King Crimson, 1969-1974
Only three pedals were used: a volume pedal made by Farfisa which was apparently the cheapest he could find, a fuzz pedal – preferably a Burns Buzzaround, but specific model not really important; the Buzzaround lacked the output needed for stage work – and a wah wah pedal. Both the fuzz and the wah were placed in seperate circuits and engaged only when used. In the 1974 Guitar Player interview found here there is also mention of a Watkins Kopy Kat tape delay unit, but it was used very sparingly (the official spelling is “Copicat”).
The pedal board was made by Pete Cornish, and King Crimson were among his very first customers (the first being Peter Banks of Yes). The board is detailed here as having “a Guild Foxy Lady, […] a Cry Baby wah-wah, a Farfisa wooden-bodied volume pedal (‘The best volume pedal I’ve ever come across.’ Says Pete, ‘very expressive’), plus an echo send and return, and a bypass switch for the echo and effects (but not the volume)”. Later in ’74 a spare was built with a DeArmond volume pedal. It’s worth to note that a Cornish build includes rewiring of the effects with very high class leads, so a Cornish board would experience less signal loss than a regular effects chain. Everything is powered by one big battery hid in the base.
There is a very nice photo on DGM Live which gives a good view of the pedal board here with its distinctive round Cornish foot switches. The signal path appears to be wah > volume > fuzz and the fuzz can be pretty conclusively identified as a three-knob Foxey Lady. This version was produced by Electro-Harmonix and is in fact identical to the first iteration of the famous Big Muff fuzz (the “Triangle” version) – for more on this and all other things Big Muff, see Kit Rae’s most comprehensive site.
Another thing to note on this photo is that the pedals clearly have been rewired – none of the original input and output jacks are in use. It also appears that the Mellotron has its own set of effects, including a Cry Baby and a Copicat.
In June 2013, Pete Cornish posted this very good photo (direct link) of the effects board on the company Facebook profile. In August, this photo was posted of the backup board. Routing is detailed as Guitar -> Foxey Lady -> Crybaby wah -> Echo -> Dearmond Volume/tone -> amplifier. It has three bypass switches for Echo, Wah and “Pedals”.
The most often asked about part of RF’s guitar equipment for this period is the fuzz pedal. His own reply is “I can get that same sound with every kind of fuzz box I’ve ever used. It’s not a question of equipment”. Apart from the method of playing, in the 1970s there were not, as today, literally thousands of different fuzz/overdrive/distortion pedals of wildly different character availiable for immediate purchase – the range of circuit board designs then was nowhere as diverse as it is now.
For a place to start, use a Les Paul type guitar with low output humbucking pickups and play through a very loud and clean valve amplifier. This part can go from cheap to absurdly expensive. The Big Muff, volume pedal and Cry Baby pedals however are modern staples and the basic versions can be found for a very reasonable price indeed. It is when you go shopping for variations, specialty versions and “vintage-spec” stuff that the prices can start raising the hairs in your neck.
RF himself answers a few questions on the 1970s FrippTone in this diary entry from 2010, and for the main Crimson sound he is so famous for it really is as simple as I have stated above.
Later 1970s/New York
There are several articles and interviews availiable on the internet that describe the Frippertronics setup better than I can do, but briefly the mechanism is this: the guitar signal goes through the effects pedals and into one of two Revox tape recorders where it is recorded; the tape is routed to the second Revox where the sound is played back; this playback is recorded again on the first Revox and thus a loop is created slowly receding due to fidelity loss from the tape and volume differences. I have no idea how the signal was routed next, into P.A. or guitar amp, or whether the signal was split before the first Revox to allow RF to hear the notes as they were actually played (though this seems likely). See the photos page at Elephant Talk and here (extra geekiness credit: note that the stop bar has been replaced on this guitar) to see the setup.
Youtube channel Chords of Orion has put together a full Frippertronics rig and walks us through it in this video.
In one Frippertronics review I have seen, the Big Muff Pi (fuzz) and Small Stone (phaser) pedals by Electro Harmonix are mentioned. Most likely the Cornish board remained in general service (as seen for example here with what looks like a small A/B box before the actual board) with the option to use whatever the studios had to offer for session work.
My thanks to commenter Ray Smith for pointing me in the direction of this photograph from a League of Gentlemen gig where the Cornish pedalboard is quite clearly visible (with Cry Baby fully legible on the wah), next to a big A/DA Harmony Synthesizer. Between them sits a Boss SP-1 Spectrum.
Much or all of the recordings with Eno were done plugged directly into Eno’s synthesisers, which would explain some of the stranger sounds from this period and also make them very difficult indeed to identify or reproduce, if one should wish to do so – a VC3 is often mentioned as a starting point for the guitar, which was rarely even plugged into an amplifier with Eno. One exception is the song “Heroes” itself; RF stated in his diary that it was done with “a Les Paul, Marshall cabinet, and a way of working” (no EBow or similar was used or has ever been used by RF live or on record). The chorusing, warbling effect comes from playing back three different takes of the same guitar part at the same time, which were recorded in the control room at excruciating volume to create the feedback.
