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Chris Loeffler

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  1. Thalia Guitar Capo Step up your capo game ... by Chris Loeffler Whether to quickly transpose a song to a different key for vocal comfort or simply wanting to unlock new colors in open strings, here often comes a time in a player’s life when it’s time to get a capo. The goal of a capo, to re-fret at a point further up the neck and change key without needing to relearn the notes on the fretboard, is typically accomplished by anything from a buckled piece of braided nylon or a vice-like mechanical clamp to hold down the barring strip. Thalia Capos, a newer company started by a father-daughter team, have been catching media and designer attention with their new take on the capo designs that introduces easier capo application, a more customized capo experience, and a focus on aesthetics. For the purposes reviewing, I was sent the Thalia Capo 200 in 24k gold finish with blue abalone inlay, the most popular of their 31 different designs. What You Need to Know The Thalia Capo ships in a fitted clear acrylic jewel case with two tension pad kit assortments (standard and high), all stored in a branded microfiber travel bag mean to fit in most gig bags. IThere are seven tension pads available in each tension kit, for a total of fourteen; 7.25”, 9.5”, 10”, 12”, 15”, 16”, radiuses and a C (classical) zero radius pad. For those who really like presentation and bling, there is a celebrity gift box option that is available for an upgraded price or with custom shop orders that includes two pull-out drawers and slots for picks. The most unique feature of the capo itself, other than being incredibly eye-catching, is it’s reverse implementation of the pincher and spring, making one-hand, on the fly mounting and dismounting of the capo a cinch during performances. Anyone who has had to break the flow of a show to apply or adjust a capo will readily see the benefit of this feature, as it makes putting a capo on as simple and fast as placing your fretting hand on the neck and releasing pressure from the trigger. I found the trigger to have the right balance of tension between feeing solid and substantial without straining my hand while pressing in to release the pincher. The tone was strident and consistent across the fretboard, and I suspect the slightly larger fret pads helped in creating uniformity across the strings. The inlays on the capo actually provide incredibly useful visual information in helping quickly align the capo at a perfect 90 degrees from the strings. I applied the Thalia capo to a Fender Strat, Gibson ES-335, Taylor 814, and Breedlove dreadnought without issue, and indeed felt and heard the benefits of matching the fret pad to the radius of the instrument. An off-brand Canadian classical guitar was all I had available to test the zero-radius pad, and I found it incredibly inspiring in higher frets to hear how the tone of the nylon strings settled into an almost bell-like character. Additional add-ons to the Thalia capo include partial pads for people looking to only capo three to four strings, and teflon pads to replace the rubber pads. I found the teflon pads to be much better suited to my preferences than the traditional rubber pads for a number of reasons; the seemed to introduce less of the intonation issues than I’ve experienced with capos in the past, there harder surface results in crisper highs, and it can even double as an on-the-fly slide. I found the teflon pads to sound closer to a fretted note than a repositioning of the nut, and found low-note bends to sound and feel less pinched. The trade-off, though, is losing some of the anchored stability of the standard rubber pad. Limitations Learning curve! The number of options and customizations that make the Thalia capo so great when dialed in means a player will probably want to dedicate 30 minutes to experimenting with the different pad sizes and types to identify the perfect fit for each guitar. While this isn’t necessary and a one-size-fits all would work, that misses the point of the Thalia. Conclusion The Thalia capo is probably the ultimate capo in terms of flexibility and premium build quality. With nearly three dozen standard styles, a player would be hard-pressed to find one that didn’t fit their visual sensibilities. The strength and ease of application during live performances instantly removes decades of awkward crowd banter typically associated with changing capos, and instant accessibility of “slide mode” with the teflon pads is something that will bring a grin to anyone’s face. While the premium packaging upgrades might seem excessive for what’s typically a strictly functional accessory, they really are a natural extension of the attention to construction, detail, and general quality as a whole… this is a capo that deserves the shrine they’ve built for it. - HC- Resources Thalia Capo Product Listings Buy Thalia Capos ($64.99 - $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.
  2. Classical guitar music can often mean playing from a repertoire of classically composed pieces that form the pantheon of traditional “classical” music. That said, modern classical guitar composers and performers have a rich pool from which to draw from that includes Jazz, Folk, Improvised Music, and any number of national styles. This diversity in material further expands the structure and composition expectations of what Classical guitar music can be. Much of the older, canonical Classical guitar pieces were written by composers, not guitar players, with a focus on musicality and lack of worry of the physicality of performing the piece within the geometry of the instrument. As such, there are certain phrasing and chording positions that appear in Classical guitar that are rare outside of the genre simply because the symmetry of the guitar’s strings leads most guitar players to play to the fretboard. Classical Sound Unlike electric and steel string guitars, Classical guitar playing does not allow for additional tools, like a plectrum or slide. The expressive quality of the nylon strings, simplicity of the acoustic design, and finger/nail condition as strings are plucked and strummed makes the Classical style performance one of the most individualized and stripped down experiences available to guitar players. Unlike other genres, where gear is often as associated with the voice of the player as their musical vocabulary, the Classical player’s voice is entirely stylized by their playing technique. Classical Technique Classical technique is most identified by accuracy and purpose of the player’s right hand and finger independence. Each finger most be available to perform in tandem or asynchronously as well as manage individual dynamics. While Classical technique has a reputation for being one of the most demanding styles of guitar music, there is actually quite a bit of flexibility within the parameters of “proper” technique. For instance, there is no one way to sit correctly; whether the crook of the guitar is resting on your thigh or the bout of the guitar is sitting directly in your lap, as long as a player achieves a straight spine and relaxed shoulders they should be “compliant”. Leaning slightly into your guitar gives you a greater prevue into your fretboard and also encourages a more active role in performance. Classical Notation Classical guitar’s relative rigidity in using standard notation rather than TAB is another perceived barrier to entry, and does require a bit more up front investment. While there may not be a silver-bullet shortcut to learning standard notation, the payoffs are worth it. Standard notation opens the door to composing and even, to a degree, performing on any instrument. It’s more an investment in music knowledge in general, not just your instrument. -HC- Resources Grant Ruiz Home Page ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
  3. Keeler Sound ReWave Acoustic Preamp A new way to hear your acoustic guitar... by Chris Loeffler The acoustic guitar’s general design has been dialed in for centuries, suggesting we’ve taken it about as far as it will go. When someone steps up and says they’re found a way to significantly improve any acoustic guitar’s tone with an accessory you drop in the guitar’s soundhole, it seems like maybe it's time for a healthy amount of skepticism. However, that’s just what Keeler Sound’s ReWave acoustic preamp claims to do...does it? Referred to as a “sound processor” and “natural preamp," the ReWave is a wooden device with multiple chambers and sound holes that inserts into the soundhole of almost any acoustic guitar. It's available in natural maple and flat black colors in three sizes, as well as contour or flat cutouts, and has an adjustable diaphragm in solid or slotted configurations. What You Need to Know The theory behind the ReWave natural preamp is that by eliminating feedback and sonic bottlenecking that happens within the body, it's possible to eliminate unpleasant soundboard production and muddiness. Their approach involves focusing the string’s energy into dedicated ports to reduce ambient noise entering the body, and refocusing the acoustic wave from the soundboard energy leaving the body through the interior chambers of the ReWave and the bridge. The ReWave installs by loosening your guitar strings enough (or removing them, if you prefer) to place it flush in your guitar’s soundhole. Small rubber nibs secure the ReWave in the soundhole without any tools needed, and the slight lip sits flush with the guitar’s soundboard for a snug and solid connection to the instrument. The six small brass string ports aligned perfectly with the strings in three different guitars I used to evaluate the ReWave, and even with different fretboard/sound hole styles I didn’t find an issue securing it every time. You can change the diaphragm depth by physically pulling it closer to or further from the soundhole, but the change is subtle and not necessary. For those who want to just "drop and play," it comes set at the general recommended depth. On all three guitars, the ReWave undeniably added some volume (around a 20% perceived boost) and cleaned up the acoustic tone in a noticeable manner that also somehow didn’t dramatically change the tone. The ReWave genuinely is the physical equivalent of an EQ touch-up, with a more focused low end, rich midrange, and shimmery highs in the treble in all three guitars and significantly less acoustic mud. My Breedlove dreadnought produced the same brash, cannon-like tone and projection I’m used to with the ReWave, but there was more space between the frequencies for the high strings to shine through. My Taylor 814, already an exquisitely balanced guitar, sweetened up even more with the ReWave installed and demonstrated even more individual note definition. Limitations For serious tweakers, there is a one-time hassle to experiment with various diaphragm depths to find the one that best fits the guitar and desired sonic results. You have to loosen and then retighten all six strings between every adjustment, which also makes it challenging to remember any sonic differences between the settings. Conclusion The Keeler Sound ReWave is one of those pieces of gear that seems like a gimmick until you actually put it to use. It did everything it claimed, including producing more volume and balancing out a guitar’s acoustic tone without altering the guitar's character. But would I put this in a $3,000 guitar? I surprise myself by answering, “Absolutely.” While there are times the visceral rawness of the standard acoustic guitar experience is what I want, I absolutely experienced sonic enhancements in instruments I already considered highly polished. -HC- Resources Keeler Sound ReWave Acoustic Preamp Product Page ($279.99) ____________________________________________ 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.
