Playing In A Duo

The idea of a guitar-plus-drums duo isn’t a new one. A lot of us even started out this way by pure necessity. I know I did: I’d been playing electric guitar for about two years before I met a bass player, so my earliest jams were all with a drummer. One time a buddy and I even played Poison’s “Unskinny Bop” as a duo, sans vocals (and probably sans awesomeness, if I’m to be honest about our seventh-grade skills). But even back then I took steps to compensate for the lack of bass, mainly by trying to throw in as many notes from the bassline as I could in between C.C. DeVille licks. Now there are all sorts of ways you can fill out the sound if you’re playing in a guitar/drums duo, and there are lots of great examples of duos doing some pretty amazing things. 

If you’re playing in a guitar/drums duo you need to find a way to fill out the low end, because a standard-tuned guitar can lack a little of the fullness of a bass-driven band. There are all sorts of methods to achieve this. One I like is to drop the low E string down quite low – often to C or A. For me this was inspired by the Van Halen instrumental track ‘Baluchitherium,’ where Eddie drops his low string way, way down. This lets you play the stuff you normally would on the other four or five strings (depending on how you choose to tune) while also giving you access to a lower range for bass notes. Of course there’s no reason you can’t use a baritone guitar to get right down there for those lower notes.

Another useful method is to use an octave pedal or pitch shifter to generate a lower-octave tone to fill out the guitar sound. This can restrict what you play though, since many octave units don’t sound so great when you play a full chord through them. There are other options out there for generating a bass sound: the A Little Thunder pickup (which I’ve been messing around with in my Les Paul) generates a bass sound from the lowest three strings and sends it to a separate amp, and is even clever enough to only use the E string if you’re playing a six-note barre chord.

Or you could use a guitar synth, which also gives you the option of routing only particular strings to another signal chain, and letting you do things like muting the guitar notes on the bottom two strings so they’re not doubling the bass. Whichever method you use in a setup like this, it’s usually beneficial to send your faux-bass signal to a separate amplifier or direct into the mixing desk so you can achieve maximum sonic spread. Also, guitar amps typically aren’t designed to handle the frequency range of a bass amp, so you’ll get a more authentic sound if you send your bass-type signal to a bass amp.

Here in Australia there are two bands in particular who are doing some very innovative things in two-guitar bands: King of the North and DZ Deathrays. Both are guitar/drum duos. DZ is described as ‘dance-punk’ or ‘thrash-pop,’ and their guitarist/vocalist, Shane Parsons, uses a multi-amp/multi-effect setup to generate a dense, psychedelic, often alien-sounding guitar army. Although more recently Parsons has experimented with layering each element separately in the studio, if you catch them live the sound is all happening in real-time from the one instrument. King Of The North take a more direct approach. Guitarist/vocalist Andrew Higgs uses a three-amp setup which seems complicated on the surface, but he likes to explain it as “Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Cliff Williams” – that is, one amp cranks out his rhythm guitar riffs, one handles the simulated basslines and one kicks in for lead guitar. It’s interesting to compare King of the North and DZ Deathrays: if you closed your eyes at a King of the North gig you wouldn’t even realise you weren’t listening to a traditional ‘two guitars, bass and drums’ band, while there are times when DZ can often sound as much like analog synths as guitars. 

Here’s King Of The North’s video for ”Wanted”

And here they are covering Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song”

 

A Little Thunder & Marconi Lab EGO Thunder

A Little Thunder Marconi EGO

A Little Thunder and Marconi Lab have collaborated on the EGO Thunder Signature Model “Orange Drop” guitar. It’s a headless, alder-bodied, maple-necked, ebony-fretboarded, tricked-out music machine with an A Little Thunder pickup in the neck position and a Lace Alumitone Deathbucker at the bridge. The A Little Thunder pickup is, of course, the revolutionary ‘create a separate bass signal out of your lowest three guitar strings’ device designed by Andy Alt. The guitar and all hardware are made 100% in Italy, and A Little Thunder is 100 percent made in the USA.

I like the boldness of the design, and the ‘arm,’ chassis’ and ‘head’ labels which give it a real ‘designy’ feel. It looks crazy comfortable to play too. If you haven’t checked out A Little Thunder yet, here’s the deal: it listens to the lowest three strings (originally it was just the bottom two, but a recent firmware update unlocked a secret third coil) and generates a bass signal which it then sends to a separate signal chain (and it can do it independently of your pickup selection, so you can be rocking chewy riffage on your bridge humbucker while A Little Thunder works its magic). It also has a Low Note Priority mode which processes only the lowest note of a chord, so you can blast away on a full six-string barre chord with only the low E string being used for a bass signal.

For a limited time you can get $400 off the EGO Thunder, limited to the first 50 orders. Have a question? Reach out to Marconi Lab or A Little Thunder directly. Buy it direct (and see plenty more pics) here.

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A Little Thunder

In January I finally got the chance to try Andy Alt’s A Little Thunder pickup and I immediately fell in love with it. It allows you to add bass notes to the lowest two strings and send them through another amp. It’s even smart enough to know if you want it to do so with both notes of a chord or with just the low E. It’s super-clever and super-effective. I’ve been a big supporter of this pickup since way back when it was in the design stages and it’s great to see it inspiring so many people, and now making its way out into the world. It’s also been great to see it go from one guy’s idea, through to a huge amount of really hard work, through to a completed, marketed pickup that can now help people make the music they hear in their head.

A Little Thunder is shipping right now (and if you keep an eye on Facebook you might have already noticed “Yay, my Little Thunder arrived!” posts popping up) with free worldwide shipping. You can get yours here.

A little more info from the site: “A fully revolutionized & patented pickup design, A Little Thunder™ is a replacement humbucker that gives guitarists the ability to play guitar + bass together… or separately. Each of the two pickups in A Little Thunder™ can operate independently. The top pickup allows all 6 guitar strings to be heard, as they normally are. A second pickup for the bottom most strings (E & A) processes the organic frequency at -1 octave or -2 octaves. A Low-Note-Priority™ mode allows you to give the bass effects to only the lowest of the 2 notes being played, great for strumming.”

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Introducing A Little Thunder

Ever wish you could have a big fat bass right there on your guitar? Me too. I’ve tried all sorts of stuff like octave pedals and 8-strings, and they’re all fun, but nothing quite does what the A Little Thunder pickup does. It takes your lowest two strings and shifts them down an octave or two. You can output the signal with your regular guitar sound or you can wire it up so you can send it to a whole separate rig. If you play metal or stoner styles you can get some hugely fat sounds. If you play jazz you can do some amazing walking bass stuff. If you’re a solo singer/guitarist you can really, really flesh out your compositions. But it’s not the “If you’re a [this] you can do [this]” applications that excite me the most: it’s the stuff that we can’t even envision yet that people will be using this for. Andy Alt has launched a Kickstarter to get this baby happening and there are plenty of great perks, my favourite of which is lunch with tech-to-the-starts Thomas Nordegg (Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, Mike Keneally). I’d like to think that Thomas would show up for lunch with some kind of MIDI-enabled, LED-festooned Ultra-Spork. But there’s also – get this – a 1987 Ibanez RG550 Roadflare Red prototype signed by Steve Vai and with A Little Thunder installed. Sweet, huh?

Here’s info about A Little Thunder and the Kickstarter. Read More …