Time for some housecleaning of the musical toys…

One of my absolute favorite blogs is The Recording Revolution, where the writer, Graham Cochrane, is a professional musician, mixer, and producer.  One of the things he covers is ‘simplicity over stuff’.  The music industry *loves* to say that ‘stuff’ is required to be a good musician.  Graham likes to debunk those myths 🙂

One article that hit VERY close to home is the article ‘what we need vs. what we buy’.  I am *absolutely* guilty of this this with my musical toys.  This fact got hammered home recently.  I was testing a new DAW, and had pulled up an old mix that I had apparently started, but not done much with.  I had set up the ‘heavy mixbuss’, then walked away from it for some reason or another.  So, when I pulled this project up, I was not terribly happy with the mix.  I did some minimal changes, things that I’ve learned recently, or RE learned recently :), and was very happy with the mix.  The amazing thing?  It didn’t require anything more than some basic plug-ins I already owned and applying some knowledge.  Wow!  Do I think that the specialized, whizz-bang plug-ins have their place?  DEFINITELY!!!!  They can get to specific sounds very quickly with minimal work.  But, the point is that they are not needed.  As Graham points out, a compressor, an EQ, and reverb are all you need to get a good sound.  The other stuff helps, but is NOT required.

This also can be said about guitars 🙂  My collection has grown lately, and it is probably time to shrink it a bit.  What’s amazing is that I’ve gone to the ‘vintage style’ guitars; reissues of some very famous instruments.  I’ve found that they do have the tones I’m looking for, so there’s not much need to keep the ones that don’t sound like what I want… eBay, here I come!

Finally, some output from the musical toys!

For all the wonderful toys that I have for playing guitar and recording, I don’t put out a lot of material.  One of my New Year’s resolutions is to change that.  Here is the first thing that I’ve done with some of the new toys.  This was just a longish loop have something to jam over:


This recording is almost all virtual.  The guitar and bass instrument are real (a 2014 Gibson Les Paul ’59 Reissue R9 and a real 1968 Fender Jazz Bass) but the amps and drums are all processors.  The guitar is running through a Fractal Audio Axe-FX II XL with a basic Marshall amp patch.  The bass is running direct into my audio interface, and then using IK Multimedia’s Amplitude 3.  The drums are done using Logic Pro X’s Drummer plug-in.

Logic Pro X 10.1 is out!

Woo-hoo!  Apple updated Logic Pro X to 10.1 today! (and MainStage to 3.1) http://www.loopinsight.com/2015/01/21/apple-releases-logic-pro-x-10-1/

This is a great development.  There are several key elements to this update that I’m VERY happy to see.

  1. The update happened at all!  The time between Logic 8, 9 and X was VERY long, almost 4 years between the release of 9 and the release of X.  There were some upgrades during that time, including the 9.1 release that switched to 64-bit, but there did not seem to be any major work being done on the program.  Apple has been much better about updating X, but with nothing since May, the Logic user community was beginning to worry.
  2. Drummer received a great update.  Even though EDM / Techno is not my thing, I’m very happy to see a current feature continue to get updated.  Many times, Apple has created some awesome things for music, and then let them rot.  The two examples that come to mind are in GarageBand.  Those two features were the lessons and the instant songs.  They were great ideas that never received any additional material.  Same thing for the Apple Loops.  After the first 5 packs, nothing happened.
  3. The update focused on more than just one or two specific things.  A couple of months ago, I remember getting a survey from Apple about Logic.  In filling it out, I noticed that it was very comprehensive.  It appears that Apple took the responses to heart, and made lots of changes to improve the program.

Lots to chew through in the new update.  This, plus the other updates coming out of NAMM look to get me excited about mixing again!

Challenging musical weekend (gear and band, both…)

I can’t believe I survived this weekend.  To say that it was challenging was a MAJOR understatement.  Two shows, one Friday night with my new band, and one Saturday running sound for a very popular band, had me very stressed out.  The last month or two has been some changes to my equipment, which caused a not so inconsiderable amount of grief.  I just wanted to put down some thoughts on what worked and didn’t, and what I learned (and need to continue to work at)

  • What worked
    • The van.  Best idea I’ve had in FOREVER… I picked up an ’05 Dodge Grand Caravan with Stow-and-go seats.  By putting the seats away, I basically have a very nice cargo van, and the PA fits wonderfully in the back.
    • The ’59 Les Paul reissue.  This is my new main guitar, played it at my gig on Friday for the first time.  I’ve been a PRS only guitarist for many years.  I’ve tried some different guitars, including Les Pauls, but nothing has really ‘stuck’.  Enter a Les Paul Custom Pro that I picked up two years ago.  This guitar rocked my world.  Good quality, great sounds, and very versatile.  This had me revisit my ‘no Gibson’ stance.  I happened across a WONDERFUL 2013 Les Paul that is a reissue of a 1959 Les Paul.  This is the best guitar I’ve played in both feel and tone.  I have some awesome PRS guitars, including Private Stocks, and the Les Paul just captures something that the PRS don’t.
    • The Axe-FX II XL.  This is a digital modeling platform for guitarist.  I’ve been struggling to get a great sound out of my tube amps and pedals that I own.  The amp + pedals have been wildly inconsistent.  Some nights, the tone is amazing, and other nights are a struggle.  To get it to sound even remotely good, there needs to be some volume, and the way that most guitar speakers are oriented, the sound is aimed at the player’s knees.  The Axe gives me a consistent sound that can be run through a monitor rather than a guitar cab and the monitor can be aimed at my head.  A lot less volume is needed, and the sound is phenomenal.  It needs to be tweaked for the PA a bit better, but that is an easy fix.  I did have one issue where the wah pedal was engaged on each setting by default.  I had to turn the wah off each time I changed patches.  Easy enough to fix, but needs be done before next practice.
    • Husky roller crate.  Bought a crate with wheels for all of the cables and ‘stuff’.  Makes for a lot less trips between the van and the gig.
    • Third and fourth sets with the new band.  Things came together, and people danced almost from beginning to the end of the sets.
  • What was OK
    • The Mackie DL32R.  This has been a godsend and a curse all at the same time.  My Line 6 mixer only has 12 XLR inputs and 4 guitar inputs.  For the sound gigs I’ve been doing, 16 inputs is not enough.  Mackie just came out with this new mixer that allows for 32 inputs, 8 of which have the dual 1/4″ / XLR connectors, and 14 outputs.  And, the mixer fits in a 3 space rack unit that is very portable.  The mixer relies on having an iPad and a wifi router to work.  So far, the mixer is working well, but I am missing some features that the Line 6 mixer had.  Multi band compression, separate limiter from the regular compressor, built in feedback suppression, a spectrograph on the EQ screen for each channel, output level views and few presets have made me feel like I’ve taken a step backwards.  I’m hoping that NAMM will bring an updated release to the firmware & iPad software to add some of these features.
  • What sucked
    • Trying to play with a new band and set up a new mix at the same time.  This was a VERY bad idea.  First problem was getting to the gig only an hour and a half before we were supposed to play.  Normally, that’s not a problem, as I have presets set up for my old mixer.  The new mixer, however, had not been used for the current band.  I was struggling all evening to mix and play, which never works out well.  There were a couple of points where I just had mental breakdowns trying to solve problems.  Sorry guys.
    • My knowledge.  One thing that I haven’t been doing at home lately doing any mixing.  I’ve been running sound for bands, but not really doing my ‘homework’ of figuring out how the new systems react.  I’ve been a bit spoiled by the Line 6 Stagescape mixer, as the presets are darned good, and usually require minimal changes to get a good sound.  The Mackie mixer doesn’t have all of the presets, so I have to figure out how to get things to sound great.  After Friday night’s gig, I spent some serious time on Saturday working on understanding some EQ curves for the vocals.  Saturday, I was able to get a much better sound for the band.
    • Loading in and out and setup.  For some reason, even though I’ve bought containers for the equipment for less trips, it seemed to take longer to setup and tear down.  The Saturday gig, we arrived 2 1/2 hours before the show, and we still felt rushed, and didn’t get a proper sound check.  Last Saturday’s gig was similar.  We really don’t have any more equipment than before, but things seem to be taking longer, rather than shorter.
    • The Line 6 speakers.  This is the most frustrating one.  The speakers sound AMAZING.  BUT… one of the speakers has some gawd-awful issue where it starts to ‘splutter’.  This is the digital equivalent of a loose cable.  The problem is that if the speaker starts to do this, all of the OTHER speakers are affected.  This happened last night almost all night.  I thought it might be a bad power line, as it seemed that if I moved the power cable up, or held it up, the nonsense stopped.  I was able to swap the cables, but that brought on a DIFFERENT problem.  I either reset the speaker too fast, or something else was wrong, because at that point, the downstream speakers stopped getting signal.  Part of the issue might have been that I was daisy chaining two AES cables together (NOT recommended).  In the end, I was able to resolve the issues, but I now have a lack of faith in the system.
    • First two sets with the new band.  Between trying to fight with the PA, being late to start, playing a song we’ve never played (with a guest singer, no less), and having two new members of the group, the first two sets were, shall we say, ah, rough?  By the middle of the second set, everything had settled down, and hopefully, no permanent damage was done.

Last part of my thoughts is some solutions:

  • Buy the correct digital cable from Line 6.  A 50′ cable exists that Line 6 recommends.  Not cheap, but certainly cheaper than loosing the gigs.
  • Try running the Line 6 speakers in ‘analog’ mode, as if they were just regular speakers.  This would eliminate the problem of one speaker going crazy and taking out the whole PA.
  • Creating a check list for setup & tear down.  That way, the next step is alway visible.
  • Practice, both with my playing and my mixing.
  • Get in contact with the people at Mackie and either get on the beta group or at least contact the product manager to give suggestions.

Hopefully this weekend’s lessons will be learned and solutions applied in the future!

Wow, 10 years, where does the time go?

Wow, this blog has been (mostly) active over 10 years.  My writing has been pretty quiet since September.  Not because of lack of activity, but for the complete opposite reason!  Too much going on!  One of the major things that has happened is that I left my job with my previous company, and have started working with a much smaller company.  I’ve moved from DevOps back into Development, and have actually been working with Visual Basic.NET, Windows Presentation Framework, and Javascript / jQuery / Knockout.js.  I have written more code in the last two months than I have in the last 3-4 years, and I’m VERY happy about that!  I am now also mentoring a couple of developers, and doing a LOT of learning myself.

On the music front, they ‘year-and-a-bit more’ of gear continued.  I swear I thought that I was done recently.  Time has a way of changing that, though!  I’ve picked up a LOT of sound gigs lately, and they are paying much better than the late night bar gigs.  To continue doing them, though, I’ve had to make a couple of updates, which I’ll be reviewing soon.  Plus, my taste in guitars has changed a bit recently, too.  I’ve got to say, Fender and Gibson have stepped up their game in the last couple of years, and I think that is directly correlated to the fact that PRS guitars sound and build quality is amazing.

It been an interesting ride, and it is going to get more interesting!

My guitar rig…

In all the ‘year of gear’ posts, I don’t really think I’ve discussed what has worked and what hasn’t.  I figured it might be a good time to go over what’s working for me for my guitar playing, and what hasn’t…

First up, pedals…

Things I can’t live without now:

One of the best pedals I’ve picked up lately is the Wampler Ego Compressor.  This is an awesome compressor that is very quiet, and has some great features.  One of the best features is the parallel compression dial.  This allows the original signal to go through unaffected and to be mixed in with the compressed signal.  This allows the pick attack to still come through while the rest of the signal is compressed.

Second ‘can’t live without’ pedal is the ISP Decimator II G String. This is a great noise gate pedal that has a very unique feature.  The pedal has two inputs and outputs so that you can run the pedal in two places in your signal chain.  I have the noise gate first in my effect chain, right after the guitar, and also as the first thing in my effects loop on the amp.  This setup eliminates almost all noise when I’m not playing.

Finally, my TC Electronic pedals.  The main one is the ‘can’t live without’, which is the PolyTune 2 pedal.  This is an amazing tuner that I’ve never had any issue with.  I *might* switch it up for the new PolyTune 2 mini pedal, if all the features are there :).  I also use the TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb, the Transition Delay, and the Gravy Chorus.  Great pedals that are easy to dial in and get a good studio sound.

More to come!

Universal Audio’s Apollo Twin Duo quick review

I’m an equipment junkie, I’ll admit it.  The amount of guitars and recording equipment I’ve played with is well above the average hobbyist.  There are a LOT of promises out there, and rarely does the hype live up to the reality.  The Apollo Twin does live up to the hype, and more…  Now for the full story.

I’ve gone through several prosumer audio interfaces in the last couple of years.  Everything from an M-Audio Delta 66 all the way up to the Avid M-Box 3 Pro.  For the most part, none of them have been truly exceptional.  There’s always been issues of some sort with every one of them.  Getting an interface that works 100% of the time has been an absolute challenge.  My last interface, the M-Box 3 Pro was so bad, I was calling tech support to get a resolution.  After over a year and a half, 3 firmware updates, and updated drivers, the interface STILL wouldn’t work correctly, and the issue seemed to be pretty prevalent on the user forums.  Things got better over time, but it never did work correctly.

At the beginning of the year Universal Audio brought out the Apollo Twin.  To me, and my studio usage, this seemed like an ideal interface for my setup, but there was one problem.  The interface is a thunderbolt interface, but it only had one thunderbolt port.  I use an Apple Macbook Pro with thunderbolt, and I drive my external monitor off of the thunderbolt connection.  That was a real problem until the CalDigit Thunderbolt expansion showed up.  That has an HDMI port that allowed me to drive my monitor, and a second thunderbolt port that would allow me to connect the interface to the computer.

