Favourite Gear: 12 Step

While working on the forthcoming second part of the Opium Winter EP post, I decided to pause and do a quick entry on what is one of my favourite pieces of equipment.

The Keith McMillen 12 Step.

After White Lake Mountain broke up, Mesner, H and I continued jamming and were deciding on which direction we were going to take the music. One of the things I’d always wanted to have is a keyboard player or, at least, someone who could run a synth of some kind mixed in with whatever we came up with.

I brought this up with the band and, while they were receptive, one of the problems was that we believed a true keyboard player would most likely not be into in what we were doing. We didn’t want anything big and fancy; we’re not a prog metal band and we’re definitely not advanced enough at our instruments to come up with anything interesting enough for a keyboard player to work with. We’re more into pads and atmosphere. We thought it would be cool to have just a little something behind the guitars and drums to fill out the overall sound; think a less complex Faith No More.

So I thought about it some more…

Rush did this. I don’t mean Geddy Lee actually playing the keyboard, but Alex Lifeson playing guitar and also adding synth via a set of Moog Taurus bass pedals.

Tool does this. Guitarist Adam Jones uses the same Moog Taurus pedals as Lifeson.

So I thought to myself, “I’m going to get me a set of those!” and quickly ran into a very large problem: Moog bass pedals (or rather, all old school bass pedals) are “holy shit there is no way I’m ever going to buy oneexpensive. I didn’t even have a chance to think about all the extra midi gear I’d have to get in order to get any real sounds out of them. The cost put me off them right away.

I started searching online because someone has to have come up with something similar? This is the age of technological advancement, is it not? Everyone has a solution to something whether there’s a problem to be solved or not and then others copy them. So there has to be at least fifty options out there. Right?

Wrong. Go looking for USB midi foot controllers and you’ll see lists like this. They’re all controllers which means you can control your devices you can’t really play anything.

In the end a single company had a single product which that solved my particular problem, and that was the 12 Step. It was $259 when I ordered one about four years ago so the price hasn’t gone up all that much. It’s still working today due to the fact it was designed to take abuse. While I haven’t run over it with a truck, I have spilled liquid on it; and it’s purpose is basically to be stood on.

As for ease of use, I plug it into my Mac, MainStage picks it up as a controller and when I step on it, it plays whatever sounds are loaded into MainStage. What more could one ask for?

I did end up testing out a few configurations as far as the audio out from the Mac went and here is what ended up working:

12 Step > base model MacBook Air 11-inch > M-Audio Fast Track USB > Amp or whatever DI is available at whatever club we’re playing via an RCA to 1/4″ mono cable.

I shit you not.

The 12 Step comes with a super long USB cable that I run to my trusty 11″ MacBook Air. Laugh all you want about the MacBook, but this ‘lil fucker has been going strong for 7 years and runs MainStage, as I need it, like a champ. Keep in mind that I don’t even scratch the surface of MainStage: I add a few channels, tweak some synths, maybe map a sample and then save it.

The RCA to 1/4″ mono cable is something like this I picked up at a local A/V store for six bucks. Then, as mentioned, this can all be run through an amp or a DI. There is, as they say, no muss and no fuss.

(missing pic of pedal board setup)

It did take a while to lean how to play bass and play keyboards with my feet at the same time. While I’m not busting out Rachmaninoff, it does take some time to get the hands and feet doing what you need them to. Once I got it, I got it. I can play simple pads and trigger samples. Pretty much all of what we recorded can be played live. Opium Winter’s music now has that extra ambience it needed.

The 12 Step is a kick ass, super economical piece of equipment. It’s built like a tank, works exactly as advertised, and doesn’t cost a fortune. It will definitely be staying in my setup, quite possibly, forever.