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Chris Loeffler

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. By Russ Loeffler I was an early adopter of PreSonus Studio One Professional 10 years ago. I was introduced to PreSonus with the purchase of my first Presonus product, the Firepod audio interface. At the time, I was looking for additional audio inputs as I was expanding my home studio from a Roland desktop DAW (digital audio workstation) to a computer based system. The Firepod came with a copy of Cubase LE which was a great introduction to a computer based DAW. When I considered an upgrade of Cubase, I auditioned Logic and Pro Tools before I found that PreSonus had just released Studio One Professional. I opted for Studio One Pro, a software product that was developed specifically for PreSonus audio interfaces. Ten years later, I still had the Firepod and Studio One (plus other PreSonus products) in working condition without any issues. I just kept updating computers, operating systems, and versions of Studio One Professional. A few months ago, I finally made the move to upgrade to Studio One 4 (version 4.5) and leap past Studio One 2 (released in 2011) and Studio One 3 (released in 2015). By coincidence my belated upgrade just happens to fall on Studio One’s 10-year anniversary! What You Need to Know Before I move on to review version 4.5, let’s get a quick history for 10 years of Studio (excerpts taken directly from Wikipedia). Version 1 of Studio One was announced on 1 April 2009 at Musikmesse and released on 27 September 2009. The final update for Studio One version 1 (v1.6.5) was released in July 2011. Version 2 of Studio One was announced on 17 October 2011, and released on 31 October 2011 (alongside the 2.0.2 update). This release of the software introduced multiple enhancements, including integration with Celemony Melodyne, transient detection & quantization, groove extraction, multi-track comping, folder tracks, multi-track MIDIediting, an updated browser, and new plug-ins. The integration of Studio One version 2 with Melodyne was achieved via the creation of a new plug-in extension, known as Audio Random Access (ARA). This extension, developed jointly by PreSonus and Celemony, allows an audio plug-in to appear as an integrated part of the application. Version 3 of Studio One was released on 20 May 2015. The new features included an arranger track, scratchpads for idea experimentation, the ability to chain together different effects and instruments, MIDI note effects, new plug-ins, and the ability to use curves in automation. Version 4 of Studio One was announced via a YouTube live stream event on 22 May 2018, and released simultaneously. A year later, on 21 May 2019, this functionality was expanded further with the live stream announcement and simultaneous release of version 4.5. Studio One 4 Professional (version 4.5) Downloading the Software The system requirements shown below are recommended by PreSonus, but I recommend more than 8 GB of RAM. If you are going to run RAM hungry instrument and effects plug-ins in Studio One, you will want to additional memory. The same is true for your hard drive memory. Windows Windows 7 (SP1 + platform update), Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 x64 Studio One 4 operates on 64-bit operating systems only. Intel® Core Duo or AMD AthlonX2 processor (Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon X4 or better recommended) 4 GB RAM minimum (8 GB or more recommended) Internet connection (needed for installation and activation) Monitor with 1366 x 768 resolution (high-dpi monitor recommended) A multi-touch enabled monitor is required for touch operation 40 GB hard-drive space Mac macOS® 10.11 or higher Studio One 4 operates on 64-bit operating systems only. Intel® CoreTM 2 Duo processor (Core i3 or better recommended) 4 GB RAM minimum (8 GB or more recommended) Internet connection (needed for installation and activation) Monitor with 1366 x 768 resolution (Retina display recommended) A multi-touch enabled monitor with TUIO support is required for touch operation 40 GB hard-drive space Rather than download a Studio One 4 upgrade package, I downloaded the full software package for Studio One 4 (version 4.5). After downloading version 4.5, I found that all of my songs and projects could load without any issues. This included the 11 year old demo songs from my original version of Studio One as well as my first songs and projects from 10 years ago! (I was fortunate that all of my work was in 64-bit format). I also found all of my instrument and effects plug-ins were available in the instrument and effects tabs of the browser without any need to search for them. I did need a little time to set up my MIDI keyboards, but they were up and running quickly. Navigating Version 4.5 The three basics environments or “Pages” of Start, Song, and Project in Studio One are still the same. With the latest version, moving between Song and Project is much easier and quicker. Editing in Project can also automatically make updates in Song which reduces moving back and forth and saving between the two pages. I found the look and feel of the new version to be very intuitive and I was able to pull up old songs for editing as well as create new songs without any need to address a manual or support sites. There seemed to be no time needed for a learning curve and everything was just faster, smoother, and better. Any new drop down menu items were very intuitive and right clicking on the mouse delivered more options. If you are moving from other platforms or programs to Studio One 4 now supports AAF (Advanced Authoring Format) for data exchange with Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, and others. You can even bring over key commands from other DAWs. The browser looks the same with the exception of the Cloud drop down tab which is a welcome addition for collaborating. The browser is simple and intuitive. Instruments and Effects I have an extensive library of instrument plug-ins and my versions of the PreSonus instruments are 10 years. So, I have to admit that I ignored them at first, but the quality and flexibility of the instruments are much better in Version 4.5. They include: Sample One XT (samples), Presence XT (virtual sample player instrument), Impact XT (drum samples in a grid layout), and Mai Tai (a polyphonic analog modeling synth). PreSonus has also developed ways of combining them into “multi–instruments”. The upgrades to the effects are more impressive with Delay, Expanders, Distortion, and Groove. My favorite addition is Console Shaper which is only available in the Pro version. Console Shaper is great effect for mastering with drive, noise, and cross-talk functions to get “vintage” or live sounds across multiple tracks. This is perfect for the home studio user who wants to get the feel of a live analog recording with multiple instruments in the “room”. Editing, Arranging, and Mastering Studio One Professional treats multitrack recording and mastering as separate processes, but links the two processes so that changes made in a Song page are reflected automatically in the Project page. Editing song tracks and Projects is straightforward with cust, paste, and nudge functions. It’s easy to edit one track, multiple, or all tracks. The biggest improvements and innovations with Studio One 4 are with the editing, arranging, and mastering functions that are only available with the Pro version. The