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Megaphone info request

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Les 16 Mar 98 - 12:41 AM
Joe Offer 16 Mar 98 - 12:52 AM
Les 16 Mar 98 - 01:03 AM
John in Brisbane 17 Mar 98 - 03:16 AM 17 Mar 98 - 07:46 AM
Jon W. 17 Mar 98 - 11:07 AM
Alice 17 Mar 98 - 01:49 PM
Joe Offer 17 Mar 98 - 02:11 PM
Bill in Alabama 17 Mar 98 - 04:07 PM
Alice 17 Mar 98 - 09:12 PM
Les 18 Mar 98 - 12:23 AM
Jon W. 18 Mar 98 - 10:53 AM
Alice 18 Mar 98 - 12:44 PM
chet w 21 Mar 98 - 12:40 PM 22 Mar 98 - 06:08 AM
chet w 22 Mar 98 - 04:50 PM
Bill D 22 Mar 98 - 10:45 PM
chet w 03 Apr 98 - 08:18 PM
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Subject: Megaphone info request
From: Les
Date: 16 Mar 98 - 12:41 AM

I just got through playing an Irish/American "session" at an extremely noisy bar. Several of us wanted to sing, but our group doesn't use amplifiers or mics and it was just impossible. One person jokingly suggested we get megaphones like they used in the 1920's, and I'm beginning to wonder if that might not be the answer. Does anyone have any info about the use of megaphones way back when, and how to find them today. I remember seeing a photo of Rudy Vallee using one in concert to a huge crowd, and also photos of megaphones mounted on stands and not hand-held, like cheer leader horns. Thanks for your help.

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: Joe Offer
Date: 16 Mar 98 - 12:52 AM

Don't know much about megaphones, Les, but you sure bring up an interesting topic - music in bars. If the customers go to a bar to hear the music, it can be just fine. Too often, though, it seems that people are there for other things, and they yell over the sound of the band. I really feel sorry for musicians who play in a situation like that, when the audience seems to ignore them. I also feel sorry for people like myself who go to a bar to hear the music, and can't.
Now, Les, how 'bout making your own megaphones - all you need is cardboard and lots of shellac....
-Joe Offer-

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: Les
Date: 16 Mar 98 - 01:03 AM

Yes, bar music is interesting. We play in different bars about every week and some have interested listeners, and more importantly GOOD acoustics. This particular bar was having a St. Paddy's Day celebration, had poor acoustics, lots of people under the influence, some fine step dancers, etc. But the idea of reinforcing sound without electricity fits with our notion of trying to play acoustic music.

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: John in Brisbane
Date: 17 Mar 98 - 03:16 AM

Hi Les,

Agree with you that playing acoustically is sheer delight, but unfortunately not always practical. In particular my gigs have consisted of musos playing a range of instruments e.g. a loud accordian vs a softer mandolin, and of course there is also a need to balance voices.

A couple of tricks though if I am forced to move to electronic aids:

(1) Make sure that the complete gear (mikes and speakers in particular) has a good frequency response particularly at the high end. With good recognition of the spoken word and vocal music, you need to pump out much less sound, the audience can hear and enjoy better.

(2) A good foldback speaker system will help us play and enjoy ourselves, even if the audience is stewed to the gills and not apparently even remotely interested in listening.

(3) If possible I often try to invade the patrons' space relocate during part of the performance, so that you are right in the middle of your audience. And then play and speak really softly. It never ceases to amaze me how people will berate their fellow patrons because a performance is soft. This is the time to roll out quiet ballads or interesting ditties. The trick here though is to retain their interest. Variety and entertainment are key, forget this and you're likely to lose them.

I try to remember though that whether there's a PA system or not, these noisy ingrates are (usually) paying for our performance fees/whatever and that our responsibility is to entertain them. The audience may be a wedding party, a group of old work friends or a collection of international wool buyers. Their prime interest may be to have a quiet conversation, pick up a partner for the night or so on. That's their right as far as I'm concerned. I guess we all put a lot of work into the story telling aspects and subtleties of folk music and feel pissed off if people don't listen. Many's the occasion I've heard comments like "The band was fantastic. Can I book you?..." from a rabid audience that seemed otherwise indifferent.

Does this always work? Nah, but why should I let a bunch of paying morons adversely effect the quality or enjoyment of my music.

Cheers John

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
Date: 17 Mar 98 - 07:46 AM

As I recall, a megaphone is just a truncated cone. That is a cone with the point cut off. You speak into the hole where the point was cut off and the sound comes blasting out of the other end.

