Gilmour, Guitars & Gear
David Gilmour: Plugged
In this column, I'll be examining Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour's gear and playing techniques from a musician's point of view. Please feel free to e-mail me with questions and ideas for future articles if you feel you have an idea that readers of Spare Bricks might find of interest. Past articles are now posted here.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to create a piece of equipment and then see it used by one of your favorite musicians? Tony Farinella is one of those people.
Tony is the founder of Evidence Audio. His hand-made cables have been used by David Gilmour over the last two years. These cables were used during Pink Floyd's performance at Live 8, the recording sessions for On An Island, and this year's tour in support of the album.
Tony has taken time out of his schedule for an interview about how his working relationship with David Gilmour began, what makes his cables so unique, how his cables are being used, and his view from behind the scenes of Gilmour's concert at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, California on April 19, 2006.
Spare Bricks: How did your working relationship begin with David Gilmour?
Tony Farinella: On the morning of December 20, 2004 I received a call from a man introducing himself as Phil Taylor and being responsible for the equipment used by David Gilmour and the band Pink Floyd. It was one of those perfect telephone connections, which sounded like it was coming from next door, so the only thing that seemed credible at first was the accent. But I listened. I mean how would this guy know about me and what I do in my garage?
Phil was looking for some flexible hook-up wire to use in a new pedal board project. Something built with audio performance as a design priority; yet something small and flexible as well. After an hour or so on the phone talking "audio" with Phil, it was obvious we both came from the same planet--the planet where people focus on the cumulative effects of dwelling in minutiae to result in meaningful upgrades in sound quality.
I had to admit to Phil that I did not have exactly what he was looking for, but I offered to send the "working bits" of my best signal cable for consideration. The "working bits" are the bits from the shielding and below where the action happens in a cable. The form-factor might be useable for his project--it was worth a try. I sent some of this material over for evaluation as well as an instrument cable and speaker cable while I was at it.
The cables were set on their burn-in device (I told you he was serious) prior to evaluation; the results of which I received in January. The results were positive and honest, similar to what everyone else hears when they pay attention to differences among cables. Phil then asked for a few more pieces for use in various places and for various instruments to help with the recording of a new project (which was On An Island.)
Then suddenly the Live 8 reunion caught everyone by surprise, and the next thing I know Phil is having me build quite a few leads (whoops... I slip into that British thing) cables for the stage setup for David's Strat and acoustic, as well as Tim Renwick's guitars. Things just sort of snowballed since, and for this coming tour we've had time to organize and for me to build cables for most of the accessible analog signal path between his guitars and the cabinets (including inside the cabinets.) The same thing was done for Phil Manzanera and Guy Pratt.
SB: How did Phil Taylor initially become aware of your work?
TF: I don't know. From the time Phil called in 2004, I still haven't asked, "How did you hear about me?" I figured I didn't really need to know. Phil and Pink Floyd have "find good stuff" superpowers and I kind of enjoy the mystery. Why spoil the fun? Many months into our relationship, Phil mentioned to me that he read the piece in the ToneQuest Report. I suspect that was how it all started.
SB: What do your cables bring to the table that separates them from others?
TF: Well it's more what they don't bring, really. It's my view that all cables are bad, it's just that some are "less bad" than others. My cables simply cause less signal degradation. They don't actually improve anything. It's mostly about understanding which variables in cable materials and designs result in specific, repeatable sonic effects, and deciding to use materials and designs that cause as little change to the signal as possible. My job is to make sure that what comes out of the cable is the same thing that went into it. My knowledge about all this stuff really comes from many years of dwelling in minutiae, something I wouldn't wish on anyone unless they have interest. Some people just like to enjoy the results rather than to go through the process. It's a bit obsessive and strange really.
SB: What is the difference between a good cable and a bad cable?
TF: A good cable gets the hell out of the way of the music. You forget about it. You play. You record. You compose. You smile, and explore, and express and stop thinking about gear! A bad cable is often not something you even recognize until you've used a good cable for many weeks and then switch to something else. Then you notice something isn't quite right. You might use a bad cable forever and never notice. Never care. Lots of great music was made before I was born and no one playing or listening complained about the cables they had at hand.
A good cable fosters inspiration for some people at the right moment and that is very rewarding for me. But most often, a good cable just makes a bad cable suddenly stand out when you go back to it, and wonder what is missing and changed for the worse. The brand names for this analogy may not be ideal for coffee 'snobs' (of which I am one) but for example: Folgers tastes pretty good for twenty or thirty years in a person's life until they have a cup of Starbucks. Now suddenly for the first time, Folgers (which was perfectly acceptable) doesn't taste so good.
