His amps fetch eye-popping sums, and the stories are legendary. Dumble’s friends share their memories of a true musical visionary.
Howard “Alexander” Dumble was about as close to a guitar mystic as you can get. He was an eccentric recluse as well known for the mythology surrounding his creations as for the amplifiers themselves. The list of players who have relied on his amps carves a through line of the history of modern electric guitar styles. Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jackson Browne, Robben Ford, Eric Johnson, John Mayer, Sonny Landreth, Joe Bonamassa, and dozens of other A-listers found their sound through a Dumble amp. On January 17th, Dumble passed away at his home in Turlock, California.
Not many people really knew Dumble on a close personal level. Considering his aversion to interviews and media, he could have probably passed through any Guitar Center relatively unnoticed. But Larry Thomas, former CEO of Fender and Guitar Center, was a close friend. “The definition of a genius is someone who knows more about a subject than anyone else. His genius was being able to turn what he heard in your playing into an amp that made it better.” And that skill goes far beyond the schematic.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd remembers when he brought an amp to the workshop for repair: “After popping open the circuit he would jump around with a multimeter and would almost instantly know how to fix it. There are probably other amp techs that would understand those readings, but Dumble was the only one in the world who knew what those readings should be.”
“I think his greatest satisfaction came from creating technology that translated into art by the individual artists he specifically tweaked his designs for.” – Sonny Landreth
In the mid 1960s, while still a teenager, Dumble got a job designing amps for Mosrite. Semie Moseley was impressed by the talented youngster and proposed a partnership. “He offered to go in with me to build 10 amplifiers. He bought the parts and paid me $90 a week—for about four weeks, and then I had to work for free,” Dumble told Guitar Player in a 1985 interview. The Ventures were one of Mosrite’s biggest endorsees and caught wind of the new amps but declined to use them. Dumble said, “It was a little too much rock for them.” These piggyback amps might be the rarest Dumble creations of all and it’s believed that only one or two are still in existence. In the late-’60s, a lengthy tour playing bass for Canadian singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie (who was unaware at the time of his talent for creating amps) helped Dumble open his first workshop.
There was an ad-hoc audition process if a player wanted to commission a Dumble amplifier. In order to even get the opportunity to meet with the builder, a player would need a recommendation from someone in Dumble’s trusted circle. Then, if they were invited, the audition could be simply playing for him during a casual hang, or he might ask for a CD. “Alexander really only wanted to make amplifiers for the very best players in the world,” says Thomas. It didn’t seem like fame was a deciding factor either—Dumble would turn down requests from big-name players. “He treated his amps like they were his children,” says Bruce Forman. Back in 2019, Forman brought Dumble a 1966 Fender Vibrolux for his two most popular mods: RockFonicks and Ultra-Phonix. “He wanted them out there making music.”
Each amp Dumble created was carefully and painstakingly crafted to accentuate the best parts of the owner’s style.
Photos courtesy of Bruce Forman
Many times, the only real proof that an amp had been “Dumble-ized” would be a handwritten tag written by the man himself.
Those lucky enough to pass the “audition” and spend time with Dumble would often comment on his amazing touch on the instrument. During one of his visits to Dumble’s shop, Shepherd found himself on the receiving end of a subtle guitar lesson. “He would always ask permission to show me stuff,” remembers Shepherd. These gentle “lessons” would inevitably lead to impromptu jam sessions—some of which Shepherd recorded for his own benefit. “If I didn’t record those licks he showed me, I would have forgotten them 30 minutes later.”
The one guitarist who’s most synonymous with the sound of a Dumble is Robben Ford. For nearly 40 years, Ford has been the caretaker of an Overdrive Special that, in his hands, has become the benchmark for classic Dumble tones. His latest live album, Live at Yoshi’s ’96, became an unintentional tribute—not only are the tones visceral and huge, but the cover features a plain image of the most famous Overdrive Special around. Ford purchased the head for $1,200 when Dumble was set up at The Alley in North Hollywood. “Alexander told me that watching me play my early ’60s Fender Bassman inspired him to create the Overdrive Special,” remembers Ford. With the rise of Ford’s career in the ’80s and ’90s, word began to spread about Dumble’s builds—and his eccentricity. “One of the final tests Dumble would do on amps would be to remove the tubes and drop it out of a three-story window. If it worked after that he knew it was finished,” mentions Ford.
“He was a mystery, to all of us.”– Robben Ford
About 10 years after obtaining the first Overdrive Special, Ford put in an order for another one to keep in Europe. Originally, this was going to be a 50-watt model because Ford was looking for ways to keep the stage volume down, but that didn’t last long. “Turns out I was addicted to 100 watts in a live situation,” says Ford. “How do you get headroom and tone? Dumble.” Several years ago, Ford was going through a divorce, moving to Nashville, and was looking to sell the second ODS. Knowing Dumble’s general dislike of the secondhand market for his amps, Ford reached out and brought up the idea, offering to split the proceeds. “He made this amp. I’m just the salesman,” said Ford. After agreeing to a 60/40 split, Dumble connected Ford with a buyer, who would occasionally help Dumble acquire components for his builds. “Dumble told me not to send a check and just have his cut be a ‘credit’ with the new owner. He was a mystery, to all of us.”
His off-the-grid lifestyle forced Dumble to frequently look at alternate payment arrangements with clients. One of the early users of his amps was singer/songwriter Christopher Cross, who was brought in by Bonnie Raitt. Cross and Dumble decided on two KT88-loaded heads (a first for Dumble at the time) with matching 2x12 cabinets in orange suede for a clean sound and an Overdrive Special with a 4x12 cab for a lead sound. Naturally, Cross needed a way to switch between sounds easily. The solution was based around a pair of Japan-made Strats that were modified by Valley Arts. Each guitar only had a middle and bridge pickup and was outfitted with a heavy-duty switch—imagine the massive switches on the back of vintage Fender amps. An oversized cord went to a blue two-space rack unit that housed mechanical relays to control which amp was engaged. “I really couldn’t afford to mess around with pedals at that time,” says Cross. At the time, Dumble was living in a house owned by Jackson Browne and Cross headed up there to pay for the custom relay box. “When I asked him what I owed him, he handed me a torn-out page from a Sears catalog,” recalls Cross. Dumble had circled a washer and dryer unit and told Cross that if he bought those for him, they were square.
