Gear Blog: Sarah Jarosz and The Milk Carton Kids

photo by Scott Newton

We hope everybody enjoyed this weekend’s episode featuring Sarah Jarosz and The Milk Carton Kids. If you missed it, you can catch it here. In the meantime, our longtime audio support guy and intrepid gear reporter gives us a new installment in our Gear Blog series, featuring the equipment onstage with these solely acoustic acts. Take it away, Kevin. 

Sarah Jarosz is no stranger to the viewers of PBS affiliate KLRU (home of Austin City Limits). Many Austinites recall being introduced to a barely teenage Sarah in a segment on the local children’s show The Biscuit Brothers. Even by then she was already a fixture of the Central Texas bluegrass and folk scene. Sarah released her first album at 17, then headed Boston to study composition at The New England Conservatory and found time to record and tour during her studies. This is Sarah’s second appearance on ACL – she made her first ACL appearance in Season 36 with Steve Martin.  Nathaniel Smith (cello) and Alex Hargreaves (mandolin and fiddle) also mark their return with Sarah.

Sarah brought a Collings  D1 dreadnought acoustic guitar and MF5 mandolin. Fortuitously, Sarah and the Collings factory both hail from Wimberly, Texas.

Sarah also brought what looks like a custom built “Burning Sun” banjo built by Blanco, Texas piano restorer Bernard Mollberg.  The esoteric instrument to the right is an octave mandolin crafted by Fletcher Brock of Seattle, Washington.

All instruments on stage run to their own pickups into their own dedicated Radial Tonebone PZ-Pres and then into the PA.

Hailing from Eagle Rock, California, Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan formed, The Milk Carton Kids in 2011 – after years of paying  dues as solo artists, they were hailed as an overnight sensations as a duo. Whereas Ms. Jarosz and company avail themselves of a more modern technology to amplify their acoustic instruments, Ryan and Pattengale go the old-fashioned route and use microphones exclusively to project the sound of their voices and instruments. For the taping, MCK brought their own preferred setup of Ear Trumpet Lab microphones. Below you’ll see a couple of pictures of a far more complicated set-up than what was used at the actual taping. For the recorded show, “the less is more” approach was decided and a single microphone was used. Though one microphone makes life simpler (or probably more complicated) for the sound guys, it necessitates a more dynamic approach to performing for Kenneth and Joey, meaning they have to physically move toward and away from the microphone as their musical parts dictate. That’s quite an accomplishment of technique that is rarely seen these days.

Pictured are the Edwina models for vocals and the Ednas placed lower for the guitars. Though they may look ancient, Ear Trumpet Lab mics are quite contemporary, extremely versatile, and very affordable.

Joey plays a 1951 Gibson J-45, pictured below. Kenneth plays a 1954 Martin 0-15.

Gear Blog: Bob Mould

photo by Scott Newton

Our latest installment of the gear blog features Bob Mould and is written, as always, by our front of house engineer Kevin Cochran.

“This is a Big Deal.”

At the risk of sounding selfserving, it’s been a red letter year for the Austin City Limits TV program. I’ll let you review the list of heavy hitters that have walked our boards this taping season, but this week’s artist is my personal favorite for all of Season 38. Coincidentally, it’s been a red (rad?) letter year for Bob Mould as well. After an interlude from recording, Bob came back with one of the strongest albums of his career and ended up topping a drove of “best of lists” for 2012.

It’s especially gratifying to see someone who started as a recusant of underground music and grow into a well revered personage for musicians and music fans from all walks.

