As the old saying goes “Bigger is Better” however is that really true? Bands often feel that having full-stacks with tube heads or dual kick drums are ideal for playing live. The problem is, when it comes to having bigger equipment you need more space to carry it. You either need a trailer to transport everything or multiple cars to ensure everyone’s equipment makes it to the show. All of these can factor into higher toll costs and paying for more gas than necessary. Besides, no one wants to be fitting a large 4×12 guitar cabinet in their Honda Civic (though the newer models have larger trunks). When equipment is so big and a hassle to carry around, don’t you think it’s time to downsize?
In this article we’ll discuss why having bigger equipment is hurting you and why you should downsize your gear. But first, lets go into the “why” and “what happens” along with pros and cons before we discuss tips.
Starting off with smaller gear
Most bands (we’re gonna call them baby bands) start off are using combo amps until they come up with enough money for a bigger rig. It’s kind of a right of passage. You start with an amp such a Line 6 Spider and upgrade eventually for larger sound and because it looks more professional. This isn’t a knock on Line 6 Spider amps, I’m just using it as an example; one that comes up more often that not. We already start off with a downsize style set-up because it’s what we have to work with financially and we focus more on getting the band up and running.
At this stage bands can often fit most of their gear in one to two vehicles. Their set-up times are much shorter because it’s mostly plug and play with the cabs being mic’d by the sound person. Drummers start off with a smaller set-up as well because they’re not using dual kicks and minimal toms. Sure this equipment may not appear “professional” compared to other bands but it gets the job done. After all, the idea is to get your music out there regardless.
Making the jump to bigger and “more professional gear”
Then one day at band practice your guitarist comes in and says “look at what I bought”. They then roll a 4×12 guitar cab into the band room. From there it sets the pace that everyone needs to “up their game” and you’re off to the races. Before you leave for a show with your new gear you’re now wondering “how many cars do we need?” Your previous gear only needed 1 to 2 cars, now it’s more like 2+ cars. On your way to a show you go through a toll which is $1.00 for each car. The cost for tolls has now doubled because the amount of cars needed. You now say to yourselves “we need to get a van and trailer” which may seem logical but can cost more in the long run.
So you buy a van and trailer for a few thousand dollars. Now every member can get to the show at the same time and all the equipment fits into the trailer. All seems well but now the cost of the van and trailer through tolls has doubled because of the extra axle. Your toll through the New Jersey turnpike was once $11.00 is now $22.00. You immediately start to regret your decision paying $44.00 in tolls going to and from New Jersey.
Enough is Enough!
After you’ve paid more than enough in tolls lugging around large equipment and grow tired of carrying guitar cabs and equipment up flights of stairs you decide it’s finally time to downsize. So what can you do to downsize? You don’t want to compromise your sound just for sheer convenience. Below are some tips on how to downsize your gear.
Tips to Downsize Your Equipment
Downsize your 4×12 guitar cab for a 2×12
Lugging around a 4×12 guitar cabinet can often be heavy or overall awkward. They tend to be pretty wide so if you have short arms, this can pose a problem. One way to downsize is to purchase a 2×12 guitar cabinet. Most 2×12 guitar cabinets offer nearly identical sound/volume to 4×12’s, are lighter, and fit easier in cars. When playing live most sound people only mic one speaker anyways so why have 4 when 2 will do? Some other great advantages are if you had four 2×12 cabs, you can have one on stage left and another on stage right. This will allow multiple guitarists to hear the other and create a wall of sound with both guitars essentially in stereo.
Downsize your guitar head
Guitarist care a lot about their tone and often are weary of switching to a different amp for that reason. They may stay with the amp heads they’re used to like some classic Marshall JCM Series which is nearly 2ft in width and weighs around 26lbs. By no means am I advising against these amps because they are great sounding but there are other options available that are both lighter and skinnier.
Go strictly digital
This option is definitely debatable. Most guitarists are big on having cabs and tube based amps because they feel they’re sacrificing tone when going digital. The great thing about going digital via an interface such as an Axe-FX or Kemper Profiler they allow you to capture your tube amp sound as a pre-set by “modeling”. If you tend to play shows that have amazing sound systems you can plug these directly into the snake on the stage and you’re good to go. No need for cabs at all. Your stage set up is now the size of a XBox One.
There are however some set-backs with this approach. A good digital profiler can often costs $1,500.00 and up. Not only are they costly but if you’re playing smaller venue shows with a mediocre PA system you might not sound great. Luckily, if you have just the digital profiler perhaps you can talk to bands prior about cab sharing and just plug in. In that case, still no need to lug around a guitar cabinet.
Use guitar pedals instead of a head
Want to go even smaller for a fraction of the cost? How about using just guitar pedals? There are plenty of effects pedals to choose from but there are now pedals that are power amps. Granted these power amp pedals are under 50 watts but if you’re using a 2×12 and the guitar cab is mic’d, that’s all you’ll need. This will allow you the ability to have your power amp and effects pedals all in one simple case or even carrying bag. This will come in handy while on tour to avoid equipment being stolen especially if everything can go in a backpack.
Don’t need a bunch of effects pedals? In this case all you would really need is a power amp and distortion pedal; from there you’re good to go. Want even less to carry? Go with the two pedals then cab share with one of the other bands. At this point, all you need is a backpack.
What About Drums?
This topic can be a little tricky. Some drummers want to use their acoustic drums and nothing else. I completely understand this approach because I feel drums are the backbone of bands. However you approach drums is completely personal preference. There may not be a lot of room to downsize but there are approaches you can take to reducing drum size.
Figure out the toms and cymbals you really need
When playing drums in a band and going to shows it may look awesome to have a 6-piece drum kit, 2 kick drums, and 8 cymbals but is it necessary? It’s possible you may need all those toms if you’re a progressive rock band. However, if you’re playing standard 4/4 timing to some basic riffs, do you need a monster size kit? This is when you would need to analyze you drum kit and determine what’s truly necessary for your sound and what is for show. Any toms and cymbals that are hardly utilized and for show I recommend removing to downsize.
Switch to Electronic Drums
Now this option may look cheesy but what if you could fit a 10-piece set of drums inside a small box? Most drummers my sway away from the idea of electronic drums but there have been many advances since their inception. Not only are electronic drums sounding more authentic to the acoustic sound, there’s often hundreds of different presets available. Another great thing about electronic drums is that they’re often used to create midi based drum tracks for recording.
The downside of electronic drums is that they often very expensive essentially downsizing your wallet for sheer convenience. They need to be plugged into an amp or the pa system. If you tend to play shows with mediocre PA systems then this may not be the best approach as your sound could be compromised.
Wether you want to keep your larger equipment or downsize to a smaller set-up for ease of touring is completely personal preference. Personally, I would be more interested in a smaller set-up to save costs on gas and tolls for touring. Money saved while touring can go to things such as new band merchandise or future recordings. After all, for any band or business to succeed it’s all about reducing costs by upgrading or in this case “downsizing” equipment.