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Chris Loeffler

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  1. 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"!
  2. 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.
  3. 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)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Teisco Delay Pedal Sometimes you just need a little delay ... by Chris Loeffler Last month I reviewed one of three new releases from Japan-based Teisco’s new line-up, the Teisco Fuzz. I was able to evaluate it not only on its own merit, but also within the context of the rest of the lineup, during which a sonic design philosophy began to emerge for the line that revealed a willingness to get a little weird while still being musical. One of the other two pedals I evaluated from the line was the Teisco Delay (how much more straightforward can you get than that for a naming convention?) which is what I want to talk about today. The Teisco Delay is a BBD-powered analog delay with an added chorusing modulation applied to the delay line. Featuring delay controls for Level, Feedback, Time, and modulation controls for Depth, Rate, and a Slow/Fast switch, the Teisco Delay is housed in a unique zinc enclosure, powered by a standard 9v, center-negative DC supply and features a Dry-Out output jack for semi-stereo rigs. What You Need to Know The Teisco Delay offers 600ms of dark, hazy delay via traditional BBD chips that is quirky and pleasingly lo-fi. Additionally, there is a modulation circuit added to the path to introduce movement. It’s feature-set calls to mind many of the Deluxe Memory Man-inspired delays to have hit the market in the last ten years, but it’s where the controls took me that caught me off-guard. The core delay sound falls in the middle of the darkness spectrum for an analog delay circuit with reasonably full-spectrum repeats at lower settings, but quickly darkens up as you pass the 200MS mark, gaining a soft, hazy fuzz halo around the notes and a ring mod style clang and sizzle detectable at the top end of the note. At the most extreme time setting the delay tone sits somewhere between a vintage Arion SAD-1 and a lonely AM radio transmission. Jesus, can this thing oscillate. Whereas most analog delay pedals tend to go into oscillation in the last little push of the Feedback control’s sweep, the UFOs are ready to take off at about the halfway point in the Teisco Delay. I found less of a volume jump as the pedal oscillated into bit-crushed mayhem (no speakers were blown in the evaluation of this pedal) than I’ve experienced with vintage units, and the pitch travel of the knobs is zippy and to the point. The modulation section creates the dreamy warble players use to emulate tape delay units, offering a range of options that remind me of early EHX modulations in that the controls extend way beyond where most people would consider them musical. The modulation Depth gets extreme beyond the first 3rd of the dial and can create pitch shifts as dramatic as warped records being skidded to a halt or bird-like chirps. Similarly, the Speed control quickly goes to neck-breakingly short turnarounds of the waveform to being nearly imperceptible by the end because it is moving so fast. Don’t mishear me; the standard, sweetened modulated delay sounds are available, albeit with their own lo-fi flavor. They aren’t as crisp as some high-voltage analog delays, nor as syrupy as others, but they hold their own (especially at the price point!) and sit well in the mix. As mentioned in the Teisco Fuzz review, I can’t talk about the Teisco Delay without discussing the form-factor. Their uniquely shaped zinc enclosure looks built to withstand a ten-story drop, and everything from the jacks to the knobs scream Japanese precision. Limitations This is not a pedal to set with your eyes the first time you plug in. “Traditional” settings tend to happen in the first half of a given dial’s sweep. Conclusion The Teisco Delay is a strange, amazing beast that reminds me of some of the early boutique attempts at analog delay (I had a Death by Audio one-off delay that comes to mind) where shamelessly reveling in the noise and mud was a part of the game. The Teisco Delay isn’t as clean as an AD9 or DM2 and isn’t as warm as a DMM. It occupies its own space and does it really well. It may fill in shorter delay needs without imparting too much character, but the Teisco Delay shines most when being its own weird, lo-fi, sometimes clangy thing. - HC- Resources Teisco Delay Analog Pedal Product Page Buy Teisco Delay @ Amazon (Street $149.00) Video Created by Pedalboard of the Day. ____________________________________________ 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. Epiphone Bjorn Gelotte Les Paul Custom Outfit Enough flair to ring the bell for fans of Gelotte? by Chris Loeffler We’ve all been there… you’re onstage, you’re getting ready to rip, and you reach for an icy refreshment to loosen up before you swing your way into the opening chord. Gasp! It’s one of those pesky (but delicious) microbrews that isn’t a twist top! You try the ring trick to no avail, end up chipping a tooth trying to crack it open with the brute strength of your mouth, and infuse the night’s set with true, tortured pain as you ponder during tunings whether or not your manager actually is paying in to your dental insurance. I’m sure none of that happened, but it was a fun scenario to create when evaluating the Epiphone Limited Edition Björn Gelotte "Jotun" Les Paul Custom Outfit’s built-in stainless-steel bottle opener on the back of the guitar. The Björn Gelotte "Jotun" Les Paul Custom Outfit is the second Epiphone release of a Björn Gelotte artist model, taking the Les Paul platform, dressing it up with a “bone white” finish and contrasting ebony fretboard, and upgrading it for serious metal with EMG Metalworks active pickups and Grover Roto-Matic tuners. The kit comes complete with the aforementioned bottle opener, a signed certificate of authenticity, and a custom hard-shell case. What You Need to Know The Björn Gelotte "Jotun" Les Paul was built with In Flames inspired aesthetics; cream-and-black five-later binding on front and back of the Bone White mahogany body. The rounded custom ’59 neck carries the mahogany forward framing the 22 medium jumbo fretted ebony fretboard with single-ply cream binding and block pearloid inlays. It’s a Les Paul style body, so don’t look for light-weight wear, but it was entirely in-line with similar mahogany Les Paul’s I’ve played, and lighter than many. As with most Les Paul’s I’ve played, the guitar was well balanced and sat comfortably with a shoulder strap. Stepping into the modern world, the Jotun is powered by a pair of EMG Metalworks active pickups, with an EMG-85 USA humbucker in the neck position and an EMG-81 USA humbucker in the bridge position. Powered by a 9v battery, the pickups are punishing and full-bodied exemplified by a strong-but-musical high end that invites harmonic feedback when fed into high-gain pedals or amps. The pickups have much more immediacy in their attack and a stronger sustain than their vintage counterparts while maintaining more balance across the frequency spectrum. I wasn’t too familiar with Gelotte’s work prior to evaluating the Jotun, but a quick listen through his catalog confirmed that, yep, the Jotun nails his tone (especially his more recent work) in spades. That said, I didn’t find it to scream “I must play metal!” in aesthetics nor tone. Sure, it does that trick really well, but I would be happy to throw the Jotun on for pretty much anything that didn’t require single coils or the vintage sponginess of PAF-style pickups. Limitations None that I can find. Conclusion In my opinion, artist guitars can be a mixed bag, with some so customized to the artist that they don’t have much flexibility to go beyond that and others essentially a signature on the headstock and extra 20% tacked on; the Björn Gelotte "Jotun" Les Paul Custom Outfit isn’t one of these. It’s a cool, understated guitar that can stand in nearly anywhere, with just enough flair to ring the bell for fans of Gelotte. For the person looking for a hot-rodded Les Paul that’s modern while retaining classic Epiphone playability, I would recommend the Jotun as a strong contender. -HC- Resources Epiphone Björn Gelotte "Jotun" Les Paul Custom Outfit Product Page Buy Epiphone Björn Gelotte "Jotun" Les Paul Custom Outfit at Sweetwater (MSRP $1,332.00, Street $799.00) ____________________________________________ 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.