tools not only improve editing and production they also support and inspire song arrangements and songwriting. Studio One Professional includes the Technical Grammy Award-winning Melodyne Essential. This gives you single-keystroke access to the world’s greatest pitch correction software. Arpeggiator offers multiple modes: Pattern mode, with individual velocity and gate time settings for individual steps; Chord Mode, where the notes of a chord are played through the pattern; Manual mode, where the notes are arpeggiated in the same order as they’re played on the input, creating step-sequencer like effects. Repeater can create anything from basic delay/echo effects to complex patterns and glissandi. Individual pitch offsets for each step in Pattern mode give this tool a unique twist. Manual Pitch mode lets you create complex note sequences. Chorder creates automatic chords from single notes played on the input. Each note on the keyboard can have a different chord assigned to it. With Transpose, the chord pattern can be shifted to any key. Arranger Track is an arrangement tool that lets you move portions of your entire Song as though they were individual Events, and rearrange them quickly and easily. This saves you the time and challenge of traditional editing. Once you define sections, you can freely move them along the timeline, insert them between other sections, copy/cut and paste, or delete them. Scratch Pads is an editing tool in Studio One. Scratch Pads act as quick storage to hold Events, Parts, and entire Song sections for later use or re-use, reducing clutter in the Arrange view as you assemble your Song. Scratch Pads look and act much like the Arrange view timeline, sharing the same editing capabilities and displaying the same set of Tracks. Chord Track is a global track that provides the ability to perform "harmonic editing" of both Instrument and Audio Parts. This restructuring of chord progressions can affect an entire song, or only the Tracks of your choice. It’s the ideal tool for songwriting by modulating to different keys rearranging chord progressions. Publishing Studio One has all the bases covered for publishing: DDP export for duplicators, Red Book CD burning, disc image, and digital releases in multiple formats (including integrated publishing to SoundCloud). Limitations Studio One 4 is such a powerful recording, editing, arranging, production and mastering tool, it is difficult to find any limitations for both professional or home studios. I recommend exceeding the hardware specifications necessary to run Studio One to ensure there is capacity to run PreSonus and 3rd party plug-ins. Conclusions PreSonus has really hit it out of the park with Studio One 4. They have listened to Studio One users and they have delivered. Studio One 4 is a complete tool that provides great editing, arranging, and mastering functions at such a high level that it eliminates the need to move your songs and projects to other tools for final production. If you are downloading Studio One 4 as your first DAW, I recommend taking the time to audition the instruments and effects that are provided before looking for plug-ins. PreSonus has also made it easy for musicians, engineers, and producers to move from other platforms to Studio One. The improvements provide everything that is needed for a professional studio as well as tools and automation functions that are perfect for a multi instrumentalist with a home studio. If that wasn’t enough, PreSonus has sweetened the Studio One 4 offering with a 25% discount until the end of the year. Resources Learn more about the latest version of Presonus Studio One ___________________________________________ Russ Loeffler is a contributing editor to Harmony Central who covers trade shows and live events when he is not fine-tuning his guitar chops. He is also a gear head with a passion for good music, great tones, and music that is much easier to listen to than it is to play.
  6. The NAMM (North American Music Merchants) association publishes their annual list of the top communities and schools for music education every Spring (the 2019 list can be found here). The criteria for nomination include outstanding instructors, curriculum, and more, but the amalgamation of these various factors sum to “How important in the emphasis in music education in this school/community education program overall?” As September has crept up on us and school is now in session across the country, we wanted to take a look at some of the more inspiring (and not so inspiring) things happening in music education. The Boston Herald ran an article last month compiling some of the many benefits of music education for students, citing everything from demonstrated improvements in language and reading skills to improved social development and community mindedness, along with the correlation higher average GPA of students who participate in music programs and the documented therapeutic benefits to children with disabilities. While none of this is likely new to a life-long musician, it is both encouraging that these studies continue to push forward positive data and discouraging that the public (at large) hasn’t fully embraced the evidence of music improving lives and creating better people through education. Many programs, like the Pass the Mic initiative in Portland, Oregon, extend the benefits beyond academic, seeing music as a way to bridge cultural gaps with immigrant and refugee youth and encouraging different ways to integrate into their new home. Not only do these connections help participants enter the education system with an area they can excel with less reliance on mastery or English, but it also creates ties between those of different cultures who are sharing a similar migrant experience. Similarly, the World Economic Forum released an article this month exploring the role of music as a vital urban resource. The author posits that, as a cultural resource, music is one of our most consumed and enjoyed forms of societal expression. And yet as the business of music grows (the music industry grew by 9.7% in 2018 and Goldman Sachs suggests it could double to over $131 billion by 2030), it is as important that we invest in our music education programs as it is to invest in roads, sewers, and physical infrastructure to maintain our way of life. As our current era has removed the need for most to scramble for the essentials in life, a “good place to live” is now as much defined by its offerings (restaurants, breweries, bike paths) and culture as it is average wage or housing costs. Said plainly, without an investment in venues that facilitate music performance spaces as well as the committed education to the next batch of musicians, a community risks losing a part of its quality of life offerings as waning support erodes those cultural institutions. Back to schools, districts across the country are given some guaranteed budget for federal funding around the arts, which typically amounts to a classroom and a part-time teacher to service all grades. This means it comes up to the district and individual school principals to decide how much of their general funds to allocate to music and arts programs. Given the incentive for STEM and federal testing requirements, many schools fund the arts programs last. Arts advocates decry the disparity in spending between arts and sports programs, but the holders of the purse-strings know that school sports are more visible to the community and more