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Chris Loeffler

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  1. There are few things more important to a guitar performance than being in tune and having control of your volume. Unfortunately, these are so built-in to what players do that they don’t quite raise the spirits like a new dirt pedal or delay station will and are often under-represented due to price and real estate. Ernie Ball, one of the most prolific makes of treadle-controlled effects (think volume, wah, and even their recent Expression series) believes they’ve found the perfect solution for players that combines tuning and volume into a single pedal with enhancements based on decades of player feedback. The Ernie Ball VPJR Tuner/Volume Pedal is an expression pedal format, active volume pedal with a built-in chromatic tuner that features various operational modes, a high-resolution digital screen, and standard ¼: ins/outs as well as an FX Loop send/return that runs on 9-18v. What You Need to Know My first observation of the Ernie Ball VPJR was how hefty and solid it was. The aluminum chassis has significant weight (over 2 pounds), anchoring the pedal firmly on the floor, and the physical feedback of the sweep is smooth and consistent. I found it to have the right amount of resistance to keep things from getting wonky from toe-to-heel and parking the treadle mid-sweep is surgically precise. The unique touch-screen display on the face of the treadle looks like something you’d see in a high-end modeler, and is smartly recessed just a touch beneath the textured grip that covers the rest of the treadle to guarantee it can’t be triggered by a foot during standard usage (unless you’re playing barefoot, which… don’t). The contrast of the screen was clearly created with the input of road warriors, as it is bright and crisp enough to be clearly visible in a dark room or glaring sunlight but intentionally darkened enough to ensure you aren’t creating a distracting light show. Any menu (and there aren't many) can be accessed through intuitive, localized double taps of your finger. There are three modes available for the display, all accessible on-the-fly through an intuitive touch response; Volume+Tune, Volume Only, Tune Only. In Volume Only mode, the screen displays where the pedal is at in the sweep, from 0-10, which is extremely helpful in the context of a live band, where sound may not be the best and you want to know you’re hitting the right places to park your volume for a give song or part. In Tune Only mode, the display constantly provides tuning feedback with a preferred note, cent marker, indicator needle, sharp/flat indicator, and reference pitch. What sets this apart from many of the big-name tunes I’ve played it the screen is larger and reads much faster. While I’ve rarely thought “I can’t read this tuner,” I certainly noticed an improvement in how quickly I was able to dial things in. Volume+Tune is the best of both worlds, providing output level feedback of 1-10 as the volume pedal is engaged while automatically switching to the tuner display when the pedal is on mute. The tuner itself is precise and extremely quick to respond, featuring 1 Hz increments of fine tuning from 432-447 Hz for reference tuning. The Ernie Ball VPJR runs on 9-18v, and there is a noticeable difference between the range in terms of headroom. While the sweep and buffer were perfectly serviceable at 9v with active pickups and a little bit of gain, I could cause subtle crunching if I ran an irresponsible amount of boost and a spiky wah into it. Lifting the power to 18v immediately alleviated this and subtly strengthened my signal. If you aren’t running a buffer in your signal chain and have more than a couple of pedals, you will likely immediately notice a fuller, stronger signal due to the high-quality, transparent buffer at the output of the VPJR. The addition of the FX Send/Return provides some interesting flexibility for those looking to extend their placement of where the VPJR controls. While the standard In/Out patching effectively serves as a gain/volume control in front of pedals or an amp, incorporating the FX loop allows for control over the gain AND a master volume for every effect in the loop. This translates to things like swells and falls to fade reverb and delay trails at the same time the direct volume is being cut, or decreasing gain and volume with overdrive pedals at the same time. Limitations I found a couple of buffer-sensitive pedals (simple fuzzes) experienced a tonal shift if placed after the Ernie Ball VPJR. Common-practice signal chain placement suggests most people wouldn’t want their fuzzes or envelope filters after their volume pedal, so most will be comfortable prefer these effects before the VPJR. Conclusion The Ernie Ball VPJR Tuner/Volume Pedal provides two top-tier functions for players in a single pedal with gobs of flexibility to fit into nearly any rig. Overbuilt construction, smooth mechanics, pristine sound, and the most readable display I’ve experienced in a single pedal make the Ernie Ball VPJR a beast of an addition to nearly any pedal board while freeing up a cable and power jack for even more sonic mayhem. Plus, it's really cool to see a design so thoroughly vetted out for the player experience. Resources Ernie Ball VPJR Tuner/Volume Pedal Product Page Buy the Ernie Ball VPJR Tuner/Volume Pedal @ Sweetwater ($199.95)
  2. Did you know that Harmony Central has published over 1,100 articles in the last ten years? Compared to the typical music instrument print magazine, that’s the equivalent of 55 issues or over five years’ of monthly subscriptions, all for free. Harmony Central authors have included industry legends Craig Anderton, Jon Chappell and Brian Hardgroove, as well as award-winning recording engineers (Phil O’Keefe), music foundation directors (Dendy Jarrett), and a slew of contributors from both within and outside the core team. Harmony Central’s editorial focus began a decade ago, during a failed attempt by the company holding the site at the time to “modernize” its platform. While the pieces were being picked up (and the site would ultimately be replatformed two more times before finding a home), Craig Anderton pitched giving musicians access to a quality and scope of content that, at that time, existed almost exclusively behind paywalls through the site. From there, over 11,000 articles covering “how to”, techniques, artist interviews, trade show coverage, and more have been created for the Harmony Central community. Many of the articles Harmony Central has provided to its community have ended up revised and collected in best-selling publications down the road, with the most recent example being The Musician’s Guide to Home Recording series published by Hal Leonard. Why do I bring this up? From the day of its conception, Harmony Central was built to foster community and education around music… by musicians, for musicians. We cover a lot of ground, from “The Week in Music” entertainment pieces to insider tips of advanced editing and sound processing techniques, hoping to bring light reads and heavy applications to you, our community. The people who contribute to Harmony Central gather around a simple but powerful call to make better music, as do our articles, whether to instruct or inspire. If it’s been a while, consider this you opportunity to explore our vast collection of articles as you settle in to your winter... ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
  3. By Robert Calabrese Burnout has unfortunately become a very common occurrence in today’s modern world. It is usually associated with professional burnout. But it can also impact other aspects of your life like hobbies and even parenting. When it comes to creative pursuits like music, the impact can be devastating. In this article we’ll cover what causes burnout and how you can both prevent and overcome it. What Causes Musical Burnout? Many things can lead to musical burnout. It can be one major issue or a combination of issues that can lead you to feel tired, uninspired and unmotivated. Working Too Much This is one of the most common causes of burnout. Musicians and performers have a built-in desire to succeed. They want to express themselves and share that expression with as many people as possible. This can lead to an unmanageable workload. You can find yourself booked in back to back shows, week-in and week-out. There is also the added work involved in managing your music career. This becomes even more pronounced if you are trying to transition from a part-time musician to a full-time musician. Once you add other tasks like sorting out finances and keeping on top of your social media presence it’s easy to become overwhelmed and burn out. Creative Frustration The other major cause of burnout is a lack of motivation and inspiration for your craft. As with every creative profession, you can fall into a creative rut. This type of burnout is one of the most challenging as it speaks to the very core of your identity as a musician. A feeling of lower self-worth creeps into even the most ego-based individual. This creative rut is frustrating and adds stress. This stress can then lead to further issues which only helps to reinforce the burnout feeling. Stress Life is stressful and creative pursuits are not immune from it. Working with band members or dealing with agencies can be stressful. But stress can come from other areas of your life as well. You may be having difficulties in your relationships which can impact your ability to focus on your music. Financial stress is another major pressure point that can lead you to feel burned out. When you are not seeing financial rewards for your hard work, it's easy to become unmotivated. Tips To Overcome Burnout Once you realize that you are experiencing burnout it’s important to try to tackle it as soon as possible. The sooner you address it the sooner you’ll be back to creating awesome music. Here are a couple of tips to help you overcome burnout once it’s already embedded itself. Take A Break It may sound obvious but one of the simplest things you can do is to take some time off. This can be difficult depending on how much you rely on the income from your performing. Even then there are ways to gain some distance. For example, if you are part of a band don’t hang around after the gig for a drink. Instead, opt to take some time to yourself. Go back home or to your hotel room and recharge. If you are in the studio working on your next song take some extra time during the day to get away from the computer or instruments. Trying to push through the burnout will only lead to more stress and frustration. Do Something Completely Different Change is as good as a holiday. When you’re locked in your studio day in and day out you’ll end up experiencing burnout. To keep your mind and creative juices fresh it’s a good idea to do something different. Take some time to read a book or watch your favorite TV series. Learn how to meditate or pick up a different hobby like hiking. The further removed from music the better. Challenging your mind in different and interesting ways helps to recharge your creative energy. These types of activities can also help relieve the stress factors