Music Stands on Stage….YUK!

Music Stands on Stage….YUK!

I hate to see music stands on stage!  OK yes, that’s a blunt statement, but I’m continuously amazed at the amount of musicians and bands I see who use music stands.  As a sound engineer and a performing musician, I see so many problems with this and wonder why these performers insist on using them.  I can list a bunch of reasons why I hate to see them and the problems associated with their on-stage placement.  But I always have questions as to why.  Is it just laziness on the musician’s part to not learn the music or lyrics of a given song or set?  Is it a safety net for players who have fried their brains through many years of partying and can’t remember anything?  If a stage actor with a leading role can memorize all of their dialog, cues and stage blocking, etc., why is it so hard for a musician to memorize a song?  It’s one thing for a guitarist/singer to use them, as there is sometimes much to remember.  But a singer who only has one true responsibility, singing the lyrics, should be able to put a little effort into some memorization.  I mean, it’s not like most of us are even truly reading music when we perform.  I get it for the Orchestra member or Symphony musician who is reading many lines of complex notation, dynamics and tempo variations while also watching a conductor.   But how “cool” would it be to see KISS perform at a large concert venue and they’re all using music stands?  I’m sure U2 would be cool with waiting for Bono to turn to the next song chart in his notebook and clip the pages to the stand.  It probably would look really stupid.  So, let me provide a short list of problems I’ve encountered with these things and the performers who use them.

  • They fall over in the wind if playing outdoors.
  • The classy look of chip clips clamping down the music pages.
  • They block the audience’s view from seeing the musician play his/her instrument.
  • They force the performer to look away from their audience and only to what’s on the stand.
  • They cause the singer to sing to the side of the mic which results in a struggle for amplified vocal quality or optimum microphone levels.
  • They block the projection of stage monitors which results in the classic “Can I get more vocals in my monitor”? (No!  Move the stand from in front of your monitor).
  • They are often overloaded and a minimal breeze will send all kinds of papers flying around.
  • I’ve seen performers stop playing in mid-song to turn a page, re-position a fluttering page, or have to stop playing because the music has fallen off the stand.
  • They give the appearance of a lack of preparation or effort on the part of the performer.

So now that I’ve slammed everyone I know who uses these things, I have to confess that I am somewhat challenged when it comes to memorizing the lyrics to my cover tunes.  Beyond the first verse and maybe the chorus, I just can’t seem to remember much of the song’s words.  I can remember the chords, song structure, dynamics, etc.  But the lyrics seem to challenge me.  Maybe some of you home-brew, web md driven psychoanalysts can offer a diagnosis, but it is what it is.  So I completely understand the need and the comfort of having notes on stage as a safety net.

My answer is to use an iPad.  Sure, you could say that I’m still not memorizing my lyrics.  And I will agree.  But there are several advantages to going the iPad (Teleprompter) route.  I’ve even seen performers use a small iPhone for this purpose.  Now don’t get me wrong.  It’s just as bad seeing an iPad attached to a mic stand that already has apimped out music stand bunch of pics taped to the shaft along with a wire drink holder hanging on the side, a reading light, a capo, the cat box scooper, etc.  Sadly, I’ve seen these overloaded mic stands fall over because there’s just too much on it.  With the iPad’s smaller footprint when compared to a big black music stand, many of my gripes listed above are eliminated.  Sure, a music stand costs considerably less than even the cheapest touchscreen device, and bright sunlight can sometimes be problematic for an led display screen, but for me the advantages it provides are a no brain’r.  Along with the ability to install apps that are designed for musicians as a type of teleprompter, they also can be connected via MIDI, Bluetooth, wi-fi or hardwire connection to outboard gear like a processor pedal or keyboard.  With some products, this interfacing can allow an iPad to make processor program or patch changes during specified portions of the song.  

little johnny music stand

Proper use of a music stand

However, some programming is necessary to achieve this and it can be time consuming until you get the hang of it.  So, I guess having an iPad blocking the audience’s view of you is way cooler than a big ugly music stand.  And, when you get a request for a tune you don’t know, you have the advantage of quickly linking to a site that has the cheat sheet for most any song you can think of.

Therefore, if you’re at all like me, hate the look of clunky music stands and maybe have the means to spend a few bucks to get a pad of some type, ditch the music stand.  You, your sound man and, more importantly, the audience will be happier.



Do All Mic Stands Suck?

Do All Mic Stands Suck?

It seems that I’m always looking for a better mic stand.  By better, I mean something that will last longer than one or two years.  My usage will be for local corporate and non-festival sound reinforcement applications.  It seems I’m going to have to continue purchasing these important pieces of hardware much more often than I’d like.  Now….  with that being said and in all fairness to the many brands and models available, a few are better than the rest.  However for me, the vast majority of these stands are lamic stand casecking.  Sure, you could say that I may be too hard on these stands and that I don’t transport them properly.  But those who know me understand that this is not the case.  I treat my gear with respect and try to get the most mileage out of my purchases.  Like anyone else, I’m always trying to find the best gear (or product type) for my hard-earned money.  Though equipment failures and expected obsolescence are a fact of any business, it seems that microphone stands just don’t hold up.  I guess I could complain to all who will listen and say “if we can put a man on the moon, why can’t someone build a better mic stand?”  But it’s true.