  4. Found out how a ukulele can help you add new musical colors — The Ukulele has enjoyed quite a resurgence over the last ten years, and has taken the place of the mandolin as the instrument guitar players pick up to add new colors to their sound. When compared to the six strings and 12-24 frets of a standard guitar, an ukulele seems like a pretty simple instrument...and it can be, but taking a few minutes to understand how it is similar and different can pay dividends. So, here’s a guitarist’s cheat to the Uke. An uke is usually tuned: GCEA (G closest to your face, A closest to the floor). Does this sound vaguely familiar? Hint… put a capo on the fifth fret of your four highest strings and you’re in standard uke tuning (other than the G being an octave higher on a uke)! How to Hold the Ukulele The ukulele is played and held very similarly to guitar. Unlike guitars, however, it's very common for a ukulele not to have strap buttons and be played using solely the fretting hand to keep the instrument in balance; the downward pressure of your right forearm on the soundboard pushes the body into your chest. In its resting state, your fretting hand should see your thumb behind the neck and fingers parallel to the frets. Introduction to Chords Much like the guitar’s standard tuning revolves around chord shapes (C-A-G-E-D), the ukulele has similar patterns that can be plucked from the fretboard. Mark Nelson, a renowned uke instructor who spent years in Hawaii learning uke and slack-key guitar, recommends starting with “C”, “F”, and “G7” as guitar-friendly fingerings and chord forms. C Major F Major G 7 While most players will intuitively know which fingers to use in each chord based on muscle memory from their guitar-playing days, here’s a quick walkthrough for those who could use a little help. C Major- Hold C with your 3rd finger on the 3rd fret on the 1st string, and leave the bottom three strings open. F Major- Hold F with your index finger on the 1st fret, 2nd string and your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string, leaving the 1st and 3rd strings open. G7- Place your index on the 1st fret of the 2nd string, middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string, and your ring finger on the 2nd fret of the 1st string. Strumming As with guitar, there are many different ways to approach strumming the uke. Many uke players rely solely on down strokes with their index finger by curling the rest of their fingers into their palm and brushing down across the strings, with a rolling wrist movement. Players looking for more speed and variety utilize both down and up strokes to their strumming, which follows the same hand motion but adds a pluck to the upstroke. Chose a Song and Play! With the simple three chords you’ve learned, you can now play through some songs because Western music is dominated by songs written with I, IV, V chords. A few famous examples of songs using C Major, F Major, and G7 include CCR’s “Down on the Corner,” The Beatles’ “Love Me Do,” Hank William’s “Jambalaya,” and the Hawaiian classic “Island Style." This is Just the Beginning One of the aspects people find most attractive about the ukulele is how accessible it is, but beyond that easy entrance there is a deep pool of technique and theory to be explored for those willing to seek it. While traditionalist players like Don Ho and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole will always be the go-to image of what ukulele music is, players bringing fresh ideas to the instrument like and Kris Fushigami challenge what an ukulele can do, and fuse traditional ukulele music with other music genres for exciting new directions. Whether it be a brief dalliance or a regular way to explore music apart from the guitar, taking on the uke as a second (or third) instrument adds to your musical vocabulary and is a heck of a lot easier to lug around! -HC- Resources Instructor Mark Nelson's Website with Free Lessons Ukuleles Currently Available at Sweetwater Ukulele Guild of Hawaii ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
  5. Gibson Memphis Freddie King 1960 ES-345 Sixties Cherry VOS When you need to ooze blues ... by Chris Loeffler Freddie King is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee often referred to as the Patriarch of Blues Rock, as well as the person who kicked off the Texas Blues scene. The playing style of players like Clapton, Page, and Beck echo his aggressive picking and intensity in solos; King had an immediacy and brashness that stood out from his contemporaries. While his early gigging years most often saw him with a Gibson Les Paul Gold Top with P-90s, his transition to Gibson semi-hollow guitars, such as the Gibson ES-345, is what he is most identified by today. As part of Gibson’s growing Artist series, Gibson Memphis created a limited run of 200 era-accurate ES-345 guitars that exactly replicate the look and sound of the guitar that helped King define the forceful sound that would become synonymous with rock and roll. The Gibson Memphis Freddie King ES-345TCD is a semi-hollow guitar available in limited 60s Cherry Red that is built to vintage specs with rhythm and lead humbuckers, 3-way pickup toggle switch, Varitone switch, and a stereo output jack. The guitar ships with an included stereo instrument cable and a period-correct tan and pink deluxe Gibson hard-shell case. What You Need to Know The Gibson Memphis Freddie King ES-345 I reviewed arrived especially well set up, with low action and zero fret buzz. The mahogany neck is a comfortable and thick 12” radius with a 24.75” scale length, and tiny details like vintage-spec’d fret wire, hot-hide glue, and period correct plastics create a guitar experience so authentically vintage that the line between “tribute” and “re-issue” becomes pretty blurry. The Freddie King ’64 body shape is composed of three-ply (maple/poplar/maple) top, side, and rims, and is era-accurate plain figured with three-ply top binding (tan/black/tan) anchored by quartered Adirondack spruce braces and a maple centerblock for added sustain and feedback control. The pickups carry through on the vintage vibe of the Freddie King 1964 ES-345, with specially voiced Memphis Historic Spec humbuckers that deliver PAF tone. Scatter-wound Alnico magnets (III in Rhythm, II in Lead) are the heart of these V.O.S. gold plated pickups, for a slightly under-wound tone that produces open mids and highs without the sizzle of hotter, modern humbuckers. There’s a lot of sonic ground covered, from country clean to snarling rock, all with a decidedly vintage voice. Simpler tube amp circuits seem especially adept at bringing out the Freddie King’s nuances. The Varitone circuit, a big part of the guitar’s uniqueness and the Freddie King sound, began as a Gibson original feature first found on guitars in the late 50s. It's a six-position switch that selects among circuit bypass (position 1) or five different preset frequency scoops that are mostly mid-focused. The result is several voicings not found in other guitars, each with specific applications in which they would absolutely shine, but in general decidedly specific and "untraditional." The stereo output jack allows players to run their bridge and neck pickups into separate amps, which is a unique and satisfying experience if you can swing a two-amp setup; however, the included stereo instrument cable is equally suitable for a traditional single-amp setup. Limitations While I can’t imagine one would purchase a guitar like this for metal, the Freddie King is not a guitar that’s going to hold up well in modern, high-gain metal settings. Conclusion Like most of the Artist series guitars coming out of Gibson Memphis, the Freddie King ES-345 is a flawless production that achieves its goal of recreating a vintage guitar to the most exacting details. It's beautiful, a joy to play, and is a Swiss army knife of vintage tones. -HC- Resources Gibson Memphis Freddie King 1960 ES-345 Sixties Cherry VOS Buy Gibson Memphis Freddie King 1960 ES-345 Sixties Cherry VOS @ Sweetwater (MSRP $6,821, Street $4,849.00) ____________________________________________ 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. Acoustic Guitars - Dreadnought vs Concert vs Auditorium Not all Acoustics are created equal by Chris Loeffler Acoustic guitars come in many shapes and sizes, but most manufacturers tend to delineate them into families based on size, design, and intention. Exact sizes and specs vary (even within theoretically similar styles) among manufacturers, so there are few hard rules to lean on. As a resultr, a recurring question we see throughout the Harmony Central forums is, “What is the difference between Dreadnought/Concert/ Auditorium acoustic guitars?” Fortunately, players can have a good idea of what to expect from an instrument based on its style. While there are many other styles, including Parlor, Jumbo, and “Grand” versions - each built for a targeted sound and playing style - this overview will focus on the three variations mentioned above. Dreadnought - The Original Classic The Dreadnought style was originally designed by C.F. Martin & Company (that’s long-speak for Martin) in 1916 to be bigger, bolder, and louder-sounding than the smaller guitars being played at the time. This robustness is reflected in the name, which is a reference to the HMS Dreadnought - a massive, modern gunship launched in 1906. The Dreadnought quickly became a go-to style for acoustic players and is still the most popular and commonly used format, proliferating in bluegrass, country, rock, and blues. Loud and powerful, the Dreadnought is that rare acoustic capable of standing up to an electric band without significant help. The aesthetic is a bit boxier (Gibson’s Hummingbird even squares off the shoulders) to achieve the desired projection, and the body a bit deeper. In addition to power and punch, a Dreadnought typically produces strong lows and mids for a full sound that forms massive chords and kick to bluegrass runs. Auditorium - A Modern Balancing Act The Auditorium style guitar, a newer shape to emerge in the acoustic guitar world (and also an original C.F. Martin & Company design), was intended to bridge the gap between the corpulent Dreadnought and the petite, nuanced Parlor. This “in-between” status gave the Auditorium style a leg-up with fingerstyle and folk players who sought the ability to jump between intricate picking and still keep up the low end when digging into chords. The Auditorium has a markedly more pronounced waist, which some players (especially smaller-framed ones), prefer over the Dreadnought. There's a deeper cut against the knee to lower the guitar, and a deep cut on top for easier, more accessible arm clearance. On an end-to-end or side-to-side measurement, Auditoriums tend to be near or the same as a Dreadnought. The Auditorium’s slightly more subdued bass and balance make it ideal for solo performers who have the sonic space for the more gentle and intricate playing to stand out. Balance is the name of the game with the Auditorium. Concert - A Bigger Parlor Unlike the Auditorium’s middle-ground stance, the Concert is very much an enlargement of the Parlor guitar, with a shallower body, deeper waist, and shoulders smaller than its hips. Another relatively new body style, the Concert was designed to make a bigger, richer Parlor without abandoning its unique sounds or adopting the darker tones of larger-sized guitars. The Concert’s smaller size and compact dimensions make it ideally suited for fingerstyle playing. The Concert has an even more pronounced waist than the Auditorium, which serves to keep overtones in check for a crisper, less harmonically dense delivery. While producing more bass than a Parlor, the Concert has a significantly reduced bass presence when compared to an Auditorium or Dreadnought, and favors crisper highs and mids. The Concert is aimed at taking the unique but relatively low-volume Parlor sound to performance volume levels for players who rarely intend to strum out chords. Which is Right for Me? There’s a reason and a use for all styles of guitar and of course, there’s a lot of overlap and a few “can’t do that’s” between the Dreadnought and Auditorium. The booming ballast of the Dreadnought is an iconic part of modern music and truly the best fitted, out of the box, to stand up to electric instruments and the most cutting with rhythm guitar. In the bluegrass world, the Dreadnought is practically the first and last word in instrument options due to its drive and focus. The Auditorium, on the other hand, stands out in live solo performances and offers a unique tone that modern recording techniques are well equipped to capture. And for a brighter sound than an Auditorium or Dreadnought, but more bass than a Parlor, there's always the Concert. Examples of current Dreadnought Guitars Gibson Hummingbird Martin D-28 Taylor 810 Examples of current Auditorium Guitars Taylor 814 Martin 000-15 Breedlove Premier Auditorium Examples of current Concert Guitars Taylor 412 Breedlove Solo Concert CE Gretsch G9531 Style Double-0 -HC- ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
  7. GluBoost GluDry, Fit n' Finish, and MasterGlu Instrument Finish Repair Can this stuff really repair a damaged guitar finish? by Chris Loeffler Instrument repairs, like vehicles, are typically something I leave to professionals. The chance of a shoddy job or even doing more damage far outweighs my confidence in my untested repair skills! As a result, anything short of a major issue tends to go unaddressed on my instruments. With that as a background, I agreed to check out the GluBoost line of finish repairs and wood adhesives. I was sent the following products to review: GluDry, Fill n’ Finish Pore Filler, Fill n’ Finish Thin, MasterGlu Thin, and MasterGlu Ultra Thin. The Fill n’ Finish formulas (Regular and Thin) come in 2 oz. bottles and are intended to address dings, cracks, and dents in any wooden instrument finish, including Nitro, Lacquer, Poly, and even water-based formulas. GluBoost engineers recommend using the standard Fill n’ Finish formula on porous woods, such as rosewood or mahogany and the Fill n’ Finish Thin for less porous woods, such as maple or Koa for appropriate penetration. I used the Thin n’ Finish to address a pretty dramatic gouge in the back of the neck of an Epiphone Les Paul and smaller ding on the side of a Breedlove acoustic guitar. Armed with no previous finish repair experience and a few instructional videos from the GluBoost site, I was able to quickly and cleanly fill both areas. The adhesive pours fairly viscous from the bottle and sets very quickly. I found the flow very easy to control and was impressed that it kept its height and didn’t dimple in as it dried. The end result was a transparent, bubble-free, smooth finish with no transition lines. Evidence of the original damage was still visible on close inspection from certain angles, but that spoke more to my need to have better prepped the area before application. GluDry is a non-blush drying accelerator for cyanoacrylate finishes (such as the formula used in the Thin n’ Finish), and is sold in a 4 oz. spray can. The goal of accelerating the drying process is not only to reduce repair time but also to provide a quick set to reduce the chance of dust adhering to the drying finish or accidental impressions on the surface due to premature physical contact. To see how big a difference GluDry made to the process, I only used it on one of the dents I addressed with Thin n’ Finish. My initial concerns that the GluDry might displace the setting finish or cause spotting were entirely unfounded, as the adhesive nearly immediately hardened, transparent and smooth. I also had none of the frosting I experienced in my uncured attempt that I needed to buff and polish out. MasterGlu is the wood adhesive formula meant to address repairs such as setting inlays, bindings, refretting, and other true and permanent repairs to an instrument. MasterGlu is sold in 2 oz. bottles and comes in two formulations, MasterGlu Thin and MasterGlu Ultra-Thin with varying levels of viscosity. MasterGlu Thin, the thicker of the two, was noticeably thinner and easier to apply than generic purpose cyanoacrylates like Krazy Glue, and had a way of seeping into the