal. Passive DI boxes don't require a power supply and provide a gradual saturated 'overdrive' once you crank it in a rather smooth transition. Active DI boxes require a power source and it is "all or nothing" - it is either completely clean or completely distorted, there is no middle ground. If you are using an old bass it is worth using an Active DI box, otherwise Passive DI is the way to go for modern basses.
A bass DI box can be extremely useful in the studio aswell. To get top results with a DI box in the studio, combine a mic'ed signal with a DI signal in two seperate channels, then blend them. Use the phase reverse (or phase inversion) for this recording trick - and you will be sounding great in no time. If you don't have a phase invert switch, you can always invert one of the channels on your DAW.
Bass Effects For Live Performance
A quick poll on TalkBass revealed that the most common number of pedals that gigging bassists use was more than 3 pedals. The next common number of pedals was none at all. Ask yourself this question - are you happy with your bass tone? If the answer is yes - then maybe you fall into the category of not needing pedals. Keeping things simple is not a bad thing - throwing pedals into the mix can alter your tone for the worse.
If you aren't happy with your tone, then there are a few pedals that you could try introducing to your rig. A good compression pedal could have the most effect - whereas things like a fuzz, overdrive or chorus can allow you fit into a certain style of play that might otherwise be unattainable.
Not sure which pedals to try out but you have decided you want to have a play with pedals before hitting the stage? A multi-effects unit might be the best way for you to decide which types of pedals are for you - you might stumble across an effect you have never before considered!
Don't forget your cables for the gig, too!
Last but certainly not least is the drummer. Most venues have their own 'shell pack' (bass drum and toms) that are always there - you can't be expected to bring a full drum kit with you to each gig. You will however have to bring your own hardware, cymbals, bass pedal and snare drum to the gig.
What Is Drum Hardware?
Hardware is basically everything other than the drums and cymbals themselves. Things that you will need are a Hi-Hat stand, snare stand, cymbal stands, bass pedal, and a drum stool/throne.
When choosing a bass pedal it is worth first considering what type of sound you want from your bass pedal. Felt beaters give a full, round sound whereas wooden beaters give a punchier, sharp sound. If your style of drumming relies heavily on the bass pedal such as Metal or Heavy Rock, it might be worth looking at double bass pedals to make the job easier.
As you will be using hardware at each gig, it is worth investing in a decent set. It needs to stay where it is told, hold whatever you ask it to hold and be able to set up/fold away easily without breakages. Cheap drum hardware can be false economy as hardware needs to be sturdy and stand up to the rigours of live gigging. Many drummers swear by hardware from brands such as Gibraltar, Yamaha, DW as they are reliable and hassle-free when it comes to setting them up. There is a huge selection of great hardware out there - spending a few extra ££ initially can work out cheaper in the long run.
Which Cymbals Are The Best?
Cymbals have a huge affect on your sound and it is worth doing a bit of reading before you splash out on a new set. Reading about cymbals won't give you a definitive answer on which cymbals you should buy, but it will prepare you to know what to look out for when trying out cymbals. If you are playing smaller venues, a 'thin' or 'light' cymbal might be more appropriate, whereas 'heavy' cymbals would stand their ground in large venues without being overpowered. It is strongly recommended that you listen to a cymbal before you purchase it. Whether this is at a local store or you study a range of YouTube video reviews, you need to know what your cymbal sounds like before you decide it is for 'you'. They are a personal choice and it depends what sound you are going for.
Most drummers like to have a set of Hi-Hats, 1x Ride, and at least 1x Crash cymbal. This is usually the minimum, and is quite a compact setup for travelling to/from gigs. Some drummers will want to add in an extra Crash cymbal or a splash/china... it all depends.
What Snare Drum To Buy?
The Snare Drum is the part of the drum kit that stands out to most people, and for this reason it is important you get it sounding good. Do you want a warm, cracking sound or a bright, popping sound? Listen to a few of your favourite tracks and listen to how the snare drum for each drummer will differ. Think of the ideal snare sound that you would want, and try to describe it. Is it punchy and in-your-face, or is it quite subtle and warm?
So you have an idea of what sound you will want. Snare drums come in two variations: wood shell or metal shell. Wood shells have a warmer tone whereas metal shells give a bright, brash sound. The more you spend on a snare drum, the more lugs it usually has. This gives you greater tuning sensitivity and means that you can get your tuning spot on.
The most popular sized snare drum is 14" in diameter with a depth between 5" and 6.5". Drummers that tend to play more modern music go for a piccolo snare as it gives a tight, punchy sound ideal for pop/rock, whereas deep shell drums (8") have a bigger depth and are louder.
The more strands your snare wire has, the fatter the sound will be. The strainer that controls the tension of your snare wires must be of good quality with a smooth action - this can affect the tone drastically if poorly made.
So do you go for a wooden shell or metal shell snare? Standard size or fancy something a little different sounding? There are plenty of great snares at an affordable price - just look out for names such as Mapex, Pearl and Tama.
Don't forget a a few sets of drum sticks and some ear protection (this goes for the whole band)!
Your Band Is Ready To Gig
So you now have an idea of what each band member needs to sort out before you start gigging. It is expensive business gearing up for gigs - which is why at PMT we always ensure you are getting the best deal possible! If you have any questions about live music gear or want a few suggestions within your budget, one of our friendly sales team would be happy to help. Feel free to phone us on 0151 448 2098!