Ben Harper pulls no punches when it comes to his amps. This one was the eighth Dumble ever made! He got it from one of his early mentors, David Lindley. The head runs into two 12" Celestion speakers, one housed in a tweed Glasswerks cab and the other is in the green Dumble combo.
Along with the tweed Twins, Joe Bonamassa runs a pair of Dumble Overdrive Special combos. This silverface model was built in 1980 and has been retrofitted with Bonamassa’s signtuare Celestion 85-watt speaker. This one is 50-watts, which Joe Bonamassa prefers over their 100-watt big brothers.
Several companies tried to partner with Dumble to bring his amps to a larger market. “He created an entire industry that he didn’t participate in. Alexander never cashed in on that. He steadfastly had a code of conduct he lived by until the very end,” says Joe Bonamassa, who currently has a stash of four Overdrive Specials and a Fender Vibrolux with the UltraPhonix mod in his collection. According to Bonamassa, Dumble is “by far the most innovative circuit designer of all time,” and he attributes the boutique amp boom to Dumble’s work.
Probably the closest Dumble ever got to working with a larger company was when Thomas pitched the idea of Fender licensing one of his designs. The two had a lot in common and shared a deep love for Leo Fender and his designs. Early discussions revolved around doing a Dumble-approved modded Twin or Deluxe Reverb. Thomas also mentions that pedals were also a possibility. “I have a few of the [amp] prototypes,” says Thomas. “Simply put, one roadblock was we couldn’t really figure out how to pay him.” After spending a few years on the project, it ran out of steam. Thomas last saw Dumble in October when they met for dinner the night before he moved to Turlock. “He was in a really good space,” says Thomas.
“His amps were superheroes.” – Henry Kaiser
“His wish was that once he was gone there would be no more Dumble amplifiers,” says Ford. “Most people want to leave behind a legacy, but he didn’t want that.” Health issues prevented Dumble from doing much work over the last six months of his life, but a few projects really excited him. Slash had recently connected with him for a build, and he was in talks to make an amp for Keith Richards.
During our talk, Larry Thomas held up a framed turret board populated with the components of an old Fender 5E3 Deluxe circuit. It was a Christmas gift from his friend, Alexander Dumble. The solder joints were impeccable. Around back was an inscription describing how the Tru-Ohm resistors and Allen-Bradley capacitors had been carefully harvested from older amplifiers. Dumble’s handwriting—even carved in the back of a frame—is unmistakable. It was a work of art that he made for his friend celebrating their shared love of a particular old amp.
Alexander Dumble’s contributions—both direct and indirect—will stand alongside names like Leo Fender and Jim Marshall. For years to come his designs will be analyzed, discussed, and copied, much like his heroes. Even though many will never get past the market price for his creations, Dumble might have said it best back in ’85, “There are hundreds, perhaps thousands or millions, of valid guitar tones. When the air becomes electric, that’s the right sound, no matter what the one is.”
Dumble Amps: 10 Guitarists on the Late Legend’s Designs
We recently combed through all the pedalboards we’ve seen in the last year of Rig Rundown video shoots to bring you the 10 most stacked rigs we’ve encountered across a range of genres.
We recently combed through all the pedalboards we’ve seen in the last year of Rig Rundown video shoots to bring you the 10 most stacked rigs we’ve encountered across a range of genres. When you’re done here, be sure to head over to our Facebook page, where we’re offering you a chance to win half of the ’boards detailed in this feature (the ones marked with a “Win It!” icon). Here’s the link: facebook.com/premierguitar
Dream Theater's John Petrucci
Signal Chain: Dunlop Cry Baby Rackmount > Keeley-modded Ibanez TS-9 > Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter > MXR EVH Flanger > Carl Martin Compressor/ Limiter. Powered by a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 with an Axess GRX4 loop system. Photo by Luke Viertel
Petrucci’s satellite pedalboard may seem the least stacked on the surface, but that’s because most of his firepower is packed in the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II that resides in the effects loop of his Mesa/Boogie Mark V amps. His guitar signal is split at a Framptone A/B box into either a Fishman Aura 16 into a DI (for acoustic) or into a Dunlop Cry Baby Rackmount wah before hitting the pictured satellite pedalboard on top of his rack.
“When we first built this rig, we did everything in the Axe-Fx, and he missed having pedals he could mess around with,” explained tech Matt “Maddi” Schieferstein.
The board is ever changing— particularly in the overdrive spot that was inhabited by a Keeley-modded Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer when we caught up with Dream Theater. “He’ll actually have me change it during the show sometimes,” Schieferstein told us. The Carl Martin Compressor/Limiter earned a place on Petrucci’s board after a big compressor shootout prior to the band’s “A Dramatic Tour of Events” fall 2011 tour. Schieferstein explained that in the end, the Carl Martin was chosen because Petrucci liked its compression and attack, without it being overpowering.
From the board, the signal goes into an interface that connects to Petrucci’s floor controller (an Axess Electronics FX-1), which controls the satellite board and the Axe-Fx II. Petrucci’s Axe- FX II is set with one preset that has a chorus, three delays, and a harmonizer set to his preferences. Also on the floor are a wah pedal, which controls the rackmount Cry Baby, an Ernie Ball Volume Pedal, and a Boss TU-2 tuner.