that cause burnout. Tips To Prevent Burnout Prevention is always better than cure. There are several things you can do to avoid experiencing burnout in the first place. Lifestyle A healthy body equals a healthy mind. Aim to get an appropriate amount of sleep. Feeling tired will increase the chances of you feeling burned out. Eating a well-balanced diet is also important. Fuel your body with good food and your energy levels will increase. Exercise is also important. You don’t need to be hitting the gym for hours on end. Find ways to incorporate some brisk walking or yoga into your daily routines. The combination of all these things can prevent or mitigate burnout. Get Organized Take some time to get organized. Having a clear direction and plan allows you to manage your time more effectively. Create achievable daily or weekly goals and stick to them. Keep on top of your financial situation and save some money so you can take some time off when needed. Having a well-organized life reduces stress which will help prevent burnout. Keep It Fun Another tip is to not lose sight of why you decided to pursue a career in music. You can express your love of music in a variety of ways. Take some time to listen to and enjoy the work of others you admire. This can help re-motivated and energize the creative juices. It’s also important to keep the simple joy of music alive. Spend some time jamming out without the goal of creating something meaningful. As a DJ I play around on a DJ controller experimenting with new techniques or elements. Most of the time nothing great emerges from it but the very act of letting yourself go releases built-up pressure and stress. Sometimes it does lead to new ideas and I find myself motivated again to fine-tune the latest track I was working on or revisit an old project. Don’t Give Up There are countless stories of talented musicians who stepped away from music because of burnout. If you don’t want to end up in the same spot I encourage you to take burnout seriously. Put in place some of the tips I have mentioned and if need be do some further research on burnout. Burnout can be crippling but it shouldn’t be the end of your musical journey. ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
  4. Could these be the sweet spot? PreSonus released the Eris series studio monitors in 2013 to grab ahold of the mid-priced studio monitor market, focusing on audio quality and listening environment flexibility. The series (originally offered in 8” and 5.25” configurations) quickly became a best-seller for most retailers due to the PreSonus pedigree and quality-to-cost ratio. Six years later and they are refreshing the line, rebranding it PreSonus Eris XT (although as of this review the original Eris 5 is still available through retailers and listed on the PreSonus website). The PreSonus Eris XT series continues the Eris tradition of 5” and 8” offerings, claiming sonic enhancements and refined room tweaking. PreSonus sent me a pair of the Eris E8 XT monitor for evaluation in my humble mixing and recording setup. Each monitor is independently powered and features multiple inputs, EQ and room tuning functions, and is rated at 130 watts (bi-amplified). What You Need to Know The PreSonus Eris E8 XT studio monitors I reviewed were each driven by 8-inch woven composite low-frequency transducer with 1.25-inch (31.75 mm), ultra-low-mass, silk-dome, high-frequency transducer and front-firing acoustic port supports 105 dB maximum continuous SPL with 130 watt Class AB bi-amplification. User controls include HF Adjust (±6 dB, continuously variable), Midrange Adjust (±6 dB, continuously variable), Acoustic Space settings (flat, -2, -4 dB), and Highpass filter (Off, 80 Hz, 100 Hz). Here are the tech specs- 1- Balanced XLR 1- Balanced ¼” TRS 1- Unbalanced RCA Frequency Response 35 Hz - 20 kHz Crossover Frequency 2.2 kHz LF Amplifier Power 75W HF Amplifier Power 65W Peak SPL (@ 1 meter) 105 dB LF Driver 8” reinforced woofer HF Driver 1.25” silk dome tweeter Input Impedance 10 kΩ Dispersion 100 degrees horizontal by 60 degrees vertical Volume Range A-type taper MF Control -6, 0, +6 dB HF Control -6, 0, +6 dB Low Cut Flat, 80 Hz, 100 Hz Acoustic Space Flat, -2 dB, -4 dB Width 9.75” (247.65 mm) Depth 11.5” (292.1 mm) Height 16” (406.4 mm) Weight 23 lbs (10.43 kg) The Presonus Eris XT is PreSonus’ enhancement to their Eris line of studio monitors, built on the foundation of smooth, accurate frequency response, high amplification and headroom, and acoustic tuning functions that ensure you always get the best sound. There is a reason the original Eris series is a category best-seller for the price point. The Eris E8 XT brings improvements in the form of deeper lows and a wider sweet spot through proprietary wave guide design. The aforementioned sweet spot isn’t just marketing mojo; Eris XT studio monitors leverage a Sarvis-designed Elliptical Boundary Modeled wave guide to bring superior high-frequency response and a wider 100-degree horizontal dispersion that extends the traditional listening space for collaborative listening in a wider area. The woven composite low-frequency driver is still core to Eris' signature bass response; plenty of punch and no flub. Eris E8 XT studio monitors enlarge the ported enclosure beyond that of the original Eris to extend accurate low frequency production as low as 35 Hz. To my ears, the amount of low-end produced without a subwoofer far exceeded mixing and mastering requirements. It was nice to know there was more available, but that’s not really what monitors are for. That much exposure to low frequencies does create the opportunity to identify and carve out mud inferior monitors may hide. The Eris XT onboard acoustic tuning configures the monitor to the listening room via Low-cut, Mid, and High controls and a 3-way acoustic space tuning to compensate compromised speaker placement when mounted to walls or stuck in corners. While people looking to upgrade their monitors to the Eris XT may have much of this already figured out, I found these features indeed made setup and dialing them in easier. The Eris E8 XT monitors provide balanced XLR, balanced ¼” TRS, and unbalanced RCA line-level inputs, and while I leaned on XLR for the evaluation, I confirmed the other inputs worked well and were without obvious disadvantages. Limitations I would have liked a SDPIF input/link option for more immediate connection with my existing desk. Conclusion There’s a bit of a dance in discussing gear that isn’t supposed to have a sound, in that everything introduces some character or color to audio as it reproduces it. My evaluation time with the PreSonus Eris XT monitors, whether testing mixing/mastering tracks or as a keyboard monitor, proved them to be more than capable of providing audio to create pro mixes. If you want to hear what’s missing (or too present) in your audio, you’ll be more than equipped to tackle it, and the level of gear to capture and mix audio beyond the specs and capacity of the Eris XT would dwarf the expense of the monitors themselves. Resources PreSonus Eris E8 XT Studio Monitor Product Page Buy PreSonus Eris E8XT Studio Monitor at Sweetwater (MSRP, $324.95, Street $259.95) ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
  5. Our friends at GuitarSumo reached out recently with a roundup of VST plugins they'd been enjoying recently, and we wanted to share them with Harmony Central! Author Credit- Erica Mays Want to step up your producing and introduce new sounds to your mix? Here is our list of what we consider to be the current 30 best VST plugins available that every producer should try. 1. Audio Damage Eos 2 The Audio Damage Eos 2 is simple but highly effective. It features three algorithms that create a great sounding reverb. The hardware is ideal for those looking to use it on percussion instruments, and it ranks as one of our go-to plugins for everyday projects. 2. Softube Modular This cross-platform modular synth features six Doepfer modules and more than 20 other utility modules. The circuit emulation of all the modules have not only been authorized but also approved by their original creators. Bundled with the plugin comes a sizable preset library that will keep you experimenting for weeks. 3. Synapse Audio Dune 3 The Synapse Audio Dune 3 delivers a three-oscillator synth that features significant effects, sequencing, and arpeggiation. Two of its best features include the ability to set the Oscillators 1 and 2 independently to the Virtual Analogue, FM mode, or Wavetone. It has delivered an enormous collection of unison voices. It provides a unique sound but can also help you create a full range of static and sequenced sounds. This VST plugin is an excellent value for its money and is extremely easy for people to use, even with little experience. 4. PSPaudioware MixSaturator The PSPaudioware MixSaturator is taken directly from the highly rated SPMixPack 2. This plugin is the comprehensive solution to what several other plugins provide, which is a bundled sort saturation switch. Additional features of the MixSaturator 2 include emulating sounds of valve circuits and analog tape, which it does exceptionally well. 5. iZotope Iris 2 The iZotope Iris 2 has improved effects, an easy to use interface, and plenty of extended modulation options. Despite all of these improvements, the plugin software still contains four sample layers, which also allow for a more straightforward interface than before. Overall, the inclusion of the new oscillator bank and modulations help lift this plugin to new and exciting levels, all while keeping in mind the 'music-friendly' sounds. 6. Propellerheads Reason While some wouldn't call Reason a real VST plugin, is classified as a "shapeshifting" synth and is now available in both VST/AU formats. The "shapeshifting" refers to the fact that this plugin is a wavetable synth that provides you with various ways to transform and module the raw oscillator waveforms prior to them becoming audio signals. Using mathematics, the 33 wavetables and modeled string algorithm can be manipulated to create unique sounds. Europa can create a complex sound that has tons of depth, but it also can deliver bass lines, elemental leads, or even workhorse pads. 7. Audio Damage Phosphor 2 The Phosphor 2 helps to make additive synthesis more approachable to people just exploring it for the first time. It is a two-oscillator synth, which means that each oscillator will create a wavetable of a series of sine waves at multiples of the partials or harmonics. It uses high-frequency harmonics to create a creative signal shaping that will help you create an unforgettable tone. The Audio Damage Phosphor 2 especially adept at generating leads, chiptune-style noises, pads, and FX. 8. PsPaudioware N20 The successor to the PSP Nitro, the PsPaudioware N20, is a powerful yet complex semi-modular effect plugin. This software allows any musician to be able to use up to four different operators and four modulators simultaneously. Whether you are looking to layer in a vocal piece for sound improvement, a guitar to distort, or a synth pad to develop a rocky riff, the N20 is the choice for you. 9. Reveal Sound Spire Spire might be classified as just another trance n' dance machine, but it is actually much more than that once you dive into the features of it. Thanks to unison oscillators, it can produce a massive tone. Once you get an understanding of this plugin, you can start to uncover some of the more clever features it offers that allows you to generate all types of sounds, from huge, brassy, to more crystalline digital tones. 