Recently, on Dec 9th, 2018, I joined to the Christmas live produced by singer/voice actress Nami Nakagawa and played the electric guitar in front of audience. The last time was probably 10 years and more ago. This time I used many of brand-new equipments and tried technically new approach so I’m going to write about technical trial mainly on this blog. On other media I cannot.
Anyway, the show was hold on the cafe SHELTER KUKO@Yoyogi-Hachiman. Performers and staffs did setup by themselves. Karaoke was played and my electric guitar and Yuri Endoh (Twitter: @YuriEndoViolin) ‘s acoustic violin was added. Singers are three. Mayumi Sudoh, singer, Nami Nakagawa, singer/voice actress and Miki Tsuchiya（Twitter:@miki_tsuchiya), singer/voice actress. Live report is on the bottom of this article so if you have interests, please scroll down.
Behind the bright ladies, I played the guitar obscurely. This time the concept was ‘I play like a live back musician’ for me. So I chose Gibson ES-335 which was the standard of standard for studio guitarist and Valley Arts with active pickup and Floyd Rose tremolo unit. The reason why I chose was with these two guitars I could cover all of the sound which is necessary to support songs.
'72 Gibson ES-335
'90's Valley Arts
My ES-335 has floating bridge called as ‘swing’ and is known as good for blues play, but it’s of course semi-acoustic guitar and made with all mahogany wood so the sound is warm. When stroking play, as same as stopped tail-piece, we can get sweet semi-acoustic guitar sound. Valley Arts has EMG active pickup and Floyd Rose tremolo unit and this comes with more harmonics when distortion sound and comes with noiseless clean sound when clean tone setting. Usually I use this guitar for heavy rock purpose but this time used for clean tone sound mainly which is frequently used by studio musician.
Well, let me explain about the difference from usual recording. For 15 years I haven’t played electric guitar in front of audience. This time, I should be a backing musician. What should I do? Finally I decided to use amp-simulator for guitar amp. The main reasons were two.
- Guitar amp sometimes sounds too loud for popular music. I don’t want to disturb vocals with guitar sound. Shortly, to avoid guitar disturbing vocals so much, it is easier to use amp-simulator and input the sound to live mixer directly.
- So various style songs we planned to play. If I cover all songs with amp and stomp box, then I needed to use so many stomp boxes and would not be in time.
In addition, transportation was also a big problem. But higher priority for me was not to disturb vocals and to change sound character immediately.
Furthermore, this time I didn’t use dedicated hardware amp-simulator but tried to use iPad Pro 10.5 with amp-simulator app. At the same time I used score app on the same iPad. I will tell you how to do that later. CPU consumption was between 10% to 20% on iPad Pro 10.5 and no problem at all. Now I have aged eyes… so I need to set iPad Pro in front of my face to see scores and used ikmultimedia‘s iKlip Xpand with mic stand. Amp-simulator uses iPad horizontal mode and score app uses vertical mode for I desired to show bigger score and as you see on the left picture, iKlip Xpand is easy to rotate. That’s the reason why I chose this iPad stand.
Above is the direction. Finally I chose iPad’s app, positive grid‘s BIAS FX Mobile. In the past I have been trying many of guitar amp-simulators but don’t use it for my recording. For recording, I can mix with good audio processors so what I need for recording is, the sound character of tube amplifier and air movement from the speakers. But for live show, not disturbing vocals, playing guitars with good balanced, good sound was the purpose. For this purpose, BIAS FX Mobile was very good. How to say, positive grid products always sounding darker than competitors and presence range is not too hard to listen. Competitors’ products may be good just for guitarist for the sound is more bright, but for me honestly they didn’t fit with my purpose. In addition, BIAS FX Mobile is the easiest to add stomp boxes before or after amplifier and was easy to setup guitar systems including amp and stomp boxes for me. So I didn’t need to waste time for try and error.
The advantage of positive grid’s product is possible to customize amplifier more than knobs in front of amps with selling separately BIAS AMP 2 Mobile. If I’m correct, this is possible only with positive grid. In particular, not only we can choose speaker cabinet from library and choose mics and mics position, but also we can change bias in amps which is the must for amp maintenance or can choose pre/power tubes or can choose rectifier tube or transistor. We can fine tune the amps which positive grid delivers and can change the sound character to more favorite one without any electricity knowledge. I tuned SLO100 settings so much. And for all presets I changed speaker cabinets.
These are the amp-simulator and stomp boxes. Analog output quality of iPad is great but to use for live show, surprising plugout is really a problem and to use 4 pin analog adapter both for guitar input/output is not smart and cable is under strain for connector. So so many audio interface for iPad is line-up but this time I chose this one. Xsonic‘s Xtone. I’ve never heard the name until recently and it’s Chinese vendor but in Japan All Access, one of the biggest distributor for pro audio products deals this vendor so I felt it must be OK. I didn’t have enough time to visit stores and to try it so ordered online. On the surface you can find out the words of ‘Smart Stomp’ and on first viewing, it looks like stomp box.
