Half Power Switches

…are best when off.

Got to play an outdoor deal today using all 4 EL84 tubes for the first time in a long time. And it was lovely. I’ve spent a lot of time, money, and effort to get my rig to sound good at low volumes. And it’s just so great when I don’t have to use any of it.

As always…if it sounds bad, just turn it up.


67 thoughts on “Half Power Switches

  1. mmm… so true. Tube amps HAVE to be turned up. If you cant turn it up in the venue you are in then make an isolation box and get the amp off-stage. I’ve never played an amp where a half-power switch sounded as good as the amp at full power.

  2. Agree :)
    Partially why I’ve had my go-to amps be 12-15w, easier to turn up and sound great. Not often do I get to use the full 45w of my other….. and the 15w sounds better turned up than the 45 at the same volume.
    Of course, I love my 45w– but its hard to let ‘need’ dictate over ‘wants’.

  3. Interesting posts, guys. So, I’m curious…would you rather have amps cranked in isolation boxes with all that cranked tone but have to hear it through headphones, or amps on stage turned down a bit but with the ability to hear the sound through the actual speakers? Having tried it both ways, I’m probably in the second camp, but provided your amp has post-phase inverter master, power scaling, and/or power switching that is taking tubes out of the circuit instead of adding circuitry to attenuate. (That being said, some amps do it well regardless.) But then again, I definitely see the advantages of the first camp.

    And secondly, I’m also curious as to how many of you play on a silent stage, as mandated by your church. Even though I’m scared of the answers. 😉

    • I wish I could play on a silent stage. Our amps sound really good cranked, but the room dictates we turn down or else. If there were some way to iso and go phones, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

      • Jet City and Randall make great Iso cabs or you can make an Iso box of your own if you already have a cabinet you are attached to. And before my church got the Aviom monitor system I was using the line level output from my amp into a wireless Sennhiser monitor rig

    • Not at our church. As the Worship Pastor, I hold a strict axiom: There are musician-led churches and AV-led churches – and until the congregation is led into worship by a sound guy, we will be a musician-led church.

      The band and AV crew do everything possible to get the best sound out of the room, but if the band isn’t happy (within maturity and reason), then they’re not leading well. That said, amps will always be welcome on-stage and no (good) drummer should ever be locked up in some Quiz Show sound booth.

      • Wow. Perhaps I’m not reading this in the spirit you intended, but your strict axiom risks alienating your AV team, senior pastor, and any of us on this forum who already have to compromise our volume/tone to meet the demands of poor room acoustics or senior leadership decisions. Note I’m saying it’s a “risk” not a fact. Hopefully ya’ll are getting along fine!

        • Ha, no, actually it is quite the opposite. By setting that as an expectation up front, everyone know how to be synergistic – like an organizational flow. Too, it creates trust: 1. The band needs to be comfortable and happy to play well. 2. The band has no *real* control over the sound and thus need to trust the AV crew. 3. The AV crew has the band to help (or serve), which in turn keeps them from hyper-focussing upon how they’d do things and keeps the focus on people.

          What has happened is that the sound guy becomes not a separate entity from the band, but it considered part of the band…and interacted with in that manner.

          The contrast to that is placing too much focus on what *seems* perfect. When EQ-ing, you’re working/fighting with the room and it can become easy to mandate parameters on people for the sake of a room. We are more apt to finesse our surroundings before we slap a universal mandate on people.

          Regarding my tone in writing, I may have been a bit strong. It’s just that when I walk into a church and see a bunch of Aviom stations, a few PodXTs, a bass DI and either an entombed kit (or worse…VDrums), I have a pretty certain idea whether the worship pastor/director/etc. is encouraged to cultivate a dynamic community of worship – with dynamic musicians – or if he/she is simply expected to lead a team of volunteer musicians through a maze of parameters that were established (many times) by folks that wouldn’t begin to know how to lead others into worship, let alone lead in a thriving way as he/she is expected to lead in. I’ve known a lot of friends that are stuck in that and it is sad. I’m not sure Jesus would care to be so hard core about silence…and I am sure that’s not the strip-down-to-your-underwear-and-forget-your-dignity style of worship that King David was into. (We always keep our clothes on.) :)

          Thanks for your comment…and for your considerate tone. Very cool.