likely to create parent contributions, regardless of household income. As The Strad in the UK points out, opportunities for children to take a music class in elementary school is down 23% from 2010, while advanced music opportunities have been reduced by 38%. Tackling the concept of how music education goes beyond personal enrichment, many schools are leaning heavily on the similarity of these programs to the lauded benefits of sports programs, such as teamwork and cooperation. Schools like in Oildale Middle School in Bakersfield find resources through their community (this year alone required a $55k investment in band uniforms), but those come at great (and unpaid) expense by their educators to make happen. If you agree with the benefits of music, not just to individual achievement of students but also as an investment of continued cultural development, consider checking in with how your local music education programs are doing. If they are well supported, attend a school concert. If they are underfunded, consider volunteering your time or money to ensure the next wave of music has a chance to express itself. ____________________________________________ 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. No guts no glory! Epiphone (by way of Gibson) has turned out a steady stream of artist signature guitars for decades now that has always been a mix of guitar legends (Slash, John Lee Hooker) and players they believe will be the heroes of tomorrow (Lee Malia, James Bay). It only makes sense that they’d eventually land a deal with Jared James Nicols, winner of the Les Paul Tribute Contest (he was born in the same town as Les Paul), blues/rock virtuoso, and wielder of an iconic, single-P90 equipped Gibson Les Paul “Old Glory”. The Epiphone Jared James Nichols “Old Glory” Les Paul Custom Outfit is a limited edition recreation of his most famous guitar, with a 1955-style Les Paul Custom body, Seymour Duncan P-90 pickup in the bridge (Lead) position, “Blues Power” custom cover plate, and ebony fretboard that ships in a hybrid hard/soft (EpiLite) case with a signed certificate of authenticity. What You Need to Know The Epiphone Jared James Nichols “Old Glory” Les Paul Custom Outfit is exactly what you’d expect from a vintage-inspired Les Paul; well balanced with a hefty weight. The flat-black paint job is accented by white-and-black binding that crawls the length of the top, back, neck, and headstock. The “Blues Power” etched cover plate sits below the bridge, framed by white burst diamonds. The neck is a classic, mid-50’s “C” shape at a 24.75 scale with a 1.68” nut, 12” radius, and medium jumbo frets. As Phil O’Keefe will say, while many players are completely at home with this style of neck, people with small hands or extreme shredders may find the neck a bit challenging. I found it comfortable for my mitts, and well contoured for ergonomics. One of the most striking things about the Jared James Nichols’ “Old Glory” is the decision to include a single Seymour Duncan dogear P-90 pickup, rather than the traditional two humbucker format (putting it in the same camp as a Melody Maker or LPJ). The pickup is modeled after the first generation of hand-wound P-90 pickups invented by Seth Lover in the late 1940s, and is modified by Volume and Tone controls with color-matching black hat knobs. Speaking specifically to the pickup, you likely already know the sound of a vintage Seth Lover P90, and yes, this pickup nails it. If you haven’t, it has most of the articulation of a vintage Fender-style single coil pickup with less of the harsh high end associated with the bridge position and more snarl, presence and harmonic grit in the midrange. The “Old Glory” pickup filled out the dipped mids of my late 70’s Fender Pro Reverb, while my AC15 and Marshall-styled amp found extremely musical crunch in their already pronounced mids when the preamp was pushed at all. The case/gigbag hybrid included with the guitar is a nice addition that side-steps the disadvantages of bulk and weight of a traditional hardshell case while providing rigidity and protection beyond most gigbags. Limitations I’d be hard pressed to say “Old Glory” is a one-trick pony, but it isn’t a super flexible guitar. The faceplate copy is very specific. Conclusion The Epiphone Jared James Nichols “Old Glory” Les Paul Custom Outfit embraces (embodies, even) raw minimalism and seems primed to be run straight into a hot vintage amp and let the Volume and Tone controls do the talking. Classic styling, classic P90 tone, and a reasonable price of entry makes this an attractive option for JJN fans or anyone seeking the Melody Maker or LPR vibe with a twist. ____________________________________________ 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. The Peavey Invective line was developed in collaboration with Misha Mansoor, guitarist for prog-metal Periphery and solo projects like Bulb, with a focus on providing players with a pedal-friendly clean channel and a high-gain channel voiced to nail modern heavy sounds. The original Invective release was in the form of a 120 watt, ear-crushing head powered by a quad of 6L6 power tubes and was met with wide praise, but the output volume and sheer weight of the iron made it a hard sell for small gigs and coy spinal cords. Peavey’s 2019 addition to that line comes in the form of a 20 watt amplifier head that is small in size but equally huge in features. The Peavey Invective MH amp is a 2xEL84 powered tube amplifier (their marketing literature states “all tube”, but the rectifier is a modern solid-state) with Clean and Lead channels with independent EQ and host of features for gain structuring, audio output, and more. The Peavey Invective MH weighs just shy of 20lb and is about 12”x12”18” in dimension. What You Need to Know The Peavey Invective MH features three 12AX7 and two EL87 tubes to drive two channels, Clean and Lead, at 20 watts. The Clean channel features controls for Gain, Low, and High and the Lead Channel significantly ups the ante with Pre-Gain, Low, Mid, High, and Post Gain controls as well as switches for Gate, Tight, and Boost. Both channels share a Master section with Resonance and Presence controls and can be switched via the amp faceplate or the optional footswitch. The Clean channel essentially only has a single gain control and stays relatively dirt free up through levels that could keep up with a drummer at long as it is operating at full power. The unmistakable bark of the power tubes starts to peak through about 2/3 of the way up with harmonically rich overtones that lean more towards “dirt and spank” than preamp distortion. I would describe the clean channel as neutral sounding, without a noticeable hump in the EQ range it produces. The low end is thick enough, but maybe just a tad lighter in the area between “hearing” and “feeling” the lows, certainly a bit more bold than a vintage Marshall. The Lead channel can be a monster, and a series of switches and controls are highly important to getting the “right” type of high-gain sound you are after. The Pre-Gain control really impacts the gain amount (and structure) of the preamp section, while the Post-Gain impacts the output volume of the amp at large. Cranking the Pre-Gain with low Post-Gain will create saturated (if sometimes grainy) preamp distortion that is relatively uncolored at bedroom levels, while running the Pre-Gain extremely low and cranking the Post-Gain will push the power section into a meatier distortion. As