Mixing front of house was a good friend of Austin City Limits and mine, Jeff Byrd. Jeff has mixed FOH for Spoon, Explosions In The Sky, and a few other tapings. As usual, he brought a Midas Heritage 3000 and a bunch of outboard gear provided by Big House Sound .

photo by Kevin Cochran

 

photo by Kevin Cochran

 

photo by Kevin Cochran

Bassist Jason Narducy played a red sparkle Fender Precision Bass passing through a Boss RC-50 Loop Station , a Boss FS-6 dual footswitcher, then a Radial JPC DI. We’ve used this piece of gear quite a bit at KLRU, as the go-to DI for computers, iPods, and DJ rigs. Radial doesn’t make useless gear, but we’ve really gotten our money’s worth out of this one.

photo by Kevin Cochran

photo by Kevin Cochran

For the taping, Jason ran into the ubiquitous Ampeg SVT Classic head, running into a 810E cabinet. Jason’s signal passes through and is split by a Radial J48 before hitting the amp head.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Mould’s live shows are synonymous with volume and for our taping, he used mixture of the old and the new. To the left is a Blackstar 100 head. Blackstar Amplification was started in 2007 by a group of former Marshall employees and has made many converts in its short history. I’d never encountered a Blackstar in person before, but was impressed at its versatility between getting “classic” and “modern” guitar tones and all points in between. On the left is a vintage (I believe) Marshall 1987 100 watt head, provided by Soundcheck Austin. The Marshall hadn’t been rented in years and was being finicky, causing Mr. Mould a little consternation. After being given a little attention by the Soundcheck guys, it was brought back to life and is probably one of the best-sounding amp heads I’ve ever heard. Bob became more relaxed as camera rehearsal progressed and commented, “Okay, this sounds like me.”

photo by Kevin Cochran

After 15 seasons of working for the show, I don’t fanboy or fawn like I used to, but Bob’s sound, that day, was one of the best guitar tones I’ve ever heard.  It just sounded… right.   Doug Chappell, one of our audio crew, has worked with everyone from ZZ Top to Armored Saint and doesn’t get worked up about anything anymore. Even he was impressed.

The most surprising thing about this set-up is that the cabinets are wired out of phase from one another. I’m told this is an old trick to counteract feedback at the vocal microphone when dealing with loud guitar volumes. Our head of audio, David Hough, remarked that sometimes steel guitar players will wire their Fender Twin speakers out of phase to get a “poor man’s stereo”. That would just drive me nuts. Both guitar channels were flipped into the same phase for the broadcast mix.

To the left of Bob’s rig is Jon Wurster’s C&C drum kit.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Bob’s pedal board includes a Aphex Punch Factory, an optical compressor, an Electro Harmonix Nano Freeze, a TC Electronic Flashback Delay, a MXR Distortion +, and a Boss Tuner.
To the upper right appears to be a Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor, resting atop a Voodoo Labs Iso 5 power supply.

photo by Kevin Cochran

If you’ve seen Bob Mould play an electric guitar in the past 25 years, it’s probably been this very one to the right, a 1987 Lake Placid Blue Fender Stratocaster. The Fender company was bought by CBS from its founder, Leo Fender, in 1965 and the next 20 years are widely considered the nadir in quality and reputation of Fender instruments. Bill Schultz and other Fender employees bought the company from CBS in 1985 and within a couple years the Fender brand began regaining its lost glory. In 1987, Fender introduced a new line of Stratocasters that included locking tuners, the Wilkinson nut, an improved vibrato system, and Lace-Sensor pickups.

In our post show interview (which I like to call the “debriefing”), Michael Toland, ACL’s chief archivist, asked Bob to talk about his guitar.

Bob Mould talks about his Stratocaster guitar on Austin City Limits from Austin City Limits on Vimeo.

The silver guitar to the right is a backup of similar vintage and by the looks of the fingerboard, rarely gets played.

I really enjoyed taping this episode. Bob himself was the consummate professional and gentleman as was his band and crew. All he asked of Sachiko Robertson, our monitor engineer, was a loud, clear vocal (preferably not feeding back) and then he was happy. After years of touring clubs with sketchy sound systems, that probably goes a long way.

More importantly, it’s gratifying to see someone who’s paid their dues receive deserved recognition, and still be humbled by the experience. When we were starting our soundcheck, Bob looked around the studio and remarked, “This is a big deal.”  That show was true for me, too.

Gear Blog: Radiohead

photo by Kevin Cochran

The Gear Blog is a behind-the-scenes look at the instruments and equipment that graces the Austin City Limits’ stage. Our Audio Engineer Kevin Cochran goes in-depth to give our gearheads some insight.

