Juan Alderete is a name that requires little introduction...
Long time effects champion and bass player with Big Sir, Racer X & The Mars Volta to name but a few, Juan has scored his name among the bass elite during his varied career.
His approach to using effects to create textures within music has been the subject of more discussion than almost any other bass player, with forums literally covered in threads dedicated to his set up. Thankfully Juan is more than happy to share his knowledge with everyone, recently starting his own website and forum dedicated to discussing pedals and how to use them. He regularly takes part in discussion and answers questions daily regarding his use and experience of effects pedals.
If you are even slightly unfamiliar with Juan and his music then go and check out his stuff...
Juan uses and endorses: Ampeg Amplification, Fender Basses, TC Electronic, Mono Cases & Straps, Hipshot Tuners, Ernie Ball Strings, Earthquaker Devices, WMD Pedals, Dwarfcraft Devices, Dunlop Music Gear & Picks, DiMarzio Pickups, Fairfield Circuitry, Maxon Pedals, Behringer Pedals, Mackie.
- Some of Juan's gorgeous sonic sound-scapes recorded in the studio with Big Sir:
- How long have you been playing bass & when did effects start to become a big part of your sound?
"I started playing bass when I was 16 years old. I think that is late for most musicians. I always had the interest but I think once you have friends who start to play, it inspires you to pick up and instrument as well.
Pedals came in to my mind around the time I started listening to Van Halen. Eddie used some effects and so did Michael Anthony. I knew I could start to evolve if I could just get my hands on some pedals. I think the phaser was the first one I bought and then a Roland Bass Preamp that had an onboard compressor. I thought that would get me the harmonics I was looking for without using distortion."
- How would you describe your live sound?
"Right now, it is different than it has ever been. I mainly use flat wound strings and I roll all the tone off the Fender Jazz bass 32" scale bass. I then put the pickups out of phase by turning the rear pickup down about a 1/4 and then the bridge pickup down an 1/8th. It makes the bass even more dubby and no high end. It sounds like the attack of a bass drum when I hit the string. It sounds good with Deantoni Parks' drumming. I try to get my rig to sound good with the player I am playing with and this sound stays off all the quick snare and hi-hat drum & bass stuff he does sometimes."
- What is your current live/studio set up (bass, amp & those all important effects)?
"I use a 1970 Fender stock fretless that has been modified into a P-J set up with Ernie Ball Cobalt strings. I also use a made in Japan Fender Jazz bass 32" scale with flats. I keep them safe in a Monocase double bass gig bag and always use Monocase bass straps.
Amps and cabs wise I use an Ampeg SVT-VR and an 8x10 cabinet when on tour. In the studio, I use my 1968 Ampeg B-15.
As far as effects go for this Mars Volta Euro run the pedal board looks something like this:
- TC Electronic Polytune Tuner
- Boss CS-2 Compressor Sustainer
- Dunlop 105Q Bass Wah
- Boss VB-2 Vibrato
- Boss PN-2 Tremolo/Pan
- Digitech Mulitplay Delay Sampler
- Vintage Electro Harmonix Bass Microsynthesizer
- DOD Meatbox Sub Octave
- Line 6 M-9
- Line 6 DL-4
- Sovtek Fuzz (2nd generation)
- WMD Geiger Counter
- Dunlop Bass Octave
- Earthquaker Devices Dispatch Master
- Electro Harmonix Ravish Sitar
- Earthquaker Devices Organizer
- Earthquaker Devices Rainbow Machine
This is all powered by a MXR/Custom Audio Electronics MC-403 Power System. I also have the following pedals on standby for the bigger pedal board in US:
- Dwarfcraft Eau Claire
- Wren And Cuff Pickle Pie
- WMD Utility Series Parametric EQ
- Behringer VM1 Vintage Time Machine
- Dwarfcraft Hax
- Wren And Cuff Tall Font Russian
- Amptweaker Bass TightDrive Distortion
- Fairfield Circuitry Randy's Revenge Ring Modulator
- TC Electronic Shaker Vibrato"
- Here is a recent shot of one of Juan's many pedal board set ups:
- And an example of Juan running one of his larger set ups:
- As you play and write music for a number of projects, does your set up and approach differ much between them? Are there any pedals that always make it onto the board?
