In preparation for the next two weekends of BowieVision shows, I performed a full system update on my AxeFX. Firmware version 19 was released recently, and with each of the major firmware updates, all the amp models within presets need to be reinitialized to their factory default settings. This is necessary in order to pick up the latest changes to the amp models. As with most major firmware updates, these changes significantly improve the amp sounds. Starting with firmware version 18, many of the amp models and effect pedals have been recreated as “G3” (third generation) models. When I upgraded to FW18, I merely reinitialized the amp models, but with FW19, there were so many improvements across the board that I decided to recreate all of my individual presets from scratch.
I purchased my AxeFX last April, and since that time I’ve gotten very familiar with it. I’m much better at creating individual presets, and have learned how to create fairly complex signal routing to replicate dense studio tones from Bowie’s guitarists. The most complex presets in my setup are for those parts recorded by Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp, and Reeves Gabrels. In these cases, I’m running multiple amp / cabinet combinations, with parallel effect chains, multiple sub-mixed busses, and a final multi-channel stereo mix at the end.
The latest amp model revisions have led me to explore some specific amps that I’ve never encountered as physical objects : amps by Suhr, Carol Anne, Two-Rock, and so on. I have certainly spun through all of the models at some point in the past, just to get a sense of what they sounded like. But with the G3 updates, some of these previously unused models have sprung to the forefront of my patches. The Suhr Badger turns out to be a pretty useful amp model, especially when stacked with the Boogie Lonestar clean channel for a little sparkle. I’ve also learned a few handy tricks like adding high-pass chorusing on just the clean channel, then layering that sound with the straight distortion tone. The resultant tone doesn’t sound obviously chorused, but it does have a nice dimensionality that helps open up the sound. Chorus has a tendency to smear that note attack, and to thin out the sound of the guitar. By adding a high-pass filter, I can control the portion of the signal that will be treated with the effect.
The next big adventure in my rig evolution will be experimenting with in-ear monitoring. I’ve have the capability to do this for some time, but haven’t used it regularly. It’s definitely a big advantage to have my guitar sound directly routed to my ears; it helps attenuate some of the other stage noise, and it gives me a very clear representation of what I’m sounding like. I’ve noticed it also causes me to play with a lighter touch because I’m not trying to overcome stage dynamics. Once we get past these two shows, I’ll start working on an in-ear mix strategy.