Guitar.com catches up with Mark Snyder, the man behind the curtain for Dream Theater's John Petrucci. Mark's humble beginnings began at Mesa Boogie where he was lured to a tech's life of setting up rigs and traveling on the road for years by the likes of Peter Frampton, Ringo Starr, and of course, John Petrucci.
Mark talks about the intricacies of Petrucci's rig, his 15 year experience with the virtuoso and what it's like for a tech out on the road.
Guitar.com: How did you get our start building systems and being a guitar tech?
Mark Snyder: I started building systems for myself long before I ever thought about doing it for other people. I was always playing guitar and I was on the quest to get the perfect rig. I would see new units and see the most I could get out of them. I did that for a bunch of years. I then began to work for Mesa Boogie. Then having worked at Mesa and running the artist program, I became friendly with a lot of artists. Supplying their gear and fulfilling their needs, I was also able to provide a lot of technical information, effects setups and rig setups. So, I just kind of segued into it while I was at Boogie, which is where I meet John Petrucci. It just built from there and there was a lot of demand for me to help people out with their rigs. After building the rigs, a lot of these artists would then ask me to come out on to the road and kind of baby-sit them. That's how the road thing began. It all blossomed from me building my own rigs and trying to do some trick elaborate setups. Then it just segued into doing for other people and being on the road.
Guitar.com: Who are some of the people that you've worked for?
Snyder: I've done a lot of work with Peter Frampton, Billy Joel, Ringo Starr and obviously Dream Theater. I've worked for John Sykes for some time and Vernon Reid of Living Colour. I've done a lot of setups for other bands while I was at Boogie like, Soundgarden and a lot of the bands from that era, Spin Doctors.
Guitar.com: Were you customizing amps for them?
Snyder: More rigs. The marriage between the amps, effects and switching. Getting everything to work nice together and getting rid of things like ground loops.
I've worked primarily with bands I mentioned. Meatloaf, was quite sometime, Kings X.
Guitar.com: Do you have any insight into Ty Tabors tone at all?
Snyder: Yeah, I worked on a couple of rigs for him. His old amp that he actually always used was a Gibson Lab Series amp. Then he started using some Boogie stuff. He was using Rectifiers. He had several setups throughout. You know, a lot of Ty's thing is really in his hands. It's amazing.
Guitar.com: I think he's got some of the best tone ever recorded.
Snyder: He really has a good feel for guitar sounds and studio. He knows how to always get good guitar tone and has always been proactive in his sound.
Guitar.com: Are you still playing in a band or just primarily the tech thing now?
Snyder: I don't play in a band anymore. I just don't have the time. I just do teching and occasional guitar rig stuff. I've been kind of busy. There are only so many hours in the day (laughs)! I try to fit it all in.
Guitar.com: Can you tell me about John Petrucci's Rig?
Snyder: John's new rig is something that we tried, which is completely new, is two distinct rigs. One for clean sound only which are the two Lonestars and then one primarily for crunch sounds with the three Road Kings. The third Road King is a back up and the two are left and right basically. The third also works to activate the Framptone talk box. It's a dual purpose kind of thing. Then each has its dedicated effects and speakers. He can really maximize the tone, just for the cleans and the dirties.
Guitar.com: John relies on the amps for the dirty tones?
Snyder: Yes, absolutely. He doesn't use any distortion pedals or gain boosts.
Guitar.com: In order to get the sweet spot on the amp, does John play really loud on stage?
Snyder: Actually, Not really. His stage volume is fairly moderate. He gets it to a point where it just sounds right. The amp sounds and reacts differently at different levels. We get the amp to a point that it sounds right, regardless of the volume. Then hopefully it's expectable. It's usually on the lower side. It's not too loud. I don't think he is really reliant on the volume to get the tone.
Guitar.com: How long have you been working with John?
Snyder: Since the first record, which I guess is about 15 years now.
Guitar.com: That's a long time.
Snyder: Yeah! (laughs) We have a great relationship. John is a great guy. We are on the same wavelength in terms of tones and how we like to set things up. He has a good understanding of what he wants. He knows how to describe what he wants out of a rig. We have a good relationship in that I know how to get what he wants. He has certain amount of trust in me to let me experiment with new things. We have a good working relationship, in terms of the rig. That's for sure.
