Tone Tips: All About Monitoring
In-ears or wedges? Here’s how to get the best from both onstage.
I'm often asked about my thoughts on stage monitoring. With the advent of in-ear monitors, it's now common to see stages devoid of any “side fills" and/or wedge (or “foldback") monitors. On many tours—and certainly in bars and casinos—it's become fairly common to see stages with no guitar or bass amps either. Yet some artists, such as Paul McCartney and Gov't Mule, prefer to do things old school with traditional monitors. Let's look at the pros and cons of both in-ear systems and traditional monitors.
Let's just get this out of the way:
In the early days of rock 'n' roll shows, there were no monitors! Early rockers heard their instruments through guitar and bass amps. Vocals and drums were heard through the main PA system. As rock's popularity exploded, crowds grew larger, girls screamed louder, and it became impossible for both musicians and audiences to hear the music.
The First Foldback?
The first use of foldback monitors may have been when the Beatles performed at Atlanta Stadium in 1965. A local soundman, "Duke" Mewborn of Baker Audio, set up a monitoring system that so impressed the Fab Four, they asked him to go on the road with them. (He declined.) Until then, feedback concerns had largely prevented soundmen from facing monitor systems back towards the band and their microphones. Mr. Mewborn used cardioid mics (which reject sound from the back and the sides) to limit feedback. So began the age of foldback monitors.
And so it was—until the '80s, when the first in-ear systems were developed. These are basically headphones—each musician gets a personal mix, much like in a recording studio.
I've used both in-ears and wedges extensively over the last 25 or so years. I've learned that both approaches have advantages and disadvantages, and I might prefer wedges for one situation and in-ears for another. Sometimes, when starting a tour, I'm given a choice, though sometimes there's no option—you must use the system the tour has decided on.
Working with In-Ears
Let's look at in-ears first. On the plus side, custom-molded in-ears act like earplugs, protecting your hearing (as long as you're careful with levels—more on this later). You get a mix, and it stays consistent no matter where you stand onstage. This makes in-ears a great choice if you move around onstage. If your band is touring with its own monitor console, you can also expect consistency, and you shouldn't need to make many changes from show to show. In-ears isolate you somewhat from the varied acoustical environments you encounter in different rooms.
I remember touring with Chris Cornell in 2009, opening for Lenny Kravitz for three weeks in France. For various reasons we weren't able to do a full soundcheck until two weeks into the tour. But because we carried our own digital console and mics, the sound from gig to gig was basically identical to what we'd experienced in rehearsals. Likewise, when we'd perform at big festivals with multiple bands—often "throw and go" situations where soundchecks aren't an option—we could expect our familiar mix when we hit the stage. This would be next to impossible using traditional wedges. Also, singing is much easier with in-ears. Most musicians don't push their voices as hard and sing in tune better with in-ears.
In-ear monitors can be frustrating for guitarists. Most in-ears isolate you almost completely from ambient stage sound, but we're used to hearing our amps onstage.
On the downside, in-ears can be frustrating for guitarists. Most in-ears isolate you almost completely from ambient stage sound, but we're used to hearing our amps onstage. With in-ears you're almost completely reliant on the monitor engineer, and hearing your close-miked amp is not the same experience as hearing it on a wide-open stage. Also, a consistent mix can actually be a disadvantage at times. Have you ever walked toward the drummer during a song so you could hear a bit more hi-hat and a bit less of yourself? This "self mixing" is impossible with in-ears. Also, in-ears isolate you from the crowd and the other musicians, which can make it difficult to talk to your bandmates mid-performance and leave you feeling disconnected from the live experience.
To be happy using in-ears, you need to spend time dialing in a mix—winging it is a bad idea! Working with an experienced monitor engineer is obviously a huge plus. Knowledge of good amp- miking technique is helpful. If possible, set time aside to work with your monitor and FOH engineers. Experiment with a few different mics on your amp in various positions until you get the desired sound in your in-ears (assuming it also works in the PA). Cabinet simulators, such as the Two Notes Torpedo C.A.B., can also be terrific for keeping your in-ear mix consistent from show to show. Using a stereo rig to add a touch of ambience (delay, reverb, or a bit of both) can also make the in-ear experience more natural and enjoyable.