Last weekend, a fortuitous turn of events allowed me to get an Apollo Twin Duo without breaking my budget.  I was expecting good, but I’ve been jaded enough by lots of interfaces to be expecting some trouble.  Fortunately, my fears were completely unfounded.  The setup of the interface was very straightforward.  There is a link to a video and driver downloads in the box.  Following the instructions was simple and straight forward.  Once I finished, everything just WORKED.  Amazing!!!! So, I pulled up a some audio, and hit play…  I had to scrape my jaw off the floor.  I thought that the M-Box 3 Pro was supposed to be the top of the line audio.  The Apollo blew it away.  The detail on what was coming out of my speakers was freakin’ AMAZING.  For some reason, the stereo separation is much more apparent on the Apollo.  When I brought up one of the projects I was mixing (my own band’s live show), I was flabbergasted.  I had been struggling to get some balances correct.  With the new interface, I was able to hear it, and correct it almost instantly.  Because the interface is PCIe over Thunderbolt, the buffers and latency are incredible.

I did run into one issue when I first set the interface up… apparently, I had bought one that had been tested and returned to the place I bought it from.  This meant that the first night I had it, a Sunday, I couldn’t register to get all of the plug-ins that are part of the package.  I sent a support ticket in, and called to Tech support the next day.  They were able to clear up the registration very quickly, with a minimum of fuss.  They did a great job.

Once I was able to get the plug-ins installed and working, I did a bit of testing… nothing scientific, just replacing some of my other plug-ins that are models of similar equipment to the Apollo’s plug-ins.  Again, blown away is the least I can say about them.  Just switching to the LA-2A compressors in the latest package was like taking a video from 2D to 3D.  The detail is just amazing.  And, the preamp modeling is just crazy.  Running the included 610-B on a guitar input before sending to Amplitube warmed up the signal significantly.  I imagine that running it on vocals is even better.

Ok, enough gushing… what are the drawbacks?  #1 is that for a basic interface, it is expensive.  It’s worth it, but that’s hard to explain.  #2 is the endless parade of plug-ins are not cheap in two different ways.  One is money, and two is the processor requirements.  I can’t imagine buying the Twin Solo with just one processor.  I’ve already pushed the Duo to 50% processing power with just a small number of plugin instances.  Fortunately, it is fairly easy to expand the processing power by buying the expansion units.  I’m hoping that Universal Audio will start making the expansions with Thunderbolt instead of Firewire (and have pass thru functionality!).  I can see an OCTO processor in my future if I keep using the plug-ins!

All-in-all, the Apollo Twin Duo is a great piece of equipment for anyone recording or mixing and doesn’t need a ton of I/O.

Line 6 2/3s a DreamStage Review…

Quick review:

I *finally* got my Line 6 L3T and L3S speakers and subwoofers.  I was able to pick up floor models / demos at a great price, and was finally able to bring them home for last weekend’s gig.  There has not been a lot of talk of these speakers, other than the initial release.  I’ve heard them before, though, and especially connected to the Line 6 StageScape, and they sound amazing.  They are loud, but not piercing loud.  Cheaper speakers seem to have a lot of extra high frequencies that these speakers do not have.  They are very full sounding without being over bearing.  I love how the speakers connect digitally to the mixing board.  One cable from the board to a speaker, then daisy changing all the way out, with complete assignability.

Why did I say 2/3s?  We still have regular monitors.  I’m keeping my eyes out for the L2Ms for monitors!

I’m looking forward to using these for a LONG time!

NAMM thoughts, and a gig…

So, this week was NAMM.  NAMM is one of the large music creation / production industry trade shows, held out in California.  Most of the products announced here will show up over the next 6 months to a year.  This is where all the new toys, goodies, and trends start.  After reading a lot of the forums and following as much of the press as possible, I just wanted to sum up what seemed interesting to ME with some editorial on my thoughts (Your Mileage May Vary)…

First off, true Thunderbolt audio interfaces started showing up.  Between Motu‘s 828x, Zoom’s new interface, and Universal Audio‘s Apollo Twin, true Thunderbolt audio interfaces are finally showing up.  There is one small problem will all of the new interfaces though… no pass through.  For me, that’s a deal breaker.  I have 2011 Macbook Pro, which has a Thunderbolt port that pulls double duty as a Thunderbolt to DVI connector.  Which, makes these new audio devices pretty useless for me right now.  Still, it’s GREAT to see the Thunderbolt port being used, and with the Apollo, because the device is also being used to off-load effects, the PCIe bus allows for a LOT of streams to be going back and forth.  I’m surprised that more of the audio interfaces haven’t moved to ‘true’ USB 3.0, as that would open up a lot of bandwidth for higher input track counts.

Second, more and more digital mixers are getting built.  This is kind of a two edged sword.  Personally, I LOVE the new digital mixers and am amazed at what the companies like QSC, Allen and Heath, and Behringer are putting into the price point of what the old basic Mackie boards go for.  The counterpoint to that is the old saying ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.  These mixers can do amazing things if you understand what needs to be done, and you have someone actually running the board.  The Line 6 StageScape mixers are pretty unique in that they focus on doing the mixing as a musician would, not a sound tech.  From what I’ve read about the QSC mixers, they have a similar idea, but not as ‘friendly’ as the StageScape is.  The thing is, you still need someone to run the boards to get an effective mix.  I’ve been moonlighting with my P.A. to mix a friend of mine’s band.  It always amazes me how much adding or removing just 1 or 2 db of sound changes the mix.  Having someone who knows when to push the instruments forward and to pull them back can make the night much more enjoyable for the entire room.  It’s unfortunate that the clubs really aren’t paying groups enough to actually pay a sound tech to run the shows.  It would make a HUGE difference in the performances.  Back to the original subject, the new mixers are getting more and more amazing with each iteration.  The Behringer X18 (was the X16) looks like the biggest winner, if and when they get it out to the public.  It was supposed to be released last year, but a redesign came about, and it certainly looks worth it.  This space is certainly going to get better and better.

Finally, there was some guitar stuff that was interesting.  Fender’s new Strat Deluxe Plus, with it’s easy part replacement plus personality cards look really cool.  Talk about a tweaker’s delight!  Pickups can be changed with no wiring to do, and the characteristics of the pickups, selector switch, and tone knobs can be changed by popping in personality cards.  Very cool.  Everything else was a bit ho-hum.  Line 6’s ‘amplifier redesign’ looks interesting, but there seemed to be some basic features left out, like direct outs, that leave me scratching my head at the market that they are going for.  It’s also interesting that they are using the older Pod X3 technology, rather than the newer HD technology.  One company that wasn’t at NAMM, but had a really interesting beta release is the Fractal Audio Axe-FX II.  The guy who designs and builds those things is crazy about capturing the nuances of a tube amplifier in a DSP, and he is close, if not having already surpassed a good tube amp.  The Axe is on my ‘next to buy’ list.

So, how does this tie into playing a gig this weekend?

