Cooler than a Piccolo Trombone 

I have been getting a few comments and emails about what kind of guitar and amp I’ve been using on my song “FROZEN STAR” so I thought I’d do a bit of a ‘Rig Rundown’ and share with you some of the gear that I like to use and maybe talk about my overall approach.  

Perhaps you find that interesting - it’s probably going to be rather tedious if you’re not a guitar player… then again, why aren’t you playing the GEETAR? It’s like the coolest instrument… I mean not as cool as the Cowbell - but still a lot cooler than a Piccolo Trombone. 

The Guitar 
Anyways, the guitar I used for “FROZEN STAR” is a MIJ (Made In Japan) Fender Strat from ‘89. It is custom made as it has a scalloped fingerboard. The rest is pretty much stock. The only change I made was replacing the electronics and connecting the second tone pot to the bridge pickup. I like rolling the tone back to 6 or 7 to tame some of the high-end. I’m using mostly the neck pickup for this song and like to control the amount of gain with the guitar's volume control.  



Recently however I started using a volume pedal instead of the volume pot on the guitar. It’s a trick I ‘stole’ from studio guitar legend Tim Pierce. He uses a volume pedal all the time, not only to turn down the guitar and act as a manual noise gate but also to control the amount of signal going into the amp thus controlling the amount of overall gain.  

The advantage of using a volume pedal is that you’re controlling the full spectrum of the signal coming out of the guitar. Usually when using the volume control on the guitar you are altering the signal running from the pickups through the electronics. This can cut off treble if you don’t have a treble bleed installed. But even then you’re truncating the full signal.  

By using a volume pedal you’re allowing the full signal from the pickups to go through the electronics, allowing them to operate at their full capacity. In an A/B comparison I do prefer using the volume pedal as I think the tone is fuller. And this works great in a studio or recording situation. In a live situation I prefer using the volume control on the guitar though as it’s faster and more convenient. Plus I can run around the stage and annoy the bass player :-)  

The Amp 
As for amplification, I like the hot-rodded ‘British Rock Tone’ so I gravitate to those types of amps. And while I have a bunch of tube amps in my arsenal I primarily use the Line 6 Helix Amp- and Effect Processor for recording and playing live.  

I’ve had an affiliation with Line 6 for two decades now. In fact I started working for them as a product specialist for the Southern Germany and Austria region many moons ago. That was the time when the original POD was the 'latest and greatest' and the term ‘modeling’ and ‘digital’ was used as a four-letter word. Fun fact: I am still affiliated with them. Therefore I’m obviously biased :-)  

Footswitch Assignments Anyways, I tend to use the Placater model in the Helix in combination with an Impulse Response (IR) of a 4x12 cab loaded with Greenbacks. I sometimes switch out IRs and use different makers like OwnHammer, Celestion, etc. But in general it’s a Greenback-type speaker. 

The Placater model has a bunch of switches like the HBE switch and the C45 one. On the real amp you have to make up your mind which mode you want and set it. With Helix I can assign these functions to footswitches and toggle them on and off as I see fit. Which already gives me more functionality than the real amp.  

In addition I’ve programmed a virtual volume pedal to go from 15% to 100% and assigned it to another footswitch. At 15% it gives me the type of gain I get when the guitar volume is around 3 - 4. That means I can instantly switch between my guitar volume being set to 10 and 3.5 and vice versa. In combination with the HBE switch I am able to get four different tones: 

  • HBE mode off and volume at 15% = light crunch / almost clean, arpeggios 
  • HBE mode on and volume at 15% = light crunch for melodies 
  • HBE mode off and volume at 100% = rhythm tone 
  • HBE mode on and volume at 100% = melody and lead tone 

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The Effects 
After that I usually have a delay, either an analog type or the Vintage Digital model, where changing the sample rate will darken the repeats. I usually set it to 12 or 11.025kHz. For Reverb I like to use the Ganymede model with a bit of pre-delay and a low mix. I’m not really much of a reverb type of player but it’s nice to have when playing by myself. For recordings I usually turn any time-based effects off unless it’s integral for the part. After that I have the LA Studio Comp model at a very light setting just to even the signal ever so slightly. I usually turn it off when playing live but I like it for recording. And that’s about it. 

If you’re still reading this you're either a guitar nerd or you like inflicting pain onto yourself. In either case: well done! As you can see, it’s a relatively straight-forward set-up. It would probably be a quite different set-up if I had a gig where I had to cover a multitude of guitar tones from various decades. But this type of set-up works great for me and my type of music where I only need four types of tones: clean, crunch, rhythm and lead. Throw in a wah or phaser every now and then and Bob’s your uncle. 

I hope you found this article interesting / informative / possibly entertaining. Please leave a comment below and tell me about your gear - what are you using? What’s your favourite piece of gear? What’s your opinion on modeling vs. analog gear?

Cheers and rock well!

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