Playing Acoustic Gigs

So you've decided you want to put your electrics away and play an unplugged gig, or start out as an acoustic artist. The guide to playing acoustic guitar live.

Playing Acoustic Gigs
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Playing acoustic gigs can be difficult and they can be simple. You'd imagine that an acoustic gig is much more simple than a regular gig, so you arrive at the gig unprepared and not confident. Here are the basics to playing acoustic shows live. You want to get the best possible sound out of: 1) Your guitar 2) External processors

The Guitar:

Unless you're playing for 2 people, you'll need a pickup of some sort and a mic for your acoustic. There are different ways to amplify your acoustic sound: 1) Piezo Pickup - These are found in most acoustic-electrics and are located under the bridge. These pickups often sound very sharp, so you'll need to do some EQ changes on your amp or use a preamp pedal for best results. 2) Soundhole Pickup - These are used mainly by classical guitarists, this pickup is placed inside the soundhole, and produces a much more natural sound. This is a good option if you don't own an acoustic-electric. 3) Dual-Source - These can be used together with a Piezo pickup, and can help the Piezo to create a more natural sound. But this often causes feedback problems. 4) Bespoke Systems - Some guitar companies such as Taylor have built-in pickups and an EQ on top of the guitar.

External Processors:

Once you've gotten a decent tone out of your acoustic you'll need to get the rest of your sound perfect too. This is done by using: 1) Effects - The most common effects used for acoustic guitars are delay and reverb. These effects are great for adding colour to your live acoustic sound. Another common effect for acoustic is chorus. 2) Vocal Processor - This is unnecessary for 2-song sets at an open mic or when opening for another band and only playing a few songs. If you're playing a long set and you don't have a soundman, a vocal processor is perfect. Vocal processors allow you to add gain, reverb, delay and other effects to your sound, and you can change settings between songs or even turn it off/on between songs. 3) Amp - Don't make the mistake of bringing an electric amp to your acoustic gig or just plugging straight into the PA. It will work but it is not recommended. Using an acoustic amp will create a better overall tone and acoustic amps recreate the sound of your guitar tone more accurately than an electric amp. 4) Condenser Microphone - If you don't use pickups on your acoustic, the best mic to use is a condenser microphone. COndenser microphones create accurate, natural tones, but often cause feedback problems and you'll need to stand relatively close to the mic and stand still.

What to do and what not to do...

Do:

1) Charge - Before the gig, make sure the preamp on your guitar has a battery. 2) Tube - If you don't have an onboard tuner, bring a tuner pedal. 3) Stand Up - Acoustic gigs aren't as exciting and energetic as your regular gigs, so standing up will animate your music more and you'll be able to sing better.

Don't:

1) Be afraid to mess with your EQ - Don't hesitate to change your EQ if you don't like the sound. Acoustic gigs need to sound perfect in order for your audience to enjoy themselves. 2) Wear your acoustic the same height as your electric - This is recommended, but not a requirement. Having your acoustic slightly higher than your electric will help you handle the larger body of an acoustic guitar. 3) Use your electric picks - Don't use the same picks you use for electric. Use a thinner pick for acoustic. Nylon picks (0.60mm and 0.73mm) are a good option. So now you know the basics of playing a live acoustic gig. Remember: Use your EQ, play gently, stand up, and have fun!

23 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    gay4slipknot
    Pretty bad, it was really ungeneral advice. To anybody whose taken anything from this seriously..... don't. You're going to have your own acoustic guitar with its own pickups, if theres a PA this is usually the best place to plug in. Play how you want to play, with what you want to play and with what you have. Also this thing about effects, no one wants to see an acoustic performance drowned in effects, the character of it comes from the barebones, if the room doesn't reverb quite right then yeah add a natural amount but it should be very subtle.
    My Last Words
    "3) Stand Up - Acoustic gigs aren't as exciting and energetic as your regular gigs, so standing up will animate your music more and you'll be able to sing better. " MTV Unplugged, anyone?
    joyboy3d2k
    If you were Eric Clapton, Nirvana, Alice in Chains or Rod Stewart I would imagine you could play lying on a couch and it would still be exciting. For the rest of us it is probably a valid point.
    My Last Words
    Could be, but I still don't see the link between playing acoustic and playing seated. Standing or sitting has something to do with stage presence, but most of all: Everything is about about getting the desired effect. For example, if I were to play an intimate acoustic solo gig, I'd probably sit down as well. But if I were to play something with a little more action, something that packs a punch, I'd probably play while standing up.. Neither is right or wrong.
    crazysam23_Atax
    Honestly, one of the most exciting acoustic performances I've seen was a newer blues-influenced guitar player. This guy was sitting down on top of a box onstage, stomping his foot, and occasionally tapping the body of the guitar to get a rhythmic feel as desired. Point is, there really are no rules. It may be good for a lot of people to stand up. But it's all about performance. Whether you sit, stand, squat, use the guitar to cover your nude genitals, whatever you do...ENTERTAIN the people!
    mr.sexytime
    Step 1. put reverb on everything. Step 2. Make sure you tube.
    mickydeloach55
    how do you record for audio and video with out a digital camcorder?? My Android is old and the video is not what Id like... micky deloach on Facebook, Montgomery al Music and dog training
    theogonia777
    "Don't: [...] 3) Use your electric picks - Don't use the same picks you use for electric. Use a thinner pick for acoustic. Nylon picks (0.60mm and 0.73mm) are a good option." What? That's silly. I know many electric guitarists that use .73s and other super thin picks and plenty of acoustic guitarists that wouldn't be caught dead using anything under 2mms (particularly the jazz and bluegrass guys). You can't just make generalizations about what other people should do based on your (probably fairly limited) experience. You're clearly not stopping to consider all of the variables that go into something like pick selection, such as the genre of music, the playing style, the desired tone, personal preference, etc. Actually, pretty much the majority of the "Do" and "Don't" section either follow that same pattern of ignoring the many variables of an acoustic performance and music performance in general (particularly the part of about standing up) or assuming that the people reading this are morons (you really don't have to remind people to tune their instruments).
    TobiasSammet
    As far as I know, if you are sitting down on a chair or something you'll sing (not better but) "easier". At least is what I've learned and it works for me.
    AlanHB
    Incorrect. Sitting down compresses your diaphragm making it harder to breathe, so it's easier to sing standing up.
    jwax
    you can DI into a PA system instead of buying an acoustic amp... 30$ DI box or 150$ amp.... also condenser mics and ribbion mic need a +48 volt charge aka "phantom power" so dont buy a condenser unless you can supply this. A standard dynamic(shure sm57,58, most samsung mics/cheap mics) mic at the 12th fret angled to the sound hole is a easier solution to feedback and is my personal set up for a acoustic gig where a PA is provided as it captures a nice harmonic ring imho. :cheers:
    Nu-13
    Don't put Phantom Power on a Ribbon mic. It will destroy it.
    Clarkinator
    Luckily my acoustic guitar has a tuber built in
    mickydeloach55
    Im New to this, what is a guitar with a tuber?? a audio and video setup that has a card to put in your computer to send to you tube??
    AlanHB
    I like the idea of the article, but there's some thing that really need to be addressed: From the article: 4) Condenser Microphone - If you don't use pickups on your acoustic, the best mic to use is a condenser microphone. Condenser microphones create accurate, natural tones, but often cause feedback problems and you'll need to stand relatively close to the mic and stand still. ----- AlanHB response If you do not have a pickup in your guitar, and don't have a soundhole pickup, which is also fine even if you're not a classical guitarist, you'll need a mic. However I would not use a condenser mic in a live setting for an acoustic guitar ever. If you were to use a large diaphragm condenser mic it would pick up everything in the room, the guitar, drums, audience, foldbacks - that's a feedback nightmare. If you are to use a small condenser mic (like a pencil condenser), you still run the risk of picking up any other instruments around, notably drums and foldback. Condensor mics are generally not used for live performance for this reason. You can use them for drum overheads, but these are placed in areas where the drums are easily the loudest instrument around, and are generally not placed so high in the mix/gain that feedback will be caused. If you are to use a mic for performance it is much easier to use a standard cardoid or supercardoid microphone, such as a Shure Beta57, which will give a great sound without the feedback, and is shielded decently to reduce feedback. It's also notable that if you do opt to play with a microphone, it's easier to play sitting down to ensure that the distance from the microphone is kept relatively the same so that you don't affect the levels by moving around. In any case, playing acoustic guitar live with a microphone is not an optimal situation. You will generally get a better tone, but it comes at the cost of freedom on stage, and feedback issues. ----- From the article: 3) Amp - Don't make the mistake of bringing an electric amp to your acoustic gig or just plugging straight into the PA. ----- AlanHB response Some guitars have fantastic pickup systems which sound great. It will sound better if you chuck it through something like an AER Compact 60, however not everyone can afford these. What you do not mention in this article that if you put some money towards a decent DI like a DBX D12 and put your guitar through that into the PA it will sound great. I'd like to mention that whilst it is tempting to buy a cheaper DI, such as a Behringer, it will generally affect your tone adversely, to the extent that you may be tempted to put it straight into the desk. You spent $500 on the guitar, another $80-$150 towards a DI should not hurt. ----- From the article: - Wear guitar higher - Use lighter picks - Play "gently" ----- AlanHB response: Wear the guitar wherever it feels comfortable. This should be the same height as your electric. Lighter picks will get a lighter tone. If you want a lighter tone use lighter picks. Playing "gently" is all about your own personal preference. Acoustic guitars are fantastic because they react much more obviously depending on how hard you hit the strings. I would not be afraid to hit the guitar as hard as you can if that's the sound you want. At the same time a lot of people tend to be afraid of "hurting" their guitar and play it very softly, not utilising the full spectrum of tones available. Don't be afraid of smashing the guitar if you like, it'll sound awesome.
    Troz
    I like heavy picks and heavy strings for solo gigs just to get a big sound, if people are sitting down eating then sit, if they are standing and chatting then stand I reckon.