“IN THE STUDIO I OFTEN USE AMP modeling and effects software to create distorted sounds that I either use as they are or combine with more organic sounds,” says Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson. “But when performing live I like to keep things simple, because the more things your have in the signal chain, the more likely it is that something will go wrong—and when you are playing in big echo-y rooms you can’t hear the subtle things that you can hear on a studio recording anyway. My live tone is primarily just the combination of Paul Reed Smith guitars and a Bad Cat amplifier. I get my main heavy tone by plugging directly into the Bad Cat’s dirty channel, and I flip over to the clean channel for any sound that has an effect on it, such as compression, delay, reverb, or the occasional vibrato or a Leslie effect. I use a TC Electronic G-System with several pedals—a Carl Martin compressor, a Boss overdrive, a Bad Cat 2-Tone distortion, and a Dunlop wah—that I insert into the GSystem’s effects loops. All of the pedals are linked to presets so that I’m not touching anything except the switches on the G-System. I also have a GigRig MIDI 8 Foot Controller, which I use to switch between clean and distorted sounds on the amp.
“I use the distortion in the amp about 80 percent of the time, but sometimes I’ll want to put delay or reverb after the distortion, in which case I use a distortion pedal placed ahead of those effects in the signal chain. It can also be great to run reverb or delay into a distorted amp to get a messy sound, where the delays are almost ring modulating, but not generally.
“When recreating recorded sounds live, I’m almost always in the ballpark. Some of the solos done in the studio are only possible to do in the studio, however, because they may have been sped up, slowed down, reversed, or even cut up and pieced back together randomly, and the more impressionistic or surreal something is, the more difficult it will be to recreate live. In those cases I just try to do something equivalent. For example, I use an Ebow in the studio a lot, but it is too difficult to control live, so instead I’ll try to use sympathetic feedback to indefinitely sustain whatever note I’m playing. Carlos Santana says the first thing he does when he gets to a gig is to find the sweet spot where he can stand to get sympathetic feedback. That’s critical, because you only have to be in a slightly wrong relationship with your amplifier and you either won’t get any feedback at all or you will get the wrong kind of feedback.”