The producers of ACL are always refining and building a wish list of artists they hope to nab to appear on the show. They keep an eye on upcoming album releases and touring schedules between early March through late November, our shooting window, so that we can catch a performer in top form when they hit Texas. Some artists are obvious choices and others are favorites of a particular producer who must lobby (sometimes for years) to prevail upon the powers that be to book a taping.

Some acts clamor to play Austin City Limits. But there are others that seem like a long shot. When I heard that the “ask” for Radiohead had been made, I had my doubts. The five piece from Abingdon, Oxfordshire guards their image fiercely and hold celebrity and exposure at arms length. Their American broadcast appearances have either been late night talk shows or awards ceremonies, giving only a glancing view of their live proficiency. So when I heard that the band had been booked, I was excited but surprised. But then again, a band like Radiohead thrives on surprise.

Once again, Jim Warren plopped his Venue in front of house, this time bringing along Sherif El-Barbari to help tune the room with Lake processing. Sherif was extremely thorough and the end result is what you would expect one of the world’s largest bands to sound like.

photo by Kevin Cochran

 

photo by Kevin Cochran

 

photo by Kevin Cochran

 

photo by Kevin Cochran

Radiohead’s monitors were d&b audiotechnik processed by d&b D12s. Monitor mixes ran through another Digidesign Venue.

photo by Kevin Cochran

 

photo by Kevin Cochran

What impressed me the most about Radiohead was that they agreed to do a full camera rehearsal. As a matter of course, we ask artists to run through their entire show so that our director Gary Menotti can watch how the band arranges and plays their material live. Many times, bands at Radiohead’s level forgo camera rehearsal, unless there are certain songs that deviate from the arrangement of their recordings. The band thought they could use a run through themselves and rehearsed every song on the set list. It’s extra work but it helps the cameramen immensely. The quality that ACL is known for is, in great part, because cameramen know what musician to focus on in every part of every song and aren’t reacting to things that have already happened like you see in some other shows.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Jonny Greenwood’s pedal boards.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Thom Yorke’s pedal boards and DIs.

photo by Kevin Cochran

 

photo by Kevin Cochran

Ed O’Brien’s pedal boards.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Settings on keyboards are called patches. This comes from the days when sounds had to be physically patched by cables from oscillator to another. Jonny’s key world is a good example of how things used to be done.

photo by Kevin Cochran

An upright piano with a Dave Smith Instruments Tetra attached to it. Or it could be synth keys in an upright chassis – I’m not sure.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Drummer Phil Selway and bassist Colin Greenwood really shine on King of Limbs. The intricate rhythms on the album would be hard replicate live so Clive Deamer was brought along to help out on drums. This is a repeat appearance for Clive. He previously taped with Robert Plant in Season 28. Mr. Plant happened to be on hand to watch the taping live.

Both drummers used Gretsch drum kits that night. Clive’s is on the left. Colin Greenwood’s Ampeg rig is in the back with a couple of synths.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Phil’s on the right. Off to the side is Ed O’Brien’s Fender Vibroking amp and Thom Yorke’s Vox AC30.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Thom Yorke’s guitar world.

photo by Kevin Cochran

photo by Kevin Cochran

Ed O’Brien’s guitar world.

photo by Kevin Cochran

 

photo by Kevin Cochran

O’Brien relied heavily on the new Johnny Marr Fender Jaguar that night. This is the cleanest, clearest guitar I have ever heard in my life and gave me a new respect for Jaguars.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Not pictured are Jonny Greenwood’s Telecaster Plus’ Version 1 which he has been using since the early ’90’s.

In researching this post, I stumbled upon this very cool website: King Of Gear. This site will give you more detail about the toys and tools of Radiohead than I ever could.

For recording and post production, Radiohead brought their longtime producer, Nigel Godrich with them to record and mix in post. He was very friendly.

Radiohead is very careful about their image and public exposure. When they accepted our invitation, not only was it a feather in our cap that we would be airing one of the biggest and most enigmatic bands in the world, but an honor that a band so guarded felt safe to let us show America what they do for an hour.

