This interview never got its own thread on HRI, at least afaik. It did however get mentioned in the Landau Performing Musician thread.
Posted by techshead
Sat Nov 08, 2008 11:55 pm
it seems like every month performing musician post their whole issue online! so anytime now they will post the latest issue with landau. (…) i found this awesome interview with luke and bradshaw!! (…)
Steve Lukather may well be the world’s most recorded guitarist. Since first carving out a career as a studio session supremo back in the mid-1970s, he has appeared on more than 3000 album recordings spanning just about every musical genre, as well as performing with the band Toto.
By Joe Matera
From Michael Jackson, Madonna, Roger Waters to George Benson, Jimmy Webb, Elton John and beyond, the list of artists Steve Lukather has worked with is endless. Aside from his documented studio work, he has also been Toto’s longest serving member since the band formed back in 1977. In recent times, Toto have enjoyed a second wind of success and have spent the past few years on the road traversing the globe many times over. Performing Musician caught up with the band while on the road to speak with the six-stringmeister himself about life as a road warrior.
PM: First up, who were your musical influences growing up?
SL: “I started playing when I was seven and I’m 50 now. The Beatles were it, man; it began with them. And I’ve had the great honour of working with Paul and George separately too. When it comes to guitarists, Jeff Beck is the one for me. He is one of the greats of all time.”
PM: And do you read music?
SL: “Yes. Anybody who tells you that knowing how to read ruins your playing is a complete fucking idiot. It is like asking is it horrible to learn another language? No, of course not. As a matter of fact, it is expected in most societies. I think learning how to read is a great tool; it is a great way to communicate with other musicians and it takes a lot less time to teach people things. It is not essential to be a good musician, but it is a great tool to use.”
PM: You’ve worked for a variety of other artists too. Who have been the most demanding of your musicianship?
SL: “Working with Larry Carlton was demanding because he just brought something new every day, so I couldn’t just sit back and rest. I had to be constantly pushing myself, which is really healthy. And he was wonderful to me and taught me so much in that year that we were on the road together. My philosophy is to always play with different guys that are better than you — that way you are kept on your toes and you keep having fresh input. The hard thing about being in a band is that everybody wants to hear the hits like off the record.”
PM: How do you remember an entire set’s worth of complex parts for a Toto gig?
SL: “It’s the music that is really easy to remember; it’s the words to songs that I seem to forget. I have little cheaters all over the stage so I can remember the words. But, for me, it is not hard to figure out the most complex musical stuff, whether it is crazy riffs or whatnot.”
PM: How do you approach your soundchecks and what do you look for sound-wise?
SL: “First, you have to have a great crew. We’ve been fortunate to have worked with the very best guys, so it makes it all easier, especially the guys that we have been working with for many, many years. And the second thing is you’ve got to have guys that know how to talk the talk. I know how to talk frequencies and the like. Once we start a tour and we get it set, soundchecks are almost unnecessary, especially if you’re carrying your own system. And if you change the type of venues you’re playing — like going from an arena to a club — obviously, you will need to make slight changes and make sure it is all rung out, like there is no feedback. I don’t tend to use monitoring very much. A little keyboard and a lot of vocal is all I need. And I make sure that the band is balanced on stage. If everything is so loud on stage, it will affect the front-of-house mix. People think monitors are supposed to sound like the record. Well maybe, if you’re using in-ears. But in-ears have screwed up my hearing in the first place. I got tinnitus wearing those loud headphones all those years in the studio. I use earplugs now, as they cut down 20dB in each ear, so my tinnitus doesn’t get worse. So, for me, getting a real good balance of the band playing on stage and where you can hear everybody’s instrument is very important.”
PM: What effective sound strategies do you employ when it comes to the differing room acoustics of various venues?
SL: “I play with the same volume whether I’m in a club or an arena. That is the whole key to it all. It is to maintain that whole rehearsal balance. Once you have it all dialed in, everything will sound a lot louder, especially in a big hall, because the PA is being pushed and it is pushing it out a lot harder. But on stage, it shouldn’t change; it should all be balanced.”