right area without needing too much manipulation. I used it to tighten up a couple of loose appointments on an old beater acoustic, securing the pick guard and securing a loose jack. The glue dried transparent and smooth and didn’t swell out beyond the application area as it dried. MasterGluUltra-Thin was noticeably less viscous and worked well in invisibly securing loose binding on the aforementioned acoustic. Conclusion GluBoost turned out to be an easy, affordable solution to the problem of minor instrument repairs that I had avoided addressing the last couple of decades. A semi-steady hand and some time with their instructional videos resulted in like-new repairs and a more playable instrument. Finding out, after the fact, that GluBoost is used by companies like Reverend Guitars gave even more credibility to the long-term effectiveness of their formulas. -HC- Resources GluBoost Website ____________________________________________ 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. Fender PM-2 Acoustic Parlor Guitar A little acoustic that goes a long way ... by Chris Loeffler Parlor-sized acoustics (and similar small acoustics) have been stepping out of the shadow of their bigger brothers in recent years, and have been a part of Fender’s growing Paramount series since its introduction. Expanding on the core line, Fender has added an eye-catching, all-mahogany version to its PM-2 line and sent one out for Harmony Central to review. The Fender Paramount Series PM-2 Deluxe Parlor ships strung and tuned, with a deluxe hardshell case and a humidifier. What You Need to Know The PM-2 features solid Mahogany top and sides and is a “vintage modern” take on a petite acoustic. The open-pore finish looks and feels great, and does a good job of visually representing the instrument's organic, woody tone. The top is reinforced with scalloped x bracing to balance strength and projection. The short scale length sees the joint at the 12th fret, and the C-shape neck has rolled edges for a "worn-in" experience. The vintage tuning keys give the guitar an antique vibe, but are more robust and stable than many of the true vintage tuners I’ve played. Additional cosmetic appointments, like the checkerboard purfling and rosette and distinctly shaped pickguard, further contribute to the guitar's vintage vibe. The PM-2 is also extremely light, making it a good option for smaller-framed players. “Warm” is probably the best way to describe the sound. Acoustically, it has a rich midrange that is tight and focused for strong note separation, making it well-suited for fingerpicking. It’s louder than I expected, and easily can hang in with higher-priced parlors I’ve played from dedicated acoustic guitar brands. I found full chords to be articulate, but not quite the cannon shot you’d get from a larger body style. The PM-2 sustains well, adding a fullness that complements the instrument's tone as a whole. I replaced the factory strings with my favorite set, and found it added a bit more high-end sparkle. The harmonics on the guitar really sustain well, without the overtones or brittleness I’ve experienced in other small format acoustic guitars. Again, fingerpicking is really where the PM-2 shines, and it's easy to get lost in some pick 'n grin bluegrass when you bond with the instrument's tone. Limitations The smaller body size means less bass and volume than a full-sized Dreadnought. Conclusion The Fender Paramount Series PM-2 Deluxe Mahogany Parlor is a visually striking, acoustically balanced guitar that will appeal to players looking for an affordable, professional-sounding “small body” acoustic guitar. -HC- Resources Fender Paramount Series PM-2 Deluxe Parlor Product Page Buy Fender Paramount Series PM-2 Deluxe Parlor ($599.99 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.
  9. How You Listen to Music Matters These days, two tin cans with a string between them might actually be better by Chris Loeffler I was recently approached to provide initial feedback for a website/service startup that was based on a very interesting user model I’m not permitted to share (NDAs ruin everything). However, one of the things that most stood out to me as a business-model risk was an underlying assumption that most listeners are actively engaged in the music listening experience. This ran counter to my observations, so I decided to dive a little deeper to see what’s happening with music listening. According to Nielsen ratings, the average American listened to 25 hours of music a week. While 75% of those polled claimed to actively listen to music, more probing questions reveal a different story. 25% of music listening time happens in the car, 15% at work, and 15% while doing chores. This means that, on the average, more than half of our time we spend listening to music is done as a background activity to something we need to do. As technology continues to pull us forward, with experiences unimaginable even two decades ago (think of how underpowered your desktop in 1997 was compared to an iPhone that can slide into your pocket today), dedicated consumption of media is becoming rarer and rarer. Families watch television together on the same couch while each person has their own supplementary experience with their personal mobile or tablet device. As such, the thought of sitting down in your living room and “putting on an album” sounds quaint. Decades of audiophiles assembling insane hi-fidelity sound systems to tease every nuance out of a recording has slowly given way to convenience and quantity. While televisions and video media have been pushing to become progressively more high-fidelity with increased resolution, imaging, and sharpness, the general population seems content to watch audio quality slide into lower resolution than the source material - while subjecting the music to more compression for the sake of fitting more music on their devices. Just as we started hitting a point where storage was getting cheap enough for people to start upping the quality of their music, streaming started taking more and more of our listening time. As of March2017, major streaming services such as iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify use compressed file formats (256 kbps AAC files on iTunes, 320 kbps on Spotify). Compare these to a standard CD (not exactly held up as the epitome of high-fidelity) at 1411 kbps and it’s clear we’re sacrificing 4-6x the information of a CD. To compare this to current hi-res audio, a 24-bit/192 kHz file transfers at a rate of 9216 kbps (yep, more than 6x the quality of a standard CD). Why all this nerding out over numbers? Unlike video, which consumers have continually insisted improve even if it required jumping technology platforms, music audio quality just doesn’t seem to have the same priority, and a big part of that seems to be tied to the way we listen to music. Sure, a good song is a good song… many people remember blasting Kashimr on a third-generation cassette tape through a crappy stereo system and thinking it was amazing. That said, artists and recording engineers strive to create an audio experience that can hold its own, without distraction. The proliferation of overly-compressed recordings, cheap headphones, and the general mobility of music makes it easy to dismiss music listening as a stand-alone experience, but there’s an undeniably soul-satisfying experience to be had in putting an album on in your living room, gathering a few friends, and simply experiencing the piece from beginning to end. Take time this week to respect the music you love, and give it your full attention. -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.
  10. What Are Weight Relief Guitars? Sometimes you just need to shed some weight ... by Chris Loeffler Guitars and basses are often played standing upright for player mobility and showmanship, which means strapping 6-12 pounds (or even more for a double-neck) over your shoulder for the duration of a practice or performance. As such, certain type of players encounter or develop issues that make extended guitar playing in a standing position untenable; smaller-framed players, people with extreme posture or back issues, and people who just don’t want to build the resilience needed to carry that much weight on their shoulders. Guitar companies, such as Gibson or the recently announced Michael Kelly Enlightened, have found several ways to lessen the weight of guitars in various ways without negatively impacting the tone of the body. Here’s a brief exploration of weight management in guitars and basses. Wood Selection The type of wood selected for the body will of course impact the guitar's sound and weight, and while wood, like any natural commodity, has a general range of tolerances within a species, it’s safe to assume the type of wood used is a good clue as to how heavy a guitar will be. Common examples of lighter woods to choose from include Swamp Ash and Alder as well as more exotic woods like Black Limba (Korina), Paolina, and Spanish cedar. Heavy woods commonly used, like Maple, Walnut, and Mahogany, tend to be denser and brighter in conjunction with their extra weight. Chambered Bodies Chambering a guitar body means routing out much of the material that isn’t required to bind the guitar or hold the neck and hardware. This frame is then sealed with a solid wood top so it looks visually identical to a non-chambered guitar. The material removed in chambering can be as little as 15% and as much as 50%, resulting in a significantly lighter instrument. Although some claim this can sound a little thinner at lower volumes than a non-chambered solid body, this is highly subjective. Traditional Weight Relief Bodies Similar to chambering, what many companies refer to as “weight relief” is holes drilled either front-to back of the guitar (also called “honeycombing”) or from the side of the guitar body inward (also called “ports”). These typically result in less material removal than chambering and a more concentrated area of weight relief. Gibson “Modern” Weight Relief Gibson released a new weight relief philosophy that walks the line between chambered and traditional weight relief by removing material from the edges of the guitar body inward for more balance and the same amount of weight relief of a traditional weight relief routing, but without the “only what matters shall remain” ethos of true chambering. Other Considerations Hardware is typically made of steel, but some manufacturers, like Michael Kelly, use aluminum hardware where applicable to further shave off ounces. Gibson's HP (high-performance) electric guitars use titanium hardware, known for light weight and strength. And don't forget that a big ol’ Bigsby vibrato system will likely add ½ to ¾ pound of weight, and even active electronics with batteries will add up to ¼ pound. If weight is an important variable in choosing your instrument, you’ll need to be ready to invest a bit more time into finding the right instrument…usually by visiting a brick-and-mortar retailer to determine how light you need to go. Once you know that, you can then consider shopping online if a dealer is willing to weigh the instruments you are considering (this is common with higher-end guitars, but likely available only on request). Whatever your road to get there, you deserve to be comfortable playing your instrument, and we live in lucky times when so many manufacturers are addressing specialty markets. -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.
  11. Michael Kelly Enlightened Collection - Weight-Relief 1955 and Patriot Electric Guitars A new approach to a heavy problem ... by Chris Loeffler Harmony Central has reviewed several Michael Kelly electric guitars in the past, including their 50s, 60s, and Patriot series, generally favoring them for their bang for the buck, out-of-the-box setup, and flexible pickup configuration routing. Michael Kelly reached out to us for feedback on their newest electric guitar series, Michael Kelly Enlightened, and offered Harmony Central early review access to their first line of production models being created for their Kickstarter campaign. The Enlightened guitar series’ stated goal is to reimagine the classic Michael Kelly designs from the body to the tuning pegs to create the lightest possible instrument available without sacrificing tone or balance. The Michael Kelly Enlightened series was designed to address consistent customer feedback that smaller frames, injuries or age were preventing them from playing their instruments as long as they would like/need. While some high-end guitar manufacturers address weight relief with chambering the body, or creating empty pockets within the body, there is no denying chambering changes the instrument's fundamental tone. While final configuration and options for the entire line were not available at the time of this review, by reviewing two very different guitars in the Enlightened line I was able to quickly get what was common throughout. What You Need to Know Visually, the Michael Kelly Patriot Enlightened and Michael Kelly 55 Enlightened electric guitars are nearly identical to their standard-weight brethren. For thorough reviews of the original instruments’ sonic and physical attributes, please see the 1950’s Series review and the Patriot Instinct Bare Knuckle review. This review will serve to compare and contrast as well as assess the instruments on their own merit. While most guitars weigh between eight to ten pounds, the Enlightened series has a stated goal of having all instruments weigh in at six pounds or less (a 25-40% decrease in average weight) across the line. All Enlightened guitar bodies are built from a member of the mahogany family specially selected from dozens of trials for its balance of weight and traditional guitar tone. The body on both guitars is slimmer than their standard counterparts, but not to a degree that they feel obviously different. To avoid the added expense and tonal variance of chambering, the Enlightened series guitars have four ports at the heel of the guitar, removing material (and weight) from the part of the guitar body that has the least impact on tone. The strap buttons are located slightly differently than on the standard models, obviously relocated for ergonomics and neck balance. The guitars themselves were both light enough that I was prepared to deal with neck-heavy issues, but the strap button placement obviated that concern. In a sitting position, both the 55 Enlightened and Patriot Enlightened displayed the familiar balance of a standard solid body guitar. The hardware on the 55 Enlightened is aluminum, as opposed to steel, for greater weight relief, as are portions of the Patriot Enlightened. The pickups, while using the same pickup technology as the standard line, have been specially voiced and wound to further compensate for any tonal variations that occur from the weight relief solutions, and I found them to be as full and sustained in the 55 Enlightened as the 55, with the same Great 8 Mod push-pull coil tap in the bridge humbucker and new mini-humbucker. I was unable to do a direct comparison between the standard Patriot and the Patriot Enlighted because the standard Patriot I reviewed featured Bare Knuckle pickups, but the Patriot Enlightened certainly had the thick, punchy round tone one expects from humbucker pickups and I was pleasantly surprised at the sustain the guitar achieved. Limitations Less a product limitation than an output of the distribution model, but early adopters likely won’t be able to check out the Enlightened series in a store for some time after the Kickstarter campaign, which might be a barrier for “need to play it first” potential customers. Conclusion The Michael Kelly 55 Enlightened and Patriot Enlightened electric guitars feel, play, and sound exactly how you would expect a guitar of their individual makeups to perform, but with a demonstrable weight reduction. If you’ve ever played 3+ hour shows, have a smaller frame, have back or posture issues, or just flat our want to give your body a break, the Enlightened series will get you there easily and without compromise. -HC- Resources Michael Kelly Enlightneed Series Product Page ____________________________________________ Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.
  12. Peavey XR-AT Mixer with Auto-Tune Who says pitch correction is a tool of the devil? by Chris Loeffler Peavey’s XR series monitors have always represented a solid, mid-level powered mixer solution. They're flexible and simple enough to use as a DJ or karaoke rig, but include the features and audio quality that allow bands to play small-to-medium sized venues with pro quality sound for a very reasonable price. Given Peavey’s past engagements with Antares, it seemed inevitable that they would eventually bring Auto-Tune technology into their live sound assortment; that day is here. The Peavey XR-AT powered mixer is a top-box design with 1,000 watts RMS (1,500 maximum) and 9 channels with built-in Auto-Tune on the first three channels, digital effects, dual 9-band graphic EQs, compression, Bluetooth streaming for audio, USB MP3 playback, and monitor and sub outs. What You Need to Know The first eight channels of the Peavey XR-AT accept ¼” or XLR inputs with pad and include independent controls for compression, high, Mid-Morph (which boosts 4k after noon and cuts 250 below noon), low, monitor out, effect blend, and output level. The first three channels also include Auto-Tune from Antares, which can be activated on the mixer or through an optional foot controller. A ninth channel is included for RCA inputs for audio playback devices. Global controls include built-in KOSMOS-C LF enhancement for increased subs and highs, digital effects assignment, and independent 9-band graphic EQs for the monitors and mains. The XR-AT is incredibly small and light, weighing 16 pounds and measuring t 9/5x9.5X18”, so portability is definitely a selling point. The construction feels sturdy, the grab bars are a nice feature to encourage appropriate toting, and all the knobs and sliders on the unit I reviewed travelled solidly. The XR-AT is relatively loud, can sound pretty natural and clean once dialed in (or not, if you prefer to exaggerate the subs for dance music/DJ applications), and is noise and buzz free with clean power. Even when I plugged it in to a dirty power situation it stayed quiet and relatively unaffected. With an acoustic guitar and vocal channel for a singer-songwriter set-up I found it incredibly easy to get crisp, detailed audio that carried space and dimension. Playing with different speakers confirmed that the Peavey XR-AT can achieve exceptional clarity, and 1,000 watts (500 per channel) is plenty loud. The Auto-Tune feature, the raison d'être and feature that distinguishes the XT-AT from the rest of the XR line, sounds exactly like what you’d expect. If can go from extremely subtle to the robotic, stepped pitch jump hip-hop and pop stars have been using for over a decade. Having used software versions of the Antares Auto-Tune as well as comparable hardware units by TC Electronics, the controls were straightforward (you still need to know the key the song is in to get the best effect). There was an odd doubling at some points, but I suspect that’s the nature of the effect doing its thing in real time. The effects, like reverb, are utilitarian… they get the job done and sound good enough. I did notice some physical (i.e., not in the audio signal) noise from the internal fan, but it wasn’t enough to be distracting and certainly wouldn’t be heard from six feet away when no signal was present. The Bluetooth connection and USB drive are nice additions for including backing tracks or playing recorded music between sets Limitations With all the Bluetooth control I’ve seen pop up in the last few years, having an app with some control of the digital parameters would have been even more helpful for people who are used to popping their systems up quickly and making tweaks on the fly. Conclusion The Peavey XR-AT powered mixer excels at providing power, clarity, and basic sound enhancement features at an incredibly affordable price ($799.00 Street) in a very small package. -HC- Join the conversation in the HC Live Sound forum! Resources Peavey XR-AT Mixer Product Page Buy Peavey XR-AT Mixer ($799.00 Street) @ Sweetwater ____________________________________________ 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. Gibson 2017 EB5 Bass Get the low down ... by Chris Loeffler Bass players have always been a bit more adventurous than guitar players when it comes to the gear they’ll play, with diverse instrument shapes in particular being something they’re ready to embrace. Part of this flexibility no doubt comes from the realities of creating an instrument that has the physical size and construction to support bass strings. As such, even though Gibson EB series basses have been overshadowed by their Thunderbird siblings they have cultivated a faithful following over the years for several reasons. What You Need to Know The Gibson 2017 EB5 bass sent for review had a natural satin finish with a tortoiseshell pickguard, and showed up in a standard Gibson gig bag. It's a 5-string model, but a 4-string is also available. Originally inspired by the SG shape, the EB series has a significantly rounder, offset double-cutaway shape to its solid ash body that provides better balance and extra access to the glued-in maple neck’s 24 medium-jumbo frets. The rosewood fretboard is unbound and covers the entirely of its 34” scale length. The EB5 drives two Alnico V pickups that can be coil-tapped via their individual push/pull volume controls and share a master tone control, effectively giving the EB5 eight distinct, different voices without active electronics. The Babicz Full Contact bridge creates full contact between the vibrating string and the instrument body, with over 50 times the contact surface per saddle for improved tone and sustain. Compared to much of the Gibson line of guitars and basses, the 2017 EB5 is incredibly stripped down visually; you could even say it's a little plain looking. The swamp ash body is an appealing blonde color with nice figuring that screams “acoustic,” and it plays well visually against the black and chrome hardware. A transparent nitrocellulose lacquer finish lets the wood breath a bit, and in theory will continue to improve with age. I’m pleased to report the satin finish has neither the tackiness nor raw feel that turned me off from similarly finished instruments in the past. The entire instrument seems to be constructed to wear in well. The EB5 is lighter than I expected (around 8.5 lbs.), especially considering all the metal and wood involved in its construction, and the extended horn seems to have hit the perfect balance for an average strap wearer. The body is extremely resonant (even unplugged, the instrument sings), creating an incredibly comfortable and expressive playing experience even after an hour or two of playing. Tonally, I found the 2017 EB5 to be much more versatile than most American-made basses I’ve played. Whereas many basses have “a sound,” the EB5 really has quite a few sounds to dig into. Running with the neck in humbucker and the bridge split, I was instantly in the world of classic P sounds with a growling midrange. Reversing that configuration to a split neck and humbucker in the bridge created a satisfying J-style tone that had the classic articulation of a strong low end, slightly hollowed mids, and bite in the high end. The neck and bridge pickups sound fantastic individually, and together and I found more classic bass tones available than I would be able to pull out in a live performance. Limitations The EB5’s design is based on getting the best playing and sounding instrument, but to keep the price point low, there's little visual flourish. The term “doesn’t look finished” came to mind, and others who spent time with the bass articulated similar first impressions. Fortunately, that doesn’t translate to its feel or performance, and the moment someone played it an eyebrow would raise, their head would nod, and they would get a big grin. Conclusion A lot of the under-the-hood tech details of the EB series were documented thoroughly by Craig Anderton in an earlier article, in which he gives his take on changes to the 2017 models and provides his impressions of the various pickup settings. My take on the Gibson 2017 EB5 bass is they knocked it out of the park in terms of comfort, playability, tone, and versatility. Sacrificing high-end visual appointments is a bold move that anyone with a preference for function over artifice can appreciate, and speaks to the workhorse ethos that’s made the EB series an under-sung hero of the bass world. An amazingly playing, amazing sounding, incredibly versatile bass that’s made in the USA for just over $1,000? Yep. Join the discussion 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.
