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Wire List #54 – Lectrosonics Wireless for Guitars & Basses

1390 Howie with xmitter visible 2Social Media WireLists54 350pxFor decades now, Lectrosonics wireless systems have been used by some of the top touring guitar and bass players. In the early 2000’s – Guitarist Dan Spitz swore by his UM200/UDR200C analog wireless rig. Steve Stevens picked up a Digital Hybrid Wireless® IS400 system in 2006. Bass player Ricky Phillips has used Lectrosonics since about 2007. The Dixie Chicks toured with an extensive Lectrosonics wireless system in the mid 2000s. Fast forward to today, when bassists Eva Gardner and Phil Soussan, and guitarists Doug Aldrich, Jerry Horton, Howie Simon, Oz Fox, and Paul Jackson Jr. among many others rely on the sound quality, range, and reliability of Lectrosonics wireless for touring.

The secret of the Lectrosonics wireless system is mainly that these systems do not compand (compress and expand) the audio signal, and are designed to be as phase linear as possible through the audio band. With the proper input cables matched to the instruments and transmitters, a very clean transfer can be obtained, so that the guitar dynamics, tone, and volume/gain settings are preserved. These systems are the closest thing you can get to a good cable, with a lot more freedom of movement.

Because Lectrosonics units have been used for this purpose for such a long time and through multiple generations of product, there are some complexities to these systems, and some details have changed over time. Let’s start with the two current main series of product:

 

Although the Lectrosonics digital wireless systems can be used for guitar, we’re going to cover only the Hybrid systems in this article. These are still the most common and have been used by the vast majority of guitar and bass players with Lectrosonics systems.

First, let’s consider the receivers. Form factor is the biggest initial question.

If you want the receiver on your pedal board, the best choice by far is the LR. It is extremely compact and can be powered by external DC, like from a central power supply, using the LRBATELIM accessory. Also, the display faces up, so you can read it while looking down at the pedal board.

1179 Howie Pedal

The LR is available in 3 different frequency ranges: A1 (Best for North America), B1 (Best for Worldwide use) and C1 (Best in some International countries). Be sure to get a transmitter in the same frequency range!

Since the LR has a TA3 output connector, you’ll need an accessory cable to connect the receiver to a standard pedal train. The MC51 is the perfect cable for this purpose: 12” long with a TA3F on the receiver end to a ¼ unbalanced male ¼” right-angle plug.

Most users attach the LR to their board using Velcro or Dual Lock 250.

The R400a one of the older receivers currently in our line but has been used for hundreds of guitar systems in the past 15+ years.  It is a single channel unit, about 1/3 RU, and can be mounted on a rack shelf or assembled as a rack unit with either the single channel or dual channel rack accessory kits.

The R400a has both XLR and ¼ unbalanced outputs with individual level controls, so it is easy to connect to any type of guitar rack system. This receiver only tunes across 25.5 MHz, in what is known as “blocks”. It is important to know that most Lectrosonics transmitters tun across 75 MHz now, in “bands”. As long as the transmitter you plan to use covers the block of your receiver, you are good. For instance, the A1 band transmitters cover blocks 470, 19, and 20, and we recommend usually blocks 19 or 20 for use in North America. The B1 band covers blocks 21, 22 and 23, and these are better for those musicians touring worldwide. The C1 band covers blocks 24, 25 and 26. These blocks are not legal for use in North America but find a home in some International countries.

The Venue 2 receiver system is for users who want multiple different channels of wireless, either multiple musicians on stage or multiple guitars with different frequencies, etc. The Venue 2 frame (1RU) can host up to 6 modules – each module can pick up a different transmitter on a different frequency. The Venue 2 only offers XLR outputs, so it is a good match for balanced rack systems or guitar switchers with balanced inputs.

Now, let’s look at the transmitters. There is a lot of detail here about guitar cables and impedance matching.

The LMb is the direct descendant of the IM, the first transmitter specifically designed for use with guitars. This is the lowest-cost unit we make and is a fine performer. The LMb runs on 2xAA batteries and offers a fixed RF power level of 50 mW – enough to cover a huge stage or church, and allow the performer to even go out into the audience. The LMb has a TA5 input (as do nearly all Lectrosonics transmitters) and there are four guitar cables to consider using with this transmitter. Because the LMb does not have specific high-impedance buffered input for use with instruments, most guitars and basses will require an active cable so that a high impedance is presented to the instrument, thus avoiding “loading down” the pickups and affecting the tone:

MI39ARA (right angle) or MI39AST (straight). These cables have a JFET input to present a high impedance load to the instruments, and have graceful overload characteristics. In other words, they sound good!

MI39ARA MI39AST 3

If, however, you are using the LMb with an 18V active bass (rare but possible!) then one of these two passive cables will be a good match, since you don’t need a high-impedance load for the pickups.

