Rig Rundown: The Aristocrats 
Guthrie Govan reveals a new signature Charvel and experiences the digital modeling bath. Plus, bass behemoth Bryan Beller reconnects with old friends and displays his “low - rent” Geddy Lee setup.
“Supergroup” is a tired, overused term in music. However, when musical aces like guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Bryan Beller, and drummer Marco Minnemann jam… they are an unrivaled force of nature.
Each player has a remarkable resume: Govan has worked with Steven Wilson, Hans Zimmer, and Asia; Beller with Satriani, Vai, Dethklok, and Dweezil Zappa; and Minnemann with the Mute Gods, Trey Gunn, H-Blockx, and Mike Keneally—among many others.
What makes a supergroup novel is generally the collective’s previous endeavors and collaborations. The magic with these three cats is that their superpowers combine to become a flashy and fluent highflying act.
Formed unceremoniously for a performance at the 2011 Anaheim NAMM Show, this tremendously talented trio has released nine albums (five studio and four live) in 11 years. The attraction for both the audience and the band is the same: variety. In any given performance, you can hear them shift from Return to Forever to Yes to King Crimson to Vai to Rage to Funkadelic to moments of deranged Zappa.
“We’ve been a pretty strange, eclectic band to begin with, as the music we do tips our hats to a lot of different styles,” notes Govan. “All I’ve ever done over the years I’ve been playing guitar is to just listen to everything around me and absorb the aspects of it that I liked. I’ve never felt an urge to specialize. I’m happy to keep combining whatever flavorings I like and rolling them all together.” The result: These three executive chefs put on a spicy clinic that would even please Gordon Ramsay.
The Aristocrats’ headlining 2022 run landed at Nashville’s City Winery on July 27. Before the musical throwdown commenced, PG’s Chris Kies hosted conversations that covered Beller’s booming setup, including some old favorites and recovered friends (via social-media sleuthing), while Govan focused on detailing the slight-but-crucial changes to his signature Charvel and explaining his live tonal evolution—modernized with an all-encompassing Fractal Audio unit.
Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.
The Red Baron
It’s been 23 years since Bryan Beller first picked up a 1998 Mike Lull Modern 5 Jazz Bass and it’s been his No. 1 ever since. As the legend goes, Beller found a Modern 5 at the old SWR Bass Amplification factory soundroom. He loved it so much he took it to a Mike Keneally gig at the famous Baked Potato jazz club in Los Angeles, and he never brought it back. It’s worth noting that his original Modern 5 bass was stolen (among others) from Beller’s gear storage in the winter of 2016, so the above model is another M5 built in 1998 that he acquired after the raid.
Beller’s thoughts on the red rider, as listed on Mike Lull’s website: “I fell in love with it because it's an aggressive rock-flavored 5-string jazz bass. The ash body, maple top, maple fingerboard, vintage late-’60s-flavored Seymour Duncan pickups, and original-spec Bartolini preamp combined for a bright jazz bass that did everything right. I can play clean, clear pop/rock and R&B on it. I can make it bark if I get on it harder, and it reacts incredibly well to overdrive effects for the Tim Commerford/Rage Against The Machine vibe. And the playability from the 1st to 24th fret is second to none.” (Detail-oriented viewers may notice the pickups have “Basslines” listed on their cover, but originally Seymour Duncan manufactured their bass offerings under that name. They have since dissolved Basslines as a brand and welcomed bass pickups under the Seymour Duncan umbrella. Beller’s pickups are technically Basslines 67/70 Jazz Bass 5 String single-coils.)
Additionally, the bass has an original Bartolini NTMB preamp. (This is not the modern, updated versions denoted as the NTMB+F or NTMB+FL, for fretted or fretless setups). All his instruments take D’Addario EXL170-5 Nickel Wound Bass strings (.045–.130) with a tapered-core B-string. He prefers to use steels and lets them die to give his sound a rounder, thicker tone rather than simply using a standard set of flatwounds.
