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Top 5 Tips for Troubleshooting On Stage


So, you started a band, practiced non-stop, got a set together, and booked a show. You’ve got your guitar, your amp, your pedalboard, and you’re all loaded in on the stage. You start, and it’s going great! Everyone’s digging your sound and really getting into it, when all of a sudden, something happens. Your whole rig sounds wrong (or there’s no sound at all!). Panic sets in. “What do I do?” you think to yourself. Well, don’t worry.  Today we have five tips to help you get everything up and running, and get your set rolling once again. 

(Note: If any of these tips gets you back to normal (or semi-normal) sounds, just keep playing. The audience would likely prefer the music to continue without your $450 transparent overdrive than for you to stop playing entirely. Just remember: The Show Must Go On.)

1) Take a Deep Breath!

You may scoff at something so simple in such a stressful moment, but really. Take a deep breath. Studies have long shown that deep breathing (also known as diaphragmatic breathing) invokes what is known as the “relaxation response”, which can combat anxiety, reduce stress and increase focus. And you could really use all of those things right about now. So, take a deep breath, in through the nose, letting your abdomen expand fully. Then, slowly breathe out through the mouth. Feel better? Good. Let’s fix this problem.

2) Listen.

In order to properly (and quickly) diagnose what’s going on with your rig, it’s important to take a moment (possibly while taking a deep breath) to listen. If there’s no sound coming from your amp, it should be fairly obvious. But, if your guitar sounds distorted (well, more distorted than normal), there’s a few things that could be wrong. A fizzy distortion at the beginning of the note’s attack could indicate one of your preamp tubes is microphonic. If you have an amp with channel switching, try seeing if you can make it through the set on a different channel. A constant, static-y distortion could indicate one of your speakers are blown. If you’re using a cabinet or combo with multiple speakers, see if you can move the microphone on your amp (if there is one) to a working speaker. If they’re all shot, try your best to trudge through the show. If there’s no sound, well…

3) Is it plugged in? 

Most of the problems that happen onstage are due to an oft-overlooked component of the guitar rig: the cable. So, quickly, take a look at your points of contact. Is the guitar plugged in? Are you plugged in to the pedalboard? Is the cable to the amp plugged in? This may seem silly, but if you can check these things in a timely manner, you will quickly solve 75% of the problems you run into on stage. If you turn on your tuner, and it works, you know that your guitar, your cable to the board, and whatever may be in front of your tuner is working. I keep my tuner at the end of the pedalboard for this reason. Feel free to wiggle any cable. If moving the cable elicits a sound, then that cable may be intermittent, . See if you can get by with fewer pedals. Finishing the show with just a tuner and your amp is better than nothing. Finally, plug straight into your amp with a cable you know works. If there’s still no sound, well…

4) Check your amp.

Go over to your amp. Is it on? If it’s turned off, check if the power is still plugged in. If it is, a fuse may have blown, and you might have to skip to step five if you didn’t bring spare fuses. Have any of the knobs been moved? Everyone’s a critic, make sure nobody just turned you down. Is the amp hot to the touch? Is there smoke, or a peculiar smell? Did someone just yell “Your amp is on fire!” (this has happened to the author). If so, you may have an overheating amp. Turn it off (ASAP!), and let it cool down. To be safe, again, skip to step five. Now would be the time to let the bass player try out his stand-up routine. (Note: only let that happen if all else has failed. Nobody really wants to hear those jokes.)

5) Bring a backup (or be nice to the other bands!).

This may truly be the most important step out of all of them. The Boy Scouts really had it right with their motto: “Be Prepared”. Always try to bring backup cables, a backup guitar, and if you can, a backup amp. If your band is going on tour, you should likely leave home with two backup amps, a spare instrument for everyone (well, not the drummer), and lots and lots of strings, picks and cables. This way, when all else fails, you can run and grab your backup. Leave figuring things out further until after the set. If you’re caught without a backup, you can (politely) ask another band to lend you an instrument or amp to finish your set. If you treat your gear with respect, others will take notice, and feel more secure lending something to you. Put simply, if you just smashed your guitar, don’t expect anyone to lend you theirs. This is one of many reasons it pays to show up on time, watch the other bands on your bill, and ultimately, to be a nice person to others.

After all is said and done, if you need to pick up a new cable, grab that backup you now know you desperately need, or to just commiserate with someone who understands what you just went through, come by McBride Music and Pawn.  We’ve got an experienced sales staff that can guide you to what you need most.

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Gear Corner: The Sunn Beta Amplifier


In today’s Gear Corner, we’re going to discuss a unique specimen of solid state amplification: the Sunn Beta series.

Background on Sunn Amplification:

Sunn was a brand with a fairly long and interesting history, but today let’s focus on the late 70’s. In 1979, after moving all forms of production back to the original factory in Tualatin, Oregon, the Hartzell corporation-owned Sunn decided to announce a new line of amps to meet the needs of the musician of the 80’s. The company had long been building mostly solid state amplifiers, and they never had the same success with guitar players as they had with bass players. This new line would be light, easy to use, and involve channel switching and more of an emphasis on the distorted sounds made so popular in the 70s. The flagship of this line would be the Beta, and today we will discuss some notable users, interesting techincal aspects, and the various models within this line of amps.