Watch the Rig Rundown:
Maroon 5's James Valentine
Signal Chain: Keeley Looper (sent to Providence Anadime Chorus > Electro-Harmonix Micro POG 2 > Keeley Katana Clean Boost) > Fulltone Octafuzz > Z.Vex Octane 3 > Dunlop Zakk Wylde signature wah > Fulltone Fulldrive 2 > Fulltone OCD > Menatone Blue Collar Overdrive > Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor > Axess BS-2 Buffer/Splitter (split out to Korg Pitchblack tuner) > Dunlop Rotovibe > Boss FV-500H volume pedal > Keeley-modded Line 6 DL4. Photo by Chris Kies
Though his board has perhaps the most effects of any that we saw on the road this year, Maroon 5 lead guitarist James Valentine uses many of them for single songs—or even just parts of a song. When we caught up with Valentine during Maroon 5’s summer 2011 Hands All Over tour, his more heavily used effects include a Fulltone OCD for leads and the Line 6 DL4 set with a slight delay and a more dramatic delay that he taps into the tempo of the songs, “for that Police-y sort of thing we do a lot.”
Valentine has three flavors of overdrive on his board—a Menatone Blue Collar, Fulltone OCD, and Fulltone Full- Drive—but usually gravitates back to the OCD. However, his pedal usage is not set in stone. “I kind of change it up because we play so many shows that sometimes I’ll solo on the [Fulltone] Octave Fuzz because you’ll find that that will inspire different sort of ideas. My sound guy would probably prefer if I played the same thing every night, [laughs] but it’s a little more fun to experiment.”
The Dunlop Rotovibe, which he calls his “favorite swirly-type of effect,” is his go-to for chorus tones, and after trying out a number of wahs, Valentine settled on the seemingly uncharacteristic Zakk Wylde wah. “I love Zakk Wylde’s playing, but I don’t really play anything like him,” he told us. “Every wah has a different sort of range it sweeps from, and this one had a particularly good range and just works for the type of stuff I use it for.” The wah can be heard heavily on the band’s hit, “Sunday Morning.”
Some of his less used pedals include the Z.Vex Octane 3, which is only used for about four bars on “Never See Your Face Again,” which he says “really breaks up,” and the Electro-Harmonix Micro POG which made its way to Valentine’s board for the single, “Give a Little More.” He uses the pedal in conjunction with the Providence Anadime Chorus for the intro section of the song, but has been inspired to find more ways to use it since adding it to the board. The POG and Chorus are run through the Keeley Looper to keep the chain clean. “As soon as you add anything else to your signal chain, you start to see your signal degrading,” he explains. Valentine and his tech, Mike Buffa, took great care to make sure the chain has as little signal degradation as possible.
Valentine controls volume with his Boss FV-500H, smoothes things out with a Keeley Katana, tunes with a Korg Pitchblack tuner, and powers the board with a trio of Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus units. One of his secret weapons is the Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor. “We have a lot of dramatic pauses,” he explains, “so if there’s that extra in between that, it’s annoying.”
Valentine also uses his pedalboard to control his two-amp setup. His Divided by 13 Switchazel and Matchless footswitch sit side-by-side so he can switch both amps from clean to dirty at the same time or set one clean and one dirty. Valentine told us, “If you see me during the show, I’m kind of tap dancing a lot—I probably should switch to some sort of MIDI system [laughs].”
Watch the Rig Rundown:
Wilco's Nels Cline
Top Signal Chain: Boss TU-2 tuner > Z.Vex Fuzz Factory> Fulltone DejáVibe> DigiTech Whammy > Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer > Boss VB-2 Vibrato > Bigfoot FX Magnavibe > Klon Centaur > Crazy Tube Circuits Starlight Overdrive > Crowther Hotcake > Fulltone ‘69 > Electro-Harmonix Pulsar > Crazy Tube Circuits Viagra Boost > Boss FV-500H volume pedal > Boss DD-3 delay > MXR Phase 45 > Boss DD-7 delay
“Sadly, happily, strangely, I seem to be known for using a lot of effects pedals,” Nels Cline told us. “For me, they’re like colors on a palette, and they’re not a gimmick.” Though the talented guitarist plays in a number of projects, we checked out his expansive setup for his most high-profile gig—lead guitarist for alt-rock band Wilco.
The keys to Cline’s sound are overdrive, compression, volume, and delay: “This is the exploded version of those parameters,” he explains. The volume pedal is particularly important for Cline, who was introduced to its usefulness in the ’70s through guys like Steve Howe and Robert Fripp. In addition to using it for violin sounds and bringing volume up and down, Cline—always the single-coil lover—also employs the volume pedal to defeat 60-cycle hum. “I just always have my foot on it,” he says. He uses a Boss FV-500H because it doesn’t break easily and is transparent.
The other key to his tone is the elusive Klon Centaur, which he relies on for lead work like the solos on “Impossible Germany” and “Ashes of American Flags.” The latter also employs his Boss VB-2 Vibrato and Electro- Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb.
Other favorites of Cline include the Fuzz Factory, which he describes as, “really strange and intense and uncontrollable,” and the Magnavibe, which he says is the only pedal that replicates the tone of an old Magnatone amp he records with. He pairs the Fuzz Factory with his DigiTech Whammy (set to two octaves down) and punishes the strings with a spring for end-of-the-world tones. Setting the Whammy between settings, resting his battered Jazzmaster on his amp, and working his Korg Kaoss Pad 2—generally used for tape delay effects—unlocks out-of-tune clusters and further wackiness.
Bottom Signal Chain: Signal Chain: Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man > Electro-Harmonix 16 Second Delay > Electro-Harmonix Ring Thing > Korg Kaoss Pad 2 > Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Plus. Photos by Rebecca Dirks
Cline pairs his Fulltone DejáVibe and Boss DD-7 for Band of Gypsies-style Hendrix tones (“Doesn’t come in that handy with Wilco,” he jokes), employs the Fulltone ’69 for germanium fuzz tones, and calls the Crazy Tube Starlight into action when old-school RAT tones are in order. His vintage Electro-Harmonix 16-Second Delay has been part of his sound for more than 25 years after Bill Frisell turned him onto it, and it’s always recording, used for looping on the fly.