MI33PRA (right angle) or MI33PST (straight)

MI33PRA MI33AST 2

The LT transmitter is really the main unit that should be considered for use with guitars and basses – this one has a built-in JFET high-impedance instrument input selectable in the menu. In other words, for any guitar or bass, only the passive cables are needed:

MI33PRA (right angle) or MI33PST (straight)

MI33PRA MI33AST 2

When setting up this transmitter, go to the input menu, and select “Instrument”. This presents a high-impedance load so tone and dynamics are preserved for passive pickups. In the rare case where you have an 18V pickup system, select “Line” input instead, and use these same cables. This input selection has a standard impedance and will provide the lowest noise with this type of instrument.

Setup Procedure and Tips

  1. RF Setup: the first step is always to have your receiver powered up, antennas attached, and in the location where you plan to use the unit. In a perfect world, all other wireless mics, in-ears, and com systems should be on and transmitting as well, so that we can see everything that is likely to occupy RF spectrum in the venue.
  2. Find the “SmartTune” function in your LR or R400a (Venue 2 doesn’t have this feature). Select the block or frequency band you want included. If you are using an LMb or LT transmitter on the A1 band for instance, select “A1” and the receiver will scan the entire band. The Venue 2 has a scan function – use this to see what RF activity is in your area, and select frequencies that show the lowest activity.
  3. Once the receiver has finished scanning and chosen the best open channel either automatically or manually, you’ll need to transfer that information to your transmitters. The LR will ask if you’d like to sync your transmitter via IR. Hold the transmitter so that the IR sensor is close to the emitter on the receiver, and press “Go”. The transmitter will now have the new frequency and be ready to transmit. The R400a does not have IR sync so you’ll need to transfer the frequency manually to the transmitter. The Venue 2 has an IR Sync page where you can send the frequency information to your transmitters.
  4. Audio Setup: the main goals are to optimize the gain structure of the system for best sound and dynamics with the lowest noise, and also to have a throughput level that is close to that of a cable (if that is your goal).
  5. With your transmitter connected to your guitar or bass and powered on, turn up the volume on your instrument until it is at the maximum. Set your tone knobs as you would normally use them. With the transmitter on the “Input Gain” page, play your instrument as hard as you might ever play in performance. Heavy “chugging” chords (guitar) or thumb pops (on bass) are usually responsible for the loudest levels out of those instruments. Adjust the transmitter input gain so that you see brief red flashes (limiter engaging) on the -20dB input LEDs, during peaks. Since every instrument is different, there are no “standard” input gain settings.
  6. Turn on the RF of your transmitter so that you see the signal on your receiver. Now, play and make sure you see audio modulation on the meter of the receiver. Next, go to the output level settings page of the receiver, and adjust the output level up or down to taste. We include this handy card with all of our transmitters and receivers:

    Gain Setting
  7. If your goal is to have the same gain through the wireless system when compared with a cable (a good idea if you want to have the same response to volume pot changes on the instrument), here is a trick we learned from veteran pro guitar tech Adam Day (he’s worked with Neil Schon and Slash): use a signal generator – a sine wave at 1 kHz will do – and feed that signal to your standard guitar cable. Monitor the output level with an AC voltmeter or audio measuring tool. Then, substitute your wireless system with everything turned on, and the transmitter gain already set by the above procedure. Raise or lower your receiver output level until the measurement reaches the same voltage or meter deflection. There you go! Now you can switch between your cable and your wireless and have the same gain and response.
  8. Tips: here are some things we’ve found helpful over the years when working with guitar and players to optimize their systems.
  9. Both the LMb and LT transmitters have a programmable switch on the top of the unit. Usually, we recommend to guitar and bass players to set this switch to “power on/off” to make the unit easier to use from gig to gig. Otherwise, you’ll need to press and hold the power on/off button on the front of the unit for 3-4 seconds each time you want to turn it on to transmit.
  10. Always have a spare guitar connecting cable on hand – these cables are well made but end up taking a lot of abuse on the road. Don’t let a relatively inexpensive item bring down your system.
  11. Do your best to keep your guitar transmitter away from any other bodypack units, especially your IEM receiver packs. When wireless units get really close together, they interact which may cause problems. Try to wear your guitar pack as high up on the strap on your back as possible. This will also improve range!
  12. Use fresh or freshly charged batteries for each show. These are high-performance units and require a fair amount of current to operate. Don’t compromise the run time or risk losing the signal during a show just to try to save a tiny amount of cost by re-using batteries.
  13. Call us if you have any questions or want to run your setup by us – we’re happy to help make recommendations!
  14. Videos: the following tutorial videos were made by rock bassist Phil Soussan and may come in handy as you are learning about your Lectrosonics guitar wireless system:

            SmartTune and IR sync: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aYh0UoAdPw&t=192s

            RF Power and Input Type settings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trKu-mR5UsY&t=15s

            Input Gain settings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WO8s4o7uT4Q&t=22s