Tony Rice: Feedback and Stage Volume

The flatpicking guitar is by far the most difficult of all the bluegrass instrument to play on stage. The fact is, the banjo, mandolin, fiddle and a dobro are inherently much louder instruments and don’t required nearly the amount of force to project. If you are playing one of these instruments than you need to read this whole article.

Besides the volume issue, the guitar’s frequency response is mostly in the lower mids, which is also easily drown out by vocals or audience noise.  Attempting to just turn up the volume on a guitar mic will usually lead to feedback in the system, especially if a monitor is close by.

So the natural thing to do when you can’t hear yourself on stage properly is to bear down and hit your guitar harder. Yea, it can get significantly louder with doing that but it leads to sloppier playing in many instances. 

Here’s a live clip from the stage at the FiddleFest in Roanoke Virginia- 2009 which features Tony Rice performing with banjo great Terry Baucom and the band Mountain Heart.

The song “Freeborn Man” appropriately starts out by featuring Tony Rice on guitar, a song that was one of his trademarks.  But as great as bluegrass flatpicking can be, you can hear what’s happening on this vid. Tony is simply not loud enough and the live PA engineer is attempting to turn his mic up… but to no avail. 

This feedback and being drown out is nothing new and one of the battles that a finesse guitarists like Tony Rice has encountered over the years. And when the energy level rises here, it gets even worse. Towards the end of the song Tony almost looks like he just wants to walk off stage. It’s just a cluster of sound..

Can you blame the Pa engineer? Well, more than just his equipment comes into play… the stage itself many times can cause feedback.


Unfortunately there’s really only one solution. Yea a good sound check would be nice but that usually doesn’t happen at a bluegrass festival.

The band members need to back off the mics and play a lot quieter. And here’s a message to banjo, mandolin, fiddle and dobro players: Just because you walked away from the mic doesn’t mean that you’re good to go. Stage volume of just your loud instrument will drown out a guitar.  You need to LISTEN and play (or not play) and try to hear what the audience is hearing through the main speakers. If you can’t hear the guitar, then that’s a problem.

Now I’m sorry to show this example with Mountain Heart who is a smokin’ great band. And I do know that this was probably a jam that was set up at the festival with virtually no rehearsal  But rest assured if these guys were playing with Tony on a full time basis, it wouldn’t be this way when he’s soloing.

Tony’s Bands…

If you listen to Tony’s bands, they simply are not playing loud at all and playing to the volume of the guitar.  Dynamics? If you have a flatpicking guitarist in your band, give this a try. He/she will love you if you can pull this off!


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *