When we started playing together, our gear was pretty ghetto. Travis had a Mako copy of a Stratocaster that had been thrown off a bridge at one time in its history; his amp, an old MusicMan head, was paired with a 4x10 cabinet that had perennially frozen casters and window screen for grille cloth. Eric had a rundown Hondo bass that he had played in college, along with a solid state Fender BXR bass amp (the BXR eventually became our longstanding keyboard amp). I had a puke green Stratocaster and a godawful-sounding solid-state Fender amp. Steve, our drummer at the time, had an old Ludwig kit that was barely hanging on. Our old Casiotone organ was missing several buttons, and the ones that were still in place worked only occasionally. We borrowed a trombone from Eric's sister for One Too Many Blows to the Head.
The songs Fantastic and OK, Joke's Over on our first record feature Travis playing a guitar with the bottom four strings tuned to C (E and A to a low C, D and G an octave up). The Mako was reserved for C guitar service when Travis bought a Gibson L6, which ended up being his primary guitar for several years. He modified the electronics in the Mako partly in an effort to prolong its life, but it did finally kick the bucket, and was replaced by a Vantage copy of a Gibson ES series guitar set up for C guitar use. Not long after the Vantage came along, we played Fantastic less and less at shows, and Travis began detuning his regular guitar to play OK, which eliminated the need for an extra guitar. I eventually upgraded to a MusicMan Silhouette and a Marshall JCM 800 with a 4x12 cabinet. Eric moved up to a Fender Jazz bass and a Dave Eden head (that seemed to be in the shop as much as not). After he bought the L6 Travis traded the MusicMan head and his cabinet for a Peavey Classic 50.
The trombone was ripped off by a crackhead, which struck Blows from our live sets until our last tours, when we revived it a few times with trombones that kids brought to some of the shows. When Joe joined the band after Steve left, he brought a a set of Yamaha Maple Customs with him that, aside from some hardware replacements and upgrades, remained his primary kit until the band ended. The smartest gear purchase the band ever made was our sampler, an Emu esi-4000. The first thing we did was sample the Casio sounds that we were already using live--and then things mushroomed from there. We sampled other keyboards (including the first two controllers we used for the sampler, a Roland JX-1 synth and a Yamaha Portasound synth), sounds from sound effects generators,
movies, records, guitars, our own voices, basically anything that was handy. I remember being out in the garage not long after we bought the esi, dropping different wrenches onto the concrete floor and sampling the sounds they made. In the last year of the band, we experimented with a laptop sampler. It was bleeding-edge technology, but for the most part we made it work.
It was all built around a Compaq 2800T laptop. The MIDI information went through a Steinberg USB MIDI interface and then into Cubase, which was running a Steinberg soft sampler called Halion. The audio then went out through an Edirol 16-bit USB sound port. A key element was a third-party ASIO driver for the Edirol, written by a company called USB-Audio, which did a heroic job in reducing latency between playing and hearing.
Live soft-sampler playing from a laptop iwas not quite a no-brainer. Most shows were fine, but you don't want to have to think about it at all. We switched back to the trusty ESI-4000 for the last tour, since we'd stopped playing new songs that were developed with the laptop; It was, we thought, mature technology that wouldn't stress us out. (Then the ZIP drive started failing in Japan. Just goes to show.)
After the sampler purchase we continued to make improvements to our individual rigs. I started playing Schecter guitars and stuck with them through the end of the band (and, after putting up with the many flaws of an annoyingly unreliable Groove Tubes amp, bought a small Marshall tube combo that I stayed with til the end). Eric eventually gave up on the Eden and the Jazz bass and replaced them with an Ampeg SVT-II Pro and an older Precision bass. Travis started using Peavey Classic 30s instead of the 50, and switched to my old MusicMan guitar for a while until it was replaced with an SG. During the majority of the shows we played during 2003, he used a new Gibson Melody Maker and a Fender Blues Jr. When the JX-1 finally needed to be put down, we attempted to replace it with a Fatar that didn't work correctly, and eventually bought a Midiman Radium that we used during the last few tours. Travis' controllers went through various iterations as well, but the majority of the time he used Yamaha PSS series keyboards. We also used a laptop running Halion through Cubase as our sampler for while, but reverted to the esi-4000 for our final tours.
Pedal-wise, the only real signature sound we used was Travis' Boss Pitch Shifter/Harmonizer for the keyboard delay and modulation for Girl O'Clock. I used various pedals over the years, finally settling on Ibanez TS-series pedals, a Z. Vex Fuzz Factory, a Line 6 Delay Modeler, a wah, and an EQ. All three of us used Boss tuning pedals for the last half of the band's existence.
We did quite a bit of home recording. We did the classic exponential ascent from two tracks (crappy boomboxes) to four tracks (a Tascam 424) to eight tracks (Tascam again) to computer. There were two computer environments: a 400Mhz tower running Cakewalk 8.0 and then a 2.4Mhz Dell running Cubase VST. We had an eight-in, eight-out Delta 1010 breakout box that ran with both. Both computers were running Windows.
Most of our equipment choices were driven by a combination of convenience, other musicians' advice, the desire to streamline our setup to the most reasonable extent possible, and, probably above all, our tendency to want to experiment with different sounds and textures--regardless of how asinine the initial results were, regardless of who told us not to try (no matter how sensible their reasoning may have seemed at the time), and occasionally despite each other's reservations or impatience. In retrospect those episodes of experimentation resulted in some of our best work.