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Jon Chappell_1

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  1. Creating DAW templates whose filenames include the hardware setup will increase your recording efficiency and spare you annoying start-up errors By Jon Chappell As interfaces get cheaper and smaller, and more recording setups take on mobile roles, it’s not uncommon to find yourself mixing and matching your computer (desktop vs. laptop), DAW (Pro Tools, Live, Cubase, etc.), and your front end (interface or audio converter) in various combinations. I’ve even gone to aggregating two smaller interfaces rather than using a single, large, multi-input unit, as it gives me a similar experience whether I’m in a stripped-down mobile setting or a full-fledged studio. But having multiple interfaces means you run the risk of launching your DAW—or a project within a DAW—without the right interface connected. This means that upon startup, you’ll be presented with an error screen that states the interface doesn’t match the DAW setup. While this isn’t a serious error, it does waste time, and it can unsettle a client not used to seeing error screens. Plus, some DAWs—most notoriously Pro Tools—won’t accommodate a hot swap (with the DAW still running), and force you to quit the program and re-launch while you switch interfaces. That just looks bad. And strictly speaking, it’s an error that you as the producer could avoid. If you run Cubase with an interface mismatch, you’ll be greeted with the following screen: If you run Pro Tools, you’ll see this: Other DAWs will throw up similar screens signaling mismatches. The easiest way to avoid this pesky problem is to simply create and name templates according to the interface you have hooked up at the time. This will save you from launching the wrong template and then re-mapping your ports, inputs, and outputs. So go ahead and create your software-based templates as you normally would (orchestral, rhythm section, songwriter, jazz trio, etc.) but be sure to add some code that’s meaningful, such as “orchestral.akaieie” or “drum&bass.octacapture.” Because whether it’s DAWs or air travel, we’re all looking for a smooth launch and no pilot errors. \\\_\\\_ Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular For Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).
  2. Know the Specs and the Symbols of Your Wall Warts and Line Lumps By Jon Chappell Tons of electronic gizmos made for musicians, from interfaces to effects, use external power supplies—those cube-like enclosures that plug into the wall or power strip and then deliver electricity to the device via a cord and a plug. We have to put up with the external versions, because internal power supplies are both more expensive (meaning more expensive for the maker to implement, who would then pass the expense on to you, the consumer) and bulkier (meaning some smaller effects would have to be made larger). So external power supplies, like death and taxes, are unavoidable facts of life. Most external power supplies (sometimes called “AC adapters,” though the word “adapter” indicates a physical, and not electrical, transformation, as discussed in Tip #2 below) still come in the form known derisively as a “wall wart,” because the prongs that go into the outlet protrude directly from the box. This results in awkward placement both in a wall socket as well as a power strip. Often, wall warts will make inaccessible adjacent outlets, which is, frankly, rude. In recent years, some manufacturers have tried to vary the form factor, opting instead for a “line lump,” where the box that contains the power supply’s guts is further down the line and not right at the outlet prongs (similar to laptop power supplies). This is a more desirable option, and some designs even allow for a detachable AC power cord for even more versatility. Below is an example of the respective form factors of a wall wart (left) and a line lump. Beyond the physical wrangling of an external power supply, the most critical attention must be paid to its specs: the type (AC or DC output), polarity (for DC; whether the tip is negative or positive), voltage, and current (in amps, or often milliamps). SEPARATION ANXIETY Try as we might to keep them together, power supplies and the devices they belong to can become separated, leaving you scratching your head as to what supply you can safely use as a substitute to power your interface or effects pedal. And it's a reasonable expectation, assuming you know what you're doing. First and foremost, locate the device's manual to confirm its power requirements. Most devices will have their specs posted somewhere online, perhaps even in a downloadable pdf manual. Once you know what the unit needs, you can start rummaging amongst your collection for a suitable replacement. And so that you know what you're looking for, here’s a brief explanation of the key features, terms, and symbols that appear on external power supplies. Input: These requirements will always be listed in AC terms, because you’re plugging into a wall. If the supply is intended for use in the U.S., it will be marked from 110V to 120V, 60Hz; Europe and elsewhere is 220V to 240V, 50Hz. Output: This is tricky, as most external power supplies (especially smaller ones, like the cube-shaped wall warts) output DC, but there are some that output AC. Make sure you distinguish