Why Can't Electric Guitarists "Get" the Whole Volume Thing?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by jaywa, Jul 10, 2013.

  1. jaywa


    May 5, 2008
    Iowa City, IA
    OK, I don't intend this to be (or become) another "my gui**** is too loud" bashing thread. Excessive volume is part of it, but I'm looking at the bigger picture of just overall musical sensibility and being able to fit in with what the band is trying to get across as a whole.

    - For example, the guy whose rhythm setting is too loud and lead setting is too quiet

    - Or the guy whose volume jumps (or drops) DRAMATICALLY (i.e., non-musically) when certain effects pedals are engaged.

    - And then of course the guy with the volume pedal who soundchecks with it half open but then kicks it full open halfway through the first set and leaves it there, blowing the whole mix to h*ll

    I've really become sensitive to this topic because the two bands I play in most frequently both run their sound from the stage and both have guitarists who are really challenged in terms of knowing what volume levels are appropriate for their roles within the band and from song to song. Not only too loud (though that is most frequent), but sometimes not loud enough (for example on leads). There is nothing more frustrating than to have a nice mix dialed-in at the beginning of the first set and then have it going all over the place from there because of the guitarist(s).
  2. father of fires

    father of fires Commercial User

    Nov 29, 2006
    Chief of Medicine at Damnation Audio
    I don't think this is limited to just guitarists. Many musicians never take the time to learn their gear and their place in the mix.

    When I encounter volume hogs I do a simple "mixing session". Everyone takes turns playing with just the drummer and the rest of the band tells the player to turn up or down to match the dynamic level of the drums. Everyone is always surprised how much quieter they really should be.

    When the whole band comes in its a revelation.
  3. esa372


    Aug 7, 2010
    Excellent idea!

  4. jaywa


    May 5, 2008
    Iowa City, IA
    Yeah "mixing yourself" as a band seems to be a really rare art. By which I mean, not mixing through the board on stage but actually balancing yourselves out acoustically before things even get to the board. And, each player coming up or down dynamically as needed (without P.A. intervention) to complement what that song calls for.

    I have not been in many situations where there is the collective level of professionalism to do this competently, but when I have been, it's been a breath of fresh air and it makes EVERYTHING else easier by many factors.
  5. father of fires

    father of fires Commercial User

    Nov 29, 2006
    Chief of Medicine at Damnation Audio
    I came up with it when I saw a mixing engineer friend was soloing the vocals and snare drum and made sure they matched. When he was done it really made the vocals sit well in the mix.

    It's not entirely the same as I described but it game me the idea for live mixing sessions.
  6. SoLongJake

    SoLongJake Supporting Member

    Jul 1, 2007
    Des Moines, Iowa
    I'm super fortunate to play with a handful of wildly competent musicians who are also mature enough to not have to super saturate the room with volume.
    My take is that musicians who have played professionally tend to understand this more than the guys who want the hobby band experience. One of the projects I'm involved right now plays so quietly that we can have a regular volume conversation while practicing. The level of dynamic control we're building for this project is awesome, a lesson I can hopefully instill in all of the musicians I play with.
  7. jaywa


    May 5, 2008
    Iowa City, IA
    I played a house party this spring where it was me, an electric guitarist and a drummer in the client's basement rec room. Between the three of us there was at least 80 years of live gigging experience and you could tell from the first note. Small combo amps more than carried the room for both guitar and bass with headroom to spare. Even with acoustic drums we didn't overpower the room, we came up and down dynamically as needed (despite not having rehearsed a single note together beforehand), and supported the guitarist's vocals well enough that only a very small P.A. for the vocals was needed. It was, in a word, exhilarating.

    It wasn't the most financially rewarding gig I've played this year (despite an extremely generous tip from one of the people in attendance), but it was easily the most enjoyable from a purely musical perspective. I wish we had recorded it.
  8. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    Look, if one accepts the notion that knowing one's place in the mix and having suitable volume control over one's instrument & gear is a fundamental part of being a competent musician, then the answer to the OP's question is that many people who can play an instrument are simply not very good musicians. :rollno:

    Either someone screwed up by having admitted such a player into the band in the first place, or the offender himself has allowed his level of musicianship to backslide from where it once was. The ultimate solution remains as it always has been: Either "encourage" the deficient player to improve his skills...or find someone to replace him who already possesses those skills.

