Prog-rock wizard Adrian Belew and his tech Andrè Cholmondeley spent time with Premier Guitar during their current tour to discuss Belew’s love for strange noises and how new tones inspire new songs.
Belew uses two signature Parker Fly guitars, both of which are decked out in custom, 12-coat automobile-finish colors, and feature a Sustainiac Stealth Pro pickup in the neck position, a DiMarzio in the bridge, and a piezo pickup.
Although Belew doesn’t use it live, an onboard Line 6 Variax controller can also be activated by a push-pull knob. All of his guitars use D’Addario NYXL strings.
Belew uses a 50-watt Atomic Reactor active wedge to monitor the more straightforward tones from his Fractal Audio Axe-Fx Ultra, while he routes aural “snippets” and other loops from his laptop through a Bose L1 portable loudspeaker system.
Belew has several signal chains to handle his eclectic mix, yet the setup is surprisingly uncomplicated: A 13-pin jack connects his guitar to a Roland VG-99 V-Guitar System. From there, the signal is split, with one side hitting a MOTU UltraLite Mk3 Hybrid audio interface that feeds the front-of-house mix, Belew’s in-ear monitors, and the Bose L1. The other side of the VG-99 (his “regular” guitar output) hits a Keeley Compressor, Source Audio Soundblox Pro Multiwave Distortion, DigiTech HarmonyMan, and the Axe-Fx Ultra. The balanced outputs of the Axe-Fx feed the Atomic amp, and the unbalanced outs go back to the MOTU again, then to front-of-house and Belew’s in-ear monitors.
Via the MOTU interface, the Axe-FX also feeds a laptop running Ableton Live. Belew uses Ableton for all his loops and other audio “snippets” that he triggers during the show. Belew uses a Liquid Foot+ 12 MIDI foot controller to send all the data and program changes for his very demanding live show. He also uses three Roland EV-5 expression pedals to control volume and other effect parameters.