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Aiming For Consistency: Getting The Electric Guitar “Monster” Under Control

Addressing problems that are common to guitarists who struggle to perform with an audio system.

Several years ago, on a quest to explore Belize, I came across the last thing I expected to find: A professional guitar player. He was actually the manager of a small retreat where we spent a few nights. Between admiring crocodiles and enduring a hurricane, I ended up discussing the “sound mixer versus guitar player” topic with him.

For an incredibly talented player who’s been at it almost as long as I’ve been alive, he was still missing a few pieces of the puzzle. “They can never hear me in the audience,” he griped. “We don’t have anyone here who is good with sound.”

That pushed a few of my buttons, and when he offered to show me a few things, I quickly saw the issue(s). He was having three primary problems, and they’re common to players who struggle to perform with an audio system.


The reverb and effects that sound so awesome from two feet away were not helping in the mix. Another young player I worked with did the same thing. (I called him the “electric hairball.”) His effects included heavy distortion, weird reverbs and random delay. From front of house, I couldn’t tell one chord from another. It was one big washed-out mess.

My Belizean friend was creating a similar situation. His choice of effects generated a tone that was virtually impossible to amplify. I explained that the room was already creating delay and reverb issues, and that his effects were making it worse. From there, we tweaked his effects down to a point where the instrument was still “nasty” enough for him to be happy but clean enough that I could pull it into a mix with some solid definition.


The whole time he was demonstrating his Satriani-style skills, I couldn’t stop staring at the flashing tap delay on his Fender Champion amp. The song was around 85 beats per minute, but the delay light was flashing closer to 100. He had no idea what the tap delay was for.

After showing him how to follow the song tempo by tapping that little button at quarter, half and whole notes, everything changed. His effects began to blend with the song instead of working against it. Simple issue, but too many guitar players seem oblivious to it.

And Finally…

There was the age-old microphone in front of the cabinet versus line output decision. He’d been insisting on giving the sound crew a direct feed instead of letting them mike the cabinet. That might not have been an issue except for the crazy settings he was force-feeding them.

My suggestion? If there are enough inputs available, use both. It gives front of house folks a choice of the better signal or the option of blending the two. Given the option, I prefer to set an SM57 on axis, tight to the grille, aimed about halfway from the dust cap to the surround. It just usually seems to produce an accurate representation of the overall tone.

I also can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve watched a player move the mic, intentionally or by accident. Off-axis positions, distance from the grille, amp settings too loud or too quiet – it all adds up to problems in the house. My tips were simply based on years of being dropped into one church, club, and festival situation after another where we needed consistent techniques that always worked.

I also firmly believe that mixing requires as much diplomacy as skill. This point was verified when my new buddy aggressively shook my hand and thanked me. Advice received with zero resistance.

The battle between the crew and musicians is manageable when we’re legitimately concerned about them and helping them to be their best. Give it a try the next time the electric hairball attacks.

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