The music instrument business seems to be going into two different directions.  You either have insanely specialized equipment that is VERY expensive, or you have things that ‘do everything’ at rock bottom prices with lots of trade-offs.  The middle ground equipment seems to be getting lost.  I’ll go to the Line 6 example.  The new amp is interesting because it’s a digital amp that is controlled via bluetooth with an iPad or iPhone, but it still has some basic controls on the amp itself.  The power wattage is enough to play live, and the price is fairly inexpensive, but I doubt that many people will use them live.  There’s just too much that has to go right to get it to sound good.  Not putting in a line out takes away a lot of the usability.  Heck, I just ran a show for someone who had an old Line 6 Flextone III, and we used the XLR out directly to the board to get a great sound.  I guess it just feels like the companies are really focused on the bedroom musician, and not the performing musician.  Amps are either 100 watt tube monsters or 10 watt recording amps.  Same thing with the guitars, great quality instruments are either insanely expensive or not up to gigging standards.

And, the million dollar question is… do we actually NEED a lot of this stuff?  For my gig this weekend, my power supply that I use to run my pedals went haywire.  I couldn’t run my entire board like I normally do.  Fortunately, I had a backup power supply, but it only allowed me to run my most important pedals. (which were my wah, tuner, compressor, and noise gate) .  I ended up having a pretty stripped down sound, and you know what?  That was all I really needed to play for 4 sets.  (It’s fortunate that we don’t play too many ‘effect-y’ songs).

Still, it’s a great time to be a musician!  Lot’s of great tools to help produce better and better quality music!

I gigged a Tele last night (and I think I liked it!)

The ‘year of gear’ is finally winding down.  I’ve been on an absolute tear with guitars, recording equipment, and PA equipment.  But, that’s not really what this post is about.

This post is about finally understanding some of the physics of getting a great sound in a band setting.

This one starts with me watching some videos on how to play guitar in a church setting.  The instructor is playing a Fender Telecaster Deluxe, which is basically a noiseless version of the standard Telecaster (Tele for short).  He’s getting some great tones with a very basic amp and pedal setup.  In the back of my mind, I file the Tele Deluxe as a ‘cool guitar to keep an eye out for’.  They are not terribly expensive, when compared to my PRS guitars, but they aren’t free, either.  So, I’ve been keeping an eye out for new or used, but I haven’t come across anything that fits.  I’ve played new ones that I didn’t like, and most used ones weren’t really there, either.  I tried non deluxe models, but I like the thinner neck of the Deluxe, and I REALLY like the noiseless of the pickups, even if they don’t sound as twangy.

Well, about a month ago, someone I work with, whom is also a guitar aficionado, tells me about trying out a used Tele at the GC near where we work.  I *drag* it out of him that it’s a Tele deluxe like I’m looking for, at a great price because it is used.  One call later, I confirm it’s what I’m looking for,  so off to GC at lunch for a test drive.  I was blown away by this guitar!  Plugged into an Orange Rockerver 1/2 stack, this guitar just JUMPED.  The action on the strings was set pretty low, which is where I like it.  The guitar just had some great authority.  It wasn’t the twangiest of tele sounds, it was a bit smoother, but still had some great bite.  I had to wait until GC released it (the guitar had literally been traded in two or three days before, and they wait 30 days to validate equipment isn’t stolen), but last week I was able to finally pick it up.

I really liked the feel of the guitar, so I went ahead and put new strings on it, and took it to my gig on Saturday night.  I had two PRS as backup, and just wanted to hear how the Tele sounded through my rig, and see if it would work.  Well… I ended up playing it for three sets.  I’d have played it the entire night, except the screw holding the strap nob seemed to come out.  I don’t know if it was that way before, but it was kinda weird.  Tightened the screw up when I got home; I’ll have to see if it needs a repair.  The REASON I played it for the whole night?  The sound.  The Tele complimented my band REALLY well.  We play a mix of classic, grunge, and modern danceable rock.  Everything from Steppenwolf to My Darkest Days, with some country thrown in.  This guitar handled it all, and handled it incredibly well.  What I loved was how it sat in the mix.  I was able to hear myself without needing to turn up.  Also, I loved how I could switch from chords to riffs, and the volume level didn’t drop off or jump up.  The guitar played nice with all my pedals, and I was actually able to use the pedals to really get different tones.  I had picked up a great compressor recently, but with my other guitars, it doesn’t really make a huge difference.  With the Tele, it fattened the sound up, without being in your face.  Next gig is this Friday, will have to see how it works then.

Will I get rid of my PRS?  LOL… Umm. no.  The guitars I currently have are all very amazing instruments, each with a different voice and reason to play.  But, I will test the Tele again this week… I think I like it!


This is kind of a zen post, a bit of train of thought stuff, but I wanted to capture the moment…

I picked up an interesting guitar book recently, Introduction to Jazz Guitar Soloing.  In the first couple of pages, the author made an interesting statement, ‘Most key centered solos can be compared to pointless conversation’, and that really hit home.

Ok, gotta back up and explain what that means before moving forward…

When playing a solo over chord changes, there is usually a specific ‘key’ of notes that can be used over the whole chord progression.  One can play any note in the key, and it will work with the overall tonality of the chords, and sound OK.  Personally, I don’t think that there is much wrong with this, but it amounts to ‘noodling’ (something I do a fair amount of! 🙂 )

What the author is point out is that without some idea of where you are going, or what you are trying to achieve with a solo, it can be just kind of a ‘random note’ thing.  Of course, he has his ideas of how to not have ‘pointless conversation’, which is interesting to absorb.

One of the first exercises in the book is to play over a progression, and record it.  This is great practice, as it gives one a better idea of how one REALLY sounds 🙂  Tonight, I decided to create my own backing track to play over for the exercise.  I decided to play around with Logic X, as the new drummer piece is incredible for doing good backing tracks.  I recorded a couple of bass lines to add some basic definition, and then proceeded to jam out on the guitar.  I didn’t even dial in a fancy sound or anything, just used Amplitube’s default patch of a nice clean sound.  Wow, did I have some fun.  My little backing track had enough dynamics for me to switch up a bit on, and I tried a bit of the different techniques from the book.  That turned into some very cool stuff.  I haven’t played like this in a while, and, boy, did it feel good to have some nice melody and dynamics, and it was pretty much effortless.

It just all comes back around to having fun making music.

Ok, Zen off… 🙂

Correction on something I said about Logic X

I have a correction to make to one of my posts about Logic X.  In this blog post, https://dscheidt.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/decisions-decisions-decisions-personal-daw-comparison-of-logic-x-studio-one-and-pro-tools-11-with-industry-thought/ I incorrectly stated that Logic X only did strip silence destructively on the audio file.  That is incorrect.  There is a ‘Strip Silence’ command that works on the clip in the Arrange view.  The menu item is hidden on the toolbar.  That is exactly what I was looking for.