And finally, bassists can own their very own tone monster as Lull offers a pair of signature models based on this serendipitous partnership.
“This is a passive Mike Lull PJ5 and it has a completely different purpose,” states Beller. “It has an alder body with a rosewood fretboard so it has a dark, chocolate-y thing.” The PJ5 has a smoother, more even tone allowing Beller to nimbly walk the neck.
Spacing Is Key
Above is a pre-Gibson 1986 Tobias Basic 5-string that he purchased in 1990 from lifelong guitar nut and notable luthier Paul Slagle. (Slagle passed away in 2020.) Beller used it while attending Berklee College of Music in Los Angeles and on his audition (and eventual gig) for Dweezil and Ahmet Zappa’s band Z—until it was stolen from his North Hollywood apartment on New Year’s Eve 1994. Yet another social-media post proved fruitful as he was able to reconnect with this lavish 5-string built primarily from lacewood. This is the first time he’s taken it on tour since 1994.
For the Aristocrats set, he uses it for the song “Last Orders” off their 2019 album You Know What...? The song requires extreme finger stretches and extended chordal grabs made accessible by the Basic’s compact string spacing.
Bryan Beller's Pedalboard
Starting in the top right corner, Beller has a pair of Xotic EP Boosters (currently he’s only using one) to help bring up the output of his two passive basses to match the red Lull. This is a workaround on Beller’s end, so FOH is getting unity gain from his signal no matter the instrument. Next you see the Demeter Opto Compulator that’s always on. Then the fun starts with a TC Electronic Hall of Fame reverb, Boss CE-2B Bass Chorus, Boss DD-3 Digital Delay, and a TC Electronic Flashback delay/looper.
In the bottom left corner, we have the classic brown-box Boss OC-2 Octave (“the greatest octave pedal ever made”) and an Xotic Bass BB Preamp (his main overdrive). The Darkglass Electronics Vintage Microtubes and MXR M109S Six Band EQ are used in conjunction for a beefier Rat sound. Then there’s an Electro-Harmonix Micro POG (newest addition to the board) set to an octave up. And an old DigiTech Bass Driver that works behind the Bass BB Preamp and often runs into the Dunlop 105Q Cry Baby Bass Wah Pedal (white), giving the vocal-like sweeps more definition and prominence. Off to the left side, Beller has a Dunlop DVP3 Volume (X) Volume and Expression pedal. And a Boss TU-2 Chromatic Tuner keeps his basses in check.
"Low-Rent Geddy Lee"
Beller has incorporated the Behringer FCB1010 MIDI controller into his rig so he can provide some “low-rent Geddy Lee” moments in the set via a Roland JV-1010 64-Voice Synth Module.
"Low-Rent Geddy Lee"
Beller has incorporated the Behringer FCB1010 MIDI controller into his rig so he can provide some “low-rent Geddy Lee” moments in the set via a Roland JV-1010 64-Voice Synth Module.
Using the Raven Labs Model MDB-1 mixer/direct box/buffer for his pedals (no effects loop, kids) and running the Roland JV-1010 into his amps allows Beller to employ both his bass and the synth module at the same time. He feels if the JV-1010 was running just through the monitors it would sound unnatural and get lost in the mix.
His three-amp pairing includes a trio of Gallien-Krueger heads. In the top-left slot sits a first-generation GK MB Fusion (500W) that acts as the universal preamp coloring the entire rig. (The MB Fusion on the right stack is just a spare.) The MB Fusion is split two ways. The bottom-right head is a Gallien-Krueger 2001RB that hits a duo of Gallien-Krueger CX410 cabs (top set on each side). The other side of the MB Fusion runs into GK 1001RB that hits a pair of Gallien Krueger CX410 cabs cabs on the bottom of each side.
A Dream Instrument
Guthrie Govan has been with Charvel for nearly a decade. He’s developed two signature models and here is the brand-new chapter. The Guthrie Govan MJ San Dimas SD24 CM features a basswood body with an ash cap (based on the San Dimas Style 1 silhouette), caramelized maple for the neck, and a fretboard with 24 jumbo stainless-steel frets, a 25.5" scale, and a 12-16" compound radius fretboard. (The previous model had a caramelized flame maple neck and fretboard.)
