The equipment I use can be tailored to nearly any event. From a small gathering, to a crowd of hundreds, I have the gear to provide just the right sound level without being overpowering.
I believe that it’s important to use professional-grade gear for a professional performance. There’s nothing worse than hiring a musician (or any professional, for that matter), only to see him or her arrive with a hodge-podge of equipment held together with duct tape and hope. Using quality equipment and keeping it maintained ensures that I can provide a trouble-free performance that sounds fantastic. Problems can always occur (broken guitar strings, failing cables, etc.), however I have backup equipment and supplies with me at all times so the “show will go on”.
Here is a list of my current gear lineup:
I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of my newest guitar – an Emerald X-20 Artisan “Woody”. These incredible instruments are hand-crafted in Ireland by Alistair Hay of Emerald Guitars, and are made wholly of carbon fiber instead of traditional wood. The “Woody” models have a thin decorative wood veneer on the top (quilted maple on mine, like the photo), but are still constructed of carbon fiber. This man-made material, unlike wood, is impervious to heat, cold, and humidity changes. Wood guitars are difficult to maintain in the dry desert climate; the heat and arid air wreak havoc on the delicate wood, leading to cracking and splitting, poor tone, and the need for continual adjustments to the neck. The Emerald X-20 will suffer from none of these problems. And with robust construction and stainless steel frets, it’s an instrument that can last several lifetimes. Built-to-order with a 4-month wait time, I can’t wait for it to arrive!
I am a huge fan of the 12-string guitar for solo acoustic performance. It adds a depth of tone not really attainable in any other way. My most recent 12-string purchase is an ESP LTD TL-12. This thinline guitar (thin like an electric, but sounds like an acoustic!) is so incredibly comfortable to wear and play, and the Fishman electronics really bring the guitar to life when plugged in. It took three tries to get a properly-built one, but it was worth it. Why three? Read about it here.
My second 12-string guitar that I will occasionally bring to gigs is an Ovation Elite 2058TX model. This is a recent purchase after my trials and tribulations with the Breedlove brand of instruments (I blogged about those troubles, which you can read here). This particular Ovation model not only sounds and plays great, but just look at it! I keep saying that if Ovation made a “goth” style guitar, this is it.
My second stage guitar is a somewhat inexpensive Dean Exotica FM Faded. Not a high-end instrument by any means. But it actually sounds and plays beautifully, and I really like the look of it as well. After a few string-breakage issues, I have stopped using this particular instrument at gigs, at least temporarily.
The oldest guitar in my acoustic arsenal is a Yamaha Compass series – I have dated it by its serial number to 2001. It plays and sounds great, and has once again become my main 6-string performance guitar. I’ll bring this guitar to Open Mic Nights to play, but also to loan. Come on down to an Open Mic if you’d like to play it!
Currently I prefer Elixir coated 80/20 phosphor-bronze strings, 12-53 gauge (light) on my 6-string guitars, and 10-47 (light) on the 12 string guitars.
When it comes to compact and great-sounding pro-audio equipment, Bose is hard to beat. My main rig is a Bose L1 Model II. The multi-directional speaker array fills a room with sound. I’m sure you’ve been to shows where there’s a spot right in front of the speaker that is loud and clear (perhaps too loud!), but off to the sides, the sound loses definition and clarity. Well, Bose has solved that with these L1 systems. The speakers are aimed in multiple directions, making the entire room a “sweet spot”. They’re easy and quick to set up, portable, and suitable for just about every gig I play. The L1 Model II Sounds great at all volume levels, and has enough power for audiences of up to 500 people.
The Bose L1 system has two subwoofer options (the small B1, and the large B2), and I own both. This allows me to have just the right subtle bass for small venues, or get that extra punch for larger audiences and outdoor performances where extra low-end is necessary. I also utilize the Bose T1 ToneMatch Mixer; a great little unit that allows me to easily and quickly dial-in the best sound possible.
As a secondary and backup system, I will also use a StageSource L3T speaker by Line6. I typically carry this all-in-one speaker system with me, just in case something should go wrong with the Bose L1. By carrying a backup system, the show will always go on! I can also use this speaker as a secondary system if necessary; for example, at a recent wedding, I was hired to play the ceremony and cocktail hour. Since these were in different locations, I was able to set up a PA system in each area, minimizing any downtime in the music. The StageSource L3T can also be used as an additional subwoofer to supplement the Bose, or I can connect both together (wirelessly, if necessary!) to have the music in separate areas or rooms, outside and inside at the same time, etc. Whatever your needs, I can usually accommodate them!
Looping and Effects
Loop performance has become an integral part of my shows. And while I don’t use the looper constantly, I’m integrating it more and more as I arrange new (and rearrange old) songs for performances. I love the ability to slap a beat onto the guitar, and record it as a looped “drum track” for the song I’m about to play. Then I can add various other elements to make the performance sound like multiple instruments and musicians – on some songs I even live-loop vocals and create multi-part harmonies. I always like to emphasize that NOTHING is pre-recorded at my performances. I don’t use any “backing tracks” or drum machines. If I want a drum beat, I create it on-the-spot thumping on my guitar or using my microphone to create human-drum sounds that are recorded into the looper. I lay down various tracks on guitar live and on-the-fly and play or record more over them. Call me snobbish, but I consider this to be a more genuine performance than using pre-recorded materials and drum machines.
For looping I use a Boss RC-300. This is one of the best devices on the market for loop performance, with three individual tracks that can be synced and arranged in multiple ways. I started looping with a mid-range looper by DigiTech, but quickly felt the need to upgrade to take my performances to the next level. The RC-300 includes multiple effects as well, such as reverb, chorus, guitar distortions, and the like. I use several of these effects in various ways to enhance the sound of the guitars.
