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By Barry Cleveland

When performing with the original Mahavishnu Orchestra back in the early ’70s, John McLaughlin typically wielded a double-neck electric guitar (either a Gibson EDS-1275 or the ornately carved “Double Rainbow” built for him by Rex Bogue), plugged directly into towering Marshall amplifiers cranked loud enough to loosen fillings at a thousand paces.

Since that time, McLaughlin has played a diverse variety of guitars – from electrics such as vintage Gibson Johnny Smith and Byrdland models, and his beloved ’72 Gibson ES-345 with a scalloped neck; to acoustics such as various Ovations and custom instruments hand built for him by luthier Abraham Wechter: including the “Our Lady,” the “Marielle,” and three Shakti models.

As an inveterate “early adopter” of new technologies, McLaughlin has also spent the past 33 years at the forefront of guitar synthesis. He has employed instruments and hardware manufactured by 360 Systems, Roland, Photon, Axon, and New England Digital (makers of the Synclavier). It should come as no surprise that his current rig comprises MIDI-equipped guitars and a laptop loaded with cutting-edge software.

“I had replaced my guitar amplifier with a Sony DPS-M7 Digital Sonic Modulator (an early digital processor introduced in 1991) back in the ’90s,” explains McLaughlin. “It was a great unit, but the airlines successfully trashed about six of them, and Sony ceased production about eight years ago. So, my engineer and I worked out a way to emulate the sounds within Logic, running on an Apple laptop. And I’ve been using that setup on stage for the past seven years.”

Currently, McLaughlin tours with an Apple PowerBook G4 1.5 12" (he has a 17" PowerBook and a Power Mac G5 at home), running Apple Logic Pro 7 as his main program. Besides utilizing its MIDI capabilities, McLaughlin also relies on Logic’s suite of instrument plug-ins, as well as plug-ins from other manufacturers. “Since Logic has the wonderful EXS24 sampler incorporated into it, I use it a lot on stage; along with Emagic’s ES1 and ES2 synthesizers and EVP88 electric piano modeler. I'm also still using Atmosphere by Spectrasonics for pads, along with their Vocal Planet, Distorted Reality 1, and Metamorphosis sample libraries. For amp simulation, I use IK Multimedia AmpliTube 2. The original AmpliTube was good, but AmpliTube 2 is definitely better, with a better interface.”

Until recently, McLaughlin’s preferred guitar for live performance was a Godin LGXT with Synth Access, which he connected to his laptop via a Roland GI-20 USB MIDI interface and an M-Audio FireWire 410 audio interface (see fig. 1). But lately he’s opted for the LGXT’s lighter and more modestly priced sibling. “I’m playing a Freeway SA on stage these days, which I really like,” he says. “I spent seven months in India, and due to baggage restrictions, I opted to take only the Freeway. It’s not that I’ve gone off the LGXT, which is a great instrument, but I like the Freeway’s neck and fingerboard; as well as the fact that it is lighter, without sacrificing the sustain. The pickups are also very good, and the MIDI captors are excellent.”

The Godin Freeway SA is a solidbody instrument constructed of silverleaf maple and poplar, with a 25-1/2" scale rock maple neck, and a 22-fret rosewood fretboard. Its three magnetic pickups – in a humbucker/single-coil/humbucker configuration – provide a wide range of electric guitar tones. The Ghost hexaphonic pickup/preamp system, mounted in its floating tremolo bridge, feeds a 13-pin Roland GR-Series synth connector. The guitar section features a 5-way pickup selector and controls for volume and tone, while the synth section has a volume control. A small toggle switch selects guitar, synth, or both. McLaughlin provides the venue’s engineer with separate pairs of stereo audio feeds for the guitar and synth sounds via four outputs from the M-Audio FireWire 410 audio interface. “This gives the sound engineer much, much greater control for the front-of-house in live situations,” he says.

McLaughlin’s futuristic tendencies and love of technology notwithstanding, there’s always the possibility that he will change course radically at any moment. “I recently spent the weekend rehearsing in London, and for simplicity’s sake I just plugged directly into a small Marshall amp. And I have to say that it was a very enjoyable trip back to the ’70s,” he enthuses. “So, if you see me on tour with only a guitar and an amp on stage, you’ll understand!”

Barry Cleveland is an associate editor at Guitar Player magazine, as well as a guitarist, recording artist, and author of Creative Music Production: Joe Meek’s Bold Techniques. www.barrycleveland.com

Konokol is the universal system of mastering rhythm without drums. Guitar legend John McLaughlin, who has advocated this system of learning rhythm for over 30 years, brings it all together with Konokol master Selvaganesh Vinayakram, one of the foremost percussionists from India. Divided into 6 chapters, the student moves from basic understanding of rhythm into the wonderful world of improvisation. Exercises are explained and demonstrated followed by improvisations which include all the exercise material of that particular chapter. You will learn through this course how to improvise rhythmically and how this system can help in your compositions. Following this, John McLaughlin explains and demonstrates on the guitar the benefit Konokol has had on his improvisations, and its usefulness in his compositions over the past 30 years. Click here to learn more or order this DVD!
Also available now - 2007 Release.

John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension featuring Gary Husband on Keyboards and Jungle Kit, Hadrien Feraud on Bass and Mark Mondesir on Drums performed some astonishingly great concerts across USA and Canada. They performed new tunes written by John as well as old favorites like Nostalgia and HighJacked. These 8 cuts have been selected from this Fall Tour and have been mixed and engineered by Sven Hoffman, Marcus Wippersberg under supervision of John himself. Click here to order this fantastic concert !!

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