Lastly, be very careful about levels. Using a limiter on your in-ear mix is recommended. (Most in-ear receiver packs have them built-in.) I have tinnitus in my left ear mainly because of repeatedly setting my in-ear level too loud on a past tour.
Working with Foldback Monitors
Using good ol' wedges is actually my preference. The pluses are many: Setup and soundcheck are usually easier. You have less gear to deal with personally, so you can concentrate on playing more. You can hear your amp naturally. You can communicate with the other musicians onstage. And you'll hear the crowd, which tends to make the whole experience more exciting and enjoyable. On the downside, they obviously create more stage volume, which can conflict with the main front-of-house mix. Also, if you move around onstage a lot, it can take a bit of soundchecking to make sure you hear yourself everywhere.
On my current tour with Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi, we have a large ramp that extends off the front of the stage. When I'm all the way at the end, I'm actually in front of the main PA. The sound is quite delayed coming out of the PA, so I have to make sure the wedges all the way down the ramp have plenty of drums and guitars so I can play in time.
Try to keep the stage volume as low as possible. I recommend learning some EQ basics so you can listen to your wedge at soundcheck, identify issues, and ask for changes in the master EQ if necessary. Generally, cutting frequencies is better than boosting. This contributes to a better- sounding stage. It's great if you can listen to your monitor and say, for example, "Can you cut 400 Hz on the whole mix a bit to clean it up?" Your monitor engineer will appreciate your knowledge, and the FOH engineer will appreciate you keeping things under control onstage.
Both approaches are valid, and if you maintain a flexible attitude, you can make either approach work. Until next month, happy monitoring!
- Quick Hit: Ultimate Ears UE 7 In-Ear Monitors Review - Premier Guitar ›
- Tone Tips: Thicken It Up! - Premier Guitar ›
- Tools for the Task: In-Ear Monitors - Premier Guitar ›
Sweetwater vs. Reverb
Which one do you prefer?
Rhett and Zach unpack the big news for secondhand guitar sellers and buyers: Sweetwater has launched their new Gear Exchange. How does it compare to Reverb, Craigslist, and Marketplace? To find out, Zach takes the site for a spin and buys a pedal. He calls the process both “very easy” and “normal.” They discuss the pros and cons of the various used-gear outlets and share tips for not getting got when buying gear. Plus, Zach grew a mustache, Mythos Pedals is moving, and he talks about his forthcoming line of Strat pickups inspired by Hendrix’s reverse-stagger setup.
Sweetwater vs. Reverb
Get 10% off from StewMac when you visit stewmac.com/dippedintone
Xotic Effects Introduces Revamped RC Booster
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Xotic Effects unveils an updated version of their classic boost pedal.
Xotic’s RC Booster pedal is back to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The RC Booster’s original design was a customer favorite due to its versatile clean boost, active treble, bass, gain and volume controls. This classic reissue will join their regular pedal lineup permanently.
• Transparent boost pedal for electric guitar
• Up to 20dB of boost for adding volume or sending your amp into overdrive
• Treble and bass EQ controls with +/-15dB range for fine-tuning your sound
• True bypass switching removes the effect from your signal path when disengaged
• Powered via 9-volt battery or optional AC adapter (sold separately)
• 9-18 volts
The first 1000 pedals will contain a special limited edition packaging with special items and actual guitar picks from Andy Timmons, Paul Jackson Jr, Dean Brown, Kirk Fletcher, Allen Hinds, Chris Duarte, Scott Henderson, Oz Noy, Michael Thompson, Yuya Komoguchi, Toshi Yanagi.
RC Booster with limited edition packaging street price is $172.00. More info: xotic.us.
Cort Introduces the KX508 Multi-Scale II
Expanding on the innovations of Cort’s original 8-string multiscale, the KX508 Multi-Scale II features an updated okoume body and a specially designed Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker.
The KX508 Multi-Scale II is the second iteration of the eight-string KX508, Cort’s first multi-scale 8-string guitar introduced in 2020. Like its predecessor, the KX508 Multi-Scale II has a visually stunning poplar burl top in a Mariana Blue Burst finish. Beyond its visual appeal, the poplar burl is an ideal tonal complement to Cort’s newly introduced okoume body. Okoume is known for its light weight and ability to improve tonal clarity. It has a tight low-end and highly articulate high-end, which matches the overall sonic characteristics of the KX508 Multi-Scale II. The multi-scale, measuring 26.5 to 28 inches, offers a punchy low end while maintaining a familiar feel and tension on the treble strings, which allows for speedy runs and string-bending. Players have unhindered access to the high frets thanks to the low-scooped heel.
The 5-piece maple and purple heart neck not only provides strength and stability, aided by a spoke nut hotrod truss rod, but a strong and focused sound. The Macassar ebony fingerboard (15.75-inch radius) offers smooth playability along the 24 frets with teardrop inlays. Macassar is an ideal tonewood for high-gain applications because of its ability to cut through a dense mix. At the top of the neck, the 2 7/32-inch nut width (56.5 mm) is surprisingly comfortable for an 8-string guitar and is even suitable for players with smaller hands. The individual hardtail bridge with string-thru-body design results in greatly improved sustain, superb string separation for enhanced articulation, and precise intonation. Deluxe locking machine heads offer reliable tuning as well as easier and quicker string changes.
The Cort Sessions | KX508 Multi Scale II Electric Guitar
MSRP $1699.99 USD
MAP $1199.99 USD
For more information, please visit cortguitars.com.
D’Angelico Guitars Announces the Excel Tour Collection
The Tour Collection is defined by a minimalistic, vintage-inspired aesthetic, top-of-the-line components, and a simplified electronics configuration featuring new, custom pickups by Supro.
Available in the collection is the 16-inch-wide double-cutaway DC, the 15-inch-wide single-cutaway SS, and a 14-inch-wide Mini DC. Each model comes in three finishes: Slate Blue, Solid Wine, and Solid Black.
Every detail of the Tour Collection was chosen to achieve retro minimalism. Small diamond fingerboard inlays match 1930s-style diamond f-holes, and an undersized Throwback Scroll-style headstock achieves excellent head-to-body balance. The collection also features satin nickel hardware and custom Vintage Deluxe Grover tuners with a 15:1 gear ratio. Each model also features a simplified two-knob electronics configuration with 50s-style wiring to retain top-end clarity upon rolling off the volume knob. The neck shape in the Tour Collection is similar to the slim C-shape found throughout the D’Angelico line, but with more thickness in the shoulder to allow for snug hand fit as well as extra sustain. Medium Jumbo fret wire and a 12-inch fingerboard radius allow for quick navigation of the fingerboard while also prioritizing comfort for both rhythm and lead playing.
In 2020, Supro and D’Angelico became part of the same family of brands under Bond Audio. At that time, EVP of Product Ryan Kershaw and CTO Dave Koltai began designing custom pickups under the Supro name for the Tour Collection project.
“Supro Bolt Bucker pickups were designed to offer the tone of the most sought-after vintage "PAF" pickups from the late 1950's. Scatter wound, just like the originals, Supro Bolt Buckers utilize 42-gauge enamel wire along with a mixture of Alnico II (neck) and Alnico V (bridge) magnets to provide the perfect balance of warmth and clarity with unrivaled articulation and note bloom.” - Dave Koltai, Chief Technology Officer at Bond Audio.
Introducing the Excel Series Tour Collection | D'Angelico Guitars
All models are available for pre-order and will be in stock this holiday season. US MAP $1499. For more information, please visit dangelicoguitars.com.