which is which. You don’t want to mix up AC and DC. Usually the power supply will label its system using the letters “AC” or “DC,” but sometimes you’ll see the symbols instead, which look like this: Polarity: Polarity is not an issue with AC, but since most power supplies are DC, it’s important to identify the plug’s polarity with regard to the tip and sleeve. This is almost always identified schematically, using two concentric circles with plus (+) and minus (-) signs and a line going to the center (tip) or outside ring (sleeve). Here’s how it looks graphically: This is in no way standardized, but the majority of power supplies use the scheme negative tip/positive sleeve. Some pedals (such as ones by Tech 21) have sensors to gauge the polarity of a plug and adjust itself accordingly, but not all manufacturers are as accommodating as Tech 21, so take care in noting both the power supply’s and the pedal’s polarity orientation. Voltage and Current. These are measures in Volts and Amps (using the letters “V” and “A”). Voltages will vary from about 3V to 18V. Amps are often measured in milliamps (mA), because they don’t usually exceed 1,000. A typical current rating is 500mA (0.5 amps). If you don’t have the original supply and are in a pinch, try to match as close you can the Voltage and Current to the device with the best choice among power supplies you have at hand. Generally speaking, it’s better if the supply has higher numbers than those required for the device. The device has protection circuitry to ward off higher values, but a mismatch where the supply's numbers produce lower current or voltage is neither good for the device nor the supply. Plug size and fit. The power supply’s plug has to fit the jack (socket) of the unit, and be able to mate with its positive and negative terminals correctly. If you’re trying to find a replacement power supply for an effect, it doesn’t matter if all the specs match up exactly if you can’t fit the plug in the hole. Fortunately, there are just a handful of plug sizes to choose from, though this aspect is also disappointingly non-standardized (just like cellphones). Now that you know the terms and symbols, take a look at the image below, which is a photo of the actual faceplate of a Yamaha power supply. Note the red text that tells you what each significant number means. POWER SUPPLY HINTS Here are two tips for dealing with power supplies and the units that use them. Whenever I receive a new unit that uses an external supply, I always check to ensure that the power supply specs are listed on the unit itself. Sometimes they are, but often they’re not, and you have to refer to the owner’s manual. If the specs aren’t listed on the back panel of the unit, I take a piece of blue masking tape, put it on the underside or rear of the unit, and label with a Sharpie the following info: Polarity (e.g., “- tip / + sleeve” or using the concentric circle symbology), Voltage / Current (“9.5V / .800A”), and make of the original supply (“Acme”). I do this last step because often the power supply is not the same brand as the pedal. On the power supply itself, I make sure that all the pertinent info is displayed (it usually is, but sometimes it can get worn off), and then I put a piece of masking tape on the supply and indicate which unit the supply is meant to power. Buy a universal power supply from an electronics vendor. These are like universal remotes for your TV, except with a lot fewer buttons. They allow you to switch polarity (and have an accompanying graphic so you don’t mess it up), vary the voltage (in discrete steps), and offer a variety of plug shapes. These days, many universal supplies will accommodate both 110 volts or 220 volts, so you can bring them overseas. Just make sure you bring along an appropriate adapter so the plug prongs will line up with the socket receptacles. Here’s a view of the front panel of a typical universal power supply: Note that this supply can handle both U.S. and European input sources (110 and 220V, 60 and 50Hz). Also note that it doesn’t use two concentric circles to indicate polarity (see lower left of unit), but a more literal rendering of the plug outlines. You can’t quite read the text above the horizontal voltage switch (lower right), but notice that these voltages are also listed above in the text (1.5 to 12V). The Power Output doesn’t read “DC” but instead relies on the symbol (two parallel horizontal lines, one solid, one dotted), which you can see placed just to the right of the "V." Finally, this unit will supply current on demand (depending on the needs of the device), but has a 1,000mA (or 1 Amp) maximum ("MAX."). CONCLUSION The best thing for keeping power supplies straight is to never have them part company with the unit they power. But this just isn’t practical, as they’re very different shapes. It’s not uncommon to have a drawer or a box full of power supplies and a shelf of stacked effects. In a perfect world, there would be a one-to-one correspondence of power supplies to devices, but somehow you will always end up with more supplies—sometimes with ones with of inscrutable origins. Remember too that power supplies can become lost or damaged. So it pays to be able to read the specs, know the functions, and decide how you can furnish an alternate power supply if you need to. \\_\\_ Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).