you might imagine, most of the best settings are finding the sweet spots in how the two interact. In addition to the EQ controls for Low, Mid, and High (I wasn’t able to find in the document the frequency range each knob passively filtered around, but they all sounded “right” for modern voicing and balance), there are switches for Gate, Tight, and Boost. Gate is a pre-set gating control that slightly clamps the attack and decay of heavy distortion to reduce idle noise and a add a slightly percussive distortion. The Tight switch appears to slightly revoice the preamp while dropping the gain for a more articulate, less compressed overdrive. The Boost switch kicks in a mid-range focused boost to slam the preamp in Lead mode. It’s a variation of the TS-style pedal into a high-gain setting that is a core part of the vernacular of heavy tones, and I felt they dialed in the EQ and gain boost to get the most out of the amp it is feeding. The EQ controls on both channels are passive tone controls that adjust the balance of the preset frequency bands, and all appear to enter the circuit after the preamp. The global Resonance and Presence controls appear to work as post-power amp voicing, with the Resonance control impacting how the low end articulates in the speaker and cabinet you are running the amp into and the Presence control effecting the way the highs present themselves, from chimey and tight to looser and glassier. A neat feature for players is the T.S.I. (Tube Status Indication) LEDs what provide visual feedback the power tubes are operating within the bounds of their expected current. The back panel of the Invective MH is filled with additional features, as well as the typical voltage selector switch, AC power inlet, fuse, and speaker cabinet outputs. The amp has a built-in attenuator to change the wattage from 20 to 5 to 1 to pull more power amp distortion at lower volumes (extremely high attenuation does require tweaks to the Resonance and Presence controls to maintain the same speaker response) as well as a Speaker Defeat switch that takes the speaker entirely out of the equation by running to a dummy load. Killing the speaker allows you to leverage either the Headphone output, the XLR direct output, or the ASD Audio direct out through the amp’s proprietary MSDI (Mic Simulated Direct Interface), which creates the impulse response of a 12” speaker in a cabinet with a classic 58-style microphone placed 3” from the speaker cone. The direct out via XLR is great for recording or stage-silent performances (if you trust your sound guy!), and the USB output is an interesting, driver-free approach to direct recording without introducing noise. I put about fifteen minutes into the FX loop to see if I could freak it out or introduce noise and found it to be transparent and receptive to effects, both high and low impedance, in the loop. Things like dirty power and janky cables sorted out and it was smooth sailing. Limitations The reduction in power leads to a reduction in headroom, so part of what makes the Invective so appealing as a clean/heavy platform gets taken away to scale it down. The cleans are still respectable, and the lows hang in there, but they aren’t just a “quieter” 120. Conclusion The Peavey Invective MH brings a myriad of tonal options to the table, doing pretty much anything I could throw at it except spongey vintage mid-gain. The cleans are crisp and modulation ready, you can lay some glass on the top when it’s cranked, and the high-gain channel screams. My initial thought, right or wrong, is that the Invective covers so much sonic ground and has so much flexibility that it might get overlooked by people who are used to amps that only work on variations of a theme, but they’d be missing out on a true, affordable swiss army knife of an amp. Resources Peavey Invective MH Mini Amp Head Product Page Buy Peavey Invective MH at Sweetwater (MSRP $799.99, Street $699.99)
  9. I have one. 🙂 My guess is the instrument was sold for the simple reason that it represented a sizable amount of cash to the owner at a time when they needed it. With two little ones (and one big one), mine sits in a case and doesn't get played nearly as much as I'd like. I don't want it damaged, and when it comes time to play in any space but the studio I grab one of my beaters out of convenience. If I found myself in a tough spot, I could see looking at it as a quick way to get a meaningful financial infusion. I've also heard mention of people buying instruments from retailers at 0% interest terms and selling them immediately because it's a cheaper, longer term cash loan (even with the hit to value) than a high-interest credit card. I'm not aware of any issues with the guitar you are speaking of, and think highly of Taylor's quality control (said as someone who was a guitar buyer for Musician's Friend in the late-00's".
  10. Wattage is irrelevant to ohms. Given the amp only puts out 15 watts, you're not at risk of damaging your speakers. As long as you are running on the correct resistance (ohms) you will be fine. Since you are running in serial, figuring out your maximum ratings for both is simple addition. Two alnico blues rated at 15 watts with 8 ohms in serial would be 30 watts power handling at 16 ohms. If you ran them in serial, you would have a 4 ohm load and 15 watts.You wouldn't need to solder if you are just swapping speakers. the speaker wiring includes socketed tips that connect with your amp. :-)
  11. From JPATT- Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I think I'm going to swap out my G12M's for two Alnico Blues then as it would be nice to be true to the original Vox sound and I play a lot of U2. Who knows, maybe I should declare 2017 the "year of Vox" and learn mostly songs played on the amp. Two final q's:1. If I do swap out my G12M's for two Blues, do I get the 8 ohm or 16 ohm Blue? My current G12M's say 8 ohm and I think they are connected serially at a total resistance of 16 ohm, so I think 8 ohms. But the Watts rating is throwing me off, maybe it is irrelevant. I have never swapped out a speaker and don't want to screw it up. 2. I think you mentioned soldering? What needs to be soldered?Thanks!
  12. You certainly could. The Blue is louder than the Greenback, though (more efficient). As such, I don't think you'd get as much of a difference (or Greenback flavor) as you'd like, since the Blue will overpower it. I've played a Blue Alnico / G12H combo in a 2x12 cabinet and it sounded fantastic... actually better than two Blues... they seemed to compliment each other and fill in gaps. I think the G12H is a better match for the Blue if you wanted to go that route.
  13. The Reply function, for some reason, isn't posting (only Post Comment is), so I'm pasting Tonic2000's response- Hey, Chris, thanks for being so responsive to my suggestions. As you mention, guitar setup can be contentious, but the article is now a good introduction. Kudos to Harmony Central for being on the ball.
  14. Thanks to Tonic2000 for the feedback! This article was written based on an interview with one local setup person and independently reviewed be a second for accuracy, but we knew this could be a contentious one! We've vetted several points brought up by Tonic2000 and integrated his recommended changes into the article (with attribution in two instances). As stated in the article, this article was intended more in the spirit of "How it Works", not "Go Out and Do It with No Further Research"!