A few yeaon stage standrs ago, I did my research and concluded that the OnStage Model MS9701TB was suitable for my situation, running a local sound company and being a gigging musician.  And, with a street price of about $50 bucks, it seemed to be a great deal.  Retailers claimed that this stand was heavy duty and tour tough.  Well, once the stand arrived it was certainly heavy, but as time went on its duty was rather iffy.  Upon deployment, the first gig demonstrated that the stand’s height adjustment clutch was so tight that I needed a wrench to loosen and tighten it.  Conversely, it’s boom arm friction adjustment never would tighten enough to keep even the lightest mic from slowly descending to belt level.  Then after about 10 uses, its legs came loose (from a collapsed position) and would flop around. Lastly, a broken boom adjustment screw that had to be surgically removed, and stripped mic clip threads, added to my frustration and lack of confidence.  It seemed that I was constantly searching through my parts boneyard in hopes of making this product usable.

onstage boom clutch

clutch won’t hold

These stands gave me no confidence that they weren’t going to fall apart during a performance (which happened a couple of times).  Damn, what would have happened if I purchased the cheap ones?  Though to be fair, I’ve seen that OnStage has updated the stand (MS9701TB+), and they claim to have addressed paint flaking and leg stability.  Time will tell if it’s any better.  I have one of these in route, and will report back later.

on stage boom ext knob

broken tightener

The other day I was checking out their website and noticed they had included a service section detailing parts that were available and could be ordered right away.  I thought this was cool and began to find the many parts I needed, all of which were replaceable.  I go to checkout and all but one part were back-ordered with no time frame shown as to when they may be shipped.  So that was a big waste of effort.km210_9

So what should you purchase?  The touring sound companies will tell you that the better products from K&M (Koenig & Meyer) are what they use.  The model 210/9 is a nice stand, considered heavy duty and is below $100.  It has a strong tripod base, reliable adjustment clutches and hardware, with a telescoping boom arm.  I’ve had a few of these in use for many years and they’ve had vkM clutchery few problems other than needing a little tightening of the leg screws.  Of course any stand you’ve had on the front lines for a long time is going to look scratched and beat up, but functional performance is what counts.  And, for about $75, it’s a great value.

Another stand I’ve used that deserves your consideration is the DR Pro Tripod Boom ($50).  It is solid with smooth adjustment hardware and a robust weighted base.  Unfortunately, your choices of where to purchase DR products are limited to Amazon and Guitar Center (which means it won’t be in stock when you hit the store to check it out).  Additionally, as with most any Chinese made stand, replacement parts can be very hard to obtain.  So in the event of a part failure, your ability to “MacGyver” a fix will come into play.  So in the end, plan on spending a few hundred bucks each year on new microphone stands, though these products from K&M and DR should be considered.  As always, do your homework, consider user reviews, check the warranty (parts availability) and consider your application.

Feel free to add your comments about microphone stands you’ve had success (or problems) with.

Who’s Using Boutique Guitar Amps

Who’s Using Boutique Guitar Amps


As I was thumbing through the latest GC  flyer, I started thinking about all the different brands and models of guitar amplifiers that are available (and these are just the better known brands and models).  I mean, there are so many to choose from.  While most are ac15c1 gutsdesigned to utilize the temperamental vacuum tube, there are many other models that are designed with the latest in solid-state components, with some using a combination of both.  Some are even software based and can be setup to emulate go-to sounds we’ve all heard for years.  And all these flavors from just one store.  Now, factor in all the brands and models that are out of reach for many, and that’s lots of guitar amps.  No wonder it takes almost forever for a guitarist to settle on an amp (and let’s not get started on pedals).

During the past ten years or so, there has been an emergence of independent guitar amp brands (aka Boutique Amps) that have appeared in music stores or factory direct via on-line.  While the majority of these home-brew companies have products that are pricey amp tubesand, sadly, out of reach for too many players, it seems that in recent years the independent, entrepreneur-driven, small company has been very popular in our culture.  Similar to the local craft brewery or distillery (bakery, micro-farm, etc.), it’s obvious that the concept of smaller, independent amplifier companies has seen a wave of excitement and point to pointsupport.  Though I wonder what happens when this enthusiasm dies off, as trendiness always does.  However, for many users, there is the continuing quest for a better amp.  Features like point-to-point wiring, custom transformers, hand-picked (and measured) components, wood board cabinets, customized design concepts and small shop attention are all expensive but justifiable reasons to spend the big bucks.

In the end, however, I  think most amp designers would agree that most of their amps are conceptually based upon several old tried and true desiHiwatt-logo.jpggn concepts originally created by companies like Fender, Supro, Marshall, Vox and a couple of others.  These landmark brands began in the 1950’s during the birth of electric music.  The 1960’s & 70’s saw more choices of amplifiers from Ampeg, Gibson, Sunn, Peavey, Mesa Boogie, Guild, Epiphone, Orange, Hiwatt, Crate, Carvin, Laney, etc.  Though the choices for guitarists began to expand, the basic designs brought to msunn logoarket from all these vendors were based upon the same basic Fender and Vox concepts in allowing the amplification of the electric guitar to be manipulated by the physics and principles of electricity.  Even then, some Marshall designs were based upon Fender concepts.  Similarly, many Laney products were re-thought Vox designs.

Through the years, we’ve all seen hundreds of models come and go from long-standing and one-hit manufacturers (Sunn, Acoustic, Chicago Blues Box, Crate).  Sure, each brand had differences in their designs and sounds.  Multiple input channels and switching, built-in FX and tuners, loudspeaker celestionadvancements and other features (some not so well received) were often added in hopes of allowing manufacturers to set themselves apart from the competition.  But in most cases, players have typically reverted to the tried and true favorite brands and models.

What’s the benefit to us players having all these amp choices?  I mean, the traditional market structure that says “more choices will drive down prices” isn’t very true.  From what I’ve seen in my music store travels, prices continue to climb, features and quality often suffer, and the main music store chains are forcing the same brands on us.  Take a look around GC or Sam Ash (or Sweetwater and many otherBadcat amps logo on-line vendors). We seem to be told that these same brands from Vox, Fender and Marshall (and others) are the only accessible choices.  Sure, there are some other lesser known models that appear every now and then from various makers, but I see very few of these in use or on stage.  Even many of our guitar heroes play the well-known brands on stage but, behind the studio glass, tend to break out the boutique amps in hopes of creating or replicating a desired guitar sound.

Who’s buying these Boutique Amplifiers?  Good question.  I reside outside of a major US city where live-performance music clubs and venues are everywhere.  From bars and clubs, to Pot Belly and House of Blues, there are gigs and opportunities for plenty of players.  But lately, I notice that guitarists all seem to all be using Fender, Marshall, Peavey and Vox amplifiers.  Other than larger cities having more stores with raysmore brands and products to choose from, many of you are stuck having to visit the local Big Box retailer or choose to purchase on-line (from the same Big Box companies).  For those lucky enough to have independent music stores within driving distance, the choices of brands and models begins to expand and will allow the purchaser to have more buying options and often from lessor known amplifier makers.  So why all the love for just the familiar brands…?

