Being a sort of unconventional player, I tend to use unconventional gear. I favor guitars that get me all of the sounds I need rather than getting a specific guitar for a specific sound. I don’t have a reverence for traditional designs, and favor function over form in all of my gear. Ergonomics, balance, and weight are big concerns for me, so my choices reflect that.

The Guitars

Ernie Ball Silhouette Special

My #1

This is my favorite guitar to play and the one I use the most when performing with Julie Black. It is light, balanced perfectly, and a beautiful blue with a subtle metalflake finish. I bought it used, sight-unseen, after playing the same model in a store (I couldn’t afford a new one). Ernie Ball necks feel like butter, and really a treat to play if you are used to playing necks with a hard finish on them. I have to clean and sand this one every year, but it is absolutely worth it. Anyone who touches the neck of this guitar is pretty amazed, as I was. This is a small guitar overall, which suits my frame (and my back!) well.

I made some modifications to make it my own and to better suit my needs. I added a pearloid pickguard, and Graph-Tech saddles. I put Seymour Duncan humbuckers in there- an Alnico II Pro in the neck, and a Custom Custom in the bridge. These give me a warmer mid-heavy sound, that tends to take up a huge swath of frequencies. I added strap locks, too, as no guitar should be without them.

Scalloped Fingerboard

The biggest modification is that the fingerboard is scalloped, which digs out the wood between the frets. It forces you to play with a lighter touch (which I do, anyway), as stronger grips will pull the notes out-of-tune. I learned about scalloped boards from Ritchie Blackmore, and later, when I heard about John McLaughlin. I bought this guitar with the idea of having this done to it. I would do it to more guitars if I could. Bends are effortless, and vibrato is much easier. It should be more popular than it is, especially if your style depends on bending a lot (surprisingly, mine doesn’t).

Ernie Ball SUB1

#2

This is a companion to the Silhouette Special, in that it is the same shape without the contouring. It is made of poplar, and this particular guitar is super mid-heavy, so I switched out the pickups to something brighter (a Jazz and a Custom 5). It is a good example of using the pickups to correct a sonic issue with the guitar. I got this in a trade, which is the only trade I’ve ever done. The paint is really strange in that it is textured, and feels really rough. I like this as I don’t stick to it, and it doesn’t get fingerprints. The color is called Cinnamon, which changes colors depending on the angle of light. It can be red, green, purple, or brown. Apparently, it is a rare color for this guitar.

Warmoth Custom Strat

Flamey goodness!

This is a guitar I built from Warmoth. If you haven’t yet built your own guitar, I suggest you do. Mine has a wenge/ebony neck with stainless steel frets (which should come on every guitar). The body is swamp ash and flame maple. The pickups are a Classic Strat Stack, Five Two, and 59/Custom Hybrid, with some special fancy switching I wrote about in my blog. This was a blast to put together, and the guitar is the ideal, exotic super strat. Check out another article I wrote which goes into pretty specific detail about this project.

Steinberger Synapse

Steinberger Synapse

This is my main guitar used for teaching, and I’ve used it a lot for recording because it sounds so good. It is headless, very small and light, and perfectly balanced. It is the type of guitar an engineer would build (and did) who didn’t know or care what we all thought an electric guitar should look like. I like it better than every other headless electric out there, for the simple fact that it has 22 frets instead of 24. A 24 fret guitar’s neck pickup doesn’t sound right to me, and since I rely on that pickup most of the time, it has to be right. This guitar has an Alnico II Pro and a Custom Shop double-screw 59/Custom Hybrid with a roughcast magnet. I use a special 5 way switching that I also use in my Silhouette Special. I am a Steinberger Artist, too, so that is super cool!

Brian Moore Custom C-55PM

Brian Moore C55PM

This was a custom-made instrument that I’ve written about in my blog before. It is sort of a super-guitar, in that it has a midi-hex pickup for triggering a synthesizer, as well as a piezo pickup for acoustic sounds. The body is mahogany with a maple top, and it has a maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard. I use this instrument for all of my ambient recordings, and my ambient solo performances. The pickups and switching are the same as in my Silhouette Special above. It has its own unique sound that really responds well to processing, which is how I use it. I would generally run the synth output into a Roland GI-10 Midi Interface, and then to a synth of my choice. Usually it is a Roland M-GS64, or XV-5050. That would go in stereo to a Mackie 1202vlz4 mixer. The piezo bridge would go into a processor (I have used a Boss VF-1 in the past) and into another mixer channel. The regular guitar output would go into my Fractal AX8.

Fender The Strat (1982)

This guitar was the first good guitar I owned. It was my only electric guitar for my first 20 years of playing, and it was the guitar I used with all of my bands into my 30s. It is a special model only made over a few years (mine is stock), and in a color called sapphire blue, which was a custom option at the time. While I have moved away from Strat sounds for the most part, I am happy to keep this guitar and take it out now and then, remembering all of the songs I’ve learned on it & written on it. The neck is a 1-piece maple neck with a vintage radius, and the body is a heavy northern ash.

The headstock was, um, interesting, for a Fender

The electronics have stock Fender pickups, with the bridge being a much hotter X-1 pickup. It has a master volume and master tone, with a special 2-position switch that adds a bunch of series options. My favorite position was neck & middle, with the tone rolled down half-way.

Line 6 Variax Acoustic 700

This is my main live acoustic guitar. To call it an acoustic isn’t quite right, however, as it really has no acoustic sound of its own. The body is a solid piece of mahogany a little thinner than a Les Paul, and the soundhole is only there for show. However, plugged in, it is the most amazing acoustic guitar sound, which is based on modeling of actual acoustic guitars. It helps that you can save custom tunings as well. The tuning of the strings themselves don’t change- but what you hear from the speakers certainly does. You can model nylon strings and 12 strings, which sound excellent. I process mine with compression, reverb, and loops from a Line 6 HX Effects. This guitar isn’t made anymore, and I am scared if the electronics break, I might not be able to find parts. It is something I wish they will update someday.

Adamas SMT

Adamas is the higher end of Ovation. So it has a medium bowl back, but a carbon fiber top. It is one of the loudest acoustic guitars I have ever played, and sounds beautiful plugged in. The carbon fiber top is much thinner than a comparative wood top, so it vibrates freely yet is much stronger. The neck is 5-piece mahogany/maple/ebony, with an ebony fretboard. I process this in much the same was as my Variax. I love the color of this guitar, as it looks like blood. You can also see the grain of the carbon fiber in the top if you look closely.

Yamaha APX-6NA

This is a nylon string guitar for steel string players. It has a cutaway, and the body itself is thinner front-to-back than a standard classical guitar. Most important is the neck size, which is just a little wider than a steel string, but nowhere near the width of a classical guitar. It is an inexpensive instrument that feels great to play and sounds great when amplified- my favorite kind! It has appeared on many recordings, and I always play it hybrid-style, with my pick & fingers.

Fractal AX8

Fractal Audio AX8

This is my main effects unit for live electric gigs, as well as solo electric looping gigs. I plug this directly to the PA, and usually monitor the sound with in-ear monitors. It is much lighter than carrying my amps onstage and more practical than micing them and dealing with higher stage volumes. My sound is pretty easy- a Fender-type amp with a few pedals, and that’s it. No, it isn’t like the physical sensation of having an amp behind you, but I find I enjoy gigs a lot more, and don’t have the hearing damage from the volume. I also use this for solo electric looping gigs, as I have lots of patches I’ve programmed that don’t sound anything like a guitar. I rarely use the looper on the AX8, though, as the sound cuts out when you change patches. The expression pedal next to it controls wah and delay time/mix, depending on which mode it is in. A toe switch selects either mode. It is a better & smaller solution than having 2 separate pedals. My backup for this rig, which is always ready to plug in, is an Atomic Ampli-FireBox.

Line 6 HX Effects

Line 6 HX Effects

I use this for solo and duo acoustic gigs, as it has an excellent set of effects and a cool looper. I came from using at first a DL4, and then an M9. The HX Effects works differently than an M9, although in some ways it is better. You can have more effects, but these are arranged in presets, so you have to do some planning. The M9 was easier to edit on the fly. I use this for reverb, compression, and some cool spacey pad stuff. It has done a handful of electric gigs with me too, especially if the band has a provided backline.

The Ebow

My vintage Ebow, with holster

This is an hand-held electronic sustain device, which only works on 1 string at a time. I have two, a vintage one from the mid 70s with a leather holster, and a more modern one. I like the vintage one the best, but the modern one ‘hears’ the note sooner, so that helps. The modern ones also have a switch on them which is really easy to accidentally switch on as it is in the gear bag. I had lots of dead 9v batteries. But the device is remarkable, and has appeared at every gig with me.

Oberheim/Gibson Digital Echoplex Pro

A newer and an older Echoplex

I have 2, as you need two for stereo. These are the most advanced loopers ever created, and they are over 20-years old! These are the loopers I prefer when I do my ambient guitar thing, and they sit in a rack with a power conditioner. I need a looper with constant control over looping feedback no matter what mode I am in. I need to be able to constantly cut, insert, multiply and otherwise manipulate loops as I record and play back. I need a looper to obey me, and not the other way around. Most of my loop use is un-quantized, and non-rhythmic. The Echoplex is remarkably deep, and I think people who know about it are constantly discovering new things. For many of my recent ambient projects, I go guitar>Fractal AX8>Echoplex>PA or recorder. I also use it in the Aux send/return of a mixer. You can read more about my use of the Echoplex here.

Mesa/Boogie Blue Angel

Mesa/Boogie Blue Angel

When I use an amp live, or on recording (which isn’t often), I sometimes use my Blue Angel. The Blue Angel is a tube amp sort of based on a Deluxe, but it has 2 sets of different power tubes: 2 6v6s and 4 EL84s. You can combine them or use each set separately, which allows for a range of tones. It is thicker and smoother than a Deluxe without sounding tubby. I’ve used different sets of tubes to get the sound I like, although it came with a great set to begin with. It is a non-master volume amp, and has just 5 knobs. This is an 18-28 watt amp (depending on tubes) and it is LOUD. It is also HEAVY. Mine is covered in blue leather, and as a 1×12 speaker.

Tech 21 Trademark 60

Tech 21 Trademark 60

A solid-state amp that doesn’t sound like one, the Trademark 60 uses analog components to model a Fender-style amp. I used this live for many years for its excellent clean channel and ability to happily accept drive pedals well. It is fairly light for a 1×12 amp, and comes with the best feature for a gigging player: a wonderful XLR output. It sounds glorious into a PA system and that makes it easy to get along with the soundperson. Due to the weight and ability to get a great sound quickly, it is my #1 amp when I actually need one for a gig.