I am currently in the process of servicing/modifying/upgrading my guitars. I’ll be posting about each one as they are finished with photos.
ViK Guitars Domineer FF9 – 9 string guitar
Fender Pawn Shop Bass VI – 6 string bass/guitar hybrid
Ibanez AFJ957 – 7 string archtop hollowbody guitar
Conklin GT7 – 7 string bass guitar
Ibanez AGB205 – 5 string shortscale hollowbody bass guitar
Letts Basses – 8 string fretless bass guitar
Alvarez ABT60 – 6 string baritone acoustic guitar
Bartolex SPS8FEL – 8 string classical guitar
Milagro Master Alto 11c – 11 string alto classical guitar
I favour Perfect Fourths Tuning which eliminates the odd major third interval between the second and third strings of the standard guitar, creating a repetitive pattern like the standard tuning of bass guitars with added strings.
The circle of fourths is found by reading around the circle of fifths anticlockwise:
Fourths, linearly: E A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb(B) e a...
My guitars are tuned to fragments of the following 10-string portion:
B0 E1 A1 D2 G2 C3 F3 Bb3 Eb4 Ab4
Where B0 is the lowest string of a standard tuned 5 string bass, D2 a standard guitars ‘Drop D’, and Ab4 the fourth fret of a guitars high E string.
At the extreme ends, my 9 string guitar is tuned with an additional high string rather than two extra low strings, and so includes the high Ab4 from low E1. I own a Fender Bass VI bass/guitar hybrid which is tuned to include the low B0, although I consider it a guitar rather than a bass.
My bass guitars are tuned from the same series of fourths but an octave lower, skipping the B00 and beginning from E0 (an octave below standard bass guitar), A0, or D1 as the lowest pitch.
This range from E0 to Ab4 across the open strings of my basses and guitars gives me all the range I personally consider useful and technically practical.
The symmetry of Perfect Fourths tuning and my approach to tuning selection on each instrument greatly helps me when switching between them. I do not think of my instruments as being in different tunings/keys, but rather as just fragments of this 10-string sequence with strings missing at either end – basses being the same but an octave lower. This way, I have one fretboard layout memorized, and the simple fourths tuning helps to navigate it. On the odd occasion that I do desire a different open pitch set for playability of a part in a certain key, I use capos.
As far as regular strings go, I use exclusively Kalium Strings which I swear by. Their set customization, string length and gauge selection is incredibly useful to me. In addition, their durability, tone, and feel is superior to other brands I have tried. I find their construction is hugely beneficial on the heavier gauges, as their flexibility allows them to vibrate better and counteracts the dullness and inharmonicity which can become a problem in lower tunings (or rather, when exceeding a certain gauge on a certain scale length). I pay careful attention to balancing string tension for an even response, and also prefer to use a wound ‘third’ (wherever that may occur), in my case the F3. The exact gauge/tension of each of my instruments is detailed on their own page, but as a rough guide I match the feel of .010-.049 set on electric guitar and a .105 gauge E on bass. This generally means a significant increase in gauge compared to the bottom strings of most extended range guitar/bass sets which are quite imbalanced. For an even response and the ability to run low action right down into the lower strings without buzz, medium/high balanced tension is hugely beneficial to me. Because of extra strings, varied scale lengths and irregular tuning, custom sets are necessary for me which again Kalium is very useful for. Click here for links to various resources for deciding on string gauges for various tunings, scale lengths etc.
I use other brands (D’addario, Savarez) for flatwound, tapewound, and nylon strings.
I use a Fractal Audio Axe FX II, with a Crown poweramp powering two FEARLESS F112 cabinets built by Tricky Audio in the U.K. These cabs are an interesting piece – they are designed by Greenboy as a traditional passive bass cabinet. Beginning as fEARful cabs, with plans and kits released for DIY building, they became popular as an incredibly power efficient cab with fantastic bass response. Although marketed and usually used as bass cabinets, when built with the compression tweeter option they are very close to flat response so can really be considered as an FRFR (full range flat response) passive monitor, like a PA speaker. Whilst an active monitor setup without a separate poweramp would be more convenient, I wished to check out these cabs for their reputation given I am running a 20Hz bass E. I am incredibly happy with their performance and the ability of this rig to work for any kind of guitar or bass in any style at a very high quality. I do intend to upgrade from the Crown XLS1500 to something with a little higher wattage for more headroom when playing bass guitar.
The functionality of this rig means I am able to run exactly the same patches and equipment in all situations such as:
- Solo practice amplified or with headphones
- Band rehearsals
- Live performance with direct output from Axe FX to venue PA
- Direct studio recording
- Miced up cabs (perhaps questionable when running FRFR, but all monitors still have their own sound, in addition to the unique response of the microphone and room)
When recording I utilize the digital connections of the Axe FX to run it in the digital loop of my recording interface (an RME Multiface II, highly recommend!), like so:
Guitar > (Optional: DI Box > Mic Preamp) > Interface > DI recording to software channel > Software channel sent to interface digital output > Axe FX digital in/out > Interface digital input > Second software channel
This can be done with low enough latency to play the tone live, monitoring through the cabs as usual if desired, and means both the clean DI and amped tone are available in the software. This method has several benefits for me:
- Enables me to use my interface for other instruments, vocals etc. as opposed to using the Axe FX itself as the interface
- No changing of cables between recording at home and taking the rig out to practice – just plugging in the digital cables to the back of the Axe FX
- One digital conversion stage on recording of the DI through high quality interface converters. No additional conversion stages no matter how many times the tone is reamped
- Quick and easy tone adjustments for reamping. I can press play in the software and listen whilst tweaking the Axe FX, and record the tone to the second software channel with the touch of a button when happy
- Any editing of parts is easier, and results in better quality, when done on a DI signal
My primary picking style is hybrid picking. I prefer to use a thumb pick to give the option of using the index finger on its own – the Fred Kelly Bumblebee is a great choice and very adjustable. However, I find the picks to wear too quickly for their price so have taken to using the thumbstrap with a glued on Dunlop Eric Johnson Jazz III. I also utilize a Broderick Pick Clip as another option occasionally. I am currently developing my own thumb pick.
I also use my own Winspear Picks. The Battleaxe model is usually my favourite – it was designed as the perfect pick for myself and the reason I launched the company. It locks into my grip and helps relieve tension and fatten the tone for harder playing – check out the website for more information and reviews. I also use my Broadsword and Shiv models, alongside plain old 1mm Dunlop Tortex picks for softer playing on acoustic and jazz guitar.
I think that’s about everything covered!