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View Full Version : How to Spice up a Solo Acoustic Gig?


aziltz
10-05-2010, 01:54 PM
So I just scored an acoustic gig at my alma mater over homecoming this year. Its going to be solo acoustic, and I normally use harmonica to fill certain songs out. I'm pretty simple when it comes to acoustic, I play chords and sing, and I'm not really capable of flashier stuff.


But I like to add interesting things to different songs. I've got myself an RC-2 and I've been learning to work it into certain songs to fill them out, and give me a little freedom to break away from constant strumming. I also have a vocal effects box I sometimes use sparingly to fill things up a bit.

I was wondering if anyone has another other ideas or tactics for solo acoustic performances to spice it up and bring more to the table

I've also been intrigued by those wooden/piezo-powered "stomp boxes" for rhythm bass, and even figured out a good way to use one. I've seem some affordable ones on the ebay as well. Anyone using those?


I also have an M-Audio Black Box and I've thought about putting together a chimey sounding patch to blend with the acoustic for arpeggiated stuff.

Scott Whigham
10-05-2010, 02:05 PM
Do you use a looper at all? They can be fun. The Digitech JamMan and the Boomerang both have two inputs: plug your guitar into one and your "other" (drums, shaker, mic, whatever) into the other and have some fun. Bonus fun: get an octave pedal and loop a fun bass line then play over it.

teleking36
10-05-2010, 02:43 PM
Digitech vocalist live 2. AMAZING. Wanna play an Eagles tune or something with a lot of harmonies and have it sound convincing? This is the way to do it.

Da5Id
10-05-2010, 03:35 PM
Do you use a looper at all? They can be fun. The Digitech JamMan and the Boomerang both have two inputs: plug your guitar into one and your "other" (drums, shaker, mic, whatever) into the other and have some fun. Bonus fun: get an octave pedal and loop a fun bass line then play over it.

Here's a cool example of the above - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYEU91d8ngc&feature=fvsr

teleguido
10-05-2010, 04:04 PM
Tambourine attached to a kick pedal. Sounds great on galloping country rhythms, used on the "and" where the snare would usually go.

aziltz
10-05-2010, 04:26 PM
thanks for those suggestions! KT is pretty handy with a looper. I'm not that big on harmonies in a solo setting since the music doesn't really call for them. I don't want to go as far as the one-man-band, but its nice to fill in the space where the electric guitar riff used to live in different ways.

So far my list of stuff includes,
Harmonica
Loop Station
Vocal Effects
M-Audio BlackBox to blend in Electric-ish Sounds

Ideas,
Piezo Stompbox or Tambourine to stomp on

aziltz
10-26-2010, 12:57 PM
gig is friday, any other suggestions?

'70 RS
10-26-2010, 01:04 PM
gig is friday, any other suggestions?

With a gig 3 days away I certainly would not be worried about adding 'tricks'. Unless they have become a second nature part of your act, I would strongly advise not going that route at this point.

The absolute best way to spice up a solo acoustic gig? Be comfortable, laugh, joke (nothing pre-arranged, spur of the moment only), talk to the audience like you are in your living room. If they become part of the set, as opposed to observing it, everyone will have a great time.

If you are adding things to fill up the space you will thinking way too much at the exact time you shouldn't be thinking at all.

Just my $.02, hope you and the audience have a blast Friday.

aziltz
10-26-2010, 01:15 PM
not really looking for tricks, just interesting ways to interpret songs while keeping it simple.

'70 RS
10-26-2010, 01:20 PM
not really looking for tricks, just interesting ways to interpret songs while keeping it simple.

Okay, perhaps 'tricks' was the wrong word to use.
Break a leg. :beer

Bluedano1
10-26-2010, 02:34 PM
I'm gonna throw a whole bunch of stuff at you if its OK, but I do have experience doing a fair amount of solo gigs. (BTW I'm a younger old fart doing older stuff, sorry!)

