As I stumbled upon Vesa Sirén’s and Juha Metso's books of legendary Finnish band Sielun Veljet (known to some people abroad under the name L’Amourder) on my bookshelf, my mind went back to their tour of late 2011, which, I had thought back then, would become my last tour ever. In my mind, I had already bidden goodbye to the life of a guitar technician. I wanted to concentrate on expanding and further improving my all-encompassing Custom Boards family of products and services, but Sielun Veljet’s offer was – as they say – too good not to take up.
In Finland in the 1980s Sielun Veljet was a genuine cult band. Their eclectic output shocked and sometimes even divided their audience, but their album L’amourha (1985) firmly planted their songs in the collective consciousness of the youth. Any Finn of a certain age will be able to give you a rendition of songs like “Peltirumpu”, “Ikävä”, or “On Mulla Unelma”, which have gone on to become bonafide classics of Finnish Rock.
Sielun Veljet also tried to make an impact abroad. Calling themselves L’Amourder they played shows in Russia, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, and the UK. In Britain they went on a spectacular joint tour with the New Model Army, which could well have translated into some sort of international recognition, had the band not been as hard-to-pin-down and mercurial. This was a band for whom change was the meaning of life.
Their EP Ritual (1986) kind of stuck to similar lines as the successful predecessor, but by the follow-up LP Shit-Hot the band had already changed course, both musically and visually. This made Sielun Veljet/L’Amourder virtually impossible as a marketable franchise in the eyes of record labels. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though, as their international label was Music For Nations, who had also released Metallica's Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets albums. In 1993 Metallica still was interested in the band’s material, and they bought Sielun Veljet’s newest records when they played in Helsinki, before continuing their world tour.
Personally, I was a few years too young for Sielun Veljet. They weren’t “my thing” – instead I found their music and stage presence a bit scary. I can still remember watching the band’s show in my school’s gym. I sat in a corner, frightened by the aggressive boom and the flashing light show. It must have been 1985, and this band was simply too much to handle for a young Hurriganes- and Beatles-fan.
I MET THE BAND in Helsinki’s Kaapelitehdas – a cultural and media centre in an old cable factory. It was in October 2011, and the band had already had a successful comeback appearance at one on Finland’s largest Rock festivals. Now they were rehearsing for a string of upcoming shows. They were determined to put on a great show. Funnily enough, I had been working at the same festival (Ilosaarirock) as a guitar tech for Michael Monroe’s band, as well as for the Von Hertzen Brothers, but I hadn’t seen Sielun Veljet’s show. I had been too tired and worn out that I took the first train home from the festival. I had seen the band’s soundcheck, though, and their intensity and charisma had shown through, even then. There was a big buzz around the band because of their comeback. Here’s one of their “frightening” songs:
While the band went back to their rehearsals, I sat down with their technical engineer Santtu Sipilä over a coffee to take a good look at photos from their comeback show. In terms of pre-production, we agreed that I should make new pedalboards for the band, along with all the necessary cables. It also became clear that the band wanted to make their sound more current. Even though the band had tried hard to sound as ragged and offensive in their golden era, Sielun Veljet wanted the new production to feature modern sounds, without compromising on-stage intensity one jot.
Santtu pointed out to me that – in contrast to many other bands – Sielun Veljet held long and thorough soundchecks. For a technician this means that the only real “downtime” during the day would only be after the venues door were opened and before the gig begins, which really isn’t a lot. On the other hand, this band had only just returned from retirement, so the only place to go and work out stuff was on stage with their instruments. For the crew this would translate into longer work hours and less options to get ready for emergency situations. It’s very hard to fix an amp, while the band is playing. Long soundchecks would also make touring even harder on the technicians’ ears. But the band would be in the same proverbial boat with the crew, so I shouldn’t really complain. Before I left Santtu made it a point to stress that a huge part of the equipment on tour would be old, some even vintage gear. I should be prepared for lots of breakdowns and troubleshooting. To make my lot a little easier Santtu bestowed the title of “Keeper of the Tour” to me. I could hardly wait…
Ismo Alanko – a famous singer-songwriter in his own right – was the first on my list. He had been playing live shows regularly as a solo artist, which meant the service history of most of his gear was well documented. His pedalboard had been optimised for his last tour, where he had been changing between bass and guitar, depending on the song. I would now change his board around to get it ready for guitar playing only. I had also noticed some annoying buzzing from the board’s output, which I would have to stamp out before going on the road.
Ismo’s amp’s were a Vox AC50 Piggyback and a Swart Atomic Space Tone. Both amps would be running simultaneously, which meant the inclusion of a professional splitter box to prevent earth loops. The Vox would bring a fat bottom end, while the Swart would be responsible for delivering gritty mid-range tones. This had already proven to be a good combination, so we would be sticking with it. Here’s a picture from the Spring of 2011, before the band’s comeback slot at Ilosaarirock.