  3. The noted British amp maker offers three pedals that combine tube and digital technology to produce reverb, delay, and modulation HT-Reverb - $375.99 MSRP, $299.99 Street HT-Delay - $375.99 MSRP, $299.99 Street HT-Modulation - $375.99 MSRP, $299.99 Street http://www.blackstaramps.co.uk/ by Jon Chappell The trio of Blackstar's HT effects pedals; the HT-Reverb, HT-Delay, and HT-Modulation. (Click images to enlarge.) Blackstar is a British manufacturer that specializes in high-quality tube amps, and has carved out a niche for itself serving gain-cranking guitarists of many genres, such as Richie Sambora; Neal Schon; Boz Boorer of Morrissey; Leslie West; and Luke Bryan, Jason “Slim” Gambill, and Clint Chandler of Lady Antebellum. After solidly establishing themselves in the amplification arena, Blackstar turned their attentions to small-scale tone-shapers, releasing a series of seven overdrive pedals and three effects pedals. The central theme to all the pedals is that they run on high voltage (300V) and include an onboard preamp tube in the front end of the gain stage. The three effects pedals combine this with a digital stage to produce a best-of-both-worlds digital/analog hybrid sound. In addition to sharing common features (color, identical switch on knob layout, I/O configuration), the three effects pedals are built like tanks. They are heavy and rugged, and run on only AC power (no batteries). These are serious pedals built for industrial use. OVERVIEW All three pedals are identical in footprint and physical control layout, with the knobs and switches changing functions depending on the unit. Five solid-feeling knurled rotary controls occupy the top of the unit with two footswitches (each with status LEDs) on the lower edge. In the pedal’s center is a grille-protected window revealing the glowing glass ECC83 (12AX7) tube below, which of course is key to the analog drive part of the circuit. There’s a single 1/4" input on the right side and two 1/4" output jacks (Right and Left/Mono) on the left. Around back is the jack for the power supply. Because the pedals operate using high voltage (300V), the pedals can be powered only through the plug-in power supply (no battery option). The supplied power supply is a nice line-lump design (preferable to the dreaded wall wart), with a detachable AC cord. The pedals are big, heavy, and almost military in their aesthetic, with a straightforward, no-nonsense design. All three pedals are even the same color, a neutral beige/champagne scheme. Except for the small-ish labeling on the controls and surrounding the tube window, it’s hard to tell them apart at a glance. The unified design works very well for accommodating the controls of these three different effects. The right-most two knobs control are the drive and output level, which is crucial to the heart of the sound. The control named “Saturation” on the Delay and Modulation, and “Dwell” on the Reverb, determines whether or not the tube is included in the sound. A helpful LED lights up, in a graduated fashion, as you turn up the Saturation/Dwell control and the tube is engaged. Besides the two rightmost controls that balance the tube drive and level, there are the three effect-specific knobs. At the far left is the program select knob, an 8-position encoder that selects the basic algorithm. Here are the eight choices for each of the three pedals. HT-Reverb: Room, Hall, Bright Hall, Plate, Spring, Arena, Reverse, Gate HT-Delay: Linear, Analogue, Multihead 1, Multihead 2, Tape, Space, Loop 1, Loop 2 HT-Modulation: Flanger, Phaser 1, Phaser 2, Vintage Chorus 1, Vintage Chorus 2, Multi Chorus, Tremolo, Rotary The two footswitches cover effect on/off and either Mode (Short/Long for the Reverb and Modulation) or Tap/Loop (Delay). Again, the uniform treatment of the switches works well for the three pedals. I used all of them in series (along with other pedals in my chain, to create a realistic playing environment) and had no trouble switching among them, despite their near-identical appearance. (Technically, there is a color variation in the badge lettering, but it’s pretty subtle, at least