10 tips for playing an acoustic guitar live

Stand out from the rest of the open mic crowd

The Summer 2012 issue of Guitarist magazine, on sale today, contains a huge 27-page feature packed with advice, information and techniques all geared towards making you a better - and better sounding - acoustic guitar player.

It's essential reading material for anyone who owns an acoustic guitar, but if you have already made the jump into the world of live performance, here are 10 tips for playing an acoustic live that will make you stand out from the rest of the open mic crowd:

1. Be nice to the sound engineer

The nice man or lady on the desk has The Power, so always be polite and respectful, even if they are treating you like a total amoeba. Learn their name, use it, and thank them before you leave.

2. Put your tuner on the floor

As well being in tune (hooray!), your floor tuner will also enable you to mute the guitar when you're mumbling between songs [Oh, and don't mumble between songs – Ed]. It might be a separate unit, or built into your floor preamp/effects unit.

3. Buy a new battery

Yes, they're ridiculously expensive, but that battery in your guitar needs to be fresh to provide signal. Change it (or them) regularly and always have a spare in your case/gigbag. Anything less is amateur night.

4. Stand up!

Unless you're famous enough to not have to and/or you're on a high enough stage where people can see you, stand up while playing. Your body is more open, you'll be more animated to look at and if you sing, the air has a better chance of coming out.

5. Bust the 'back

Your guitar may have a manual notch filter on the preamp, which is there primarily to fight feedback. Let the feedback begin, then turn the notch filter until the worst offenders go away: magic.

6. Love hertz

These numbers will help. 70-80Hz is rumbly bass: roll it back. A bit of cut around 600-800Hz can do wonders for clarity in a band.

More 1-1.5kHz will help you cut through if you need it. 3.5kHz is the horrible piezo quack so go easy on that (or cut it with the parametric mid). Sparkly presence stuff is 10kHz+.

7. Slim down for the band

You might need to cut back on some frequencies inhabited by other instruments, especially bass guitar. It might not be the 'perfect' tone to your ears; it may be the right thing in the overall mix.

8. You're all right (angled) jack

Minimise damage to your guitar cable and the base of your guitar by using a right-angled jack. Even better, invest a Neutrik Silent type to save the pops and bangs when you unplug and plug in.

9. Buy an acoustic amp

Yes, good ones are very expensive, but if you're serious about playing the acoustic guitar live, it'll put you so much more in control of your sound. And you'll be able to hear yourself: never a bad thing!

10. Go higher

An acoustic guitar can be a big, bulky beast. Wearing the strap a little shorter than you would with your electric instrument will make it feel easier to play. No need to go silly, but a notch or two up will help!


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