It starts with good material: strong songs (regardless of the genre) that you sing/play well and you are confident with. Also variety- I play almost all cover music, but I like to mix it up as far as doing rock n roll, blues, oldies, country/bluegrarss, instrumentals, and I seem to get in a pattern of playing say 2 songs in a row of the same type maybe, but not more (unless there is a request). Also I try to go with songs that are each very strong in one of the following areas: melody, rhythm, lyrics- home run if you get one that nails all 3!
Can't go wrong with Beatles!! (speaking of nailing on all 3, these guys were the best)
Don't worry about the loopping stuff or tech stuff for this gig- its just gonna be a distraction- focus on "meat and potatoes": your guitar playing/harmonica and voice

Its OK to have cheat sheets- but be organized and discreet: a binder on a music stand off to the side- not a bunch of S**t all over the floor like some of my buddies do....

OK I'm done! Have fun, and hope all goes well!

kelly dell
10-26-2010, 02:58 PM
I was wondering if anyone has another other ideas or tactics for solo acoustic performances to spice it up and bring more to the table


Hot chicks! with their shirts off preferably.

In my experience that will spice up any gig!:Devil

disguiseglasses
10-26-2010, 03:02 PM
Bring a kick drum!
I've done it and it serves a few purposes.
1. Put your name/band name on the front. Easy marketing/aesthetics.
2. Go all Avett Brothers on it and pound the heck out of it for "big" sections.
3. Playing a four on the floor rhythm can invoke bass (guitar) tones.

If the kick drum is too much, I usually bring a tambourine
and put it underneath my foot, stomping on it for rhythmic emphasis.
If you're going to be tapping your toe anyway, why not have it make some sound?
You can also look into "stompboxes"- basically a wooden box with a
passive transducer in it that can also be used for toe tapping rhythms.

I've used all of these tricks to varying success.
It still seems (to me) that the most effective thing to do
is to be confident and sincere in your playing/song choice/performance.

Good luck!

gainiac
10-26-2010, 03:10 PM
not really looking for tricks, just interesting ways to interpret songs while keeping it simple.

Relax and have fun with segues...incorporate some easy going improv there if you can.

aziltz
10-26-2010, 03:14 PM
thanks for all that. I've got myself a piezo-wood box. a "NUT Box" by product name actually. It's working pretty well for what I'm wanting to do.

Also the looper has really complimented my style of music, allowing me to plug little jams/solos before a song, mix-up an intro or free my hands for some more complicated harmonica sections.

I'll be finishing up my new stained-pine pedal board tonight, probably post a few pictures.

harpinon
10-26-2010, 03:43 PM
Digitech vocalist live 2. AMAZING. Wanna play an Eagles tune or something with a lot of harmonies and have it sound convincing? This is the way to do it.
He's right on that, but I would prefer the TC Helicon Harmony G. Better sounding voices than Digitech (I had both)

Also, consider using a 12 string. They can really make a song sound BIGGER!

Stevil
10-26-2010, 07:00 PM
Bring a kick drum!

i saw Budgie bust out an electronic kick (roland KD7 wired to ?) while playing acoustically for The Creatures. very effective!

aziltz
10-26-2010, 08:08 PM
I think these acoustic piezo stomp boxes can be used to trigger drum sound modules. Could be cool for solo, duo or whatever purposes.

aziltz
10-26-2010, 10:57 PM
Here's what I'm working with, I just finished this board up tonight.

Everything is set and forget minus the frontmost row of switches. The breakout box for the RC-2 really opens up its performance usefulness.

The Blackbox Effects are controlled by an off-board expression setup which lets me fade in some chimey, stereo sounds.

http://i132.photobucket.com/albums/q18/aziltz/Acoustic%20Rig/th_DSC03670.jpg (http://s132.photobucket.com/albums/q18/aziltz/Acoustic%20Rig/?action=view&current=DSC03670.jpg)

mertzy
10-26-2010, 11:06 PM
Two words....naked!

Scott Miller
10-27-2010, 12:06 AM
Nothing beats good songs. I have yet to see someone lose playing "El Paso" or "Long Black Veil."

BobPoomba
10-27-2010, 01:24 AM
Sing a song like Springsteen's Nebraska. It's about a serial killer whacking ten people on a cross country joyride. Or being the mood up with Reason To Believe, especially on the last verse.

jimfog
10-27-2010, 01:27 AM
Best "trick"??

