Up and running without spending a fortune

I have intentionally kept these pieces low tech. There are just too many excellent writers who are covering the tech side of this world. I am not planning to change this format. This whole gig started after reconnecting with an old friend.

The same way another old guy coached me through the basics and showed me how to survive, I did it for a few guys, too. After meeting him for the first time in four years. I realized that there were a whole lot of things I never told him. That’s where this started. Funny how helping someone else often gets us where we want to be. Thanks Riley.

About as much tech as you will get here, is the occasional opinion about gear I prefer or the ways I like to do things. Thought it might be fun to tell about some gear I had and how we ended up together.

A few years back, I came across an old mixer. Don’t remember what I paid for it, but it wasn’t much. Basically, it was in a pile of other old gear, waiting to get junked. It was a mid-seventies Heil quad mixer. Similar to the one used by The Who on the Quadrophenia tour. Really cool looking purple anodized channel strips. Lots of groovy knobs and quarter inch plugs.

With no idea what it was, I took it home and gave it a thorough cleaning with deoxit. It cleaned up beautifully and after finally testing it, sounded amazing. I was in shock. It actually had this beautiful, warm sound. Not what I was expecting. Very, very well made piece.

Well, since I was basically surviving that year by selling off the mountain of gear I owned, it went on eBay. Within two days, you would think I was trying to auction off the Crown Jewels. It got more attention and hits than anything I ever listed. It was then topped off with a phone call from Bob Heil himself. He wanted his mixer back.

After a few calls we came to a solution. Bob traded me a box full of Heil microphones for the old mixer. The plan was to display it in his lobby and maybe move it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame display. Waiting for Bob to confirm the final resting place now.

So, I ended up with a nice pile of these mics. Once I used them, I never wanted anything else. My vocals cut through the mix better than ever. The sound was so crisp. I had been a very partial to a few other mics, but they got a vacation after using Bob’s stuff. After all the years out there, I don’t remember another time when I was so impressed with a microphone manufacturer. American made gear, not ridiculously overpriced, and sounded amazing. Bravo. Thanks, Bob.

The way I got my first live sound rig was from a friend. His band had broken up and he had an old Peavey system that was just sitting there. I borrowed it a few times and eventually, he just gave it to me. It was rated for something like 100 watts per box. Not impressive. We upgraded the horns and drivers with newer parts. It always amazed folks that “those old Peaveys” sounded so good.

Ok. Calm down. Yes. I just mentioned Peavey and good sound in the same sentence. We used to joke that their company slogan was, “At least it’s loud.” Granted, Peavey is generally disrespected in the pro audio world. I know. But, seriously. What tech hasn’t mixed through Peavey at least once?

Here’s my two cents worth on Peavey.
It’s solid, American made gear. They are bashed by the high end guys for being garbage, but here’s why. There is Peavey gear floating around in clubs and churches that’s older than me. It is usually operated in venues and churches with very limited budgets and untrained techs. It hasn’t been maintained and is used in poor acoustical environments. Most folks with that old gear are doing just fine without dumping a million bucks into new stuff. If it won’t die, why should they replace it?

The new stuff is wicked. Since they acquired Crest in 1998, the quality has improved dramatically. Except for the stigma attached, there’s no good reason to avoid Peavey gear. All that said. If you ever have the opportunity to set a stage for a major act… Do not put a Peavey mic on lead vocals. Regardless of how well they perform, that stigma will kill you. Club acts are more forgiving. Pro acts will eat you alive. If you are just getting started, or just have a tight budget, they are a solid choice.

I had a show once, with a swing band. Not a huge setup. Four stage monitors, four 15 inch mains and four 18 inch subs. Crowd of about 500 people. We did a short soundcheck and rehearsal. Very basic monitor mix. Mostly vocals and a few lead instruments in each wedge. Just a basic wash of the sound onstage.

I promise, I am not making these stories up. Stay with me.

As the MC begins his announcements, something shorted in my amp rack. Still have no idea what caused it. I heard a snap, one main amp shuts off. Second snap immediately after, and down goes my sub amp. I am left with nothing except monitors. Oh crap.

We rush the stage and grab the rack. They will not power up, the MC is still talking like nothing happened, the band doesn’t know because the monitors are fine. “Dude! What are we going to do?” Asks my slightly panicked assistant.

I pulled my main feed and swap it into channel one of the good amp, then move one pair of mains to that side. Then I stacked all four monitors onto channel two. We reduced the rig to mono and cut the band to one mix, at less than 2 ohms. Yep.

When we got back to the board, I made a few quick tweaks and turned it loose. Boom. Everything fired right up, the band and audience never even noticed. We pushed that show to pretty ridiculous levels and everyone was happy all night. Nobody knew. We were lucky it wasn’t a more complicated gig. Might not have gone so well.

What’s my point in that story? We drove the whole show through a single Peavey CS800 power amp from the mid seventies. It ran all night with no problems. The mains that I used? A pair of Peavey SP2s that I had refurbished from an installation buyout. That’s why I will support Peavey.

Most of my early gear came from installations. I would regularly buy out the old stuff when we put in a new rig. Most needed minor repairs, but worked fine after. I had less than a few grand in my first legitimate system. Paid for itself many times over.

It’s the tech more than the gear that makes a great show. Learn your stuff, check the attitude. Have fun with it.

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