We recently pulled Strymon’s own Marketing / Noisemaking guru Ethan Tufts away from his marketing duties and asked him about his own personal music making setup. He spends most of his live shows creating loops and songs in real-time, and has what seems to be a rather complex rig. Let’s hear more about it!
I noticed you have two pedalboards. What’s going on here?
Yes, I have one pedalboard on the floor, primarily for guitar. The other is at waist-level on a keyboard stand. This one is used for audio I/O, MIDI control, vocal effects, and a place to put my MacBook!
I play solo live looping shows, with vocals, guitar, synths, and drum machines. My rig gives me access to a wide range of simultaneous sounds, and the tools needed to create live performances where all music is created in real time. Nothing is prerecorded.
What’s on your raised pedalboard?
This is the State Shirt looper mission control tower! The core of my rig is this amazing software looper called Circular Labs Möbius (not to be confused with Strymon Mobius). It’s running as a plug-in within Ableton Live on my old MacBook Pro.
Audio for my guitar, vocals, and Ableton tones are routed into the looper. This board also contains all of the audio I/O, MIDI controllers to access looping functions, an Ableton Push for drum machine and synth control, as well as pedals for vocal and synth effects processing.
I had been using hardware loopers for the last 10-15 years or so, most recently a pair of Gibson/Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro units. They are great, but I wanted to push my looping a bit further, have more I/O options, and easily synchronize stuff within Live. Then I discovered Circular Labs Möbius. The learning curve is very steep but it’s like having eight Echoplex Digital Pro units in one. It’s insane.
The board itself is a PedalTrain Terra 42 that I modified to hold gear on the bottom as well. Some scrap metal, loads of zip ties, and fluorescent green spike tape round out the “elegant” look!
What is your vocal signal chain?
I most often use an Audix OM9 microphone because it has very good feedback rejection, which is essential if you’re looping vocals. Audio is routed into a TC Helicon VoiceTone Correct XT, then into the Presonus Firestudio Project. Dry vocals get sent to the house PA via a Radial Pro D2 direct box, and also routed through an Effects Send to the TimeLine, and then back into Ableton Live. I also route some keyboard sounds to the TimeLine and back into Live.
Tell us about your guitar pedalboard.
This board changes quite frequently. The signal path now is: Strymon OB.1 (always on) » Ernie Ball VP Jr. » Earthquaker Devices Crimson Drive » Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive Mod » Strymon “amp-in-a-box” prototype » Strymon TimeLine, Strymon BigSky » Strymon Deco. The signal chain is mono until TimeLine, and then runs stereo through BigSky and Deco. Audio is routed into Ableton Live via a Presonus Firestudio Project connected to my MacBook Pro. The “amp-in-a-box” prototype is something that we put together for our Strymon Social demo boards. It has a built-in cab simulation, which allows my guitar to go direct into a full-range PA. Power is provided by a Strymon Zuma, which we’re extensively testing before we ship.
I’ve got MIDI running from Ableton Live into both TimeLine pedals, allowing my delay tempo to sync with my song tempo. I’m also using a Strymon MultiSwitch for TimeLine preset selection, a TC Polytune, a Moog expression pedal to control my vocal TimeLine, and a Keith McMillen SoftStep 2 for MIDI control of Circular Labs Möbius looping software.
What guitar are you using?
I most often use my mid-1990s Mexican-made Fender Toronado for my live shows. Best $250 I ever spent!
What MIDI devices are you using?
The Keith McMillen SoftStep 2 is set up to control 10 of my looping and performance functions: Record, Overdub, Undo, Multiply, Mute, Loop 1, Loop 2, Loop 3, Loop 4, Drum Mute/Unmute. I’m using a Korg nanoKONTROL2 for control over Ableton Live track levels, mute, and unmute. The Ableton Push is used primarily for programming drum beats in real time. I also have a no-name 37-key MIDI keyboard for control over Live sounds, quite often a Wurlitzer or synth bass sound. A Korg nanoKEY is used to control iZotope Stutter Edit and chop up my vocals and guitar sounds in real time. Lastly, I’ve mapped some looper utility functions to the keys on a Korg nanoPAD—resetting the looper, resetting loop start points, etc.
How do you make all of this work?
Each instrument input, whether it be guitar, vocals, or anything else, is routed into Ableton Live. Each signal is sent to the master output (house PA) and to the Circular Labs Möbius looper plug-in. Input monitoring on the looper is turned off. Guitar is sent to track 1 of the looper, vocals sent to track 2, etc. This allows me to record and loop each instrument separately, to control each loop separately, and to have control over where each individual looped signal gets sent. Most often it gets routed through a direct box to the house PA, but I can also route guitar and looped guitar into an amp instead of the PA.
I set up the looper to be able to record four separate loops per track input. This is critical in being able to record multiple song sections (intro, verse, chorus, bridge, etc). I also have them set up to be sychronized with each other, so when I press play Loop 1, each track will start playing simultaneously. Lastly, all of this is synced to Ableton Live’s tempo, allowing the the synchronization of a drum machine or other MIDI events.
Yes, it’s certainly complicated, but it’s an insanely fun rig for live performances, and for messing around and creating weird looping improvisations.
EDIT: Ethan just put together a video that goes into his looping rig in a bit more detail. Check it out: