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Troubleshooting for the Biggest, Baddest Tour

Trials and tribulations on the Toby Keith tour

Rehearsal for Toby Keith’s Biggest and Baddest Tour was scheduled for Sunday, the week before the first concert date. I came in on Saturday to go through my rig with a fine-tooth comb. Needless to say, I’m glad that I did because there was an AMPlitude of problems!

When you consider the 60-plus cities we played last year, including soundchecks and recording sessions, I put a good number of hours on my amps. I knew it would be smart to change out the tubes in both of my Kustom heads before the start of this tour. After doing just that, I powered both babies up and discovered that I was only getting sound out of one side. I turned down the top amp and listened to the bottom one. I immediately gathered that it wasn’t producing enough sound to play the Horowitz’s Bar Mitzvah, let alone an arena full of rowdy and excited fans! I was faced with the task of trying to figure out why this was happening.

The first thing I did was bring out another amp that I knew worked to see if it would function through the same lines. If it did, then the problem was the original amp and not the processing leading to the amp. If the new head still didn’t work, then it could be a couple of things: an effects processor, the wireless unit or any number of cables
connecting the chain.

The rig in question
The new amp worked perfectly, but it wasn’t a match to the other head in the rack, so I couldn’t switch them. I had to figure out why the first amp was low on output. I took the non-functioning head out of my rack and plugged it directly into a 4x12 cabinet. That way I could see if it worked in the simplest application – direct to the speakers with no effects chain in-between. I plugged into both sides of the speaker cabinet to be sure that I wasn’t dealing with a disconnected or blown speaker. It reacted the same on both sides – a discouraging nothing! I was completely stumped.

Before sending it back to the manufacturer for repairs, I thought I’d try one last thing. While it was normally set at 8 ohms, I wanted to see if I had the same problem when I ran the amp in the 16 or 4-ohm position. When I touched the ohms switch on the back of the amp, it cracked and fired up with an intense volume that even Deep Purple would have been proud of! The problem was that the switch was stuck at a point between 8 and 16 ohms; a proverbial no mans land between V = IR and nada! I don’t understand all of the electrical or mathematical properties of ohms, but I do know that a switch has to be in the correct position to work. This one wasn’t. Upon further inspection I noticed that the components of the switch were also a little wobbly, so as a safety measure I ordered a new one from the manufacturer. From then on it was smooth sailing. The rest of the rig checked out fine.

One wrench in the works for Toby Keith’s Biggest and Baddest Tour was that the set the band stands on was made with wheels and built to move during the show. However, the engineers who designed the stage forgot to consider the trivial detail that the band’s gear, which sits behind the set, had to move as well. Sammy Bones, my always-capable guitar tech, devised a method of fastening all of the band’s gear, speakers and racks to the set. The problem then was reduced to mic’ing amps with mics that could move, too. I didn’t want to stick Z bars under the cabinet in the road case base, because it would cause too much wear and tear on the equipment. By the end of the tour, my cabinet would have to get a room at the 4x12 retirement home next to Clapton’s, destroyed by an airline in the seventies, and down the hall from Hendrix’s Marshall cabs from Woodstock. We came up with the idea to Velcro the Z bars to a board placed on top of the cabinet with the mics hanging down. That way the only thing that needed to be done was placing the board on the cabinet and running the mic lines.

When the band hit rehearsals on Sunday, my rig was shining bright and in perfect working order. The lesson here (if there has to be one) is to stay one step ahead of Murphy. Be prepared and never assume that everything is going to work just because it did the last time you played. You’ll present yourself as much more of a pro!

Keep Jammin’.

Rich Eckhardt
Rich Eckhardt is one of the most sought after guitarists in Nashville. His ability to cover multiple styles has put him on stage with singers ranging from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith to Shania Twain. Rich is currently playing lead guitar with Toby Keith. His album Soundcheck is available now, with another due this summer.

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