King Crimson, 1981-1984
Two specific items are known to to have been used – the Roland GR300 guitar synthesiser (mentioned to in the Absent Lovers booklet) and the Electro Harmonix 16 Second Digital Delay (mentioned in interviews). Simply put, the GR300s (Adrian had one too) do everything on the 80s trilogy and subsequent live releases that doesn’t sound like a guitar – except the parts that T.Lev play on his Stick. The slightly distorted church organ chords and North African flute sounds are generated through this unit, which has VCOs and envelope filters built-in.
The EH 16 sec delay was apparently marketed as a “fripp-in-a-box” and was used to create Frippertronics (as in “Industry”, “No Warning” or “Entry Of the Crims” from Absent Lovers). The original Revox Frippertronic setup was not practical to bring on the road with King Crimson and was, according to this diary entry, last used on Easter Sunday 1983 in Toronto.
What other effects were used is less certain. In the Absent Lovers booklet, again, there is a photograph of Bill and Adrian probably playing the intro to Waiting Man and in the lower left corner Robert’s pedal board is visible. To the best of my knowledge, that’s a Vox wah-wah, a Boss volume pedal and an EH Big Muff Pi, top to bottom. There is more stuff lying further to the left, but I can’t make out what it is.
Another interesting thing is the big electronics rig that sits behind RF on the Neal And Jack And Me DVD, which he also can be seen reaching over to and adjusting things. What can be found in this precursor to the Lunar Module and Solar Voyager I have no idea apart from what appears to be a Roland Space Echo (a tape delay/reverb unit), if anyone has more information I would love to hear it! I’ve also seen a pink/purple effect pedal sitting on top of this, possibly a Boss flanger or Ibanez delay or the SP-1.
This is probably the period when rack mounted effects entered the RF rig (and the rigs of many others’). In the 1986 Guitar Player interview sidebar, the Roland Space Echo, EH Big Muff, EH Foxy Lady, Ibanez delay and of course EH 16 Second Digital Delay are mentioned as part of the setup. RF also discusses rack mounting of old pedal units, but I have no idea what became of this.
As mentioned in this diary entry, the Pete Cornish pedal boards were cannibalised for a rig made at Arny’s Shack but so far no specifications exist of this and it’s the only time I’ve seen it mentioned.
A period of considerable change. In the documentary “Careful With That Axe” RF states his current basic stack to be a Zoom multieffect (possibly the 9002 which was the first such produced by Zoom) into an ART Multiverb and a Roland GP16 into a pair of Trace Acoustic amplifiers. He also talks about looking into products by “TNC from Norway” – he probably means t.c. electronic from Denmark.
This was probably used for some years, maybe expanded on from time to time. He would also need some form of floor unit to control everything. In the sales ad on the GCG site, the GP16 sits in a rack with Korg A1 and A2 units.
According to Eventide RF started using one of their H3000 units in 1992 and later upgraded to two H3500’s. These units can do amazingly many things but are perhaps most famous for being exceptional harmonizers and pitch shifters.
On 22 January 2016 DGM Live uploaded 12 minutes from an RFSQ gig (and another 15 minutes on 29 June 2016) which offer good glimpses of the RF rig at the time (quite apart from the lovely music and horrifying fashion sense), especially from around the 2 minute mark and forward and 4:30 and forward. In the rack we see from the top a mixer/routing system, unknown double-size unit, Roland GP-16, Korg A2, Eventide Harmonizer and two tc electronic 2290 delays. At the bottom sits what looks like a final EQ or power amp unit. On the floor sit four Boss FV-300 volume pedals, a GR-300 synth and two switchers: one Digital Music Corp Ground Control (black) and one cream coloured switcher of unknown function with three rows of stompbox-style footswitches. To RF’s right of/going clockwise from the two switchers and the volume pedals sits another little black switcher of unknown model and function (this is clearly visible in the second video).
A noteworthy technique RF uses in the RFSQ footage is to blend in a synth sound when soloing by the swift turn of a volume knob, this can be heard in the early ’90s Sylvian/Fripp performances too. Speaking of which – in this pre-First Day album live clip of Sylvian/Fripp/Gunn a “triangle” model Big Muff can be clearly seen on top of RF’s rack! Is this the old original Foxey Lady, still traveling the world?
While discussing RF’s gear for this period Hernan Nuñez writes in private correspondence that “the A1 and the TC 2290 (2x) were certainly at the core of his rack in those days, and his Eventide was never far away either”.
