Join us for a dive into the complicated touring rig of the only artist to win Grammy Awards in 10 different categories.
Jazz guitar god Pat Metheny recently played Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on his solo tour supporting his latest record, Dream Box. Ahead of the show, PG’s John Bohlinger met with Metheny’s tech Andre Cholmondeley, who pulled back the curtain on what just might be the most complex solo rig ever devised. Afterward, Cholmondeley painstakingly wrote out Metheny’s signal path to help clarify the rig. Buckle up, and keep up if you can.
Brought to you by D'Addario.
A longtime Gibson ES-175 player, Metheny struck up a friendship with Ibanez in the 1970s when he toured Japan. In 1996, they released their first Ibanez PM100 Pat Metheny Signature. This PM100 bears a .080-gauge flatwound string tuned an octave down to a low low E. The rest are Metheny’s normal D’Addario NYXL 10s.
The axe puts out with a lone Charlie Christian single coil pickup plus a microphone inside the guitar running to a separate output. On some occasions, the Christian pumps out more noise or hum depending on the venue's electricity, or even if there’s wifi present. When necessary, Metheny and his team use an EHX Hum Debugger, or an Ebtech Hum Eliminator.
The Axon Axe
This Ibanez PM120—dubbed the "Axon Guitar"—lives on a stand so Metheny can play it with a second guitar on his back as needed as a MIDI controller. It’s got a Roland GK-style pickup with 13-pin output, connected to a 2007 AXON AX 50 synth controller, which drives the Orchestrion percussion instruments via Ableton. Pat can also send MIDI into any soft synth, and create loops inside Ableton, or any attached hardware besides the Orchestrion. (The Ableton 11 software runs on a MacBook Pro and through the show, it’s fed audio from three different guitars.)
Meanwhile, the normal audio output of this guitar hits an IK Multimedia TONEX, then a DI to the house and monitor systems.
Rockin' and Roland
The Roland GR-300 synth and G-303 guitar synth controller have been part of Metheny’s music since the combo was invented in 1980. The GR-300 is built around an analog polyphonic synth with oscillators that must be tuned daily.
The G-303 is strung with D’Addario NYXLs (.010-.046).
Each of Metheny’s acoustic guitars has two outputs: one from a standard 1/4" internal bridge pickup, and one from a condenser microphone mounted inside the guitars with a gooseneck or rigid metal arm. Metheny uses a variety of pickups, including Fishman, Go Acoustic Audio, LR Baggs, and the gut mics include offerings from Applied Microphone Technology and DPA Microphones.
All acoustics are treated to unique mix, EQ, and effects and monitored through a pair of Meyer UM-1P and Bose L1 speakers, plus a custom “thumper” in the Yamaha DSM100 mesh drum throne that Metheny sits on during performance.
Metheny’s 8-string Taylor acoustic takes various tuning. Sometimes, it acts as a baritone with a unison in the middle. Other times, it’s tuned to F-C-D#-E-C#-A#-A#-A. Surprise, surprise: Metheny is always experimenting.
In 1984, Metheny asked Canadian luthier Linda Manzer to build an instrument with “as many strings as possible.” The resulting collaboration is the Pikasso 42-String Guitar. While fitted for internal mic as well as a hex pickup, it currently only takes the regular 1/4" output, which is an aggregate of all four neck/zone pickups. Each pickup can be switched in and out with a toggle switch, and there are independent volume pots for each neck, as well as EQ and a master volume. The volume module is powered by two 9V batteries.
Here’s a closer look at the different angles within the Pikasso’s silhouette.
Keeping Up With Kemper
Various guitars run through a Kemper Profiler Power Rack. Each has a unique patch, but most usually use the models of a Fender Twin or a Roland JC-120, complete with verb, delay, and varying gain stages.
Here’s where things get tricky. Metheny runs a silent plug 1/4" cable from his guitars into a Lehle 3 at 1, enabling three stereo inputs—A, B, or C—which can be chosen with silent footswitches or via midi. A is designated for the Ibanez guitars, B takes the Roland setup, and C is home for the Taylor 8-string.
