Ernie Ball Music Man is releasing a new John Petrucci model to mark 10 years of John’s collaboration with the company. In their own words:
This new signature model is being released to commemorate 10 years of collaboration with Dream Theater guitar player John Petrucci. The new body shape has a slightly thinner upper horn and a more symmetric bridge end profile. The body is also chambered for added acoustic resonance.
What I find particularly interesting about this model (aside from its slight resemblance to Ibanez’s new RGD line) is that it features 5-way pickup switching, unlike John’s other models which have 3-way switching. Note too that this model features John’s new DiMarzio signature pickup set, the Crunch Lab and LiquiFire. Check out my review of the pickups here. You can also hear my demo on the Crunch Lab 7 and LiquiFire 7 pages of DiMarzio.com. Of course the JPX 6 also has piezo pickups for acoustic tones.
If you’re a regular reader of I Heart Guitar, you probably know that I write for Mixdown Magazine and Australian Guitar Magazine (and I’ve also been known to do the odd interview for Australian Musician Magazine too). So in addition to gear snooping for my own amusement and stuff that crosses my desk for I Heart Guitar, I’m lucky to get to check out a lot of gear over the course of the year. Most of it ends up as reviews here on I Heart Guitar. So now that it’s the end of the year I’ve put my slippers on, put my feet up, kicked back with a brewski and pondered just what I should name inaugural I Heart Guitar Gear Of The Year. And what factors should inform my decision? Innovation? Price? Sound? Utility? Looks? They’re all important. But then again, this is a blog about one dude’s love affair with the guitar, and at the heart of it this site wouldn’t work if I tried to satisfy everyone by rating gear on such arbitrary terms. So what it comes down to is, what’s the piece of gear that’s had the most impact on me as a player, and the music I make, in 2009?
There have been a lot of cool gadgets, gizmos and git-boxes this year. A short list of my favourites include:
Morpheus DropTune – a clever pitch-shifting pedal that finally makes realistic downtuning sounds without crippling lag.
DigiTech TimeBender – great delay sounds, of course, but this pedal really comes into its own when you start messing about with the pitch-shifted repeats.
Taylor T3/B – One of the nicest Bigbsy setups I’ve ever played, tone for days, and it looks classier than a Mercedes with its pinky out.
Sterling by Music Man AX20 – Plays quite well and looks super cool, but the thing that pushed this plucky little axe over the edge was the pickups, which are far nicer than you’d expect in a guitar of this price.
IK Multimedia AmpliTube Fender – Killer models of various famous Fender amps (including one of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s actual modded Vibroverbs).
But the grand prize winner, the piece of gear that’s made the biggest impact on my music-making in 2009 (and isn’t that what it’s all about?) is…
This pickup’s had a huge impact on the sound of my guitar tracks this year. And when your sound is better, you play better and you enjoy the experience of playing more.
When I looked back on my favourite gear of the year and realised the DiMarzio Crunch Lab pickup was the product that had made the biggest impact on how I played in the past 12 months, I thought, what better way to celebrate the inaugural I Heart Guitar Gear Of The Year award than by talking to the pickup’s inspiration and co-designer, John Petrucci? Dream Theater happened to be in town so thanks to Roadrunner Records John and I had a little chat backstage at The Palais Theatre here in Melbourne on December 7. Here’s the conversation.
I Heart Guitar: So as you know I’ve picked one of the new pickups as my gear of the year…
John Petrucci: Which one did you like?
IHG: The Crunch Lab. That’s my one!
Petrucci: Oh great. What kind of guitar do you have?
IHG: An Ibanez RG7620 seven string.
Petrucci: Oh great! And it works well in the Ibanez?
IHG: Yeah, love it!
Petrucci: Good! What amp?
IHG: Marshall DSL50.
Petrucci: And it works good for you? Cool, man!
IHG: So I just wanted to talk a little about the new pickups. So what led to the decision to do these new pickups?
