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My Journey To Fractal - By Devin Townsend - Part 1+2

Discussion in 'Axe-Fx II Discussion' started by Poopynuggeteer, Nov 15, 2017.

  1. Poopynuggeteer

    Poopynuggeteer
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    My guitar tone journey, by Devin Townsend.

    Hey folks, Devin Townsend here. its been a long time since I posted on this forum, but I want to use this opportunity now to give you a bit of the story as to how I have now ended up with the Axe Fx as my primary guitar amplifier.

    I have been experimenting with tones for my whole career, of course, but its really been over the last decade that I really dug in. I have been unbelievably fortunate to have the support and profound patience of several amazing amplification companies, and I am very fortunate in that way. There was discussion on this forum about me switching over to Kemper, which I did do for awhile, but after the past few months of recording and working with Fractal exclusively I want to make this statement.

    Here is my (long) account:

    So ultimately, I need 5 basic sounds. There are a few other minor variations I may use from time to time, but for the sake of clarity, since the beginning I have been looking for 5 basic sounds.

    1 - Clean and dry.

    -This sound is almost exclusively used for explaining parts to people during rehearsal. No effects, lots of headroom, able to take humbucking pickups and with a good low end. In between playing, having a clean sound thats articulate and clear enough to explain parts either quietly or loudly is important to me. This sound would also have a boost in front of it to give me a sort of ‘ACDC' tone if needed.

    2 - Clean and wet

    -This sound I began working on for the album Ki, then expanded upon for Casualties Of Cool. I became obsessed with the Fender clean sound. In my quest for this sound, I have had in my posession Fender Champs, Vintage Twins, Vibro King, Eric Clapton Deluxe, 1958 Champ, silver face Champ, Victoria Bassman, Carr Amps, Divided By 13, etc etc. Basically, an open back smaller amplifier (after trying bigger ones) that has an even clean sound, bouncy high end, and that is touch sensitive enough with single coil pickups without too much compression or noise.

    -At the same time as this, I use a massive chain of effects, in stereo. An analog delay into a long reverb into a ping pong delay that I fade in and out with an expression pedal.

    On this sound I use a wah as well as an overdrive. (my wah is the same for each sound, I like the Crybaby sound, but I need auto engage. Ultimately, I will use a lesser quality wah so I can still have auto engage.)

    3 - Dry Crunch

    This sound is my heavy sound, with no effects. I’ve always liked the idea of a Mesa Dual Rectifier with EL34s, a Maxon d808 as a clean boost, and somewhere between the modern and vintage setting on the orange channel. I like the Decimator for noise as it silences it without killing the sound. On this sound, I like the gate to be tighter and I use a wah and overdrive here as well. 4x12 V30s is a good sound for me here.

    4 - Wet Crunch

    This sound is my main sound. It is the same sound as above, but mixed with it is an old patch I came up with for Ocean Machine that was generated from a now obsolete unit called the Roland GP100. In the early days, I used various splitters to work these two sounds together, but ground loops as well as phase were always a challenge. This sound, as with the clean, is a DRY WET WET configuration. (I should note that I have had a patch set up next to this one on my pedalboard that is this exact sound, but the ratio is reversed for intros. Its predominantly GP100 with a quieter Distortion sound) On this patch I like to use a wah as well as a POST preamp volume pedal to fade the dry guitar out, leaving the effects. I use overdrive on this as well that I can toggle off and on.

    5 - Lead

    This sound is a more 'midrange and presence-heavy' sound with substantially more gain, another echo on the dry sound, and the gp 100 patch yet again. On this patch I also like to use a Wah and Whammy.


    So there it is… simple right? Well let me just say, after years and years of trying to get it right, the problems are deceptively many. Here is an idea of some of the stumbling blocks I have encountered.

    • Amp with crushing metal tone, and then a beautiful spanky open back clean tone.
    • Seamless channel switching
    • effects spillover between clean chain and gp100 and back again
    • great, consistent sound to FOH and my in-ear monitors.
    • no grounding issues
    • no phase issues between 2 amp signals
    • same sounds from studio as live
    • road worthy
    • midi switchable
    • backup for live
    • able to be shipped all over the world or be readily available
    • cabs onstage
    • effects: autoengage wah, autoengage whammy, overdrive, volume post preamp, expression controlling clean effects
    • future proof


    So my quest here has lead me to some pretty funky places:


    For Ocean Machine - Ki, I used 2 Peavey 5150 amps, ESP Telecasters and Explorers with EMG 81 pickups, a Morley Bad Horsey wah and a vast slew of terrible a/b boxes to split the signal to the gp 100. I would use cabs and wedges on stage, and I didn’t have a clean sound. Basically, this whole rig was a noisy, inconsistent version of sound 4 (wet crunch)

    In 2002 I switched out the 5150 for a Dual Recto with 34s and a clean boost and loved it.

    In 2009, I had a Dual Rectifier with the boost, running simultaneously with a Mesa Stiletto through 2 4x12 cabs, with a Fender Tweed twin as a clean amp, I had a massive pedal board with a RJM switching unit to midi the Mesa, then a Radial pedal to switch to the Fender, a 16 space rack of reverbs delays, gates and amp sims, as well as 4 an expression pedal, a volume pedal, whammy and Crybaby auto engage wah. The cabling was a nightmare, the size of it all was absurd, and although it sounded good, the phase issues and the ground issues between everything made it just stupid for me. Plus: Micing it up never sounded as good as it did in the room, and if anything had broken during load-in or anything, I was screwed. There was really no way to trust it and diagnosing problems was a needle in a haystack… it ended up that even the physical rack I was using created a ground issue between the old fender that I simply couldn’t get rid of. It was a science lab of problems.

    At this point, I was introduced to the Axe Fx Standard and Ultra and made the investment. I liked it, and I liked the idea of it, but compared to the ferocity of the sound I just came away from, it was more of a novelty for me than anything else. I realized though that at this point, I could at least replicate my clean effects and sell the Eventide reverbs and delays and cut down on the cabling and hassles.

    So from here, I began to tour again, and I went through every conceivable arrangement… I started by simply using the Axe FX Ultra through a Mesa Boogie Power amp into two Peavey Cabs and wedges. I tried the 4CM, but went with simply two Ultras, a radial switcher, and 2 Gp 100s. This system then had a redundancy and worked pretty well. I spent literally weeks picking around with sounds, and although it sounded pretty good, it didn’t have nearly the balls of what I was used to, and now, the problems in my instruments began to reveal themselves. I found the Axe to be very sensitive to what pickups I used, and simple active pickups didn’t work for the cleans I was looking for.

    I also began to realize how little I actually knew about what makes an amp sound great… my ideas for tone are so specific and idiosyncratic that none of the presets were doing it for me, yet when I tried to make my own, I kept going down rabbit holes of tone that resulted in some truly bad guitar sounds. So many cabs and amp models, and none I liked… I tried eqs and compressors and all manner of low end-tamers etc, and although I toured with this rig , I was never really satisfied. I would go out front and my sounds direct to the board simply didn’t work.

    At this point I began to recognize that for so many years of just plugging into an amp and playing, I didn’t know how to recreate what I heard in my head. I didn't really know what I wanted yet…

    The GP100 was starting to show its age, and the sound became noticeably worse as time went on, the input was crapping out and the knobs were breaking.

    So I got through this tour cycle and recorded Deconstruction and Ghost. I took a deep breath and dug into the Axe FX more, as although I was having problems articulating through the tools available in it my sounds, the idea that it was all in one place was like an dream…so as I recorded the album, I decided to commit to recording direct. It gave me a practical goal to try and get closer to my sounds.

    Deconstruction and Ghost were the first albums I recorded that was all Axe Fx, and it sounded pretty decent. It wasn’t perfect yet, and I was still using the GP100, but it certainly wasn’t bad…in fact, I t was arguably better than many of my past records.

    I convinced Dave, my guitar player, to invest in one, and we set about trying to get cool sounds for Epicloud. They were getting better, and we recorded Epicloud in both my garage and his house. When we mixed it at a nice studio, I remember the engineer saying ‘Its good, but I still miss the physicality of a cab’

    Part 2 to follow...
     
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  2. Admin M@

    Admin M@
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    I'm going to paste Part 2 here from another thread so this can be in one place...

    ...Continued

    But then after Epicloud, I decided that I needed a break. Out of frustration or irritation maybe, I convinced myself that I needed to go back to amps and pedals as it was ‘much simpler’. So for the next cycle I brought back out my Rectifier, with a big pedalboard, cabs, an RJM midi switcher and ran the Mesa into a Radial JDI for direct to the board sounds (I had gotten used to that) I made a fancy head rack that also housed the Axe Fx, and thankfully by this point, I had established enough of an open relationship with Fractal that I could tell them : 'Its close, but not right yet’ …however, during this time, Matt Picone at Fractal had been reverse engineering my Gp100 sound, and again, although not perfect yet, it was shockingly good, so I retired my GP100s and went out of tour with this.

    As fate would have it, my pedalboard developed crazy problems three shows in, to the point where I abandoned it and had a very rudimentary and inefficient system, and then because it was a freezing winter tour, my amp went down. I had a replacement, and THAT went down. Tubes etc were going… I had a Recto and then a 6165, but for whatever reason, they both sounded terrible to me on that tour. I had become so used to controlling the minutia of my sounds that the romance of this rig was halted by the practical roadblocks. Little things like: the knobs kept getting bumped and if there was no soundcheck, my levels would be all over the shop. (I did realize though that I liked having a cab again onstage…) I found after the tour that my Recto had taken a fall and had significant damage which explained its problems, but in the heat of battle, no one seemed to be able to diagnose that.

    So I came home and started working on sounds again. The mess of that tour made me realize that touring is a much different consideration of an ‘ultimate rig’ than the garage. And airlines began tightening down on weight restrictions. (It is currently 23kg), and anything over that started becoming crazy expensive.

    Once home, I updated my firmware yet again and found that the clean sounds were becoming truly great. The effects and the cabs were of a depth that I was getting really satisfied with, and at this point, it began turning to the point where I could achieve things in the Axe I could not with my normal amps. I began working with Framus and Fishman on signature instruments that would solve the ‘two things in one instrument’ I needed, and began committing to the idea of digital in general.

    However, the crunch sounds still left me cold.

    Several friends of mine started to tell me about Kemper, how the crunch sounds were great, I could profile my own amps, and it had a power amp for stage. So I invested in one, got some profiles from some buddies, ran the direct out into the axe fx, and used a pedal board, and truthfully…this sounded really good. I thought this combination was a keeper. In fact, I then removed my pedals from the equation, set up each patch with an expression pedal as either a wah or whammy, and had our stage computer do midi cc and pc commands to switch my pedals for me. The pros were:

    -low noise
    -good clean sound from the Fractal, good heavy sound from the Kemper,
    -minimal fuss.
    -Same sound out front and in recording as in my ears.
    -onstage cab

    The problems were:

    -Although the heavy sound was good, I couldn’t seem to dial in a low end presence that I missed. It wasn’t an eq thing, it was a depth thing. The sounds in the Kemper were really satisfying to me, but still…it was not the Mesa and the problems were in the low and low mid areas. The Soundpeople we were working with said the same. (I received some new profiles from Kemper that then kicked *** again, but at this point I was starting to feel like running two systems was more inefficient than I wanted). If the Kemper had more effects I could consider that, or if the Axe had a different algorithm for the crunch I wanted, it would be ideal. (I have later learned that the deficiencies were in my ability to understand my own needs).
    -To have a redundant system to fly with, it was 12 rackspaces in total with power and wireless. Too much to ship efficiently still.
    -Sounds were better on their own than in a band situation.

    But I liked it. I toured with this for several years and I have a Kemper now in my home studio. Profiling amps is a killer feature and its a satisfying unit to play.

    …but it still wasn’t the Mesa.

    I began working with Torpedo and I went into the studio and made Cab IRs for the torpedo with my Mesa, and as well…made IRs of the whole chain for the Kemper, but both things fell a little flat. The Torpedo was killer, but it was again, bringing the unpredictability of an amp back into the equation, not to mention the cabling, direct sounds, and portability factor.

    So this leads me to basically 2 months ago. I have begun writing again for my next works, and everything in my sonic world has taken a massive step forward. My whole recording chain is much more advanced, my understanding of recording has taken a quantum leap, and after getting results from this touring rig that felt a little underwhelming, I updated the firmware again in the fractal and started from where I left off. Fractal had been doing a ton of work with Metallica and their firmware updates reflected this tremendously.

    A guy online was making patches for the Axe Fx by the name of ‘ChopTones' and I got some, and with the new firmware, and after minimal tweaking, I came up with sounds in the Axe Fx for not only clean (with the Transcendence pickups I designed with Fishman) but also crushing and everywhere in between that blew both me and our soundguy away. The X Y function solved my channel switching woes, and I could carry two of them, with my patches changed by midi or with the MFC in a 4 rack space carrier and get my entire system wherever I go, with a redundancy.

    For onstage sound, after trying cabs and power amps, I settled on three high quality powered wedges and a Radial auto switcher to go between the two units in case of emergency. Cabs were cool, but ultimately not an accurate representation of the sounds I was spending so much time working with. I purchased 2 QSC monitors for effects and am currently borrowing a Meyer wedge for the dry sound (which I can't afford yet, but in the meantime...holy crap!!)

    My studio rig, my practice rig, my live rig are all the same units. I update my sounds, send myself the Sysx files by email and download them at rehearsal with an old laptop on top of my rack that runs only Axe Edit. Its a perfect system for me, and it keeps getting better.

    In recordings now, I run a single Axe FX with an AES connection for very low noise, with Axe edit on my screen to manipulate everything real time. I record bass through it, special effects, all amps, and its absurd how good it sounds to me…not to mention they are hell bent on improving it further… future Proof.

    I was working with many amp companies, but I have made my choice and have settled on a single Axe Fx 2XL+ for my ENTIRE chain. Out of respect, I will return the gear I have accumulated from other companies so there is hopefully no bad feelings. This tone quest of mine has only ever been rooted in what works best for me and my needs, and obviously may not work for you. It has also not included what may be wise for me business wise, as I have been offered 2 signature amps from companies recently that I have turned down as well in lieu of simply using the Axe Fx.

    The best possible description I was given as to why I may prefer the feel of Fractal over other digital options is this: When recreating an analog signal, you are basically trying to form a circle out of sticks. With most other technology, we have maybe 1-200 sticks to make the circle, the axe gives you 1000 with its processing power. The result is a smoother circle and the ability to also include my massive use of effects in a single unit. The learning curve has been great for me, but it has resulted in a more complete sense of control.

    Hopefully this clears up what I am using now, as through all this experimentation I have used a lot.

    Relationships are challenging at the best of times, let alone when you experiment and confuse people. My needs are very specific and may not apply to you, and I will take nothing away from either Kemper or Mesa, both of whom I believe are world class companies and products that anyone should be proud to use, but this is where I've come and I am proud to commit to this decision. I needed to go down this road as I don't feel I need to accept compromise in my quest for sound. Its a huge part of my world.

    I use

    Framus Guitars
    Fishman Pickups
    D'Addario strings
    Fractal Axe Fx

    One Rig to rule them all =)

    Dev
     
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  3. JayCM800XL

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    Welcome, Dev!
     
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  4. muudrock

    muudrock
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    Great story! Sounds like so many of our journeys... trying to find the boxes that allow the sound in our head to be heard out loud. Congrats and welcome back!
     
  5. PumpkinKing86

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    Hey, Dev! Good to hear from you. Is this part of your "Gear Whore" novel? :p Thanks for taking the time to lay this all out. You're a big inspiration for me and I enjoy everything you do.

    I gotta say that I have your Fishman pickups in my main guitar and I think they're excellent. It really does seem like I have three guitars in one. I'm also looking forward to seeing what the affordable models of your Framus are gonna be like because I'm in love with the idea of an EverTune, but so few production guitars have them currently.

    Anyway, see you guys the next time you're in Colorado. The show with Opeth at Red Rocks was killer! :cool:
     
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  6. Jimmytwotimes

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    Thanks for taking the time to describe your thought process Dev - very informative indeed !
    And thank you for all the great music, comedy, and inspiration you provide - truly a class act !
     
  7. bradlake

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    Hey ,@Poopynuggeteer (BTW , superb forum name. ), Thank you so much for sharing your gear journey, it is refreshing and most welcome ...and probably mirrors the experiences of many here. ...As an early advocate of the the Fluence line of Fishman pups (I've got Koch Gristle Tones in my tele and and an SSH classic setup in my Suhr Modern satin), I just snagged the last available pair of your signature pickup set on Amazon as a result of your inspiring post....thanx for the tip.
     
  8. deathbyguitar

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    Devin, you're one of my favorite people, not just for your music but for your life philosophies as well. Can't wait to see you in Greensboro on the 29th!
     
  9. dpeterson

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    Long road man, here's to the future :)
     
  10. phantomdancer

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    Awesome read Dev! With respect, any chance of you ever posting your GP-100 patch? I know it's your baby but its that soundscape I CRAVE :p
     
  11. akmojo67

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    Great read! I am glad to hear you have found your canvas...look forward to hearing the results
     
  12. Gregmang

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    That was awesome - thx Dev !
     
  13. Hellbat

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    Those Meyer monitors... So expensive... And so good...
     
  14. psycle_1

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    Devin, thank you for the insight. I'll admit I had not listened to much of your material until I found out that Nolly was helping produce Transcendence. I knew with him being involved in the album it would be something special. Thank you for the behind the scenes videos, both in the studio and on the road. Any details to your current preset aside from what has been mentioned would be awesome! Thanks for everything!
     
  15. Keg8605

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    Thanks for sharing! Nice of you to do that!
     
  16. danthrax

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    yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeea Heavy Devy!! firts I like to thank you, and then I´m going to try to translate and understand your post...another journey for me!!;)

    ...cya in a couple of weeks!!
     
  17. CodePoet

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    Awesome write-up. Great to see you here an thanks for the heavy details.
     
  18. REDD

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    Love this! Thanks for sharing! I'll see you December 12th in Springfield Mo!
     
  19. jonw

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    Great reading the sonic journey of a true pro such as Devin.
     
  20. Stratoblaster

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    Hi Devin...I enjoyed reading through your evolution of equipment and the trials and tribulations of the various setups. Very interesting to see how someone at your level evaluates gear for their particular needs and purposes. Thanks for the write-up.
     

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