This is truly a geeky post but for those 5 of you out there who might be interested in what exactly I use on stage with Great Good Fine Ok you're in luck. 95% of the time I track GGFO parts DI and Luke and/or I do a healthy amount of manipulation "in the box". When working at Let Em In, down in Gowanus, I like going direct into one of Nadim's Great River MP-500NV (500-series 1073 Neve clone) pres. At home I like going into either my moded ART Pro-Channel II or (newly acquired, thanks Max) vintage Peavy TG Raxx pre . I'm normally looking for some level of tube-ish upper-harmonic generation and breakup but without the 'air' that miking a speaker has the potential to create. Recreating that sort of sound in a live setting is a little tricky. Though it would make logical sense to just go DI, more often than not I do want an amp behind me pushing some air. When I'm on in-ears it's not to much of an issue, but when on floor-wedges it just isn't the same to have your sound exclusively coming out of the wedge with the rest of the mix.
Looking for an amp that didn't add any additional color to my sound led me to Roland Jazz Chorus. 15-year-old Russ would have said that a JC-120 is just about the most uncool amp choice available, but 15-year-old Russ knew very little about what it takes to sit in a mix properly. I had been a fan of the desert-blues guitar players from West Africa (Ali Farka Touré, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib of Tinariwen) for a while. Those guys use JC-120's to cut, in what are often sonically-chaotic mixes, without having any breakup. I'm not into the contemporary one's; I find they don't have the balls that the vintage ones have. It's funny, because the wattage ratings are (I believe) the same but I find late-model JC-120's, for instance, to have about have the output that older models do.
Now, living in Brooklyn, a JC120 always seemed a little excessive. I did some research and discovered that Roland made a whole line of Jazz Chorus amps, including the lesser-known JC-77 (the smaller 2x10" version of the 2x12" JC120). I purchased a model from the 80's off of Craigslist a few years ago and found that there are a couple other advantageous qualities to the JC-77 that the JC-120 doesn't offer; specifically a 'high-treble' control and a 'fixed chorus setting'. The 'fixed-chorus' setting is a trade off for the 120s vibrato, but I never found the vibrato on those amps particularly convincing to begin with. The 'fixed chorus' is essentially Roland's way of saying, 'This is what you should use, don't mess with it, it's perfect' and, quite frankly, it's just that. Perfect. For in-the-box modulation (attempting to get close to that on the JC-77) I use Acon Digital Multiplier and the TAL chorus (chorus section of a JUNO emulation) plug-in. Both are free. Get them.
On stage I'm always using just a plain old SM57 to mic the amp. I detest 609's and 906's. There's a nasty, to me unnatural, sounding bump around 4K on a 609 that drives me crazy. It's too harsh. The top end is a hell of a lot smoother on a SM57; I like how it's response is pretty even from 3-6k and then falls off around 7500hz.
As far as pedals go, I've swapped a number of them on and off the GGFO board over the past year or so but here's where I'm at currently...
You can see it's pretty straight ahead; tuner, compressor, a couple stages of gain, eq, analogue delay, volume pedal, additional chorus and reverb. Nothing too boutique-y. You'll notice that most of the connections are made with cable-less pedal connectors. I love these things; less opportunity for something to go wrong. The order here is everything folks. I won't name names but I was doing some gigs a couple years ago with an old buddy of mine, a guy who has been playing guitar since he was 12, and I discovered that it never dawned on him that the order of his pedals had an impact on his sound. Every gig he played he would just take his pedals out of a backpack and set them up in a random order. It completely blew my mind. Change the order of any of the above pedals and my sound is going to change completely. Most critical to that idea is that my volume pedal is before reverb but after all gain. I want my tails to sound natural but I want my guitar's output to hit all of my gain stages with all it's got at all times. I also want my eq (which I solely used to cut low frequencies below 400hz) after all gain so that the low frequencies direct from the guitar prompt the overdrives to breakup in a natural way. Less low end before a pedal that's performing a high-pass is going to result in less breakup.
I never touch any of the on-board controls on my guitars, with the exception of my volume knob when I'm performing a for really delicate fade outs (like at the end of 'Time' in the GGFO set). Tone knobs are useless in most settings to me; I can't remember the last time I touched one. I always have tone knobs all the way up. I actually have a Mexican strat that I've cut the tone knobs out completely on.
Three out of eight of the pedals on this board are on at all times: the reverb, chorus and eq. Those three remain untouched throughout the set. The reverb is always set on a plate sound with a long pre-delay and the wet/dry control around 10 o'clock. The chorus is set very low and just adds the slightest bit of motion to my sound; it helps a lot when trying to fit a guitar into the synth-pop context. The eq is, as I described above, only used to cut out the lows. I find that most guitar players have no idea what their doing with the low end of their sound. A word of advice: the more of the bass player's territory you intrude upon the louder he/she is going to turn up to compensate. Let them have that part of the frequency spectrum and don't create a loudness war.
Of the other pedals on the board the Whirlwind compressor is the most essential during the GGFO set; I use it at least once in every song. I used to think that using a compressor was cheating but in a context where you're competing with a lot of synths (most with velocity-sensitivity disabled) it's a critical tool. My life is a heck of a lot easier with the compressor and the Whirlwind Red Box is worlds better than a contemporary Dyna-Comp in my opinion.
The gain pedals on the board are two of my favorites. The Earthquaker White Light is really transparent and keeps all of the dynamics of your playing intact. The PlimSoul is high-gain and affordable without sounding cheap. I really like that the PlimSoul has two stages of grit with a LED on-board to allow you to visualize when you're really hitting the second gain-stage. My philosophy with grit is that it's always better to have several stages so as to allow a smoother ramp with multiple characters of breakup. Also, you'll notice, high gain before low gain, always. It really helps with keeping a human feel when playing lead lines.
Stay tuned for PART 2 when I'll discuss the guitars I bring on the road with me...