I first started using a rack rig in 1989. It comprised a 2u Mesa Boogie Studio Preamp into a 1u Alesis Quadraverb mutli-fx in one 4u box controlled by an ADA floorboard, feeding another 4u box filled up with a massive Marshall 9005 2x50w tube power amp. Two EV12L speakers in separate open backed cabs completed the state-of-the-art outfit. I thought I had arrived!
Over time, I became frustrated with the preamp – it sounded great but only had two channels and required separate footswitching. Around that time, an ex-demo 2u Groove Tubes’ Trio preamp literally fell into my hands. Not only were its sounds much better, but it had the three channels and midi switching I sought. The Trio’s clean channel remains my reference clean sound to this day.
Shortly afterwards, I traded the 4u Marshall for the 2u Mesa Fifty-Fifty poweramp, two thirds of the weight and half the rack depth. I miss the Marshall’s sound but not its bulk or weight and the Mesa is great too, rather louder and remains in my rig today along with the EV12L speakers, which I gather have become very sought-after.
I then found and added a 1u Korg A3 multi-fx, not then knowing that it would become a classic beloved by The Edge for its delays. About this time, I was getting frustrated with the ADA footpedal and so acquired the excellent DMC (now Voodoolab) Ground Control which I still use today
Then TC released the defining G-Force, still in production and unsurpassed well over a decade later, so that replaced the Quadraverb, and the resulting rig – Ground Control, GT Trio, Korg A3, TC G-Force and Mesa 50/50 was my rig for many years.
Sometime later, my guitar collecting stepped up a gear and occasionally I also found interesting amps and fx, which is how I came across my Carvin Quad-X four channel midi preamp and the fabulous Soldano Caswell X-99 midi preamp with motorized controls.
In the meantime, I had been experimenting with modelling amps – I had two of the first Line 6 amps, the AX2 212, which I liked and were very convenient when playing in covers situations. Eventually I decided to add a Pod XT Pro to the rack – an ok but not terrific decision, hence my upgrading to an X3Pro when first released.
The X3Pro is a better product, particularly because it allows you to create two parallel signal chains, effectively giving you bi-amping. However, it has a real shortcoming – it requires midi instructions on two adjacent midi channels to control its two channels, whereas the Ground Control only transmits on one at a time. Aaargh!
I sought help on the Huge Racks Int and Line 6 forums. Eventually, and despite some rather waspish and unhelpful responses from the Line 6 people on their user forum, I got two useful leads.
One was to Midi Solutions in Canada, whose midi-powered Event Processor product enabled me to map the Ground control’s single channel instruction onto the two adjacent channels required by the X3Pro. Midi Solutions’ John Fast is a seriously nice and helpful guy. Thanks, John.
The second, however, was a revelation. All it said was ‘…or buy an Axe-Fx…’. A few minutes’ research and I had to have one. That was how I came to my last piece of rack gear and by far its most powerful, the Axe-Fx Ultra (now superseded by the even more powerful Axe-Fx II).
My real troubles started when I wanted to move from a single preamp and two fx to multiple preamps, combined preamps/fx and multi-fx via a switcher and move all the gear into a single huge rack setup.
After many weeks scribbling schematics and signal paths, I decided I wanted the whole rig to work in the Ax-Fx’s assignable software loop. I acquired a DMC GCX switcher, which at the time had eight midi-switchable mono loops.
Because two of my devices have mono inputs and stereo outs, I had to figure out some clever use of multiple loops, but I got there. Trouble is, I had also picked up a serious hum problem from having all these devices connected by the rack mountings and power, midi and signal leads. No amount of isolation, lead chopping removed sufficient noise, which was a real problem when using higher-gain settings.
So I set out looking for some competent tech support. Given the size and weight of the rig, it was impractical to contemplate anybody outside southern England – a pity as most of the go-to guys seem to be in California, New York, Europe or Japan.
A major component supplier with whom I have a good relationship rewired the whole rig for me beautifully, but the noise remained.
Some pretty desperate internet searching led me to a company called XS Electronics, whose web site showed success with a number of high-profile guitarists’ similar rigs, most of them revolving round the same GCX switcher as mine. XS principal, Adi Vines, is a top-flight guitar and tour tech, and tours the world with various name bands, so getting a slot took months.
When I was granted a slot between legs of a world tour, the delivery of key components to a wrong address mean that we ran out of time, so the incomplete rig had to go into storage for months until the next break in the tour. After about a year, the job was completed and returned to me.
Again, the wiring job was exemplary and helpfully the GCX’s second four loops were now stereo, but much of the noise was still there and the refit also put the Axe-Fx into one of the loops of the switcher. I really wanted it to be separate and for everything else to go through its loop as I often use it and the Mesa power amp as a separate, small but very powerful 4u rig.
I was then distracted by spending several months working on a different kind of music with a much simpler rig before returning once again to the big rig. I tried to refresh contact with the elusive Adi Vines, but no response.
I then literally stumbled across an idea. The XS Electronics refit/rewire had also involved the addition to two B.I.S isolation boxes to help control certain noise loops. I contracted the maker, Mike Hill Services in Milton Keynes, and set out the problem.
Despite a stellar client list which keeps him pretty busy, Mike happily took the rig in for inspection and quickly identified several fundamental errors in the previous refit which were leading to hum loops and noise. After discussing possible signal paths and confirming that it would indeed be possible to run everything through the Axe-Fx’s loop as I originally wanted, he and a colleague reconfigured it and got it working properly.
And a few weeks into using it, there’s no doubt that it finally works. It’s twenty four years since the first rack at the top of this blog, and I’ve lost count of how much I’ve spent on wiring and what I’ve paid techs who have proved not to be up to the job. It’s almost as big as many of the venues I play, but it’s a lot of fun, infinitely flexible and sounds sublime…
Positive credits :
Mike Hill of Mike Hill Services (MHS), Milton Keynes UK. Many, many thanks.
John Fast of Midi Solutions, Canada. Again, my sincere thanks.
Not-so-positive credits :
Adi Vines of XS Electronics, Surrey. Unfinished business is a generous description…
Line 6 customer services team via their user forum. Abusing and dissing your customers doesn’t engender loyalty. From nice startup guys to corporate shits in less than a decade.