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  • Review: Modern Guitar Rigs: The Tone Fanatic's Guide to Integrating Amps and Effects

    By Jon Chappell_1 |

    If you're ready to step up from a stompboxes and a combo to an approach that gives you more control, this book and DVD package shows the way.

    by Scott Kahn. 155 pages, with DVD. $24.99



    Review by Jon Chappell



    Modern Guitar Rigs, by Scott Kahn, includes a DVD. Published by Hal Leonard. (Click images to enlarge.)


    Guitarists hardly need instruction on how to put together a basic rig. Grab a guitar and plug into an amp. Want a ready-made distortion sound or a weird underwater effect? Splice in a distortion pedal and and flanger, respectively. But once you get a bunch of effects together, and all the attendant patch cords, it quickly becomes obvious that there must be a better approach. If your stage rig starts resembling a bowl of spaghetti and the straight signal doesn't sound like it does when you go straight to the amp, you're clearly in need of some greater knowledge about the signal chain, and possibly a different approach altogether.


    That's what Scott Kahn's book Modern Guitar Rigs addresses--the rig that shows intelligence, planning, and a strategy. The book covers the steps that guitarists need to take to build pro-level rigs, for recording or live performance, on the stage or in the studio. Author Scott Kahn explores different approaches, from the straightforward to the complex, including setups for multiple scenarios (stereo output, piezo + magnetic, acoustic and electric, etc.). As a book, it’s well written in a breezy, uncluttered style, and the text is richly illustrated with both photos and schematic diagrams of the setups described.


    The book comes with an accompanying DVD that includes over an hour of video on topics such as building a pro guitar rig, setting up your first small rack, taming the pedalboard, and a music video of the song “The Sky Is Falling” by the author’s own progressive rock band.



    The book is organized well, with separate chapters devoted to different rack gear platforms, multiple-amp setup (and switching between them), a wet/dry rig approach (for pulling your effects out of the direct signal path), MIDI, audio loopers (not to be confused with waveform looping, as a DJ would do), mixers, and a miscellaneous chapter that deals with everything from speaker emulators to power attenuators to cabling and cases.


    Three chapters at the end are devoted to specialty topics not covered in the first nine and more linear chapters. There’s a chapter on suggested uses of popular products, which takes existing systems and shows you how you would set them up. This is a great way to see what approach you might prefer in signal routing and processing.


    In Chapter 11, Kahn interviews several rig builders, including Scott Appleton, Mark Snyder, and Bob Bradshaw, whose Custom Audio Electronics systems are perhaps the most famous of all. The last chapter is advice for building your own rig, and contains advice on amps, effects loops, MIDI foot controllers, rack case planning, and issues to consider if you’re thinking of going wireless.



    One concept that book deals with well is setting up multiple instruments. Many guitarists often find themselves trying to figure out how to get two or more guitars (or a guitar plus another instrument, like a mandolin or banjo) routed so that they can control and switch between them with ease. Then there's the issue of getting the optimized sound for each instrument through a single rig. Below is just one of many well-illustrated diagrams that shows how you would set up four guitars--wirelessly, not less--in the Radial Engineering JX-44.


    Modern Guitar Rigs includes detailed setups using pedalboards from various manufacturers.


    Again, the fact that the author uses an existing product to illustrate how the concept is realized takes the advice out of the realm of the theoretical and makes it very practical and hands-on.



    A sort of counterpart to the multi-instrument approach would be one with a single guitar with a complex routing scheme for numerous effects under MIDI control.




    In another example, Kahn explains how to work with the Voodoo Lab GCX. In the illustration below, he shows how to patch in and label the various effects.


    This worksheet shows how you would incorporate your various effects into the Voodoo Lab GCX.



    This book deals with some pretty sophisticated concepts, but the logic and explanations of why you would use audio looping, amp switching, and effects placement is well explained and appropriate to all guitarsist using more than just a couple of effects, or who want to harness technology to create a multi-amp setup. If you're thinking of going big, or are just curious as to the advantages of a high-end system, check out Modern Guitar Rigs for its well-explained strategies.

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