Gear Blog: Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Number One

photo by Kevin Cochran

In honor of iconic Texas guitarist and ACL veteran Stevie Ray Vaughan’s birthday today, our intrepid FOH mixologist and gear blogger Kevin Cochran turned in this report on the instrument also known as “the Wife.” 

As far as guitars go, only a handful are as iconic (and synonymous of their players) as Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Number One guitar. A centerpiece of the Texas State History Museum’s Texas Music Roadtrip, this is the first time this instrument has been seen by the public since Stevie Ray’s death in 1990. Vaughan made two appearances with “the Wife” on Austin City Limits: the first time in 1983 and again in 1989.

After snapping this picture, I was chastened by security that no photography was allowed inside the exhibition. As I’ve learned in the past, it only takes once to run afoul of museum muscle and then they’ll follow you around for the rest of your stay. It’s a bit of a chore trying give your full attention to the next exhibit when the security guard  is only a few feet away giving you his full attention. In this case, it was totally worth it.

Number One is a “ragged American Stratocaster with 1959 pickups, a ’62 neck, and a ’63 body, reveals upon inspection a brutally worn finish, upside-down tremolo bar, cigarette-burnt headstock”. Vaughan acquired this instrument in 1974 from Ray Hennig’s Heart of Texas Music. When Vaughan took possession of Number One, it was already well worn. What is not as well known is that its previous owner was was another celebrated Texas musician,Christopher Cross. Hennig tells quite a story. As I’ve heard the tale, Cross wanted something “beefier” and traded the Stratocaster for a Les Paul. Stevie had already had a loaner guitar from Hennig, who was pleased to trade it for Cross’ guitar since it was in much better condition.

The original tri-colored sunburst finish has been eroded away by the rigors of years of heavy touring and Stevie’s abusive playing style. A closer inspection of the body will reveal gouged indentation of the wood above the pickguard from repeated contact of Vaughan’s guitar picks. Not just nicks and scrapes, but a deep dent that exposes the bare wood. The vibrato was swapped from the nominal set up of a right-handed player, to left-handed so that that Stevie could emulate Jimi Hendrix’s more exotic techniques. Repairs were needed quite often as Vaughan would break whammy bars and wear down frets on a regular basis. Charley Wirz and Rene Martinez are credited with most of the repairs for Stevie’s instruments.

Because of frequent refretting, the original neck became unplayable by the late ‘80’s and was swapped with the neck of another guitar in Vaughan’s stable, Scotch. Ironically, just a month before his death, a piece of stage rigging fell on Number One and snapped the neck at the headstock. It was the Scotch neck and not the original that was destroyed. Martinez acquired a replacement from Fender and Stevie was without the use of his favorite guitar for only one show. After Stevie Ray’s death, Rene replaced the new neck with Number One’s original and the guitar was given back to Stevie’s family. It now belongs to Stevie’s brother, Jimmie.

If you look closely at the photo, you can see Jimmie Vaughan’s guitar behind Number One. I didn’t get chance to grab any pictures of that guitar. It is a 1963 Stratocaster  (according to the exhibit placard) with a Schecter maple neck (sporting a Fender decal on the headstock) and a salacious girly sticker on the back of the body.

Gear Blog: Wilco

The Gear Blog is a behind-the-scenes look at the instruments and equipment that graces the Austin City Limits’ stage. Our Audio Engineer Kevin Cochran goes in-depth to give our audiophiles their fix.

All sound engineers will eventually fall into one of two categories of temperament after a certain amount of time within the business. The type A that will occasionally succumb to stress at some point and become…difficult to deal with. And the type B who has seen it all, knows that there are worse problems in the world than a noisy line or a wrong patch, and just deals with it like a jujitsu move. I’ve learned the value of grace under pressure from Wilco’s long time front of house engineer, Stan Doty.

Stan is my favorite engineer to work with at any ACL shoot. Period. He has run front of house sound for all three of Wilco’s ACL tapings and once Guided By Voices (one of my all time favorite episodes). Not to lay it on too thick, but the way he carries himself under pressure is something I’ve tried to emulate, especially since moving to our new digs.