Adventures in Guitar Amp Modeling, Amplitube style

Today, IK Multimedia released an update to Amplitube.  Ok, so they’ve been doing this for a long time, why is today a big deal?  Well, 2 things… first off, the latest version is compatible with ProTools 11.  But that’s not what this article is about 🙂  The second thing is that today they added a model of a pedal that I actually own, the Fulltone OCD pedal.  Again you ask, why is that interesting.   Because, this is the first time I can personally compare the program / model to the real thing, as I have a Fulltone OCD on my pedal board.  Long and short of it is that the model is excellent, works like the real thing.  VERY impressed.

So, why the blog post, then?

One thing that I’ve seen is that guitar rig modeling has gotten a bad rap over the years.  There have been some very crappy pieces of software that have deserved to be ridiculed.  In fact, Amplitube was one of them!  There have been lots of pieces of software that have sounded hideous.  And, probably every one of them is somewhere on a ‘professional’ recording 🙂  Whaaaaa!?!   How’s that?  Well, the current modeling software can sound darn good, but there are some things that one needs to do to get that good sound.

1.  Know what sound you want.  This is important.  Certain modeling software does certain things.  Check the software to see if it has the amp you are looking for.  Looking for high gain?  or low crunch?  Some programs are stronger than others.  Can you live with it inside of a DAW?  New DAW software has some great plug-ins, but they only work in each particular program.

2.  Accept that it’s not going to be the ‘real amp’.  This is what hangs most guitarists up.  Tubes react a certain way.  No matter how much is tried, digital circuits don’t feel the same.  Keyboard players have had to deal with this for years.  NOTHING sounds or feels like a grand piano, yet every keyboard tries to get there.  It’s just a lot easier to carry today’s keyboards than it is to lug a baby grand.  Guitarists are headed in the same direction.  Turning up amps to 11 has gone the way of the dodo in most places.

3.  Know how the real hardware works!  This is one of the reasons I wrote this post.  The current rig modeling is getting things EXACTLY right.  Which means, you have to know how the things that are being modeled really work.  Take the OCD pedal that came out today.  One thing on the real pedal that I had to learn was that unity gain on the pedal (where the signal out of the pedal isn’t louder with the pedal on than when it it off) on the level knob is as somewhere around 9 o’clock.  The convention on pedals is that the 12 o’clock position is unity.  Well, the model has it exactly right.  Unity on the pedal model is at 9 o’clock.  That can definitely negatively affect the sound, and I would not have known that unless I’d used the real thing (or experimented a lot).  So understanding what is being modeled, and knowing how to make that sound good definitely helps.

4.  Good hardware.  This starts with a good guitar, good cables, a good interface, good computer, good software, and good speakers.  Skimp on any one of those, and the sound is going to be horrible.  I recently changed my Line 6 Toneport UX8 audio interface out for an MBox Pro 3, my M-Audio BX-5 speakers for Mackie 824mk2s, and my PRS guitars out for a Les Paul.  (Aside, PRS are still my beloved #1s, but I found an awesome Les Paul that gets some playing time).  I’ve switched between several Amp / Rig simulator programs / plug-ins, and I’ve settled on Amplitube currently.  These changes have made an enormous difference in the sound.  It sounded OK before the changes.  Now, my guitar tone at low volumes is great, very much what I am looking for.

5.  Guitar cabinet simulations are important.  Impulse Response (IR for short) cabinet models go a LONG way to making a modeler sound good.  Also, modeling room points help.  One trick I use with Amplitube is the room mics on the cabinet.  Amplitube has 4 sound points.  You can have two mics on the cabinet, plus two ‘room mics’.  Mixing the room into the output can really open up the sound, and take away the digital harshness that modelers are known for.

6.  Don’t be afraid to throw what anyone else says out the window.  The number one rule is that ‘if it sounds good, it is good’.  Experimenting with modelers can be very interesting.  Find a sound you like?  Save the settings, and then it’s easy to get back.

All in all, there’s a lot of great programs out there!

Got Logic X? Got a Faderport? Wanna know how to make them work together?

Talk about poor communications…

Over two years ago, Logic 9.1 went 64-bit optional.  The Presonus Faderport only had a 32-bit configuration file for Logic.  So, for over two years, I basically put Logic on the shelf, as the time to move to 64-bit was then.  Studio One supported 64-bit and the Faderport, so it made no sense why Logic would not have the same abilities.  It is, after all, just a MIDI device.  So, after two years, no driver updates, no install package updates for the Faderport, and no communication on the message board.  Cue Logic X.  Not only is it pretty awesome, it happens to be 64-bit ONLY.  So, the Faderport is useless, right?  I even wrote on the Presonus forums asking about the compatibility between Logic X and the Faderpoart.  No answer.  That board makes most graveyards seem jumping.  So, was perusing the forum tonight, and noticed someone had made a post to a thread from 2010 about Logic.  In the new message to the topic, someone mentioned that there was a Presonus recompiled bundle for 64-bit Logic!!!!  Hot DAYUM!!!!  Click on the link, and sure enough, it’s all legit.  Pull the bundle in and voila!  Logic X and the FaderPort are best buddies!  Here’s the perverse part… the following tech note has been available SINCE AUGUST 2011!!!!!  WTH!?!  There’s no sticky on the forum, have never seen anyone say ‘boo’ about it.  This is crazy!  The answer has been on Presonus’ site for YEARS, and no one has pointed it out.  Crazy!

Well, if anyone else needs it, here’s the link:



It appears that Presonus updated the page with worse instructions than before…  To install the bundle that is attached to the link, start with Logic Pro X as the application folder to ‘Show Package Contents’.  Drag the Faderport bundle into the Contents -> Midi Devices Plug-ins folder.  Start Logic at that point, and the Faderport should just work.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions… (personal DAW comparison of Logic X, Studio One, and Pro Tools 11 with Industry thought

It was bound to happen… Apple hasn’t released a major version of Logic in 4 years.  The MOMENT I install Pro Tools 11, Logic X shows up.  (You can thank me at ANY time 🙂 )

So, what does one do with 3 DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation software)?  Why compare and contrast them, of course!

First off, I’m not a pro.  I *might* fall in the pro-sumer category, but I think I fall into the ‘talented amateur’ column.  So, any thoughts here will be from that point of view.

My DAW journey has been interesting, to say the least.  In my PC days, I only used Cakewalk Pro Studio and Cakewalk Sonar.  I had some success at learning to record with it, but never ran projects like I do now.  In ’07, I switched to the Mac, and have basically never looked back.  I did mourn the loss of Sonar, as there is no Mac version, but instead switched to Garageband and then Logic.  I was mainly doing very basic stuff with Logic 8 & 9, just trying to learn my way around a DAW, still in the newbie stage for a long time.  I really didn’t push my learning of the software too much.  Both were good, but not exceptional, as Sonar had been, but as I wasn’t really doing too much recording, it really didn’t matter too much.

Then, Studio One happened.

