At some point last year, I was scrolling through Instagram and stumbled upon a unique account titled “Trey99rig.” I was immediately intrigued as I read the posts which had an incredible amount of detail and thought put into them. Was this guy really going to recreate Trey’s actual rig from over 20 years ago? If so, how would it be possible?
I began following the account and soon realized that Mr. Trey-99-Rig was actually my old friend Tyler! We‘ve known each other since the early 2000’s when we used to catch every RANA show we could at venues like The Wetlands, The Knitting Factory and CBGB’s. Fast forward a few decades later and here we are still in the game of live music meaning so much to us.
Tyler has always been very tech savvy so I knew that if someone could make this project happen it would be him. Safe to say he succeeded admirably! I was lucky enough to hear the rig in person and it really does capture the sounds of that era perfectly. Not only does it have the tone, it has the power!
I also wanted to mention the elephant in the room of the costs associated with this project. No, it is not cheap, but this was all purchased with hard earned money and not a trust fund of any sort. This is one guy’s laser focused vision that others might be interested in learning more about so might as well get it all down on paper. It’s a fun and inspiring story and goes to show what’s possible in recreating part of the live experience of our favorite band.
PS - if you want to watch a complete Rig Rundown you can do so here.
For starters, why ‘99? What stood out to you about this year as opposed to ‘94 or ‘97 or something more recent?
To me, 1999 was the peak of Trey’s overall tone and tasteful usage of effects. He was using a modified 60’s era Fender Deluxe Reverb combo amp as his main sound, often blended with a modified Leslie speaker head unit. He seemed to have juiced up the signal to the Leslie starting in the first TAB trio tour in May 1999 so it added a whole new layer to his overall tone that year that is unmistakably “1999”. Some have called it the “laser tone” and I fully agree with that description.
Technique and effects-wise, 1999 was also a pivotal year for Trey. It’s really the year he stepped out of the Phish bubble to pursue true solo material in earnest. The entire first half of the year is a brief stint with Phil Lesh and Friends in April then the TAB trio’s initial run of shows in May. That TAB tour only being a trio (bass/drums/guitar) forced Trey to fill the space that would normally be taken up by a piano or another guitarist. He was almost using Russ and Tony as his own (incredibly effective!) bass+drum machine while he did loads of heavy lifting all around them. He really had to step up the use of some of his old mainstays, so the DM2000 rack delay and Boomerang Looper pedal were used to great effect for loops and layering.
If you want to see an example, check out the “Gotta Jibboo” video from 5/6/99 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBIw0IrAypM) and just watch the absolute clinic he puts on. You can clearly draw a line from that Jibboo in May all the way to the transcendent “Quadrophonic Toppling-ish” Jam played out of Sand in the wee hours of January 1st, 2000 at Big Cypress a mere 7 months later.
April/May was basically Spring training for Trey to try out some new tunes, and craft some new techniques, all of which he brought to Phish for Summer tour. Phish also changed their stage set up for the first time since the early 80s that year, moving Fishman to the center and Trey out to right which seemed to mimic what Trey liked about the initial TAB setup. Bass and drums were together in the center and they were able to lock into grooves in a new way in ‘99.
Was the plan always to do a complete replica or did it start out smaller and begin to take on a life of its own?
It was a COVID stuck-at-home project that initially started out like most Trey style rigs out there. “How can I achieve the classic Trey sounds with more modern/smaller/cheaper gear.” I was looking into pedal based switchers, univibe clones, Ross clones, etc. Basically, how can I get that whole rig into a single pedalboard and amp.
I knew I was getting the guitar in early 2020 and being stuck at home, like a lot of fortunate people who had the time, started rummaging through old boxes and found some of my guitar gear I had collected over the previous decade. Cheap multi-effects pedals, some clone pedals I had built, a Line6 DL4, a solid state Fender amp. Stuff like that to just play around with.
I started thinking “Well, a Langeudoc guitar is probably the rarest and most expensive piece of gear in Trey’s rig and I have that locked in, how hard could the other pieces possibly be to get?”