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that most guitarists make their amp purchasing decisions based on just a few factors:

  1. Comfort level of a known brand
  2. Price (budget always is an issue)
  3. What amp my guitar hero plays

Unfortunately, I think price is often the real driving factor of these criteria that ultimately matters.  With so many brands available, manufacturing quality control and fantastic warranties, along with attractive store return policies, it goes without saying that your choices playing electricat any of the Big Box stores is better than ever.  But, I always have to laugh when I hear someone say they are choosing an amp because that’s the brand Vaughan, Hendrix or Page used.  Though once they make the purchase and get it home, they are typically disappointed because they don’t sound like their hero (and likely never will).

So where do makers of Boutique Amps fit in?  In my opinion, purchasers often view these products with hesitation because of several factors.  First, a minimally perceived sonic difference by the uneducated buyer when compared to the hefty price is a big problem.  Sure, modifications to a classic Fender amp design such as tube-type changes and tube brands, circuit enhancements, loudspeaker types, solid wood cabinets and more can solderingset one model apart from another.  I mean, why not?  There are always going to be mold amp cabinetany players that are always searching for that vintage sound, ultimate overdrive, more headroom or something that helps set them apart from the thousands of other players with traditional amp types and sounds.  Frankly, many of the design engineers who work on these high-end amplifiers found their roots working for the big boys like Fender or Vox.

Some things to remember about Boutique Amps? 

  • These manufacturers are making one amp at a time, with each product getting more hands-on attention, where larger vendors are using the assembly line approach.
  • The level of detail is often better. Fit and finish, final testing and more are carefully approved prior to shipping to the customer.  Custom orders are often available from some boutique makers, allowing design changes or cosmetic enhancements.
  • Domestic or import? While a VOX AC15c1 has British design origins, it’s owned by a Japanese company and manufactured in China!  Boutique Amps are typicallyno chia made (or parts are made) in their country of origin.  This helps the local economy and supports the “Homemade” enthusiasm.
  • Uniqueness of design and concept. While many builders like Fender base their newer products on market trends, price and user feedback, Boutique Amp makers are free to apply whatever they view as what’s best for the player, amp and company.
  • Reliability. While big name vendors have lots of advantages and have the ability to offer extended warranties, a broken amp sitting at the manufacturer (while under warranty) is very frustrating.  Boutique companies will use better quality parts in hopes of producing a better product that is free of defects.  However, when one of these amps does fail, shipping costs to the factory, turnaround time and frustrating warranty policies tend to level the playing field in this regard.
  • Custom orders. While many of these companies allow or only take custom orders, be sure to clearly understand the time to build your amp before you take delivery. In fact, a few of these smaller builders only start assembly as orders are placed (you pay, we build).  So if time is critical for you, keep this in mind.5 year warrany
  • Are they still in business…? Sure, companies like Fender, Vox, Marshall, Orange and others have been bought and sold, but they still have been going strong for decades.  This provides many of us some added piece-of-mind when making a purchase.  However, these smaller Boutique Amp companies are often challenged financially, have limited staff and are little more than a garage operation with few resources.  Chances are, they won’t be around long.  Therefore, when a broken amp from a long-gone vendor needs repair or parts, the price to fix it can be scary. 

So, when the time is right for a new (or another) guitar amp, keep an open mind.  Do some research and try AMS Logoas many brands and models as possible.  And remember, there is no HozZounds Logoly Grail or perfect amp.  What works for me and my rig may not work as expected for you.  Keep things like warranty, user reviews and features at the top of your list.  Things like loudness, cosmetics and who plays it should be low on your list for reasons to buy.  There are some nice offerings from the big players that I listed above.  Similarly, vendors like Fuchs, Allen, PRS, Matchless, Badcat, Carr, Divided by 13, Victoria, Dr. Z, Fryette, Soldano, Two Rock, 65 Amps, Bogner, Budda, Bruno, Tophat, Suhr, Welagen and many more Boutique Amp companies have some outstanding products and sounds.  Think about combining your next out-of-town festival gig with a visit to the local guitar shop and try some of the under-the-radar brands.  

Analog or Digital Audio Mixers for Live Sound

Analog or Digital Audio Mixers for Live Sound

I was asked to explain the wave of interest concerning digital audio mixers and the benefits of digital versus the traditional and time-tested analog design types.  Do they sound and perform better?  Do they last as long as the analog ic boardtypes?  Are they easier to operate?  Should you switch over and buy digital?  Hmmm… this got me thinking.  Having used a few digital mixers during the past few years, I can say they have definitely benefited from new DSP & surface-mount component technology and offer many features that analog mixers just can’t technologically or affordably supply.  But I must stress that ease-of-use has yet to be consistently address by manufactures of many digital mixers.  And lastly, is there still a place in the industry for the knob-filled, channel-strip configured analog type mixers?

Sound Comparison:

Let me start by saying sound is subjective.  There is no better or best or correct sound to be provided by the sound system.  We all seem to know when sound is really bad.  When you hear someone comment that “those speakers sound bad or suck”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they do indeed sound bad.  There are many variables to a live sound rig, with the speakers being that final link in a long chain.  The speakers may sound bad because a Mixer, EQ, Compressor or Crossover have been used incorrectly or possibly setup wrong.  Consideration also needs to be made to the amplifier and its effect on the entire sound chain.

I’ve heard many older analog mixers sound fantastic.  Similarly, I’ve heard several newer digital mixers not sound so good.  Why is this?  I put most of the blame on the operators and engineers.  You’ll find very few live sound engineers that will tell you that one technology sounds better than another, though each may have a preference.  Oftcd logoen, sound company owners may say “this new digital mixer sounds better than anything we used to use”.  But until that same user does a direct comparison against what they have used in the past, they are only basing their comment on features.  Also many people assume that because a mixer uses new technology, that it must be better than the old stuff.  This simply isn’t true.  The same sonic debate still circulates (with no answer) concerning analog vs digital in the turntablerecording studio. Or, the 1980’s never-ending debate about if 33 rpm LP sounds better than a Compact Disc.  Beyond its physics, I guess there are few definitive conclusions regarding sound or what “sounds good”.  Maybe we can call it a draw and base more of our decision on other factors such as reliability, practicality, functionality or price.  However, I feel that one of the most important factors concerns how you plan on using the mixer. 


