Guitarist Lewis Allen has played with some of the best in the business. A well-seasoned session player and producer, Allen’s resume is an impressive mix of legendary artists both new and old — folks like Tom Jones, Jesse J, Nikki Minaj, and Jennifer Hudson.
Allen is currently out on the road with Sam Smith in support of Smith’s last release The Thrill of It All. He also happens to be a Strymon fan, so we were thrilled when he was able to take a few minutes from his busy schedule to chat with us about his current pedalboard setup and favorite pedals.
We hear you’re a Sunset fan – can you tell us a little bit about how you’re using it on your board?
I absolutely love the Sunset. I never tried any of the Strymon drive pedals until one of my overdrive pedals broke on tour recently. I had a mini-shoot out at a local guitar store and the Sunset was head and shoulders above the rest. I use the Sunset drive as my main heavy drive tone in front of my two Marshall 2061x heads – so used on pretty much everything.
ANNNNDDD Mobius. Ha! I actually got hold of the Mobius first. On Sam’s show, the Mobius, TimeLine, and especially the BigSky are everything. They are the gig.
What is your signal chain for the current tour?
So for tour at moment (it changes from time to time), I go from my guitar to an xotic effects RC Booster, then into a Klon clone (I can’t actually remember the brand), and then the Sunset drive. And they are all my drives. The amps are pushed to breaking point so they are hot before any drive hits them so my gain settings on the pedals aren’t crazy high. Then the signal splits into stereo and I have the Mobius into the TimeLine and then BigSky. Then it’s straight to the amps and to a couple of torpedo cab simulators. In the studio I have a Line6 Helix rack (which is incredible) and a TimeLine, Mobius, and BigSky again (I’m addicted).
What guitars and amps are you using on the current tour with Sam Smith?
So amps, as mentioned, are 20 watt Marshall 2061x heads in stereo. I also use Line6 Helix as a dry signal to the Front of House. Guitars are mainly my custom shop Gibson 1961 ES330. This guitar changed my life, what a guitar. Also, I use a relic Strat, Les Paul custom (with a maple board) and a cool Gibson Firebird in Pelham blue!
You’ve also played several live TV performances on shows like Good Morning America – can you tell us what that’s like? Do you do anything specific to prep for a gig like that?
Not really anything specific as everything for a tour/promo tour will have been ironed out in rehearsals. Plus everything is automated (as in guitar patch changes, etc.) on the tour. I will always play through the tracks/a couple songs with Sam before the show, but yea mostly we are ready to go!
Could you share a little bit about how you got your start as a session player?
I used to go to tons of jam sessions and I never said no to guitar work. Also, I think being prepared for your shot or chance is important. I think most people at some point will get a shot at doing something they love — just be prepared. From all the jam sessions and low key shows I did, I got noticed by some busy London MDs and got some bigger better gigs. Also, you have to be a good person and nice to be around.
What sort of preparation do you do before working with a new artist?
Listen to their catalogue (if not already familiar – with Sam I knew his material well already) and just general practice. You play guitar or whatever for like 10 hours a day in rehearsals for months so you do NOT want your fingers in pieces after day 1! I have been there and had to super glue the ends of my fingers up many times!
What advice do you have for folks wanting to work as a session player?
Go for it. It’s an incredible job and life experience. I feel lucky every day I get to do this job. you get to see the world and play music and meet awesome people. Apart from missing my other half (Mrs. Rachael Allen!) a ton, it’s an absolute dream. Plus, I can’t do this forever and somebody has to do it … so go get it!
Catch Lewis on tour with Sam Smith. For a complete list of tour dates click here.