The outputs of all three are sent to a Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal. (The effects-send out of the Plus feeds a mini Leslie amp set to slow spin.) The Plus’ mono out feeds the “alternative input” of the Kemper. The Kemper sends a number of outs: the XLR heads to a pair of Yamaha DXR-10 speakers; the 1/4" goes to a Radial stereo DI, then on to the house and monitor systems; and the Kemper’s own monitor out feeds an AUDAC EPA152 rackmount power amp. This last route is programmed with a slightly different, “less wet” FX mix than its companions. The AUDAC unit is set to run as two discrete amps, and sends audio to Metheny’s drum throne thumper and a classic Acoustic 4x10 cabinet.
For the baritone acoustic which Metheny currently loops in this show, the looper of choice is a Pigtronix Infinity 3 (lower right). It’s fed from the thru/send of the Radial DI for the acoustic. A mono loop send from the Infinity goes to front of house and monitors via a Countryman active DI, and Metheny keeps track of the acoustic loop in his Meyer and Bose monitors. The rest of Metheny’s colors and signal manipulation comes from these tone tools including a Source Audio Soleman MIDI Foot Controller, a pair Blackstar Live Logic 6-button MIDI Footcontrollers, an Electro-Harmonix 95000 Stereo Looper, Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal, and the aforementioned Roland GR-300.
Accompanying the Maestro
Here’s the percussion mechanisms backing up Metheny during his solo Dream Box tour.
Shop Pat Metheny's Rig
Ibanez PM 200
D’Addario NYXL 10s
EHX Hum Debugger
IK Multimedia TONEX Pedal Amplifier/Cabinet/Pedal Modeler
Squier Classic Vibe Bass VI
LR Baggs M1 Active Acoustic Guitar Soundhole Humbucker Pickup
Bose L1 Pro32 Portable PA System
Guild D-40 Traditional Acoustic Guitar
Kemper Profiler Power Rack
Lehle 3at1 SGoS Instrument Switcher
Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal Piano-style Sustain Effect Pedal
Electro-Harmonix 95000 Performance Loop Laboratory 6-track Looper
Radial ProD2 2-channel Passive Instrument Direct Box
Pigtronix Infinity 3 Looper Pedal
Source Audio Soleman MIDI Controller Pedal
Blackstar Live Logic 6-button MIDI Footcontroller
Columnist Anthony Tidd considers how the guitar has fallen out of favor with young Black musicians.
One of the most troubling obstacles that music educators face nowadays is the gradual disappearance of instruments. With each passing decade in the U.S., there are fewer and fewer people who can play an instrument, or in many cases, who have ever held one.
Though I’m originally from London, before moving to Harlem, I spent 20 years in Philadelphia. For 11 of those years, I was the director of the Creative Music Program, a free program for teens that I created at the Kimmel Center. In this position, I observed the continued decline of school music programs and, more importantly, instruments. Due to overall government divestment in the arts, access to musical instruments has been in decline for quite a while. But for me, one of the most worrying aspects of this trend is the virtual disappearance of the Black guitarist.
From the kora to the banjo to, in more modern times, the guitar, plucked string instruments have always played a central role within African American music. At the dawn of the 19th century, almost every band, large or small, had at least one member who played the banjo, guitar, or both. The blues rose to cultural prominence through singers who accompanied themselves on guitar. The guitar’s role in gospel, jazz, rock ’n’ roll, rhythm and blues, Motown, funk, disco, and more, was central. Figures such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Christian, Grant Green, George Benson, Stanley Jordan, Jimmy Nolen, Nile Rodgers, Phil Upchurch, Prince, and Jef Lee Johnson weren’t anomalies. They were the norm—innovators within a vast sea of Black guitarists that stretched all the way back to the times of slavery and before.
Nowadays, my colleagues and I lament our collective struggle to name more than a handful of Black guitarists playing jazz in our tristate area. We have no such struggles when it comes to bass, drums, or even saxophone. Considering the long history of the guitar within jazz, one should really ask why and what the broader implications of this are. Over 11 years as an educator in Philadelphia, I only ever encountered one Black student who played guitar—out of thousands of students.
