This Amp Goes to 11!
There was a fictional movie released in the mid 1980’s about a metal band named SPINAL TAP. It was a fake documentary about the daily lives of a touring band. In one scene, the guitar player, Nigel Tufnel is showing off his equipment. He has a guitar that is so pristine that it can’t be played. It can’t even be looked at. Then his amps all go to eleven. When asked why he said, “when every has their amps all the way up on 10... there is no where else to go. But these amps go to 11, they would be 1 louder. “ It is a funny scene but nowhere near reality. It is a simple fact that if your amp is a 100 watt and goes all the way up to 10 that doesn’t mean it should, ever. If you have a decent car, perhaps a Toyota or maybe even a Ford, most likely your speedometer goes all the way to 160 mph. Should you? Ever? Probably not a great idea. That car was designed to run the best at about 65 mph. A little misconception about guitar amps are that they have to carry your sound to fill whatever venue you are playing. This is not true. Modern sound systems are designed to do 95% of the work. In a blind test you could place a microphone in front of a 100 watt amp, a 50 watt amp, and a 15 watt amp. Run all three though the same sound system with proper gain and equalize settings and you would have a hard time telling them apart.
Here is the problem with everything on 11 scenario. When you play or song on stage you should be using monitors. These are boxes aimed towards each player so they can hear everyone else and themselves. If you are the singer it is important for you to hear yourself to remain on time and in key. If the guitar player beside you is all the way up there is no way you will be able to hear yourself. If you turn the gain up on either the microphone or the monitor you will encounter feedback. This will defeat the purpose of having a monitor altogether. Don’t get me wrong, you will need some stage volume to hear over the acoustic drums but there is a fine balance in there somewhere. The next time you go to a concert and see the “wall” of amps, look for the one with the microphone in front of it. That is the one that is on. The rest are likely dummy cabinets. You can afford to turn up louder in an arena situation, but if you are ready for that you would not need this blog. If you cannot have a conversation with another band member while playing a song, your stage volume is too loud. In relation if your stage volume is too loud your sound person has to turn up the sound system in order to have any type of control. This in turn raises the overall sound level beyond safe or comfortable levels. When the overall level gets to be uncomfortable to the listener, they go home. This defeats the purpose of playing live. So there is a chain of events that all can be avoided by a reasonable sound level on stage. Save your ears and your back, go with a smaller, better built amplifier. Your sound will thank you and so will your sound man.