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I've been playing guitar, drums, and singing for about 6 years but I have no experience outside of playing by myself with an amp and speaker. I want to get serious about starting a band and playing now that I have a real job and cash flowing in. I'm having trouble figuring out the best way to amplify the sound.

Ideally I want a full band: drums, 2 guitars, bass, and vocals. I want to be able to play live, practice, and record.

Should I just get a good PA system and plug amps from the instruments into it? Or should I use classic amp and speakers for each instrument?

What do I need to consider in terms of sound quality, mixing,and cost effectiveness?

What do you think the best option is and what problems might I have?

Please help! I don't want to buy $1000 worth of stuff and then find out I need another $1000 just to make it work or that it won't even sound good in a particular setting live, practice, recording. Help me be realistic cause I have no idea!

  • You're starting a band that you want to play live with, right? Who's going to be in that band? Usually, bands aren't just one guy buying all the gear - in fact, in my experience it's been 'bring your own gear' as a general rule. Anyway, this isn't the right website to ask this question on. Best of luck! – user45266 Mar 4 at 5:00
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    @user45266 Why do you think this isn't the right website to ask this question? We've had similar questions before, and it's pretty relevant to both music practice and performance. The question can be improved in different ways (as is, it's very subjective and needs more info imo, but it can be carved into something that is useful for everyone), but relevance is not one of the issues I see. – Von Huffman Mar 4 at 5:18
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    @VonHuffman - Depending on what sort of gig. Playing in all sorts of bands - from duos to big bands, 2/3 times a week for 50 odd yrs, there were not that many venues providing house pas with decent sound men. Those that did were sometimes woeful in the sound produced. It's advisable to bring your own pa and be in charge of your own sound/foldback etc.Occasional venues do provive pas - beat up, with signs reading 'do not touch'.I at least would have my own mic, instrument and amp - self contained, if you like.Singers used to turn up with 'where's my mic?' Answer was usually 'still in the shop.' – Tim Mar 4 at 7:18
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    Surely this question is about Musical Practice. Methods, modes and equipment we use when playing live gigs and rehearsing? – Tim Mar 4 at 7:21
  • I guess I'll clarify: My initial objection was that to me, the post read a bit like a shopping-recommendation-type question, which we don't do. It also seems pretty subjective and broad (how do I set up my entire new band), so I thought it would be really hard to give a useful answer. However, now that the question's drawn some excellent in-depth answers, I might rethink my close vote - I guess it's not unanswerable. I would still like to see this edited... – user45266 Mar 4 at 17:07
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I went down a similar path to eventually starting a full band to accompany me on stage in paying gigs vs playing just for fun. My band has bass, two guitars, drums and vocal mics for all four musicians.

What you would need for amplification of your instruments and vocals is highly dependent on the venue your band will be performing in. For a small pub, coffee shop or restaurant with tile floors you won't need as much amplification as you would say on a large outdoor patio or outdoor amphitheatre or a larger indoor venue such as a large ballroom.

My band plays primarily in smaller indoor spaces and occasionally at small outdoor parties. A small multi channel mixer driving PA speakers will handle multiple vocal mics, acoustic guitar, digital piano and electronic drums. I run all vocals and acoustic guitar and Roland Electronic Drums through the PA.

Acoustic drum kit is often loud enough (sometimes too loud) to get by with little to no amplification. If you need to mic certain parts of an acoustic drum kit you can use mics designed for that purpose on boom mic stands. Most of the venues I play in do not want the music super loud (and are acoustically lively) so an acoustic kit would be overpowering. The Electronic Drums allow for the volume of the drums to be adjusted to fit the needs dictated by the venue and the other instruments don't have to be turned up to match the volume of the acoustic kit.

In my band the electric guitar and electric bass run through their own individual amps. A Bass Amp will cover a wide area (low frequencies being less directional) and electric guitar amp makes it easier to dial in certain electric guitar tones by having both a clean channel and one for distortion. If we play a room that is L shaped and have to point one PA speaker down each of the two sections, I will usually mic the Bass and Guitar cabinets or plug them into a channel on the mixer using a direct out from the amplifier. Not all guitar and bass amps have that capability, but my musicians have amps that do.

The next consideration is whether to use a powered mixer with passive speakers or a passive mixer with powered speakers. The trend seems to be going towards powered speakers with a non powered digital mixer. For a four piece band you should get at least 8 channels. More if all your musicians will sing harmony or take turns singing lead. Consider that an electronic drum kit will use two channels to run in stereo. Same with digital keyboard. Microphones will need XLR inputs so be sure your mixer has enough for the number of mics you will use, including if you mic any guitar cabs or portion of an acoustic drum kit.

I recommend a 12 channel non-powered mixer with powered speakers because you can expand your PA system to accommodate various size venues with varying sound reinforcement needs. In other words, you can start with some smaller powered speakers for smaller venues and later add higher wattage speakers to cover larger venues and even run them all together in series. The same non powered mixer can send a signal to a variety of different powered PA speakers.

