This is a classic GP column from guitar guru Carl Verheyen.
As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, when it comes to gear, my number-one maxim is this: “If it sounds good, don’t sell it.”
Guitarists often sell a great-sounding amplifier to get a different one, and then regret they ever sold it in the first place. But not me, and this would explain why I have more than 50 guitar amps here in Los Angeles plus another eight (with 220-volt transformers) for touring Europe. They all sound good!
Back in the ’80s, all of the studio guys put together big racks of outboard gear with rack-mounted preamps and power amps. It was the sound of the times—very processed and effected. Guitar tones had gotten about as far away from Are You Experienced or the Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East as they possibly could. I was rig-builder Bob Bradshaw’s second customer, and I rode the rack wave for around seven years.
Then, one day I woke up and realized my old seafoam-green 1961 Stratocaster through a blackface Fender Princeton Reverb had more tone than $30,000 worth of rack gear. I liked hearing the marriage of wood and tubes instead of chorus and delays. At that point, I quit using the mega rig and turned to my old pals Vox, Marshall, Fender, Hiwatt, Jim Kelley, and a handful of pedals. But I didn’t sell the racks.
Fast forward about 15 years, and although I’d fired up the rack rig on occasion to get sounds on my own CDs, film dates, and sessions for TV’s Futurama, it was, for the most part, mothballed. Then, I got a call specifically for “that big-rack sound.” John Williams’ music for the newly updated Star Tours ride at Disneyland was being redone with a large orchestral session at the Fox scoring stage. I plugged in my rack gear only to find a horrible buzz, so I secretly played the entire session with amps and pedals—though all those blinking lights on the rack kept my broke-down rig a secret.
Last week, I was asked to play on an all-day session for a single song. The call was for a 10 a.m. downbeat, with a “Don’t book anything afterwards” out time. I was told the session had an “epic, eight-page chart” with an extended guitar solo, and that I’d be tracking live with Chad Wackerman on drums, Trey Henry on bass, David Witham on keys, Luis Conte on percussion, and Eric Marienthal on saxophone.
So would I bring a few guitars, an amp, and a pedal board to a session like this? Having no idea, I decided to bring the big rack. I was glad I brought it for all of its sonic options—especially when I was in the studio for 11 hours doing many overdubs after the band was dismissed. And, again, I was so happy I didn’t sell that stuff back in 1989!