Roland Users Group
Since the mid-‘90s, Philadelphia’s Disco Biscuits have been one of the most successful groups on the jam-band circuit. Combining free-form improvisations with hypnotic rave rhythms, their pioneering “trance-fusion” style has brought the band both critical acclaim and a large, loyal fan base.
To create their unique hybrid sound onstage and in the studio, the Disco Biscuits readily combine traditional instruments with synthesizer and computer technologies. As such, it comes as no surprise that Biscuits’ guitarist Jon Gutwillig would seek the most cutting-edge creative tools available, and his recently acquired VG-99 V-Guitar System is already an essential component in his expansive guitar rig.
Jon is an avid user of BOSS pedals as well, and I recently chatted with him for a BOSS Tone Radio podcast. During our long conversation, we talked a bit about how he uses his VG-99, a device that he sees as “the beginning of the future for guitar.” The following is a transcript of that part of the interview.
To listen to the podcast, visit www.BossUS.com/Podcasts.
You use a VG-99 along with a normal pedal board/amp setup. Do you blend the VG-99 with your regular guitar sound?
Actually, it depends on what I want to do. Sometimes I run it separately—it has all the effects inside it that you’d want.
It’s got everything: every amp, every tone…
Yeah. And sometimes that can be a bit overwhelming! I have the [FC-300] foot pedal, and I can’t imagine using it without the foot pedal. I have it set up patch-wise so that the foot pedal always helps me control the unit in an optimum way. I can get to a distortion or all these other things at any point in time on the VG-99. So, I can run it alone, without anything else.
Do you mount the VG-99 on the PDS-10 stand onstage?
I had it on a stand. But we actually put it on my mic stand, because we thought it consolidated [our stage] look a little bit better.
The VG-99 has USB, so you can plug it into a computer. Have you tried doing that?
Yes. I really like that you can save all your [patches in the computer with the VG-99 Librarian]. I haven’t had any problems with my VG-99, but if I did, the fact that all my custom stuff can be re-installed into a new VG-99, that really helps me a lot. It allows me to really get crazy with my VG-99 and not worry. I actually think [backing up data] is essential in today’s world, and I’m glad [Roland provided an easy way to do] that.
I don’t think there’s anything like the VG-99 in the world of guitar; it can do anything you can think of. Do you sometimes get “way out” in programming and go into new areas you never thought of before?
Yeah, there are a bunch of patches that I’ve made. A lot of times I’ll start with one of the [preset] patches, and then I just start adjusting it and adjusting it until it sounds totally different. I’ll usually make 10 patches off of one patch.
I’ll just sit there and take the one patch and [adjust it to create variations]—this one should be lighter, and this one should be darker, this one should have a louder delay, this one should be quieter, [on this one I’ll] blend in some synth sounds. Basically, I just try all the different parameters, and every time I get to something good, I’ll save it. Then, I’ll either keep working on that new patch or I’ll go back to the original patch and work on that again.
I’ll just keep saving different patches and then go back and play through them and [keep the ones I think are really good]. Over an hour or two of patch making, some of them will be really awesome and I’ll put them into songs.
Do you have any favorite guitar models or amp models that you like? There are so many different guitars that the VG-99 models, including Strats, Teles, a Danelectro, an ES-335, and more.
I use a lot of them, so I don’t think I have a favorite. But I use the ES-335 and the Marshall stack in combination a lot.
Do you run the VG-99 direct into the P.A., or into a guitar amp?
I run it into a guitar amp.
In the VG-99, you can combine guitars. There are two different signal paths, and you can have, for example, a Strat on the left and a Les Paul on the right. Do you ever create stereo patches like that?
Oh, I do a little bit of that. But the more crazy and extreme effects are sort of where it’s at for me. A Strat on the left and a Les Paul on the right, it’s a pretty subtle effect…I’ve only had the box for a couple of months now, and [things like that] haven’t crept into my vernacular yet. [Laughs.] I’m sure I’ll get there eventually.
The VG-99 opens up new sounds and new ways to use the guitar.
Yeah. I’ve bought every boutique “weird-guy-in-Albany-that’s-making-pedals” pedal under the sun. [Laughs.] All those pedals, I’ve bought every single one of them. And I always end up throwing them away. There’s a drawer in the studio that’s filled with old, crappy pedals. [I have a problem] integrating them in a forward-looking environment.
The VG-99, to me, is like the beginning of what could be a massive integration of “future guitar.” Right now, it’s the beginning of it, the plateau is set, and the technology works. The question is whether it’s going to integrate in a way that people will find useful in the future. And it’s definitely starting to do that.
When I first started working for Roland, I didn’t know about the VG technology, and it just floored me. I first learned the VG-8, then the VG-88, and now we have the VG-99. With the VG-99, I watched the engineers in Japan as they were creating it, and there are many thousands of parameters that have to interact with each other for it to do what it does. Unlike some musical products companies that revise and remake the stuff they made in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Roland is all about creating brand new technology. They’re always pushing the envelope.
Yeah. What people made in the ‘60s was amazing…there are great guitars, but the future of music is this sort of “computer as an instrument,” you know? This [idea] has overtaken the entire studio industry already, and it’s taking over stage instruments now, too. The Disco Biscuits have three computers on stage, and only four band members. I’m the only one without a computer, and I’m running the VG-99. When I get the VG-99 home and have a chance to integrate it more with my computer, I’m going to be adding my computer to [the stage] setup, too, playing it through the VG-99.
It’s a very unique device. I really see the VG-99 as the beginning of the future for guitar, which is a dubious future because of keyboards, turntables, computers and all that stuff. Where does the guitar fit in? What’s the future for the guitar and the bass right now? Is it a keyboard? I don’t think so. I think it’s something along the lines of the VG-99 technology.
The trademarks listed in this article are trademarks of their respective owners, which are separate companies from Roland. Those companies are not affiliated with Roland and have not licensed or authorized any Roland products.