So that sparked the basic premise of could someone with enough wherewithal, time, and disposable income recreate essentially what Trey had on stage at Big Cypress. I had been paying attention to Trey-centric guitar rigs people had shared online for many years, but in my mind, no one had really fully pursued a complex specific rig like this in such detail. So I figured I’d give it a shot! Once I discovered Reverb.com, it became a slight addiction to sourcing every piece I could along with eBay.
Where did you start with your research?
It really started in the Summer of 1995 when “A Live One” came out and I had yet to see them live, but I studied that amazing booklet that came with the CD set. For anyone who hadn’t yet seen them live, that photo book was basically an encapsulation of the unique nature of Phish shows, almost like an advertisement. It was only a few months later when I caught my first show a few months later - Hershey 12/1/95 - at a mere 12 years old.
Trey’s blonde guitar stood out to me in those A Live One photos. It was shaped and sized like a classic rock guitar, but looked like a violin or something. And obviously Trey’s playing of said blonde guitar put it over the edge as just a magical and wholly unique instrument to me.
For those who remember, there was a lot more rumor and speculation about Trey’s amps/guitars/effects back in the rec.music.phish/phish.net dial-up days so the only info you could find were in guitar magazines. I have very vivid memories of listening to Phish shows with my high school friends in the late ‘90’s and talking about how he achieved certain sounds or effects but could never fully confirm what we thought.
It wasn’t until they came back in 2009 where there was obviously a lot more photography and video of the band out there online with the proliferation of smartphones and Phish’s own increase in online media (Facebook, Youtube, Instagram). That’s when I really started paying more attention to rig related stuff such as knowing which Languedoc was which (ie ‘96 Koa vs the ‘02 Koa Languedocs) or what amp Trey was using on a given tour.
There was also a great site I spent a lot of time on in the mid to late 2000’s that actually just came back online called Strangedesign.org. It had a fantastic user forum that had a lot of good discussion and technical talk about all of the eras of Trey’s rigs, as well as a gear/price rundown for each piece of gear in the 2003-2004 era rig provided directly by Trey’s then guitar tech Brian Brown. That was all invaluable information because I never would have known what a Custom Audio Electronics ISO-1 isolation transformer was or how the guitar signal was split between the amps. Stuff like that.
So really it was years of reading various online fact/myth/speculation tidbits on various Phish sites, strangedesign.org, and buying every guitar magazine I could on eBay from the 90s that had a feature on Trey/Trey’s gear.
I also have to say, there are have been a ton of myths/theories/speculation out there online for years about the core of the signature “Trey Anastasio tone” and I figured it would be fun to take on a more scientific approach to seeing how all of the parts come together to create it and also understanding the fundamental reason why he used the gear he did.
It’s also great that in the last 5+ years (after he had to do so much research for the Fare Thee Well shows), Trey has been very open and excited about talking about his various modern rigs that he’s gone through. He’ll go into detail on gear and the approach to his overall sound. But you didn’t really have any of that in the 90s to pull from. The Guitar magazine interviews he’ll talk in passing about a certain rig choice, but there are huge gaps. Like for example, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him mention the 1995-1997 period where he switched to a Custom Audio Electronics preamp and Groove Tubes power amp setup. Or even why he switched to the Fender amp in Fall ‘97.
I’d be super curious to see what he remembers about those distinct eras and why he and Brian made the choices they did. There were really only three eras in 1.0 Phish. The original Mesa/Boogie amp days up to 1994. The CAE+Groovetubes era of 1995-1997. And the final Fender Deluxe Reverb era from Fall 1997 to Fall 2000.
But one of the cool things about having amassed a good amount of the same gear he used, you can also assemble older rig setups. For example I can use the same little pedalboard with the compressor, volume pedal and tubescreamers, run that into the Mesa Boogie head and out to the two replica Languedoc speaker cabinets I built and that’s essentially his 1993 setup. Doing that also helps understand the evolution of his sounds through the 90s.
Who have you spoken with that had first hand experience with the 99 rig? What kind of information were they able to provide that you were missing?
Really only two people, Bob Bradshaw who owns and still runs Custom Audio Electronics (CAE), and Paul Languedoc, Phish’s first official crew member, former FOH engineer, and world class luthier.