  12. Positive Grid BIAS FX 2 Software Guitar Amp and Effects I'll take the Positive Grid over the negative grid any day! by Chris Loeffler It’s the year 2019, and guitar players are still clinging to their vacuum tubes and low-put passive pickups. While synthesizers long ago made the jump to comprehensive software offerings, only a few big players in the guitar world have fully embraced digital emulation and expansion of the tools available in the 80’s. Whether it be discussion of “feel” or just the benefit of being selfishly (and satisfyingly) blasted by air from a cranked amplifier, guitar players in general are just pickier about how they expect their playing experience to be. Outside of the hardware world of Line 6, Kemper, and Fractal Audio, few companies (Native Instruments, SoftTube, and Peavey being exceptions) have taken the plunge into creating a playing experience for guitarists that scratches their very particularly itches. Positive Grid has been one of those pioneers, and their initial launch of the BIAS Amp and BIAS FX plug-in suites was one of the most embraced products to take guitarists to the software world. With BIAS FX 2, Positive Grid build on their learnings and technological progression to introduce a true 2.0 experience to software emulation for guitar. Positive Grid’s BIAS FX 2 downloadable software that can be used as a stand-alone tool for live performance or as a plug-in (AAX, VST, AU) with all major DAWs for laying down tracks. It works on both Windows and OS X computers and requires OS X 10.11/mac OS 10.12/Windows 8, i5 Intel Core, and 4 GB of RAM and 1 GB of storage space for the program. What You Need to Know BIAS FX 2, first and foremost, isn’t a simple software emulation of classic amps and effects. Like Native Instrument Guitar Rig, you can start there, but the parameter controls very quickly take you beyond what the standard amplifier or effect the preset is replicating does, with deeper control and synthesizer-like control of the signal path (if you want it). Out of the box and without tweaking, you’ll find presets for 60-200 tones, 30-100 amplifiers, 45-100 effects, and some nifty features like Guitar Match and MIDI/automation functions. Setting the signal patch and dragging-and-dropping effects in and out of the signal chain is as intuitive as it is in real life with a clean GUI and even easier, as you aren’t tussling with bum cables, different power supplies, and Velcro. To start building your rig, you are allowed to choose between a single amp or dual amp setup to be run in stereo or summed to mono. The amps can be used as preset, or swapped with various cabinets, speakers, and microphone setups to get your sound. While doing a true A/B between a few of the real deal setup and simulations was beyond my gear cabinet and timeframe for this review, I can attest the different configurations and microphone placements sounded like what I expected with my general recording experiences. The effects, which are the core of BIAS FX 2, are arranged by effect type, including: Noise Gate, Compressor, Boost, Drive, Distortion, EQ, Modulation, Dealy, Pitch, and Reverb. Additionally, there are three effects modellers (Harmonizer, Time, and Fuzz) that essentially allow you to build effects from scratch, a Studio Rack collection with takes on classic rack units like the Tri-Chorus, Compressor, and various oddballs like teh Echorec, Leslie, etc. While Positive Grid doesn’t directly name the individual pedals evoked in each category, the naming convention and visual representation make it abundantly clear. For instance, under the Drive section, there is a green pedal icon named 808OD, a blue pedal icon named Blues Wizard, and a gold pedal icon with a centaur archer called Clone. You get it. There’s a complete list of what’s included on the Positive Grid site, but rest assured that 98% of “must have” pedals are included. The pedals certainly sound and react like their analog counterparts, and I found the sweep in the dozen or so comparisons I made to be similar as well. Said differently, if you have a favorite DMM setting you can visually dial it in identically in the Deluxe Delay effect and nail the same tempo and depth. The noise floor was quite, in fact a bit eerily so, leaving me to wonder how much mojo in a rig comes down to signal loss and additive noises between cables. I ran out of ability to audibly distinguish what was going on before I ran out of spaces to stack effects, and some of the creative routing that happened in real-time inspired me to revisit a couple of placements on my physical pedalboard. I found it easy to set both raw, live sounds or more processed, ready-for-mastering takes depending on how much I played with after the cabinets. Guitar Match is Positive Grid’s proprietary guitar emulation software and is included in all three versions of BIAS FX 2. It effectively converts your input signal and emulates the tone and characteristics of many different guitars, down to pickups, body resonance, and even fretboard quirks. Said differently, you can turn your ’95 MIM Strat with single coils into a ’57 Les Paul with PAFs. Sonically, it is dead on when set against benchmark recordings of the emulated guitar, and even things like decay differences are addressed in the algorithm. The biggest difference I experienced sonically had more to do with me playing like I was still on a Strat rather than it not sounding like the various guitars I was emulating. ToneCloud is a much-appreciated feature of Bias FX 2 and the direction I would hope all software programs continue to migrate, letting users store and share their presets and effects tweaks with the entire community. Integrated into the software, it feels seamless to the BIAS FX experience and is handy when jumping between bandmates’ houses for rough track recording. What I most appreciated about the feature was a chance to hear how far others had taken their presets before I dove into editing and also to find instant inspiration via a new tone to mix things up a bit. As with any user library, the ear and skill of the user dictate the quality of the presets, but taste is a subjective thing. Limitations The navigation of the program is icon driven, which keeps the look clean. However, there isn’t a pop-up window with a text explanation, meaning it isn’t necessarily that intuitive out of the gate what’s going to happen when you click on one. Conclusion Positive Grid’s BIAS FX 2 easily competes with the big dogs of the hardware world, and would likely cost 4x as much if it were a physical product. It sounds so close to the the original units it is emulating that you’d never hear a difference in a live or recorded setting, and, maybe most importantly, it’s an amazingly comprehensive overview of the entire effects landscape. While the quality is professional, the ease of use and accuracy of the effects and amps makes it an enticing, affordable primer to effects usage and sounds for any player. Possibly the biggest compliment I could give BIAS FX 2 is that after more than 20 years of effects usage and exploration there wasn’t a single surprise to be found… everything sounds, behaves, and works right. Bonus points for an extremely straightforward install, configuration, and upgrade process and not a single crash during 30 days of evaluation. - HC - Resources Positive Grid BIAS FX 2 Product Page (Free Trial - $299.99 for Elite Edition ____________________________________________ 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. Dunlop 2019 Guitar Accessories- Straps, Strings, Picks, and Cables - things guitarists need as staples... by Chris Loeffler As this line review was being written, we received word that Jim Dunlop Sr., founder of Dunlop Manufacturing, passed away at the aged of 82 years old. From the Dunlop website- Born in Scotland in 1936, Jim traveled to Canada as a young man looking for new opportunities. There he met his bride and mother of his children, Bernice, and the two of them headed to California for warmer weather. By the 1960s, he had started a family and was working as a machinist and then mechanical engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Off-hours, he turned his lifelong interest in music to creating accessories for guitar players. Jim’s fearless, innovative spirit led him to turn his hobby into a livelihood, and in 1965, he founded Dunlop Manufacturing, Inc. Finding local success with handmade capos, he made the life-changing decision to become a maker of guitar picks when his obsession for precision drove him to design guitar picks gauged by their true thickness. Jim made a personal commitment to expanding the options available to guitar players of the time, introducing strict quality control and a wider variety of gauges than had ever been available before. He blended the advice of musicians with his precise engineering intuition as he experimented with numerous shapes and materials so that players could find the right pick and get the most out of it. One of the greatest triumphs to come from that experimentation was Tortex Picks, which is the #1 pick in the world today. In the 1980s, Jim boldly entered the effects market, assembling a crack team of engineers and securing top-quality parts. He acquired beloved brands such as Cry Baby and MXR and expanded their offerings while remaining true to their legacies and introducing a level of quality and consistency where it had never existed before. Taking on electronics blew the door wide open for Jim’s company, leading to collaborations with the family of Jimi Hendrix and numerous artists such as Eddie Van Halen, Dimebag Darrell, and Slash to make the sounds of the world’s top players available to everyone around the world. Today, Dunlop Manufacturing is one of the world’s largest pedal companies. It would