My Live Acoustic Rig

I've recently moved away from pickups and small acoustic guitar amplifiers for solo gigs because I was growing tired of the sonic limitations placed on my vocals and guitar. Face it a little box 12 inches square with one coaxial speaker and no tweeter is not going to be able to accurately reproduce vocals and guitar without serious limitations. Those limitations eventually grew old with me combined with the prices of these small acoustic amps going through the roof. For example 100-200 watts of power to the speakers in an acoustic guitar amplifier is nowhere near as loud as a 25 watt electric guitar amplifier. So the acoustic amp's wattage numbers are not impressive for the price you pay. A 60 watt AER amp literally has a handful of components inside and cost a whopping 1400.00 dollars or so. An Ultrasound CP-100 is a tiny 100 watt amp costing about 900.00. For this kind of money you can buy some of the best portable PA gear on earth. In many ways I would love to own all the gear available but my budget limits me to only one scalable and flexible live rig.

My search quickly narrowed down to two superb values in the speaker market. The JBL EON-15" G2 powered speaker-monitor and it's top competitor the Mackie SRM-450 powered speaker-monitor.  Both top brands with a great reputation and a single speaker could easily out perform any acoustic guitar amplifier on the planet. While I suspected the JBL would win based on my past experiences and knowledge of how 15" speakers provide superb bass response the Mackies actually came out on top for a variety of reasons. First of all they simply sound better to my ear even with the 12" woofers and the extremely wide sound pattern they put out is crucial in the ability to bring one single speaker to a solo gig and sounding great throughout the room. When I play through a single Mackie SRM-45o everyone in the audience hears the same trebles, sound quality and volume. Even my ear can hear beautifully without even using a stage monitor in most cases. This wide spread and wonderful breathy trebles makes my vocals actually fun to sing and my guitar sounds lively and just like a studio track even in very bad sounding room. A touch of reverb on the mixer and I'm in heaven. When I am happy and like what I sound like my playing and singing usually goes to another level.

THE SOLO RIG - (photo below) For the smallest gigs I only have to carry in a small amount of equipment and I've tried to arrange this photo below as an example of how I might setup for a solo gig. As you see I can use one speaker on the floor or on a stand and lean it slightly in toward me. I can hear just fine with huge volume and NO feedback and to adjust my mixer I just reach down to a well lit panel below my right hand. So in this configuration I am using a minimal amount of equipment and sound better and have more volume than any pickup and acoustic amp rig I've ever owned. Plus I can play any guitar without a pickup or any change over. It's the most freedom and relaxation I've ever enjoyed while playing at a gig. I can still plug a guitar with a pickup into this rig and of course that sounds better than any acoustic amp also. This single Mackie 450watt speaker and mixer cost less than most name brand 100watt acoustic amps and you can bet that this is much more than 4.5x as loud and there is no sound comparison.


THE FREEDOM ARGUMENT - If I had a nickel everytime I've heard a musician argue about not having any freedom playing on a microphone. Well that's a good point in some regards but not completely true. When you play a pickup the physical pressures of your picking is NO LONGER the same as when you play acoustically. Especially with under saddle pickups. Your attack is hard and instant and your picking has much less dynamic range and control. More like an electric guitar and less like a pure acoustic. You cant slam, pop or play the strings as aggressively without some pretty ugly sound. On the other hand playing into a microphone is more natural and you can control your position and distance from the microphone as you play. This is easier standing up but can also be done while sitting. You can also back off from the mic and hear yourself while jamming with others. This is so much more natural and my playing quality and the risks I take as a player are much greater with this kind of freedom than the kind of freedom a pickup gives.  The key to this whole thing is having great volume and gain from the mic with low feedback. You'd think using an old Shure SM-57 would be the right answer but it's not. Took me years to realize this. The trick was combining the superb sound quality and feedback control of these Mackie speakers with instrument microphones that are much more sensitive and have a larger more even pattern. This large even patterned mic with high gain actually produces more sound, volume and freedom with the board channel at a lower setting. So I'm actually getting better sound and more volume with less feedback. To the point I'm having to turn my acoustic guitar microphone volume DOWN at the gigs. Now isn't this just the opposite of what you'd think?  One other great sound I get is using the Sunrise guitar pickup and the microphone in combination. It's overkill but if I just get the guitar mic sounding great I can simply slide the sunrise pickup sound up slowly until it starts to be heard then stop. At least then I can walk away from the mic and still be heard.