Most CAE rigs are built for a specific rig and have some custom stuff and programmed a certain way for specific players, so I had to basically reverse engineer what Bob or whoever at CAE had built out 25+ years prior. And it also meant I had to find all vintage 90s CAE gear which have all been long discontinued and are semi-difficult to find in the used market.
I’m a very technically minded person so I could get most of it working on my own, but I definitely had to reach out to Bob for more specific questions like “How can I modify a prebuilt MIDI cable pinout to make these two pieces of gear talk to each other?” or “This piece of used gear I bought didn't come with a power supply, can you recommend one that will work so I don’t plug something in and end up with burning electronics and blue smoke coming out of this thing?”
As for Paul, I don’t think he had worked on Trey’s rig directly very much even by the early-to-mid 90’s era for Phish, but he did give me a few little tidbits, including how he believes he had wired up the original 2x12 plywood speaker cabinets that I recreated.
They are both incredibly kind and smart guys and I generally felt like I was asking stupid questions and bothering them, but they were both super cool and helpful. Very appreciative of their time and help.
The key people I’d still love to talk to are obviously Trey and Brian Brown. Brian is Trey’s former guitar tech who started with Phish some time around 1996 and only recently retired from the road. Any old rig diagrams/photos from the late 90s would be invaluable, plus just understanding how they were dialing everything in to create certain specific tones and the overall philosophy of what they were going for, I’m still sort of searching for.
As the rig was coming together, what was the first moment that made you pause and say, “Wow! This thing really IS starting to have that 99 tone I’m after!”
As mentioned earlier, for me the key to the 99 sound is the blend of the Deluxe Reverb combo amp and the modified Leslie speaker head. There was a little gathering of Phish guitar heads at the house the day the Leslie was delivered by the guy who modified it for me. We hooked it up to the rig using one of the guys’ Mesa/Boogie MkIII amps and hit a few chords and it was THE sound. It was basically having a hypothesis followed by a real sense of relief and accomplishment once it was proven correct.
Another was when I first started playing around with the dual mic setup that Paul had running on the Deluxe Reverb. He was essentially using an old miking technique creating a stereo image out of a mono speaker using two of the same model microphone, each positioned at slightly different distances and panned hard left/right. It’s subtle, but when you hear the difference between the single mic recording and the Paul dual mic recording, it’s certainly another factor in the full sound that made Trey’s live guitar sound so unique. Plus the extra two mics on the Leslie give you a really cool 3D sound in a mix.
Can you outline the signal chain from start to finish of all pedals / racks / effects involved?
I know it seems complicated, but it’s fairly straightforward as far as guitar rigs go. Basically from the Languedoc G2 guitar, the signal first hits is a Digitech Whammy II pedal. From there it goes into a small pedalboard configuration Trey had pretty much used since the 80s:
Ernie Ball Volume Pedal ->
Dunlop Standard Crybaby Wah ->
Ibanez Tubescreamer (TS9) set on slight gain ->
Ibanez Tubescreamer (TS9) set on full gain ->
Vintage Ross Compressor
Then out from the Ross, the signal then travels back to a rack full of more effects units. All of these effects are in their own isolated switched loops via a Bob Bradshaw designed Custom Audio Electronics rack switcher known as a 4x4 Audio Controller. They have long been discontinued in favor of more modern and specialized controllers that Bob builds and sells, but the originals can be found occasionally on the used market and still work perfectly.
This piece of gear is essential to keeping a pure tone as it only routes the guitar signal out to a given loop only when one or multiple loops is “opened”. If no loop is engaged, the guitar signal stays within that unit and then out to the amps and the quality then (in theory) is as good as plugging straight into the amps. The big black box by his you have probably seen in any of Trey’s guitar rigs starting from around 1994 up through today’s rig is just a big remote control for the rig, no audio goes through it. You can’t miss it in any photos from the 90s, it can be seen with two pieces of wood stuck to it and was always front and center at his feet right in front of his vocal microphone. It’s using an old but standard technology called MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) to send commands out to the rack behind him. In this case, the big black box called an RS-10 MIDI Foot Controller is just sending out commands to the 4x4 Audio Controller telling it to open or close a given loop. So for example, if Trey wants his Univibe effect added to his signal chain, he presses a button designated for the Univibe on the big foot controller, that sends a command to the switcher telling it to open that specific loop and the guitar signal is instantly sent through that effects unit then back into the switcher. The controller also has the ability to control any unit that has switching via ¼” jack so in Trey’s case his DM2000 delay unit has two features that can be turned on/off via control cable. It sounds complicated, but it’s really just on/off switching and audio routing.