Talk to the audience. Establish contact, get them on your side, take requests.

Jack Gilvey
10-27-2010, 06:57 AM
Balloon sculptures for the kids.

aziltz
10-27-2010, 08:37 AM
Sing a song like Springsteen's Nebraska. It's about a serial killer whacking ten people on a cross country joyride. Or being the mood up with Reason To Believe, especially on the last verse.


THIS. Best Suggestion Ever, mostly because Springsteen songs are awesome. I will see how I sound singing Reason to Believe

buddaman71
10-27-2010, 09:23 AM
Great vocals, crowd interaction, looper and hand percussion are hugely beneficial items.

sears
10-27-2010, 09:36 AM
exaggerate your dynamics

mojocaster.com
10-27-2010, 10:03 AM
Simple, relatively cheap "trick": I bought a 6-string banjo for $200. Tune it like a guitar, since 6 strings, so nothing "new" to learn.

On a select couple of songs during the set, play the banjo. Different tones, different tunes, great projection, works every time.

Schroedinger
10-27-2010, 11:14 AM
Best "trick"??

Talk to the audience. Establish contact, get them on your side, take requests.

This. Memorize the lyrics and practice hard, so that the songs are easy and your mind is committed to the performance, and the audience. Plan your set list thoroughly; make sure you have good variety of tempos and keys. Don't be afraid to rearrange your list during the show, to connect with the audience better.

Avoid gimmicks; they rarely serve the song, and usually are a cheap distraction. They entertain for 10 seconds, then become annoying. That said, I have a TC Harmony-G that I like to use. I probably use it on less than 20% of the songs, and the harmony voices are set at whisper volume; just enough to fill in the choruses and add dynamics when necessary.

aziltz
10-27-2010, 11:55 AM
Memorize the lyrics and practice hard, so that the songs are easy and your mind is committed to the performance, and the audience. Plan your set list thoroughly; make sure you have good variety of tempos and keys. Don't be afraid to rearrange your list during the show, to connect with the audience better.

This should be a given for any performer I think. Most of my set list, I've been playing for years, in a half-plugged band setting for a similar large coffee house crowds. I've just recently started a new band as well as started up performing solo. The show this weekend is in a really comfortable place to play, the coffee house at Bucknell University. I graduated in '08 and its homecoming weekend so a lot of my friends are in town, plus the fraternity and many friends that work there. I'm really looking forward to this.

It's the songs I know really well that I'm trying to mix it up a bit with. Add in subtle things here and there. All in all, I think only 1/3rd of my setlist has something special going on. I unfortunately don't have any extra guitars other than a backup. I'd love to add a baritone and a 12 to the mix sometime in the future.

I have a TC Harmony-G that I like to use. I probably use it on less than 20% of the songs, and the harmony voices are set at whisper volume; just enough to fill in the choruses and add dynamics when necessary. I've not been a fan of harmony pedals in the past, mostly because I've only seen them used incorrectly. Like an alt-rock cover band using it on every song, set to a major key while half the songs are in minor. just dumb. but I'll look into it. I'm not into the music where the harmonies make the song, like the Eagles and the like, but your description of your use sounds like it would work for me too. I'm already a big fan of the Voicetone series.

JSeth
10-27-2010, 02:06 PM
Minimalist "old school" approach - do a song acapella - or stop playing guitar during the tune and keep singing the song, then come back in with the guitar for the finish... this is, of course, assuming that you can indeed carry a tune in that proverbial bucket!

I've been playing solo acoustic guitar and voice for a LONG time - and I have a fairly strong voice, so this works for me. I will also do "medleys", running one song into the next; sometimes different songs by the same artist, sometimes just because the flow of the songs/ideas warrant it...

For example (of both of these approaches) - I will sing "Since I Fell For You", acapella, then come in with my 12 string for "I Need You" (G. Harrison), in E -> "Memories of You" ( a tune of mine) -> outro vamp with a bit of "I Should Have Known Better" by Lennon/Mac... I just take a starting pitch (as unobtrusively as possible!) for "Since I Fell..." (I sing it in E flat) and take it from there. Since I've been playing guitar for so long, it's definitely different to "just" sing...