On the surface, there’re three foot switches which are usually used for stomp boxes. It means, this audio I/F is designed for guitarist who cannot use hands to change something when playing. I don’t know why other competitive products don’t have this feature (Yes, bigger one has this feature) but with these three switches we can change presets of iPad amp simulator app such as BIAS FX Mobile, we can turn On/Off stomp Boxes in BIAS FX Mobile. But this time, I used another Bluetooth pedal to change the presets and used these switches only to turn On/Off Stomp Boxes.
In my studio I checked the sound quality with ADAM S-3A + ADAM Sub10mkII. The sound was not so bad and I can use it as usual 24bit/192kHz audio I/F. In the future I may use this for iPad synth app as external sound module. Everybody’s concern is yes, always latency. When setting BIAS FX to Low Latency mode, then I didn’t have any stress even when performing 16 beat stroking play.
Xtone has expression pedal connector as well. So connecting expression pedal to Xtone and assigning the correct MIDI CC on BIAS FX Mobile, I could easily use my expression pedal as volume control. The effect chain is possible to change and before/after delay I could set the position of volume pedal in effect chain. It means I don’t need to prepare two volume controls. So I prepared Korg XVP-10 and used it with expression pedal mode as volume control. I played violin play as well with XVP-10 this time. If configuring BIAS FX Mobile then I could use XVP-10 as Wah pedal as well, but it was difficult to control with volume pedal like Wah pedal because the response is different from usual dedicated Wah pedal and the behavior is a bit different from my expectation. So this time I used Fulltone’s CLYDE Deluxe Wah (Right picture) as only one analog stomp box before Xtone. This is low noise and the Wah effect worked fine as I expected so it was easy to use.
Next, score app. I used standard Piascore this time. It can show PDF, JPEG, PNG, everything. Preparing setlist and according to the setlist order Piascore shows scores so I don’t need to go back to the list and to choose another song. With fingers or Apple Pencil we can add annotation on the score so I annotated when practicing as the picture. Paging speed is fast enough and this time I didn’t have any stress for paging. Swipe is of course also possible but guitarist cannot use both hands when playing, so I used ikmultimedia’s iRig Blue Turn (Left picture) Bluetooth control pedal. This is 2 switches pedal to design for paging and connecting with iPad Pro. I used iRig Blue Turn for Piascore paging. The reason why I chose this was I read other people’s review and found out this is quiet pedal and no switching noise even in quiet songs.
positive grid BT-2 (middle picture) is as I wrote before, I used it as switch to change presets. The reason is when pressing left/right switch sometimes I pressed middle switch at the same time or when pressing middle switch I sometimes pressed left or right switch at the same time and it was a problem. This time making mistake when changing preset may cause very bad impression to audience so I was serious and purchased it as well. And Bluetooth pedal is not possible to share between amp-simulator and score app so I used both BT-2 and iRig Blue Turn. As same as Xtone, BT-2 has as same type of foot switches as stomp boxes so I can feel click when pressing the switches and I can confirm the preset was changed with the bottom of the foot. This is a peace of mind.
And tuner. BIAS FX Mobile delivers excellent tuner but it’s annoying whenever I want to tune guitar, I need to switch the screen to tuner mode, so I used Korg’s Pitchblack Advance I purchased recently. I have Pitchblack mini as well but this one has enough width and visibility is finer than mini. I used AC adapter for tuner and this tuner can output the power to another stompbox so from DC output connector, I delivered power to CLYDE Deluxe Wah. So the necessary power adapter was just for iPad, for tuner and for Xtone. That’s all.
These equipments were integrated with pedal board made by Aclam Guitars. Sorry, this time I didn’t have time to take a integrated picture. I chose Smart Track S2 + Softcase S2 [w / UNIVERSAL S] which is 2nd bigger board. The reason is Wah and expression pedal was very big. This board is not the standard one which uses velcro but uses 4 and more dedicated fasteners and fixes stomp boxes. I frequently change pedals to use and for me this is more convenient. No damage for vintage stomp boxes. Big difference from the standard one which I used 30 years ago and very easy to use.
As for the live show, 15 songs were performed with one break time. I played all 15 songs. I was standing all the time in live show and in many time I used right foot to keep on controlling Wah pedal so it was a little bit tough live show but behind the very excellent 3 singers I could play and it was very excellent experience. All three sang very, very well and were very fantastic.
Each song has a variety and it was my pleasure to consider how to play my guitar in the songs already other guitars were on the track. Not to overlap with guitars in the track, not to disturb vocals, finally I used Wah pedal with less harmony and played more rhythmically in many songs. Usually I don’t play like this and remember only with ‘Dragonball Tenkaichi-Daibohken‘ for Wii I played similar with this live show so it was my new experience. ES-335 did a good job!
And I’d like to introduce all performers except for me. You can change the pictures with 1 – 4 numbers in the bottom of the right on pictures.
Finally, sorry to make you long waiting. Here’re the so many Live Photos. As usual, Hirokazu Takahashi (Instagram: @air_swordfish) took these photos. Enjoy!