Guitar.com: When you guys go out on tour what is the process like as far as preparation?
Snyder: In terms of the rig?
Guitar.com: Yeah. Do you also do setup work for John?
Snyder: I real understanding of how he likes the instruments. He likes them to be real low in action. He likes a really smooth action and neck including the back of the neck. We just try to make the instrument fell really slinky. Without being sloppy. In terms of the rig, John will always try to expand his sound get something new so hell call me, in between albums and he'll just say, I think we need to do a new rig. We'll discuss it for a while and try to put that all together. I then go and just build. I try to leave a lot of surprises for him. We'll just put together a framework of what he likes and then I'll just design it. Build it. He likes being surprised (laughs)!
Guitar.com: Does he tell you what amps he wants? Or, does he tell you what kind of sound he wants and you know what amp to get for him?
Snyder: We kind of do a little bit of both. We do it both together. He'll say, "I like the sound of such an such an amp." Then I'll say, "We can get that sound with another amp." Sometimes things work better in the studio and he'll have a good experience in the studio but I know, from my experience it may be better to use a different amp on the road that would get that sound he is looking for. We kind of do that together. We're at the point where he'll throw something out and I might shoot it down. Makes some changes. He usually trusts my judgment with that and hopefully it works out (laughs)!
Guitar.com: Is he that way as well with his effects?
Snyder: We've tried a lot of effects. I'm kind of really hard on gear in terms of, I expect a lot from an effects unit. I think that we've gotten to point that we know which units work. We've tried a lot of multi-effects units and I've been extremely dissatisfied with them. We stick with a core group of effects that both of us can program pretty thoroughly and easily and that consistently sound good in every rig. I think it's the same type of thing. If I find a unit that I think is spectacular I'll tell John we should put it in the rig and test it in battle. If it performs as we hope then we'll get more of them.
Guitar.com: If they're more reliable you'll stick with them?
Snyder: Yeah. In terms of more reliable, I'm speaking more of switching, accuracy, road-worthiness and most importantly, sound. With delay units they have to sound good. They can't be glitchy. All those things count towards a decision in picking an effects unit.
Guitar.com: Do you have to do any maintenance between shows to make sure the equipment is ready?
Snyder: Very rarely. I try to setup the rig so that it is fairly bullet proof. If it's traveling a lot. I will check the connections from time to time. I'll make sure everything is plugged in firmly. Time to time things bounce out. Power cables come out. Signals move about and what not. I'll usually go through and just do a quick maintenance check up. The rig generally doesn't require too much.
Guitar.com: You mentioned before that you like to leave surprises for John, in terms of his sound. Is there something with John's sound that Guitar.com's users might be surprised about? Maybe something he doesn't normal let you discuss?
Snyder: One thing that has always been a challenge with us is John's clean sound. John likes a really pristine clean sound. We've always been able to kind of achieve that but its always taken some work. I have a pretty cool story. The problems we always have with his clean sound is that his guitar pickup is pretty hot. When sometimes when switching, he'll use the bridge pickup, the clean sound clips. We tried things with turning down the volume, all kinds of crazy things. He doesn't have that time to switch between clean and dirty. We've also put a 12AT7 in a certain preamp socket to bring the gain done of the front end so that it wouldn't clip.
Guitar.com: Can you explain what that exactly does?
Snyder: By Swapping out 12AX7 with a 12AT7 you get a little more headroom. Your gain won't be as high but your clean will be cleaner because it will have a little more headroom. That didn't workout that great either. On this last rig, I had been doing some work with Pat Martino, he was having a similar problem with Boogie TriAxis. You know they modified amps. We tried Bass amps. We tried many things to try and get that clean sound really pristine. It was extremely difficult. I would ask him to turn down his guitar a bit and then the clean dried up but, then he wasn't getting the tone he wanted. He didn't want to do that. He wanted to have the guitar full up. We tried a million different things. In the end, I built a box which, was a guitar volume control, he didn't know that. We plugged the guitar into this box. All it had was a pot on it and the output. I had the numbers reversed. You turned up a little bit, it was virtually like turning your guitar signal down just a hair. He loved it. He was like, It solved it!. The magic box!. I told John the story and he got a big kick out of that. Jokingly, we were going to make a product out of it called the, PMB01. Which the Pat Martino Box. In his last rig, I put a PMB and basically used it as a pedal. I put in the front end. Then we would switch it in and out. So whenever he went to his clean sound, the PMB01 would kick in. So basically it was like his guitar turned down a hair. So like from 10 to 9. So, it took the edge off. Just enough so the clean channel wouldn't clip. Things like that are pretty fun.
