Rig Rundown: Lake Street Dive
See how a Tube Screamer and a pair of POGs mesh with badass bassist Bridget Kearney’s carved double bass. Plus, touring guitarist James Cornelison shows the oddball guitars and pickups he chose to funkify the band’s neo-soul dance parties.
College internships can run the gamut. They can lead you into a career or dissuade you from pursuing one altogether. In 2004, while still attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, singer Rachael Price, bassist Bridget Kearney, founding guitarist Mike “McDuck” Olson, and drummer Mike Calabrese joined forces to perform as what they dubbed a “free country band,” where they intended to play country music in an improvised, avant-garde style. As it goes with many college-years experiments, it didn’t stick, but the fervid foursome pushed forward in continuing to develop their own sound. They quickly graduated to a bona fide band cultivating a buzz with infectious concerts, creative covers, and complex, groovy originals. Through their mutual influences and complimentary counterpoints, their sound matured into a harmonious fusion, as if Berry Gordy produced the Beatles in Nashville’s RCA Studio.
If starting a band and shaping their sound was an internship and bachelor’s degree, self-releasing records and organizing U.S. tours would be their master’s and doctorate. They self-released 2007’s In This Episode... and 2008’s Promises, Promises before joining Signature Sounds, who put out 2010’s Lake Street Dive and 2014’s Bad Self Portraits. (The latter slotted them on the Billboard charts—No. 18 in the 200 and No. 5 in Top Rock Albums.) They then signed to Nonesuch, where they’ve dropped three more albums—most notably 2016’s Side Pony, which put them atop the Top Rock Albums chart, while 2021’s Obviously netted them their highest single, with “Hypotheticals” hitting No. 2 on the Adult Alternative Airplay chart.
And while the band has continued to evolve, experiment, and expand their signature sound, they have kept to their core identity—having fun. They seem never to miss a Halloween dress-up show, and still aren’t gun-shy about covering classics and making them their own. Setlists are often littered with audience requests and reinterpretations of the Beatles, Hall & Oates, George Michael, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis, Shania Twain, the Pointer Sisters, the Jackson Five, the Kinks, Steely Dan, Annie Lennox, Sly & the Family Stone, and countless others.
The afternoon before their second consecutive sellout at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, Lake Street Dive’s Bridget Kearney and touring guitarist James Cornelison welcomed PG’s Chris Kies on stage for a casual gear chat. Kearney explained how she uses a pair of octave pedals through her standup double bass, and what she’s doing with four tuners! Plus, she explains what restarted her slow-burn courtship with electric bass. Then, Cornelison walks us through his setup, which includes leftover pieces from retired guitarist Mike “McDuck” Olson and a ratty pickup bought off a former PG staffer. It both honors the band’s catalog and carves his own musical fingerprint.
Brought to you by D’Addario Nexxus 360 Tuner.
All About That Bass
Bridget Kearney is known for almost exclusively using a standup double bass on stage and in the studio with Lake Street Dive. (As you’ll see in a minute, she’s fostering her connection with electric bass.) She’s been thumping on this one since LSD took shape. She acquired the 50-year-old carved double bass (all solid-wood construction) from fellow bass player and friend Ben Davis. When she received it from Davis, he had already added a David Gage Realist LifeLine pickup, but she’s opted to add and amplify via a Fishman Full Circle Upright Bass Pickup (“the heart of the tone”) and a Pierre Josephs String Charger magnetic transducer (“helpful getting extra juice to cut through when playing with a full band”). The Fishman provides a pure, clean signal to FOH, while the String Charger handles all the effects Kearney puts on her instrument. It’s been years since she’s changed strings, but she thinks they’re D’Addario Helicore Orchestral bass strings.
In Brooklyn for Halloween 2020, Lake Street Dive recreated the iconic Beatles rooftop concert. In doing so, the entire band doubled down to look the part (wigs, sideburns, and shaggy coats included). To be as authentic as possible, Kearney borrowed a friend’s Höfner for the performance. She enjoyed the playing experience and wanted to further investigate the electric bass, then bought this Höfner Limited Edition H500/2-RLC-O Club Bass. “Before this, I hadn’t played electric bass for nearly 20 years. It took me to the age of 35 to think, ‘I wonder if electric bass could be a cool thing?’ Höfner and that rooftop concert was my gateway drug back to solidbody electric basses.”