“The purpose of an instrument like this is to have a dream instrument where you get called to go somewhere to do a session or to do a gig and you have no idea what will be expected of you,” Govan says in a Charvel promo video. “Can you hop on the airplane with one guitar confident that it will actually be able to deliver whatever the people at the other end will need? This was the quest of the process.”
A new feature first found on this sig is the freshly designed Recessed Charvel Locking Tremolo bridge (without a locking nut) that was created from the ground up with Govan’s input. The use of the simpler Graph Tech TUSQ XL nut allows GG to make quick changes to and from standard and drop-D tunings, and avoids getting his left-hand bitten by the locking nut when he gets a little carried away. The SD24 CM’s pickups were dialed in by designer Michael Frank-Braun (the mastermind behind Eric Johnson’s signature pickups) and are constructed in Korea. The 5-way selector has an unusual layout that avoids engaging the middle single-coil without either the bridge humbucker’s inner coil or the neck’s outer coil. The standard middle (or third position) engages the outer coils of each humbucker. Both of his Charvels take D’Addario NYXL strings (.011–.052) and this one typically rides in drop-D tuning.
While you’ll see the original “fancier” model in the next slide, it’s worth mentioning the “simplified” Japanese-made guitar just earned a Premier Gear Award in our September 2022 issue.
It's "Christmas Time"
Here’s his first namesake instrument—the Guthrie Govan USA Signature HSH Flame Maple. Similarly to the SD24, the body on this one is basswood, but the original comes with a flame maple top. The initial iteration also offered an option for a caramelized ash body. This one has Charvel’s custom MF pickups. It tends to be saved for standard tuning. Having a gigbag that can tote two guitars with operational floating trems is, as Guthrie says: “Christmas time.
The USA Guthrie Govan model included an Allparts Tremol-No clamp that has three options of functionality. Position one allows the tremolo to work as intended. The second setting locks the tremolo so it won’t move at all. And in the third spot, the bridge stays solid and stable for dropped tunings.
Couldn’t Bear To Play with Another
Ever notice Guthrie Govan doesn’t throw picks around like most rockers? Well, that’s because he generally travels with just three of his signature Red Bear picks. (They retail for $35 per pick.) His preferred plectrum is based around the company’s Big Jazzer shape, in an extra-heavy gauge with grips and a speed bevel. Additionally, on the top of the rounded edge you’ll find serration much like a dime or sixpence.
Whether it’s been flanking Steven Wilson or tangoing with the Aristocrats, Govan has been an amp-and-pedalboard guy. He’s had long ties with the British valve hounds at Victory. (In a 2019 interview with PG, he noted preferring the V30 MKII.) However, things shifted when he began working with legendary composer Hans Zimmer. For the scope and span of that gig, he needed to welcome the digital bath that is modeling since everyone uses in-ear monitors and a lone-wolf guitarist could never dream of overshadowing an orchestra in that environment. Alas, Guthrie’s dance with digital began. Through the shutdown, he collaborated often with Hans on several film scores and found boundless creativity within the Fractal Audio FM9. (He mentions in the Rundown that for one part of Dune he used 32 layers of detuned Axe-Fx patches to create a bagpipe sound.)
“I became more comfortable with this digital world, so I thought let’s see what it can offer me in a more traditional rock-n-roll context,” admits Govan. “As it turned out, our set has been evolving a little bit and it’s proving harder to get one amp and one cab to sound just right for each of those pastiche things that we like to do. With this (looks down at the FM9), I can bring 10 amps and 10 cabs on the plane [laughs].”
The Fuzzy Octavulator takes the much-loved Fuzzulator circuit and adds an independent, vintage-sounding octave-up circuit that ranges from authentic Hendrix-esque Octavia tones and beyond.
