Carl Verheyen’s Studio Diary

April 22, 2011

BACK IN THE ’80S, EVERYONE IN the L.A. studio scene needed an effects rack. Those “refrigerators” shaped the popular sounds producers wanted to hear, and I jumped onboard early. When Buzzy Feiten told me about a guy who built racks with programmable effects loops, it sounded like the answer to all my problems. His name was Bob Bradshaw, and soon every working guitarist in town owned a “Bradshaw rack.”

Trends come and go, and guitarists are notorious searchers of tone. Eventually, my ’61 Strat through my old Fender Princeton Reverb sounded better to me than $50,000 worth of rack gear, so by the beginning of the ’90s, I had moved on. But for various reasons I never did sell the rack gear. I set it aside, reworked it, updated it, and repurposed it into something I call “Ethereal Man.”

Ethereal Man currently comprises two rack-mounted amps, an old Lexicon PCM- 70, a Lexicon PCM-81, a Lexicon MPX-1, a TC Spatial Expander, and some weird DJ gear for filter sounds. I use a dedicated pedalboard with a volume pedal, two more delays, and a few distortion pedals. A power amp takes the stereo signal to a couple of 1x12 cabinets.

One day during a film-scoring session for a movie called A Rumor of Angels, Ethereal Man and I were messing around with some wide-interval chord voicings, and the orchestrator asked how I was getting those otherworldly sounds. I explained that I learned the technique from my friend, Allan Holdsworth, but had expanded on the concept by adding timed filter noises and occasional distortion into the mix. On the very next session, the orchestrator wrote Ethereal Man into the string parts—voiced within the violins, violas, and cellos—which added a very unusual timbre to an otherwise normal orchestration.

Last week, I worked on a record by a new female vocalist named Haddon Cord. I played a few solos and some grungy Telecaster rhythm parts, and while I was packing up, I noticed the second engineer setting up for a string-section session later that night. The engineer—who knows my work—suggested I give Ethereal Man a shot at the string chart. The chart wasn’t there at the time—the arranger probably had it—so I just fired up Ethereal Man, plugged in a Strat, and improvised some high, wispy chords over the pre-chorus and chorus. When the song ended, I looked up and saw high-fives all around the control room while the producer scrambled to cancel the string players. I felt bad about “retiring” the string section, but I must admit that Ethereal Man really sounded good on that track.

When I returned to the studio the next day to add Ethereal Man to two more songs, I was presented with a gift: a t-shirt with a giant “E” on it, some goofy goggles, and a cape made from a shower curtain purchased at Target. Ethereal Man now has his own tacky costume! As you can see, my faith in the old “refrigerator” has been rewarded countless times throughout the years. So here’s an essential tip about gear: If it sounds good, don’t sell it.

A member of Supertramp since 1985, Carl Verheyen has also logged a dazzling 25-year career as one of L.A.’s premier studio guitarists. He has performed on hundreds of movie soundtracks, television scores, and record sessions, and has somehow found the time to put out nine Carl Verheyen Band albums and a DVD box set (2005’s Rumor Mill). His most recent release is the DVD, The Road Divides.

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