In September 1995, two Roland GP100s were brought to use with King Crimson and remained in the Lunar Module as the main guitar preamp for almost ten years (see this diary entry). Other constants in the LM are the two Eventides (3000/3500 models), the Roland GR1 and GR30 guitar synths, the Digitech WH-1 whammy, and the four t.c. electronic 2290 digital delays that deliver the soundscape looping (it was David Sylvian who introduced RF to this generation of looping technology in 1992 according to the diary, look under “Thanks and acknowledgements”). All of this is routed via a Sound Sculpture Switchblade midi system and controlled with a Rocktron All-Access floorboard and four Boss FV-300H volume/expression pedals. All of this is in stereo, or possibly dual stereo (the diary has sometimes referred to dual stereo volume pedals). Also parts of the rack and visible in pictures at the GC site are a BSS compressor, Presonus Firepod audio interface and a Tech 21 SansAmp. It’s a pretty big rig.
For the ProjeKcts, a Roland VG8 guitar synth was the effects unit of choice (see diary entry mentioned above), and later remained in the rig sitting on top of the Lunar Module together with the follow-up VG88 (see photos in the Eyes Wide Open booklet for this), a strange placement for a floor unit! This GuitarGeek interpretation of the Lunar Module gives some idea of what it contained in the ProjeKcts period, the date given is 1997. Note the addition of a t.c. electronic G-Force.
For the setup during the ConstruKction of Light period, the 23rd of August 1999 diary entry is a good source. The digital side goes through either of the guitar synths and then into the G-Force, the analog side goes through the GP100s. Then everything goes through the Eventides and 2290s.
The PTB Tour Box specifies RF’s rack and floor setup, the Lunar Module, as follows:
Furman Power Conditioner
Eventide H3500 SE Ultra Harmonizers
Carver PM600 Power amp
Digitech Whammy II pedal
Boss FV-300H pedals
Boss FV-300L pedals
Roland GR1 and GR 30 synths
Roland US 20 Selector Switches
Digital Music Design – MX28 Midi Patch Bay
Bag End Speakers
Rocktron All Access midi controler
Sound Sculpture Switchblade GL
TC Electronics 2290 delays
The Lunar Module remained in use and saw few modifications – the VG8/VG88s were removed, and a second one (the LMII) was built for the DGM studios for recording.
Since autumn 2005, the Lunar Module has been retired. The new rig is called the Solar Voyager and has been through versions 1.0, 2.0, 1.2 and now 1.3. It is considerably smaller in size compared to the Lunar Module, and was specified by John Sinks in a 6th of January ’06 DGM News item thus:
2 Eventide H3500’s, 2 Eventide H8000a’s, Roland GP100, SoundSculpture Switchblade, Rocktron All Access, 4 Boss FV-300H exp/vol pedals, Roland GR1 guitar synth and Roland GR30 guitar synth.
He also says that “Robert’s rack is still in the process of being redesigned. We may replace the Roland synths at a future date and add an Eventide Eclipse”. There are numerous photographs of the SV in the late 2005 diary entries (Jan 12 ’06, Nov 30 ’05, Sep 26 ’05 etc) and here are a few photos of the rig in one of its early incarnations: note the Motu 828 audio interface.
Some of the diary entries from the Slow Music tour in May 2006 indicate that RF has two of these rigs, one on each side of the Atlantic.
The H8000a’s have replaced the 2290’s as looping devices, but they apparently add clicking sounds to the music when switching programs and such. This appears to have been addressed, as this was only mentioned in the very early stages of use. The Eclipse and an Axon synth (apparently replacing the GR30) have been added to the rack in version 1.3, and a Peterson Strobostomp has found its way onto the floor next to the Rocktron. See this thread over at The Gear Page for a decent picture of the Solar Voyager during the 2008 King Crimson Tour with specs of it from Biff the Engineer on page 2!
On the 5th, 6th and 7th of March 2014 RF rehearsed King Crimson material with Jakko Jakczyk – first with a Line 6 Pod HD500X floor unit previously mainly seen around the DGM offices and then with an updated version of the Solar Voyager. New additions are a Memotron – a MIDI triggered Mellotron sampler -, an AxeFX II preamp/multi effects unit and a new floor based foot controller, the Rocktron MIDI Raider (replacing the All Access). Interestingly two of the Eventide harmonizers can be quite clearly seen to be H3000 D/SE models rather than H3500s.
These changes prompted the rack to be renamed the Sirius Probe. RF commented favourably on the AxeFX II and noted that he never had time to get to know the Eclipse before.
A straight-on photo by Trev Wilkins of the rack from the July, 2014 rehearsals at Elstree studios in London shows the following rack setup:
- Two Fractal FX AxeFX II units
- Two Eventide H3000 D/SE Harmonizers
- One Eventide Eclipse
- One Terratec AX 100 synth interface
- Tascam line mixer
- Sound Sculpture Switchblade GL signal router
The photo can be found in a DGM Live news item from 23rd July 2014. I am trying to work out a direct link to it.
On the 4th of September this video by RF himself was added to the DGM/King Crimson Youtube channel which shows the US version of the Sirius Probe. It has two Fractals, two H8000s, two H3500s and then presumably the four 1U units mentioned above – Eclipse, AX100, Tascam and Switchblade GL (the resolution makes it hard to see).