I don't think it would work with instruments like guitars, since there really isn't a fixed source of the sound to feed into the small side.

I can think of some fanciful ways to acoustically drown out the electronic noise of the modern bar, but none of it is practical. The idea that comes to mind is to carry a parabolic shell that you can all fit in, and stand in the focal point--as I say, I can't think of any practical way.


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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: Jon W.
Date: 17 Mar 98 - 11:07 AM

I'm not an accoustical engineer but I'm always willing to offer my conjectures as fact;-) so here goes:

Megaphones distort the sound as they amplify it (I guess you can't get something for nothing) and also direct it in a fairly narrow beam so they might do as much harm as good in that respect.

The problem of accoustically amplifying a guitar was a factor in the development of the resonator guitars (National and Dobro) in the late 20's, also resonator mandolins were produced. Again, the sound was distorted or shall we say a new unique sound was produced. But the resonator guitars are remarkably louder than wood ones.

Murray's parabolic shell idea seems great. I bet one could be made up geodesically (remember the geodesic domes of the '70s?) with lightweight rigid foam insulation panels on wooden frames that could be packed flat, then bolted or clamped together on site (heck, you could probably even assemble them with hooks and eyescrews). It's worth exploring.

My real advice would be to compromise your principles, get a nice little PA and some good instrument mikes, and save the unamplified sessions for house concerts or other quiet venues.

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: Alice
Date: 17 Mar 98 - 01:49 PM

Your experience is similar to mine last Sunday. The session in the Hotel lobby here has been going on for years, and one would think that the Sunday right before St. Patrick's Day would have an appreciative, engaged audience. It did last year. But Noooo.....that night was the first time I actually heard a disgruntled voice coming from the bar say, 'hey, how about some country music?' (which country?) I really wanted to be able to sing, but the loud talking groups were just too much to compete with. Sometimes even the group (about 20 of us) playing tunes was drowned out. We did a few loud sing-alongs just to do some songs, but it was a really poor St.Pat's session experience for me. alice, mt

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: Joe Offer
Date: 17 Mar 98 - 02:11 PM

I guess I'd have to say that a PA system is an absolute 'must' in a noisy bar. Certainly, it may compromise the acoustic quality of the music; but the bar noise does a lot more damage. The people who come for the music deserve to be able to hear the music, even if it does have to be amplified to drown out the bar noise.
For quieter venues, a shell or even a simple sound board can help a lot - without distorting the sound. Les, I'm afraid your megaphones might sound like singing through toilet paper tubes.
A few years back, after I became gloriously single, I decided to go out and hear the wonderful Irish music at all the places in town that offered it for St. Pat's Day. Bad idea. I heard lots of bar noise and lots of what might be called "Celtic rock," but none of the beautiful Irish folk music I was looking for. I got lucky this year, though. My sweetie took me to hear Kevin Burke, Johnny Cunningham, and Christian Lemaitre do their Celtic Fiddle Festival. It was a wonderful show. They have several appearances scheduled this month, but I don't know where. One caution - they DO use microphones....
-Joe Offer-

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: Bill in Alabama
Date: 17 Mar 98 - 04:07 PM

Les: I reckon that I have performed in every conceivable venue in the 35 years that I have been pickin' bluegrass and Appalachian music. We always told ourselves that folks were paying to have us perform, and if they chose not to listen, it was their loss--but that really didn't help our frustration much.

I don't know how many folks you have in your group, or what the difference in the voice timbre of the instruments might be, and all of that makes a difference. If you're interested primarily in having your vocalist(s) heard, we found that a speaker/amp intended to be used with an electronic keyboard is quite suitable, with regard both to fidelity and portability. Ours has connections for two microphones, and volume sufficient for us to override bar gigs when we need to. I admire your standards of purity for performing acoustic music, but you must remember that the average bar gig is not really a suitable setting for the acoustic music.