  14. Music and Image- Why Brands Want Bands Should you sell your soul ...? by Chris Loeffler Films have been piggy-backing on the emotional resonance of music since before they had spoken words, letting the music set tone and manipulate audience moods to suite the director’s intention. Recently, there has been eyebrow-raising in certain circles over directors relying wholesale on a song (especially lyrics) to carry an emotional scene. This isn’t new, nor is it unique to films…everyone wants to get in on music. Music exists to express and elicit emotion. It explores heartache, joy, anger, and love by melding words and melody to create something deeper and more expansive than our standard communication methods allow. Music is an inclusively participatory medium that requires neither training nor attention from the listener, and different instruments, musical passages, and lyrics will speak to listeners in uniquely personal ways. Brands, from Levi to Apple, have been using popular music in advertisements for decades to create a default soundtrack to their brands that instantly assigns identity, attitude, and an emotional connection to their products. It’s easy and effective. “Artists” tend to look down on commercializing their creative output as part of a self-serious artist attitude (although not nearly as harshly as some of their “dedicated" fans). While there are legitimate reasons to oppose having their work used to promote products and brands, such as political or philosophical opposition, many artists may be missing the point (and the paycheck). When a song or album is released to the world, it's going to become many different things to many people. Sting’s homage to stalking became many newlyweds’ first dance; the irony and tension of Springsteen’s lament of the state of the working class somehow became a song of national pride. At least Brands are paying to misuse their work! While it’s easy to make derisive comments about people using “your” music to brand their products, the moment you enter something into the commercial system you’re signing up for that possibility. If your music is too precious, don’t release the recordings, or only present your music in live performances. If you want to subvert the system you chose to be in, take “their” money and donate all of it to causes that combat the issues you have with the advertiser. Then again, you also might not want people to have certain unintended associations with your music- like when someone hears your song, and the first thought that comes to mind is "Tid-Eee-Bowl Toilet Cleaner." In an interview with NPR, Patrick Carney of the Black Keys expressed his view of “selling out” as such- “A lot of people see a Nissan ad and they see a finished product in a record store or on iTunes and that’s the face of the band. What they don’t see is that we made [‘Brothers’] in a cinderblock building in the middle of nowhere in Alabama, with five microphones and a guitar amp and a drum set. I don’t know what that means, exactly, but I do know we didn’t spend a lot of money making this record, and it’s an honest way of approaching making music. And once the music is out there, when you’re selling a record and selling music and people are going to do whatever they want with it, it’s kind of hard to resist certain opportunities, especially in the record market now.” In short, the honestly and purity of the artistry in music occurs in the creation of the song; how it's purposed after that doesn’t retroactively change that. The other side of the coin is, of course, entirely new audiences discovering a band through commercials or movies. Many bands have seen significant bumps, or even complete rises from obscurity, because their music was featured in a movie trailer, soda commercial, or television show. While the context of the song within the platform may have some impact on how a first-time listener perceives the song, anyone who says “I want to hear more music by this band” is responding to the artistry behind it. This is not less “legitimate” than discovering music on commercial radio, or even a music store. It’s leveraging their paid reach to be exposed to a new audience. There will likely always be a tinge of unease between musicians and Brands, and there will continue to be a risk of one exploiting the other, but a clear head can see the benefits by far outweigh the snags. Bands can sleep easy knowing their responsibility to their music comes to a close once the music is created, their self-identified “true” fans can celebrate the escalated profile of “their” favorite bands, and everyone can enjoy the expanded exposure Brands can give great bands. ____________________________________________ 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. Mixerman and the Billionheir Apparent - Book Review Oh...the satire that is the music industry by Chris Loeffler A decade ago, The Daily Adventures of Mixerman, a collected publication of message board posts from anonymous user “Mixerman,” skewered the music industry from behind the mixing console. Arrogant, questionably talented musicians, meddling and insane producers, and the moneymen of artist marketing populated Mixerman's “identities changed to protect the guilty” true story about the sausage factory that churned out radio-ready “product” in the early-00s. It was instant hit in engineering and musician circles, and truly a product of its time, with big label hubris blinding the industry to the fact that they were already, much like Wile E. Coyote, treading air ten feet beyond the edge of the cliff, waiting for self-awareness to initiate the inevitable plunge into the canyon (cue slide whistle). Funny, ironic, and incredibly insightful, The Daily Adventures of Mixerman combined industry and engineering information in an easy-to-digest format for casual readers through a an involving story and solid narrative beats. Long-since outed as producer/engineer Eric Sarafin, Mixerman began publishing chapter-length blog posts on his site in 2015 that are now collected in the 304 page hardcover novel #Mixerman and the Billionheir Apparent, published by Hal Leonard. #Mixerman and the Billionheir Apparent stars the same narrator/author as TDAoMM, but this time fully embraces fiction to tell the very real story of where music production was at in the year 2015. The story can be summarized as such: Mixerman agrees to mentor the son of an Indian billionaire in exchange for a fat paycheck and gets involved in a financially risky race to create a 5 million dollar hit… shenanigans ensue. The narrative and pace are solid and engaging, and like TDAoMM, the characters have voices and personalities that are quirky yet grounded in reality, but the narrator’s journey is really just (satisfying) trappings for a bigger story; the state of the music industry, technology, and even Western Culture. In a post-CD world, profits are siphoned by streaming services, digital piracy, and more. Radio and television ad dollars and audiences shrink to nothing as people now have access to every song in the world and curate their own, personalized music experiences. Recording that was cost prohibitive even a decade ago has given way to digital solutions that are 1/100th the expense and so fine-tuned that even the value of expertise is called to question, as anyone with a smart phone can now record a song. The record industry is a very different place in this novel, and the days of “throw money and cocaine at the album until we have a money-making hit” have transformed the landscape into a scrappy, small risk/smaller reward place where irrelevant dinosaurs exist solely because the inertia and propped on the crumbling infrastructure of the music industry’s heydays. There’s a weariness to Mixerman’s perspective that veers towards cynical and even caustic at times, made all the worse by the fact that, fictitious as the story may be, the broken industry that drives the story is very real. Political insight also informs the narrator’s perspective, and the 2016 primaries clearly weighed on Sarafin’s mind as this story unfolded, yielding a surprisingly prophetic vision of how the US, as a nation, would land on the other side of November 8, 2016. Whether you agree with the narrator’s views or not is mostly irrelevant to the enjoyment of the story as a whole, but some people who are especially sensitive to those types of ruminations may be put off at times. #Mixerman and the Billionheir Apparent continues Sarafin’s ability to juggle a narrative, attempt to make sense of a non-sensible industry, and celebrate the kooks who make it all happen. It's not a perfect novel, but it is entertaining, informative, and thought provoking with a singular voice. Unburdened by having to (mostly) stick to facts and emboldened by the reception of TDAoMM, #Mixerman and the Billionheir Apparent is a journey anyone interested in the state of music today should enjoy, and Mixerman is a hell of a driver.
  16. What Goes Into Setting Up An Electric Guitar Sometimes it's all in the set up ... by Chris Loeffler Guitar Setup isn't something every player aspires (or even feels comfortable) doing, but understanding the basic process can be key to understanding what your local "guitar guy" is doing and might help you articulate your particular wants and desires to them. Because every manufacturer has their own approach to construction, it's always important to consult the manufacurer's site or guitar manual for the specific guitar you're attempting to set up, but there are some general steps and guidelines that apply to all electric guitars (although guitars that have undergone the PLEK process generally require no additional setup other than what may be required by someone's personal taste). Please note this article is not meant to be the end-all to guitar setup, which is a skillset developed over time and with experience, but rather as an overview of what's being done. Further reading/YouTube research is highly reccomedned if you're looking to tackle guitar setup yourself! Your local guitar guy is your friend! There are five basic steps to setting up an electric guitar that are typical to getting any guitar set up to your presences- string guitar, straighten your neck, set string radius, adjust action, and set intonation. Assuming you have installed the make and gauge of string you prefer to the guitar, the first step is to straighten your neck. It's important to do this before you even consider setting the action or making intonation adjustments, as a straight neck is the foundation of a properly set up guitar, and you’ll have to undo all the work you’ve done if you move forward and realize your neck wasn’t actually straightened. Straightening the neck almost always comes down to tightening (or loosening) your truss rod. The truss rod is the metal reinforcement rod in the neck of nearly every available guitar, although their exact type (dual action, single action, etc.) and placement varies from brand to brand. By carefully turning the rod, you’ll be able to adjust the tension for the appropriate amount of relief (counter-clockwise for more releif, clockwise for less) . As recommended by HC community member Tonic2000, determining if your neck is straight is as simple as capoing at the first fret and pushing the low E string down at the 17th fret to see if the string is hitting all the frets or not. Please note most their will still stilll be some bow away from the strings, which provides the relief space for the strings to vibrate. If you want to try this out, make sure to reference the manufacturer’s material for your specific guitar to understand what type of truss rod system you are dealing with, and tighten slowly…no need to overtigthen and cause damage. Now that your neck is set, you can focus on setting your string radius. Almost every guitar will have some curvature, referred to as radius, to its fretboard for comfort and playing ergonomics. To achieve a consistent playing experience among strings, it's important to set the strings to match the fretboard’s radius for an optimized, cohesive setup. String radius is almost always addressed at the bridge, where there is some form of mechanism with screws to adjust where each individual string sits. Fender guitars tend to rest the strings on individual saddles. Gibson and Tune-o-Matic style bridges, by contrast, are anchored to the saddle before a stop tail at a fixed height and require filing or sanding in the off-chance you want to adjust the radius, as Tune-o-Matic bridges are already arched to the correct radius. Again, your owners manual is your guide here, but the act of setting your string radius to the fretboard is something every player should at least understand. Now that your neck is straight and the string radius is matched to your fretboard radius, it’s time to adjust the action, or height, of the strings in relation to the frets. Depending on your playing style, you may prefer higher action, which makes the strings somewhat more difficult to play but increases sustain or lower action, while lower action plays easier and faster but tends to cut some sustain. Set your action too low and you’ll start introducing fret buzz as the strings brush the frets and in extreme cases, then can even be unpleasant muting. Typically measured at the 12th fret (although the 1st fret can also be used as a reference point) action is a preference, and there is no industry standard to setting action other than making sure it’s not so high as to be unplayable nor so low that strings are touching the frets. Assuming the nut is in good standing, (according to HC user Tonic2000, the vast majority of commercially produced guitars have nuts that are pretty well cut), all the action adjustment for a player’s preference is meant to be done at the bridge. Following whatever guidelines are set by the manucaturar, you may find tweaks need to be made to the bridge. Because your radius is already set it will be a much simpler, quicker process. Lastly, it’s time to set your intonation. Intonation means maintaining the integrity of your relative tuning throughout the fretboard. A poorly intonated guitar will sound out of tune as you play higher on the fretboard. Intonation is typically set at the 12th fret, and it is imperative to ensure the intonation is a close to perfect as physically possible between octaves for the sweetest sound. To test intonation, tune your guitar (the more accurate the tuner, the more accurate the tuning) using the harmonic on the 12th fret of each string. Once they're tuned, play the fretted note on the 12th fret (no harmonic); they should be the same, but an improperly intonated guitar will reveal tuning issues. If the fretted note reads flat compared to the harmonic, the scale length needs to be shortened. If the fretted note reads sharp, the scale needs to be increased. There are two ways to adjust the scale; at the nut or at the bridge. The bridge is typically the easier (and less permanent) approach, but a small group of certain intonation issues will be better served by filing the nuts seat against the fretboard. Assuming the bridge is the best approach, now that you know which way the bridge needs to move to adjust the scale, it’s as simple as referring to your guitar’s manual and making the tweak. This shouldn’t impact the radius or action you’ve already set, provided you’ve done it right. -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.
