We come back from dinner to finish soundcheck and there is a bad noise coming from the stage.
We realise it’s coming from my guitar and the sound guy comes up to try to fix it.
“My guitar is usually super clean” I say, and then add “… I just got it back from being serviced this morning”
This is a special gig for me, we’re recording the whole night into a live album. I’m unusually nervous and wanting things to sound right.
He unplugs my guitar and runs it directly into my amp and the noise disappears, so he turns his attention to my pedal board.
“Yeah, it’s your power supply, those cheap daisy chains are always a problem in venues that aren’t grounded properly – you can’t even buy them like that anymore”
I look to the side “I’ve played here a dozen times before and this noise has never happened” am I mumbling? I don’t think I’m mumbling.
He continues, “You probably just never noticed it before” he is confident. “I’ve seen it happen at the Espy, Hi-Fi bar, the Tote…..”
I look at the time and see the window for soundcheck quickly disappearing. He looks over to my lead guitarists pedal board. “Try running your pedals with his power”
I don’t have all the words for it but I can see that my lead guitarists set up is running 20 odd pedals into some kind of power hub and then into an IEC power cable.
“I don’t think that’ll work, he’s running his off a different system”
“just try it”
I’m not going to screw around with someone else’s gear, I think, so I call my guitarist over “Tom! Can you come help with this?” Tom comes back on to the stage and the sound guy asks him to swap his power out. Tom looks at him “Yeah, that’s not going to work, I run mine off a different system”
The sound guy nods and looks back to my board.
I look at the time – twenty minutes til doors – I look down “I could try running some of my pedals off batteries, but some of them don’t take batteries…”
“do you use all your pedals?” Did he just ask me that?
“Yes, I use all of them”
“Ok, try running each of your pedals one by one, it might be one of the battery ones causing the noise and we can unplug it” I get on my knees and start tearing apart my whole set up and plug the first pedal in isolated “this should have a battery in it” I try to turn it on and its dead, he’s standing next to me with arms crossed “okay, I’ll try the next one” I repatch – it’s also dead. He laughs and shakes his head. I start to rummage through my suitcase for spare batteries, when I realise what’s happening. I stand up “can we just move on with the rest of soundcheck and come back to it?”
“Ok” he says and moves on to sound checking the drums. Tom and I get offstage
“Am I completely crazy or was my guitar sounding fine before we left to eat?”
Tom shrugs “Honestly, I don’t remember”
“Seriously, I’m almost certain that it was sounding perfect when we set up” Tom shrugs again, he doesn’t have an answer for me. The sound guy goes through the drums and I come back up to check the guitar. All I can hear now is the noise. The sound guy tries to reassure us “It’s alright, no one will notice it once you’re playing”. I decide to run through a quiet song – finger picking, then noise, finger picking, noise. My heart is completely sinking, it’s been a month of rehearsals leading up to this, we have guest musicians and camera people and everyone’s coming and all our band money has gone into recording tonight and getting our gear fixed up – I can’t believe that my pedals are suddenly faulty.
The sound guy starts to check the other guitar and I kneel down to look at my pedals again. I see his D.I that one of my loop stations is plugged in to and next to its input reads “ground//lift”. I flick the switch.
The stage falls completely silent.
The sound engineer is completely silent.
“It was just the D.I” I say and he doesn’t reply – it must be embarrassing for him – I smile and try to make light of it “Phew, that’s a relief, can we test my guitar again?” there’s no time left to do anything else.
Doors open, we make it through the show and through a persistent 100Hz hum onstage during the first three songs. The night ends and the sound guy packs and leaves quickly, without saying anything to me.
My friend and I load our gear out and in to the car downstairs as I tell her what happened.
“Gah, that must have been so frustrating! You should’ve said something to him” she says. I tell her that I didn’t want to say anything along the ‘I told you so’ lines because I was worried he might have felt angry or annoyed at us and done a bad job at our sound, or at least, that I didn’t want to risk that happening. She agrees that there’s nothing much more I could’ve done.
I get home and open the contacts list on my phone.
‘Paul – sound guy’