My sound is… my sound… and that’s good!

I am one of a very select group of guitarists who has NEVER owned a tube amp. It seems that, regardless of the musical style / genre you play, every guitarist has a dream amp and it always has tubes. Not me…..

Given the variety of tube amps on the market one can never assume all tube amps are created equal. If that were the case there would only be one or two companies producing them and all the boutique designs and prices ($1800 for a 20 watt head – no cabinet included) would be considered more than absurd.

Matt's Lab L3 (after the accident)

I, on the other hand, own only transistor amps. My very first amp was a combo model Leslie with a solid state amp/ preamp. I don’t have an aversion toward tube amps. I also don’t have a sound like dry copier paper. Once I wised up and decided I needed something other than an organ cabinet to get a decent guitar sound I did test a multitude of amplification. As it turned out the LAB series amps were being introduced and an L7 (100w, 4X10) caught my ear. I was on a mission to cut back the weight and escape the clumsiness the Leslie burdened me with – twin 12s were my preferred choice and within several days the store received the shipment and I brought home my LAB series L5 (100w, 2X12).

It was around this time that progressive rock and fusion dominated my musical sensibilities – that meant I needed to produce sounds beyond the norm and I needed pedals to carry me on this musical journey. During this time, I have no idea of what my sound was like without effects switched in – a clean sound was of little use to me then. I am pleased to say that the LAB amp pulled me through the 10-pedal pedalboard days and enabled me to gradually craft a superb clean sound.

Lab3 Two LAB series L5s provide some height for the LAB L3

Very simply put, the LABs feel/ sound/ respond like tube amps – you can even push the front end and get distortion. That’s what they were built to do.

I’ll go on about amplifiers further in the next post – stay tuned.







Winter NAMM came and went….

…. and, along with my son, so did I.

The Winter NAMM Show is overwhelming — the very first time you go it will cause dizziness and severely sore feet. Then there’s confusion, disorientation and a feeling of ‘what am I doing over here when I should be over there?’ First and foremost it’s a music industry trade show, intended as a promotional endeavor for hundreds of companies that are involved in businesses relating to music. For the musicians it offers opportunities to connect with companies for endorsements, perform in both formal and informal settings for a captive professional audience and to establish the fact that you are someone worth noticing. (The NAMM Show is closed to the general public — you must have some connection/affiliation with a professional company/vendor to even walk through the doors.)

Playing a Godin Montreal.


While I did meet up with acquaintances and make new friends, this show was hampered by the fact that our hotel (promoted as conveniently located to the convention center) was a 35-minute bus ride away that required a 15 minute walk to the bus stop and between a 30 – 50 minute wait for the bus. Taxi service was at a premium requiring up to 40 minutes wait and a hefty fare. Normally, the hotel is within convenient walking distance to the convention center and I’ve never needed a rental car. But, all things considered, we made the most of the trip, and I did meet Pat Quilter (whose transistor amps are at least as good as my favorite vintage brand (Lab by Moog)) as well as some other nice folks. The details have settled in as the weeks have passed. Rather than rant on here, I’ll get to some timely news.

I’ll be performing in my first-ever guitar/vocal duo with the incomparable JayKatz beginning in April. Actually, Jay will join me in a 2-guitar/bass/voice quartet in March at the superb restaurant August Moon. This project is also a first for me — the quartet is a drummerless group and is assembled from my duos. This is the first time we’re all playing together at the same time. In addition to JayKatz, this group includes Tony Hughes on guitar and Nick Krolak on bass.

I’ve been more involved in studio production work, most immediately in mix/edit/master work with duo recordings with Jay, and with solo recordings for my next release Balance. I do go deep when I’m involved with any recording work and 4 to 6 hours in the real world seems like 2 hours in studio time. Of course, I spend a serious amount of time sweating over every note on playbacks — I am excessively critical and I always need to give myself some space after any recording session. So, this means results of the solo sessions are pending…. I will say that I really like ribbon mics now……

I’m working with almost five hours of sleep so I believe I’ll close this posting and come back with a new one when I’ve rested a bit more. Let me offer one of my famous / notorious window shots from my trip to CA. This is just outside Salt Lake City UT.

View from Salt Lake City airport.

View from Salt Lake City airspace.



Electric Guitar Talk

I’ve been reconsidering my setup for the last two years or so and have made a number of changes. First and foremost, I’ve expanded the number of effects I use (though my sound is less electric than in my old prog/fusion days).

Of course, it makes sense to attach the little boxes to a pedalboard of some sort. After investigating commercial units (many of which were impressive), it was a conversation with guitarist Scott Henderson that inspired me to assemble this latest incarnation:

Matt's pedalboard (12/12/12)

Matt’s pedalboard (12/12/12)

This is modular, with the pedals fixed via velcro to two small narrow wooden boards that can be arranged relative to one another for convenience. This is the setup used for a single amp (usually the Lab L5) and has a BBE Boosta Grande in spot #1. For the two amp setup a Boss A/B switcher replaces the BBE.