compared with the fairly gargantuan cases the pedals are housed in.) OPERATION I started with the subtlest of the pedals, the HT-Reverb (see Fig. 1). The eight algorithms are well chosen, and all have a wide musical range. If anything, I wish the Time values started a little lower in the minimum range. For example, the Room Time, at its lowest level, was not as small and dry as I’m used to hearing in other reverbs. But throughout the algorithms and the sweep of their parameters—and even with the controls in their maxed-out positions—all eight programs created realistic guitar-based ambient spaces, and were much more versatile than could be dialed in on the front panel of any amp. In the HT-Reverb, the tube stage is especially nice, as it softens the tendency for the reverbs to be a little hard-edged. The tube creates the subtlest of all influences here, but it is very effective. Fig. 1. HT-Reverb. Use the tube drive to soften the ambient effect. (Note the glowing tube in the center.) I found the tube-saturation circuit to behave consistently among all three pedals. Up to about 9:00 it’s hard to get the LED to flicker. Then between 9:00 and 3:00, the LED activates easily and glows red (its maximum illumination state). Then from 3:00 to maximum, it’s on all the time. That’s expected behavior in the control range, but the sonic effect is much subtler. Don’t get these HT effects pedals thinking they can stand in for a dedicated overdrive pedal. That’s not their function. What they do really well is to add dimension and warmth to the effected sound. There’s really not that big a difference in the Saturation control from off to max, but in an exposed part, it’s a nice added dimension of warmth and tube character. The Saturation control works much more effectively in the Delay pedal (see Figure 2), simply because of the nature of a delay is to separate more distinctly, and in time, the straight and effected sounds. To test the effected sound against the straight sound, I created a long-delay patch that kept the straight signal clean and maxed out the Saturation control. Since the straight and effected sound were widely separated—a single repeat one full second later in time—I could really hear the difference of the two treatments in isolation. The repeated sound was warm and furry, but not indistinguishable from the source sound that appeared one second earlier. Fig. 2. HT-Delay. Here, you can clearly hear the tube sound in longer delay times. I liked the Saturation effect in the Modulation pedal too (see Fig. 3). If you really want to fatten up a processed sound, consider reaching for the Saturation control before you make it soupier with just effects alone. Saturation used in the Flanger, Vintage Chorus 2, and Rotary effects lent a great vintage quality to the sound. Fig. 3. HT-Modulation. The tube effect really adds to the vintage quality. CONCLUSION Many effects manufacturers include a tube as a gimmick, and don’t really pass high enough voltage through it to make a significant contribution to the sound. Not so with the Blackstar’s HT Effects series. You can’t run these on batteries because the voltage requirements are so high. While some guitarists might consider a non-battery option an inconvenience, the plug-in power supply is imperative to deliver the necessary voltage that is the core of the HT pedals’ sound. The second aspect is that the tube’s effect is subtle—just as it should be. It’s still trying its hardest to produce a good, clean signal; it’s just that when it can’t, it fails in such a warm, subtle, and sweet way. That’s the key quality of the HT line: the effects are real and any warmth is good, honest tube warmth. If weight and size aren’t an issue for you for storage and transport, you will love the HT series’ mammoth size and indestructible build. All three pedals exhibit great sound and design in the effects, and the tube is just the extra little bit of musicality many guitarists will need to create sounds that not only have the required effects treatments, but add a little extra musicality besides. \\_\\_ Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).