Is this generational? It’s no secret that all music has become more and more electronic. Despite what some may think, this trend is only partially due to the advent of new technologies. The synthesizer has been around since the ’60s, with early drum machines arriving soon after. Hip-hop spent much of its first decade-and-a-half virtually instrument free, and the fact that its sound was dominated by DJing, sampling, and drum machines was certainly linked to the decline of available music education during that period. The rise of specialized programs led by those like Wynton Marsalis in the ’90s helped to slow this trend somewhat, but not really for guitar.
There was also a cultural aspect at play, which in many ways echoed what we saw happen with the banjo 100 years earlier. The banjo originated with enslaved Africans during the 17th century, as a form of cultural retention, mirroring similar instruments found in West Africa, like the akonting. In the antebellum South, the banjo was a communal and recreational instrument that slaves played during gatherings and celebrations to accompany folk songs, dances, and storytelling. This sound eventually became part of bodies of music identified with the life, aspirations, and hardships of the enslaved.
“As high-level Black guitar-centric artists, who were themselves a continuation of artists like Chuck Berry, have aged or passed on, the guitar has become disassociated with cutting-edge Black music.”
Joel Walker Sweeney, a white musician and performer, is credited with further developing the banjo and popularizing it with white audiences in the mid 1800s. That aside, Sweeney’s popularization took place on white stages through the extremely problematic medium of blackface minstrelsy, which perpetuated a long tradition of dehumanizing and mocking African American culture via negative tropes and stereotypes around intelligence, physical appearance, sexual promiscuity, etc. Although the banjo continued to be utilized by Black musicians for a time, one cannot help but wonder if its new widespread association with racists like Sweeney and minstrelsy helped to send it to an early grave.
Despite its long history as a favored instrument, as high-level Black guitar-centric artists, who were themselves a continuation of artists like Chuck Berry, have aged or passed on, the guitar has become disassociated with cutting-edge Black music. The instrument is now more often found in rock, metal, folk, country, and bluegrass settings, and the person playing it will most often be white.
This is certainly the perception among young Black musicians starting out and deciding which instrument to play. Sadly, this trend is self-reciprocating, as less Black guitar innovators also means less artists, role models, and teachers to catch a future Jimi Hendrix’s attention. Due to a whole lot of cultural shifts, which actually have very little to do with music, the guitar may just not be as cool to them as it once was.
Supported by Aguilar. Get Amped! Learn more at shop.aguilaramp.com
When it comes to fine-tuning your tone, guitarists often forget the value of a good speaker. ToneSpeak’s new models offer a wide range of versatile end-of-the-signal-chain options, in classic to fresh flavors.
Electric guitarists are constantly on a tone quest, but too often we forget to look in the most obvious place: our amp speakers.
In many ways, this oversight is totally understandable. Hey, it’s easy to obsess about a gorgeous instrument sporting a flame maple top or classic vintage vibe. And there’s a vast array of pedals and effects out there screaming for our attention. (Yes, we used “screaming” intentionally. Please don’t hate us.) Of course, pickups, strings, cables, amplifiers, and preamps also have a big impact on our tone.However, it’s important to remember that every item in our signal chain eventually goes through our amp’s speaker—the crucial transducer that converts electrical impulses into sound.
The speaker always gets the final word in our musical conversation. It is literally the last piece of gear that we control before our playing reaches the listener’s ears or the sound engineer’s microphone. And if we’re wondering how to upgrade our overall sound—or breathe new life into a battle-weary amp—maybe it should be the first place we look for answers.
ToneSpeak, a newly launched speaker company based in Minnesota, aims to give you some great new options when you select that all-important piece of gear. Since the company’s birth in 2021, their goal is to provide speakers that are clearly rooted in classic sounds, but with unique tones of their own.
