Tuesday Tune-Up: Guitar Porn

My Guitar Rig (Guitar Geeks Only)

I’ve got a new (to me) guitar setup, and I’d love to share it with you guitar geeks out there. We’ll go through the guitars, pedalboard, and amps. But first…

Why Change Your Rig?

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that last year, 2019, was one of the worst years of my life. Despite having five-years teaching experience and a Masters degree, when I moved back to Spokane in June of 2018, I couldn’t even get an interview for a job. I spent a year scraping by on meager substitute-teacher wages and whatever freelance writing jobs I could find in order to make ends meet. Neither of those things were enough.

Long story short, I lost nearly everything of value that I owned from the fall of 2018 through the spring of 2019. Including the guitar rig that I’d spent decades building up. I lost four electric guitars, an epic pedalboard, a Fender Supersonic amplifier, and a Vox AC-15 amplifier.

I can see some of you rolling your eyes. “Poor you. You had all this cool shit and now you don’t anymore.” Yeah, I know. First-world problems. Here’s the thing. All that cool shit wasn’t just for a hobby. I play music semi-professionally. I just finished a west coast tour opening up for Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven in some of the country’s most celebrated venues. And that’s just the latest adventure. I’ve been doing this for twenty five years. It’s not a f*%king hobby. It’s a staple of my life and a huge part of my identity.

Time to Rebuild… Carefully

All that said, the lessons of the excess of that rig were not lost on me. Nor were the lessons of not having any money in savings (which is why I had to sell all my gear).

Now it’s a new year. I finally landed a great full-time teaching job in August. Additionally, I kept my most lucrative freelance writing gig, and even started teaching as an adjunct at a local university. To put it bluntly, I’m making a lot more now than I was before I moved back to Spokane. I’m also working a lot more. And again, those lessons from last year weren’t lost on me. I have a decent savings now. I’m much more financially stable, and I went about creating a new rig as I could afford to. I bought used when possible, and borrowed gear to fill in the gaps until I could afford what I needed. Furthermore, I decided on a much simpler setup that still does everything I need it to do.

The Rig:

I’ve used a modified version of this rig once, right before all of the COVID-19 shit hit the fan. We had plans for at least three other shows since then, but obviously those were canceled. So I’m here at home with this bitchin’ new setup and I wanna show it to you guys. Here we go.

The Guitars:

First, Let’s Pay Tribute to Floyd

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This is my oldest guitar, Floyd. Now, when I say “oldest,” I mean the one I’ve had the longest. In fact, Floyd is the only guitar that survived the purge. I got him in 1997, and he’s the only acoustic I’ve played out with since then. He’s a Seagull S6+CW. He came with an L.R. Baggs Ribbon Transducer pickup system. The pickup went on the fritz a few years ago, so I wired up that Dean Markley pickup to the Baggs active preamp, and it works alright. I get a little bit of radio interference through the pickup, so I’ll be working on a solution for that soon. I really like the sound of the magnetic pickup over the piezo-electric pickup, though, so I think anything I do is going to involve a new magnetic pickup.

Now, Let’s Meet The New (Pre-owned) Girls:

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This is Rosie. She’s an Epiphone ES339 P90 Pro. I bought her from a local second-hand store (yes, those still exist, and I suggest you support them as often as possible) called Pirate Traders here in the Spokane Valley. She’s been with me a little over a year, and for most of that time, she was my only guitar. She went on tour with me in December/January. We’ve bonded quite well.

The only modifications I’ve made to her include a set of Grover locking tuners, a bone nut, and a set of graphite saddles.

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Meet Honey, the newest addition—and the last for a while. Honey is very special. She’s a late 1970’s/Early 1980’s Hondo Deluxe 748 Mk II.

I know. You were thinking, “That’s a Les Paul.” So did a lot of other people back in the time she was made. So many, in fact, that Gibson sued Hondo (Korea) and Ibanez (Japan) for copyright infringement or some other such intellectual property violation and they won. From then on, NOBODY was allowed to make a real Les Paul copy. They were all some kind of bastardized version of the shape. A lot of them were made of cheaper wood and even the Epiphone Les Pauls weren’t that great.

This one, however, is 10 pounds of pure mahogany and an actual flame maple top. When I found her, she was on the discount rack at a pawn shop. I immediately recognized her value and put her on layaway. Over the next couple of months I paid her off and brought her home. She has a DiMarzio Screamin’ Demon in the bridge, and a mystery pickup in the neck. I’ll probably end up changing both out sometime soon.

Other than that, the only mods so far have been a graphite nut and graphite saddles. I’m going to swap out the hardware for gold, but the parts are on back order, so that’ll have to wait.

The Amplifiers:

Acoustic Shows:

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This is the Fender Acoustasonic 40. It’s tiny, powerful, and perfect for solo acoustic shows in venues that don’t have PA gear. Each of its two channels has 20 watts of power—plenty for any coffee-shop, brewery, or winery setting—and is set up for either quarter-inch or XLR inputs. When it’s showtime, I grab Floyd, this amp, a mic stand, an SM58, and my accessory bag and I’m set. This is one of the few pieces of new gear that I bought, and I got to play one show with it Feb 28th, before COVID-19 hit. That show, however, paid for a good chunk of my investment in the amp/mic setup. At a minimum of $50/per show, as soon as I can play out again, I’ll have my money back in no time.

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This, boys and girls, is a limited-edition Vox AC15C1 that I found used on Craigslist. It’s the real deal, and I got it for a steal! This one’s got a 12″ Celestion Greenback in it. I sold an Egnater Tweaker 40 in order to pay for most of this one. I decided to buy another AC15C1, but I was considering a couple of other options. At the same price point, I could have bought a Fender Blues Jr, a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, or even a used Supro. Ultimately, I went with the Vox, because let’s face it. I RARELY play a pure, clean tone. My tone is almost always somewhat overdriven. That’s why the AC15C1 is perfect. There’s almost no headroom whatsoever. It sounds great at low volumes, and if you’re playing a big stage, it’s getting mic’d anyway, so even in the biggest venues, I only turn the master volume up to around 4. Plus, it’s the perfect amp for my new, slimmer pedalboard.

The Board:

If the guitar is the heart of the rig, and the amp is the body, then the pedalboard is the nerve center. Here’s the new one. After nearly a year of gathering pedals as I could, and a month of labor putting it all together, I’m really happy with how it turned out.

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The Signal Chain:

Guitar -> Ernie Ball VPJR/Tuner -> Thomas Organ Co. vintage Crybaby wah -> Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive -> MXR Hendrix Uni-Vibe -> Blaxx Distortion Plus -> TC Electronics Sub N’ Up octaver -> TC Electronics Flashback II delay -> homemade A/B switch to switch between channels on the Vox -> two output cables (one for each channel) to the amp. The Vox foot switch in the middle controls reverb and tremolo on the amp. (Built-in tremolo is another reason I went with the AC15C1. I use it all the time and didn’t need to buy a new pedal.)

Here’s what used to be on my board that’s no longer there:

  • a noise suppressor
  • an effects loop
  • a compressor
  • a chorus pedal
  • a traditional phaser
  • a rotary simulator
  • a tremolo pedal
  • a Whammy pedal
  • a large delay unit

The fact that I’m using fewer pedals and a shorter signal path means there’s less noise inherent in the system, therefore, no need for a noise suppressor. The noise suppressor ran the effects loop on the last board. The Uni-Vibe does the work of all other previous modulation pedals—including the rotary simulator. It’s the perfect modulation pedal. The amp takes care of the tremolo, and the octaver adds depth to solos and does most of what the Whammy pedal used to do for me. Similarly, the amp compresses naturally, so I don’t need an artificial compressor.

As for distortion and overdrive, the Sparkle Drive is the best overdrive pedal for the AC15C1, hands down. It pushes those tubes just enough to get a gnarly Marshall bite out of them at low volumes. It’s a key part of the signal for sure. The other distortion pedal, the Blaxx Distortion Plus is a very cheap distortion pedal I bought for less than $30 at a mom & pop shop here in town, but it sounds like a Big Muff through this amp. I’ve thought about replacing it with a Big Muff clone, but the more I play it, the less likely that is. The truth is, that little $30 pedal sounds amazing through this amp, and I don’t need to have a Big Muff on my board. (I can’t believe I just typed that…)

The board, like the last one, was custom built by Peter at Trailer-Trash Pedalboards, and features red tolex covering to match the amp, and a clear top that allows the red LEDs to make it glow on stage. Unlike the last one, however, it’s not the biggest piece of gear in the goddamn van. It’s slimmed down by a third. It was, by far, however, my biggest expense. I went for it because it will last me for years and will stand up to every tour on which I take it.

Of course, all of my cables are now Evidence Audio. I’ve got a great working relationship with Tony, the owner, and will remain loyal to him and his cables for the rest of my music career.

So There You Have It…

That’s the official Brandon Humphreys guitar rig for 2020 and the foreseeable future. I don’t have much need for any other gear at this point, so I’ll be focusing my financial attention on other goals. Once those are done, I might save up for a PRS Custom 24 or a G&L ASAT Special, but until then, Rosie and Honey are treating me just fine!

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