Gear to Consider When Building a Solo Rig

There are many reasons to perform solo. Sometimes the full band may not be available, and it’s a great way to test out new material. A good song should be able to pass the bare bones acoustic guitar and vocals test. Or you may just prefer the ease and predictability of performing alone. You don’t have to coordinate separate schedules, there’s less gear to haul, and you can play the songs how you want to without an intense argument stemming from creative differences.

If you’ve ever sat alone in your music corner and thought: “This sounds cool, I should play it live,” you should! Whether you prefer an intimate approach with a single instrument and vocals, or a more involved technique involving pre-recorded loops and your laptop, there are many options to consider when forming a one-man band. Let’s take a look at some of the options available to help solo artists make the most of their performances.

What Kind of Performer Are You?

The first thing you should do is figure out your approach. Do you want to impress listeners by emulating a full band, or do you want to give the audience a raw performance that will shake them to the core when they see what lonesome roads you’ve traveled down? It may take a few gigs to find out what suits you, and it’s ok to change your approach. You may find that some gigs call for a simple acoustic guitar and vocals setup, while other venues feel more energetic and may call for more complex arrangements. Don’t be afraid to switch it up.

Loopers

A good looper is probably the most essential tool for a solo artist who wants the capability to work beyond one voice and one instrument. Loopers have evolved over the past few years, and it’s a beautiful thing.

TC Electronic’s Ditto Looper comes in four variations, the least of which possesses one level knob and one switch. It’s a great option for recording simple phrases or chord progressions to jam over. The other versions have features like stereo ins and outs, effects, and the ability to store loops.

Boss loopers are bulletproof and many of them have ample storage capability. Boomerang loopers offer complex options for the looping connoisseur. Electro-Harmonix offers multiple loopers with various features. Find out which style of looper suits you and add one to your arsenal. You’ll be amazed at how much it helps you focus on phrasing and rhythm, and it’s a fantastic way to save ideas during the writing process.

TC Electronic Ditto Looper

Boss RC-3 Loop Station

Electro-Harmonix Nano Looper 360

Vocal Effects

It’s not uncommon for the sound guy to ask you if you want reverb on your voice, but they usually don’t have much else. If you’re a purist, this isn’t an issue, but if you have a penchant for sonic exploration, this just won’t do.

Boss and TC Helicon offer vocal effects units featuring delay, reverb and more. Another option is to use a device such as the Radial Engineering Voco-Loco. This foot-switchable effects loop features a high quality microphone preamp complete with an EQ section that enables you to use your favorite guitar pedals in the loop without having to use fancy cables, adapters, or worry about impedance issues. This is especially useful for switching vocal effects during a particular passage of a song. Giving a dramatic thumbs up or down to the sound guy is not very subtle and may kill the mood during your performance.

Boss VE-20 Vocal Performer

TC Helicon VoiceLive Play

Radial Engineering Voco-Loco

Instrument Effects

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is helpful to think outside of the box when it comes to using effects. For example, I never really liked effects on acoustic guitar, as they can seem cheesy and over the top. However, I recently installed an L.R. Baggs M1 passive pickup in my acoustic and found that it sounds great with a touch of reverb and delay courtesy of an Earthquaker Devices Dispatch Master.

Digitech’s Mosaic 12-string effect pedal seemed strange to me when I first learned of its release, but now I’m eager to try that on acoustic guitar as well. The Voco-Loco previously mentioned is also a great way to use effects on instruments without pickups, like saxophones or even percussion.

L.R. Baggs M1 passive pickup

EarthQuaker Devices Dispatch Master

Digitech Mosaic

Whatever approach you decide to take, and whatever musical style you use to express yourself, solo performances can be a lot of fun and a great way to test out new material. Playing songs live helps you figure out what works and what doesn’t, and it may even give you ideas for expansion if the songs are meant to be played with a full band.

Whether your desire is to perform as a solo artist or form the preeminent rock band of your generation, get on stage and figure it out. Don’t worry too much about the details, you’ll figure them out as you go. When focusing on goals, musical and otherwise, I use what I refer to as the Field of Dreams approach: if you build it, they will come. They could be a band, an audience, or even a record label executive, assuming they still exist. But you don’t need to wait for them to make music. Gain confidence in yourself, and share your unique musical vision with the world one song at a time.


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