I thought I should write a short piece describing the guitar rig I currently use on tour with Suzanne Vega these days.
This particular rig is about version 5 or 6 of a constantly evolving design.
One big factor this time was to design a rig that can fly around the world.
So it has to be bullet proof and light and small. It’s hard in my opinion to beat the sound to weight ratio. That is a constant battle. The stuff that sounds the best normally is a real box with physical properties. All this can add up in terms of weight especially when you add power supply’s and cabling and racks.
So my philosophy is one where I set limits on what comes and what stays at home. So believe it or not this is a compact rig while remaining very versatile and powerful and not degrading the tone in any way.
This rig is based around a TC G force and a Voodoo Labs switching system.
This give me the best of analogue and digital it also is really powerful and allows me to make presets for all the songs and go from simple ‘guitar into amp’ settings to elaborate spacial landscapes ! And the switching system keeps everything in true bypass when it is not needed.
And the beautiful thing is it all fits into 3 pelican cases that can take a beating and still protect it.
I selected 4 analogue pedals to take care of all that the TC cannot do very well. As you will see 3 of these are distortion pedals as digital distortion is pretty hideous unless I use it for special effect. The 4th is a very clever octaver.
I have three levels of distortion here which allows me to go from subtle to extreme.
The first distortion/overdrive is the sparkle drive from voodoo labs.
This pedal is unique in that it allows the clean un processed signal to be blended in with the overdriven sound. This gives a lot of clarity along with simulating a nice overdriven amp sound. I mostly use an amp setting with a nice full clean sound so this pedal give me a bit of “fur” on the sound when I need it.
The second is an Ibanez Tubescreamer. The TS 9 I believe. This one is not precious. Just a standard one but it works fine, and when the airlines lose it, as they do from time to time, I don’t have to say goodbye to the $900 vintage SRV model ! I use this mostly for a lead tone, for when I need to play a solo line or melody. It’s pretty sweet sounding and had a nice saturation.
Last but not least is the EHX Little Big Muff. The Big Muff is a classic fuzz box and this small version does a pretty good job. I have an original at home but it would be too big for this set up. Every inch of space counts so I substituted this little guy I use it for the extreme distortion sounds. I only use it on a couple so tunes, like “Blood Makes Noise” for example. It can really make a racket and in small doses give a nice surprise and contrast.
The last pedal I use is the EHX Pog. This is a great pedal from EHX and there is really nothing else like it. The great thing it does is give you polyphonic octave sounds. Most octavers can only process one voice or a single melody line. Maybe a forth or a fifth but definitely not a minor third or something like a chord. The Pog on the other hand can, and so you can get this nice Hammond organ quality from it. It does one and two octaves up and one and two octaves down. It also has a built in filter section so you can really tailor the sound. This PoG 2 has presets too so can remember up to 8 settings. Not midi selectable though which is a shame. But still small and powerful so it gets to go on tour !
The brains of the operation is the TC G Force. This is a one space multi effects unit. I got into using this when it first came out in 1997 and over the years have programmed a whole bunch of my own presets from the ground up.
What is nice about this unit is , A) it sounds really good ! The delays are based on the TC 2290 which is a classic delay and, B) it also can handle gate/compression/filter/tremolo/pitch shifting/vibrato/phase/flange.
It even has a distortion block which I rarely use except for really nasty sounds ! It is very flexible in the way you can order and design the sounds. It is also very flexible in how you can assign controllers to affect parameters. A lot of the time I use a pretty simple chain with some compression and delay settings. However I can assign pitch or delay return to my second controller for special patches. I mostly have the first controller pedal assigned as a virtual volume pedal. This works excellently and means that as it is virtual and within the TC unit, I never have to worry about signal loss from running long cables to a volume pedal and back.
Okay so what are these controllers I am talking about.
Well I use the Voodoo Labs Ground Control to interface with the GCX 1 switcher , so that can remotely turn on and off the analogue pedals. It can also recall presets from the TC and gives me two continuous controllers which I can assign in the preset in the TC. So as I said mostly pedal 1 is assigned as a virtual volume control, and pedal 2 is available to be assigned to pitch for whammy style effects or to delay feed back or level etc.
So what about looping I hear you ask.
Well let me begin by mentioning the guitar. This guitar is unique in that it is a hybrid between electric and acoustic guitars, allowing both simultaneously.
This is a custom PRS Hollow Body. It has a wonderful active piezo system in the bridge for the acoustic sound with a separate output. Then it has a great electric two pickup system with a separate output. It is a great design from a great company. I feel very lucky to have it.
The acoustic side I run straight into a Boss RE 20 looper pedal and straight into the DI box. This Boss looper is very simple but it has a nice clean sound and allows you to balance the input and loop level to get a smooth transition for when I set up a loop. It has the ability to store loops also but I choose to run it all ‘live’. I call it the Buddhist Mandala Looper. You make it. You admire it. And then you erase it and do it again.
On the electric side I use a Line 6 DL 4 delay/looper.
I have this on the switching system also so when I don’t need it, it is true bypassed. This is an old standby for me. It is simple to use and you can reverse and half speed loops so it is nice and vibey for doing atmosphere things.
I will on occasion use both loopers simultaneously. They are not linked in any way, so it’s just up to me to do the loops in time and run them in sync. It works mostly pretty well. I try not to have two loops with timing information. Mostly the acoustic loop has the timing info and the electric is more ambient.
A regards amplifier, my preferred amp is the Mesa Boogie Lonestar special.
Boogie are a great company and are really generous about lending me an amp for a tour. This amp has a nice clean section and a nice overdriven channel. It is also really bullet proof. I have only had one go on fire right before a French TV show ! But that’s another story and not a fault of the amp.
If not available or if we are in somewhere remote like Romania for example, I will ask for my second choice which would be a Fender Deluxe reissue. This is a fine straight forward clean amp with a full sound.
I just found a tiny tube amp which I have tied into the system for a straighwire guitar to amp sound to compliment the more elaborate processed sound. But I will post another blog about this.
Okay kids, the plane is coming into land so I have to shut down here, but I hope this is interesting to you guitar guys out there and helpful.
Happy guitar rig building
Your humble Ghost.