Cline’s guitar tech, Eric Baecht, calls Cline’s second board—the collection of noisemakers situated on a table—the “science project,” and the description is apt for Cline’s approach to effects. He’s constantly playing and experimenting. “I have fun everywhere I go,” Cline told us.
The pedals are straight in line, no loops. When we asked Cline about it he explained, “It does degrade my sound … degradation is my sound. I’m not a purist about anything, so why would I be a purist about guitar tone?”
Watch the Rig Rundown:
Mastodon's Brent Hinds
Signal Chain: Boss TU-3 Tuner (split off), Ernie Ball volume pedal > Morley Bad Horsie wah > Boss GE-7 Graphic EQ > Morpheus DropTune > VMan Overdrive (custom) > Ibanez TS-808 > Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor > Boss DD-6 Digital Delay > Stereo Split Left (Boss RE-20 > Line 6 DL4 > Lee Jackson 4-Way Split > EbTech Hum Eliminator > Amps) OR Stereo Split Right (Boss RE-20 > Line 6 DL4 > Amp). Photo by Ken Settle
Hinds’ setup has been fairly constant, with the Line 6 DL4, Boss GE-7 Graphic EQ, Ibanez Tube Screamer, Boss DD-6 Digital Delay, and Boss RE-20 Space Echo comprising the band’s live tone for years. In 2009, Hinds added the Morpheus DropTune.
Hinds favors a TS-808 Tube Screamer with a JRC4558 chip for overdrive. He has a signature Monster Effects Mastortion pedal based on this version of the TS-808, but with more volume and low end. When we caught up with Hinds during the band’s tour in support of The Hunter, however, it was the trusty TS-808 on the board.
Photo by Chris Kies
Hinds described his approach to effects as simple: “Anything other than those effects or something with a lot of knobs and switches [laughs], I don’t know how to work! I want to be like Omar Rodr’guez-L—pez [guitarist of The Mars Volta and At the Drive-In] with tons of effects and pedals, but I don’t have the most patience in the world and I only have one foot to control my pedalboard.”
But he’s on his way. One newer addition to this board is the Morley Bad Horsie wah, used on the song “Dry Bone Valley.” Hinds joked, “Essentially, to be considered a bonafide guitarist you need to record one wah wah song … ‘Dry Bone Valley’ has this perfect swaggering, galloping vibe to the chorus and verses that leads right up the wah-solo perfectly.”
Of course, despite adding a pedal here and there, Hinds will likely never dive into a more complex setup and still prefers to get his chorus sounds a bit more naturally: with his 9- and 12-string guitars. He explains, “The octave strings create this ringing, atonal chorus effect unmatched by any chorus pedal. A 6-string and a pedal sounds stale in comparison.”
Primus' Ler Lalonde
Signal Chain: Maxon PH-350 Rotary Phaser, Strymon Ola dBucket Chorus and Vibrato, MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay, Fulltone Ultimate Octave, Dunlop UV1 Uni-Vibe, and Custom Dunlop Wah (half Slash signature, half Dimebag signature).
Primus guitarist Ler LaLonde’s creative use of effects has helped define the band’s unconventional sound since the beginning. And while the effects are called into action to recreate album tones, a big part of their duty is to aid the spacey jams that happen live.
Two of the keys to Primus’ sound include the Maxon Phaser and EBS OctaBass—both have been staples of his board for decades. “Basically, it’s whenever you want to sound like Gilmour, that’s the pedal,” says LaLonde of the Phaser, which is used on open jams, while the OctaBass is geared more toward old-school, Jimmy Page octave tones. Why a bass pedal? “I didn’t know any better,” he admits.
Top Board: Empress Tap Tremolo, TC Electronic Nova Delay, Haz Mu-Tron III+ (replica), and EBS OctaBass. Bottom Board: Electro-Harmonix Ring Thing and Radial Bones Twin-City ABY switcher. Photos by Jeremy Hauskins
LaLonde’s board has three delays—two MXR Carbon Copy pedals and a TC Electronic Nova Delay—each set for different uses. The first Carbon Copy is set for short delays like those in “Jilly’s on Smack,” and the second is set for soloing and tweaking out into wild, spacey jams. The Nova Delay is set for longer, swell-type delays suited to a cleaner digital sound.
Other song-specific pedals include the Strymon Ola Chorus used throughout “Moron TV” and a custom Dunlop Cry Baby used for the intro to “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers.” LaLonde had chased that tone live for some time. “I don’t know what I was using at the time,” he explained, “so we went through and tried all these pedals [at Dunlop] and they put together a custom one.” The wah is half Dunlop’s Slash signature model and half the company’s Dimebag signature model, and can be switched between the two.
This board also marks LaLonde’s first foray into distortion boxes with the Fulltone Ultimate Octave, used on “Hoinfodaman” for Neil Young-style breakup. The Mu-Tron III+ is a reproduction—“Sounds just like Garcia!” he enthused —and the Electro-Harmonix Ring Thing is on the board because, “Everybody has to have robot sounds.”
It’s not just tone he’s after, however. Quite the abusive stomper, LaLonde is always swapping pedals for more durable ones. The Ultimate Octave replaced an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, while the Nova Delay and Electro-Harmonix Ring Thing are routinely rotated with a Strymon Brigadier and Way Huge Ring Worm, respectively. Another crucial feature for LaLonde is tap tempo in time-based effects, due to the band’s jamming tendencies. “So many songs where we’re opening up, we’re jamming, tempos are changing,” he explains, “so it’s great to just tap it in and sort of get The Smiths sort of tremolo sound but in time.”
But what’s with the arrows? LaLonde’s approach to marking his settings is idiot-proof: set the knobs, then mark with an arrow that should always point straight up. However, he adds with a laugh, “As you can see, everything is usually pretty much maxed out and drastic, we’re not very subtle with the effects.”
Watch the Rig Rundown:
Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Signal Chain: MXR CAE wah > Boss TU-3 > Switcher Loop 1: Dunlop Uni-Vibe > Switcher Loop 2: MXR CAE wah circuit mounted inside board > Switcher Loop 3: Chicago Iron Tycobrahe Octavia (modern) > Switcher Loop 4: MXR Blue Box Fuzz > Switcher Loop 5: Analog Man King of Tone (newest version) > Switcher Loop 6: Ibanez Hand-Wired TS808 Tube Screamer > Switcher Loop 7: Analog Man Bi-Chorus > Switcher Loop 8: BK Butler Tube Driver (new model with Bias knob) > JAM Pedals Delay Llama. Photo by Michael Helweg
Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s board—recently rebuilt by custom builder Helweg Custom Pedalboards—is packed with all the bluesy goodness any Stevieand Jimi-inspired player could ask for. But the heart of his tone lies in the combination of a recentissue Analog Man King of Tone and stock Ibanez TS-808HW Tube Screamer. “It’s basically the sound of the amps and this King of Tone pedal and the Tube Screamer,” explains Shepherd. “Everything else is just for one or two songs here or there.”
Photo by Chris Kies
The King of Tone—which he called “one of the greatest overdrive pedals ever built”— has its low (red) and high (yellow) gain sides set similarly, but the real magic happens when you combine the two. “It’s over-the-top awesome,” he enthused. Shepherd adds in the TS-808HW for even thicker tones. “When you use the two together, it’s got everything to it,” he told us. “It’s got the fat low end, and the nice, sparkly, high ends, and it’s got a really nice midrange capability. I don’t really know of a better combination to be honest with you.”
Beyond this combination, which he says comprises 90 percent of his tone, Shepherd uses the Dunlop Uni-Vibe for the rhythm tone on “Blue On Black” and Hendrix songs, Electro- Harmonix POG 2 (with the King of Tone) for “Your Blues,” and the Analog Man Bi-Chorus (one side set slow for Leslie tones, the other slightly faster) for the band’s slow version of “Voodoo Chile Blues.” Shepherd, who has an original Tycobrahe Octavia for studio use, uses the Chicago Iron Octavia reissue for Hendrix songs as well, and calls it, “as accurate of a reissue as anything I’ve ever seen.” He gets his favorite tones by rolling off the tone slightly, stacking on a Tube Screamer, and hitting his Strat’s neck pickup.
Shepherd’s board actually contains two of his preferred Dunlop CAE Cry Baby wahs— one on the board, and one circuit set to a specific pot setting and mounted under the board for the song “Show Me the Way Back Home.” Shepherd prefers the CAE wah for its sweep and vocal qualities, and tends to stay on the yellow setting without the built-in overdrive.
The board is rounded out with a recent issue BK Butler Tube Driver, a JAM Pedals Delay Llama+ modified with an on/off instead of hold switch and tap tempo, and a Boss TU-3, which he also uses as a mute switch when switching guitars. Michael Helweg wired Shepherd’s board with two Voodoo Lab switchers and a Voodoo Lab Commander set with loop presets for controlling his pedal combinations.
Watch the Rig Rundown:
The Mars Volta's Juan Alderete
TC Electronic PolyTune > Boss CS-2 Compression Sustainer > Boss VB-2 Vibrato > Boss OC-2 Octave > DOD FX32 Meatbox SubOctave > Wren And Cuff Pickle Pie B > Earth- Quaker Devices Ghost Disaster Delay and Reverb > DigiTech PDS 20/20 > Boss PN-2 Tremolo/Pan > Pigtronix EP2 Envelope Phaser > (not pictured) Dwarfcraft Eau Claire Thunder > WMD Geiger Counter. Photo by Chris Kies
The Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodr’guez-L—pez and bassist Juan Alderete have long been known for having expansive pedalboard setups that border on extreme. Alderete admits that he once had a multi-station setup with one “standard” board, one dedicated to ring modulators and whammy effects, one stocked with micro-synths, and one with an array of delay pedals and flangers for tweaking on the fly. Alderete had slimmed down to this “economy version”— as had Rodr’guez- L—pez who had replaced many of his effects with a Line 6 M9—for their summer tour with Soundgarden.
Part of the reason for slimming down, he explained, was because the band was playing shorter sets and weren’t employing lengthy soundscape breaks between songs, during which he would tweak away at his effects. In fact, he says, “All these are pretty stationary.” His Earthquaker Devices Ghost Disaster Delay and Reverb is one of the few pedals that still gets hefty tweaking during a set. Alderete appreciates the two-in- one quality when it comes to pedalboard space, but also praises the effect for its tone. “It’s a great sounding delay, but the reverb is really cool, too,” he says. “I love a dub bass line with the flatwounds.”
Alderete’s vast pedal collection came in handy when he surrounded himself with three pedalboards. Photo by Juan Alderete
Because he’s using flatwounds, he’s also more selective about which effects he employs—not all effects come through the same. The Pigtronix Envelope Phaser is one of his preferred effects with flatwounds, and he often pairs it with the discontinued Boss VB-2 Vibrato.
Always in use on the board is Alderete’s trusty Boss CS-2 Compression Sustainer. This pedal has been a staple since his days with Racer X in 1986 and is almost always on. Alderete says that it’s the most musical compressor he’s tried and he uses it for adding high end and harmonics. Musicality is high on Alderete’s list of demands when it comes to choosing pedals for his board—he also lauded the Envelope Phaser and Boss OC-2 Octaver for that same quality.
Of course, some pedals are just plain fun as well. Alderete achieves literal earth-shaking levels with his DOD FX32 Meat Box. “It’s just a speaker popper! When it hits those subs out there, it vibrates everything onstage,” he told us.
Though he’s simplified his rig already, Alderete still may go the route of Rodr’guez- L—pez. He told us, “I have an M9 with all of this stuff in it, but I haven’t gotten my learning curve in there yet. I should discipline myself and I probably will.”
