Hey folks, been a while. Figured I’ve been neglecting this blog a fair bit, and that I ought to keep those writing chops fresh. Or at least update every half a year or so, something like that.
Anyway, I’ve recently started playing live again last year, and decided that a major rig renovation is in order. Here’s my new setup for home, studio, stage… basically everything.
This here’s my acoustic and electric guitar line-up for the foreseeable future. From L to R: Taylor GS Mini with ES-GO Pickup, 2006 Gibson Hummingbird (paint stripped),Reverend Reeves Gabrels II Signature, 1991 Gibson SG Standard with Bigsby Trem (mounted on vibramate baseplate) and Harmonic Design Z-90 pickups.
Here’s my abbreviated pedalboard for my electric gigs. From right to left (in order of signal path): TC Electronic Polytune Mini, Walrus Audio Jupiter Fuzz, Eventide H9 and Tech 21 Oxford. I’m fully cabled with Lava ELC cables.
Finally, a shot of my full rig (home and stage – believe it or not). I’m rocking a ZT Lunchbox for amplification. Don’t let the puny size of the amp fool you – it is LOUD.
Not the best photos, but I’m somewhat under-equipped in the camera department (no thanks to all the headphones and guitar gear I’m buying). Would gladly accept a Ricoh GRD if anyone has one to give away.
I was rocking a Gibson Nighthawk for a few years (after rocking a Les Paul and an SG for many more), mainly because of the wide variety of tones I could pull out of the Hawk. That said, there’s a nasal twang to the Nighthawk that just annoys me, and it just doesn’t have enough cut for me. So late last year, I decided to put the ‘Hawk to rest and switch to a Reverend Reeves Gabrels II as my main axe. I’ve heard plenty of good stuff about Reverend guitars, and have been well impressed by earlier models, but was just too invested in playing GIbsons – partially because I had an “endorsement” arrangement at the time, and also partially because of the brand name. But now that I’m a little older and wiser, I reckon I can leave the showy brand name stuff at home, and rock something a little friendlier to the wallet, and a bit more tonally versatile.
A little sidetrack about the Reverend Reeves Gabrels. You can google up the exact specs, so let me just rave a bit about the sheer tonal variety you can get with this axe. The railhammer pickups are wonderfully balanced, just the right amount of beef and cut, without sounding wooly and honky like other humbuckers. The bass contour is truly something else, trimming low frequencies to taste, getting you from full humbucker fatness to gretsch-y twang. The Wilkinson trem and pinlock tuners are absolutely stable, even after the most dramatic of divebombs. Firm enough to not go out of tune if you so much as breathe on them, but not so stiff that I have to fight the bar when I’m using it.
To me, the real star of the show is the phase switch – activated by the push-pull tone knob, putting the two humbuckers out of phase when selecting both pickups (toggle in the middle). This gives me the spank and cluck of a double single-coil pickup arrangement; not quite the number 4 position on a strat or the in-between setting on a tele, but somewhere in between. There’s some lovely, lovely jangle and spank on tap, which I find myself using a lot more than I expected. I’m on this setting about 40% of the time that I play – another 40% of the time I’m on the standard two-humbucker setting, which gives me an airy, jangly yet beefy rhythm tone, and the remaining 20% of the time I’m on either the neck or bridge. I’ve never found myself consciously using so many variations of pickups – I’d used to be a bridge or neck bucker kind of guy. This guitar alone is so versatile I could just run it straight into an amp and play an entire show with it, without bothering with effects. And actually, that’s what I did once in December 2013, when my Eventide H9 decided to act up onstage:
I’ve also shaken up my pedalboard a bunch. Previously rocked a Timmy > Jetter GSB > Tech 21 Boost DLA > Malekko Chicklet > Mesa F30. But decided to take a different route after playing with this setup for a few years.
My new signal path is: Reverend Reeves Gabrels II > TC Polytune Mini > Walrus Audio Jupiter (Black Friday edition) > Eventide H9 > Tech 21 Oxford > ZT Lunchbox.
I can cover a lot of ground tonally with this rig, plus run direct if I have to – the Oxford puts out a line level signal. I’ve become pretty much a dirty amp, roll off volume for clean tone kinda guy now. Most of the time when I play out, I don’t bring my own amp and just use the house amp, or whatever backline has been provided. If that amp gets me where I wanna go, great. If I get a Jazz chorus, or some solid state thing, no worries – I’ll run the amp in clean, and run the Oxford as a preamp to put me in my preferred tonal ballpark.