  15. It certainly should work with Cakewalk... according to their press release, " The iXR enables your audience to experience the full sonic power of revolutionary new instruments like Cakewalk's Z3TA+ and moForte's GeoShred, elevating the iPad to a truly professional level."I would assume if they're supporting the Z3TA+ they're covered. I don't have hands-on experience with the 2i2 to speak to how they compare. Hopefully someone will comment and share theirs! On paper, the iXR has MIDI in/out, which the 2i2 does not (you need to upgrade to the 2i4 for MIDI). The 2i2 offers 176.4kHz and 192kHz sample rates, whereas the iXR peaks at 96kHz, but given the number of "who can actually discern the difference between 48kHz and 96kHz threads around the internet, I don't know that that's more than a number! I'm wary of even acknowledging the spec wars, because they can be inflated. That said, let's acknowledge the spec wars! The 2i2's mic inputs have a 3k impedance rating, compared the the 2.2k on the iXR, but the iXR can take +8dBu whereas the 2i2 is +4dBu, and they're basically tied in THD and EIN. Obviously, the biggest question is likely "which has a better preamp", which I can't say comparing them side to side. I thought the Tascam sounded fantastic when considering the price point, and it seems that Scarlett 2i2 is has a reputation for the same sentiment. So, short of hearing them next to each other, MIDI is the only differentiator. If you're ever wanting to use a MIDI keyboard to play virtual instruments, you're going to need MIDI.
  16. Goo call out, catalano... you connect ot an iOS device with the Lighting Bolt to USB cable that came with your iOS device (i.e. the cable you plug into the adaptor to charge it)
  17. Some of the more savvy independent stores have joined together to make group buys from the larger manufacturers. Some, like Wildwood, even order one-off limited runs that the big chains can't get.
  18. Earthquaker Devices Plumes Small Signal Shredder Plumes of shred! by Chris Loeffler When Earthquaker Devices announced they had a new pedal for evaluation, the last thing I expected to review was the Earthquaker Devices Plumes Small Signal Shredder. A “t00bscreamer” from the company that (begrudgingly, according to their copy) delivered the most definitive and flexible take on the classic overdrive circuit? Less than $100 and made in the USA? Huh. The Earthquaker Devices Plumes is dubbed by EQD as a Small Signal Shredder, and packs Volume, Drive, and Tone controls as well as a three-position clipping mode switch in a small vertical enclosure with true-bypass switching. What You Need to Know The way EDQ embraces the “NATS” humor in their product description is the perfect setup since the Plumes veers away from pretty much everything that defines the concept of an “ideal” Tubescreamer; no 4558 holy grail chip, no transistor buffers, three clipping modes, and a modified tone control. The Plumes is indeed quieter, cleaner, and more dirty that an off-the-shelf TS-9 or 808 thanks to many clever design factors such as removing noisy parts and increasing the voltage for extended headroom. The Volume control offers plenty of boost over unity. Output volume varies based on the amount of gain in the Drive control, but even with almost no drive in the lowest output clipping mode the pedal exceeds unity gain by around 1:00; it gets outright beastly when cranked in the Clean Boost mode. The Tone control is a deviation from the original Tubescreamer that it feels like the dramatic cut/add carving of the traditional tone control and demonstrates a more natural EQ curve across its sweep. The LED clipping mode is the crunchiest of the three modes and has the bite and gain structure of a vintage Marshall, including a slight sweetening of the midrange and noticeable growl to the lower-mids. I found the LED clipping to respond especially well when digging in on chords and producing interesting and amplike interharmonic modulation. This was probably my favorite mode running into an amp that was clean or that exhibited fairly high-fidelity gain EQ. The No Clip/Clean Boost mode removes the LED clipping diodes from the circuit for a rawer, cleaner, louder sound. It still gets dirty, but the gain is best structured to push an overdriven amp or another gain pedal and enhance it with additional harmonic content. That said, the slight stiffness to the gain attack does a fantastic job of tightening up spongier amp distortion, especially when demoed through a lower wattage Marshall clone. The SIlicon diode mode creates asymmetrical clipping and is what Earthquaker Devices describes as closest to a “standard TS” mode, with soft clipping and emphasized mid-range. This mode is the most compressed, vocal, and liquid of the three, and jumps out especially well when used for the traditional TS application of filling in the hollow-mids of a Fender and forcing gain focus to the upper-mids while trimming bass. Asymmetrical clipping in this type of circuit is more commonly associated with the Boss SD-1 (the classic Tubescreamer does symmetrical clipping), but there’s the science and then there’s the 20 other variables that come into creating an overdrive. The Plumes certainly nails the TS sound, and came surprisingly close to a rawer-sounding Analogman Silver Modded TS-9 I demoed it against in terms of clarity and distortion behavior. I found the different clipping modes to be distinct sounds rather than the typical “toggle” mod on a Tubescreamer that creates slight variations on a theme. I continued to come back to how much flexibility EQD crammed into the Plumes without introducing complexity. And at $99… I’m shocked. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Plumes would convert a life-long TS hater, but if you’ve ever given that sound a moment’s thought, I am confident the Plumes is the most approachable, affordable, and adjustable take you can check out of this genre of sound. I hate to keep coming back to price, but really, they could have set retail price at 2x what it is and sold these like hotcakes (the breakfast food, not the pedal). -HC- Limitations None. Conclusion The Earthquaker Devices Plumes is a top contender for low-to-mid overdrive or the venerable TS sound at any price point. There is enough flexibility between the clipping modes to tailor it to pretty much any amp or application, the pedal is priced at half of what its contemporaries are at for a similar featureset, and it sounds phenomenal. Seriously, you should probably just buy this pedal. Resources Earthquaker Devices Plumes Signal Shredder Product Page Buy Earthquaker Devices Plumes Signal Shredder @ Sweetwater ($99.00) ____________________________________________ 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.
