Re-Post: Guest Post: How to Use Amps and Iso Cabs on Stage, Part 2

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

Kevin McPeakKevin McPeak is the Creative Director at EastLake Church in Chula Vista, California. He is a proponent of both tubes and digits.  You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kevinmcpeak or find him on Facebook.  Kevin has kindly agreed to lend us some of his expertise in technical issues and will be posting from time to time.

Part 1 is available here.

Q: I play electric guitar and love my amp sound, but we donʼt use amps on stage because of stage volume. Is there some way I can use my amp so it does not impact stage volume?

Well, first off, letʼs identify the problem, because that will help us find a solution. The reasons that our mix engineer wants us to keep stage volume under control are many:

  • stage volume blurs front of house (FOH) mix clarity
  • stage volume creates ever-increasing demand for volume from stage monitors
  • stage volume leads to “hot spots” and “cold spots” where instruments are either too loud or too soft
  • stage volume dramatically limits the FOH engineerʼs ability to create a thoughtfully and musically designed mix.

So letʼs be clear: amps arenʼt the problem in and of themselves; the problem is that amps tend to get treated like personal monitors and turned up too loud. Furthermore, many amps donʼt sound their best without running at a decent volume. How the heck do we solve the problem?

Letʼs say that youʼve already got a combo amp – in other words, a single unit that has both the amplifier section and the speaker – that you love and you donʼt want to purchase an external cabinet or haul around something big. What can you do then?

In our case, we have an all-tube Mesa Boogie combo amp that our electric guitar 2 volunteers generally use. Although the amp can power an external cabinet, the amp already contains a perfectly matched built in 12” speaker, so we asked one of our volunteers to construct an iso cabinet for the amp.

This is what he made:

Iso Cube front

Iso Cube back

As you can see, itʼs effectively a four-sided cube. (For those of you trying to figure this out, a cube is a six-sided object with equally-sized sides. In the case of the iso cabinet above, we have a cube with no bottom and one side missing.

Okay, itʼs really not a cube because it doesn’t have equal sides. But I slept in Geometry class the day we talked about six-sided objects with unequally sized sides, so you will just have to go with it being called a “cube.”  If any of you would like to educate me as to the correct term for a six-sided object comprised of unequally sized sides, Iʼm happy to listen. If I can stay awake.)

You can see that the idea is to point the business end of the amp into the box. The top and interior walls are lined with sound baffling material and the floor takes care of itself by being carpeted. (If your stage floor is a hard, flat surface, you may want to throw a small rug in there.) This all works together to create a tremendous reduction in the sound output from the amp.

However, there is a catch in this case, and itʼs a very important one: this combo amp has an open-back cabinet.

Front side:

Mesa Boogie Amp frontBack side:

Mesa Boogie Amp back

As you can see, the back of the amp is open. (Thus the name, right?) Many guitarists prefer the tone produced by open-back amps. Open-back cabinets create a challenge because the back of the cabinet emits quite a lot of sound; putting an isolation box on the front of the amp only solves part of the problem of lowering stage volume.

In our case, we solved this problem by placing the amp off-stage, behind a thick curtain, and against a Tectum wall.  You could also create a matching iso box for the back side of the amp to limit the sound coming off the open-back side.  Make sure, however, that you allow sufficient airflow in and out of the amp because the amp will overheat and fail without airflow.

Have another technical question you would like Kevin to answer?  Post your question in the comments.

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Re-Post: Guest Post: How to Use Amps and Iso Cabs on Stage, Part 1

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

Kevin McPeak is the Creative Director at EastLake Church in Chula Vista, California. He isKevin McPeak a proponent of both tubes and digits.  You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kevinmcpeak or find him on Facebook.  Kevin has kindly agreed to lend us some of his expertise in technical issues and will be posting from time to time.

Q: I play electric guitar and love my amp sound, but we donʼt use amps on stage because of stage volume. Is there some way I can use my amp so it does not impact stage volume?

Well, first off, letʼs identify the problem, because that will help us find a solution. The reasons that our mix engineer wants us to keep stage volume under control are many:

  • stage volume blurs front of house (FOH) mix clarity
  • stage volume creates ever-increasing demand for volume from stage monitors
  • stage volume leads to “hot spots” and “cold spots” where instruments are either too loud or too soft
  • stage volume dramatically limits the FOH engineerʼs ability to create a thoughtfully and musically designed mix.