be difficult to find a guitar player who hasn’t been affected by Jim’s thoughtful innovations. Ever attentive to their needs, Jim will live on in the many products that he created to provide people with a better playing experience. Jim was widowed by Bernice in 2001 and is survived by Linda, wife of 7 years; daughter Jasmin Powell, married to Glenn; son Jimmy Dunlop, married to Elizabeth; and grandchildren Alyssa Powell, Krista Powell, and Max Dunlop. Harmony Central and its staff has a decades-long relationship with the Dunlop family, and we send our respect and condolences to the Dunlop team. What’s New in 2019 for Dunlop Accessories don’t often get a lot of attention in the review world for several reasons; their feature-set tends to be a shallower pool to evaluate from, the breadth of assortment in a given category is extremely crowded, and they are considered complementary to the core function of an instrument. That said, they are often the most frequent purchases made by a musician, and often represent the customization of final 10% players are looking for. Dunlop Manufacturing has been providing guitar players with picks, strings, cables, and accessories for decades now and is one of the most visible brands in the world of guitar. Alongside their accessory offerings, Dunlop founder Jim Dunlop nearly singlehandedly kept the Wah pedal alive, resurrected renowned effects companies MXR and Way Huge, cementing their place in the industry as a company that cares about guitar. At the Winter 2019 NAMM Show, we were given the opportunity to have some hands-on time with much of what they’ll be releasing this year. While most of the booth traffic was enraptured by the surprise release of the MXR Dookie Drive and new releases like the Siete Santos Octavio Fuzz and Way Huge Smalls Supa-Lead, those in the know and who are already pretty happy with their sonic palette were demoing the next-gen of Dunlop accessories. Here’s a rundown of some of our favorites from the show… MXR Mini ISO-Brick The MXR Mini Iso-Brick Power Supply ($99.95) was designed to deliver quiet, noise-free DC power to wide range of pedal types in the smallest possible form factor. The Mini Iso-Brick Power Supply has five outputs; each 100% isolated to eliminate eliminate ground noise and to keep your pedals from interfering with each other. Four of the outputs run at a standard 9v/300mA with Boss-style center negative cable barrels, while the fifth can be set to provide either 9 volts or 18 volts at 800mA to goose pedals capable of taking a bigger sip to build headroom. Dunlop claims the Mini Iso-Brick has been tested against hundreds of pedals, including notoriously fickle ones, to ensure clean operation and separation. While the Mini ISO-Box is truly diminutive is size, it was designed to be expandable via a splitter cable that can be used to connect two pedals to a single output, provided they require the same voltage and you don’t exceed the output’s current rating. You can do this with all the outputs simultaneously provided you have the additional cables (sold separately). Between the small size, extremely low weight, and well-lit status LEDs (believe it or not, that visual confirmation has cut time troubleshooting for me more than a few times), the MXR Mini ISO-Box looks to be a surprisingly strong middle-ground between a daisy-chained power supply and the more expensive isolation boxes; perfectly primed to support small boards. Pendleton X Dunlop Woolen Authentics Guitar and Bass Strap Pendleton x Dunlop Woolen Authentics Straps represent a collaboration between the Bay Area Dunlop and Pacific Northwest lifestyle brand Pendleton, featuring a soft, worked leather backing with a randomly cut section of Pendleton’s most famous fannel designs. Srafted of pure virgin wool from Pendleton’s own mills, the random selection of fabric makes each of these exquisitely made straps a one-of-a-kind throwback that seemed equally at home with with a shot of whiskey at the roundup as it does upscale grunge (is that a thing?). Dunlop Flow Tortex Guitar Picks Flow Picks feature a wide angle, sharp tip, beveled edge, and low-profile grip for a smooth playing experience that provides enhanced articulation in attack and demonstrable accelaration. Dunlop's Ultex material, known for durability and strong tone mean Flow Picks project complex, powerful overtones (as demoed at the booth with a hot set of single coils on a Tele). Variety Pack includes Flow Standard .73mm, Flow Standard .88mm, Flow Standard 1.0mm, Flow Standard 1.5mm, Flow Standard 2.0mm, Flow Jumbo 2.0mm, Flow Jumbo 2.5mm, and Flow Jumbo 3.0mm picks. Not to be missed is the “we just legalized weed”420 green. As a Tortex user for many years, I'd say the differences were subtle but noticeable as I swapped picks back and forth. Fast players will find the most immediate benefit, but I'll be taking a set to my acoustic to spend more time with. More and More Click here for the complete line-up of planned 2019 releases, including guitar multi-tools and luthier accessories. -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.
  14. JAM Pedals RetroVibe MKII For flower power jammin' ... by Chris Loeffler The Univibe, like fuzz, is one of the earliest effects to hit the electric guitar market and is closely associated with classic rock, being one of the original modulation effects (being surpassed only by tremolo) to be utilized to create movement or general psychedelia to a part. Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower, David Gilmour… all names associated with making the Univibe sound part of the electric guitar lexicon. Jam Pedals originally released the RetroVibe almost a decade ago and originally created buzz with their claim of 100%-to-spec recreation of the original Univibe. Players like J. Mascis and Andy Timmons provided pull-quotes stating the RetroVibe was their modern replacement for their vintage Shin-E units, and the forums went wild. Small niggles like the missing Chorus/Vibe switch were all that kept the RetroVibe from being a dead-on contender, and the upgrade of the pedal this year (MKII) added this feature, erasing any perceived difference. The Jam Pedals RetroVibe MKII features controls for Speed, Depth, Chorus/Vibe, and expression pedal in, true-bypass switching, and is powered by a standard, center-negative 9v power supply. What You Need to Know The RetroVibe MKII claims to be a circuit-perfect recreation of the original Shin-E Univibe, up to utilizing the same original NOS 2SC828 transistors and carbon comp resistors. The vibe effect, which is technically a phase shifting effect, is created by four light-sensitive sensors surrounding a bulb that brightens and dims, creating the shape of the modulation. Unlike op-amp driven phasers, the audio signal in general becomes more harmonically rich with soft distortion and a slightly uneven shape that pulses. Adding to the authenticity in internal step-voltage to get the unit to run on an identical 15V via a traditional 9V power supply, increasing headroom and clarity. The Jam Pedals RetroVibe MKII features controls for Speed and Depth that, when compared with settings on an original, carry about the same swing, from bar-spanning slowness to Leslie-like machinegun with a slightly underwater feel. The Depth control dictates the range of the effect, with barely-noticeable sweetening on the shallowest settings and engulfing throbs all the way up. The Chrous/Vibrato switch jumps between two pre-determined mix settings, with Chorus being about 50/50 wet/dry and Vibrato being 100% wet for rotating speaker sounds and edging on perceived pitch shifting. The buzz around the Jam Pedals RetroVibe MKII has been around how much thicker, fuller, and more authentic it sounds than the standard Univibe clone, and my experience with a half-dozen or so (including the awesome FoxRox Captain Coconut 2) is that they are all slightly different, despite sharing a similar heritage. There’s something about simple circuits that really makes every component and decision matter. I won’t knock others down, but I can say I was surprised by how accurate the RetroVibe MKII was to the sounds of Hendrix and Trower. The shape, depth, and general tonal sculpt was just there. It has a more robust low-end than many of the more affordable clones that lends itself to a chewier tone but doesn’t get flabby or boomy. It distorts when hit with a hot signal, but not unpleasantly. It certainly seems to walk the line of slight distortion without ever sounding obviously “clippy”, and it has a satisfyingly subtle sag that responds to signal spikes. The expression input allows for control of the speed via their EXP4 expression pedal or identically spec’d pedals. It follows the same high and low points of the Speed control, so it doesn’t exactly unlock new sounds, but manually speeding up or slowing down the rate is the ticket to true-to-life rotating speaker simulation or even more expressive solos. Limitations No battery option. Conclusion I walked into the Jam Pedals RetroVibe MKII with an unhealthy amount of skepticism because the early buzz and artist endorsements felt a bit heavy in the marketing side of thing. This isn’t the best way to approach a review, but I’m only human. What I experienced, however, completely affirmed all the praise I has been suspicious of. The Jam Pedals RetroVibe MKII is a thick, throbbing effect that is one of the most visceral “that’s EXACTLY the sound I heard on the album” moments I have had upon my initial dive into a review. It doesn’t do anything dramatically different than other Univibe clones, but it does what it does so damned well that it doesn’t need to. - HC - Resources Jam Pedals RetroVibe MKII Product Page Buy Jam Pedals RetroVibe at Amazon ($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.
