november 2009

Chad Weaver explains the full rig Brad Paisley uses on the road

Click here to read this month's interview with Brad.
Now that we've been introduced, I thought I would give you a quick rundown of Brad's rig. This way, I can talk about some things that I've had to tackle over the last few years, how to correct them and hopefully prevent them from happening again.

The original guitar rig was built by Brad and his first tech, Zac Childs. It's gone through many configurations over the years, but the basis has stayed the same. Brad and I have taken it apart twice and I've done it at least three times on my own, but the latest version was assembled by David Friedman of Racksystems in Los Angeles. I had been having a lot of noise issues and David was able to correct them all and give us back a guitar rig anyone could be proud of.

The 'brain' of the rig is Digital Music's GCX and Ground Control system. I have two GCXs, giving me a total of 16 loops for both effects and amp outputs. Each loop has an ‘in’, ‘out’, ‘send’ and a ‘return’. David internally wired the 'ins and outs' of the GCXs in series so there's no need to jump from one loop to the next on the backside of the units. You only need to 'send' and 'return' to each of your effects pedals, which makes the view in the back of the rig a little cleaner with fewer cables in there.

We use a Shure UR4D wireless to start the chain, but unfortunately it doesn't have an internal combiner for its two channels, so I send them both into a 4-channel Shure mixer. This also allows me to make sure my wireless signal is equal to that of plugging a guitar with an instrument cable straight in. The mixer output hits the front end of GCX 1 and from here the effects begin.

There have been articles written about what Brad uses, but pedals and amps change in and out of this rig quite often—I'm confident that by the time this article goes up online, it will have changed again. The effects as of now are a Boss CS-2 compressor, Hermida Zen Drive, Keeley-modded Ibanez 808 Tube Screamer, Line 6 M13, Way Huge Aqua Puss, Boss DD-2, Empress Super Delay, Wampler Analog Echo and a Real McCoy Picture Wah. To further the possibilities, I can use any of the Empress’s eight delays in its single loop. I can also trigger any of the Line 6 M13's expansive modeling effects by assigning a midi channel in the Ground Control. All of the M13’s effects can be had while only using one loop in the GCX.

The last five loops are amp outputs, one with a Hermida Mosferatu in line so it only hits that amp. The amps (as of last Saturday night) were a handwired Vox AC30, Dr. Z Z-Wreck, Bruno Underground 30 and a Dr. Z Remedy. The fifth output is used only as a spare.

By using the Ground Control I can program any effect with any amp on any channel, and it keeps the signal path to a minimum. All of the loops in the GCX are true bypass so it helps keep noise down and also gives a truer guitar-amp tonality without a ‘processed’ overtone. 95% of the time when Brad is playing, you’re hearing a single pedal and a single amp. That’s all. And with the ability to switch amps like we do, I can either use an amp with a Tube Screamer in front of it or just dial up the Remedy. All of the tones that were created in the studio can be mimicked and effectively used live.

I’ll manage all of the effects and amp switching in a show from the stage area we call "guitar world," but Brad has a Ground Control at his feet on stage if he decides he wants to hear something different. On TV and at awards shows, you won’t see me but I’ll be laying on the floor behind the drum riser, hiding behind a piece of the set or truly being the ‘man behind the curtain’ doing the same thing.

Now that you have an understanding of the way the rig is set up, I'll be back next month to walk you through a frustrating grounding issue we encountered, and the fix I found.

Rusty Cooley offers up some exercises to perfect your legato technique

Hey, welcome back for another dose of guitar insanity. This month we are going to be to looking at some basic legato development in a one octave A Natural Minor scale. Am consists of A, B, C, D, E, F and G, resolving again to A. For those of you who might be new to the legato concept, think of a violinist playing a long string of notes without changing the bowing direction; for guitar it’s a fancy way of saying hammer-ons and pull-offs. By definition a hammer-on is when you have two or more notes on a string and you pick the first note and then hammer-on to the next note or notes just using the strength of you fingers to sound them, or “hammering” them “on.” A pull-off is kind of the opposite; you pick the highest of the two or more notes and, using a downward pulling or plucking motion, you “pull” your fingers “off” to sound the lower notes. Now, when I play these examples I only pick the first note of the ascending string and play 100% legato on the descending line— that means I don’t pick at all as I descend. As I descend I do what is called a hammeron from nowhere and use the strength of my finger to sound the first note of each descending string instead of picking, which gives it a purer legato sound. However, if you’re new to this it’s okay to pick the first note of each string. As a general rule, you only want to pick once per string no matter how many notes might be on that string.

