Back in the day, way back in the day now, touring with my guitar rig was relatively straight forward. I had a flight case and I either hauled an amp in the truck or used backline gear at the venue. Pedalboards were not much of a thing when I was touring. I had 3 or 4 pedals with me: an MXR Phaser, an MXR Flanger, an MXR Distortion+ and a Cry Baby wah pedal. We used to tune up during sound checks.
I know, I know. So primitive.
Now retired, I like to spend the winters south where the weather is not so harsh as it is in Canada. This year I travelled to the southwest driving roughly 3,500 miles over the past three weeks. Frequent stops in major cities from the east coast all the way over to the west coast.
Before the trip I pondered how I should bring an electric guitar with me. Or should I even try? I was debating on renting gear once we arrived at our destination. After considerable deliberation this is how I decided to travel with my electric guitar.
If you have checked out my guitar gear you will see that I have a few electrics in the collection. Some new, some old. Most are very expensive instruments and I was reluctant to bring any of the top tier guitars with me. I settled on my Sire Larry Carlton T7. It is a Tele style guitar that plays really well.
Here is a picture of that guitar in the condo we have rented in Nevada:
I carried the guitar in one of my Mono gig bags.
I was bringing my MacBook Pro with me and thought it would be a good idea to see if an amp sim would be good enough to use for practice during my three-month journey away from home.
I auditioned dozens of different amp sims and settled on the Neural DSP Tone King. What an amazing sound! I found myself wishing that my physical rig sounded as good as this virtual one.
To get the sound in and out of the guitar sim, I needed a compact audio interface. I have several interfaces in the studio, all mounted in racks. Definitely not portable. But I found the Universal Audio Volt 1 to be the ticket for the trip. Small, inexpensive, and bus-powered. Sounds good and connects easily to the MacBook Pro with a USB-C cable and no obnoxious software drivers. The Neural DSP Tone King does require an iLok but since I am doing some audio work during my time south, I needed to bring my iLok for my Pro Tools rig so that wasn’t an issue. I did find that I needed a high-speed USB-C cable for the Volt 1. The cheaper USB-C cables introduced audio glitches.
Aside from having to bring the guitar into the hotel room at every stop, the rest of the gear fit easily into a backpack. I brought along my AKG K702 headphones for the Pro Tools work I am doing down here as I do not have any external monitors with me.
The rig — guitar, Volt 1, Neural DSP, headphones — sounds amazing and it is inspiring to play through it. Best of all it is lightweight and it allows me to keep my chops current.
Noble Street Studios, my favourite recording studio in Toronto, just opened their newest room, Studio G.
The studio manager had walked me through the room while it was still under construction and, to my delight, asked me to shoot the room for their marketing work. I had already done all of the photography for the other rooms at Noble Street and it was wonderful to go into this new room and capture all of the amazing equipment. I plan to be doing some mix work in Studio G in 2023.
This console was originally installed in a private studio in California, then it was installed in Pete Townshend’s (The Who) home studio. Neither studio saw much use so it is still in great shape, quite possibly the cleanest and most advanced SSL G+ in existence.
Here is the floorplan of Studio G:
The room is set up for stereo and Atmos and has a design that brings you into the music. The outboard gear is incredible.
Here are a few photos of the new room.
“I’d rather chew glass than play through a solid state amp.” This from a hardcore guitarist who was clearly committed to his tube amplifier.
When I was first touring, the state of the art of a sound system was not like it is today. Those systems were more of a sound reinforcement system, that is to say, they tried to get the vocals on top of the backline. And the backline generally had to have enough power to punch through all the stage noise.
I bought a Roland JC-120 way back then. Likely 1975 I think. Whenever it was first introduced. Sold it some years later.
Big brute. Two 12-inch speakers. 120 Watts of solid state power.
It was loud. And clean. No such thing as edge-of-breakup tone on this amp.
The band I played in back then was pretty successful but alas existed before the Internet. Which means it was pretty invisible today. I can’t find any shots of the rig I used back then. It would have looked something like this:
I do remember that I only had a few pedals on that tour. An MXR Distortion+, an MXR Flanger, a Cry Baby wah. I think we tuned to the piano as we also toured with a horn section. I guess I was primarily focused on playing clean with this amp.
Sweetwater posted a story on the history of the JC-120 which you can find over here.
The unique character of the amp, aside from its clean tone, was the built in chorus. Roland used the chorus circuit from that amp to launch the first chorus pedal and the first BOSS pedal ever made, the CE-1 Chorus Ensemble. That was in 1976. Here is what that chorus pedal looked like:
If you have $1,500 or so to spend, you can find these pedals used on Reverb. A vintage Roland JC-120 can be found for much less money. Not as portable though.
How many plugins do I own?
How many plugins do I use?
Just a few.
But lately it has gone way out of control. Like a guitar player buying yet another overdrive pedal, I have fallen into the shiney new toy syndrome. SSL had been running an essentials bundle sale: a channel strip and a bus compressor. Only $49! Sold.
So I went to find the channel strip plugin to give it a spin.
What? How many EQ plugins do I own? Too many to list. I eventually did find it of course. But then I went looking for the bus compressor.
My, my. This has gone way out of control. When I need an EQ, most of the time I reach for my FabFilter Pro Q3. This one:
It has everything I need. And yet, every once in a while, I reach for a different plugin. Why? I don’t really know. Maybe it is a plugin that adds some colour, or is voiced a certain way. Whatever. Too many choices means I go for the tried and true.
