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So, where do I plug in?

Pedals, Modelling, or Rack Mount System...?

The big question that many of us ask when attempting to create something for ourselves and something of quality for others. It will always depend on how a musician will utilise an amplifier, whether it is the primary driver, or secondary to the optional modules.

In my case, my Rack Mount system is the driver and the amplifier is secondary, or simply utilised as a monitor (using the stereo return inputs), so regardless of how large or, small the venue, my guitar sound remains the same.

With such a diverse amount of products available for musicians at varying prices to suit, it’s an area where you either succeed fairly quickly, or fall into an endless loop within a black hole…

The pleasure of the pain...

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to pick up a guitar, plug into a pedal, or any system that provides pleasurable output, even to the point of being inspired and perhaps getting carried away (so many late nights!).

Finding the right thing for what you need can be a voyage of discovery that could last many years.

Again, in my case it’s certainly been a journey and a well-travelled one at that, just the same it’s provided a great satisfaction that has outweighed the frustrations (and yes, I’ve had many moments of pulling my hair out...).

I’ve been fortunate (or is it foolish…?) enough to spend time trying so many different rack modules, many with nice features, then deflated and despondent after ‘looking under the hood’ of the one's I really wanted to work, particularly a couple of so called ‘high end’ rack systems. There have been points however that I felt like rolling the racks off a cliff…

Sonic challenges…

Finding that combination is key, being truly happy is paramount...

Replicating another artists paint strokes is never easy and you can never quite have that ‘exact’ match, but you can get pretty damn close with most tools available.

I’ve strived to pin down so many sounds over the years, and taking into consideration the amount of sonic changes that Alex Lifeson went through over the decades, this has certainly created headaches in generating the specific guitar nuances for most Rush eras, but it’s a pleasurable challenge and I’m sure it’s the same for many other guitarists.

The make-up (geek warning…!).

Main Rig (R2D2):

  • 3 x Digitech 1101’s running in stereo (one unit left, one unit right and one unit in the rear for stereo, GraphTech and acoustic guitar outputs). Provides all the clever ‘sweeps’ and emulated ‘top’ tones.

  • Boss GT-Pro (running in full stereo). Provides the bottom end and ‘grind’ along with pretty cool chorusing (of course!) and acoustic emulators.

  • Digitech 2112 (running in full stereo). So jingly, jangly and great overtones (has Mr. Lifesons programmed patch he provided for Digitech).

  • TC Electronic GT-Force (running in full stereo). Additional effects for acoustic and chorusing.

  • MOTU AV Midi Controller. What a clever piece of kit this is, switches patching in real time to all units, everytime!

  • Line 6 Relay G90. Very nice radio system (when the guitar techs switch the packs on!)

  • Behringer Ultra-Pro DI, Ultralink-Pro 8 Channel Mixer, Ultrapatch-Pro and FCB1010 Foot Controller*. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but they do what they say on the tin!

*Note: I utilise Continuous Control changes for most, if not all of my patches and use on average 40 different patches in a performance - this could easily be more if it wasn't for the CC Control utility, this gives me the capability of morphing one patch into two different sound layers, or adding more effects (and clever hangover sweeps etc.), all by tilting the pedals on MIDI FCB1010 controller, mathematics wasn't wasted on me after all...

Backup Rig:

  • 2 x Digitech 1101’s running in stereo.

  • Fractal Audio Axe FXII. Great piece of kit, can do most of the Digitech 2112 and Boss GT-Pro work, but I just don’t want to let them go, yet…).

  • MOTU AV Midi Controller

  • Line 6 Relay G90

  • Behringer Ultralink-Pro 8 Channel Mixer (in the rear of the rack)

Development Rig:

  • Digitech Vocalist

  • Alesis Midiverb

  • Behringer Ultralink-Pro 8 Channel Mixer

  • Fractal Audio Axe FXIII. What a fantastic piece of equipment, I have to be dragged away from programming kicking and screaming. Probably the best investment I've ever made…

Choosing weapons wisely…

This is never easy and it’s taken some experimentation over the years with trying certain guitars on different songs to find that sonic connection with whatever is digitally crunching behind me.

I’m always testing equipment and programming with a view to replacement, but it’s difficult especially when I love what I have, but age is catching up on a couple of modules, hence the Axe FXIII in particular being in programming development (hell!) and bench test (for nearly a year!).

And finally…

There’s no moral, no right, no wrong in what any musician does to achieve their goals, it’s what’s in the heart that counts, if you move to music, then you have something special.


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