  15. Harmony Central has always been proud to be a part of the online world of musicians, sharing both people and information across multiple sites. One of our most conspicuous cross-polinators is Bart (DiscoFreq) from Guitar Effects Database. You can regularly see links through to the Guitar Effects Database site every trade show, and it makes for a great one-stop shop to see everything in the world of effects pedals that has been announced, as well as a valuable resource to looking up anything that's been released in the last decade or so. We asked Bart, its owner, to take a few minutes to talk guitar effects, running an effects database, and what gets him excited. What is your personal relationship with Harmony Central? I think I started visiting the site and forums around '98-'99, when I had my first internet connection. The Effects forum was both interesting and fun, I'm still in touch with some of the other people from that time. What inspired you to begin the Effects Database? Around April 2003 I was looking for information about envelope filters (to use on my bass, analog synths and drum machines), especially about the different models and their options. When I googled I mostly bumped into the same few models and the longest list I found had less than 20 models on it. After a few evenings I already had a much longer list, so I dediced to make a very small and very basic site about it: DiscoFreq's Envelope Filter site. When I moved to a different appartment (to live with my girlfriend) I lost my provider and had to move the site from the provider's free hosting account to a "real" hosting account (at filters.muziq.be because I planned to make several music-related websites) where I installed a CMS (Content Management System) and started adding filters for modular synthesizers (in Eurorack, MOTM,... formats), after that I started adding synth pedals and ring modulators because there was not a lot of info about those either, then flangers, phasers,... until I decided I couldn't keep avoiding the huge amount of distortion and overdrive pedals... In 2008 I renamed the site to Effects Database. A few years later I also registered modulardatabase.com with the intention of moving all "module" info to a separate site, but I never had enough time for that, a shame given how that market blew up 🙂 How many people are involved in the maintenance and updating of the Effects Database? I do it all by myself. The last 2 years it became really hard to combine with job and family (2 young kids) and the constant stress to get the costs covered. Since a while manufacturers can submit info and pictures for their pedals, which I still process but it definitely helps. But so far that's only a small part of the new additions. For reviews and demos I use local guitar players (including Bieke from HCFX), but I'm also working on something to make that more uniform and improve the quality of the videos. About how many people visit your site a month, and what do they do while they are there? It used to be more than 100,000 unique visitors per month until a new Google algorithm changed the ranking quite a lot. Earlier this year I was around 70,000 unique visitors but since a few months I'm being punished for not being "mobile friendly", so it dropped to around 50-60,000 now. There have been a few designers who were working on a new (and mobile-friendly) design, but so far they didn't deliver... Since August 2006 there have been more than 26 million pageviews. Why share content? So many sites do everything they can to pretend they are the only places musicians can get information, yet you generously point your users to the best place for a given piece of content and regularly participate in Harmony Central during trade shows. My first site was a kind of directory site based on my bookmarks. For the effects site I also wanted to link directly to the manufacturers to make it easier to find the small manufacturers. I also linked to review sites and schematics as I didn't want to do the same, just link it all together. What are some of the hottest effects at the moment? I really like Chase Bliss Audio: analog pedals with a LOT of (digital) control possibilities and very useful for almost everyone. Also Drolo, Alexander Pedals, Hologram Electronics, Meris, Lightning Wave, HomeNoise Effects,... What are some of your favorite effects companies? D*A*M: classic pedals of the highest quality, especially for those pedals the matching of the components makes a big difference. The price makes it hard to afford them though (I should have bought them when I discovered them on eBay ), but that doesn't mean they're not worth it... Spaceman Effects: high quality, lots of attention to detail,... Just rather expensive as well... Chase Bliss Audio (as mentioned before ;-)) Electro-Harmonix: big company, but they still dare to put out "weird" new pedals. And a lot of others, like EarthQuaker Devices, Smallsound/Bigsound,... They make great pedals, I know a lot of them for years and they're great people to talk to. I wish I had the same "bond" with newer companies, but I'm so busy that the personal contacts suffer from it and there are so many new companies popping up that it's hard to get to know them all personally. They often grow faster thanks to social media, so they often have their own community and focus on that. What effects are you most excited about that have yet to be released? I'm looking forward to what Rose Pedals will be doing... That's the new brand by Tom Cram, who was responsible for all the recent DOD and DigiTech pedals until Harman "reorganized" the brand. What’s your take on the musical instrument industry? Where are we at? I think the financial crisis combined with the trend towards crafts and trades (probably also boosted by that crisis) was responsible for the boom in new small brands from all over the world. The last few years there were also a lot of very innovative small brands (as mentioned in the question about "hottest effects"), so even "high tech" pedals are not only coming from big companies anymore. What’s your dream effect that hasn’t been invented yet? I keep a list of ideas about pedals that "should" exist (often a twist on existing pedals which miss a certain feature), but I can't think of a real "dream effect" right now... What’s your personal favorite effect? It depends a bit on what I'm doing, but in general envelope filters are still my favorites (closely followed by fuzz). And both for its history, sound and response I'll choose the Mu-Tron III or the Micro-Tron. How do you make better music? Not sure how to read that question 😉 How do I improve my own music? Because of the site I don't have time for my own music anymore, but what I always did was trying to combine a lot of interesting sounds and keep working on the sounds of each instrument. More than working on the song itself, so I only have a number unfinished projects and a few songs that were about ready. How do I improve music in general? Sounds pretentious if that's a bad interpretation of the question, but I know that in those 15 years I helped quite a lot of people find sounds they needed and also helped several brands get their first exposure (some are aware of that, others probably never noticed ;-)). I received mails and messages from some very famous musicians as well and pointed them in the direction of a pedal/brand they were looking for. And I helped Vernon Reid by bringing him in touch with the maker of the Pefftronics Randomatic pedals because his was broken and nobody could repair it. When I met him last NAMM he remembered and was still very grateful for that (a bit later he introduced me to Doug Wimbish when I saw him again at the Pigtronix booth :-)). Thanks to DiscoFreq for taking the time to talk pedals! -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.
  16. JHS Emperor Chorus V2 Does this stompbox give others the big freeze? by Chris Loeffler JHS has recently been unleashing consistently high-quality upgraded takes on sought after vintage classics, and their JHS Emperor V2 Chorus/Vibrato sees them making their mark on the world of analog modulation with a true-to-spec recreation of the Arion SCH-1 Stereo Chorus, a recently “rediscovered” effect on forums that has become something of a cult classic thanks to its use by Michael Landau and Steve Lukather for thick, swirly sounds that tend to fall on either side of the more mid-heavy, subtler Boss CE-2. The JHS Emperor V2 features Volume, Speed, Depth, and EQ controls as well as selectable Chorus/Vibrato modes and three different wave forms. The JHS Emperor V2 is an upgrade from their original version in that it comes in nearly half the footprint and replaces the original true-to-spec Tone control with the infinitely more musical active EQ tilt control. What You Need to Know The JHS Emperor V2 features two modes, Chorus and Vibrato, that adjust the amount of wet signal that is fed against the direct signal. In Chorus mode, the blend is about 50/50 between wet and dry signals, giving a nice, spacious delay accompaniment to the original signal that can get dark or even add a little sparkle to the top end. Vibrato mode, by contrast, takes the signal 100% wet to accommodate true pitch bending and creates a thick but less expansive tone. The three waveforms (sine, square, and triangle) do quite a bit more to change the sound and utility of the effect than I expected. The sine wave is your typical undulating chorus sound, with soft shoulders to the LFO that flow smoothly at all depth levels. The square wave, by contrast, step-jumps between the low and high points of the depth setting for dramatic leaps (especially in Vibrato mode with the depth up, where it almost sounds like infinite hammer-ons). The triangle wave falls somewhere in between the two with hard starts and stops to the ramp direction but no abrupt “skips”. The Speed control goes from nearly five seconds to reach a crescendo in the wave form to stuttering glitches at the highest settings, and the Depth control thickens the wet effect up until noon and then starts introducing pitch shifts that peel away from the direct signal. At the highest depth setting there is a little over a half-step bend to the pitch. Tap tempo overrides the Speed setting and perfectly matches the rate of the modulation to the tap. I didn't attempt using an external tap tempo device to test it as I already have with the JHS Lucky Cat and JHS Unicorn and found them to work flawlessly (even if the feature seems unnecessary given the inclusion of the tap-tempo stomp switch). In general, the wet effect is chewy and rather full-range, occupying a bigger sonic space than some of its vintage contemporaries, and the unique tilt EQ makes it the most versatile-voiced chorus effect I’ve played through outside of the (now discontinued) Red Witch Empress Chorus, although I would say it is a bit more refined in the high-end. One of the sonic signatures of the original SCH-1 was the Leslie-like extreme end of the effect, which was more dimensional and convincing that the competition at that time. I can say that, paired next to my original Arion SCH-1, it nails the sound but strips away some of the white noise of the original until (how much of that is due to tolerance drift over the last couple of decades I can’t say). Yes, there are dedicated effects now that better capture the sound (the Electro-Harmonix Lester G comes to mind), but there is a breath to the Emperor that is richer than simple “swirling”. I found in the subtler settings in the Chorus setting on sine way mode that I was able to coax out a pretty convincing Boss Dimension C “matrix” sound as well. A bonus feature to the Emperor V2 is that it can be chained to their other tap-tempo effects (Unicorn, Panther Cub, etc) to control the rate of all the effects at once. Limitations No true stereo without a TRS splitter cable. Conclusion The JHS Emperor V2 removes all the negatives of the original Arion SCH-1 (cheap plastic casing, flimsy knobs and parts, terrible buffered bypass) and adds a few new options (tap tempo, additional wave modes) to create an infinitely more versatile chorus pedal than its inspiration. Leslie-style doppler effects, glassy crisp chorus, and grungy lo-fi are all attainable and the ability to select between Chorus and Vibrato effects takes the pedal even further. There are some many different sounds hidden in that pastel purple/pink box that I doubt any player will find every setting perfect, but I am positive every player would find their perfect setting. -HC- Resources JHS Emperor V2 Product Page Buy the JHS Emperor V2 at Sweetwater (MSRP $229.99, Street $199.99) ____________________________________________ 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.