Stan used a Midas Heritage 3000 console for Wilco’s mix. There have been plenty of pictures of those in past blogs, so let’s just look at the outboard gear that he brought along this time.

photo by Kevin Cochran

For vocals Stan puts Jeff Tweedy and John Stirratt through a dual channel Summit Audio tube compressor… usually. At the time of the taping, one channel was acting up and John’s vocal was put through a dbx compressor at the bottom of the rack. See, jujitsu. Acoustic guitars, piano, and keys are processed through BSS DPR-402 and 404 compressors; drums, bass, and effects are sent to dbx 1066 gate/comps.

photo by Kevin Cochran

The FOH (front of house) mix is sent through four Klark Teknik equalizers. The top two are the stereo left and right mix that are also split to the side fill stereo speakers. “F” stands for front fills (smaller speakers on stage that usually just have vocals and lead instruments sent to them) and “S” is for subwoofers. At the bottom of the rack are T.C. Electonics D Two and a 2290 delay followed by a pair of Yamaha SPX-990s.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Monitors mixed with a Digidesign Venue.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Pat Sansone’s guitar world was off of stage left with a collection of Telecasters and acoustics. On the right are Stirratt’s basses.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Sansone’s keyboard setup is a Nord and Korg CX3. The silver keyboard is a Korg M3. Sansone was also responsible for the broadcast mix of Wilco’s episode.

photo by Kevin Cochran

 

photo by Kevin Cochran

Sansone’s guitar pedal board. An A/B pedal switches between a Reeves amplifier and Marshall MK series combo.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Jeff Tweedy’s acoustic pedal board just consists of an Electro Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb, a volume pedal, and the ubiquitous Boss TU-2 tuner.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Tweedy’s electric guitar amps are a Texosound Bernie Colin Cripps and a Vox AC 30 with a Radial Switchbone switcher. Jeff also used a Fender Acoustic amp.

photo by Kevin Cochran

John Stirratt’s bass rig is two Ampeg cabinets fed by a custom head built by Chicago amp maker Tim Schroeder.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Glenn Kotche’s kit. Nice faux wood panel finish and artwork on the kick drum head.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Mikael Jorgensen’s stage right key world includes a Hammond organ and a Nord synth and a variety of special effects.

photo by Kevin Cochran

A wonderfully out of focus picture of Tweedy’s guitar pedal board. For some reason, everything relating to Jeff’s equipment was out of focus that day.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Nels Cline amp is a Schroeder DB7 head going into a vintage Marshall cabinet. The DB7 was designed with Cline’s input.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Nels’ effects are too many to account for individually. The most interesting ones are the almost mythical Klon Centaur overdrive, Digitech Whammy, and my favorite pedal in the world: the Boss VB-2.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Nels Cline’s talent as a musician is that he can jump into noisy avant-garde cacophony or incredibly restrained, understated playing with equal proficiency. That’s very rare and demonstrates not only skill but taste. For the more noisy, outlandish adventures, Nels has this table to his right with a smattering of glass slides, Electro-Harmonix delays and effects, and a Korg Kaos pad.

photo by Kevin Cochran

Hmm… another out of focus picture. Tweedys acoustics are a collection of Martins and
Gibsons, one of which produced a special buzz that made me think we’d blown a speaker. Stan notified me that this happens all the time. For electrics, Tweedy mainly uses Gibson SGs including his own signature model. I love that finish.

photo by Kevin Cochran

photo by Kevin Cochran

Nels is mainly known for playing a well worn vintage Fender Jazzmaster once belonging
to Mike Watt. Watt even carved his name into the guitar and it still bears his mark. Cline would sometimes switch between a Telecaster and double neck Jerry Jones with 6-string and 12-string necks.

However, the special guest of the show (other than Nick Lowe) was Duane Allman’s gold Les Paul guitar on loan from Georgia’s Music Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, I couldn’t snap a picture of this one before the show. Thanks to Charlie Richards for the link.

