Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather, two of the world's most inspirational guitarists, recently completed an Asian tour that saw them together on stage for the first time in 15 years. And behind the scenes, Front of House engineer Rick Wheeler was also having a small reunion with a DPA d:facto¢ Vocal Microphone that he first used in 2014.
Based in Nashville, USA, Wheeler has been Larry Carlton's FOH engineer, guitar tech, and tour manager for the last 10 years. He was flown to Asia specifically for this series of concerts, which took place at the Blue Note Club in Tokyo and the Hong Kong Baptist University in Kowloon Tong.
On arrival, his first choice of microphone was DPA and, after taking advice from Ken Kimura, head of DPA's Asian Office, he specified a variety of models. These included d:dicate¢ 2011C Twin Diaphragm Cardioid Microphones for guitar, bass amps and kick, snare and hi-hat drums; d:vote¢ 4099 Instrument Microphones for toms and kick drum; a matched stereo pair of d:dicate 4011A Cardioid Microphones for overheads and the tried and tested d:facto¢ Vocal Microphone that he used for live vocals and speech.
"I first came across DPA when I was working in Hong Kong with American blues, jazz and rock guitarist Robben Ford and was introduced to DPA microphones by Francis Lai, DPA's regional sales manager," Wheeler explains. "On that occasion I used a DPA d:facto Vocal Microphone for Robben and I chose it again for this tour because it is such an outstanding microphone for live vocals. Typically, condenser vocal mics can get unwieldy in a hurry, but the d:facto's supercardiod pattern provides a workable separation from nearby sound sources. It is extremely responsive and very natural sounding for the human voice."
Wheeler admits he was initially sceptical about DPA's d:dicate 2011C Microphone, but he soon changed his mind when he heard its clarity, particularly in Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather's guitar amps and inside the kick drum.
"I was very happy with it," he says. "It has such a high SPL that it was able to handle the vast dynamic range of the kick from our drummer, Keith Carlock (who has previously played with Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, James Taylor and Sting). Overall it was a great microphone. I was equally impressed with the d:dicate 4011A mics that we used for overheads. They really are made for that function and are outstanding overhead microphones that are exceptionally versatile. They were also very pure and accurate and didn't colour the sound at all. I was really impressed with the way the cymbals sounded, but also the way the mics picked up the rest of the drum kit so naturally."
Wheeler adds that what drew him to the d:vote 4099 Instrument Microphones was their compact size and high SPL.
"After listening to them, I found them outstanding in frequency response for toms," he says. "They were very accurate and perfect in terms of staying out of the way of drum sticks, yet they could still pick up the sound of the drums."
Larry Carlton, who has won four GRAMMY Awards for his performances and compositions, and Steve Lukather, a prolific session musician who is best known for his work with the band Toto, were joined on stage by Keith Carlock, Jeff Babko on keyboards and Travis Carlton on bass.
"The real testament to the accuracy of a microphone is how happy everyone is with their stage sound," Wheeler says. "Artists tend to know what they like to hear and often don't pay much attention to the makes or model numbers. On this tour everyone was delighted with the sound and I received a lot of compliments about it. Particularly notable was the sound we achieved in Hong Kong where we played a room where the sound can get out of hand in a hurry. On that occasion, I think I went right to the edge of getting the sound at an appropriate volume for the music."
Wheeler, who is also a studio engineer and has worked with Miles Smiles, Sam Bush, Keb Mo, Herbie Hancock, FourPlay and Earl Klugh, is now back in the USA and reflecting on the success of this tour.
"Overall, it was a great experience for me, both in terms of learning more about DPA microphones and getting a great mix for the audience and performers," he says. "I like DPA mics so much that I have already recommended them to a number of other FOH engineers."