Ian Smit is a self-avowed David Torn fan. But Torn is just a jumping off point for him. You can check out his solo excursions at his cleverly named YouTube site, Racketlauncher. He also plays with an interesting seven-piece band named Monkeyworks around the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border. For his Reader’s Rig contribution, he goes into detail about his elaborate system and offers some sage advice about gear.
“Trudging and gliding are two polar opposite modes of transport. Yet, this might be symbolic of the path any artist might endure to realize their potential. This also holds true when selecting the tools of their trade: what’s best to paint with. There are several noteworthy discoveries I’ve made throughout the years that might be helpful to those who don’t even have the same gear as below. In the grand scheme of things, what matters most are ideas, heart, and how does one deliver their intent. As guitar players, no matter what genre, we all travel similar roads of research, trial and error, emotional and sonic inspirations, and financial heartache. Try not to fall into that last trap too often; it’ll leave a mark. We’re all kindred spirits, and we all somehow arrive at a place, which works for us—until it doesn’t. It took a very long time to arrive at the rig seen here, not without mistakes and sacrifice for sure, on a scant budget. The tools/toys all have a purpose, and of course, they’re fun to play with. The most important lesson is to know when NOT to use them.
Klein Electric Guitar
Steve Klein built this guitar coming up on twenty years ago. The craftsmanship is beautiful and I’m quite lucky to have such a great and versatile guitar. I had to sell a Les Paul Custom and a Steinberger with a synth pick-up to afford it way back even before the guitar market exploded.
Of course, it’s all David Torn’s “fault” that I even knew about the Klein, or a lot of gear, in general, over the years. He’s been on the cutting edge of guitar stuff, and playing, of course, for a long time. I was up in his neck of the woods for a recording with some friends, he invited me over for a chat and I asked: “Hey David, what’s that case under the ping pong table? It looks like a mandolin. I didn’t know you played mandolin. And, for that matter, I didn’t know you played ping pong, either.” He opens the case, and I went: “Rut Ro.”
The Klein has a spruce body, maple neck, ebony fingerboard, a rosewood pick guard and a Trans Trem. I don’t wank on the trem too much, but use it to simulate a pedal steel like vibe. For years I used GHS Double Ball Boomers, but alas, I got the last batch for Trans Trem bridges, recently. I believe D’Addario still makes strings that will work for the Trans Trem—hopefully. The pickups are Seymour Duncan: a ’59 PAF neck, an Alnico single coil in the center, and a JB humbucker in the bridge. The five-position toggle has since been rewired to split and combine the neck and bridge pick-ups with the center single coil in the second and forth positions respectively. The volume and tone controls can be pulled to split the neck and bridge pick-ups into single coils, independently.
Pedal Board 1:
Fulltone Clyde Deluxe Wah
Paul Trombetta Mini-Bone distortion/fuzz
Z.Vex Fuzz Factory
TC Electronic Sustain (compressor) + Parametric Equalizer
Moogerfooger Ring Modulator
Hexe Revolver (micro sampling, stuttering and glitch effect)
Boss FV 100 Volume Pedal
SIB Varidrive Tube Overdrive (RCA 12 AX7A NOS)
Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2
It would make sense to have the TC pedal before any fuzz thingies, and that’s how I used to have it. But, the Fuzz Factory just didn’t sound as “out of control,” as when I first plugged into it right out of the box. Once it was on the board, I thought maybe it had to do with being in a chain, although some players have way more pedals than here. Nope, the FF has a germanium chip in it, much like a Fuzz Face, and they like to “see” the guitar early on in the chain with no buffer between them. The TC is the only non true bypass pedal in the chain so I had to flip the order and then Presto. Fortunately, I never play the TC and any of the two fuzzes at the same time, so the switch-a-roo did not hamper anything conceptually. None of the YouTube videos have this recent reconfiguration, but considering the bandwidth of YT, it’s hard to tell, anyway. But, if anyone reading this were to play the rig now—hold onto your hat, it’s time for blast off, indeed.
