Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Mike Dawes, I’m a solo instrumental acoustic player from the UK. I do weird things to the guitar and people are very kind to me. I’m also Justin Hayward’s guitar player and opening act on his tours. It’s a lot of fun arranging those classic Moody Blues tunes in my peculiar guitar style!
I tour all over the world for around 10 months of the year. I play everywhere from China to the USA, Lebanon to Bermuda, Finland to the Dominican Republic. I have the best fans in the world, somehow I get to play guitar for a living in 2015. Nuts!
I also dabble in other sessions and TV work. I make apps, write for guitar magazines and play Star Wars games. Sometimes I have ‘viral videos’, sometimes I sleep, although that mostly occurs on planes or a wobbly bus.
What do you use?
Man, big question. Ok I guess first and foremost I use the acoustic guitar, like, really abuse it. I try an coax as many sounds out of it as possible, lots of drum effects and sparkly harmonics. I really try and push it, but always keep the music at the heart of anything I’m working on. There’s no point doing silly things if you’re going to sound silly as well. Do check out the videos on YouTube for a more musical and eloquent explanation of what I mean. You can just search ‘Mike Dawes’ or visit mikedawes.com.
So the guitar setup is pretty complex. I have 4 pickups in my acoustic guitars (Mike Dawes model Andreas Cuntz Indian Rose and various Nick Benjamin custom builds) a bridge plate pickup, a mic, a Dimarzio Black Angel magnetic pickup and a Dimarzio transducer just above the soundhole.
These pickups go out into a small mixer and each pickup gets EQ’d and levelled. Then 1 output of the mixer goes straight to FOH, and the other goes through all my effects pedals. These include:
That output then meets the other at FOH. The idea here is to have a clean line and a wet line, keeping the guitar tone as clear as possible (the wet line is a lower volume but the pedals are cranked)
Some of these pedals are assigned to certain pickups, for example the Octave and Overdrive are only receiving signal from the Dimarzio magnetic pickup (for obvious reasons)
Check out this rig rundown video for a visual demonstration.
I use Ernie Ball strings (Nickel, Aluminium Bronze or Everlast depending on how sweaty the gig will be/the position of Venus and if I want any extra kick out of the magnetic pickup - Nickel strings definitely help with this but can sometimes sound overpowered when ‘clicking’ the thumb into the fret wire. Great for bringing out that Octave though!). These are usually the following gauges: 13, 17, 24, 32, 42, 56. I also use G7th capos made in the UK, awesome capos, they look like tiny tiny Porsches.
On the rare occasions where a pick is necessary, mostly at the Justin Hayward concerts, I use picks from a cool company called ‘In Tune’. They can pretty much make any pick you want and they are very reasonably priced.
For the Justin Hayward shows I also have an electric rig. This consists of a Tom Anderson Custom Telecaster through 2 Fender combos. Pedals in this chain include: Compressor, Overdrive, Chorus, Delay, Reverb. I use the reverb as a boost for solos. The chorus is always on (it makes our little band sound a little bigger).
For writing I use tea, tea always works. I also have some gnarly fingernails on my picking hand that really help with some of the techniques I employ.
What would be your dream set up?
I’m pretty close to it, but there are a lot of limitations when it comes to flying with this stuff and keeping the weight down. There is little limit with the Justin Hayward shows because we have a big bus and awesome crew, but when it’s me, my guitar and suitcase, I can’t really fit much more.
I am flirting with the idea of using MiDi and controlling everything with a laptop and a single floorpedal, but I love the organic approach of using real stompboxes and occasionally tripping yourself up (in Malaysia I played my arrangement of ‘Titanium’ at a workshop and legitimately tumbled).
I’m also interested in Hexaphonic pickups where each string could sit in a different/moveable position within the stereo field, but aside from sound instalations I can’t see it working in most venues. You’d have to be pretty central in the audience.