I noticed that one of the 12-inch speakers in the Vox cabinet was dead. This was because of a broken solder joint, and I reattached the cable in question in no time. While checking the AC50’s sound I notice the familiar crackling of burnt out power tubes. I cleaned all the contacts with contact cleaner, and now the amp sound really juicy. Because Ismo is very involved with his sound, I didn’t dare to swap the output valves without asking him first, but I still packed a few sets of my favourite EL34s as spares.
The buzz on the pedalboard turned out to be a faulty connection between a self-installed isolation transformer and a Neutrik "D" series jack. We quickly rectified the problem with a Radial switcher that was lying around in the rehearsal studio. Ismo’s board was hooked up in a very unusual fashion, so I took some time to draw myself a flowchart, before I would start remodelling the board. I didn’t take any photographs of the board then, which is why the drawing is the only kind of documentation I have left of the original set-up. The signal came in from three sources (A/B/C) that were sent to the effects using a Lehle 3@1 switcher box. At the end the signal is routed either to a DI box or to two different amps.
Jukka’s equipment had also been kept in shape regularly, which meant that my starting point was quite good. Jukka had brought with him a whole army of pedals and amplifiers, but his main amps were a Fender Quad and an Ampeg Gemini. Their sounds combined into a full-range sonic onslaught. Looking around the rehearsal studio I come across a genuine historical relic.
There was his old pedalboard, the same board that I had been allowed to use at Jukka Orma’s studio in the late Nineties, when we were recording there with my band. In spite of sentimentalities I decided to leave the old board home for the time being. In the picture below, you'll see the wild, but profession looking wiring underneath the board.
In 2011 Jukka was using a Vox Tone Lab multi-effect, along with some well-chosen analogue effects plugged into the unit’s FX loop. He was using the Tone Lab for all modulations and reverbs, while all gain-related effects were fed in from high-quality pedals. Here’s a shot from Ilosaari showing the pedalboard and related equipment.
Jormas set-up posed the following problems as it stood: I had to ensure a safe way of feeding the necessary power to his effects, I had to secure the signal cables to and from the amp, and I had to assemble all his pedals into a sensible pedalboard. We started with a short planning meeting at my office. Jukka wanted to keep the multi-effect separate, while the other pedals would be put on a board.
A week later I could deliver the finished article:
Jouko “Jokke” Hohto – the band’s bass player – had left active gigging behind him during the band’s long hiatus. On the other hand, his rig was much less involved than the others. Jokke used a classic Ampeg V4B head and two separate 4 x 12” cabinets – an open back Mesa Boogie and a traditional Marshall. He used two basses – a vintage Gibson and an Italian EKO. Jokke had had his instruments serviced before the comeback slot, so I din’t expect any great foul-ups.
I made a very compact pedalboard for Jokke, just large enough to hold his overdrive pedal, his tuner, and a DI box. We were going to carry two different model Ibanez Tube Screamers with us on tour, from which Jokke would select one for the show on a case-by-case basis. This pic shows you how Jokke sets up his Tube Screamer.
In the end, Jokke turned out to be the secret weapon of this band. The band wanted a bright, grinding and sharp sound for the bass, which meant that I had to make sure to have enough spare strings with me, so I could change a fresh set for each show. His forceful and precise playing – along with drummer Affe Forsman’s beat – would anchor the band’s time and basic tonality, so the guitarists were free to completely go off on different dissonant tangents.
For one number Jokke was playing a tanpura, so I had to make sure the instrument was tuned and well miked up. The tanpura was something of a dark horse technically, but it hit the right note for the song in question.
The first show was both a gig as well as the first time the band would play with their full tour PA-system. The day started out getting all the backline from the rehearsal space, and making sure we had all the necessary battery packs and rolls of tape. We hired a couple of massive guitar stands from Kiertuetekniikka, who were just what the doctor ordered. This would be the first time the whole production would be up and running, so the air was electric. This type of event always makes you feel that you have too little time to get it all done. A final day of pre-production can include the following for a guitar technician:
Just as I had been warned, the band really did a very long soundcheck. Orma’s amps didn’t sound right to him at first, and it took a while for the problems to be eliminated. Next up there were problems with Ismo’s guitar. His favourite Telecaster – his main guitar – had an intermittent pickup switch, which probably had already developed at the festival show. We decided that he would play the first show with a spare, and I would replace the switch before the next gig. Here’s a photo of the first – but definitely not the last – soundcheck of the tour.
And then the day turned to evening. A Sielun Veljet-gig is no place for the fainthearted. This is a no-holds-barred, no-prisoners-taken style of band. The first strings started breaking only a few songs into the set. The Orma took a leap onto his Ampeg Gemini, which crashed over in the same instant. Luckily I had taken extra care in securing the Lehle’s power supply with Safety Clips, which meant the music kept on playing. It was easy to see that copious amounts of acidic sweat would be a serious problem on this tour. The old guys on stage were sweating like crazy, and their guitars were already shedding strings before the second song was over. GHS Strings had been selected for this tour. We would be putting their strings to a gruelling test over the upcoming fortnight.
