Gear Rundown: Kurt Ballou

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Gear Rundown: Kurt Ballou

Kurt Ballou feature
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

As a proponent of his own stuff, Kurt has used God City Instruments guitars for almost a decade.

Kurt Ballou is a bit of a rockstar in the metal, hardcore and punk scenes. Having been a founding member of Converge, and his work as owner/engineer of God City Studios, he’s been involved in some of the scene’s bigger musical projects in the scene of the last 20 years or so. While his collection of amps, cabinets and gear at the studio is eye-watering, he’s taken all of his learning with different gear and used it to inform his own company, God City Instruments (GCI).

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GCI produce guitars, basses and pedals, and his business card was also famously a GCI Brutalist Jr. distortion pedal circuit board.

GCI business card

He has a penchant for chambered electric guitars, some of his GCI’s looking and feeling the way they do because of Kurt’s “Malcolm Young aesthetic leaning tendencies”, but they’re also informed by the guitar he played before GCI.


Rickenbacker 650 Atlantis

The early days of Converge saw Kurt playing a Rickenbacker 650 Atlantis, a solid-body electric that deviates from Rickenbacker’s more common hollow and semi-hollow offerings. The 650 had somewhat low output humbuckers, with a smaller footprint than traditional humbuckers and could be easily swapped out for P90s. Its body shape, and the Rickenbacker horn in general, has informed future GCI designs, though sometimes reversed.

You can see Kurt playing the Rick’ in the video below from 2001.

GCI Craftsman

Though he’s played a lot of GCI’s more recently, Kurt has performed extensively with a Craftsman. The Craftsman (usually a Series 1 with a single bridge humbucker) is available with either solid body or a chambered body depending on the model. The Series 1 has a single, overwound GCI Slug Jammer humbucker and volume and tone controls.

All the Craftsman are built with a combination of different woods, from wenge to mahogany, roasted ash and walnut.

Kurt Ballou

TV Jones pickups

Special mention has to go to TV Jones pickups, usually used for rockabilly, jazz and cleaner genres. TV Jones ‘humbuckers’ sit somewhere between a single coil and a humbucker tonally, being a bit more brittle and articulate than standard humbuckers.

This makes sense then, for Converge’s chaotic, sometimes raucous and fast music to require something that can keep up, while staying crystal clear.


Boss OS-2 OverDrive/Distortion

This one helped shape the sound of Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts bands from the early 2000s, Converge included along with Cave In and Piebald. The OS-2 is unique in that it has a ‘Colour’ control that can shift between overdrive and distortion, but effectively sweeps between the Boss OD-1 and DS-1 sounds. Kurt would push his entirely to the OD-1 side, and run it reasonably cleanly as a boost.


Orange Rockerverb & Crush Pro

Kurt has been a proponent of Orange amps for quite some time, their loud, clear, crunchy tones becoming a basis for Converge, a sentiment shared by his bandmate and Converge bass player Nate Newton (also of Cave In, Old Man Gloom and Doomriders).

A combination of amps made up Kurt’s tone for a long time, the Rockerverb offering tube crunch and depth, while the faster transient of solid-state Crush Pro heads helped articulate Converge’s frantic riffs.

Marshall JMP

Continuing the British trend in his amplifier choices, Kurt has also played Marshall’s extensively, opting for a JMPs, Super Leads and Plexis at times. Marshalls do away with the weight and boisterousness of an Orange, but retain that British, mid-foward push that makes them such a great guitar amp.

Line 6 Helix

More recently, Kurt has been using a Line 6 Helix to great success, powered by Quilter power amplifiers through multiple cabinets. This allows Kurt to fly with a rig, Converge now “rarely using our own gear”.

Shifting gears a little, Kurt uses a Diezel and Archon amp model within the Helix itself (left and right), as well as replacing most of his pedal board with the Helix’s effects.

Keep reading about God City Studio here.