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My Gear
My current rig includes my amazing Fuchs Overdrive Supreme guitar amp. Simply stated, this is the finest tube guitar amp I have ever played. It truly is an extension of my playing. It’s not just another amp, its an instrument all on its own! I highly encourage you to seek out this hand-made guitar amplifier and play the difference. 

I am currently using more floor pedals than I have ever used before. Playing in a cover/dance band demands that I have access to a wide range of sounds and effects. As you will see, I am a huge fan of the Xotic pedals. I finally found a compressor pedal that actually works thanks to Robert Keeley Electronics. I also use a tube-based distortion pedal by Radial Engineering for that “over-the-top” compressed distortion sound as well as a few pedals from Boss and Line-6 for my chorus, delay and vibrato effects.

My current line up of guitars include my brand new Jack Briggs Saturn Deluxe loaded with Jason Lollar MiniBuckers. My Briggs Saturn Deluxe is the best guitar I have every owned! I can’t express enough what a beautifully designed and hand-crafted instrument this is. See my “Gear Reviews” page for an exclusive on this unbelievable guitar. I also use a  wonderful Music Man LUKE guitar with EMG pickups and a Fender American Strat with John Suhr pickups and his brilliant silent system. Check out John Suhr’s site for more beautiful guitars and electronics.
Effects & Switch Gear



A little history on my influences and gear evolution.....

Over the years like so many guitarist, I spent (wasted at times) large sums of money on guitars, amps and effects to help find “my sound”.  There has always been one common thread to my tone quest....Fat Sustain! Until recently, my goal has always been to perfect that fat “singing” guitar sound. This desire stemmed from one of my earliest inspirations, Brian May of Queen. Part of what captured my attention was when Brian would use his Red Special to “sing” on one note. He could literally hold that note for what seemed like forever. When I saw Queen live I was blown away by the roar that would come from his guitar and those classic AC30s. I never heard anything like it! Someone once told me “Brian May can play three notes better than most guys can play twenty”. This was not only due to his note selection but the tone and power coming from his guitar and amps.

My first influence on guitar was Greg Conte (i.e. Big Brother), a great guitar player in his own right. In fact, he was the whole reason I started playing guitar. Greg introduced me to guys like Brian May, Neal Schon, Gary Moore, Carlos Santana, great players of the 60s and 70s. Check out his record company West Star Entertainment Group. As a young kid, I remember Greg played a white Les Paul Custom (more on this guitar later) with an MXR Distortion Pedal through a Fender Bassman and a Fender Deluxe Reverb. His sound was fat and cool! Through Greg I learned the value of “tone” to make up for the fact that, as a young player, I was never fast or furious.  Tone, crunch, sustain and careful note selection has always been my approach to guitar.

I began playing guitar on an old “Blue Chip Stamp” acoustic guitar that my brother gave me (his first guitar as well). Once I learned the chord basics, he upgraded me to my first electric guitar, an old Aria semi-hollow electric. This was a Gibson-335 style copy. Even at this early age I was modifying guitars and amps to help my sound “roar” and “sustain” like Brian May. How ignorant I was really, but... I did the best I could. I replaced the stock pickups with the old Les Paul pick ups from Greg’s Custom Les Paul. I also installed a Mighty Mite pre-amp for more “on board” gain. Surprisingly, I achieved a decent tone from this guitar through my 1971 Fender Deluxe Reverb.

In my teens I was able to work and afford new, but mostly used (new to me), guitars, pedals and amps. I also discovered the Recycler newspaper which was a great place to buy and sell used equipment.  For new equipment, my favorite shop was Nadine’s in Hollywood. Derek, one of the owners I believe, was very very good to me as a kid. He knew I didn’t have a lot of money but I was a young talented player, I’d walk in with my entire savings of $327.48 in my pocket and he’d sell me a $400 amplifier. Very cool!