I like the porchboard thing, too... haven't gotten one yet, but I like the idea - assuming one's foot tapping is in good time... but I have never been a fan of synthesized backing tracks or digital vocal effects; they just sound cheesy to me, much of the time. I have heard a few who can use them to good effect, without being distracting, but that occurrence is quite rare, IMPO...

buddaman71
10-27-2010, 04:33 PM
Right on JSeth:

I play about 4-6 solo acoustic shows and about the same number of acoustic duos a month and exaggerated dynamics adds a lot. I do lots of little acapella breakdowns and some really quiet parts and I also play pretty percussively with my right hand to add low end and propel the tune forward. I tend to be pretty dramatic vocally when I play solo and float back and forth between really soft, breathy pretty (Radiohead, Chris Issak) to more rockish styles like Chris Cornell and Dave Grohl.

Sometimes if I feel the crowd drifting away, watching a football game or something, I actually get softer and softer rather than louder, in order to capture their attention. Also, I repeat a line or two occasionally or drop a really soft f-bomb or something funny (only in appropriate venues of course) to get them back on board.

I don't like fake harmonizers or sample tracks or anything like that either.

jimfog
10-27-2010, 04:45 PM
I'm VERY anti set lists for a solo cover act.

To me, the advantage of playing solo is the flexibility and spontaneity that format affords you. Yeah, occasionally you fall flat on your ass, but so what?

I have a few regular weekly gigs, where a certain number of folks come back EVERY week to catch the show. I always get the same comment...."It's always interesting. We never know what's going to happen"

I don't, either!!

Dickie Fredericks
10-27-2010, 04:47 PM
I'm VERY anti set lists for a solo cover act.

To me, the advantage of playing solo is the flexibility and spontaneity that format affords you. Yeah, occasionally you fall flat on your ass, but so what?

I have a few regular weekly gigs, where a certain number of folks come back EVERY week to catch the show. I always get the same comment...."It's always interesting. We never know what's going to happen"

I don't, either!!
Great point!

Dickie Fredericks
10-27-2010, 05:10 PM
I don't like fake harmonizers or sample tracks or anything like that either.
heheh then you'd hate my solo gig LOL

Record the backing tracks and mix em down to an MP3. That's how I roll.

Im guessing I could do it with just an acoustic but I dont like playing acoustic much.

ahhh who needs a setlist.

aziltz
11-02-2010, 09:50 AM
the gig went well. probably my best performance vocally. guitar skills came across about average. The sound was excellent though. They had a Bose L1 and Bass Module system for me, so I used my STAGEPAS Monitors because I need to feel the guitar coming at me. I had been rehearsing all day beforehand, so by the end of the show my wrist was weak and my fingertips were destroyed. They've already mentioned having me back in the future. I performed for about an hour and 45 minutes. Probably about 25 songs.

The RC-2 worked out great for layered intros and allowing me to use both hands on harmonica. This worked particularly well on Learning to Fly by Petty, All for You by Sister Hazel, Amazing by Josh Kelley.

The Voicetone Create I left parked on reverb, and I didn't do anything fancy with the Cathedral. The Aqua Puss clone I just made added a nice touch to U2's Still Haven't Found What I'm looking For, and Under Heaven's Skies by Collective Soul.

I also brought along my electric guitar and amp for a bluesy, semi-clean interpretations of sitting on the dock of the bay, beast of burden and a parody of Tenacious D's FHG that some of my fraternity brothers wrote in college. It's called "Plot it Exactly" and its about all the math tricks we learned as Physics Majors.

I'm starting to see where harmonies would fit into my solo show, so I've starting looking into that, as I get more comfortable with the tools I've added already. The Voicetone Harmony-G XT is my current favorite. I'm also looking at building up a FET-based Compressor for the acoustic guitar, as I found the Opto-Stomp is a little slow for my tastes.

The Signal went like this,
Taylor 214e
BBE Acoustimax
Opto-Stomp
Aqua Puss
Cathedral
RC-2 w/Stop & Tempo FTSW

Vocals
BlueTube
Comp16
Voicetone Create