Modern Speakers Saluting Iconic Predecessors
ToneSpeak’s Liverpool 1275—a 12" speaker designed to appeal to Vintage 30 users—provides a case study in the approach. “In selecting what models we wanted to build,” explains Anthony Lucas, ToneSpeak’s senior transducer engineer, who designed the new speaker line, “we started with American and British roots. We didn’t want to copy anything. If you want a Vintage 30, then you should get one from Celestion. It’s a great speaker. But we were okay with using a Vintage 30 and a Greenback as an inspiration, to provide a baseline. The first prototype sounded too much like a Vintage 30”—he laughs—“and we knew we didn’t want to do that. We ended up giving the Liverpool warmer, smoother upper mids and highs, and a bit more lows.”
Lucas knows his stuff: He designed products at Eminence in the U.S. for years before departing the company in 2020 and building the new ToneSpeak line, with help from another former Eminence colleague, Josh Martin.
“At this company, most of us are musicians and involved in music,” says Lucas, “and all of us speak the language of tone, so that’s how ToneSpeak came about. We talked to musicians and manufacturers and asked what they liked and didn’t like about various speakers. We tried to respond to them by keeping what they liked and improving on the things that they didn’t.”
Plenty of 12" Options—and Other Sizes, Too
The Liverpool 1275 is one of five 12" speakers in the growing ToneSpeak line. Other models include the British-inspired Birmingham 1275—a natural fit for fans of the G12H Greenback, with balanced, throaty midrange and lots of articulation—and the formidable Manchester 1290. A high-powered brute, the Manchester will appeal to any player who loves the Celestion Classic Lead but seeks a bit more flexibility. “The common complaint about high-powered speakers is that they sound sterile unless you push them pretty hard,” notes Lucas. “So, we designed the speaker to sound very musical even at lower volume, while still being able to handle 90 watts and sound great. It’s probably our most balanced, most transparent speaker in the whole line.”
If you’ve got a 4x12 closed-back cab that could use an upgrade, ToneSpeak’s Birmingham or Liverpool models are your go-to options for classic tone bliss. And if you want to raise the aggression factor a notch or two—while still sounding great at lower volumes—the Manchester might be your cup of tea.
ToneSpeak: The Chris Condon Demos
Seeking a specially individualized tone that perfectly fits your unique style? Blending two different speakers with varying tonal characteristics in a 2x12 or 4x12 cabinet can produce amazing results. Just ask Robben Ford: He’s using the Austin 1250 and the Manchester 1290 in his Little Walter 2x12 cabinet.
On the other hand, if you’re outfitting an open-backed combo, ToneSpeak’s 12" offerings include a pair of American-based speakers: the Austin 1250 (the same one Robben Ford uses—see above) and New Orleans 1250.
The Austin harkens back to the classic Eminence GA-SC64 speaker. Looking to upgrade your Deluxe Reverb? This is the ticket. “The Austin 1250 is more or less transparent, so you really hear the amp,” explains Lucas. “We brought the mids up—because guitar is a mid-dominant instrument—so they’re more forward and clear without being harsh. The highs are really open and it’s very solid in the lows.”
ToneSpeak: The John Szetela Demos
The New Orleans is designed for players who like the smoky, subtle tone of a hemp cone. “We felt that other hemp-cone speakers are a bit too dark,” says Lucas, “so we designed our hemp cone to have a more open sound. It’s still warm and smooth, but it fills the room and takes to distortion really well. The high end doesn’t sound like it has a blanket put on it.”
ToneSpeak also offers a range of speakers in other sizes. The company’s four 10" models include American-inspired options (the Boston 1020 and Minneapolis 1050) and British voicings (Leeds 1020 and Glasgow 1050). And a pair of 8" models include a British-inspired Belfast 820 and American-voiced Detroit 820, with a hemp-composite cone that makes it perfect for Tweed Champ enthusiasts.