10. Image-Line Harmor Brought by the developers of Fruity Loops, we can’t expect anything less than grandiose. Harmor is a synth that might appear intimidating at first but reveals its power quickly once you start to familiarize yourself with it. It features an additive/subtractive synthesizer and a richness in tone that producers will find inspirational with every use. 11. Arturia Pigments Arturia Pigments is a dual-engine, dual-filter synth that allows you to play with multiple effects and a built-in sequencer. Where this VST plugin distinguishes itself from others is in the workflow, wavetables, and modulation system. The Arturia Pigments has two engines, which can switch from Analog to Wavetable modes. The pan-able filters mean that you can blend any sound. The Sequencer/Arpeggiator is one of the stand-out features of the Pigments. It comes with scale snapping, cyclically regenerating randomization engine, a Trigger Probability lane, and one of our favorite polyrhythmic sequencing. The Arturia Pigments excels in many areas of synth sound design and is a VST plugin you should consider. 12. U-20 Hive If you are a fan of Synlenth1, then you might find that U-20 Hive fits your needs as well. It has a very similar architecture but adds in extra features that might sway you to pick up the U-20 instead. Hive has two oscillators, with each having the ability to run up to 16-voice unison. The u-he Hive has a good range of features and also produces a sound that is perfect for impersonating analog synths. Due to its duller but still warm timbre, it might be the ideal analog synth. 13. LennarDigital Sylenth When you first look at this VST plugin, you might not think the Sytenth from LennarDigital is different from any instrument on this list. With two filters and a seemingly unimpressive and basic modulation section, it doesn't seem to deserve a place on this list. However, as soon as you start to use the Sylenth, you start to understand what makes it so special. It delivers an incredible sound, with a rich, warm tone. It can produce a wide variety of sounds and is a must-try for someone who wants to check out a vintage virtual instrument. 14. Audio Damage Kombinat Kombinat is made up of a three-stage sound-mangling powerhouse. The plugin offers plenty of controls for the user. Various times the sound from the Kombinat might come off as digital, and other times it will sound very analog. These combinations help make this software an ideal choice for those who are into making electronic music, and for those who find a lot of joy in the ability to provide viable distortion effect on guitars. 15. UVI Falcon By expanding on the previous UVI Workstation instrument, the updated UVI Falcon delivers a wide variety of ways to edit and even more forms of synthesis. Some of the patches come from Oscillators, Modulators, Effects, and Events, which can all be dragged into the interface. This is a reasonably powerful instrument that achieves a wide variety of sounds that will likely serve all your needs. 16. U-he Zebra 2 The Zebra 2 is a wireless semi-modular synth that has no patch cables. It is versatile enough to support a variety of techniques, but it focuses primarily on subtractive synthesis. It includes both FM and additive elements so that allows you to coax a more sophisticated tone out of this VST plugin that you can with others on this list. Not only does it have good presets, but it also is an energetically powerful sound design tool. While this isn't necessarily a beginner's synth, anyone could use it and good results out of it. 17. Native Instruments Absynth 5 Absynth has made a name for itself as one of the most potent soft synths in the industry. This versatile VST plugin has tons of features so you can draw waveforms, deep modulation capabilities, and definable multi-point envelopes. This latest upgrade doesn't change the core product that you have come to expect from Absynth, but it does give you the ability to create complex tone and sounds. Through the Mutator effect, you can transform a preset into something more by choosing descriptive tags. While the interface does take some getting used to, the overall sound it creates its phenomenal. If you want to create some truly unique sounds, then Native Instruments Absynth 5 might be the right one for you. 18. Sugar Bytes Wow 2 Sugar Bytes upgraded its original VST plugin to deliver a sound that can be morphed through the modulators. There are 21 filters that produce a wide range of tones, and you can even utilize the Vowel MOde, which includes nine human vocal sounds to incorporate humanoid sounds. It's a very compact GUI that doesn't mess around, with a Cutoff knob, Resonance and Overdrive Knob that helps add to the range of sound. The Sugar Bytes Wow 2 has everything you might want in a filter unit. 19. Parawave Audiodesign Rapid Parawave is a newcomer into the industry and has already positioned itself as a strong competitor to Vengeance-Sound's VPS Avenger. Whether this was intentional is unclear, but there are several similarities between these two VST plugins. Both are built on extensive eight-layer architectures. Both products have vast, versatile libraries of waveforms, wavetables, and samples. Another similarity is that both have an insane amount of modulation options and effects. All in all, Parawave Audiodesign Rapid does a lot of things right and is well-furnished with 24 oscillators, 32 LFOS, step sequences, and envelopes, as well as 56 effect slots. It sets itself apart from others with little extra features like dual-wave LFOs, unique step sequencer editing, and filter offset. 20. DMG Audio EQuality The EQuality was created to be your go-to EQ for helping your mixdowns to stand apart from others. It delivers a high-end price without the expensive price tag and comes with great features like six bands, two shelf/bells, four bells/bells. It also features five EQ styles, a spectrum analyzer, foldable interface, and M/S processing. It comes with tons of features that deliver exactly what you would need from a guitar VST plugin. 21. ReFX Nexus2 While some might not classify this as a "proper synth" because it doesn't have as many features as some of the other VST plugins on this list, it still can produce a fantastic sound. If your goal is to find a unique tone, then the ReFX Nexus2 shouldn't be overlooked. It was created specifically for producers of contemporary dance music. In the Dance Vol 2 preset expansion pack, there are 128 patches to help make trance, hard dance, and electro house styles. Through the mix screen, you can adjust up to four layers and utilize some of the good effects that the ReFX Nexus 2 has to offer. 22. u-he Repro-1 The Repro 1 builts off a 35-year-old design, which means that its architecture is a little more basic than other VST plugins. It has two monophonic oscillators and a low-pass filter which as powered by several modulation sources, step sequencer, and an arpeggiator. For those who used the original version of the u-he Repro-1 fell in love with the authentic sound is produced, and the effects and extra modulators that were included. For those who are new to this VST plugin, they will love how easy it is to use as well as the rich tones it produces. 23. Native Instruments Massive Massive can combine multiple ideas and gets its influences from different genres. This hybrid synth comes with many different wavetable oscillators that allow you to produce nearly every type of tone imaginable. However, one downside is that there are more than 600 presets that come with this virtual instrument, and it means it might take you a while to get accustomed to using them all. 24. Plogue Chipspeech For those who are looking for a vintage-style speech synthesizer, then the Plogue Chipspeech might be the perfect match. The software will translate English words typed into the program and will use the CMU Pronouncing Dictionary to produce a near-perfect sound. You can fine-tune the sound as needed, and there are tons of opportunities to create any unique and beautiful voices. 25. KV331 Audio SynthMaster One This synthesizer is a little less complex than others on the list, and because of that, it is probably the most beginner friendly. However, it can still be intimidating to those who don't have any experience using a serious synthesizer, and it might have a bit of a learning curve. It has two oscillators polyphonic wavetable and a single-screen interface. It also has basses, plucks, keys, leads, and all other patches. No matter what your skill level is, this is a VST plugin worth checking out. 26. Vengeance-Sound VPS Avenger The first virtual synth that comes from Vengeance-Sounds is an ambitious project that is powerful and sounds incredible. It is coded by Keilwerth Audio, which means the architecture comes with tons of sequencers, filters, modulation, and effects. Every portion of the Avenger is powerful, and when they come together to form the VST plugin, it creates a synthesizer that is flexible and packs a punch. Expect a deep, textured sound to come from the Vengeance-Sound VPS Avenger. 27. u-he Diva Using two oscillators, dual envelope generators, two LFOs, and multimode filters, u-he Diva distinguishes itself by delivering features from various instruments, that all can be recreated perfectly. It is a great way to create any type of basic analog sound and has the ability to do much more than that. It comes equipped with some advanced, powerful features like per-voice fine-tuning and modulation options that most other VST plugins on this list can't offer. 28. Xfer Records Serum The Xfer Records Serum is an extremely advanced synthesizer that produces a clean and bright sound. You are able to import your own audio to help you create custom wavetables. With a huge range of modulation options, you will likely be blown away by the effects. It has five stacking modes, which means the effects are amazing. It has many advanced features that it is probably one of the best VST plugins you could get. 29. Native Instruments Reaktor 6 Reaktor is not only an instrument or effect plugin, but it can also be a standalone modular audio generation and processing environment. It utilizes modular hardware which is called Blocks, which allows you to have something like a modular analog synth. Thanks to the oscillators and filters, the sound is amazing and extremely flexible. For those who are looking for a VST plugin, and willing to put in the effort to learn the interface, it is worth the work. 30. Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 As the second version of the extremely popular Omnisphere, Omnisphere 2 has big shoes to fill. However, Spectrasonics delivered with Omnisphere 2. It comes with a large audio soundtrack, with a powerful virtual analog architecture. It allows you to import your own audio and it has an outstanding 400 oscillator wavetables. If you want to create a beautiful sound, then Omnisphere 2 should be considered.