  4. A straightforward singlecut solidbody built for comfort, quality, and tone, but which doesn’t forsake aesthetics, either By Jon Chappell MSRP: $4,138.00; Street: $2,466 prsguitars.com/stripped58 To me, when someone uses the word “stripped” to mean or “pared down to the bone,” it conjures visions of naked-wood furniture with its finish chemically removed, or perhaps a car up on cinderblocks and forcibly deprived of its wheels, stereo system, and hood ornament. “Stripped” ain’t pretty. But apparently PRS Guitars and I have different definitions of the word, because their “Stripped” 58, a recent addition to the permanent catalog—and whose sister model, the SC 58, won the Musikmesse International Press Award for Best Electric Guitar 2011/2012—looks to me like a finely appointed and wholly complete instrument. There’s nothing bare-bones about this guitar, unless of course compare it to a regular, or “unstripped” SC 58, and then only side by side. But, really, how often is that going to happen? All I know is that what PRS calls “Stripped,” I call a really nice guitar. (And to be fair, PRS puts the word in quotes—perhaps they are being just a tad ironic?) But PRS wants you to know that this is not their full-on SC 58, whose discount, or street, price starts at $3,836.00—more than $1,350 more expensive. Rather, the “Stripped” 58 is all about tone, quality, and comfort. So it’s not a luxury guitar, but one that will appeal to professional musicians who want a first-rate instrument to record with or to take on the road. And one you will cherish but not be afraid to hand off to a guest performer. OVERVIEW The SC is a single-cut guitar with a mahogany body, carved flame maple top with a McCarty sunburst, covered with a V12 finish. It sports nickel hardware (including exposed-gear Phase III locking tuners, see Fig. 1), two 57/08 PRS pickups, a PRS two-piece bridge, two volume and two tone controls (with lampshade-style knobs), and a 3-way pickup switch on the upper bout (see Fig. 2). The neck is mahogany, with a 22-fret rosewood fretboard, and a dot inlay on the fretboard (birds are optional) complete the picture of this straightforward guitar. Fig. 1: The "Stripped" 58 features Phase III locking tuners (with open-back gears) on an unadorned headstock. Fig. 2: Close-up of the carved maple top, McCarty sunburst, V12 finish, 57/08 pickups, two-piece bridge, and lampshade control knobs. The neck is a short-scale (24.5"), which accounts for the “comfort” aspect, because even though it has a modified Wide/Fat profile, the frets are closer together (especially benefitting the left-hand when playing the lower frets) and the strings have slightly looser tension (good for string bending) than on longer-scale guitars . At 24.5", the “Stripped” 58 is shorter than the Les Paul and other Gibsons (24.75"), other PRS’s (25.0"), and Strats and other Fenders (25.5"). Another new feature of the “Stripped” 58 is the V12 finish, introduced by PRS in 2010, a thin, hard, clear covering that will not crack or react with thinners, reports the manufacturer. In development for over a decade, the finish is described by PRS as “halfway between acrylic and nitro but with a classic feel all its own.” Paul Reed Smith himself says, “PRS models with this new finish feel like old instruments.” PLAYABILITY It took me a long time to plug in the “Stripped” 58 because the playability experience was so enchanting. I don't have large hands, but I was completely at ease playing the "Stripped" 58 for long periods, even when relentlessly strumming down-the-neck full barre chords. Once I ventured to the middle of the neck or played lead from the 5th fret through the 15th, it was like a hot knife through butter left in the sun. The neck is substantial enough for full-chord grips and blues leads where you really want to dig in, backed by some meat underneath. I’ve always preferred PRS’s Wide Fat profile to their Wide Thin, as it seems more “classic” to me. (The monikers “wide” and “fat” are just PRS’s names; these necks are really middle-ground when it comes to relative girths of other manufacturers’ neck profiles.) The Pattern shape is a modified Wide Fat that has a slightly flatter radius up top, which enhances playability, especially for fast playing and smooth string bending. Whatever the spec differences in the Wide Fat profile versus the new Pattern shape, the overall effect is that the neck feels graceful, and seems to offer a little more left-hand facility, but not at the expense of the substance necessary for gripping big chords down the neck or chewing up the fingerboard with mid- and high-neck lead passages. The two-piece bridge—a new design from PRS that also appears on the SC 58 and JA-15—is made of solid aluminum with brass for the saddles, threaded bridge posts, and knurled thumbwheels. The tailpiece is an open-slot design, enabling fast string changes, and is anchored by two brass studs (see Fig. 2). The chunky brass saddles are adjustable, as are the large knurled wheels, which enable you to change your 58’s setup quite easily. But my review model (set up with 10’s) needed no adjustment out of the box—at least for the way I play, and for several of my friends who tried out the instrument. As a final thought, the nickel and brass colors work really well together aesthetically. Fig. 2. The two-piece PRS bridge, made out of aluminum and brass (saddles, posts, studs, and thumbwheels), offers excellent vibration transfer and adjustability. VINTAGE PICKUP TONE