All clips played through a 1969 Fender Super Bassman into an Avatar 2x12 loaded with Celestion V30s.
Guitarists prone to gear lust can quickly lose themselves (and perhaps their savings) perusing the wide ranging product catalog of products by Demeter Amplification. Their history, which spans more than 30 years, is marked by several classic products including their iconic VTMP-2 Tube Microphone Preamp and an assortment of custom-order preamps for guitarists and bassists. In 2005 they released the critically acclaimed FUZ-1 Fuzzulator. Now they’ve introduced the Fuzzy Octavulator, which takes the much-loved Fuzzulator circuit and adds an independent, vintage-sounding octave-up circuit that ranges from authentic Hendrix-esque Octavia tones and beyond.
The compact Fuzzy Octavulator is powered via a 9V battery or a 9V DC tip-positive mini-plug. Its neon green painted metal chassis, which would be pretty hard to miss on a pedal board in the worst light, rests on rubber feet and is lettered in black silkscreen. Two lights (orange for Fuzz, blue for Octave) indicate the status of the independent, true-bypassed circuits and are toggled by independent footswitches. The Fuzz circuit is on the left side of the pedal. Its features include three rotary controls for Fuzz, Tone and Volume, and a mini-toggle for Tight or Loose operation. There is also a master gain control for the Fuzz that can be adjusted inside the unit. The Octave circuit has no controls—it’s either on or off. An internal trim pot labeled Balance ensures the Octave effect will produce an symmetrical octave waveform. The trim pot was not perfectly aligned with the access hole when I received the pedal, but opening up the pedal I was able to gently push the circuit board slightly and center the pot.
Inside the Octavulator I was pleased to find an extremely tidy wiring job connecting hand-soldered components. I also noticed extensive use of rubber shrink wrapping to ensure the prevention of short-circuiting of critical components. A 9V battery fit snuggly in place and no components rattled inside once the unit was closed and ready to rock. Overall, the components and construction are to Demeter’s usual high standards.
Putting the Octavulator between my Gibson SG and late ’60s silverface Fender Twin Reverb I engaged the Fuzz circuit, set the controls (Fuzz, Tone, Volume) at noon, and the toggle to Tight. I was welcomed by a mid-range rich, slightly compressed, classic rock overdrive that instantly prompted a run of Jimmy Page riffs. The high end was little fuzzy but controlled in a way that enabled excellent pick attack dynamics and percussive but left note decays free from lingering distortion. Regardless of where you dial in the Tone knob, the Octavulator tends to have a big bottom end when the fuzz circuit is engaged.
It only took a few seconds of riffing in this initial setting to realize what a well-engineered fuzz this is. While it’s not a fuzz that takes you to over-the-top noise rock realms, it’s fantastic for big-to-dirty sounds ranging from hard rock overdrive to fuzzy distortion. Rolling up the Fuzz control produces dirty Muff-like distortion. And even at extreme settings the overall sound has a noteworthy balance—never abrasive in the highs or too noisy. Players who prefer a darker fuzz will find the Tone control exceptionally effective. The pedal also cleaned up nicely when I rolled back the output of my humbuckers.
The Loose/Tight mini-toggle on the side of the unit switches the clipping devices between germanium Diodes (Loose) and LEDs (Tight), each device with its own fuzz characteristics. Switching to Tight gives higher output, a boosted high-end and is slightly more compressed and modern sounding. On the other hand, Loose mode is dark and punchy, and more vintage-sounding. Even if you have no need for an Octave function the Fuzz circuit alone makes this pedal a monster.
The Octave circuit is straightforward but exceptionally well executed. I started by disengaging the Fuzz circuit with the Gibson in hand. The Octave circuit is not just a simple, single octave-up mixed 50/50 alongside your dry signal. There is a touch of intentional grime in this circuit that pays tribute to the wilder nature of some of the earliest octavers, and remarkably, Demeter gets that highly sought-after dirt in the signal without the typical noise that you’d expect. Even with the typically noisier single coils in my Fender Stratocaster failed to provide any significant increase in noise. Though the traditional use of an octave-up effect is to enhance solo work, the Octavulator’s octave effect adds a conservative amount of octave-up signal so that even chords can be played without turning your tone into a muddled sonic mess. The octave signal itself is blended lightly and tastefully into the overall mix, playing a secondary, complementary role to the root signal.
