Between October 2009 and January 2010, I wrote three articles on my 35 year strive for the ultimate guitar sound. It's now six years on and a lot has happened; the quest continues.
Before we kick off in earnest, I think it's a good idea to give you a little background into where I am at right now.
I have been a working musician and producer all my life. In 2011 I was living on the Isle of Man, a wonderful piece of rock sat right in the middle of the Irish sea between Northern Ireland and England, releasing my first solo record ThirtySix in 2011.
Unfortunately to travel to and from the Island is very expensive and not conducive for a touring/session musician, so whilst working on my second solo project The Knife, we decided to move.
The costs of both albums were substantial and part of the thought process was to open a 'small' (ho ho) studio wherever we landed. Suzy, then partner and now wife, is a talented songwriter and multi-instrumentalist so it kinda made sense.
To cut a long story short we are now living in the mountain village of Estivella (near Valencia), Spain and own Supertone Records, a vintage, residential recording studio. I have written a separate article about this amazing journey.
So, now you have the context, let's talk tone...
Rereading the original articles was interesting as much has remained the same, but some of my ideas have changed radically.
Gigs and tours now seem to require a lot of flights and I hence have arrived at different solutions for different types of gig. Long distance, ground tours, sessions and 'simple' gigs...
In addition, the past two records are very different (and the next is different again) in terms of instrumentation and feel, requiring a more flexible approach to my rig setup.
Since opening the studio we have acquired more gear to offer to our clients and of course this has given me the opportunity to try everything, in both a recording and live environment. This has been very interesting and valuable in making these choices.
In summary I still use:
But there are a few changes:
OK, so that's all the historic stuff out of the way, let's look at my preferred setup for live/studio sessions and 'simple' gigs.
Well I am very fortunate in that there is masses of fabulous gear at my disposal, but there are standard setups for studio/live sessions that use for the most 'appropriate' tone.
Appropriate is the word here, you need to know the full details of the gig before you leave the door.
First let's look at the essentials.
The voltage in many parts of the world is all over the place and Spain is no exception. I always use valve amps and they are VERY susceptible to voltage fluctuations. It's heavy and a ball ache but 90% of the time I take my trusty Cyberpower OLS1000E. The UPS must be a TRUE sine wave output anything else is not good for the valve amp. Cyberpower guarantee this.
George L's at various lengths so I always keep the cable runs as short as possible to prevent loss of top end. Remember if your cable is 5m long and you go into your tuner, then out to the amp, you could end up with a 8-10m run. Even with the best cable you will hear a big reduction of top end.
My only choice is the Sonic Research Turbo Tuner ST-200. It's true bypass (but we will come onto switches in the next article as I can hear the difference), switchable modes and 'set frequencies', totally essential when playing with pianos and acoustic instruments.
This isn't really about the tone (except of course the audience experience), but allows a mic to be set up in the correct and reproducible place very quickly without stands to trip over - and that's another story. These are ace pieces of kit and I have the 'socket' fitted to all of my speaker cabs/combos.
If it's an acoustic gig, essential to have a boostable, mains powered, earth lifted, super high quality DI with tuner and balanced xlr output.
Again obvious and not precisely about the tone, but...
Depending on the gig I have these regular options...
Hand wired by Martin Garton, this is a clone of an early 60's Fender Blackface 40W Pro Reverb with spring reverb, middle control and wonderful tremolo. It is fitted with one Celestion Alnico Cream and one Alnico Gold loudspeaker. Bearing in mind it's relatively low power (I don't play loud anymore) it has loads of clean headroom and very 'chimy'.
Great with pedals and as an all rounder with the Fulltone OCD / Supertone Mid Boost / Cmatmods Deluxe Compressor / Maestro Echoplex EP3.
For: Americana, blues, folk, country (pictured in the header image of the article)
And here it is it in action at The Convent Club, Stroud in September 2015...
Hand wired by Ron Damiani himself, this amplifier uses all New Old Stock (NOS) components, a reconed Jenson speaker and Mercury Magnetics transformers. Superb for rock/blues and studio use but no clean headroom for stage. Larry Carlton used the original Fender version on virtually all the legendary Steely Dan records :)
Not good with pedals, you just turn it up and balance the two channels (which I have linked with a very short cable) with the tone control to achieve the correct amount of distortion.
For: blues & rock
Hand wired by Greg Germino this has totally original NOS components, GREAT with pedals: you just turn it up and balance the two channels (which I have linked with a very short cable) with the tone controls to achieve the correct amount of distortion.
Good clean headroom, but as you turn it up you see the Marshall crunch. Perfect pedals are the Supertone Rangemaster & Mid boost, Butler Tube Drive and of course the Maestro Echoplex EP3.
Big and bulky but there is nothing that sounds like this and obviously more manageable with a 2x12...
For: blues & rock
Dumble Clone (high plate skyline) and hand wired by Peter Van Weelden himself. It does take pedals well but as it has overdrive, mid boost and tone defeat built in, you can work with just the amp.
It sounds killer with the Maestro Echoplex EP3 in the FX loop, buffered using the Bludotone Loopalator. So it's really big and heavy to lump around in the transit cases especially as it only has one output transformer tap at four ohms, so I can't use it with the Two Rock 1x12.
For: almost anything...
I choose the pedals I take depending on the gig, but usually from this selection - more details in the next article.
I usually choose from this lot when booked for recording/live sessions and select an 'appropriate' guitar.
Of course, there are times where I need specialist stuff and if you want to see the selection, take a look at the equipment section. I am trying to add everything but it takes time :)
The next article will describe my travelling pedalboard!!!