Watch the Rig Rundown:
Signal Chain: Vox Big Bad Wah > Voodoo Lab Proctavia > Roger Mayer Voodoo-Vibe Jr > Boss CH-1 Super Chorus > Vox Satchurator > Vox Ice 9 Overdrive > DigiTech Whammy > Radial JDI > Amp (Effects Loop) > Custom True Bypass Switch > DigiTech 33B (rackmount, not pictured) > Vox Time Machine > Vox Time Machine. Photo by Jason Shadrick
Joe Satriani pulls double duty with Chickenfoot and solo work these days, but when we caught up with him he was touring solo in support of Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards. “Besides the wah wah pedal and the delays, pretty much everything is used maybe for one song,” Satriani told us. “They take up a lot of real estate, but they’re little ear-candy pedals.”
Though his board is packed with signature pedals, he leans most heavily on the Vox Big Bad Wah and dual Vox Time Machine delays, which are always on. He gets his dirt from his prototype Marshall JVM410 heads—which he was tweaking nightly at the time, hence the handwritten, taped notes on the amp footswitch—but keeps his signature Vox Satchurator and Vox Ice 9 Overdrive on the board, “in case I change my mind on how I want to work with my gain levels.”
Photo by David Izquierdo
The specific-use pedals include a Voodoo Lab Proctavia, which is used for a solo in “Crystal Planet,” a Boss CE-5 Chorus used on “Crystal Planet” and on the outro for “Wind in the Trees,” a Roger Mayer Voodoo-Vibe used for the solo in “Pyrrhic Victoria,” and the DigiTech Whammy used for the outro on “Revelation.”
The black unmarked box is a true-bypass box built by Ben Fargen, which places Satriani’s secret weapon in the chain: a DigiTech 33B Super Harmony Machine. The rack effect (not pictured) is only used for the song “Why.” “It’s one of those rack effects you don’t really want to be sending your guitar through unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Satriani explained. “For the song ‘Why’ it gives me this unusual E minor harmony.”
The board is powered by three Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus units and is wired with cables built by Satch’s tech, Mike Manning, using Planet Waves cable kits. “I keep changing things and he’s got to react very quickly to pedals being moved around,” Satriani said.
Watch the Rig Rundown:
Signal Chain: Drawer 1: Demeter COMP-1 Compulator, Wampler Ego Compressor, Analog Man Juicer, Wampler Paisley Drive, and two Boss GE-7 Graphic EQ. Drawer 2: MXR Distortion III, T-Rex Alberta Overdrive, B.K. Butler Tube Driver, and two Klon Centaurs. Drawer 3: Early ’80s Pro Co Rat, MXR GT-OD, XTS Custom Pedals Precision Overdrive, and Boss CE-2 Chorus. Floor: Custom Audio Electronics RS-10 MIDI Foot Controller and RS-10 Expander Module, Boss FV-500H, Ernie Ball volume pedal, and Boss FS-5U Momentary Switch. Photo by Andy Ellis
For his ripping brand of arena-filling country, Keith Urban sets up with three rack drawers full of pedals that range from pedestrian to the stuff of legend. The heart of his effects setup—not surprisingly—is compression. Urban uses a few different compressors, which guitar tech Chris Miller likens to different flavors. “Is there a bad flavor of ice cream? No.” he says, pointing out that they often mix the compressors as well. “There’s no wrong way to do it—if it sounds cool, it’s right.”
The compression mainstay in Urban’s rack is the Wampler Ego Compressor, which Miller says is set to be a bit brighter and is occasionally run in conjunction with a Demeter COMP-1 Compulator, set warmer. When we caught up with Urban in Nashville, he rounded out his setup with an Analog Man Juicer—a replica of the old Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer.
Other permanent fixtures in Urban’s ever-changing setup include the MXR Distortion III and MXR GT-OD, which Miller says sound great at all settings, though they are some of the more affordable pedals in the setup. But Urban makes up for any savings with his duo of Klon Centaurs. “I’ve yet to hear an amp they sound bad with,” reports Miller of the venerable overdrives.
Other members of Urban’s collection of overdrives include a Wampler Paisley Drive, T-Rex Alberta Overdrive (which Miller describes as a more refined Tube Screamer tone), B.K. Butler Tube Driver, XTS Custom Pedals Precision Overdrive, and an early ‘80s Pro Co Rat— “Noisy, but boy does it sound good,” notes Miller.
The racks are rounded out by a Boss CE-2 that wasn’t in use at the time, and a duo of Boss EQ pedals that Miller says are an underrated part of the signal chain. “Nobody ever thinks about them, but they’ll do so much for you.”
The pedals are powered by a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus in each drawer and routed through loops in an RJM Effects Gizmo, which sits in the effects loop of Urban’s Radial JX44 signal manager so they can be sent to any of his amps. The pedals are controlled on the ground by a Custom Audio Electronics RS-10 MIDI Foot Controller with RS-10 Expander Module, Boss FV-500H, and Ernie Ball Volume Pedal. Urban has this setup at his feet, but Miller has an additional RS-10 to handle effects switching since Urban spends a lot of time at mics on opposite sides of the stage.
Watch the Rig Rundown:
Steely Dan's Walter Becker
Signal Chain: Sonic Research ST-200 Turbo Tuner > Barber Electronics Tone Press > Eventide PitchFactor > Eventide Space > Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor > Lehle 1@3 Switcher. Photo by Joe Coffey
Walter Becker is a bonafide pedal freak. “We have every pedal ever made by every manufacturer,” boasts guitar tech Bob “Nitebob” Czaykowski. Because of this, Becker’s board is constantly changing—even which pedals are being used on a given board. Case in point, not everything was plugged in on this board when we caught up with Steely Dan in summer 2011. “We had everything plugged in at one time and realized he was losing a little bit of signal,” explains Becker’s other tech, David Rule.
