The PANTHER system reacts accurately to subtle mix changes, especially in this stripped-down environment. With just a voice and guitar it’s critical that the PA does not influence tonality. The PANTHER system only puts out what you put into it!”
Derek FeatherstoneFOH Engineer and UltraSound CEO
Gifted with an emotive voice and extraordinary guitar skills, and drawing on a deep repertoire of chart-topping songs, John Mayer is one of the rare artists able to fill “A level” arenas as a true solo act. The rousing success of his recently concluded Solo Acoustic Tour relied on an intimate connection with his audience, accomplished aurally via a reinforcement system of Meyer Sound PANTHER large-format linear line array loudspeakers provided by UltraSound.
The spring leg of the tour kicked off on March 11 at New Jersey’s Prudential Center and wrapped at Los Angeles’ Kia Forum before Mayer embarked on a summer tour with Dead & Company — also supported by a PANTHER-based system from UltraSound. The fall leg was another east-to-west marathon, launching at Madison Square Garden with the November finale again at the Kia Forum. The FOH engineer for both the solo legs and the triumphant final tour by Dead & Company was Derek Featherstone, who also wears the hat of UltraSound CEO.
According to Featherstone, mixing one voice accompanied by guitar or piano is not the simple chore it might seem. “With one vocal and one instrument, there is nothing for the artist or engineer to hide behind,” he points out. “The mix is either right or wrong. The detail in compression and effects is plainly audible so you have to mix with greater accuracy.”
Accordingly, he continues, the touring rig kept him on his toes. “The PANTHER system reacts accurately to subtle mix changes, especially in this stripped-down environment. With just a voice and guitar it’s critical that the PA does not influence tonality. The PANTHER system only puts out what you put into it!”
Although the exact system configuration varied with particular arenas, a typical deployment would be anchored by front left and right arrays of 18-each PANTHER loudspeakers with side hangs of the same length as well as, when needed, extreme side hangs for 220-degree coverage consisting of 20 LEOPARD line array loudspeakers per side. In most scenarios, three short delays of LYON line array loudspeakers were added for balance and intimacy in the far upper seats. Dual hangs of six each 700-HP subwoofers filled out the deep bass notes.
For performance capture and mix processing, the front end of the system offered both analog purity and digital flexibility, with a vintage Gamble EX68 analog console paired with an Avid S6L digital mixer. “We also made a conscious decision not to use any wireless mics, wireless guitar feeds, or in-ear monitors. That’s part of the reason for the Gamble, as there is something rewarding to having a mic or instrument on a cable going into an analog desk. For vocal inserts, we leaned on the Summit DCL hybrid tube compressors and Empirical Labs Distressors.”
With no band bleed to worry about, Featherstone selected the Neumann KMS105 supercardioid condenser for Mayer’s vocals. “With no band behind him, we could use a condenser just like we would do in a studio since we don’t have to sacrifice any sonic reproduction to navigate around background bleed.”
After meticulous care in analog capture and sound shaping, Featherstone relied on the latest advancements in digital networking to deliver the signal with undiminished purity to the individual line array loudspeakers. “We are using the Milan AVB network to run digital all the way to each PANTHER cabinet,” he notes. “We feel like the AVB network does add some clarity in the 4kHz and higher regions.”
Eight MJF‑210 stage monitors were deployed for foldback, with three each at the two guitar performance positions, and two at the piano position. “The guitar positions are set up so the center wedge is vocal and the side wedges are guitar in stereo,” says Featherstone. “This keeps the three wedges from fighting each other.”
Rounding out the sound crew for the tour were System Engineer Michal Kacunel, Monitor Engineer Ian Dubois, Monitor Tech Alex Pritchard, and PA Techs Sean McAdam, Riley Gajewski, and Erik Swanson.
John Mayer’s Solo Acoustic Tour resumes in late winter of 2024 in the UK and Europe, with most of the same UltraSound crew and front-end gear flying over and joining up with a similar PANTHER system from a Meyer Sound rental partner.
A typical setlist on the fall tour leg covered about 20 of Mayer’s own compositions plus a couple of covers. Most accompaniment was on standard acoustic guitar, with two songs backed by piano and a few more using a double-necked acoustic with some looping effects. The opening act for the fall leg was JP Saxe.