Converge’s 6-string steamroller—who also happens to be a famously heavy and in-demand producer (and gear designer)—takes PG inside his GodCity Studio to talk mics, tracking, instrument building, and more.
If you’ve thought to yourself, “this is the most vicious-sounding record I’ve heard,” chances are Kurt Ballou’s fingerprints are on it. Since officially starting in 1995 inside his parents’ garage and eventually opening GodCity Studio’s doors in 2003 (in “Witch City” Salem, MA, no less), Ballou has chiseled out granite tones for bands like Every Time I Die, High on Fire, Torche, Cave In, Old Man Gloom, American Nightmare, and Kvelertak. (“He brings a lot to the table, and he’s been pretty important in terms of how our sound got formed,” Kverlertak’s Vidar Landa in a PG interview on working with Ballou.) Oh, and we can forget his genre-shaping band Converge, that he’s played guitar in since 1990, co-produced since 2001’s hardcore pillar Jane Doe and been the console captain since 2006’s No Heroes.
As you’ll soon find out in this hour-plus episode, the dude is fascinated with every component of guitar tone. In between recording projects and creating new instruments and pedals, Ballou virtually welcome PG’s Chris Kies into GodCity Studio. In this Rig Rundown, Ballou details his own GodCity InstrumentsCraftsman Series 1 (something he calls a “simple rock ’n’ roll machine”), provides a crash course on mics (types and techniques), and shows off additional GCI pedal wares—and a few foreign specimens—that contort, mangle, and destroy any (in the prettiest way possible) guitar’s native tongue.
D'Addario Auto Lock Strap:https://ddar.io/AutoLockStrap
[Facing a mandatory shelter-in-place ordinance to limit the spread of COVID-19, PG enacted a hybrid approach to filming and producing Rig Rundowns. This is the 38th video in that format.]
As you’ll quickly find out, if Kurt can’t find exactly what he’s after, he’ll design something that will get the job done. Above is his first guitar—built under the God City Instruments brand—called the Craftsman Series 1. This one features a chambered mahogany body with a spruce top (“it’s incredibly resonant, snappy, and lively”), set-neck construction (maple neck/wenge fretboard), 25.5" scale, Graph Tech nut and bridge, and a custom-wound, hot Slugjammer humbucker (13k output, 44 AWG). He prefers D’Addario NYXL strings (.011–.052), hammers away with Planet Waves Duralin picks .70 mm (yellow), and Ballou uses a bunch of tunings for Converge, but two of his favorites are “a little out of tune” D standard and one he calls “open Slayer” (C–F#–C–F#–C–F#).
(This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a God City Instruments’ Craftsman Series 1 on a Rig Rundown. For those that missed it, Djunah’s Donna Diane rocked out a wenge-top Craftsman Series 1 in her Rundown in late 2020.)
A close-up of his Malcolm Young-inspired Craftsman Series 1 body.
Need proof that Converge have diehard fans all over the world? Look no further than this Sparrows’ Sons head that was built for (and sent over to) Kurt from their Belarus guitar shop. He doesn’t know much about the circuit, but he notes in the Rundown that early in the signal path sits an active inductor-based midrange boost that sort of acts like a Neve preamp. Another think he mentions is that its gain knob is a dual pot that controls two tube stages at the same time giving the amp a wide range of crunch. (Ballou admits that he doesn’t use it for clean and rather make it a blast furnace of rock.)
The handmade beast (even has handwound inductors) floored Ballou enough that he ordered a second head for his European setup (but has since brought it home). He believes he owns are two of four or five in existence.
The Sparrows’ Sons custom jobber runs into a massive Emperor 6x12 that is loaded with various speakers, but what was mic’d and recorded for the Rundown were a pair of Eminence Texas Heats.
Because he’s Kurt and he’s awesome, not only did he treat this like a recording session, but he used four mics, in four different positions, to show how each works independently and how they work in unison to create a monolithic sledgehammer. The lineup starts (left to right) with an AEA N22 active ribbon mic, Heil Sound PR 30 large diaphragm dynamic supercardioid mic, a Rode (top) Reporter omnidirectional dynamic mic, and an sE Electronics X1 D large diaphragm unidirectional condenser mic.
“One of the nicest things about owning a studio and designing pedals is that I can figure out what do I have a need for,” admits Ballou. And as you’ll soon find out, his biggest (and constant) need is angry, violent, metallic distortion. Starting at the top left (and then going clockwise), we have the Demedash Effects T-120 Videotape Echo. “This is one of the coolest analog delay pedals,” giddily asserts Ballou. He loves the overall functionality of the pedal and its feature set, but the icing on the cake is that when bypassed you can hold down the left footswitch and it will act as a momentary freeze/shimmer/oscillator. Next you have the Shift Line A+ Astronaut III Multiverb Space Unit. Kurt got hip to this pedal when Converge was touring Russia and ventured into a guitar store in St. Petersburg. For this pedal, Kurt’s go-to setting is the reverse shimmer.
The single-knob red GCI design (Oh Yes!) is Kurt’s latest creation (mentions tentatively it may be called Onslaught) that is a “mid-forward, ultimate thrashy, djenty, clanky, articulate, heavy guitar pedal.” The red pedal on the right is Kurt’s first original codesign—the SBD or Super Beatle Distortion—that was inspired by a circuit from Fu Manchu bassist Brad Davis’ Creepy Little Fingers. Taking it up a notch, Ballou added in an active mid boost in front of the fuzz circuit. Additionally, he boosts the bass level after the fuzz circuit so it sounds huge.
Next up in green is the God City Instruments OGR (a collaboration with Electronic Audio Experiments’ John Snyder). The Optical Gain Reduction is a compressor that Ballou uses on every bass-recorded track in God City Studio.
Then there is the Foxrox Electronics Octron2 (inspired by the guitar feedback lassoed by Mahogany Rush guitarist Frank Marino) that Ballou uses for thorny solos that bristle with weird overtones and elastic ghost notes. Following that is a newer GCI Crimson Cock (original codesigned with Rob Davis) that is a treble booster loosely based on the Rangemaster circuit with an added range control (a cap blend on the input) and the switch toggles in a Muff stage at the end of the circuit.
The penultimate stomp is the God City Instruments Ape Eye (collaborated with Soursound) that is dirt box centered around the API 2520 discrete op amp. Lastly, we have Kurt’s Jugendstil silicon fuzz that is aptly described on their site: “If there were a Venn Diagram showing the overlap between ‘90s British shoegaze and ‘90s Swedish death metal, Jugendstil would feel right at home in the middle.” And everything was powered by a Truetone 1 Spot PRO CS7.
An unheralded but appreciated tool used by Ballou is this Radial Engineering SGI TX that is line driver system that takes an unbalanced instrument signal and allows you to drive it as far as 300' feet without noise.
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Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
- Upgraded materials, including a water-resistant 1680D Ballistic Nylon outer shell, plush inner lining and new reflective trim for maximum backstage and night visibility
- Enhanced protection with a shockproof shell structure and heavy-duty water-resistant YKK zippers for protection from the elements
- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
- Flexible storage options with added space for touring essentials
The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
For more information, please visit gibson.com.