With both the Fuzz and Octave circuits engaged, the huge low end present in the Fuzz circuit is reduced to a bit thinner overall sound. In this case, I found that switching the Fuzz circuit into Loose mode and rolling off some of the high end brought back the punch required for the Hendrix-style lead work that is typical when using an octave-up effect.
The expertly balanced, vintage-sounding Octavulator is an excellent complement to Demeter’s already smooth and dynamic fuzz/distortion circuit. Players that love Jimi’s trademark octave tones will likely find a wealth of usable tones within—all spiced with a very elusive and vintage-sounding grit. But in tandem with the Fuzz, there are a lot of fresh octave tones to explore too. Like most Demeter gear, it’s built to last, which will cost you a little extra. But if octave tones are a priority, this pedal is a can’t-miss proposition.
you’re excited by the mixture of smooth fuzz with an old-school octave-up.
you prefer modern distortion tones.
Street $299 - Demeter Amplification - demeteramps.com
Demeter Amplification Compro-1 Compulator Pro Pedal Review
Demeter''s Compulator is a useful compressor that gives you more of what you love
|Download Example 1|
Max compression and volume for sustain, Epiphone Sheraton
|Download Example 2|
JCM 800-style distortion with extra compression for leveling, Epiphone Sheraton
|Download Example 3|
Direct clean sound with added delay, Strat
|All clips recorded with the guitar into the Compulator straight into Axe FX Ultra|
At one point or another, most guitarists have
used a compressor to level out dynamics or
produce singing sustain. Country guitarists
love compression for clean chicken pickin’,
and funk guitarists live and die by the spank
that comes from a highly squeezed signal.
If you’ve never played with a compressor
before, you owe it to yourself to plug in and
discover how it can draw out more tone from
both your guitar and amp.
With the Compulator Pro, James Demeter has
brought sophisticated studio compression to
stompbox users. Whereas many stomp compressors
keep it simple, offering only compression
and volume knobs, Demeter has squeezed
controls from high-end rack compressors into a
package guitarists can use in front of their amp.
Housed in a yellow metal case, the Compulator
Pro looks sharp and feels solid. The pedal sports
four knobs: Attack, Release, Compress, and
Volume. Below the controls are a true-bypass
footswitch and a bright blue LED that tells you
when the compressor is active. The unit runs on
a 9-volt battery or an optional power supply.
In addition to standard 1/4" input and output
jacks, the Compulator Pro has a High/Low
Gain switch, which is connected to a recessed
trimpot that lets you dial in a preset amount
of boost. The trimpot is accessible with a small
screwdriver along the unit’s left-hand side, and
it’s set to 20 dB of boost at the factory.
The pedal’s compression circuit is based on
a photocell, a design borrowed from vintage
studio compressors. Because of its big, natural
sound, optical compression has been a favorite
of studio engineers for decades—but it isn’t
often found in stompboxes. Attack and Release
controls let you adjust how fast the compressor
turns on and off. The unit also includes a
Volume control for making up the gain you may
have lost after compressing your signal.
The Compulator Pro gives you a lot of flexibility
to sculpt sound, but such flexibility often makes
a device more challenging to operate. To learn
how easy or hard it would be to dial in great
tone, I ran the pedal through a variety of tests.
To begin with, I plugged a Les Paul with
Sheptone AB Specials into the Compulator Pro
and then directly into a Creation Audio Labs
MW1 Studio Tool. The MW1 is a Swiss Army
knife for D.I. signals and reamping, and it offers
the cleanest way I know of to get a guitar signal
into Pro Tools without coloring the sound.