"It always differs. The sound of the band or ensemble will always demand a certain sound to make it full. I always use the Boss CS-2 compressor but other than that, the pedals depend on the project."
- Do you write bass lines and then work the effects in, or come up with sounds you love and then build the bass parts into the songs around those sounds?
"I do all of that. Sometimes I have a sound that has effects and then that inspires a composition. Sometimes, the bassline will be there and I will go back and start thinking if I can make the bassline sound better with an effect."
- Some live footage from a Vato Negro set from the Fuji Rock Festival:
- You recently produced a ‘TonePrint’ for the new TC Electronic Shaker pedal. How does it feel creating sounds that others can take away and use in their own music? What do you think to TC’s new TonePrint technology?
"I like the concept and it was fun to do that. When they opened up the software, I told them to crank everything up because I don't care for subtle pedals. I wanted to see what the pedal was capable of. Sure enough, once they did that, it was super cool sounding. You cant get the stock pedal to do that unless you download the software."
- Aside from the TC Shaker, how much does modulation play a part of what you do and how do you use it as part of your music?
"Modulation has to do with my playing as much as any pedal. I use delays, synths, envelopes filters, ring modulators, sub harmonic synths, octave dividers, fuzzes, distortions etc. All of them are very important to the music I get to make."
- You don’t need to listen to much of your back catalog to hear that you are a fan of dirt pedals! Do you stack and layer the dirt to get your huge bass tones or pick the pedals as you love their stand alone tone?
"Again, it all depends on the situation. Sometimes, the music doesn't require a big distortion or fuzz bass. Sometimes it requires really grinding, high end distortion. It all depends on the music."
- You clearly put a lot of time and effort into finding all the nuances and quirks of your effects. Are there pedals you ever try that just don’t inspire you to spend that time with them?
"The new Electro Harmonix Microsynthsizer was pretty bad. I spent seconds with it and quickly realized that company's design was not anywhere close to the original idea. Also, chorus on bass doesn't seem to make it into my music much at the moment, but a lot of 80's new wave that I was into had it on so maybe I will come around to it."
- What pedals etc. are on your most wanted list at the moment?
"I really want a Maestro Ring Modulator but they are about $800.00 on eBay at the moment! That is still the best ring modulator I have ever heard on bass. We used it a ton on Bedlam, it is so thick and just takes over the sound. I love it.
Also, I really am looking for a great sub pedal. I love the DOD Meatbox but they are so expensive and they break easily. I wish someone would build a sub-harmonic synth octave pedal like that. I used to trip on the Ashdown sub that came on that bass head so I bought their octave pedal, only to be disappointed that it didn't sound like the one on the head and I am not a fan of those heads so I have to keep looking."
- Some of Juan's finest work can be heard with The Mars Volta. Check out this whole concert, it's a long video video, but shows off a huge range of Juan's sounds and textures:
- With so many pedals in the collection I assume you put some thought and effort into the cabling and powering side of things? Any hints, tips or recommendations?
"I only think of routing in terms of tone. I don't think about powering or ease of use or anything like that. The routing has to sound good and work for the songs I am playing.
Your best bet is to just see what gets you the best sound and then route accordingly."
- What's been the highlight of your last year in music?
"I really couldn't say. I guess every time I get to play with Deantoni Parks it's something pretty special. He lights me up so much. He just is so damn creative.
I had some beautiful shows with Lisa and Big Sir this year and some pretty great shows with The Mars Volta and ORLG. I am just lucky I get to play with great musicians and good compositions."
Go and sign up to Juan's forum and support his site which is a treasure trove of great information and a very valuable resource for musicians and effects lovers. Keep your eye on his projects and if you have not done so yet, pick up the Big Sir album - It's a killer record!
A big thanks from me to Juan for taking his time to answer my questions.
Thanks for reading!