This show was the last taping in our new studio for season 37. It was a grueling year with a high learning curve and having a band like Wilco, who has been a great friend of Austin City Limits, was a nice end to a tough season. Getting to work with a fantastic road crew like Wilco’s made the season finale all the sweeter (and easier).  I’ll talk about the historic studio 6A and the new place in future posts.

Gear Blog: Cheap Trick

The Gear Blog is a behind-the-scenes look at the instruments and equipment that graces the Austin City Limits’ stage. Our Audio Engineer Kevin Cochran goes in-depth to give our audiophiles their fix.

I hate deadlines. So much so that it’s been 2+ years since I’ve done my last gear blog, so let’s just jump in. We filmed Cheap Trick during the 2010 South By Southwest when we were both celebrating the beginning of our 36th year in business.

Rick Nielsen’s guitar tech is a busy, busy man. Rick changed guitars on every song. There was no point in the set that he played the same guitar twice. Rick is well known for his association with Hamer guitars, but his touring rig also has vintage Les Pauls.

Above, we have two Bo Diddley inspired guitars. One is a Hamer having the box like shape Bo was known and a red Gretsch Billy-Bo. On the far left is 50′s Fender Telecaster once owned by Jeff Beck himself.

Rick’s onstage amp setup is just as ostentatious as his guitars. Seen here are three Fuchs Train 45 heads. At the time, I noted that there is only one set of speakers in the center of the cabinets. Every other speaker cabinet actually contained head lights.

Off stage is a pair Mr. Nielsen’s original 70′s Deluxe Reverbs. As memory serves they were modded by Paul Rivera, by taking the heads out of the combo chassis and putting them into a roll-around rack. Above is Nielsen’s wireless system and only effect: a Dunlop Crybaby.

Hamer custom double neck. One has a Kahler vibrato system and one has a hard tail. Note the custom inlay.

If any guitar is associated with Rick, other than the Explorer style guitar, it’s this Hamer 5 neck. In addition to 12-string and fretless necks, there is also a Telecaster-style pickup configuration and two double humbucker configurations, one with a locking tremolo.  Mr. Nielsen was kind enough to let anyone on the ACL crew pick it up, play it, or get their picture taken with it. It’s not as heavy as it looks, and except for one neck, it’s not in tune. Since Rick plays only one song with it, why bother?

Note the banjo style tuning pegs.

As you might have noticed, Rick favors a checkerboard motif on much of his guitars and equipment. Even his iPhone case had a checkerboard design.

We kept finding picks for months after the Cheap Trick taping. Mr. Nielsen is fond of flinging them into the audience and his stand will almost be completely bare by the end of the set. Surprisingly, for a man with so many picks, he likes to play with his fingers a lot.

Daxx Nielsen played drums for CT’s taping. This Ludwig drum kit has the same finish as one of Rick’s Explorers and a couple of Tom Petersson’s basses.

Tom Petersson’s road rig is just as exotic as Nielsen’s. Here is his signature Waterstone 12-string bass. It’s tuned like a regular bass, but with additional strings one and two octaves higher above the traditional bass note.

In addition to a couple of 12-string backups, Tom has a traditional 4-string Fender Precision bass in beautiful pink and a Gibson Explorer bass, to compliment Nielsen’s own Explorer fetish. And yes, that strange finish pops up once again on not one but two of Tom’s own basses.

Petersson splits his bass signal into a Reeves cabinet for the low end and a Vox amp for the higher register strings.

Robin Zander brought a smattering of Tele’s, a Rickenbacker, and a couple of Gibson electrics with him. My favorite was a 12-string telecaster.

The only acoustic of the entire bunch was this Bedell. To the right, clipped out of frame is a Mark Sandman-inspired Waterstone electric. I’m a sucker for gold.

 

 

Cheap Trick brought along two guest keyboardists to help along, Magic Cristian and the great Roger Manning Jr.

Finally, the set list for that night. Please note we have not used actual tape for years – it’s just that we did for 30 of our 38 seasons and calling it that is old habit. It does get quite embarrassing when we have to stop for a “tape change” and the band members or tour managers and asks, “You guys still use tape?”