Petrucci: The pickups are like a work in progress, y’know? From the very beginning, even with Ibanez, there were DiMarzios in the first Ibanez that I used, so that started the relationship – Larry DiMarzio, Steve Blucher – and it’s been like 20-years-plus that I’ve been working with them. Steve Blucher is instrumental (CLICK HERE for I Heart Guitar’s interview with Steve Blucher). He knows what I want at this point. He knows what I play through, he knows the Boogies, he knows what the guitar is made out of and he knows what I’m going for. So based on that, he developed the pickups. The pickups have made a couple of changes since they’ve been in the Music Man guitars over the last ten years. And those changes are based on him calling me up and saying, “Hey, I’ve found a way to make the higher strings fatter and the lower strings tighter.” And I’ll be like, “Alright, cool! Let’s hear it!” And he’ll come in, swap out the pickups, and I’ll try it. We had a conversation before I started the latest album about the neck pickup and trying to make that different, get some more clarity out of it. So we finally did that and loved the pickups, loved the way they worked with the BFR, the wood, the way they worked with the Boogies. Then finally Steve said, “We’ve never done a signature pickup for you in 20 years.” So we pretty much both were really, really happy with where the pickups are at now. So we felt it was great timing. We’re not making any more changes. Not to say that we wont! But as of now we’re really happy with them. So then we tried to come up with names, which was real funny.
IHG: What were some of the rejected ones?
Petrucci: A lot of ‘crunch’ ones, like Crunch Factory was something that I really liked but someone had a patent on it or something. LiquiFire was something I really liked…
IHG: You can’t say it without doing the metal horns.
Petrucci: (Laughs) Exactly, right! I always have to tell people it’s F-I-R-E. I just love the double meaning of that. One of the funny things was trying to think of the spelling for it. Y’know, lick, L-I-C-K W, FIRE…
IHG: The decision to make them available to everyone was pretty cool. People are always going to the Steve’s Special, which I believe are what the original pickups in the Music Man evolved from…
Petrucci: Yep, absolutely!
IHG: And now they can have the real thing, which is cool!
Petrucci: That’s a good point, because when I started with Music Man we wanted to really make the pickups only for that guitar, so you couldn’t go out and get only the pickups. So this is the first time we’ve made them available.
IHG: And also with the Sterling by Music Man guitars, people can upgrade the pickups to what’s in the Music Man version.
Petrucci: I’ve never thought of that! That’s good!
IHG: Did you use the new pickups much on the new CD?
Petrucci: It’s all of the new CD. All of it. In fact Steve came in and once we nailed it… he actually, at the beginning at the sessions, a lot of times I’ll ask him to do something because I want to hear what it’ll do. And he’ll say “You’re not gonna like it, but I’ll do it,” and we’ll just do it. Or he’ll say “Try this out,” and in doing that you kinda eliminate all the mental chatter. It gets rid of all those questions. You say “I tried all that stuff, and this works.” So we did a bunch of that in the studio, but once we were like, “This is great, I love it,” Steve so kindly came in and changed all the pickups out of my guitars. Out of all the guitars – and I have a lot (laughs). I have an A rig and a B rig, and he changed them all out. So he was changing like crazy.
IHG: So you recently changed your amp rig?
Petrucci: Here in Australia I’m actually using what I call my B rig… I have many rigs, with many different letters, but we’ll call this one the B rig, which is actually a rig comprised of [Mesa Boogie] Mark IVs. I used that rig to do G3, I used it to do Liquid Tension Experiment, I use it when we do fly-in dates – it’s a big smaller. So Mark IV’s down here in Australia. But I did build a new Mark V rig and I used that all throughout the North American run.
IHG: So what’s next after this tour? Are you gonna do another solo album soon?
Petrucci: You know, a lot of people ask me about that, and I did start to write, finally! I got the bug, I got bit by it, I started to write this music and I’ve been in a nice writing flow. So I hope to finish writing the material and get to record next year. So I’m psyched about that.
IHG: Any idea where it’s heading yet?
Petrucci: Yeah, I have a total idea where it’s heading. I don’t like to really talk about it but I think by now people kinda know my style and what I do, and hopefully it’ll be more of that!
IHG: Well that’s our time up.
Petrucci: Well I’m glad you like the pickups!