  19. This is the final article following the chain of costs associated with how a piece of music gear gets to its retail price. We’ve previous explored MSRP vs MAP and the expenses associated with running a retail store and how those figure into pricing, so it’s time to dive into the final part of the pricing equation- the cost of designing and manufacturing a product. For the purpose of illustration in this piece, let’s use a $200 MSRP boutique overdrive effect pedal made in the US by an actual company (not a guy in a garage) that is available at many major retailers. This simplifies the math because of the relatively low part count and labor as compared to, say, building drum kits or digital synthesizers. Following the MSRP/MAP approach discussed in our article on retailer pricing and our case study pedal has an MSRP of $200 and MAP of $160, we can put a stake in the ground that the retailer paid the manufacturer about $100 for said pedal. Many musician’s will (understandably) think the price of manufacturing is just the BOM (bill of materials) for the pedal and some nominal amount of labor. Like most things in life, the truth is much more complicated. A piece of gear begins with an idea, and then R&D and engineering. Provided there wasn’t a marketing/executive dictate that “thou shalt design X style piece of gear,” designs will go through dozens of iterations once the foundation has been established, and engineers are likely juggling a half-dozen projects at a time. To be extremely conservative, let’s asapply 20 hours of focused research into the category and another 20 hours of experimentation to build the foundation for the effect (breadboarding, troubleshooting, etc). We aren’t counting the years of training that got an engineer to the point where they can tackle a project like this. An entry-level engineer makes $60-80k per year, so we’ll use the middle of the road hourly wage ($34/hour before benefits, or $50/hour with benefits, insurance, and tax); we have $2k in a pedal assuming one focused week to go from idea to working prototype. It’s now time to take that circuit out to testers/artists to get feedback. This will easily be 80 working hours (travel, correspondence, meetings, research). Now we have an additional $4k in user testing and feedback. Assuming everything went well the first go-around, it’s now time to put together a BOM (bill of materials) and design a PCB. The BOM can be defined based on what works best or to meet a price point, but likely represents the smallest expense in a pedal. As a standard overdrive variant in this example, the cost of parts, jacks, switches, and electronics can be relatively small; let’s say $25 assuming a price-break for volume ordering and pre-drilled, fully silk-screened enclosures. One thing people point to when considering the price of parts for modern gear is the perceived cost savings in DSP (digital signal processor) hardware as opposed to now-expensive and part-intensive analog solutions. This is true from a pure cost-per-component standpoint, but doesn’t take into account the programming that goes into the chip (a consideration not needed for analog parts). The median starting salary for a DSP developer is $78k per year, so this work quickly get more expensive than using mojo-drenched analog parts. PCB design and manufacturing can be done in-house, but typically gets outsourced to someone like Cusack Music’s fantastic Stompboxparts.com, where engineers design, test, and print through-hole or surface mount boards, can populate them, and even offer enclosures and varying levels of assembly, from completed products to unpopulated boards and empty enclosures. Whether outsourced or handled in-house, there’s an associated $10 labor with every pedal produced in a standard production run. So we’re at $35 in parts and labor for a simple circuit pedal, which leaves $65 in profit for the builder. OK, now let’s get back to the real costs. That $6k in (overly-simplified) work up front needs to be taken into account, so let’s spread that across an initial run of 1,000 units at $6 each. Additionally, we can add another $10 per pedal in rent, utilities, shipping labor, etc. Website and marketing will add an extra $5 to this first run as well, plus $10 for administration, bookkeeping, supplies, etc. We’re now at $66 in cost in the pedal, so there’s $37 in profit, less 30% for business tax, and we’ve got about $26 profit per pedal. All that math shows if this pedal sells 1,000 units in the first six months there is, in theory, $26k in profits to reinvest in the business, try new marketing, dedicate to longer R&D cycle products, and pay the owner (usually not the designer or builder at a certain point). So, Parts and Labor- $35 After Cost of Manufacturer Operation Costs- $60 After Manufacturer Taxes- $74 Sold to Retailer- $100 After Retailer Operation Costs- $140 After Retailer Taxes- $144 To Customer @ MAP- $160 Final Sale Price + Taxes- $173 Or Parts and Labor- $35 Combined Manufacturer/Retailer Operations- $65 Combined Manufacturer/Retailer/Customer Taxes- $31 Combined Manufacturer/Retailer Profit- $42 Thanks for taking this journey. As I cannot state enough, there are more assumptions I’m not including that negatively impact all parties (start up costs, credit interest, sales and discounts, trade show and travel expenses, sales, warehouse, customer service, rework). Whether you agree with the associated expenses or not, I hope you have a clearer picture of what goes into pricing. The music industry isn’t unique in this; it’s how things work in commerce in general. This information might be jarring if you’ve never been offered a peek behind the curtain of costs, but realize there is an entire infrastructure needed to support bringing you the gear you want. ____________________________________________ 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.