The pickups are PRS’s own 57/08’s. These produce a decidedly more “vintage” sound than other humbuckers out there, and with a slightly lower output. Pickup aficionados will immediately recognize that a lower output yields a slightly cleaner, fuller sound—one that can be tweaked to desired distortion extremes through amp settings or pedal applications. The clear advantages of a lower-output pickup, for me, are two: they are closer in sound to the coveted PAF pickup sound, and they clean up real nicely with just a slight rollback on a volume knob. The 57/08’s are not only well-matched to the guitar they serve (an alternative for those looking for a Les Paul paradigm, but not necessarily a Gibson Les Paul), but are among my favorite PRS’s period. Plugged through both 6L6 and EL84-based amps, I was able to get crisp clean tones, warm and singing sustained leads, and everything in between. Tone is always a matter of taste, but the difference between these pickups and some common third-party replacements I have in my other humbucker-equipped guitars is notable. Again, it’s a desirable mix between vintage Gibson humbuckers, PAFs and something yet again, courtesy of PRS. It’s a great all-around sound for electric blues, classic rock, garage- and pop-rock, and country. CONCLUSION If your aesthetic tastes require your appointments to match your tone, you should look toward PRS’s full-blown SC 58s, and their myriad options. On the other hand, if you think PRS has done a fine job in their pre-selection of tops (with a 10 as an option), McCarty burst, V12 finish, dot inlay (with birds as an option), and the rest, the “Stripped” 58 will meet your every critical demand for tone and playability. There is a sleek coherence to the design and playability of the "Stripped" 58, and the tone rocks. The fact that the Stripped 58 includes modern innovations (Pattern neck profile, Phase III tuners, two-piece bridge) as well as tried-and-tried tone deliverers (57/08 pickups) shows that this guitar is not “hobbled” when compared to its luxury counterparts in the PRS line, and can compete with any high-end axe by any maker on the market. Because in addition to meeting your professional demands, the “Stripped" 58 will exceed your expectations and delight your ears as well as your fingers. \\_\\_ Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).
  5. Using a Volume Pedal for that Violin Technique — without the Fancy Footwork by Jon Chappell Many guitarists, from Eddie Van Halen to Adrian Belew, are masters at dipping and raising their volume pot as the play lead lines, which buries, or masks, the notes’ attack, resulting in a violin-like articulation. In this technique, the lowered-and-raised volume control allows only the sustained portion of the struck note to come through, along with a slight swell. Stratocasters are especially good for this effect, because the volume knob is so close to the treble side of the bridge, where your pinky falls -- unless you play Hendrix style (with a “flipped” guitar), in which case the volume knob is out of reach. A better way to execute the masked-attack technique is with a volume pedal, which doesn’t cause your right hand to contort in strange ways while you try to strike the strings and work the knob. But either way, this delayed swell is a great effect, especially on slower, legato lines. Synching the volume device with your playing can create a problem if you’re less than rehearsed at doing two things at once (playing the line and working the volume level). But through recording you can achieve the same effect without crippling your little finger or getting shin-splints from repeated pumpings your volume pedal. Here’s how to do it: Record your line in the normal way, without any volume manipulation. On playback, route the track you want to “de-articulate” through a volume pedal (via your mixer’s direct out or pre fade aux) and bring it into another channel and onto a new track. Keep the original track out of the mixdown, so that only the volume-pedal-manipulated track is heard (as shown in Fig. 1). Apply your pedal moves to the new track, rather than your live playing. This way, you’re doing only one thing at a time, and if you mess up a pedal maneuver, your original track is intact. Fig. 1. Take the direct out (or a pre fade aux send) of the recorded guitar track and run it through the volume pedal and back into another channel and onto a new track. I’ve tried doing this technique using the volume fader (and even automating the moves to “save my work” as I go), but it just doesn’t sound the same. It might be that the taper on a fader is too smooth for the effect to be convincing. But an old volume pedal is just the ticket, and you learn how to apply the pedal on your own lead lines, which will help when you have to perform the technique live! Practice Those Foot Moves Using a volume pedal between two recorded tracks is also a way to isolate the two independent tasks of handwork and footwork. Work on getting your foot moves down in isolation before bringing your hands into the picture. By playing with recorded tracks, you can focus on just your foot, making sure you're masking just enough of the attack to produce the violin effect without robbing the any more of the sustained portion of the note than necessary. The danger of this is that if you're not quick enough on bringing your foot down, the passage can always sound a little behind the beat. \\_\\_ Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).