My day started with replacing the switch on Ismo’s Tele. Then I had to clean and tighten the volume pot on Jukka’s Strat. Jokke needed a cable with an angled plug for his bass, so I made one, too. I also had to equip one of the Tube Screamers with a DC-input, in order for it to run from a power supply.
Ismo’s Vox had been too loud at the first gig, so I double the cabinet impedance to reduce the output level, while still keeping the amount of power amp saturation Ismo needs. Jukka was still not quite satisfied with his sound. The missing piece in the puzzle proved to be a classic Boss SD-1, which I added to his board. The SD-1 was connected in front of the Roger Mayer Fuzz. Now Orma’s guitar sounds much better, and the new set-up allows his to clean up his tone nicely with the guitar’s volume control, despite what many guitar forum members would claim about germanium fuzzes and buffered pedals.
At that time the guitar and bass signals were still fairly clean, despite the high sound pressure levels during the show. There was a bit of buzz in the signal of Orma’s pedalboard, which I clamped down on with a quick fix – a Boss NS-2 – to keep the show on the road. Next I was faced with what was to become a recurring problem on this tour: Ismo’s beloved Gibson acoustic guitar was very noisy. I had two hours to go before the show, so I opened up the electronics compartment, gave all components a good clean, and finally re-soldered the guitar’s output jack. The guitar seemed to work fine – at least for now.
The first bad news at the venue was AC-power leakage on the stage. In the middle we had a leakage of 0.9 VAC from hot to ground, stage right it read 1.2 VAC, and stage left it was a whopping 1.5 VAC. The mains hum was dreadful enough for me to grab a Boss NS-2 and insert it into the bass’ signal path. The venue’s own technician managed to change the main power source, the leakage got significantly less, and things started to settle.
Next on the agenda were strap locks on two of Jukka’s Strats and the bass guitar. Then I had time to finalise Orma’s pedalboard by installing the SD-1. I also made sure I had the NS-1 close to hand, in case gain levels and singlecoil pickups were to throw up any problems.
Jokke and I tried out the EKO bass instead of the Gibson, for a change, and everybody seemed to love the biting sound of the instrument. At that point I was almost sure that the EKO would be picked for the remainder of the tour (I was wrong). Again, a lot of honing of sounds was in order. Ismo’s rig posed no obstacle, but Orma’s set-up needed a bit of readjustment of the Boss SD-1’s levels.
During the show Ismo clearly had some problems with his monitors. The venue’s own acoustics weren’t ideal, so there was some amount of difficult acoustic slap-back. During the set’s climax – a song called “Huda, Huda” – Ismo did a little Townshend on his guitar, which meant I would have my work cut out for the next day.
Great, I had to go hunting for a replacement guitar. A call to Kitarapaja in Helsinki during my breakfast gave me faster results than I had hoped. I even managed to find somebody from our entourage to drive down to Helsinki and retrieve the instrument for me, meaning: problem solved. My next focus were Orma’s guitar sounds. We went through the Tone Lab’s signal routing and all noise gate settings. Naturally, the Fender Quad suddenly started to malfunction. Banging my hand on the amp’s top helped me find the culprit, a microphonic preamp valve. The problem was quickly fixed with a fresh tube.
I had already unpacked Jukka’s spare amp from the truck, just in case. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the Hohner Orgaphon, which is quite an antique piece of work. Jukka played it for a while, and then quipped “Maybe it’s good for something”. I took the old amp back to the relative safety of equipment van.
Mad Professor’s main man Harri Koski came to watch the band’s soundcheck, carrying with him an armload of gifts. We managed to test a number of the pedals, and some seemed to hit the spot instantly. You have to say that, listened to under ideal circumstances, the differences between effect pedals can be enormous. Jokke’s TS had to make way for a Mad Professor Blueberry Bass Overdrive, while Jukka’s vintage MXR auto-wah is quickly replaced with the much fresher sounding Mad Professor Snow White Auto Wah. Everyone’s happy.
The show was hectic, as usual. Ismo managed to break off the input plug on Jukka’s Ampeg Gemini. This meant making a new cable, and removing the broken off plug from the amp using a set of tweezers.
I had to start the day by repairing Jukka’s cable snake, due to the broken-off plug. Then I noticed that, for a change, the Ampeg Gemini was buzzing badly. The amp’s back side revealed a strange AC-power hook-up using different connection strips. Not something you’d like to see on tour, but as long as it works…
My main objective on that day was to make sure that Jokke’s bass stayed in tune. The bassist turned out to be quite adept at changing the strings himself, so we swapped notes on the best ways to put on – and to stretch – fresh strings.
The way the guitars were constantly being mistreated on stage gave me headaches. I was afraid some of them might not last the duration of the tour. One course of action was to bring Orma’s spare Stratocaster into the picture. This guitar was equipped with a reverse headstock and no string trees, which meant I had to be extra careful when restringing the instrument. So I measured first, planned second, and then managed to put new string onto the guitar without any rattles in the top nut grooves. The strings even stayed in the nut during large bends. I checked the switch and pots, gave them a lubriation with contact cleaner, and declared the guitar fit for action.