Speaking of which, the Tech 21 Oxford gives me a wide range of Orange-flavoured tones – the knobs are amazingly dynamic and interactive, and a slight twist brings about a dramatic difference. Spent hours just experimenting with tones. Amazing. The pedal sounds best run into the front of an amp, but it’ll work for DI to a PA (didn’t try), or direct into an audio interface for recording (tried, sounded decent but a bit too dry). I’ve even run it as an amp head, by patching my entire pedalboard into an effects return, bypassing the entire preamp.
With the Eventide H9, I get to run more effects than just a delay and reverb (as I had on my previous board), and the single effect restriction forces me to really use these effects sparingly and make them count. I don’t stack effects anymore, not like when I ran a bigger board years ago. The effects are standard Eventide-quality stuff, squeaky clean digital delays, lush reverbs, warbling leslies. The resonator effect is pretty cool as well, somewhere between a delay, reverb and tunable ring modulator.
The Walrus Jupiter Fuzz is pretty much the very first fuzz pedal I’ve been able to use successfully live. I’ve had several fuzzes, and at one point I’ve even used a Fuzz Factory, but none of them seem to work for me live. They sound great in the studio (especially the Fuzzfac), but just seem to crap out onstage – fizzy, no body and barely cut through the mix. The Jupiter serves up a nice beefy fuzz with enough harmonic content to keep fuzzheads happy, whilst not getting so wild that its unusable onstage. Very much a keeper.
The ZT Lunchbox amp is really something else too. Its tiny size belies its huge, huge sound. It’s a solid state amplifier, and puts out about 200W (Class A/B). It’s got a lovely Fender-y clean tone. Brittle overdrive as you turn the gain up – not my thing, though might suit some raunchier blues players. Slightly mid-ish response which I had to dial out with the Oxford. Very sweet amp on its own, which will surprise tube amp snobs. It has a headphone out for silent practicing, and it also has a speaker out for an extension cab. I’m looking forward to using this live at some point, either as my backline amp (it is loud enough, I assure you), or as a supplement to my stage monitors – I can run my rig into the Lunchbox, place it next to my floor wedge and tilt it up to face me, and then run either a line from the speaker out or headphone out to the backline amp for stage volume. I could even go direct to the house from the headphone out, if I needed to reduce stage volume. Hope I get the chance to try that out so I can see how well that works.
On to the acoustic guitars, then. I don’t perform much with acoustic guitars, but I play them a lot at home as its a bit less troublesome than setting up my electric rig, and I do rely on my acoustics for songwriting, especially if I need to work on lyrics and melody, or try and get a different perspective on a song.
I’ve had the Hummingbird for a number of years, but one thing that really annoyed me about it was how the pickguard kept peeling off in Singapore’s humid tropical climate. The pickguard eventually peeled off enough to be a hazard to myself – imagine slicing your hand open on cracked bits of a pickguard that are sticking out. Ouch. I had the guitar sent to the kind gents at C.A.N. Pro Audio Service Centre, and master luthier Luca Quacquarella patiently stripped off the original cherry sunburst finish and treated the top with a lovely satin finish. The guitar seems to resonate a bit more now, and is a real treat to play.
The Taylor GS Mini was something I’d thought about buying for a couple of years – a small, easily portable guitar I can take out with me, which I can easily pick up and mess around with at home, and something with a slightly different voice from the Hummingbird. I picked up the all-mahogany model, as I felt it was a bit warmer and firmer than the spruce, which sounded a touch too harsh to me. Out of the box setup was perfect, factory strung with Elixirs, which are still fresh sounding to this date – 8 months down the road. The GS Mini’s small stature belies its lively and surprisingly robust sound. Compared to the Hummingbird, it certainly doesn’t have the same low end weight and heft, and sounds a bit more bright and brash. That said, it definitely doesn’t sound like a small guitar – it puts out enough volume and has enough tonal heft to comfortably accompany singers in a solo acoustic format, and has enough cut to stand out in a band mix. I’e enjoyed this little fella very much, and is pretty much the most frequently played instrument in my house these days.
Alright, I’ve gone on enough about my gear already. Hope some of that was useful to you!
Before I wrap up, here’s another pic of the Reverend. Because, flame maple top. Yeaaaaaaaah.