        • And man, I’m sorry if I caused you (and anyone else) to feel alienated by my comment. I certainly wouldn’t want to have done that and duly apologize if I had.

    • Sorry for the soapbox. Silent mandates kind of bother me. They sterilize (eunuch style) the band’s sound and drive, which feeds the environment and helps to incite sleepy congregations to engage the act of worship. Again, I digress… :)

      To answer your question, I’d rather hear my own speakers than just through a wedge or in-ears. I play a Hayseed 15, so it doesn’t need to be incredibly loud. It seems to me that the speakers in one’s cab are likely the best for the job, so why throw a bottleneck on top of that? That said, I’d throw my amp in a box if we were plugged into some incredible sound rig, where my monitor sounds as good as standing in front of the amp itself. I have played behind some incredible D&B wedges, but I haven’t yet found a pair of in-ears that I thought could compare. Have you?

      • My Westone UM2x are pretty good, but I’m sure there are better. Like guitar gear, there’s a sliding price/performance scale to IEMs.

        On another topic, it’s cool to see another Valvetech guy on here. I’m on a VAC25, and love it to bits. I just hate to see it neutered.

        • Excellent! I’ve never talked to another Valvetech guy! I’ve had mine for about six years and love it. The VAC25 is a great amp – there are a lot of different tones that you can pull out of it. Ha, don’t let it get snipped!

          Regarding ears, the only ones I’ve tried are the Shure E5 and the SE 535, they were cool but I wasn’t excited about them. Those are the only ones I’ve been able to try without spending money…do you know how they would compare to your Westones?

          • Sure (see what I did there?). Shure tend toward clear in the upper register, Westone tend toward warmer, rounder tones. Of the Shures I’ve tried, the lower-end IEMs were my favorite; of the Westones, the higher-end are my preference. The Westone”x” suffix denotes professional monitoring ‘phones.

            Just not a big fan of the sterile, dull upper range of the Shures, but lots of guys love ’em. It’s about finding your match. FWIW, I’ve found Earphone Solutions a great resource for IEMs.

  4. No silent stage here and I think we’ve given up on the problem of wedges competing with mains :-) I always liked it when using my Carvin Vintage 16 miked, but finally opted for no amp. I really would prefer to have some tube arrangement with a twin speaker cab though. Reminds me of a community college class I took once that did nothing but prepare and put on concerts over at the student union ( rock/pop oriented) The college had a big mesa boogie tube head and 4×12 cab that I got to use outdoors — the sound guy said he didn’t have to mike my amp :-)

  5. I like the sound of my AC4 on the 1 watt setting over the 4 watt or 1/4 watt. Volume at 10 and tone on 12…love it! Sound guys still make me move it back stage on 1 watt! Dig in for breakup or play light for clean, add dirt pedal for body and color!

  6. I like lower watt amps. I look at 45+ watts and I just can’t do it. I know it would never go higher than 2 on the volume. I’ll probably stay around 10-25. There are so many good amps in that range, it’s crazy for me to think I need more. Especially when you talk about having to have it in half power mode all the time… I just couldn’t see doing that.
    I think the fact that I use my amp as just a clean base might have something to do with it, also. I’m not looking to crank it or have a dirty channel or anything… I just need a good clean tone to start stacking ODs on. :-)

  7. between my 40-watt and 18-watt amp, I prefer the 40 cranked … full-body, if you know what I mean! 😉

    But right now for our church setting to keep our stage volume down, even my 18-watt needs to be attenuated even with a Vol/Master only at 12 o’clock! i’m starting to think that maybe it will just be better to have a silent stage so I don’t have to complain about not being able to crank up :)

  8. I tried the isolation thing. Didn’t like it. I’d rather have my amp behind me, at a lower volume.
    I guess if you had a great sound guy (or girl) you trusted, that method might work better.

  9. We’ve had a silent stage (no wedge monitors, no amps on stage) since we moved in to our new building about 3 months ago. I love it cause we can set our amps however we want to. In my mind, it’s best cause I am more worried about what it sounds like coming through the house than what I am hearing on stage. Plus we can set our monitor mixes to wherever we want them whereas with monitor wedges we had to find a happy medium for everybody.