SB: Do you just do guitar cables?
TF: I don't really do guitar cables--I do "Analog Audio" cables. It just so happens that the guitar falls within that bandwidth and as musicians, guitarists seem to have connected with what I do in an immediate way. I build analog audio cables for line-level signals, speaker-level signals, microphones, as well as AC power cables. I have a product road-map in mind which includes many other cable products, but to answer your first question--it is in fact a philosophy I bring to market more than a product. My current products, and all future products whatever they may be, are simply extensions of a philosophy about the way I want people to react to something with the name "Evidence Audio" on it. I want to make products that when people try them, they say "Wow I had no idea!" or "What happens if I play this chord, or try this riff, or play it this way?" That makes this very special for me, to live vicariously through everyone making music.
SB: What are the differences between an instrument cable and a speaker cable? Most would think a cable is a cable.
TF: Well in both cases it is just analog audio. The difference is the voltage and current level carried. The board cables are low-level or "signal-level". To generalize one could say everything before the power amplifiers is signal-level and everything after the amplifiers is "speaker-level". It takes an amplified "speaker-level" signal to move the mass of the speaker cone inside the cabinet to produce an audible sound wave. If you plug an un-amplified signal into a speaker cabinet you will find that the voltage/current is too small to move the speaker.
The connection between an amplifier and speaker is also low-impedance which means there is little resistance for the electricity (signal) to move between them. If you add resistance to the current in the signal path by using the small amount of copper found in a signal-level cable, the signal quickly turns to heat instead of moving the speaker cone, and the speaker's volume is reduced. Too much resistance equals too much heat and this could melt the insulation in the cable and cause a short. Bad news for amps! So generally, speaker cables have much more copper in them to keep their electrical resistance to a minimum. There is such a thing as "overkill" so more is not necessarily better. You just need to make sure you have enough copper in a speaker cable and then concentrate on using the right copper, other materials, and geometry etc.
Another thing with speaker cables is that you don't want to shield them the way a signal cable is shielded. Because the signal is amplified (large) it is inherently more resistant to commonly induced or radiated noise from the outside environment. You can get away with not using a shield. Shielded cables sound worse than un-shielded cables in a clean environment. In addition, the way a signal cable is shielded adds capacitance. Capacitance on its own is not necessarily a bad thing, but the right amount under the right conditions can make some amplifiers unstable.
So generally speaking, the ideal speaker cable will use more metal than a signal level cable, will not be shielded, and will have a 'twisted-pair' or helical or spiral geometry, which balances capacitance and inductance rather nicely.
The ideal signal cable will not worry about having a lot of copper but 'just enough' for the application and will be shielded to protect the signal which is more susceptible to noise.
There are other differences that I find related to insulation materials. Speaker level signals don't seem to require insulation materials with exceptional dielectric constants or coefficients of absorption (rates and ways the signal is stored and later released back into the conductor.) The bigger priority seems to be holding the conductors physically rigid to reduce electro-magnetic movement of the conductors, which keeps the signal, and field it travels though, stable and consistent.
Since you can hear improvements with better insulation material in signal-level cables, the priority is to use them (spend the money on them.) In fact, the insulation material I used on my signal level cables measures better than the material in my speaker cables, but it sounds worse in a speaker cable. Some science. Some art.
SB: How did the idea of directional cables develop?
TF: Again some science, some art. With cables, I have my reasons for preferring the sonic properties of a solid-core conductor of a certain size. I don't like the sound of braided shields by comparison; so I don't use them to carry the signal. In addition, there are theoretical advantages with regard to noise reduction by using a twin-ax design. A twin-ax cable uses two conductors to carry a signal underneath a shield, which is used to pick up any interference, and bleed it to the ground on one of the two "things" it is connecting. The goal is to connect the shield to the end of the "thing" with the lowest ground potential.
Between a guitar and amplifier (or the like), this is most definitely not the guitar, so the signal is connected at the other end. My cables are uni-directional in this regard and marked as such to help people hook them up with the shield attached away from the guitar.
Where it gets strange is trying to explain directionality in cables that are not shielded such as with speaker cables. I only have pet theories here. Copper develops a directional pattern when drawn from a rod to a small conductor size. The copper grains develop a "chevron" shape, which is clearly visible under a microscope. The shape is similar to these characters ">>>>>". One idea is that perhaps when the grains align in one direction versus the other, on some level there is a diode-rectification effect caused by the impurities between these grain boundaries, and as such, the conductors exhibit better Radio Frequency rejection in one direction versus another. I'm not smart enough to prove or disprove anything in this regard; I just listen closely to things and if something is demonstrable to me and to others, on a repeatable basis, what the heck, might as well pay attention.