You might also consider floor monitors for yourself and bandmates. The PA speakers will direct sound towards the audience but your musicians (particularly any vocalist) will need to hear the mix in detail and a monitor facing the band will make it much easier. Some of the line array PA systems ("PA on a stick") are designed to be placed behind the musicians to allow both the musicians and audience to hear the sound from the speakers.

The self contained PA systems such as the type Bose made popular (but now close to a dozen other manufacturers have a version of) are primarily designed for one or two musicians with vocals and don't have enough independent input channels for a four piece band with four vocal mics but you can also use a non-powered mixer to enable more inputs into those systems. For a small venue a "PA on a stick" line array could potentially run your vocals and acoustic guitars and your electric guitar and bass could play through their respective amps. The line array can serve as the monitor for the band and eliminate the need for separate floor wedges.

Another consideration is weight and and the ease of set up. The newer powered PA speakers are actually much lighter than many passive PA speakers. The more components your system has, the more time you will spend setting up and breaking down.

That is my two cents worth based on my personal experience. You might visit some of the local music venues near you to see what other bands are using and interview them during their break to ask why they use what they do and if they would do anything different if they were to make a change. You will also be able to experience first hand how their system sounds.

I really enjoy playing with a band and encourage you to give it a try yourself. Good luck and have fun!

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Rockin Cowboy has comprehensively covered a lot of points!

A couple more thoughts for you.

Consider what sort and size venues the band may be gigging at. There's a fair difference between a bar that can hold 50 people from an outdoor gig where there might be 300 or so. And the equipment will vary accordingly.

As already stated, guitarist and bassist ought to provide their own gear. As one who occasionally has to use others' gear, I prefer to lug my own anyway!

Keyboards? When playing keys, again, I prefer to be self-contained. I know my gear, and prefer to rely on it rather than someone else's.

Drums? Acoustic or electric. Drummer's job to buy, bring and set up. Usually no need to mic up acoustic, maybe kick drum, through pa. A lot of electronic players expect to go through pa though. They already have a bit of setting up to do!

Vox? Slightly thorny one. If there's a bandleader, s/he often owns the pa sometimes enough mics for all, sometimes singers provide their own. I know I prefer to sing through a mic that I know isn't used by anyone else!

Pa itself? I still prefer the old idea of mixer (or mixer/amp) into passive speakers. I used to use the foldback system itself on small gigs as the pa. Money-wise, if it's your band, and you get gigs, hire and fire, negotiate, etc., etc., then you're going to need a pa unless you only play gigs where that's provided. From experience (in UK) that's a mixed bag. That pa won't come cheap, so it might be worth considering an extra cut from the earnings to go towards it a little. After all, without it, some gigs won't be playable!

Rehearsal wise, no need for loud, so maybe one pa speaker, and maybe everyone goes through it. Or pay lots for rehearsal studio sessions! And don't forget somewhere needs to be found to store the gear, and transport it. Good luck!

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Using low volumes on stage and micing/DI'ing your amps to a console gives your sound engineer more control on how your music sounds in the audience, which hopefully improves the quality. At the price of a higher cost (devices and engineer).

While you are not sure what to buy, rent. I might have been lucky, but in my experience renting a PA is pretty affordable. This would give you some time to learn what kind of gear you'd need for what kind of venues. You could even invoice the rentals separately.

I've played for years with rented PA-equipment with a friend behind the buttons until at some point via via we got a dedicated technician with his own gear.

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    Micing a guitar amp. is well preferrable - the speaker is part of the sound chain. – Tim Mar 4 at 11:58
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TL;DR: DON'T BOTHER TO BUY A PA SYSTEM!

All the other answers seem to cover all bases, but I think people forgot one particular detail: on the 1970s and early 80s, it was common for bands to own their PA systems (and lights, and stage assembly etc).

This is not the case any more!
Almost all venues that you'd be playing these days have their own PA in place.

Even for rehearsals, pretty much any city would have a rehearsal studio, so you don't need to bother acquiring a PA for the vocals. I'm from Brazil and even though we are an undeveloped country, almost all cities (excluding the reeeealy poor villages) have some sort of rehearsal space. I'm guessing you are in the USA, so your situation migh be a little better.

If everything else fails, and you are so unlucky that, for one particular date, you need to bring your own PA, you can always rent.

On a side note: $1000 for a complete PA? You will be spending more than that just for the mikes!

Edit: repeated words.

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    A "venue", maybe. But gigging in bars, pubs, cafes, small outdoors parties - you need your own PA system for all of those. And as a beginning band, those are where you're going to be playing most. As for the cost of PA, you could easily get a powered mixer, a couple of speakers, a few AKG D-5 or Senn e835 mics, and all the cables you'd need, all new. Second-hand, even better. – Graham Mar 5 at 1:40
  • For those who gig in US, I can say that few of the restaurants, sports bars, pubs, private events or parties that I play in have their own PA. Also in US - the industry standard Shure SM58 Mic (admittedly not the best but very popular) runs $99.00 US. But your point is well taken in that by the time you add mics, mic cables, speaker cables, mic stands, speaker stands, extension cords, etc. the total cost will be much higher than just the mixer and speakers. – Rockin Cowboy Mar 18 at 0:40

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