KT Tunstall And The Secrets Of The Wee Bastard

(note September 2007:  This post gets more spam comments than any other on the site, so I’ve closed it for new comments.  If you have something you want to contribute, please contact me at jason at jasonhare dot com and I’ll post it for you.)

Last week, I saw KT Tunstall at one of WPLJ’s "Up Close and Personal" concerts.  (Thanks for the ticket, Andi.)  As with the previous shows I caught at Mercury Lounge and Bowery Ballroom, KT sounded great, was in great spirits, and the band was tight.  I don’t think I’ll be heading to see her again until she has something new to promote (I imagine she’s contractually obligated to play the entire Eye To The Telescope CD and little else), but if you haven’t seen or heard her, she’s worth a look-see.

I was able to get some pretty good close-up shots as well – check ’em out here.

I posted a couple times on my previous blog about KT and how much I really dig her.  Note my comment in that linked post: "Her music is catchy, she has a tremendous voice, and the tricks she does with her loop pedal (nicknamed "Wee Bastard," which is what she calls it whenever it breaks) are pretty clever. She makes me want to buy one."

My wonderful wife, clearly picking up on this painfully obvious hint, bought me the Akai E2 Headrush pedal for my birthday.  It’s tons of fun, although I feel sorry for my downstairs neighbors, who have to listen to me loop my voice anywhere from 2 – 8 times over.

My only frustration has been that KT is somehow able to loop both her guitar and her voice through that one pedal.  The pedal only has one output, so as far as I can tell, it’s either voice or guitar, not both.  I’ve tried using an adapter to use both, but it hasn’t worked.

I’m about to get all technical and nerdy here, so discussion on the Wee Bastard (as well as a couple of live mp3s) after the jump.

MUSIC NERD DISCUSSION BEGINS HERE

KT explains in this article from Frets:

How do you configure the looper onstage?

It’s a really crass setup, but it took a friend of mine to help me figure it out. The technical challenge was that I wanted to loop my voice and guitar with one pedal—that’s the big deal. I couldn’t do it with separate pedals for the voice and guitar, because it just gets too complicated. The solution was to put a little 4-channel desk [mixer] next to me onstage. Basically, I take a Y-split from my vocal mic and guitar DI, and send two pure feeds of these signals to the house. I also run a split of the guitar and vocal into the desk, which sends a combined signal to the looper. Then its output goes to the house, as well. So every night it’s up to me to get the levels right going into and out of the pedal, which is a challenge. I tried a Line 6 [DL4] delay pedal, but it hated the vocal. Then I tried the Akai, and it turned out to be perfect for my needs.

I didn’t know what this meant.  So, of course, I asked Mike to translate, who gave me more of an answer than I was expecting.

I cannot believe I spent a half an hour doing this. I apologize in advance to the KT-heads and people with actual sound recording experience who will find this on Google. The way she describes her rig is open to interpretation. I could be completely wrong about this, but this is my best guess:

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It sounds like what she is saying is that she is using two "y-split" cables (that is, a cable with one input and two outputs). One for her Guitar  DI (Direct signal) with 1/4" jacks and one for her mic with XLRs.

The 1/4" y-split goes into her guitar, one end runs direct to the house PA and one end goes into the mixer on stage with her. Same for the XLR Y-split, one to the house, one to her onstage mixer. 

KT then adjusts the levels on her onstage mixer to her taste, and runs a cable from the mixer to her AKAI looper pedal. The pedal is therefore getting one signal from the mixer onstage, that has the Guitar DI and the signal from her vocal mic, eq’d and adjusted by KT presumably to make them even in volume and to kill any feedback or what have you.

The output from the looper then gets run to the house PA.

The result if you are doing sound for KT, is that you have three channels on your board dedicated to her: "Guitar DI" "Vocal" and "Loops"

If you didn’t want to use Y-splits, you could run everything through the mixer onstage.

(click to open in new window)

The looper would get the combined output, the house could get the unmixed or mixed signals from the vocal and guitar, if the mixer has the appropriate outputs to allow that.

Thank you, Mike.  As always, you are right on the money and still over my head.

So, in other words, I can make this happen if I get myself a mixer that takes the two instruments and sends them back to the looper.  Or something.  And until then, I’m back to just chanting vocals repeatedly until my downstairs neighbor bangs on the ceiling.

MUSIC NERD DISCUSSION ENDS HERE

KT is fantastic with the band but I prefer hearing her on her own.  Here’s a track from her Rolling Stone Sessions, and a clever new ditty from a London radio appearance.

KT Tunstall – Miniature Disasters (Acoustic Live, Rolling Stone Sessions)

KT Tunstall – Ashes (Live, XFM London)

  • Jessica

    Hm. I AM wonderful, aren’t I? You wish you were me.

  • Paul

    Basically, you’re not going to get 2 seperate outputs out of the loop pedal. Some people who use loop pedals do all the mixing themselves so that everything they want to loop gets fed into the pedal, and then a single combined channel comes out the other end for the front of house engineer to amplify as he sees fit. Which works, but it means the pressure’s on the performer themselves to get all the levels adjusted properly.
    KT is mixing the guitar and vocal herself before they get to the AKAI. But she’s also taking a copy of her guitar and of her vocal channels sans looping to the P.A. guy, so that he can still turn up or down her voice or her guitar independently of each other whenever she’s not using the pedal – so that gives him some additional control. Whenever she’s doing stuff with loops, then the P.A. guy has to take them via the combined "loop" channel, which he can turn up or down, but can’t seperate out the relative levels.
    Is that clearer?