Guitar.com: Did you rig that up so it switches with MIDI? With a footswitch?
Snyder: Basically when you went to a preset that was clean that pedal would kick in. So it was in a loop. MIDI'd up. It was programmed in a song so that when you clicked in the clean sound the PMB would kick in which would basically turn his guitar down just a hair.
Guitar.com: You were mentioning that John likes a pristine clean sound. Is that why you are you using Planet Waves cables in the rig?
Snyder: Absolutely. I've used the Planet Waves cables for a while and I've been real happy with the sound quality and the workmanship of the cables. So I discussed it with John and I though it would be a great opportunity to push the limits of the cable line by trying to build this massive rig. So far I think it's really worked out pretty spectacular. All the cables really sound great. They're not prone to noise. I've always built the cables for his rig and this is the first time we've used stock cables and I'm quite pleased with the results.
Guitar.com: What's your life like when you have to go out on the road with an artists? What's your daily routine?
Snyder: It pretty much sucks! No sleep. Too much drinking!
Snyder: I guess you get used to it.
Guitar.com: Is it no sleep because of the too much drinking?
Snyder: I think it's a combo (laughs)!
Guitar.com: Oh, Ok! It works both ways.
Snyder: The routine is pretty brutal. On and off tour buses. In and out of hotels. On and off airplanes.
Guitar.com: Do you get to enjoy any of the places you're at?
Snyder: Occasionally, yes. It's really difficult to deal with the levels in touring life. In other words, one day you'll be at some venue with really great catering and really easy stage to load in. You'll have like one day off in Lake Tahoe renting a boat. Then the next day you'll be in a place like Fargo. It's totally miserable and there's nothing to eat, and the gig sucks, the gear doesn't fit and there are electrical problems. If it sucks all the time you get used to it. If it sucks one day and then great the next day its trying.
Guitar.com: Any interesting stories you'd like to share?
Snyder: I'm sure there are millions.
Guitar.com: Any one that sticks out in your mind that you CAN share?
Snyder: (Laughs) Let's see.
Guitar.com: Take your time on that one. We don't need anybody getting mad.
Snyder: You want something with John?
Guitar.com: Yeah sure.
Snyder: Oh man, I have so many good ones (laughs) but I don't know.
Guitar.com: (Laughs) If you want to skip this question we can skip it. I don't want to get you in trouble with anybody!
Snyder: From a technical standpoint I remember one thing that was pretty tricked and that was a minute before Peter Frampton was supposed to go on. The foot controller totally stopped working. Just Japanese symbols scrolling across the unit. I didn't know what to do. We pretty much needed it to switch between the guitar sound and the talkbox. Which is really important to his sound. The show must go on. The intro tape is on. I plugged the guitar into the amp and had to pull the speaker cable out of the cabinet and plug in the talkbox simultaneously. I became the switcher.
Snyder: I had to do that the entire show in time. Luckily I knew all the songs. It was kind of fun!
Guitar.com: Have you ever worked for an artists where you had to do the switching for them?
Snyder: I've never done the switching. We've talked about it a few times with John as well as Peter but it's never gotten to that point.
Guitar.com: These guys like to maintain control of that?
Snyder: Yeah, which is understandable.
Guitar.com: When you compare studio to live sounds, does John try to mimic what's going on in the studio? Does he have standard patches?
Snyder: There are some standard patches but we do try to really get the sounds that are on the album. If we use something in the studio we'll right down all those settings and try to emulate it. We try to get every single sound possible.
Guitar.com: Does that end up being a lot of patches?
Snyder: It does but, luckily we have the technology (laughs).
Guitar.com: Is there anything else youd like to add?
Snyder: Nothing off the top of my head.
Guitar.com: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us!
Snyder: Take care!