X Ambassadors Rig_Updated

Inevitably its been quite a while since I've posted in this thread. It seems my efforts to maintain somewhat of a web presence inescapably cycle into lengthy periods of radio silence. Nevertheless, there have been significant changes in my touring rig with XA since I last posted and I feel now would be as good a time as any to make note of them here. 

                                                                                                                                                             Photo: RJ Garcia (@rjgxx)

                                                                                                                                                             Photo: RJ Garcia (@rjgxx)

Principally, I've switched over to using a Kemper rig in lieu of conventional amp(s). This has had the enormous impact in reducing stage volume. In turn, the ability to better isolate individual musical elements on stage has increased and I think we're unanimously (both performers and crew) happier for it. Sometimes I feel bad for folks standing side-stage during our set as festivals. I'm sure they expect a great vantage point for the show, both visually and aurally, when in reality the only thing they're able to hear is the live drums. Though using the Kemper might come at the cost of some level of excitement on stage the benefit it provides in the area of consistency from show to show is invaluable. The quality and reliability of rental backline from city to city is highly variable and had proved a real source of stress; it became a no-brainer to give an amp simulator a shot. I had considered running amp sims via MainStage but the liability of having another computer/interface on stage just didn't seem worth it. Among hardware amp simulators the tangibility of the Kemper units coupled with what, to my ears, were extremely accurate sonics set it apart. 

I'll admit that sorting through the Kemper online library is a bit tedious. The vast majority of user created profiles are rubbish. I blame that, not on taste per say, but rather the fact that I don't think most people know what they're doing when miking a guitar amp. For those unfamiliar with how the profiling process works with a unit like a Kemper I suggest you check out this short, overly-dramatic video on how the job is done. 

There are a lot of touring guitar players who opt to utilize the Kemper as a replacement for not only their amps on stage but also their pedalboards. Though I'm sure that works well for some in my experimentation I found I make too many pedal changes in the set for that to be practical. The setup I arrived on is somewhat of a hybrid wherein I'm still using my drive oriented stompboxes but relaying on the internal Kemper "effects loop" for reverb, delay and most modulation effects. One of the biggest difficulties in using stereo amps, as I had previously, was balancing them. Before switching to the Kemper I would have one Twin positioned behind me (stage right) and the second would be behind Casey (stage left) with an ever-so-slight CE-1 emulated chorus effect (via a 'Tone Print' loaded TC Electronic Gravy stompbox) going on between them. This setup, with one amp on either side of the stage became necessity because otherwise, with both amps directly behind me, it was nearly impossible for Jon (our FOH engineer) to balance the guitar sound in the room, particularly in smaller venues. Additionally, though the seal on my in-ear monitors is excellent it was always difficult for me to set levels with one amp behind me an another 25' away. Having a uniform, perfectly balanced, stereo image in my ears with the Kemper has been a welcomed experience. On top of that, it had only been the chorus pedal at the end of my pedal chain running in stereo previously. Now, having the majority of my delays and reverbs going in stereo via the Kemper has been a total game changer. Furthermore, having the ability to get under the hood and EQ said effects on the unit has helped to clean up the overall mix of the band in a huge way, both in my ears and at FOH. Something as simple as being able to high-pass time-based effects has had a gigantic impact on the clarity of my guitar sound. Side note: more pedal manufactures need to produce reverb and delay pedals with high-pass filters. 

As far a guitars are concerned my '16 SG has remained my main instrument on stage. That said, since my last post I've experimented fairly heavily with different pickups, ultimately arriving on a set of Seymour Duncan 59's. The original bridge pickup, in particular, I found lackluster and far too low in output to be entirely functional. One other change I've made is removing a tone control such that I now just have one master tone. I very rarely touch a tone control with perhaps the one exception of occasionally rolling tone off when I play slide; I certainly don't ever need more than one. I had also been experiencing issues with my patch cable sliding out of the jack because of the awkward angle it was sitting in when I ran it under my strap. Removing a pot allowed me to move the output jack of the guitar to the now vacant 'treble tone' hole and in turn alleviate the issue with the cable occasionally coming out. 