Another discovery: I had a fellow put in a true bypass switch in the Moogerfooger. It’s so much cleaner now when it’s off. It comes after the TC in the chain. One day, I was goofing around and plugged into the MF directly and got a major 60-cycle hum. Never heard that before, because after the bypass surgery, I put the MF directly back on the board. There’s something about the TC and it’s non true bypass status that grounds the MF. I called Moog, spoke to the surgeon who did the bypass, no one has been able to figure out the scenario. If anyone has any ideas, that would be greatly appreciated. All that counts is, having the TC in the chain makes the board very quiet. If it were a TBP pedal, without a buffer, the whole board would sound like a big heavy blanket was thrown over it. The TC (pedal steel in a box.) is my oldest pedal along with the FV 100 Volume pedal. Volume pedals are notorious tone suckers, but it has been a major part of my playing since the beginning some 39 years ago. With all the way too heavy stuff I use for this “painting” rig, if I had to pick the most important piece of gear, it would be a volume pedal and an overdrive. If I’m going to a jam, or playing some covers so people my age can relive their childhood, I’m not going to lug around this stuff.
Last in the chain after the volume pedal is the SIB Varidrive with a recently installed RCA 12AX7A NOS tube. I’ve had that pedal for decades ever since I stopped using channel-switching amps. I always used a 12AX7 in the Varidrive even though many recommend a tube with less gain like a 12AU7, or a 12AY7. I like the option of driving the distortion more. The RCA is a nice warm sounding tube, but it’s a slight bit noisier—that’s a trade off worth living with. One thing about the Varidrive, it is extremely particular what is before it, and what is after it. At a rehearsal in NYC many years ago, I plugged the Varidrive into a beautifully sounding Bogner Shiva and the pedal sounded absolutely awful—I thought it was broken. It wasn’t, the Varidrive just likes to see amps with not a lot of channels/bells/whistles. Keep it simple—yeah right.
Front Panel right to left: Volume, Overdrive, Treble, Mid, Bass, and Reverb (no labels—keep ’em guessing.)
Back Panel right to left: Fuse, AC Power, Bias Ports, Ohm Selector, Bias Adjust Port, 2 Parallel Speaker Outs, Two Slave Outs and Volume knobs, 2 Reverb RCA Connectors, Reverb On/Off Port in the center, (The reverb tank is in the bottom of the speaker cabinet away from the transformer to eliminate noise)
Tubes: V1 GE JG-12AY7, V2 Mullard 12AT7, V3 Jan GE 12AX7WA, V4 Mullard 12AT7. Power 2 Tung Sol 6V6.
Solid State Rectifier
Transformer: Mercury Magnetics Axiom Clone Tone, Caps: Carbon Comps
Many years ago, I went to a jam, and this dude, a great player, had an amazing sounding amp. It turned out he made it himself. Jeff was a disciple of Ken Fischer of Train Wreck and Ampeg fame. He’s currently working in conjunction with another fellow, as they are making amps for Musicvox in the Train Wreck mold. They will be reviewed in Guitar Player in the next couple of months.
Jeff was kind enough to make this one-off for me (sold a Fender Vibro King to make way; that’s a story in itself. Yep, selling gear for sonic and financial survival). The Powertone is a head and separate cabinet. The cabinet is made of pine and is the lightest thing about this whole rig. Initially, it had a California Weber 12″ speaker, but we recently replaced it with a Celestion 50 watt Alnico Gold speaker. The Celestion has a lot more character when playing at a lower volume, which has been an on going struggle to tame the Beast, as Jeff calls it. For a while, I had two RCA Blackplate 6L6’s and a 12AX7 in the V1 position along with the California Weber speaker. The amp in that configuration was a complete monster when dialed into the amp’s sweet spot, but, you couldn’t stand in front of it. We’ll I did, but then again, guitar players are crazy like that.
Playing the more introspective ambient, loopy, skronky, noisy, quiet, improv stuff there is now more control at a lower volume, and with a 12AY7 in the V1 position, and the 6V6 power tubes, I get more out of the amp controls and hit the sweet spot at a lower volume—nice.
The amp has 2 slave outs which allows me to access the rack gear post amp in a wet/dry effects set up. Therefore, none of the digital stuff is in an effects loop, or anywhere near the amp’s initial signal chain. The amp and its “dry signal” will always be in the room mix. I was searching for a way to turn off the Powertone’s speaker by utilizing a load box between the head and speaker cabinet. Tonebone makes a box where I could switch between routing to the cabinet, or somewhere else, like a speaker load. This would inevitably result in no signal coming out of the Powertone’s speaker cabinet, leaving only the uninterrupted slave out signals. It definitely worked, but unfortunately the Varidrive was not happy about what the load box did to its tone—game over on a load box.
Pedal Board 2 left to right:
Volume pedal from Powertone to TC Electronics D-Two
Volume pedal from Powertone to TC Electronic Fireworx
Expression Pedal for Moogerfooger
Expression Pedal for Fireworx
Expression Pedal for Lexicon MPX 1
Stereo Volume/Expression Pedal for two Echoplexes
Foot Controller for two Echoplexes
Pedal Board 3
Eventide Pitch Factor
Eventide Time Factor
CIOKS Eventide Power Factor
(Perhaps, this is where I jumped the shark.)