Naturally, this show doesn’t pass without incidents either. Shortly before the start of the set the Fender Quad displayed some strange rattling or crackling noises, before settling nevertheless. Smelled like brewing trouble to me. Of course, the Gibson steel-string’s electronics start to cut out every once in a while during the band’s final number, but it managed to hang in there for the last few bars. This meant I had a few items to look into the next day.
Probably the best thing about in-ear monitors – from a tech’s standpoint – is the ability to quickly and clearly pinpoint the sources of problems. The in-ears give you a clear picture of any small troubles in your clients’ signals, and often the tech manages to take action, even before the audience become aware that anything is awry. I became ever clearer that this tour was not going to go through without some casualties. We were carrying no spares for any of the band’s amplifiers. I started feeling increasingly stressed and paranoid at being the guitar tech on a sold-out, high-profile tour, depending on four antique amps with no backup whatsoever. Running the Fender at full tilt wasn’t helping matters, either. It was only a question of time, until something was going to melt, blow or catch on fire. Here’s a photo of us dialing in the Fender’s tone on tour.
We started our journey by picking up a 1960s Vox AC30 at Backline Rental as a backup. More vintage magic. I also packed a bunch of plugs and jacks from my workbench. Arriving at the venue I first had to clean all the tube socket contacts inside the Fender Quad. Next I rearranged Jukka’s board slightly to put the new auto-wah into a more convenient position. As I finished up this piece of work I suddenly realised that the buzz we had been troubled by ever since out first gig had magically disappeared. The culprit hadn’t been the combination of the fuzz and the SD-1, but rather the cheap Spot 1-PSU that had been used to run the Lehle 3@1 switcher. I had forgotten to plug the wall wart in again, which had made the noise disappear.
This meant I could take off the noise suppressor pedal. Its spot was quickly taken up by a decent Boss-PSU, and the buzz was gone. Once again, my mistrust in cheap switch-mode power supplies had been justified. Strange I hadn’t spotted the PSU before. The was still a ground loop, but that was taken care off by the ground lift in the Lehle.
At the last show drummer Affe had complained about the state of his monitoring. As a possible solution we turned one of Ismo’s amps to face the drummer. This also reduced onstage sound levels, while giving Affe the pleasure of listening to the Swart’s great tones.
Back to the acoustic guitar to take care of the clicks and crackles I had head in the last show. I opened up the electronics compartment, again, gave everything a very thorough cleaning, re-soldered the output jack (again), and finally sealed the preamp’s lid with copious amounts of gaffa tape, to prevent sweat getting on the inside. It looked quite probable to me that sweat was the main culprit behind the crackles.
The gig started off just like normal, but about 15 minutes into the show things start to go wrong. I detect an acrid smell that seems to get worse by the second. I was placed stage right, when Santtu informed me that the Fender Quad was going up in flames. I pulled the Quad’s AC-plug and connected the spare AC30 instead. I noticed that the spare Vox was out of phase with the second amp, so the signal’s phase was turned at the next convenient moment at both mixing desks (monitoring and FOH). Over the course of the next number I managed to insert a Lehle P-Split to feed the spare. I switched the phase on the Lehle, putting both amps in phase, which made the guitar sound come alive on stage again, and the engineers both could switch the channel in question back to normal. The rest of the show went on without any further incidents.
On a positive note, Ismo’s acoustic gave me no troubles this time, but I was quite sure that I hadn’t seen the end of it, yet.
During breakfast I had googled for the nearest amp repair service, and found local company Soitinlaitehuolto J. Turunen. The guys there had had the clairvoyance of setting aside time beforehand, as they knew Sielun Veljet would be in town. Next on my list was local music shop Viiking Musiikki, who were friendly enough to promise to supply us with a couple of spare amps for the evening.
En route to Kuopio, Jukka Orma informed me that one of his middle pickup’s height adjustment screws had gone all loose during the last show. My first item on the agenda at the venue was the burnt-out Fender Quad. The stench was unbelievable. I did a row of measurements: the fuses seemed alright, the speakers were intact, the voltages going to the tubes seemed fine – this amp seemed like it should have worked, but the smell told a different story altogether. The repairman turned up and quickly informed me that the reverb circuit’s transformer had burnt and taken a resistor right next to it with it. A pro is a pro. Still, we had guessed – judging by the sort of smell – that the fault must have been with either a transformer or a resistor, which meant we were all sot of right.
Now I had to hurry up my backline set-up to make up for lost time. It didn’t take long, before Mr Turunen reappeared with the repaired amplifier in tow. Full marks for speed and service. I popped the amp section back into the cabinet and turned the power on. I had already detected a power imbalance of between three and five VAC in the power outlets of the venue. There was a lot of buzz – it was worst in Orma’s amp’s, but Ismo’s sound lost some of its signal in the noise, too. I tried inserting a noise gate at different points in Ismo’s signal chain, but to practically no avail.