Photo by Cees van de Ven
One of the pedals that never changes, however is the Sonic Research ST-200 Turbo Tuner. A stickler for intonation, Becker settled on the Sonic Research because of its clarity and speed. The Eventide PitchFactor is set with two presets, while the Eventide Space is used only on the Spring Reverb setting. The Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor is on the board to combat building-specific noise. From there, the signal heads into a Lehle switcher that splits out to Becker’s multiple-amp setup. At the time we saw the board, the Moog MF-105 Moogerfooger MuRF, Pigtronix Envelope Phaser, and MXR Carbon Copy Delay weren’t connected. Many of Becker’s pedals are connected and disconnected for soundcheck, and he has additional pedalboards in his dressing room and hotel room with completely different effects. “We have a big box [motions with his hands at about 5-feet high] with five drawers full of pedals that we didn’t even bring,” says Rule.
Watch the Rig Rundown:
Blues-rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd shares details on his rig, becoming a father, and how he’ll probably never get away from the comparisons to Stevie Ray Vaughan.
|Click below to listen to the tune "Never Lookin' Back" from The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band's new album, How I Go:
Congratulations on being a father.
It’s probably the most profound thing that’s ever happened to me in my life. It’s given me a renewed sense of motivation and inspiration to be the best parent I can be, as well as the best musician I can be. I want to give my kids something to be proud of.
How does that affect your craft as a songwriter and guitarist?
I want to set a good example in what I do. Everything I record and the way that I perform, I think, “Would my kids be proud of this? Would this be okay for them to see?” Are they going to grow up and say, “Man, I wish dad would have never done that!” [Laughing.] That’s where the responsibility comes into my mind in everything that I do.
What took so long to do another studio record?
I had three kids in the past four years, and that really affected my free time for writing and recording. Life has changed a bit, and there are different things going on with new responsibilities. I can’t just leave the house for a few months and go write a record. For this album, we went in the studio for two weeks, tracked the songs, and then a few months went by before we went into the studio again. So we recorded the album over the course of a year. It didn’t take a year to record it, but it was spread out.
What was cool about that is that it enabled me to live with everything. We would track something and I would live with it for like a month. I could listen to it and dissect it, really getting into the ins and outs of the song. Then I’d be able to go back in and know what I needed to do to make it better. Sometimes when you’re making a record, you’re really trying to hurry up and get it out by doing it all right then and there. Later on after the record is out, you go, “Hey, I could have done this a little different!” I really got to live with every one of these songs throughout the making of the record, and really focus on trying to make them as good as they can be.
Your vocals are strong on this record.
I appreciate that. I’m singing “Who’s Going To Catch You Now,” and “Cold,” and doing all the background vocals on everything else. Noah Hunt is such a great vocalist. He has such a different style of voice than I do. Mine is a little more pop rock, and his is way more soulful, bluesy, and southern rock. I’ve wanted to sing more, but I don’t necessarily want all the vocal responsibility in my band because he’s such a great singer. His voice is very much a part of my sound, so it’s kind of evolved into us both doing lead vocals.
I wish I sounded like Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker, but I don’t. I choose the songs where my voice works well and I sing those. For the songs where my voice doesn’t quite cut it, I don’t have a problem having someone else do it. I have standards that I want my music to meet and I want every aspect of my music to be as good as possible. If that means somebody else is doing the singing, then so be it. It doesn’t bother me one bit.
What was your approach to choosing the covers for the record?
I always like to do an artist that influenced me, somebody I respect, and choose their less obvious material. Over the course of my career I’ve been doing Hendrix’s “I Don’t Live Today,” which is not an obvious Hendrix cover. We did Peter Green’s “Oh Well,” which is a much less obvious song for Fleetwood Mac. And from Bob Dylan, we did “Everything Is Broken.” I like to go deeper into an artist’s catalogue and pick songs that I think we can do a great version of, but still stay true to the original.
Our producer Jerry Harrison came up with the idea of us covering Bessie Smith’s “Blackwater Blues.” It was kind of appropriate with all the struggles my home state of Louisiana has gone through since Katrina. It’s also good to have a nice up-tempo shuffle on there. Jerry also came up with Albert King’s “Oh, Pretty Woman,” which isn’t the first Albert King song that would come to mind for most people.
There’s some great wah work on that track.
Thanks. It’s a rockin’ track and it’s the first time I ever used a horn section on a record.
What about the Beatles cover?
“Yer Blues” was my idea. Three or four years ago I was driving down the Pacific Coast Highway near Malibu. Out here we have a station that does a Breakfast With The Beatles program every Sunday where they play nonstop Beatles music “Yer Blues” came on and I was like, “Oh man!” I’d heard that song before but it hit me differently, and I could totally hear myself doing it!
I held on to that for three or four years. When we were making the record, we cut it live and then overdubbed the guitar. I was actually talking to Ringo recently—because I played on his upcoming record—and I told him we did that song and cut it live in the studio. He told me it’s the same way they cut it, which I thought that was really cool.
Give me a basic rundown of the gear you’re using.
Because what I had going was working really well, I kept it rather simple for this album. Most of my stuff is in storage in Louisiana and since we were in California, I mostly just used what I had out here. For amps, the majority of what you hear on this record is one of my original ’64 Fender blackface Vibroverbs with the original 15" speaker. I just got a brand new Fender ’57 Tweed Twin from the custom shop and I was beside myself with how incredible it sounded right out of the box.
I also used my Fender ’65 Reissue Twin, which is from one of the original runs of the ’65 Reissue Twins, when they were doing just 250 of them. I’m also using a Dumble Overdrive Special along with another amp Dumble built for me that he calls a Tweedle Dee Deluxe. If you saw it you would think it’s a Tweed Deluxe, but it’s actually his own circuit. It sounds absolutely phenomenal.
Is this a one of a kind amp?
