Video: Jonah Parzen–Johnson on Using Electronics with Your Horn

When I first started playing saxophone with electronics, I spent months choosing the best pedals and synthesizer components. But as soon as I started touring, I discovered that electronics presented a set of logistical challenges that I had never considered.

I consider my electronics as much of an instruments as my saxophone. When you spend every night walking on stage in venues you’ve never been to, put your instrument on the floor, and then spend an hour stomping on it, contingency plans are a good idea.

Here are the tricks I’ll be using when I hit the road in June in support of my new album, I Try To Remember Where I Come From.

Your Microphone Is Part of Your Instrument

Most effects are really sensitive to what you put into them and aren’t calibrated with acoustic instruments in mind. They can do funny things when they get too much room sound or not enough of your instrument.

The best way to handle this is to treat your microphone like a part of the saxophone. I keep a Shure Beta 98H/C clip–on microphone in my case all the time and treat it like part of my saxophone setup.

Understand Your Gain Structure

Every microphone needs a different amount of gain to sound good, and guitar pedals can be very picky about what kind of signal you send them.

I use a Rolls MP13 mini mic preamp because it gives me phantom power for my microphone and has an unbalanced output that I can send to my pedals.

I also have a Moog Freqbox at the beginning of my chain, which can accept a line level signal. If you know your gain structure well and start with a strong signal, you can be flexible and make sure you’re giving the sound person what he or she needs.

One Instrument, One Line

In order to keep things sounding clear, I always have a dry saxophone signal in addition to my effects’ output. I’ve found that your set will go better if you combine those signals yourself, and send one mix to the sound person. You know better than anyone what the ideal balance is. I use a Boss LS-2 Line Selector as a really flexible wet/dry mixer with a very small footprint.

Bring A First Aid Kit

Broken gear can ruin your night, so I carry backups for my most important stuff. I always bring extra cables, power supplies, expression switches, a signal blender, and a backup Dave Smith Instruments Mopho Desktop.

Keep It Simple

Performing is all about presenting something you really believe in. If you’re distracted by some new piece of gear or a pedal you don’t really understand, then you won’t be able to focus on the show.

My number one rule is to only perform with things that you couldn’t perform without. If you really know every piece of gear you use and have a real relationship with the sounds you can make with them, you’ll not only play better, you'll have a lot more fun every time you walk on stage.

Jonah's pedalboard includes:

Pre–order Jonah's new album I Try To Remember Where I Come From on Bandcamp.

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