    • Paul it dead on. When You are using your guitar as a percussion instrument (KT), then playing it as a guitar, you may want your “Kick drum” sound (thumping your guitar top) louder than the scratches you do on muted guitar strings. By using a desk mixer pre the loop peal, you can control the volume of your loop recordings as you layer them. Same with vocals. If KT wants a whoop background harmony she may want to tweak the volume of each layer, then throw on a “Hey” at a lower volume. Her sound man/woman will always be adjusting FOH (front of house) but will have three things to adjust: 1. Live vocals. 2. Live guitar. 3. KT’s self-mixed loops coming from her Loop pedal.

  • Alfie

    That’s cool, cos I’m trying to have a go at this myself.  In the front room, to do what you’ve described will require two mixers – right?  One to combine the mic and the guitar, and one to send the three feeds to.
    Could I do it with just one mixer, by combining the two channels into the monitor output on the mixer, sending that to the AKAI, taking the output from the AKAI into a third channel on the mixer, and then having the three channels mixed on the main outputs of the 4 channel "on stage" mixer?  Would this cause a problem – as long as I didn’t inadvertently set up an endless loop sending the AKAI’s output back into itself?

  • Mike

    First of all, no direspect…second of all there is a much easier way…third of all remember she’s playing loops (vocals or guitar) and she’s playing live. (Sound levels need to be adjusted seperate.)
    I have researched long and hard to learn how she does it (and I know exactly how she does) and have now aquired my own way with one loop station and one mixer.
    A real simple way of doing this is forget the AKAI headrush Loop station and switch to new Boss Loop Station. Boss has seperate inputs for Mic and Guitar and volumn controls.

  • but…but…but…my AKAI is like 5 months old!

    dammit.

  • Mike

    Put it up on ebay. And then look into RC-20 by Boss. Also they have RC-50. 20 is competitive to the Headrush. RC-50 blows it away.

  • Kevin

    I bought the boss rc 20xl, however based on what ive been reading the headrush is  better product.  i might take boss back and just pick up a cheap 4 channel mixer and get the e2 headrush.  the boss has more looping time but with the e2 headrush you can erase your overdubs without erasing the whole loop and it also has a clearer sound from what ive heard.  its a cool product and is great if you want to make long loops however there are some flaws with it.  i mean if kt tunstall can do what she does with the headrush it cant be all that bad.  if i were you i  might keep it and spend some money on a mixer.  basically the mixer condenses the two sounds into one into for the headrush since there is no vocal output which is annoying.  im confused as to why the guitar has to be plugged into both the PA and the mixer if its already going through the akai.  is that bc you want more pure sound or bc the headrush changes the tone?  thats kind of annoying it doesnt have the extra output.  i am guessing there isnt really any other options.  now im not sure if i should keep the boss or try this ensemble youve got going on in the drawing.

  • Kevin

    I take that back, you can erase your overdubs.  maybe the rc20xl isnt so bad?  it takes awhile to get the timing down for recording loops.  i havent tried the vocals yet….when you overdub it seems like the volume of the guitar goes down which is kind of annoying.

  • Jrim

    Out of interest, has anyone had any luck getting a strong microphone signal on the Headrush, without having to use a mixer? When I jack an SM58 in there, the output is so weak I have to crank my amp up to 11. Figuratively speaking.

  • I haven’t tried it in a performance setting, but I have an SM58 and haven’t had any problems getting a strong signal.

  • Jrim

    Hmmmm. I’m obviously doing something horribly wrong, but I’m damned if I can think what.

  • saysay

    After reading all the discussion and researching the Akai headrush and the Boss RC20-XL, I am still lost as to which set up to go for. I basically want to do the same kind of thins KT is doing (vocals, guitar, percussion etc etc) but the idea of having to buy a seperate mixer and adjusting the levels your self sounds like a hassle under the pressure of live gigs. What are the pros and cons for each of the different options? If the Boss doesn’t need a mixer in order to do the same thing, and it can still erase overdubs, then would the quality of sound be the only reason why an Akai headrush would be better?? ….confused……

  • Chaz

    This picture from KT’s website might just help you http://www.kttunstall.com/images/weebastard.jpg I know this blog is months old, but I’m just coming across it lol

  • scoop

    Im a bit confused with the term front of house.
    When i gig on my own with my headrush pedal, i put mi vocal into channel 1 on my mixer, put the guitar into channel 2 on the mixer and the insert the pedal as an auxillar.
    that way i decide how much vocal and guitar i want to be sent to the pedal and can turn the guitar, vocal and looping pedal up or down in volume independentely.
    But all those signals leave the mixer and go to the P.A which is front of house. My mixer on stage with me runs straight to the speakers and i determine what the audience hears.
    So how the hell does KT deal with that? or does her explanation mean that where ever she played there where in house PA systems and her own monitor system?
    What about when you are in a small coffee shop and you bring your own pa?
     

  • Jack Larimer

    does anyone have an actual video of the set up?