  6. Music festivals are likely the apex of participation of music as entertainment and contributing to cultural moments. Whether wrapping up a genre (Aftershock), an ethos (Warped), or a broader movement (Coachella), music festivals create an opportunity to immerse oneself into something larger than any single concert. Whether looking for an excuse to drop out of normal life for a couple of days, discover new music, or just check a few favorites off your list, the reasons that bring a person to these events are less important than how they participate (or don’t) in the event. I recently had the opportunity to attend Aftershock Festival in Northern California, an annual metal/hard rock show that drew over 97k attendees this year and features headliners Tool, Slipknot, Rob Zombie, Blink 182, Korn, Chevelle, and dozens of other major label bands, and was asked to share some of my observations of the state of hard rock festivals in 2019. Like any list, what follows is highly reductive of my experience, limited to snapshots of emotional responses I had, from surprise to disappointment. That I don’t comment on the feeling of being in a hyped crowd at the first live Tool performance after their latest album’s release, or being surrounded by happy teens whose enthusiasm and excitement at seeing their idols remained as sharp at the end of day three as it was when the gates opened the first day isn’t meant to diminish the highs of the experience. Caveat emptor. Environmental Hazards Abound I don’t want to turn too negative, and I’d like to point out one of the worst sides of many festival events; people trash the place. As the last show of the festival ended and people listed towards the exits, a sea of plastic cups, cigarette butts, and crushed aluminum cans revealed itself as covering more of the ground than visible grass or dirt. I lamented that part of the show didn’t include a message to the crowd to grand a handful of trash on their way out, but also am resigned that people shouldn’t need to be reminded of this. Advertisers Want to be Part of the Magic Going into the festival, I expected an irresponsible amount of advertising from the two legal tent poles of partying, energy drinks and booze. Every stage is named after a sponsor, and umbrellas, signage, and merch all seemed to have been sold to the highest bidder. Everything at the show was dedicated to helping you mellow out while maintaining your energy at prices that hopefully encouraged responsibility (if for no reason other than economic prudence). The line between advertising and entertainment has always been blurred, and in live venues the differentiation between an enthusiastic patron performing for a crowd or a well-placed interactive product performance is almost non-existent (here’s looking at you, stilt-walking devil girl who alternated seamlessly between blowing fireballs and pouring Fireball whiskey into the mouths of the crowd). There were times I experienced the meta-authenticity I referred to as “post-authentic”. Your Favorite Artist May Not Play What You Want Festival set lists can be tricky affairs. Unlike a dedicate show, bands are faces with a diverse mix of hardcore fans, casual listeners who may know a hit or two, and people who have never heard their music. The result is seldom weighted towards deep cuts and insider nods. Instead, count on hearing the hits, a couple of songs from the newest album, and less meaningful crowd interactions. Some bands find a way to please all (Tool managed to cover every album without sounding like a mix tape), but many get bogged down in covers or treat their biggest hit as the closer people will wait for. I wish more bands had the faith in their own material to knock out the crowd-pleasers first to draw the crowd with the knowledge the strength of their catalog would keep people around. Covers were also on strong display, which I took as proof many bands don’t have the confidence to own a crowd. You Will Discover New Music Obviously. Walking from stage to stage, you will be exposed to new music. That’s awesome. Some bands made their names through their live performances, and the one hit of theirs you might have heard could be totally off-base from the rest of their catalog. Some bands with great studio recording can’t pull it off live, and visa-versa. The spaces between the sets you’ve circled in the event calendar are likely where some of the most gratifying moments will come from. Walking into a show with zero expectation is a great way to discover new music. Drug Laws are Changing Despite California’s new legal status of marijuana, city, state, and federal regulation don’t quite allow the “Amsterdam-style café scene” some imagine, BUT the consistent rolling clouds certainly reflected a new attitude towards drugs. The acceptance of pot smoke seemed especially less judgmental than cigarettes, and the palpable energy around the newness of not running afoul of the law seemed overly permissive in some ways. I noticed this had an impact on the family-friendliness (or not) of the show. I’m not going to argue the appropriateness of bringing children to a metal festival, but I was surprised how poorly equipped the festival was to provide safe spaces for families, let alone the little regard many of the attendees displayed when passing children. While tobacco use on concert premises has long been regulated, weed smokers (who were legion) seemed immune to limitations. Live Sound is Getting Great One of the great assurances of music festivals I’ve attended the last two decades has brought me is the sound will be patchy, and most bands (other than a headliner) are going to struggle through the first song or two. That wasn’t the case at all at Aftershock. Great sound, minimal setup time, no perceivable soundchecks… to a T nearly every band I saw had perfect sound out of the gate. There were a couple of instances where I wondered how much sonic trickery was happening at the board and how much might have been a backing track (I refuse to believe the single switch on the microphone was toggling between overdrive screaming, chorused/autotuned melodies, and mid-punching rap parts for a headliner I will be classy enough to not call out), but all in, the mixes, mic placement, and EQ were spot on. This was true whether at the front (near the stage monitors) or at the speaker arrays mounted halfway down the crowd. What are some of your best (or worst) festival experiences? -HC- ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
  7. https://www.ehx.com/products/bass9 Is there more to this than the bass frequency spectrum it produces? Guitar players of heavier music (not to be confused with “heavier guitar players”) have always been envious of the low-end space bass and synths get to occupy, dropping to D, C, and even entire octaves down with the help of pitch shifters. While much of this is in the service of sounding “darker” or accommodating a vocalist, I’ve seen quite a few players go low to fill in bass parts (either while their keyboard player was occupying the higher registers, to throw down dueling bass with their bassist, or for laying down scratch tracks while songwriting). What quickly becomes apparent is there is much more to the bass than the frequency spectrum it produces, from attack to percussive contributions… which is where the Electro-Harmonix Bass9 Bass Machine comes in. Electro Harmonix has been the master of polyphonic guitar synthesis for over a decade now, crafting the tones and character of sitars, keyboards, and synthesizers from a standard guitar pickup’s signal. The Electro-Harmonix Bass9 Bass Machine brings nine different bass emulations to the electric guitar player, with controls for Dry, Effect, CTRL 1, CRTL 2, and mode. The Bass9 features buffered bypass, wet/dry outs, and runs on a standard 9.6v 200mA power supply. What You Need to Know The Electro-Harmonix Bass9 Bass Machine shares a shared format with all the EHX 9-series pedals… single input, Wet/Dry output, independent level controls for Wet and Dry, nine genre-specific sounds, and two variable parameter controls to fine-tune a given mode. The nine modes included in the Bass9 are designed to fit the various applications of bass over the last 50 years. Here’s a list of the settings as described by Electro Harmonix- 1. PRECISION – An emulation of the popular bass guitar standard. CTRL 1 controls the sub-octave, mixing between 1 octave down (counter-clockwise position) and 2 octaves down (clockwise position). CTRL 2 adjusts your tone which is modeled after the original instrument’s tone control. 2. LONGHORN – Inspired by the Danelectro® 6-string basses from the ‘50s, this patch is great for copping baritone style tones. CTRL 1 adjusts the pitch in half steps from -1 octave (CCW) to unity (CW). CTRL 2 controls a vintage tremolo effect which increases in depth and rate as the knob is turned up. Unique ring modulation effects are generated when the knob is turned past 2 o’clock. Also use the Longhorn preset to detune your guitar for metal! 3. FRETLESS – Emulation of both electric and upright fretless basses. CTRL 1 controls the buzzy growl sound of a fretless instrument. CTRL 2 adds a classic Jaco-style chorus effect which intensifies as the knob is turned up. Pro Tip: light palm mutes with your right hand produce a more realistic upright sound. 4. SYNTH – A big sounding bass synthesizer modeled after the classic Taurus® synthesizer. Use CTRL 1 to adjust the synth’s note range—in four sections of the knob—split between octaves and fifths. CTRL 2 adjusts the synthesizer’s envelope filter range. Higher settings of CTRL2 makes for a brighter and wider filter sweeps. 5. VIRTUAL – A unique patch that allows you to adjust your bass’s body density and neck length. CTRL 1 adjusts body density; higher settings produce longer, piano-like sustain. CTRL 2 adjusts neck length, where the length increases as the knob is turned clockwise. 6. BOWED – A classic bowed bass sound with adjustable attack. CTRL 1 controls sub-octave mixing between 1 octave down (CCW) and 2 octaves down (CW). CTRL 2 adjusts the bow’s attack speed, as you turn up the knob, the attack speed slows. The attack effect is fully polyphonic. 