    How many times have I perused the threads in this forum, to read comments such as: "He's a really good (guitarist, drummer, vocalist, etc.). It's just that he chronically (plays too loudly, loses his place in the music, rushes/drags the tempo, flubs intros & fills, plays/sings off-key, etc.)"


    If this person commits any of these basic, fundamental kinds of offenses, on anything other than a very occasional basis, then by definition he is most certainly not a good guitarist, drummer, vocalist - or what have you.

    Perhaps the best question would be: "How did such a player get into the band in the first place? And what can be done to screen for such problems in future?"

  9. 6jase5

    6jase5 Mammogram is down but I'm working manually

    Dec 17, 2007
    San Diego/LA
    Many guitar players stand near their own amps which means that the bulk of their volume hits their legs while the rest of the band gets the full disbursement. I opened up one guys ears by having him stand in my position while I stood in his. He was overwhelmed at how loud his 18 boutique amp was, while he could barely hear my SVT.

    I love guys that use the legs that angle them upwards. They tend to get it. Unfortunately you sometimes can't convince the "I need to let the tubes growl" guys that won't buy a load/hotplate. When I'm on guitar I use a 50w JCM800 and 38w Magnatone in tandem....never had a problem being too loud, or at least I never could hear anyone telling me to turn down. :bassist:
  10. lwknives


    May 6, 2012
    This isn't just a guitarist thing, most of the musicians I play with have trouble with getting there volumes right. That being said, in most popular music the guitarist has to be able to pull of different rolls that require a completely different sound for one section of a song to another. Getting your solo volume to be the right amount louder than your rhythm sound is very difficult, and its not something that you can practice in your bedroom, it completely changes depending on how the song is arranged and what tones you are using.
    Guitarists get a bad rep for not knowing how to set there volumes because it is much harder for them due to the role there instrument plays. If a band changes there sound a lot from song to song the guitarist has to pretty much be doing sound engineering at the same time as playing his parts, most often right when they have the most pressure to pull of a difficult passage.
  11. SoLongJake

    SoLongJake Supporting Member

    Jul 1, 2007
    Des Moines, Iowa
    -1 guitar isn't a special case. Any musician worth their salt should know how to manage their volume.
  12. jaywa


    May 5, 2008
    Iowa City, IA
    Interesting thoughts and perspective. Maybe because I don't play electric guitar I'm in too simplistic of a mindset but to me it seems like, for MOST (not all) electric guitarists in MOST (not all) country/rock bands (my genre), no more than 4 settings should really be necessary:

    - Clean rhythm
    - Dirty (distorted) rhythm
    - Clean lead
    - Dirty (distorted) lead

    Wherein the "lead" settings are ~ 15% louder than the rhythm... enough of a boost to push appropriately forward in the mix (without a sound guy riding the fader), but not so much louder they overtake the whole rest of the band.

    And then effects being structured to color those 4 basic settings WITHOUT dramatically boosting or cutting the volume of the uneffected settings. IME guitarists who like to "stack" effects are more prone to volume creep because they don't know (or care) that each pedal they activate is incrementally boosting the signal unless they make a conscious effort to set them otherwise.

    Again, maybe I'm full of it and have it all wrong but this is how I see it anyway.
  13. sean_on_bass


    Dec 29, 2005
    I think there are numerous causes to the loud guitarist issue, i used to be a loud guitarist myself.

    -Amps are designed to be driven hard to "sound good."

    Solutions: Buy a low wattage tube amp, preferably a combo. I don't think there is ever a need for a guitarist to have a stack..ever.

    - Loud drummers, guitar turns up to compete.

    Solution: Depends on the style of music, but i feel if i have to wear ear plugs just to listen to a drummer play acoustically, something is wrong with their technique. No instrument should be that loud. Not necessarily the guitarists fault in this case.

    - People simply want to hear themselves more than others. Really a common selfish thing, players are much more interested in hearing what they are playing over what their bandmates are playing.

    Solution: Check your ego at the door, and change your perspective a little.