  17. Stories of the death of the guitar seem to rear their head every few years when a major manufacturer, dealer, or retailer faces financial challenges as an alarmist cry of what is wrong with the music instrument category. Soft sales of a particular region or model tend to turn talk quickly to how the market today compares unfavorably with the mid 00’s, while the flood of hip hop, rap, and pop that dominates commercial radio sends industry reporters reeling as they lament the lack of guitar heroes or rock bands leading the cultural wagon. With stories of Gibson’s bankruptcy, the precarious financial Guitar Center continues to find itself in, and the decline of Guitar-centric video games, a new batch of “the end of guitars as we know them” articles are popping up, mostly written as click-bait by people looking to place the blame for slow sales at the feet of an apathetic generation who was raised on electronica and who have workstations and recording platforms built into every smart device they own. So how true is that? Electric guitar sales are slightly down in the US, true, but semi-hollow electric and Acoustic sales are actually growing and there are dozens of new guitar makers at NAMM every year, never mind the hundreds of smaller boutique makers who hawk their instruments locally and on Reverb. There is no shortage of new guitar related gear released every year in the form of amplifiers, effects pedals, and software emulation packages, implying there is a robust community of guitar players already in the game. Most bands headlining the hottest festivals this year have at least one guitar on stage, and even hip hop and rap groups are more frequently bringing full bands to the stage to support their performance. True, epic extended solos rarely grace a modern popular song and the mastery of modes is seldom highlighted by current radio darlings, but these thing come in waves, and the current explosion of channels to discover and stream music has just pushed guitar music into several niches. I can make it my entire life without discovering the hottest new rap band because my playlists and existing bench of music has effectively filled my music listening day. I don’t see the guitar disappearing from the lexicon of modern American music anytime soon, and I don’t see most rising singer-songwriters abandoning the guitar entirely in favor of piano and digital production. What I do see are millions of new guitars being sold in the US every year, hundreds of thousands of used guitars being resold online and in music shops, and even non-musical households sitting on a sleeper guitar or two in case one of the kids takes an interest. Music evolves through cultural tastes and technological advancements, but the roots of guitar run deep in American music and aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Don’t lament the (inaccurate) death of the guitar and guitar music... seek it out and support it. -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.
  18. Spire Mobile Studio Recording System Remember when 'mobile studio' meant a van? by Chris Loeffler iZotope Spire Studio recently completed its Kickstarter campaign and is a multitrack recorder that combines hardware recording with an iOS app for deep control that allows up to 8 tracks of 24-bit audio. The Spire automatically sets input levels based on its assessment of the signal it’s receiving and provides options for mixing, effects, exporting and sharing your music. What You Need To Know The Spire’s physical recording package is small enough to fit into a gig bag and, in conjunction with an iOS device, creates a powerful and portable recording bundle. Equipped with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with a four-hour capacity, the Spire can also be powered in real time with the included AC adapter. The Spire seems to be built around the concept that most musicians lack deep recording experience and knowledge, and operates via an exceptionally simplified user interface to give access to everything needed to polish a track, featuring as much automation in mixing and EQ as possible. This ease of use is a godsend for players not looking to master audio engineering, but leaves enough control for those with well-honed studio experience to capture mix-ready scratch tracks. The top panel on the Spire Studio hardware device has a touch-sensitive display that lights up with status indicators for various functions such as headphone and microphone level and track activity. The five physical buttons include Play, Record, New Song, Soundcheck, and Volume. The Biggest surprise the Spire held for me was how good the built-in omnidirectional mono condenser mic sounds. Acoustic guitars, vocals, and light hand percussion all recorded large and detailed, and whatever combination of software and hardware the Spitre uses organically dropped virtually all the room noise without compromising the fullness of the instruments. It has plenty of gain and is surprisingly quiet. Connecting instruments and external mics to the Spire Is as simple as using the included combo jacks to feed the Grace Design preamps that form the heart of the unit. Phantom power is available, and a handy lighted power button functions as a battery status indicator. The spire allows for up to six hours of recorded music to be stored internally (that’s an hour of six track recording), which can be downloaded to your personal computer for archiving or mixing/mastering within you primary DAW. The Spire Studio app is a free app and runs on an iPhone or iPad. WiFi setup to the Spire is a breeze and is accomplished in a few minutes the first time and then is nearly instantaneous. The app is built around projects and lets you launch, preview, or delete existing projects in addition to creating a new one. The Spire Studio supports AIFF, WAV (stereo only), m4a and mp3 formats and can also import preexisting audio files. The recording and mixing process is as intuitive as possible without doing everything for you, and the visual interface is a 101 class to get you what you want. The Soundcheck feature is an optional, automatic level-setting feature accessible from either the app or the hardware unit that automatically adjusts the input level to an appropriate setting, allowing recording without the worry of unwanted distortion. Monitoring On, helpfully, lets you monitor a track’s input in the headphones without affecting playback. The Recording Effects option includes seven effects. Three of them are amp models; a clean Fender-like amp with tremolo and reverb, an AC30-style amp with tremolo, and a bass amp. All have simple EQ, and the AC30 and Bass models have Drive controls. The other effects category, Spaces, has four delay/reverb effects, all of which have good default settings and can be tweaked. While there aren’t user-controlled EQ or compressor settings, there is no doubt there is some EQ and compression tone sweetening going on behind the scenes as is evidenced in the polished recording. Tracks you record have a finished sound to them, which is like magic for the novice, but might irk a mixing purist. I was somewhat surprised to discover that the Spire Studio’s effects are only available on input, requiring you to commit to a particular effect and setting in advance if you want to use it. The Spire Studio app only offers rudimentary waveform editing; there aren’t cut, copy and paste editing options, which is limiting, and it only offers limited zooming of the waveform display. Each track in the app’s Mixer page is represented by a circle, which you can drag up or down to change its volume and side to side to change its panning position. The mixer is easy to use and makes level setting and panning very intuitive. The option exists to mute individual tracks as well as changing tracks that have been converted to stereo by the effects to mono. You can export the entire mix as an M4a file, send it to Sound-Cloud or another music app on your mobile device, or share it to another Apple device using AirDrop. Individual tracks can be exported as 24-bit WAV files to import into your DAW, which most seasoned studio guys will probably want to do. You can also export a Spire Studio project file (.spire) for archiving in your PC or Mac. Limitations Effects can only be added on input. Rudimentary editing features. Conclusion The Spire is a highly portable, self-contained way to capture high quality recordings either through direct inputs or via the built-in microphone. Wi-Fi connectivity and app controls are so seamless they are nearly invisible in the user interface and everything just works well, especially for the low price of entry. While deeper users may miss the ability to apply additional effects during mix down, they likely already have the tools to do it in their main DAW. If you don’t already have a portable solution for capturing quality recordings in the move, the Spire might be just what you’re looking for. -HC- Resources iZotope Spire Studio Product Page ($349.99 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.
