For a lot of us, there is really nothing better than creating our own music. The joy of starting with a blank sheet and birthing a complete tune, your little baby, can be one of the most exhilarating experiences in all of music. Where at first there was nothing, now sits a completed composition. Amazing. Maybe it started with a little lyrical germ of an idea, a nice turn of phrase that stuck with you and gnawed at you until it forced you to flesh it out. Or maybe it was an interesting chord progression that lit a little spark in your imagination and ignited a whole bonfire of creativity. The great thing about being a singer-songwriter is that you are a completely self-contained unit. You can write it and perform it without relying on anyone but yourself and your own creativity. Sweet.
Like any good craftsman/woman, there are tools of our trade that inspire us to perform at the height of our ability. Let's take a look at a few.
About the Author - Michael Barberich
A New York guitar phenom from a young age, Michael still smiles looking back on playing his first bar gig at the ripe old age of fourteen. By eighteen, his acrobatic guitar style had caught the attention of a popular local band (whose members were all ten years older) and together they quickly conquered the legendary Long Island music scene, playing six nights a week to large audiences. Says Michael of this period, "To fill time, the band would often throw me two solos per song. I did the math recently and realized I was playing about sixty solos a night times six nights a week. That's three hundred and sixty solos per week! That's really where I learned to play, on stage every night in front of lots of people."
As comfortable playing or producing in the studio as he is on the stage, Michael's varied career has afforded him the opportunity to work with many of his heroes including Steve Vai, Justin Hayward, Gary Brooker, Rod Morgenstein, Steve Howe and Cheap Trick. Always happiest with a guitar in his hand, you can find Michael showing his versatility performing with LI Hall of Fame inductees Barnaby Bye, Macca Nation (a tribute to Paul McCartney & Wings) or his kitschy 70's band, the insanely popular, 45rpm (voted Long Island's best cover band for 2013 and 2014.)
Many singer/songwriters are solo artists. In this case, your instrument is your whole band. More than anything, this one purchase will have a major influence on your sound. Beyond the choice of an inexpensive guitar vs. a stellar quality instrument, the character of your chosen guitar will commandeer the overall personality of your music. The choice of wood (including layered vs. solid), the bracing, and the body shape and style all impact your sound. You can go bright with maple or warm with rosewood. The big, round sound of a jumbo or the tight, focused tone of a grand concert. The sound of your whole band is in your hands. Choose wisely.
Martin 00015M Mahogany Acoustic Guitar with Case
Taylor 214ce Deluxe ES2 Grand Auditorium A/E Guitar with Case
Martin D35 Acoustic Guitar with Case
Taylor T5 Classic Acoustic Electric Guitar with Gig Bag
Godin ACS-SA KOA Classical Acoustic Electric Guitar wGig Bag
Epiphone Masterbilt 2015 AJ45ME Acoustic Electric Vintage Sunburst
Taylor T5z Classic Acoustic Electric Guitar with Gig Bag
Takamine GD30CE 12-String Acoustic Electric Guitar
Luna TCMAH Tattoo Concert Ukulele with Bag Natural
You’ve more than likely put your heart and soul into finding the perfect instrument to express your creativity. One that inspires you. Now you need a delivery system that ensures your audience appreciates it’s sound as much as you do. Electric and acoustic guitar amps are very different animals. Electric guitar amplifiers are voiced specifically for electric guitars and their limited tonal range. Friends don’t let friends play acoustic guitars through electric guitar amplifiers. Acoustic guitars fill more of the audio spectrum with deeper lows and more shimmering highs than their electric counterparts. To reproduce the extended range of the instrument, acoustic amplifiers usually employ a speaker and some type of horn or tweeter, similar to a PA speaker or wedge monitor. Some acoustic amplifiers include amenities such as built-in effects, compression, anti-feedback and direct outputs to connect to the PA system.
Laney LA65D Acoustic Guitar Amplifier 2x8 Inch 65 Watts
Fender Acoustic Pro Acoustic Guitar Amplifier
Fishman Loudbox Artist Acoustic Guitar Amplifier
Marshall AS100D Acoustic Soloist Guitar Amplifier
Laney A1 Plus Acoustic Guitar Amplifier
Fender Acoustasonic 150 Acoustic Guitar Amplifier
Marshall AS50D Acoustic Guitar Amplifier
On the singer/songwriter circuit there are two types of venues, those with sound systems and those without. When in need of your own system there are a few factors to consider. First and foremost is the quality of the sound. With every note and word you play and sing emanating from it, your PA is one of the most critical links in your audio chain. Available as all-in-one units or as separate mixers/speakers/subs, depending on the size of the venue, a single unit is sometimes all that’s needed. Larger venues might require a more extensive system including subwoofers for extended low end.
