I play a fair few live acoustic covers shows and I thought I’d go through my setup with you guys. I’ve been building up my equipment for about 10 months now and it’s really coming together every show that I do. I’m playing at a local bar tonight called the Elwood Lounge. It’s a nice place with friendly bar staff and they’re good to me. Friday night crowds can be a bit on the small side, but what can you do? I try to make the most of it when I’m there
Over the last year, I’ve accumulated quite a bit of gear that I use in a live show, but I’ve also made a conscious effort not to overcomplicate my setup. I’m very aware that you can get very caught up in getting heaps of gear that comes together to make your sound, but if one piece of that gear falls apart, you lose your show.
For this reason, I keep my performance based on the campfire style: acoustic guitar and voice. I’ve added in stomp pad and a harmony generator as well, but these aren’t integral to my sound. The reason for this is that I can rock up anywhere in the world without my equipment, and still have a live show… as long as I have my guitar.
I try to keep the songs I play fairly simple as well. I transpose many of the keys of the tracks I’m singing into a range that is easier for me. I’ve talked to many people that refuse to play a song that’s not in the original key. There are also people out there that refuse to use capo’s, citing them as some kind of cheat, preferring to play everything with barre chords instead.
These are extremely counter-productive ideals. If you’re more comfortable singing a song in a different key it will sound better. If you’re more comfortable playing with a capo it will sound better. Not to mention that you get tired playing and singing for hours on end, so if you’re over-extending your voice and your fingers, you’re going to tire yourself out very quickly.
Sure, when you’re home practicing songs, work on strengthening your fingers using barre chords and extending the range of your voice. But busting it out live, no one in the crowd will care if the key is different or if you’re using a capo, they’re just looking to get drunk and sing along to Jessie’s Girl.
I did quite a bit of research while putting together my live setup and had a reason for each piece of gear that I bought. I also tested any piece of equipment that I wasn’t familiar with. Always do this, you don’t want to get your new microphone home and realise that it doesn’t sound good with your voice. So here’s what I have.
Maton ECW80C: Maton are an Australian brand of guitar and are the most popular here, but also have made their mark around the world. This one is is in there upper/mid range of dreadnaught style guitar and has a pickup and a cutaway. I’ve had this baby for years and it’s getting a bit beat up but that just gives it soul.
Shure Beta58: This is my vocal microphone. Everybody has seen the industry standard Shure SM58, well this is the level up from that. It’s got a really solid body and a tough grill, it sounds great and doesn’t get much feedback. I’ve used this live and compared against microphones 3-4 times the price and this one always comes out on top. Definitely recommend it for most singers. Also make sure you’ve got a good stand. There’s nothing more annoying than a stand that droops mid song.
TC Electronics Acoustic Play: Now, this piece of equipment is what really changes my live sound to something a little bit more special and was an amazing investment. It’s a mic/guitar effects processor that means that you don’t need a sound engineer to get a great sound every time.
For my live shows it acts as a resonator, compressor, EQ, guitar tuner, harmonizer, reverb unit, loop pedal and mixer. There are many other features that come with it, but that’s what I use it for. It means that I can pull a great sound at home and then plug directly out into any system and get the sound I want. If you perform solo acoustic, I definitely recommend checking this one out.
Wazinator Stomp Pad: This is my most recent addition to my live show. It’s essentially a piece of wood that’s got a speaker driver stuck to it. The speakers reverse wired with a jack, so you plug that directly into a desk and when you hit it, you get a nice big thud sound. There’s heaps of these style pedals around, all with different tones, but this one is definitely up there as one of the better sounding units.
iPad: This is just a first generation iPad, but that’s good because I got it for free and it only has one very simple function, to be my lyrics sheet. I used to use books, but found it so much easier to get a tablet with a lyrics app. I use OnSong, which is great for creating the lyrics sheets and making playlists. You can find tablet holders that connects to your mic stand.
Wharfedale Powered Speakers: These only come out with me when I am playing a gig that doesn’t have a PA system. Not the best speakers in the world, but I picked them up with stands for just $600, so I can’t complain. The Acoustic Play acts as a mixer for my voice and guitar, so I can just run directly out of that into the speakers for an ultra easy setup.
Leads: Leads are very important if you want to get your sound to the speakers ;). I make my own mic and guitar leads using Neutrik Ends and canare cable. It’s high quality and I use colored ends as to not mix up mine with the venue. Making them yourself means you can also repair them yourself, so they last forever. There’s many tutorials on how to make your own mic leads.
More Leads: Always bring a spare of each type of lead that you’re using. Leads break or become faulty all the time and you don’t want to be caught out without an extra one handy. Also make sure you pack a spare power board and extension cable. Most venues have these but again, things break or get lost and you want to be focused on your set, not running around trying to source a lead.
Miscellaneous: All the other stuff you could need. I bring a capo (and a spare), a spare set of strings (should one break), strap, picks (lots of them) and guitar stand. I also bring my camera and a recording device, because I like to have a reference of what I sounded like on the night.
Preparation: This is the most important thing to bring, you can have the best show in the world, but if you aren’t prepared equipment-wise, it could all come crashing down. Make sure your strings aren’t too old, you’ve replaced your batteries in your guitar or pedals and that everything that can be charged, is charged. Make time to go to the shops if you’re low if picks or any other gear.
What do you bring to a live show? Do you have any piece of equipment that has changed your life. Any tips or tricks for making a great show? Leave a comment below!