IHG: Yeah, I love ‘em! They’ve turned that guitar from my backup beater to my main recording guitar.
Petrucci: What did you notice different about it? What did it do for ya?
IHG: The brownness, and the fuzziness but you can still palm-mute stuff and you don’t get that ‘ksh, ksh’ sound between notes.
Petrucci: Yeah, there’s a lot of clarity.
IHG: And the LiquiFire’s great for the bluesy stuff as well as the really fast stuff.
Petrucci: Yes, that’s a good point. We wanted it to be bright enough that it sounded nice on the blues stuff but where you also really got that pick attack sound. And the bridge pickup, it was more of that: fatten up the high strings, tighten up the low strings.
IHG: And the split sound with the two in single coil mode is kinda thicker and less hi fi.
Petrucci: Yeah, I know what you mean! Cool! Awesome man, glad you like it!
There are certain aspects of John Petrucci’s tone that have remained relatively consistent over the years: a flutey, rounded neck pickup soloing voice and a zingy, almost acoustic-like clean sound. His rhythm tone, however, has jumped all over the shop: thick and warm on Images & Words, Falling Into Infinity, Scenes From A Memory and Black Clouds & Silver Linings; somewhat scooped and harsh on Awake, 6 Degrees of Inner Turbulence and Train Of Thought; and somewhere in between for the rest.
Add this to the list of Cool Stuff I Find Out About First Thing In The Morning. Remember my DiMarzio Crunch Lab 7 and LiquiFire 7 review from last week? The great folks at DiMarzio liked the review and are now using the sound clips on the Crunch Lab 7 and LiquiFire 7 pages of their website. Go to http://www.dimarzio.com/ and click the links for the individual pickups in the 7 string category (see the photo at the end of this post).
This is super ultra exciting because I’ve been using DiMarzio stuff since I was about 14. In fact, aside from various straps, switches and potentiometers, here’s my DiMarzio list:
Ibanez UV777BK – Blaze bridge, Blaze middle, Blaze neck
Ibanez Jem7VWH – Evolution bridge, Evolution middle, Evolution neck
Ibanez RG550 – PAF Pro in the neck
Ibanez RG370 – Tone Zone bridge, Evolution neck
Ibanez RG7620 – Crunch Lab 7 bridge, LiquiFire 7 neck
Ibanez RG7420 – Tone Zone 7 bridge, Blaze neck
Ibanez custom (not yet finished) – EJ Custom bridge, Solo Pro middle, EJ Custom neck
In my parts box I also have New 7 neck and bridge humbuckers (which were stock in my RG7620), a spare Blaze neck pickup, an Evolution 7 (which sounds cool but had to come out to make way for the LiquiFire!) and another PAF Pro.
DiMarzio LiquiFire & Crunch Lab pickups on Musician’s Friend
DiMarzio DP227 LiquiFire Neck Humbucker Black Regular – $75.95
DiMarzio DP228 Crunch Lab Bridge Humbucker Black Regular – $79.95
6-string F-spaced (pole pieces spaced for guitars with whammy bars)
DiMarzio DP227 LiquiFire Neck Humbucker Black F Spaced - $75.95
DiMarzio DP228 Crunch Lab Bridge Humbucker Black F Spaced – $79.95
DiMarzio DP707 LiquiFire 7 String Neck Pickup Black – $79.95
DiMarzio DP708 Crunch Lab 7 String Bridge Pickup Black – $89.95
Here’s a cool video of Dream Theater’s John Petrucci talking about his new Ernie Ball Music Man guitar and working with DiMarzio on pickups. He also talks about his live rig and how he approaches his sound in live performance compared to the studio.
Wha? When did this happen? DiMarzio is releasing two signature John Petrucci pickups, the brutally-named Crunch Lab bridge pickup and Liquifire. The only place I can seem to find any mention of these yet is on the DiMarzio website, so I guess they’re super-ultra new. And they’re available in both 6 and 7 string versions!
