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Rig Rundown - Russian Circles' Mike Sullivan & Brian Cook

Premier Guitar heads into Steve Albini's Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago to catch up with Russian Circles' Mike Sullivan and Brian Cook during the recording of Memorial where the duo shows off their studio rigs and collection of boutique gear.

PG’s Jordan Wagner is on location at Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago, where catches up with Russian Circles’ Mike Sullivan and Brian Cook during the recording of their fifth album, Memorial. The duo reveals a close-up look at their studio guitar and bass rigs, which combine the gear they use live with numerous other pieces from their own personal collections and Electrical Audio’s gear coffers.

Mike Sullivan's Gear

Guitarist Mike Sullivan is a life-long fan of Gibson guitars, and gravitates towards the thick and powerful humbucking tone that a Les Paul Custom brings to the table. “There’s just something about a the ebony fretboard and mahogany body of a Les Paul Custom that really just gets the most out of each note, sustain-wise with clarity,” explains Sullivan. His two main axes are a pair of Gibson 1957 Les Paul Custom reissues in black and wine red finishes, and each one is loaded with a Gibson Dirty Fingers pickup in the bridge, and a Gibson 498T bridge pickup in the neck for added treble response. Sullivan also buffed their finishes to give them a satin-like feel, which makes them more comfortable to play—in addition to reducing glare. He also recently acquired a Maestro-equipped Gibson Custom Shop ’67 Flying V reissue, which is used sparingly on the new album. Sullivan’s new love is a Fano RB6 that he recently received from the boutique guitar maker’s custom shop. “It comes down to the clarity thing,” Sullivan says. “You hit a chord and you hear every note. The Lollar P-90’s in the neck and bridge just sound incredible, and just have a pure organic tone. There’s nothing to hide behind.” In addition to its Jason Lollar P-90 pickups, Sullivan’s RB6 utilizes a Gibson-like 24 3/4" scale neck with a chunky C-shape. Sullivan’s guitars are strung up with Dean Markley custom-gauge .012-.056 strings (he occasionally uses a .058 for the lowest string), and are tuned low to high to B-F#-C-F-G-B.


For live and studio use, Sullivan’s main amplifiers of choice are 300-watt Verellen Meat Smoke and a 100-watt Verellen Loucks tube heads, both of which are funneled to a pair of custom shop Emperor 4x12 cabinets. The deep and dark tonality of the 6550-powered Meat Smoke combined with the Loucks’ EL34-driven grind creates a densely textured tone with a lot of punch. Sullivan recalls the first time that he plugged into bassist Brian Cook’s Meat Smoke, saying that, “it was the tone that I’ve wanted for years.” To add even more textural elements to Memorial’s guitar tones, engineer Greg Norman suggested adding a Fender Pro Jr. 1x10 combo owned by Electrical Audio into the mix. Norman likes to use the little combo’s warm cutting tone for adding contrast against dark-toned amp rigs, such as Sullivan’s pair of Verellen heads. The band experimented with running the amp through the pictured vintage ’70s Marshall 4x12 , but opted for the more strident tone provided by the amp’s speaker.


Starting at the top row, left to right, Sullivan has a DigiTech JamMan, Reaper Pedals Deceived Delay/Reverb, EarthQuaker Devices Grand Orbiter Phaser, Mesa/Boogie Tone Burst Boost/Overdrive, Mesa/Boogie Flux Drive Overdrive, (middle row, left to right) Xotic Effects BB Preamp Mid Boost, Z.Vex Effects Fuzz Factory w/ custom hockey graphics paint job, Fulltone Secret Freq, Maxon CS-9 Chorus, (bottom row, left to right) Akai E2 Headrush, Strymon Flint, Strymon El Capistan, MXR Micro Amp, custom switchable effects loop, Xotic Effects BB Preamp, Ernie Ball Volume Jr. (NOT PICTURED: Lehle Splitter, Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail, Electro-Harmonix Memory Boy used for a slight slapback-style delay on "Loucks" only, and a DigiTech Whammy IV.

Sullivan’s monster-sized pedalboard is packed to the gills with distortions, delays, reverbs, and numerous tone-shaping tools. He’s well known for his usage of looping during live shows, but when recording Memorial his Akai E2 Headrush and DigiTech Jam Man are mostly used for developing and hashing out new musical ideas. The guitarist relies quite a bit on his BB Preamp and RC Booster pedals from Xotic Effects, but he’s also recently become a die-hard convert of Mesa/Boogie’s Tone Burst and Flux Drive overdrives.

In addition to being blown away by Boogie’s most recent pedal line, Sullivan is also enamored with Strymon’s El Capistan delay and Flint tremolo and reverb pedals. “The El Capistan can nail every delay tone you could possibly think of, and the Flint’s tremolo and reverb decay are so natural,” Sullivan says. “Compared to other digital pedals that I’ve tried, they sound absolutely perfect to me.”

Brian Cook’s Gear


Bassist Brian Cook’s main bass of choice is his old vintage Gibson Ripper II, year unknown. He also has a First Act Delgada bass, but his custom First Act “Bearitone” is the star of the bunch. Cook says he wanted something in between the guitar and bass spectrum, so he opted for this bari guitar, which was used heavily on the new Russian Circles record. The “Bearitone” name was derived from its fat guy “mudflap-inspired” inlays. Cook plays his bari in standard B tuning.


Brian’s been using his trusty old Ampeg SVT 8x10 cabinet with a Verellen Meat Smoke for the warm tube sound it adds. In addition to these personal staples, Cook added into the mix Electrical Audio’s Traynor TS 50, which was also used on Russian Circles third album, Geneva.


This very expansive pedalboard shows Cook’s experimental tendencies as a bassist. His staple effects are a DigiTech Whammy IV and EXH POG2 for filling up space and changing octaves. He also uses a Tym Guitars Big Bottom as well s three Fuzzrocious stomps: Oh See Demon, Rat Tail, and Ram the Manparts pedals (the latter was named after a lyric from a song by Cook’s previous band, Botch).

The luxury of time in the studio allowed Cook to experiment with fuzz and distortion. He played around with a Way Huge Swollen Pickle, which he says is “bass central,” as well as a Dwarfcraft Eau Claire Thunder modeled after a Big Muff. He has an Ernie Ball Volume Jr. going into an EHX Memory Toy and then into an Akai E2 Headrush. He uses the Akai for two reasons: as a tape echo simulator delay and for live looping.

His latest discovery in pedal tinkering is Tone Butcher out of Costa Mesa, California. Cook is keen on their Blue Whale fuzz with tremolo function (“it oscillates in a cool way), Pocket Puss (“runs on a watch battery and you get really great tones for pitch-shifting arpeggios”), and Wee Wah (“a trashy sounding fuzz”). Other pedals used include the Dwarfcraft Pitch Grinder and SOMMS, Verellen Big Spider, and a Moog Taurus to help with layers and lush sounds.