  19. Yamaha BBP35 5-String Electric Bass When you need to get slap-happy! by Chris Loeffler The YAMAHA BB series basses have been a benchmark for what a bass should be, and what bass players want. The BBs (BB stands for Broad Bass) offer the unsubtle punch players expect in a Fender with a more refined voice and expanded features. Yamaha’s newest take on its venerable workhorse adds clever twists to its established platform, with stealthy enhancements that make the Pro Series a contender for most value in its price category. What You Need to Know The BBP35 is a simple beast—a passive 5-string bass with a P/J pickup configuration, wired volume/volume/tone. But this year’s model brings subtle changes to the design that add to the instrument’s functionality and sound. One noticeable shift was Yamaha’s decision to use standard pickup sizes instead of the proprietary shapes of older BBs. While swapping out the stock pickups isn’t something most people do out of the box, it’s nice that they’ve made it more turn-key for those who feel compelled to customize. The Alnico V7 P/J pickups are placed in Fender-accurate positions to provide the tones you’d expect from a P Bass or the bridge pickup of a ’60s J Bass. The three-piece body is formed by a cross section of maple sandwiched by two pieces of alder. The laminate construction adds overall stiffness as well as bite to the midrange, which helps the BB to stand out in the mix, especially when fed into an amp with a touch of gain. The neck is slimmer than previous versions, but the five-piece maple/mahogany construction keeps the neck rigid, and the six-bolt mitered neck joint makes for a solid connection. The Vintage Plus bridge permits conventional top-loaded stringing or diagonal through-the-body stringing, which makes for a more relaxed break angle over the bridge, aiding vibration transfer to the body. The bridge plate is steel for brightness and clarity, and the saddles are brass for warmth and sustain. The unique two-sided saddles offer a rounded side that purportedly gives a softer attack, while the angled side is claimed to provide a tighter sound. On the review bass, the B-string saddle was flipped to the angled side. The open-gear-style tuners look perfectly vintage, but they’re lightweight to help balance the weight of the neck against the horn. Yamaha’s exclusive IRA (Initial Response Acceleration) treatment is applied to the instruments to mimic the break-in period by vibrating the instrument at specific frequencies to relieve internal stresses in the wood. While it’s hard to prove those claims without an A/B between the production model and a non-IRA-treated bass, my experience the BB certainly didn’t have the stiffness in response I’ve experienced with many instruments of all price points direct from the manufacturer.. The P pickup has the throaty bark and meaty grind of a classic P Bass with slightly more midrange peak than the classic it is inspired by. The bridge pickup represents the rounded snap of its vintage J forebearer, giving the BBP35 a more articulated voice for technical finger work and a more balanced B string. Like many 34” scale 5-string basses, BBP35 has a tendency to let the B get away from the rest of the strings in the neck pickup—but rolling in the bridge pickup solves this immediately, providing a versatile tone with great definition throughout the entire range. Limitations The BBP35 feels and plays slightly smaller in scale than other basses of its ilk, which may be a turn-off to players used to massive neck lengths. Conclusion The BBP35’s volume/volume/tone controls are simple but quite effective for dialing in a blend of the two pickups. The instrument is highly responsive to the subtle shading possible with the two volume controls—users who typically solo one pickup, or run both up full, will find a surprising amount of versatility in tone with volume and tone adjustments, a veritable Swiss army knife of greatest hits. The new neck shape is comfortable, especially for players used to shorter scales, and the fingerboard’s relative flatness opens the instrument up to more expressive percussive neck work. The BBP35’s makeup and assembly are top-notch, the tones are classic and useful, and it is a joy to play. - 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.
  20. The State of Live Music, 2018 "Hey, can you play this event for the exposure?" — puleaze! by Chris Loeffler What’s New in Live Music for 2018? In general, things tends to be more the same than different, and even something that feels like a dramatic technological leap rarely significantly upends the way people do things. Music isn’t exempt from this, and while the last forty years have seen the transition from vinyl to 8-track to cassette tape to CD to MP3 to streaming (and back to vinyl?) for general consumption of music the places where we listen to music haven’t changed all that much. So how has the scene supporting live music held up to this? Again, more same than different. Despite things like holograms of dead artists and multimillion dollar gyroscopic stages, a live performance, in any music genre, is a largely unchanged event from that which people experienced decades ago. That said, here are a few things that, while hardly comprehensive, are notable trends in live music in the US… VIP experiences are the ultimate fan service. Ticket prices for venue-filling bands used to be solely dictated by how close in proximity the seat was to the performers. First row, front and center, should be a more expensive proposition than the nose-bleeds. The last decade or so has seen the premium pricing of the most highly sought after seats reach a natural breaking point in their value proposition, and big bands have gotten savvy to it. Enterprising artists are incorporating an experience into premium seating to help rationalize the disparity in ticket prices. Meet and greets, limited edition merch, soundboard recordings, and even exclusive wine tastings are now bundled with the most sought after seats as a way to bolster event sales and create a more interactive and personal experience for die-hard fans with a wallet robust enough to play. Backing tracks are the new normal Pre-recorded tracks have existed since the technology to pipe them into a soundboard has, with Pop music bearing the brunt of derision for their proliferation; the assumption being that backing tracks dilute the purity of a live performance by “real artists”. Time and technology have changed, with live looping artists breaking down the perceived barriers by elitist music consumers to anything that isn’t produced in the moment during a live event. Even fans of Indie bands now expect (or at least accept) that there will be pre-recorded backing tracks of instruments, drum parts, and vocals. The shift from viewing these inclusions from a lack of talent to acknowledging the band’s vision of their music may extend beyond their touring crew has (mostly) removed that stigma. Drugs are out Guess what… there are less drugs at concerts. If you’re under 35, you’re significantly less likely to have used (or at least use regularly) drugs or alcohol. This fact is even more astonishing when you consider that recreational drugs, commonly associated with artistic deviants, arelegal for medical purposes in more than half the US and recreationally in a growing number of states. There will always be loadies, bloodshot eyes, and annoyingly drunk people at live shows, but there are less of them than ever before. Weapons are (hopefully) not in Ah, 9-11. Remember when boarding a plane meant you needed to be there 15 minutes before the doors closed? Would you believe metal detectors and pat downs weren’t a requirement of entry to public events? If you’re under 30, probably not. Concert and club shootings have become a real thing, and while not statistically significant (you’re still probably safe in assuming your Leftover Salmon concert experience will likely not end in life-altering violence) it's an undeniable fact that there has been an increase in the US of violence happening (or at least reported) at live events. While small clubs and local events may still be relatively low-key, most mid-sized concert events now require pat-downs and a weapons check worthy of entering a courthouse. Audiences are smaller, but filled with more musicians The audience that pays to experience live music has gotten smaller the last couple of decades, but is more populated by musicians than ever. While there will always (hopefully) be marquee bands that sell out mega-stadiums to fans, the bevy of working-class bands that travel the world are experiencing a more supportive and musical oriented crowd. It’d be too easy to lament the erosion of the casual listener, but it’d be ignorant to not celebrate the strength and persistence of the musician-supported attitude of concert-goers. There will always be idiots in the crowd, but performers are more likely than ever to have their audience understand and appreciate their craft, because they are players too! How has live music changed for you? ____________________________________________ 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. MV Pro Audio- An Industry Profile Changing with the times ... by Chris Loeffler Where Have All the Cool New Products Gone? No doubt you’ve witnessed first-hand the dramatic changes in musical equipment retailing over the past 10 years. A lot of those changes have been great for musicians, notably the explosion in convenient online purchasing coupled with free shipping and liberal return policies. Behind the alluring veneer of one-click purchasing and no-cost freight lies a not-so-subtle truth: Musicians have far less exposure than ever before to new and cool products. Blame capitalism: Unless a product generates a healthy financial return for retailers, it simply won’t make it into music stores. When dealers’ profit margins are reduced by free shipping, no-questions-asked returns, and a seemingly never-ending string of sales, special deals, and price-matches, the pool of products able to support that business model shrinks considerably. Hence the overabundance of familiar, global brands on store shelves, coupled with a definite lack of intriguing, innovative, boutique items. Certainly the Internet has provided ready access to a host of unique and specialized products and brands—witness the plethora of software developers who sell directly to end users from their Web sites. But it’s a lot tougher to pull that off with hardware, and if the products aren’t in stores, how do you find out about them? How do you test them? How do you compare their features? Traditionally, it’s been the responsibility of a distributor to generate product awareness—along with handling import logistics, warehousing, sales management, repairs, accounting, and much more. But the economics of retail have changed so dramatically that it’s no longer financially viable for a distributor to handle all these tasks—at least not in a traditional way. And that’s where the story of MV Pro Audio begins. Old School Distribution MV Pro Audio began life 10 years ago as the distributor of Waldorf synthesizers. Waldorf products were ideal candidates for traditional distribution: The company was based in Germany, with no local office to manage US sales. The products were sophisticated and relatively