Having up grown up in the storied musical center of Woodstock, New York, guitarist Michael Elsner has long held a reverence for achieving the classic sounds of his musical heroes. Since becoming involved in the entertainment industry as a songwriter and producer, he’s taken this knack for exploring tones, applied it to his gear from Kemper Amplifiers, and created music for projects like American Idol, The Voice, Hannah Montana, and High School Musical 2.
Dave Rieley from Vintage King recently sat down with Elsner to talk about how he uses gear from Kemper to create the many different tonal palettes he needs in his repertoire. Read on to discover how Kemper fits into his workflow in and out of the studio and how he utilizes pre-sets, modeled amplifiers and other features all on the same recordings.
What made you decide on Kemper?
For a working guitarist, it is, in my opinion, THE ultimate facilitator for getting great amp sounds. There’s no hassle of setting up a microphone chain, or driving across town to borrow your buddy’s vintage Fender Bassman. Every amp that you could ever want is right at your fingertips.
What made you choose Kemper over physical amps?
Well, the Kemper [Profiler Head] IS a physical amp. I think a lot of people don’t quite get that yet. I especially run into that when I’m playing live or out touring. Other guitarists, who just aren’t as informed about the unit, have no idea that you can actually connect it to a 2x12 or 4x12 cab and use it on a gig. In fact, I’d say I get more questions about using it live than anything else.
Live, I use it just like any other head. When I’m traveling in America, I always bring a 2x12 or 4x12 cabinet out on the road with me, and I always have a backup head. I power the cabinet via the power amp section of the Profiler, however Front of House gets their signal from the main output of the Profiler. So, the Front of House mixer is mixing the actual amp profiles from Kemper with the rest of the band, while I’m listening to that same profile coming through my own cabinet on stage.
Now, I’ve spent a lot of time touring internationally the last year and a half, and for that I just bring the Powered Head along with the Kemper Remote. I discovered that both of those units fit together perfectly in the Kemper gig bag, which will fit in even the smallest of overhead compartments on a plane, so there’s never a reason to check them. I just carry the Kemper gig bag with the head and remote onto the plane alone with a backpack. Those are my two carry-ons.
When I’m overseas, I always have backline provide a Marshall head and 4x12 cabinet. The head becomes the backup amp should anything ever go wrong with the Profiler, and then I just use the cab the same way I just stated. The only time I don’t use a cabinet on stage is when we are running in ears.
Regarding what I do when the amp goes down, it never has. I’ve had a few tube amps go out on me over the years in the middle of a show, but to this day I’ve not had any issues with the Profiler going down live. But, like any other amp out there, something can always go wrong, so I always have a backup head ready just in case that happens.
How has Kemper gear increased your creativity and workflow?
That’s a great question. The Kemper IS my workflow. As you know, I have multiple pedalboards and shelves of extra pedals and effects. The great thing about the Profiler is that, not only does it take pedals well, it also contains its own extremely powerful effects.
So, to put what I do into perspective, and how I use this in the studio, you have to keep in mind that when I’m writing or working on cues for a RC show, we are working at an incredibly fast pace. It’s not uncommon to have to get 15-20 cues done in a session. Granted, those sessions can last 10 hours or more, but that’s still an immense amount of work.
When I’m about to track a part, I usually think of what type of sound I want. Maybe I want an AC-30, for this part. If that’s the case, then I scroll to the V section of my list of profiles and start experimenting with all the various Vox profiles I have. Currently, I may have 30 or 40 different profiles from various vintage AC-30s. Within seconds I can find the sound that compliments the part. Maybe give it a few quick tweaks, whether that be dialing back the gain, or adding some EQ… maybe even dialing up a slight reverb and loading in a tremolo. That can all be done within minutes.
Once that part is tracked, I may decide to double it, but his time using a Two Rock amp. I just repeat this same process until I find the Two Rock profile that both compliments the Vox tone and sits snugly in the mix. After some quick tweaks and possible messing with some effects, that part is recorded and we move on.
This is something that could never be done before with this level of quality. Before I had the Profiler, I had a small studio in LA where I had one cabinet setup and I would constantly swap out various heads to get different tones. The problem was that the signal beyond the head was the same. Same cabinet, same speaker, same microphone, same mic placement, same preamp. Basically, the same sonic DNA was recorded with each pass. It worked fine, but when I listen back to those older tracks for the shows and films that I was working on at the time, there’s a homogenized sound to the guitars. After a while, I’d have to do some drastic EQing to get those parts to fit together with each other in the mix. I still remember times where I felt like I was going to pull my hair out trying to mix everything together and get it off in time to meet the deadline.
On these more recent tracks that I’ve produced using the Profiler, there’s this very diverse, open sound that the guitars have, which makes it much easier to get them to sit together comfortably in a mix. I really think that’s because each amp profile was created using a different cabinet, speaker, microphone, preamp, etc, so you’re not getting a buildup of the same frequencies from track to track.
So, to get back to your question, my workflow has simplified while at the same time it’s allowed me to be infinitely more creative with a much more professional sounding result.
This is really the only amp I’ve used for the last 5 years. I stand behind it 100% and like I said earlier, for me it’s one of the greatest inventions for recording guitarists. It’s light, easy to use, and sounds just as good as the amp that’s been profiled.
Living in Nashville, a lot of guitarists here are purists. They want the old vintage amp. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sound of that old vintage amp too, but I also like the freedom to take that vintage amp with me anywhere in the world. I like the ability to call up amazing sounding profiles of that amp at any time. I also like the ability to combine that vintage amp with, say, a classic Dumble, or maybe a modern Mesa, all in one song, live, during a performance.
Now, that being said, there are a lot of profiles out on the web made by guys in their bedroom sticking a 57 in front of their amp. That’s not a profile - that’s garbage, and it sounds like it. When I’m talking about the profiles I use, I’m talking about amps that were taken into a real studio, mic’d up with condenser and ribbon mics, run through outstanding preamps, etc. Basically, profiles made by guitarists and producers who understand what superior tone is.
You know, we started this conversation talking about how we were once neighbors, but since we’re talking about profiles, I’m fortunate right now that one of my neighbors, Michael Britt, creates some of the best sounding profiles out there. I have a few of my own proprietary sounds that I absolutely love, but the majority of the sounds that I use come from the Michael Britt Packs, most specifically the Dumbles, which I find I use all the time, on just about everything.
If you're interested in learning more about gear from Kemper Amplifiers, you can reach out to Dave Rieley to gain insight into how these modeling amplifiers and accessories can help revolutionize both your live and studio rig.