So I recently performed at my local open mic and tried my greatest and newest gear. Thanks to my good friend Kevin Brady, I own the amazing Fractal Axe-FX FM9. Since I was already familiar with the Fractal Axe-FX 3, it didn't take too much time to set up and work on creating some killer guitar tones.
For those of you who don't partake in the Digital Modeling of amplifiers, let me make one thing clear - I don't care if you are an analog, tube amp purist. I'm very happy for you and understand why you keep your gigantic 100-watt tube amplifiers and multi-ton speaker cabinets. But my aging back and desire to enter into a new and challenging phase of my music career, where I may perform anywhere with anyone and need my sound set up to be professional and portable as possible, I welcome this unique challenge. In my humble opinion, there is no better-sounding digital modeler than the modelers in the fractal modeling ecosystem.
The Challenging Scenario
So performing at an open mic show is one thing, but it's entirely different when you are performing as one of the musicians in the host band. First, you don't necessarily know who else is playing with you in the host band that night. I have had the rare honor to have been asked often to fill in with some exceptional 518 area performers.
A few other “challenges” to this scenario are:
1. You will be asked to perform songs you don't know. Do you know the song well enough to fake your way thru it?
2. You will need to be listening to singers, and other musicians, that are in different places in their musical journey than you, and your job as a member of the host band is to support them and make them sound as good as possible.
3. Repeat rule 2 for up to 3 hours.
4. Mistakes happen. Learn from them. Always.
Add the Challenge
Do you know how to use your FM9 in the most musically compatible manner to sound professional and have fun? Fortunately for me, the answer was a resounding yes last night!
The challenge to the Philosophy
Funny how I got so used to a Mesa Boogie tone, but my go-to sounds with this Fm9 are splawn amps (a very marshall-plexi amp sound). I suspected this when I was experimenting with a Splawn amplifier patch and kept coming back to it to add wah-wahs, and other effects, and during sound check, that was the most lively sound in the room. I stayed with that patch for 90% of the night. I may have 511 patches available to switch to, but ultimately, I need to have my ears and attention on the musical situation that is going on around me. Rehearsals, and sound checks, that's where the attention is on the FM9 and what to adjust, not in the middle of a song.
Humorously, I discovered I needed to have a lead boost (+3db) scene added to every patch in my Fm9, and I confirmed that with the sound engineer of the night, Ryan Nilsen, after chatting with him after the open mic was over. Don't rely on the sound guy to “ride” your slider. Make it easy and have your boosts at the ready.
Now, I have always relied on my pedals to provide a slight boost when playing leads, so it's funny that I didn't pre-program that, or even, during the show, add that boost to a scene inside the FM-9. The problem I have is that the way I play, I add little leads all the time, so clearly, those little colors are getting lost in the mix. The solution is to add an auto-boost EQ whenever my hands bounce around the upper strings. I am researching how to add that tonight.
- Adjust global settings at sound check. Reverb/Digital delays can always be reduced quickly if your tone is getting lost and washed out.
- Thank your sound engineer for providing stereo inputs.
- Repeat rule 2 ALL THE TIME.
- While I had a good time performing plenty of songs I knew, next time somebody asks me to play message in a bottle, play it at least ½ step down. Even Sting plays that out a full step down on “My Songs” record, and I suspect it may have been even lower live!!
Comments welcome and I will share more as time permits!