This venue’s stage is rather short in depth, which caused Ismo’s Gibson ES-330 to howl with feedback. We had problems in getting the overall sound of the band to everybody’s liking. The show turned out to be so hot that sweat wasn’t simply dripping and spraying. The musicians were oozing sweat like a torrential rainfall. Microfibre swabs would not be up to the job – this called for full-on terrycloth towels on the guitars afterward. A new problem sprang up, which would turn out to follow us around for the remainder of the tour. Ismo’s Gibson Les Paul Junior sounded like someone had turned down all the trebles in our in-ears. I hurried to add some much needed top-end from the amp, but the sound remained far too dark. I suspected that the sweat-drenched string might be the logical explanation for this. Another item on my to-do-list. After the show I sent a message to Mad Professors Harri Koski and Jukka Mönkkönen, who promise to come up to Tampere with another welcome bunch of problem-solving tools.
I had been spending so much time solving problems in the sonic crossfire from the guitar amps and the drum kit, that I started feeling afraid I might damage my hearing. A friendly young worker got me a pair of ultra-attenuating 3M headphones, which finally managed to give my ears some time off during the band’s long soundchecks.
Orma was having a three-amps-day, as we checked out a fresh arrival to go with the well-worn Gemini and Quad. The Mad Professor MP101 sounded fantastic during soundcheck, so we were preparing to use it for the show alongside Jukka’s original pair. As a result of Ismo driving his Vox AC50 flat out, it had started losing a bit of its output power. This called for a set of fresh power amp valves, which I duly installed and biased with my TAD bias meter.
The Finns say that “eating whets your appetite”. Ismo wanted some additional kick to his guitar sound too, which is why we switched his old Tech 21 booster for a new Mad Professor Ruby Red Booster. I further added a Mellow Yellow Tremolo pedal into the signal chain, which can then feed both amps with the same tremolo simultaneously. Ismo’s pedalboard looked like it started to get its final shape.
This venue’s main problem are the strong magnetic disturbances caused by the generators of the railway station right next to it. The singlecoil pickups hum incessantly. Luckily, Santtu Sipilä owns Ampetronic’s great Field Strength meter, which allowed us to find the least affected “sweet spots” on the stage. The meter reacts like a pickup and detects buzzing 50 Hz fields of interference.
In the end the biggest problem of that show was intonation. Ismo’s Gibson LP Junior was especially badly “off”. It seemed like his new instrument didn’t want to settle easily into the life on the road.
This was a very rare daytime show, which meant a very early load-in. We entered the venue at 10 a.m., with the gig starting at 3 p.m. We lightened our work by listening to Brian Eno’s excellent record Music For Airports, which had been one of my favourites for some years. For the remainder of the tour this record would become the official intro tape.
If you want to experience the same harmony and contentment that we felt back then in Tampere, put on Eno’s record, before you read on. I promise, you won’t feel disappointed.
Jukka Orma’s comination of his Fender with the new Mad Professor amp had sounded great the night before, so we decided to stick with this combination. The Ampeg Gemini was relegated to backup status. A new day also meant new problems. I went through Orma’s whole guitar system with a signal generator, and hit upon a broken plug, which I replaced before it could cause any drop-outs.
Next up was the tricky subject of intonation. After some adjustment I managed to get the LP Junior in tune, and then turned my attention to tempering Ismo’s acoustic Gibson. The acoustic guitar was used for two songs in the set. One song required a capo, while the other number used open chords. I asked Ismo for the keys and the chords of both songs and set about sweetening the instruments tuning to fit both numbers. You could keep at this the whole day long; an acoustic guitar will never play 100 percent in tune, but you can try to get the most important intervals to sound as good as possible.
It’s a good idea to use a little EQ’ing in a noisy environment, when working on acoustic instruments. Sonic Research’s Turbo Tuner hadn’t been introduced to me yet, so I used a Peterson Strobo Tuner, with a TC Electronic Polytune as a quickly-reacting backup.
First on the agenda was improving the guitar monitoring stage right for Jokke. Because the Ampeg Gemini was now unused, we figured we could put it up stage right, so that Jokke would be better able to hear Orma’s guitar. This idea had to be abandoned right away at soundcheck. Even though we had managed to get the amp running without additional buzzes, it managed to mix up the stage balance too much, so it became a hindrance instead of a help. Jokke had also managed to crack his bass’ pickup during the last gig. I made a quick diagnosis and handed the bass to our driver, Pete Varoma, so he could fix it with glue. Here’s a picture of the tour’s technical engineer Santtu Sipilä (on the left) and renaissance man Varoma behind the steering wheel.
The guitars had spent a few days in the van at freezing temperatures, which had made their necks move. Both the Gibson ES-330 and the LP Junior had to be set up from scratch. I also noticed a crack in one bridge pin on Ismo’s acoustic, which I patched up as well as possible under the circumstances. I continued my foray into the world of guitar temperaments by dropping the acoustic’s low E- and the g-string by 0.6 cents. Now the guitar sounded much more pleasing to my ears. I got some of the thirds a little sweeter still by gently stretching the strings. The guitars were in great shape now.
