Thursday, 24 July 2014

Keeping it simple - the 'Grease' setup.

I am often intrigued by the complex things in music; gear, harmony, rhythms etc but find I am constantly reminded that simple is usually best. Simple does not necessarily mean easy.

For the last three weeks I have been playing guitar on the theatre show 'Grease'. This is a light-hearted, fun theatre show and in many ways challenging; not least to play the rock 'n roll style authentically, to play consistently night after night and to play the parts super tight among other desirable goals. Rock 'n roll is simple music and I have found many jazz musicians struggle with this e.g. playing 7th and 9th chords when it should just be a triad etc. Luckily I have a background in playing rock 'n roll, blues and rock which has been invaluable in my working career as a musician.

Last night before the show there was a few minutes of free time in the theatre. So I recorded a quick loop of my guitar using my delay pedal and went out the front into the theatre to have a listen. I got the sound guy to crank my guitar up loud in the system. I was amazed at how big the guitar sounded yet the setup I am using is very simple.

In the past I have used big amps, lots of pedals, many guitars etc. For this show I used just one guitar, a small amp and a small pedal board. This is the first time I have listened out front on one of these shows and I was very happy with the tone that was filling the large theatre (1500 seat capacity). [Note: The acoustic guitar in the picture is being used by Conway Jeune who is playing guitar 2.]

My guitar is an Ibanez AR420 Artist (with coil-taps engaged the whole time). I really like this guitar for these gigs as I can get the sound of a Les Paul, a tele and more just by adjusting the settings. Does it sound exactly like a tele? ... no. Nor a Les Paul - but thats not the point. It sounds really good to my ear and is super versatile so any subtlety is not an issue here.

I have a big pedal collection but in recent years have been stripping it back to just the basics - a few drive pedals (Cusack screamer and BB preamp), a delay pedal (line 6 DL4), a tremolo (Empress), an octave (Boss OC2 my one guilty pleasure!) and utility stuff (tuner - Korg, volume pedal - Ernie Ball, Pickup booster - Seymour Duncan, reverb - Chicklet).  I power these using a BBE supercharger which is excellent. It is quiet, reliable and has switchable voltage so can be used anywhere in the world. I use a pedal train board in a soft case (it is the size of a laptop case).

The amp I am using is a Victoria 20112, their reproduction of the classic 1959 Fender tweed Deluxe. This amp is 15 watts with a 1 x 12 inch speaker. It is mic'ed up. Main thing I need from the amp is to produce the tone I want and as a monitor. Easy. Does the job extremely well, and is super reliable - which is hugely important on these gigs.

There is a lot of truth in the concept of it being better to have a small amp cranked up than to have a big amp on a low volume. I set the amp at the point of breakup aka Larry Carlton's concept. Also, the band area is tight (as usual) and a big amp would be in everybody's way.

Someone asked me the other day what they have to do to get these gigs. Hard question as things are definitely different these days than they were when I was starting out. However, I think being recommended for the gig is still the most likely way in. Thats how it happened for me and is likely how it will happen for others (I recommended the 2nd guitar player for this gig - now he is in there and likely to get future work). So, the only way someone is going to recommend you is if they know you can do the job e.g Do you have your rig together? Can you play the styles necessary? Are you RELIABLE? Can you read music? Is your timing good? Are you good to work with? etc.

One of the key skill necessary is reading music. Many guitar players I know read poorly. It is not necessarily their fault (laziness in some cases maybe?) but the fault of their teachers who likely did not read very well either and is not typical of how people learn the guitar unlike say violin, or other instruments. In saying this, guitar players will never read on the equivalent level of great sax players, trumpet players and keys players because the guitar is much tougher instrument in terms of reading - so do not beat yourself up if you are working hard at your reading and not of the level of other musicians.

Here is a sample of the first pages of two charts from Grease. I had to transcribe the chord changes to Grease Is The Word because it was totally wrong - same with Hopelessly Devoted. This is unusual, so ignore that for now, but this is pretty much what show charts look like - a combination of lines, chords, hits etc, etc.

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