    -Guitarists use high gain pedals/overdrive. This often times makes the signal so hot that small changes in volume on the guitar can drastically increase the volume to ear piercing levels.

    Solutions: Know your gear and simplify your pedal setup, or don't use pedals at all.
  14. Fat Steve

    Fat Steve The poodle bites, the poodle chews it.

    As a gui**** by trade, it took quite some time and $$ to be able to dynamically effect the volume levels across the performance so as to not drown out the band. What I've found helps is having a bad ass crazy expensive amp that provides those volume options via the factory foot switch. I use a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier Solo Lead, which has 1 clean and 2 distorted channels, as well as a "solo" button that has a second master volume knob. So in essence, I have 6 volume settings: Clean, Clean Solo, Vintage Drive, Vintage Drive Solo, Metal Drive and Metal Drive Solo. I have the solo knob about 15-20% higher than the standard master volume. Where this also comes in handy is when I want to have a shimmery clean accent in the middle of a driving rhythm, I'll set it to clean lead and back down the volume on my guitar itself to remove the shrill peakiness that can happen at that volume, especially if I'm using the wah pedal as an envelope filter.

    Some people however cannot afford to purchase gear like that, so it gets a bit trickier. 2 distortion pedals and a compressor can get the job done, but it takes a bit of work to get it figured out, and one thing most guitar players I've met have in common is the utter lack of desire or drive to figure anything out regarding gear or sound. Drives me up a wall sometimes.
  15. FWIW: Yeah, those kind of musicians are also totally dynamically clueless, and drive me nuts!!!

  16. lwknives


    May 6, 2012
    That only works if every song requires only those same 4 tones, and the rest of the band always plays at the same volume. May work for some bands but not a variety cover band or a bands I play in which the lead guitar has to play a wider variety of rolls. Saying that guitar only requires those 4 tones is like saying a bass only needs to have a deep clean sound and no fx.
    When I play guitar I use a huge variety of settings that would all be lumped into the dirty lead category but they are all very different, sit different in a mix and require different methods for volume control.

    As far as FX stacking, the more FX you use the harder it becomes to make sure you are sitting in the mix correctly. It takes a lot of effort and practice to get all that stuff mixed right, most FX change the frequencies that are produced and may sit in different mixes with different perceived volumes. The problem is not guitarists it is that people who stack lots of FX (usually guitarists) have a harder job than people who only have a few different tones to navigate. They should of coarse learn there gear and get good at mixing it but it is not an easy task.
  17. lwknives


    May 6, 2012
    I agree that a guitarist worth his salt should learn to control his volume. What I'm saying is that, in general, it is a much more difficult task for a guitarist because they generally have to change there role, sound and mix more than other musicians.

    I'm not making excuses for guitarist who don't work at getting there sound to blend well, just pointing out that it is not an easy task, it has to be worked on and practiced. Hard.

    We shouldn't bash guitarists specifically because they have a more difficult role to play as far as mixing their sound in with a band.
  18. Ego
  19. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Inactive

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    This is half the equation in my experience. And the other half (which is utterly stupid) is that most of them put their amps at their ANKLES so that it tears my head off across stage but they can't hear it. If most of them pointed their amps at their heads they would be less likely to be stupid.... uh.... inconsiderate about volume. (And don't hand me the BS about sound dispersion physics. No matter what the "data" says, I have stood right beside amps at my feet and couldn't hear them. And I have walked across the stage and the same amp (no louder) is about to split my skull.
  20. Fat Steve

    Fat Steve The poodle bites, the poodle chews it.

    Also, I keep hearing this nonsense about never ever needing a half stack, and about needing to turn the amp up to get a good tube tone. Anyone that says either of the above is ignorant of the technology . With that Mesa Triple Rec I talked about above, it has 150W of tube power, yet I can get a great tone out of it and still be able to hear conversations in the room, all the while running it through a 1960A cabinet that angles the top two speakers towards me with the bottom two firing across the room. It just takes some time getting to know your gear, which unfortunately is a rare trait among most guitarists. As for effect volumes, any decent guitar amp will have an effects loop. By using the effects loop, you can blend the effects with the dry signal in order to get a more uniform output volume across the sound spectrum. It isn't rocket science.