Kearney landed this brown beauty just a few months ago while instrument-shopping in Seattle. She had saw this 1975 Fender P bass on a store’s online inventory, but Bridget realized after arriving that she had went to the wrong store. However, the “wrong” store had a 1969 P she couldn’t pass up. Even after buying a vintage gem, months later, the above ’75 was still haunting her. So, the next time she visited Seattle, Kearney went to the “right” store and made the purchase. She hasn’t used it in the studio yet, but during this run of shows, she brought it for the band’s cover of “Love Doctor” from her 2017 solo record Won’t Let You Down. (The Cookin’ Outlaws stickers were put on prior to the score, and Bridget notes they are a part of the instrument’s charm.)
Bridget Kearney’s Pedalboard
“My pedalboard is a little bit ridiculous. It’s composed of four Boss tuners [laughs],” concedes Kearney. Unraveling the 4-tuner conundrum, she explains that she uses a pair of TU-3s for each pickup on her standup bass. The ingenious silver plate allows her to mute both signals with one kick. A passive TU-2 stays on all the time to help her play the fretless standup as close to in tune as possible. And the fourth Boss tuner is for her electric basses. Her duo of Electro-Harmonix Micro POGs each have a specific duty—one goes low (for “Good Kisser”), and one goes high (for solos and melodic lines). An Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer adds some sting to the double bass for “Bobby Tanqueray” and other parts. A couple of Radial Firefly Tube Direct Boxes send all her bass signals to FOH.
Gather ’Round This Gibson
For this batch of shows under the Gather Round Sounds Tour umbrella, LSD revamped their catalog for stripped-down, alternative arrangements. This is how they described the tour on social media: “Join us for these easy going, semi-acoustic evenings full of the fan favs, some deep cuts, and maybe even some works in progress in our most relaxed, basement couch setting yet.” Accommodating those cozy cabin vibes, guitarist James Cornelison brought along this 2010s Gibson J-35 reissue.
When the band reaches maximum campfire camaraderie, they perform as a guitar trio. In that arrangement, drummer/percussionist Mike Calabrase uses this Gibson Songwriter Standard EC Rosewood acoustic-electric.
This late-’60s Harmony H165 is singing better than ever, thanks to the facelift handed out by Old Style Guitar Shop in L.A. Aside from bracing upgrades and a proper setup, it’s been given two pickups (a piezo) and what looks like (but is unconfirmed) a variation of Seymour Duncan’s Hot Rails. When asked during the Rundown, James was unsure but did note that Old Style uses this pickup on all their acoustic overhauls. You’ll also notice a rubber bridge giving this storyteller even more vibe.
Cornelison’s roommate received this Excel SS from D’Angelico, but James gravitated more towards the instrument, so it unofficially became his. (What a friend!) Since adopting the 6-string, he’s designated it as his “Frankenstein project” as he’s tried several experiments on it—using flatwounds, playing in open tunings, and replacing the stock neck humbucker with an old Teisco gold-foil pickup. It currently is the slide guitar for LSD material and stays in high-tension F-tuning for “Hush Money” off 2021’s Obviously.
We’re Not Worthy!
Single-coil sweetness is provided by this ’90s Squier Wayne’s World Stratocaster. (As you would assume, “Stairway” is not allowed on this Strat—denied!)
Big Ups to Big Thief
“I’m a big fan of Adrianne Lenker and I always enjoyed that she played semi-hollow guitars with P-90s in it. I thought it was cool to have the reversal of the hollowbody archetype with P-90s instead of humbuckers,” admits Cornelison. This D’Angelico Deluxe DC features a set of Seymour Duncan STK-P1 Stacked P-90s and is serial #3.
Original guitarist and cofounding member Mike “McDuck” Olson left this ’50s Les Paul Standard (finished in Heritage Cherry Sunburst) for Cornelison to use in his absence. James remarks that this electric does the bulk of the work when the full band is represented.
