Monday, September 29, 2008

The Frugal Soundman

Sunday was the 45th anniversary of the founding of my church.

Imagine that. Kennedy was president (but with less than two months to live) when Christus Victor Lutheran Church was founded in Fayetteville, NC.

A few weeks before this festival celebration I was notified that this was to be an outdoor service and that I would need to supply a Public Address (PA) system.

Ummm... OK.

Having been in various garage bands since 1973, I had accumulated a lot of bits and pieces of such gear over the years. I jettisoned quite a bit of it when I moved to Fayetteville ten years ago, though.

Taking a quick inventory I determined that I had enough microphones and stands to to the job. I had my choice of two PA amplifiers: an old Fender solid state 4 channel head and an ancient Bogen 3 channel unit (pictured).

Rounding up speakers was the main challenge. I had acquired, via a yard sale, one of the two cabinets designed to go with the Fender PA ensemble. The problem is that there were only two of the four 10" speakers left inside the column. Each speaker is 32 ohms. The idea is that four such speakers would result in an 8 ohm cabinet when wired in parallel. Two such cabinets would provide a 4 ohm load, for which the PA head had been designed.

In any even, a single, two speaker cabinet would not cut it.

I mused about throwing the speaker column on a band saw and cutting it in half, but further review showed that not to be practical. Aside from the utter lack of band saw access, the cabinet construction was not conducive to such a plan.

I set about pricing rental units at a couple music stores.

Back in the 'seventies, my band could rent a two-column, 4-channel system for $35 a weekend. We'd pick it up Saturday morning and play the gig that night. Since the store was closed on Sunday, we'd return it Monday, after school.

The cost of a 21st century system had risen to about $125 a night. And I'd have to shell out $250 for TWO days' rental, even though both stores were closed on Sunday, anyway.


I decided to cruise the local pawn shops in search of inspiration.

I found pair of cheap, SANYO stereo speakers with 10" woofers at the CASH CONVERTERS. They were two 36" tall black boxes with black speaker cloth. They came to $16 with tax. Schweet! All I had to do was pop the SANYO logo off the fronts and no one would be the wiser.

Once I got them home, I pulled out the cheap-o 10" woofers and replaced them with the 32 ohm Fender speakers. I left the dinky-toy mid range and tweeters disconnected. I installed 1/4" jacks on the back of the boxes. Connected in parallel, I now had a 16 ohm load.

Next, I wired the two 12" speakers in my YAMAHA guitar amp into series, which gave me a third 16 ohm cabinet.

I would use the two pawn shop cabinets for front left and right sound with the third guitar cabinet placed in the center rear to reinforcement. the whole mess should come out to be an 8 ohm load.

I tried it with the Fender PA, but the results were disappointing. Not loud enough and pretty flat sounding, I concluded.

I plugged the speakers into the Bogen head, set to an 8 ohm load. Loud and clear! Once again, the Bogen came through in a pinch.

The last thing needed was a LONG speaker cable for the most remote cabinet. A trip to the local mega-hardware-barn revealed that "speaker cord" cost 35 cents a foot. Hmmm. I spent $16 on a pair of speakers and now I have to spend TWICE that for a single cable? No dig!

In the same aisle were 100-foot "light duty" electrical extensions cord for $14 each. SOLD! I lopped off the electrical connectors and soldered a 1/4" plug on each end. It worked like a charm.

I schlepped this rag-tag assortment of parts over to the church Saturday afternoon.
I found two improvised stands for the pawn shop speakers: a book cart and a keyboard stand. They were both the same height. Bonus!

Sunday morning, I got to the church at 8:15 and set up the PA. By 9:30 it was in place and functional. The choir practiced a hymn and I "got my levels" for their mic and the electronic keyboard's line-in signal.

The service started at 10:30 and went off without a hitch.

By 12:30 I had everything pulled down and went for some grub in the fellowship hall.
I was soaked in sweat and red as a lobster from being in the sun for five hours, but I thank God for providing me what was needed to once again to meet a specific need.

And, you know, the whole thing kind of took me back to my garage band days. Except for the rock and roll and having to play guitar all night it was kind of like doing a gig.


Blogger furiousBall said...

it's probably not appropriate to throw the devil horns at a church function?

oh man, i was the appointed gear head guy that was always in charge of the band's PA. so all the Ohm talk... yeah, someone throw a beer on the mixer ... it's all coming back to me now

September 29, 2008 10:58 AM  
Blogger Allan said...

That thing with the extension cord...that's brilliant. Totally.

September 29, 2008 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My son would love that - he's endlessly intrigued by retro elctronic equipment.

October 01, 2008 2:41 PM  
Blogger Craig D said...

furiousball: Hope I didn't trigger any PTSD episodes, there.

allan: What could be cooler than an ORANGE speaker wire?

c of w: Retro is all I have.

October 03, 2008 11:53 AM  

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