Simplicity is Bliss

I know what you’re thinking; I have to be the most self-contradicting burk humanity has ever beheld for making such a statement after building one of the most difficult to understand stereo setups I could find. But, on the contrary, I completely understand the concept of simplicity in a gigging musicians environment. Although I run through up to sixteen pedals at a time, my signal path only runs through two before entering the front of my amp. I only use one guitar for ninety five percent of my work; I have only used two amp for an entire album, and even more amazingly my live setup this week has been boiled down to become even more logistically logical than ever before. Therefore on paper, and in the studio, my rig does its job beautifully, but when push comes to shove, simplicity makes the life of a working musician easier, and from time to time better sounding.

The reason I am writing on this topic is because of this past Sunday morning’s worship service I had been invited to play at, at Forest Hill Baptist Church. After being invited by my friend and seriously talented musician Christopher, I sat down with my current setup to run though and hone sounds for the Sunday morning service. After several hours of tweaking my pedalboard, amps, and even changing out guitars, I came to this simple conclusion: This is not going to work. As much as I love the sound that this large amount of equipment gives me, I need to think smaller, and easier for this specific type of gig.

I decided that for worship music there are only four types of effects that are nessessary for a great sounding set, of which are compressor, drive, delay, and reverb. Only one amp was needed, which I instantly picked the AC30, and only one guitar, which naturally was going to be my Fender Stratocaster. When I had been employed at one particular church in years past, I had used a similar setup to craft “my” tone, which I still use to this day. I had started out with an Ibanez TS-7 Tubescreamer, which I later gain-stacked with a Boss BD-2 Blues Driver. Shortly after, I discovered delay in the form of a Ibanez AD-9 Analog Delay, and the world changed. I began using more reverb and low-wattage combo amps, as well as the same Fender Stratocaster I still use today. This old-school, analog style was the direction I wanted to take myself again, so I quickly began to pull my new rig apart.

Surprisingly, I only needed one pedal (The MojoHandFX Clementine compressor) which was permanent to my “Mothership” pedalboard to complete the new “Analog Baby” flatboard. I used the tabletop from an old seventies T.V. Table for the board itself, and after upholstering it with hooked velcro carpet and adding modern stainless steel handles, was ready for the addition of effects.

I started with the copmressor; my MojoHandFX Clementine. The Clementine is a simple, one knob compressor/booster that I use at the front of my signal to not only add a light compression to the overall sound, but for its incredible clarity. I have never heard a pedal which can add such a full-spectrum sound, with only a single volume knob! Talk about simple setups! Moving on to the drive section, I used a JHS Morning Glory (V3) low gain overdrive, for its natural, smooth clipping and the way that it pushes my amp instead of coloring its tone. With the tone rolled back while just using the Vox AC30, I was able to emulate some of the great worship lead guitar tones, with just a single click of my foot, making this one of the all-time great analog overdrives. 

Picking the delay was a bit of a harder choice. I wanted to definitely use an analog type D-Bucket circuit, but with my small collection of delays slowing growing as I can afford them, the choice was a little difficult. I finally settled on my original Ibanez AD-9; genesis. This was the first, and what I would consider to be one of the best analog delay pedals ever made, which made it a clear answer as to which delay I should use on my home-brewed analog board.

Finally, I finished my board with a bit of a surprise. I had received my Malekko Chicklet reverb as a Christmas present four or five years ago, and quickly began to hate it. At the time, I wanted a smooth and clear plate reverb, or a hall/arena type reverb unit that could sit nicely behind a digital delay. After buying a Strymon BlueSky, I gave the Chicklet the boot, leaving it on a shelf for the last few years. I never had the heart to sell it because I believed it to be a wonderful emulation of a spring reverb, but I could never find the place to use it. I never even sound-checked the board after installing the Chicklet, but once on stage at Forest Hills, I began kicking myself in the head for not using it more. Sitting in front of my Vox, it had a airy creaminess that my BlueSky, no matter the tweaking just couldn’t match. This may have differed if I had been using my stereo amp rig, but running such a pedal into a single combo amp was exactly what I was looking for in an analog-eques reverb pedal. 

For the amp settings, everything remained the same, save the volume which was almost halved. Luckily, this made for a sweeter and chimier sounding AC30, reminiscent of Vox tones from years’ past. I kept the amp off the floor, on an amp stand at a forty five degree angle, projecting out into the front of house.

Once plugged in, I was taken back a few years to the church where my search for my own personal tone began. The exactly same organic, clear, balanced and bell-like tone all came back in a flood of sound. Simplicity in many cases can trump complexity, just as in the way one plays an instrument. I love the sound of my “Analog Baby” just as I love the sound of the “Mothership” in their own different ways, just as you love the sound of an Alembic or a Telecaster in much the same way. I have changed my AD-9 out for a more versatile DMB Lunar Echo, but the idea is the same; being a good musician is not in the same as being a clever musician. Things such as guitars, amps and effects should not be used to hide your imperfections, but enhance your abilities.

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