Mokai's Real-World Rig

AG 241 January 2013 Cover

Posted by Teja Gerken

 A stalwart of the San Francisco folk music scene for the past decade, Mokai plays a rootsy blend of country blues–inspired instrumental fingerstyle tunes, original songs, and traditional material, which can be heard on his three albums, the most recent of which is Any Distraction’ll Do. Performing at cafés, small clubs, house concerts, and the occasional festival, Mokai requires an amplification rig that is easy to set up; produces a good sound quickly, even when there’s no time for a soundcheck (or no sound engineer); and flexible enough to compensate for the large variety of his playing scenarios. 

Mokai ( has long relied on Fishman’s original Blender system (which combines an Acoustic Matrix undersaddle pickup and a Crown internal mic) to deliver his late-’80s Gibson J-185’s punchy voice to an audience, a choice he continues to be happy with. “Going stereo from the guitar to the two channels on the amp gives the most control for sculpting the sound, which is lost on most onboard systems,” he says. For many years, he used Fishman’s now-discontinued Pocket Blender preamp to mix the system’s stereo output into a mono signal to send to a PA, but he has recently upgraded to a Fishman Loudbox Performer amp, which, since it has the blending function built in, allows him to control his onstage sound and can even serve as a mini-PA for his guitar and vocals at smaller venues.

With his Gibson J-185 approaching a quarter century in age and having become a treasured possession, Mokai added a Recording King RNJ-25 (outfitted with an L.R. Baggs Anthem system, which works with a standard mono guitar cable, making setup easier) to his arsenal for use when he’s flying to gigs or playing what he calls “sketchier” venues. While this guitar is smaller than his J-185 (it’s based on a Gibson Nick Lucas–style guitar), it also has maple back and sides, which he finds to be a good sonic match for his playing, and which was also used on the guitars used by some of his influences, including Reverend Gary Davis (who played a J-200). “There’s something about the maple that gives it a jazzier sound for playing up the neck,” he says. “It rings out with a signature zing.” He says that when he bought the guitar, the sales person told him, “You may want another guitar, but you’ll never need one,” which, from a musical perspective, has turned out to be true.


What He Plays

Acoustic Guitars: Gibson J-185, Recording King RNJ-25.

Pickups: Fishman Acoustic Matrix and Crown internal mic in the Gibson. L.R. Baggs Anthem in the Recording King.

Amplifier: Fishman Loudbox Performer.

Tuner: Planet Waves NS Mini.

Strings: Martin SP light-gauge phosphor bronze. 

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar January 2013

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