It’s seems clear that there are obvious uses for either mixer type when used in the correct environment.  For a set it and forget it 4-input, acoustic act PA system, there are many fantastic small format mixers available at great prices.  small mixerSoundcraft, Beringer, Allen & Heath, Yamaha and Peavey (and others) all have several model configurations available and some also include built-in FX and USB connectivity.   Larger analog formats of up to 32 input channels and more are also available at great pricing and can be the perfect choice for clubs, regional bands or local performance venues where rider compliance is of little concern, but good sound is.

Clearly, the biggest benefit to many digital mixers is the all-in-one design concept.  Frankly, it is surprising how many times I have heard it said that one of the main reasons avid big mixerfor choosing a digital mixer instead of analog was because it allowed them to carry less gear.  Rarely do I hear engineers comment on better sonic quality being the main reason for selecting a digital mixer.  I would also argue that many regional or larger sound companies will purchase a specific mixer because it is “rider compliant” and sometimes give sound quality or reliability less consideration.

Practicality & Functionality:

I’m going to assume you have a basic understanding of live sound practices and some experience (otherwise…why are you reading this..?).  To start, the general layout, user interface and dashboard of an analog mixer is typically very similar from brand to brand.  If you use a Yamaha console at church you’ll quickly find your way through a Midas IMG_0576.jpgconsole at the local performing arts theater.  The input, master and aux sections are all going to work in the same fundamental way.  So you’ll have very little learning curve when presented with an unfamiliar analog mixer. I doubt there would be that much argument from anyone if I said it’s quicker to make an adjustment to an analog mixer than it is to fumble through menus on a digital mixer to get to the same control.  I know, there are variables to my statement, but the concept is accurate.  Plus analog boards with their many knobs, buttons, meters and lights, just look impressive.

But wait….!  Digital is a whole different beast.  The physical layout greatly differs from brand to brand and can also be different from model to model.  Digital mixers use an interactive touchscreen display driven by model specific software. A physical user qsc screeninterface with a minimal amount of knobs, buttons and faders allows an entirely different approach to mixing control, EQ and outboard processing.  This approach keeps manufacturing costs down and allows a vast amount of mixer signal processing capabilities to be housed in a small form factor enclosure.  However, each manufacturer has their own way of designing how the software operates.  Each brand has its own menu structure and flow, with each reacting differently to a change of a parameter’s +/- value. And oh ya, they all sound different. 

So let’s use this scenario…  you are a band’s chosen sound person.  The band is doing a regional club tour and all sound is being provided.  Chances are, you’ll be using a different (and likely unfamiliar) mixer and sound rig at each venue, with the potential of learning a different digital mixer (and its software) each night.  Frankly, digital mixers follow the same design philosophy for all of today’s digital products.  Phones, smart pads, game machines, TVs, lights or audio mixers are basically a computer attached to a hardware-based, user ah app screen shotinterface.  From a manufacturer’s perspective, the ability to re-program software to manipulate hardware is good business.  Allowing anytime software updates, remote operation, off-site diagnostics and other things that fit today’s virtual society is the norm.  However, switching from an iOS product to an android can take some time, with very little knowledge gained from using one to help when using the other.

The best part of a digital mixer is that the need for those heavy EQ and processor racks at front-of-house can be eliminated because this is all built into today’s digital mixers. Configurable EQ types for mains, monitors, signal correctors and built-in FX are included.  There is no need for patch bays and rack wiring, because it’s all done inside mixer in casethe digital mixer.  So the size of your front-of-house footprint just got noticeable smaller and lighter, and eliminating the time for patching together all that gear is a definite plus. Though I guess we need to consider the cost if this digital board failed and needed to be repaired.  Because the “show must go on”, that’s a lot of individual processor and mixer to replace while yours is in for repair.  You’d lose your mixer, patch bay, FX processors, EQ’s, compressors, limiters.  That’s your whole front end that has to temporarily be rented, wired and functional or at least find a like model board to rent.


Analog mixers have the advantage of years of design changes which are often based upon user feedback, trial and error and advances in component design and manufacturing techniques.  I have a couple of Allen & Heath analog mixers that were first used almost 20 years ago, and have logged many hours with no problems.  I am always confident when using these boards.  Of course, proper care and feeding will help ensure the life of any product and proper maintenance is highly recommended. 

Digital mixers have the benefit of a smaller amount of components.  The less things that can break, the better.  They are typically lighter than analog units and can fool you into qsc touch mixerthinking that their light weight means they are less rugged.  In fairness, digital based audio mixers don’t have as many years of existence as analog, but that’s changing quickly. Other than the top of the line touring models from Avid, Yamaha, Midas and a few others, the biggest differences in all digital mixers deal with software operation and functional reliability.  During the first couple generations of these mixers, there have been consistent problems with failures due to heat, software glitches and total system lockups (crashes, blue screen of death, SYS FAIL, etc.) that require an in-use re-boot.  I’ve seen analog mixers fail (dead channel, or parameter), but never had to reboot one.  Because most of the newer digital mixers can be connected to and be controlled by a smart phone or tablet, the expanded user control surface is great, but there are many stories telling of the problems trying to maintain a wi-fi connection between mother ship and satellites.  So until these software glitches can be further subdued, I’m continuously leery of a possible system crash.


Whatever channel configuration or added features of a digital mixer, the flexibility and customization outweighs that of analog mixers.  The ability to have on-board virtual processors for signal enhancement and correction, cat5 connection to stage boxes, midas stage boxwireless device control and flexible signal routing potentially keeps digital mixer models relevant for more years than ever before.  With feature-rich products offered by Allen & Heath, Ashly, Soundcraft, Midas, Behringer and others, $2k can get you a 24-channel digital board with all the trimmings.

