Singer-songwriter/guitarist Garrin Benfield, who splits his time between Brooklyn, New York, and San Francisco, California, when he’s not touring, has played countless gigs ranging from small coffeehouses to large outdoor festivals over the past decade (including several stints touring in support of Boz Scaggs). While Benfield used to divide his time between playing solo and fronting a band (as heard on his albums Where Joy Kills Sorrow and the live recording August Live), for the past few years he has perfected the art of building his own backup band on the spot, using a Boss RC-20XL looper pedal, while performing solo (his latest album, The Wave Organ Song, is also a solo effort). Benfield’s rig is a somewhat unusual combination of acoustic and electric gear. His main guitar is a Martin D-41, and if his travel allows him to bring an additional guitar, he also packs a Martin HD-28, which he tunes down a whole step. “I like the [dreadnoughts] for their low-end response as I’m setting up bass lines and for their propensity to feedback in a warm, musical way,” he says. “I’ve gotten good at manipulating feedback and keeping it under control; it’s almost like another effect to me.”
Benfield has used Sunrise soundhole pickups (with an external Sunrise preamp) for many years, because he finds that they work well as a foundation for processing his sound. “The Sunrise pickups interact with stompboxes very well, avoiding some of the quacky sound you sometimes get when you try to run an acoustic through distortion or overdrive,” he says. Even though his signal travels through a pedal board that includes a selection of standard electric-guitar stompbox effects, Benfield’s fundamental sound is a clean tone achieved by running his pickup through the Sunrise preamp and into his amp, a Genz Benz Compak 300 system consisting of an amp and a matching extension speaker. In an effort to create a full band sound when creating extensive live loops, he at times radically alters his sound with distortion, phasing, tremolo, etc. For example, he might loop a bass line using the octave pedal, overdub a clean rhythm guitar part, then play searing, electric guitar-style leads on top using distortion and other effects. Of his Genz Benz Compak 300, Benfield says, “At small gigs, I use this as my PA. You can plug a [vocal] mic in, and it has nice reverb. At bigger gigs, where I have monitors in front of me, I really enjoy having these two speakers behind me, so most of my guitar energy comes from there. With a little guitar also coming from the monitors, it creates a nice womb of sound.”
What He Plays
Acoustic Guitars: Martin D-41, Martin HD-28 (tuned down a whole step).
Pickup: Sunrise magnetic soundhole pickups.
Preamp: Sunrise SB-1.
Amplifier: Genz Benz Shenandoah Compak 300 CPK-10T amplifier with CPK-EXT10 extension speaker.
Effects: Boss RC-20XL Loop Station, Boss TU-2 tuner, MXR Phase 90, Boss OC-1 octaver, Boss TR-2 tremolo, Boss GE-7 graphic EQ, Boss DD-5 digital delay, Boss FS-5U footswitch (to control the DD-5’s tap-tempo function), Ibanez TS-9 Deluxe Tube Screamer, SKB Stage Five pedal board, Ernie Ball Mono volume pedal.
Strings: Elixir light gauge.