Category Archives for "Live Sound"

The Real Scoop On AC/DC’s Angus Young’s Guitar Sound

Angus YoungIf you were to place one electric guitar sound up on a pedestal as the one to copy, it would probably be the one from AC/DC’s Angus Young. “Back In Black” is still looked upon as an iconic record and sound, and guitar players, engineers and producers have been using a variety of methods to reproduce it every since. The fact of the matter is that his sound in some ways is dead simple, with just a guitar and amp and no pedals, and in another way pretty complex, as you’ll see in this video.

One of the things I liked here is that every aspect of Angus sound is detailed, right down to the amp settings (which are not what you might think), strings and pots on the guitar. It all comes from Angus guitar tech Trace Foster as interviewed by Premier Guitar’s Chris Kies. At the end of the video, guitar tech Greg Howard goes over rhythm guitar player Stevie Young’s very unique (at least guitar-wise) rig as well. You can find out more details about their touring rigs here.

Now let’s all go back to basics by working with the guitar and amp first to get the sound before you introduce those pedals.

[photo: weatherman90]

New Music Gear Monday: Ultimate Ears Sound Tap Personal Monitor DI

Ultimate Ears Sound TapIt looks like the days of the floor monitor are numbered as the live gig world quickly adapts to in-ear monitoring, something that the concert industry embraced many ears ago. Today IEMs are priced within reach of just about any gigging musician, but what really holds back many players from jumping in is the complicated setup and expensive wireless packs involved. Not anymore, as Ultimate Ears (one of the leaders in IEMs) recently released its ingenious Sound Tap personal monitor DI that puts in-ear monitoring easily within reach.

Sound Tap allows you to plug the speaker cable going to a floor monitor directly into the box, which you then plug in your IEMs and control the level to taste. There’s also a Speaker throughput connector to keep the that floor monitor working if you don’t want to lose it, yet still keep your in-ears going. If you want to eliminate the floor monitor altogether, there’s a combo XLR/1/4″ connector that can accept the monitor or aux output feed directly from your mixer, eliminating the floor monitor yet still keeping you hearing what you need to hear.

The unit has two combo Speakon/1/4″ jacks, two XLR/1/4″ combo jacks, and an 1/8th inch jack for your IEMs. There’s an Input control to adjust the level so it works with the unit, then a Master Volume to adjust the level of the in-ears. There’s also a switch that selects between the Speakon and XLR inputs, and two sets of level LEDs so you can drive the unit to its optimum. One of the best things about the box is that it also has built-in protection against feedback or anything else that might hurt your ears.

Sound Tap uses two 9 volt batteries that can last up to 35 hours. If the batteries die, only the IEM output goes dead, as the signal still throughputs through the box.

Ultimate Ears Sound Tap retails for $249 and comes with a number of adapter cables as well as an IEM extension cable. You can find out more on the dedicated web page or from the video below.


A Road Case Primer

road caseThe road case is essential to anyone on tour with gear that needs to be protected, so I thought this would be a good time to bring back something that I posted about few years ago. It’s an excerpt from The Touring Musician’s Handbook that provides a good look at the differences between popular road case styles. Here we go.

“For many musicians, buying road cases for their gear is sort of a right of passage. As soon as you stencil your name on the cases, it suddenly means that your stock as a musician has risen and you’ve made the jump to becoming your own brand.

While some players choose not to case up their gear in order to save money in the beginning of their touring career, they soon see the shortsightedness the first time a favorite instrument is damaged from a fall off of a ramp or loading dock. Road cases are not only worth it, but almost mandatory in that your gear always has to work, and the only way to assure that happens is to keep it protected from the frequent and many knocks of the road.