  10. There’s nothing like a big tubeamp played loud. Love the percussive feel of my old Boogie MK2 (4x6L6) in my band but in the small church I used to play even the 5w tubeamps were too loud and I (and the soundguy) was most happy with my sound playing the tech21 liverpool pedal.

  11. I prefer the amp behind me so I can hear and “feel” the amp. In fact, my guitar is rarely in my monitor- I get it all from my amp behind me. I really get a sense of dynamics (and to further the point, this way I find I often turn gain/distortion pedals down than I though I needed).
    We prefer all stage volume to be pretty much out of the house so the soundguy can control the mix. If the amp is heard past the 2nd row, then we turn down.

    • I will say that if you go the IEM route you absolutely HAVE to get a pair of good headphones or shell out about $300 for triple-drivers. That way you can still get a good sense for dynamics

  12. I went to an iso box recently and am not liking it. We bought two pairs of mono in ears. (Who in the worlds bright idea was mono in ears?! They need to be slapped on one ear…)

    I like the thought of cranking the amp, but I feel like I’m getting some boxiness. I got a Royer r121 ribbon mic recently, and feel like the figure-8 pattern just picks up so much from the back side of the iso box.

    And even with an iso box, I’ve been asked to turn down… I feel empty… Hold me.

  13. Well, the band I’m in goes to a great deal of different churches and other events – some large, some very small. It’s different every time, but usually we have to run a pretty quiet stage. We use wedges… responsibly. Thankfully, with the master volume on my Frenzel Deluxe Plus, I get a decent sound at really low volumes (sounds better as it gets louder, of course, but nice at about any setting).

  14. I actually tried the tech21 liverpool in church and it works pretty well. I actually use that at home for a practice rig through a studio monitor (kind of ghetto, but it works well for practice and sounds very Vox-like) For the last few years I have been using a Vox Night train which works pretty well on 7.5watt mode. It gets pretty compressed and saturated really quick, but it’s better than running it off stage and having it go through a monitor that I can’t control or have any real amp feel onstage. I think my sound guy’s just finally gave up and let me run the amp on-stage (it helps that my wife and I are the worship leaders) But I think it ends up sounding best this way too.

  15. I play my Blackheart Little Giant when i am on guitar at church. It is in 3 watt mode, barely pushing 10-11 o’clock on the dial. I am lucky if I can get it pushed into breakup without being told to turn down. I got a tube screamer and that should take care of business!

  16. This stuff cracks me up. It’s funny how common this experience is. From the way it’s gone at our church sometimes, you’d think we were the only church that ever had this problem…

  17. well, it’s really funny and weird at the same time. just to kinda prove a point today, I ran my Maz Jr with Master/Vol both @ 12 o’clock without an attenuator! I didn’t hear anybody complaining nor hear anything bad from the sound guys. but i ain’t complaining! haha

  18. Wow, this page is getting quite chatty!

    I may be late to the conversation, but I’ve actually been working to “silent stage” our team for some time – a bummer – I’ve been looking into the Epiphone Valve Jr. heads – and they’re discontinuing them!

    The heads are still in stock locally – anyone with experience with just the heads?

    • We’ve had a new lead guitarists that used his Epi Valve Jr head when he plays with us and it surprised me how good it sounds. He ran the head into the Epi Valve Jr cab, so I guess that would make a difference. He’s a great player in his own right though so that might have something to do with it. He only had it a 1/4 of the way up too.

    • I A/B a THD Univalve and a Orange Tiny Terror (unfortunately both on half power) and the UPGRADE in tone quality from the… (cough) vox (cough) that I was using before is unreal!! I got a steal of a deal on the THD and was bless with the Orange and I couldnt be happier with my rig now. The lower wattage amps are the thing right now but as far as tone goes they are unmatched. Do you really need 30/50/100 watts when you are going to get mic’ed anyway?

  19. Super interesting to hear all the responses! Personally, I like the noisy stages…just a little bit of stage volume mixed in with what is usually a much more compressed and pristine house mix can really help to warm and liven things up. It’s different for everyone, sure. And I’ll definitely take an amp at low volumes or a low wattage amp over a cranked 40-watter in my in-ears only. It’s not really a tone thing or a more expensive in-ears thing; for me, I just tend to play with a good deal more finesse and minimalism when I can hear the actual air moving from my amp, as opposed to the representation of it coming to tiny speakers in my ears through an ethernet cable or sent through the air. But for those of you getting decent sounds out of back rooms and in-ears, then awesome!! It can certainly be done, it’s just not my personal cup of tea.

