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.
Gerry – Wow. Thanks for a great post. I love the sounds you get. This deserves considerable study. Especially valuable are the insights about the PRS, TC and virtual volume control. You manage to get extraordinary volume control – closer to what was required of orchestra players (when I did that sort of thing) than what one usually finds in pop/rock settings.
Thank you – I always try to take a good look at your rig at Suzanne’s gig, always interesting how it has evolved. Your control of dynamics and subtle overdrive is second to none, and the detail helps understand how.
You have just made my boyfriend very happy. I dragged him to the show (I’m the Suzanne Vega fan) and you made him enjoy it. He was fascinated with your playing and gear. All I saw and heard was a great show.
Sorry Gerry, you bored for America there – we want to know what your rider is, not how much cheese you carry.
Conspicuous consumption is the name of the game – even if you are supporting a folk legend.
Some very cool stuff there Gerry and it was a pleasure to meet you when you came to Kansas City. You are very talented and amazingly humble in the best sense of the word. I want to send Phil Keaggy a link to your rig. I don’t know if he’ll look – I just know him as a fan – but he’s been playing with loops and ebows and all that sort of thing for decades, but you’ve definitely added a lot of great new wrinkles of your own — If he does look I’m sure he’ll get a kick out of all the neat things you’ve done….Maybe you two will even run into each other sometime – I think he’s based out of Nashville these days.
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Gerry, I was at the Pittsburgh show on the 25th, and I know nothing about guitars. I do have a question for you, though, about your playing last night (which was great, by the way). There was a device you kept in a holder on your stand that I only saw you use once. You used it on the strings, and I thought it might have been creating a blue light, but that might just have been the stage lights. Could you tell me what that was and what it is used for? Thanks, and again, a great show last night.
That was an ebow. It’s a tiny magnetic “bow” for the guitar. Infinite sustain …………………… !!
Hi Gerry! I used to know Karac very well back in the Stone Ocean days. I hope he’s still rocking it and glad to see you’re still pushing the envelope sonically and musically! Great post and very interesting reading.
Hi Gerry, the rig looks great. I’m guessing it’s you playing that lovely arpeggio on “where are we now”. Can you tell me what kind of modulation effect you have on there? It’s very tasty.
Some of it is the EHX memory man
Some of it is love tone Doppleganger
Two amps. Ghost
Thanks! Theres one more thing I’ve been meaning to ask you. When I saw Bowie ( and yourself) on the Dublin date of the Reality tour he had a cupla focail as gaeilge. Did you tell him what to say by any chance?
Yes Guilty !
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Really nice meeting you after the gig last night in Nottingham and thanks for pointing me to your technical page. I particularly like your the octave sounds, I think an EHX POG will soon be on my shopping list 🙂
Hi Gerry, still feeling blown away by last night’s great gig at The Barbican in London! Suzanne played and sang beautifully, as always, but found myself watching your playing most of the time (as I think a lot of the audience near me were). Truly lovely playing with a tight, ambient sound one moment, then gritty rock-style the next. Love the reverb “church-organ” style sound you get too. Wow, felt really lifted all the way home. Gonna check out you back catalog to hear more.
Cheers for the gig – hope the rest of the European tour goes well too. Many thanks, Peter
Howdy! This blog post could not be written any better! Looking through this post reminds me of
my previous roommate! He constantly kept talking about this.
I most certainly will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a very good read.
I appreciate you for sharing!
Great gig tonight on home turf. Keep on rocking
Hi Gerry,Just to say great gig at Olympia in Dublin on 20th.The sound of your PRS is awesome.My First question was what was your setup,but now i know thanks to your site page.
Was nice to meet Suzanne after gig.Look forward to next time.
howya gerry, saw the gig here in dublin last week , we totally enjoyed it. i was blown away by your playing and the quality and clarity of your sound. the prs is to die for (or live for). i was chuffed to chat with you for a couple of mins at the stage door, yer a gent. keep on rockin, seanny.
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I saw you on tour with Suzanne Vega last night (16th march) in France, Burgundy, at Talant. Great performance with the Lady ! You seem to carry less gear than described here, I know that extra luggage is stupidly taxed by flight companies, but what was the main kit ? Still bi-amp guitar, same philosophy ? Thank you for your reply !
I’m afraid that rig is outdated now, Still a great rig but I have moved on. I post some pics on my FB and Instagram. maybe you can grab some info there.