Crunch Lab details:
One thing has stayed consistent throughout John Petrucci’s long and successful career: the DiMarzio pickups in his guitars. John has been pushing the envelope of progressive metal since the late eighties, and the new DiMarzio Crunch Lab Bridge Model ensued from our most recent collaboration with John. He used it throughout Dream Theater’s tenth studio album, Black Clouds and Silver Linings.
John swears this is the best live and studio sound he has ever had, and the name says it all crunch is what it’s all about with a big, tight sound that’s neither muddy nor thin.
Tech Talk: The Crunch Lab is noteworthy (bad pun alert!) for what it doesn’t do – it’s not a screamer, and it’s not about thundering lows. Its physical appearance is identical to the D Sonic, but the internal design is a lot different. It’s louder, and the highs have more depth. The lows and mids are more open, and this is crucial for playing chords with body and presence through a gained–out amp. The voicing of the pickup is also different enough to the point that John prefers the Crunch Lab to be installed in almost all of his guitars (including the JP Bari) with the solid bar toward the neck, regardless of the guitar’s tuning.
One thing has stayed consistent throughout John Petrucci’s long and successful career: the DiMarzio pickups in his guitars. John has been pushing the envelope of progressive metal since the late eighties, and the DiMarzio LiquiFire Neck Model resulted from our most recent collaboration with John. He used it throughout Dream Theater’s tenth studio album, Black Clouds and Silver Linings.
John swears this is the best live and studio sound he has ever had. He wanted a neck pickup with a flowing, singing solo tone when used with a heavily overdriven amp and a clear chord sound with a clean amp setting.
Tech Talk: Since the mid 1990s, John’s neck pickup sound has been based on either the standard Air Norton or the custom version in his Ernie Ball guitars. The LiquiFire has several significant differences. Its treble response is warmer and smoother while bass response is tighter and brighter. The total sound has a more focused voice.
Read my interview with DiMarzio pickup designer Steve Blucher here.
In addition to the standard-version CD, there will also be a vinyl LP and a three-disc, special-edition CD that will include the full album, a CD of instrumental mixes of the album and a CD of six cover songs, the titles of which will be revealed at a later date.
Six weeks prior to the June 23 street date, Roadrunner will release one cover song per week through digital retailers. A video for the first single, ‘A Rite of Passage,’ will be shot in late March.
‘Black Clouds & Silver Linings’ was produced by drummer Mike Portnoy and guitarist John Petrucci, and it was mixed by Paul Northfield.
The track listing is:
01. A Nightmare to Remember
02. A Rite of Passage
04. The Shattered Fortress
05. The Best of Times
06. The Count of Tuscany
Here’s a 1-minute teaser from the Eddie Trunk show.
Liquid Tension Experiment, the Dream Theater side project which led to the full-time hiring of the band’s keyboard player Jordan Rudess, is releasing a new CD entitled Liquid Trio Experiment 2 – When The Keyboard Breaks: Live In Chicago.
Here’s the press release.
2009 will see Ytsejam Records branch out with releases by select DREAM THEATER side projects on their new Lazy Tomato Entertainment label.
Coming this spring will be the long awaited live CD and DVD releases by LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT.
But to whet your appetite until those titles are ready to go, the label will launch Ytsejam’s side-project offspring with the release of the LIQUID TRIO EXPERIMENT 2 “When The Keyboard Breaks: Live In Chicago” CD.
This is the infamous “jamarathon” which took place at LTE’s June 25, 2008 show in Chicago when Jordan Rudess’ keyboard broke down. Mike Portnoy, John Petrucci and Tony Levin proceeded to play and improvise almost one hour of insane musical madness to a stunned audience.
This was an unbelievably unique evening that can now be shared for those not fortunate enough to have been in attendance that very special night.
The first Liquid Trio Experiment album, Spontaneous Combustion, was a collaboration between Rudess, Portnoy and Levin which was recorded in 1998 when Petrucci had to skip out on recording sessions cos his wife went into labour. So the new CD is like a spin-off of a side project of a spin off of Dream Theater.
Thanks to Dan for alerting me to the new website for the new Sterling By Music Man brand, which will be priced somewhere around the same level as the now discontinued Ernie Ball Music Man SUB series.