Bose L1 Model II System Single B2 Bass with ToneMatch Audio Engine
QSC K12 Powered PA Speakers
Bose L1 Compact Portable Line Array System
Electro-Voice ZLX15P 15 inch 2-Way Full Range Powered Loudspeakers Pair
Fender Passport Venue Portable PA System
Yamaha StagePas 600i Portable PA System
JBL Eon One Powered Linear Array PA System With 6 Channel Mixer
Chief in considerations is the amount of channels needed. In a basic setup a singing acoustic guitar player needs as few as two. Adding additional players will require more channels as will things like inputs needed for an ipod or tablet (to play music between sets.) Onboard effects options include multiple choices of reverb, delay, modulation and compression. If you’re using a condenser mic or a direct box seeking juice be sure to look for a mixer that offers Phantom Power.
QSC TouchMix-16 Compact Digital Mixer with Bag
PreSonus StudioLive 16.0.2 Digital Mixer
Bose T1 ToneMatch Audio Engine Mixer
Allen & Heath ZED14 14 Channel Multipurpose Mixer With USB
The value of a good monitor is an often-underrated component of your show. Putting aside the fact that if you can’t hear yourself singing it’s a lot tougher to sing in tune or that you’ll damage your voice by over-singing, when you hear yourself clearly you sing with a lot more confidence and are able to concentrate on nuance rather than just hoping you’ll hear something. A good monitor is the difference between giving a great performance and just making it through the gig.
In ear monitors are extremely popular for a few reasons. They are really small and lightweight compared to a monitor speaker and they sound good. Consisting of a set of ear buds and transmitter pack and a separate receiver, in ear monitors offer a great sounding, compact, feedback-friendly way to hear yourself clearly. One of the benefits of using an in ear system is that you can use it with either your own PA system or the venues, ensuring you always have a consistent monitor level no matter where you’re performing.
Shure P3TRA215CL PSM300 Wireless In Ear Monitor System
Galaxy Audio AS-1100-4 Band Pack Wireless In Ear Monitor System
Sennheiser EW300IEMG3 In Ear Wireless Monitor System
Audio Technica M2 Wireless In Ear Monitor System
Then there’s the powered monitor speaker floor wedge. Similar (and sometimes the same as) a PA speaker, the floor wedge disburses the most volume and biggest sound of your monitor options.
QSC K12 Powered PA Speaker
Electro Voice ZLX12P Powered Loudspeaker
Mackie Thump15 Powered PA Speaker
JBL PRX812W 1500 Watt 12" 2-Way Full Range Powered Loudspeaker
In between in ear monitors and the floor wedge (in size and positioning) we have the personal powered monitor. Smaller than a wedge, these monitors mount on your mic stand (much closer to your ears) putting their controls (which can even include effects) within reach.
TC-Helicon VoiceSolo FX150 Monitor and Personal PA System
Galaxy Audio PA6S Powered Hot Spot Personal Monitor
Galaxy Audio NSPA Nano Spot Personal Monitor
If you're a singer you have a very intimate relationship with your microphone. Whether you travel with your own sound system or use the one at the venue it's a good idea to travel with your own mic. There are a few reasons for this. First, you wouldn't show up at the venue and play any old, beat up guitar they handed you, would you? No, you're guitar is an extension of yourself. Your microphone should be the same. The venue may have hundreds of performances a year. Who knows what shape their microphones are in or of what quality they may be? This is your voice we're talking about, your music's main selling point. Shouldn't you have your own high quality mic at every show? And second, if I haven't sold you on the first point I surely will on the second, do you really want to sing into the venue's mic that hundreds of people have spit into and had their lips pressed against? Yeah, I thought you'd see it my way.
Shure SM58 Dynamic Vocal Microphone
Neumann KMS 105 Handheld Vocal Condenser Microphone
Sennheiser e945 Dynamic Vocal Microphone
Audix OM5 Dynamic Vocal Microphone
Acoustic Guitar Microphone
You’ve got two choices to get your guitar into the PA or your (hopefully acoustic) amp. You can use a pickup or you can mic it (actually, a third option would be to do both.) There’s nothing like the sound of a good condenser mic on a nice instrument. You’ll experience deeper lows and cleaner, more transparent, highs than you will with your guitar’s built-in or add-on pickup. The pickups sometimes have a punchier mid-range. Some players use a combination of mic and pickup, though either by itself can give you a great sound.
Neumann KM 184 Instrument Condenser Microphone
Shure SM81 Instrument Condenser Microphone
Audio Technica AT2021 Condenser Microphone
Sennheiser e614 Condenser Instrument Microphone
Acoustic Guitar Pickups
An important consideration when choosing an acoustic pickup is the guitar you’re using and whether you want to permanently modify it. You can permanently install an under-saddle transducer or choose a removable sound-hole pickup that can be easily detached without marring the guitar’s finish. The under-saddle transducers tend to have a brighter tone while the sound-hole pickups are generally warmer. Of course pickups with tone controls help you to dial in the exact sound you’re looking for. Some pickup systems incorporate an actual microphone as a second audio source. Blending the pickup with the mic provides a wider variety of tones.
Seymour Duncan SA3SC Woody SC Acoustic Guitar Pickup
Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend Acoustic Guitar Pickup
Do you want real freedom? Get a wireless. No longer are you bound by the rigid constraints of the stage. Roam freely without the threat of tangled wires. Get up close and personal with your audience.
Audio Technica ATW-1501 System 10 Digital Guitar Wireless System
Shure GLX-D16 Digital Pedal Style Guitar Wireless System
Line 6 Relay G50 Digital Wireless Guitar System
You can always plug your guitar into your amp with a standard ¼” cable. For a lower noise, balanced output, that’s capable of longer cable runs (like through a snake out to the front of house mixer) you’re going to need a direct box. A direct box transforms your guitar’s high impedance output into a low impedance, XLR out. Common features include a hi-pass filter to filter out unwanted low frequencies, a polarity reverse switch for when you encounter a hum or buzz, and a pad switch to reduce hotter signals.
Radial J48 Active Direct Box
Radial StageBug SB1 Active Acoustic Instument Direct Box
Whirlwind PCUSB Computer Audio USB Interface
One sure way to beef up your signal is by adding a preamp between your instrument and your amp and the PA. Traveling with your own preamp is the best way to ensure you get a professional, consistent sound from your acoustic guitar in every venue, with every sound system. Your superior signal contains an option for boost, a notch filter to restrain the acoustic guitar’s nasty penchant for feeding back, and several bands of EQ. There’s often a built in tuner or a separate output for one so you can tune in silence. Using a preamp sometimes eliminates the need for a separate direct box as many include a low impedance XLR output.
Radial ToneBone PZ Pre Acoustic Preamp
TC Helicon Play Acoustic Vocal Harmony and Effects Processor
LR Baggs Venue DI Acoustic Guitar Preamp Pedal
It’s your voice. It’s the single most important thing being amplified and there’s a lot you can do to polish it to a brilliant sheen. In addition to reverb, delay, and chorus to add some sparkle and shine to your pipes, pitch correction and additional harmony vocals are now at your fingertips, or under your toes. Not that you need pitch correction, it just seems to inconspicuously make vocals sound so much better. It’s the same professional touch you hear in concerts or TV performances. You can also set it extreme for a hard-tune effect. Harmony effect processors add voices harmonizing with your own. Set it to a key and scale or have it follow your instrument for simple or complex harmonies. From a modest two part harmony lifting a bridge to a Queen tribute band.
TC Helicon VoiceLive3 Extreme Vocal FX Performance Package
TC Helicon Play Acoustic Vocal Harmony and Effects Processor
TC Helicon VoiceLive Play Vocal Harmony Effects Processor
TC Helicon VoiceLive Touch 2 Vocal Designer and Looper
TC Helicon C1 Pitch Correction Pedal
Looping is a great way for the solo artist to create the illusion of more than one musician performing. The looper can record what you play into it and play it back, allowing you to play over it. There are a lot of people doing some pretty creative stuff with loopers. From simple solos over a looped rhythm guitar to drum tracks or even complete rhythm sections, having the ability to record a part and play it back on the fly or trigger pre-recorded samples offers endless possibilities – and a whole lot of fun.
DigiTech JML2 JamMan Stereo Looper Phrase Sampler Pedal Pack
Boss RC300 Loop Station Guitar Pedal
Boss RC505 Loop Station
TC Electronic Ditto Looper X2 Guitar Pedal
There are a whole slew of accessories available to enhance your show or make your life easier. Here are just a few that will keep you tuned and toned.