During the show the temperature in a club always rises, which in turn influences the guitar necks. The Gibson acoustic’s strings started rattling against the frets, so I pinpointed the problem with my in-ears and did a quick truss rod adjustment right in the middle of the set. I had also detected the recurrence of the electrical problems, so I sprayed some contact cleaner into the jack and onto the plug. This did away with any problems on that front for the rest of the gig.
I had been a little behind schedule on that evening, but, even though I had been adjusting guitars to the very last minute, as a whole the show went down well. That time I only managed to update my setlist and the guitar changing cues during the first song of the night, which was highly unusual.
I have had enough of my never-ending problems with Ismo’s acoustic guitar, which is why I made a quick visit to Kitarapaja. I bought a K&K pickup as a problem-solver. Before travelling to Turku, I also visited Backline Rental to beef up the band’s bass contingent with two black bass guitars. After trying out for instruments with fresh strings, we picked Music Man Sting Ray.
Because the load-in didn’t give me enough time to install the K&K pickup, we also checked the spare acoustics we were carrying. We tried the Takamine, we tried the Seagull, but in the end we came back to Ismo’s Gibson. If an artist loves a certain instrument, he (or she) should play it. For some strange reason, the battered Gibson also seemed to sit best in the band mix. Besides, the hiccups I had encountered thus far weren’t of the catastrophic sort. It was more something that I could notice in my in-ears – but still…
IIsmo’s slightly nasal-sounding ES-330 needed something to spruce it up. I found the solution in a Mad Professor Little Green Wonder, which worked wonders on the guitars mid-range, making it push through the overall picture. This pedal made all the difference to the rhythm guitar parts for the rest of the tour, helping them stand out better. While I was at it I removed the booster from Ismo’s pedalboard, because it had proven obsolete. Now the board was one step closer to completion.
This time there were no neck gremlins in the guitar department. I had acquired a set of fresh bridge pins for the acoustic at Turku’s Soitin Laine, as well as sound-hole cover to stop any unwanted resonances and feedback. The Les Paul Junior, again, made a nuisance of itself by not staying in tune. And as if to mock me Ismo also decided to play the dreadfully dissonant thing for longer than usual.
As an aside, let me mention that that evening’s warm-up band were very inconsiderate. They left their drinks standing all over the stage, even managing to spill a whole can of beer right over Jokke’s effects board. What a bunch of f*cking wankers!
All change, all change. We started the day by test driving a new bass cabinet. We had been carrying a well-worn Marshall 4x12” with us right from the start of the tour. We had been having constant problems with feedback, due to the high gain levels of the bass signal. I tried to get the problem solved with the Marshall cab. At the same time I also swapped the bass head – Ampeg V4B – for its guitar version the V4. This radical change seemed to instantly bear fruit – both the Music Man as well as the spare Precision-type bass played beautifully with the new rig.
A few minutes before soundcheck I realised that I could turn Ismo’s Vox AC50 on. The culprit was the amp’s vintage AC-plug, which had been finished off by the winter cold. I always carry Kaiser AC-plugs with high IP-numbers with me, so I quickly installed one of those and the amp sprang back to life.
Even though we were carrying top-quality “guitar vaults” with us, the LP Junior, again, refused to settle when I pulled it out of the case. It was probably down to the below-zero temperatures outside. While all the Fender-necks stayed nicely put, the Junior had gone back to playing bow-and-arrow. Jukka started experiencing strange jumps in the output level of his guitar signal. His own guess was that it might be down to the Roger Mayer Voodoo Vibe, which had given him problems before.
Because of all the additional hiccups, I hadn’t found the time to change strings on Orma’s Strat, so he would be going two shows in a row with the same set. And of course: he managed to break half of his strings before the halfway point in the set. The Voodoo Vibe continued to be temperamental during the show as well. This meant I had my work cut out for the next day. I also thought I had heard the acoustic guitar crackle a few times, but if our FOH-engineer hadn’t spotted it, the audience would probably have been totally oblivious of this.
The Voodoo Vibe had become a priority: Using my signal generator I thoroughly checked Orma’s complete backline for the source of the fault. At first I could find anything, until I touched the Voodoo Vibe’s power cable – gotcha! The plug didn’t make full contact with the pedal. I opened up the Voodoo Vibe, checked all connectors, and made a point of securing each as well as I could. Fingers crossed that the problems the night before really had been caused by an intermittent power supply.
Ismo’s AC50 was running, but it also was emitting strange noises. I removed the active Radial box and replaced it with a passive Lehle P-Split. I also removed two unused pedals from the chain, while I was at it, and fed everything else through the Boss NS-2’s send and return. Now the signal was dead quiet. This gave us the final version of Ismo’s pedalboard, which served us well for the rest of the tour. In the picture you can see the labelling of the guitar inputs to Lehle 3@1.