This is about the time when I discovered Allan Holdsworth. My first exposure to Allan’s playing was via Jean-Luc Ponty. (Check out Enigma Ocean by Jean Luc!) His tone, speed and whammy bar technique blew me away. Early on, I adopted (stole) this whammy bar technique which always adds color and interest to my solos. Allan also approached his guitar sound very differently than other guitarist. He used guitar preamps through a variety of rack-mount and pedal effects. This rig set up became very popular in the 80s & 90s. He would split his signal to stereo which would then feed a mixing console which would then drive power amps and speakers. This allowed him to achieve very clean stereo effects and maintain his “sound” at any volume. To this day, I’m still enamored with his imagination, technique and tone.

Then....Toto IV was released. The ending jam on Rosanna, especially the playing of Steve Lukather, completely caught my attention. His playing, his tone, and his creative guitar parts where exactly what I wanted to achieve. This guy can do many things, but I personally think he is a genius to come up with guitar parts that fit perfectly into the “orchestrated” song. If you listen to his song library (not just Toto but all of his studio work with other artists), you can hear how well he does this. He also has an amazing talent of playing unique licks that are just “outside”, but stay within the chord structure. I have learned a lot from Luke’s style.

I was also hooked by Luke’s tone. He has worked with some great amp and guitar builders like Paul Rivera (Rivera Amplification), Bob Bradshaw (Bradshaw Switching Systems), Mike MacGuire and Al Carness (Valley Arts Guitar) who have designed, built and modified old Fenders, Marshalls, Strat-style guitars, and other cool equipment to get his monster tone and sustain! Luke’s sound led me to EMG which I have used in all my guitars up until recently. It’s hard to beat the EMG active-pickup solution for ultimate clean and high-gain sounds. They will not replicate Strat style single coils or PAF humbuckers or pull the tone-wood sounds out of your guitar, but they are brilliant “active” pickups with tones and sounds all on their own.

Luke’s influence led me to other great guitar and gear influences such as Michael Landau, who is a great guitarist and studio musician. Dan Huff is another player I latched on to for tone and gear set up ideas as well as other great players like Mike Miller, Scott Henderson and Frank Gambale.

By the time I was 16 I needed more reliable equipment. I purchased my first “new” guitar, an Ibenez Steve Lukather model (Gee, surprising huh?). By the way, this was a guitar that Luke didn’t like at all. At the time, Ibenez was not a great guitar manufacturer and the deal was flawed from the beginning. Today, however, Ibenez produces some wonderful guitars. 

This was about the time I discovered EMG pickups. I modified this Ibenez  SL model by installing EMG-85s in both positions. I also added the mid-range boost. This was a monster guitar! It didn’t play particularly well but I had plenty of power and gain and it sounded great. I had also began using Music Man Amplifiers; specifically, I owned a few RD-100s. This was a killer set up. If you are in the Music Man Amp community you understand what these little amps are capable of. Between my Ibenez Luke, EMGs and a pair of Music Man RD-100s in stereo, I had killer tone, stupid volume and great reliability. This was my set up until I attended GIT in fall of 1984.

Two important things happened to me at GIT. First, the bad guitar was stolen! I was devastated. Secondly, on a positive note, my musical direction was changed forever. GIT was my first formal training and I was exposed to every modern musical style, sound, guitar and personality. My musical approach went from rock-eccentric to blues, R&B, jazz, country and many more. 

After my guitar was stolen, I decided to have a custom guitar made. At GIT many players were buzzing about John Carruthers and his guitars. It took a year to build but John Carruthers built me a monster “Super Strat”. This guitar was just mean! Beautifully made, Alder body, ebony fret board, Floyd Rose bridge, EMG pickups with a mid-range boost, a 20db gain boost switch and an active phase inverter switch. I played this guitar for 10 years! You have to remember, it was 1988. Metal and heavy rock was it. I also was equipped with a sophisticated amp and switching rig (shown right). I had a killer guitar and a killer tone!

There were so many great influences at GIT, but among the top for me was Scott Henderson. I first discovered Scott when I saw Jean Luc Ponty live. He was a unique and creative player with a great guitar tone and setup. If I remember correctly, Scott was using a Yamaha guitar preamp and power amp set up with a rack full of effects. He used to use a floor pedal distortion box (like MXR) and “roll” the distortion in and out with his foot.