INSTANT PACKING AND SETUP - My power, speaker and mic cables all roll up into the back of the rack case and close tight. I even have a spare speaker and mic cable in there too. This Furman power conditioner and light unit provides minimal protection from surges and spikes from flakey power. It also eliminates the need to bring extension cables and power strips to the gig. Makes for a very tight setup and you don't tend to loose or misplace cables in other gig bags because it all rolls right up into nothing.

MIC STANDS -  Instead of buying expensive new short size stands I simply sawed off these stands and extensions with a hacksaw then reassembled them. Saved me about 100.00 and I have stands that don't clutter up the stage, very sturdy and adjustable and the bases don't get in the way of each other or my feet. I tried the guitar mic boom that attaches to the vocal mic stand but it did not work out well. I can sit and play multiple guitars with this rig with very little adjustments or issues. 

This Electrovoice BK-1 condenser vocal mic uses 48 volts phantom power from the board to operate but doesn't require a battery. It's an amazing sounding vocal mic for live use and the on-off switch is priceless when I walk away from stage or take a break and don't want any feedback occurring. It's still in fine condition after at least 15 years of use. It gives my voice a big breathy studio sound and makes cheaper PA systems with dull speakers sound a little better. Combined with these Mackie speakers it's amazing and sounds a little more full ranged than my Shure SM-58 which is my spare backup mic.

I have a matched pair of these AKG C-430 small condenser mics made for cymbals, acoustic guitars and other instruments that require very quick response. It picks up the acoustic guitar with amazing clarity that goes far beyond my old Shure SM-57 that I use for a spare backup. It also has a very full and even pattern which maximizes the volume of the guitar and minimizes feedback tendencies. Being a condenser gives me a much louder signal that the older dynamic mics. It's a tiny little bugger and the wind screen is a must. I also have a cheap Octava MK-012 but it doesn't have near as much full range as this mic. Having a matched pair of these is a nice convenience since I can mic other players and get the same high quality for both of us on stage. If you watch you can catch these on EBay for about half price once in a while. It's also very rugged and easy to stay out of the way and doesn't block the view of your guitar and hands from the audience like a larger mic would. Plus the small size makes them easier to store in your gig bag or case.

MIC POSITIONING: Each time I change guitars on stage I move the arm of the mic stand slightly forward or back from the sound hole to increase or decrease the bass to be balanced. When I switch to my larger jumbo I push the mic a little back toward the bridge to lessen the huge bass response. This is very easy and I do not have to ever touch the mixer when playing various instruments. Plus the audience gets to hear the REAL sound of the guitar and not a pickup.

I was really worried about this Behringer rack mount unpowered mixer not being reliable enough or being the weak link in my chain but to be honest it's performing amazingly well and only costs 200.00 dollars or less. Plus has a full 48volt phantom power. The SKB case has nice recessed areas on the top making it easy to sit tuners, picks, slides and accessories up there. I have a little fold up keyboard stand I can sit it on.  The Furman power conditioner has awesome lights that help me see well on a dark stage. This sits right beside me giving total control over my sound. The effects are stunningly good on this mixer and I rarely have to adjust it from the nominal settings the room, hall and other reverbs are amazing. I was pleasantly shocked to find a few dozen settings I like.  This board has very low hiss or noise with no detectable hiss from the 450 watt powered Mackie speakers even in a quiet room. Takes only a minute or two to setup and puts out no heat, weighs nothing. I doubt this whole box weighs 15 pounds. The whole solution very affordable and I don't have but one piece to carry. 

The Mackie SRM-450 speakers have the ability to accept the mic and guitar directly one per speaker if I ever have an emergency and have to bypass the board. And they sound surprisingly good with mics plugged in direct. There are several contour and bass cut features on the back that help the sound in some situations. I usually just use them in the nominal and off positions. The speaker has a total of 450 watts to the speaker and driver which can blow any acoustic amp made out of the water. I get louder mic'd guitar sounds out of these than I used to get with pickups in the guitar and acoustic guitar amps. That is something I still have not gotten over.

I was able to buy two of these speakers used for the price of one new one on sale. They are really bullet proof speakers and sound incredible.


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