7. SPLIT BASS – This patch provides a sub-octave effect on all notes below F#3—the F# found at the fourth fret of the D-sting on a standard guitar. It does not pitch shift notes above G3. This allows a guitar player to play bass lines with the lower two strings of a guitar and chords or melody with the highest three strings. CTRL 1 adjusts bass tone by adding upper harmonics as the knob is turned clockwise. CTRL 2 provides an envelope filter/auto-wah effect on all notes you play. As you turn CTRL2 up, the wah effect intensifies. Pro Tip: turn up the DRY knob to hear your guitar signal. 8. 3:03 – A polyphonic emulation of one of the most sought-after vintage bass synthesizers. CTRL 1 adjusts the filter’s envelope sweep depth or total range while CTRL 2 sets the envelope speed. Pro Tip: use the guitar’s volume knob as a sensitivity control for envelope triggering. 9. FLIP-FLOP – Inspired by the Electro-Harmonix Octave Multiplexer, this patch provides a ‘70s style logic driven sub-octave generator, except the BASS9 tracks without glitches! CTRL 1 handles sub-octave, mixing between 1 octave down (CCW) and 2 octaves down (CW). CTRL 2 adjusts the frequency of a synth-like low-pass filter. As you can see, the Bass9 quickly jumps from standard electric bass emulations to synthesizers, upright/cello, keyboard, and more. Starting with the P-Bass, I can say it sounded exactly like the P-Bass sound in my head, with attack, quack, and decay of a modern bass tone and the ability to smear and round it out by rolling back the Tone control for a more vintage sound. Of all the modes, this was the one I was prepared to be the most critical of, and a couple of minutes of experimentation had by pseudo-bass lines on a Fender single coil strat sounding dead-on. The scale and accessibility of the guitar fretboard lends itself to voicings and chording that could sound off, but that’s more about pushing beyond what the P-Bass would do. The Longhorn mode was a bit of a headscratcher for me, because it didn’t appear to change the voice of my guitar, just the octave. It is cool to jump down in half step increments all the way to an octave down, and the tremolo is worth its own effect; I found it to be a more natural behaving and musical version of a polyphonic pitch shifter than a totally different sound. The Fretless is a cool mode that is so specific I felt a touch let down. It NAILS the Jaco tone with stylized buzz and chorusing. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re not going to find a more authentic sound without a fretless Fender Jazz bass and a MXR Digital Delay unit (Jaco’s chorus tone wasn’t achieved with a modulating chorus). That said, I would have traded the chorus control for more control over the attack envelope. Synth mode is monstrously sick, and instantly recalled JPJ’s sick grooves (I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing his perform with the Taurus in Them Crooked Vultures). Fat, sticky, and wet. Virtual is a trippy mode that feels more like instrument-building tool, with the ability to define the character of the entire sound, from ASRD to pitch. The Bowed setting is a combination of octave (and suboctave) down with an envelope-driven volume swell on the front end. Cello and upright bass tones were all over the lower three strings, and there are some interesting, throaty viola sounds in the 10-14 fret range on the high B and E strings. The Split Bass is a cool setting, reminiscent of one of the Key9 settings where the bottom three strings of the guitar register as bass (octave down, revoiced) and the top three strings either keep their original tone OR have an envelop filter (not a true auto-wah) applied for funky, clav-like keyboard parts. 3:03 operates similar to the Synth mode, with different attack and octave effects. Flip Flop is another cool, if puzzling, mode that recreates the EHX Octave Multiplexer without the quirks and grunge that I identify as some of its most endearing features. It’s still dirty and low, and the undeniably more accessible response of the Flip Flop mode brings this effect into the world of repeatability, I missed the original’s erratic charm. My experience of early 9-series EHX pedals (well, starting with the Ravish, which isn’t technically a part of that family) was amazing sounds with a touchy input. This could be addressed by disciplined playing attack or (cheating) with a compressor placed before the effect. That said, I’ve noticed the releases of the last few pedals in this series have been significantly more forgiving of sloppy technique. I’m not sure if that’s an improvement to the algorithm or an integrated compressor, but the result is extremely accessible. It’s worth noting Bonus points- I played the Bass9 in P mode into the EHX Bass Mono Synth. It sounded glorious and was a testament to the power of the individual engines that the character of both pedals shone through without turning into a muddy mess. Limitations The EHX Bass9 needs to be first (or at least near the front) to work well. It doesn’t appreciate overdrive or distortion sitting between it and the guitar. Conclusion The Elector-Harmonix Bass9 Bass Machine is super cool, and a great toy for songwriting, home recording, or adding bass stylings to s live performance. It seems at once both an inevitable extension of the EHX 9 series AND a bit of an odd man. Because it does so many things so differently (more akin to the Key9 than, say, the Mel9) it can take some time to get the most out of each mode (it would be cool to save presets), with every mode seeming to push the boundaries of how much manipulation can be done to the output of passive pickups. Resources Electro-Harmonix Bass9 Bass Machine Product Page Buy Electro-Harmonix Bass9 Bass Machine at Sweetwater (MSRP $295.10, Street $221.30) ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
  8. When you need to be ready to battle! Electro-Harmonix released the Operation Overlord Allied Overdrive two years ago, providing a unique, mostly uncolored overdrive option with multi-instrument applications thanks to its variable input level selector and took things even further with true stereo ins/outs, active three-band EQ, and an integrated Boost section. While I found it a great option for a different type of OD sound and enjoyed the stereo I/O for keyboards and synthesizers, I wondered at the time how many guitar players would take advantage of these options. Enter the Nano Operation Overlord. Electro-Harmonix has crammed the guts of the Operation Overlord into their Nano-format mini enclosure, retaining controls for Volume, Dry, Gain, Bass, Mid, and Treble as well as the three-way input switch, consolidating the independent Boost knob and footswtich into a single Boost button and removing the stereo I/O. The Nano Operation Overlord is powered by the same 9.6v 200mA power supply options, and unlike many modern EHX pedals, the bypass is buffered with an extremely transparent buffer to accommodate the various input signal strengths. What You Need to Know As mentioned, the Electro-Harmonix Nano Operation Overlord Allied Overdrive drops the stereo inputs and outputs of its predecessor while maintaining the active, three band EQ section of Bass, Mid, Treble that shapes the pedal gain (Gain) and output (Volume), with the option to blend in the uneffected signal (Dry). The Boost section is a preset mid-rocused boost in front of the overdrive circuit that creates even more gain, typically creating more distortion and focus but can also create a volume boost if the gain is low enough. Using the optional external pedal jack, you can activate the boost circuit with your feet for a hands-free toggle between rhythm and lead tones. The Nano Operation Overdrive uses JFET gain stages to create amp-like, low-to-medium levels of overdrive and early distortion. It can be dialed in via the three-band EQ controls to sound identical to the direct signal, or carve deeper lows or brighter highs. The Gain control runs from completely clean to about as much crunch and saturation as a cranked vintage amp while incorporating minimal sag. Although the Nano is sonically different, I would liken the difference more towards the K-style overdrive tightness than TS-style tone shaping. I found the Treble, Mid, and Bass controls to provide a useful range of sounds without going overboard at the extremes. Although the shape of the distortion changes with the EQ, the basic character of the tone does not… it isn’t an amp in a box, it gives amp-like distortion to complement the core tone. The Boost introduces a slightly mid-humped boost to the Overdrive to up the gain. I would describe the boost as“cleanish” because of the aforementioned is push in the mids along with the gain boost, similar to a tame Tube Screamer. Unlike the original Operation Overdrive, there isn't an option to run the Boost section independently from the overdrive section. Input Level control selects between High (HI), Normal (NORM), and Low (LO) input settings, so anything from extremely low output guitar pickups to a hot synthesizer output can be accommodated. Using hotter, modern pickups in the LO input setting resulted in the softer clipping most guitar players are used to, while slamming the overdrive with the same pickups in the HI input setting gave an extremely aggressive girth to the distortion. Dry control blends the direct (clean) signal into the overdrive, which gives players the ability to dial in a little definition and clarity from the direct signal. Combining the Dry with the Overdrive, the Volume control makes available a large dB boost for players looking to use the overdrive signal to push their preamps. Limitations Some of the uniqueness of the original Operation Overlord (stereo I/O, independent channels) were sacrificed to make the Nano a smaller, more affordable, guitar-focused pedal. Conclusions The Electro-Harmonix Nano Operation Overlord Overdrive builds on the incredibly flexible foundation that differentiated the original circuit while stripping back overly-specific application features to bring the size and price down significantly. If nothing else, the Nano OO provides a great solution to the typical grievance guitar players about how all the overdrive options sound the same. -HC- Resources Electro-Harmonix Nano Operation Overlord Overdrive Product Page Buy Electro-Harmonix Nano Operation Overlord at Sweetwater (MSRP $118.90, Street $89.40) https://www.ehx.com/products/nano-operation-overlord/instructions
