updated: 08 February 2009

Nice rack!

Here is the current (February 2009) incarnation of my gig rack. Recently it grew from 4U (four rack spaces) to 6U with the addition of the Muse Receptor. As of this writing I've only had the Receptor for a couple months, but I'm liking it a lot. My current gig rig is based around the Nord Electro 73, which I've written about elsewhere. This is a great instrument, but its internal acoustic piano leaves much to be desired. Still, for really small gigs the Nord is enough to squeak by on. For most gigs, though, I bring this rack, which basically does three things for me:
  1. It gets me a vastly-improved piano and Rhodes sound.
  2. It gives me a way to mic the Leslie and feed that into my keyboard monitor amp.
  3. It gives me a way to send mono and stereo keyboard mixes to the house.
For years I had used the Rane SM-82, used by keyboard players everywhere. I'm a big fan of Rane gear, and several years ago I switched to their MLM-82, which you don't see so much, but it provides four mic preamp channels. This allows me to mic the Leslie and run it through the mixer, and provide a single keyboard mix to the house for situations where there are a limited number of channels available. I can even provide a stereo mix with this setup. All this, plus four line inputs, all in a single rack space. It's just a great little mixer.

Within the rack, all of the internal signal routing is balanced where possible; everywhere else I have adhered religiously to the Rane interconnection bible. So I get a very low noise floor, and no hums and buzzes.

This mixer isn't perfect though, and I did face a few challenges making it work for how I wanted to use it. First of all, the newer versions of this mixer allow you to hard pan the mic inputs left, right, or center. They're hard-wired to center on this older version; however I performed this simple mod to pan the upper Leslie mic channels.

The second challenge with this mixer is that it only has one pair of outputs. I needed to split the outputs to the amp and a DI, and add a pad and a ground lift. For, this I decided to "roll my own" and built a wacky box which serves as a signal splitter, direct box, and patchbay.

My current rack has the following gear in it:
  • Furman Rack Rider power module: There's also a Furman Plug-Lock inside to handle all those pesky wall-warts.
  • The funky direct box and patch panel from left to right: aux in, MIDI THRU, MIDI IN, +12 vac and +12 vdc power out, three Leslie mic in, attenuation switch, ground lift switch, two XLR direct outs
  • Rane MLM-82: The brains of the operation. Four mic inputs plus four stereo line inputs.
  • Generalmusic Realpiano A relic from the past. This is still actually a pretty good-sounding piano module, and it was my main piano sound for many years. In 2008 I replaced it with the RP-X but kept it racked as a backup. The LCD screens on these are notorious for failure. Mine's shot too.
  • Generalmusic RP-X This was the long-awaited sequel to the Realpiano module, and they finally showed it at NAMM in 2008. After hearing it I went out and bought one. The pianos definitely have a different character than the Realpiano, but they play well. This was my main piano sound for most of 2008.
  • Muse Receptor The latest addition to my rack. This "sound module" is actually a cleverly packaged Linux PC which can host virtual instrument VSTi plugins. It came bundled with a gazillion instruments, most of which I don't use. I have Synthogy Ivory loaded, but my favorite piano is the Bechstein grand in Native Instruments Akoustik Piano. It just sounds phenomenal, very powerful and expressive. By far, by huge margins, the nicest rack piano I've ever played. My other current favorite is Applied Acoustics Lounge Lizard EP-3, which is a pretty kickass modeled Rhodes piano. It's an awesome addition to my rack and I love how it sounds. The Receptor has its shortcomings too, most notably the two-minute boot up times. It would be bad to have a glitch in stage power - I'd basically be dead while the thing reboots. For this reason I still have the Generalmusic modules racked up as a backup. Really, the Realpiano is completely redundant at this point, but I have half a rack space to fill and nothing better to fill it with.
Inside the rack (not visible in the photo) I have a MIDI Solutions Event Processor. This programmable device allows you to remap MIDI events and do all sorts of advanced MIDI filtering. I use this device to filter out MIDI events I don't want sent to the piano modules. I have several reasons for wanting to do this. Originally I got it because I had the GEM Realpiano crash on me on a number of occasions, and it emits the most gawdawful screech when this happens. It's really unpleasant, but it seemed to happen only when I'm doing organ stuff, palm glisses, smears, that kind of thing. So I needed a way to filter out MIDI events when I'm not actually playing the piano. Secondly. it would be nice to seamlessly switch between the Nord's internal sounds and the rack piano sounds without having to stop, turn around, and twiddle with the rack every time I change sounds.

The Event Processor accomplishes all of these tasks for me. In my case, the internal acoustic piano sound on my Nord is associated with button number 4. When you press this button, the acoustic piano patch is activated internally, and the Nord sends out program change #3. The Event Filter is set up so that it filters out everything until it sees Program Change #3, and then it passes note on, note off, sustain, and volume. If another program change is seen, these events are filtered out again. This allows me to switch between the Nord's internal sounds, and the rack's piano sounds, all from the front panel of the Nord. Very nice. If you're willing to invest the time to learn how to program it, the MIDI Event Processor is a very handy device.

When I added the Receptor to the rack, the Event Processor again became useful because I didn't want the Receptor responding to every program change. Having the Event Processor selectively filter things based on incoming program changes is very useful.



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