Distortion / overdrive comes from an Arion Tubulator (a Screamer clone which I purchased for $24 new). Then it goes to the Boss volume pedal (which I use for volume control and volume swells), the Roto Choir, the Boss DD2 delay and the Boss RV-2 reverb. I use the reverb only for volume swells, usually along with the DD2 to expand the ambiance. The Roto Choir is mostly for chord work and swells — I am still sorting out my sound with this. The split board also travels really well, fitting into a suitcase along with cables and other gear, it doesn’t need a special case to fit just the board. I can also leave the smaller of the two boards at home home when I play straight-ahead jazz gigs without distortion (or amp switching).

Amps are as follows:

Matt's Lab amps

Lab (made by Moog, marketed by Gibson/ Norlin in 70s) are my standard. The small L3 is 60W, 1X12; the L5 (both on the bottom) are 100W+, 2X12. The L3 has been seeing a lot of duty, especially with smaller clubs and venues that mic the amps. These are transistor amps (not even one small tube) but they work and sound like a great tube amp — turn the channel vol up and master down and you got gain.  And the guitar is a 1975 Hagstrom Swede.

Strings are John Pearse nickel electrics, .010 set; picks are usually Dunlop Gator Grip 2.0mm; cables are by Noctumusic.

This is the basic setup — things can/do change. I’ll be bringing in an Option 5 Destination Overdrive II to see how that works. In a two-amp setup amp #1 has some gain/grind and gets a push from the Tubulator when needed. The amp #2 line goes to the volume pedal and continues thru the pedal sequence to a clean amp #2. Even with both L5s in tow, I no longer play at ear-wrenching volumes. Just enough to get the sound….

I hope this has answered some inquiries. One of these days I’ll discuss the old prog/fusion setup (10 classic pedals, Leslie, etc.).

See you next time!


Time for equipment

It’s been a while since I went over the gear I’m currently using. It’s actually more tweaking and re-thinking rather than bringing new things into the setup.

This is the latest version of my pedalboard (for electric guitar only). From my earliest version in 1979 (which contained ten effects from MuTron, Boss and a range of oversized/overbuilt pedals) I’ve tried different setups, from rough-cut wood to injection-molded Boss boards. The minimalist/modular idea came from Scott Henderson’s and Sonny Landreth’s setups, simple and portable. The main board holds the Boss volume pedal, Roto Choir, Boss DD2 and Reverb pedals and can be used alone when I don’t use overdrive or amp switching. The small board holds the Boss A/B switcher and the Tubulator. The full setup goes like this:  guitar into A/B; B into tubulator into ‘dirty’ amp; A into volume pedal into roto choir into DD2 in reverb into clean amp.

The amps are Labs – two L5 (100w, 2X12) and one L3 (60w, 1X12). If the gig calls for it I use the L5s, one clean one slightly overdriven. Smaller gigs get the L3 either alone or with a Peavey Backstage (65w, 1X10). The Labs are transistor amps that are built to respond and sound like tube amps — and they do! I am in the market for another L3 right now. The Peavey (which is not pictured) is very clean, warm and loud but lacks the complexity in the midrange that the Labs have.

While I do play a similarly-aged Hagstrom Viking, my trusty mid-70s  Swede has been playing and sounding fantastic thru the Lab amps lately. It’s strung with John Pearse round-wound nickel strings (.010 thru.046). It’s stock except for cosmetic items like knobs and pickup rings. I did replace the factory tuners with Shallers and have a re-fret done with medium fretwire about ten years ago when it needed it. Of course, there’s my Godin glissentar (no frets, 11 strings) which replaces the Hagstrom on certain tunes.

Picks (when I do use them) are usually Dunlop Gator Grip 2.0mm, though lately I’m trying out Adamas graphite picks, also 2.0mm.

That’s the electric rig for right now. I’ll detail my acoustic setup next time.

See you soon!

Great Summer Gigs — Later That Same Day

I assume the link above will get you to my YouTube page and allow you to watch some informal videos from the evening show at The Grand in Wilmington DE. This is the blues Mr. P.C. (not dedicated to Bill Gates, btw) by John Coltrane. I played the fretless Godin glissentar on this piece with very good results.

There are more videos from the gig being posted once they’re converted and tweaked a bit. I haven’t done anything to the sound (sorry!), though there isn’t much to do with people talking throughout the set. We weren’t holding back either so they really wanted to talk, it seems.

Steve Beskrone was the perfect fit with me and Adrian. He brought things out in the trio that were unique and I hope we’ll have the opportunity to include him many more dates. Everyone in a trio format is vital and when it’s ON it’s limitless. I know it was ON that night.