The ATA Standard

Although many cases may look similar, the sturdiest (and consequently most expensive) ones are what’s known as ATA cases. This is a design based on an airplane parts packaging specification (known as ATA 300 Category 1), developed by airline packaging engineers and certified by the Airline Transport Association. ATA 300 compliant cases are designed to withstand the rigors of being shipped a minimum of 100 times, and specifies that the case will have recessed handles that will not break during transit. The standard also details the level of quality of every piece of construction material that goes into the case, including locks, hinges, and fastening systems, and also states that all rivets and screws must be non-corrosive and all edges must be rounded and have certain level of construction quality. Because of this ATA standard, the typical road case has also come to be known by the name “flight case,” since it’s made principally to survive multiple flights.

Tip: If the road case is too heavy for a single person to carry it, it needs casters.

Types Of Road Cases

Road cases come in a lot of different styles and a lot of different materials. As a result, all road cases are not created equal. Some are great for keeping the weather off your gear, while others are built to withstand the constant battle of the road. Let’s take a look at the different types.

Fiber Cases – Fiber cases are the typical drum cases that most drummers have used some time during their life. They’re made out of fiberglass reinforced polyester and are very strong and rugged. While they work great for the club musician or weekend warrior because they keep the scuffs and incidental scratches off of the instrument, they’re deficient for road work in several ways; there’s little or no shock mounting for the instrument, the case is closed with a nylon strap that can be cut or lost, and their irregular shape make them difficult to pack efficiently. This means they usually get tossed on the top of the evenly packed square cases in the truck where they bounce around a lot as a result. Guess what that does for the instrument? They’re also prone to caving should something very heavy be placed upon them.

Aluminum – Aluminum cases have a major advantage in being extremely light weight, and usually have a fair amount of shock absorption inside. That being said, they’re very easy to pierce, and should generally not be used for shipping purposes as a result. It’s possible to have an ATA standard aluminum case, but you have to use so much aluminum that you lose the weight advantage that aluminum has over other types of cases.

Carpet Cases – These are simple plywood cases with an outer fuzzy carpet material. This type of construction once again offers little in the way of impact relief and protection. They’re heavy because the internal frame may be constructed of steel, and even though the carpet finish makes them very tough, there’s not much in the way of shock mounting. Carpet cases are great for things like cables and mic stands, but not for anything expensive that must be protected.

Molded Plastic – Some cases are made out of molded plastic which might be good for keeping the rain off an instrument but not much help under the repeated impacts of being loaded onto a truck. Their weakness frequently is in the latches, which can break or come loose over time, and you don’t see plastic cases in very large sizes. Once again, molded plastic cases may come in an odd enough shape that it won’t easily pack in the truck. There are ATA molded cases made, which are also mil spec for military electronic gear, but they’re really expensive and generally custom made.

Sandwiched Material – The strongest and most common road cases are the ones with sandwiched material and reinforced edges and corners, and these can be made of different materials for different types of transit. Most sandwich-type road cases are constructed in three main layers:

  • an outer layer of a plastic-based laminate called ABS
  • a middle layer of 3/16 to ½ inch cabinet-grade plywood such as birch, poplar or maple
  • an internal shock-absorbing foam layer that corresponds to the exact shape of the instrument or piece of gear.

The edges of the case are reinforced with aluminum extrusion, and have steel or zinc corner pieces and recessed handles and fasteners.

Protective Foam

There are generally two types of protective foam used in road cases. Polyurethane foam is very soft and provides a gentle cushion for any delicate item. It’s usually available in ½ inch to 10 inch thickness in ½ inch increments. The problem is that it’s so soft that it can be crushed by a heavy item, in which case a polyethylene foam is used instead.

Polyethylene foam is very dense and not very flexible, and the texture is almost like plastic. Frequently it’s used under a heavy item where polyurethane would simply not last due to the constant compression. Usually you want at least a half-inch of foam between your instrument and the outer layer of the case, although most people prefer one inch for added protection.

One thing that’s mostly overlooked with road cases is that the internal foam layer can have some negative chemical interactions with the finish of your instrument that can cause it to become dull and discolored over time. Nitrocellulose lacquer (like those used on vintage guitars), varnish and shellac are much more susceptible to this than the modern polyurethane and polyester type finishes. The way to prevent any interaction from occurring is to make sure that your road cases have a cloth lining over the foam (see Figure 7.7).

