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Phil O'Keefe

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  1. Control your own level in your cans, on-stage or in the studio By Phil O'Keefe "More me please." Anyone who has mixed live sound or tracked musicians in the studio is probably very familiar with the phrase. Musicians need to be able to not only hear the monitor cue mix, but their own parts in order to perform their best. Giving them the ability to control their relative volume level in the mix not only frees the engineer up from having to do the adjustments for them, but more importantly, it allows the performer to achieve the balance that is most comfortable for them - and that usually results in happier musicians and better performances. Rolls has long been building handy little "problem-solver" boxes that allow musicians and engineers to address issues such as this. One such box is the Rolls PM50s Personal Monitor Amp. This affordable little box is designed to help with the "more me" issue. Let's take a look at the details. What You Need To Know The PM50S is essentially a small mixer and headphone amplifier in one compact unit. The mixing functions are fairly basic and very straightforward. There are two knobs - one, labeled "Monitor Level" that adjusts the level of whatever is connected to the 1/4" TRS stereo/mono Monitor Input jack, and a second knob labeled Mic Level, for controlling the level of whatever is connected to the Mic In (microphone input) jack. A Mic Thru jack allows the Mic In signal to be routed out to the recording or PA mixer. Worried about tonal changes or phantom power? Don't be! There's no change to the tone of the microphone, and the mic can still receive phantom power from the mixing console through the hardwired pass-through of the PM50S's Mic In and Mic Thru jacks. Power is supplied to the unit via an included DC power adapter. The adapter uses a 2.1mm center-negative plug, and the PM50s can operate on anything from 9-18V DC. A power LED next to the Mic Level knob illuminates when the unit is powered up. A Rolls PS16 can be used as an alternate power source - more on that later. The most obvious use for the PM50s is as a "more me" monitoring solution. For example, a singer can use one when tracking to adjust the relative levels of the cue mix and their own mic in their headphones. A great cue mix that the singer is comfortable with can make a huge difference in their performance, and with the PM50s, they can take control of their own monitoring volume levels. You can also use it with instrument microphones. For example, a saxophonist can use it to adjust the level of the sax mic in their headphones relative to the rest of the cue or monitor mix. While it's not designed to accept instrument-level input directly, a direct box can be used to run an instrument into the Mic In on the PM50s, allowing bass players and other instrumentalists to control how much of themselves they hear in their headphones. Drummers who need to monitor the main monitor mix as well as a click track from a drum machine or other source can feed the output from the drum machine into a direct box and run that into the Mic In on the PM50s. Not only is this great for live applications, but can also reduce drummer frustration in the studio by allowing them to set the exact balance of cue mix and click that they prefer in their headphones. There is plenty of gain on tap to drive most headphones and ear buds to very loud levels. The overall sound quality of the monitoring is quite good, with low noise levels and a full-bandwidth frequency response. The optional MSC106 allows the PM50s to be mounted directly to a microphone stand. Limitations While the PM50S supports a stereo line input for the Monitor mix, stereo sound sources from the musician are not supported - just a single mono Mic Input. This is also potentially an issue when attempting to use the PM50S with a musician who sings and plays at the same time. For a singing guitarist who needs to monitor both their vocals and guitar simultaneously, the headphone level of one or the other would need to be controlled at the mixing console, while allowing the musician to control the level of the other part with the PM50s. While it can play back stereo monitor input signals, you're still limited to one mono mic input on the PM50s. You can use that with an instrument by using a direct box to feed it into the PM50s, but that leaves you without the mic input for a vocal (or instrument) mic. For players who need to be able to monitor their instrument as well as a vocal/instrument mic simultaneously, Rolls makes the PM351 Personal Monitor System, which allows you to adjust the relative levels of a mic input (with hard wired pass-thru), a 1/4" TRS stereo/mono instrument input, and 1/4" stereo/mono monitor mix input in the headphones. Unfortunately the DC adapter's cable is pretty short. An optional accessory, the Rolls PS16 Power Center (about $50 "street"), can provide power for multiple PM50s / PM351 units while also distributing the monitor signal to them - all through standard 1/4" TRS cables - thus reducing the number of wall wart adapters needed to power everything while simultaneously allowing individual PM50s units to be moved much further away from a power source. Conclusions This is one handy, clever, cost-effective and very useful little box. Every studio should have at least a few of these on hand, and drummers and live sound techs should strongly consider owning one too. Church musicians, theatrical musicians / orchestra pit members and other live performers who need to keep on-stage levels under control and who don't mind using headphones or earbuds / in-ear monitors while playing will also appreciate the utility and effectiveness of the Rolls PM50s for live use. The PM50s is built rock-solid, pumps out prodigious amounts of volume, sounds great, and saves time… and most importantly, it allows musicians to better hear themselves and to be more comfortable with their cue mix because with the PM50s they can easily control it themselves. Comfortable musicians who can hear themselves tend to play better than frustrated ones who can't hear what's going on. That's always a huge plus in my book, and in many situations, the PM50s is a nearly ideal tool that will allow them to experience just that. Short of getting a far more expensive system that allows for individual control of multiple inputs, this is one of the best solutions whenever someone asks to hear "more me", and is highly recommended. Resources Musician's Friend Rolls PM50s Personal Monitor Amp online catalog page ($70 MSRP, $44.95 "street") Rolls PM50s product web page Specifications Inputs: -20dB max XLR 1k balanced, 20dB monitor Outputs: 1/4", and 1/8" (3.5mm) 8 ohm or greater headphone outputs Gain: 20dB 1/4", 50dB XLR Bandwidth: 20Hz - 20kHz S/N Ratio: 90dB Power: 9-18V DC Current Draw: 60ma nominal, no load 15V DC Size: 3" x 2.5" x 1.25" Weight: 1 lb
  2. EHX serves up a tasty overdrive that is sure to please By Phil O'Keefe One of the most talked-about pedals on the forums in recent years has been the Klon Centaur. This hard-to-find boutique "transparent overdrive" has many fans, has inspired more than a few DIY "Klones", and today, the now-discontinued originals command incredibly high prices on the used market. When Electro-Harmonix founder Mike Matthews heard about this, he instructed his staff at EHX to come up with an affordable alternative that starving musicians could afford, and thus was born the Soul Food Overdrive. Let's dig in and see how it tastes. What You Need To Know The Soul Food overdrive is housed in a relatively small die-cast enclosure that measures approximately 4 5/16" long x 2 1/2" wide x 2" high, including the knobs, jacks and switches. The input and output jacks are side-mounted. Output impedance ranges from 650Ohm to 3.3kOhm, depending on how you have the pedal dialed up. The input jack has a switch that disconnects the battery whenever a plug is not inserted. Input impedance is 1MOhm. No battery is included with the pedal, but it can be powered by a single 9V battery if desired. Alkaline batteries are recommended for use with the Soul Food. The battery compartment is accessed by removing four screws and the bottom plate of the pedal. If you prefer using a power adapter, a 2.1mm center-negative 9V DC input ("Boss-style") jack is provided at the top of the pedal, and amazingly at this price, EHX even includes a power adapter in the box along with the pedal. While the pedal is designed to run from a 9V power source, the internal circuitry features boosted power rails for increased headroom. The pedal's controls are pretty straightforward, with Drive, Volume and Treble knobs. It's really easy to get around the Soul Food, and dialing up a variety of sounds is a piece of cake. The Treble knob is an active type tone control that boosts treble when turned past noon, and cuts it when set lower than 12 o'clock. When set to noon, the Treble control is in a neutral position and has no effect on the sound. Unlike some tone controls, this one isn't overbearing or ineffective, so you'll actually want to try various settings on it to fine-tune your sound. When the Drive knob is anywhere from its minimum setting to around nine o'clock, there's really no grit apparent in the sound. As you increase the Drive from there, you start adding in a bit of edge to the tone, and the grind gets progressively heavier as you get closer to diming the knob. You'll also notice an increase in midrange as you increase the Drive control. At higher Drive knob settings, there's a pretty decent amount of overdrive on tap, but by itself (i.e. running into a clean amp) it never goes into heavy distortion territory, and the character of whatever guitar you're using still comes through. The amount of drive is, unsurprisingly, somewhat dependent on what guitar and type of pickups you're using. With single coils, there's a decent amount of overdrive, but as soon as I plugged in a Gibson SG Standard with 57 Classic Humbuckers, there was a noticeable increase in the amount of grind and grit available from the Soul Food. The Volume control sets the overall output level of the pedal. With the drive knob set to nine o'clock or less, unity gain on the Volume control is at about ten o'clock, so there's plenty of additional volume on tap, and the Soul Food works great as a clean boost when dialed up this way. The Soul Food uses surface mount components, which helps keep the price of the pedal low while insuring high quality and reliability. In fact, the price is almost shockingly low for how good this pedal sounds. A footswitch allows the player to turn the pedal on and off. A red LED next to the switch illuminates when it's on. An internal switch allows you to select either true bypass or buffered bypass switching. From the factory, this switch is set to true bypass. When using longer cable runs or several true bypass pedals, the transparent sounding buffer can be used to help prevent signal loss and keep your tone rockin'. The Soul Food is very touch-sensitive and responds well to variations in how hard you play. It also works with your guitar's volume control, and even with high settings on the Drive knob, it cleans up beautifully just by rolling down your volume a bit. Limitations Bragging rights due to the exorbitant amount of money you paid for a pedal are not part of the deal with the Soul Food overdrive. If you're concerned about status and exclusivity, it's not going to add appreciably to your sense of self-worth. While EHX refers to the Soul Food as an "Distortion/Fuzz/Overdrive", in my opinion it's not ideal as a heavy overdrive or distortion. You can get a pretty decent amount of overdrive from it, but don't expect it to overwhelm your tone or take you to metal-land when running it into a clean amp. It's much better suited for clean boost through mid-gain overdrive-type tones. Surface mount construction means DIY modifications would be tricky, if not nearly impossible for most people. Conclusions There's a lot to like about the Electro-Harmonix Soul Food Overdrive. It's a fantastic pedal for use as a clean boost, and if your overdrive tastes run towards the transparent side of things, and you prefer to retain the basic tone and timbre of your guitar, then this is a terrific choice. While it's not what I'd recommend first for the heavier musical genres - at least not if you're expecting the pedal to give you all the dirt you require without any assistance from the amp, it also excels at mid-gain overdrive sounds, and depending on what type of amp you use it with and how you have it dialed up, it has enough tonal flexibility to give you additional grit and grind for just about any style of music you're into. Is it a direct clone of a Klon? I couldn't tell you - while I've heard them before and I've had a few opportunities to play through them, I didn't have one on hand to do any direct, side-by-side comparisons. Based on my previous experiences with them, the Soul Food does have a very similar voice, and can be used in the same ways you'd normally use a Klon. Whether or not it's identical really isn't the question as far as I'm concerned anyway - I'm more concerned about what it can do and how it sounds, and the Soul Food deserves to do well based on its own merits. I predict that it will. This is an exceptional sounding overdrive that sells at a price anyone can afford. Tasty tones, huge value, and highly recommended - it's delicious! Resources Musician's Friend EHX Soul Food Overdrive online catalog page ($83.74 MSRP, $62.81 "street") Electro Harmonix Soul Food Overdrive product web page. Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  3. Two legendary names meet in one remarkably affordable USA-built guitar By Phil O'Keefe Gibson's first Melody Maker was released way back in 1959 as a slab mahogany-bodied single pickup guitar designed to make a Gibson electric affordable to budget-minded players. While the Melody Maker has seen multiple versions and variations over the years, they've all generally been very popular, and in many years it was Gibson's best-selling model. The 2014 Gibson Les Paul Melody Maker has two model names, which is a bit confusing, and while aspects of both models are apparent in its design, it retains a Melody Maker's emphasis on value. It is the most affordable Gibson Les Paul model available today. Let's take it for a spin and see how it handles. What You Need To Know The 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker has a mahogany body with a carved (!) maple top. The body is thinner than a standard Les Paul (about the same thickness as a Les Paul Custom Lite or SG Standard), which helps keep the Les Paul Melody Maker's weight down. The rear of the body features a tummy cutout, making it even more comfortable. I was surprised to learn that this Melody Maker / Les Paul has a maple neck. This is rather interesting, since most Les Pauls and even Melody Makers in the past have had mahogany necks. The neck has a rounded 50s profile. Being relatively short-fingered, I usually prefer Gibson's 60s SlimTaper neck profile, but while it's a bit larger than I normally look for, the shape and overall contour of the neck are very comfortable. The neck has a nice rosewood fretboard, with 22 cryogenically-treated medium-jumbo frets, a 24.75" scale length and 12" fingerboard radius. The cryogenic treatment is said to give the frets longer life, making them stronger without being harder, with increased resistance to abrasive wear. The neck position marker inlays are acrylic dots, with white dots on the side of the fingerboard. As with all of Gibson's 2014 guitars, there's a distinctive inlay at the 12th fret commemorating Gibson's 120th anniversary. The nut is a low friction TekToid unit, and the nut slots are cut with the assistance of the PLEK system. The tuners are white button Klusons, which give the guitar a bit of vintage-inspired flair. They hold their tune fine, and turn smoothly. The gear ratio is 14:1. The headstock is a full-sized Gibson style and shape, and not the thinner, straight-sided version seen on most previous Melody Maker models. The bell-shaped truss rod cover is stamped "MELODY MAKER", while the headstock has a traditional "Les Paul Model" logo silkscreened in gold, which matches the gold silkscreened Gibson logo at the top of the headstock. The review unit is finished in what Gibson calls Charcoal Satin. It's a pleasing color; a very dark smooth matte satin grey. For some reason, this color is slightly less expensive than the other color options, which cost an extra $50 "street" price. In addition to Charcoal, it's also offered in TV Yellow Satin, Wine Red Satin and Manhattan Midnight Satin. Unlike some previous Melody Maker models, there are no wood pores visible in the finish. The 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker's Charcoal Satin finish extends to the back, and up the back of the neck, giving it a very uniform appearance. I found the "feel" of the finish quite smooth and comfortable, and not the least bit sticky, even when playing it with sweaty hands. The bridge is a one piece Lightning Bar wrap-around unit with a satin chrome finish that visually ties in well with the satin finish of the guitar. It has pre-set, non-adjustable saddles built-in, so the intonation adjustment is relatively limited, and can only be done by adjusting the two allen screws on either end of the bridge. Fortunately, the intonation was excellent straight out of the box. The pickups are a P-90ST in the bridge and a P-90SR in the neck position. They are both top-mounted "soap bars" with black plastic covers and individual, non-adjustable AlNiCo V "slug" magnets instead of the adjustable polepieces and bar magnets of most P-90 pickups. They are based on a version of the P-90 that was originally used on the ES-125 from 1946 to 1950. The sound of the pickups is similar to, but a bit brighter and crisper than other P90s you might be familiar with, and the pickups snarl and growl in a very cool way when used with a overdrive pedal or cranked-up amp. Want warmer tones? Use the neck pickup, or just roll down one of the tone knobs a bit. While I'd characterize this guitar as leaning towards the brighter side of things, it does offer a variety of cool sounding tones. The three-way pickup selector switch is from Switchcraft, and it is positioned in the traditional Les Paul location above the neck, as opposed to being pickguard-mounted like on most earlier two-pickup Melody Maker models. It's more work in the building process, with more routing involved to put it where it is on the 2014 model, but I think it looks cooler and it is much less likely to get in the player's way than a pickguard-mounted switch is. In another departure from traditional Melody Maker specs, the 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker model has two volume and two tone controls, as you'd expect to find on a two pickup Les Paul model. The potentiometers are 500k units with a non-linear response, which makes them very fast and easy to adjust. The new Supreme Grip speed knobs have indentations in the top edges that make them easier to grab and manipulate, as well as larger numbers that are easier to see. The output jack is mounted on the side of the guitar, like you'll find on a standard Les Paul. While most Melody Makers in the past have had pickguard-mounted output jacks, I greatly prefer the 2014 model's configuration. Again, it's more work to build it this way, but it's out of the player's way. The new 2014 Gibsons now ship with Cleartone coated strings. Regardless of your personal opinions regarding coated strings (and I like the feel of these strings), they offer superior corrosion resistance and longer life over traditional strings, and that means the chances of you having a decent first encounter with the Les Paul Melody Maker in the store are greater, even if it's been on display for a couple of weeks and auditioned by multiple players. After all, no one likes trying out a guitar with grimy, rusted-out strings. The new, larger sized aluminum strap buttons are yet another nice touch. They're big enough that it was a bit more difficult to attach my strap to the guitar, but the upside to that is that it's less likely to come off accidentally. I'll gladly take that tradeoff. At this price, expecting a hardshell case would be pretty unreasonable, and while one is not included, Gibson does toss in a very nice gig bag. It's a USA-built Gibson, and it comes with their standard limited lifetime warranty. Limitations You're somewhat limited in terms of string gauges. Not that the guitar wouldn't handle significantly heavier (or thinner) strings, but you may have issues with getting the intonation dialed in as precisely as you can by sticking with the stock string gauges, which are 0.09 - 0.46. Although the overall setup on the guitar was good, I did notice a bit of minor buzzing on the first few frets when playing unplugged. If you're bothered by that, since the stock action is quite low, it could probably be raised slightly to cure the buzz without adversely affecting the playability or action too much. It's a non-issue and inaudible when the guitar is being amplified If you have small hands, or prefer the more svelte SlimTaper neck profile, you may not find the neck suitable to your preferences. Even still, as someone with short fingers, I actually found it quite comfortable to play - much more so than I was expecting. Yes, it's a rounded 50s profile, but it's very playable, and the extra beef in the neck is bound to be a contributor to the solid tuning stability and overall tone of this guitar. Conclusions The combination of nice features and low price is always attractive to players, which is probably why the Melody Maker has been such a success over the years. Toss in light weight and good balance, coupled with the sound of the updated P90s and a ton of Les Paul-type features, and you've got a real cool USA-built guitar that practically anyone can afford, and more importantly, that you'd actually be proud to own. I love the traditional Les Paul "look" of this guitar, with the single cutaway body shape and carved top, all four knobs, the switch in the upper position, and the traditional full-sized Gibson headstock. I was worried that intonation would be an issue with the minimal adjustment offered by the compensated wraparound bridge, but the factory intonation was spot on, and outside of some minor buzzing, it all worked and sounded great right out of the box. Some are going to say that the Gibson 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker is not "really" a Melody Maker because it lacks this feature or that, or because it has this feature or that which Melody