  17. Tascam iXR Audio Interface for iPad, MacOS, and Windows Better Audio for Mobile and Computers by Chris Loeffler The Tascam iXR is an audio interface for iPad, MacOS, and Windows intended to combine the small form factor needed for true mobile recording with the I/Os and technology of a professional interface. The package includes the physical audio interface, Cubase for iPad, and is alternately available as an expanded field kit for those wanting a microphone, cables, stand, and cover. The iXR requires OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.4, OS X Mavericks (10.9.1), OS X Yosemite (10.10), or OS X El Capitan (10.11) or higher in MacOS, Window 8 (32 bit) or higher for PC, and iOS 8+. What You Need to Know The iXR is diminutive in size, and so slim I don’t believe it’d be physically possible to get smaller without removing the XLR inputs. The rugged aluminum construction boasts two combination inputs (line and mic), two balances line outputs, the obligatory headphone output, and MIDI I/O. The iXR is powered by USB (please note some USB sources don’t provide sufficient power) and has phantom power for microphones requiring extra juice. Recording happens at 44.1k/48k/88.2k/96kHz and at 16/24bit. The unbalanced instrument inputs have a 1M ohm input impedance with a maximum input level of 10dBV, while the balanced line ins features a 10k Ohm impedance with a maximum input level of 20dBu. I found the preamp to be as transparent and open as one would expect from an entry level piece… certainly better than running straight into a soundcard or mobile phone. Testing the iXR in a live performance downtown with a borrowed Rode NT4, I was able to capture a surprisingly full and deeply imaged recording once I found the right spot in the crowd. I tried running a second mic in sequence with it (Audio Technica Pro24), but candidly speaking, I found myself better off sticking with either of the two inputs rather than trying to blend them. Gear and experience can obviously mitigate this, but I believe most users will be happy with the simplicity of a good capture in a single channel. The benefit (and quality) of the two preamps became apparent when I tested the iXR in a spaced pair mic setup for recording an acoustic guitar perforamnce in my studio. With a matched pair of M-Audio Pulsar IIs pointed at the 8th fret and 12th fret, I caught beautifully articulate acoustic tones that were ripe for mixing, with the 8th fret mic capturing fretboard intricacies while the 12th fret mic captured the body and core tone of the guitar. Mixing the two channels down, I didn’t find myself at any time wishing I had more channels to work with… a solid performance, good mics, decent placement, and I was set. The Tascam iXR can of course be used with a standard desktop and recording software (Logic, ProTools), so those without a home recording setup can get extra bang for their buck for solo recording and demos, but the iXR isn’t going to kick the UA Apollo off anyone’s desk. That said, I ran my MIDI keyboard controller through it into my MacBook Pro and confirmed it did everything my current interface does as far as performing in Native Instruments Kontact, the UVI player, and Logic Pro X’s native suite. Limitations With only two inputs, it is importance to get the initial mix right with field recording with two mics, as remixing two channels only yields so much gain. That’s not a limitation of the hardware, but inherent to the concept of mobile recording. Conclusion The Tascam iXR seamlessly integrates mobile devices with professional audio production and is the epitome of the Tascam ethos; rugged, functional design, and affordable. Whether the application is recording concerts, capturing band practices to work through parts, home recording, or running a karaoke party (yes, you can and yes, there’s an app for that) through a PA system, I found the Tascam iXR to be up to the challenge. Anyone looking to tiptoe into the world of live-sound or computer recording would find the Tascam iXR an intuitive, easy point of entry. Resources Tascam iXR Product Page (MSRP $259.99, Street $159.99) Buy Tascam iXR @ Sweetwater , Amazon , B&H
  18. Cheap Guitar Tricks - Relative Major & Minor and the Pentatonic Shape Get more from the standard Minor Pentatonic! by Chris Loeffler This one is an old trick for intermediate guitar players looking to get the most out of their basic patterns (and you know guitar players love their patterns). If your grasp of scales and theory is strong, you can move along and start mastering your modes! One of the first things most guitar players latch onto when learning to solo is to the minor pentatonic scale, that innocuous but ubiquitous pattern that looks like this- This scale features just enough notes (1,3,4,5,7) to describe the key while being nondescript enough to sound right in essentially any arrangement requiring the minor sound. You learn this scale and you’ve got 85% of rock and blues covered. One of the fun things about music is that the context in which those notes are played changes how they fit. For instance, an E minor pentatonic shares the same notes and patterns as the G major pentatonic. Don’t believe me? Play the E Minor pentatonic over each of these videos I found on YouTube. Wacky, huh? While that alone is a good way to start connecting the dots as you dive deeper into theory, there’s a little cheat to be pulled from it too. Want to solo in an uplifting song, old country classic, or anything else in the major side of the music scale but you haven’t gone beyond the standard minor pentatonic? Combine your familiarity with the rock/blues/minor pentatonic scale and the knowledge that every major key shares the same notes as a minor key and you don’t have to know it! To pull off this trick, all you need to do is move your minor pentatonic shape down four frets from where you would play if the key was minor. A major? Slide your minor pentatonic down three frets to F# and you’re in the pocket. Your pinky on the low E will always be addressing the root note in this pattern, so you’ve got a good visual checkpoint. Same shape, different location, different key/scale! Go to YouTube, find some jam tracks in other keys, and get proficient at quickly finding the scale! This is only the tip of a very big iceberg every player must learn to climb to truly speak and understand music, especially when seeking flavors beyond a single selection of notes. But there’s nothing wrong with a little cheat if it will get a new or immediate player out to play with friends! ____________________________________________ 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. Silktone Instrument Cables How Clear is Your Signal Path? by Chris Loeffler There are two types of new instrument cables that cross my desk- “me toos” that focus on price or quality, and those looking to change the way cables work. Silktone, new cable maker and soon-to-be boutique amp builder, comes rolling into the world of guitar accessories with their new cable line with the specific goal of improving the way your pickups talk to your amp. Silktone’s product differentiator for their cable line is being a “first-of-its-kind” premium dual conductor guitar/instrument cable. By combining solid and stranded conductors, Silktone aims to strike a no-compromise balance of flexibility and tone. The theory is that whereas other cables pass the return through the shield, Silktone isolates the return and signal paths from the shield via dual copper conductors to keep the signal path pure. What You Need to Know Diving into the hard specs, the Silktone cable features dual 20 AWG 99.99% oxygen-free copper (OFC) conductors: one solid core; one stranded 99.99% OFC braided shield with a capacitance of only 38pF per foot. G&H bigfoot 1/4" TS connectors on both ends (high clarity version on straight plugs) use copper core from solder point to tip to preserve the clarity and depth of sound. The cables are finished in a black nylon woven outer jacket with a Silktone logo badge on one side, and lengths range from 1’-30’ with straight and right-angle connectors. While not strictly “directional,” the shield terminates on the Silktone logo side, and best performance is achieved by treating that side as the “output” side. It’s hard to talk about something that is meant to be a neutral signal path in a vacuum, but I can state unequivocally after plugging directly from my RJ Super Vintage into an Effingood 0-Five 51F clone that I had no complaints and felt directly wired into the amp. Tele twang, Les Paul honk, and piano-like neck Strat tones all were perfectly passed through and highly responsive. If the goal of a cable is to be as invisible as possible, mission accomplished. A/B tests are incredibly helpful, but there are only so many hours in a day, so I decided if I was going to limit myself to comparisons they should at least be within the category Silktone is positioning themselves (transparent, high end). Compared to a Monster Jazz cable of the same length, not only was the Silktone much less bulky and significantly more flexible, but there was an appreciable difference in high end articulation and bass clarity. Especially in shorter chains, where the connection between the pickup and the amps was most important, the Silktone’s gave the pushed amp’s overdrive definition, punch, and nuance that I realized was missing in the Monster Jazz cables. Maybe the term “pulling a blanket off the speaker” to describe the difference would be an overstatement, but there is certainly “more” to the Silktone cables, even as they stacked before and after a pedalboard. When compared to similar length George L’s, the effect was similar; whereas the Monster Jazz was muddy in the mids, the George L’s had a more neutral and transparent EQ effect but still seemed to exhibit less presence and a slight drop in feel and immediacy. It’s felt more than heard in this comparison, but I was certainly able to get more out of the amp’s overdrive with the Silktone. Limitations None that I could find. Maybe introducing a line specific to pedal-boards in 6” right-right configurations? Conclusion Every component of your signal chain truly does make a difference, and Silktone cables are proof positive. While there is always a point where buffers and long signal chains will blunt the edge of any technology, why wouldn’t you want to give your tone every chance possible to shine? Plugging directly into my amp and letting it crank was a visceral experience, and made me a convert. Resources Silktone Instrument Cables Product Page Buy Silktone Instrument Cables on Reverb.com ___________________________________________________ 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. Heavy Leather NYC Geezer Butler Vegan Signature and Magic Mushroom Guitar Straps Putting the "Fun" in Functional... By Chris Loeffler Guitar straps, while a necessary accessory if you plan to stand while you play, don’t need to be just utilitarian- there’s nothing wrong with adding comfort and style to your playing experience and performance persona. Heavy Leather NYC knows this well, and caters to players looking for something that is additive to the playing experience and personalized, not just another strip of fabric to sling over your shoulder. With an extensive line of traditional (if ornate) leather straps and an expanding line of vegan strap for the animal lovers out there, the Heavy Leather NYC assortment covers all the bases. I was shipped two very different straps from their line to evaluate, the Geezer Butler Signature vegan strap and the Limited Edition Magic Mushroom leather guitar strap, so let’s get to it. Rockin’ Like the Geeze’ The Geezer Butler Signature strap is both a part of their Artist series and their Vegan line, and is the result of years of collaboration and experimentation with the Geeze’ to identify what he considers to be the ultimate touring strap, pliable like leather, comfortable shoulder contact, solid connection with the strap buttons of the guitar, and animal friendly, like the man himself (remember, he’s not the one who bit the bat’s head off). The strap is made of canvas style sturdy weave over a vinyl backing and strap end tips that has been treated to have the suppleness and give of leather. Of course, the strap is black as midnight and, other than a tasteful Geezer logo printed in silver and the chrome studs and buckle, is an understated piece that’s deceptively simple. Only close inspection really allows appreciation of the craft and detail that goes into the construction of the strap. It took less than five minutes of wear to feel the strap form to my shoulder and favored guitar position (drastically wearing in evaluation units the way I like isn’t really an option when you have to return them!) and the experience was certainly more akin to my experience with leather straps, which have a bit more of those form fitting, back-saving play in the material that really seems valuable as the second hour of playing with a heavy guitar strains your back. The straps and buckles are solid, and the strap weighs relatively little for how hefty it feels. This Side Makes You Larger, This Side Makes You Small The Heavy Leather NYC Limited Edition Magic Mushroom leather strap makes no bones about its psychedelic roots, with its trippy, intricate patterns in textured leather just begging to bloom and kaleidoscope for anyone in the “right” state of mind. The Magic Mushroom features a 2.75”, 5/6 oz flocked leather top that shines and reveals patterns as the light hits hit that is stitched to a thick, 2/3 oz solid black leather backing strap. The adjustment area of the strap is thoroughly overbuilt, with a heavy-duty metal buckle (chrome in the Silver/Black option, brass in the Olive Green option) that is the stuff of a poorly behaved child’s nightmares and an extra layer of thick leather padding reinforcing the metal eyelets for length adjustment. I reviewed the Silver/Black version, which carries the same patterns as the Olive Green version (pictured to show details), but is much subtler and light dependent, as it can almost look pure black in poor lighting. While the width of the strap is typically pushing it for me given my medium frame, the leather wore in almost instantly and I found myself appreciating the additional distribution of weight rather than being aware of where or how it was sitting on my collar bone. No guitar slips were had, and the Magic Mushroom walked the line just right between having a bit of glide on the shoulder when changing positions neck without ever feeling like it would slide up or down the position I placed it at. Conclusion At $85 and $240, respectively, the Heavy Leather NCY strap line isn’t targeting people who just want a strap and want to move on. These are straps for people who value comfort, style, and a bit of edge. Yeah, music is about the sound, but if you believe prepping for a show involves more than a sink bath and pulling a dirty T-shirt over your head, why wouldn’t you care how your straps look and feel? Resource Website: www.heavyleathernyc.com To Buy these Heavy Leather Straps ___________________________________________________ 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. Electro-Harmonix Cocked Wah Fuzz Effect A Run-Through with the Cocky King of the Roost By Chris Loeffler Enterprising tone pioneers long ago discovered that in addition to the typical application of animating their tone with a sweeping wah pedal and fuzz, there were points in the wah’s sweep where they could “park” the wah (i.e., leave it at a certain point mid-sweep) that created unique and very effective (especially live) tones. That said, fuzz and wah effects have always had a tumultuous relationship…when paired right, they can make the sonic love of rock gods, but the wrong application can result in a pumping, chugging, lifeless mess of mush. Using the two together requires signal chain adjustments and settings tweaks that typically end up getting “less than the best” from both your fuzz and wah compared to when they're used independently. Here’s the crux of the issue: traditional fuzzes want a direct connection to the guitar pickups, so they like being first in the signal chain. Although the way a wah filter focuses the guitar's frequencies can sound amazing and cutting when placed in front of a fuzz, traditional wah pedals have terrible buffers that utterly destroy the minimal loading needed to make a fuzz vibrant. Placing a wah after fuzz, while a valid tone, sounds much less organic and more “effected” as it scoops out quite a bit of the fuzz attack and bloom. Whether the intent