The effects rack in order of audio chain are:
I’m using two 4x4 audio controllers to house all of the effects in their own loops. From what I can tell from photos in 1999, he was only using a single 4x4 so I’m guessing he was only using the one Microverb for the “Reverse” effect and had the Tremolo unit and Boomerang stacked in the last loop. I’m kind of cheating having two 4x4s in use in mine but until I have 100% proof of Trey’s actual 1999 configuration, I’m keeping it this way.
There are some other pedals on the floor but those are just controls for the rack gear, no audio goes through them. And the replica plywood 2x12 speaker cabinet was just there as a prop by 1999, it wasn’t actually hooked up to anything, but I still went through the process of replicating it in full detail of course.
Which effects have you had the most fun playing around with these days?
For sure the most fun toys in the rig to play with are the Whammy II, Boomerang, and the DM2000 delay. If you watch the bootleg video of Quadrophonic Toppling from Big Cypress on YouTube, Trey is using all three of those pieces of gear to create the most sublime piece of improvised 4am style music.
They are all fun on their own, but when you use them in various combinations, there is so much layering and modulation you can do. And it’s just me playing the rig by myself most of the time so I usually have to create some spacey or rhythmic stuff to play along to.
But just a Languedoc guitar played through a compressor and Tubescreamer straight into a cranked tube amp is a sublime experience in and of itself.
What were some of the more difficult pieces of gear to obtain?
Early on I had to break it down by what was “custom” vs “mass produced”. The most unique “custom” things that you couldn’t buy off the shelf in 1999 from Trey’s rig were the guitar, the Paul Languedoc 2x12 speaker cabinet, and the Leslie speaker head. So those were tough in their own way. When it came to mass produced stuff, the CAE gear was definitely the most difficult. I was lucky to find the one Super Tremolo that was up for sale on Reverb from some guy I think in the Netherlands right when I started the project. I think there has maybe only been one other up for sale on the used market since Summer 2020 at least that I’ve seen. I have a Black Cat Vibe but it’s not the original branded CAE version like Trey has so I’m still on the hunt for one of those, but the one I have is essentially a clone of the same exact circuit. The DM2000 delays are sort of difficult to find, but they do pop up usually on eBay every 2-3 months or so. The other stuff like the Whammy II and the Ross are semi-abundant but with years of Trey association, they have skyrocketed even in the last two years to relatively obscene used prices. I think both of those pedals probably retailed for around $40-50 dollars when they were initially released.
As for custom gear, Trey had used plywood speaker cabinets that had been hand built by Paul Languedoc for years on the road with Phish. If you look at any Phish photos from the mid-80s up to around 1997, either one or both are behind Trey in his rig and are absolutely iconic. They became less a part of the rig once Trey moved to the Fender combo amp, so they mainly became props at that point. But I’ve always wanted to see if I could replicate them, which I was able to with the help of a carpenter I found. So I now have two fully working and accurate, complete with chicken wire and house insulation, Languedoc style speaker cabinets loaded with Celestion Vintage 30s and they sound killer.
There was also a little A/B switch box that I had to build from scratch. Since the Fender Deluxe reverb doesn’t have built in channel switching, Trey was using a custom built A/B box that he could switch which channel on the amp his signal was sent to. I could have just bought a modern Morley A/B box to accomplish the exact same thing, but figured it would be fun to build a replica of what he had.
The Leslie speaker seems to be the most complex part of the equation. What went into achieving that exactly?
For sure - the Leslie speaker was possibly even more difficult to obtain than even the guitar! It was certainly the biggest technical and logistical challenge to pull off, no doubt. The biggest problem is that there is very little known about it other than a passing mention about it in a Guitar World interview Trey did in 2000.