  9. Is this an "underrated gem"? Harmony Music Company began as a US-based Ukulele manufacturer in 1892 and rose to prominence in the 1920’s after its transfer to Sears and Roebuck in 1916 as a play to get into the music instrument world. Thanks to this distribution Harmony (and its Sears brand Silvertone) became one of the most widely sold stringed instrument brands in the US through the mid-70’s. Equally famous for their nostalgic vibe as they are for having spotty quality control, Harmony is a brand that was due to be revived with the White Stripes/Black Keys radio overtake of the late ‘00s and Boomers looking to relive their youth beyond expensive Custom shop models. When Band Lab acquired Harmony a few years ago and announced their intention to relaunch the brand, there was palpable excitement (and a bit of skepticism) on the NAMM show floor, culminating in a full-force Winter NAMM 2019 showing with three different USA-made series guitars featuring body styles that held true to the brand with modern appointments. Fast-forward nine months, and Harmony sent me a Harmony Rebel to spend a week or two reviewing. What You Need to Know The Harmony Rebel model ships with custom gold foil humbuckers with master controls for Volume and Tone and a three-way pickup selector to choose Neck, Bridge, or a blended position. I’m not sure how close the relationship is, but the pickups are a clear nod to the Harmony heritage and classic Dearmond design and sound. They came across to me as a bit lo-fi without losing highs or getting too muddy in the mids. More generally, I’d say they have more character (in a good way) than a lot of overly pristine modern pickups. In comparison to several guitars I had for comparison, the Harmony humbuckers sounded and felt closest to the set of ’57 Classic, with beefy mids, tight bass anchoring the lower mids, and a clear top end. They held a reasonable amount of heft in output and quickly pushed a 5 watt Champ clone I own into overdrive. The Harmony Rebel certainly flirts with the double cutaway stylings of classic Gibson guitars while establishing its own identity (and holding true to the originals) with a slightly offset horn on the high E-string side that has a wider scoop for greater fret accessibility. The body of the Harmony Rebel is a historically accurate Mahogany with Nitrocellulose finish over Champagne Gold, with a custom half-bridge and compensated chrome saddles and custom cupcake knobs. I dug the color, as the depth and hue leaned more toward “classic” than “glitzy”. The 25” neck, too, is 1-11/16th C-style Mahogany with an Ebony fretboard (12” radius) with Medium Jumbo frets and dot inlays capped with locking tuning machines and triple-bolted to the body. The Rebel I played arrived well set up, with properly dressed frets. It’s not the lightest guitar on the block, but for a slab of Mahogany it weighed less than many similarly appoint guitars I’ve played. The tuning machines and controls all felt incredibly solid and didn’t give any play during the two weeks I ran the Rebel through the motions. I found it an odd manufacturer callout that the guitar was built and assembled to be maintenance, but true to their word, removing the pickguard revealed straightforward wiring and a couple of mojo parts, like an Orange drop capacitor. I found the values of the pots to be spot on, so I didn’t see the need to want to swap parts, but at least it is easy if someone chose to. MONO is a part of the Band Lab family of brands, and the Harmony Rebel ships with a MONO Vertigo Electric Guitar Case, which adds a LOT of value to the package (not to knock on the shoddy cases some of the mid-tier guitars I have reviewed ship in). Limitations This isn’t a fault of the new Harmony, but there is a stigma to the quality of last century Harmony guitars that would have reduced the likelihood of picking one off the wall to give a shot. It’s a fantastic guitar, and I wonder how many people might miss it because of this legacy. Conclusion The Harmony Rebel is a fine reclamation of a cherished but spotty legacy. The design and quality are superb and check all the boxes for me of being familiar enough to be comfortable but different enough to stand out. Having played hundreds of variations of the most common pickup types, I dug the unique vibe the Rebel spits out. It would almost be a shame to see the Harmony Rebel become as well adopted as it deserves, because it screams “underrated gem”. Resources Harmony Rebel Product Page Buy Harmony Rebel at Musician's Friend (Street $1,299.99) ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
  10. She's a smaller jumbo coupe...you don't know what I got... While there are hundreds of options for acoustic guitar brands and styles (806 acoustic-electric guitars on Sweetwater alone, as of the writing of this article), but there are really three iconic brands out there that lead the pack in high-end sound- Gibson, Martin, and Taylor. Gibson and Martin hold the torch for longevity, with Gibson owning the space for Jumbo styles, Martin owning Dreadnoughts, and Taylor owning Auditoriums. While these are the instruments most players aspire to own, the low-to-mid four figure price tags keep them out of reach of many. While each brand has its own way of addressing lower price point instruments (series, etc), Gibson has Epiphone to fill the gap with overseas production in Gibson-owned factories and final setup in the US. Enter the Epiphone EJ-200 Coupe. The Epiphone EJ-200 Coupe is an acoustic-electric guitar in a smaller Jumbo style with cutaway and active electronics. It ships with a limited lifetime warranty in a hardshell case. What You Need to Know The EJ format (both in Gibson and Epiphone guitars) is a smaller-sized version of the Jumbo-style body, bringing down the size without abandoning the iconic symmetry of the guitar made famous by Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris, George Harrison, and Bob Dylan. The Epiphone EJ-200 Coupe I reviewed was Wine Red with a solid spruce top and cutaway (other production colors include Vintage Natural and Vintage Sunburst) and Ovankol sides and back. The top is appointed with a tortoise-style pickguard and 5-ply black and white binding in keeping with the vintage stylings (the back binding is white). The 24.75 scale length, 12” radious Maple neck features a Walnut center and is formed in a rounded SlimTaper C-profile neck with a 20 fret Pau Ferro fingerboard, dot inlays, and a Jumbo Crown inlay on the 12th Fret and is capped by a 1.69” bone nut. Hardware includes nickel Grover Mini-Rotomatic machine heads (18:1 turning ratio), a bone saddle, and a Shadow Performer Tuner HD preamp fed by the NanoFlex HD under-saddle pickup system. Controls for Master Volume, Treble, Mid (curiously, this was omitted from pre-launch materials), and Bass EQ, Phase, a low battery indicator, and a muteable chromatic tuner accessible on the upper bout of the instrument. The guitar ships with a set of standard D’Addario Phospher 12s in a hardshell Epiphone Artist case. Acoustically, the EJ-200 Coupe warm sound with a well-balanced, with enough low end present to meet the expectations of such a body style and crisp highs. It is NOT as boomy as its iconic Gibson inspiration, which makes it a bit less of a saw-hog than some of the aforementioned icons used it for, but the Epiphone guitar I review more than made up for that by being more expressive than the original when it comes to finger picking and softer work. One challenge of evaluating acoustic guitars is most have some level of break-in period, so a reviewer can really speak to what happens over the period of the evaluation. Over the course of four weeks of hands-on time with the EL-200 Coupe, I experienced some opening up of the sound and softening in the way the frequencies balanced, suggesting the guitar will continue to evolve with extended ownership and playing. The included Shadow electronics system does an admirable job of translating the acoustic sound with some hefty tone shaping capabilities without sacrificing the dynamics it captures. I found the character, warm with healthy jangle and a little boom at the bottom end, and compression to be true to the EJ-200 sound. Obviously, the sound is not as rich as the Expression system in my 814ce, but it is more than recording-worthy and worked great in amplified use at a local P&W tryout. Tuning felt stable as brought it across various open tunings. Limitations In keeping with the vintage stylings, the switch to dot markers from big block may leave people chasing vintage-accurate stylings a bit cold. Conclusion Much like a Martin or a Taylor, if you want the EJ sound, there’s only one place to get it. The Epiphone EJ-200 Coupe does an admirable job of bringing the spirit of the EJ-200 to life, albeit with a bit less of the strumming force than the original with a lot more nuance in the subtler playing style. Whether sawing wood or plucking strings, the Epiphone EJ-200 Coupe covers a lot of ground and is an expression of the continued value (both in sound and construction) available to players in the sub-$500 price range. Resources Epiphone EJ-200 Coupe Product Page Buy Epiphone EJ-200 Coupe at Sweetwater (MSRP $832.00, Street $499.99) ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
