How Touring Musicians Choose Gear For Their Gig
Posted Mar 28, 2019
Whether your playing pop, metal, or jazz, being a part of a band requires the right equipment for the job. But how do you decide what to choose? In this blog we interviewed five pro musicians who cover a multitude of styles and genres for their gigs. Here's how they selected the right PRS for the job.
MEET THE PROS
Clay Cook // Zac Brown Band
Nicholas Veinoglou // Bazzi
Corey Congilio // Session Guitarist
Justin Lyons // BigBang & BlackPink
Ben O’Neill // John Legend
PRS: When did you know you wanted to play music professionally, and how did you land your current gig?
Clay Cook: I have wanted to be a musician since I was 8 or so. I’ve never had the notion that I’d ever do anything else. I’ve been very lucky. I landed with Zac Brown Band in early 2009. I met Zac in the Atlanta music scene & he asked if I wanted to join the band. It was time for a change & here I am.
Nicholas Veinoglou: I still have the same fire in my heart that I did in the 7th grade when I dreamed of being a touring guitarist. Music is all I ever really gravitated towards; it was the easiest choice I ever made-there were no distractions! The power of that dream has been transformational, and lead me to my current gig, touring with Atlantic Records recording artist Bazzi. I actually connected with Bazzi's musical director while out on the road with Jordan Fisher. When that gig was over, I got the call to audition and landed the gig!
Corey Congilio: When I started playing guitar at age 13 I knew I wanted to do it professionally. At that age I would have been happy playing in a full time wedding or cover band, but that developed into a strong desire to tour, be a session musician, and make playing a lifetime occupation.
Since moving back to Nashville in 2013 (I briefly lived there in the early 2000’s) I’ve been lucky enough to be welcomed quickly back into the music scene. I’ve toured with some amazing artists and each one has provided memorable experiences for me. I’m currently touring with Reviver/Blue Chair recording artist David Lee Murphy who’s career has had a resurgence in 2018 with the Kenny Chesney duet “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” I received a call to sub on a few gigs and then got called to sub some more! In early 2019 they asked if I’d consider coming on to the tour full time. The 2019 tour includes arena shows as direct support for Kenny Chesney. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to tour alongside country music’s biggest entertainer, so here I am.
Justin Lyons: I knew I wanted to do music professionally maybe in my late teens, I’ll say the age of 17. I was fortunate to do my first overseas tour to London, performing for the 'Nice Jazz Festival' with Paris native Joby Smith and Dallas native, Geno Young. That period of life was very pivotal for my career as a musician. At that time, I’d never traveled to the other side of the world let alone, even flown.
Ben O’Neill: I started to play piano before my feet could reach the pedals, studied trumpet from the 4th grade and took up guitar at age 12. By the time I was in high school I was planning to pursue music in college and that became the gateway to my career. The friendships I formed at The University of the Arts lead me into Gospel, R&B, and Hip-Hop and that’s the same evolving and expanding circle that brought me to my gig with John Legend.
^ PHOTO // ANDY SAPP
PRS: What styles/genres of music are you playing in your set?
Clay Cook: Well, if you’ve ever seen Zac Brown Band you’d probably notice that the styles / genres are all over the place. We play country, pop, rock, & dance.
Nicholas Veinoglou: The majority of the set is pop-based; however there are lots of arrangements which steal flavors from Rock, R&B, Blues, and Indie styles.
Corey Congilio: David’s set is straight up rockin’ country... kinda like a 70’s rock band is playing country music. I’m a fan of 90’s country and David Lee will be mentioned in that chapter on this genre when the book is written. The pedal is down from the first downbeat of the set and there’s A LOT of guitar playing. I share guitar duties with my buddy Kyle Bruich who’s a fantastic player in his own right.
Justin Lyons: Currently the style of this tours set I’m playing, is an underline tone of Kpop (Korean pop) music with rock and reggae influences being performed by an urban band. But I play all genres of music, listed in order: gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, pop and so on.
Ben O’Neill: Like so many folks, I play a wide variety of genres which means I have to be aware of the history and development of much of American music. Taking R&B as an example, I must understand the progression of Nat King Cole to Sam Cooke to Marvin Gaye to Cameo, to current popular music, etc. Soul, Pop, Rock and Jazz all weave into this tapestry of American music from which I try to draw inspiration and knowledge whether as a sideman or as an artist.
