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May 2024
Vol. 23, No. 8

Ask Charlie...

 Can I Get More of Me in the Monitors?

by Charlie LoachMay 2023

Hello Troubadourians! I have two pedalboards. Originally, one was for my electric guitar and the other was for my acoustic guitar. I built them when I was playing with Folding Mr. Lincoln. When I first started with FML I was playing electric guitar and was using the same pedalboard I previously used with the Wild Truth. It took me a while to figure out that what I was doing on electric guitar—sort of a “holdover” style from the Wild Truth—wasn’t working for the music I was now playing. I need to take a minute here to thank Harry Mestyanek for his patience while I worked through my growing pains with his music. Eventually, I decided that I needed—and wanted—to play acoustic guitar exclusively with FML. It was definitely the appropriate move artistically and musically, and I figured that I wouldn’t have to carry as much gear. One guitar, one small pedalboard (or no pedalboard), a few cables… done. Just show up and play…

That was the idea at least. It worked really well in rehearsal, and our first gig—where we used our own sound system—so I was very happy. I was playing things that fit the music, I was creating a new playing style, and I didn’t have to bring a lot of gear to do it. Until our first gig where we had to play through the venue’s sound system…

It was in a bar in downtown San Diego. Our percussionist had to use the house drums, a full kit no less, and the sound guy had no experience with live acoustic instruments other than solo performers strumming on a guitar. The sound check was rushed, we barely played a full song as a band, and I thought I had my guitar in the monitor. Not. If I was strumming hard, I could barely hear my guitar. When I tried to take a solo, I couldn’t hear myself at all. I tried to get the sound guy’s attention to no avail. After two songs I just took my guitar off and set it in the stand. I just stood there and looked at the sound guy and at Harry. Yeah, just a little but unprofessional, but I didn’t see any other way to get anyone’s attention. After the second song, Harry realized that I wasn’t playing. I stepped over to him and explained what was going on. We did a second sound check right there and he wouldn’t let the sound guy stop until I could hear my guitar. Not very entertaining for the audience I’m sure, but I’m glad that Harry was willing to stand up for his band. I don’t really know what if anything of my guitar was coming through the main system, but if I can’t hear myself onstage, what comes through the house mix could be total garbage.

As soon I got home, I went online and bought an amp for my acoustic guitar. From that point on, I always used that amp as a monitor for every rehearsal and gig. Even those where we used our own sound system. I also realized that the basic sound from my aftermarket pickup system sounded rather generic and kind of “quacky” like a lot of piezo pickup systems can be. The amp didn’t have the EQ capability of a mixing console, so I built a pedalboard with a Fishman Aura and an MXR 10-band EQ so that I could tailor my sound to be as close to the natural acoustic sound of my guitar as was possible. I later added an MXR dyna-comp so that I had even more control over my signal level for solos. This is the rig I used for the remainder of my tenure in Folding Mr. Lincoln. Eventually, we added electric guitar to our sound and for a while I had two complete rigs—one for acoustic guitar and another for electric guitar—including two separate pedalboards. Over time, I combined both boards into one that worked for both electric and acoustic guitar. I wrote about this process in a previous column.

See it here:

That was then, and for a different band. Six pieces and a lot of sound onstage. Not actually loud, but a lot of content in the frequencies where my lead guitar lived.

Forward to my current band, Outliers, with the awesome Mark C. Jackson and Pamela Haan. A vocal trio with two acoustic guitars and three voices. This band came to fruition as a result of our collaboration for a memorial show for our friend David R. Morgan. With only two guitars, I figured that I didn’t need an amp for my guitar. And that was true for all the gigs we had played where we either had our own sound system or were supported by a sound engineer with his own system and years of experience with presenting acoustic bands where there was a lot of soloing. Perhaps I’d become overconfident…

Prior to a recent gig, I rebuilt my simple acoustic-only pedalboard. We were scheduled to play a gig where the sound system was essentially biased toward electric bands. I figured that running our guitars direct and relying on the monitor system would work for us just like it had so far as long as I had some control over my sound via my pedalboard. After all, we were still just two guitars and three voices, not a lot of stage volume to compete with. Sound check went okay but it was a struggle to get my guitar loud enough in the monitors for my solos to stand out and for me to play comfortably. For what I do, there are a lot of dynamics in my playing and the monitors have to be loud enough for me to hear myself whether I’m playing softly, doing fills behind the vocals, or soloing. We just couldn’t get there this time. I had to settle for a basic mix, which forced me to play much harder than I wanted to no matter what I was doing, and there were lead parts that required to be oversimplified just to be heard. Now I’m all about “less is more” but when it is “less” with no subtlety, that isn’t what I’m looking for.

So, I have resolved to have my amplifier available for all gigs in the future. Even those where we have our own sound system and monitors. I might not use it, even if it’s onstage, but it’ll be there just in case. Just flip the switch and I’ll have more of me whenever I need it…

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (

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