Equipment Portability

January 17, 2017

Phase I, the small setup!

In my arsenal of equipment, the best sound experience comes from using my best equipment.  That means bringing in two Bose 802 speakers, the requisite 802E module, a big amplifier, a heavy 16-channel mixer, 2 rhythm units, a heavy tone generator, MIDI accordion, a reverb unit and all the requisite speaker stands, stands for the tone generator and mixer.  All in all, an easy 200-225 pounds of equipment that even with a trolley took 4-5 trips back and forth from the parking lot to the stage where I was playing if I am alone.

Then there were the times that I did not need all that much equipment, where just an accordion was needed.  In between those two extremes there were times that I needed an accordion, but I needed to be heard in a small hall or when playing in a small group.  For those times, I used an accordion and a mid-sized amplifier.

Now, I am sometimes a bit of a hoarder.  Noooooo, I am not that person who’s house is filled to the ceiling with 40-year old books, newspaper and garbage, but there are sometimes a few things that I consider very special or personal that I keep even if I don’t use them for long periods of time.

During the days when I was playing the accordion, I used to often play in small restaurants and tighter locations.  This meant that lugging “the BIG setup” was simply out of the question.  There were also times I needed hardware that was quick to setup, but was also louder than just a single lone accordion.  In those days, I used a Roland JC-160 amp (click HERE for a link to the PDF manual), and an accordion, that’s it, that’s all… and it worked perfectly for those circumstances.  I remember when I bought it new and even where I bought it (in April of 1976 at Ranger TeleMusic, today they’re at another smaller location in the same town and now called a more simple “Musique Ranger“.

Addendum 2022… this place has now fallen victim to the covid pandemic and permanently closed it’s doors. Sad because it used to be such a small icon in the local music scene.

Well, being the hoarder that I am, I never sold this amp, though I came close a couple of times during the years that I was not playing.  I recently was thinking of selling this amp again and did a google search on it so that I could get a pricing idea.  After reading many reviews and posts, I was flabbergasted at what I found out… this is an amp that has a stellar reputation for being very special!

It is renown for having incredibly clean sound, the best on the market, and because it was available for a relatively short time, it’s quite rare!  Roland made the JC line of amps since the early 70’s and they sold a TON of them because of their reputation, however, these were the JC-120 models.  The one with the best reputation and the one to get if you could find one, was the JC-160.  The JC-120 was a 120 watt system with 2 X 12″ drivers.  The JC-160 was a 120 watt system with 4 X 10″ drivers.  This gave it a stronger bottom end, and more obvious punch than with two 12″ drivers when compared side-by-side, as confirmed by many reviewers, professional and people who used these units hard and put them away wet.  Ok, so perhaps we’re not going to sell it quite yet.

I used to use this amp mostly in my accordion orchestra and folk music days, and my music teacher was CRITICAL of anyone bringing an amplifier to practice or performances.  It had to sound good and it had to sound natural, or you were forbidden from using it without hesitation.

Back in the day, I had people from the orchestra asking to borrow it several times and indeed, after testing it themselves, these were the amps that they ended up buying and then used with other members of the orchestra because they were just that good in terms of quality of sound.  The nice part was that at around 75-77 pounds, it was both fantastic sounding as well as powerful and still light enough to be luggable by even a (at the time), 15-year old musician (me!).  Great quality casters made rolling it around an easy and weightless proposition.  This amp came with me to many gigs across Canada and the USA.

Well, this amp has just today been pulled out of retirement to be tested and used again in what I call my “Mini-Rig”.  This is the setup I will use when I don’t want/need a stereo image, when I don’t need maximum volume or don’t want to pull out all the equipment for “big shows” but do need more than what the accordion alone can put out and/or when I need an accordion and rhythm unit in tight scenarios.

The Install

The nice thing is that thanks to the design of the FR-8X and BK-7m, I don’t need anything more other than this amplifier, the BK and the 8x.  But, you might be saying that the amp is mono, and that there aren’t enough jacks on the amp for both the accordion and the arranger, but there you would be right… almost.