PRS: What tones or range of sounds do you need to achieve during your performance?
Clay Cook: Because of the broad range of styles, I need to be able to achieve a LOT of different sounds. Clean single coil sounds, chicken pickin,' heavy gain, and sometimes even sound effects.
Nicholas Veinoglou: I have to fill a lot of space on this gig; it's just a drummer, the artist, and I on stage. I'll be playing everything from dead clean funk, heavy rock/lead, ambient wet delay/reverbs, smooth jazzy R&B tones, and beyond. It's definitely stretched the traditional role of the guitar in my mind, which has been super inspiring!
Corey Congilio: I try to go for more of a classic jangly overdriven rock sound. Many of my heroes are sideman like Mike Campbell, Buddy Miller and others. That approach happens to be what I like and marries well with Kyle’s modern southern rock approach. This gig is a one-pedal-on and add a boost to solo kind a gig...lots of fun. I add some atmosphere where necessary too.
Justin Lyons: For this particular BlackPink tour, tones that are really imperative are really clean, mid-high tones. Still working daily to improve the tone because I’m such a humbucker fan, but this tour doesn’t necessarily require that feel. Songs like "Solo" by Jennie, require a humbucker tone because the approach is more of a band vibe. There are so many frequencies this tour and it's highly important that everything I’m playing is cutting through the mix. That even requires me to be more selective in my note choices. Overall, we spend a lot of time with our FOH engineer making sure we’re working together to achieve the best translating sound possible.
Ben O’Neill: For much of my work as a sideman, I use a very clean rhythm sound, the likes of which you find on Prince recordings, a slightly grittier clean, in the style of Steve Cropper, or a singing, sustaining lead, like you hear from Neal Schon. There are occasions when other flavors are called for, but these three are the starting point.
^ PHOTO // NICK CHERRY
PRS: Why does your PRS work well for the style of music you’re playing?
Clay Cook: My Silver Sky makes the single coil sounds that I need to pull off a great deal of our set (which is constantly changing). It’s a very solid guitar & sounds great no matter what venue we’re playing in.
Nicholas Veinoglou: My main guitar is a Hollowbody II. Most people associate the Hollowbody with a more jazzy-sound (which it perfectly executes) but it also can SCREAM in a hard rock setting. The hollow-body gives you an insane amount of resonance without being hard to control. It promotes precise clean rhythm sounds while effortlessly transitioning to screaming shredding lead lines. Not to mention, I can flick a switch and have a full acoustic rig with the help of the Piezo system. I literally have two guitars in one. Say for example there is acoustic guitar on the verse and heavy electric on the chorus - I can nail both tones with the flick of a switch. My favorite thing about this is how I can create textures - I will often swell in some ambient electric tones underneath the acoustic sound with a volume pedal. It sounds like two guitar players!!
Corey Congilio: When I first talked to Rich at PRS, we talked about the current guitars I was playing. I told him I was leaning heavily towards P90’s and offset style guitars recently. However, I always coveted a 594. He recommended a McCarty 594 Soapbar and that’s what we decided to try. It’s been a really fun experience playing that guitar and have since warmed up to other PRS models too. Versatility, scale length, and super stable tremolos are some of my favorite attributes of PRS guitars.
Justin Lyons: PRS works so well for this style of music because of the versatility I’m able to achieve. For example, there’s maybe 6 OUT OF 25 records, that require me to play both electronic parts and acoustic parts. For example: “Stay with me,” had it not been for the Hollowbody series, I’d most likely have to lay those additional parts in the box (Protools). But I prefer to challenge myself and play both during the show (thank you PRS, for making such a crafty instrument)! My favorite is the Custom 24. But I’m excited about this new Silver Sky by the legendary John Mayer. So we’ll see which guitar becomes my favorite guitar.
Ben O’Neill: I use several PRS guitars but my main guitar by far is my 25th anniversary Custom 24. It’s equally at home with spanky rhythms or soaring leads. It intonates perfectly, stays in tune, and feels like home. That guitar has taken me all over the world.
PRS: What do you think are important things to consider when choosing a guitar for tour?
