Volume Again: Practicing What I Preach

Volume Again: Practicing What I Preach

Following my posts on amp volume and how little volume you actually need, I decided I had better practice what I preached. I bought myself a 15 watt valve amp with a view to it being my main working amp (a Laney VC15). It has one 10″ speaker making it far more portable than my regular 2×12″ 30 watt combo.

When it first arrived and I tried it out I was a little disappointed how quiet it was. The stock speaker has a fairly low efficiency of 95.2dB which means it’s not particularly effective at turning power into sound. Also, as a 1×10″ it’s moving a lot less air than the 2×12″ which will affect perceived volume.

However, I decided I’ll test it out in a few situations before changing the speaker or giving up on it altogether.

The first live opportunity I’ve had to use it has been the musical I’ve been banging on about in my last few posts. The results surprised me.

Let me set the scene – The theatre was a reasonably modern (1998) 200 capacity space. The stage itself was huge – almost as big again as the audience area. All in all a pretty big space.

 

Theatre Stage and Seating

 

I was in a band of 9 musicians. We were on a rostrum above and behind the stage, mostly hidden from view.

 

La Cage Aux Folles Orchestra Area

 

My amp was tilted back directly facing me. It was mic’d up so the sound engineer could control the front of house sound.

 

La Cage View of Amp

 

I was running a fairly simple pedal board – tuner, wah and volume pedal. This being musical theatre, which is quite dynamic, my default setting was to have the volume at 50%. I’d boost it for more energetic passages and drop it for the softer sections. (The Visual Volume pedal is great for this kind of thing because LEDs show you exactly how far the pedal is pressed).

 La Cage Pedal Board

 

The important thing to note here is that usually only half the volume from my guitar was reaching the amp. Sometimes it was less. I never let the volume pedal go all the way to 100%. It wouldn’t have been appropriate for the style of music.

I was using a Gibson Les Paul Traditional with stock pickups, both pickups selected.

So what volume did I need on the small amp I had thought was fairly quiet? Here’s a picture of the settings I used all week.

Amp Settings

 

Yep, the volume knob (far left) was just barely above 1! Even with the volume pedal set to 50%.

I’ll confess I was fairly surprised. I could have used my 5 watt practice amp and still been fine. There was no way I needed any more power.

Now there are a few reasons the volume was so low. Theatre bands tend to play quietly, with more emphasis on dynamics and expression than raw power. We were all sitting very close to our amps, so it was easy to hear them. Also, in this musical the guitar was very much a rhythm instrument and not meant to dominate. Nevertheless, I clearly had the volume available if I’d needed it.

I probably could have turned up a bit if I’d wanted to, but I think if I’d gone past 2 or 3 on the volume dial the MD would have told me to turn down.

So in this instance I feel very vindicated in my ‘you don’t need as much power as you think you do’ stance.

However, it remains to be seen whether this small amp can cut it at ‘gig volumes’. I’m particularly interested to see if it can achieve good clean sounds at higher volumes. When the appropriate opportunity arises I’ll be testing it with Red Sun Revival and will report back then.

(The eagle eyed among you may have noticed I’d cranked the bass up to 10. That was to compensate for the lack of bass from the 10″ speaker. That’s something I’m going to experiment with further as I get used to this amp.)

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