I've been playing guitar for a little over a decade now, and singing for about as long. In that time, I've become a bit of a gearhead (okay, maybe more than a bit), and I'm always looking to find the most efficient and portable gear possible — especially since I do a ton of traveling for work, and sometimes it's nice to be able to bring some way of creating or practicing music with me. Here are some of the things I use daily, along with some bits from my forever-changing wishlist of new gear.
I'm on the go a lot, which means portability is a key factor for me when buying gear. I've grown tired of humming into my phone every time I have an idea that I don't want to forget, so having an instrument I can bring everywhere with me is amazingly helpful. I've also been taking a lot more advantage of plugins lately when I'm practicing guitar — I'm partial to my friend Plini's Archetype plugin from Neural DSP, which pairs nicely with a simple USB interface.
- Tiny MIDI controller: ROLI Lightpad Block M
- Pressure-sensitive synth: ROLI Seaboard
- USB guitar interface: Apogee Jam+
- A dependable, versatile interface: Focusrite Scarlett 6i6
- The interface I want: Universal Audio Arrow
- Wearable metronome: Soundbrenner Pulse
- Boom arm: Blue Compass
- Good entry-level microphone: Blue Spark SL
- The mic I really want: Shure SM7B
I rarely ever travel with my guitars, so in their stead, I love keeping my ROLI Block in my bag. It's a tiny Bluetooth-enabled MIDI control that charges and operates over USB-C, complete with pressure sensitivity and fun glowing lights that map out each note. The included software has a ton of customizable sound banks, so it's always inspiring for mobile creation.
ROLI also makes a great compact synth in the Seaboard. Like the Block, it's pressure-sensitive, and you can even glide across notes for a microtonal effect. I've been wanting a Seaboard for a while now, especially since you can magnetically connect it together with a Block or even another Seaboard to expand your creative options.
I keep a Jam+ in my guitar bag at all times. It's a tiny USB interface that lets you plug the 1/4" cable from your guitar to your computer or tablet to record the direct signal. It's great for practice, and with how good plugins are getting these days, you can even get away with using the Jam+ for recording demoes. This is definitely a must for any traveling guitarist.
Accessories for practicing and recording at home
For more stationary gear that mostly stays in my office, I don't have to focus so much on portability (even though it's still my preference). For most of my playing and recording, I run through an Axe FX II XL+, which handles all of my amp sounds and effects, but it's big and expensive and hard to recommend for a lot of musicians. These are some of the more conventional devices I've come to love (or lust after).
The 6i6 is a simple USB interface that works well in my office for both work and play. You get two hybrid inputs that accept either XLR or 1/4", along with MIDI and even SPDIF in and out around back. I leave my voiceover microphone plugged into the first input, and occasionally plug my guitar into the second for practicing with plugins. There's not much to complain about here.
When it comes time to upgrade, I've been looking into the Arrow, a Thunderbolt 3 interface that doesn't require an external power supply. It's built better than the Scarlett, has a better preamp and handy physical controls for features like a high-pass filter, and comes bundled with Universal Audio's amazing plugins — though sadly, there's no MIDI support.
Having good time is a crucial part of being a musician, and the obvious solution is to practice to a metronome. Soundbrenner makes my favorite metronome app, but the company also makes a wearable metronome that straps to your wrist, ankle, or torso and buzzes in in sync with the app. You can set custom time signatures and subdivisions, which I really appreciate as a pretentious prog metal guitarist.
For years, I've dealt with finicky, frustrating mic stands at my desk, and I finally broke down and got a boom arm earlier this year. It's been a great purchase; the Blue Compass has clever routing that hides your XLR cable, and clamps to your desk without having to drill any large holes (though you still can for better support). Seriously, just buy this and thank me later.
I never liked the way my old Blue Yeti sounded with my voice, so I traded it in a few years back for a Spark and my life's been better since. The Spark has a much lower noise floor (glory to XLR), and I really appreciate the built-in high-pass filter and -20dB pad. I don't love the included shock mount, and the tension knob is a little weak, but it's a great, reliable little mic.
The SM7B is widely regarded as being one of the most versatile must-have mics money can buy. Whether you're a singer, a podcaster, a guitar recording your cabinet, or a drummer mic'ing up your kick, there's not much the SM7B isn't good at, though annoyingly it requires a ton of preamp gain, and most interfaces end up needing a Cloudlifter to use it.
Work with what you've got
Ultimately, part of being a gearhead means that I'm never satisfied with my equipment for long; I'll always find something new and supposedly life-changing that I just have to have … but the truth is that you can make amazing music without any of this stuff. One of my favorite things about music is that you can be just as inspired by cheap or sparse equipment as you can by a room full of expensive gear, so find what works for you and get to creating!
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