Reproducing the records
PM: How far do you go in order to get your recorded sounds accurately reproduced on stage?
SL: “I used to be real fanatical about it, but not anymore. I use my Music Man guitars on the new solo record. Amp-wise, I used all vintage gear like old AC-30s, Supros, Gibsons and old Marshalls. Live, I use the same stuff. It is the reason why Bob Bradshaw made all this stuff for me; it’s so I could recreate all the sounds that I have put down on record. Granted, a lot of the sounds were done by layering, as opposed to just pressing a button. So when it comes to live, I improvise a little. Like if I need a Univibe, I’ll draw it up. And if I need a little digital delay, I’ll stomp on it. But I’m not down with it in a microscopic way. If I used a talkbox on some record, I’ll probably put a couple of different pieces into the rig to create a couple of effects that sound similar.
PM: Live, you’re still using a wet-dry-wet rig?
SL: “Yes. I use that live because it makes the most sense to me. I don’t really use that much stuff anymore, but sometimes I may use things to spread out the sound and make the guitar sound a little duller, or sometimes I may use a longer delay. And if it’s a really big room, you don’t need all that shit, so you use the absolute dryness to mess with. I don’t want to lose my sound through all that crap. People used to blame me for that saturated sound, which really wasn’t what I created and wasn’t my idea in the first place. It was other people who started all that shit, but because I put it onto a few records it became my sound by default, which I have always resented. I don’t play anything like that now. That was like 25 years ago. And sure, it was brand new then, but everybody used it.”
PM: Are your wet cabs guitar speakers or full-range PA-type speakers?
SL: “The speakers are all 30W Celestions, which are my old favourite workhorses. They have always sounded good and I’ve never blown one up.”
PM: Does your distortion come from pedals or amps, or both?
SL: “I have both. The only pedal I use for distortion is a Radial Tonebone, which is a very natural thing. But I usually add that to the distortion I’m already getting from the Custom Audio amps, and if I really want a super sustain or something. I have three different levels of amps, two of which I use actively. I don’t really use the super-clean sound that much. If I want a clean sound, I just turn down the volume on my guitar. It is very old school.”
PM: Do you like to hear your backline or is it mainly coming through the monitors on stage?
SL: “I don’t like to have a direct shot hitting me in the face. I don’t ever put guitars into my monitors ever! I have my small 6 x 12 rig; three 2 x 12 cabinets, one dry one and two wet ones, placed left and right so they can have complete control out the front, depending on the size of the room. And I have it down just below my knees. It never really hits me in the head. I don’t like that direct sound. It’s like people who mike up amplifiers: they stand in there, listening to the room, yet you put your ear to that speaker and it’s going to blow your ear off! If you’re approaching recording live, it is completely different. In a live arena, you have to take the ambience of the room under consideration, while in a recording studio you do not. They are two completely different mindsets.”
PM: In what ways has your gear rig evolved over the years?
SL: “At this point, I have pretty much got it down to where I dig it and it has everything I need in it. I’m able to pull a couple of stomp boxes in and out, and try different ones. In the studio, for my new solo record ‘Ever Changing Times’, I used all vintage amps and weird little stomp boxes. There are old Vox AC-30s, Marshalls, Gibsons, Supros and Ampeg stuff through old Neve mic preamps. All effects were done at the mixing desk. Live, I use my Bradshaw rig, which can help recreate stuff I layered in the studio. There was no particular way we did it all and I change all the time. It depends on what gig I am doing.
PM: How does playing live differ for you as a musician from that of playing and recording in the studio?
SL: “Live is real time, like driving a racecar. The studio is like painting a picture; you have time to look at it, listen to it, try things out until you get what you want. Live, you only get one chance to get it right. I like the excitement of playing, as it makes me play better and more reckless.”
PM: In what ways has modern technology affected your approach towards performing live?
SL: “You have all the digital stuff that remembers everything today, so that is a big plus, especially if you’re carrying your own boards and stuff like we do because there are a lot of little different effects that need to happen in Toto’s music. But once all the memory is programmed, the FOH adjusts, depending on the size of the room and what the acoustics of the actual room are.”
