Yes that's right it's Zappa Plays Zappa time again here at the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen. Home of the vault, huh-huh. It's the charming Minneapolis up next in it's bid for the tour premiere semi-finals...
It's true we're back on the road. We're headed to Minneapolis to start the 08 tour with a bunch of new material. The same core band is with me along with our good friend and special guest Ray White.
A lot has transpired since the Japanese tour ended back in January. We've released the 06 DVD in wide distribution, I've started some preliminary work on the the Austin DVD, I've mixed about a dozen songs for a live ZPZ 07 record (Due out later this year) and I have completely rebuilt my guitar rig from the ground up in order to more accurately reproduce some of Frank's signature guitar tones. And on a personal note, 2 weeks ago my wife and I welcomed our second child into the outside world. Her name is Ceylon and her big sister Zola is very fond of her already.
Back to the tour - From the beginning of this ZPZ project I have endeavored to use sounds that reflect the era of the music we are performing. I kind of always figured that my equipment would have to change relative to the material. Going into the first tour, I had a guitar rig that had been put together for my own studio work. It took a lot of experimenting to create sounds that would work for ZPZ since it was originally designed for something else. After the success of the 06 tour we were able to make plans for a second tour. I made several modifications to my equipment on the 07 tour that were related to the new material we had learned. After that tour I knew that I needed to build a system that would work for all eras of Frank's music. As long as I was starting from scratch I might as well get real specific. Frank's tones are very hard to emulate because they are very gear specific. If you don't have the same gear you generally won't get the sound you're looking for. There are ways around that but the most authentic results come from using the same gear.
Speaking of that, I did a lot of research about what he used and how he used it. As we all know Frank's tonal palette was quite extensive, very unique and constantly evolving. Putting a rack together that would allow me to assimilate multiple eras of classic FZ tones was a tall order. My favorite period of live/studio guitar is 73 to 82. There are so many amazing sounds from that stage.
During that time frame, Frank had built a rack that was nicknamed "Ma Bell". It was enormous. 1 giant refrigerator sized rack that included a DBX 162 stereo compressor, an Eventide 949 Harmonizer, a Roland Space Echo, a Big Muff, some MXR rack mounted delays, and a whole slew of other devices. All major studio quality items for that time. Still highly coveted today. Let's not forget the heavily customized electronics built into the guitars themselves. Preamps with 17db more output than normal guitars, 3 band parametric equalizers, Green Ringers, the list goes on and on.
Where do you go to find highly modified specialized gear like Frank's? I looked on e-bay, I looked at websites for guitar gear enthusiasts but I had no luck finding the items I was looking for. Frank's "Ma Bell" rack had been disassembled and scavenged by him years earlier. Could there still be a few pieces lying around in storage? Would they still work? After months of investigation I had the answers to those questions. And I had some of the actual equipment Frank used to use in hand and ready to put into the rack. That was the good news. The bad news was the price tag and the weight of the new "Twin Towers" the gear now lives in.
My favorite units hands down are the Mic Mix Dyna Flangers. They are the primary tonal landscape for the entire "Shut Up And Play Yer Guitar" album as well for classic solos on the "Joe's Garage" album and "You Are What You Is". The sound they create is so cool and the stereo image is wild.
To get the sound Frank got on those records you need 2 Dyna Flangers and 2 Aphex Expressors. The Dyna Flangers have to be set a very specific way or they don't even sound close to the sources I mentioned. In stereo, one unit needs to be set for flange with maximum modulation, (which makes it sound out of tune - in a good way) and the other following the high frequency envelope, (almost like a phaser mixed with a formant filter), then they need to be squeezed with considerable compression from the Aphex units. Once you do that, you play with your wah pedal and it further tweezes the phase of the signal resulting in that unique sound we're all familiar with.
With That sound now at the touch of a button and many more being dialed in daily, playing guitar has never been more fun.
We have some great new material that we have learned for all of you. Some old stuff from the 60's and some stuff from the 80's with a few points in between for good measure. I'm sure most of it will be revealed and posted online after the first few shows. If you're brimming over with curiosity check out this MP3:
This clip is from last Saturday's open rehearsal in LA. It is just a stereo FOH reference but it gives you a hint of what the Dyna Flangers sound like as well as a clue to some of the material we have prepared for the tour. Oh, and yes I do know the correct words to the monologue...
Looking forward to seeing all of you at the shows throughout the year.