On this subdued set, Cornelison plugged all his electrics into the above Magnatone Twilighter 112 combo.
James Cornelison's Pedalboard
This dialed-in setup was designed and built by longtime Jason Isbell tech Michael Bethancourt. Cornelison has onstage control of everything via the RJM Mastermind GT. Also, out front is a Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner and an Ernie Ball VP Jr volume pedal. His two-drawer rack holds the following pedals: a Source Audio EQ2 Programmable Equalizer, a JHS SuperBolt V2, a Behringer US600 Ultra Shifter/Harmonist, a JHS Colour Box V2, a Keeley Katana Clean Boost, JHS Morning Glory, and a Strymon Flint & Deco. Everything is powered by a pair of Strymon Zuma units. Additionally, an RJM Mini Effect Gizmo MIDI controller helps organize the signal paths.
Nita Strauss Conquers the World
She’s climbed the mountain of shred, toured with Alice Cooper and Demi Lovato, topped a half-dozen charts with her solo debut, and earned a Super Bowl ring. Now, the Ibanez-toting barnstormer’s poised for her next victory.
Defining “Hurricane” Nita Strauss is difficult. She’s one of the most visible players out there, yet she’s still underappreciated by the mainstream. As a solo artist, Strauss is the premier torchbearer for ’80s-informed shred metal, but her music sounds modern, and her “day job” is as a first-call session and touring guitarist for the biggest names in pop and classic rock—from Demi Lovato to Alice Cooper. She also regularly tops lists of the best female guitarists, but the truth is she’s simply one of the finest contemporary guitarists—period.
Embracing every opportunity and refusing to be pigeonholed, Strauss is proud of her music, regardless of style or who she makes it with. She also flies the flag for female rock ’n’ rollers while calling out any limitations that might put her in a box.
“A really nice illustration is when Yvette Young and I had signature guitars come out the same year,” Strauss says. “I played her guitar, and she played mine, for about 15 seconds, and we handed them back. We were like, ‘We hate it.’ [Laughs.] Her style is so vastly different from mine that her guitar was so uncomfortable for me to play. We’re just so different. That [diversity] is what makes it great.”
It’s not that Strauss rejects labels. It’s just that if she had her way, the rest of the world would drop the preconceived notions that come with them. Case in point, Strauss is the first woman to have her own signature Ibanez guitar, called the JIVA. She’s incredibly proud of the honor. But it didn’t happen because she’s a woman—obviously. It happened because she’s so damn good.
“I was always on that relentless pursuit for shred,” the L.A. native says. “My family didn’t have a lot of money, growing up, so I couldn’t afford lessons or anything like that. I just absorbed whatever I could from listening to albums and watching instructional DVDs. But when I saw Steve Vai in Crossroads, that was my aha moment of, like, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
“The first album was almost like a temper tantrum.”
Strauss’ style is still informed by the players on those DVDs. While a lot of modern rock and metal embraces 7- and 8-string guitars, jerking prog rhythms, and harmonic dissonance, she leans toward Malmsteen, Petrucci, Friedman, and Vai. “I think the reason why a band like Animals as Leaders was so groundbreaking is because they said, ‘This is who we are, and this is what we write.’ If I chased that [prog-metal] trend, I wouldn’t be authentic. And I think you have to be authentic as a songwriter.”
Which brings us to Strauss’ first solo album. Controlled Chaos, released in 2018, clearly demonstrates her authenticity, which resonates with fans. The album was fueled by a Kickstarter campaign that aimed to raise $20,000 but reached an impressive $165,755. A full-on shred record, it brings to mind classics like Cacophony’s Speed Metal Symphony, Jason Becker’s Perpetual Burn, and Joe Satriani’s Surfing with the Alien. She puts on a clinic in high-octane electric guitar heroics from beginning to end. And the rock world noticed. Controlled Chaos landed in the Top 10 of Billboard’s new artist, indie label, hard music, rock, and internet charts, and hit No. 20 in top albums. The second single, “Mariana Trench,” was chosen by the World Wrestling Federation as the theme for its NXT TakeOver: War Game 2018 livestream. Not bad for her first adventure into solo guitar music—one she never wanted to undertake in the first place.