Another important piece of gear that sits on my floorboard is a little device called the Panic Button by ProCo. The Boss RC-300 looper can record and playback vocals, and I do this during numerous songs; often adding layers of harmony over my own live-recorded voice or “beat box” style drum parts. However, the unit does not have the ability to toggle the microphone recording on and off. This is where the Panic Button comes in. It is basically a high-quality switching unit, so I can send my voice to the loop station only when I need to. The Panic Button does a fantastic job of this task, and the switching is silent and clean. The unit can serve other functions as well, depending on how it is setup, but I use it strictly for A/B switching of my microphone.
I’m also anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new wireless unit – a Relay G10 by Line6. This is a brand-new design by Line6, and I pre-ordered it as soon as I saw it! With a simple “bug” style, rechargeable transmitter that plugs directly into the guitar with no additional cables, this all-digital wireless system will free me from being plugged in and tethered to my pedalboard all the time. I’ll be able to roam a bit – perhaps heading out to play amongst the crowd as well. With no more cables to step on or trip over, wireless systems are very freeing and I can’t wait to set mine up!
The RC-300, Panic Button, and Relay G10 all reside on a custom-built pedalboard that I constructed several years ago. It has built-in hidden outlets, one additional external outlet for powering another device, a master on/off switch, and LED lighting to illuminate the pedals. No mess of wall-warts for me; all the devices are plugged into the board itself, and all I need to do is power the board with one standard power cord.
Currently, I utilize a Shure SM58 dynamic microphone. This industry-standard mic has been a live-music staple for decades for its perfect vocal sound and incredible durability.
A little lighting goes a long way to setting a great mood at a show. To accomplish this, I use a special set of brackets that allow me to attach a light bar directly to the top of the Bose L1 speaker tower. This puts the lights at a perfect height and angle to aim a nice beam of color my way. The lights themselves are simple, lightweight, rechargeable LED units made by Chauvet, and I keep them set to slowly wash from one color to another.
Open Mic Nights
For Open Mic Nights, I generally leave the looper at home (yes, I do perform some songs when hosting Open Mic, however these nights are not about me, they are about the spectacular guest performers who come out to play and entertain!). I will set up two microphones and two guitar cables so duos can perform, and run them through this 8-channel Alto mixer, connected to one or both of my Bose L1 PA System. This affordable little mixer does a great job, and even has some built-in effects such as reverb to add a little depth to the vocals and instruments. It gives me some basic EQ capabilities as well so I can mix a good sound out of almost any instrument. I have also recently added a small outboard mixer for some extra channels, and have had a full 6-piece ensemble playing at Open Mic – what a blast! The Alto mixer also has a line-in that can be used for prerecorded backing tracks should the need arise, so if you have a karaoke-style track you’d like to sing with, just load it in your phone or iPod and come on out to open mic night!
Generally speaking, I will build my own custom connecting cables, using Neutrik connectors. This allows me to have cables that are the perfect length for their intended purpose, keeping things neat and tidy, and facilitating quick setups and tear-downs. Sometimes I play three gigs in one day, so every little bit of time I can save definitely matters!
It might seem insignificant, but this particular guitar cable is one of my favorite pieces of equipment. It’s a Circuit Breaker cable by Planet Waves. Not only does it have the same lifetime guarantee as Monster (a guarantee I’ve already used twice!), but see that little button on the side of the housing? Well, that’s basically a mute button. If you’ve ever heard a that “buzz-POP!” when a guitar is plugged into or unplugged from a live sound system, well that button eliminates that pop. Since I switch guitars often during performances, this muting cable has become an invaluable piece of equipment. It also allows muting of the signal if I need to tune up between songs. Though I’m soon to go wireless, I’ll always carry at least one of these great cables in case I have to plug in direct.
My days of huge binders full of lyric sheets have been over for quite some time now. Ever since my flimsy music stand simply broke in the middle of a song one night. Nothing hit it – it just broke. Fell over. In fact, it broke before it fell over. I still have no idea how or why. But since that day, I’ve been using an iPad Mini for lyrics. In some instances, I provide background music during a break in my performance, and the Mini handles this as well; I simply have it hooked up to my PA system and let iTunes shuffle one of my playlists.
The iPad is mounted to my microphone stand using an iKlip mount. It’s secure and puts the screen in a perfect position. I use an app called My Lyric Book, which is a great app for lyric management; it uses PDFs which I create on my computer. Because they are PDF files, I am able to make notations, highlight text for quick visual cues, and format lyrics in columns if necessary to fit entire songs on one page. My Lyric Book can also utilize a Bluetooth page-turner pedal, but so far I have not seen the use for that device.
The app organizes the lyric sheets into an alphabetical list, and specific song titles can be highlighted with different colors for quick reference. It’s also possible to create “set lists”; I use this feature to group songs of similar tunings, or to make other useful lists. The tempo of songs can also be set, with a visual flashing on the screen. This is very useful for creating the “drum” beats into my looper, making sure I’m at the correct speed for the song I’m about to perform.
The benefits of using the iPad for lyrics goes beyond this app, too. As long as I have WiFi connectivity (or use my iPhone as a WiFi Hotspot), I can search the web for lyrics and chords for specific songs. Just recently I added two songs to my roster, simply because a patron asked for a specific song and I was able to look it up and play it on-the-spot using lyrics and chord notations I found online. Being able to spontaneously play new songs is a challenge I eagerly accept whenever I can – and something not really possible back in the days of ink-on-paper lyric sheets. Technology – yay!!
So that’s a fairly detailed breakdown of the equipment I use. Things change over time, of course, so I may update this page in the future. But for now, this array of equipment has proven to be very reliable, and allows me to always give the best performance possible.