  20. Musician's Guide to Home Recording Book Series by Craig Anderton Books to take the fear out of DIY home studio... by Chris Loeffler Craig Anderton has more than five decades in the music world, covering such diverse ground as his influential Mandrake band in the 60s, pioneering books on electronics in music, globe-spanning DJ work, and regular collaboration with leading designers of guitars, synthesizers, software, and more. One of the things that most embodies his work is his ability to see beyond the genre or category he is working in by returning to fundamentals first and building into the tropes of his project. Between stints as a Chief Magic Officer at Gibson and dozens of engagements with retailers and manufacturers, Anderton somehow found time to pour through several decades worth of his print and digital sound engineering articles to put together a definitive book series of instructional "best practices" for recording entitled Musician’s Guide to Home Recording. The series is composed of eight initial volumes: How to Create Compelling Mixes, Microphones for Recording Musicians (co-written by Harmony Central Senior Editor Phil O’Keefe), How to Record and Mix Great Vocals, The Musician’s Guide to Audio, How to Apply Equalization, How to Get the Best Sounds Out of Amp Sim Software, How to Choose and Use Audio Interfaces, and How to Apply Dynamics Processing; all available in softcover from Hal Leonard. What You Need to Know Like a well-trained SEO writer, Anderton’s titles get straight to the point, and promise comprehensive responses to the question each book is answering. Each book begins with a chapter on the general technology and terminology used before moving into copious examples of what’s currently available to achieve the goal, and then heads deep into the world of application, both technical and artistic. For those unfamiliar with Anderton’s writing style, "concise" is the name of the game. As both a writer and an editor his approach is always towards simplification, with a surgical precision of sentence organization and intentionally pared-down word usage. His time as a technical writer for user guides shows in his ability to communicate new processes in a manner that the average reader can immediately grasp and replicate, without needing to re-read or second-guess the meaning. I’ve spent enough time trying to decipher poorly written instruction manuals or board game rules to recognize superior communication of complex ideas! Iconography legends are provided at the beginning of each book that introduces how break-away comments and cross-references will be addressed. These frequent side notes or punctuations assist the reading process by keeping the core of the text laser-focused, while offering a steady stream of enhanced, supplemental ideas to reference in the moment or after the fact. This books offers a succinct, informal tone that carries through even the most advanced material addressed in the series, with logical foundation-building that avoids the pitfalls of many authors who attempt to cover so much ground (especially technical) in a relatively small word count, and end up causing reader backtracking. Each volume feels like a one-hour conversation with Anderton in the studio, with photos and illustrations deftly filling in the moments one would expect him to turn his chair, grab the mouse, and say, “Here, let me show you...” Given his track record as a leading expert voice in the music and audio world, I was a little surprised this series didn’t already exist, but I realize I have been consuming much of this body of work as articles in publications like Electronic Musician and Guitar Player, as well as his contributions to Harmony Central, for decades now. That’s not to say this series is a simple reprint of past material; it is a consolidation, reconfiguration, and expansion of Anderton’s wider body of work to serve as a definitive overview of the titular topic. Reviewing individual volumes of the Musician’s Guide to Home Recording would be a lengthy and ultimately futile process as each book, while a companion to the others, can be read and enjoyed on its own merits. The common thread to all of them is format, voice, and a focus on understanding. Many books and instructors will point you to a solution to your specific problem; Anderton would rather tell you what solutions exist, and let you make the best decision to achieve what you want. The end result is a more empowered approach to home recording, with a rich toolset to draw from. For an idea of the topics covered in each book, I recommend checking out each title’s synopsis in the links below. How to Create Compelling Mixes Microphones for the Recording Musician How to Record and Mix Great Vocals The Musician’s Guide to Audio How to Apply Equalization How to Get the Best Sounds Out of Amp Sim Software How to Choose and Use Audio Interfaces How to Apply Dynamics Processing Limitations The Musician's Guide to Home Recording series is designed for people who want to learn and find their own voice using best practices, not a crib sheet of "How to Sound Like X." Conclusion The Musician’s Guide to Home Recording is a foundational series that focuses on teaching the why and how of recording, aimed at setting the reader up with the knowledge to create professional recordings while finding their own voice. While a quick look at the table of contents or the detailed waveforms may intimidate newcomers, reading the first page or two of any of the books will quickly set aside any concerns about their own qualifications to understand and absorb the content. These books were written to be read, and understood, easily to make any step of the recording process not only approachable, but achievable with professional sounding results. -HC- Resources Musician's Guide to Home Recording Product Pages Buy Books from the Musician's Guide to Home Recording @ Amazon ($9-$24) ____________________________________________ 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.
  21. Following up on our conversation on pricing in the previous article, I’d like to turn attention to the business of owning a small to medium sized music store, and how MSRP and MAP play a role in business planning. On the surface, most people can rattle off some of the core expenses of running a music instrument store- rent, staff, inventory, and utilities. Those are fairly easy to guess at and vary widely based on location, real-estate prices, and pervading retail wages. For the purpose of exploration, let’s use a middle-of-the-road model for geography and store size as the example of what it takes to run an independant music store. Let’s skip the initial expenses of starting a business (approximately $25,000 in store sign, furnishings, basic equipment, business license, etc) and assume a store is established enough that those initial costs have been recouperated. In this example, let’s expolre a small retail store in a low-traffic strip mall (approximately 2,000 square feet, including showroom and storage/warehouse) renting at a low rate of $17 per square foot per year, costing about $2,800 a month. Add to that the typical “triple net” lease terms, which add common area maintenance, property taxes, and building insurance, and there’s likely another $200 a month to pay out for the space. Going cheap on utilities, we can assume approximately $400. Assuming a store is open ten hours a day, seven days a week and can get by on a barebones staff of 2.5 employees per day, prevailing retail wages for a small store manager, assistant manager, and two part-time employees in a median town (including taxes, insurance, etc) is about $8,000 per month assuming a $20/hr manager, $14/hr assistant manager, and minimum wage for the part timers after employer taxes, insurance, and benefits are paid out. If you’ve worked retail, you’ll recognize this is about as bare-bones as you can run a business and is likely a nightmare in balancing opening/closing activities, phone and email coverage, weekly inventory receipt, store merchandising, maintenance, cleaning, and bank runs. Quick math shows that, assuming there is no outstanding debt from investments in the business and the owner is serving as the manager, this store has $11,500 in expenses just to be open and staffed. Let’s assume (incorrectly) that all store merchandise is available on Net 30 terms (payment due within 30 days of receipt) and that all the inventory can be sold in that same time period (average turn rate for product in a music store is closer to 90 days) to simplify this next bit, because interest payments and the inability to use your money/space for something else muddy the water quickly. Let’s also be lazy and assume business taxes (state, federal, etc) are 30% of revenue in this model. Ok. That was a lot of math (and even more over-simplification), but it brings us to knowing that in any given store hour in this shop is costing $40 (not including marketing, website, taxes, supplies, inventory, admninistration) less 30% of profit earned on sales. Let’s now assume this store averages $200 in sales per hour (if you’ve been to a mid-sized town’s music instrument store, you’ll know this is highly unlikely, but we will give the benefit of the doubt that they sell at least one $1k instrument per day in addition to the typical accessory, book, and entry-level instrument sales). Using the MSRP vs MAP assumptions in this article, let’s say the retailer is paying 50% of MSRP for the gear he is selling, and sells at MSRP. This would mean they made $100 off the sales for that hour, less $40 in operating profits. However, credit card processing is 2.9%, and then they need to account for business taxes, meaning that $200 netted $40 in profit after taxes (assuming no marketing, website hosting, or additional expenses have been incurred by the business and the owner/manager is handling all bookkeeping, cleaning, and administration on their own, which again is highly unlikely). The reality, though, is customers now price shop and have been trained to pay MAP (or as close to it as possible) and will quickly pull up Amazon or Guitar Center pricing when they hit the register. Using an average, $200 in MSRP sales are MAP listed around $160. Working the same math above ($100 in cost of gear) with a $160 MAP price, we have $60 in profit, less the $40 for basic operating expenses, less the credit processing and taxes, and end up with between $13-14 in profit. Multiply that by operating hours in a year, and you are looking at a whopping $50,000 to cover marketing, pay the owner (assuming they aren’t the manager), cover the interest charge of inventory that isn’t sold before payment is owed to the manufacturer, or anything else. Again, this is assuming no janitorial services, no bookkeeping services, minimal staffing, and that all initial costs have been paid, which isn’t realistic for most people in most places. Why do I bring this up? To bring transparency to the pricing process from the retailer side, and to allow you, the consumer, to make more informed purchase decisions and consider what your retailer is worth to you. There was a strong “car lot” vibe to how music stores ran in the 80’s and 90’s because there was margin to spare without risking the business. As things have tightened, retailers are called to drop their prices out of the gate to reflect the lower margins required by large online retailers. At the same time, small retailers still have an ingrained customer-base that believes it is meant to push on the lowest marked price for a real deal. As a result, the person who walks in to purchase a guitar with a MSRP of $1,300 that is discounted to $1000 (MAP) may feel there is a lot of give in the price, not realizing that squeezing for an extra $100 off represents a 10% saving for them but cuts the profit of the retailer by nearly 30%. In addition to all the other costs previously mentioned that we aren't including in this equation, many stores do a proper setp-up on stringed instruments (or include one with purchse). At the end of the day, the retailer needs to ask themself- Is it worth it to take on $650 in inventory liability to make $150 in profit within a couple of months? We already know the risk associated means they're adding $150 in business tax and labor to the equazion, so to break even the would need to sell the guitar they purchased and has a MAP of $1,000 for $850 just to break even. Yes, the retailer may be willing to take it in the shorts in the moment to bring in cash flow in slow times, and that is an act of desperation, not a solid business move. I’m not here to tell you that guitar is worth $1,000 dollars; only you can decide that. What I ask you to consider is what your retailer is worth to you? What is the ability to try gear before you buy it worth to you? What is the information and service worth to you? How about the same-day availability of sticks when yours break? -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.
  22. Electro-Harmonix Flatiron Fuzz Do I smell a RAT? by Chris Loeffler The Pro Co RAT first emerged from Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1978 as a dozen, made-to-order distortion boxes before achieving a mass release in 1979. Its entrance couldn’t have been timelier with rock guitar getting harder and more distorted and before racks took over the gear landscape for a decade. Like the Boss DS-1 (also released in 1978, albeit in a more confident way), the RAT took a simple hard-clipping diode approach to creating extreme distortion with the now iconic Motorola LM308 opamp’s lackluster slew rate creating the raunchy character that defined the gain sound. The RAT dominated the pedal-based distortion sound of the late 70’s and early 80’s, finding itself onstage with Metallica, REM, and Sonic Youth. Going through several tweaks, both cosmetic and functional, the RAT evolved based on parts availability and perceived market wants. Today, the RAT is one of the fundamental starter pieces of gear because of its ubiquity and price, with hundreds of companies offering modifications to either bring a current production RAT to vintage specs or expanding on the clipping options offered by the manufacturer. Enter Electro-Harmonix, an effects manufacturing legend that seems to move the category forth on multiple fronts; vintage-correct releases of their own line, technology-breaking new effects types, and, as of recently, putting out their take on classic effects from other brands. The Electro-Harmonix Flatiron Fuzz makes no bones about its inspiration, the Rat2. Featuring Voume, Drive, and Filter controls, the Flatiron Fuzz runs on a standard, center-negative 9v power supply or battery. What You Need to Know The Electro-Harmonix Flatiron Fuzz delivers symmetrical hard clipping tones that cover all ground from light overdrive to saturated fuzz, with most people seeking the classic distortion textures found somewhere in the middle. The Drive knob sets the amount of clipping the pedal produces, with tight, light crunch in the first ¼ of the sweep, chunky distortion of varying shades in the middle half of the sweep, and spitting, raunchy fuzz-like qualities in the final part of the sweep, as more compression leads to more sustain. The Volume control exceeds unity gain even at the lowest Drive levels, and the Flatiron has a punishing amount of output available the moment the Drive is set to noon. The Filter knob takes the place of the standard Tone knob found in many overdrives by setting a low pass filter that progressively grooms off the high end as it is dialed back (counterclockwise). This control has been an integral part of the RAT sound, as it neither messes with the low end nor bumps the mids. I have an original White Face RAT and a couple of clones I ran against the Flatiron, and while they indeed sound similar, the Flatiron Fuzz consistently had a bit more warmth and fuzziness to it at all settings. A direct A/B proved the RAT to clip harder and faster, with a tighter attack, while the Flatiron was softer and looser; falling somewhere between a RAT and a Triangle Big Muff. There was also a touch less clarity to the Flatiron which, depending on the tone you’re going for, is either a huge advantage or missing the point of a RAT-inspired circuit. Limitations The Flatiron Fuzz is such a great sounding distortion/fuzz hybrid that EHX almost does itself a disservice by aligning so closely with the RAT. It does sound similar, but people who are seeking a dead-on RAT clone will quickly feel/hear the differences. Conclusion If the Electro-Harmonix Flatiron Fuzz were released by a small builder with a quirky name and had a hand-painted enclosure I am confident it would jump to the top of flavor-of-the month pedals at 3x the price. It is really that good; warm, responsive, chewy, fuzzy, and articulate. It’s neither as tight nor clinical as a RAT, and it isn’t as loose and muddying as a fuzz pedal, taking chord work and leads on with equal aplomb. If you want a 100% accurate RAT, they are still available from Pro Co. If Muff-style fuzzes have appealed to you but always felt too sloppy or bass-heavy, on the other hand, the Flatiron was made for you. -HC- Resources Electro-Harmonix Flatiron Fuzz Product Page Buy Electro-Harmonix Flatiron Fuzz @ Sweetwater ($96.90 MSRP, $72,70 Street) ____________________________________________ 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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