Rig Rundown: Circles Around the Sun

Guitarist John Lee Shannon and bassist Dan Horne explore the sonic space with a mix of vintage amps, DIY cabs, and plenty of pedals.

Founded by the late Neal Casal, this instrumental band of sonic explorers was born out of a request for set-break music during the Grateful Dead’s final run of shows in San Francisco and Chicago during 2015. Originally, CATS was going to be a one-off project, but fan feedback pushed Casal and company to release it as Interludes for the Dead. This wasn’t simply wordless Dead covers, but new creations formed in essence and spirt of the Dead.


In 2018, the group released their second double album, Let it Wander, and followed it up with a completely improvised EP featuring drummer Joe Russo. Sadly, a week after tracking their self-titled album Casal took his own life. Casal urged the group to carry on without him. The group recruited Eric Krasno and Scott Metzger for various tours before settling in with John Lee Shannon in July of 2021. Shortly before a gig at Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville, John Bohlinger caught up with Shannon and bassist Dan Horne to talk gear.

[Brought to you by D’Addario XS Strings: http://ddar.io/xs.rr]

The Lone Ranger

John Lee Shannon tours with a single guitar: a 2017 Fender Custom Shop 1969 Journeyman Relic Strat. It’s outfitted with handwound ’69 pickups in the neck and middle with a Texas Special in the bridge. “It’s really barky,” mentions Shannon. “It’s not a ‘tame’ Strat,” He puts D’Addario NYXL (.010–.046) strings on it and uses Pick Boy Vintage Celluloid Rainbow .75 mm picks.

Amp on the Run

Due to somewhat complicated logistics, Shannon had been looking online at various Nashville guitar shops for an amp he could pick up at the last minute and use on this run. After flying in from Brooklyn the morning of the show, he headed straight for Rumble Seat Music to check out this 1968 Sunn 100S and matching 2x15 cabinet. Shannon put down a deposit before getting to town hoping the amp would work for him. Obviously, it did. Later he found out this amp was on consignment from Nashville session king Tom Bukovac.

The Mothership!

After experimenting with various pedals on the band’s West coast run, Shannon shifted some things around and even took inspiration from Casal’s board to form this mothership. The centerpiece is the Road Rage true bypass looper which allows Shannon to individually bring each pedal in and out of the signal flow. Right before the looper is a JAM Pedals Wahcko, which was custom ordered solely based on the finish. Other highlights include a Greer Amps Super Hornet, Strymon Lex, a trio of Catalinbread stomps (Belle Epoch, Echorec, and Topanga), a Walrus Audio Monument, Lovepedal Rubber Chicken and a pair of BearFoot FX (Pale Green and Honey Beest OD).

Vintage Vibes

Circles Around the Sun take plenty of musical risks, but that fearlessness stretches over into their gear choices as bassist Dan Horne also takes a single bass on the road. This 1978 Alembic Series 1 has an unusual setup. Although you can power the active pickups with batteries, Horne uses an Alembic DS5 power supply to provide power via the cable. (The DS5 also has dual outputs, but Horne only uses the bass output.)

Tower of Doom

The Grateful Dead’s “Wall of Sound”-era speakers served as the inspiration for Horne’s triple-cabinet tower. The top cabinet was built by Bag End while the bottom two were DIY affairs created by a friend. All three cabinets feature a Weber speaker.

Under the Hood

The engine behind Horne’s sound is this rack, which includes an Alembic F-1X tube preamp—powered by a 12AX7—and a Crown XLS 1502 power amp. All of Horne’s effects are behind him on the pedal drawer and he controls them via a Voodoo Lab PX-8 Plus.

Horne's Tone Zone

Horne’s pedal rack includes a Sonic Research ST-300 tuner, Boss BF-2 Flanger, MXR Carbon Copy, MXR 10-Band EQ, a vintage Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Phase Shifter, MXR Bass Envelope Filter, and a BearFoot FX Pale Green compressor. He wrangles them all with a Voodoo Lab HEX loop switcher that’s controlled by a PX-8 Plus.

Intermediate

Beginner

  • Use shapes and patterns to think outside of scale-based note selection.
  • Learn a handful of “outside” licks with a shape-based approach.
  • Break out of playing ruts by adding a new approach to your playing.
{u'media': u'[rebelmouse-document-pdf 16163 site_id=20368559 original_filename="GetInShape_May22.pdf"]', u'file_original_url': u'https://roar-assets-auto.rbl.ms/documents/16163/GetInShape_May22.pdf', u'type': u'pdf', u'id': 16163, u'media_html': u'GetInShape_May22.pdf'}
Shapes can be unique and interesting, but the most common one that we run into as guitar players is that of a plateau. While growth and learning are exponential in the early days of discovering guitar, the true struggle for most players seems to be when they reach the middle to upper intermediate phase. Certain habits, muscle memory, go-to licks, and even practice routines
become second nature. This is what I refer to as “the big rut.” Every player has been at this point, where they’ve been spinning their wheels in the same tracks for so long that now they are simply stuck. Nowhere to go and nowhere to grow, seemingly. This is also the point where guitarists tend to start rapidly accumulating gear in hopes that something new will spark inspiration. (Not that you or I would ever do such a thing, right?)
Read More Show less

The emotional wallop of the acoustic guitar sometimes flies under the radar. Even if you mostly play electric, here are some things to consider about unplugging.

I have a love-hate relationship with acoustic guitars. My infatuation with the 6-string really blasted off with the Ventures. That’s the sound I wanted, and the way to get it was powered by electricity. Before I’d even held a guitar, I knew I wanted a Mosrite, which I was sure was made of fiberglass like the surfboards the Beach Boys, Surfaris, and the Challengers rode in their off time. Bristling with space-age switchgear and chrome-plated hardware, those solidbody hotrod guitars were the fighter jets of my musical dreams. I didn’t even know what those old-timey round-hole guitars were called. As the singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey strummed off into the sunset, the pace of technology pushed the look and sound of the electric guitar (and bass) into the limelight and into my heart. Imagine my disappointment when I had to begin my guitar tutelage on a rented Gibson “student” acoustic. At least it sort of looked like the ones the Beatles occasionally played. Even so, I couldn’t wait to trade it in.

Read More Show less

Need an affordable distortion pedal? Look no further.

We live in the golden age of boutique pedals that are loaded with advanced features—many of which were nearly unthinkable a decade or so ago. But there’s something that will always be valuable about a rock-solid dirt box that won’t break your wallet. Here’s a collection of old classics and newly designed stomps that cost less than an average concert ticket.

Read More Show less
x