Greetings and welcome to the gear page.
As we travel around playing shows, I often meet people after the show who want to know about the guitar rig I am using.
The following is a pretty detailed description for those who want to know.
I have evolved a particular set of things in order to play my own solo Spooky Ghost sets over the years and now that I have been traveling as part of a duo with Suzanne Vega, I have created a version of this guitar setup tailored to playing this style of arrangements with Suzanne.
This particular rig is about version 6 or 7 of a constantly evolving design. I am always on the look out for better ways to do certain things and small additions that I can add to improve the sound quality or versatility of the rig.
The most recent updates include two new custom amps from Mesa Boogie, the addition of the Eventide H9 multi FX processor, a bespoke Fuzz Box called the “Vulcan Mulciber” and a custom set of cabling for the entire rig from a company called Asterope. I will describe these in more detail as we go.
Lets start from the beginning with a basic description of this particular rig.
One big factor in this design was to create a guitar rig that I can fly around the world safely and reliably.
The first major factor is 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 multi effects processor and a Voodoo Labs remote pedal switching system.
This combination allows me the best of both analogue and digital worlds.
It is pretty compact but also really powerful. it gives me the ability to make presets for every song so I can quickly make all the scene changes needed within the song itself and also throughout the setlist. With this system I can go from a simple “guitar into amp” setting with no processing, to an elaborate spacial landscape by hitting one button. The switching system keeps everything in true bypass when it is not needed so even though everything is on and available, I can have the most direct route from Guitar to Amp at all times.
The most beautiful thing is, the whole set up fits into three small pelican cases that can take a beating and still protect everything and keep if safe and reliable.
Let’s start with the Analogue Section of the Guitar Rig. Physical space is always an issue so I selected four effects pedals to take care of all that the TC G Force cannot do very well and also could fit onto the board. As you will see three of these are distortion pedals of varying degrees of intensity. Distortion is definitely best in the analogue domain, as digital distortion like the one available in the TC is pretty hideous unless I use it for special effect. The fourth pedal is a very clever octaver.
So as i said 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.
The third used to be the EHX Little Big Muff. The Big Muff is a classic fuzz box and this small version does a pretty good job. I have recently swapped this box out for another more bespoke fuzz box. This new one is called the Vulcan Mulciber. It is based around the original Big Muff but has a lot more options and tonal variations. I use this third slot for the really extreme distortion sounds. I only use it on a couple so tunes, like “Blood Makes Noise” or “I Never Wear White” for example. It can really make a racket and in small doses give a nice surprise and contrast.
The fourth pedal I use is the EHX POG, a Polyphonic Octave Generator to be precise. This is a great pedal from EHX and there is really nothing else like it. It is in the analogue section as it works as a stand alone pedal, but the processing inside is probably digital. 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 is designed to do exactly that and also be polyphonic, meaning more than one note at a time, so you can play complete chords and it will track them. You can get these nice Hammond organ or church organ qualities from it, or strange mutated cellos, or Moog like bass synth sounds. 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 box when it first came put 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 , it sounds really good. The digital conversion is very clean and open, the delays are based on the TC 2290 which is their classic delay used in recording studios for many years, and it also can handle noise 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 pedal switcher and simultaneously send midi information to the TC and H9. The GCX can remotely turn on and off the analogue pedals by engaging a series of loops.
These pedal setups can then be stored as snapshots in the Ground control. These snapshots can also recall presets from the TC and H9 and so allow me make a preset sound for the song or section of the song such as verse or chorus etc. The ground control also gives me two continuous controller expression pedals, which I can assign to the TC Ground Control. As I mentioned, the first expression pedal I assign as a virtual volume control, and the second is available to be assigned to any parameter I might need it for, for example to pitch control for whammy style effects, or to delay feedback or delay level, or filter cutoff frequency and so on.
The most recent addition to the rig is the Eventide H9 effects box. This is a relatively new box from this fabulous company. I used to use their H3000 system for special effects. On the Bowie tour we carried it around in a six space floating rack with a separate mixer and everything wired in. It was Huge and Heavy ! I still have it and it sounds amazing but is probably bigger that this entire guitar rig put together. This new box is tiny and super powerful. It works on the principle that you can download algorithms and program the box all from your iPhone via bluetooth. You can choose the effects pallet to tailor it to your needs and it sounds pretty incredible. I use it in stereo on the output of everything and it gives me a beautiful deep stereo spread when I need it.
So what about all this looping that I do in the live show 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 sometimes several times in the same song. In the song “Jacob and the Angel”, I make and erase three separate loops.
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.
Another recent upgrade has been these two custom amps from Mesa Boogie.
Mesa Boogie are a great company and I have been using their amps now since the late 80’s. My how time has flown!
The amps are really well made and hold up very well on the road. They also sound great.
The main amp is the Lonestar Special. It is a 30W version of the bigger Lonestar 100W which would be too much for the duo shows I perform with Suzanne. 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.
The second amp is the TA 30. This is the 30W combo version of their Trans Atlantic series. It has two channels, one designed in the style of a Vox Ac 30 and the other as a more classic Boogie. I tend to use the AC 30 style channel with just a little bit of dirt dialed in.
Both these amps can also be switched from 30 watts to 15 W or even 5 W. This has come in handy when we have to play a super small intimate setting like the tiny desk concert for NPR or even when I want do dial everything way back when we play in a super reverberant space like Union Chapel, a real church in London that holds concerts.
The last thing I will talk about here is another recent upgrade to the rig.
No matter how well designed or how much true bypass we use in a guitar setup, it is all held together with 1/4 inch cables. From Guitar to Amp and everything in between the small voltages have to travel along these wires.
I recently met and started to work with a new company called Asterope based in Texas in the US. Their whole thing is to make these high quality cables to minimize any loss of quality when we connect everything together. I had them make me a complete set of cables for the rig and it has been a significant upgrade. They sound fantastic and also are very reliable and durable.
Oh and did I mention the Ebow …
Its the thing with the blue light you see me grabbing from time to time.
It is a small electro magnetic “bow” for the guitar string. It can play one string at a time but give you infinite sustain.
It adds a whole other dimension to the way you can play the guitar. one of my favorites.
Okay ! if you have made it to here and are not completely bamboozled then “fair play to you” as they say in Ireland.
I hope this has been insightful and useful and I wish you well in your own endeavors.
Happy guitar rig building !