So letʼs be clear: amps arenʼt the problem in and of themselves; the problem is that amps tend to get treated like personal monitors and turned up too loud. Furthermore, many amps donʼt sound their best without running at a decent volume. How the heck do we solve the problem?

First, you may want to give amp modeling a shot. The technology of amp modeling has come a long way in the past few years, so if you tried it before and you didnʼt like it, you might want to try it again. The versatility and tone quality of most amp modelers has gotten quite good.

But letʼs say that youʼre like me and youʼre one of those finicky tube amp people. Youʼve spent a lot of time on your tone and have finally found something you want to stick with, but itʼs dependent upon that magical combination of guitar, whiz-bang pedals, and amp. And at least for me, part of getting the tone I like involves turning up the amp a bit and letting the tubes do what they do, and that requires me to run at a higher volume. When thatʼs the case, what can you do to keep your tone intact but keep the FOH engineer from throwing darts at you?

A few years back, I decided to solve this by purchasing an isolation cabinet for my beloved amp. An isolation cabinet – also commonly called an iso cab – is an enclosed box within which a speaker and a microphone are mounted. The iso cab also commonly features sound baffling to help reduce the amount of sound that emanates from the cabinet once itʼs closed up.

What does it look like? Iʼm glad you asked. First off, hereʼs how it looks from the outside (itʼs the box on the bottom):

As you can see, it functions much like any other speaker cabinet in an important way: It gives me something to set my amp on. (After all, we couldnʼt put these tube amps directly on the floor, could we?) Bear in mind that the cabinet is a completely enclosed box. But how do we see whatʼs inside? Check out the picture below:

Once you open up the cabinet door, you can see the microphone and stand that are used to pick up the natural tone of the amp and speaker. (See below for a closer look.)

The idea is then to take the microphoneʼs signal from the iso cab and send it back to the mixer, where the FOH engineer can use as much – or sometimes as little – of it as he/she needs to create a workable mix. But the use of the iso cab allows me to open up and let the amp sing a little bit without generating angry looks from everyone else in the room.

For the tone purists, itʼs reasonable to ask if the iso cabs alter the sound in any way. The short answer is that they do. My experience has been that iso cabs can inhibit spaciousness a bit, but thatʼs not unreasonable if you consider that the sound is being picked up in a small, padded box. However, for the purposes of live sound, the benefit thatʼs gained by using a favorite amp more than offsets a modest alteration in tone.

So, if youʼve got a favorite tube amp that you want to use in a live setting but your FOH engineer keeps giving you the stinkeye when you bring it in, itʼs time to start thinking about getting yourself an isolation cabinet so you can turn it up to 11 and let that amp sing.

Have another technical question you would like Kevin to answer?  Post your question in the comments.

Guest Post: How to Use Amps and Iso Cabs on Stage, Part 2

Kevin McPeakKevin McPeak is the Creative Director at EastLake Church in Chula Vista, California. He is a proponent of both tubes and digits.  You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kevinmcpeak or find him on Facebook.  Kevin has kindly agreed to lend us some of his expertise in technical issues and will be posting from time to time.

Part 1 is available here.

Q: I play electric guitar and love my amp sound, but we donʼt use amps on stage because of stage volume. Is there some way I can use my amp so it does not impact stage volume?

Well, first off, letʼs identify the problem, because that will help us find a solution. The reasons that our mix engineer wants us to keep stage volume under control are many:

  • stage volume blurs front of house (FOH) mix clarity
  • stage volume creates ever-increasing demand for volume from stage monitors
  • stage volume leads to “hot spots” and “cold spots” where instruments are either too loud or too soft
  • stage volume dramatically limits the FOH engineerʼs ability to create a thoughtfully and musically designed mix.

So letʼs be clear: amps arenʼt the problem in and of themselves; the problem is that amps tend to get treated like personal monitors and turned up too loud. Furthermore, many amps donʼt sound their best without running at a decent volume. How the heck do we solve the problem?

