My Electronic Acoustic Rig

Acoustic Rig 2nd versionThe contradiction that is my “electronic acoustic rig” has now been up-dated, following my gig at the Wittstock Festival.

So, my “acoustic” guitar rig comprises: two of the classic Eventide delay and modulation units “TimeFactor” and “PitchFactor”, providing a huge range of  pristine “wet” stereo guitar sounds, and a Crowther Hotcake giving me a gentle overdrive for the occasional lead sound.

Only the wet guitar sounds from the two Eventides go through the looper.  Clarity is the key to looped sounds, so I have to be careful to play the loops as dry as possible using my most minimal patches.

The guitar sound is split immediately following the TC Electronics Polytune and the Hotcake in two by a Lehli splitter – one a mono split to the wet side. The other mono feed  provides the “dry” unprocessed guitar sound, going either to the desk – or the AC30.

The Tetra synth, played by a chromatic foot keyboard the McMillen 12 Step.  The USB connection is inadequate, but the rest of it is stage proof. This delivers a huge range of beats, pulses and pads. And the guitar stomp box type ‘BeatBuddy’ drum machine can be loaded with midi beats and a huge array of different drum kits.

The two foot pedals control the volume output of the looper, and various aspects of the delays coming from the Eventide Timefactor delay unit. The Beat Buddy drum machine transmits beat clock to everything else, so that the delays and modulations produce beat-oriented effects, and the looper responds at exactly the right moments (as opposed to when I might get round to dabbing at the switches).

I made everything midi controlled, using my old Musicom EFX Mk3. It also has analogue loops, which I’m using to switch between dry guitar and stereo guitar effects from the Eventides.

It’s a Wet Dry Wet system, so it’s great to be able to get back to just the basic dry guitar sound. I’m thinking of really going for this idea by using my old AC30 (which hasn’t been out for a while) for the dry sound.

The Allen-Heath desk provides me with in-ear monitoring, but also full rig control if there isn’t a sound engineer.  With 6 channels, plus the dry guitar and vocals, it’s about as small a desk as would do the job.  But it’s a very good desk, so no complaints.

I’ve had to work out some interesting midi routing for this. After several iterations, I’ve now completely separated the clock code (from the Beat Buddy) from everything else. The Pigtronix Infinity Looper insisted on changing patches when the other patches changed. As this was sometimes in mid-song, it threw the looping impossibly.  I was hoping somebody from Pigtronix will answer my several asks for help – but they didn’t 🙁     But separating the Pigtronix from everything was easy enough using Midi Solutions routers.

The idea for this project came from my keenness on guitar effects, plus really enjoying playing acoustic guitar at the moment.  Going back to solo electric with my usual rig sounded a bit tinny – which isn’t surprising as solid bodied guitars are designed to limit the frequencies that resonate, to prevent feedback when playing much more loudly with drums, bass etc. The idea of combining the strong percussive power and rich sounds of an acoustic guitar, with guitar effects like delays and the various forms of modulation, has kept me busy for the last few months.  In any case I had all the pedals in a storage box unused from other projects, so I thought I’d experiment.

There is a problem with acoustic guitars, effects and feedback. For example applying a phaser to the clean sound can be fine until one venue’s acoustics lead it to feed back horribly mid-song  as the phaser scan passes through one particular frequency.  AFS, which suppresses the offending frequencies, would make the phasing effect sound dreadful.

The solution is not to have backline or monitors, and just use in-ear monitoring.  But I’m keen to try using my 1963 AC30 as backline simply because playing acoustic through it at low volume sounds so rich and sweet.

There’s always been a problem with acoustic guitars and normal band stage volumes. Acoustic guitars are designed to resonate to amplify the tiny amplitudes generated by the strings.  So you see all sorts of measures to cut back resonation when acoustic guitars are played in rock bands: sound holes being blanked off,  EQ slicing,  smaller and thinline guitars,  and glass screens.  You sometimes have to keep your fingers on the strings so only the notes you want will sound; and even then you can feel the strings starting to resonate to the ambient sound – the beginnings of feeding back.  But the sounds you can get provided feedback is kept under control, are great.

So I’m hoping that being behind me – and its volume low, the AC30’s output won’t resonate inside my guitar sound box. And with in-ear monitors, the drums, synth and wet guitar sounds will no longer be coming up at me from the monitors, but directly into my ears.  Fingers crossed.

The use of midi led to a lot of complication and the use of various midi routers and signal generators. Working this out wasn’t straight-forward, as some of my various devices don’t use the full midi protocol – but their various Help Desk people either don’t know this, or don’t like to admit it. I can highly recommend the various Midi Solutions units I used to create the midi network that creates my system’s functionality. They’re small, light, good value and do what they say they’ll do. Anyone interested in this, please comment below and I’ll post some pics – as the midi stuff lies underneath the Eventide’s platform.

In this pic, it’s all going through a mixer, which I can do at gigs to give me a monitor feed and and stereo output, especially if it’s one of my gigs and I’ve brought the PA. But I hope for bigger gigs that the sound engineer will mix it for me; at least that’s what I’d prefer if I was doing the sound. The rig provides 6 balanced line level send to the desk through three Samson Plus DI boxes, and one unbalanced output to a backline, or to a fourth DI box for the dry guitar signal. I think in-ear monitoring is going to be a good idea, but haven’t got round to that yet.

It’s vital to keep everything as simple as possible. But even so, tap dancing is likely, as is the whole thing all slipping out of control, with foot-fault mistakes turning things into a mess. It’s a complicated musical instrument that requires practice.

It’s had one outing at the James Street Tavern. Adjustments were required – and further simplification. Experience at the Wittstock Festival led to a rebuild, and the next outing is Chinnor Bike Days on 4th July.