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Janis Ian Touring Equipment
Janis in concert / Photo by R. Andrew Lepley

Janis believes that shared information makes for a friendlier world. (Of course, she also believes that an elf named WYSIWIG lives under the stairs, sneaking out at night to steal olives from the refrigerator...) To that end, here is a run-down of everything that goes into one of her shows on the equipment front. Please note that Janis does not make money from any of these products; they're here because she uses them!

An explanation from Janis

I've also always been interested in sound accessories. Back in the 60's, I was experimenting with throwing a small lapel mic into my guitar's soundhole, then running it through a Dunlop Wah. (Very difficult and not great sounding.) By the time the 70's rolled around, with better acoustic pickups available, I began using the Dunlop onstage, along with an MXR Phase Shifter and eventually a chorus and a distortion box.

Once Lloyd Baggs developed his under-the-saddle pickup, it all became a lot easier. By the 90's, I was prototyping DI's and pickups for Lloyd as I toured. I was fortunate enough to be working with a brilliant dedicated sound engineer (Robert Haynes), and we began carrying not just pedals, tuner, DI, but a full mixing board and outboard gear. I used my equipment with, I hope, some subtlety, but that didn't stop me from getting thrown off a stage at a Very Famous Folk Festival (not Philly or Falcon Ridge!) one year for using my wah and taking a solo standing in the speaker mains.

Years passed, sound people and equipment changed. I added a Mackie board, then a Yamaha digital, along with two racks of effects (3 Jammans [sadly extinct, though I still have a couple], Eventides, Lexicons), two Shure wireless systems, in-ear monitors, my own mics. It got to the point where I could literally build, step by step, a 16-voice chorus to sing the Latin Mass at the end of "On the Other Side."

But then... I looked up one day and most of the acoustic guitarists I saw were using pedal boards and gear like mine. It stopped being unusual, and it also stopped being interesting. Around the time I was writing the songs for Folk Is the New Black, I'd decided to see what would happen if I walked on stage "naked" again. So now I go out with a small pedal board and some cables, and leave the rest to my fingers and fate!

Guitars: Janis plays "Janis Ian Model" Santa Cruz guitars on stage. The original model is  solid black (spruce and rosewood, dyed), and she also brings either a newer spruce and koa,  or a deep blonde "antique-looking" spruce and rosewood. The rosewood came from a wreck that left the wood submerged in the water for years. You can actually see green from the moss in it if you hold it up to the sunlight!
She uses a variety of guitars in the studio, including a Kevin Ryan Mission and Martins of all sizes and shapes, strung for nylon and high string playing. Of late she’s been doing more solo work, notably on Angela Aki’s last album and on Mary Black’s and Gillian Grassie’s.

Vocal mic - On tour: On tour, Janis uses a Sennheiser 3965. The vocal is never hard-limited; in fact, most of the time there's no limiting at all. Pop/wind screens are used only in extreme outdoor weather conditions. Says Janis, "Fortunately for me, I began recording before limiters were in use, and EQ was confined to 'more treble' or 'more bass.' I had to learn to control the EQ and volume of my voice by using my vocal chords, breath, and the mic pattern to achieve what I wanted to hear. Even now, my rider specifies that my monitors will be 'as flat as possible - not flat to the room, but flat!,' because if there are too many frequencies subtracted or added, my voice automatically starts filling them in - and that's a quick way to strip your vocal cords!"

Vocal mic - In the studio: A Neumann M149 microphone. "I've been recording with Neumanns since I was fourteen. Singing into this mic is like coming home."

Pickup and DI: Janis has known Lloyd Baggs since 1975, when he custom-made two wonderful guitars for her. Since Lloyd began making pickups, she's been proto-typing the new ones and talking up the others, using his under-saddle LB6X and Element pickups. For her direct box, she uses an older Baggs Para-DI; in the studio it’s a Baggs Venue. Although a lot of people are convinced Janis gets her guitar sound through a bunch of expensive equipment, the only items she uses are the Baggs pickup and preamp/DI box. But as Janis points out, "As Chet Atkins used to say, after a point it's mostly in the fingers...."

Cases: Janis uses Karura hard cases on tour. “I used Calton cases for many years – absurdly heavy, but pretty indestructible. Once the company was sold, though, they stopped providing free lifetime maintenance to professionals. That, coupled with the weight, moved me to Karura. They’re light enough for even me to carry, strong enough to jump on, and built like flight cases should be.

Case covers: Two beautiful outer shells from Colorado Cases now cover Janis’ Karuras. “I always thought buying a cover for your hard case was just a vanity issue, until I ran into Oscar Neves one day. He told me that he and Toots Thielmanns had both taken the same guitar cases on tour, Oscar’s wrapped in a soft outer case, Toots’ without. Oscar said the difference at the end of the tour was remarkable – his cases were like new, and Toots’ looked like they’d been through a flight to Mars. That decided me. With airline security leaving latches half-open and closing cases sloppily enough to cause damage, these are well worth it… and they are pretty impressive looking to boot!” (Sadly, Colorado Cases is no more, but I highly advise anyone traveling with instruments in baggage to use a hard case, with a soft case around it!)

