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One Man’s Journey Overcoming His Rack System Biases

One Man’s Journey Overcoming His Rack System Biases

Indonesian guitarist Dewa Budjana chatting with rig designer Bob Bradshaw.

Our columnist tells the story of his visit to a recording studio, interviews an Indonesian guitarist, and releases some of his prejudices about a rack-system-style rig.

Last month, I had the opportunity to do a recording session at a professional studio, or more precisely, the best recording studio in my city. As an amateur musician, I only brought my Marshall 6101 combo, Les Paul, and ’70s fuzz wah. The owner and engineer of the studio had said that I could use all the equipment in the studio, especially the rack system that was available there.

Of course, I wouldn’t waste that offer; my curiosity was clearly through the roof. However, using the rack system was not as easy as I thought. After tinkering with it for about an hour, I ended up deciding to stop, as it’s not my thing and I don’t like the way it looks. I tend to set up my rig scattered on the floor because I love to control it using my feet.

But that moment haunted me for weeks. As someone who started playing music as a teenager in the 2000s, for some reason, I was completely unfamiliar with the concept of the rack system. First, during that era, floor multi-effects were very popular, including the Korg AX series, Boss ME series, and of course, the Line 6 Helix. Second, the rack system was considered very expensive and bulky (and also seemed very serious), so typically only professional musicians could afford to use it. As a result, I had neither experience nor knowledge about it. I’m sure millions of amateur musicians like me on this planet also have curiosity and various questions about it.

That was until I met Dewa Budjana, a professional guitarist in Indonesia. Recently, he collaborated with John Frusciante, Jordan Rudess, and Mateus Asato. Budjana has been known as one of the users of the rack system since the ’90s. I was able to have a conversation with him, where I asked him about his knowledge and experience with the system.

Rack systems are out of my world. Can you explain why you use them?

Dewa Budjana: Growing up as a musician in the ’80s, the era of Mike Landau and Steve Lukather, of course I wanted a rack system. There was no direct system back then [such as Fractals, Kempers, etc.], and the only way to explore the equipment was by reading what was available in magazines.

I know it’s not easy to route a rack system. How do you do it?

DB: My first rack was routed by Dave Friedman [of Friedman Amplification], but I bought it from [guitar rig designer] Bob Bradshaw, whom I’ve been in touch with since 1996. At that time, Bob was on tour with Toto, so Dave did the routing. My friendship with Bob continues until today; [he helped me with] several of my albums that I recorded live in America. In 2013, I even made a smaller rack system, which I still use in the studio now.

Why do you think it’s so special, and how often have you used it?

DB: Using the rack system certainly has its own sound satisfaction, perhaps because I am really familiar with it. But since the early 2000s, I have rarely brought a rack [on tour with me] because of the difficulty of transporting it. Also since the mid 2000s, I have tried to explore using multi-effects with a direct system, especially on stage.

From that conversation, I concluded that my prejudice about the sacredness of the rack system was not entirely correct. Over time and with technological advancements, a professional like Budjana eventually wasn’t confined to always using rack effects because as times change, so does the tendency of humans to always find new ways to do things, including creating music. Is the rack system merely a representation of a specific era? I don’t think so, because today, we can also find people using vintage stompboxes from the ’60s with all their limitations, such as no LED indicator or the ability to save presets.

In the end, any equipment we use can be considered a personal statement that represents our identity, just like John Mayer with a BluesBreaker, or Yngwie Malmsteen with his Strat and full-stack Marshall.

Budjana still uses the rack system today because in some contexts, it is indeed part of his sound, even though it’s so complicated. To use one, you need another person to operate it in order to make it just right, as well as proper accessories like the housing, power conditioner, and special patch cables. Even when faced with a variety of super advanced equipment, I still tend to crank tube amps and push them with fuzz—and that’s it! But Budjana taught me about the awareness of how “gray,” or not so black-and-white, equipment can be for creating.

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