PM: Are there any drawbacks to performing live?
SL: “You don’t get paid up front! [Laughs] Everybody at some point in their career has been ripped off. It is all part of the business. If you haven’t been ripped off, then you haven’t been in the business long enough. You can’t assume everybody is honest, even when you want to.
The myth of the louder you play on stage the better it sounds out front is total bullshit. You’ve got to keep your sound, and though I understand you have to move the air, the more you have good balance on stage, the better. A lot of musicians think it’s all about ‘me’: ‘I want more me in the monitors. I want everything louder than everything else.’ And it becomes a horrendous muddy piece of shit. Dynamics on stage are very important. It is OK not to play loud all the time.”
PM: You’ve been virtually a road warrior, having lived out on the road since your teens, so is playing live where you’re at home the most?
SL: “Yes, and it all started for me when I was a little kid in the ’60s. I didn’t really know much about recording except for buying records. Playing live has an immediacy, and once you’re out there, there is no going back. It is a completely different picture of what music is all about. Playing live, there is an energy that contains a different intensity of playing. And the feedback between the crowd and me as the artist is one of the greatest rushes in the world.”
The power behind the tone: guitar rig guru Bob Bradshaw
Bob Bradshaw of Custom Audio Electronics has worked with Steve Lukather since 1984. He has been an integral part in the evolution of Lukather’s gear rig ever since and has spent the best part of the last few years out on the road with Lukather as his on-hand technician. Here, Bradshaw gives Performing Musician an in-depth look at Lukather’s mighty rig.
Steve’s live rig
PM: Can you take us through Steve’s live rig?
BB: “Sure. He has six Ernie Ball Music Man Luke guitars plus an Ovation Adamas acoustic six-string guitar with him on the road. As for his rig, it is based on a preamp/power amp type configuration and is a three-channel system. Essentially, it means there is a dry centre image and stereo effects left and right. There are a couple of pedals in there just for some gimmicky things, such as a rackmounted Cry Baby and a Phase 90, which is set for a fast rate and only used for, like, one bar of a song, and a little overdrive box that adds a little crunch to his lead sound. And there are a few other things that come between the instrument and the input of the preamp. The preamp is my three-channel preamp called a 3 + tube preamp. And that is primarily the front end.
Because it is a GVCA system, there is no audio that runs out to the front of his position on stage. The GVCA controls the volume to the preamps. His main channel is the second channel of the preamp and is really the basis of probably about 85% of the music. For all his solos, he goes to the third channel, which is voiced with a Marshall-y kind of crunch sound. The overdrive sound of the lead channel is more of a modified Marshall type of sound for more thicker and sustained leads. The pre-volume means that when he pulls back the volume on his volume pedal, it cleans up the gain. And so he has a wide range, and that keeps the signal real pure and clean going into the preamp.
BB: “The output stage of the preamp then splits and goes into a tremolo device. It also splits into his main delay units, which are Lexicon PCM-70s; one is set for panned delays and the other is set for a circular delay. Those are used in different combinations, depending on what setting he’s choosing from the foot controller. There are other augmentative effects too: a TC Electronic M-One; a Boss CE-1 Chorus ensemble that I rackmounted and modified to be used at line level, rather than at instrument level, and which comes after the preamp and gives a little shimmer and warble to the left and right; a Line 6 EFX Mod Pro thing that is set for a Leslie rotating speaker thing, which gets kicked in every now and then — that is a mono thing too, and so hits all three cabinets when it comes on. We also have an MXR Smart Gate in there, but that is rarely used too because the system is really quiet and there is no hum whatsoever in his system. There is gain noise, but there is no hum. All these effects come out of the right and left channels. There are no time-based effects coming out of the centre dry.
If you’ve turned all the effects off, you’ll hear a dry sound across the whole thing. We don’t use any reverb or anything like that. It is mainly echo effects. All the effects are mixed in a line mixer (a CAE Dual Stereo Mixer, which I built) and that signal feeds the VHT valve power amps — VHT G2150-C, which we only use half of because it is the dry centre image, and the VHT 62902, which is our left and right for the stereo effects. And they all feed the CAE 2 x 12-inch speaker cabinets. They are closed-back designs with four ports around one of the speakers for a real beefy sound. We just use six speakers miked up by three SM57s that go into the house. And we use Shure wireless systems that feed the front end.”