Makers have traditionally not had, but to me, that's quibbling, especially since the 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker gives you much more than most previous Melody Makers have. Besides, the core essence of the Melody Maker has always been USA-made quality coupled with maximum affordability and value, and this guitar nails that in spades. Had Gibson decided to call this a Les Paul Junior or Special, which in many ways it is, I wouldn't have questioned it. Some may have complained about the maple neck and satin finish, since most Juniors and Specials have traditionally sported mahogany necks and gloss finishes, but outside of that, the essentials of a good two-pickup Junior or Special are all here, but it's priced like a Melody Maker. That adds up to a ton of value in my book - especially since this thing smokes any of the earlier Melody Makers I've tried. Grab one before Gibson comes to their senses and raises the price by 50%. Resources Musician's Friend Gibson 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker online catalog page ($999.00 - $1,089.00 MSRP, depending on color, $569.00 - $620.00 "street") Gibson's 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker product page Gibson Les Paul Melody Maker demo video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UNLkfXAB2Q Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  4. Sure you can glue it directly to the walls, but there are less permanent, and less damaging options By Phil O'Keefe Acoustic foam isn't a cure-all; it won't "soundproof" your room and keep you from bothering your neighbors, and it's ineffective at absorbing bass frequencies, but it does have its uses - it's excellent for eliminating mid and high frequency flutter echo, and when used appropriately and in conjunction with various other acoustic tools, it can significantly improve the sound within a room. But mounting foam can be challenging. It's limp and not self-supporting. Gluing the foam directly to the walls is a commonly-taken approach, but as anyone who has ever had to remove it can tell you, gluing it up makes it very difficult to remove the foam later (prying it up with a wide-blade putty knife and a lot of effort is your best bet), and it causes significant damage to the wall surface, making it an undesirable approach for renters. Less Destructive Alternatives Whether you own or rent, there are several different ways you can mount acoustic foam that won't cause anywhere near the level of damage that directly gluing the foam to the walls does. Let's take a look at a few of them. One alternative approach is to glue the acoustic foam to a backing panel, such as a sheet of 1/8" Lauan plywood or MDF board, then hang the backing board from the wall with the anchors of your choice - nails, screws, hooks, picture wire, etc. Inexpensive wood products can go for as little as $7 for a 4' x 8' sheet, making them a cost-effective backing material. It is also easy to work with, and can be easily cut with a jigsaw. If you don't have a jigsaw or a truck big enough to carry a 4' x 8' piece of wood, many lumber and large home improvement stores will cut sheets into quarters for you, making it easier to transport, and the same general size as a piece of 2' x 4' acoustic foam. Of course, foam can also be cut, but don't try to use a jigsaw or a utility knife - it will tear. An electric carving knife is the tool of choice for cutting acoustic foam cleanly. Before mounting the foam to the wood, you may want to use some flat black paint to paint the side edges of the wood so it blends in visually with the foam. Fasteners There are a couple of ways to mount foam without using a backing material, and without gluing it directly to the wall. Do you have any "coasters" sitting around? Old CD-Rs are fast becoming a thing of the past, but if you still have some unwanted CDs that you're willing to sacrifice, they can be glued to the upper-rear corners of a sheet of acoustic foam and once dry, they can be used to hang the foam on to a pair of thumbtacks inserted into the wall, and spaced equidistant to the CD centers on the wall. Large T-pins are sometimes suggested as an alternative to glue, and they can work well for hanging acoustic foam on walls too (like the CD approach, they're less effective for ceiling mounting), but a typical 2' x 4' sheet of foam will usually require anywhere from four to eight pins to hold it up, so there's going to be a lot of holes to patch later if the foam is removed. Still, this is far less damaging to the walls than glue is. However, I feel that when it comes to studio walls, minimizing the holes is a good idea - anything that compromises the wall integrity and air-tightness should be avoided whenever possible to help maintain the wall's STC effectiveness. If you want to use T-Pins, push a few through the valleys in the foam and into the wall just far enough that the top of the "T" presses against the foam and holds it in position. If you're willing to make slightly larger holes in the wall, you can try using Monkey Hooks to mount your acoustic foam. Monkey Hooks (and the thicker and stronger Gorilla Hooks) are curved steel wires that you insert into the wall by hand, and that can support 35 or 50 pounds per hook, depending on the version you buy. The interesting part as far as hanging foam is the shape - once into the wall, you have a strong, upwards-facing hook that can be embedded directly into the foam. Use at least a pair of hooks, and you can secure it directly into place, with the acoustic foam hanging impaled on the hooks. Mounting the foam this way is easy - use two to four well-spaced Monkey Hooks where you want to place the foam, and then push the foam slightly downwards and into the hooks as you push it against the wall. Two hooks are usually enough for a 2' x 4' foam panel, while larger 4' x 4' foam sheets may require more hooks. Foam, Panels, Hooks and Space What about spacing the foam away from the walls as you'll sometimes hear being recommended for compressed fiberglass-based acoustic panels? Yes, there are ways to move the acoustic foam away from the wall a bit if you want to, and doing so offers similar benefits to spacing a fiberglass panel out a bit. The reason you may want to mount the absorptive material a few inches from the wall is because you'll get increased absorption at lower frequencies than if you mount the absorptive material directly to the wall. How far should you space it? A good starting point is the thickness of the material. If it's 2" foam, try spacing it 2" from the wall. You can space it further away if you have enough room, and 4" away is going to be even better at absorbing lower frequencies than 2" is. Of course, using even thicker fiberglass or foam and greater spacing distance only increases the absorption at lower frequencies, and that's almost always a "good thing" in small rooms; where mid and high frequencies are much easier to absorb and control, and low frequency absorption is almost always insufficient, so if you have the space for 4" thick sheets of foam spaced 4" away from the walls, that's usually going to be even better still. A flat backing board is fine for mounting the foam directly against the wall, but for panels that you wish to space a few inches away from the wall, a solid backing is not recommended - both sides of the absorptive material should be open to the sound, so it passes through it both as it enters, and again as it reflects off the wall behind it. Instead of using a solid panel as a backing, cut out sections of the plywood or MDF craft board so that it creates an open-back on most of the panel. A jigsaw was used to cut out large sections of the panel backing while leaving enough to glue to the recycled acoustic foam Two smaller pieces of foam can be glued together (I used 3M High-Strength 90 spray adhesive) to form a spacer, and then the spacers can be glued directly to the back of the panel, so that when the panel is hung from the wall, the foam spacers hold the panel and main foam sheets out a few inches away from the wall. In the panels pictured below, I used 2 x 2" lumber, wood screws, and Liquid Nails adhesive to pair two 2' x 4' MDF backing panels together, and then I glued Auralex 2" Studiofoam recycled from a previous glued-to-the-wall installation to the front. I used eye hooks screwed directly into the 2 x 2 as mounting hooks to hang the resulting 4' x 4' panel from two Monkey Hooks embedded into the wall. A dab of caulk at the base of each Monkey Hook keeps the wall airtight. Foam in the Corner? What about mounting foam across the room's corners? You can use it for that too, but as with fiberglass, the thicker the foam for this application, the better - especially if you're trying to absorb below 200Hz. Four-inch thick foam is the minimum I'd recommend for use in the corners. Building the corner frame is similar to the flat panel frames. You'll want to use a jigsaw to remove much of the center of the backing panel as you can while still leaving enough to attach the foam to. As before, 2 x 2 lumber glued and screwed across the top and bottom provide a bit more structural strength while also serving as the anchor for the mounting hardware - which in this case consists of a couple of eye bolts - one inserted into the center of the top 2 x 2, and another in the wall's corner. A couple of extra-long (14") nylon zip ties chained together, looped through the bolts and pulled tight is all that's needed to support the panel, while a few foam-filled vinyl pads (felt pads work just as well) applied to the ends of the wood provide protection to keep the wood from scratching the walls. Again, you can put a dab of caulk around the base of the wall-mounted eye bolt to keep things airtight. Eye bolts and zip ties will easily hold a 4" thick 2' x 4' acoustic foam panel in place in the corner... Well, there's some suggestions for mounting foam in a way that does far less less damage to your walls, increases the foam's acoustic effectiveness, and that allows you to quickly and easily take your acoustic foam panels with you and reuse them again if you ever relocate. I'm sure you can think of more ways to mount and utilize acoustic foam, and if you do, please stop in at the Studio Trenches forum (http://www.harmonycentral.com/t5/Phil-O-Keefe-In-The-Studio/bd-p/acapella-57) and tell us about them. And stay tuned for my next Technique article, which will cover where specifically in the room to place your foam panels for the best results. Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  5. Guitars get a lot of attention, but the amps are important too By Phil O'Keefe Electric guitars are nothing without amplification, and the amplifier brand most closely associated with The Beatles is Vox. Early in their career, Beatles manager Brian Epstein made a "handshake" endorsement deal with Vox amplifiers, and they were used exclusively in public by The Beatles until his death in August of 1967. Models that they used include the famous AC-15 and AC-30 all-tube amplifiers, as well as the more powerful AC-50 units that John and George used for the first Ed Sullivan Show performance. Paul originally used a Vox T-60 bass amplifier, but soon found an AC-100 head and 2x15" speaker cabinet more to his liking, and this is the amplifier he used on the first Ed Sullivan Show appearance. The more powerful 50 and 100 watt models were especially useful on-stage, where by this time, The Beatles were finding it difficult to hear themselves over the screams of their fans. The AC-30 remained popular with the band for studio use even after they moved to larger amps for touring, and versions of the AC-15 and AC-30 are still made by Vox today. By 1966, the Beatles were also using Vox UL4120 120 watt bass amps, and Vox UL730 30 watt and UL7120 120 watt guitar amplifiers, which were used in the recording of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. The unique sound of these amps is apparent in several places on both of these landmark albums. A good example of the sound of the 730 can be heard on Revolver's She Said She Said. The 4120 lacked the footswitchable fuzz circuit, and the vibrato and reverb effects of the 730 and 7120, but all UL series amps featured solid state preamps, and tube power amplifier sections. During the Sgt. Pepper era, Paul also owned a Selmer Thunderbird Twin 50 Mark II all-tube amp, which he used for his solo on Good Morning Good Morning and guitar parts on Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite. Other amps that they were known to have owned include a Tweed Fender Deluxe that John used in the Hamburg and Cavern Club days, a Gibson GA-40 that George used in the same era, and a Fender Showman. In the studio starting in 1965, McCartney also frequently used a blonde 1964 Fender Bassman amplifier when recording. This amplifier was also sometimes pressed into service for use with guitar too, making it one of their most favored and highly-used studio amps in the middle and later Beatles years. The Beatles were given a silverface Fender Twin and a matching silverface Deluxe Reverb by Don Randall of Fender in 1968, and these amplifiers were used on a lot of their later material, including sessions for Abbey Road. Three late 1968 "drip edge" silverface Twin Reverbs and a Bassman head with a 2x12" cabinet can also be seen in use on the Apple "rooftop" performance in Let It Be, which was filmed on January 30, 1969. Today Fender makes a reissue version of both the silverface Deluxe Reverb and Twin Reverb amps. Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  6. Countless people started playing guitar because of the Beatles - here's what they used By Phil O'Keefe When the Beatles auditioned for Decca Records shortly before signing to EMI's Parlophone label in mid 1962, they were turned down and told that "guitar groups are on the way out." Little did the Decca executives realize at the time that guitar groups - and guitars in general - were about to become more popular than they had ever been, as a direct result of the band that they had just rejected. By early 1964, after signing to EMI and conquering the UK and Europe, and with a number one song on the American charts, the Beatles were ready to invade America's living rooms on a popular national TV program. When John Lennon made his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964, he was playing a 1958 Rickenbacker 325 Capri. The 325 featured a short (20 3/4") scale length. John's 325 appears solid, but like all Rickenbacker 325's, it is actually a hollowbody guitar. As one of the earliest 325's made, Lennon's has a solid top; most later 325 models featured a soundhole. John received a second Rickenbacker 325 in mid-February of 1964; just in time to be used on their second Ed Sullivan Show appearance. It quickly became his main guitar, with the first 325 being largely retired after that. John also had a one of a kind Rickenbacker 325/12 that he was given by Rickenbacker in March of 1964 and that he used on the recording of the song "Every Little Thing." John also owned a Framus Hootenanny, a German-built 12 string acoustic guitar which made several appearances on the Help! and Rubber Soul album sessions, including prominent use on You've Got To Hide Your Love Away. George Harrison also used Rickenbacker guitars early in his career, having purchased a 425 in September of 1963 while on vacation in the USA visiting his sister Louise. While sick with the flu in a New York City hotel room in February of 1964, he was being interviewed over the phone by a local radio station, and simultaneously trying out a new Rickenbacker 360/12 12-string electric that the rest of the Beatles had been checking out at another nearby hotel and brought back for him to try. He mentioned this in the phone interview, and the station offered to buy the guitar for him, which lead to some confusion, but the guitar was actually given to him by Rickenbacker. This guitar was the second Rickenbacker 12-string ever built, and would go on to introduce the sound of the 12-string electric to popular music, and saw considerable use on various Beatles recordings, including its significant contribution to the sound of the legendary opening chord of A Hard Day's Night, as well as appearing on songs such as I Call Your Name, I Should Have Known Better, and Ticket To Ride. Rickenbacker still manufacturers the 360/12 model, and George's estate still owns the Rickenbacker 360/12 that he received in February of 1964. George also used several Gretsch guitars in the early days of The Beatles, including a 1957 Duo Jet, as well as Gretsch Country Gentleman and Tennessean models. That first night on Ed Sullivan, George played a his second Gretsch Country Gentleman; a dark brown model with dual flip-up mutes. From 1962 through 1965, Gretsch Country Gentleman and Tennessean models would remain his main 6-string electric guitars, and appear on most of the recordings from that time period. John also briefly used a orange double-cutaway 1963 Gretsch 6120 for the Paperback Writer sessions. In 1966, George began using a 1964 Gibson SG Standard. Equipped with a Maestro vibrato, this guitar was used on the Revolver sessions, and can be seen in the promotional films for Paperback Writer and Rain. Harrison later gave this guitar to Pete Ham of Badfinger. The SG wouldn't be the last Gibson to see notable use with The Beatles. Lucy - the factory-refinished cherry-red 1957 Les Paul that once belonged to John Sebastian of the Loving Spoonful, and later to Rick Derringer (who had Gibson refinish it after the original goldtop finish became worn), was bought by Eric Clapton and given to George Harrison as a gift in August 1968. Less than a month later, Clapton played the solo for While My Guitar Gently Weeps from The White Album on this same Les Paul. Lucy was stolen from George in 1973 and wound up in Mexico, but George was eventually able to get it back. George can be seen playing it in the promotional film for Revolution, and it was also used on Abbey Road and Let It Be. Another guitar that is closely associated with George during that same time period is the famous rosewood Fender Telecaster, which can also be seen in the Let It Be film. Paul McCartney used a sunburst Fender Esquire, a close relative of the Telecaster, for some of his recorded guitar parts, especially on the Sgt. Pepper sessions. This Esquire was a right-handed model that he re-strung and played left-handed. The Beatles even had a few guitars in common that more than one member of the band is known for using. Originally, both John and George had matching Gibson J-160E acoustic-electric guitars, which were purchased in September 1962, but unfortunately, John's was stolen after a Christmas show in December of 1963, and thereafter, both used George's for various recordings, and as a backup guitar on tour. Lennon purchased another J-160E in 1964 to replace the one that was stolen. The sound of the Gibson J-160E is a big part of many early to mid-period Beatles records, and it can be heard feeding back on the introduction of I Feel Fine, and it was also used on songs such as Norwegian Wood, and You're Going To Lose That Girl. Gibson and their Epiphone division still manufacture J-160 guitars today. Another notable early-era acoustic guitar that George used was a Jose Ramirez Classical that can be heard on And I Love Her and Til There Was You, and seen in the film A Hard Day's Night. George later used a Gibson J-200 acoustic, while John stuck with the J-160E and augmented it with a Martin D-28, which he took on the Beatles' trip to India in February 1968, and which saw considerable use on the sessions for the White Album. Paul McCartney also acquired a Martin D-28 in 1968, and used it to record Blackbird. This guitar supplemented his earlier Epiphone Texan acoustic, which he had used on Yesterday. While working on Help!, John and George sent Beatles roadie Mal Evans out with instructions to buy them each a Stratocaster, and he returned with matching 1962 Fender Sonic Blue Strats, which were first put to use on Nowhere Man. These guitars were also used elsewhere on Rubber Soul. John used his less frequently after that, although it did see some use on the Sgt. Pepper LP, while George used his rather more extensively, including for the biting guitar parts on the song Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was later decorated with hand-painted psychedelic artwork by George himself. Nicknamed Rocky, this guitar can be seen with its psychedelic paint job in the Magical Mystery Tour TV special and the All You Need Is Love session. Another model that is closely associated with The Beatles is the Epiphone ES-230 Casino. Paul McCartney was the first Beatle to purchase one, buying a 1962 right-handed Casino in late 1964. This thinline, hollow-bodied guitar was converted for left-handed use and became McCartney's primary electric, and was used by him for the solos on Ticket To Ride, Drive My Car, and Taxman, as well as on other Beatles songs. It remains his favorite electric guitar to this day. George and John soon purchased Casinos of their own. These were used heavily on Revolver. George can also be seen playing his on film clips from Magical Mystery Tour. Lennon's Casino became his main guitar, and he used it almost exclusively from 1966 through the rest of his time with The Beatles. Originally a sunburst, it was later stripped down to a natural finish. It's the guitar responsible for the wickedly distorted guitar parts on the single version of Revolution, and can also be seen on the Paperback Writer / Rain promotional films, as well as throughout the Let It Be film, including the Apple "rooftop" concert performance scenes. Epiphone still makes the Casino today, and it remains a highly popular model. In fact, many of the guitars that were used by the band are still in production, along with many similar models inspired by them - all as a direct result of their lasting influence. Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  7. The Beatles were not just a guitar band - they made extensive use of keyboards too! By Phil O'Keefe While they are often thought of as a "guitar band", the Beatles also used keyboards regularly on their recordings. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney played keyboards on various Beatles songs, and producer George Martin also contributed his keyboard playing to several recordings, including the brilliant Baroque-inspired piano solo (that sounds like a harpsichord) on In My Life. The unique sound of this keyboard part was achieved by recording the piano with the tape deck running at half speed and then playing it back at full speed. Billy Preston also played keyboards on some of their later recordings, including the Rhodes electric piano parts heard throughout the Let It Be album on such songs as Don't Let Me Down and Get Back. The Beatles were always eager to try practically anything in their quest for new and different sounds. John Lennon's use of a Hohner Pianet N electric piano on The Night Before being a good early example. A Hohner Pianet would also later be used on songs such as I Am The Walrus and Revolution. The Mellotron flutes on Strawberry Fields Forever is another classic example of their use of emerging keyboard technology, as was their use of the Moog IIIP synthesizer that can be heard on Abbey Road. The Abbey Road studios were also well-equipped with keyboards, and the Beatles took advantage of that and used them on several recordings. The studio's 1905 Steinway Vertegrand upright, which was nicknamed the Mrs Mills piano by the studio staff, was kept slightly out of tune, and that, coupled with its lacquer-hardened hammers, gives it a very distinctive "old-time" sound that was used on many songs, including the piano parts on Lady Madonna and She's A Woman. The studio's Lowrey DSO-1 Heritage Deluxe Organ was used for the harpsichord-like sounds on Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, the organ parts on Sun King, as well as for some of the organ sounds on Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite. Abbey Road's Mannborg Harmonium was featured prominently on We Can Work It Out, and the studio's Steinway D grand piano was used on several songs, as was their Hammond RT-3 tone wheel organ - a close relative of their more famous B-3 model. Leslie speakers were also used by the Beatles - not only paired with organs, but to process everything from guitars (You Never Give Me Your Money) to vocals (Tomorrow Never Knows). George used Leslie speakers to amplify his guitars fairly often, and it became a easily-recognized component of his later-era Beatles guitar sound. Other keyboard instruments that they used included harpsichord (Fixing A Hole, Piggies), Moog IIIP Modular synthesizer (used on several songs on Abbey Road), Baldwin Combo Electric Harpsichord (Because), Celeste (Baby It's You, Fool On The Hill, Good Night), Clavioline (Baby You're A Rich Man), Clavichord (For No One) and a Vox Continental organ, which John Lennon played on I'm Down. Short of purchasing a ton of hard-to-find vintage keyboards, today the easiest route to similar sounds is through virtual instruments. Propellerhead offers their Abbey Road Keyboards Reason ReFill Collection, which includes samples for Reason of several of the actual Abbey Road studio keyboards. There is also Fab Four, a virtual instrument from EastWest with samples of Beatles-era instruments recorded on original EMI equipment by former Beatles Engineer Ken Scott. Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  8. Ringo's Drums and Percussion: Driving the Beat A look at the drums that propelled the world's greatest band by Phil O'Keefe When it comes to drummers, probably no one could have been a better "fit" for the Beatles than Ringo Starr. Able to play in a variety of styles and always rock-solid and ready to go, take after take, he was the ideal anchor for the band. The unique "feel" of Ringo's drum fills can be partially attributed to Ringo being a left-handed player who played with a right-handed kit; he tended to start his fills with his left hand, making them rather unique. With The Beatles, Starr originally used a Premier Mahogany Duroplastic drum kit which he acquired in 1960. This is the kit that was used on the earliest Beatles recordings from 1962, including their first album, Please Please Me. He switched to a four piece (kick drum, snare and two toms) Ludwig Downbeat kit in June of 1963. Originally the drummer for fellow Liverpool-based band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, he left that group to join the Beatles, where he replaced original drummer Pete Best in mid-August of 1962. He played various Ludwig kits throughout the rest of his career with The Beatles, and was known to be fond of Ludwig's Oyster Black Pearl finish. By the time of their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Ringo was on his second Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl "Downbeat" drum kit, with the 14"x20" bass drum featuring the now-iconic Beatles "Drop-T" logo, and with a 5.5"x14" snare, 8"x12" rack tom, and 14"x14" floor tom rounding out the kit. In late1968 Ringo switched to a five piece Ludwig Maple "Hollywood" drum kit (14"x22" bass drum, 5.5x14" snare, 8"x12" rack tom, 9"x13" rack tom, 16"x16" floor tom), which was used on the famous Apple "Rooftop" performance as seen in the film Let It Be. It can also be heard on Abbey Road, including its use on The End, which is the only song Ringo played a drum solo on while with the Beatles. Ringo used other cymbals early in his career, but soon became an endorser of Zildjian cymbals, which he continues to use to this day. He now also has his own Zildjian Artist Series 5A sized drum sticks. While the details about his exact cymbal models for specific songs remains largely limited and unconfirmed, Ringo Starr typically used cymbals from Zildjian's "A Zildjian" line, including 14" hi-hats, and 18" and 20" cymbals. Several photos show him using a 20" 4-rivet "sizzle" cymbal from as early as 1963, and continuing throughout his time with the Beatles. In addition to drums, Ringo also played a wide variety of percussion instruments on many Beatles recordings, from hand percussion such as tambourine and maracas to hand drums such as bongos (You're Going To Lose That Girl) and congas (A Day In The Life), and even orchestral percussion instruments such as timpani, as heard on Every Little Thing, and orchestral bells, which he can be heard playing on When I'm Sixty-Four.This kind of sweetening was crucial to the overall sound of several of their recordings. Paul McCartney also played drums on a couple of Beatles songs, including The Ballad of John and Yoko and Back In The USSR. __________________________________________________ Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  9. Does Deering's most affordable professional-grade banjo measure up to professional expectations? By Phil O'Keefe The Deering Banjo Company is an American small business success story, having been started as a family-operated business by Greg and Janet Deering in Southern California back in the mid 1970s. They have become one of the most recognized and respected banjo manufacturers in the world, with lines that include Vega, Deering, Tonebrook and Goodtime banjos, all of which are still hand-built in the USA. Their latest instrument is the Eagle II, a model that is designed as an affordable professional-grade banjo. Let's see how well it measures up to professional standards. What You Need To Know The Eagle II is Deering's newest and most affordable professional-grade resonator 5-string banjo, but just because it's affordable, that doesn't mean they took quality shortcuts. Nor is it an imported instrument - as with their other banjos, it's made just outside of San Diego in Spring Valley California USA. The Eagle II has an unbound maple neck that is finished with a dark red mahogany stain and a high-gloss finish. There are 22 pressed-in nickel-silver frets on the natural ebony fretboard. The scale length is 26 1/4". The neck features Deering's slender neck shape. It measures 1 1/4" wide at the nut, and is extremely comfortable to play. The neck also has the original Deering Eagle engraved inlays. Additional inlays adorn the headstock. The workmanship on the inlays is first-rate; as hard as I tried, I couldn't find any flaws or filler used to fill gaps around them. The Eagle II has smooth planetary tuners, and a geared fifth string peg. Tuning stability is excellent. The Eagle II has a violin-grade three-ply maple rim, and 24 brackets. It utilizes Deering's own Twenty-Ten™ tone ring, a new and patent-pending design that Deering says contributes significantly to the Eagle II's expressive and versatile tonality. The Eagle II uses Deering's True Tone tailpiece. The Eagle II has a slender nickel plated shaped armrest. The resonator is 13 7/8" in diameter, and also made from maple, with the same dark red mahogany stain and high gloss finish as the neck. It is also double-bound, which I think looks really classy. The setup straight out of the case was perfect, and no adjustments were needed. The action is admirably low making this banjo super easy to play. The 11" top frosted head was expertly tensioned, and the two piece maple and ebony bridge well cut and properly positioned so that intonation was right on the money. Speaking of the case, it's included with the Eagle II, and very nice. There is a large gold Deering logo on the outside, and the inside is very plush and well padded. I think the green lining of the case looks really cool. The quality of the nickel plated hardware is also quite good. Deering has a well-earned reputation for building solid instruments, and the Eagle II is only going to reinforce that. Deering stands behind the Eagle II 5-String banjo with a limited lifetime warranty. A left-handed version is also available for a slight additional charge. Limitations The fret position indicators on the side of the neck are relatively small, and not as readily visible as I would have preferred. There are no pre-installed spikes for the 5th string at the 7th, 9th and 10th frets on the review unit. However, Deering does offer this as an option for an additional $39. Conclusions This Deering Eagle II is built like a tank. At ten pounds, it's not particularly heavy by professional banjo standards, but it has a definite aura of quality and durability to it. The items I mentioned under limitations are really minor quibbles, and the spikes can be easily added later, or ordered with the banjo for a slight additional cost, while the visibility of the side dots is probably not that bad for younger players with better eyes than I have. The Deering Eagle II is an excellent multi-purpose banjo that works well for playing in a variety of styles, including Bluegrass and Clawhammer. The tone is warm and full, with plenty of bass and great projection and more than ample volume. The highs are bright and crisp without being strident or overbearing, but it is the midrange of this banjo that is of particular note - it's punchy and present, with a unique and very cool voice. Sustain is also very good. Playing closer to the neck results in a rounder sound, as you might expect, while rolls played near the bridge snap and chime wonderfully. It's definitely a flexible banjo, with a sound that works very well with a variety of playing styles and across multiple genres. This is the kind of banjo that makes a great long-term companion for the serious player; and by "long-term", I mean "lifetime partner." Sure, there are fancier banjos on the market, but the Eagle II has enough beautiful inlay, binding, and sparkling nickel-plated hardware to stand tall even in comparison to other high-end banjos, and more importantly, professional-grade sound and build quality that will delight its owners and audiences for years to come. It's certainly worthy of your consideration if you're ready to move up to a truly professional-grade instrument that can serve well in a variety of genres. It's a delightful banjo. Resources $2,549.00 MSRP, $2,119.00 "street" Deering's Eagle II web page http://www.deeringbanjos.com/products/eagle-ii-5-string-banjo Deering Banjo's web site http://www.deeringbanjos.com/ Deering Banjo's Eagle II demo video: Harmony Central Review Preview - Deering Eagle II 5-string resonator banjo Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  10. Selecting the best option for tracking your electric bass By Phil O'Keefe The importance of bass in modern recordings can't be over-stated. Bass players can achieve a surprising number of different sounds and timbres; everything from the deep boom of a dub bass, to the bright percussive attack of slap bass--the instrument can cover so much sonic territory that it's impossible to provide the stylistic and tonal recipe for every type of sound in a single article, but what we can do is cover the basics to help you capture your sound. HAVE A SOUND IN MIND AND USE THE APPROPRIATE GEAR Decide first of all on the type of sound you're going for. The sound starts at, and is only as good as the source, so use a good quality instrument that is properly intonated and set up. Use fresh, roundwound strings if you want a bright, full-frequency modern sound, and flatwounds if you're tastes lean more towards vintage Motown and 60s rock tones. Remember that different bass models have very characteristic sounds; Rickenbacker, Hofner, Fender and Gibson basses will all sound different, and if you're looking for the sound of one particular model, then the best way to get it is to use that bass. You'll also want to use the appropriate picking technique (pick, fingers, thumb or slapping) and pickups and settings on the bass for the type of sound you're after. RECORDING: FOUR MAIN METHODS There are four primary methods that are commonly used today to capture the sound of the electric bass: Direct (also known as DI or Direct Input) Direct with amp simulation hardware or software Miked bass amp Various combinations are also frequently used; for example, a direct input and a miked amp are often recorded simultaneously Here are some details of each method: Direct without anything. If your recorder or computer audio interface has a HighZ (high-impedance) input, you can plug the output of your bass or effects pedals directly into it and record direct with no additional hardware. If you don't have a HighZ input, then you can use a Direct Box. These convert the bass signal's impedance so it can be recorded through a mic or line input on a audio interface or mixing console. Process the recording with a bit of plugin compression and EQ, and you can get very solid bass tones. Direct with amp simulation software, such as Avid Eleven LE, Line 6 Pod Farm or IK Multimedia's Ampeg SVX (Fig. 1). Plug the bass into a a direct box or your HighZ input, and then process that signal with the amp sim software. Some programs have low-latency modes that allow you to monitor the processed audio while you record. You can also record a DI, then duplicate the recorded "direct" track, and use one copy "unaffected" while processing the second copy with the amp sim software; then blend the two signals together in the mix for interesting "combination" tones. Fig. 1: Software amp simulation plugins such as IK Multimedia's Ampeg SVX can give your bass the sound and character of a miked amp. Direct through an amp simulation pedal or desktop modeling box such as the SansAmp VT Bass, DigiTech BP355 or Boss GT-10B. Depending on the output level and impedance of the particular unit, you may have to plug into a HighZ input or regular line input - check your product's manual to be sure. Using a hardware amp modeler gives your direct recording the "coloration" of a bass amp and speaker cabinet, but as with a "real" amp, and unlike software, once you record the sound, you can not change it. Miked Bass Amp. The basic principles are similar to those I covered in my Guitar Amp Miking 101 article. For a brighter sound, aim the mic directly at the center of the speaker's dustcap (Fig. 2). Fig. 2: Aiming the mic at the center of the speaker's dustcap will give you a bright, articulate sound. As you move out towards the edge of the speaker, the sound will become rounder and warmer. (Fig. 3) Some bass amp cabinets contain small tweeters. Depending on their location, moving the mic towards the edge of the cone closest to the tweeter can actually give you a brighter sound than the center dustcap position. You can put a second mic on the tweeter if you need additional brightness. Record it to a separate track so you can adjust the balance of the woofer and tweeter when you do the final mix. In general, large diaphragm dynamic mikes such as Audio-Technica ATM250, Sennheiser MD421, Audix D6, Electro-Voice RE20 and AKG D112 are favored for bass amps, although large diaphragm condenser mikes such as the Rode NTK or Neumann TLM 102 can also work well. Fig. 3: Normally, placing the mic at the edge of the speaker cone will give you a warmer, darker sound, but the tweeter in the upper right corner makes this placement sound brighter than it would if the opposite side of the speaker cone was miked instead. Various combinations, such as a miked amp plus a direct input (with or without amp sim processing), or a direct input track plus a track processed by amp simulation hardware or software are often used together. Blending two different sounds can provide tones than neither one can give you on its own. But watch for phase issues when using any "combo" method. I always like to zoom in on my DAW software's waveform display to the start of the first bass note and look at the tracks to see how they align (Fig. 4). Fig. 4: Three bass tracks, recorded simultaneously through an amp, an amp sim pedal, and a DI box. The DI track is out of phase with the other two tracks. It is important to to get all of the bass tracks in-phase by dragging or nudging them into alignment so that their "peaks and valleys" correspond (Fig. 5). This is crucial for bass, because when tracks are out of phase, the low frequencies that are so essential to a good bass recording will cancel out and largely disappear. Fig. 5: The same bass tracks after being dragged into phase alignment. EXTRAS: COMPRESSION, EQ AND EFFECTS Whether or not you should record with compression, EQ and / or effects is as much an artistic decision as it is a technical one. Remember that once a sound is recorded with these, it is impossible to "undo" or remove them; but if you're certain that you like the effect, and you're hearing the sound you want, then by all means, feel free to commit to it and "print" it. If you are at all unsure, you can also simultaneously record a clean DI track to give yourself an unprocessed option in case you change your mind later. Some types of effects that are popular with bass include: Compression - pedal in front of amp / DI or post-tracking via a plugin. EQ - from a pedal, amp sim hardware or software, or plugins. Chorus pedals Envelope filters Octave and synth pedals for extra fat bass lines. The two most commonly used effects for bass are EQ and compression. Before reaching for the mixer EQ or an EQ pedal, I try to get the sound of the bass happening through instrument and pickup selection, mic selection and placement, and the amp settings; I save the final EQ adjustments, if needed, for the mix. The one major exception to that is a high pass filter. High pass filters can be used to get rid of the subsonic "gunk" that robs your mix of clarity and power. For bass, this should be set fairly low; remember that the low E string on a four string bass is 41.20 Hz, and on a five string, the low B string is 30.87 Hz, so depending on which one you're using, you'll usually want to set your filter just below there. Try 30 Hz for five string and 40Hz for four string bass. Compression is another matter. If the player could use some help with evening out the fluctuations in their playing dynamics, you can try a compressor pedal or rackmount compressor with a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio, with a fairly high threshold so it only compresses on the loudest peaks / hardest played notes. Attack time should be fairly short--anything from the fastest setting up to about 20ms. The longer the attack time, the more of the note's initial attack will come through unaffected by the compressor. The release should be set to a moderate time - set it too fast and it will distort, set it too long and the compressor won't release before the next note hits. Try a 100 to 200ms release time and adjust it to taste from there. Remember - you can always add more compression when you mix - this is just to help tame the dynamics a bit and help prevent any unexpected digital clipping or "overs" in your DAW. WHICH METHOD IS RIGHT FOR ME? Which recording methods should you use? That depends on your needs and your situation. If you have a great sounding bass amp, then a microphone might be the ideal way to record your bass tones. If you have cranky neighbors and need to work with headphones, going direct with an amp sim plugin or hardware unit may be a better option. Because of their flexibility, I recommend always recording a direct input, even if you plan on also recording a bass amp or with an amp modeler. Every bass player should have a direct box in their gear bag. Direct input recordings are very useful due to the many different things you can do with them. They can be used "as is" as the source of your bass sound, or adjusted with EQ and compression. They can be processed with an amp sim plugin. They can be used for ReAmping--sending the DI sound out of the computer and through a re-amp box (to convert the level and impedance) and then to effects pedals and a miked bass amplifier; the sound of the amp is recorded to a new, separate track. Experiment with the various approaches to see how each one sounds, then try combining two or three of the methods and blending the tracks together in the final mix. The great thing about recording bass is the number of options we have available today, and no matter what your situation, with a little experimentation, you should be laying down earth shaking bass tracks in no time. Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  11. A long-discontinued classic returns with some interesting twists and an unbelievable price By Phil O'Keefe The Bass VI is an interesting instrument that has elements of a standard bass mixed with elements of a guitar or baritone guitar. Influenced by Fender's Jaguar guitar, it has shared some features with that guitar ever since the Bass VI was slightly restyled after the Jaguar's introduction in 1962. Fender's Bass VI has never been a big seller, although it has had more impact on music than its relatively modest sales figures would suggest, having been used extensively by such players as Jack Bruce of Cream, Robert Smith of The Cure, and Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The Beatles also owned a Bass VI, and George Harrison or John Lennon would often play it on songs where Paul McCartney, their usual bassist, was playing piano or guitar. Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap famously never played his ultra-rare sea foam green Bass VI - and refused to let people even look at it for long. Originally manufactured from 1961 until 1975 and briefly reissued by Fender a couple of times since then (most recently as the Fender Pawn Shop Bass VI), this is the first version of the Bass VI to be released under the Squier brand. Let's take a closer look. What You Need To Know Like a standard four string bass, the Bass VI is tuned an octave lower than standard guitar. The two "extra" (highest) strings are also tuned an octave down from the B and high E strings on a standard guitar. This makes the Bass VI a bit different than many other extended range basses; for example, most five string basses feature a low B string (below the low E) in addition to the standard E A D and G strings of a standard four string bass, giving them the ability to play lower than a standard bass. The Bass VI allows you to play as low as a traditional four string bass, but also higher; well into the baritone guitar range. The Squier Bass VI has a maple neck and a rosewood fingerboard. The scale length is 30", as opposed to the more traditional 34" scale used on the Precision and Jazz Bass models. This makes it very comfortable for musicians with smaller hands, and the shorter scale length eases the transition for players who usually play guitar and who occasionally double on bass. It's a matter of taste, but I think the bound neck and figured pearloid block inlays (first introduced by Fender to the Bass VI way back in 1965 and 1966) look fantastic on this instrument. The neck binding and inlays are skillfully done too. The fact that these labor intensive features are included on such an affordable instrument is pretty astonishing. The color selection is a bit limited; white, black and three-color sunburst being your only choices, with the white and sunburst featuring tortoise shell pickguards, while the black Squier Bass VI sports a white pickguard. The gloss polyurethane finish on the basswood body is very smooth, even, and deep looking on this bass. It's a very nicely done finish, with no spots or blemishes. The setup on this bass was on the mark straight from the box, and only a very small action adjustment was needed to bring the low E string into compliance with the rest of the excellent setup. The pickups are three custom Jaguar single coils with the traditional Jag style shielding claws. The middle pickup is reverse wound / reverse polarity (RW/RP) which means that when you run the middle pickup together with either of the other pickups, it's hum-canceling. The Bass VI features individual on/off slider switches for each of the three pickups. A fourth switch, commonly called a "strangle switch" is similar to the one found on Jaguar guitars, and rolls off a lot of the lows, giving the instrument a thinner, brighter tonality, regardless of which pickups are currently activated. Master volume and tone controls work with all three pickups, and the tone control's range, along with the diverse selection of possible pickup combinations and the bass-cutting "strangle switch" provide a extensive variety of tonal colors, making this a very flexible bass from a sonic standpoint. The added note range offered by the two extra high strings and guitar type tuning arrangement (albeit an octave lower than standard guitar) open new possibilities for you, such as the ability to hit the chord's tonic as a bass player commonly would, while simultaneously chording or playing counterpoint lines on the higher strings. You can cover a LOT of sonic territory with a Bass VI, and smaller groups and duos will appreciate its broad sonic range. Guitarists will adapt to this instrument fairly quickly - it plays and feels like a somewhat oversized guitar - the tuning, longer neck and larger diameter strings certainly give that impression, while the comfortable c-shaped neck profile and shorter than standard bass scale length make it feel faster and more nimble than many other basses, and allow you to fly around the neck quite easily. Likewise, the Bass VI is great for bass players who want to solo; the extended upper range and nimble handling making it well suited for this application. Why let the lead guitar player hog all the soloist glory? As the Vintage Modified part of the name suggests, Squier has made some changes compared to vintage Bass VI specs, and they really do improve the instrument's playability. The neck has a comfortable, modern C-shaped profile, and the fingerboard radius is now a flatter 9.5" instead of the vintage 7.25" radius. This does make the somewhat tricky task of setting up the Bass VI noticeably easier, and it also makes it less likely to buzz. Bending strings is still much more challenging than it is on guitar due to the much larger strings, but they're now less likely to fret out if you do attempt it. Bending and playability are further improved by the 21 well-dressed, larger than vintage sized medium jumbo frets. As with the vibrato tailpiece used on the current Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar and Jazzmaster models, the Floating Tremolo (actually it's a vibrato, but that's what Fender has always called this particular bridge / vibrato design) on the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI uses an unthreaded bar, and lacks the "trem-loc" button found on their Fender cousins. The vibrato system works well and returns to pitch consistently, but it is limited in the amount of pitch variation it can offer. This is not Squier's fault - it's just the nature of the design, along with the effects of the larger, lower-tuned strings. While not something I'd use all the time, it's a fairly unusual feature for a bass, and a lot of fun when used tastefully. Limitations The string spacing on a Bass VI can be a bit annoying for some bass players, or for players with larger fingers and hands. Playing with your right hand fingers (as opposed to using a pick) can be challenging due to the close string spacing. With a 1.650" neck width at the nut and six strings, it feels more like a guitar with really big strings than a bass. The stock strings are thinner than what most bass players would use on a four string bass. In fact, the stock bottom E string could stand to be a touch beefier in my opinion. String gauges (per Squier's site) are listed as .025" to .095", but they felt lighter to me, so out came the calipers - and they actually measure .024" to .084" on the review unit. Some players may prefer heavier strings, such as the gauges that Squier lists on their Vintage Modified Bass VI web page. Heavier strings would also affect the playing feel and string tension in a positive way - particularly for the low E string, which can be a bit floppy feeling compared to the rest of the strings. It may be tempting to think of the Bass VI as an overgrown guitar, and to play bass parts guitaristically, but that's a matter that is ultimately a question of style and musical taste. In fact, some players may decide to modify their Bass VI for higher-pitched, baritone guitar type duties, and the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI would serve as a great platform for such modifications; it would require minimal work to convert it for use as a B-B or A-A tuned baritone guitar. I wish there were a few more custom colors offered - the Bass VI has always been a bit of a rare breed, and custom colored ones like the vintage sea foam green model shown in the movie Spinal Tap are even less common. Don't be surprised if you start seeing some people refinishing these in their favorite vintage Fender custom colors. Conclusions It's hard to describe just how enjoyable and fun this instrument is to play. It sounds like a bass… and a baritone, and it plays nearly as nimbly as a guitar. For guitarists who want or need to occasionally "double" on bass, or who want to have something around that they can use to lay down a quick bass part on their demos with, the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI is terrific. Some traditional four string bass players may lament the close string spacing, but it still offers the modern bassist extended range for soloing and chording, as well as its own unique palate of tonal textures. The Bass VI is one of those highly desirable, but rare beasts from history that, until recently, most people could only dream of owning. If you try a Squier Bass VI, you're probably going to want it. Because of the utility of this instrument, the fun factor, the unbelievably low price, and excellent all-around build quality, I predict that the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI will become, by far, the best selling Bass VI model yet. It's great to see a long-discontinued instrument that has such tremendous appeal and flexibility being offered at this price, and with these useful modern improvements - and yet it still maintains the classic vintage look and vibe of the originals. Kudos to Squier for such an outstanding reinterpretation of the Bass VI, and for bringing back this classic bass at a price that nearly anyone can afford. Resources Musician's Friend Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI online catalog page ($549.99 MSRP, $349.99 "street") Squier's Vintage Modified Bass VI web page Harmony Central Squier Bass VI Review Preview video Squier's Vintage Modified Bass VI YouTube Demo Here's a few additional pictures of the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  12. It's amazing how much a pick can influence your tone by Phil O'Keefe One of the least expensive, and yet most often accessed items in my studio is a small tin box that I keep stocked with a wide variety of different plectrums. Unclaimed picks show up around here all the time, despite my best efforts to find their rightful owners. When they do, I put them in the box. I use an empty cigarette tin, but a empty gum, cookie, biscuit or candy tin or box will work just as well. I've managed to collect quite an assortment of picks in different sizes, shapes, and thicknesses. The types of materials they are made from is equally diverse: nylon, metal, felt, stone, simulated tortoise shell and a dizzying variety of different types of plastic. That little tin box has come in handy not only for the inevitable times when someone shouts out that they "can't find their pick," but also for when I am seeking a different sound or texture on a recording. For example, a thin pick can accentuate the wispiness of a strummed part, and a thick pick can accentuate your note attacks. Different materials can also have noticeably different sonic attributes, and different pick sizes and shapes can change the way you hold the pick, which can also affect the sound. Guitarists and bass players are often creatures of habit, and once we find a pick we like, we tend to stick with it. But don't overlook the variety of new sounds you can get from something other than what you normally use. If you're not in a situation where you "find" picks on a regular basis, try trading picks with some of your friends, or go to your favorite local or online store and spend five or ten dollars on a variety of different picks. Make sure you "mix it up" and get a diverse collection. Then spend a little time trying them out, and take note of how each one sounds and feels. You are bound to find some new sounds; and may even find a new favorite pick in the process. Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  13. Recently revamped, Fender's vintage reissue P-Bass is now even more historically authentic By Phil O'Keefe The Fender Precision Bass, first released back in 1951, was the first commercially successful solid body electric bass. It's the model that really started it all for modern bass players. By 1957, the model had morphed into the modern P-Bass as we know it today, with its famous hum-canceling "split" coil pickup and comfortable tummy cutout and forearm body contours. Further changes occurred over the next couple of years - most notably, the change from an all-maple neck and fingerboard to a maple neck capped with a rosewood "slab" fingerboard in 1959. By 1963, more changes had been made, and further changes were made in the years following the sale of Fender to CBS in 1965, but it's those early basses from the "pre-CBS" era that remain the holy grail for a lot of players. Unfortunately, vintage basses are getting harder to find, and more expensive every year. To address this, Fender started making vintage reissues of some of their most iconic models in 1982. Fender recently revamped their entire American made vintage reissue series, with an eye towards making them even more historically accurate. They've retooled, and where possible, returned to the vintage tooling that was used on the original instruments back in the 1950s and 1960s. This attention to detail has resulted in their most authentic reproductions of those legendary guitars and basses yet. What You Need To Know Fender sought out exemplary "golden" vintage examples of the original '63 P-Bass, and examined and measured them in great detail to serve as the benchmarks for their new American Vintage series models. The pickguard is mint colored, which looks great paired with the Olympic White nitrocellulose lacquer finish on the lightweight alder body. Other colors are also available, including Faded Sonic Blue, Seminole Red and three-color sunburst. The sunburst models come with a 4-ply tortoiseshell pickguard instead of the mint pickguards that are used with the other colors. The nitrocellulose lacquer-finished maple neck is evenly and subtly flamed, and it looks gorgeous. 1963 marked the introduction of the laminated rosewood fingerboard on Fender basses, which replaced the earlier slab style fingerboards. True to the vintage originals from 1963, the American Vintage '63 Precision Bass features the round, laminated rosewood board, which is actually more labor intensive than the slab style board to make. The fretboard radius is the vintage correct 7.25", while the 20 frets are also the smaller vintage-approved style and size. Fender used to offer four different optional neck widths for various models. These were called A, B, C, and D, and measured roughly 1.5" (A-width), 1.625" (B-width; probably the most common), 1.75" (C-width), and 1.875" (D-width) at the nut. These neck widths should not be confused with the neck profile - the way the back of the neck is curved or shaped - which is typically described as V-shaped, D-shaped, U-shaped, or C-shaped. The American Vintage '63 P-Bass has a C-shaped neck profile. The width of the American Vintage '63 Precision Bass most closely matches the traditional C-width. At 1.740" wide (measured at the bone nut), the new '63 P-Bass has a slightly wider neck, but it's not unbearably thick - even with my fairly short and stubby fingers, it felt fairly comfortable, especially by P-Bass standards. I'll admit I'm generally more of a Jazz Bass kind of guy, but I must say that the neck on this bass, while by no means small, is very "playable." It has a very comfortable feeling profile. One of the more glaring cosmetic flaws in the earlier reissues was the look of the material used for the neck's dot inlays. Typically, they were stark white, which is an instant visual cue that you're looking at a reissue and not an original. Thankfully, Fender has addressed this with the revamped reissues, making them look a lot closer to the vintage "clay dots." The pickup is a re-voiced classic hum-cancelling split single-coil unit. Volume and tone controls with chrome flat-top knobs and a pickguard mounted 1/4" output jack round out the electronics. The tone is classic vintage Fender P-Bass, with a deep, powerful and clear fundamental tone, and a throaty growl when pushed. In a nutshell, this bass sounds great! The vintage style four saddle bridge features threaded steel "barrel" saddles. The stock strings are roundwounds. The strings are "top mounted" and anchor at the back of the bridge, as opposed to going through the body. Nickel / Chrome bridge and pickup covers come pre-mounted on the Vintage '63 Precision Bass. Back in the day, we used to call them "ashtrays" since they were typically removed from the bass and somewhat resembled them when they were stored in the case, and could serve as one in a pinch. While a lot of players will probably still decide to remove them, it's cool that Fender is including them with the American Vintage models. The accessory pack on this bass is as good as anything I've seen in quite a while. Not only do you get the usual assortment of hang tags, you also get vintage style recreations of the original manuals, a vintage style strap, and lots of other cool "case candy." Fender even thoughtfully includes a 1/4" cable. The vintage-style orange plush lined G&G case is quite nice. It fits the bass very well, and the cream Tolex exterior with contrasting black ends looks really sharp. A small Fender logo near the handle is the only visual clue to what lies inside. The tuning machines on this bass are the vintage correct "reverse" open gear design. According to Fender, their "flash coat" finishing uses a 100\% nitrocellulose lacquer "flash" topcoat over the 100\% nitro sealer and color coats, and this final flash topcoat gives the guitar "a more authentically vintage appearance." The nitrocellulose lacquer finish on the American Vintage '63 Precision Bass is admirably thin, and does indeed have a great vintage-approved visual vibe to it. Limitations It's a P-Bass, and that means the neck is probably not the first choice for players with smaller hands. While it's still comfortably playable, a thinner Jazz Bass neck may be more appropriate for those who have smaller hands. The reverse of that is also true. If you have average to larger-sized hands, you're probably really going to love the neck on this bass. Nitrocellulose lacquer finishes require a bit more care than urethane or polyester finishes. You'll need to use caution when taking the Fender American Vintage '63 Precision Bass out of the case whenever it has been stored in a cold car trunk or similar location, or you'll risk causing small cracks in the finish called "checking." A large red tag on the outside of the case cautions you about the dangers of exposing the bass to temperature extremes. The American Vintage '63 Precision Bass has a thin 100\% nitrocellulose lacquer sealer coat. This provides a less "smooth" base for the color and clear top coats than some other sealers that have been used in the past, and very fine imperfections due to the texture of the underlying wood are more likely to be seen in the final finish. The finish is very nice on this bass, but don't expect the same level of smoothness that you sometimes see with thicker polyester and urethane finishes. Because of the way it completely covers the anchor point for the top-mounted strings, the bridge cover will need to be removed to change them. It's not a huge deal, and many players will opt to leave the cover off all the time anyway, thus making the point moot, but if you like the looks with it left on (and it does look cool), just know that string changes will take a little longer to accomplish. Conclusions Fender has really stepped things up a couple notches with their latest American Vintage series. The Fender American Vintage '63 Precision Bass is far more "vintage correct" than previous models, and it plays and sounds fantastic. All the vintage inspired goodies (such as the case candy and the retro case itself) further add to the illusion of having a modern day version of a vintage classic. Fender says "they did the research, and it shows." They're not lying. Fender has really nailed that elusive vintage vibe with this bass - the sound, the look, and the feel - and you can get it for a fraction of the price of what the vintage originals go for. If you're in the market for a classic P-Bass that looks and sounds like the ones that were made 50 years ago, you really need to check it out. It's a fantastic throwback to one of Fender's golden eras. Resources Musician's Friend Fender American Vintage '63 Precision Bass online catalog page (MSRP $2,499.99, $1,999.99 "street") Fender's American Vintage '63 Precision Bass web page. Harmony Central Review Preview video Additional Photos Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  14. Amp sounding weak? Is it making funny noises? Maybe it's time for new tubes By Phil O'Keefe It happens gradually over time as the amp is used, but the sound of even the best tube eventually deteriorates. The next time you're struggling with your tone and wondering why it's just not quite "right" anymore, or why it doesn't seem as cool as you remember from days gone by, ask yourself this - when was the last time I changed my tubes? THREE TYPES OF TUBES There are three main types of tubes. Not all "tube" amps use all three types; often, solid state components are substituted for one or two of them, depending on the amplifier design. True tube amps generally have both tube preamp and tube power amp sections, and may have a tube power rectifier, or a solid state rectifier. Hybrid amplifiers utilize a tube or tubes in either the preamp or power amp section, with the other section of the amp being solid state. The vast majority of hybrid amps use a solid state rectifier instead of a tube. Let's take a closer look at each tube type, and some of the symptoms to watch out for. Preamp Tubes These are found in the vast majority of tube amps. Even the majority of "hybrid" amps use a preamp tube, although occasionally you'll find a hybrid amp that flips that paradigm and uses a solid state preamp and tubes in the output or power amp section of the amplifier. Examples include some of the old Music Man amplifiers from the 1970s and early 1980s, as well as the Fender Super Champ X2. Preamp tubes are often used for other functions within the amp, such as for the tremolo (mislabeled as "vibrato" on many Fender amps), and sometimes for the reverb driver and recovery circuits too. If the reverb or tremolo on your Fender amp is dead, the repair might be as simple as a quick tube replacement. Occasionally a preamp tube will be used as a phase splitter (often called a phase inverter), which splits the signal into two, with one positive and one negative polarity to feed the two halves of a push/pull (Class AB) tube power amp. Some common preamp tubes include the 12AX7 / ECC83, 7025, EF86 / 6267, 12AY7 / 6072A, 12AU7, 12AT7 and 5751. A few examples are shown below. (Fig. 1) Preamp tubes are occasionally covered with metal shields. They help protect the tubes and provide electronic shielding that helps reduce noise, so if your amp is so equipped, make sure you replace the shields after you test or replace the tubes. Figure 1: A few examples of preamp tubes, including the 12AX7, 6072 / 12AY7, and EF86 Power Tubes These tubes are generally larger than preamp tubes; taller and (with the exception of the EL84) fatter in diameter than their preamp tube cousins. They can be found in the power amp section of the amplifier, and along with the output transformer, they provide the final amplification "oomph" that drives your speakers. Power amp tubes