Example 1 is the initial A Natural Minor scale position that we are going to be using for all of this month's examples. Take it slow and memorize it before attempting to play it fast. Also make sure you keep your thumb behind the neck; it shouldn’t be poking over the top. Also keep a slight bend in your wrist and keep each joint arched in each finger for maximum legato fluidity. One last thing: don’t let the palm of your hand touch the bottom of the neck either; it should just be finger tips against the string and the thumb on the back of the neck.

Example 2 starts you off with a very small bite to get you going. Memorize it and start your chops building.

Example 3 builds a little more, continuing along the same process while getting a little more challenging.

Example 4 and 5 build into longer lines. Again take it slow, memorize and shred away.

I highly recommend practicing each example five minutes a day until you feel like you have mastered it. These ideas will help you develop smooth connected legato lines that seamlessly flow together. You can also try these ideas in every position of the key and on multiple string groups.

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65Amps'' Lil'' Elvis offers a winning combination of low watts, simple controls and killer tone.

Download Example 1
'74 Les Paul Custom
Download Example 2
2008 Strat w/trem

Download Example 3
Danelectro '56 U2 reissue

All clips recorded directly into Pro TOols HD2 Accel with a Pearlman TM-1 condenser mic. No FX or EQ.
At winter NAMM this past January I had a chance to stop by the 65Amps booth to get a peak and a listen to the Lil’ Elvis, their new 1x12, 12-watt combo. As it happened, Peter Stroud was in the booth demoing this little gem and throwing down some ridiculously tone-laden jams, and getting killer tone at varying volumes courtesy of the “Master Voltage” circuit. Of course we’ve all been beguiled by amp demos in the past … a great player can make you believe an old transistor radio converted into a guitar amp will sound fantastic with the right riffs and attitude. Add to that the high noise floor and ear fatigue of NAMM and it’s best to leave detailed sonic judgments for a more familiar setting—in this case my home studio.

According to 65Amps, the Lil’ Elvis was inspired by some lost designs from one of the best amp designers of the early ’60s. The review unit is a 1x12 combo (also sold in head/cab configuration) powered by a pair of EL84s, three ECC83s and a 6CA4 rectifier. Controls are simple and to the point: a Volume and a Tone, followed by a tremolo circuit with knobs for Intensity and Speed (the Intensity knob doubles as the on/off switch when the footswitch isn’t plugged in) and finishes with a “Master Voltage” knob. There are also two toggle switches on the front panel: a “Smooth” mini-toggle and a “Bump On/Bump Off” switch. Impedance can be set to 16 or 8 ohms, and there are two speaker output jacks in case you want to power an external cab. The combo sports a Celestion 70th Anniversary G12H-30 speaker and a passive effects loop that 65Amps appropriately labels “FX loop.”

While the amp isn’t small, it’s still quite portable and not too heavy for its size. My old Mesa MK III 1x12 combo weighed as much as a half stack, so picking up the Lil’ Elvis was a welcome change. Looking very much like the little brother to the rest of the 65Amps line, the amp has a black and cream color scheme, basketweave grille, a split front and the unmistakable vents on top front of the amp. A nice touch is the beautifully designed and comfortable handle that makes carrying the amp so much easier than the typical harder and thinner handles on some of the other combos I’ve had over the years. Who says little things in life don’t matter?