was simply to squeeze a tone typically created by multiple effects into a single pedal or to free players’ fuzzes and wahs to sound their best when used individually, Electro-Harmonix has unleashed the Cock Fight in a bid to let guitar players have their cake and eat it too. What You Need to Know The Electro-Harmonix Cock Fight runs on a standard 9v battery or included power supply and features controls for Volume, Frequency, Drive, Tone, Bias, Bottom, Pre/Post, and Cry/Talk. In addition to standard in and outs, an expression input allows incorporating an expression pedal (EHX Expression Pedal, M-Audio, Roland, etc) to sweep the filter like a traditional wah pedal. The fuzz portion of the circuit is sculpted using Drive, Tone, and Bias controls, and can be placed before or after the filter circuit - or even removed entirely (but what’s the fun in that?). Drive adjusts the overall amount of fuzz gain, and is very interactive with the Bias control, which dictates the voltage the circuit receives. While the Drive control goes from nearly clean to saturated, rich fuzz, the Bias control changes the structure of the gain based on how much juice it’s feeding. All the way up, Tonebender and Muff-style richness and dimension lurks, but when rolling back the Bias the gain starts to gate, the distortion beings to simplify, and eventually the tone devolves into sputtery, 8-bit Nintendo bloops by the bottom of the sweep. The Tone control shows surprising restraint for Electro-Harmonix (famous for giving so much range that things can get a little crazy) and is gentle and natural across its sweep, never getting too dull nor too bright...just helping ease your tone into a sweet spot. The wah circuit is controlled by Volume, Frequency, Bottom, and Mode controls and, unlike the fuzz, cannot be disabled when the pedal is on. The Volume control, logically, controls the effect's output volume (from dead quiet to double the volume of the original signal), while the Frequency knob adjusts the filter sweep, just like rocking a wah pedal would. The Bottom control allows for additional bass, typically cut in a wah-style effect, to be reintroduced, especially for bass or keyboard applications. The Bottom control is most effective with guitar when used in moderation, as things got a bit flabby with the control kept past noon. The Cry/Talk switch assigns one of two filter styles to the wah, which each merit individual discussion. Cry Mode is a traditional wah tone, and likely the sound most people think of when asked to guess what the Cock Fight sounds like. Unlike many of the wah mainstays I’ve used, the sweep is surprisingly even and smooth and there weren’t any of the ugly points or harsh spikes I typically try to speed through. Hendrix, Zepp, Hammett…they’re all there. When in front of the fuzz circuit, the Cry mode is like a knife that cuts through the mix and beefs up the mids, just like a traditional Wah/Fuzz combo. The fuzz builds nicely around the filter and rounds out the edges. While the sound is very organic, even untrained ears will know something is happening beyond “distortion.” Depending on the guitar and amp, pretty much any point in the Frequency range has a valid application. Placed after the fuzz, the Cry mode's filter section really pulls in the tonal range of the fuzz and boosts a confined scope of frequencies for some interesting, if not exactly vintage, tones. It’s spiky and more aggressive, and has an almost “out-of-phase” quality to it at many points of the sweep. Talk Mode is a vocal, chewy filter setting that seems to recreate the vowel run A-E-I-O-U-W (OK… not a vowel) one would expect from the yowl of a golden-throated, baritone alley cat (but in a good way). Robotic, talk-box like tones seem to have a bigger smoothing effect over the attack definition, and it’s certainly the less traditional-sounding of the two modes. Placing the fuzz in the post position obscures some of this funkiness due to the gain, and Frampton-like “howling into a distorting loudspeaker”-type sounds are attainable; but in the pre-position, the filter gets a stranglehold over the fuzz and creates synth-like tones that would be as at home in an EDM recording as they would the world of rock. While this may sound dismissive or like a one-trick pony, I doubt there is a Cock Fight owner who won’t find a way to sneak the Talk setting into a live performance for at least one song. Limitations Extremely high-output active pickups can overload the effect, making it better suited for single-coil and traditional humbucking pickups. While limitation may be the wrong word, I’d love to see a treadle version come out down the line to take full advantage of the wah (I’m not a fan of the lightweight M-Audio and Roland expression pedals). Conclusion The Electro-Harmonix Cock Fight is the rare example of an analog multi-effect that does everything right. The fuzz sounds and feels good enough to satisfy any fuzz snob, and the two wah modes would each be top candidates on their own. As if sounding great as individual components wasn’t enough, the circuits play together beautifully and create a treasure trove of lead and rhythm tones. As someone once joked in the Effects Forum, “Friends don’t let friends cock their wah,” there can be a temptation to overuse it to the point where the awesome-sauce becomes fatiguing - but that’s on the player, not the pedal. Resources Electro-Harmonix Cock Fight Cocked Wah Product Page Buy the Electro-Harmonix Cock Fight Cocked Wah (MSRP $148.90, MAP $111.70) @Sweetwater @B&H @Amazon @MusiciansFriend _________________________________________________ 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. The Beatles Gear: The Ultimate Edition by Andy Babiuk Across the Universe with the Definitive Story of the Fab Four’s Gear by Chris Loeffler The Beatles are, without a doubt, the greatest Rock and Roll band of all time, and in 10 brief years created dozens of musical paths later bands would journey down in an effort to define the meaning of Rock. While some of their Brit contemporaries are still carrying on 50 years later, the Beatles continue to capture the minds and hearts of generations of music lovers new and old despite having not performed together for over 45 years. One of the benefits of being pioneers of a sound is the sheer amount of gear and sonic experimentation to which they had access, and it fell upon Andy Babiuk to seek information from sources near and far to put forth what he considers the ultimate catalog of the gear used to create the legendary recordings of the Beatles. Let's look at this revised and expanded new edition of Beatles Gear: Ultimate Edition, published by Backbeat Books. What You Need To Know Andy Babiuk also wrote Rolling Stones Gear, and for those familiar with that earlier book,Beatles Gear takes a similar approach, covering the band's formation, early years and first musical instruments, The book then proceeds to document all of the instruments used by each member of the group on each recording session and tour. From John’s first guitarat age 14 up to Phil Spector taking Glyn John’s raw tapes and (arguably) heavy-handedly turning the final Beatles album into the orchestral extravaganza that was Let it Be.Whereas the original edition of Beatles Gear weighed in at 258 pages, this ultimate edition breaks 500 pages with added stories, photos, and facts shared with Babiuk by rabid fans after the initial edition’s publication. After a brief introduction describing the conditions in post-war Great Britain and the influence of early American rock and roll to set the stage, the book describes the first meetings of John Lennon and Paul McCartny, and their earliest musical influences, the records they listened to, their early instruments, jumping from acoustic to electric, and how the Beatles were formed. Moving on from there chronologically, the book starts its instrument coverage with John’s £7 Gallotone Champion acoustic that he ordered from a catalog in 1955 after unsuccessful attempts to talk his aunt and then mother into purchasing one, all the way up to the Epiphone Casino used on their final album, Let it Be, in 1969. The book is packed with comments and quotes from the band themselves about the gear they used, as well as many insights and information about their lives and careers (some of which you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else), although the emphasis is definitely on the gear they played. Amplifiers, basses, guitars, keyboards, drums and effects are all covered in great depth, as are the more specialized and unusual instruments such as dulcimers, harmonicas, electric sitars and more that were used on various albums and tours. One of the highlights of the additions to the Ultimate Edition is an expanded story of the John Lennon Gibson guitar, which reads part-gear nerdery and part-detective story. Since the book covers the subject matter in chronological order, it's easy to locate information about specific gear that the band members used during various years, albums, tours or eras, making it an excellent research tool. It also includes a comprehensive and helpful index. Published 14 years after his already painstakingly researched Beatles Gear book, this masterfully researched and lavishly illustrated 509-page book is the definitive work on the subject of the instruments used by the Beatles over the course of the band's history. Limitations Information on the specific recording gear may be thinner than an aspiring engineer or producer would likely seek (although there are rich clues hidden in the photos for eagle-eyed gear hounds to discover, and there's always the book Recording the Beatles). Also the flow of the book could have benefited somewhat by separating the story of the band from the gear. Conclusions With huge photos and great gear shots, the engagingly written Beatles Gear Ultimate Edition is equally likely to appeal to Beatles fans, gear hounds, engineers, and those interested in world history and how it shapes pop culture. Beatles Gear is massive, with thick paper stock, glossy pages, and a sturdy cover. It's obvious that a tremendous amount of research went into this, and it couldn't have been done without contributions and input from people within the Beatles’ organization. Informative and entertaining, and with a impressive amount of photos of rare instruments (including shots of the actual instruments used by the band, many of which have never been published before), it's a visual delight as well. Whether you read it cover to cover, browse through the various chapters randomly, or use it as a research tool, it's bound to entertain, elucidate, and delight. It really is the definitive volume on all the gear used by four young chaps from the UK who happened to change the world forever. Resources Beatles Gear: The Ultimate Edition Product Page Buy Beatles Gear: The Ultimate Edition ($60 MSRP, Price Varies at Amazon) ____________________________________________ 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. Crumar Mojo Limited Edition Ridiculous Vintage Mojo By Chris Loeffler While technology continues to rocket music gear into the sonic future, there’s a soothing nostalgia and warmth to the past that keeps musicians returning to analog gear, or at least to push software to achieve vintage sounds. Keyboard players may have access to soft synths that create otherworldly sounds through complex algorithms that would have broken 1980’s NASA super-computers, but to a dedicated group of players, the sounds and feel of the Hammond B-3 dual-manual drawbar organ is the definitive player experience. While Hammond is still in business (and continues to make dual-manual drawbars in a different format), manufacturers like Nord and Crumar have honed in on that space in a contest to see who can most accurately recreate the experience while taking advantage of technology to expand the sonic possibilities. The Crumar Mojo Limited Edition, despite it’s emphasis on physical presence and control, is essentially a MIDI controller running a custom computer hosting a customized version of Genuine Software VB3 Version 2 by Guido Scognamiglio. That said, it feels like a solid, physical piece with the added benefit of being reasonably light and no headaches to be had around moving parts. Each of the two in-line 61-note 5 octave C - C waterfall keyboards is controlled by nine dedicated, physical drawbars (plus two drawbars for the pedalboard) for something over 250,000,000 sound possibilities with drawbar adjustments alone, four percussion buttons, and three chorus/vibrato controls. Each keyboard has seven presets in addition to volume, overdrive, and reverb controls, meaning the core vintage organ performance experience is achieved without needing to dive into menus or looking at a single digital screen. The main differences between the Mojo Limited Edition and the standard Mojo is the addition of a protective textured coating to the wooden ends and upgraded knobs and controls. Diving into the software editor via the USB output (a separate MojoEditor box is available for purchase that allows deep software edits without needing a computer), I gained access to 22 different virtual generators scaled to specific virtual organs and the ability to build my own from the ground up. While distinctly different from each other, all demonstrated a depth, grit, and presence that is the antithesis of “software sounding”. The various virtual instruments all walked the line from crystal clear and percussively sharp to producing grit, grind, and grime I’ve never hear heard sound as authentically analog in a software or modeling environment. The breath and sense of mechanical movement could be hear in every pumped chording and the overdrive, whether dialed back or driven hard, expressed a naturally round compression. Even the accidental audio quirks created by the original B3 sound like an organic part of the multilayered sound created by the mechanics of the organ tone generation process. The upper octaves, in particular, were a revelation and maintained the power and warmth of the rest of the octaves whereas most competitors I have tried tend to get thin or shrill near the top of the keyboard. To my ears, the most extreme overdrive settings (maybe the last quarter of the control’s sweep) lost some of the sweetness and dimension. I invited my daughter to contribute to the “try to make polyphony glitch” test with a twenty note, five octave spread of a chord and couldn’t detect any audible glitch or latency strangeness. Everything that is key to the B3 experience, the tone, triggering of the harmonic percussion, key click, and drawbar holdback, is nailed by the Crumar Mojo. Non-organ sounds like Rhodes, Wurly, and Farfisa are available and sound great, but their editing parameters are somewhat limited and the assortment of instruments falls short of, say, a current production Nord or Hammond. Those are icing on a perfect cake though. For those not in the know, Genuine VB3 is as close an end-all to rotary simulations as is possible and widely considered to be the most authentic sounding rotary simulation available. The rotary shines and manages to avoid the effecty-sounding pitch shifts or multi-line chorus sounds of typical simulators and nails the doppler effect taking place in physical space, air moving and all. The Crumar Mojo is well built with solid hardwoods and steel; the pull knobs and sliders have the right travel and just feel right. There’s no denying the vintage feeling of the the Crumar Mojo; it plays like an immaculately maintained piece from a bygone era, down to the construction and give of the individual components and keys. While it’s more a “feature” than a bug, the current limited distribution of Crumar (most orders are made directly though their Italian site) means that there aren’t many opportunities to play one before plunking down the not-insignificant change required to purchase one. For such a specialized piece, the logistics aren’t likely to detract the Crumar’s target audience, but many potential organ enthusiasts will never find themselves with an opportunity to experience the mojo of the Crumar in person, which is a shame. The Crumar isn’t cheap, and it is a pretty niche piece for a very specific subset of keyboard and organists, but it is one of the most “authentically vintage” feeling and sounding experiences I’ve had with a current production instrument. It feels real, it sounds real, and it plays real. Crumar Mojo Product Page (MSRP $2,359.00) _______________________________________________ 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.