Since the arrival of low-cost (under $2k) digital mixers to the market, the street prices of most analog mixers have slowly dropped.  The used market is full of choices and at rock bottom prices.  There are also some quasi-digital, analog mixers that have various types of computer-to-mixer interfaceaandh panel (USB), FX or user control that may be utilizing digital technology. There are lots of solid, reliable and great sounding mixers that are based on analog design criteria.  Lastly, keep these things in mind when considering the purchase of a new audio mixer…


Think About….

⇒ Consider what your intended use will be

⇒ Included mixer configuration and added features

⇒ Factor in your budget

⇒ See what brands/models of either technology are available

⇒ Reliability (read realistic reviews and look for real world road tests)

⇒ Which brands/models offer the best warranty and the repair service turn-around time

⇒ Ease of operation

⇒ Sound Quality

Get more details and pricing for both digital and analog mixers from our friends at American Musical Supply.

Rooster Review – Mega Tripar Profile Plus

Rooster Review – Mega Tripar Profile Plus

Today I thought I’d stray a bit from my typical audio-focused content and tell you about the Mega Tripar Profile Plus LED stage light fixture from American DJ.  If you’re expecting a review detailing my displeasure or critical view of this product, you won’t hear anything like that today.  In short, this is a very nice, cost-effective fixture with loads of flexibility and great reliability, which I highly recommend.  mega tripar ioI own several of these and a few of its older sibling, the Mega Tripar Profile.  With a street price of around $99, there isn’t much that can beat this product and its feature set when considering the price.

This is an LED equipped stage (or DJ) light fixture that eats just 21 watts of power and produces a bright configurable output.  Up to 30 units can be daisy chained together using easy to find IEC power link cables.  The unit comes with a split mounting yoke that can also serve as a floor stand when using the fixture in up-lighting situations.  When removing the yoke, its slim design allows the fixture to lie flat or easily be placeMega Tripar uplightsd within most box or triangle truss applications.  Because the product employs five 4-watt LED elements, it runs with virtually no heat output making it great when washing drapes, walls and stages.  3-pin DMX IN & OUT with 5-channels allowing DMX controllers to easily be connected plus there are 5 built-in operational modes that are great for stand-alone setups.  The big upgrade from its older sibling is the addition of “UV” helping to obtain a warmer white output, which should satisfy even the most critical user. Another nice change is that American DJ upped the per/LED wattage.  Its beam angle is 40 degrees and there is even an optional infrared remote control which can be very handy during setups.

In use, I have to say the Mega Tripar Profile Plus is great!  Its RGB color mixing capabilities allow users to dial-in just the right amount of color saturation when color-matching a customer’s party.  For me, one of the most important requirements in lighting is reliability.  Since I became aware of this product and its older predecessor, mega tripar remoteI have deployed literally thousands of these with only one failure.  That is truly amazing for a $99 lighting fixture.  I’ve dropped them and had them fall from suspended truss and all have continued to work just fine.  The rear control panel is intuitive and allows quick programming.  With a front setup of white lights washing the stage and several Mega Tripar Profile Plus around the perimeter you can make even the ugliest band look like stars.  While these are not intended or rated for wet locations, they do just fine in humid environments and I’ve had no issues using them in cold weather setups.

If you’re ready to step up to LED fixtures or want to add more fixtures to your lighting rig, the Mega Tripar stage megatripar upProfile Plus should be at the top of your list to check out.  And for bands looking to step up from traditional hot, power-hungry Par Cans, this American DJ fixture is hard to beat.  Give our friends at American Musical Supply  a click and checkout their great products and pricing.

Guitar Amps…. Which Type For Me?

Guitar Amps…. Which Type For Me?

Like many of you who use social media, and specifically Facebook, I think I’m like most people in that I spend the majority of my FB reading dealing with topics that interest me. FB has thousands of groups and topics to suit any interest, hobby or fascination. For me, I’ve joined a couple of groups dealing with Vacuum Tubes, Taylor & Fender Guitar products, Pro Sound, Antique Radios and several others.  As I read the posts from experts and rookies, I’m amazed at the attitudes and strong opinions concerning guitar amplifiers and the various designs that are available today. For now, I’m not going to discuss the huge market for Boutique amplifiers as they deserve their own blog. However, I will be offering some thoughts on tube, solid-state, hybrid, and modeling amps and their pros and cons.  Each type has its strong points and weaknesses, so I’ve listed some of those below.

Tube Amplifiers

This design type is arguably the most used and sought after amplifier type and has been since dinosaurs roamed the earth in search of the ultimate guitar amp sound. Most players will agree that the tonal characteristics, breakup and distortion, and the vintage appeal they can provide are the go-to choice. Prices range from several hundred to several thousand dollars and there are many players that search high and low for that old Fender, Vox or Marshall retro tube amp. Lastly, a tube amp’s sound is directly affected by the brand, type and design of the tubes plugged into the amp. All tubes sound slightly different from ac15 rearothers. Even the same type tube from a single manufacturer can sound different. For some players this is a cool thing, but for others it’s frustrating because of the lack of sonic consistency.  The old tubes from the 1950’s and 60’s made by GE, RCA, Telefunken and Mulard are long gone.  But the same designs are utilized by today’s Russian & Asian tube makers.  There’s even a large group of players who seek out N.I.B or N.O.S tubes in hopes of finding that perfect 12ax7 preamp tube from RCA. 