I had the best sound I’ve ever had with my setup: mid70s Hagstrom Viking or Godin glissentar, Lab L3 amp (60w, 1X12) and the newly conceived pedalboard with Boss DD2, RV2, volume pedal, Roto Choir and an Arion Tubulator. I had planned on using two amps with an A/B switch but went with one amp once I got there. It worked great.

I can get revved a bit and go into raves about the sets — I am a bit exhausted from housework (hanging shades, scraping paint, patching — all the things guitarists don;t do in order to protect our hands (which is what we tell our wives with straight faces). best bet for now is to visit my YouTube page which is under the title MattRichardsMusic.  Here’s a photo from the gig:

Matt Richards – guitar, glissentar; Adrian Valosin – drums; Steve Beskrone – bass.

And while I’m at it….

Matt playing his mid-70s Hagstrom Viking during his Group show at The Grand 7/25/12. (Note: pick in mouth is for convenience only, not for effect.)

I’ll be back soon.

The Jazz Guitar Duo….

.. worked very well last night. I was joined by local guitarist Tony Hughes in an evening of jazz guitar duets at one of Philly’s newest intimate venues, the Paris Wine Bar.

This is a small lounge room, very laid-back, and best described as elegantly casual. Covered chairs, and drapes establish the feel with designer beers and an impressive range of wines as well as the menu courtesy of parent-venue London restaurant next door. I’;s a great place to relax with someone special or a small group of non-boisterous friends and enjoy real jazz three nights each week.

While most of the musical pairings have included a pianist on the bill, I booked the dates with a guitar duo (which is something I haven’t done in over five years). I met Tony months ago at a jam session and was impressed with his playing. It also gave me the chance to do an honest-to-goodness electric jazz guitar duo.

My gear of choice was straight-forward: mid-70s Hagstrom Viking (with John Pearse nickel .011 electric strings) through a similarly-aged Lab L5 amp (1X12, 60w). While I brought Dunlop Gator Grip 2.0 picks and Dunlop Adamas Graphite 2.0 picks I played a great deal of the night fingerstyle. The technique just kicks in,especially when I walk a bass line with chords. I do get a full ‘jazz’ sound with my characteristic upper-mids which is the way I prefer it to sound. Tony uses a more traditional jazz sound with his mid-90s Gibson L5 (with flatwounds) and Hendrickson amp. The tones worked great together, but we really clicked as players. He’s a first-rate accompanist and really complimented my solos both harmonically and dynamically. I listened intently and concentrated on my voicings and dynamics with great results. A great night for both of us.

The Hagstrom:     and the Lab:

Interestingly, the guitar is a thin-bodied, ‘semi-solid’, but not like a 335. It’s mostly hollow and made from solid birch which gives it a great deal of acoustic sound, sometimes too much on quieter gigs. For this sort of setting it’s an asset. Of course, while driving home after the gig, I did begin thinking about adding a new archtop to the musical arsenal…..

A great evening playing standards which I did/didn’t know and working with a first-rate player. We return there on Saturday May 26th. Visit my website for more:

Hasta pronto a todos!


Three gigs down, more to go….

Matt at World Cafe Live 3/20/12

This week wrapped up with my third gig in seven days’ time. I played in the acoustic duo with flutist Katherine Barbato at PHL Int’l Airport last Friday, a solo date at World Cafe Live on Tuesday and an electric jazz gig with Howard Miller & Friends on Thursday night. Three different settings with a bit of hold-over between the solo and duo dates. But each one was a blast.

The airport performance was actually pretty steady and not too overwhelming. Depending on the time you can get frazzled by the constant announcements and the rush of people and general frenzy that often permeates that scene. Katie and I lucked out being positioned amidst large Lexan display cases on floor level where we could actually hear each other when the PA was too far away.

World Cafe Live, while a prestigious venue, had the most dicey sound, mostly because of the monitors. During the check they sounded fine, a bit treble-y but good. Once the show started, two songs into the set, I mostly heard the finger noise as I played and it never went away. That distraction along with the fact that the room design amplifies voices from the audience to the stage made it a bit nerve-wracking. The low turnout didn’t help much either, but then I always draw more when I’m away from home.  (Philly and I still don’t get along, it seems….)

Howard’s gig, on the other hand, was energized and on the mark. We did tiptoe through a Monk tune, but the group played one of it’s best nights ever. I’m glad I was there. We even did my ‘Ballad’ and it sounded great.

Guitar-wise, I played the LaPatrie cutaway from Godin for the duo and solo dates and used the resident sound systems via a direct box with a small diaphragm condenser mic added for good measure. I used my mid-70s Hagstrom Viking through the lovely Lab L3 for Howard’s gig and it was superb once again. My signature jazz sound, to be sure.

The Bootleg CD looks like a real-deal release now — stay tuned for updates on the CD, videos and upcoming shows.

Hasta pronto!