Enough of my yapping ... Let’s Boogie!
During the time I had with Lil’ Elvis I was also in the midst of several recording projects that required a wide variety of guitars, stompboxes and pickups. The first guitar I played through it was a Les Paul Standard that was temporarily modified (no holes drilled!) to house a P-90 in the neck and a mini-humbucker from an old Epiphone Newport Baritone in the bridge. I set the Volume and Tone controls to a conservative halfway point and kept the Master Voltage full up. Right out of the gate the amp showed a wonderful, gritty tone that barked rudely with the P-90—a bit dark, but this was the neck pickup so it was expected. Cranking up the Tone knob proved that 10 was too much for that combination, so I backed it off to about 7… a perfect balance of clarity and grit with just enough edge to cut through the mix. The amp was set to the “Bump Off” position, so I toggled it on. Clearly a mid bump, it totally pushed the tone into angrier and more authoritative territory with a punch you could feel. The Bump toggle could easily be renamed “rude” and nobody would ever be the wiser.

The next guitar I plugged in was a stock 2008 Fender American Strat. This amp loves single-coil pickups. Back on the “Bump Off” position it took me into SVR territory with the Volume up at 7 and Tone at around 5. Once again I was treated to great clarity, dynamics and chime, as well as a “bigness” that normally doesn’t come from a 1x12 combo. There’s a lot of push in this amp even with the Master Voltage turned down low. Now, 65Amps claims that the Master Voltage is neither an attenuator, power scaler, nor a master volume, but whatever it is it works incredibly well. Pulling the master from full to completely counter-clockwise basically just reduces the volume from a roar to a whisper. Ninety-five percent of the tone and dynamics were still intact, and it’s hard to say if that five percent change came from the volume being lower, or just the fact that I can’t accept that it sounded just as good at the lowest setting. For years I’ve been looking for the best way to reduce volume for recording or the soundman, and dang it if they haven’t figured it out. I’m sold!

The third guitar was my trusty Danelectro Hodad Baritone from the mid-’90s. Three lipstick pickups never sounded so good. I pushed the Master back up to full and pulled the Volume down to around 11 o’clock while turning on the tremolo—instant surf-meets-spaghetti-western! The tremolo has a nice range of speed, from dripping-molasses slow to cardiac-arrest fast, and the Intensity knob can be backed down so the tremolo is barely leaking through, which was perfect for adding depth to the sound without calling too much attention to the effect. In my opinion the tremolo is one of the shining features of the Lil’ Elvis—and anything but an afterthought. I engaged the Bump switch and drove the amp harder. The way this amp moves from clean to overdrive is a thing of beauty. Even with the controls full-tilt you can simply roll back the volume on any guitar and instantly get into clean territory. And while this isn’t a modern-sounding amp or a metal amp, the distortion effortlessly rubs elbows with both Marshall and Vox tones and has plenty of gain on tap for most players.

Speaking of gain, I ended up trying a variety of pedals with the amp over the review period and found it very pedal-friendly. Perhaps it’s the simple front-end design that allows the signal to be bumped up so gracefully. It acts very much like an older Marshall to my ears; it doesn’t get soggy with more gain before the amp. The design exposed the true nature of the pedals, good or bad, without hesitation. Similarly, each different guitar’s characteristics were instantly identifiable, which is something I miss on designs that get too complex or add unnecessary gain stages. Pure tone is all you get.

The effects loop is simple and to the point. If you’re looking for more control over the signal levels it may be too simple for your needs, but I had no problems plugging in an Echoplex EP-3, as well as several delay pedals. Some signal loss is going to happen on a passive design but it didn’t take away from the tone, in my opinion. One feature that you won’t notice too much at lower volumes is the Smooth switch. Basically, it’s a crossover distortion removal circuit that comes into play at louder volumes. Flip it on when the amp is revved up and it removes the fizziness that comes along with crossover distortion. According to Dan Boul at 65Amps, your mic will notice it before your ears will, so those of us using it for recording will be happy the switch is there.

Elvis Has Left The Building
There is so much to like about this amp. It packs a man-sized wallop in a bite-sized package and serves up as greasy a tone as a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. Killer tremolo and easy to set up, it pairs up great with any guitar you throw at it. Top it off with a range of tone from clean to beautiful, blooming distortion and the fact that it’s pedal friendly and you’ve got a winner. 65Amps nailed it on the Lil’ Elvis. So, thank you … thank you very much.
Buy if...
you want a compact, simple amp with complex tone at any volume.
Skip if...
channel switching and more knobs float your boat.

MSRP $2195 (head); $2495 (combo) - 65 Amps -