The Full Line – The Various Amps in the Sunn Beta Series


The Beta series was rolled out with quite a few options for the guitar (or bass) player in 1979. Sunn featured heads, and what they referred to as “Self-Contained Amps”, commonly known as combos. There were two main amps in the Beta series, the Beta Lead and Beta Bass. Although the Lead was marketed to guitar players specifically, the only difference between the Lead and Bass is the lack of reverb on the Beta Bass. Which, considering the reverb on these amps is nothing spectacular, this means that any guitar player looking for the Beta sound can easily acquire a Beta Bass instead of waiting around for the (now more expensive) Beta Lead. Sunn also offered the Beta Power +, a combo amp that contained the power section of the Beta series. This way, if you needed more volume, but didn’t want to worry about a complicated mutli-amp set up, you could simply run several Power + combos via the preamp of your Beta!  Sunn also introduced the Alpha series along with the Beta, which featured the Alpha 112, a 1×12” combo amp that was simply one channel from the Beta. But, the Alpha also featured a parametric Mid control, allowing the user to shift the center frequency of the midrange control. Along with the Alpha 112, the Alpha series included the Alpha Slave, which was essentially the same unit as the Beta Power +, but in a headshell form for those using separate cabinets. On top of all of these elaborate choices, there was the Sunn PL-20, a rack mounted unit that was the preamp from the Beta Lead without any power amp. This allows users (such as Buzz Osbourne, who uses two of these in his live rig currently) to use a larger power amp, and to mount all of these components in a more road-ready rack setup. Altogether, Sunn really offered a huge amount of amplifier options in the Beta line.


A Look Inside – Technical Info on the Sunn Beta


The Beta series took advantage of many advancements in solid state technology in 1979, and also utilized a lot of very interesting ideas to create an amp with a  truly unique sound. Featured prominently on the front of the amp is the label “DIGITAL C-MOS TECHNOLOGY”. Aside from probably sounding fairly futuristic at the time, this C-MOS technology plays a huge part in the overall sound of the Beta. C-MOS chips are constructed from a combination of MOSFETs to create logic gates. They’re not intended for audio use, but it can be used as a linear Integrated Chip in order to provide amplification. And when they distort, they provide soft clipping, much like in tube amps. They can also be found in many great pedals, including the Way Huge Red Llama and the Electro-Harmonix Hot Tubes Overdrive. The EQ in the Beta is also unlike most amps. On the surface, it appears fairly normal, a 3 band Bass-Mid-Treble EQ. But, each control is actually an active boost control (centered at 20-400 Hz, 400-1400 Hz and 1400-20,000 Hz respectively) that goes from “Off” (no boost) to roughly 30 dB of boost. Couple this with a very powerful 100W solid state power amp (don’t roll your eyes, this amp is LOUD!), and you get the aggressive and powerful sound of the Beta.


Notable Users of the Sunn Beta:


Although the Sunn Beta series was not an initial success, these amps have found quite the cult following in recent years. Throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s (after the Sunn brand was sold to Fender to serve as their PA equipment wing), many prominent musicians made use of the Beta. Buzz Osborne of the Melvins has been a prominent user of the Beta from early in his career, and this inspired Kurt Cobain to use a Beta Lead throughout “Bleach” era Nirvana. Adam Jones from Tool used one alongside his Marshall 1959 Super Lead and his Diezel VH4. Another prominent Marshall user, Slash, once stated that the Beta was his “first decent amp”. And in recent years, bands such as Red Fang (who used Beta Leads for every instrument, including bass), No Age, and Tenement have made prominent use of the Sunn Beta.


Interested in buying, selling or trading a vintage piece of equipment such as the Sunn Beta? At McBride Music and Pawn, we actively purchase and supply fine vintage and used musical equipment to not only the Denton, TX area, but across the entire world via our eBay and Reverb storefronts.

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Upcoming Live Music Events (Denton)

McBride Music & Pawn is a proud member of the Denton and area live music community.  Whether participating as a sponsor for events on the square, or as a musician at one of the open stage concerts, we are out there enjoying and supporting the rich entertainment talent in North Texas.

Twilight Tunes on the Square

The Square in Denton boasts a vibrant music community.  The ‘Twilight Tunes on the Square’ is offered on Thursday evenings in front of the Denton County Courthouse lawn on 110 W. Hickory Street from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.  Admission is free and it’s a great opportunity to enjoy quality live music and browse some of the downtown businesses and restaurants, and enjoy the vibe of “the square”.

Grab a chair and some food to catch “The Bird Dogs” on June 4th or “The Raised Right Men” on June 11th.    Click here for the full ‘Twilight Tunes” schedule for the summer of 2015.

Bobby Whitlock & CoCo Carmel

A great live band you won’t want to miss on May 30th at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton.  Tickets are available online.

The Southpaw Preachers (with Unmarked Graves, Neon Cobra, Chase Ryan and The Grave)

Hailey’s Club in Denton (122 W Mulberry Street) is hosting an event on May 30th featuring five bands.  For more information visit the Hailey’s Club website.

Christy Hays & Caliche (with Kevin Kirby)

On Sunday, May 31st Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton hosts Christy Hays & Caliche.  Tickets are $10 and doors open at 7:00 p.m.  Ages 21 and up only.
Do you have a local live music event?  We’re happy to support Denton’s live entertainment community, so visit McBride Music & Pawn on the square and leave a flyer and event information.  While you’re visiting check out some of our deals.

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