Pros: Great sound, warm present tone, sought-after breakup

Cons: Expensive (new or used), failure rate (they get hot and tubes blow up) and heavy

Mfgs: Vox, Fender, Supro, Peavey, Marshall, Orange, Mesa Boogie, Randall, Laney, Blackstar, Bogner & many others

Solid State

While technology has allowed this type of amp design to have many advantages on paper, the audible output is often a bit questionable. Jazz guitarists or players who utilize a “clean” output feel that Solid State is the way to go. Furthermore, these amps are often budget friendly, and can offer a better variety of tones from that of tube amps.  But if you are seeking that ultimate heavy metal overdrive sound, look elsewhere.peavey solid state

Pros: Budget friendly, light weight, reliability, increased tone options

Cons: Odd sounding at loud volumes, questionable overdrive (distortion)

Mfgs: Peavey, Roland, Fender, Ibanez, Orange, Marshall, Acoustic, Line 6, Blackstar & more


These amps combine both solid state and tube elements and can vary drastically in their design. Years ago, as tubes were thought to be falling out of favor, designers were using tubes in the amp’s power amplifier stage in hopes of obtaining smoother distortion at high volumes and figuring the front end or pre-amp section would be better sounding with solid state technology employed. Frankly, this configuration sucked (I had a Peavey 212 classic and hated it.) In recent years, developers have applied the opposite thought process, having tubes drive the pre-amp (front end) and solid state technology being used to drive the output section. While this reverse design practice has provided better results, there are still many of the same limitations as with pure solid state products.

Mfgs: Vox, Bugera, Fender, Line 6, Hughes & Ketner, Marshall & more

Modeling (digital)

These design types are the newest choice for players and combine the later hybrid technology with advanced digital processing concepts that allow users an almost limitless choice of sounds. Most brands include usb (and even Bluetooth) computer Line 6 top panelconnectivity giving the modern player an in-depth, hands on interface to create and build their own custom sound. These amps have the ability to convincingly mimic both tube and solid state amp sounds and are often the go-to choice for younger players who have grown up with digital, computer control as a way of life.  These amps are also great for recording projects as they offer so much variety.

Mfgs: Peavey, Vox, Fender, Line 6 & others

There are many other factors to consider when thinking about which type of amp to buy. Cabinet design, speaker size, built-in FX, channel switching, effects loops, reverb and tremolo all either directly affect the sound or are added features to help you tailor the sound to your liking. There is no right or wrong design when choosing, because trying them all is key.  Keeping an open mind will help sort out the many choices that are available.

So how do they sound and compare to each other sonically? Well, that’s a question that should be answered by you, the user. What sounds great to me may sound terrible to you, but our differing opinions don’t mean any brand is bad or should be tagged as a “don’t buy”. But here are my thoughts….. For me, I love the sound of solid state amps at lower volumes. The breakup or distortion is typically smooth and almost creamy sounding. I also like the reliability of these types. I have a 1994 Peavey Transtube 112 guitar amp gutsthat has been through countless gigs and performed reliably. It’s light weight and looks good, but if I’m playing a larger stage or have to crank it up, it suffers from poor sound. I have found that most solid state amps (along with hybrid and modeling amps) don’t sound very good at higher volumes, especially if you are looking for a smooth overdrive sound. I like to say that these amps, when cranked, sound like a “box of bees”. But for clean, non-distorted sound, they can be a go-to choice. For tube amps, the opposite seems true. At lower volumes, the sound can be considered somewhat thin. But when cranked, the overdrive and distortion are fantastic. There’s nothing better than a Vox or Marshall cranked up giving you those creamy and chimey sounds. But again, sound is subjective. I think a cranked Fender tube amp sounds like it’s going to explode. They often sound as though there’s something wrong and sorta gritty. I once heard a studio producer say that a Fender amp should never be set to anything higher than a volume of 4.  But I’m not sure this is very realistic.

In conclusion, try’em all. Try starting with the many videos and amp reviews from players that are available on YouTube.  But keep in mind these videos are a starting point, and they shouldn’t be used to make a final purchasing decision.  Why..?  Because using your ear buds or computer speakers to truly hear what an amp will do is silly. Bring your favorite guitar to a local music dealer and try every amplifier in your budget. Let your ears (and wallet) make the choice. Don’t be biased because of player perceptions of a given technology or brand.  If the choices for you of local music stores are limited, try purchasing an amp online from the many retailers like American Musical Supply who offer great pricing, flexible return policies and have a vast selection of brands and models. Don’t get frustrated, have fun and crank it to 11 (it’s one more).

Do’s & Don’ts for Small Festival Providers

Do’s & Don’ts for Small Festival Providers

In my last post, I discussed assembling a survival kit for the upcoming outdoor festival season. Continuing with that theme, I’ll talk about and list some do’s and don’ts concerning the setup and deployment of gear on show day, dealing with festival organizers, ego-driven entertainers, and stage safety. While I realize many of my readers are pro’s and might argue the merits of some of my points, the target audience for this blog is for the technician or crew member who is new to the business. For you industry veterans, you might look at this as a quick refresher for your crew, especially when it comes to safety.

Do – Assemble a notebook that includes entertainment and festival information such as the daily entertainment schedule, stage plots, sponsor lists and contact information for fest organizers, security etc. This book will be a valuable guide for you and your team and should be used as a road map during any festival.

Don’t – Have a lazy “we’ll deal with whatever, whenever” attitude to your business. Festival organizers and the entertainment will notice your half-ass approach, which will yield more problems and sour attitudes than you need.

Do – Bring more “accessory” type support equipment than not. I can tell you that extra mic cables, DI boxes, mic clips, MP3 cables, gaff tape, gaffers tape shirtclamps, bungee cords, tie-down straps(and ratchets) and tarps will save the day. I always brought plenty of the large barrel size garbage bags. They are ideal to slide a wedge monitor into and can be used to help keep many other items dry. I can tell you that sending one of your techs back to the shop or to the nearest Home Depot to get any of this stuff is a waste of time, will add to your job costs (which directly effect your net revenue) and makes for a stressful work environment.