After setting the Compulator’s controls to
noon and engaging the footswitch, I realized
those settings are quite extreme and significantly
lowered my overall volume. Playing an
open-E chord and letting it ring, I could hear
the sound trigger the compressor, get pulled
down in volume, and then slowly ramp up as
the Compulator pushed the gain higher in
response to the fading notes. As I listened, I
was impressed that the Compulator Pro added
no extra noise—its circuit is dead quiet.
Wanting a less obvious compression effect, I
pulled Attack and Release down to 9 o’clock
and repeated the drill with the E chord. At
these settings, the sound was much smoother.
Though I knew the compressor was operating,
it was virtually undetectable. The attack and
the release were so smooth I couldn’t hear the
make-up gain coming into play.
With that in mind, I fully cranked the Compress
knob and experienced nearly infinite sustain.
Remember, this is with a completely clean
signal. This setting reduced the overall level,
but a quick twist of the Volume control easily
remedied that. However, I should note that at
extreme compression settings, you may not get
back all your volume (that is, the volume you’d
have if the effect were bypassed)—even if the
Volume control is maxed.
Next, I plugged the Compulator Pro into a
65Amps Tupelo combo. With the pedal off, I
adjusted the Tupelo for a fat, clean sound and
then stomped on the Compulator. With its
previous settings, the pedal instantly made my
sound thicker and larger. The tonality didn’t
change—the Compulator simply delivered
a better version of the same sound. Again,
I found the pedal to be quite transparent at
these settings, and I heard all the nuances of
my playing being amplified and controlled in a
Switching to a Fender American Standard
Strat, I was able to dial in some serious
quack. Because the Strat’s single-coils have
less output than the Les Paul’s humbuckers,
I flipped the Gain switch to High and got all
the signal I needed. I had the sense that playing
my guitar was easier with the pedal than
without it. Leveling out the dynamics made
me feel like I was on steroids—everything
was powerful and smooth.
To test out the Compulator Pro’s singing
qualities, I kicked up the volume and
gain on the Tupelo and let it rip. With the
Compression backed down to about 3
o’clock, the pedal set to a fast attack and
slow release, the sound turned into a wild
sustain fest! Notes spilled effortlessly from my
Strat and transitioned into blooming and very
musical feedback. Switching back to the Les
Paul was like letting the bull loose. I still had
effortless sustain, but it was coupled with a
thicker, more distorted tone. By backing off
the Attack knob, I discovered I could create a
reverse-guitar effect and a sucking sound that
reminded me of a tape flipped backward.
This pedal offers a lot of sonic variety.
I continued experimenting with various settings
and different guitars. Ultimately, I found
that while the Compulator Pro has more knobs
than most stompbox compressors, it was hard
to dial in a bad sound. Demeter has somehow
found a way to give you options without making
it difficult to get a great sound, and that’s
quite a feat. My only niggle was that I found
it possible to distort the pedal with high-gain
active pickups. But this only happened on the
first note—before the compressor had a chance
to clamp down on the signal. And, again, it
didn’t happen with passive pickups. (James
Demeter says users who experience distortion
because of high-gain pickups can safely operate
the unit at 12 volts for more headroom, or
they can send the unit in to be modified for less
overall gain at no charge other than shipping
fees. “As with all things,” he says “there was a
compromise. The stock unit was designed for
99 percent of the guitars out there.”)
I won’t lie—I’m not usually a fan of compressors
in my guitar signal chain. Most compressors
tend to squash the signal in a way that sounds
too obvious to my ears and diminishes my
tone. The Compulator Pro is really the polar
opposite of that. This pedal makes everything
feel better, and what comes out of it is simply
a bigger, badder version of what went into it.
Armed with the Compulator Pro, you’ll never
get washed out in the band. Just twist a few
knobs, and you’ll sound loud and proud, with
soaring lead lines and bristling harmonics.
you want more of what you love in your tone.
tightening up your dynamic range isn’t compelling.
Street $309 - Demeter Amplification - demeteramps.com