The setup is very easy, thanks to the good people at Roland.  The BK-7m actually has a jack for the mono output and that one cable plugs in to the amplifier’s LOW input.  The rest involves plugging in the 2 connectors for the pedals and 2 cables from the FR-8X (the MIDI out and mono output) to the BK’s MIDI input and instrument input sockets… and you are done!

Sound is obviously not as good as the full stereo setup, but IMHO, it is still excellent for a mono setup.  Trust me when I say that it’s loud enough for a 50-100 person gig with power to spare.

Where setup with the full equipment list takes 60-90 minutes to set up and prep, but with this thing, the BK, pedals and cables all fit in the back of the amp and is up and playing in a matter of minutes, perfect for those smaller locations!

Addendum February 2, 2017

I found that when using this amp that it is lightly weak in the bass side… so I added my 12-band equalizer on it and pumped up the bass and it is now perfect for my ears.  While there I added a little bit of crispness by adding a touch in the high mids.  These two changes are small, but now, with the BK-7m, it is much better (that said this is setup for use in my home, other locations will likely need drastically different EQ settings).

Today I was testing it a bit more to test the volume with the BK and man, for a 120 watt amp, it has some serious volume!  The first time that I am going to be using this amp is likely in a week at the next accordion meet.  More to come soon!

Addendum February 11, 2017

I used this setup in a 125-150 person restaurant.  First thing I need to say is that when I was testing it at home in the basement, that the bass sounded a bit weak and I felt the need to add a 12-band equalizer and boost the bass.  Well, in preparation for this event, that was a huge mistake!  In my preshow setup testing, the bass in the restaurant was so strong, boomy and overbearing, so much so that I had to remove the equalizer and run it straight and even run the bass knob in the “straight-up” 50% position, and also add just a hint of added treble (pushed to the 1 o’clock position), for that perfect clarity that I was looking for… amazing difference!

The Roland FR-8X and BK-7m are PERFECT with this amp in these kinds of conditions and settings… and I am so happy that I did not sell this amp, it’s a keeper, even to this day.  I know that I will be using it more and more in the future.  I repeat… this amp is a keeper and I am super happy to not have sold it!

Phase II, the SMALLER setup!

Well, I was speaking to a fellow V-accordion player who had a more portable setup.  Let me describe it to you… he uses a small 4-channel mixer that he plugs his V-accordion and BK-7m in to.  After that the mixer plugs in to a PC audio sound system.  You know the ones, the 3-way where you get  2 small satellite speakers and a subwoofer that’s a little bigger.

Well, today I did something similar, but I had to one-up the ante and make it even more portable!

Basically what I did was make a small adapter (that cost me exactly $0 because I had all the parts and 15 minutes of my time to cut the wires, solder the connectors and tape it up), and instead of using a small mixer, I plugged the 8X straight to the BK with 3 wires:
– the 2 left/right audio outputs
– the wire MIDI output

I then plugged in my adapter from the 2 outputs of the BK-7m to the stereo input on the back of the woofer of my setup.  Yup, I’ve had this Altec Lansing PC speaker setup in my bedroom for about a year now and it’s been my speaker setup for the TV on rare occasions.  Now, I think I’ve put it to better use!

So, first, does it work?  Of course!

Is it loud?  Yes and no.  Yes, it is loud enough for me to hear it clearly while on the first floor of the house with the speakers in the basement, but its nowhere near as loud as the Roland JC-160 amp.  Where the Roland 120 watt amp is good enough to fill a 50-100 person room with sound, the Altec Lansing is not up to that level, however, I can see it being perfectly good for a 20-30 person room (restaurant or home party setup?) and excellent for busking situations (that I never do… lol).

The advantage of this setup over the Roland music amp are that:
– its a true stereo setup
– it’s even more portable… we’re talking under 30 pounds for the 8X, BK, pedals and entire sound system.  That means that if I wished, I could easily carry the whole setup in one hand! (but hey, I can just push the 85 pound load of the other system with one hand as it is all on casters.  It’s the loading, unloading and carrying up stairs where it loses the race when compared to the PC speaker setup!)

Here are a couple of pictures from the project:

One day, I am going to implement a different system that’s based on the bones of my full setup, one that combines the qualities of “great sound”, but is still lighter and easier to set up than my current full setup, but that is an article meant for another time, and a project for another day.