Guide to getting and playing better gigs


   

Check Your Gear

     
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Most band's never look after (or don't know how to look after) their stuff. The most common failures are:

1) Bad cables, either speaker cables and loose or dry joint soldered plugs or instrument/mic cables simply ready to fall apart and held together by pure luck. If you can't solder very well yourself, get someone who can to make sure your jacks and connectors are done right. Also, cables should ALWAYS be put away correctly after a gig, i.e. coiled up in a loop fashion and neatly put it away. Never tie cables in knots and simply throw them in a bag as this will place too much stress on the cable itself and it will eventually break down (usually when you need it most).

2) Amplifiers that need a good clean, i.e. the fan filters need a good blast out with compressed air and the whole amp insides cleaned out. Dirt in the filter can seriously cause your PA amp to overheat and eventually burn out. That's a very expensive mistake to make, never mind about the embarrassment of loosing your singer through the PA amp going up in smoke at a gig. Get your amp cleaned every 6 months if you can.

3) PA Speaker impedance's driving too low causing the amp to overheat or cut out. Most PA amplifiers (not guitar or bass amps) can be driven down to 4 ohms minimum per side. This is the lowest impedance your amp can run safely (read the instruction book for details or ask an engineer). There are some amps that will go to 2 ohms minimum, but you'll need to pass higher currents through the speaker cable making them more likely to break down. Also a 2 ohm impedance needs short speaker cables to drive correctly i.e. the cable itself has impedance which adds to the speaker impedance and you loose power!. Some manufacturers claim that their amps will be ok at 2 ohms, some simply don't handle this low impedance and overheat causing a PROTECT LED to show and shut down the amp. A simple rule - no less than 4 ohms per side (4 to the left and 4 to the right in total). That could be made from 2 of 8 ohm cabs wired together (in parallel) which halves the impedance to 4 ohms, and the same for the other side.

4) Amplifier/Speaker power combination incorrect. This is a common fault with some setups I've seen. This can either simply mean your PA amp is under powered (can cause tweeter damage due to the amp distorting and sending nasty spikes to the HF driver), or it goes the other way and too much power blows the speakers up! As a rule, your PA amp should be something like at least a 3rd more than that of the speaker rating. This is referred to as 'head room' For eg; a speaker with a power rating of 500 watts RMS (never read peak or music power values, they are a marketing ploy to make it look better on paper!), would need a power amp of about 700 watts. You'd probably use between 600 watts and 800 watts in practice. Making the power amp more powerful than the speakers ensures a clean signal even at high volumes. Too much power will destroy the speaker drivers. If you used a 1000 Watt amp driving the same 500 watt speaker, yes it would be great and totally clean, but at high levels, dangerous. So be careful.

5) Valve guitar head/combo impedance set incorrectly. This again is a common fault where the head or combo speaker output impedance is set incorrectly. You MUST set the impedance of any valve amp to match exactly the same as the speaker cab you're using. DO NOT mix cabs and speakers, mixing speaker cabs together will cause the total impedance to lower, and if the valve amp is not set correctly, then extensive damage will occur to the output valves (EL34) and the output transformer itself...very expensive indeed to fix. If you have a speaker cab with no markings on the back informing you of it's impedance, then DON'T USE IT, get it checked out and then you can plug it in safely, you must know what it's impedance is before plugging it in. If you have a transistor amp, this problem doesn't occur as the amp can run into anything down to 4 ohms!..no less than that mind you.

6) Keep equipment dry and clean - this generally goes a long way to keeping it working well. Whether in the studio or on the road, it's worth keeping this in mind. Dirt and moisture attacks electronics. If you do have problems with soldering plugs or anything else, consult an engineer you can trust, it may be the best money you ever spend. It's peace of mind at a gig!...


Lastly and most importantly - ALWAYS make sure your mains cables are wired correctly - think safety first !!!!!! it's not worth getting electrocuted on stage just for a gig. Death is not an option! Things to watch out for are loose mains plugs (check the cable grips and screws for tightness), splits or frays in cables - go through your gig bag of cables and get them repaired NOW by a qualified person... don't just leave it like that, one day it may get you. If you live in the UK or any other country that uses the earth pin in the mains plug, ALWAYS have this earth connected, especially on amplifiers and desks. Beware of using so called 'earth lift' plugs where the earth wire is disconnected to clear an earth loop hum. Yes, it will cure the hum, but it won't protect you from an electric shock!. ALL equipment must be earthed for safety. Besides, the hum can be cured in other ways. If you get an earth hum from connecting your desk or PA to a guitar or bass amp on stage, use a D.I box in line, rather than going straight into the amp. The D.I or Direct Inject box has a dedicated Earth Lift switch just for this job, and it's safe.

Check your gear - and live to use it!

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