SB: I can imagine that April 19th is a day you won't soon forget. What memories will you take from that day?
TF: Many memories. It was pretty surreal, like I was in someone else's body walking around on stage where Phil Taylor had assembled (with help from others) all the tools for what was about to be a pretty big event for people. Very routine for him I'm sure, but I don't leave the house much. There were a lot of moving pieces in the air for just a few hours of music to take place later on that night. I type. I solder. I type. I solder. These guys do impressive things.
One memory I'll take from that day: I was chatting with someone and Phil walked up to us wearing the black Strat--tuning it up. Phil put his thumb under the strap, pushed it out a bit and told us the story behind it, a gift to David from his wife Polly for his 60th birthday. The previous occupant of the guitar strap was Jimi Hendrix.
The guy I was with reached out and touched the strap and said "Wow, I touched the strap worn by Hendrix!"
I was too intimidated, so I touched the guy I was with on the shoulder and said, "There--I've touched a guy who touched the strap worn by Hendrix."
Phil walked away back to the stage just shaking his head at us like we were morons. At least I thought that was the look on his face. I felt like a moron anyway. That made me laugh and I won't forget it.
Then there was the show.
One thing that impressed me is the obvious and profound respect these guys have for the music. During "Echoes", the quiet part before breaking back into the closing verse, they were on stage in almost a, "bow your head for a moment of worship" posture. These guys were making a sacrifice to the gods of music. The band was a collective, in a moment of silence, before they ripped into the closing feast.
It took a full week for the music from that night to stop playing in my head. It was a really moving experience to hear some of the most important songs in history played as if this was the first and last time they would ever be heard. These guys played in the moment, and at the moment, nothing was more important than serving the music.
The music was also served incredibly well on a technical level. The sound was so good that I didn't pay attention to the sound. The instruments and their sound were dialed in so well that it stripped a million miles of travel between the soul of the music and the soul of the audience. Most amazing.
I guess if you've seen Pink Floyd before this isn't news or surprising. But I was a virgin and despite all high expectations I was still blown away. I was hoping for a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I got it.
SB: Did you have an opportunity to meet Gilmour?
TF: No. Well, I suppose I had an "opportunity" as the artists were all around for the sound-check--but I wasn't there for that and it would have been crossing a line to force an introduction. I work for Phil Taylor. If Phil ever deems it productive to make an introduction, then that might be nice. But I don't have anything to tell David he hasn't heard a billion times before.
SB: Did you see the soundcheck?
TF: Yes! I almost missed it due to stupidity. Phil said "If you like, hang out over there for soundcheck taking place in a few minutes." I went. I waited. I watched Phil and a few guys play a few instruments, and the console guys turn a few knobs. It was cool. The empty theater, the testing of laser lights, hearing the track of screams from "Speak To Me" played through the PA that cues up "Breathe". Something routine and tested day after day for decades, but it still gave me goosebumps. I've heard those screams many times listing to my stereo, but this was a stereo that got inside you.
But that was over so I went backstage to find the exit. That was a challenge. I wandered around the hallway while the artists were arriving, trying to find my way the hell out of there. Paper was pasted all over the walls to direct traffic: "Crew Showers", "David's Dressing Room", "Press Room", "Management", etc. with nothing about how to actually leave, just lots of horribly wrong places for me to wind up.
When I arrived earlier, Phil had introduced me to Syd Price [who works for Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd and many others] caring for Guy Pratt's gear, and Steve Prior is caring for Phil Manzanera's gear [Prior works for Jeff Beck and Brian May.] Syd now finds me standing lost, but took a moment to find another visitor to introduce me to, who might be helpful as a business contact. Totally unexpected. An "out of the blue" thoughtfulness from someone I just met that made a big impression on me.
So, as I'm talking with this new person he asks me if I'm staying for the soundcheck. I say, "I thought that was it and I'm just trying to get out of here for some dinner." He said "No, that was a LINE-check. The soundcheck is when the band actually plays a few songs and that hasn't happened yet. Even David Crosby and Graham Nash are here for the soundcheck as they'll be with the band tonight."
Needless to say, I went back to the spot Phil directed me to earlier, very thankful for my education to the difference between a sound check and a line check. (Like I said, I don't get out much.) I watched the band come on and play "Arnold Layne", "Breathe", "The Blue". Wow. Chills. I could have gone home at that moment blown away, and the concert wasn't on for another 3 hours.
It was very memorable. I can retrace my steps through the day and evening, which was filled with amazing impressions. To feel impressionable is to feel a certain, well I don't know, it's the other side of the coin to cynicism and a refreshing experience for me that I don't seem to stumble across much as I get older.