What's your current live rig?
My current live rig is the simplest I've ever had before. It's the first time since the very early days when I first started playing in bands that I've used floor pedal effects for my delay. I've been using rack effects for years because I think they sound better, but I found a combination of things on this last tour on accident that turned out to work really well. We were rehearsing for the tour and I was having problems with my regular full rig so for the sake of not ending a practice, I plugged into a Fractal Audio Systems Axe-FX Ultra and we rehearsed with that one that day. The next day I came in with my regular rig when it was fixed and plugged it in, and none of us thought it sounded as good as the Ultra. So I went on tour with this really simple rig—the Ultra as the preamp running into a Randall RT2/50 power amp. Then on the floor I have a delay pedal [Line 6 DL4] and a Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster, which I use for playing leads, and that's it. I just started using this rig on the tour we did this summer co-headlining with Accept—it was a blast.
Do think you're going to stick with this rig, then?
I think I'm going to stick with it because it made me play differently. I didn't have as much to lean on as far as effects and sounds. I couldn't use that stuff as a cover, which in the past may have made me lazy. In this rig, every little note and everything you play is heard very clearly so it forces you to play differently. I found myself thinking more about vocal melodies on leads. I had to make the sounds I wanted with my fingers instead of using machines, and I think it pushed me to a different spot in my playing. It was a real positive experience. When I listen back to anything played from that rig, I can tell that I was approaching my playing in a different way and I really enjoyed doing that—it was fun.
Do you use the same rig with King's X as you do in your other projects?
I use that rig on pretty much everything I do, but I will sometimes use other things in addition to it depending on what I'm working on. Right now we're working on a brand new Jelly Jam album. And although I did use my rig for some of the basic tracking, I'm also using a Lab Series [L5] like I used on some of the early King's X stuff in addition to my regular rig and I'm combining the two on this album. The Lab Series has some great effects that take the sound to another level.
Is the versatility of a guitar rig as important as the perfect tone? Do you need to compromise one to get the other?
I think that you do need to make that compromise in a lot of cases. There are a lot of amps that don't give you a lot of options other than what they do best. I've definitely had some very one-dimensional amps, but they were so good at what they did that it wasn't necessarily a bad thing. On the other end there are a lot of rigs out there that allow you to have a plethora of tones, especially these amp modeling rigs. But the majority of them, I'll be honest, I don't really care for the way they sound—I'm mostly into stuff with real tubes. I have to say that the Axe FX Ultra is the first modeler that I've used that I thought was pretty good. There are just so many different options and ways to tweak the tone. You can tweak it until it sounds like the real deal. That, for me, is the best option for versatility and tone. But not everyone can go out and buy one because they're not real cheap. For some people, just one particular amp that does exactly what they want it to do works great. Usually those amps that do only one thing will kick ass at that one thing, which makes up for it.
Your preamps have some modifications. What have you had done to get the tones you want?
The preamp sections are tweaked for me by the people at Egnater. One of the modules I have is something that they don't sell. I have two of them. We call it the Gretchen Module because it was designed to emulate the Lab Series L5 as best as possible, and they did a really good job at getting very close on that. So, I have a couple of those and then I have a couple of Egnater EG5 preamps with a mid-boost added to them for me. Then those run into my power amp.
The cool thing with my power amp, the Randall RT2/50, is that you can mod it out yourself. They have bias channel adjustments for both sides of the tubes. I've got 6L6 tubes in one side and EL34 tubes in the other side. So when you play it out of two cabinets, they each sound a little bit different and it helps to spread the sound and gives you a wider guitar tone. And because I have two different tubes on different channels, this amp gives you the ability, with the bias adjustment, to run the tubes on either side of your amp hotter or colder. You can develop your own sound yourself. On any other amp you would have to bring it into a shop and pay somebody to do that for you, and it costs a lot of money. This is the only amp I've ever seen that has an adjustment in the front of the amp that you can adjust with a screwdriver. It gives you total control because you can run the tubes cool if you want a nice clean tone and if you want to saturate and get ugly, you can hit those tubes hard. You can even go colder on one side and crank them up on the other side. I've never seen that kind of versatility before.