Guitar Nerds

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The Gear of ArcTanGent: Bear Makes Ninja

Over the last 3 years ArcTanGent Festival has been responsible for uniting some of the most interesting guitar music being made. Technically there have probably been more effect pedals in one place over the ATG weekend than there are in a Boss Factory. 

Following another amazing year of ATG I caught up with some of the most brilliant bands playing the festival and had a chat with them about their weird and wonderful gear.

Bear Makes Ninja make quintessential British Math-Rock. Their classic 3-piece format allows each instrument to shine in its own completely unique way. Their quirky rhythm section is as off kilter as it is solid, and gives the effect crazed guitar enough room to flail wildly about in a refreshingly poppy fashion.

I hooked up with James, the band's Jagmaster wielding tap dancer, and asked him a few super nerdy questions about his set up...

Walk me through your pedal board. What goes into what?

Firstly, the board itself....I made it from a wooden pallet! I took inspiration from Pedaltrain and this crazy thing I saw online with the holes to tidy the cables away. It's the third one I've made so far and seems to be holding together nicely! I plan on painting it soon too.

Set up wise, I have the guitar going into a Behringer Compressor. This stays on permanently and just neatens up my tone a little bit, providing a bit more clarity and punch and it sustains really well too! I've had a few Behringers and have been replacing them as time goes by. They're great for anyone wanting an introduction to pedals without the high costs, but tonally some of them do suffer when compared to higher priced pedals.

From the compressor into my TC Electronics Polytune 2. I find that having the compressor first just helps the tuner to be a little more accurate, cutting tuning times down a little. The polytune is great, nice and accurate with a screen that I've never had problems reading from. It also has a power in AND out, meaning that I can power more pedals from this too!

I currently have an Artec Powerbrick, which I've mounted under the board, which powers the 8 pedals I have on there at the moment, but I feel I will have to upgrade this at some point soon!

Next, we go from the tuner and into the EHX Pitch Fork. This is a great little octave pedal, I'm using it mostly on the 1 up and 1 down setting, allowing me to play 3 octaves at once, which is great for single note riffage! It's one of the best octave pedal I've played in terms of tracking and you can even plug an expression pedal into it so you can pretty much use it like a digitech whammy!

The Pitch Fork then goes into a Nux Mod Core. I bought this a couple of years ago for about £30, mainly because it has ton of effects, which are really tweakable with the addition of a 'deluxe' switch, which essentially doubles the amount of effects on the pedal by adding extra beats and sweeps in the effects. I'm using the Phaser setting at the moment in a couple of tunes. I just wanted to play around with a few different noises and on my tight budget this was a great find!

The NUX goes into a Behringer Digital Reverb. This is one of the first pedals I bought, again because it had the most effects to experiment with for the cheapest price. I tend to use the Cave setting the most, but the Room setting is nice too. The 'Space' setting is my favourite, which adds octaves to the reverb. Mmmm octaves! I'm aiming to replace this pedal soon though as I've noticed that whilst it was a great introduction for me into Planet Verb, it seems to suck a lot of tone from the original guitar sound, compared to others I've tried more recently. My favourite so far is the Line 6 Verbzilla, which I think the Behringer is based on as it has a lot of the same effects, but there's so much more clarity and warmth with the Line 6.

Next up is another Behringer. This one has been my favourite and probably the most important pedal on my board. It's called an 'Ultra Shifter Harmonist' and the setting I bought it for is called 'Trem Bar'. With this, you can make your guitar sweep up or down an octave, or any note in between at a whole range of speeds, from siren-slow, to pretty much instantly. For a mere £35, it's provided me with loads of fun and although the other settings aren't really that great tracking-wise, sometimes that can provide an interesting, crapped-out sort of effect in itself! It's the pedal I mostly get asked about after we play at gigs.

From there is a Boss Mega Distortion, which gives me loads of distortion, but not too much that it goes into chuggy metal territory. I wanted a distortion that was nice and clear when playing 4, 5, or 6 note chords with high gain and this does the job well! For recording, I use a Wampler Slostortion, which is a bit more difficult for me to use live, but is a tad more versatile and has a bit more clarity in tone.

The last pedal is a Boss RC-30 Loopstation. This I use for live looping some guitar parts and also as a riff bank. I'll record ideas into it and save them on it's memory for practice sessions etc. You can also plug it into a computer and load samples onto it, or copy your saved loops onto your computer. Last Halloween, we loaded horror movie themes onto it and played them in between songs at a show we played!

Interesting tones are so often the result of stacking rather than a single stomp box. Is there a selection of pedals that you find stack especially well to create something unusual?

I've been using the Trem Bar setting on the Harmonist with the pitchfork for some meaty 3 octave sweeps and the Reverb and Mod Core pedals stack up nicely to create a 'Phasey cave' sound. Both of these feature quite a bit on the newBear Makes Ninja album we've just recorded and hope to release in March next year.

What is your choice of amplification, what led you to this choice, and how do you make it your own?

My current amp is one I've had for many years. It's a 100w Laney TF300 Valvestate combo, but I wasn't quite getting the power I wanted from the single 12" speaker that was supplied, so I bought a Kustom 4x12 cab and started running the combo through that. It was loads louder and clearer now, so I had no need for the single 12" speaker and promptly chopped it out, effectively making it a head unit and ultimately taking up less space in the van/car/train/bus/ferry! I then painted the wood I had used to make a new shell and fitted it with some old denim and some handmade glow-in-the-dark knobs! Ahhhh, pretty!

My favourite feature of this amp, and probably the reason I haven't upgraded yet is the 'Vibe' switch on the far right. I have no idea of the technicalities behind this switch, but it just makes everything more better! Without it, the distortion sounds fuzzy, but with it on, it's a lot tighter, and it just makes the cleans a lot fatter sounding too!

I did borrow a mates Marshall JCM 900 for a while, which was awesome so when I have the pennies I may have to invest in something with valves!

What is your choice of guitar, how did you come to play that guitar, and what makes you stick with it?

The Jagmaster has been my long time guitar of choice. It was a present for my 16th birthday, back when I worshipped grunge! I've had many guitars since, including a more recent remake of this model, but nothing has compared so far! I can't really pinpoint it as its half rusted out, half replaced, knocked and banged about, but I guess it's the feel of it. I've bought higher priced guitars that I thought would be similar, only to be disappointed and return to this one! The next guitar I hope to try out is a Vintage Modified Squier Jaguar HH. It's the closest thing I can find to my Jagmaster as Fender don't even make a version!

I mainly use the neck pickups on this guitar and I find the factory fitted humbuckers on this model produce a nice thick bluesy tone, whilst the bridge pickups have clear mids and highs without being too raspy.

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