PM: Obviously, Steve prefers going with a wet-dry-wet rig?
BB: “Yeah, and it means you can have things as effect-y as you choose on stage, while giving the house sound guy more ability to fit your guitar into the overall sound. He always has that dry centre image at all times so he can push it, regardless of what other effects are going on left and right. It makes for a full sound on stage, and the sweet spot is really wide and you can move around. And it is not loud on stage too. Toto are a vocal band, and so Steve can’t have super-loud guitar amps blazing behind him. Those amps chug along barely at their capacity, but it works out pretty good. The ‘wet-dry-wet’ thing was the smartest configuration we went with. And when we finally did start utilising that dry centre image like that, it made such a big difference to the overall house sound.”
PM: Is it a MIDI-switching system?
BB: “Yeah, but we don’t do any MIDI changing, as there are no programmed changes. The reason why there are a number of boxes in the rig is because they’re set for their specific sounds and access. But it is based on my audio-routing circuitry and is MIDI-controlled, but with a foot controller. It’s just like a pedalboard, but you’ve got direct access to every little individual thing in the system, along with the ability to program combinations and stuff.”
PM: Does Steve pre-program all his effects so he can make simultaneous multiple effect changes, or does he switch everything individually?
BB: “Steve’s needs for the show are pretty simple. He uses six presets and that’s all. We never ever bank up any other presets. In the past, we used to program the sets and program each song, and have the same delay time and everything, but we have gotten over that. Now, everything is set on their own settings with each device. For example, instead of program changing either one of the PCMs, we’ll add them together so you can have both of them come on for solos and things like that. And if Steve wants to make something deeper-sounding in terms of the echoes and stuff, he’ll add another one in, rather than program-change an existing one to something else.”
PM: How do you go about integrating pedals and rack gear into the same setup?
BB: “It’s a matter of knowing impedances and levels and things. Pedals traditionally are designed to be run at instrument level so that it operates at a smaller operating range and less dynamic range. So you’re dealing with a smaller guitar signal, which you’re manipulating into the front end of an amplifier. Then there is the line level stuff that tends to work at a higher level. And it is a matter of fitting into and knowing how to structure your gain in a system in order to utilise the effects properly within their operating range. For example, with the Boss CE-1 in Steve’s rig, I attenuate the input signal going to it to allow for a hotter signal to feed it, but then I add gain at the output to bring it back up to unity, so that it’s not sucking the level or not too loud. And it all works out well.”
PM: Which processes do you prefer to have going in front of the amps and which do you prefer going on a loop?
BB: “Generally speaking, you tend to put the time-based effects and things between the preamp and power amps. Any gain devices or things of that nature are traditionally designed to go between the instrument and the input of the amp. Sure, you could use an MXR Phase 90 between the preamp and power amp and it would be a good sound. It may not be the same sound you’re used to hearing if you were to put it in the front end, but it is still a viable sound. Honestly, for me and for any systems that I design, anything goes. I’ll put anything anywhere, as long as the player likes it. But the good thing about stuff being placed after your gain stage is that the system is going to be so much quieter.”
PM: What sort of strategies do you have when it comes to minimising noise in complex high-gain guitar rigs?
BB: “The biggest thing I found over the years is by utilising very high-quality isolation transformers to break ground-loop hums. The ones that I utilised are the ones that I have designed and have had a manufacturer make for me. They’re these good-quality shielded transformers that are very transparent, but can break ground-loop hums. Also, you need to take into account the physical location of the equipment, as we’re dealing with unbalanced high-gain signals in a lot of places. The fact that it is unbalanced, and with all that gain flying around, means that a lot of devices can become real susceptible to picking up noise from transformers and things like that. And in a rackmounted system with a bunch of gear stacked on top of each other, you have to be conscious of where things are located to eliminate any induced electromagnetic hum. The use of highly shielded cables is very important too.”