Strings: Janis uses D'Addario phosphor bronze strings (gauges 10, 12, 22W, 30, 39, 49) for shows and recording. This is an extreme custom sets and not available in packets.

Strap: Janis uses a basic adjustable cotton strap, with a Dunlop Strap-Lok at the heel of the neck, and a new Planet Waves Cinch Fit to hold the strap on the endpin jack. "I went to Jim D'Addario about five years ago, begging him to invent something that would fit acoustic guitarist's end pin jack problems! All my adult life, I've had to modify my straps and enlarge the hole at that end to fit the jack. The resulting weight often messes with the electronics inside, pulling on them until they need to be replaced. This year, Jim came up with the Cinch Fit. It's perfect - I've got one on every acoustic I own now."

Capos: Janis currently uses G7 G-7th "Performance Capos", remarking that they work well with the extremely narrow Santa Cruz necks she favors. Says Janis "The G-7 is really a wonderful capo, but I haven't been touring, so I haven't had a chance to compare them on stage. I'm looking forward to using both it and the Kysers, since Milton's do such different things for my playing – his partial capos are still the best and only!"

At home, she also uses Kyser capos because "they never break, and they let me do a partial capo or change capo position mid-song". She also says "When I was broke, and had no money to buy equipment, Milton Kyser gave me two dozen capos for free. I don't think he knew who I was; he just knew that a lot of people respected me, and I needed help. I was one of the first to use his capos, and I've never turned back." She'd never brag about it, but she also has a coveted "Gold capo award" from the Kyser folks. It's actually hanging in the hall, next to one of her Grammy nominations. Really.

Note: Due to her recent hand surgery, Janis will be touring only with the G-7th Capos for the duration of this year.

Picks: Both Janis and Chet Atkins bemoaned the environmental concerns that forced the end of the "old-style" thumbpicks. When in Japan one tour, she found some thumbpicks by Yamaha that fit her, and brought back a gross for herself and Chet. The current thumbpicks are a variant on Yamaha smalls, custom-made for Janis by Yamaha Japan. The flatpicks are Planet Waves light/medium, courtesy of our friends at D'Addario.

Cables: Janis uses Planet Waves by D'Addario. (Also their humidity checkers, string changers, and whatever else we can get.)

Pedal board gear: Backstage/side of stage there’s a Planet Waves' Headstock Tuner. ("Believe it or not, I consider this the greatest advancement for amateur and pro musicians in years. Honest. Works with violins, basses, guitars – an amazing piece of engineering. I'm in love!")

Since she's touring so rarely, Janis often dispenses with her pedal board. In that event she's carrying a Boss PSM-2 A/B box (tuner to B, direct box to A) or a vintage Planet Waves pedal tuner. ("Truthfully, the main reason for that is just so I can tune silently. When I'm stripped down, I just use the headstock gear for tuning.") The other item is an older Boss Rev-5 reverb unit. When she uses more of the board, she adds a Voodoolabs Pedal Power 2 Plus and a Strymon Blue Sky Reverberator.

Still, to be brutally honest, most of the guitar effects (harmonics, "whang") are created by the positioning of her hands on the guitar neck and body. Sorry…

Reaching the board: The board chain from the A/B box goes to the tuner on one side, and to the Strymon Reverberator, then the Boss Rev-5, to the DI and on to the mix board via XLR out. Absolutely nothing else is done to the raw guitar sound. Any effects you hear during the show come from the stomp boxes in front of Janis, or her hands. When you hear the naked guitar (as on "Jesse" or "At 17"), nothing has been done to it. That's why she uses this gear, right?

Tunings: First half of the regular show, Janis often uses a dropped D (low E string down to D) tuning; that's the tuning on "From Me To You" and "Through the Years" For the second half, she has her Santa Cruz strung in a "bastard low C" tuning (low E down to C, low A down to G). You can hear this tuning on most of the Folk is the New Black album, or use them all with the digital songbook of that name, available on this website at an absurdly low price.

Vocal effects: She used to do a lot of these. She got bored with it.

(updated February 14, 2014)

Tour Dates

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All tour dates updated on August 5, 2021

[full tour dates list]

Hot News
  • What?! Another auction, you ask? And Janis is still not making any money from it? Well, thank you Covid-19.

    Yet another auction in the hope of continuing to fund the Pearl Foundation when I'm unable to tour.

  • Ebay Auction To Benefit The Pearl Foundation

    Please share!! As many of you know, my wife and I moved recently, downsizing from 4,500 sq ft to 1,000. We have no room left for most of my "stuff"!!! so I'm in the process of donating my archives, so most of my memorabilia is going there - however, my friend Joan Maute helped me select things that seemed appropriate for Pearl Foundation fundraisers. We are beginning with a 7-day auction with multiple items.This auction will end Sunday, May 16th at 4:00PM PT.

  • Pearl Foundation Update

    Astonished and grateful to say that the Pearl Foundation has donated $44,000 in scholarship endowments for the year 2020, bringing our grand total to $1,235,500.00 in scholarship funding, with more than 75 graduates to date. Thank you all for your support!

more hot news

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