In designing the broad range of ToneSpeak’s product line, Lucas considered all of the components that go into a guitar speaker and affect its tone: cones, coils, and spider suspension. He also delved into a factor that might not be familiar to most players: edge doping—treating the edges of the speaker cone with a substance that works as a shock absorber, to keep the cone under control at high volumes. “We compared a few different edge dopings, which have a big impact on defining upper mids and highs. They can sometimes roll off the highs too much if you’re not careful. We developed our own proprietary edge doping, which I’m really proud of. It makes a big difference in the sound of the speakers and we’re using it on the entire line, except for the New Orleans hemp-cone speaker, which sounded better without any doping at all.”
If you’re wondering how a brand-new speaker company can offer so many models so quickly, the answer is simple: They are allied with the long-established builder MISCO, aka the Minneapolis Speaker Company.
An Ongoing Legacy of U.S.-Made Speakers
Launched in 1949 by Cliff Digre, a World War II veteran with a deep interest in electronics, MISCO has been led by Cliff’s son, Dan Digre, since 1990. The company builds a dizzying array of products and speakers for a variety of industries—including aerospace—many of them far-removed from the musical instruments realm.
MISCO founder Cliff Digre tests an early speaker in his workshop.
However, MISCO has been making OEM guitar speakers for more than 60 years, and in the 1960s even had its own brand of speakers called Redline, that featured red cones. So, when MISCO partnered with Anthony Lucas to launch the ToneSpeak brand, the company possessed decades of know-how in the guitar-speaker arena. It was a perfect opportunity to fill a need in the marketplace. “Anthony had a lot of experience designing speakers when he worked at Eminence,” notes Digre. “For decades, our core has been OEM, which by its nature means people are asking you to do things for them. ToneSpeak exists because the market was asking for some alternatives to what was out there, with an American brand behind it.”
Digre readily acknowledges that building guitar speakers presents a unique set of challenges—starting with the end user’s tastes and preferences. “Guitarists have an amazing sensitivity to tone color. These players have fabulous ears—they’re very discerning, and I have a great respect for them. The philosophy of designing a guitar speaker is different from almost any other type of speaker because it’s part of the sound of the instrument. Most other speakers are designed for the signal to pass through it as uncolored as possible. But the guitar speaker requires the color of the driver to become part of the instrument. And it’s not a commodity: You need to be able to consistently, repeatedly replicate the tone color. Controlling the variables that affect tone color is very important. MISCO has the means of measuring and controlling those factors.”
The Science Behind the Speakers
MISCO’s engineering and manufacturing expertise is the secret sauce behind ToneSpeak’s rapid rise. “There’s some serious engineering in this company used by a lot of different industries,” Digre admits. “MISCO builds the speakers for NASA. They’re used in the space station and the Orion spacecraft that’s going to land on Mars one day. While those aren’t musical products, they do require a very specific set of attributes. These are very demanding applications, and your quality really has to be top notch.”
Those high standards inform the entire approach behind ToneSpeak. “Whether we’re building a speaker for a spaceship or a guitar amp, we’re devoting the same attention to detail and consistency,” Digre says. “One of our brands uses the phrase ‘Our Science, Your Music.’ That philosophy applies equally to ToneSpeak. We’ve got the science of design, the science of manufacturing, the science of testing—but they’re all in the service of music. By design, I want musicians to be in this company, because a musician is going to understand a lot of things that a pure engineer is not. We need to have the musical perspective embedded into the DNA of the company.”
Digre’s outlook is perfectly aligned with Lucas’ stance on speaker design, and the satisfaction he gets when they’ve nailed the formula just right. “I get a smile when a real player gets a hold onto a tool that I’ve made and they connect with it,” Lucas says. “You can always tell by watching and hearing them. They can’t stop playing. They’re hooked. It’s like they get lost in the music. That what really brings me joy as a designer. I’ve done my job.”
Ultimately, electric guitarists are the beneficiaries of this approach. Whether you’re upgrading your main gigging amp—or resuscitating a garage-sale find—you’ll find a new range of options in the ToneSpeak line. So, roll up your sleeves, have some fun, and crank it up. Great tones are waiting for you!
To find a speaker that completes your sound, head over to ToneSpeak.com