wear gradually. Unlike preamp tubes, if you've been using the same set of power amp tubes for quite a while, you could very easily notice a dramatic improvement in tone by replacing them - especially if you've been driving the amp hard on a regular basis. Unlike preamp tubes, which can usually be replaced without having to consult a tech, some amps need to be biased after replacing the power amp tubes for best results. When in doubt, check your amp's manual, or ask on the Harmony Central forums. Common power tubes include the 6L6, 6V6, 6550, EL34, and EL84. (Fig. 2) Unlike preamp tubes, they are almost never covered with metal shields, but they may have retainers to help hold them in place that you may need to remove before taking the tube out of its socket. Figure 2: Common power amp (or output) tubes include the EL84, 6V6, 6550, and EL34 Rectifier Tube This tube converts the incoming AC mains power from the wall outlet into the DC current that the amp needs to run. Without a rectifier, the amp won't even turn on. No sound, no pilot light - nada. If your tube amp fails to power up, check the fuse and the rectifier tube, if it has one. In most cases, one or the other is blown and needs replacement. The rectifier is a large tube, similar in size to many power amp tubes. When looking at the back of the amp, if it has a rectifier tube, it is generally on the far left hand side of the amp, right next to the power amp tubes. A tube rectifier is more commonly found on lower-wattage amps (under 50W), while high-power amps tend to use a solid state rectifier instead of a tube. A tube rectifier doesn't make as big a difference to the sound of the amp as much as it does to the feel of it. With a tube rectifier, note attacks can "sag" a bit, and they don't punch out as immediately or as forcefully as you'll normally get with a solid state rectifier - the attack transients of notes are a bit more compressed, especially when you really dig in and hit a note forcefully, and when the amp is being run loud and hard. As long as the amp powers up, the rectifier tube is doing its job, and normally there is no real benefit to be gained from replacing it prior to it failing. Some common rectifier tubes include the 5U4 / GZ32, 5Y3 / GZ30, 6CA4 / EZ-81, and 5AR4 / GZ34. (Fig. 3) Since rectifier tubes generally run until they fail, it's normally not something you need to worry about, but if you gig or tour frequently, it wouldn't hurt to keep a spare on hand - just in case. Figure 3: Common rectifier tubes include the 5AR4, 5Y3, and 6CA4 DIAGNOSING TUBE PROBLEMS Rectifiers are easy. When they fail, it's usually pretty obvious, but what about preamp tubes and power amp tubes? Both can show signs of wear or have problems that can affect your tone even before they fail completely. On preamp tubes, you can generally use them until they start to cause noise (such as crackling, hissing, or hum) or other audible issues, or barring that, until they fail completely. Swapping out a suspect tube for a known good tube of the same type is a time-honored way of troubleshooting preamp tube issues. Just make sure you power off the amp and unplug it before changing any tubes, and remember that tubes get HOT! Always wait until the amp has cooled, or use a oven mitt to grasp the tubes with. Another way to test preamp tubes is to power up the amp, turn it up to a moderate level, and then gently tap on the preamp tubes, one at a time, with the eraser end of a pencil. If the tube is microphonic - if it makes a hollow sound that you can hear through the amp's speaker, or if it pings, or makes any kind of objectionable noise, it's probably time to replace it. Individual preamp tubes can be replaced one by one - there's usually no need to replace them all at once. Like tires on your car or strings on your guitar, power amp tubes start wearing the moment you put them in your amp and fire it up. The more you use the amp, and the harder you push it, the less time you can expect them to last. How long will they last? It's impossible to say. I've had old vintage amps that still sounded fine, even though they had the factory-installed original tubes in them. I've had other amps that needed to have the power amp tubes replaced after a year of heavy use. If your amp seems listless, lacks punch or feels flabby or weak in the bass, then it's probably time for a fresh set of power amp tubes. Since they wear out gradually over time, you might not notice that their sound has deteriorated, but when you replace a worn set of power amp tubes with a fresh set, the dramatic difference in tone can often be easily heard. THE BEST INSURANCE If you play a lot, you might want to consider buying a full replacement set for your amp. Test them when you first get them to make sure they're all working properly, then store them somewhere safe. A padded tube carrier / case is a good investment, especially if you tour. If you do gig, make sure you bring those spare tubes along with you. And since it's not at all uncommon for the fuse to blow when a tube fails, make sure you also carry a few spares of the ones used in your amp - you never know when they might save the day! Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazine
  15. There's nothing worse than having your instrument fall off its strap. Here's how to keep that from happening By Phil O'Keefe If your instruments still have the stock strap buttons installed, and you use normal guitar straps and no locks, then sooner or later, you're going to have the uncomfortable and possibly expensive experience of having your strap working its way off the strap buttons, and your treasured and expensive instrument crashing to the floor as you watch helplessly. This can happen at any time, and it's almost always when you're least expecting it, which means that you're not always going to catch it in time. It's a sickening feeling as you pick the instrument up off the floor. Did it get a big ding in it, or even worse, did something get broken? I've seen headstocks break simply because a guitar fell a few feet from the strap to the floor and landed the wrong way, and that's an expensive repair… and one that can easily be avoided. LOTS OF AFFORDABLE OPTIONS There are all sorts of clever ways that people have come up with to keep straps firmly attached to the instrument, and most are under $20. Let's take a look at some of them. Want a really cheap option? If you drink Grolsch beer, then the rubber washers that come with the bottles can be used as a strap retainer washer. You'll need to remove the strap button and attachment screw from the instrument completely, and attach first the rubber washer from the Grolsch bottle, then the strap. Each needs to be put on from the "inside" of the button (the part that's closest to the body of the guitar), then just screw the button back on to the guitar with the washer and strap in place. You won't be able to remove the strap from the guitar without reversing this procedure, so it's best for guitars where you don't mind having the strap semi-permanently attached, but it does have the advantage of being practically "free" - again, if you happen to know of someone who drinks that particular brand of bottled beer. The washers can sometimes be found in bulk separately (without the beer) and inexpensively on Ebay, but if you're going to go that route, you might want to consider Fender's Strap Blocks. These are similar rubber washers, and a set of four (enough for two instruments) can be had for well under $5. Other systems are designed to use replacement strap buttons and a locking device that you attach to a standard guitar strap. These systems lock the strap to the guitar, but can be easily removed in seconds for storage. I've been using Schaller Strap Locks (Fig. 1) for decades on several of my guitars and straps, and have never had any issues with them. They make it easy to disconnect the strap from the guitar, but hold it securely unless you intentionally disconnect it. They're available in gold, black, and nickel to match the hardware of your guitar, and starting at under $20 for a set, they're reasonably priced. Figure 1: Schaller's popular Strap Locks work great, are inexpensive, and allow you to remove the strap quickly I've also had a few guitars with the Jim Dunlop Dual-Design Straplok System (Fig 2) installed, and have had good results with them. They use a push button to unlock the strap from the strap button so you can disconnect it, and while they're not directly compatible with the Schaller system, they're conceptually similar and work equally well in my experience. They are also available in a variety of finishes. Figure 2: Dunlop's Straploks are equally effective and affordable Ernie Ball has a product called Super Locks. Again, these are available in black, nickel or gold. As with the Schaller and Dunlop locks, they use a proprietary design with a replacement strap button and locking mechanism that attaches to any standard guitar strap. A somewhat different approach is taken with replacement strap buttons that are designed to more firmly anchor the strap. Some vintage Ibanez guitars came with V shaped strap buttons that hold a strap more securely than the typical round strap buttons do. For those who want something similar, there are the Planet Waves Elliptical End Pin strap buttons. They are wider than standard buttons, which requires the strap to be placed at a sideways angle for attachment and removal - a position the strap isn't likely to be in unless you're intentionally trying to take the strap off. Jim Dunlop makes a couple of plastic strap locks that can be used with standard strap buttons and straps. The Dunlop 7007 and 7036 Lok Strap Systems (Fig 3) both fit around the strap button and over the strap, and a simple turn locks them in place, preventing the strap from coming off of the button. They're similar in concept to the Grolsch washers and Fender Strap Blocks, but with the advantage of being easily removable without having to unscrew the strap button from the guitar. Figure 3: Requiring no modification of the instrument, Dunlop's Lok Strap systems are inexpensive and removable Another approach is to build the lock into the strap itself. One such strap with a built-in locking mechanism is the Planet Waves Planet Lock guitar strap. (Fig. 4) As with the plastic Dunlop locks, they require absolutely zero modification to most guitars - if it uses standard strap buttons, this strap should work with it just fine. Figure 4: Putting the lock into the strap as Planet Waves did is another approach that can work well with stock strap buttons CHEAP INSURANCE The important thing isn't which of the methods you decide to use, but that you do something to insure that your instrument remains firmly attached to its strap unless you intentionally disconnect it. A few dollars and a little time spent now can protect your valuable instrument from damage, and help you avoid expensive and time-consuming repairs. It's cheap insurance that every guitarist and bassist should invest in! Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  16. DIY crossovers and multiband processing in your DAW By Phil O'Keefe Crossovers are not normally something people think of when it comes to DAW software. Many musicians will be familiar with them as part of a home or car stereo system, bass amp and speaker rig, PA / DJ system, or keyboard setup. We'll get to how you can use them to do some useful tasks in your DAW in a moment, but for those who need a refresher… CROSSOVER BASICS A crossover is a passive or active device that uses equalization filters to divide the frequency spectrum into multiple bands, and then allows you to patch and route each band individually. A two band crossover "splits" the signal into separate low and high frequency ranges. The point where the signal "splits" is called the crossover frequency. How quickly it transitions or "rolls off" frequencies beyond the crossover point is called the filter slope, and is usually measured in decibels per octave. A 12 dB per octave filter will reduce the level by 12 decibels for every octave past the crossover cutoff frequency, while a 24 dB per octave filter will be twice as steep, and signals one octave past the cutoff frequency will be attenuated 24 decibels. Crossovers are commonly used in things like bass amplification and PA systems; allowing different parts of the frequency spectrum to be routed to separate power amplifiers, along with speakers that are optimized for each band. Multiband (also called bi-amped, tri-amped, two-way, three-way, etc.) setups generally offer better fidelity than a full-range speaker system, since speakers can be optimized to work in narrower frequency ranges instead of trying to reproduce the entire audio range. The amount of amplification can also be optimized for each frequency band and the connected speakers. CROSSOVERS IN YOUR DAW However, in recording, there are also times when you might want to divide the frequency spectrum of a sound into different components. I recorded some basic audio clips and took lots of screen shots to help demonstrate the sound of multiband processing and show you how to set it up. A basic mono bass part (Fig. 1 and audio Clip 1 - clips are at the bottom of the article) is our test subject, although the principles could be just as easily applied to other types of sounds. It was tracked in Pro Tools over a simple drum beat generated with FXPansion's BFD Eco. From there, it was manipulated in a few different ways, which I'll describe as we go along. Figure 1: A basic mixer layout with a mono bass track Let's say you'd like to use the mono bass recording from example 1 and add some distortion to it, but when you insert a distortion as an inline plugin (Fig. 2), the bottom of the mix gets muddy, or the fuzz plugin causes the lows to practically disappear completely as can be heard on Clip 2. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to add the "dirt" just to the upper frequencies of the bass signal, without having to process and mess up the bottom end? Figure 3: A phaser-vibrato plugin running inline as a channel insert will modulate all frequencies Sure, there are some cool multiband distortion and compression plugins out there, but unfortunately, there are not many "crossover" plugins that allow you set the crossover frequencies and the type of filters and their cutoff slopes, and also set the number of bands and assign each to a separate mixer output channel so you can process them individually. However, there are a couple of easy ways you can set up similar processing with the tools your already have built into your DAW. What if we could split a sound -- any sound in your DAW -- into multiple channels, each covering a different frequency range? Then we could process each "slice" or range of frequencies independently before mixing everything back together again. That would be pretty cool, huh? By splitting a signal into multiple bands, you can do all sorts of things to it from there, such as widen the apparent stereo width or subtly chorus it in one frequency range while distorting it or using a sub bass synth plugin in another. It also allows you to EQ and compress each frequency range independently. METHOD ONE - CLONE AND FILTER One way to do it, assuming you have a fast enough hard drive to handle the extra streaming, is to just clone the track you want to "split up" and process the original and the clone tracks differently with various EQ filters. The advantage here is that it's relatively easy to set up; just select a track and use your DAW's clone function to create copies of it. The downside is that this approach at least doubles the amount of audio data that the "track" needs to stream from the hard drive. If you want to use a 3-band crossover, it will triple it. Figure 4 (and Clip 4) show our original bass track along with a cloned version of it, and Figure 5 and Clip 5 add in a distortion plugin on the high frequency channel. The original bass track has a low pass filter inserted with a 200Hz cutoff frequency; this becomes the "low frequency" channel. The clone of our bass track has a high-pass EQ filter (bottom EQ plugin in the image), with the cutoff also set to 200Hz. This essentially filters out all of the low frequencies, and turns this channel into the "high frequency" channel for processing and mix purposes. You can hear the sound of this "crossover" in Clip 4. Compare it to to original mono bass track (Clip 1) and see if you can notice any differences in the bass sound near the 200 Hz crossover frequency. Figure 4: Low Pass EQ filtering on the original track, and high pass filtering on a clone of that track basically divides the track into two in a manner similar to a crossover Figure 5: Inserting a distortion on the channel with the high-pass filter allows you to affect only the higher frequencies of the bass, while leaving the bottom alone METHOD TWO - DIVIDE & CONQUER An arguably better way to go, assuming you have a few aux sends and returns to spare (and most modern DAWs have plenty) is to set up two (or more) pre-fader aux sends to route the signal off of the original source track and bring it back into the mix on multiple but separate aux return channels. If you just want to separate the signal into two bands; high and low frequencies, two aux sends and two returns is all you need (Fig. 6 / Clip 6). If you want a three band "crossover", you would need three aux sends and returns, with a high-pass and low-pass filter for the high and low frequency bands, and a band-pass filter for the midrange channel. If you don't have a "bandpass" setting on your favorite EQ, you can use a lowpass and a highpass filter together to achieve the same thing; rolling off the highs and lows and leaving only the midrange. In Figure 7 (and Clip 7) a distortion plugin has been added to the aux return channel with the high pass filtering; again, this results in the bass signals above 200Hz being distorted, while those below that cutoff / crossover frequency are left unprocessed and without distortion, resulting in a much fuller and more solid sounding bottom, as can be heard in Clip 7. Figure 8: Don't be afraid to try different crossover frequencies. In this example, the crossover point has been moved up from 200 Hz to 500 Hz, which gave a more subtle vibrato effect GENERAL TIPS In general, I recommend picking a filter type and setting and sticking with it throughout the project - always using 18dB, or sticking with only 24db per octave slopes for the entire project and in general, I think the steeper the better -- but remember -- there's a lot of debate and preferences over different types of filters and different slopes in crossovers and filtering in general, so feel free to experiment with different settings and different EQ plugins until you find what you like the sound of. There is a potential for some "weirdness" at the crossover frequencies. Sometimes you can get a bit of a volume boost or dip at the crossover frequency, or a bit of phase shift. Crossovers are always a compromise, but the creative and problem solving possibilities of multiband processing may be worth the slight tradeoff in absolute fidelity. Only your ears can answer that for you. Don't be afraid to mix one band louder or softer than the others to get the sound you want. Things like distortion can change the harmonics and apparent loudness of a band, and sometimes you may need to attenuate that band a bit to compensate. A mono to stereo plugin can be great to add some stereo width to a sound in one band, while leaving the other bands in mono. If you experiment with stereo effects processing on one or more band, make sure you check your mix for mono compatibility to insure that there is no phase cancellation happening. Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  17. Music is an auditory art, and our ears are crucial to us. They are also easily damaged by overexposure to loud sounds, and once you lose part of your hearing, it is gone for good - which makes protecting our hearing absolutely essential. There are several options. (Fig. 1) Foam plugs are inexpensive and effective, but many musicians dislike the muffled high frequency sound quality. Muffs suffer from similar sonic gremlins. They are also more expensive, and look funky on stage, although for other noisy environments, such as mowing the lawn, they offer excellent protection. Fig. 1: A variety of hearing protection products, including muffs, foam plugs, and high-fidelity ear plugs Custom fitted plugs that are made from impressions of your ears are the most comfortable. They can be fitted with drivers so that they can serve double duty as in-ear monitors, but they tend to cost in the hundreds. Companies such as Etymotic and Hearos make high-fidelity, reusable earplugs that attenuate all frequencies by approximately 20dB, and provide much more natural sound quality than foam plugs. Best of all, they cost about the same as a pack or two of guitar strings. When things are loud, many people find it's actually easier to pick out individual sounds, such as their own instrument, while wearing such plugs, as opposed to when wearing no protection at all. There are even "designer" hearing protectors, like the ones by V-Moda that provide significant protection yet sit unobstrusively in your ears, and look like you're wearing regular earbuds (Fig. 2). Fig. 2: V-Moda's "Faders" are tuned earplugs with a detachable cord and carrying case. Regardless of which option you pick, it is important to always wear protection when you are exposed to loud sounds. Hammering nails, mowing the lawn, high-volume gigs and practice - whenever it's loud, protect yourself. Your ears will thank you for it! Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  18. When recording by yourself, these tools will make the job easier, and you'll get better results too By Phil O'Keefe One of the biggest challenges facing a guitarist who works solo on recordings is that they're alone. You simply don't have enough hands for all the things you need to do at once, and you can't be in two places at the same time. When you're working in a professional studio and recording guitar parts, things are a lot easier. You don't have to worry about running the equipment, which lets you concentrate on your playing. Because there's an engineer there to help, you can play while someone else worries about mic positioning and capturing the sound. When working alone, it can be challenging to try to play and simultaneously optimize your mic positioning. And commercial studios usually have the advantage of separate control and tracking rooms, which makes it easier to hear how changes in the mic positioning affect the sound, as well as how the sound of the guitar amp is "sitting" in the mix relative to the other parts. Let's look at a few ways you can get around some of these challenges when recording at home by yourself. FIRST, THE SETUP Maybe you have a great sounding room where your guitar amp really comes to life, but that is in a separate part of your house from your studio gear. In fact, most residences have a variety of acoustical environments available that many recordists never bother to take advantage of, simply because it's too much work to move everything. With the right tools, you can start to change that and take advantage of the variety of acoustical environments at your disposal, and without having to move all your recording equipment into another room. Running long guitar cables from room to room is a recipe for high frequency signal loss and increased noise interference… but recording tracks from the control room allows you to operate the gear easier, and to listen over studio monitors instead of headphones while the guitar speaker(s) remain isolated in the other room. One method is to keep the amp head in the control room, and just run a long speaker cable out to a speaker cabinet in the other room. That can work if the two rooms are relatively close to each other, and it offers the advantage of having the amp there in the control room where you can easily adjust it, but what if you're recording a combo amp? To get around that, I recommend the Radial SGI (Studio Guitar Interface system) (Fig 1) or the Little Labs STD (Signal Transmission Device). Figure 1: The Radial Engineering SGI allows you to run your amp up to 300 feet away without noise or signal loss Both of these take the high impedance output from your guitar and convert it into a low impedance signal. The low impedance signal is then routed over an XLR cable, which is better suited for the long cable run. At the other end of the cable is a box that converts the signal back to the high impedance signal that your amp is designed for. (Fig 2) This allows you to isolate your guitar amp in another room where the acoustics might be better suited to the sound you're after, while you play in the control room where you can operate the equipment and monitor over your nearfield speakers. Figure 2: A typical setup using the Radial SGI LESS RUNNING BACK AND FORTH If you have the amp isolated in an adjoining room, it's going to be difficult to hear how everything sounds over the speakers in real-time as you reposition the mic, and you'll need to go back and forth from the tracking room to your control / equipment room to check on how things sound. If you're working with the amp in the same room as you are, you're forced to wear headphones so that the studio speakers aren't also picked up by the microphone. With a loud guitar amp nearby, it can sometimes be tough to discern the subtle differences that small changes in mic position can give you while listening on headphones. Short of recording "direct", or using a amp simulator, how do you get around these issues? First of all, stick with closed back, circumaural headphones. Closed-back (sealed) circumaural (over and around the ear) headphones with good isolation block much of the sound around you from reaching your ears, allowing you to better hear the sound change as you're dialing in the best mic positions. Headphones with great passive isolation include the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro, Direct Sound EX-29 Extreme Isolation (Fig 3), and KRK's KNS 8400. All of these headphones feature around 30 dB of attenuation of outside sounds. Figure 3: Headphones like the Direct Sound EX-29 Extreme Isolation models shown here help block out external sounds so you can hear what you're doing, even with a loud amp nearby If the amp is really loud, it can still be kind of hard to hear the sonic changes as you adjust the mic positioning, but there are ways around that too. If you find yourself in that situation, try using a pair of noise isolating earbuds or earphones ("ear plug" style headsets), and then put a pair of unplugged headphones with good isolation characteristics on over them. Since the headphones only serve to add additional isolation from outside sounds, and don't provide any of the actual sound you'll be listening to, you can even use "shooter's ear muff" style hearing protection in this application instead of headphones. The best isolation results will be with earbuds that fit well and seal snugly into the ear canal, coupled with the best isolating headphones you have available. The in-ear earphones send the sound straight into your ear canals, and their already excellent isolation (from the way they "seal" into your ear canal) is increased by the external closed-backed headphones. Hearing protection ear muffs are available from companies such as Pro Ears, Peltor, Remington, and 3M, and can be found in most sporting goods stores. Since they lack any drivers or wiring, they typically cost significantly less than a set of headphones with similar isolation characteristics. Earbuds with excellent isolation include the Shure SE215 (Fig 4), and the Etymotic ER-4 - both of which can provide a whopping 35 dB or more of reduction on their own. When paired with a set of closed back headphones such as one of the models I mentioned earlier, outside sounds can be cut by an additional 6 to 10 dB or more. This level of attenuation is similar to what you'll get if you have the amp closed off in one room of your house while you're in the adjoining room with the doors shut. Figure 4: In-ear headsets, such as the Shure SE215 can provide even more acoustic isolation when worn "under" a pair of sealed, circumaural headphones NOT ENOUGH HANDS? Ideally, you'll need to have the sound coming out of the amp while you're trying to position your microphones. In pro studios, it's not uncommon for an assistant to move the mic around as you play, while the engineer listens over the control room monitors and directs; telling the assistant which direction to move the mic until they're satisfied with the mic position and sound. Obviously this is less practical when working alone. Yes, you could ask a friend or family member to help out occasionally, but for those times when you're on your own, there's another solution - use a looper pedal to "play" the guitar while you make adjustments to mic positions and overall sound. Some popular loopers include the TC Electronic Ditto (Fig 5), Boss RC-3, Line 6 JM4 and the DigiTech JamMan Solo XT, but you may already own a looper. Many multi effects pedals include looping functions, such as the Zoom G3, Boss ME-70, and the one I use - the Line 6 M9. Figure 5: Loopers like the TC Electronic Ditto allow you to "play" the guitar while freeing up your hands to adjust the mic positioning Any one of these looping tools will allow you to record a riff or phrase and then play it back over and over, freeing up your hands so you can adjust the mic positioning and fine tune the control settings on your amp for best results. Because you're not stuck in one place, you can even go back and forth between the amp room to adjust the mic position, and then to the control room or recording equipment room to check on how it sounds over your monitors. Ideally you should use the looper to record a snippet of the song and part you're preparing to track, so that you can hear how things work with what you'll actually be recording. As you can see, with a little forethought and the right tools, you can get past many of the limitations that come from recording alone. By using these suggestions, you will be able to hear what you're doing much better, which nearly always translates to better sounding recordings. Now go wax some killer tracks, and when you're done, don't forget to stop by the forums and share them with everyone! Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  19. Tips and tricks for getting different tones when recording multiple guitarists, or overdubbing multiple guitar parts By Phil O'Keefe I went over the basics of guitar amp miking in my Guitar Amp Miking 101 article, so if you need a refresher on mic techniques, please have a quick look. In this article, we'll be going into greater depth regarding multiple-guitar parts in recordings. It's not uncommon for recording engineers to face situations where the band being recorded has two guitarists, or when a single guitarist (maybe you) wants to track multiple guitar parts for a single song. Doing this can help add interest and variety to the mix, but in some situations, it can lead to trouble; if you don't watch what you're doing, you could end up with cluttered and muddy mixes, difficulty in differentiating the parts, or even overly-complex arrangements that confuse the listener. Here are some tips and tricks to help you get around some of these common issues, and help you give each guitar its own distinctive identity when using multiple guitar parts. TAKE STOCK Have a look at the rigs you'll be working with and make some notes. If possible, do this well in advance of your tracking session. This will help you spot any potential issues in advance, while there's still time to correct them -- such as instruments with poor intonation, or bad action and buzzes. And of course, have any problems repaired before the session. Also remember that amplifiers are essential parts of the instrument we call "electric guitar," and make sure they're in excellent health too. Any bad speakers, ground issues or weak or microphonic tubes should also be repaired or replaced. Don't forget to ask about any alternative resources they might have available. Just because something isn't a part of their usual "live rig" doesn't mean it won't be useful for a recording session. Practice amps, amp sim pedals, different guitars and effects can all provide alternative sounds for different parts on the recording. However, be careful not to go into the studio with a pile of unfamiliar gear -- while a new toy or two (or even three) can be inspiring on a recording session, too much unfamiliar gear can lead to option overload and anxiety; it's better to have a good idea of what tones you want (and how to get them) before you enter the studio, rather than being overwhelmed by an endless sea of "almost but not quite" and "that's close, but maybe I can find something I like better" options and decisions in the studio. Trust me, you'll face enough decisions in the studio already, so save yourself the trouble and make as many in advance as you can. HAVE A PLAN Based on the resources at your disposal and everyone's goals, have a plan for the tracking session. It doesn't have to be super-specific, with every detail and moment of time spelled out, but a good general idea of what you're looking for is important. Compare your plan with the available gear list. If your plan calls for gear that isn't already available, make arrangements to rent or borrow what you'll need for the tracking session. The arrangement is absolutely crucial to the success of any recording project. This is where pre-production can be a real lifesaver. The band should have a good idea of the parts and the arrangements they want to use on their recordings, and just as importantly, so should the producer and engineer. Attend some pre-recording rehearsal sessions to get an idea of the arrangements, and work through any potential problems well in advance. Home recording rigs can really come in handy for pre-production arrangement ideas. The goal isn't to track the ultimate parts at home, but to work out arrangements in advance. This allows you to figure what does and doesn't work for the song, and do it when the clock isn't ticking and the pressure is far less intense. It also allows you to work on your overdub ideas and have them well rehearsed in advance of the session - all of which will save you time and money when you go in to "do it for real." Make sure you don't try to over-extend yourself. It's not uncommon to have players struggle to lay down a "killer part" that is just beyond their technical abilities, but that lives up to some nebulous ideal they have in their mind… then really struggle when they try to double-track it. In those situations, artificial doubling methods may be in order. An even better option is to rehearse in advance; being realistic about your abilities and adjusting your parts accordingly. Ideally you should be confident and capable of nailing any part on the recording within a couple of takes. If you need more than three, you may be over-reaching. Simplify the part or plan on using another way of doubling it. SPECIFIC TIPS Sometimes you want to have two tracks blend into one composite sound, which is relatively easy to do by playing the two parts as identically as possible, on similar rigs and panning them to the same location in the stereo field. It's far more likely you'll run into situations where you want to differentiate the two guitars, and allow each to be plainly heard. Sometimes this is as simple as panning each to a different spot in the stereo sound field, but there's a lot more options available to you beyond mere panning. Here are some specific suggestions that can help when tracking multiple guitar parts. CHANGE THE GUITAR Doubling the part with the exact same rig can often lead to muddy parts. Instead, try switching instruments. Use a baritone for the doubled part, or even an acoustic guitar. Something as simple as substituting a Strat on the overdub instead of re-using the ES-335 can often be enough to give each guitar its own identity, and can add extra thickness and dimension compared to doubling with the same setup. Figure 1: Sometimes getting a different guitar sound is as simple as using a different guitar. Try using a Tele for the doubled part instead of re-using the Les Paul CHANGE YOUR APPROACH TO PLAYING THE GUITAR Even if you don't have access to multiple guitars, all is not lost. By arranging the parts differently, you can still give each their own voice and identity. By using different intervals and chord inversions, or capoed and uncapoed parts, you can move each part into its own frequency range and sonic space - even if they're playing rhythmically identical parts. Using different picks, tunings and alternate playing techniques such as slide and e-bow can provide additional layering options to explore. CHANGE THE AMP You can get a nice change of tonality by simply using a different amplifier for the overdubbed part. Try a Marshall instead of your usual Fender. If you're not sure what to look for in terms of different amp sounds, look for something with a different type of tubes. If your amp uses EL34 or EL84 tubes, try to borrow one with 6L6 or 6V6 tubes. If you use tube amps, try a solid state amp as a tonal alternative to your usual setup. Don't forget speaker cabinets! Different speakers can make a big difference to the sound of a guitar amplifier, as can closed-back cabinets vs.. open-backed models. In addition to amps and speakers, don't overlook the wide range of alternatives that are available to you with amp simulator pedals, desktop units and plugin software. While these may or may not provide you with your normal "ideal tone", they can provide a staggering range of alternative tones that can be great for layering. Figure 2: If you used an EL84 based amp like the Marshall Class 5, try using a 6V6 based amp like a Fender Princeton for the overdubs CHANGE THE RECORDING SIGNAL PATH Did you use a ribbon mic for the basic tracks? Then try a condenser to bring out the shimmer and treble for that arpeggiated overdub part. Use a dynamic mic on one amp for the first part, and then a ribbon or condenser on a different amp when "doubling" that part. Don't forget that different microphone and preamp pairings can provide different tonalities too. CHANGE THE ACOUSTICAL ENVIRONMENT When doing an overdub, consider putting the amp into a different room, or moving it to a different location within the same room in order to give it its own acoustical "space." You can also vary your microphone placement in order to change the ratio of dry, direct from the amp sound vs. the room ambiance; moving the microphone closer for a drier and more immediate sound or further back for a more distant and spacious sound. Remember - the further from the sound source you move the mic, the more "distant" the sound will tend to be in the mix. Blending close and distant microphones on doubled guitar parts can provide you with a huge sense of depth. CHANGE THE SETTINGS If you don't have multiple guitars and different amps, it may be more challenging, but all is not lost! You can always try different control settings on the guitar and amp that you do have to get different tones on the overdubs and layers. If you are limited to one guitar, try a different pickup setting for the overdub. If you only have one amp, try different gain and tone settings. Different effects pedals can be especially helpful here -- especially overdrive and distortion pedals with "amp-like" tonalities. Fulltone, Catalinbread, ZVex, Tech 21 and many other companies make pedals that are designed to make your Fender amp sound more like a Marshall, or a Vox, or a Hiwatt. While not always identical to the "real thing", they can provide some very cool alternative tones of their own, and a taste of those other models, and at a much lower cost than a large amp collection. CHANGE THE EFFECTS As a general rule of thumb (and when it comes to recording, remember that rules are made to be broken whenever doing so makes things sound better), I feel that busier parts and more complex chords should usually be drier and have less effects and reverb overall. Leads and other single note lines can usually have more effects on them, depending on the part. Long, sustained parts and ringing arpeggios can go either way. The point is, by adjusting the level and type of effects, you can give each part its own sound and sonic "space," or provide extra texture and thickness to layers and stacked parts. For example, try recording the first pass completely dry, and then kick on a chorus pedal for the overdub. Speaking of effects, if you have a great tone happening, by all means, track it. However, be aware of the amount of effects you're using and don't go overboard - you can't get rid of it after the fact. It's for that very reason that many engineers wait to apply a lot of effects until the mix - things like reverb and tempo based effects can be added later, and often the plugins and rack units will have better sound than the pedals for these sorts of effects anyway. They're certainly easier to "tempo sync" than most pedal based effects. IN THE MIX FIXES It's far too tempting to rely on the old idea of "we'll fix it in the mix", and while tracking it right to begin with nearly always beats trying to fix things later, sometimes you have no choice. If you can't re-track the parts, then you can use some of the other methods to put each one into its own space in the mix. Panning them to different locations in the stereo field can often help. If the parts were recorded with close-mikes (and are relatively "dry"), you can easily add different reverb and delay treatments to each one. Don't forget EQ - you can often cut one frequency range back on one guitar while leaving it alone on the other track. Careful, multi-band EQ adjustments can accentuate certain frequencies of one part while accentuating different frequencies in the second part, giving each their own individual tonality. Another useful tool is the mute button -- just because you have a doubled guitar part recorded for the entire song doesn't mean it's always in the best interests of the song and arrangement to let it run non-stop. Instead, try muting the doubled part on the verses and bring it back in only on the choruses, or on the bridge to give it added impact. Remember that good arrangements should have some flow and variation to them, and shouldn't just sit there without changing… but the time to consider the arrangement is well in advance of the actual recording session. Give some thought and rehearsal to the arrangements before the session and your doubling sessions will be far more productive. Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  20. Wattage, Speaker Efficiency and Amplifier "Loudness" When it comes to volume, wattage is only part of the equation By Phil O'Keefe There seems to be some confusion when it comes to how "loud" an amplifier can get. When it comes to "volume", many musicians only consider the amplifier's power or wattage rating, and in general, more watts does mean "louder". But while wattage is an important consideration, the efficiency of the speaker(s) that are connected to the amplifier are also an important factor in the loudness equation. DECIBELS AND LEVELS Decibels (abbreviated "dB") are a logarithmic unit of measurement that pertain to a ratio between two numbers. Okay, I can see eyes rolling and glazing over, so I'll simplify things, and attempt to keep the "math" to an absolute minimum. With a logarithmic scale, you can't just add numbers in the usual way - a doubled number isn't "twice as much", but rather, many times more. For example, 100dB is many times greater than 50dB, not just "twice as much". When it comes to "loudness", which is measured in Sound Pressure Level, (or SPL), a 10dB increase in level is roughly equivalent to a "doubling" of perceived loudness. In other words, if one amp is generating 90dB SPL and another amp is hitting 100dB SPL, the second amp will generally be perceived to sound about twice as "loud" to the typical listener. WATTAGE, POWER AND SPL So how many watts does it take to get twice as loud? Let's imagine two amps - one of ten watts, and a second of twenty watts. The twenty watt amp is double the power of the ten watt amp, but doubling the power only translates to an increase of 3dB SPL. Remember, in order to sound "twice as loud", you need an increase of 10dB, so while a twenty watt amplifier will sound noticeably louder than a ten watt amp, it will not sound twice as loud. The same thing holds true at higher wattages - a 100W amp is not going to sound twice as loud as a 50W amp; assuming identical speakers, it will only be 3dB louder, which is noticeable, but definitely not a doubling of perceived loudness. SPEAKER SENSITIVITY RATINGS Speakers have specifications in terms of their sensitivity and efficiency - their ability to convert the incoming electrical energy into acoustical energy. Dynamic, moving coil speakers (the type found in most guitar and bass amps) are notoriously inefficient, and most of the incoming power is actually converted into heat, and not sound. Normally, speaker sensitivity is measured in a anechoic chamber (non-reflective, soundproof room) and expressed something like this: 90dB @ 1W / 1m Translated into English, that means "ninety decibels (SPL) with one watt of power, and measured at a distance of one meter from the speaker." A more efficient speaker will have a higher number, and a less efficient speaker will have a lower number. All other things being equal, a more efficient speaker will make your amp sound louder than if it has a less efficient one installed. (Fig. 1) Figure 1: While the two amps pictured are nearly identical in power (20W vs 18W), the one on the left is significantly louder due to its much more efficient speaker PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER So let's assume we have a speaker with a sensitivity of 90dB @ 1W / 1m and a power handling capacity of up to 100W. If we power that speaker with 1W of power, it will generate 90dB when measured at a distance of 1 meter. If we double that power to 2W, the SPL measurement will increase to 93dB. If we increase the power to 10W, then the SPL measurement will increase to 100dB, which is "twice the perceived loudness" when compared to 1W. So it actually takes ten times more power to give us a perceived doubling of volume level. Since this imaginary speaker is rated to safely handle up to 100W, we could double that volume level yet again, and in theory, hit up to 110dB SPL by increasing the power all the way up to 100W. One watt = 90dB. One hundred watts, or 100X more power = 110dB. That's a huge increase in power but only a "doubled double" (4X) increase in terms of perceived volume levels! As you can see, it takes considerable increases in power - in the wattage of the amplifier - to "double" the perceived "volume". This is where speaker sensitivity / efficiency comes into the equation. If we replace that 90dB @ 1W / 1m speaker with a model that has a sensitivity of 100dB @ 1W / 1m, the numbers change dramatically. For starters, 1W of input power will give us 100dB SPL. Remember, the first speaker required 10W to achieve that same volume level! So by installing a more efficient speaker, we can get the same perceived volume level from a 1W amp as we could from a 10W amp that is coupled to a less efficient speaker. Again, this applies all the way up to the maximum power handling capacity of the speaker. Assuming our 100dB @ 1W / 1m speaker can also handle up to 100W, it can give us up to 120dB SPL; again, that's double the perceived "volume level" of the 90dB @ 1W / 1m 100W speaker's maximum level of 110dB SPL. AMPLIFIER POWER PLUS SPEAKER EFFICIENCY AND POWER HANDLING = MAXIMUM VOLUME So remember, while increasing the amplifier power can make you louder, increasing the speaker sensitivity will make more efficient use of the available power from any amplifier. This means it's impossible to make generalizations about the "loudness" of any amplifier based solely on its wattage. You simply must factor in the power handling capacity and sensitivity of the speakers in order to know "how loud" it will be capable of getting. If your 15W amp has a relatively inefficient speaker installed, but is still "almost" loud enough for your needs, you may not need a higher wattage amp - simply installing a more efficient speaker, such as the Electro-Voice EVM 12L in Fig. 2, may give you all the increase in volume you seek, without having to replace the entire amplifier. Similarly, you may not need a 100W amp; replacing the stock 95dB @ 1W / 1m speakers in your 50W amp with new speakers that are rated at 101dB @ 1W / 1m will more than make up the difference in terms of the "volume levels" you will be able to generate... it will actually be capable of "sounding louder" than that 100W amp will when it is running into the less efficient speakers. Figure 2: Replacing inefficient speakers with a highly efficient speaker model, such as this E/V EVM 12L, will make any amp sound louder Of course, if you really want to get loud, then the answer is to couple a high power amplifier with high efficiency speakers that are rated to handle the power... -HC- __________________________________________________ Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  21. By Phil O'Keefe Posting images in the Lithium software is a bit different than it was in previous HC software. Here's how it's done. First of all, either create a new topic, or reply to an existing one. A Post Message box opens up, with the Rich Text tab selected as the default. Immediately below the rich text tab you'll find a line with an assortment of tools and icons, including B (bold text) I (italic), U (underscore), strikethrough, the icon for the spoiler tag, Insert Code icon, Paste from Word icon, insert emoticon icon, insert link icon, insert image icon, insert video icon, and two list icons for ordered and unordered list. The insert image icon has a graphic image of a little tree on it. (Fig 1) To insert an image the steps are fairly straightforward, but differ slightly, depending on whether your image resides on your local computer, or is online in an image hosting site such as Photobucket. Let's look at each separately. Figure 5: Previously uploaded images can be easily re-used without having to re-load them
  22. Programmable MIDI controller pedal that greatly expands the capabilities of the DigiTech Whammy $124.95 MSRP, $124.95 "street" By Phil O'Keefe The DigiTech Whammy line of pitch shift pedals has been a big success for DigiTech. The most recent model in the series, the Whammy 5, adds polyphonic shifting capabilities, better bypass switching and other useful goodies. For those who are not familiar with the latest version, you can check out my review of the Whammy 5 right here. The Whammy 5's predecessor, not surprisingly, was known as the Whammy 4. For the past couple of years, Molten Voltage has been making a popular accessory pedal for the Whammy 4 called the Molten MIDI 2, and they have updated it to work with the Whammy 5. The result is the Molten MIDI 5, which is under review here (Fig 1). The Molten MIDI 5 is a control pedal, and makes no sounds of its own. What it does do is to allow you to make sounds with your Whammy 5 that would be very difficult, if not impossible to do without it. Figure 1: The Molten MIDI 5 and DigiTech Whammy 5 (click on images to enlarge) HAVING A LOOK The Molten MIDI 5 is housed in a small stompbox measuring approximately 4 1/4" W x 3 1/8" D x 1 7/8" H, including knobs and switches. Externally, there is a standard "Boss style" 2.1mm center negative 9V DC input jack, a 5 pin MIDI output jack, and a tempo / select knob, all mounted on the side of the pedal furthest away from the user. On the top surface, there are two footswitches, labelled Tap / Pgm and Start / Stop / Step. A single dual-color (red / yellow) LED rounds out the controls. (Fig 2) While minimalistic, the controls are more powerful than they would appear on the surface, and when connected to the Whammy 5, the indicators on its front panel augment the Molten MIDI 5 and display various programming and setup parameters, such as which preset is selected. Figure 2: The controls, while simple, allow the Molten MIDI 5 to do quite a bit No power supply is provided with the Molten MIDI 5, although Molten Voltage does offer an optional 9V DC power supply on their website for $15. There is no room inside the pedal for a battery clip, and no user serviceable parts or adjustable controls inside. (Fig 3) Figure 3: There are no user-adjustable controls inside the Molten MIDI 5. Also note the lack of a battery connector - you'll need a 9V adapter No modifications to the Whammy 5 are required - the Molten MIDI 5 is designed to work with stock Whammy 5 pedals. If you have an older Whammy 4, the Molten MIDI 2 is the unit for you - due to the different features of the Whammy 4 and Whammy 5, the Molten MIDI 2 and Molten MIDI 5 are not mutually interchangeable. However, both the Molten MIDI 4 and 5 can be set to transmit clock data, which makes either model useful for anyone needing a way to set MIDI tempo by tapping a footswitch, even if they don't own a Whammy pedal. But the real fun is when using it with a Whammy, and I suspect that's how the vast majority of owners will use this pedal. SETTING IT UP On a basic level, setting up the Molten MIDI is pretty easy. Molten Voltage recommends placing the Whammy 5 first in your signal chain, or close to it - at the very least, it should be placed before any distortion pedals for best tracking. In most modes or "program types", the treadle should be placed in the toe-down position for proper pitch shift tracking, and a MIDI cable of 15' or less used to connect the MIDI out of the Molten MIDI 5 to the MIDI input on the Whammy 5. Molten Voltage also recommends using a separate or isolated power supply for the Molten MIDI 5. Battery power is not supported, and if it's used on the same daisy chain as other pedals (particularly, high-gain dirt pedals), audible clicking can result. The Molten MIDI 5 is pre-programmed to transmit on MIDI channel 15, which is compatible with the Whammy 5's factory MIDI settings, so there's no need to change MIDI channels unless you've changed things on the Whammy 5. The MIDI output of the Molten MIDI can be daisy chained and routed through another MIDI device, just as long as that device supports MIDI Thru that doesn't make any changes to the incoming MIDI data stream before sending it out the Thru port and on to the Whammy 5. When programming the Molten MIDI with their software app, it's recommended you connect the computer MIDI interface and Molten MIDI 5 directly, without MIDI daisy chaining. PROGRAM TYPES - AND WHAT THEY CAN DO The Program types are the key to how the Molten MIDI 5 works. The pedal operates differently depending on which one is in use. In all of them, the Molten MIDI 5 sends MIDI Control Change messages to the Whammy, causing it to internally change its settings; most significantly, the "virtual" position of its treadle, and the harmony / whammy / detune control knob setting. You can program the Molten MIDI 5 to make your Whammy 5 jump instantly from one virtual treadle position to the next. You can also select the original Whammy 5 presets with your foot, without having to bend over and manipulate the knob on the Whammy pedal. In fact, you can switch instantaneously between any Whammy settings. For example, you can jump from the octave up / octave down setting on the Whammy to the third up / fourth up setting, or any of the other Whammy settings, without having to cycle through any intermediary knob positions. You can manually control the progress through the various pre-programmed steps with clicks on the Start/Stop/Step footswitch. For live performance use, this is a real help. Need to go from a minor to a major third setting on the Whammy, but don't have time to bend down and manually change the setting in mid-song? With the simple click of a footswitch, you can make the jump as often as you need to. There are five Program types: Loop - Portamento Loop - No Portamento Step - Portamento Step - No Portamento Different Settings When one of the Loop settings is selected, the pedal automatically runs through a sequence of pre-programmed pitch shifting steps. These can be thought of as virtual pedal (treadle) settings that the Whammy 5 switches through in sequence. Play a single note or chord on your guitar, and the sound will pitch shift through these various steps, as if you had changed pedal positions on the Whammy itself, except the Molten MIDI is capable of accuracy and speeds that would be impossible to pull off in real-time with your foot. This can give you a very synth-like sound, with similarities to a keyboard arpeggiator as the single note is instantly transformed into a variety of different notes, with the melody and rhythm determined by the pre-programmed sequence. Of course, while it's running through the pitch shifting sequence pattern, you can play other notes and chords, and the pitch shifting sequence will apply to them too. At the end of the sequence, it loops back to the beginning and starts over again, and will repeat indefinitely until stopped by the user. The tempo is set with either the tap tempo footswitch, or the tempo / select knob on the Molten MIDI 5. In the Step modes, the pedal functions similarly, except the steps of the sequence are advanced by the user - when you hit the Step switch, it advances to the next virtual treadle position in the programmed sequence. As with the Loop modes, each sequence can have anything from two to sixteen steps. Portamento effects can be enabled for both Step and Loop modes. When used, portamento causes notes and chords to "slide" from one pitch to another, similar to the way notes can glide from note to note on a synth with portamento engaged. With portamento, the sound becomes even more synth-like. Without it, the sound jumps much more abruptly from pitch to pitch, with minimal glide between notes. There is a limit in terms of how fast the portamento can go, and at very fast tempos, there simply isn't enough time between pitches for it to audibly glide from note to note. In the Different Settings mode, the pedal will progress through each of the pre-programmed Whammy settings under user control via the Step footswitch, but it does not actually make any changes to the Whammy 5's virtual treadle position - just the Whammy's main knob setting. Unlike the Loop and Step program types, when the Molten MIDI 5 is in Different Settings mode, you don't have to leave the treadle placed in the toe-down position; the treadle can be positioned however you want, and you can use your foot to adjust the treadle in real-time, allowing for foot control of the Whammy in conjunction with the Molten MIDI 5. PROGRAMMING There are two ways to program the Molten MIDI 5 - manual programming, which uses the knob and footswitches on the Molten MIDI 5, along with the LED indicators on the Whammy 5 itself for visual feedback to the user while programming. While it's not exactly simple or intuitive, it is a somewhat less tedious process than it sounds, although you'll definitely want to watch the manual programming tutorial video on Molten Voltage's website and have the PDF manual for the Molten MIDI 5 (which is also available online) open before attempting it, at least until you memorize the LED combinations and their meanings, as well as the switching combinations needed for manual programming. A much simpler way is to use your computer to assist you with programming. Beyond a single page Quick Start Guide, there is no manual or software "bundled" in the box with the unit itself, but you can download a free programming utility directly from the Molten Voltage website. This small applet is available for both Mac (OSX10.5 and above) and PC (Windows XP / Vista / 7) users, and allows you to easily program the Molten MIDI 5 using your computer and a MIDI interface. If you don't have a MIDI interface for your computer, Molten Voltage sells the M-Audio Midisport Uno USB-MIDI interface for $39.95, along with other accessories you may need, such as MIDI cables of various lengths, and an optional DC power supply. The programming application (Fig 4) is quite simple and straightforward, and easy to use, with drop down menus listing all of the available options for most parameters. Figure 4: A free Mac / PC compatible programming utility from Molten MIDI's website greatly aids in programming the pedal There are 19 memory locations (called "Programs") for storing your settings. From the factory, these memory slots are filled with a variety of settings that have been pre-programmed by Molten Voltage. This is great for those who like instant gratification - plug it in, and you can start playing with it and getting new sounds out of your Whammy 5 without having to do any programming of your own. However, any or all of these factory programs can be replaced by user data. Be aware that, unlike with manual programming, the programming utility over-writes ALL the patterns at once, so you may want to start with the factory presets file loaded and work from there. If you've created patterns that are important to you, make sure to also save your settings to your computer as a back-up. If you overwrite your stock settings and want to return to them later, there is a sysex file on the Molten Voltage website that you can load into the programming applet that will allow you to quickly return to the factory settings if you so desire. I found the programming applet to be a much faster and easier way to program the Molten MIDI 5 than manual programming. While it helps if you can think musically and have a decent grasp of theory and harmony, even putting in random values can be fun - leading to interesting and unexpected patterns and musical inspiration. IS IT FOR YOU? If you have a Whammy 5, then this pedal is a must-have. It takes an incredibly cool pedal and multiplies its capabilities, allowing you to get far more out of it than you could otherwise. Do I have any gripes? Not really - especially not at this price point. I do wish it had the ability to slave its MIDI clock to an external clock source. This would make it easier to synchronize it with a MIDI sequencer or DAW for recording purposes. You can do so now, but you have to do it the other way around and sync the DAW to the Molten MIDI 5. Fortunately, the Molten MIDI 5 can be set to transmit MIDI clock information, and the tap tempo feature makes it easy to get the pedal and DAW into the same ballpark in terms of tempo, but the ability to lock to an external clock would be even better. Still, it would require a second MIDI port for MIDI in, and would add significantly to the Molten MIDI 5's size, and price. I really have been having a blast with the Molten MIDI 5. It's way more than a one-trick pony or gimmick device, and with a little thought and some programming, you can get your Whammy 5 to do all sorts of interesting and useful things that would simply be impossible without the assistance of the Molten MIDI 5. Considering the musical inspiration, utility, and sheer fun it adds to the Whammy 5, and its reasonable price tag, it's also a terrific value. If you have a Whammy 4 or Whammy 5, I highly recommend you check out the appropriate Molten MIDI pedal for your device. You'll be amazed by just how fun it is, and how much it expands the capabilities of your Whammy. Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  23. Easy to play, easy to learn, and easy to own, this may just be the perfect starter banjo MSRP $499.00, $399.00 "street" www.deeringbanjos.com By Phil O'Keefe Deering probably isn't a household name - that is, unless your home is full of banjo players. If that's the case, as one of the world's most respected banjo makers, they probably need no introduction. If you're fairly new to banjos, please allow me to fill you in a bit. Deering has been building high-quality banjos right here in sunny Southern California USA since 1975, and they have grown to become one of the most popular banjo brands. Their entry level series, the Goodtime line, has been in production for sixteen years now, and they are the world's most popular American-made banjos. While there are several models in the Goodtime Banjo line, in this review, we'll be focusing on the basic Goodtime open-back 5 string model. (Fig. 1) Figure 1: The Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION Let's get one thing straight right off the bat. While Deering labels this as an entry-level product, and it is certainly not as elaborately appointed and inlayed as their high-end banjos, it's definitely not cheap, as in "poor quality." Sure, some cost cutting measures have been taken, such as the lack of a gig bag or case (a triangular "carrying box" is included - a case or gig bag is an optional extra), or the satin finish over unstained wood, but the construction is expertly done, and the materials used are of very good quality. For example, like nearly all high-grade banjos, the Goodtime features a 3-ply pot or "shell" made from violin grade maple. (Fig. 2) This contributes significantly to its pleasing tonal qualities. Hidden inside the pot you'll find a single metal coordinator rod, which gives additional structural strength to the pot, and can be adjusted to provide some modest neck angle and string height control, letting you dial up just the right setup for your particular playing style and preferences. Importantly, this rod is made from a special alloy to help reduce sympathetic resonances and pitched vibrations that would otherwise negatively affect the instrument's sound. Figure 2: The Goodtime Banjo is an open-back design, and has a 3-ply high-grade maple pot The pot is covered with a frosted top 11" head, which is held in place against the pot's rim by a low noise steel tension hoop. This is in turn anchored by sixteen flat-topped hooks, which are anchored to 16 zinc alloy bracket shoes, which in turn attach to the pot with screws. (Fig. 3) Sixteen 9/32" hex nuts allow for easy head tensioning. The hardware feels solid and strong, and functions great. Figure 3: The Goodtime Banjo also features high quality hardware Unlike some cheaper banjos, which use one-piece bridges, the Goodtime Banjo's 5/8" tall bridge is made from two pieces of wood, with a maple base and an ebony top. The tailpiece features Deering's patented design, which allows for easy string replacement. By slightly loosening the nut below the tailpiece, the unit can be raised or lowered to increase or decrease the string tension over the bridge. (Fig. 4) This lets you change the sound of the instrument a bit, from a lower tensioned and sweeter sound, to a more aggressive and snappy bark when the tension is increased. Figure 4: The Deering tailpiece, with the height adjustment nut located near the bottom of the banjo. Also note the two piece maple and ebony bridge The neck of the Goodtime Banjo is made of hard rock maple. Featuring the same unstained, satin finish as the pot, it has 22 pressed-in nickel silver frets and nine hardwood "bow tie" fingerboard inlays. It also has a very comfortable, fast and smooth feel that begs to be played. Unlike some banjos, the Goodtime uses geared tuners for all five strings - no "friction" tuners here. This is extremely helpful in terms of ease of tuning and tuning stability, and the Goodtime stays in tune quite well. The four main tuners are "guitar-style" and stick out from the side of the headstock, as opposed to "banjo style" with the buttons sitting behind the headstock. They also feature nickel tuner buttons, while the geared 5th string tuner has a pearloid button. The headstock features Deering's "fiddle" headstock shape, and the Goodtime logo, star and "made with pride in the USA" emblems appear to be laser-etched into the wood. (Fig. 5) Figure 5: The Goodtime's headstock logos are engraved into the wood itself. Note the sealed, geared tuners The basic Goodtime 5 string banjo model doesn't have additional "spikes" for the 5th string at the 7th, 9th and 10th frets. When present, these allow you to hook the fifth string under a spike to quickly transpose the string for easier playing in the keys of A, B and C. While I personally like spikes and wish they were included, leaving them off leaves the buyer's options open - they can use a Reagan 5th string capo, or have a Shubb 5th string capo or a set of spikes installed. (Fig. 6) Figure 6: There are no spikes for quickly changing keys on the drone string - you'll want to budget a few bucks extra for their installation, or for a 5th string capo. Also note the geared 5th string tuner and hardwood bow tie inlays Also absent are any sort of dots or other position markers on the side of the neck. Another thing that's missing from the Goodtime is an arm rest, but one is available as a user-installable option direct from Deering for $24 for those who prefer one. TRANSITIONING TO BANJO FROM GUITAR? Obviously the banjo is a different instrument, with different playing techniques than a guitar, but the transition can actually be easier than you might think. For slide guitarists who are used to playing in Open G tuning, the banjo is a relatively easy instrument to transition to since their basic tunings are almost identical. Sure, you have the additional 5th / drone string, but the basic note layout of the remaining four strings is the same as found on the top four strings of a guitar tuned to open G. Don't play slide? You can think of banjo as being tuned similar to a regular guitar's four highest strings, except the high E string is dropped down a whole step to D. The basic chord shapes, scales and note layout are not all that dissimilar to what you already know. One of the most difficult aspects of banjo playing is learning rolls. These are eight note, eighth note picking patterns that are often used in Scruggs-style bluegrass playing. While it may take a while for you to get really fast with them, it's not that dissimilar to playing fingerstyle on guitar, and with a little practice, most guitarists will get the hang of it fairly quickly. Because of this, and its usefulness for bluegrass, jazz, country, dixieland and old-time styles, banjo makes a great "second instrument" for guitarists who are seeking new sounds and looking to try something new to broaden their musical horizons. SOUND AND PLAYABILITY Out of the box, the setup was first-rate, with no adjustments needed to fine tune the action or intonation. The Deering Goodtime Banjo is an absolute joy to play. The neck feels smooth, fast and silky, and is very comfortable and well shaped. As an "open back" model, the Goodtime is a solid choice for styles that are traditionally associated with open-back banjos, such as clawhammer and frailing, and old-time music styles in general. Traditionally, bluegrass banjos often employ a resonator. A resonator surrounds the back of the banjo pot, and projects the sound that would otherwise exit out the back of the banjo and be somewhat muffled by the player's body and clothing towards the front of the banjo and out to the audience, resulting in a brighter, louder sound. While the Goodtime 5-string banjo model under review doesn't have a resonator, Deering does offer other Goodtime models that do, such as the Goodtime 2 Banjo (MSRP $699, $549 "street"), so they've got you covered if you prefer a model with a resonator. There are other models in the series too, including shorter scale "parlor" banjos, as well as 17 and 19 fret four-string tenor banjo models. Even without a resonator, this is still a big sounding instrument, with plenty of volume on tap. You shouldn't have any problem being heard when sitting around jamming with a few other acoustic instrumentalists. The tone is sweet, and somewhat "warm" by banjo standards, but still has plenty of projection and bite. It's a very appealing sound, with much better tone than I was expecting at this price point. LET THE GOODTIME ROLL This is not a banjo that will hinder your playing development and force you into bad habits, nor is it one you will quickly outgrow, or that will fall apart on you. With a modicum of care, it should last a lifetime, and due to its relatively light weight, solid construction, open-back design, great playability and appealing sound, it would still serve as a great knockabout or travel banjo even if you move up to a top of the line model. It's not often that you can find a cool sounding, high-quality American made instrument at such a reasonable price. As such, the Deering Goodtime Banjo is a terrific value, and a great choice for not only those who are seeking an entry into the world of banjo playing, but also for those in need of a travel banjo or second, open-backed model to augment their main, resonator-equipped instrument. Lots of people are going to find something to love about this banjo - including me. I'm having way too much fun with it to send it back, so I'll be purchasing the review unit. Specifications: Type: Open-back, five string Tuning: Standard 5-string banjo (g / D / G / B / D) Scale Length: 26 1/4", nut to bridge Neck Width: 1 1/4" at nut Neck material: Rock maple Frets: 22 nickel silver Finish: Satin blond Pot: 3-ply "violin grade" maple Rim Diameter: 11" Head: 11", frosted top, high crown head Bridge: 5/8" two piece maple / ebony bridge Tailpiece: Patented Deering Goodtime tailpiece Weight: 4.5 pounds Warranty: Six year limited warranty \_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_ Here's some additional photos of the Deering Goodtime open back 5 string banjo. \_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_ Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  24. Adjust your amp's sound with a simple, effective tube swap By Phil O'Keefe Tone connoisseurs have been experimenting with different brands of tubes for ages in an effort to find the tubes that they like best, and many can argue the relative sonic merits and construction details of Telefunken, Mullard, GE, RCA, Sylvania, Groove Tubes, Sovtek, JJ and countless other new and NOS (new, old stock) tube brands. Opinions vary widely, in large part because what may sound great in one amp, or to one player, may not work as well in a different situation. Because of this, experimentation is pretty much the only way that you can find what works best for you. However, one aspect of tube substitutions is less of a guessing game, and that's the amount of gain the tube provides. SWAPPING PREAMP TUBES Did you know that many of the most popular preamp tubes are interchangeable? In fact, the main difference between many common tubes is their gain factor - the amount that they amplify the signal. The plate voltage range, heater voltage, the pin layout, and other basic characteristics of the tubes are the same. For example, the 12AX7 (Fig. 1) is probably the most commonly encountered preamp tube, and can be found in amps from Fender, Peavey, Marshall, Gibson, Ampeg, and many other brands. It's a good tube, but occasionally you may feel that the amp sounds a bit harsh, or that it "breaks up" too early, distorts too easily, or doesn't stay clean through enough of its volume knob range to suit your tastes. By replacing it with another tube from the same "family", you can slightly - or significantly - reduce the gain, and thereby cause the amp to break up later on the volume control, if at all. You may also notice an improvement in overall sweetness of the amp's tone. Figure 1: A Tung Sol 12AX7 preamp tube (click on images to enlarge) Here is a listing of common preamp tubes and their gain factors. Tube Gain 12AX7 (aka 7025, ECC83) 100 5751 70 12AT7 (aka ECC81) 60 12AY7 (aka 6072A) 45 12AV7 (aka 5965) 41 12AU7 (aka ECC82) 19 Each of these tubes can be substituted in place of any other tube on the list, with changes in the amount of gain being the main difference between them in this application. You won't harm the amp as long as it calls for one of the tubes on the list, and as long as you stick to tubes from this list for the substitutions. WHICH SPECIFIC TUBES TO SWAP? You should refer to your amp's documentation to determine which specific tube or tubes to swap. The idea is to switch out the preamp tubes, but to leave the reverb driver, tremolo and phase inverter tubes alone. You can certainly feel free to experiment with tubes of different gain factors in these spots too, but in general you may be less than pleased with the results in terms of the changes it can make to the sound and operation of the reverb and tremolo, although swapping out the phase inverter is occasionally done by some players, and can make a difference in the amount of "crunch" on some amps. If you'd like to try this, try replacing the stock 12AT7 you'll typically find in the phase inverter position (usually the "small" tube found closest to the large power amp tubes) with a higher gain 5751 or 12AX7. Marshalls typically come stock with a higher gain 12AX7 tube in the phase inverter position, while Fender and many other amp brands use the lower gain 12AT7 tube. Amps with only one power amp tube, such as the Fender Champ, don't have a phase inverter tube. On old single channel Fender amplifiers, "V1" (the preamp tube) is on the far right as you view the amp from the rear. (Fig. 2) For two channel Fender amplifiers, such as the Deluxe Reverb and Twin Reverb, V1 (on the far right) is the preamp tube for the Normal channel, and V2 (the second tube from the right) is the preamp tube for the Vibrato channel. Figure 2: A Fender Princeton Amp, with the location of the preamp tube indicated with an arrow (metal tube shield removed for clarity) If your amp's tube chart or manual calls for a 12AX7 in the V1 position, try substituting a 5751 instead. If you really want to clean things up, replace that 12AX7 with a 12AT7, or even a 12AY7. If you use dirt pedals (fuzz, distortion, overdrive, etc.) in front of the amp, such tube substitutions can have a noticeable effect on the way the amp responds to the pedals - often for the better. Remember, always stick to substitutions that are known to work - don't assume that a tube will work just because it has the same number of pins and "fits" the socket! Also use caution whenever swapping out tubes. The glass can get extremely hot, so either use an oven mitt, or better yet, wait until the tubes cool before making the switch, and always power down and unplug it from the AC outlet whenever you are working on your amp. Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
  25. Not too high, not too low, here's how to get the levels "just right" By Phil O'Keefe One of the questions that I get asked fairly often by neophyte recording enthusiasts is "how hot should I record?" The amount of signal you record per track can have an effect on not only the sound of that individual track, but on the overall mix of all tracks as well. There are definitely some misconceptions floating around out there in terms of just how high recording levels should be, so let's dig in and have a look at just how to set things up for best results. GAIN STAGING What is gain staging? In the simple terms, it's nothing more than optimizing the levels of each device in the signal path; adjusting the output level of one device so that it sends ample signal to the next device in the chain, but not so much that it overloads it. This gain adjustment process is repeated for each subsequent device in the chain. Just as too much output will overload and distort the next device in the chain, too little will tend to result in the need for excessive "make-up gain" levels of amplification from the following devices in order to compensate, which usually results in increased noise. Remember that the sensitivity of the microphone, its distance from the sound source, and how loud the sound source is will also come into play when setting levels. If the sound source is loud, and the mic is placed in close to it, you'll need much less preamp gain to get sufficient recording levels than when you're recording a quieter sound source with the microphone placed further away from it. For example, a low sensitivity ribbon mic placed some distance from a quiet sound source will require much more gain from the mic preamp in order to achieve optimal recording levels compared to a high output condenser mic placed much closer to the sound source. INPUT TYPES AND LEVELS There are two main pathways into your DAW that you'll find on the typical computer audio interface: line level inputs, and mic level inputs. Depending on the model, your computer audio interface will usually have one or more of both types of inputs to accommodate a wide range of recording tasks. Line level inputs are designed to accept line level output signals, such as those from an external mic preamp, a synth or keyboard, or from a external rack compressor or hardware EQ. One or two high impedance 1/4" line level inputs are also often included as DI or direct recording inputs for guitar and bass. There are two main line-level "standards" you're likely to run into: -10 dBV, which is the consumer or "semi-pro" standard, and +4 dBm / +4dBu, which are the professional standards. Each uses a different reference point for "0 dB", so the math isn't as simple as a straightforward 14 dB difference between the two, but +4 is definitely "hotter" than -10, so it's important to always use the correct levels when connecting things. +4 outputs should always be used with +4 inputs, and -10 outputs should always be used with -10 inputs. Many hardware devices either offer separate jacks for both types, or have a switch that lets you choose between levels, so always make sure you've matched them up correctly or you'll have a heck of a time getting your levels right. XLR and balanced 1/4" jacks are commonly used for +4 dBu line level inputs and outputs, while unbalanced 1/4" and RCA jacks are more commonly used for -10 dBV line level input and output jacks. The main and monitor outputs from your audio interface are also typically line level outputs. The other common input type is the mic input. Mic inputs are usually on XLR jacks. Mic level inputs are designed to accept the output from a low impedance microphone, and are nearly always associated with a built-in microphone preamp. Typical mic levels - the output of your microphone - run in the -60dB range, but need to be raised much higher than that before we can record it. That's the job of the mic preamp. Typically they can add anywhere from 40 dB to 70 dB or more of gain to the signal, depending on the design of the preamp and the level you have the preamp's gain knob set to. If the sound is exceptionally loud at the source, you could overload the microphone. In these cases, you can move the mic further back from the sound source, or engage the microphone's pad switch if it has one. Most modern mikes either have pad switches or can handle fairly hot levels, so often it's not the mic distorting. More often, when the signal from the microphone is too "hot", it can overload the mic preamp's input, causing it to distort. Again, the pad switch on the mic or mic preamp is typically used to compensate for this. (Figure1) Figure 1: The pad switches on these API 312 mic preamps attenuate the input signal -20 dB to prevent distortion from hot input signals (click on images to enlarge) OTHER DEVICES IN THE CHAIN One of the best things you can do when setting up (or having problems) is to simplify your signal path. Don't put it into the chain unless you really need it. The fewer things you use, the less noise you add, and the less likely you are to misadjust something. That means that if you don't absolutely need a hardware EQ or compressor, take it out of the chain! However, sometimes you do need to EQ the signal you're recording, or want to compress a signal with a large dynamic range. These devices are typically added after the mic preamp and before the audio interface, or used as channel inserts if your mic preamp or audio interface has those connections. The gain staging is the same. The mic preamp needs to send sufficient level to the compressor or EQ to give it enough signal to work with, but not so much as to overload it. These devices usually have an output gain control that will allow you to adjust the level you send out from them to the next item in the chain. This is especially important with compressors, since compression tends to lower signal levels and requires a make-up gain stage to compensate. TRACKING LEVELS - THE DAW'S METERS Unfortunately, one of the most common issues I see when dealing with tracks that were recorded by neophytes is the levels slammed nearly to the point of clipping. I'm regularly amazed by just how hot many people record their tracks, and it's not only unnecessary, it's actually counter-productive. DAW meters lie quite often. They can miss inter-sample peaks and not always accurately reflect when clipping occurs. For this reason, you should always leave at least a dB or so of headroom below clipping. I typically get uncomfortable if I see my meters peaking past -3dB, and I never want to see the red CLIP meter illuminate. But you really don't need to have your levels that hot. In fact, most DAW software is calibrated so that the equivalent of "0 dB" on analog VU meters correlates with anywhere between -20 dBFS and -15 dBFS on the DAW's meters. Yup - that's right - the level you're shooting for should be in the -15dB range on average, not up in the -3dB range. If your DAW meters don't have calibration marks, -15 dBFS is normally somewhere in the middle of the meter's range on most DAW programs, not up near the top of it. I can't emphasize this strongly enough - if you've been slamming those levels and pushing those meters to the top when you record, switching to -15 dBFS as your target recording level will make a huge improvement to the sound of your DAW recordings and mixes! Have a look at the Pro Tools meters in Figure 2. The track labeled Audio 1 is at -15dB, which is the equivalent of "0 VU" in Pro Tools. This is about where your average signal levels should be when recording. Notice how Audio 2 is one dB hotter at -14, and has illuminated one of the yellow LEDs on the meter. This is analogous to +1dB on an old analog VU meter. Audio 4 is showing 0 dBFS, the maximum signal level that you can record without clipping. Figure 2: Metering in Pro Tools. The track labelled Audio 1 shows the optimal average recording level of -15 dBFS; the equivalent of "0 VU" The cumulative results of recording too hot are also visible in that screen shot. Notice how the Master output meters are "into the red" and clipping. This is due in large part to the excessively hot recording level of Audio 4 - combined with the other three tracks, it's enough to clip the stereo output bus unless we add compression or start lowering faders and levels. HOOKING EVERYTHING UP AND SETTING LEVELS Here's a basic guide to hooking up and setting your levels. For Microphones: Connect the microphone to the mic cable, and the cable to the mic input on the audio interface. If it's a condenser mic, make sure you turn phantom power on. With the sound source playing at normal levels, adjust the gain knob on the mic preamp until the meters in your DAW are in the -15 dBFS range. This should give you enough headroom to prevent clipping of the DAW track when recording, even on the loudest peaks, but if it is a extremely dynamic sound source with widely fluctuating levels, it is better to lower the overall recording level even further if you need to in order to prevent clipping. If you notice the red LED "peak" or "clip" indicator of the mic preamp lighting up (Figure 3), the output of the mic is overloading the preamp. Either engage the pad switch on the microphone, or the one on the mic preamp. This will reduce the level by several dB. Fine tune the mic preamp gain after you engage the pad until the levels on the DAW meters are correct. Figure 3: The input clip indicators on this Mbox are located to the left of each channel's Gain knob. They flash red when clipping occurs The basic procedure is the same when you are using an external mic preamp. The only difference is that you will have to connect the mic to the external preamp's mic input, and the external mic preamp's line output to a line input on your computer audio interface. If the audio interface has a gain knob or software volume control that affects the line input level, you will need to adjust that too, making sure the mic preamp isn't overloading the line input, and that the gain knob on the line input is adjusted so that the DAW levels are in their optimal range. If the external mic preamp has two gain knobs, it can be a bit trickier to dial it in. The design approach taken varies from model to model, but many have a input gain range knob, and then a second knob for output adjustment, such as the controls found on the ART Tube MP series mic preamps (Fig. 4) These need to be balanced properly. Typically the gain range control is used to get it into the ballpark, and the output control used to fine-tune the signal level. Figure 4: Some preamps, such as the ART Tube MP series, have two gain controls For Line Level Sources: Connect the line level output from your sound source (keyboard, external mic preamp's line output, etc.) to a line input on your audio interface. Make sure you're using the same reference signal level for both the output and input - either -10dBV or +4dBm. If the input has a trim control or gain knob, adjust it until the average signal levels on your DAW are in the -15dB range. Occasional peaks that go a bit hotter than that are acceptable, but the average levels should stay at about -15dB on the meters, and the clipping indicator should never illuminate. With keyboards, don't forget that you can adjust the volume control on the instrument as needed too. I generally like to start out with the keyboard's output control set 3/4 of the way up and adjust it as needed from there. IT'S ALREADY BEEN TRACKED TOO HOT - NOW WHAT? What to do if you're handed a bunch of tracks to mix that were recorded way too hot? While there's not much you can do for actual clipped waveforms, you can still lower the level of the tracks enough to put them into the optimal gain range to allow yourself the use of plugins and processing without risking overloading the output bus. Just add a trim plugin at the top of each of the DAW's mixer channels, and use them to pull the levels down to the optimal average range (between -20 and-15 dBFS), and then mix as you normally would. Even with optimal tracking levels, you may find using trim plugins helpful in optimizing your levels when you go to mix, especially on larger sessions with lots of tracks that will have to be summed (added together) to create the final stereo mix. Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
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