Saturday, February 16, 2013

Do You Need a Generator for Your Gig?


Have you ever done a site inspection or shown up to a gig, only to discover there are no power outlets anywhere? Festivals, beaches, parks and big yards are the usual causes of this headache. That leaves you with three choices – run the world’s longest extension cord, track down a generator, or walk away from the gig.

Running a string of extension cords is really bad news. If you get a few hundred feet of cord strung across a park (or a skate park as I had to one time), there is a lot of stuff that can go wrong. For starters, it can get unplugged or cut, or possibly even stolen if you are in the wrong neighborhood. Also, as cables get longer resistance increases, so there will be less power available to you and an increased chance of tripping a circuit breaker at the other end. Any of this stuff will ruin your gig.

So that leaves you with looking for a generator, but maybe you have no idea what you are looking for. There are all different sizes and brands of generators out there, and you can spend virtually any amount of money if you are going to rent or buy one. This brings up a good question – rent or buy?

In the short term, it is easier to rent. You just pay for a generator when you need one, and you don’t have to store the thing or maintain it. This is a double-edged sword, though. There might not be a unit available when you need it, and rental power sources may not be well-maintained. Driving across town to pick one up might not be the best use of your time when you are scrambling to get ready for your gig, either.

If you buy your own, you are golden. You have one whenever you need it, and you can make sure that you buy the right generator for your needs. Also, you will have one around the house in the event of a power failure, and it is nice to keep your refrigerator going and have a few lights on. The downside is that you are responsible for maintenance – keeping the oil changed and making sure that the gas does not go bad. And you are going to have to spend a lot of money if you buy new, probably a thousand bucks.

If you decide to jump into the deep end of the pool and buy one, be wary of anything that is sold at Harbor Freight. I have experienced many of their generators, and found them to be unreliable and short-lived. Also, they put out dirty power that will add noise to your signal chain. And, worst of all, their operating sound is at a volume and frequency that makes them unbearable to be around. I did a street festival one time and the people in charge gave me one of those cheap-assed generators to use. It was teeth-grindingly deafening, and people had to move their sales booths away from the offending unit.

Used generators can come with their own kinds of headaches. Only buy one from a private party if you know the model well and if you can be assured that it has been maintained properly and does not have too many hours on it. Good luck.

When you are trying to figure out what generator you need, you will need to look at their power ratings. They are rates in kilowatts (kW), and you amplifiers are rated in watts, so you can get pretty close. You don’t want to come up too short on power, but keep in mind that you probably never run your 2000-watt amps at their full capacity, and amplifier manufacturers love to inflate their power ratings. There are some pretty good websites for calculating your power needs, so I will not go into that here.

Also, make sure you find a generator with a quality inverter, so there is no noise added to your signal chain, and so you can run a laptop from it without danger. Once you get a unit that provides nice clean power, remember is that you should avoid running lights and sound off the same generator. Most lights suck power like crazy, but even worse they will add a lot of noise and make your equipment sound like crap. If you have to run lights too, bring another generator. If some ill-prepared maroon wants to hook up their lights to your generator while you are running sound, tell them to go buy their own.

And there is one final thing to think about – if you buy a generator, everybody and their brother will want to borrow it from you. See my earlier comments about the ill-prepared maroon.

Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I will review my generator of choice…


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