Nita Strauss has toured with Alice Cooper since 2014, but her first high-profile gig was with the Iron Maidens, a festival-level-touring Iron Maiden tribute band that she joined in 2010.
Photo by Annie Atlasman
But Jack Butler changed all that. “It was actually my hero, Steve Vai, that pushed me off the edge and into the deep end of the pool,” Strauss says. “He asked me to contribute a song to a compilation album [2017’s She Rocks, Vol. 1], and I agreed without having a song to contribute. I mean, I’m not going to say no! [Laughs.] I sat down at my kitchen table the next day, and I wrote ‘Pandemonium,’ which was my first solo single.”
The song was a hit, with well over a million views on YouTube. Diving in headfirst, Strauss then knew exactly what a Nita Strauss solo album should sound like, and no one was going to get in her way. “The first album was almost like a temper tantrum,” she laughs. “I had so much to say, and I didn’t let anybody into my creative process. I produced it, and I recorded everything. Then, when it came out and was super well-received, that made me realize, ‘Yes, I can do this.’”
“I was always on that relentless pursuit for shred.”
It wasn’t long before Strauss was planning her next record, due in early 2023. And this album will be different. She determined it would still feature plenty of technical playing and demonstrate her songwriting and production skills, but she’d supercharge it with some of the most well-known vocalists in the heavy-rock game.
So far, three singles have been released as teasers. In October 2021, Strauss turned loose “Dead Inside.” Her guitars sound heavier, the song structure is catchier, and the intense playing is pushed over the top by the signature rasp of Disturbed’s David Draiman. The tune made Strauss the first solo female artist to top the Active Rock radio chart and has more than 10 million streams on Spotify. Her instrumental banger “Summer Storm” was released in August 2022, followed by the even wilder aggro-shred diamond “The Wolf You Feed,” featuring singer Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy. In its first day on YouTube in October, "The Wolf You Feed" garnered 670,000 views and, as of this writing, has surpassed 2 million views.
Nita Strauss’ Gear
How sturdy are Strauss’ workhorse Ibanez signature model JIVA guitars? Tough enough for whammy-bar levitation with feedback every night onstage.
Photo by Ken Settle
- Ibanez Signature JIVAX2
- Ibanez Signature JIVA10
- Custom Ibanez Signature JIVAJR
Amps & Effects
- Boss GT-100 Effects Processor
- Kemper Profiler
Strings & Picks
- D’Addario NYXLs (.010–.046)
- Grover Allman .65 mm
But Strauss admitted that writing for vocalists isn’t as easy as her instrumental work. Making things even more challenging was that she had no idea who would end up singing on the new tracks. She was, as she puts it, “writing for a style of vocalist. It was a huge challenge for me. I had to take into account a singer’s vocal range, style, lyrical content, and what rhymes with what. But there was only one song, I think, where it was actually that singer [I imagined] that ended up on the track. For most songs that I would write, I’d go, ‘I’d like someone like this singer or that singer.’”
If you’re wondering who the other vocalists on her upcoming album are, you’re not alone. So far, Strauss has played the details extremely close to the vest. What she will discuss is the gear she used throughout.
Rig Rundown - Nita Strauss
“Live, for my solo band, I use a BOSS GT-1000 pedalboard,” she says. “But for my session work, it’s my Kempers, and the majority of the record is the same tones you hear onstage with the Kemper. Funny enough, it’s modeled from my previous processor, which is a Rocktron Prophesy. It’s not modeled from any amp in particular. It’s just pinched, pulled, massaged, and tweaked to be my own tone. When I switched over to Kemper, I couldn’t find anything I liked as much, so I hooked up the modeling software and modeled my processor. And it’s my signature Ibanez JIVAs across the board—all the gigs, all the time.”
Although she’s currently on tour with Demi Lovato, Strauss still considers herself part of Alice Cooper’s band. She joined the troupe of the veteran rocker, who gave her the nickname Hurricane Nita, in 2014.