This is kind of a necessity. Nobody likes an out-of-tune instrument. The only question is do you choose a clip-on or pedal model?
Planet Waves NS Mini Headstock Tuner
GoGo Caliber Chromatic Clip-On Instrument Tuner
Snark SN1X Clip-On Chromatic Guitar and Bass Tuner with Metronome
Korg Pitch Clip Chromatic Low Profile Clip On Tuner
Boss TU3 Chromatic Tuner Pedal
TC Electronic Polytune Polyphonic Clip On Guitar Tuner
TC Electronic Polytune 2 Polyphonic Tuner Pedal
One of the most important decisions a singer needs to make for a song is their choice of key. If your song’s guitar part contains the ringing of open strings, a capo allows you to change key while preserving the same fingerings and string choices.
G7th Performance 2 Guitar Capo
Glider Rolling Guitar Capo
Kyser Quick Change Guitar Capo
Shubb C1 Original Guitar Capo
This may seem frivolous but it’s actually a pretty useful accessory. You’re going to get thirsty, especially since you’re singing. So, where do you put your drink? On your amp where it’s easily knocked over, mixing liquid and electricity for an electrifying show and a possible trip to the hospital? On the floor where it’s sure to get kicked over, coating your cables, effects and shoes in a wheat and barley glaze? Get yourself a drink holder and have a tasty beverage secured at arms length on your mic stand.
On Stage MSA5050 Clamp on Cup Holder
Swirly Gig II Mic Stand Drink Holder
Swirly Gig Mic Stand Drink Holder
More and more players are foregoing the traditional music stand and storing gigabytes of chords and lyrics on their ipad. The ipad’s easy accessibility, large storage capacity and bright, readable, screen make it the perfect gig companion. All you need is the right mount to attach it to your mic stand.
On Stage TCM9368 iPad Air Snap-On Cover w/ Table Clamp
On Stage TCM9150 U-Mount iPad or Tablet Case
On Stage TCM9360 iPad Air SnapOn Cover
Protect your investment in your beloved guitar by making sure the top doesn’t warp or dry out and crack. Humidifiers are inexpensive, easy to use and the best way to ensure your guitar is protected from the elements.
Music Nomad The Humitar Acoustic Guitar Humidifier
Planet Waves Acoustic Guitar Humidifier System
Sound Hole Cover
An amplified acoustic guitar player always needs to keep an ear open for feedback. It’s the lurking monster that you’ve got to guard against. When you amplify an acoustic guitar it’s the nature of the beast. If you’re looking for an anti-feedback solution you’ll want to try a sound hole cover. It’s an inexpensive and effective way to tame the beast.
Planet Waves O-Port Acoustic Guitar Tone Enhancer
Planet Waves PWSH01 Screeching Halt Sound Hole Cover
Let’s face it, getting in and out is the hardest part of the gig. We play for free, we get paid to move all the gear around. And move it we do. Battered parking lots, catering hall kitchens, loading docks, festival fields, we move this gear a lot. And it’s sometimes quite a distance. Get in and out in one shot with an equipment cart.
Rock N Roller R2RT Multi-Cart with R Trac Wheels
Grundorf Road Runner Collapsable Equipment Cart
Rock N Roller R10RT Multi-Cart with R Trac Wheels
Rock N Roller R8RT Multi-Cart with R Trac Wheels
Don’t be a leaner. Get yourself a good guitar stand and save yourself from heartbreak and expense when someone (maybe you?) knocks your guitar over on a crowded stage. And consider that quality boom mic stands don’t sag before you get to the chorus. A well made music stand lasts more than a few shows and if you’re going to sit on it make sure it’s sturdy and comfortable. Stands - the unsung heroes of the gig.
On Stage 7462B A Frame Guitar Stand
On Stage 7121B Heavy Duty Guitar Stand
Grundorf PRO-GSCG Guitar Stand Case
Manhasset Model 48 Symphony Music Stand
On Stage Folding Music Stand
Raxxess Attachable Music Stand
On Stage Folding Music Stand
On Stage Stands 7701B Tripod Boom Microphone Stand
On Stage MS7700B Tripod Microphone Stand
On Stage MS7325 Stackable Microphone Stand
On Stage DT8500 Guitar/Keyboard Throne
Grundorf 70-001 Musician and DJ Adjustable Chair
Odyssey Multi Position DJ Chair
On Stage DrumFire MDT2 Double Braced Drum Throne