  11. Everyone needs a little color in their life! 'What kind of guitar should I buy for a new player?” is a question most players have been asked by friends and family, whether for themselves or their kids. There are typically dozens of follow-up questions you may want to ask, but the most critical considerations are likely the accessibility of price and playability. For decades, “learner” guitars walked the gamut from unplayable to “has potential”, but improvements in the quality and oversight of affordable construction have made most entry-level guitars at least worthy of the first year of learning. That said, when it comes to exploring a new passion, being inspired is as important as being accommodated, which is why you will rarely hear a recommendation for a $99 Walmart guitar. My experience is the person buying their first guitar wants it to look cool and be told it sounds good by people they look up to. While most acoustic brands show up in the $300-$500 range with extremely good options, and many less prestigious brands have solidly flashy models that lack in tone, the new Yamaha Storia series aims to appease both wants. What You Need to Know The Yamaha Storia III acoustic-electric guitar is designed to be an upscale entry-level option for newer players, with a lighter body and slightly shorter scale than many quitars, and ships with lighter strings. Yamaha’s take on the Concert body shape, the FS, is slightly less bulky than many starter guitars without falling into the realm of Parlor-style or sacrificing too much bass. The Yamaha Storia III (one of three appointments offered in the Storia series) is a solid-top acoustic guitar with an undersaddle-mounted passive pickup. I’ll dive into the appointments of the Storia I and II later, but for now it’s enough to know they are differentiated by their tops (spruce for the I, mahogany for the II and III) with different stains, rosettes, and bindings to create a unique look for each offering. The Yamaha Storia III I evaluated played comfortably right out of the box, arriving well set up with light-gauge strings, a well profiled, medium-sized neck, and dressed frets. The acoustic tone was balanced, with enough low-end to fill out the sound, clean, soft highs and a focused, round midrange that leaned slightly to the upper mid frequencies. I found it especially articulate with finger picking and light strumming, and there was the expected acoustic congestion when I really dug in on power chords (“sawing wood”). Plugged in, the sound was well translated through the under saddle passive pickup (with the expected piezo characteristics in tow), and I was pleased while demoing that even with aggressive strumming I couldn’t overwhelm the pickup. The quality of the amplified sound was, of course, heavily dependent on the quality of preamp I ran the guitar into. Having covered the legitimacy of the Storia as a playable, tone-rich instrument, the aesthetics of the guitars are clearly meant to be a primary selling point, or at least point of differentiation. The Storia I and Storia II (neither which was reviewed) feature solid spruce and mahogany tops (respectively), with light blue or ultramarine stain inside. The result is highly stylized and fits the bill for something that looks good in a room when it isn’t being played. The Storia III has a chocolate stained, glossy mahogany top and sides with well-defined figuring and a wine-red stain in its interior. The rosette is a matched black (binding), wine red, and ivory inlay, and the tuners and pins are matching champagne gold to tie the piece together. Limitations The passive under saddle pickup will want a preamp and basic EQing to sound great amplified. Conclusion The Yamaha Storia series of acoustic-electric guitars are an interesting entry into the category, seemingly targeted at casual players who want a quality-built guitar that is highly playable and eye-catching. $399.99 may push the envelope for a starter instrument (at least for young people who don’t have a player buying their instrument), but the look, feel, and sound are everything I look for when asked to recommend a good guitar. -HC- Resources Yamaha Storia Series Acoustic Electric Guitars Product Page ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
  12. Can it truly elevate your sound game? I'm going to take the rare TL;DR approach to this review and start with my conclusions first, as everything after this into is purely qualitative; unless you have a specific need unorthodox routing, you will likely not do better than the Mackie ProFX12v3 analog mixer I reviewed without spending 3x its street price. It does carry the legacy "Mackie" sound, which has its detractors, but much like the iPhone camera lens, the handful of purists who decry it are dwarfed by the masses (i.e. audiences), who view it as the sound of live music. What You Need to Know The Mackie ProFX12v3 mixer I reviewed is the third generation release of its ProFX analog mixer series (V2 was released in 2015, V1 in 2012), building on the platform of affordable but professional solutions for small clubs and venues, houses-of-worship, and self-mixing musicians and bands. The line has been a mainstay in small-to-mid level house mixing for nearly a decade now, and it has Mackie's workhorse reputation fore reliability, function, and durability. While my review was limited to a few weeks of hands-on time, my experience left me confident that the v3 update does nothing to put that reputation at risk. The three biggest updates in the V3 line of ProFX mixers are the upgrade from Onyx-inspired Vita preamp to the real-deal Onyx preamp, a complete HD overhaul of the effects engine, and the inclusion of Pro Tools First. The foundation of the ProFX3 stays true to the series ethos- a simple, full-featured analog mixer with built-in effects, single-knob channel compression, inserts, and more. Here’s the high-level from the manufacturers- Mackie ProFX12v3 Professional Effects USB Mixer Features: · GigFX effects engine delivers 24 effects including reverbs, delays, and choruses · 7 Mackie Onyx mic preamps deliver clear signal and 60dB of gain · Rugged design will stand up to the wear and tear of the road · 3 Band EQ and 100Hz low-cut filter on all channels · Built-in channel compression · 48-volt phantom power on all mic channels · 24-bit/192kHz A/D for unmatched audio quality · USB for playback music and recording into your computer · Balanced XLR and balanced/unbalanced outputs · Headphone output has separate volume control for comfortable monitoring The Mackie ProFX12v3 I reviewed has Onyx preamps, which are renowned for crisp, clean, quiet amplification at a relatively low price point (their original pitch was “boutique sound at an affordable price”), on seven of the twelve available channels. These preamps are rated to 60dB and were all exceedingly low noise, even when being intentionally punished for “from the board” fuzz. If price weren't an object, there are more colorful or open preamps available, but one channel of those would cost more than the entire unit I reviewed; I didn’t find a single case during my evaluation in different environments where the preamps were ever less than stellar, let alone “in the way”. There are some frequencies (especially in the upper-mids) that feel a bit stiff in isolation, but the moment you bring a full performance into a room those are invisible. The new effects engine, branded GigFX High-Resolution Effects Engine, which is the onboard selection of effects that can be applied at the channel or master level, is made up of 24 effects that are mostly ambient or time-based, with a sprinkling of modulation and filtering. As an audio experimentalist, I'm always a fan of getting weird, but these effects are appropriate and well tuned to enhance a sound, not warp and twist it. Adding doubling to vocals, a little "room" to the guitars, or slap-back to fill out the drums, I was happy with what I was able to dial in. While I would want more if this was my sole recording/mixing platform, these are intended for live use and excel at subtle enhancement. The workflow is WYSIWYG, and any musician or engineer will likely access everything they need with a physical knob, from the front of the unit. Essentially, describing the ProFX experience is like MIXING 101. Easy. While I did dive into Pro Tools First in the evaluation of the unit, I feel discussing it as a part of the review is beyond the scope of helping people evaluate the unit. Yes, it's Pro Tools, Yes, it's good. Yes, you'll almost certainly decide to upgrade to a full version if you put the time into learning Pro Tools First. It's a heck of a value to include (the plugins themselves list for more than the cost of the mixer), and if you don't already have a DAW it's a great entry. The effects plugins for the unit are great (I especially enjoyed the 304 series EQ and compression), although I was left wondering how many live applications would allow these plugins to shine. If you’re a touring musician who provides their own sound, you’ll be pleased to hear the chassis is rugged and all the physical components felt solid and well protected. Additional side-protection is built into the unit, and short of protecting the slider-side from upside-down spills I didn’t see a thing that would keep my from trusting the units on the road. There are optional rackmount kits, dust covers, and protective bags available for the unit. Limitations The flexibility of the unit extends beyond its core function of live mixing, and in those areas (especially recording) the limitations may become more hinderance than benefit. Conclusion For anything short of a professional recording studio or massive live venue, I’m hard-pressed to think of how the Mackie ProFX12v3 analog mixing console wouldn’t have you covered. At the price point (heck, even without the price point) it is a workhorse that just does everything well. There are more powerful, more customizable, and more expensive boards out there that may by more up your alley, but for 90% of the players and venues I know, Mackie brings the thunder. - HC - Resources Mackie ProFx3 Series Mixers Product Page Buy Mackie ProFXv2 Series Mixers at Sweetwater (Reviewed Model $429.00 MSRP, $329,00) ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
