Tech Series: Setting Gain Part 1

To be an effective worship leader/guitar player/team leader, you must understand every aspect of all systems in play on your team.  Why wait for a highly trained and dedicated team to do it for you?  Plus, you may be up there someday and have to train someone to set a gain.  You can’t make beautiful music if your meters are causing DISTORTION!   As a serious musician or musician in training, you should know how to set a good GAIN structure on all of your equipment.

First, you have to understand the RED on your meter is not GOOD!   Red on a meter is telling you that you are overloading that channel.  The result in all gear is a distorted signal.  In new digital equipment, the distortion is nasty.  In an old guitar amp with tubes, distortion or overloading may sound like cool distortion…. on a GUITAR.  But if you are mixing the band or trying to get a clean perfect signal, it all starts with gain.

A continuous peak sounds nasty and will ruin your acoustic guitar tone and anything else it happens to.

Here is the easiest way to set it on your mixing board.  And remember, this is the first step in achieving GREAT clean sound and running your church sound system properly.

RULE: When setting gain, you want to be as high as you can on the gain without EVER peaking to RED.   Leave a bit of room on top to make sure you will not peak.

For Acoustic/Electric Guitar

  1. Put that gain at 0 and the channel fader at 0
  2. Plug in your mic or guitar
  3. Start playing your guitar at its loudest setting.  For acoustic guitars with build in pre-amps, set the guitar at about 75% on the volume.  For electrics, put in on your loudest patch. If you are using a multiFX pedal like a POD, you must set all your tone channels to the same basic volume and know which ones you will use for leads, rhythms etc.  This is a touchy setting and it takes some time.  Go through each patch and make sure they are all the same volume to your ear.
  4. While you play your guitar, set the gain on the mixing board until it is just under red at your absolute loudest strum.  Most people set gain at rehearsals and never realize that during a performance, they will strum louder due to adrenaline and the rush of the live performance.  So during a sound check, really get on it and play as loud as you may actually play live.

For Vocals

  1. Put that gain at 0 and the channel fader at 0
  2. Plug in the mic and begin talking
  3. Begin slowly moving the gain up until you get signal
  4. The sing loudly with loud peaks or say “check”
  5. Continue to set gain so you are high on the green but NEVER peak red
  6. Make sure the person singing is right ON the mic.  Pretty much touching the mic with their lips and they are giving you their performance voice as loud as they will be at their loudest with good peaks.
  7. Then, set the gain with some good head room and NO RED.  Head room is a term used to refer to the room above GREEN before you hit RED.  This leaves room for occasional peaks above GREEN without hitting RED.

Headroom or HeadRoom may refer to:

  • Headroom, in digital audio signal processing, the difference between the nominal signal value and the maximum undistorted value

Here is an example of headroom.  This is a graphic of what you will see on your mixing board gain meter.  You should be seeting your level in the upper GREEN during most of the playing.  It’s OK to be down in the GREEN on soft playing or singing, but try to aim for Upper GREEN- Middle YELLOW and NEVER going into RED.


No Meter…. Just PEAK LIGHTS

For systems without a true meter.  You will have an OVERLOAD light or PEAK light that turns or blinks RED during an overload. These are simple to set.  Just start playing/singing and turn the GAIN up until it peaks, then back it down just a little.  Test your loudest to make sure there is no peak in red.  If you see RED, back it down a bit more.  Just a little at a time until you can play/sing your loud parts with no PEAK and NO RED!

Now you know how to set GAIN on a mixer and your audio equipment.  The goal is the get the highest GAIN without PEAK!

Good luck!   Comment below for any questions!