Compression? Well, that is a bit of a different story. There I could justify having a few different types of compressors: VCA, FET, optical, tube and pulse width modulation. Or maybe just use this one:
At this point in my life it is not worth the effort to comb through all of the plugins and toss the ones I never use. Avid does not make plugin management easy. Aside from some basic classification settings (flat, category, manufacturer) it takes work to dive into some arcane folders hidden deep within the machine and to pull out the plugins you don’t want and throw them into an unused folder just in case.
A bit like the 30 plus terabytes of data I have stored on my NAS. Easier to leave it there than to go and organize it.
Now, where was that SSL bus compressor?
What one thing has travelled with you for most of your life? For me it is a guitar.
I don’t remember all of the details around when I first brought the guitar home. Steve Kirman, of Steve’s Music in Montreal, sold me the guitar. I was young. It was my first big purchase and my first good acoustic guitar.
When I retired, downsized and began travelling in 2018, I left that guitar with my oldest son. Our travels were interrupted by the pandemic and we are no longer travelling as much. Now that we have a new place in Canada, my guitar could come back home.
I named the guitar “Elizabeth”. Not sure why. It just seemed to be a thing back then, naming guitars.
I checked the serial number to date the guitar and here is what I found:
With the serial number 97313, the guitar was built in 1974 — 48 years ago. I was 16 years old as I purchased it just before my 17th birthday. It is one of the very few possessions that has been with me throughout my life.
It has a few bumps and dings. One year I had left it in the trunk of my car. There was so much heat that the glue holding the bridge gave way. A bit of an expensive repair back then.
The Guild D40 is still in production. As I appear to be for the moment.
I took it out of the case and strummed a few chords. Still sounds great after all those years. And it brought back so many memories. Welcome home old friend.
Shoreline. That one is in Toronto. I, on the other hand, am referring to a church in Austin, Texas. A megachurch. Somewhere around 8,000 or so people attend each week.
My friends at Avid invited me to a webinar with a couple of the production staff and Brown Note Productions to learn about their complete production workflow.
Not really all that complete mind you. The webinar focused primarily on how Shoreline was using Avid products for their audio production.
The session was posted to YouTube and if you are interested you can give it a look.
What stood out from the discussion for me was how much money that church had invested in their audio production. For example, this was a shot of their broadcast room:
Acoustically treated room. Beautiful desk. And what else do I see there? Might those be a pair of Barefoot MicroMain 27s? A fully decked out S4? An Avid Matrix?
Equipment and buildout costs were not mentioned however a room like that would easily exceed $500,000 in Canada.
The topology of the audio environment that was shared on the webinar looks like this:
They have an S6L-32D for FOH and an S6L-24D for monitors along with the S4. A couple of E6L engines, a 24×24 IO for the broadcast space and a Stage 64. The FOH and Monitor consoles, along with the engines, would run about $400,000 up here in Canada. Without installation costs and all of the related cable plant. Not hard to envision a couple of million for that installation not including the rest of the FOH, lighting, and video components.
Definitely state of the art.
Pity the poor sound volunteer. Often pressed into service to do the seemingly impossible: make everything sound good.
If it sounds bad? It’s their fault.
If it sounds too loud? It’s their fault.
If it sounds too soft? It’s their fault.
The switch to livestream made an already challenging role even more challenging. Many churches do not have the resources to hire experienced audio people. And fewer still can run two mixes, one for in-person and one for the livestream.
Even if they do, the basics around acoustic treatments and proper monitoring systems for the livestream mix can be left out due to cost or space constraints.
And when it is apparent that the livestream doesn’t sound very good, who gets the blame?
You guessed it.
The poor sound volunteer.
I’ve done numerous seminars over the years. And I’ve trained hundreds of sound volunteers. For the most part, they are all good servants wanting to do nothing more than to help. The same basic elements that can help improve sound still apply: decent equipment, workable listening environment, appropriate skills and training.
Larger churches will usually invest in good equipment. And many of them will treat the listening space — whether in-person or the mix room for the livestream. Those churches that can will have a staff role for audio production and that person will develop the volunteers.
For small to mid-size churches it can be hit and miss. Budgets for audio systems may be limited. Listening spaces may be less than optimal. And the lead audio person might be the individual who raised their hand to help without the benefit of a lot of audio experience or training.
Is it worth the effort to improve the quality of sound for a livestream? Does it really matter?
In our technological age, production has become a thing for churches. This is a relatively new development and it is unclear to me whether worship is more or less geniune because of the level of production. My take is that we should always do our best whenever we gather — in-person or online.
One thing is very clear though. Bad sound gets noticed. As does good sound. Just not in the same way. Bad sound is distracting.
Here are some examples from a training seminar I did a few years back. It takes you from highly polished livestreams to, well, let’s just say, less polished livestreams.
These examples attempt to show the variance in audio quality in church livestreams. My voiceover shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Each clip shows people expressing their worship. Regardless of the quality, ultimately it is the heart that matters most.
Too many guitars? Impossible. That’s like saying too many pieces of art. There is always room for one more.
Well, no, I do not need any more guitars. Except the one that is getting picked up today.
I am blessed with a wonderful collection of guitars that I have built up over almost 50 years of playing. And I hope to continue playing for many more years.
I will be serving in Florida for a few months at the end of this year and I do not want to use any of my existing guitars. For better or worse they are either too valuable or too cherished for out of country gigs.
I’m picking up a PRS S2 Vela. It is not a student level guitar nor a premium high-end guitar. Something in the middle. A good value for the money type of guitar of which there are many choices in that price band.
If it gets damaged or stolen, I won’t be too upset as it would be easily replaced.
I may keep it or I might sell it once I get back to Canada.
My first offset guitar and certainly a unique tone stack. Looking forward to playing it later today.