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: Alice
Date: 17 Mar 98 - 09:12 PM

I asked my voice teacher about this. She said that at one time when she was singing in a group of six classical singers, since they never knew what horrible acoustics to expect in different places where they were hired, they created a folding screen of varnished wooden panels. It was tall enough that when they set it up in a semicircle behind them, it would help improve the projection of the sound, as well as being able to hear themselves. alice in montana

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: Les
Date: 18 Mar 98 - 12:23 AM

Thanks for all the info -- there is great food for thought here. Our group is aware of PA systems and has used them for paying gigs like weddings, etc. We just hate to hump a heavy system to a bar where we're only getting free drinks. In general our instrumentation doesn't need too much reinforcement -- we have fiddles, banjos, guitars, mandolins, bass, guitars and concertina -- its the voice I was concerned about. We have sometimes tried one mic with a battery powered small amp and that has sometimes sufficed. I also experimented quite some time ago with a cheap PZM mic -- one of those flat ones that's supposed to pick up everything in a ten foot dome -- and tried sticking it up on the ceiling above the group, the idea being that it would reinforce the whole group sound without having to fight for position. That, for some reason, didn't work well at all. What I was really interested in was how musicians actually coped with sound reincorcement before electricity. I have read accounts of banjo contests in the minstrel age (1840's) being held in front of 3,000 people. And they had gut strings back then! Also, as I mentioned in the first thread, Rudy Vallee sang in front of huge crowds. (Remember the weird sound on "Winchester Cathedral" ? ) I realize that megaphones would sound equally weird, but I'm just real curious about it.

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: Jon W.
Date: 18 Mar 98 - 10:53 AM

Remember things were a lot quieter in general in the 1840's (he types over the roar of his computer cooling fan). No motorized traffic, no fans, no flourescent light hum, etc. This means that not only could folks hear better, they probably had better hearing too, their ears not having had to deal with a constant assault of background noise all their lives. But as far as 3000 people hearing a banjo contest, I'll bet that any large symphony hall could hold that many and they'd all be able to hear an unamplified banjo just fine.

Back to megaphones: they are still used by many cheerleading squads. I bet your local high school has a catalog where you could order one, if you don't want to try making one from cardboard and shellac.

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: Alice
Date: 18 Mar 98 - 12:44 PM

Opera voices are trained to have the power to sing without microphones, and they are LOUD. It is a technique that can be learned. (You can read my point of view on voice training on the 'can anyone learn to sing' thread.) I know that when I stand up in a session to my full 5'2" height and suddenly start singing in a loud volume, I sometimes see surprised expressions. It's all in the technique, and the lower range of a man's voice can project even better than a soprano range like mine, if you know what to do. When I sing shanties or drinking songs in a lower chest voice, it can carry over crowd noise. (Remember Ethel Merman?) Even in the head voice at a higher range, the sound carries enough to usually get people's attention. If the audience is just plain rowdy, though....that's another problem. alice, montana

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: chet w
Date: 21 Mar 98 - 12:40 PM

About 15 years ago I found in an old music store, where, oddly enough, most instruments were not for sale, 3 brand new (don't know how old or who made them) harmonica megaphones. They were made of a thick flexible cardboard with a little holder for the harmonica at the small end. In actual use, I can't tell that it does a lot for the sound, but it sure does look very cool. I plan to make one out of aluminum and see how that works. Sometimes it seems that it's all been tried before.

Give it a try, Chet W.

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
Date: 22 Mar 98 - 06:08 AM

Chet's posting gives me one idea. If you make you megaphones, or whatever strange looking enough, perhaps people will shup up just to see what the hell you are up to.

I once had a mathematics professor who came to every lecture carying a small three dimensional geometric figure made of cardboard. It had each face numbered and had arrows on each of its edges.

At each lecture he would put it on the table in front of him, and then pick it up and walk out at the end of the lecture. We all waited anxiously for the time he would make use of it in a lecture and explain it. He never did, but boy, did he have our attention!


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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: chet w
Date: 22 Mar 98 - 04:50 PM

Just remembered, there were once fiddle made, can't remember their name or brand, that had no "body" but instead had an old victrola needle in contact with the bridge, which was then connected to a mica timpan (think "eardrum") which then led to a megaphone that stuck out from under the fiddler's chin. I've never heard one, or seen one in person, but you're right, I bet it would get attention, if not a sweet tone. Might be worth building one to find out.

Chet W.

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: Bill D
Date: 22 Mar 98 - 10:45 PM

yep, Chet...there were several instruments made that way...we have some serious collectors around here who used to do a 'weird instruments' workshop every few years, and I have seen those kind of things lined up on stage, being demonstrated! They may, indeed, have helped amplify the sound in their day, but they also sure did distort it...but some of the distortions had their own quaint way of being 'interesting', just as the early pedal steel guitars were fascinatingly 'different'.

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Subject: RE: Megaphone info request
From: chet w
Date: 03 Apr 98 - 08:18 PM

Anybody know who made those megaphone fiddles or if they had a special name (like "viophone" or something), or where there might be some information about them? I think I really would like to build one.

Thanks, Chet W.

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