complex, so local training and support was essential. Perhaps most importantly, getting the products into music retailers required having a nationwide team of sale reps calling on stores and working their relationships with the retailers—something that would have been impossible for the Waldorf staff to manage from Germany. By the time Waldorf began shipping in earnest, the crash of 2008 hit, and retailers circled their wagons, greatly reducing inventory and limiting selection to proven sellers—Yamaha keyboards, Gibson guitars, JBL speakers, to name a few. The rest of the product world was generally relegated to minimal, if any, presence in the store, with retailers ordering lesser-known products only as they were sold to customers, often with the manufacturer or distributor drop-shipping the item directly to the end-user. While this tactic allowed many manufacturers and retailers to stay in the game, it resulted in a sales environment that is especially challenging for new companies to break into. It’s a classic chicken and egg scenario: retailers won’t carry a new product until there’s demand for it, and manufacturers and distributors can’t create demand if their products aren’t on store shelves for customers to explore. Manufacturers themselves can be part of the problem. In their desire to establish consistent worldwide pricing, they often presume that musical equipment retailers around the world all make the same profit margins (they don’t), or they overlook the ever-climbing costs of international freight (rising every year like clockwork) and import duties (which can add 5%-10% to the cost of the product). In other words, a manufacturer can get everything priced right for their home turf in Europe or Asia and completely miss the ball for the U.S. So how does an up and coming designer/manufacturer avoid the pitfalls and get their hot new widget into the U.S. market? New School Distribution MV Pro Audio’s solution is to provide a comprehensive menu of sales, marketing, logistic, and business services from which manufacturers can choose to customize their U.S. efforts. Custom packages tailored to the budget and needs of the manufacturer are the order of the day, so a company can look to MV Pro Audio for something as simple as a press release or as multi-faceted as a complete “company-in-a-box” solution, in which MV Pro Audio functions as the manufacturer’s U.S. division. One big benefit of the “all-in” cooperative model is that key decisions are made by the mutual agreement of both companies. The artificial wall between manufacturer and distributor is eliminated, which immediately puts everyone on the same page with the same goals. This model was chosen by one of MV Pro Audio’s newest clients, Cordial GmbH, a popular brand of premium audio cables in Europe. Almost completely unknown in the US, Cordial cables have been manufactured in Germany, hand-soldered, and outfitted exclusively with Neutrik connector more for the past 20 years. Cordially Yours Introducing a company with a 20-year legacy and 1,000+ products to the U.S. market might sound like a simple task. After all, if the company has grown and thrived for 20 years, they must have figured out a lot of the ingredients necessary for success. And, in fact, Cordial has done just that, having fully defined and refined their product line, their corporate ethos, their manufacturing, and more. But even with all that experience and success, the U.S. presents unique challenges. For starters, competition in the U.S. is stiff, with multiple name brands having well-established dealer and customer loyalties. Breaking through that requires a carefully planned strategy that motivates retailers and excites customers. Concurrently, everyone needs to understand that nothing will happen overnight, so costs must be carefully managed as the products get established. To this latter point, when the manufacturer and distributor work together as one company, pricing formulas are based on the manufacturer’s actual cost of goods, rather than on a number that’s inflated by the distributor’s profit. That automatically delivers savings at each successive step in the sales chain, which makes it easier to hit the four “touchpoints” of a successful pricing model: the manufacturer, distributor, and dealer all making enough profit to stay in business and support the products, and customers getting quality products at fair prices. The benefits continue. Advertising efforts are more easily coordinated when the marketing is jointly handled. Stock and inventory levels are more easily managed when the distributor doesn’t have their cash tied up in a warehouse full of goods that won’t get sold until the market is built. Manufacturers don’t ruin their chances of a successful U.S. entry by having established unworkable prices or profit margins. Language and cultural issues can be discussed and adjusted, as necessary, before the brochures and the packaging are printed. And perhaps most importantly, with everyone on the same page from the start, expectations on all sides can be managed—critical for the long-term success of the relationship and the products. Hot off the heels of a successful NAMM showing, MV Pro Audio continues to actively seek out manufacturers who are ready to abandon the old ways and embrace the new, with a goal of seeing store shelves stocked not just with products from the big guys, but from hip new manufacturers from all corners of the world. ____________________________________________ 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. Harmony Central 2017 Effects Pedal Gift Guide for Musicians Because a guitarist can never have enough guitar effect pedals! by Chris Loeffler With more than 20 effects devices reviewed this year, many by Electro-Harmonix and Earthquaker Devices, some readers have asked “What’s up with all the pedal reviews?” The short, simple answer is that they are what our readers most gravitate towards, the manufacturers are the most frequent to submit review units for consideration, and at 1/5-1/30 the cost of a new amplifier of guitar, effects pedals are some of the most cost-effective ways for players to change up their sounds. As always, we receive no payment for product reviews and they are utterly decoupled from ads (although we’d love for them to!). Here’s a recap os one of the more interesting pieces Harmony Central reviewed in 2017… Ampeg Scrambler Bass Overdrive Ampeg came back strong in the bass effect world in 2017, with a strong, sub-focused offering for the four (or five, or six) stringed slingers looking to add character and crunch to their low end. Phil O’Keefe found a lot to love in the definition and bass-preservation of the new Ampeg Scrambler that may leave some guitar players wanting but shows their dedication to creating the ultimate bass tone today while mining the classic bass tones from the last fifty years. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Ampeg Scrambler Bass Overdrive here Electro-Harmonix Operation Overlord Allied Overdrive Stereo Effect Electro-Harmonix has never been a company to veer away from extreme or exotic effects, so it was a bit of a head-scratcher to see such a straight forward looking offering when they released the Operation Overlord Allied Overdrive. After a thorough test drive, however, effects enthusiast Chris Loeffler reported back there was a lot more happening under the hood than one expected, including three different line levels to add grit to anything from a low output passive single coil to a full line-level synthesizer, plus TRUE stereo outputs for an overdrive that is anything but ordinary! Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Electro-Harmonix Operation Overlord Allied Overdrive here Earthquaker Devices Erupter Perfect Fuzz It takes a bold claim to name any version of the fuzz effect “perfect”, but if any modern manufacturer should take a shot at it, it might as well be the good folks of Earthquaker Devices in Akron, Ohion! The Earthquaker Devices Erupter perfect fuzz is a modern approach to achieving vintage fuzz tones, incorporating a built-in pickup load simulator to remove the fussiness of traditional fuzz circuits to signal chain placement, battery sag, and more for a fuzz that react and sounds exactly how it should no matter how many buffers you stack in front of it. The single fuzz control even has an indented section in the exact center of the sweep so you know exactly how Earthquaker thinks it should sound, but you can dial to the left or right for different shades of saturation and gating. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Earthquaker Devices Erupter here Nexi Industries The Solution Nexi Industries launched The Solution board with an eye towards changing the way player use and interact with their signal chain, starting from the foundation up, literally. Phil O’Keefe spent hours evaluating how their alternative approach to crafting guitar tone can simplify the open-minded player’s rig without sacrificing flexibility and effect swapping. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Nexi Industries The Solution system here Electro-Harmonix Blurst Modulated Filter The Elector-Harmonix Blurst modulated filter is probably the contender for “Most EHX-like Pedal Release of the Year”. Applying every type of trigger imaginable to a filter, from LFO to envelope to manual expression control, the Blurst is essentially the filter workstation for guitar players jealous of the controls typically reserved for synthesizer players without complicated controls or layered LED menus. Whether you’re looking to push the sonic boundaries of your instrument or explore the more subtle shades of filtering most effects ignore, the Blurst is the most accessible deep filter unit yet in floor format. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Electro-Harmonix Blurst here Ampeg Analog Bass Preamp Bass players who are looking to inject the classic Ampeg sound into their rig without buying a new amp or breaking the bank should read up on the Ampeg Bass Preamp, the gateway to the classic Ampeg sound for under $100 bones. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Ampeg Bass Preamp here Electro-Harmonix Canyon Delay and Reverb Another surprise from Electro-Harmonix this year the the Electro-Harmonix Canyon Delay and Reverb, an affordable digital multi effect crammed with nearly a dozen dead-on recreations of classic delay and reverb tones in a pedal smaller than the wallet in your pocket and cheaper than most single use delay effects. The Canyon make take the cake for the biggest bang for your buck in 2017l Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Electro-Harmonix Canyon Delay and Reverb here Earthquaker Transmisser Resonant Reverb If there was an award for most unique (or WTF?!?) effect of 2017, Earthquake Devices’ Transmisser easily claims that prize. Ostensibly a tricked out reverb for guitar players, the Transmisser introduces modulation, tone darkening, and filter sweeping to the reverb signal, nearly immediately taking over the guitar’s original signal and crafting dark, brooding pads that sound like transmissions from deep in the heart of space. There’s nothing “vintage” about the Transmisser, but it might be your quickest way to unique, psychedelic waves or post-rock dreaminess. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Earthquaker Devices Transmisser resonant reverb here Totally Wyked Audio HS-02 Hot Sake Overdrive Considering distortion is one of the most common effects manufacturers offer, it is worthy of note that the Totally Wyked Audio HS-02 Hot Sake is the only dedicated distortion box Harmony Central chose to review this year. Its Manga inspired Eastern graphics and American designed and built production undoubtedly leads to a little confusion on the front end, but searing distortion tones and unique EQ parameters position the Hot Sake to be a future guitar tone hero. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Totally Wyked Audio HS-02 Hot Sake here Electro-Harmonix Cock Fight Plus Fuzz Wah Last year saw the release of the Electro-Harmonix Cock Fight fixed was pedal, which left Chris Loeffler tonally satisfied but itching to access the sweep of the two analog filter circuits without purchasing an optional expression pedal. Electro-Harmonix got the note, and rather than telling reviewers to own their experience and live with the consequences of the standard form factor or investing in the expansion they released the Electro-Harmonix Cock Fight Plus, featuring the same great fuzz and filter circuits as it’s little brother in a wha-style enclosure, proving you really can have your cake and eat it too. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Electro-Harmonix Cock Fight Fuzz Wah here Digitech Mosaic Polyphonic 12-String Perhaps realizing they’d put so much goodness into their Digitech Whammy pedal that most guitar players didn’t even dig in past the first setting or two, Digitech has spent the last couple of years pulling individual settings out of their pitch-shifting icon and creating use-specific stomp pedals out of them. Last year Harmony Central reviewed the Luxe and The Drop from that family, and 2017 saw Phil O’Keefe running the Digitech Mosaic through an extensive series of tests to see how much like a true 12-string guitar he could make his standard six string acoustic and electric guitars. Are you looking to add the color of a 12-string to your live gig without the expense or hassle of a new axe? Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Digitech Mosaic here Electro-Harmonix Green Russian Muff Fuzz Electro-Harmonix has been pumping out fuzzes longer than most of today’s players have been sentient beings on this planet, and Harmony Central always turns to Chris Loeffler to evaluate and discuss the finer nuances of shades of fuzz when it comes to the venerable, if often changing, Big Muff Pi. The Green Russian Big Muff Pi released this year nails the circuitry and sound of the military-styled green tank that infiltrated music shops in the early 90’s and became the sound of grunge and alternative rock for some of the biggest acts of that era. Collusion is not an option. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Electro-Harmonix Green Russian Big Muff here MXR Carbon Copy Deluxe Analog Delay While Electro-Harmonix and Maxon were quietly keeping analog delay circuits in production throughout the early 00’s, it was Dunlop’s signing on of boutique effects legend Jeorge Tripps of Way Huge and their out-of-the-blue release of the MXR Carbon Copy analog delay that marked the resurgence of analog delay for the masses in the late 00’s. A lot has evolved in circuits since then, and MXR made it clear they’re not ready to sit idle and let technology pass them by with the upgraded MXR Carbon Copy Deluxe, which doubles the delay time to a mind-boggling 1.2 seconds, introduces true tap tempo, and moves modulation controls to the front of the box. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the MXR Carbon Copy Deluxe here Electro-Harmonix Battalion Bass Preamp Something must have had the great minds of Electro-Harmonix in an especially bellicose mood this year, as in addition to revisiting the Cold War fever dream of the Green Russian and the D-Day glory of the Operation Overlord they released a tank-studded bass preamp aggressively named the Electro-Harmonix Battalion bass preamp. Phil O’Keefe found the Battalion deeper than the average pedal, and pointed out how that flexibility could make for the most finely-tuned front end section a bass player has experienced or introduce some unwanted noise for people who like to tweak without taking the time to learn the complete signal chain. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Electro-Harmonix Battalion here Way Huge Doubleland Special Overdrive It’s the final stretch of 2017, and the endless search for the fabled lawyer tones only forged in crystal lattices and buried in the blackest of epoxies continues forward. With dozens of pedals and amps claiming to have captured that particular lightening in a bottle (and typically price tags to match), it was refreshing to see the master of boutique mystery take the piss out of that tone with the punned Overrated Special a couple of years ago. In partnership with guitar magazine cover boy Joe Bonamassa, Way Huge released a limited number of pedals dubbed the Way Huge Doubleland Special, all signed by Joe Bonamassa and featuring dual Overrated Specials in a single enclosure with slick control adaptations to sliders to emphasize the set-it-and-forget-it intention of the first effect to be stacked with the second. Are there even any of these super limited units still available? Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Way Huge Doubleland Special here Earthquaker Devices Space Spiral Modulated Delay Earthquaker Devices set out to release a fairly standard analog-sounding delay pedal with limited delay time and a unique modulation section, and quickly found they’d stumbled across something special. Based on “crappy old karaoke chips”, the dark delay signal of the Earthquaker Devices Space Spiral goes far beyond the dreamy modulated repeats of the Deluxe Memory Man an into lopsided, angular pitch bends that leap and stagger multiple notes in more extreme settings. 60’s Sci-Fi nightmare escapes or The Edge like syncopated rhythms at the turn of a knob. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Earthquaker Devices Space Spiral here Electro-Harmoix Tone Corset Compressor Suggestions of Victorian-era bondage in its graphics are completely at odds with the smooth, natural behavior that is the sonic core of the Electro-Harmonix Tone Coreset analog compressor. The surprisingly warm and expressive attack and release of the compression circuit require minimal tone submission, and are more like a gentle massage that a traipse in the clipped smack of rougher compressors. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Electro-Harmonix Tone Corset here Earthquaker Devices Night Wire Harmonic Tremolo Phil O’Keefe drew the long straw when it came to deciding who would review the Earthquaker Devices Night Wire. With both amplitude (volume) and filter modulation happening at the same time, the genius ability to choose whether to choose either (or both!) as controlled by a LFO (typical tremolo tones), increase and decrease speed and depth with an envelope triggered by guitar attack (touch-sensitive ramping), and even freezing the filter section for cocked tones means everyone’s tremolo will sound different. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Earthquaker Devices Night Wire here Supra 1305 Drive Players are usually trying to make their mid-sized amps sound bigger, so when Supra sent Phil O’Keefe the Supra 1305 Drive to make his amps sound like the raunchy, compact tube posters they are recreating for studio players, he really took them to task on how big “small” could sound. Apparently, gloriously lo-fi, rich, and raw enough to tour with the Stones. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Supra 1305 here Earthquaker Devices Data Corrupter Analog Synthesizer If there was a “biggest barrier to entry/most worthwhile reward” category for 2017, one wouldn’t need look further than the Earthquaker Devices Data Corrupter. Despite an intuitive control layout, there just aren’t many (any?) pedals that get close to doing what the Data Corrupter does. Splitting the guitar signal into three channels (square wave, master oscillator, and subharmonic), the Data corrupter fuzzes, pitch shifts, and then pitch shifts again while adding gliding and LFO modulation to the oscillators for polyphonic recreation of monophonic inputs. Throw away for augmented jazz chords and consider embracing the corruption. Read the entire Harmony Central review of the Earthquaker Devices Data Corrupter here ____________________________________________ 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.
  23. How To Tune Your Guitar ...because you can't tune a fish... by Chris Loeffler First thing first… do you want to know something 99% of guitar players don’t know? I’m going to assume you responded “YES!” The question few people asks is, “Why is the standard tuning for guitar EADGBE?” Ascending perfect fifths would seem to make the most sense, but when one takes into account the size and playing position of a traditional guitar (horizontal neck), fourths create closer notes for easy physical fretting. Why not perfect fourths, then? While fourths would seem to be the logical order based on the evolution of stringed instruments, EADGCF is a ghastly tuning that would create a nightmare on the higher strings. Don’t believe me? Try it… I’ll wait. Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the most important thing you can do to your guitar… tune it! Tuning typically starts at the top (low E) and works its way down. If you have a Chromatic or Pitch Tuner, tuning is as simple as feeding your instrument’s sound, either acoustically or electronically through an instrument cable, into the tuning device and turning the tuning peg on the string you are currently tuning until it matches the tuning device gives feedback that the string is in tune (usually through centering on a meter, arrows depicting the direction away from the desired pitch the string is currently tuned to, or lighting the corresponding note green to indicate you nailed it). How to Tune a Guitar by Ear? If you don’t have a tuner readily available, learn to get a perfect low E. Listen to the note, memorize it, and make it a part of your musical repertoire. Once you do, you can tune up from the low E, which you’ve tuned by ear, using the fifth fret to produce the pitch the next string up should be for the fifth, fourth, and third strings. When you get to the third string, place your finger down on the fourth fret to get the pitch for the second string (remember that whole “not perfect fourths” thing?), then return to the fifth fret on the second string to get the pitch for the sixth string. How well did you do? Compare the first and sixth strings for pitch and see how far (if at all) you drifted. What if there’s a piano around? You’re in luck! All you have to do is tune your sixth string to the E two octaves below middle C. From there, you can tune your guitar to itself or continue to match each pitch to the right notes as you go up the keyboard. Congratulations. You’ve got standard tuning down. Remember… the best playing and most expensive gear won’t get you anywhere if you can’t get in tune. -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.
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