Tech Tip:Your Ghetto Set-Up: A Blast From the Trash
by Jessie System
These days, people use the word "ghetto" in a pejorative sense, like it's a bad and undesirable quality. But in regard to the DJ world, I like to think of "ghetto" as a way of building character (not to mention good Djing skills) from the ground up. After all, the ghetto streets of New York are where turntablism was born, and these same streets continue to produce amazing talent today. But not everyone has $2,000 lying around to purchase brand-new DJ equipment. As a broke college kid trying to make it in New York City, I most certainly didn't, and I still have my ghetto rig today. So for those of you on a tight budget with dreams of DJ success, here are some tips for cutting those economic corners.
The most important element of a DJ set-up is the turntable (duh). There are many different brands of DJ turntables out there, but in the real world, there is really only one choice: the Technics SL1200MK2. With all the advancements in music technology, this turntable has not been modified since 1979. Why? Because it is a perfect machine. It is incredibly durable, which makes it a great piece of gear to buy used. A new one will cost about $480-$525, but if you look hard enough, you will find used ones that are just as good an investment. I bought my pair for $550 and they work like a charm. It takes a lot of abuse to damage these machines, so unless they've been trampled on, they're generally in good shape. Of course, when you consider purchasing one, test it out to make sure the pitch control works correctly, the plate starts and stops quickly, and all the parts are there. If there are some minor problems (e.g. a busted ground wire or light), they can usually be replaced at a very low cost.
The next most important element is the unit that joins the two turntables together, the mixer. Brand, model, function and style are much wider for mixers than for turntables. Leading manufacturers include Gemini, Numark, and Vestax. Some manufacturers are making mixers with many extraneous features, such as BPM counters and digital samplers. But for the beginner, the basic two-channel with a crossfader will cut the gig just fine. My choice for a used mixer is the Vestax PMC-03A, which will run you less than $100 (new: $130-$150.) This is a great little mixer, especially for beginners, and is usually quite durable. Again, make sure all the controls work well: the crossfader slides smoothly, the headphone jack is intact and makes a solid connection. If you don't know that much about turntables or mixers, bring someone with you that does when you go to check out equipment.
One thing you don't want to buy used is a needle. Worn needles not only have poor sound quality, but they can damage your records. The Stanton 500AL cartridge, is so cheap ($20-$30), that you have no excuse not to buy it new. However, for a fair-priced great cartridge (approx. $80), I recommend the Shure M447. These are especially good for scratching, and very popular with battle DJs. These are just a few tips for buying used equipment and working yourself up to the perfect ghetto set-up. Don't forget: it's the little ways of cutting corners that adds up, like borrowing from friends, and raiding your parent's closets for records (you'd be surprised at how hot some of those old-school jams are). On your first few gigs, you will undoubtedly encounter less-than-pristine set-ups (e.g. no monitor, crackling crossfader, misaligned tone arms), so prepare yourself at home with a little touch of the "ghetto."
Jessie System has been DJing on the NYC underground circuit for over two years. Combining her interest in DJing with her major in Women's Studies, she has written research papers on Asian-American female DJs and Diana Ross through a feminist perspective.