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PA Systems For Solo Performers

6:00 am Live Sound

Most of my articles about PA systems, mixers, etc., are in terms of running live sound for a multi-member band, perhaps because that’s what I do for Rusty Strings. But I sometimes get questions from individuals who are interested in performing alone on acoustic guitar and vocals, or keyboard and vocals, in small settings but who are uncertain about what kind of sound reinforcement to use or how to achieve a particular echo or reverb effect on their vocal.

Before I even start discussing configuration options or specific recommendations, I must stipulate that I will not be addressing computer-based setups for live sound, that is, where a laptop is used as a mixer. Such a setup calls for a different kind of audio interface hardware that I will discuss in a future article. Here, I will be talking about systems based on conventional mixers. With that attended to, I will begin by describing the basic system configurations for solo performers.

Going It Alone

OK, so let’s say it’s really just you singing and an acoustic guitar with a pickup. (If you accompany yourself on keyboard or another instrument, the same info will apply.) That means that we have two signals to deal with: an acoustic guitar pickup signal and a vocal microphone signal.

Note: You might wonder whether you should consider miking the acoustic and running the microphone signal through the PA. The trouble is, you’ve already got one mic being amplified - adding another is just asking for feedback to occur. Stick to the pickup signal, it probably sounds great and is much easier to control.

No matter what the specifics of your final PA system are, it will consist of three components:

  • A mixer, to combine the guitar and vocal signals
  • An amplifier, to boost the level of the combined signal
  • A speaker, to give the audience something to listen to

Now, it is possible to buy and use each of these components as a separate unit, but it’s more convenient (and cheaper) to transport and set up a two-unit system in which the amplifier component is combined with either the mixer or the speaker. Thus we have systems with a powered mixer and a speaker, and systems with a mixer and a powered speaker.

Another Note: Obviously, a multi-player band will face many of these same issues and have the same basic system options. So what’s the difference? The fact is, a small-venue solo performer can use simpler equipment with fewer inputs and does not require a monitoring system. And can get away for less do-re-mi!

Gear Galore

If you like the idea of powered speakers, one possibility is the Yamaha STAGEPAS 300 Portable PA System. At $549 from Musician’s Friend, this is a very complete system, possibly more than you need. Not one but two speakers, plus a full-featured mixer featuring a built-in reverb!

One Last Note: When you follow the Musician’s Friend links I provide, be sure to read the user reviews that begin partway down the right-hand side of each product page. Not only will you learn a lot about that particular product, but the reviewers often mention other products you might want to look into!

Maybe you don’t want to buy a pre-configured system. If you would rather mix-and-match your own components, you will want to look at a powered speaker like the Yamaha MSR100 (yes, I like Yamaha; other outfits offer similar products). A nice mixer to go with this speaker is the MG82CX, again from Yamaha. This mixer even has built-in effects (click on the picture and you can see what they are in the enlarged view). Throw away those stompboxes!

What about going the powered mixer route? Well, it’s Yamaha to the rescue once again with their EMX212S 12-Channel Powered Mixer. Wait a minute! I thought we were one person with an acoustic and a microphone! What’s the deal with a 12-channel mixer? As it turns out, there really aren’t any powered mixers with just a couple of input channels out there. These units are designed to handle four or five musicians at once. Look at it this way: if you ever join a band, you’ve already got your mixer! And it’s a cool one, with built-in effects, too.

If you do go with a powered mixer like the EMX212S, you will need a passive (i.e. “normal”) speaker to go with it, perhaps one of the PR12 units from Peavey or something similar. (I hear Yamaha makes speakers too.)

Obviously, the topic of PA systems is vast, with many options and lots of equipment available from many vendors. I’ve tried to give you an idea of the basic ways to set up a micro-PA system for a solo performer and point you to some representative equipment. Starting here, you should be able to determine which system design and equipment is best for your particular situation.

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4 Responses
  1. matman :

    Date: June 27, 2009 @ 7:32 pm

    anything cheaper? please? i am in a band and we need a pa system but it has to be cheap because we don’t have much money. full without a mic please

  2. stuart :

    Date: June 11, 2010 @ 2:06 am

    I agree…and have done this for a few years. Now I’m after something better and am considering an amp, a sml mixer, an eq and some studio monitors for a cleaner sound. I now have a Martin guitar and want the absolute best sound I can get. Do you think this set up would work?

  3. Tom :

    Date: July 30, 2010 @ 10:39 am

    I have the Yamaha StagePass 300, and it’s a great system. I use it for my acoustic duo: one guitar and two mics, but it has 8 total inputs. However I am now doing more solo gigs. There are many acoustic guitar amps that have two channels with an XLR input on at least one of them for a mic. Much less equipment to carry around. I just bought a Marshall 50-watt amp for $350 and am using it for the first time tonight at a gig. However playing around with it at home, it sound great.

  4. Leland ZW Griffith :

    Date: September 28, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts - based on experience with these matters!! Bless you for sharing! If you find some spare-time please stop by my music site and hopefully have a reflective - peaceful - and enjoyable musical experience! I personally started my experiential recording knowledge back in 1970 - when I purchased my Akai reel-to-reel (with Crytal Farret Heads & Sound-On-Sound capability). I just finished recording my own personal 278th ALBUM/CD. PEACE BE WITH YOU
    OM PEACE…Z

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