The rack effects are split into four sections, all in stereo:
TC Electronic Fireworx feeds the Custom Audio Electronics Mini Mixer and directly accesses the Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro
Gibson Echoplex Digital Pro (both updated with Loop IV)
Both EDPs access Pedal Board 3 and return to the CAE Mini Mixer
TC Electronics D-Two feeds Eventide Eclipse and returns to CAE Mini Mixer
CAE Mini Mixer feeds a Lexicon MPX 1 which affects all the rack gear up the chain and feeds a Hafler Trans Nova P3000 Stereo Power Amp which feeds two Mesa Engineering Cabinets, one with a Celestion Black Widow 12″ and the other with an EV 12″ speaker (I blew up the second Black Widow, bummer)
Sections 1 and 3 are parallel and can be accessed independently. Only the Fireworx hits the loopers, which in turn can be manipulated by the Eventide Factor pedals. The EDPs are great for doing rhythmic accurate loops. Check out Andre LaFosse—awesome. But, I wanted to be more random with my looping—there’s only one Andre. I’ve found out the hard way, even with separate cabinets that can be placed right beside an awesome drummer who has impeccable time, he/she will still get off from a loop when things start getting more involved sonically, especially if the original loop is subtle. There are workarounds to this like triggering from a midi clock, and I know players, who use the Boss loopers that send a click through headphones with great success. Still, it seems like such an inorganic process—ironic when one considers all this digital stuff. But, as Torn has noted many times, embrace the “happy accidents.” For me, it is paint with random color, alter, paint some specific color, and get out of the way.
Pedal Board 3 after the EDPs allows for more layers of complexity to still be random, or not, depending on the situation. I can loop a loop with the Time Factor, mute the original EDP loop, mess around with the altered loop to the point of being unrecognizable, and still bring back the EDP loop in its original form, or totally mess with it while it was off, i.e., stutter/reverse/octave down/etc.. The options are endless. Still, you have to be careful to not let the toys play the player. I’ve fallen into that trap before. It left a mark and it wasn’t pretty.
Section 3 has the D-Two in front of the Eclipse so I can add to the mayhem captured and affect it with the Eclipse (The Orgas-ma-tron), or not, as the set up was conceived to have many options and layers. None of this stuff is linked by MIDI except for the two EDPs, which need to be synced together to avoid drift. The lack of MIDI helps with the randomness, but I can always tap tempo any effects machine if need be. The only disadvantage to not having a midi controller is quick program changes. In the middle of an improv, I’ll get a sound idea, and by the time I scroll to it, the moment may have passed.
Still, with all this stuff, how much can you actually use on a gig? It’s not about, “Hey, check out my awesome patch number 327 on my new thingamabob Multi Effects Processor.” It’s about making a musical statement that moves you as a player, the people you are playing with, and maybe the ten brave souls who trucked out to hear you. What all this equipment really does is bring options to the table. The challenge is to have the strength to lift it, the courage to use it complimentarily, and the maturity to not use it when silence is the best effect.”
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Oh, one more thing…To hear any of this new configuration, please check out a new project recorded live in the studio with no overdubs and a few slight edits for length called e’fessioux and our recording Jangala at:
Since this was posted, some very wonderful pals chipped in and got me a Hilton volume pedal for my birthday last year which sounds so amazingly transparent. I’m very grateful!
I added a Montreal Assembly Count To Five delay which is exquisitely random when you want it to be, and it’s right before the Hexe Revolver to create monstrous mayhem.
Finally, I switched the tubes in the Powertone…Even though the combination of a 12AY7 in V1 and 6V6 power tubes dialed the amp down, I changed back the V1 to a NOS Mullard 12AX7, and in the V2, I switched out the 12AT7 for another NOS RCA 12AX7 and put in 2 NOS Westinghouse 6L6WGB power tubes, as the amp can deal with the higher voltage. These power tubes are slightly dialed down from 6L6GC tubes, as they are biased lower at 25mA and certainly are lower than the 6L6 RCA Blackplates I had in there before. But, the 6L6WGBs sound warm and articulate at the same time, and along with the two 12AX7s give the amp a rich and thick tone at a lower volume. But, when turned up, the amp screams! I kinda missed that! Ya know, an amp just needs to be what it needs to be…In this case…A Beast! A lesson learned, and of course, the lessons for me continue…