  24. Leaving the Bell Jar- How to Find New Music By Chris Loeffler I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I realized a few years ago I had hit a rut in my daily music listening and was revisiting the same handful of albums rather than seeking new music to experience. While there’s nothing wrong with comfort food, most musicians are engaged with the scene of their favorite genres and anticipate regular new releases. I realized I hadn’t picked up anything new in almost a half year; that wasn’t acceptable. Prior to a few years ago, I was fortunate to work in an office that was filled with musicians, so there was no shortage of recommendations from like-minded coworkers; before that, I had record stores where other music enthusiasts could share their favorite new bands while flipping through the album racks. Then life changed. I no longer work in that office filled with musicians, and the few local music stores left little on their shelves that interested me and created even less desire to special order. That's when I realized I needed to find a way to discover new music, which made me realize I wasn't sure exactly where to start. I began my search in through the traditional (i.e. pre-internet) methods of discovering music… Radio - ugh. Most musicians aren’t going to find their next favorite band on the radio these days. Those hard up can look to college stations and NPR to access interesting, non-pop music, but radio is still a fairly restricted, unilateral way to discover music. MTV - ha! Moving on…(I miss you, early 90s MTV) Music Magazines - like radio, learning about new music in music magazines is a shallow experience. Most of the classic magazines in various music genres have become, well, like MTV...more about pop culture and puff pieces than discovery of great new bands. So, what’s a busy music listener to do? Here’s a list of some common (and not so common) ways to discover new music online- Genre Blogs Blogs can be solid gold if you’re looking for more of something you already like. Like to get stoned and listen to fuzzed out rock? Look no further than www.theobelisk.net for the latest in stoner rock and heavy psychedelic music. Genre blogs can be some of the best places for deep diving into the discovery of off-the-mainstream bands, but at the sacrifice of diversity outside of the genre being covered. Pandora Frankly, the original music genome project kind of disappointed me in its early years. I was expecting something incredibly cool and deep about the analysis of musical pieces and how they intertwined (which was the site’s mission statement) and left unimpressed by what it became…essentially a radio service. That said, embracing it for what it is, Pandora is one of the most popular new channels for discovering new bands. My luck with it has been hit or miss; too many of the associations seem tenuous at best, and not in the “I’m being exposed to something new!” way. Amazon “People who bought X also bought X.” Go to Amazon and pull up the product page for the album that’s been doing it for you lately. Now scroll down to “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought“… There will likely be 75-150 other albums people bought in addition to the album you selected. Even fairly generic albums can get some interesting results (Pink Floyd’s The Wall has a list that includes Adele, Megadeath, and Traffic in addition to the expected solo albums of the band and other classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin). The best thing is that most albums have audio previews of all their songs available on the page. Newer albums have a more vibrant and recent assortment in my experience. Youtube This one surprised me, as I’d previously only thought of Youtube as a repository for videos meant to be searched for. Youtube can work like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure of music discovery if you follow the rabbit down the hole and start clicking on the suggested videos in the right column on the video pages. It’s as simple as searching a song/band you like and seeing what Youtube says is related. Youtube’s algorithms (courtesy of parent company Google) do a great job of serving up other videos you’re likely to enjoy based on previous viewers’ habits. For a more focused and tailored list, sign in to YouTube every time you visit (you probably already are if you're signed in to Google) so your previous interests are taken into account. For a more adventurous and diverse assortment, don’t log in and clear your cache so YouTube only has its own data to analyze when trying to decide what will be the most tempting videos to serve. What do YOU do to discover new music online? ____________________________________________ 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.
  25. How to Beat Big Chains and Run a Successful Independent Music Store By Chris Loeffler Dear Mom and Pop, I know it’s been a while since I’ve come to visit. I keep meaning to swing by, but life has a way of changing plans, and next thing you know it has been years since we last saw each other. I heard you guys have been thinking about moving in to a smaller place to save some money; that’d be a shame. I really liked the place and have a bunch of fond memories, but I suppose you have to do what you have to do. In any case, I hope you’re doing well, and I’ll be sure to visit the next time I’m in town. Sincerely, Your Customer Like every retail sector, the music instrument industry has been forever changed by the growth of larger chain retailers and online stores. As with traditional, small retailers of books, music, or even groceries, the Mom and Pop family operations that specialized in carrying products and serving their community have faced challenges competing with the SweetAsh FriendCenters of the world. It’s a hard pill to swallow, having spent decades building brands and players and watching them now walk to the convenience of online shopping or big box stores that consider MAP a starting point in negotiations. That said, I doubt musicians miss the days of paying 30% more for instruments due to a lack of price comparisons (or a price below MSRP) or having to settle for what’s on the wall. Time are tougher: margins are thinner, there’s online competition that can go cheaper with a virtually endless product assortment, and popular music seems to have a lack of (insert-instrument-here) heroes. It would be easy to give up (some have) or blame change (many have), but those who are in it because they truly love the MI industry have many advantages up their sleeves to keep them as relevant as ever when it comes to building musicians and selling gear. So, Mom and Pop… Here’s what you'd better be doing- Curate You don’t have infinite floor space (nor the finances to fill it if you did), so you can't stock everything. What you do have is the knowledge of your community of musicians, and the ability to help introduce them to great gear. A guy (or gal) who needs a pink polka dot Strat in an HSS configuration with a maple neck may not be an immediate sale (cough... SPO... cough), but the person who walks in looking for a great guitar is going to be well served by your careful ly selected assortment and the fact that YOU put thought into every instrument you ordered and can explain why they are worthy. Customer service and a passion for your offerings is what builds a customer for life instead of a one-time transaction. Speaking of which… Support Your Vendors As the customer-facing end of the supply chain, you have a symbiotic relationship with the brands and suppliers who provide you the gear that lines your shelves (and, ultimately, your pockets). Frankly, there’s a general sentiment that some retailers are interested only in guaranteed hits and easy sales on the supplier side. Support your suppliers and learn how to sell their gear. They’ll love you, and they remember dealers who took the time to fully support a new product launch. You’re carrying thousands of SKUs, but that’s no excuse to not constantly stay in tune with what's new to market...be an active participant in the MI industry. Serve I often hear the cop-out from M&P that social media (and the internet in general) have changed the way people socialize, and that “hanging out” IRL doesn’t happen. But like many objections I’ve heard, it’s a passive shoulder shrug of resignation. Look at your shop, M&P… is it a place people want to be in? Is it comfortable and easy to audition gear, or has nothing but the inventory been updated in 30 years? Of course you don't want your sales floor to become the unofficial weekly practice space for local thrash metal bands, but your biggest advantage over big box and online is that you can create an environment condusive to comfortable gear evaluations for customers and demonstrations by your staff. Use that space to serve the need of exploring gear, and make it easy. Everything in that store was chosen by you, and you should be able to match your inventory to almost any customer's needs. Serve your customer well, and most won't bat an eye if you're selling gear at fair prices...they understand they're paying for your expertise and experience. Teach You can’t sell gear unless you have people who want to play it. Public schools continue to de-emphasize and underfund music programs, yet students still need a place to learn how to play. You are that place. Lessons from instructors' homes will always exist, but you are a one-stop shop and should be your community’s first choice for starting new students on the path to music. You have the instructional materials, the instruments, the accessories, the teachers, and hopefully the repair techs. You are literally creating new customers every time you sign up a new student. Students make for loyal customers, and the convenience of trying out gear and purchasing at the same location where they're learning is an added value. Build Community Get involved in the local music scene, be it through sponsorships, gear loans, or even just helping clubs and events advertise within your store. You’re selling tools and inspiration; make sure you’re connecting to the end goals of performance or recording with your clientele. They learn from you, they buy from you, why stop there? Community involvement through sponsorships and events promotes your store, gets you closer to the customer base you want, and helps to inspire the next generation of players to walk in your door and ask for a lesson. Connect musicians with recording studios, venues for live performance, and local civic events with the pure talent you're incubating in your shop. Sell Used The margin on used gear is nice, and accepting used gear will ingratiate you to those local musicians who can't afford something now and keep them from heading to Craig's List. Next time they do have cash, they'll be more likely to return to your store. Online storefronts can help you manage your used inventory if you need to free up some cash, but having cool vintage gear you can't buy from a big box will guarantee regular visitors hoping to see what's new. There are very-real challenges faced by people like you, M&P, who have poured your heart, soul, and savings into your shop. And you absolutely DO deserve to be paid for the value you add to your students, customers, and community. You aren’t a corporation with a massive warehouse and financial reserves that enjoys an extra 10-30% discount for placing $300,000 purchase orders, you have to artfully merchandise a showroom, set up gear so it plays perfectly, and answer hundreds of questions a day from people who walk into your shop and hopefully become customers. You inform your customers, you educate students, and you support the vendors and suppliers you carry. This is value, this is why people come to you, and this is why you can offer gear at fair prices without racing to the the bottom. Your local musicians want to support you, but sometimes you make it hard. Selling a pack of violin strings for $40 when we all know they can be purchased for $20 elsewhere is almost offensive. Support your community of musicians and students, be a partner with your vendors, and create a superior store experience - and you'd be suprised how much of those efforts will come back in kind. _____________________________ 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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