7 of 101

I have a page on this site entitled 101+ ways to sound better playing harmonica which was inspired by a Guitar Player Magazine article similarly titled. For the next 100 or so posts, I'm going to go through the ways, and elaborate.

7. An old sound-man/engineer trick: Use 2 mics when recording your amp - one near, one further away. This can make a tiny amp sound enormous!
I have used a "Legendary Pignose" amp on more than one recording and gotten very good results ('big' sound) from it. Now rather than elaborate on the recording strategy, I'm going to veer slightly from the initial point of item 7 and hip you to something else that's more important, and it's related to the listening theme that's a main undercurrent of this site. Here it is: You don't have to play loud. You don't have to be loud to be intense. You don't have to be loud to blow people's mind. You don't have to be loud to sound good.
This runs contrary to the way a lot of musicians play, especially guitarists, bass players and drummers who grew up on rock. This probably also runs contrary to what you believe, but this is gospel-level truth, that less volume is better. You can convey more feeling, dynamics, drama and every good thing that music provides with less volume.

Ever hear a symphony orchestra? Ever listen to great acoustic music?

  • If you start on 10, (or even 7 or 8) you have nowhere to go to increase your intensity.
  • If you play 3 sets at high intensity, by end of the night, you and your listeners are fatigued, and can't even hear the music as well as your first set. If you can't hear it, how can you play it?
  • Understand this: Tone does not equal SPL. (SPL: Sound Pressure Level)
  • You can get a great sound from a little amp with less SPL and preserve your feel, intensity, tone and hearing.
  • Musicians that can only play 'with feeling' at max volume are not better musicians, they're just louder musicians.
  • Music is about dynamics; tension / release, give / take, hot / cool. If you haven't figured that out, you haven't understood the heart of music.
OK, sorry to rant. Try a smaller amp if you like cranked tone. Better yet, try getting a good tone out of your amp that doesn't sound cranked. There are lots of ways you can play with high intensity without speaker distortion, tube distortion, or really, any kind of distortion at all. Better still, try getting a good tone from your instrument without the benefit of any amplification at all, then amplify that.

Can't be heard over the guitar, bass or drums if you play at a lower volume? Fire them, and find somebody who will play at appropriate volume levels, they'll be a better musician. Seriously.

Play the amp that works, at a reasonable level, and let the sound man worry about the SPL.