Don’t – Have the attitude that inclement weather is no big deal. I’ve heard people say “we’ve prayed for it to not rain”, or “we’ll be fine”. This is absolutely the wrong perspective and Mother Nature will not listen. It’s always better to be prepared for worst case scenarios when considering what can quickly happen when dealing with the weather. Bring more tarps than may be necessary. If your gear and the stage are under a tent, don’t think that tent will not collapse under the force of heavy rain and gusting winds. My crew has heard me say a thousand times “eyes to the sky” and “golf course rules”. storm radarWith today’s smart phones, there’s no reason to not be checking a weather app and radar to see if any bad stuff is coming. If it looks as though you are in the path of a storm, alert your crew, the entertainment and the event organizers that inclement weather may be approaching. Have your tarps ready; save your gear!! If you hear thunder in the distance, you can be hit by lightning. So caution has to be the rule. More often than not, musicians will want to play on through when it’s raining. Don’t do it! Using electrical equipment in wet conditions is no different than taking a bath with your toaster. Standing on a wet stage, playing a guitar or touching a metal audio mixer is just stupid. Those of you who have been through a real electric shock can tell you it’s absolutely brutal and can kill. Similarly, people will want to run under the tent during rain or storms. Bad Idea. Why? Because a tent frame made of metal and can become a giant lightning rod. You are safer standing in the street getting wet rather than under the tent. For me, I always demand the final say as to when to shut down the system, pull power cords and cover the gear and, when the storm passes, when (or if) the stage will be ready to start back up.

Do – Be cautious after a storm has passed. Just because the rain and wind have subsided doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Check the radar to see if any trailing storms are again heading to your location. Often on the hot, humid days, a storm can hit within minutes of the last one. There’s nothing worse than pulling your wet tarps off the gear, starting a stage re-set, then having to scurry to tarp up the gear a few minutes later.Festival Goers In Rain Additionally, there may be standing water or puddles on or around the stage. Standing in water with wet clothes when firing up the amp rack is silly. Use common sense when dealing with water and electrical equipment. Leave the barbecue’n to the food vendors. Lastly, the fest organizers may pressure you to get the stage going and the entertainment performing. Before allowing this, check your equipment for moisture, make sure the stage is dry and don’t take chances. Sometimes those organizers are not thinking clearly when they are dealing with a wet festival, empty streets and sinking revenue because of rain.

Don’t – Be bitchy to the performers. Yeah I know, performers’ egos can be hard to deal with during tough festival conditions. But taking the high road and pocketing your attitude is the best policy for success. Sound, lighting and crew members in general have gained a long-standing reputation for being stupid, grumpy, dirty and more. Be the exception to this old and sometimes deserved perspective. Frankly, a less-is-more attitude is the way to go here.

Do – Be sensible when cranking up the system and setting volume levels. Just because you have a 20k watt PA doesn’t mean it needs to be at full throttle during the first band who plays for a couple hundred children at 10am. I always tried to give the system someplace to go. Start at a sensible and moderate output level and increase as the day moves on. decibel meterThe time to crank it is during the headliner or last act. Similarly, keep the break time or between band music at a lower level (unless fest organizers want it cranked). Doing this serves several purposes. First, it gives you, your crew and the audience a chance to rest your ears. Second, it allows the next act to stand apart from the between-act music. Also, always consider your environment when providing break music. Typical family fests will likely frown upon Ozzie being cranked at 11am during the kids’ band’s break. This music is not for you. Nobody wants to listen to your Yes, Genesis, Outfield mix disc. I like to ask the fest organizers to provide a preloaded iPod containing their choice for appropriate music. Just remember, you’re in a family environment.

Don’t – keep you stage messy and cluttered. Maintaining a clean, safe stage is a reflection of how you do your business. Be sure to properly wind cables that are not in use and place them in designated tubs, trunks or cases. Mic lines, speaker cable runs, snakes etc. should always be taped down or secured so your crew and those providing entertainment don’t trip. Messy Cables On StageThere’s nothing worse than jumping up on a stage and hitting a loose cord and having it roll under your feet, resulting in a fall on your ass. Similarly, keep case lids, empty transports, tarps and anything not used during the day out of site and safely secured. Put empty food and drink containers in the garbage. Remind the on-stage entertainers to clean the stage upon their conclusion. You and your crew are not their maids or the stage janitors.

Do – Keep the kids, band friends and non-authorized personnel off the stage and out of your work areas. Don’t think twice about finding security personnel should a beer-enhanced patron be giving you trouble. Don’t place these types of situations in your own hands, as it will only make the situation worse.

Don’t – Invite family and friends to sit under the front-of-house tent. Remember, you are working, not providing V.I.P. seating and cooler storage for your buddies. They will get in the way and can prevent you from doing your job. As a musician, I can tell you there is nothing more frustrating than to be on stage and trying to get the attention of the sound guy, only to find them preoccupied talking with their friends or texting and not doing their job.

Do – Be ready for the evening. Make sure your front-of-house tent has light so you can see your gear. Think ahead. Is everything ready for the sun’s exit? Do you have flashlights? View from FOHRemember that when the sun goes down, the weirdos come out. Keep a sharp eye on your gear, the stage and the front-of-house area. With the headliners playing during the evening, the crowd will likely be large and sometimes can hamper your ability to get to the stage when needed. I often will position one of my staff at each side of the stage when crowds are large. If you are behind the mixer, keep your head up. Too often I see front-of-house engineers with their head down and staring at the mixer. Look around at what’s going on and anticipate any potential issues. Remember, visual communication with the on-stage entertainers is important.

Don’t – Leave anything behind when loading out. Once the trucks are loaded and before you’re ready to leave, do a walk through and check the stage, under the stage, front-of-house location and adjacent areas for stray gear. You’ll often be surprised at what you’ll find.

I’m sure I’ve left out some other hints. But I think if you implement these simple suggestions, your event will go as expected, your staff will be safe and booking that same job for next year will be easy.

Staging Crews Get Ready

Staging Crews Get Ready

Here we are in April and, for most large and small sound and staging companies and our teams, it’s time to get ready for the outdoor season. You’ve likely spent the late fall and winter resting up from last summer’s fests and shows, while cleaning gear, painting cabinets and doing the all-important, down-time maintenance.

If you’re the company’s new guy, you’ve likely been told to start scraping some type of dried human funk off the cables, cases and racks.

Gear Repair

Those of you who are lucky enough to have purchased new equipment during this time are probably busy learning the cumbersome menus of a new digital mixer, experimenting with new settings on that speaker management processor and even doing some tests on those new speaker rigs that will be deployed at the many festivals during the coming months.

