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LAB Best Threads: Bright Ideas About Stage Power

Damaged AC power drops, cut ground wires, and discrepancies over international word choices...

Editor’s Note: Here’s an interesting thread from the PSW Live Audio Board (LAB) forums. It’s lightly edited for grammar and formatting. Enjoy.

Posted by Jay
Last weekend I refused to let a band roadie (did the setup but didn’t mix or anything) use their own stage drops at the front of the stage.

One of the drops I did approve was a Hubbell 4-plex with the low profile plastic box. One I rejected was the same but broken and held together with tape. As he was moving it, the box clearly opened to show the supply wire.

He also has a bunch of metal drops in various states of repair that I totally refused. My front line in this venue has 12 outlets available as molded tri taps that I pointed out before setup, I never did figure out why that wasn’t enough, possibly he was just used to using what they had.

My concerns were based on the height of the stage and the fact that these boxes are easily accessible to the audience. As a matter of fact they are right where people tend to put their drinks, hands, bags and all the other things they find inconvenient to hold in a bar. Audience members were far more likely to come in contact with them than the band members.

The poor condition of many of the cables they had did not leave me confident about the condition of any of them. Rather than checking each cable for safety, a blanket NO was a better answer within our time constraints.

I am still not sure about the Hubbell 4-plex. While a neat idea as a drop they look a bit fragile (or these were really rode hard) and probably need constant checking.

Just a reminder that no matter hold good your power distribution scheme is, someone may walk up and try to set up something that is potentially hazardous.

Reply by Rob
I have a bunch of quad boxes with Powercon in/out. One has a GFCI in it so anything downstream is also protected. On a small stage I will put 2 boxes upstage and a couple of power strips with 13′ cables (and no off switches) that can be used for pedal boards. Larger stages get the upstage set and also a downstage set.

I often gaff over house outlets so I know where everyone is getting their power and the whole rig is on one safety ground. Just wanted to add a few LESSER items that affect the singer’s perceived volume, since everyone else discussed the primary ones.

Reply by Mike
I have a bunch of the Whirlwind distro boxes with Powercon In/Out connections which work great. It’s also fun to freak out the stage crew who assume they’re using Speakon connectors. 

I’ve never thought of gaffing over the house outlets, but that’s a great idea. But that won’t stop the guest artist from plugging in a guitar amp with an open ground. I find that a quick check with a NCVT like Fluke VoltAlert or Klein NCVT-1 will find a stage amp with a floating chassis from an open ground.

It may just be a matter of being familiar with what he already has, although that’s no excuse for it being in such poor repair.  It’s usually the venue outlets that are falling apart after being abused by an endless parade of musicians and their roadies. 

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Reply by Geoff
Like Rob, I try to use my own distro as much as possible because I know it works and there won’t be any unexpected ground loops. And the scariest thing I’ve seen lately was a muso with his pedal board powered by a Speakon!  I mentioned to him that they now have a “proper” connector for doing that. Says he,“Yeah, but if I lose this cable, I can gets the parts to make another ANYWHERE.”  I guess I can’t argue with that logic.

Reply by Lyle
The minimum standard you accept ends up being the maximum amount of protection you can rely on.

Reply by Mike
I once had a bass player bring his amp into my shop for repair and while I had it opened up noticed that the safety ground wire inside was cut and taped off. So it had an intact ground pin on the power cord that wasn’t connected to the chassis. He told me one of this stage crew had done that for him to stop the humming. Assume nothing!

Reply by Frank
Ain’t it grand to have such helpful stage crew who has your best interest at heart?

Reply by Josh
Along those same lines, one of the scarier things I have seen in the lighting world was an outfit that was using NL-8 connectors as the means to connect their light bars to the dimmer rack. I mean sure, they are rated for 20 Amps per contact, but that doesn’t mean it is okay to use them as power connectors!!!

I guess NL-8 connectors are way cheaper than Soco connectors, so he has that going for him. Good grief… I can’t believe some people think this kind of thing is acceptable.

Reply by Andrew
Pet peeve of mine…. Why do Americans always say “Soco” (pronouncing it Sock-Oh)? The connector was originally called a SocaPex. For God sake, will you please stop saying “Socko”? How did that even start? The correct short form is Soca (“Soak-Ah”). How do these things ever get started?

Reply by Mike
Hey, my British buddies always give me a hard time when I ask for the “saw-dur” instead of “sol-dur” when I’m soldering a connection. I think the aluminum vs. aluminium debacle has been covered here already.

Reply by David
And I suppose it should be “distri” instead of “distro”

Reply by Andrew

Reply by Jonathan
Didn’t know you could sol-dur al-you-min-ee-um.

Reply by Mike
But the Brits sound so darn intelligent when they say it like that.

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