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Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Recently there has been some nice gear chat at both And Billions, and Mother Goldstein. It's been a while since I discussed guitar stuff. I thought I'd chime in......some more.

I guess the question is; what is the optimum live set up?

Let's start with amps.

Years of gigging shitty little Manhattan clubs has taught me a lot, most of which I'm going to disregard for this post, as I'm talking 'optimum', which means 'roadie included', along with assorted other things. When your at the bottom of the musical food chain, you tent to think 'smaller amp', which translates to 'lighter amp', and let's face it, nobody needs a JCM 900 in a shitty little Manhattan club, and let's also face the fact that you gotta get everything into a cab - twice.

Ideally, I'd like two amps. A Marshall Plexi 50 watt from, say '74 or there abouts, and my '65 Fender Bandmaster, both pushing 4x12 cabs. As far as the cabs go, I have no preference of brand, but I'd like some well seasoned Celestions in there.

I need a few guitars, at least three. I need back-ups in case of string breakage, or malfunction - this I learned early on, it's worth it to carry the extra gig bags.

I'd bring Ruby Red Slippers, my '85 re-issue of a '62 cherry red Telecaster, my Epiphone Firebird, which looks damn cool, and sounds a lot like a Tele, my 5-string Epiphone Les Paul Jr., and my wine red Epiphone Les Paul Jr.

You might ask; what happened to 'optimum'? Certainly in dream-land I can have vintage Gibsons instead of cheap bolt-on neck Epiphone versions.

That's true, but I want to play well in my dream, and these guitars are comfortable, I know them, they know me, we're a happy family. I have never felt wanting playing these guitars.

So, what goes in between?

I don't use a lot of pedals. They get in my way. I always step on them early, or late, or not at all, or the wrong one, or one is set wrong, endless........

I'd need dirt, so I can go from clean (Bandmaster) to dirty without switching amps mid-tune. I like the Big Muff. It has a big button that's hard to miss, and big knobs you can actually operate with Chuck Taylors. It has a big sound too, which is sometimes not appropriate, so I'd put a Rat on line as well. The Rat gives you less overtones, and a more classic distortion.

Toss in a Cry-Baby and we're in business. Your standard Cry Baby is most likely a piece of crap, and it will break before too long, but Dunlop makes a high end one, with variable sweep settings, gain boost, and it seems to be much more durable. We've had ours for five years without any issue.

I'd not opt for wireless. I'm a cable guy, all the way. Too many viewings of Spinal Tap? Maybe, but I also think you lose some output from the Guitar, and I'm absolutely not going for any active electronics; can you say 'hum', I knew you could.

I would put a nice chromatic tuner in-line. I'm comfy with the Boss model, but I'm open to suggestion. The Fender one's blow.

Of course I'd need an A/B box to switch amps at the end of the line.

That's about it except for the cold Heineken's and the bat box.

I'm telling you, go get a valve Jr. for those little club venues I think you will agree it will the best $100 bucks you'll spend on a tube amp.

Just got mine back from my bass player last night at practice. He changed some wiring or something... what ever he did it modified to sound just like a Vox - warm and creamy.

btw I took your advice and got the Epiphone les paul studio with the 15 watt marshall (integrated circuit practice amp) off craig's list for $175... great deal, the guitar plays awesome.
I love dragging my little baby to gigs.
Ampeg SVT Classic with 8x10.

It's not the same without it!
Well, you did say optimum, which I will choose to read, money is somewhat no object. And I will infer that we are talking clubs and not arenas and thank you for throwing in the roadie.

With that in mind, I'd like to begin my meal the same as yours with a Marshall Plexi through a 4X12 bottom cab. Years of club gigs and bad sound men have taught us all that when the sound guy won't turn you up, this one goes to 11. I also like the Big Muff though I also have an MXR micro amp which is basically another preamp stage in a stomp box. It gives you just a little step up, say for choruses or big song moments.

I like just about any Fender amp for the clean sound and most switch via stomp switch to a nice Stonesy medium dirt sound. And since we're being silly, I'll take a Vox for something in between.

I love stomp boxes. Some past faves include: Phase 90, envelope filter, cry baby (yes they do crap out but you need to just keep buying them. no one else's sound quite right), MXR flanger (yes, you will instantly sound like Eddie), Roto Vibe and anything else that fits your songs.

My main observation here is that I tried the whole rack mount fx thing and rack effects sound too goopy. Stomp boxes are really annoying but sound really good. Make your roadie change batteries and cables. Use his/her tongue to test 9V battery strength.

I really like strobe tuners for the live thing. You can see them from really far away. This would also be another good thing for your roadie to be doing since the show has now begun and his set up is done.

I have enjoyed some pretty elaborate (roadie-less) set-ups in my day and I always began with the set-list and went song by song deciding what each one needed. This usually meant 3 guitars, two amps and most of the above pedals - all ready to go at the stomp of a switch. A lot of set up for the 15-20 minutes most clubs give you for set up. But always well worth the effort.

I was able to pick up any one of 3 guitars and hit an ABC box to choose my guitar. Next I had a volume pedal mostly so I could tune without hearing it. Next was an AB box to choose amps. And all the pedals worked with all the guitars and amps. Usually requires some tech rehearsals but when it works - you too can be a rock star!

Lastly, you should always be prepared to play your whole set with one guitar, no pedals and one amp. practice your set this way. I'm just sayin'.
Absolutely, to your last point, and as always, study stoned, test stoned......
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