Somehow, I had started working with a church on doing their sound.  They got a Presonus 24.4.2, and started recording all of their services.  I ended up using Studio One to mix the weekly worship and create the pastor’s podcast.  To say that my knowledge and understanding grew would be a VAST understatement.  Week in and week out, we had problems, difficulties, and challenges that had to be overcome.  I learned a LOT during those three years.  I learned what *I* needed a DAW for, and what the challenges were for a small personal+ studio.  I’ve helped record, mix, and master a couple of EPs for other people, plus my own band’s material.

Having said all that…  🙂

I’ve only started to learn Pro Tools 11.  I recently upgraded (sorta) my audio card to an MBox Pro 3.  That’s the subject of another blog post, though.  Since I bought it after the Pro Tools 11 announcement, I was able to get the Pro Tools 11 version.  Woo-hoo!  My initial impression has been interesting.  I’ve spent a lot of time reading the Avid forums, and it seems like there are a lot of people who missed out on the announcement information.  Pro Tools 11 is a complete rewrite of the audio engine.  Avid dropped all 32 bit support, and went 64 bit, new plugin format only.  For some reason, the community didn’t understand that, and have been upset with Avid.  From what I’ve seen, that’s been a great move.  Sometimes, the legacy code will kill you.  Ask Microsoft… 🙂  Users have dismissed some of Pro Tools 11’s features, like the faster than real time bounce.  What isn’t clear is how MUCH faster than real time it is.  I saw some posts stating that 90 minutes of audio were being rendered down in under a minute.  Folks, that’s an AMAZING number.  Rendering the church’s audio usually took me 10-15 minutes, and that was for a measly podcast.  The one thing that the prosumer / consumer market doesn’t get is that tools that people make money are are usually designed to do one thing only… and that is let the user get something done as quickly as possible, with money rarely being an object.  Why do you think the studios buy high end computers, converters, boards, effects, etc?  You can get the same sounds with much less, but at a huge cost of time.  Pro Tools is centered around workflow, and using the least amount of anything to get the job done.  Watching someone do drum replacement on Pro Tools is insane, it’s that fast.  Unfortunately, the cost is that Pro Tools has a high learning curve.  Nothing that can’t be overcome, but one must live with it day out and in, trying to get as much done at once to get the real benefit from it.

The new Logic X is very interesting.  It feels like it’s definitely trying to get back into the race.  So far, from just a couple of days of puttering around on it, I really like the new version.  Look and feel are awesome.  It always bothered me that Garageband looked good, while Logic seemed to be stuck in the 90s 🙂  That certainly has been fixed (well for the most part).  Just playing around, the new workflow looks good.  One issue I did run into is that certain things in Logic are destructive.  I’d thought that destructive audio edits were long gone.  Unfortunately for Logic, working directly with the audio files can be surprising if you are used to Studio One.  The example I ran across is the strip silence command.  In Logic, that works directly on the audio file.  Frankly, that’s a bit scary, and probably VERY unneeded in today’s world with 1 TB hard drives.  Correction:  Logic X has non destructive edits for Strip Silence.  Hooray!!!  One other thing about Logic X has been that it is completely 64-bit only.  I think that’s a great move, and long overdue.  Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to come from any code clean up, more like just not enabling the 32-bit build flag in XCode 🙂  I do expect that there are going to be ongoing updates with Logic, just like Apple did with Final Cut Pro.  Which brings up one of the major cons about Logic… Apple itself.  Apple has been VERY tight lipped about updates the last couple of years, even more so after the Final Cut Pro X debacle that happened two years ago.  There were rumors floating round that Logic had been rewritten the same time as FCP.  My guess is that the ‘next’ version of Logic was done, but just like FCP, did not have feature parity with the current version.  After the FCP backlash, I think that Apple decided to modify the current Logic instead of coming out with a completely new version, hence the 2 year delay.  It would be nice to get a *bit* more warning that a new version is coming out than a text saying ‘Logic X is out’.  Pro communities usually like a *bit* more interaction than the current Apple silence.  I bet the FCP people have the same issues…

Still, my go-to right now is Studio One.  Even though it is being updated constantly, it feels like it’s falling a bit behind.  The look and feel from v1 to v2 seems to be a bit of a step backward, but the usability has been excellent.  One of the things that I like is that Studio One is making changes with each and every release.  v2 added a lot of features that people had been asking for.  When some of them didn’t exactly work like people expected, the updates changed the functionality in a pretty timely manner.  Studio One feels like it falls between the uber-Pro-ness of Pro Tools, and the simplification of Garageband / Logic.  Are there some pro level features I’d love to see?  Sure.  But, one thing that Studio One has that neither Logic nor Pro Tools has is unlimited track count.  Again, in this day and age, why should track count even *remotely* be an issue?  My laptop runs circles around my old Mac Pro.  Plus, the 100% non-destructive editing (unless you tell the DAW to do destructive editing) REALLY rocks.  I don’t know how many times I’ve clipped something short, then just been able to lengthen the clip to get the rest, even across projects.

All three have a different focus group.  Since I’m not doing as much church work and needing to be under the gun, I’ll probably switch back to Logic.  All of my plug-ins work in Logic, and I’ll be very interested to see how often Apple updates it.  My guess is that there are a couple of extra features on deck, just like the FCP updates.  The major issues I had with Logic are pretty much gone.  Get to 100% non-destructive editing and update the look and feel of the plug-ins, and Logic is a pretty much slam dunk for me.  The songwriting tools look VERY strong, which is where I’m going to be living for a bit.  Not as much audio production work going on right now.  For that, though, it will either be Studio One or Pro Tools.

It’s GOOD to have choices!

First gig with the Line 6 Stagescape M20d

Short synopsis… awesome!  🙂

Last night was the first time my band used the Stagescape in a ‘real’ situation.  We have been rehearsing with it for a couple of weeks now, but this was the first real performance using it.  First up, we threw a couple of curveballs at it.  In practice, we had used just vocals and kick drum.  Last night, we added the guitars at the last minute.  I just ended up picking the guitar combo presets, and added them in, no tweaking.  The presets turned out to be very good.  After getting the hang of dialing in the stage monitors, things went pretty smooth. Not one bit of squeaky feedback the entire night.  The vocals sounded awesome through the PA and the mix with the guitars was great.  Most of the time when I hear a live band, the PA struggles to get the vocals over the band.  Usually, any loud or clear vocals start to get a feedback VERY quickly.  We had none of those issues.

The night before, the singer for my band had gone to sit in with his old group.  They had a normal PA, and basically had feedback every few moments, the guitar sounded weak, and generally the band had a pretty standard ‘bar band’ sound.  When I compared that to how my band sounded with the Stagescape, I was blown away.

Line 6 definitely has a real winner.  I just hope that more people start using them so that they do not get shelved!

Line 6 Stagescape M20d initial OOBE (Out of Box Experience)

As I mentioned previously, my band decided to pick up the Line 6 Stagescape M20d.  Well, I decided for the band to pick it up, then traded in a bunch of my stuff for it.