  13. Would you mind sharing your decision to switch from a music program to Philosophy in college? How did that shift adjust your entry and tenure in music? I changed my major when I realized that my applied piano professor did not approve of me playing anything other than classical music in the practice rooms. After four years of college as a piano major and feeling like my entire musical soul wasn’t being addressed, or even considered, I decided to change my major to one that would allow me to graduate in two semesters! Fortunately, changing my major made space for me to explore the music that I wanted to. I was no longer bound by the rules of that miopic music department. Tell me about your songwriting process. I write whenever and however. Sometimes I text lyrics to myself. Sometimes Dana will send me a track and I write to that. Sometimes we’re practicing backstage before a show with guitar and we get a song. Sometimes I get a full song. Lyrics, music, melody and all. Sometimes a song takes years for me to complete. It really does just depend on how the wind does or does not blow. Songs come to my husband all of the time. Not the same for me! As someone who has enjoyed great success with other artists, how does collaboration come into play? What do you look for in a songwriting partner? The best collaboration’s are when each partner allows the other to just BE. That’s when the magic happens. My favorite folks to collab with are Dana (for good reason lol), artists Eric Roberson and Alain Clark, and producer Daniel Moore. Collabs work best when we honor our own voice/ideas as well as your partner’s. I MUST feel like my thoughts and ideas are safe, respected and free from judgment BEFORE we even talk about writing. And I must extend the same courtesy. To quote a great poet of the 20th century, Erykah Badu, “I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my S*#t.” Lol Do you have a dream lineup? Of course. AVERY’S DREAM BAND: Donny Hathaway - Rhodes and vocals Aretha Franklin- piano and vocals Steve Gadd- drums Billy Preston - organ and vocals Bobby Womack - guitar and vocals James Jamerson - bass DREAM LINEUP: Festival style JAMES BROWN Michael McDonald Steely Dan Brother’s Johnson Bobby Womack George Benson Barbra Streisand Luther Vandross Prince Hezekiah Walker & THE LFC CHOIR If there is one thing you could ask of a new listener to Twenty Sixty Four, what would it be? Listen to what makes you feel and want to be better. I had the privilege of seeing you play through the Yamaha CP88 at Winter NAMM. What inspires you in a piano or keyboard, and how does it influence your playing or songwriting approach? Awww thank you! We had so much fun at Winter NAMM. What an honor. And I LOOOOOOOOVE the CP88. Every instrument has its own character, from the beautiful Yamaha C7 piano, to the CP88, to the Montage: and almost always that character inspires something different for and in me. That’s why I told my dear hubby/writing partner/engineer that I need a LEAST two of each of them in the studio!!!! Lol (Well, maybe not two.) Would you describe the current music scene as you are experiencing it. The rule in this current music scene seems to be YOU, the creator, decide what YOUR rules are. It’s inspiring. It’s an invitation for everyone to be as creative as they can possibly be barring any restrictions. It’s a great time to be a creator of music. What are you listening to these days? BOBBY WOMACK. From his own recordings to tunes that he’s written for other artists like George Benson. I LOVE Thundercat and VulfPeck. Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key Of Life” is in perpetual rotation . I’m also a fan of 19 year old daughter, DrewTheRew. She’s a pianist, producer, writer and singer. She’s got a track called “Ten Steps Back” on the album that I’m currently working on. These kids just hear music differently! I’m learning a lot. Will you share anything about your current and upcoming projects? Yes! For my new project, I am collaborating with my dear friend and colleague (I call him my younger brother) Daniel Moore. He’s actually Mariah Carey’s music director. Needless to say, he’s a pretty freaking fantastic pianist, keyboardist, singer, writer and producer. This is our (my husband and I) first time collaborating with someone for a full project. I am excited about this new space that I’m in and this new music. Of course, I think it’s my best work yet. Lol The question we ask every artist, composer, and gear tech- How do YOU make better music? I just make it honest. That way, no matter what, it will always be great. ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
  14. Could this amp be smooth as ...? I first spoke with Charles Henry years ago when he asked me to review his Silktone instrument cables. During my fact-check call with him to dive into the science vs. mojo of a “directional” cable (FWIW, the science behind double conductor cables and single-path shielding made me a believer it is more than marketing hype), he mentioned he had been working on an amp for a few years and would likely release it at some point in the future. As he walked through his design philosophy and approach, I left the call thinking two things; this guy REALLY cares about gear and it was unlikely the amp could be as revolutionary as he described it, given we’re talking about variations on a century-old design. Then, nearly four years later, Charles called back asking to confirm my address to send out a loaner unit for me to check out. The Silktone guitar amplifier is a Tweed-inspired 12 watt single-ended, cathode bias guitar amplifier powered with a 12AX7, 2 12AT7, KT66 , 5AR4/GZ34 tube compliment and spring reverb tank feeding a custom-designed 12” Warehouse Designed speaker with controls for volume, tone section, and reverb. What You Need to Know The Silktone amplifier design started from the humble (but venerated) Tweed foundation, with a single tube in the preamp (12AX7), power (KT66), and rectifying (5AR4) sections of the amp with a philosophy that getting more from a single tube in each section creates a richer, more responsive sound. The major deviance from the tradition Tweed circuit comes in the form of replacing the traditional 6L6 power tube with a true KT66 (note many modern “KT66” tubes are 6L6s with a different bottle) for stronger bass and mids. The KT66, to my ears, sounds like a sweetened version of 6L6, with less congestions in the transition frequencies and a more layered growl. The single ended cathode design translates to a couple of things most players will hear (and feel) immediately, most obviously a livelier tone at lower volumes. This isn’t just a “low wattage” phenomena, it is directly tied to the relentless work required of a single power tube and a more immediate response than is created in a push/pull scenario of power sharing between two tubes. It is worth noting that although I didn’t experiment beyond 6L6, the Silktone amp can run on a 6v6, 6L6, EL34 or KT66 without rebiasing (thanks to cathode biasing) for different flavors of power amp distortion (and output wattage). The designer, however, emphasizes he’s voiced the tone stack and speakers to a KT66, and that is where he believes the amp is realizing it’s optimal tone. To that point, there’s an excellent point of flexibility in how the amp is voiced between the Chiffon and Raw Silk modes. Chiffon is the “refined” side that incorporates a tuned Bass, Mids, and Treble control section that instantly places the amp in a highly flexible variant of the vintage Fender mid-scoop base tone. The bass stays robust and the highs have a tight brightness to how they sit. I don’t want to lean too heavily on the “Silver Face” comparison, but that’s where my ear kept going. With the mid knob at 9 and treble and bass at 2-3, the scooped thing I was most present, whereas setting the treble at 11, mid at 12 and bass at 3 yielded a nice fat jazzy sound. While I loved the Chiffon voicing and knew Silktone had a winner based on that alone, switching to the Raw Silk mode was brought my review experience to another level. What this mode does, functionally, is entirely bypass the tone stack circuit. Sonically, it produces a primitive, fat sound that jumps from the amp. Cleans are livelier and mode vivid, and the gain (which starts happening around noon with single coils) is punchy and compresses in an incredibly dynamic way, almost flawlessly shifting points of frequency overdrive based on how hard I hit it. The Volume and Tone controls on my guitars have likely never been as vital to accessing different sounds than they were with the Silktone amplifier. I very much preferred single-coil pickups (the newest version of the Fender Vintage Noiseless and the Bareknuckle Slows hands I demoed, in particular) due to the revealing and reactive nature of the Silktone amp. Humbuckers (especially the Classic ‘57s and Mules I demoed) do sound great, but the limited dynamic range of their output stands out starkly in Raw Silk mode. The reverb section, something I tend to use sparingly on Fender-style amps unless I’m seeking an exaggerated surf tone, sounded different from the vintage spring tanks I’m used to. It has almost none of the hollow, hazy character of a vintage Blackface, but rather a rich, almost plate-like density and bottom-end. I found myself turning the Dwell control further up than I expected and using the Mix control to dial in the wetness of the effect. There are awesomely weird sounds in Raw Silk mode when the amp was cranked with the Mix and Dwell past noon that edge on dynamic harmonic tremolo. The speaker is a custom design in collaboration with Warehouse Guitar Speakers, and is available with Alnico or ceramic magnets. The voice coil is wound vintage style over paper (most modern speakers utilize plastics) and has an American style seamed cone tweaked to create a smoother and more open breakup than a typical American voiced speaker. The inside of the amplifier is immaculate, and while I’m not of the persuasion to provide proof beyond visual confirmation, Charles states- I believe an amps tone is shaped subtly but significantly by the quality of critical parts. Some capacitors and resistors can choke and smear the tone while some are too clean and end up sterile with no pleasing colorations. I tried tons of different caps and resistors and transformers of different prices and qualities and ended up with a pretty good mix. The blue sozo coupling/tone caps I use are built as replicas of the old blue molded caps used in vintage blackface amps, they allow for incredible tone. The resistors are a mix of my favorite carbon and metal film in various spots with a couple carbon comp thrown in for flavor. I ended up going with a paper wound vintage style transformer custom built by Magnetic Components Inc rather than the more common plastic wound modern style offerings. The plastic ones might have a little more detail and more of a hifi sound but the paper wound ones just had a way more pleasing sound to me overall. Very lush. It is worth noting the Silktone amplifier is exceptionally quiet (a feat for a single ended, hand-wired turrent board circuit). Limitations Single channel amp with no FX loop. Conclusion I’ve had the pleasure of playing through many of the big-name boutique amplifiers, whether at trade shows or through studio demos, and the Silktone amplifier easily earns its place in the upper echelon. By stripping away the circuit complexity and staging required to accommodate modern flexibility, the Silktone amplifier shows up as a reactive part of your guitar chain, giving more each step closer in the chain it is to your guitar. I’ve truly never had more fun with just a guitar, a cable, and an amp. Resources Silktone Guitar Amplifier Product Page (MSRP $2,199-$2,399) ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
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