There is no easy answer to this fabled (just one of the many words that can be substituted for the immensely overused ‘epic’) battle between guitarists and sound techs. Every answer for sound techs dies with just one experience with the pig-headed (let’s face it guys, we are) I-am-Van-Halen guitarist who yells at you when you try to rearrange the mic on his treble-cranked Marshall Valvestate 100 watt towards the edge of the cone in a desperate attempt to save him the embarrassment of going for the big solo and ice-picking people’s faces off. And every answer for guitarists dies with just one experience with the ex-’80′s-Metallica-roadie sound tech who belittles your tone but somehow manages to make everything coming out of the house speakers, including your carefully crafted Suhr-into-Blackface-Bassman, sound like a poorly recorded version of an Aerosmith B-side. And it’s those experiences that cause us guitarists not to listen when the sound guy asks us to turn down. Or the sound techs not to listen when we try desperately to explain why our amp needs to be louder.

So, rather than trying to give definitive answers, I’ve put down some things that I have wanted at different times in my life for the sound tech and the guitarist to know. These come from real experiences, as although I’m a guitarist first, I am also ultimately in charge of the sound ministry at my church, and do my best to run sound at least once every six months in order to get that ‘Oh’ moment again when my own guest worship leader who I specifically asked to lead worship yells at me to give them more high mids on their vocals…no, not in the monitor…ya, just the house…wait…did you take the reverb off? hehe So, this is my humble list. And reading back over this (yes, I normally don’t do that because I am very not-OCD…but I did this time in order to make sure that each section had the same number of points…yep…this can be a nasty battle, and I wanted very hard to try to be fair out of fright for my own life), I realize that I might do myself good to read back over this, or at least to try to see things from the other person’s perspective, at least a few times a year. :)

What Sound Techs Wish Guitarists Knew

  • You’ve got 5 knobs on your amp. There’s 237 on this board. Give me a second to find the lo mids frequency knob on the second overhead mic so that you can have the ride cymbal sound ‘crispier’ in your monitor.
  • Please be honest with me. If you ask for the vocals to be turned up in the house, and you get frustrated that it doesn’t happen quickly enough, and then you just say, ‘Okay, it’s fine’, then you’re just going to get bitter inside and then bite my head off when I say, ‘How’s everyone’s monitors?’
  • You know that feedback you’re hearing? Ya, I do too. You don’t have to patronize me into the microphone: ‘Does anyone else hear that low rumble?’
  • It’d be nice to get the mp3′s like the rest of the band, so I could hear the sound you’re going for.
  • If your amp sounds like ice picks through your speakers, it’s going to sound like ice picks through the house. If I turn down the treble, now it just sounds like really dull ice picks. Get a new amp.
  • Contrary to what you might believe, I’m not actually trying to make you sound bad. I’m trying to help you.
  • It’d be cool if you bothered to take the time to learn my name.
  • I have to eq you. Your guitar is running through a 200 foot snake twice and a soundboard that is not dedicated solely to your tone like your pedals are. You’re going to lose a little something tone-wise, and I’m just trying to put it back.
  • Please do not show up with an amp that hums at idle as if it had an engine, and then expect me to ‘eq it out.’
  • No, you cannot have stereo monitors with both your amps panned left and right.
  • Could you check your volume knob before I come down and start swapping cables?
  • And that last one is for acoustic players. Electric players…if nothing is coming out of your amp, I can’t help you.
  • And lastly…from me…I apologize for the times I’ve looked down on you and forgotten that you’re simply trying to rely on me to help you sound your best.

What Guitarists Wish Sound Techs Knew

  • Yes, as a matter of fact, it does sound better louder. ;) But seriously, tubes sound better hot, speakers sound better pushed, and air sounds better moved.
  • If you see me lugging in hundreds of pounds worth of gear (as in actual weight…not trying to be British this time), please assume I know at least something about good sound and treat me accordingly.
  • Please do not pin the entire 105db’s of sound on my amp, when there’s an unshielded acoustic drum set, and when you have the acoustic cranked loud enough in my monitor to drown out a HiWatt.
  • The sound system is for reinforcement. A good source sound mic’d well and then simply ‘reinforced’ by the sound system, will always sound better than any soundboard ‘magic.’
  • When I give you stage volume, I’m actually trying to help you get a warmer, fuller, and more lively mix.
  • Please do not ask me to turn down by madly pulling gains down and waving your hand at me while laughing. I understand that is because guitarists have bitten your head off in the past when you’ve asked them nicely to turn down, but could you try it one more time?
  • I am relying on you to be my ears out there. I really do want to work together for the best possible sound. However, that means both of us giving in to each other a little. I promise to turn my amp down lower than I would like, if you promise to turn the treble on my channel not as cranked a you would like it. Who knows? Maybe we’ll both learn something.
  • The guitar is a mids instrument…not a treble instrument. Please don’t kill my eq into the treble range as if I’m doubling the female background vocalist.
  • Please do not mic my speaker dead-on, complain about treble, but then act annoyed when I suggest a different mic positioning.
  • If sound is coming from my amp, but you have no signal, um…I can’t do anything else for you. The problem is not on my end. (And yes, that actually happened.)
  • Yes, the Avioms sound terrible. I don’t care what you’ve read. (In a nice way. ;) ) Sound actually exists in nature; not in ‘Pro Audio Today’ trying to sell us things.
  • I’m sorry, but the monitor simply does not have the sound or feel of my amp. If it did, I would be running my pedalboard into a 200-foot-snake, a soundboard with the wrong gain structure and a cheesey excuse for an eq, back through the 200-foot-snake and into a JBL monitor. Nothing wrong with all that; it’s necessary. But if I have to turn down my amp so that you can turn up the monitor, when my amp and the monitor are both in the same position on the stage, then I’ll just keep my amp’s volume where it is and you can turn down my monitor.
  • And lastly…and this from me…I apologize for the times I’ve stepped on you and forgotten that you’re doing your best to help me sound my best.

You know, when I was a kid (sounds like the opening monologue from a method actor), and my sister and I would get in a fight, my dad would come in and say, ‘You know, this could all be solved if we just showed a little bit of love for each other.’ And I hated that. I wanted justice. Well, when it was her fault. And now, looking back on that, I realize that he was very right; for almost every situation in life. Just a little more love goes further than anything. Remember that your sound tech, or your guitarist, is a person. They have wants, desires, needs, and sometimes they even have bad days. A little bit of love can probably take care of 90% of these issues, and in turn, I guess love can actually make live sound better. One of the greatest things you can do is make your sound position part of the worship team. They’re the most important part anyway, and then you’ve started a loving, symbiotic relationship that will ultimately lead to better sound than you could have any other way.

And what takes care of the other 10% of the issues? Turning your amp up, of course. Sound techs, I’m kidding! Kidding! …Eh…kind of… ;)

Splendid.
Karl.