How To Rig Your Guitar Amplifier For The Best Sound

Photo courtesy of Danny at Premier Guitar dot com

Most performers and their bandmates, when first starting out, don’t have a clue about how to project the best guitar sound in a variety of venues, rooms, bars, and clubs.

The topic of the Public Address (PA) systems (and vocal microphones) is worthy of another blog altogether, but for now, let me give you my best advice when it comes to setting-up your guitar amplifier at a gig.

Small venue

I would place the guitar amplifier on an amp stand that allows for a slight upward tilt. It would be located on the outboard edge of the stage so that it isn’t blasting directly into the microphone stand line-of-sight. The general orientation of the amp would be facing directly into the center of the room.

Volume level would be quite high, because I wouldn’t mic the amp.

Medium venue

I would place the amplifier on an amp stand that keeps the amp level. It would be located immediately to my outboard side (left side) at thigh-level, so that it faces back toward the drummer. (This assumes no monitor speakers in the mix. The drummer can usually hear the bass guitar at any gig, but the guitar sound can be elusive, and can get lost in the mix.)

Volume level would be moderate, since I would mic the amp with a Shure 58 cardioid microphone. The mic cable would be simply hung over the amp, and the mic would be laying flush against the face of the amp, mid-speaker.

That microphone would be cabled to a medium-capacity PA system, at least 300w, and its position in the cable-lineup on the PA head would be the very first after the vocal microphones. The signal would be dry in the PA, with no PA reverb applied.

Large Venue

Same location and general set-up as the medium venue, but I would use a Shure 57 microphone to mic the amp to the PA.

That mic would be placed in a mic-stand, and the head of the Shure 57 would be positioned 3 inches from the face of the amp speaker, at a slight (30 degree) angle. Dry signal again, and I would use a much larger PA system, at least 800w.

It’s a given that we would have at least two monitor speakers at the front of the stage, pointed back toward the drummer.

All Venues

In all cases, the amp would be close enough to my body so that I can reach over and make adjustments to volume, tone, and effects settings. And it goes without saying, the amp would be close enough to me that the pedal board cable going to/from it aren’t unnecessarily long (to avoid signal degradation).

I use a pedal board with (in this order) a talk box, distortion pedal, boost pedal, phase shifter pedal, and an ElectroHarmonix Mel 9 mellotron emulator.

In a smaller venue, I run a quality cable to/from the amp and my pedal board, and at a larger venue I use my wireless rig, the Line 6 Relay G30.

That is all, I reckon.


So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment.


  • Vale: This should help some people! It’s good to know that you don’t need a large amp to play a large venue, you just need to know how to set everything up to maximise the sound :)
  • Sparky2: Sound and tone.
    The eternal quest for perfection.
    And it’s all so subjective, and what sounds good in this bar sound terrible in that public auditorium.
    And so we fiddle and we adjust things around this way and that.
  • rct: I am the opposite. I set it pretty much the same everywhere. They can’t hear my tone and they don’t care, they just want to hear Hendrix or Grand Funk or some other thing tonight. I could agonize for hours or just turn the amps on and go, I get the same reaction. I stopped worrying about that stuff in...late 80s I guess. I do have preferences and I do take pains getting set up right, but none of it is about achieving some great tone, it’s about fail proofing and getting the best sound for me and the rest of the band. A decent guitar through a decent amp wrangled by someone with some experience along with a well rehearsed band that above all sings well wins every time!
  • Sparky2: This is true, rct, and thanks for the input and perspective.
    As I go back and re-read my own posting, I am struck by how much the desire for achieving the best sound for the audience actually takes a back seat to making sure the drummer can hear my guitar!

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