Letʼs say that youʼve already got a combo amp – in other words, a single unit that has both the amplifier section and the speaker – that you love and you donʼt want to purchase an external cabinet or haul around something big. What can you do then?

In our case, we have an all-tube Mesa Boogie combo amp that our electric guitar 2 volunteers generally use. Although the amp can power an external cabinet, the amp already contains a perfectly matched built in 12” speaker, so we asked one of our volunteers to construct an iso cabinet for the amp.

This is what he made:

Iso Cube front

Iso Cube back

As you can see, itʼs effectively a four-sided cube. (For those of you trying to figure this out, a cube is a six-sided object with equally-sized sides. In the case of the iso cabinet above, we have a cube with no bottom and one side missing.

Okay, itʼs really not a cube because it doesn’t have equal sides. But I slept in Geometry class the day we talked about six-sided objects with unequally sized sides, so you will just have to go with it being called a “cube.”  If any of you would like to educate me as to the correct term for a six-sided object comprised of unequally sized sides, Iʼm happy to listen. If I can stay awake.)

You can see that the idea is to point the business end of the amp into the box. The top and interior walls are lined with sound baffling material and the floor takes care of itself by being carpeted. (If your stage floor is a hard, flat surface, you may want to throw a small rug in there.) This all works together to create a tremendous reduction in the sound output from the amp.

However, there is a catch in this case, and itʼs a very important one: this combo amp has an open-back cabinet.

Front side:

Mesa Boogie Amp frontBack side:

Mesa Boogie Amp back

As you can see, the back of the amp is open. (Thus the name, right?) Many guitarists prefer the tone produced by open-back amps. Open-back cabinets create a challenge because the back of the cabinet emits quite a lot of sound; putting an isolation box on the front of the amp only solves part of the problem of lowering stage volume.

In our case, we solved this problem by placing the amp off-stage, behind a thick curtain, and against a Tectum wall.  You could also create a matching iso box for the back side of the amp to limit the sound coming off the open-back side.  Make sure, however, that you allow sufficient airflow in and out of the amp because the amp will overheat and fail without airflow.

Have another technical question you would like Kevin to answer?  Post your question in the comments.

How to Make Your Quiet Time Creative

I love quiet time with God, but often I find it helpful to do something creative with my time.  I am a creative person, after all, so why shouldn’t I?

Innovation

The basics of time with God:

  1. Scheduled – If it’s not on the calendar it won’t happen.
  2. Time – It has to be more than a passing prayer or thought.
  3. Alone – Remove distractions.
  4. Bible – God speaks most often through his Word.
  5. Prayer – Speaking with and listening for God.
  6. Journal – Often it helps to write down your thoughts.

In reality I could simply read the Bible, speak to and listen for God, and journal every day and probably have a good relationship with God.  Ultimately exclusive time with him and a heart inclined to him are all that are needed.

But if I am honest I sometimes can slip into routine and take God for granted.

Here is where creativity comes in.

Creativity can:

  1. Refresh your interest by breaking routine.
  2. Reframe old truths in new light.
  3. Reveal new truths because your mind is working differently.

Recently I decided I wanted to do something different, something creative.  The verse of the day on my YouVersion app was 1 John 4:18-19 (CEV):

A real love for others will chase those worries away.  The thought of being punished is what makes us afraid.  It shows that we have not really learned to love.  We love because God loved us first.

This verse really struck a chord with me, so I decided to dive into it a bit more.  Here is what I did:

  1. I read the verses in several translations to get a full picture of the verse’s meaning.  I usually read the Amplified Version (AMP), the New International Version (NIV), the Contemporary English Version (CEV, and the English Standard Version (ESV).  Sometimes I also read The Message (MSG) translation.
  2. I wrote out how the verses impacted me in light of what I was experiencing in my life.
  3. I wrote out my conversation, or prayer, with God.  I have found that writing out my prayers can be very illuminating.
  4. I wrote a song based on those verses.  So far I have only two verses and a chorus (it needs a Bridge), but I felt like I was able to put into song form the encouragement I needed that day.

