my effects & amplification
this blog explains the effects and amplification I currently use
digital effects for acoustic instruments
In the past I’ve used large, heavy, rack-mounted and mains-powered effects units but as I now need to fly to perform abroad, all my current equipment is compact and can be battery powered. I am also a big fan of Boss effects – they are tough, reliable and offer great sounds and high sound quality.
All my acoustic instruments – dulcimers and guitars – have transducer pickups which feed a Boss DD-500 delay unit. The DD-500 is a high-quality unit, processing the signal at 32bit and 96KHz – so the integrity of the signal is preserved, which is especially important for acoustic instruments. The DD-500 is a delay unit but it offers many types of delay sounds including Analog, Dual, Pattern, Reverse, Shimmer, Filter and Tera etc. Each of these types of delay have a distinctive character. Filter and Shimmer especially can also add an element of modulation to the delay effect. Like many Boss multi effects, there is a built-in phrase looper, which allows me to sometimes duet or have sympathetic sounds playing in background.
Despite its simple appearance, the DD-500 is comprehensively programmable – so each song has its own patch (or patches), optimised to enhance the piece. Robust foot-switches allow me to change patches whilst playing – and a clever ‘carryover’ feature means that delay tails are not cut off unnaturally when changing patches. Some patches (like Analog) are naturally warm and rich-sounding; others (like Dual) are cool, bright and clear – and these differences can be enhanced by also programming in EQ variations. The DD-500 can operate in mono or stereo and some delay types work better in stereo – for example: Pattern delay patches be programmed (in glorious detail) such that the echoes ‘ping pong’ from left to right.
With a few exceptions the patches I use for my dulcimers are subtle and sensitive and in many cases one might only notice the effect by its absence. On my guitar pieces however, I am generally more adventurous – so the patches for these are often stronger and more inventive, adding an extra dimension to the music. One example of this is the Warp feature, which creates a spooky, atmospheric sound space, ideal for magical and mysterious folk ballads.
digital effects for electric dulcimer
My solid-body electric dulcimer is effectively a dulcimer version of an electric guitar with a smooth-sounding humbucking coil pickup. To process this signal, I use the Boss GT-1 guitar multi-effects unit. This highly portable unit is compact and light-weight but extremly powerful both in programming facility and in having 24 bit sound quality.
The GT-1 holds almost every electric guitar effect and can be programmed to have many effects operating simultaneously. As well as dozens of preamp features, there are two duplicate sets of modulation effects, each with dozens of modulation sounds as well as countless overdrives, delays, reverbs etc. Each effect can be comprehensively programmed and the effect chain itself can be edited to alter the sequence.
In use and like the DD-500, each song has its own patch (or patches) and this can be changed mid-song using the footswitches. I usually set the output to be compatible with PAs and acoustic amps, yet the result still sounds like an electric guitar amp stack.
amplification & PA
For practice and intimate performances (when my vocals don’t need amplification), I use the Schertler Jam 200 acoustic amp. As well as being powerful and bi-amped, the Schertler’s class A circuitry delivers exceptional detail and clarity. The Jam 200 has several input channels with comprehensive mixing features, so it can make all my instruments and the effects I use clearly heard.
When my vocals do amplification, I use the Bose S1 Pro speaker, which is a small PA system in its own right. Powered by an internal battery, the quality of sound is impressive. The S1 can be used as a stand-alone PA, as an extension to the Schertler amp or as a fold-back monitor for my PA system.
I have a compact Yamaha PA system with professional features. This delivers a smooth sound with extended bass. With more channels, the PA can cater for larger ensembles. Mounting the speakers on stands helps to disperse the sound evenly for all the audience to hear well – plus there’s the option of having the effects in stereo. I use a Sure (SM58) vocal mic which suits my vocals and a Sennheiser (E-935) vocal mic for greater clarity on female vocals. There is also an AKG (C1000s) instrument mic for additional instruments that don’t have pickups.
larger venues and when I fly to perform
For my acoustic instruments I use a Fishman Platinum Pro preamp, which loops to the DD-500 and back and gives a balanced output to an in-house PA mixer (US=board). With class A circuitry, the Platinum Pro has exceptional detail and smoothness. The electric dulcimer’s GT-1 effects feeds an EMO stereo DI to give a high-quality balanced feed to in-house PA systems. The quality and features of these units guarantees a great sound and leaves little for the local engineer to worry about.
I also travel with my own vocal mic and a Boss VE-1 Vocal Echo. This voice processor conditions my vocals to give a polished, professional sound – and again provide the local PA with a balanced signal.