In a matter of just days, it’ll be time to start the real work. But this is the fun part. Seeing all your hard work during the past several months being successfully used on stage by local and national acts is a great feeling. The sound, the looks and the positive comments are why we do this. Yeah, I know, the money is kind of important too. As much as our family and friends might think we do this for the love of it, we also realize we do this for a living.

homewood days gear in shop

Having worked as a crew member, stage manager, sound engineer and company owner, I’m continuously amazed at what I see the crews and employees do to themselves during the busy season. Let’s not forget that we have heavy lifting, harsh weather, ear-damaging volume, ungrateful audiences, porta-potties and more to deal with on a daily basis . I think you’d agree that what we put ourselves through is rough, taxing and seems to make us old quicker than many other career choices. And don’t get me started on the food… festival food… under-cooked burgers, barbecued everything and God knows what’s in that deep-fryer…? Why does my deep-fried ice cream kinda taste like fish?

So in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d toss out a few tips and reminders to help us get through, be safe and have more fun in this sometimes harsh outdoor festival environment.

Bring a survival kit and cooler. Too often I see rookies show up for work with just the clothes on their back. By the end of a hot and humid day, these young and strong individuals are sometimes useless, smell bad, have sunburn and they seem to frequently disappear, often having found the love of a certain outdoor toilet. So, he’s what I pack and bring..

  • A couple changes of clothing
  • Back brace
  • Extra socks & shoes (changing your socks can revive sore feet and a tired back)
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellent
  • Antacid & anti-diarrhea meds
  • Work gloves (ones with sticky-grip palms can help for lifting those slick cabinets)
  • Sun glasses
  • Ear protection
  • Jacket (cuz it can get cold at night)
  • Hat
  • Disposable rain poncho
  • Energy bars, crackers, granola (snacks with salt and sugar)
  • Lots of cold water (bring a small cooler)
  • Juice or clear soda (try to avoid caffeine as it can dehydrate you)
  • Flashlight, pocket knife or Leatherman
  • Breath mints (for the benefit of your coworkers)
  • Anti-fungal (yes guys… for your feet and that other area)
  • Eye drops or wash
  • Wet wipes or baby wipes
  • Extra cash, your ID (do I really need to tell you this?)

I know you’re thinking “this guy wants me to bring my luggage to work”. Yup! Bring anything that will make you feel comfortable and allow you to work better and safer. Don’t wear a tank top. All that exposed skin can assist in getting sunburn on more areas. Plus they look unprofessional. Who the hell wants to see your arm pit hair, etc. My employees get sent home if they show up for work wearing one of these. Frankly, you just need to act and look like you give a shit.

Lastly, let me discuss dehydration, overheating & heat stroke Web MD: Heat Exhaustion . I can’t stress the importance of staying hydrated. Having been a victim of heatstroke, I can tell you it’s scary and can kill you. It will get the best of you and make you drop before you realize it’s too late. And it can get you even when you think you’re sufficiently hydrated. Some years ago I was working at a local fest doing sound and thought I was properly hydrated. However, the 100+ temps combined with 90% humidity kicked my ass. I woke up in an ambulance not understanding what had happened.


A week-long stay in the hospital taught me a valuable lesson….. water, water, water. My doctor told me to look at my urine. If there is any color to it, I’m not drinking enough water or fluids. Absolutely stay away from coffee, energy drinks and caffeinated drink. They will all contribute to your being dehydrated. Please notice I didn’t mention sports drinks in my list above, like Gatorade. While they have their purpose, continuously slamming these will only give you diarrhea, which also contributes to dehydration. I can tell you from experience that there’s nothing worse than having this issue and having to live in a hot, smelly porta-potty. It’s not a good time. Don’t think that by power-driving Gatorade, you’re doing yourself any favors.

Lastly…. Alcohol consumption is also a factor in contributing to dehydration. I No Alcoholguess the more important question would be why you’re drinking on the job?

But I’ll leave that answer to the shrinks. As a business owner, my rule for the crew was, that on nights when there is no tear down involved, you can have a beer after the last set of the last band has started. Though through the years, I’m always pleased to see that very few of my employees had any desire to “drink” after a day of festival sound, lights and stage turns dealing with musicians. For most of us, the end of the work day meant going home, taking a long shower and collapsing in bed in hopes of a good night’s sleep. Remember, you likely have to do the whole thing again tomorrow….

Thanks for reading and listening to me and my motherly ways. Be safe out there this festival season. It’s a great job, of which many are envious.

So who’s this Rooster dude?

So who’s this Rooster dude?

This morning after reviewing the new sign ups to, I thought it would be helpful if I gave you a little of my history and background.

Once upon a time in a land far far away (or Illinois), my parents signed me up for Cub Scouts where, after lots of pack meetings, we attended the annual Blue & Gold dinner. I think I was like six or maybe seven years old at the time and remember eating more than my weight in garlic bread and fried chicken. At that dinner was an entertainer who played guitar and interacted with the audience. For some reason, I was picked to join him on stage where he gave me some claves, showed me how to hold and play them and then I accompanied him for a song or two. To say I was a music junkie from that day on would be an understatement. Shortly thereafter, my family was visiting an uncle who let me attempt to pay his ukulele. Again, I was bitten by the music bug. My parents quickly saw my interest (and listened to my nagging) and bought me a small student guitar and I started lessons at home from Mr. Fuller. He would arrive once a week, wearing his jacket and tie while toting his guitar. This guy was a true music teacher.  He thought me how to read music and to understand and appreciate the theory behind what we were trying to accomplish with my lessons. He showed me how to change my guitar strings and how to care and respect the guitar that I deeply loved. Continue reading

We Get to Use a Soundman…!

We Get to Use a Soundman…!

Festival season is right around the corner. If your band is lucky, you’ve booked several local or regional fests as either an opening or headliner act. While few fests will require you to provide a PA system for your show, the good news is you have less gear to transport. And since the festival organizers have secured a sound & lighting company to handle this aspect, things should go relatively smooth. But for those of you who are new to this, or who haven’t had to deal with a sound company and moody sound technicians, there are a few helpful and important tips I’ll discuss here. Continue reading

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