Some companies use a velvet-like material layer mostly for cosmetics, but it will also protect your instrument from any finish damage from the foam. If buying a custom case, a cloth covering only adds a small amount to the overall cost of the case.

Remember, if you buy good quality cases, they can last for your entire career on the road, so go for the best and don’t cheap out.

Tip: When buying road cases, try to buy either cases already in stock at your local music store or pro audio dealer, or have them made locally. The cost of shipping them can sometimes be almost as much as the case itself. Almost every city now has a company that makes road cases, so finding one that’s local should be easy.

The good thing about the ATA-type road case is that they can be repaired. Just about anything can be replaced and the case will come back as good as new. In fact, there are companies that specialize in repairing road cases like Mobil Flight Case Repair, although just about any road case manufacturer can do it.”

You can read more from The Touring Musician’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

October 25, 2016

The World’s 10 Best Concert Halls

musikverein concert hallMost mixers have at least one convolution reverb in their arsenal that has a variety of concert hall impulses. Ah, but the question is, do you have the right ones? Why not have the best of the best (if you can get them). Here’s a list of the world’s 10 best concert halls (inspired by an article in Business Insider) as judged by the godfather of acousticians, the recently passed Dr. Leo Beranek.

#1: Musikverein, Vienna, Austria (pictured on the left)

This is a relatively small hall at only 1,744 seats. According to Beranek in his Concert Halls and Opera Houses book, “the superior acoustics of the hall are due to its rectangular shape, its relatively small size, its high ceiling with resulting long reverberation time, the irregular interior surfaces, and the plaster interior.”

#2: Symphony Hall, Boston, USA

Another small one at 2,625 seats, famed acoustician and Harvard professor Wallace Clement Sabine helped plan the hall, while introducing his new technique to measure and increase reverberation time.

#3: Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Netherlands

 Yet another small one at 1,974 seats (see a trend here?).

#4: Konzerthaus Berlin, Germany

Just 1,600 seats, this concert hall opened in 1821, but was severely damaged during WW2. It reopened as a concert hall again 1984.

#5: Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, Japan

Another small one at 1,662 seats, but different from the rest in that it’s relatively new, opening in 1997. Who says we can’t make them as good anymore?

#6: Stadtcasino Basel, Switzerland

Just 1,600 seats, again showing that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.

 #7: Symphony Hall, Birmingham, England

Another relatively new hall, opening in 1991. It’s somewhat larger than the others at 2,262 seats.

#8: Culture and Congress Centre (KKL), Lucerne, Switzerland

Another new one, opening in 1998 and having 1,840 seats.

#9: St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, Wales

This hall opened in 1992 and seats 2,000.

#10: Meyerson Center, Dallas, USA

Another relatively new hall, it first opened in 1989 and holds 2,062.

When we think of the finest concert halls, we automatically think of something large with a long decay time. If this top 10 list indicates anything, that supposition is far from the case, as smaller halls are consistently considered to sound better. Maybe that will play into our reverb settings in the future. Goodbye large hall?

October 13, 2016

Let’s Put The Club Sound System In The Ceiling

sound ceilingWhen you think about it, we’re still stuck in the last century when it comes to live sound systems, especially in clubs. In almost all cases you’ll find a speaker array on both sides of the stage, sometimes sitting on the stage and sometimes flown. The problem with that is excessive SPL levels up close to the stage and beyond, especially outside the club. Time for some out of the box thinking. Let’s put the club sound system in the ceiling.

That’s exactly what a Swedish company called JBN Sound Solutions does. It sells an innovative ceiling system that hovers over the dance floor radiating the sound downward. This makes the audio more uniform, provides areas in the club with very low SPL (how many times have you wanted that), and best of all, keeps the neighbors from complaining. The company has already installed over 4,600 systems worldwide, but it’s first US install is just underway in Austin, Texas.

