Friday, April 11, 2008

Blues Jam Blues

So, last weekend I decided to head out to a Sunday Blues Jam at a local club, and I decided to take my 1970 Fender Champ project amp. I knew that a 6-watt tone monster would not stand up to all the wanking and cranking that goes on at your typical blues jam, so I took along my new Hughes & Kettner Red Box Pro DI box. That way I could send a raunchy post-power tube signal to the house PA board, just using the Champ as a tone generator. I used short speaker jumpers to connect the Red Box to the Champ’s speaker tap and headed out the door. All I had to carry was the Champ and the harp case. This was a great plan.

Well, maybe not. In fact, it was a train wreck.

I had spoken with the club owner a few days before and asked if they had an open channel on the board I could use during the jam. The answer was “Sure! Anything to make the musicians comfortable.” I thought I had all my ducks in a row.

I was scheduled to go on during the first set, so during setup the club owner was helping me get the amp connected to the board. The club owner hands me a ¼ inch instrument cable and says, “Here ya go.” I said, “No, I need an XLR cable, low impedance with phantom power.”

This began a polite conversation that ended with me playing the little Champ with no augmentation at all. It was 6 watts in all its glory, sounding great but pretty much inaudible among the Riveras and Twins on the stage. The real problem was phantom power. The club owner was afraid it would damage the dynamic mics if it was switched on. (It wouldn’t). He finally said there were two “broken channels” in the board and I was on my own.

I played the first couple of songs and the crowd was shouting, “Turn up the harp!” The audience could not hear me, which was probably just as well since I could not hear myself. When I can’t hear myself I play too loud, too much, and generally poorly.

So the bandleader of the host band grabbed a Shure SM57 that was hanging on an unused Rivera amp and moved it to my Champ. But the mic was not in the monitors, and the club owner was nowhere to be seen. So, now the audience can hear me but I still can’t hear myself. As I said, it was a train wreck…

Important Object Lesson for Blues Jammers: Next Sunday I’m going back but I’m taking my big amp, the Masco ME-18 and Avatar 2x10 cab. I’ll be playing on the same stage with the same host band, set up in the same position, but with a much louder amp. I won't need to rely on anyone else for PA or monitor support.

I’ll update this post after the Jam and let you know how it went. I plan on taking my Zoom H4 digital recorder, so hopefully I’ll have sound samples I can link to here.

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