You asked, and now Misha answers: in the newly reconstituted Gear Geek, the Periphery guitarist answers your questions about tube amps suitable for bedroom use, how to effectively EQ three guitars in a mix, more on the amp cabinets vs. direct signal debate, and all about in-ear monitors. Your questions, his answers… below:
I’ve recently been looking into buying my first head + cabinet tube amp. The thing I’m worried most about is it being too loud when I’m using it at home, since I don’t want to just use it live and have it sit in the corner when not playing live. I wanted to ask how you dealt with something like this, how old you were when you first bought a tube amp like that and where you were living at the time (with parents, apartment, etc.).
Hey Django. The good news is that a lot of newer heads can not only output rather low volumes, but they can do it in a way that still sounds good (unlike, say, a 5150, which seems to jump from that sorta “off” position where you hear a muddy rendition of your tone to a loud, real tone with just a slight turn of the knob). You could go for something like an EVH 5150III, which is great, versatile and works for low volumes, or an ENGL, which has a very linear master volume control. The other option is to go for the new trend in amps, micro tube amps like the Orange Tiny Terror, Egnater Rebel or Blackstar HT-5. Those amps can really crank (don’t be decieved by the wattage; watts don’t exactly equal loudness, moreso headroom with a bit more volume as a by product) and they are small, lightweight and perfect for bedroom jamming. The third option would be to get a direct rig and pair it with an FRFR speaker that you could turn down as low as you need; you could also then use it for monitoring in a live environment. An added benefit would be the ease of recording in that situation. Either way there are a lot of versatile options out there!
How do you EQ your three guitars? Which frequencies or areas do you like to cut/boost/EQ, swap between them, etc. so each one stands out in the mix while still blending together? How do you apply it in situations with clean guitars and heavy guitars together? Also your philosophy on mixing/tone/EQ of bass and drums would be cool.
We actually dial in our rhythm tones to be pretty much the same so that our Front of House guy Alex Markides can mix it as needed and be in control. As you pan things out, and in the case of double-tracking especially, you tend to smooth out the tone and lose a little top end/bite, so that means that he might have to boost some upper mids on the panned guitars, and leave the center one alone. He could also do the opposite or split the difference. It really depends on the room/system.
As far as mixing the rest of the instruments, it is just good to be aware of every instrument’s place in the sonic spectrum. The less overlapping frequencies you have, the more perceived space you have in a mix. A lot of these instruments by nature run into each other. For example, the snare drum, guitars and vocals all share a lot of midrange frequencies and are constantly battling each other. The fact that they are dynamically very different plays a part in what cuts through, but shared range is a reason that it can take a lot of work to EQ all of those just right for a mix and sometimes it’s just about doing the best you can with the situation. Other things are a bit more clear cut, such as EQing the kick so it doesn’t interfere too much with the bass, sidechaining the bass with the kick so the kick can cut through whilst sharing a lot of frequencies. or highpassing the guitars to let the bass cut through and do its job. That kind of thing goes a long way.
Hey Misha, I just read through your entry “Are 4x12s a thing of the past?” and I’m very interested to know which option you ended up preferring: using a tube power amp through the ENGL, or using the Mackies? I’m looking to get an Axe-Fx II in the coming months, and I’ve been considering whether to go: Axe>Power Amp>Cab>Mic>PA or direct. Direct, as you said, has its issues for smaller venues, but our band’s local venue (The Face Bar in Reading, UK, you played there on the LXD tour!) has a great in-ouse engineer and good stage sound. What would you recommend? Using a 4×12, going direct, or investing in some good monitors? If you recommend monitors, would Mackie be the best way to go?
Hey Sammy. The Mackies ended up being absolutely incredible! When paired with our monitor mixer, we could hear everything very clearly and still get a lot of the feel of an amp. Perhaps not QUITE as well as going through a tube poweramp, but it never seemed lacking in the mix or while playing live, and it was just so clear that it was completely worth it.
Direct actually works best for small venues as well because the sound going to the PA is consistent, whereas if you had a bunch of mics you would suffer from a lot of mic bleed. Mic bleed would make things sound considerably worse and make everything MUCH harder to control from FOH.
The monitors provided quite a bit of stage volume even though they weren’t pointed at the crowd, so hearing the guitars actually never ended up being an issue, even in the smaller clubs! I would definitely recommend going direct for the most consistent tone and the easiest/most reliable setup!
I didn’t really try any other FRFR monitors, but I absolutely LOVED the Mackies and would highly recommend the HD1221 Wedges for monitoring!
Do you have any experiences with in-ear monitoring? I hate that I’m bound to stay at one single place on stage. Paying the bass player a visit on his side is impossible, at least during my solo sections. tl;dr: Pros and Cons of in-ears? Recommendations?
We switched to in-ear monitoring as of the Dream Theater tour early this year. I was really intimidated by it at first, but after our first practice with it I was absolutely sold. We were just using the Shure in-ears, not even molded ones (those are on the way now!) but even those cheapo Shure ones worked great for Dream Theater and the Protest The Hero tour we did after that. The detail you hear is just unparalleled! You can hear aspects of your playing that no one else will hear, so you can tighten up to a level that you wouldn’t be able to without that kind of reference and feedback. You also preserve your hearing; I didn’t have my mixes THAT loud and my ears never ended up ringing afterwards.
Another benefit to using in-ears is that with all the “space” you have in the mix you can fit so many more instruments in there. For example, when we would run direct and just use house monitors I would get Matt’s kick and my guitar because anything else would crowd the monitor mix and make it sound like a mess (if it didn’t already). When we switched to the Mackies and our own monitoring board, I noticed I could put a bit of the other guitars, the backing tracks and the full drum kit in my monitors without adverse effects. With the in-ears I have all of that, I have the bass almost as loud as me, and I even have the other guitars panned hard and almost as loud as me as well. It almost sounds like I am tracking guitars in a full stereo mix, so it is very pleasing to the ear, and it’s very easy to “lock in” with the whole band.
Another thing we have all started adding to our mixes is Matt’s click track. Not only does it help us groove better and stay in the pocket (he likes 16th note clicks; they work INCREDIBLY well so long as you still have clear 1/4 note accents) but since we can hear the count-ins and since the click continues during the parts with no drums, he doesn’t have to count in or keep time on those parts. Kinda cool!
If there is any con to using in-ears, it is perhaps that you lose the intensity of the cab/monitor that pushes air on your body (which really accounts for a lot of how “huge” tone sounds) and by comparison it is a bit on the cold and clinical side. However, thanks to using in-ears, wireless guitar packs and the patch-switching being done by our laptops, I am never attached to any point on stage. As long as I don’t run outside of the range of the guitar or in-ear wireless units I can be wherever I want, and that feels amazing!!
It’s not a cheap or simple setup to get into — we owe it to our FOH guy Alex Markides for knowing how to set it up and put it together for us — but if you can afford it I can’t recommend it enough!