Lenny Kravitz Photo: Courtesy of Mathieu Bitton
Throughout his career, Lenny Kravitz has always insisted on accuracy in his guitar tone. “He works hard on getting everything just right, especially his guitar,” says Alex Alvarez, Kravitz’s guitar tech of 23 years. “He’s just insistent on his sound, which is why he never went wireless. Every time we would demo something, it would never meet his expectations.”
But all that changed during production rehearsals for Kravitz’s European tour in support of his latest album, Strut. After a demo of multiple high-end wireless systems arranged by Tour Supply, Kravitz, Alvarez, and guitarist Craig Ross agreed that Shure Axient Wireless Management Network was the one system that could deliver Kravitz's sonic requirements on stage.
“It started as a conversation with Lenny,” Alvarez says. “The subject of wireless guitar came up, and I told him there was a system I wanted him to check out. He said, ‘We’ve been down this road before. I would like to, but you know if it doesn’t sound right, I’m not going to do it.’ So I called Lance at Tour Supply to set up a demo.”
With rehearsals being in Miami, Lance Wascom, CEO of Tour Supply, had two days to set up the requested shootout. “We showed two Shure systems, Axient and ULX-D, plus two other major brands,” he says. “Everything had to come together quickly and accurately, so I flew to Miami to set up the demo. Being that Lenny and Alex are such great clients, we really wanted to offer every level of support possible.”
Alvarez says that Axient was the system that he had his eye on from the start. “I had heard about it, both from Shure and from other guitar techs,” he notes. “The fact that it can detect interference and change frequencies on its own made it really attractive to me, but I knew that if the sound wasn’t perfect to Lenny’s ears, he would just stick with his cable. But since we already use Shure PSM 1000 in-ears, I figured it was worth a try.”
The first day of rehearsals, Kravitz was not available, so his longtime guitarist and writing partner, Craig Ross, did the initial testing. “Craig really liked the sound and said, ‘Man, Lenny’s got to approve this.’ So we set up two more units for Lenny to check out the next day, and he was very impressed with both the sound and the technology. It turned out to be an easy decision.”
Commenting on his adoption of the Shure Axient guitar system, Kravitz stated, “After 25 years of resisting wireless systems, I am finally free from my beloved cables without sacrificing the organic tone of my guitar and amplifiers.”
Kravitz ordered three dual-channel Axient systems: two each for himself, guitarist Ross, and bassist Gail Ann Dorsey. To fully realize the system’s networking and control capabilities, the band also purchased an AXT6000 Spectrum Manager and ShowLink Access Point.
Being Axient certified, Tour Supply’s Lance Wascom took on the task of educating the production crew on the system’s extensive monitoring, control, and frequency management capabilities. Along with Alex Alvarez, Wascom conferred with monitor engineer Josh Mellottsi on how to best integrate the new systems into the Kravitz backline.
“I love the technology,” says Wascom. “Axient tends to blow people’s minds. To see their reaction as it switches channels by itself, and to see how excited the monitor engineer gets when you coordinate all their frequencies in less than a minute… it’s just a lot of fun! It’s especially gratifying to know that you’re making an impact on the crew’s day-to-day workload. Frequency coordination and monitoring can be time consuming and stressful. Axient automates much of this, which saves time and allows the guys to focus on other tasks. In that sense, Axient can be as much as a ‘win’ for the crew as it is for the band.”
Shure Axient Rack Photo: Courtesy of Alex Alvarez
While the three Axient receivers sit in racks atop each of the guitar and bass rigs, the tour’s total wireless package is networked together and operated from Mellottsi’s monitor position. Frequency coordination is handled through Axient Spectrum Manager and Shure’s Wireless Workbench software. Each day, Mellottsi scans for available frequencies and deploys them through the system.
“Between microphones, in-ears, and now guitars, we have so many frequencies that it’s best to have one person manage it all,” says Alvarez. “Of course, what I like best about Axient is that it always has spare frequencies ready to deploy in case there’s a problem. I remember the first time the system changed frequencies on the fly, and nobody noticed anything on stage. Very awesome.”
Alvarez is also very enthused about Shure’s rechargeable battery system, which is used for the six Axient transmitters as well as the band’s 11 channels of Shure PSM 1000 in-ears. “That’s another huge saving grace,” he says. “We get far more time out of a full charge than alkalines, and the system actually monitors remaining life down to the minute, so there are no surprises. We used to spend $10,000 in batteries for each leg of a major tour, so it’s not just the responsible thing to do, but they also pay for themselves.”
Having used the system on the Lenny Kravitz Strut tour of Europe, Alvarez reports the Shure Axient guitar systems have been a total success. “We’ve literally had zero technical problems with the system,” he reports. “But with Lenny, it always comes back to the sound. He wouldn’t go wireless unless the system didn’t change what he’s worked so hard to sound like. Shure Axient does that for him.”