Hoooo boy, guys. What a mess. I had my first non-comedy show last night, and it was cool to be able to perform some of the non-silly songs in an environment other than an open mic, but man, the tech problems! In terms of things working as they ought to, it was a complete and utter fail.
When I was practicing earlier in the day, out of the clear blue, my low E string started buzzing. It wasn’t a gradual or subtle thing. It was a really bad buzz on just that one string, and it was worse with the capo. So, there was some troubleshooting, and after some fiddling around with the capo and without the capo, and on different frets, etc, I eventually determined it probably needed a bit of a truss rod adjustment, so, out came the screwdriver. I got it squared away – at least sans capo, which was good enough for the upcoming night, since I didn’t plan to do any songs with the capo, and I figured I’d troubleshoot later. I suspected my capo might be a bit worn down, which might be contributing to the issue, so I figured I could pick up a new capo en route and check the theory later.
I knew there was a music store en route, so I decided I’d pick one up on the way. After all, I already planned to leave super-early. It was a nice day, if a bit windy, and I wanted to take a walk and enjoy the weather before the show. A minor detour to Sam Ash wasn’t going to hurt my timeline any.
I thought I was all good to go. I had my guitar. I had my low G uke and my little Andoer stick on pickup for said uke. Everything had been tested within the past week and was working just fine.
When I got to the venue, my friends were already there, so I ended up stopping before going for a walk. I didn’t rule it out once I had my things all settled, though. I figured a preliminary tune up while the venue was quiet was a good idea. Plus, I could test my capo theory with the new capo.
Turns out I was right on that front – no buzz with a different capo, so I guess my pretty green capo’s reached it’s life expectancy at this point. Buuutt…I heard something rattling when I picked up my guitar. WTH was in there? Had a pick fallen inside or something. Had my cats unwittingly swatted one of their toys up into the soundhole? (You laugh, but Cleo has absolutely thrown her toys so far in the air when playing that we’ve found them on bookshelves there is no way she could possibly reach. I have found toy mice inside of half empty tissue boxes. So, this was a realistic guess.) No such luck, though. My input jack was loose and rattling around inside of my guitar. Well, fuck. There was no way to remedy that on the spot. There were no hardware stores nearby. I couldn’t reliably go back to the music store to see if they could fix it for me on the spot and get back before the show started. So, I decided my best bet was just to tape the thing inside the soundhole for the time being so it at least wouldn’t be rattling around and use the stick on pickup for both instruments. It seemed like it was going to be the path of least resistance, since I did have an alternative way to amplify my instruments on hand, even if it meant they were both going to sound a little tinny. I considered hanging the wire right out of the soundhole to plug in that way, but I couldn’t find a method where it wouldn’t bump into the strings, so vetoed the idea.
But, okay, fine. I was going to have to see if the hex nut was sitting on the floor at home, or go to the hardware store for a replacement, but there was nothing I could do about it short term, so I was focused on just getting things amplified enough for the space I was playing, and I was confident that once I found the sweet spot on the guitar for the stick on pickup, it would be fine. I would just have to hope I didn’t get any significant feedback. So, with the sound system set up, we plugged in the removable pickup and I stethoscoped my way to finding the sweet spot on the guitar. Fine, it was under the saddle, similar to the uke, but a little closer to center. Alright, good. That would work.
Or, so I thought. I’d tested everything (briefly) and it worked. …until I had to actually get up there and do it. The same thing that worked in testing was unresponsive when I actually needed it. I could hear the mic when I tapped it. It was definitely on and connected, but the venue’s set up wasn’t pulling any volume out of it. Even though it was on, it was no louder than if I was acoustic. …fuck’s sake. I know that’s not my little pickup. Cheap as it is, the lost cost is in sound quality, not volume. But, she just wasn’t getting more than a whisper out of it.
So, I had to give up and play acoustic. It was a small face, I gave a shout out to the room and the people in the back claimed they could hear the instrument just fine. Now, knowing I’m going to be playing acoustic, the mic should have been turned down a bit to balance it out, but…no, that was not done, so I dunno, I think I really might as well have been singing acapella for all the uke and guitar you could hear.
So, it was a pretty mixed bag of a performance. I performed fine, but the tech issues made me feel pretty lukewarm to the entire thing.
Still, it was a learning experience. I learned that:
- Check over your damn instruments before leaving the house with them. Nuts and bolts loosen over time. Plug things in at home occasionally, even if you don’t need to, just so you’re sure it works when you need it to.
- Even if all of your equipment has been tested and is in good repair, you can’t by default assume the equipment at the venue is in the same state of good repair. You also can’t assume that a venue that knows it’s hosting a musical performance is going to have an instrument mic on hand, because no, they didn’t.
- It’s probably a good idea to keep small repair items in my guitar case – a small screwdriver, extra battery, some nuts and washers, maybe some electrical tape, because my audio jack issue could have been fixed in about 10 minutes if I just had a spare hex nut and a screwdriver on hand.
So, I dunno. I guess going forward for future shows it’s going to be in my best interest to have my own amplification on hand. A battery-operated mini-amp and audio cable, or a mic and stand tossed into the back of my car ‘just in case’ would have saved a lot of headaches and the end result would have sounded better for the audience. Live and learn, I guess. When it comes to tech, sometimes, even your backup plan needs a backup plan. And, maybe I have an excuse to buy another guitar, you know, as a spare. 😀 (Kidding. If I buy another guitar it’s obviously just because it’s pretty and I want it. Let’s be real.)
And, oh yeah. The guitar is fixed. How the hell the hex nut ended up on my bathroom sink, I have no idea. But, I’ve decided to blame the cat.