    I will say that my favorite is when you have an amp and a floor monitor right next to each other, and the sound tech asks you to turn your amp down and he’ll give you more in your wedge. I’m always like, Wait…

    And Andrew, I am not a fan by any stretch of electronic drums. However, please please please please tell me that if you’re being asked to turn down with an iso box, that there is not a live drumset on stage. 😉 Because this actually happens, and it drives me up the wall when I see it. lol

    • Karl:

      Super interesting to hear all the responses! Personally, I like the noisy stages…just a little bit of stage volume mixed in with what is usually a much more compressed and pristine house mix can really help to warm and liven things up.

      When we met in a movie theatre, we had our amps beside our wedges pointed towards us. The small amount of bleedover did make the house mix sound a little more live and natural. I loved playing in that setting. The room we meet in now is less than half that size so it just made sense for us to move to silent stage and iso booths. The setting definitely plays an important role.

    • That’s the kicker. We have live drums and our drummer has one volume… Quadruple forte. But if I turn my amp up to hear it over him, I’m the bad guy. Never mind the guy next to me who is four times louder than me… I finally had to move to another place on the stage. I was wearing an ear plug in my left ear to block out the cymbals from destroying my ear drums.

  20. Oh man all this talk of sound guys makes me glad that I’m Head of Sound at my church as well as the main guitarist. I personally prefer to have the amp right in front of me, right next to the monitor, or next to me, but either way onstage.

  21. Jody–that’s a great point, bro. At my current church, we have in-ears due to the size of the building. I’d prefer to run in-ears for click and loops and monitors for everything else, but you’re right that the setting does command certain things.

    We do have amps on stage though…just with the caveat that they must be very low, and our drums are in a booth. It actually helps that I lead from electric, so that I can set the example of turning my amp down.

    Andrew–Ahhhhhh!!! Live drumset, and the electrics are asked to turn down. I just cannot understand. I am so sorry, brother. Feel free to email me every Sunday morning with ‘AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!’ I’ll know what that means. 😉

    Sam–same here. I think it should be standard for sound to be a position on the worship team under the worship leader, rather than it’s own entity or part of the media/tech.

  22. You guys make me feel privileged that I get to play with my amp on stage at pretty high volume. I tend to have my AC15 anywhere from half to two thirds on the master volume with no attenuator or half power switch – and no complaints about it being too loud, though I am sometimes paranoid about it from previous experiences in other churches. I have it behind me on an amp stand. We use wedges (no IEMs), have live drums and are generally pretty loud by most church standards, despite the actual space being fairly small with only about 100-150 people. We’re a young congregation in the evening service (mostly under 30s with a sprinkling of older folks), so that probably helps more than any other factor. I’m told the morning services are far more traditional but I’ve never been to one. :)

  23. We moved the amps offstage and mostly switched to IEMs sometime in the last few years. I was kinda bitter about it for a while. I’m mostly used to the IEMs now, and I can still feel my 40W amp somewhat through the side-stage closet door. Bonus: I recently discovered that I can still get feedback on demand with enough drive from my board, yay. :-)

    Regarding IEMs, I find that I actually miss the sound of the congregation more than the sound of my amp. (total Jesus Juke, but I swear I didn’t mean it that way, really) I’m told we may have room mics someday, but… someday is not today.

    • I’ve heard a lot of my friends say the same thing about their IEMs. I would suggest setting up an ambiance mic or two around your room. I hear that helps a lot.

    • I usually leave one ear in and one ear out that way I can hear the congregation and also hear some of the house mix. But I still have the click and more of my guitar in the other ear.

      • I usually leave one out as well for room sound (or uncovered for can-style.) I tell singers to leave both on, though…I find it can be confusing for some when there’s so much to listen to. My thoughts.

  24. Karl:

    I think it should be standard for sound to be a position on the worship team under the worship leader, rather than it’s own entity or part of the media/tech.