Here are the lyrics:

When I am afraid
I will trust in You
When life is hard
I will trust in You
When feelings fade
I will trust in You
When friends betray
I will trust in You

Your love is deeper
Your love is fuller
Your love has overcome my every fear
All of my worries
All of my trouble
Your love has overcome my every fear

When I am alone
I will trust in You
When I am wrong
I will trust in You
When my words fail
I will trust in You
When hope is gone
I will trust in You 

Your love is deeper
Your love is fuller
Your love has overcome my every fear
All of my worries
All of my trouble
Your love has overcome my every fear

What creative things have you done during your quiet time?

Guest Post: How to Use Amps and Iso Cabs on Stage, Part 1

Kevin McPeak at work.

Kevin McPeak is the Creative Director at EastLake Church in Chula Vista, California. He is a proponent of both tubes and digits.  You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kevinmcpeak or find him on Facebook.  Kevin has kindly agreed to lend us some of his expertise in technical issues and will be posting from time to time.

Q: I play electric guitar and love my amp sound, but we donʼt use amps on stage because of stage volume. Is there some way I can use my amp so it does not impact stage volume?

Well, first off, letʼs identify the problem, because that will help us find a solution. The reasons that our mix engineer wants us to keep stage volume under control are many:

  • stage volume blurs front of house (FOH) mix clarity
  • stage volume creates ever-increasing demand for volume from stage monitors
  • stage volume leads to “hot spots” and “cold spots” where instruments are either too loud or too soft
  • stage volume dramatically limits the FOH engineerʼs ability to create a thoughtfully and musically designed mix.

So letʼs be clear: amps arenʼt the problem in and of themselves; the problem is that amps tend to get treated like personal monitors and turned up too loud. Furthermore, many amps donʼt sound their best without running at a decent volume. How the heck do we solve the problem?

First, you may want to give amp modeling a shot. The technology of amp modeling has come a long way in the past few years, so if you tried it before and you didnʼt like it, you might want to try it again. The versatility and tone quality of most amp modelers has gotten quite good.

But letʼs say that youʼre like me and youʼre one of those finicky tube amp people. Youʼve spent a lot of time on your tone and have finally found something you want to stick with, but itʼs dependent upon that magical combination of guitar, whiz-bang pedals, and amp. And at least for me, part of getting the tone I like involves turning up the amp a bit and letting the tubes do what they do, and that requires me to run at a higher volume. When thatʼs the case, what can you do to keep your tone intact but keep the FOH engineer from throwing darts at you?

A few years back, I decided to solve this by purchasing an isolation cabinet for my beloved amp. An isolation cabinet – also commonly called an iso cab – is an enclosed box within which a speaker and a microphone are mounted. The iso cab also commonly features sound baffling to help reduce the amount of sound that emanates from the cabinet once itʼs closed up.

What does it look like? Iʼm glad you asked. First off, hereʼs how it looks from the outside (itʼs the box on the bottom):

As you can see, it functions much like any other speaker cabinet in an important way: It gives me something to set my amp on. (After all, we couldnʼt put these tube amps directly on the floor, could we?) Bear in mind that the cabinet is a completely enclosed box. But how do we see whatʼs inside? Check out the picture below:

Once you open up the cabinet door, you can see the microphone and stand that are used to pick up the natural tone of the amp and speaker. (See below for a closer look.)

The idea is then to take the microphoneʼs signal from the iso cab and send it back to the mixer, where the FOH engineer can use as much – or sometimes as little – of it as he/she needs to create a workable mix. But the use of the iso cab allows me to open up and let the amp sing a little bit without generating angry looks from everyone else in the room.

For the tone purists, itʼs reasonable to ask if the iso cabs alter the sound in any way. The short answer is that they do. My experience has been that iso cabs can inhibit spaciousness a bit, but thatʼs not unreasonable if you consider that the sound is being picked up in a small, padded box. However, for the purposes of live sound, the benefit thatʼs gained by using a favorite amp more than offsets a modest alteration in tone.

So, if youʼve got a favorite tube amp that you want to use in a live setting but your FOH engineer keeps giving you the stinkeye when you bring it in, itʼs time to start thinking about getting yourself an isolation cabinet so you can turn it up to 11 and let that amp sing.

Have another technical question you would like Kevin to answer?  Post your question in the comments.