The newer additions to the fold are a a '06 Explorer, a D'Angelico Deluxe DC semi-hollow and a D'Angelico EX-63 archtop acoustic. Each of those three I've been using for specific tunes in the set: the Explorer for 'Love Songs Drug Songs' and 'Loveless', the semi-hollow on 'Hoping' and 'Gorgeous' and the archtop for the latest single, 'Ahead of Myself'. The Explorer is stock with the exception of a Bigsby and roller bridge set similar to my SG and a pair of Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates humbuckers. I found the stock ceramic pickups to be way too hot for the existing gain structure of my rig. The Pearly Gates pickups are great because they're slightly hotter than the 59's but not so hot that they're unruly. Conveniently enough the D'Angelico DC came stock with 59's in it. Beyond the general playability of the guitar my favorite thing has been the 6-way toggle switch that D'Angelico has developed. Instead of more conventional methods of coil-tapping (push-pull knobs or independent switches per pickup) this toggle looks like an unassuming Gibson-style three-way but in actuality has two-tiers of 3 positions: one for humbucker timbres and one for single-coil sounds. I have no idea why nobody thought of this system earlier but it renders all other systems of pickups selecting inferior, in my humble opinion. I'm also a big fan of the "Midnight Matte" finish of the DC which gives the neck a feeling similar to that of a sanded neck. 

As I eluded to, my drive pedals have largely remained unchanged though their arrangement has changed slightly. In moving things around I chose to move my tuner a lot closer to me. I check my tuning probably a dozen times during the set and having the tuner in the far right corner of the board wasn't making my life any easier. You can see in the photo below that my Seymour Duncan Vapor Trails is the only time-based effects pedal that remains on the board. For other delays and reverbs I'm relaying entirely on the Kemper. My 'Main' Kemper profile is a best Fender Twin Reverb profile I could find (and I went through a lot of them). The channel titled 'Lead' below is essentially just a gained-up iteration of the same patch. I use that patch only for my solos in "Gorgeous" and "Renegades", at which point I disengage whatever other pedals I might have going on and that patch has 'analogue' delay and EQ pre programmed; all I have to do it hit that one switch. The 'AC15' patch is my Vox profile just for "Torches" at the moment. It's a bit grittier by itself than my 'Main' profile is and it has the tremolo for that song built into the it. The time for the trem is written in milliseconds so that I don't have to remember to tap. For most other songs, while using my 'Main' patch, I'll tap out the tempo at the top of the tune. 'Slap' is a 90ms (I believe) slapback that I use for 'Low Life' and 'Gorgeous' that I had previously been doing with my Eventide Space unit. As you might suspect 'd 1/8' is a dotted-8th delay; it's in mono. 'Complex' is my most used Kemper effect and is a "gallop" delay a la The Edge, with dotted-8th on one side and quarter-note delay on the other. I use this in pretty much every song, every night. 'Pad VRB' is a high diffusion reverb meant to substitute for my Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star "pad reverb". It's not quite as vibey as that most excellent pedal is but it does have a leg up on the pedal in that it's in stereo. I use this effect in a few places in the set, most notably the throughout "Unconsolable".

Two additions to the board worth noting are a basic Boss EQ and the Radial SGI system that I'm using to get upstage to the Kemper. The graphic EQ I'm only using as a slight boost for one solo passage after the first chorus in "Hoping". I found that I just needed a little lift there so 400hz, 800hz and the overall output control of the pedal are just a hair above unity for that one part. I tried using a compressor there, I tried using a low-gain overdrive; nothing was doing the trick. It was actually working with Tom Morello and seeing that he used a Boss EQ as a boost that inspired me to give it a shot. Sure enough, it was exactly what I need. 

The Radial SGI is a system that I had used several times in studio applications and thought I would give it a go in a live situation. Basically, there are two boxes: one send box and one receive. The send box is powered and connects via 1/4" to the output of your pedals. The receive box is passive lives at your amp (in this case, my Kemper) and also connects via 1/4". However, between the two boxes you run XLR which allows you to run much, much longer cable lengths without signal lose than one would using a traditional 1/4" cable. Typically noticeable guitar signal degradation (while using passive pickups) begins around 15-18'; with these Radial units you can run as much as 300' of XLR without much lose. 1/4" patch cables are unbalanced, XLR is balanced. 

All for now.