Conceptually I understood what it was because Trey had two other similar Leslie speakers earlier in the 90s. If you look at Trey’s rig in any photos/videos from 1995-2000 you’ll see a big box sitting on top of his rack with speaker grills, that’s a Leslie/Leslie simulator.
The first was an MTI Rotophaser in 1995 and the second he tried was called a Motion Sound Pro 3 in Fall 96/Winter 97. Essentially the idea with these products was to recreate the sound of a real spinning Leslie horn in a guitar rig, but without the giant box required for the “full” Leslie sound. The lower frequencies had to come from your normal guitar amp combo or speaker cabs. If you played guitar through them without another amp providing the lower sounds, it would just sound thin and a bit shrill.
I still don’t know the history of it, but sometime in early 1997 he made a third attempt at this “guitar centric” Leslie by using the top horn section of a Leslie model called the “925”. But since the top section relies on the bottom section for power, audio and speed controls, the top section had to be modified to be a standalone unit. There was a logo I would see a lot in various 90s Phish photos and videos that said “GOFF Professional”, a Connecticut based Hammond/Leslie organ company that had also done work on Page’s organ over the years. So they obviously had been the ones to do the mods to this Trey Leslie. But of course, in attempting to contact them to see if they had any information on it, it seems they went out of business sometime in the last 20 years.
So long story short, I posted on various Hammond/Leslie forums talking about this unique setup Trey had and how I could go about replicating it. Luckily a retired Bose engineer living in Massachusetts and spending his retired days working on Hammonds and Leslies as a semi-day job reached out to me. He completely understood what I was trying to do and was even able to source a full Leslie 925 speaker near him on the used market. He built a whole crossover unit for it and also a power/speed control module, both completely from scratch.
It was totally lucky timing on a bunch of fronts that I was able to make it happen and I’m hoping to get to see Trey’s old Leslie 925 speaker someday soon to see how close we got to the original. I’m pretty sure mine is only the second one of these in existence which is pretty cool. It’s completely impractical for home players and even most live gigging guitarists these days, but I wish everyone could experience how cool the old Trey Leslie sounds in a room live.
What made you decide to make your own cables for the rig?
I think the coolest thing about this rig build is that it’s one big overall project but consisting of tinier projects. And each tiny project is generally a new challenge for me that I’ve sometimes already dabbled in but want to get better at or understand on a more fundamental level. Video production, multitrack audio recording/mixing, miking-techniques, etc.
I already had some rudimentary soldering skills, mostly from doing some of the DIY pedal kit builds from places like buildyourownclone.com. I figured that I might as well get good at making custom cables with high quality components (Mogami cables with Switchcraft plugs) for a few reasons. It’s of course usually cheaper in the long run to make stuff yourself and it’s also easier to troubleshoot any cable issues when you’ve built it yourself. And since it’s a custom-built guitar rig, the biggest variables in it are cable runs so being able to build a custom, high quality instrument cable to a specific length be it 1ft or 22ft it just became a necessity more than anything.
Any particularly frustrating moments as you put the rig together?
Time is the biggest frustration factor. It’s a weekend project mostly and I have a family and a full time job so when I do get to do rig stuff, I probably try to squeeze too much into too little time. Something you think may take 10 minutes can end up taking 2 hours.
And of course I’m trying to share what I can with people online via Instagram or Youtube. I know there are people who are both casually interested and think it’s cool and also a bunch of guitar/Trey nerds like me who really understand the technical nuances and appreciate the insane level of detail I’ve committed to. The tricky part can be getting the great sounds I’m hearing in the room translated to audio/video media so I’ve been trying to get all of the miking and mixing right. I don’t think I’ve quite nailed it yet, but I’m working on it. I wish I could hire an assistant to help run all of the video/audio stuff so I could just focus on the guitar and the rig!
Are there still little tweaks you plan on making to the rig and do you think it will ever be completely done?
I just acquired the Yamaha AN1x synthesizer which was the biggest piece of gear missing for a while. That’s the little keyboard he had to his side in 1999-2000 and created some pretty unique sounds at the time. I’d like to get my hands on the Custom Audio Electronics 3+ SE preamp and the Groove Tubes Dual 75 power amp which is the combo he used in the 1995-1997 era. This would enable me to convert my rig into a 1996-1997 setup where the two Languedoc speaker cabinets were both in use.