    Also, We’re moving to IEMs with my traveling team (not my church team). I pushed it basically so we can have a click. But also so I can make sweet dubstep loops to play in all of our worship sets now! Woooommm womwomwomwomwomwom skreeee…

  25. For those of you using IEM, does the IEM equipment itself protect your ears from spikes? Unless you have a board that does that along with semi-pro sound technicians it seems like your ears could be at risk ( in the typical small to medium sized church ). Then there is the whole issue of worship team member “discipline.” Will they really learn to get the IEMs inserted properly, clean them, not leave them at home, get on stage early enough to be ready on time, etc etc etc etc etc?

    On the “quiet guitar” “loud drums” issue, I can relate. I went amp-less ( for now ) and found that moving my wedge directly in front of me helped so that both ears get some sound. With our Cajon drum to my left-rear its easy to have my left ear totally saturated with drum and no voice/guitar.

  26. Karl – Look forward to a weekly e-mail… haha If you had offered this week, I may have sent you two. Something in my set up died and I had 3 minutes to move everything around.

    Mike ZA – Punk. lol

    Brett – I’m with you on congregational sound. I feel like I’m living in a mono vacuum on Sunday mornings. For all practical purposes I’m a guitar player more than a worshiper, and I don’t like that.

    Randy – Our IEMs have internal limiters, but they are terrible. They hard limit in a way that sounds terrible and makes it hard to hear things. We’re a smaller church (~200), and don’t have very highly trained sound guys. The one plus is we have a Presonus Studio Live that lets us mix our own IEM mix via an iPhone app. That is, when our WiFi actually works, which seems to be iffy lately…

      • It has a lot of great features, but the learning curve can be pretty high. It’s really easy to goof something up. Easter Sunday we had a guy stand in on sound, since our regular guy was out of town. He somehow bumped one of the channel assign buttons that un-assigned my lead vocal channel to the main mix. He had no idea he even hit it. He freaked. Started pulling mic cables out of the back and switching them around until he plugged my channel into an unmuted channel. Monitor mixes were destroyed. It was bad.

        The ability to mix from an iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch is really cool and having reverb/delay and dynamics is a nice feature. I’d say the reverb is probably not that great though. We did have the first one die on us while under warranty and had it replaced. That was a bit of a pain and took a while.

      • We took our Presonus 24 back and went with the Allen and Heath GL2400. Just so much easier, so much more natural sounding. But, we may have been a little biased against the whole digital thing. We just bought an outboard reverb unit and we’re good to go. Just another opinion, take it for what it’s worth.

  27. we do a mix. the singers have monitors and no IEM’s and all the musicians have IEM’s. It’s only because we only have wired IEM’s and only 4 slots. the click is in the IEM’s (drummer, guitar 1&2, bass and Keyboard/MD) and the MD only comes into the IEM’s. At least we can control our own mixes.
    We pulled an amp out of it’s iso to figure out why it was buzzing on Sunday and the back up vocalists looked freaked out. “Wow, that’s super loud” Yup, that’s why they are under the stage.

    • Haha… My sound guy likes to tell me my amp in the iso box is too loud when I’m the only one playing. I have to keep reminding him of the context. The band starts up, and I ask if it’s too loud. Nope. (face-palm)

  28. I also do the one in, one out method, for that very reason…I can’t be that disconnected from the congregation. Even house mics don’t make me feel connected. I know, I know, that’s supposed to kill your hearing; but just be smart about it and keep it a good piece below what you think your one ear can handle. :)

    • I’ve been tempted to do one out. I’ll have to try it and see. Maybe I can remove drums and bass from my IEMs then, and just have guitars, piano, and vocals.

  29. On a somewhat related note, volume & power are great, but I’ve been looking to downsize for mobility & practicality. I’m researching tiny sub10-watt tube amps to build a portable stereo rig. So far the Vox AC4 & Burgera V5 have caught my eye, but I haven’t gotten to test drive either. Any other recommendations for minuscule tone?

    • Some of the 65 Amps stuff with Master Voltage might be worth a look. It’s like a Master Volume, but it actually adjusts the wattage of the amp. May be over budget though…

      • I put a SkipzCircuits VariWatt on my DC30 clone. Very affordable, some soldering required, works better than the master volume on the DC30

    • It depends on your price. I hated the Burgera. I had the AC4 for a few months but it died on me. It was OK. I had a Valve Jr that was better than both of those.