Scott now uses CAE amplifiers and switching gear as well an awesome John Suhr Guitar and Pickups. I think he has completely switched to using only single coil pickups too. You can also check out Scott on the Xotic website. Scott has a couple of videos demonstrating the AC Booster and BB Preamp effects pedals. 

By this time in my career, I was using very professional gear and I had a rock solid sound. With my new John Carruthers guitar fitted with EMG pickups, I was running through a set of Music Man 100w Combos. I signal was split to stereo via an old Roland SDE-3000 digital delay and then into a SRV-2000 digital reverb. I also made a custom pedal board and switching system which provided me with easy access to the presets on my rack gear and amp switching.

Another “lightning bolt” introduction for me while I attended GIT was Robben Ford and the Yellow Jackets. When I heard their first album, I was completely enamored with this “jazz-fusion style” music. I had never heard anyone play guitar like Robben Ford. One song in particular, Imperial Strut, was mind blowing to me at the time. Robben Ford is one of the most tasteful guitarists in the world, in my opinion, and his phrasing and expression on the guitar is unmatched. To this day I am a huge fan and often see him live or I attend his seminars for inspiration. Check out all his Blue Line records. You won’t be disappointed!

Robben also is a master at guitar tone and unique guitar sounds. He is a loyal Dumble amp guy and his guitar sound and playing is truly his own. Robben also plays hand-made Baker guitars and a seasoned old Telecaster, among others, that he can just make sing. 

I have to include Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays in my “major influences” category. Pat Metheny is a groundbreaking guitarist and songwriter and will certainly go down in history as one of the major forces in modern jazz music. Since his early career, Pat has also experimented with electronic equipment to obtain chorus effects (before there was a chorus pedal) and other unique guitar altering equipment. He was very experimental with delay units to create interesting rhythms and guitar layering effects. There is also his mesmerizing synthesized guitar sound where he uses his guitar to simulate a trumpet and obtain other unique guitar sounds. He is a true innovator and I have listened to him for 25 years. His partner in crime, Lyle Mays has also been one of my favorite musicians. Lyle’s ability to create extensive soundscapes and passionate musical passages compliment his beautiful soloing talent. Together they are magic! One of my all time favorite albums is called “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls”. This is a true masterpiece in my opinion.

In the 90s, I went through a variety of guitar rig configurations. I primarily used the Preamp + Rack Gear + Power Amp type of system. A couple of guitar preamps I was fond of were the ADA MP1 midi-controlled preamp (one of the first hybrid tube and solid-state preamps on the market) and an awesome sounding Soldano XR88 preamp. I started out with QSC solid-state amplifiers for the power section but then switched to a VHT 50/50 Tube power amp. My rack gear was a mix of digital delays, reverbs and other effects and was swapped out regularly  as better gear became available.

Today, though, I’ve loosened up my guitar sound and I’ve gone back to a simple single amp combo and floor pedals. Playing in a pop/dance band demands that I achieve a variety of sounds and effects. More importantly, I am NOT trying to be the guitar god on stage. With this band, it is much more about blending and playing your part. However, I still maintain a wonderful guitar tone through my new Jack Briggs Saturn Deluxe and my Fuchs Overdrive Supreme! This is a fantastic combination! I also extensively use my American Strat and my Music Man LUKE.

It should be noted that all of the guitar amps I have used over the years are designed with 6L6 power tubes. To my ear, 6L6 tubes have a warmth and fullness that is very musical and complement my playing style. There is something about the 12AX7 + 6L6 combination that I really love. I am, however, looking at a couple of new style amplifiers (Carr, CEA, Fuchs) that use EL34/84 and initially, they seem to have some very pleasing tones. We’ll see what develops over the next few years.

Finally, I must thank all these guys for truly inspiring me not only in my playing but also in my quest for unique and musical tones out of my guitars and rig. If I had to make a list of the top guitarists who inspired me the most, it would most certainly include my big brother Greg Conte, Brian May, Steve Lukather, Robben Ford, Scott Henderson, Pat Metheny and, of course, Allan Holdsworth.

Chris Conte  |   Gear  |   Band  |   Music