And while I believe that I have everything gear wise on the audio front, there is still a lot of time to put into dialing specific tones. If you listen to a given 1999 era show, Trey could obviously dial in his Back On The Train sounds then quickly jump into Squirming Coil or NICU mode without much thought. It really boils down to figuring out where the amp and the Ross were set so he could really dial in super clean to super gainy/screamy tones mostly with just the volume knob and maybe a TS9 or two. But all in all, I think I’m about 80% there.
These days while listening to shows from 99, are there some moments that stick out to you as the epitome of what Trey’s tone was all about that year? Feel free to add time stamps from Live Phish.
Kevin Shapiro if you’re reading this, please put out more multitrack sourced 1999 archival material! Three specific moments jump out to me, but there are so many to choose from.
I was just listening to 12/16/99 Limb By Limb, and there’s this fantastic section starting around 8:40 on the LivePhish release where you can hear him build this swirling delay loop of swells then starts machine gun soloing over it. Just the epitome of what I love about how his guitar tone sounded along with his use of layering in 99.
Of course the Camden ‘99 Chalkdust is famous and rightly so, but one of the many underrated gems of that show is the Water In The Sky that comes two songs later and has similar but unique tones of the Chalkdust peak. And don’t sleep on the Camden ‘99 Tweezer!
Speaking of Tweezer, there’s a fantastic example of the stereo effect of Trey’s rig that year. If you listen closely to the LivePhish release of 9/18/99, the opening Tweezer when they come out of the freakout breakdown section at 5:27 you can hear Trey turn the DM2000 loop back on and hits the Leslie button so the delay loops are swirling around through the Leslie in stereo. I highly recommend listening to that one on headphones, pure thick 1999 gooey funky psychedelia!
Any plans for future content demos on your YouTube channel?
The big one was finding the time to do a full rig rundown which was just completed. It’s a deep dive into all of the elements and how they work within the larger picture. I hope to break it down into individual components. I would also love to do a thing where people take specific examples of a tone or effect from a given show and reverse engineer how it was achieved to see if I can replicate it. Something like that.
I’m also not a great guitar player, so I would love to invite some real pro players to come and give the rig a spin and make some videos of that and see what sounds they can get out of it.
And of course as I said, having a good amount of the gear, I can theoretically reconfigure the rig into a 1993 style setup, or a 1996 style setup and see how those sound. But that’s a ways off.
What advice do you have for those considering putting together a historic rig? Not necessarily a Trey rig, but recreating anything from the past.
Setting expectations and diminishing returns are the two biggest things I would say. You may think this $1500 piece of gear is the key to unlocking a certain sound, but it’s very possible that a similar $150 modern piece of gear will give you the same effect. Watch any well produced YouTube video where people blind listen to a $3000 microphone vs a $99 microphone and try to figure out which one is the more expensive one, you’ll see what I mean.
One of my ultimate goals is to take what I’ve learned from reverse engineering Trey’s expensive rig and replicate it on cheaper, modern gear that could theoretically fit on a tidy pedal board.
And of course it’s cliche and corny, but it’s not been so much about the end goal, the most exciting parts of this project have been those moments where I’ve learned something new. I have so much more knowledge now on things like tubes, amp headroom, cabling/cable management, rack gear, power distribution, signal chains, speaker impedance, speaker cabinets, etc etc since I started this project in 2020. For all of the BS that parts of the internet have become, the true greatness of it remains as a vast resource of free knowledge that anyone can use for their benefit given enough time and effort.
I hope even non-Phish/Trey fans stumble across some of my work and find something interesting they normally wouldn’t have been exposed to, mostly on a technical level. I think the rig Trey, Brian Brown, and Bob Brashsaw conceived, built ,and slowly augmented through the 90s is super unique, sounds amazing, and I’m really just celebrating that. Hopefully that’s the overall vibe people get from this project.
I also learned a good chunk of “It’s Ice” on guitar while I was at it, and that feels like quite an accomplishment.
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