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Simple Rack-Mount, Rental Proof, AVL Control

The finished product!

One of my biggest frustrations for a long time as a volunteer tech director has been rentals.

We have a smaller sanctuary that can hold around 100 people, and the church loves to rent it out to various eclectic groups. I have no problem with this – it’s great extra money for the church to improve the facilities with, and it provides work for the custodian, etc.

Rentals can use 1 microphone and plug in a device to play music, which the custodian can set for them. If they want more, myself or one of our audio guys gets hired to come in.

Often, the audio system or computer gets messed with and it creates a HUGE headache for me. Things get unplugged, many knobs get turned, or buttons get pressed and then we have issues on Sunday morning.

It’s my simplest room, so my volunteers in there aren’t always knowledgeable to troubleshoot. Plus, I inherited this system from previous tech directors, and nothing is labeled. Ugh.

The Task – Make it Simple, Make it Safe

My biggest goal with the re-do of the control area (FOH) was to:

  • Make it simpler for volunteers to run. The audio console was an Allen and Heath MixWizard 16. While it’s a great console, in my past 5+ years serving here, I’ve NEVER used more than 6 channels. We just don’t do complex things in this room.
  • Lock it down: I needed to get all of my connections and important gear into some kind of lockable rack with venting so that it could be locked while rentals used the facility.
  • Keep it cheap: Oh, did I mention there was no budget to do this…

So, where to begin?

The Rack

I started with a cabinet that was already built into FOH and already had a lock bracket on it to hold a simple padlock.

This particular cabinet was somewhere in the neighborhood of 30″ wide and 20-some inches tall below the counter. And it was already painted black!

I wish I had taken more pictures of the construction, but as you can see in the pictures, I built-out a simple 2×4 frame for the rack rails which I bought on Amazon.

You could use thinner wood (2×3), but we had scrap 2×4 around, so that’s what I used.

This part is my biggest regret about the project. While it was much cheaper to do it this way, I probably should have built a simple pine rack (pine/whitewood 1×12 wood, cut and joined) and mounted the rails into it.

Using this construction method meant that it was very difficult to get behind/beside the rack to wire it. But the price was right!

The Gear

Inside the rack, I mounted:

Outside of the rack sat our wireless units, which I’d love to get into a rack on the counter at a later point to use when we do events outdoors. But for now a basic “surfboard” mounting works.

Putting it All Together

I began my day by pulling all of the gear out of the FOH area and wrapped up all the cables. Over the years a LOT of extra cables had found their way into the system – it was a definite nightmare!

Then, I stretched out the critical wires that head to the stage and routed them to their new location. Thankfully, they were all long enough. I had somewhat checked beforehand but was glad there were no surprises.

Then I mounted the rack shelf (front and back mounts!) and audio console in. I figured out the correct height and then pulled out the console to bring the snake cables in.

Because the snake was much larger than needed, I simply ran it above the console and screwed it up to the countertop with some conduit clamps.

I then mounted and plugged in everything else, with the power amplifier last. I fired it up, tested everything, and mounted in my LED lights.

For those, I simply staple them to the wood frame of the rack with a standard construction stapler. It’s simple, and it’s not going anywhere! The adhesive on most of these LED strips isn’t great, so stapling is needed to hold them up.

And it’s done! Now my volunteers can come in, power it all on and run the service – no more monkey business from rentals!

Best of all, it’s been a few months since I installed it, and I am happy to say that we have had no “surprises” from rentals. Previously, we would have issues at least once per month!

I call that a win!

Custom DIY XLR Stage Boxes on the Cheap

Our stage was a mess, and we needed a fix.

Yes, our stage was a mess!

To give you a little bit of background, we previously would set up and tear down the complete audio system, stage, and chairs every week.

But now we don’t.

In the quest to turn our gym into a permanent, non-gym sanctuary, we don’t tear down anymore.

With that comes a bit of a problem.

Before, we would tear down all the individual cables from our snake boxes to the individual instrument positions every week. Now, we leave them up every week.

Which means after about 18 months, it was an insane mess.

We all knew this, but truth be told we didn’t really do anything about it until we had to.

If we needed to add another channel and we couldn’t find the cable, we just run a new cable,  Or move something else and reuse it.

Then we had a rental in the building. We have rentals from time to time come, and generally, everything is fine. But we had a reoccurring problem with this one rental, because they would leave the stage to be quite of a mess.

So, I sat down with one of our pastors and started explaining why this happens.   This brought me to the conclusion that we really, really needed to fix our stages wiring.

I just couldn’t hold someone from the outside up to the standard of trying to keep this stage neat and clean, when the cords were a huge mess underneath.

Let’s Make Some Stage Boxes!

My biggest goal with these stage boxes, was to do it as inexpensively as possible, while still using high enough quality parts that will have these things for years into the future. But also keeping in mind that we don’t tear down or set up that much, so it doesn’t need to be professional quality!

Because of that, I decided to try out some wall plates and XLR connectors from a company called US Bargain Sound.   They offer these on eBay, and through their own website for a really great price.

Plus, 4-channel stage boxes were about perfect for what we needed at various places around our stage.

I mounted the wall plates into electrical boxes.

I used full-size switch boxes so that there wasn’t hang over the edge from the wall plate.

This meant that I had to drill holes in the wall plates to make them mount.   Not perfectly elegant, but highly functional.

Tip – I started drilling from the backside for a more accurate cut and less damage to the black powder coating on the front of the box.

The Build

To begin, I spray painted the outsides of the electrical boxes black.

While they dried, I stretched out a tape measure down the hallway in my house.

My longest stage box was around twenty feet so I needed a space where I can stretch something out that was 20 feet long.

The next Step – Techflex.

I used some generic brand Techflex that I got on Amazon, to bundle my cables together so I cut that to size next.   A good note here is that you’ll want to set your Techflex to the total length of the snake and cut it there.

Your wires will need to be longer, to accommodate for the wire inside the box and the fan and on the other end.

After that, I measured and cut my wire. I used West Penn 452, and I found the best price on Herman Pro AV.

For my stage, I use about 350 feet of wire to do 5 stage boxes.  As I mentioned above, I added about 2 ft of extra wire to each stage box to accommodate for the fantail, and inside the Box.

It’s a little on the short side, but I knew that in my situation the male ends of the wires didn’t need to have a lot of reach.

I also used my wire labels to label each channel of these 4-channel snakes. Because I was doing 20 channels total, I use numbers 1 through 20 on my various snakes.

Now, it was time to stuff the wires through the techflex. I used my favorite Harbor Freight fishing sticks to slide the wires through the techflex. This is highly, highly, highly recommended because they don’t fish well on themselves!

When you’re done, it’s best to use heat shrink to finish off the end of the techflex. I thought I had the right size heat shrink, but it ended up that I didn’t, so I just use black electrical tape at the end to finish off the connection and it looks fine.

In a few years it’ll probably get goo-y, but I can deal with that then…

Next, it was solder time. I began by soldering the individual XLR’s onto the fantail end.

Notice that I taped the techflex with some electrical tape somewhat loosely around each end. This is important because cut techflex will easily unravel if you don’t tape it.

Once I soldered all of the XLR’s, it was now time to solder the XLR’s on the wall plates. Be sure to check that you’re attaching the correct wires to each plug, so that the order is still logical when you turn it over for use.

Last, to finish it off I made sure to tighten the clamps down on the electrical boxes, label all of the boxes with nice labels, and of course test everything!

Full Parts List:

(5) XLR Wall Plates from US Bargain Sound on eBay (1 per stage box)

(20) XLR Male Plugs from US Bargain Sound on eBay (4 per stage box)

West Penn 452 mic/line wire – I bought it here because it was the best price. It took awhile to ship, but I ordered ahead so it was okay.

3/4″ Flexible Sleeving – 100′ – I could have probably got it done with a smaller size, but this felt fine (not too big), and was simple to fish through.

2-Gang Old Work Metal Boxes

3/4″ Cable Clamps (1 per box)

Cheap Black Spray Paint

Electrical Tape

Wire Marker Book

Label Maker

Tie Line – to tie up the stage boxes nice and neat when not in use (optional)

What is Church Tech Hacks?

Church Tech Hacks is the website I wish I had, and the answer I wish I could give.

What exactly do I mean by that?

Well, as a volunteer tech director at a church, and the guy who runs LearnStageLighting.com, I know that there is a need and a hunger out there for good, solid information for the DIY, cash-strapped volunteer tech guy.

And when I see posts on Facebook groups and forums, asking the same question that’s been asked many times before, I want to help.  So, this is my place to do it.

Here at Church Tech Hacks, I want to create a place where I can share projects I’ve done at my church, and inspire you to do the same.  I’ll also welcome your submissions to the site as well, so we can truly make a full DIY library of the little things that make AV special.

So the next time you see someone ask “How can I setup a TV or speaker in the nursing mothers room that is across the building”, you can come to one place and find an answer.

This is going to be a “spare-time” project for me, so don’t expect a large volume of articles overnight!  But when I do post, I will make sure it is worth your time, in detail, and complete.

Thanks for reading – and for serving in your church!

-David Henry