Noise pollution from clubs and venues has been a major problem in areas that are newly gentrified like in many downtown areas. Where there were previously no complaints over audio levels, newly constructed condos and hotels can suddenly spell trouble for a club. That’s what’s happened with The Nook Amphitheater in Austin ever since a new Westin Hotel opened nearby, so they’re turning to JBN in an effort to keep the sound inside the club and keeping everyone happy.

sound propagation

The system consists primarily of evenly spaced custom 10″ bass drivers and 6 1/2″ dual-concentric mid-tweeter drivers, although there’s not much additional information as to what kind of power or DSP the system uses.

That said, JBN systems are used in clubs, casinos, resorts and hotels around the world, so they must be on to something. And when you think about it, a sound system in the ceiling focused downward does make a lot of sense. Let’s see if the rest of the industry catches on.

Staying Away From Bad Solder Joints

Solder jointsOne of the first things I learned to do when I was a young musician was to solder so I could build and fix my own cables and gear. The number of hours I spent in my parents basement burning my fingers while learning the art is forever seared in my brain.

I rarely do it any more, mostly because we’ve learned to build better cables and connectors that break less frequently, and because I don’t gig anymore so my cables don’t take the abuse they once did. And I no longer build and repair the electronic gear that I use. I hate to say it, but most of the time it’s cheaper to buy something new, and in the case of digital gear, you can’t easily repair a multi-layered board. Ah, for the days of point-to-point wiring!

All that said, soldering is still a valuable skill to master, and it’s something that every musician and everyone that works in a studio should not only learn, but get good at. It does you no good to repair something with a bad solder joint that either won’t work or will fail soon.

This excellent article on common soldering problems is a must for anyone who practices the art to take a look at. The pictures of both good and bad joints are well worth the time and even a bookmark. Some of the examples of ugly solder joints make me cringe, but these are things that you see occasionally. Best to identify and fix them before they cause you a problem down the road. The side graphic tells you a lot, but the article is even better.

There’s nothing like fixing that bad cable yourself while saving a few bucks in the process, but it doesn’t do you much good if it keeps breaking, and this article will help make sure that doesn’t happen.

June 2, 2016

Tinfoil Baking Trays To The Wireless Rescue

Wirelessmetal trays for wireless mics= mics are everywhere at a big concert or awards show, so much so, that there’s always a dedicated tech just to make sure that not only do the mics work, but their transmit and receive frequencies don’t interfere or be interfered with from outside sources. We’re talking expensive rigs here, and lots of them (as many as 50 or more), but it’s some inexpensive tinfoil baking trays that really make the entire setup  work.

In a great article in, James Stoffo (who’s acknowledged to be the father of the technique) explained how the technique came about.

“The A1s, they wanted me to keep the wireless on all time,” he remembers, “so they could PFL them, to make sure they work—this was before people trusted me. And so I said, ‘Okay, well if I have to keep these transmitters on, there are going to be intermods all over the place.’ I had to come up with something quick, and that’s when I built that first box with my dad. It just evolved from there until, now, everyone is using them. At least guys and girls in the know.”

Essentially, if you put a bunch of wireless transmitters on a table so you can test if they work or to change capsules,metal trays for wireless mics= the radiation between them really makes them impossible to accurately test because they’re in such close proximity. James’ idea to place each one in a very inexpensive K-Mart-style tinfoil baking tray eliminates all of interference between them, since each transmitter is essentially has its own Faraday cage, thanks to the tray. Genius, right?

This wasn’t some lucky accident though – James got his chops in electronics and RF systems during his time in the US Navy Submarine Service. Afterwards he worked for many years in professional audio with early versions of commercial wireless microphones. That’s when he discovered that multiple transmitters kept next to one another backstage, powered up, created intermodulation that could compromise hours of careful coordination work, and lessen the ability to accurately monitor RF and audio levels at the receiver rack.

So here’s to James and his inexpensive solution to a tricky problem. Tinfoil baking trays to the rescue!