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Maintenance: Mic stands, music stands and tripods

Maintenance: Mic stands, music stands and tripods
A mic boom arm from Triad-Orbit that features their ball joint clutch assembly

Maintenance: Mic stands, music stands and tripods

A drooping music stand, a hard-to-adjust mic stand or a balky camera tripod can break the flow of a worship service just as with failing electronics. Frank Wells share tips to keep such hardware in good condition

We have all seen it happen: a tall singer steps up to a solo mic, adjusts it to their height and halfway through the song, the boom arm starts drifting downward; a music stand tilts, spilling sheet music onto the stage; a tripod head slumps under a camera’s weight and the IMAG shot of a worship leader is now showing their feet. Any of these types of issues can break the flow of performance and detract from the worship experience.

A music stand from Manhasset
A music stand from Manhasset

Test your mics and your stands

As part of rehearsal or worship set up and sound check, test your stands and tripods for integrity. Vertically adjustable (telescoping) mic stands typically have two hollow steel rods, a larger main shaft with a smaller pole that slides up and down inside the main shaft. A twist-tighten clutch assembly provides a compression grip on the inside pole to fix it into position. To test, adjust a mic stand’s height by loosening the clutch assembly (some are squeeze-to-loosen), raising or lowering the stand and retightening the clutch to the tension you’d expect the performers to apply. Then, push down on the pole to ensure it holds fast. If a mic clip is screwed directly to the top of the stand, insert the mic and make sure it is secure when pivoted on its vertical axis to set the mic angle (the pivot on some clips can be tightened with a screwdriver), and that the clips secure tight enough on the stand threads to prevent the mic from pivoting horizontally (left and right) when the mic is touched, or, in the case of a wired mic, when the mic cable is moved. Vertical main shafts will be screwed into a weighted base or have three or four short legs either in a tripod arrangement or that sit flat on the ground. Ensure that the stands are tight to the base and stand without wobble.

An Atlas Sound replacement clutch kit
An Atlas Sound replacement clutch kit

Boom arms are frequently set atop a mic stand, screwed on to the same threads that accommodate a mic clip. Booms arms commonly adjust by spinning a short rod or wing attached to a nut to tighten a compression fitting to set the pivot angle. Boom arms are also frequently telescoping with a clutch assembly to adjust their reach. With the mic in place on the arm, ensure that moderate tightening will let the arm support the mic in the desired position, even when extra pressure is asserted to the arm above the mic clip connection. Also ensure that mic clips are secure to the boom and hold the mic firmly in position with no spin or droop from their own weight. Performance flow aside, this protects mics from damage.

Made for controlled movement

Video camera tripod legs are often set to length with a lever or twist-to-lock clamp assembly. The nested shafts on a leg can move in and out of the larger leg shafts to the desired height, then be locked in place by a compression mechanism. Clutch assemblies like those on mic stands are also often used on the legs of primarily less-expensive and lighter-duty tripods. Whatever the mechanism, with its camera mounted, make sure a camera tripod’s legs maintain their height setting if you apply a downward force on the camera. Final height adjustment is sometimes made by a gear drive elevator mechanism or, preferably, pneumatically. Height should also be securely fixed when set, and easy to adjust when not. Manual, non-motorised, camera tripods also have pan/tilt assemblies that work on similar principles but are not tightened to the point that the camera can’t be easily panned or tilted; they are set for ‘drag’ where they somewhat resist movement without impeding it completely nor requiring undue effort to position. Once in place, the camera should stay secure with no operator intervention or minimal intervention if under active operator control.

Gravity MS 4322 B mic stand with folding tripod base
Gravity MS 4322 B mic stand with folding tripod base

Stand firm

Commonly used music stands have a telescoping vertical shaft and a tilting top, typically without adjustable clutches or clamps. Rather, they are built with enough resistance to movement to be adjustable under moderate force, and to stay positioned once adjusted and a song book and stack of music are placed on them. Ensure that they function in this manner during set up.

Repair or replace?

Cheap mic stands should be discarded when they fail, unless there might be parts on them that can be resused. The same goes for music stands. You don’t want to trust your cameras to cheap tripods. When their bushings, rubber and plastic washers fail from wear, mid- to high-end stands and tripods will usually have replaceable compression assemblies. Purchase units that have readily available replacement parts – a sign of serviceability and value.

A little attention can prevent mid-service crisis situations from happening.

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