Orma wanted to have his auto-wah moved right to the front of his signal chain, which meant I had to change the cable routing on his board. The bass rig stayed unchanged from the show before. To kill some time Ismo decided to change the strings on his Tele himself, remarking on how bashed up his guitar is. The wild stage antics of the band on tour had put their marks on the instrument. Finally I had the time to install a new output jack on the acoustic guitar. This seemed to have done the trick – yes!
For the first time on this tour I seemed to have a little extra time to fine-tune a few little details. I put some extra effort into getting the Gibson LP Junior set up and intonated correctly, which seemed to make a difference, finally. Despite my efforts, though, Ismo’s sound always seemed to lose treble, whenever he used the Junior. And Jukka’s Voodoo Vibe continued to give us trouble during the show. Shoot, this meant that there hadn’t been a problem with the power. After the show Jukka and I decided to remove the pedal from the signal path. The Voodoo Vibe simply caused to much trouble.
First thing on that day I removed the Voodoo Vibe from Orma’s board, rearranging a few little details in the same sitting. Jukka took his rig for a very thorough spin, and was happy with the results. Everything seemed to sound clearer and crisper. Jukka’s pedalboard had now reached its final shape, too.
A large stage means larger distances. Affe complained that he had trouble hearing any bass, so we set up a second bass rig next to his drum riser. We also set up the Ampeg Gemini for Jokke, in case he had trouble hearing Orma’s playing. This meant that at that moment I had eight amplifiers running concurrently, which is still my personal record for amp-chaining and hum-isolation.
The acoustic guitar, again, suffered some drop-outs during soundcheck, meaning it was back on my workbench. After taking care of all the restringing and tuning of the other instruments, I opened up the electronics again and checked everything, step-by-step with my in-ears. Now I seemed to have hit the jackpot. As I removed the main PCB, I realised massive booms and crackles, whenever I touched the cable coming from the battery compartment. There was the culprit, finally!
I replaced the connector cable and then secured everything with cable binders. This seemed to do the trick. There were no problems with the acoustic – or any other guitar – on that night. Well, if you disregard any tuning discrepancies caused by serious guitar abuse.
Again, we applied our massive eight-amplifier set-up, even though the stage was only half the size. No problems with the acoustic guitar. Jukka Orma took me aside and gave me a special workshop on the superiority of GHS-strings, which I will always remember. I can still remember how I stood there, face all screwed up expecting to be hit by a breaking piece of string, while Jukka bent the strings like a madman. Surprisingly, all of his strings stayed intact; and even more surprisingly, even after this amount of abuse, his guitar’s intonation was still spot-on. Here’s a photo of the final stage set-up that we kept for the rest of the tour.
The show started of like a dream – everything worked, everybody was in tune. That is until Ismo and Jukka collided in mid-air, banging their instruments into each other. Orma instantly busted three strings and lost all of his control knobs. Ismo’s pickup selector was bent into a strange shape, and there seemed to be guitar debris strewn across the stage. Still, the show went on, until Orma managed to fall over his Quad amp, which went completely mute. I swapped the cable for a new one, but the amp remained dead. According to my cue list I had to return to my post and hand Ismo his acoustic guitar. Luckily, there was only one number left in the set. After the show I took a closer look at the Fender Quad, and noticed that – for some strange reason – the preamp gain control was set to zero. The amp seemed to work, so I didn’t give it too much thought.
Like the – late and lamented – Nosturi in Helsinki, Tallinn’s Rock Cafe is a musician-friendly venue. The AC-cable on the Vox AC30 we hired from Backstage Rental turned out to be broken, and the Amped Gemini was buzzing once again. Looking at the instruments after our day off, it was clear that the strings were in dire need of changing. Even though it looked like a piece of scrap metal at first, I managed to bend the selector switch on Ismo’s Telecaster back into shape with some elbow grease and a pair of pliers. I changed the strings on any and all guitars that we were carrying, which meant I had no problems with boredom before the show.
The scene in Estonia was a bit rougher than what we had experienced so far, and a brawl broke out in the audience. Suddenly it seemed like almost half of the people we storming the stage on my side, but Pete Varoma stormed to the rescue, managing to calm everybody down. Due to the hubbub, though, I missed one instrument change (a first for that tour), which was very embarrassing, but not the end of the world. On the plus side, technical faults started to finally become a thing of the past.
As on cue, all of our technical problems seemed to have disappeared as we arrived for the climax of this tour – our five-night residency at Helsinki’s legendary Tavastia club. This makes for less to report. I had to install a new output jack on Ismo’s Tele, though, because the previous issue had come to the end of its life.
During Soundcheck the Gibson LP Junior started behaving erratically, so it got grounded for that show. How could it be that such a straightforward, simple guitar could give you that much trouble? Sweat? Moisture? I increasingly suspected the current guitar’s wiring, so we unearthed the Junior Ismo smashed in Lahti.