Before I write a ton of stuff about it, the long and short is that it sounds good, and does what it is advertised.  I haven’t done a very deep dive, but initial results are very positive.  Now on to the details!

Knowing that setting this up is NOT the thing to do while four other people are standing around waiting, the singer and I set the PA up with the new mixer, and set a couple of channels.  The mixer is rather interesting.  There is a LOT of touch screen stuff going on, and you REALLY have to pay attention.  There are several features which are not bought all the way out in the training videos on the Line 6 site.  Those videos are VERY good, though.  They really help you get started.

Once we got everything set up and configured, I futzed around the menus.  My band’s main needs during practice are very simple… kick drum and vocals.  For practice, we are in a small space, and consequently, guitar amps, the bass amp, and the rest of the drum set don’t need amplification.  The kick drum has some very cool stuff built into the channel.  If you tell the board that a channel is the kick, you can dial in what is called ‘Sub Bass’.  This is a very popular studio technique where one feeds a very low tone, say 60hz into a gate.  The gate only opens when the kick drum mic detects the kick.  This adds a low end to the kick drum that may not be present, and gives the kick a VERY big low end punch.  We had our subwoofer really moving with the kick.  Very cool!

The vocals were more interesting… I was trying to find the Feedback control system, but completely missed the buttons.  Fortunately, we didn’t really need it, as we were able to get a good strong vocal without really feeding back the system.  Well, there was one moment where I thought that the input gain was the level knob… Thank goodness for the ‘mute all’ button!

After being able to put my hands on the board, and start navigating the menus, I feel like I’ll get used to the navigation pretty quickly.  Now that I know how to find the presets for the monitors, this will help the monitors a LOT, even though we had them dialed in pretty well.

So far, so good!

Fixing a very basic problem…

Have you ever been the person that everyone knows ‘doesn’t get something’?  Everyone else knows the problem, but no one will tell you?  Or perhaps it’s not that they can’t tell you, but don’t know how to express it?

Well, that’s me with my guitar playing…

I’ve always been a good player, there has always been something ‘not right’ about the way I play guitar.  Technically, I know my scales, chords, arpeggios, notes, songs, etc… BUT… I’ve always been the guy who seems to make the song / band not work well.  Unfortunately, no one really ever told me what I was doing wrong, and even if they HAD, I probably wouldn’t have believed them.  Heck, even if I had BELIEVED what they told me, I would not have been able to fix it…

Ok, so what is IT, you ask?

I figured out that I play ahead of the beat in a song.  Plus, I never really FELT counting beats in measures.  I’ve always gotten lost when playing jazz changes, but I could usually ‘fake it’ playing rock, as the progressions rarely called for key changes, at least not without big flags to follow.  Unfortunately, this made my rhythm playing VERY challenging to work with…

And how did you find IT?

Here is where things get interesting… today’s two part lesson 🙂  First, the EASY part 🙂  I was able to find my problem by doing something INCREDIBLY basic.  So basic that I should have caught this YEARS ago.  Alas, I am stubborn… I was recording myself playing scales against a drum beat.  This should have been the easiest thing in the world.  In fact, when recording it, I thought I was spot on.  When I played it back… UGH…  something was definitely WRONG.  I couldn’t put my finger on the issue.  I thought, maybe the recording was out of sync with the drum track.  That used to happen in the olden days.  So, then I tried something even EASIER!!!  Quarter notes on the beat with the drum track at about 80 beats per minute (bpm).  Again, it seemed out of sync.  That’s when I zoomed into the audio on the guitar part and saw where the notes started at… EARLY!!! Every freakin’ note was EARLY!!!  I really couldn’t believe it.  To my ears, the moment I picked the string was EXACTLY the same time as the kick hit, and the snare hit.  My ears LIED TO ME!!!  So, time to try again.  This time with the knowledge that I was playing ‘ahead’ of the beat.  Same exercise… wow, what a difference.  The next recording showed that I was closer, even behind at times.  BUT, it sounded better!  I had read somewhere that it was better to be behind the beat than in front of it.  That seems to be very true.  So, this has now become my daily practice, to fix the muscle memory.  The main thing that I found was that I was finishing my strums when my foot landed when I was tapping with the beat.  What I SHOULD have been doing was starting my strum when the foot landed.  Very subtle, but it makes the difference between being ahead, and being ‘in time’.

The hard part… learning to listen to what you are doing.  I’ve been playing like this almost the entire time I’ve been playing guitar.  I don’t know where I picked the habit of playing ahead of the beat up, but it has cost me several bands, countless auditions, and tons of frustration.  What’s really sad, to me, is all the wasted time.  If I had done something simple, many years ago, I would be much farther ahead.  The simple thing is… record yourself.  If you don’t like the way you sound when you record, then you have a real problem.  It can be difficult.  I’ve always disliked the way I sounded on a record, but I never knew WHY.  Now that I know the WHY, and have started to take some steps to fix the issue, I find that I like the way I play. 🙂

This weekend’s band practice and then church recording prove that understanding the problem, and working on it will help.  Band practice went very well.  The bass player that I’ve been working with even commented.  When I explained to him what I had ‘figured out’, he said, ‘yeah, I was going to talk to you about that’.  Good thing I caught it, because he would NOT have talked to me, he would have just moved on… What’s funny is that almost the EXACT same thing happened with the worship team.  I was telling the pastor what I had figured out, and he said the exact same thing.  I wish I’d realized it 3 years ago, it probably would have made for some better worship services!!!

So, lessons learned.  Record your practice. Really work on feeling the beat by counting, foot tapping, and playing all at the same time.  Basic issues can cause big problems, so find and fix them quickly!

Enough rambling… 🙂

Taming a Gibson Les Paul’s natural tuning problems…

Yes, I’m still a loyal PRS guitar fanatic.  But… for certain sounds and styles, it’s hard to beat a Gibson Les Paul.  Especially for playing in a hard rock band.  🙂  Since I play in hard rock band, getting a Les Paul seemed like a good idea.  I’ve owned some truly awesome Les Pauls in the past, but have AWAYS had a tuning problem with them.  That problem is that they never seemed to stay in tune!  So, I went to PRS, and have never looked back.  At least, until recently.

I’ve been looking for ‘that sound’, and when the other guitar player in the band I play with got a really nice Les Paul, I decided to start looking.  Actually, I had pointed out the Les Paul to the other guitar player.  It was one of the nicer playing Les Pauls that I had run across, but I wasn’t actually LOOKING for a Les Paul.  So, he picked it up.  Very quickly, I realized that the Les Paul fit with the band really well.  So, when the next batch of Les Pauls came into Sam Ash, I had my friend in sales keep me informed.  I ended up finding one of ‘those’ Les Pauls.  You know, the ones that everything just got put together right.  I had several people want the guitar before I ever got it out of the store!  But, that’s a different story…

Once I started playing my new Les Paul, the problem of the guitar staying in tune started to rear its head.  I did not want to do anything like replace the nut or tuners.  I remembered a trick that a friend of mine mentioned.  He said to use graphite on the nut to make the strings slide better.  I couldn’t find the graphite, but I did find something as good, if not better!  There is a product called ‘Nut sauce’ that works like a charm!  A dab of that on the nut and on the bridge saddles made the strings not stick when tuning.  Now, the guitar stays in tune like a champ!  I can make it through a whole set without checking my tuning.  GREAT stuff!