  30. I’m a “sound guy” who loves his Les Paul/Matchless DC30 clone. Even though I’m the guy who sometimes insists that amps get turned down or isolated, it’s true–amps on stage always sound better. duh

    If I simply cannot keep amps on stage at the volume the guitarists need for their tone, the following tricks can help:

    –IEMs: kinda sterile even with ambient mics, but for keys or backup E guitar, where “more of me” is a problem, these can be smile-makers. The built in limiters on name-brand gear offer excellent volume protection.

    –iso box. The small ones, like the Randall & Jet City, meh. I built a 4-foot cube out of 1 inch plywood with double thick acoustic paneling inside, and can mic on the grill and up to 18″ away. Not perfect, but with some imaging of multiple mics, the guitarists are sometimes surprised by what comes out of their monitors. Also, mics matter. SM57 is not ALWAYS the answer.

    –If you have a powered speaker available (like a studio monitor), you can run a mic from the amp speaker directly to the monitor speaker and give it to the guitarist to face towards them however they like. You can get their sound closer to them, with much better definition.

    –get the guitarist a better wedge. Yeah, easier said than done, I know. We replaced a couple Yamaha SM12s with Mackie SRM450s (actually “borrowed” from our portable system) and the instrumentalists could suddenly hear all sorts of things they couldn’t before. Also, if your sound guy can EQ the monitors from the mixing console, that’s a plus. Careful, as this can increase chances of feedback

    My favorite “trick”–I bring my Line 6 G50 wireless to rehearsals, and have the guitarist-who-has-amp-offstage use it, and listen from the middle of the sanctuary. They usually find that it sounds much better out there than it does onstage (without their beloved amp onstage), which improves their mood, and thereby improves their performance.

    We change strategy just about every week. Depends on what amps are being used, the energy level of the planned service, number of guitarists, and whether all the gear is available/functioning. Keeps it interesting!

  31. Outdoor gigs are great! Especially outdoor worship gigs…at night. What were you playing?

    As far as amps on stage vs. in iso, I definitely prefer on stage. At our church we run everything on stage, and it really has a great feel to it. Drums are behind a few panels, but not fully contained, EGs are miced up w/ 57s, and bass runs direct, but loops out to an amp for some stage volume. We can get away with it because it’s a really big room. I run a Dr. Z Carmen Ghia, which breaks up really early and sounds really good at lower volumes (though still sounds better when cranked up a bit). I usually have it pointed up at me, so there isn’t too much bleed out into the congregation. I’ve been contemplating isolation because sometimes we get bleed from the amps into the vocal mics, but this past week I led with electric and my amp was off to the side, fairly far away from me. The sound was nowhere near as full from the angle and distance I was from it (of course it was no different directly in front of the cab), so for now, I say no iso. :-)

    A little note on the sound dept: While I agree with the sentiment that it should be a position under worship, I don’t know that that’s really possible once a church reaches a certain size. In larger churches there’s so many other events that happen over the course of a week, and often times different services focus on a different style of worship. We have three different services, Contemplative (meditative, usually a cappella or lightly accompanied ensemble), Traditional (large choir, organ, etc.), and Contemporary (band). Not to mention larger Sunday School classes, youth group, etc. In that instance, who would the sound dept report to? Worship leader? Choir director? Worship coordinator? No one of them is really responsible for overseeing everything that department needs to cover on Sunday, and rarely for events that happen during the week. That being said, we’ve had a lot of problems with our sound dept lately, and it would be nice were they under someone as opposed to a department on their own…gotta love church politics.

    • JK,

      They could report to whoever was in charge of music for each environment. The big thing is having guys that know music and aren’t just techies (or even non-techies!). So many times there are not clearly defined goals and the two end up in competition. This makes a single head a good option.

      • Oh I totally agree with you, I just don’t think it’s always a realistic possibility as churches get larger. Requiring people to report to multiple supervisors can be an organizational nightmare. And I agree that musical knowledge should definitely be a requirement for AV staff. I think the key element is mutual respect regardless of who has authority over who, which is sadly lacking in a lot of situations (my own included). Especially sad in the context of church.

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