I transplanted the smashed up guitar’s pickup into the new Junior, and got quick results. The new pickup sounded far crisper and picked up much less hum and buzz. Did I really manage to solve this problem once and for all? This gig would be busy for me, as the set-list called for almost constant instrument changes. Here’s a pic of the guitar a Punk scene legend, called Wege, had made for Jukka, back in the day.
Tunings and temperatures seemed to stay relatively even. There was some resonance from the acoustic, but it didn’t become a problem. Before the last song I added the sound-hole cover, which cut off any remnants of feedback. The trade-off is a little bump in the mid-range frequencies. Still, the show went over a storm, and I already flagged down a taxi, while the outro tape was still playing. One of the good things about playing a residency in your hometown. Tomorrow would be the day that the whole tour had sort of built up to.
Finnish national broadcaster – YLE – had taken off the whole building. The show would be taped for broadcast at a later date. Because the area right in front of the stage had been taken over by TV-cameras, we placed Pete Varoma right in the middle of the cameramen. He would be able to keep things clean and orderly in that area, which made life much easier for Santtu and me.
With Sielun Veljet there’s no such thing as an orderly show; monitors get kicked out of place, microphone cables become tangled, mic stands fall over, sweat is everywhere, drinks get spilled, the list goes on and on. That was why we needed and additional hand at the front of the stage that night.
The show went fine that night, until, near the end of the gig, we started hearing some extraneous buzzing in our in-ears. Santtu and I guessed that Orma’s amps might be to blame, but we couldn’t do anything about it, until Ismo took off his guitar for the last number to sing solo. Turned out the problem was with Ismo’s amps. We muted the appropriate amp channels, and the buzzing stopped for the audience, but I had only seconds time to get Ismo’s rig back in order for the encore.
I checked the batteries of the transmitter on the Tele Ismo had handed me – the meters are completely dark. I quickly removed the strap and transmitter pack from the second Telecaster and put them on the other guitar. The seconds kept ticking away mercilessly. I made the cue just in time, and handed Ismo the main Tele with the strap and transmitter of the spare. My prayers are answered: The receivers showed the right amounts of gain, the noise was gone, and the show reached its energetic end without any further glitches. Thank god this show is over!
After the pressure cooker of the night before this evening could be called almost laid back. I went over the bass rig and all its connectors. I added more Safety Clips and used copious amounts of contact spray on all plugs and jacks. During the show Orma managed to break all of his guitar strings bar one during the song "Tuulelta Vastauksen Saan". The Telecaster, too, got more than its fair share of knocks during that evening. The electronics seemed to be hanging on by the skin of their teeth, with the pots becoming increasingly scratchy and noisy. From the video below, you'll see how the show get's hectic (0:59).
The final night of the tour. For good measure I decided to change strings on all instruments we were carrying. While taking a close look at Ismo’s main Telecaster I noticed that one of the pickups had become surprisingly squeal-y. Could it be that one of the hits had caused the coil to open up slightly?
There was no time to look into this matter any further, so we decided to use Ismo’s spare Tele for the last show. After a few little set-up tweaks everybody seemed OK with that decision. My favourite track, "Tuulelta Vastauksen Saan" was approaching on the set-list. I waited with slight fear what would happen, keeping my eyes on the guitarists all the time.
During the song the Tele’s neck pickup suddenly shot up and crashed into the strings. Its height adjustment screw had popped off. Because the second Telecaster was out of action, I had to get this instrument back in shape. I had one-and-a-half song time to take off the strings, reattach the pickup, put the strings back on, get the guitar back in tune and hand it to Ismo for the next Tele-number. The Junior and the acoustic both worked fine. Could this have been the only glitch?
It’s nice to succeed in life every once in a while, which is why the last moments of a tour are usually quiet hectic. Everything seemed to go on smoothly, until Ismo started making signs with his hands during the song “Huda, Huda”. I was already reaching for the unused Telecaster, when I got informed that the problem was with his monitoring. Phew, I’ve made it to the end.
THERE ARE all sorts of concert tours, but this was one of the ones I will always remember. The band really put their all into their shows, and I’m sure the audience never felt short changed, despite all the time that had gone by since the guys had first broken up. There was plenty of that old energy still present in the guys. There had even been talk of a possible new record and follow-up tour.
The band had released a new single to go along with this tour, and they had also rehearsed a couple of songs, which in the end would be released on Ismo Alanko’s next solo album. The new material sounded great, and I would have loved to have seen the guys continue, but so much had happened to the band members since the band had broken up. Times had changed, and the guys weren’t quite the same people anymore that they had been in the Eighties. In the end this last tour was where it ended for Sielujen Veljet.
For me this tour had been a unique chance to experience the band’s energy firsthand – something I had been too young for, when they originally came around. There couldn’t have been a better tour to stop my touring life with – or to put it on hold at least – than this tour.
28.11.2020 Kimmo Aroluoma
The writer is the owner of Custom Boards Finland. He is a veteran guitar tech who has toured for years with Finnish bands HIM, Amorphis, Michael Monroe, The Rasmus and Von Hertzen Brothers. Today he designs pedalboards and runs his own web shop in Helsinki, Finland.