Yes. The clean tones are just amazing and sparkling, and the clarity is unbelievable. When you crank it up, the overtones are just incredible—you don’t even need a pedal for that amp. You’re hearing the Overdrive Special on some of the solos, the Deluxe that he built for me on a lot of the rhythm parts, and the ’57 Tweed Twin is on a ton of stuff.
The first time I saw you on the G3 Tour years ago, you were crankin’ the Marshalls. What happened?
I’ve been using Fender amps almost exclusively for some time now. When I was using the Marshalls, I was blowing them up pretty much on a regular basis. There was also a little too much high end coming from them, and even when I had the treble turned all the way down, it was still tough to get rid of the high end. I liked them at first, but I ended up struggling with them.
Over the course of my career, the staple of my live show has been the blackface Twin Reissue. I usually run two or three of those depending on the size of the venue. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get a great tone at a lower volume. The Twins would just be screaming sometimes, and they could overpower the venue. When Fender reissued the blackface Vibroverb with the 1x15, I started using a couple of those to help dial the wattage down. The Overdrive Special that I use in the studio is likely to become a primary part of my live touring rig, depending on how things shape up for this tour.
How about effects?
On the record I used two different wahs. I used my original Vox Clyde McCoy Wah and a Custom Audio Electronics Wah that Dunlop makes. Then I used the Analog Man King of Tone Overdrive pedal, an Ibanez TS808 handwired Tube Screamer, and an original TS808 that I have. I used an Analog Man Bi-Chorus pedal, and a Pigtronix Envelope Phaser. The Envelope Phaser was only used on one song in combination with the Analog Man Bi-Chorus.
There’s a bunch of Octavia on this record.
I have an original Tycobrahe Octavia, and Chicago Iron, the company that reissues them, sent me one of theirs. A lot of times I was sending multiple effects to different amplifiers. I had the original Octavia going to one amp and the reissue going to another amp separately, and ran them in stereo at the same time.
Even though it’s the same tone, they’re still slightly different and combining the two gives a unique sound. It’s a slightly more unique sound than just using one pedal or the other, and having it come through two individual amps. I also did the same thing with the Fuzz Face. I have an original Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, one of the blue ones from the late ’60s or early ’70s. I also have one of the reissues and I ran those in stereo through two different amps. That was a pretty cool sound.
What did you use on the solo to “Yer Blues?”
That’s an old-school octave pedal that my engineer had. It’s always been one of those kinds of effects that I didn’t really like so much because I always liked the Octavia, which is the octave up. The octave pedal is an octave down, but it sounded cool and really fattened up the guitar tone for the rhythm part and the solo.
Which one did you use on “Come On Over?
That was the original Tycobrahe Octavia and I used it for the entire song, even as a rhythm sound. I don’t know if anyone’s ever done that since most people throw an Octavia on for a solo or something.
Is that the Dumble on the solo to “Anywhere The Wind Blows?”
Straight Dumble. [Laughing.] That’s my Dumble with some delay that was put on by my engineer. It’s just cranked up.
The record has a lot of colors. Every track has something different in terms of guitar sounds.
Thanks. I tried to make a tonally diverse record, although most of what you’re hearing is Stratocasters and a handful of different amplifiers. It wasn’t like I had 35 amps and 35 guitars. By most guitarist’s standards, I use a pretty modest collection of equipment, but the sounds I’ve achieved are a testament to that equipment and the diversity of the amps. There are so many sounds you can get out of them if you just tweak them a little bit.
What’s your main guitar?
The primary guitar for me in the studio is my ’61 Strat. I also used a ’59 hardtail Strat with a maple neck that I acquired while I was doing the record, using it on several songs. My signature series Strat was used on a bunch of songs, along with the clone of my ’61 that Fender made me. It’s an exact replica, so I can leave the original guitar at home, and take the clone on the road.
Are you still using the Monterey Strat?
I’ve been using it ever since I got it back in the ’90s and have been closing the show with it on “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” When we do fly dates, I’ve just been using my signature guitar because the Monterey is pretty valuable and I don’t want the airlines to lose it. But when I’m on the road touring with all my own equipment, that’s the one I pull out for the encore.
You’ve been framed as a Stevie Ray Vaughan guy. Do you get sick of that?
You can’t please everybody and there’s always going to be haters out there. They want to throw me in a category of being a Stevie Ray clone as if I can’t do anything beyond what he did. Those people obviously have never really given my music a fair listen. I’ve done tons of music that I don’t think Stevie Ray Vaughan ever would have done. I’ve never heard Stevie Ray Vaughan do anything like “Blue On Black,” and it was number one for 17 consecutive weeks on the rock charts.
I believe people are referring to your phrasing.
I’m an artist and I think I go way beyond my influence from Stevie, but he was almost single-handedly responsible for inspiring me to play guitar. There’s no denying that. If there wasn’t a Stevie Ray Vaughan, there probably wouldn’t be a Kenny Wayne Shepherd. He was my hero and he still is one of my heroes.
I just make music for myself and for the people who enjoy what I do—I appreciate the compliments from the people who do dig it. There’s always going to be a Stevie Ray Vaughan influence on what I do and I owe that to him for being such a big influence.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s Gear Box
Fender ’61 Stratocaster
Fender ’59 Stratocaster
Fender Kenny Wayne Shepherd Stratocaster
Fender Jimi Hendrix Monterey Pop Stratocaster
’64 Fender Blackface Vibroverb
’65 Fender Twin Reissue
’57 Fender Tweed Twin
Dumble Overdrive Special
Dumble Tweedle Dee Deluxe
Vox Clyde McCoy Wah
Custom Audio Electronics MC-404 Wah
Analog Man King of Tone Overdrive
Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer
Analog Man Bi-Chorus
Pigtronix Envelope Phaser
Original Roger Mayer Tycobrahe Octavia
Chicago Iron Tycobrahe Octavia SE
Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face
Ernie Ball Power Slinkys .011-.058