HomeBlogsthatwesguy's blogAsk Wes: On Buying Equipment

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1. Get the microphone first, and use it to test sound systems. To find the right microphone, you'll need to try some microphones. This can be a problem; no store wants anyone testing microphones, for reasons of sanitation. A local music store is usually your best bet, but barring that, Guitar Center or the like can be a good place to start, particularly if you can find a time when they aren't so busy. Most stores have back rooms with some sound isolation, where you can hear what you're doing as you try various mikes. Start by buying a pop filter -- a foam cover placed over microphones -- as this will help them get over their fear of letting Nick spit into their mikes.

If Nick is a traditional hip-hop beatboxer, a simply Shure SM58 ($79) should do the trick reasonably well. It's not a good mic, but it is a standard, and it responds reasonably well to many of the usual hip hop beatboxing tricks. Also, any place where he performs will have one or more of them.

If Nick prefers a style more directly imitative of instrumental rock and jazz sounds (that is, if he's more like me), then he may find that a Rode NT3 ($180) works well for him, as it does for me. I have also had good luck with Beyer Dynamic M88's in the past, because though they lack the NT3's crispness, they are more durable than the NT3's, and also have a much better low-frequency response than the SM58s, which is quite important for all bass and kick drum sounds (which in turn is very important for most styles of beatbox).

2. Onto sound systems. Having selected the right microphone by testing several on a reasonably nice and presumably expensive sound system at the music store, it's now just a matter of trying the mic on a few more sound systems and seeing what you like on the price-vs-performance curve. One thing to keep in mind, though: carrying a mic is easy. Carrying a sound system, not so.

As a result, beginners tend not to own sound systems, as they are not only large but also expensive, but rather find small practice amps to be good. Practice amps that are designed for bass players tend to be better than those designed for guitarists, but let your ears be the arbiter.

Similarly, pros tend not to own them, as sound systems are provided by the venues at which we play.

I think that semi-pros own systems only when they feel that their control of the sound in sub-optimal settings (e.g. loud clubs), or the opportunity to learn about the technical aspect of creating sound, is more important than the impact on the audience of a good performance.

All in all, I'd say plan for the sound system to be used only for practice -- if you can't find a combo amp/cab practice setup, then surely a music store can guide you to a low-priced amp that is compatible with a bass practice amp/speaker cabinet -- and expect the microphone to also be used for performance.

Good luck!
Wes