Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ratuig DrawKcab

Notes On Backward Guitar.
many times I've been asked about my live playing of backward guitar parts.
in the story about the Mystery Geek
(see "a nut for a jar of tuna") I related that his device has long since been broken.
here is the way I produce
"live" backward effects nowadays.

the effects company called Digitech made an amplifier called
the Johnson Millennium 150.
it is the primary amp I use in all live performances. in fact, I use two.
when Digitech first ventured into the amp business I contacted them.
I flew to Salt Lake City, home of Digitech, for a day's worth of consultation. I brought along some of my favorite effect boxes
to see if they could incorporate them into their new amp. along with Line 6, the Johnson amp was the first to offer modeling where a type of amp or effects box could be closely reproduced with software. the amp types and effects are all built into the Johnson amp itself. no more wrecked refrigerators.

after demonstrating the effects I brought along the Digitech techs asked what else I would like the amp to do. I said I would very much like it to make my guitar sound backwards. could they do that? they scratched their heads and said "yes, it should be possible with software".
a few weeks later the Digi-techs called to say my modifications were ready. now here's the cool part. we plugged my Johnson amp into my studio computer and they downloaded my new guitar program (called "reverse") right into my amp! and that is still how I make backward guitar sounds today. the delay (which turns itself around backwards) is a standardized length (about 1.7 seconds) so I've grown accustomed to how it feels rhythmically to fit it into different songs. it's true, you have to be a little ahead of yourself (nearly two seconds ahead) but I'm used to it. it's my favorite effect.

the Johnson Millennium 150 amp is no longer made. Digitech didn't care for the amplifier business. apart from the inevitable "johnson" jokes, it's been an invaluable tool. Johnsons are rare to find, but when I hear of one in great shape I usually buy it!



  1. I've often thought Line6 should put out a Belew signature expression pedal, as they've done for both Brian May and Jimi --I've seen the Jimi one under Ade's foot!

    I recall reading an interview with Adrian, in a guitar rag a few years back, of a Belew endorsed stomp box. I wonder if that project is still alive?

    -stomp box junkie

  2. correction: I meant "Digitech" not Line6.

  3. Don't know the digitalk but I know and love the sounds!

  4. custom software ? thats not fair!!! my rps-10 has 800 milliseconds, and i had become accustomed to running it around 650, a while back i switched to a line 6 dl-4 which goes to 1.25, but i haven't adjusted over to the longer settings, and still run it around 650. maybe if i daisy chained them, oh wait then it would come out forwards :( i think i need ANOTHER rps-10. before i had these devices i liked to use the gr-50 scott summers patch number one, a velocity sensitive harmony/octave flute, combined with straight sound through an eq'd big muff, to a reverse gate, i miss that sound, it was wrong in all the right ways. i really appreciate you sharing about your gear. i am well familiar with the school of thought that processing your signal is merely masking a lack of talent, and literally gave up on the guitar after losing two of my fret hand fingertips in a lawnmower incident. playing bass in cover bands for years was not that fulfilling until i discovered the twang bar king lp in 88, switched back to guitar, and in essence have been looking up to you to lead the way ever since.

  5. Don't let me catch you bidding against me for one of those Johnsons.

    A guitar player I know and have had the opportunity to play with a few times over the years has a Johnson and doesn't use it to anywhere near what it was designed to do. Maybe switches back and forth between three or four settings. I've been trying to get him to sell it to me (at a decent price to him even) but he won't give it up. It's his only amp and he says he doesn't want to have to buy a new one. If I get my hands on it and wind up not using it enough to justify it, I'll let you know.

  6. Hey Adrian, it's Chris from J.Alexanders on Friday--hopefully Renee forwarded you my email. If not, shoot me a quick one at perkins.cw@comcast.net and I will explain. Either way, you told me to leave you a message on your blog and you would get back to me. I look forward to speaking with you soon!

  7. this above was only a test, i was checking out if my account still works :).

    The very virst time i heard mr. Belew playing those backward sounds was while listening to Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream. We was so impressed with my friend after that, that we used to record some sounds on a computer (our guitars) and play it backward, but it still wasn't as professional and unique as Lone Rhino effects :)

  8. I myself am using a Boss DD20 to get the backwards guitar sound. It's quite good, but it has a bit awkward attack to it on the first note. Once you get going, it sounds pretty familiar :)

  9. Wow, that 'Johnson' logo/icon looks a lot like the Fender identity.

    Adrian's school of rock. Thanks so much! It takes some cojones to talk about your Johnson in public.

    I've been creating loops with a cd turntable, it has a sampler that can play in reverse, and full songs can be reversed too. After your post on Graceland I pulled out that cd, created many loops and played along with them. Forgot where I was, it was so much fun. I looked up and saw my reflection ... upon my face was a shit eating grin much like the one you display on stage. Brain-food.

    ?gnitseretni os ffuts sdrawkcab siht si yhW

  10. The Digitech Digi Delay pedal has a great reverse effect setting. I assume that YOU Adrian are to blame for this. Thanks! I use it often. On everything.

  11. Some of the more recent Boss Digital Delay pedals have incorporated reverse delay as well. Apparently, there are more and more guitarists out there wanting to sound like Adrian.

  12. hurray for deviation!

    (: nepo srae ym speek

  13. I don't know why backwards music is so interesting, but it sure is. I love your backwards playing, Adrian.

    Cool... I didn't realize the Johnsons were made by Digitech. They make some very cool stuff. I couldn't do without my Whammy-2 pedal! What an amazing invention.

    I get a pretty good backwards effect with my Line 6 delay modeler. I like the fact that you can use the expression pedal to change any (or all) of the parameters on the fly, including delay length.

    The other day I was playing around with a slide and Whammy (octave) going through the delay and accidentally got your seagull sound. My buddy heard it right away and said, "Hey, you got that Adrian Belew bird sound!"

  14. My first experience with a Johnson amp was playing it with a vintage 1960s Fender Jazzmaster. Later that year I saw KC in Boston, and my friend brought a pair of binoculars to the show. I started doing the geeky thing and checking out all your gear. The moment I saw those Johnson amps, I immediately knew why you play through them.