Photo by Annie Atlasman
With the new record being done for quite some time and two successful singles already released, you might wonder, “Where’s the album?” Strauss says she is so busy with other projects that it’ll have to wait a while more. On top of her hectic solo career, she remains an active member of the Alice Cooper band, a spot she’s held since Orianthi’s departure in 2014. Sonically, she’s the perfect fit, and her stunning performances led Cooper to give her the nickname “Hurricane.” While Orianthi brought her fabulous blues/classic rock approach, Strauss’ style sounds custom-built for Cooper’s ’80s, ’90s, and current catalog. She’s such a fixture of the band that fans were stunned when she recently stepped out of Cooper’s tour to hit the road with pop mega-star Demi Lovato. (Meanwhile, guitarist Kane Roberts has returned to Cooper’s band.) Those fans, of course, quickly took to social media to voice their opinions.
How could a shred-metal hero go pop? “Easy,” says Strauss. “Demi is an absolute powerhouse of a vocalist and a performer. And I’m not gate-keeping rock like a lot of these people are. Demi had it made. She had everything she ever wanted as a pop star. She had no reason to go back to her original love of rock and heavy music unless she really wanted to. And, honestly, it’s a rock show, and a rock show is a rock show. I’m using my same guitars, my same rig.
“Demi is an absolute powerhouse of a vocalist and a performer. And I’m not gate-keeping rock like a lot of these people are.”
“When I got this opportunity, I went to Alice and talked to him face-to-face. I said, ‘I have this opportunity and I’d really like to do it, but it would conflict with our fall tour. What do you think?’ He said, ‘Go, I’m so excited for you. Take a break and if you want to come back, come back.’ And that was it. There was no I quit, I’m out, I’m finished. In my mind, I’m not any more or less a part of the band than I ever was.”
Lovato is touring with an all-female band that also includes bass player Leanne Bowes, keyboardist Danielle McGinley, and drummer Brittany Bowman. Strauss sees it as an opportunity to bring great rock to a new audience. “There are so many people to inspire at any show,” Strauss says. “Maybe one person every single night will look at Britt, or look at me, or Leanne, or Demi and go, ‘I want to do that! I went to a Demi Lovato show, and now I want to get a guitar for Christmas instead of a video game console.’ That’s what it’s all about.”
How Nita Strauss Gets Huge Tones with No Amp
Strauss knows what she’s talking about. She remembers when she was the one watching her guitar heroes rocking millions of fans. “Jennifer Batten was a big one! Seeing a girl standing up there with the big boys, in the big gig, playing the Super Bowl, playing the biggest stage in the world, that was a big inspiration for me. She’s the best!” (Batten played with Michael Jackson as part of 1993’s Super Bowl XXVII halftime show.)
Fascinatingly, as the Los Angeles Rams’ official in-house guitarist—not the most common position in a football franchise—Strauss also regularly displays her prowess in the NFL. And she has a Super Bowl ring to prove it. But how does she balance a solo career, playing with classic rock royalty, sharing the stage with the biggest names in pop, and still be there for every snap of the football?“It’s definitely been challenging trying to keep everything straight in my head,” she admits. “But I love playing guitar as much as anyone going home from their jobs and picking up their guitars and playing. It is exhausting, but it doesn’t feel like work.”
Nita Strauss performs "The Show Must Go On": The 2019 She Rocks Awards
Rig Rundown: Puscifer
Musical scaffolder Mat Mitchell details how ’80s tech (Fairlight CMI) and design (headless guitars) have influenced the band’s sound and what modern gear he uses to approximate it.
Rut busting and reconstructing has probably been happening since the discovery of fire and advent of the wheel. Guitarists confront it each time they pick up a new instrument to avoid predictable patterns and tones. Premier Guitar contributor (and recent Rig Rundown subject) Pete Thorn has addressed this by suggesting several practices to approach our beloved 6 strings in a fresh perspective. And recently John Bohlinger recommended playing a different instrument to fertilize musical crops. But what does a guitar-playing producer and multi-instrumentalist do to shake things up for his band’s fourth album? Well, for Puscifer’s Mat Mitchell and the band’s 2020 release, Existential Reckoning, you go back in time 40 years to 8-bit synth sounds and the archaic sampling lurking inside the proto-digital Fairlight CMI.