Clay Cook: Sometimes it’s just sound & how the guitar makes me play. Sometimes it’s just the way the guitar looks. Sometimes it’s both.
Nicholas Veinoglou: You need something you can rely on night after night. Something that can withstand the ever-changing environments and abuse that comes with extensive travel. We go through all imaginable weather conditions - hot and humid to dry and cold, traveling on planes, busses, trains, etc.. I never have to worry about my PRS. The thing is built like a tank. I could probably take it for a swim in the Pacific Ocean and it would come out in tune ha-ha! But seriously; picking the right guitar for touring is everything. It is your most important tool as a musician. It's how you tell your story. A guitar should feel like an extension of your body. I buy my guitars like a pilot would buy an airplane. I wouldn't want to get into an airplane that I was not 100% confident in working 100% of the time.
Corey Congilio: Find one that can handle most of the tones and have a back up! I often find myself in situations where I can only take two guitars so, I try to choose wisely. In the modern country world there isn’t always time to change between songs or have a tech so, I try to travel lean.
Justin Lyons: For me the most important things to consider with choosing a guitar for tour would be: the weight, the color, and the comfort of guitar-to-body ratio.
Weight because, typically with a KPop tour the shows length could vary anywhere from 2.5 hours to 3.5 hours. So the point of the game is to not kill your shoulder or your back. Lighter is always a plus, although if it’s too light it could get a little tricky or confusing to it feeling like a guitar we’re used to holding.
With color, there’s a lot of photography and camera time, so I personally like for the guitar to be seen as well as heard. Which is the reason most times the go to color would be WHITE. It works out best for both the company and myself. Most touring musicians are required to where all black, so a nice solid white guitar would look magical.
Guitar-to-body ratio matters because one of the best parts of the tour is being able to dance during the performances, lol. I personally move around a lot, and most times I’m called out front with the artist for a guitar solo. Being in front of 20k plus people, I don’t want any hiccups or distractions. I want to move freely as the birds that are on the neck of my PRS.
Ben O’Neill: The stage can be an unpredictable place. I like gear that is reliable and comfortable. An ideal guitar offers a balance between consistency and inspiration. Sometimes your creative considerations have to be balanced with other professional realities like what “look” fits with an artist or what a show designer envisions. Fortunately, PRS has a solution for those situations!
PRS: What’s the most rewarding part of being on tour as a pro musician?
Clay Cook: As someone who’s worked at every level of a professional musician, I’d have to say the most rewarding part is being in a creative environment. The ability to make your mortgage payment is never overlooked, but money isn’t everything. Making a joyful noise has always been the goal.
Nicholas Veinoglou: The most rewarding part about being a musician is simply being able to connect with people. I get to travel the world with my best friends, playing music I love; and I get to share that with thousands of people. I think music is one of the most important cultural forms of identity. Every part of the world makes music. For some it is the only way to communicate. It is a privilege to be able to share a small part of something so big. People go to see live music as a way to escape; the stage is a safe place for everyone to freely express themselves and get lost for an hour or two. And that’s magical.
Corey Congilio: Aside from the travel, seeing new places, making new friends, and playing guitar for a living, the best thing is seeing how excited people are to be at a show. The country music world is very rewarding in that you can literally see how you’re impacting people at that very moment. They’ve worked all week, saved their money, and chose to spend it and their time with you. Our job is to deliver a great show for them and leave them wanting more. It’s truly a rewarding experience that I don’t take for granted.
Justin Lyons: The most rewarding part of being on tour, is the relationships that are accumulated. I have tons of emails from individuals who have now been inspired from me to play guitar. There’s been people who have been introduced to GOD because of my faith talks. Lives have even been changed in regard to the way individuals hear music. Most people are now always listening to records and are first listening for the guitar because they’re drawn to my gift/sounds. I’m truly honored. Also being on a major tour has aided me in helping the newer generation of musicians to surface. When most people expect for 'live' elements to cease due to the new rise of electronic music, live instrumentation is slowing resurfacing to the forefront.
Ben O’Neill: I’m thankful that I get to create and perform music with people that I love and respect and am inspired by. Music has taken me to 6 continents and 30 some countries, most of which I never would have experienced without these remarkable touring opportunities. I’m thankful for all of it, but the most rewarding part is the study and pursuit of music and the relationships that has brought into my life.
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