…and I was going to write a short blog. This is about the current guitar amplification and effect setups I use for various gigs and jams — in other words, for live situations. These setups have evolved during the last two months. It was just fun explaining how these configurations came to be.
Basically I have three setups. A light-weight one, a more massive one and one that could be either super-light or otherwise transportable.
The massive one is my Marshall JCM900 50W combo amp. I got this one back in 1991 as slightly used. When I moved to a more electronic production world it started to gather dust in the closet. So it was in a very pristine shape when I took it back out three years ago.
I just took it to service to get the tubes re-biased. But the original tubes still sound good according to the technician so I didn’t even need to replace those. This is a good amp for the crunchy sound. As a tube amp it will stick out at any stage if needed. It has a 4/8 Ohm output so I could load my 2×10 Avatar cab underneat If I need more power. This is a good amp for the blues/rock and similar gigs. You really can’t go wrong with a Marshall on-stage. JCM900 is a somewhat interesting system as it has a second gain section, this one actually goes to 20! Think of having a Tube screamer added in front of a normal Marshall pre-amp section. So if I need even more crunch, it’s all there. To get a really clean sound, you need to work a lot, mostly making sure you could get a clean signal from the guitar. I use an Ibanez RG setup with the middle single-coil mic being in a lower position just to get to this cleaner state.
My second amp system, the lightweight one, is a Tech 21 Trademark 30 amp. I got this one slighty used a year ago. The reason was that I wanted a really light-weight amp to take to jams and all kinds of other small gigs. Now this amp is 14 pounds (unlike the Marshall 40+ pounds). But it’s loud enough, especially now when I figure out the configurations concerning getting the loudness out from the amp. It actually helps to keep it up on the air, I’m using a plain guitar stand, just place it hanging on this one. This way I could control the switches on top for going between crunchy and clean setups. The other trick is to *always* put the effect pedals on the return/send in the amp, not in front. Finally it also has a line out for PA systems. Or I could put a cab underneath again if I want to push more air. I could pack this one into a backpack!
Now, to understand how a Tech 21 works, it is really like a Sansamp as the pre-amp with a 30W solid state power amp section. As Sansamp analog circuits are good at emulating the tube crunch sound, you could key everything from cleaner Fender sounds to more dirty Fender overdrive tones, up to Marshall and Mesa Boogie overdrive sounds. It’s not 100% the same, but close enough for stage use. 30 Watt is plenty for smaller stages and jams.
The third one is a weird combinations. It’s either my PodXT straight to a PA. If this is the the case, I need some kind of monitoring — it’s very distracting to play and hear some of the sound just in front of me. Or then I could use my MarkBass CMD12P bass amp that has a good clean sound and let this system drive it. With the Line 6 pedalboard combination I have hundreds and hundreds of sounds. It is useful as the ultimate flexible setup.
As for my effect systems, I have a big pile of old and new pedals, Boss and so forth. In any case, they seem to gather dust. Why? Because it’s just so painful to take pedals or pedalboards to gigs, cables, batteries and so forth. Instead I have two solutions. I use the Boss-ME 50 as the ultimate tweaking system. It basically has digital version of all kinds of Boss-like pedals, delays, chorus, flanger, distortion systems. It also has a volume/wah/pitch and so forth pedal, as well as a tuner. This is a good solution for the cases where you want to constantly modify the sound on-stage for surprising yourself and others. Did I mention to always hook such pedals through an effect/send loop? The reason is that you get a much stronger effect signal and no degradation of the incoming guitar signal. Another trick I use with the Boss ME-50 is that I use the distortion section with somewhat higher signal; this way if I need to do a solo I could raise the level by pushing the distortion module active.
The other system I use is a Zoom G2. Most of these products I got really cheap from Craigslist. I think I actually got this one from a local music store, used one, for $50. Best investment ever. I have the forty presets programmed so every even number is clean, every odd number has a distorted sound. As I go up on the bank numbers, let’s say from A1 to A9, more effects are added. In other words, from conservative sound to more crazy sounds at the end. As I don’t remember exactly the patches (who would) it’s always interesting to perform and see what happens. Now, the 0 patches, such as A0, is a clean signal, with a noise gate added. So I could always go back to a clean signal if needed. I could sometimes just take this unit with me to jams and use someone’s amp. By this effect I could control the sound I needed for particular sounds. It also has a tuner so I’m all set when I’m up on stage.
I think the key with all this is to learn the amplification and effect systems inside out. The more you know about your setups, the better you will get concerning tuning your sound. Sometimes on a gig the acoustics are odd and you need to know how to tweak the sound on-the-fly. The second issue is that you need to spend a lot of time with these setups and learn how they behave, what happens with each step. For example, with the Boss ME-50 setup, you really need to know what each modules sound with various settings so you could tweak and do initial sound sculptures within seconds.
Anyway, I hope this posting will inspire others to tweak on their systems and explore similar configurations or even better ones. As for other solutions, I have this Line 6 JM4 looper that is just waiting for a good spot. Also I could take this laptop and run Mainstage with all the Logic guitar amp simulations and studio effects with a Zoom MIDI pedal that is gathering dust. And when I record I nowadays record a clean signal into Logic and test out various amp simulations until I’m happy (or Guitar Rack, or PodFarm.) Oh, all the possibilities!