Learning to use my toys…

More new tricks for the ol’ dawg…

Recently, I’ve been working with a Presonus digital mixing board.  This has allowed me to capture tracks right at the source, right after the initial preamp.  By doing that, I’ve been getting tracks that are absolutely bare, no compression, no EQ, no Limiting, nothing.  These tracks give me a great base line to allow me to play with the sounds.  Because of these bare tracks, I’ve been able to do a LOT of learning 🙂  Oh, and these tracks can be pulled into a program called ‘Studio One’ also from Presonus.  I’m REALLY enjoying Studio One.

Ok, on to the new tricks..

Well, the first trick is an extension of an older trick that I wrote about here.  Adding Hi-pass / low-pass filters to the tracks can REALLY clean a mix up.

Speaking of Limiters, another trick that I learned is that volume limiters are your friend.  I had a very quiet track recorded from the digital board.  Adding a gain boost, compression, and some EQ brought the volume up to a nice acceptable level.  The only problem was that there were a couple of places where the signal jumped by 48 db!  OUCH!!!  I threw on a Limiter plug-in to the track, set it to Unity Gain output (0db), and presto, the track didn’t jump above 0db (that’s a good thing, as 0db is full volume, not NO volume.  No volume is -infinity on most mixing boards).

More tricks coming!

Teaching an old dog new tricks

Sometimes, it is good to get your rear end kicked a bit…

I am working with this AWESOME band, but I haven’t been very happy with my sound or live playing.  It’s one of those cases when I feel like I practice a ton at home, have a great sound, but when I go out and play, my live sound has been ‘meh’…  I’ve always gotten good compliments on my live sound, but I usually take this with a grain of salt… I’ve seen some truly horrifying bands lately, and people comment positively on them as well 🙂  So, the ‘endless gear quest’ is pushing forward 🙂

I’ve always liked modeling amps and having a versatile stage setup, even though I only play one or two styles and sounds (yep, a bit irony, don’tya think?)  I like the concept, but the implementation has always been a bit cold, even when the modeling amps use tubes.  For the last 2 years, my main stage amp has been a Line 6 Spider Value, both the original and the Mk II.  It has worked very well, it is nice and easy to setup and tear down, and it had a workable sound.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the sound that I really wanted, that nice Marshall ‘crunchy’ sound.  So, just before Christmas, I changed that.

I picked up a Marshall JVM 410C…  the closest thing to a tube amp modeler I’ve ever seen.  LOTS of options with lots of different sounds, but still a tube amp.  It sounds GREAT!  The only problem is that, being a Marshall, one needs to learn how to control ‘the beast’.  I’ve had to learn a lot of ‘tricks’ to get a really great sound.  Fortunately, the other guitar player in the band, hence referred to as ‘Johnny’,  has been a great help in getting me on the right path.  🙂

First thing I’ve learned… hi-gain channels sound great BY THEMSELVES, but in the context of a band, just don’t cut through very well.  I LOVE the sounds of the OD1 & OD2 channels, but when playing live, they are VERY touchy.  Johnny uses pedals to push the amps to higher gain, and made the suggestion that I try that.  After trying a couple of different pedals, I ran across a Version 2 Fulltone OCD pedal… woo-hoo!  Wow…  Now, I use a lower gain / cleaner channel, and use the pedal to push the amp.  The sound is much more open and controllable, without tearing the audiences’ head off.

Second thing I’ve learned… compression is your friend.  I’ve really learned that because of a new mixing board my church is using.  Every channel has compression, and boy, does it make a difference.  For a guitarist, putting a good compression pedal in the early stage of the signal chain really helps tighten up the sound.  Johnny pushed me into trying a compressor.  So, I tried a DynaComp, but that was not even remotely in the ball park.  I decided to try a Visual Sound Route 66 pedal… NICE!!!! Much cleaner, more open compression, and the guitar was nice and even.  It added just the right amount of compression to settle the guitar into the mix.

Finally, I moved my delay into the effects loop, and dialed up a longer delay.  I had been trying shorter, almost slap-back delay settings, but that wasn’t working very well.  I’ve switched my delay to almost 400 milliseconds (very long delay!), and it seems to have fattened the sound up considerably, and the delay didn’t seem to get in the way or muddy up the sound.  I did make one mistake, though.  I put the delay in front of the noise suppressor, which didn’t help too much, as the delay was set to be more felt rather than heard.  So, the noise suppressor would cut the delay out.  Not good.  Next time, the noise suppressor will go before the delay.

All in all, lots of great changes.  I feel like my rig is much more under control and fits into the mix better.  Plus, the sound is great.  It sounds like a perfectly dialed in Marshall!

Lot’s to say, just not a lot of time to put it on the blog!

Wow, where does the time go?  I want to get back into the habit of posting a bit more often.  Many tech toys have been in my life lately, and I’ve written NOTHING about them!  An iPhone 4, an iPad, a Spider Valve MkII, and some other stuff, too.  The devices are getting used!  I’m finding new ways to work with them in my life.  The iPhone 4’s video camera and voice recognition for making calls… how did I live without that before?  The quality of videos that was done of the band that I play with is pretty darn good for a freakin’ PHONE!!!!  I’ll post the videos on Youtube soon!  I love the iPad… games, reading, notes for work, and surfing.  The iPad really is a game changer.

Ok, so today is just random thoughts.  Tomorrow, the Apple event.  I’m hoping for some interesting information.  I just hope the new iLife SHIPS tomorrow!

Line 6 Toneport UX8 report

I can’t believe I forgot to mention this on the blog… After I worked with the Wave GTR Solo, I really liked the idea of using the computer as the amp modeller.  Right AFTER I tried GTR Solo, I started to get interested in the POD Farm from Line 6.  But, to purchase the Pod Farm, I was going to have to spend a bit of money.  Plus, at the time, I was not very thrilled with my Presonus Firestudio Project.  So, I started looking at the Line 6 Toneport UX8.  What a nice combination, a good recording interface with Line 6’s amp modelling software.  So, by selling the Presonus, I was able to justify the price.  (a $100 coupon from Sam Ash didn’t hurt, either!) 
Initially, I had a couple of little glitches, but between bug reporting to Line 6 and Apple resolving the OS issues, this has turned into a fantastic unit.  The guitar modelling is great!  There is virtually no latency when running POD Farm for a virtual amp.  The sounds are fantastic.  Lots of features (most of which I’ll never use), but overall, a GREAT primary multi-track audio unit for a guitarist.
I’m happy!  (especially looking forward to the NEXT upgrade of Pod Farm!)