If you thought the guitar rack system was dead, we’ve got news for you: it’s back. More and more players are turning towards 19” solutions for their on stage work these days. Blog Of Tone wondered why, and then we got a visit from a friend who’s installed a GrandMeister 36 into his rack setup and all was revealed! Here’s some thoughts on how racks are still relevant for 21st century guitarists, and how you can make the most of such a setup as a gigging guitar player…
Back in the 90s, dark dolmens ruled the world of the guitar player.
Practically every stage was dominated by the brooding presence of a mysterious monolith worshipped by professionals and amateurs alike. The bigger, the better; the more stuff inside, the merrier.
And despite their megalithic dimensions, these behemoths were sooooo convenient.
All one’s favorite toys were neatly tucked away in one huge treasure chest, pre-wired and ready to go in a flash.
The rise and fall of the rack
We’re talking, of course, about the rack-mounted rig.
In its heyday, it looked as if the rack was here to stay. As we all know now, history decided otherwise. All those oh-so-practical racks were put out to pasture, and that trusty combination of pedal board, amp head and speaker cabinet made a rousing comeback.
Racks the size of a sumo wrestler’s refrigerator are rarely seen these days, apart from on stages graced by very big-name acts.
And the surviving few usually house effects and accessories that slave away in obscurity well behind the backline, serving that indomitable master up front that still rules when it comes to tone, the amp head.
A guitar rig to laugh about
Separate guitar preamps and power amps were boss back in the rack era, but nowadays they’ve been relegated to exotica.
If you dare to show up with this unhip gear on stage, you’re likely to be branded an eccentric or a has-been. Your guitarist buddies will rib you for being so hopelessly stuck in the sucking 90s, while lecturing you that their retro-modern triple-threat rig is where it’s at.
And those nothing-comes-between-me-and-my-amp hipsters and preachy purists will tut, tsk and make other sounds of disapproval before they start evangelizing about how combo-ism is the one true faith.
Let them laugh while they can, for history has a way of coming back to bite zealots of stripe in the butt.
The lunchbox amp revolution
But I digress. Let’s get back to the story by doing the time warp: some ten years ago, soon after the lunchbox amp arrived with such startling success, thinking guitarists began to ask themselves some rather intriguing questions that had a good deal to do with the great advantages that all those rack systems buried in the ash heap of history once had.
No other sound reinforcement solution to date was a match for their remarkable logistical efficiency.
With sensitive devices cradled snuggly in sturdy crates, they were boxed to travel well and safely.
And as their many acolytes would never tire of telling you, the time savings and simple handling of such sophisticated systems was more satisfying than thumping a piñata shaped like that egomaniac lead singer’s oversized noggin.
In a properly built rack, everything important was wired up cleanly in a compact package and ready to rock in a heartbeat.
Lunchbox amp + rack = win?
So why not dig through the detritus to find those 19″ signal processors you’re sure you stowed away somewhere in some relative’s attic, cellar or garage in 1999, pair them up with a couple of new sound-shaping gadgets, and pack ’em all in a rack?
What could be more convenient? This format practically begs for something as sweet and simple as that.
With more and more players answering these questions in the affirmative, it looks like the good-ole days of the rack are back.
But this rig is smarter, more efficient, leaner and meaner than its 90s ancestors. It’s convenience on steroids!
How to put the two together
So much for the theory. But what about the hands-on stuff, like how exactly do you fasten a lunchbox amp down in a rack system? And do you keep a mini tube amp cool inside a crate?
These are questions that intrigued us, and may well interest you too.
GrandMeister in a rack
As luck would have it, Armin Rauls, guitarist electronic folk-rock troubadours Fiolka, stopped by H&K’s headquarters the other day to proudly show off a professional heavy-duty rack loaded with the GrandMeister 36, a 19″ FX unit and a wireless system.
Armin’s pride wasn’t misplaced: we were as delighted as chimpanzees in a banana store when he took off the front cover to reveal that he had augmented the GrandMeister 36’s trademark blue glow with a chain of psychedelic azure fairy lights that bathed the whole rig in an aquamarine sea.
This rig’s owner had clearly taken the title of our book Into The Blue to heart!
Once we settled down and stopped swinging from the chandeliers, we took a closer look at his homemade marvel. As you can gather from the pics, the outcome of his inspired effort is impressive indeed.
How to do it
As it turns out, installing the GrandMeister in a rack was a piece of cake.
Armin’s answer was to take a 19″ rack shelf (1.75″ or 44.45mm in height) and cut out a hole the same size as the GrandMeister 36’s ventilation ducts to allow air to circulate.
He removed the rubber feet from the bottom of the GM36, drilled matching holes in the shelf, and then attached the amp to the shelf by inserting screws in the threaded holes for the feet. A mind-boggling variety of shelves are available to install all kinds of devices in racks, and your local music store should stock plenty of very affordable options.
Keeping things cool
Now, the GrandMeister’s top panel is closed. It radiates heat out the back through vents in the rear panel, so it was easy to squeeze in a lean 19″ wireless system above the amp.
The Axe-Fx unit used in this rack is a luxury rather than a necessity. It was placed below the GrandMeister to keep it cool.
A surprisingly simple rack system
This rack-mounted rig has been used daily for a few months now with no thermal or functional issues whatsoever.
Au contraire, its components are afforded armor-like protection in a safely portable package, and the short signal and MIDI pathways are well-routed, thereby adding an extra touch of class to the deluxe guitar tone.
When we produced the video interview to accompany this blog (make sure to watch it below when you finish reading!), we were amazed to discover that this system can be set up within a few seconds of the time it takes to unfold a tripod and mount a camera on top.
Three minutes, and a world full of exquisite guitar sounds is yours to explore.
This was one of those rare situations where the comment ‘nice rack’ was both appropriate and appreciated!
Send us your rack stories
We’ll keep track of Armin’s fine rack and keep you posted on the latest developments.
If you’re already contributing to the rack-mounted rig’s renaissance, then feel free to share your experience with us.
Speak up if you have any tips on rockin’ the rack for fellow guitar players, and we’re looking forward to your story!
And here’s our full interview with Armin, where he explains all about his band, his rack, and his pursuit of the most practical rig possible for a busy gigging guitarist – enjoy:
Disclaimer: Don’t forget that any mods like those described in the article will result in your amp’s warranty being voided. As soon as you open up the amp, remove the feet, or place it into a rack setting like this, it will no longer be covered should something go wrong. So, again, think hard before you undertake any work of this nature, and always get a professional tech to do anything like this for you if you’re not 100% sure of what you’re doing!
First published: June 03 2016. Most recent update: June 03 2016.