“Part of [the appeal],” Mitchell told PG in a 2021 interview, “is the flow—the way that you work when you’re using these tools. It forces you to do things differently. They are very limited, and being creative within very set boundaries is really good.” And being the creative force he is, Mitchell found gold in the antiquated sounds and tech.
“They sound very unique,” he explains. “Of course, you can sample one and put it in a laptop, but it’s different. All the voices are separate hardware. When you hit a note, it is bouncing around between [processor] cards, so you can hit a note five times and it may sound different all five times. There are all these little things that affect the way it sounds when you’re performing, which is a very different sound from what you get when you sample.”
But he would never tour with this digital dino, so how does Mitchell recreate 8-bit tones in a performance setting? Thankfully, moments ahead of the audience filling the pews of Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium, Puscifer’s aural architect welcomed PG’s Chris Kies for a chat about how Existential Reckoning’s inspiration took him back to the future, and how his live rig has metamorphized and been miniaturized with contemporary gear to realistically represent those superannuated sounds.
Brought to you byD’Addario XPND Pedalboard.
While recording Existential Reckoning, Mitchell relied heavily on a Steinberger GL2T. Not wanting to tour with it, he tapped Kiesel Guitars to build him a few custom Type-X models for the road. This bodacious beauty has a swamp ash body, a 3-piece walnut/maple neck with thru construction, an early version of Seymour Duncan’s first AlNiCo 2 Stack Tele pickup, and a fixed bridge. All his guitars take D’Addario EPN115 XL Pure Nickel strings (.011–.048). It’s worth noting the usual curvy contours and bevels found on a standard Kiesel Type-X were removed by request from Mitchell, who prefers hard-edged instruments like his prized Esquire. Another mentionable mod is the seemingly straight-ahead 3-way pickup selector (bridge, right?) that rolls the tone all the way off (middle) for when Mitchell grabs an EBow and a slight Q-notch filter (neck) for lead or chordal stuff that he wants tucked under. When it’s in the standard bridge position it bypasses the tone circuit. This wiring and tonewood collection are found on all three Type-Xs we’ll see.
X Marks the Spot
Here’s another Kiesel Type-X, but this one has a Seymour Duncan Antiquity Tele single-coil. Besides the radical visuals these instruments add to the band’s stage production, part of the choice was pragmatic because the lightweight, headless design allows Mat to swing the guitar off his shoulder in a split second and control the Waldorf Iridium synth engine for Existential Reckoning jams.
Above is Mitchell’s third Type-X Kiesel. He mentions in the Rundown that “once you give me a guitar, I don’t like to give it back,” so if he has it his way, he’ll start and finish the show with the same X.
“There’s a few reasons we shifted to the Axe-Fx III,” admits Mitchell. “First, we have enough songs that our rig was getting bigger, more complex, and it had more failure points. We also wanted a clean stage, so there’s no amps, no cabs, no pedalboards onstage, and that’s why on this run we’re now using wireless, too.” Most of his patches are based around either a Mesa/Boogie Mark II C+ (dirty) or Vibro-King (clean). The band enjoys free-range stage access with Shure Axient AD4Q units.
His only guitar-specific hardware outside the Axe-Fx III is this DigiTech FreqOut, to help Mitchell stir up a funnel of feedback.
Fear the Gear
Here’s the bulk of the gear used during the recording of Existential Reckoning and the corresponding Live at Arcosanti album, performed in the depths of the Arizona desert. Starting on the left is the Steinberger GL2T, then a pair of shots of the Fairlight CMI digital synthesizer, sampler and digital audio workstation. Below that is his Fender Custom Shop Esquire reissue and Mesa/Boogie Mark II C+, and the bottom row shows Mitchell’s choice stomps: ZVEX Fuzz Factory, Fulltone OCD, Electro-Harmonix Micro POG, Boss VB-2 Vibrato, Boss FZ-2 Hyper Fuzz, and Radial SGI. The lower-right shows a pair of Oto Machines (BOUM Warming Unit and BIM 12-Bit Delay).