  6. For video recording, use a handheld audio recorder whenever possible by Jon Chappell When recording video involving anything to do with music—whether recording a concert from row ZZZ, or capturing your buddy’s acoustic fingerpicking patterns at close range—always use a handheld recorder, and don’t use the camcorder’s onboard mic for anything except synching the tracks later. Even the most basic video-editing programs—iMovie for the Mac and Windows Movie Maker for Windows—allow you to fly in added or alternate soundtrack. If you import your handheld’s audio into the your movie program, you can use the video track’s audio to easily line up the quality audio track. The advantage o using a handheld it twofold: 1) it produces higher quality audio; and 2) you can position the mic anywhere you want. (The camera’s mic must always be where the camera is—not always the best place for sound.) One of the best hand-held recorders to use for recording audio for video is Yamaha’s PockeTrak C24 (about $120). It’s small, lightweight, unobtrusive, and will run for a good long time using one AAA batteries (available anywhere, including all-night gas stations). The C24 has good mics, which are directional and manage to squelch ambient background noise pretty well. Resolution is no issue, as it delivers better-than-CD quality (as well as several MP3 formats). It comes with a retractable USB connector and a spring clamp. Hold it in your hand, clamp it to stand or a headstock, or even have your interview subject hold it herself and sing into it while you work the camera from a safe distance away. Of course, there are plenty of other great hand-held recorders made by Zoom, Roland, TASCAM, Olympus, and others. They all have varying capabilities, so shop around to find what fits your needs the best. And if you wonder whether hand-held recorders are good enough for "real" recordings, check out the article Hand-Held Recording: The World Is Your Live Room - and you'll be convinced.
  7. Two solutions—one wet, one dry—for when you have to supply your own juice In the summer months, musicians can find themselves outside as easily as inside. Most clients who hire musicians for a picnic, wedding, or other event realize they have to supply AC power for the band’s equipment (P.A., amps, lighting, etc.). But sometimes the client can’t, and, not being experts in such matters, they will often turn to the musician for answers. So it helps to know how to bring your AC with you, when necessary. Basically, there are two solutions: 1) a portable gas generator; and 2) a 12V battery and an inverter. The generator is usually the best way overall because it can supply the most power, run the longest, and has the receptacles built right into the unit. A 2,000-watt generator (shown above) is enough to power a trio or quartet of acoustic instruments and a vocalist for a whole night. You can go longer if you have reserve gasoline on hand to pour into the generator, but try not to spill it on your tux. Generators of this ilk, such as those made by Honda, run quite quiet and are super reliable. If you use a 50-foot extension cord and a power strip, you can place the generator far enough away from the action that you can hear the tearfully timid bride eke out her vows. A heavy-duty 12V battery, such as the type that powers a car, a boat (called a “marine battery”), or a tractor is also a good solution for the simple reason that it doesn’t make any noise and requires no smelly (and potentially messy) gasoline. With a battery, however, you also need an inverter, which converts DC to AC. Generally, a battery with an inverter can’t handle the loads that a gas generator can, but it’s great for individual musicians. If you’re going this route, buy a “deep cycle” type battery, such as ones built for marine use. And get the best inverter you can afford to keep noise out of the system and your signal clean. \\\_\\\_ Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).
  8. When acquiring a supplemental battery for your iPhone/iPad/iPod, be aware of the different types by Jon Chappell One advantage Android mobile phones has over Apple’s mobile devices (including Apple’s popular non-phone/WiFi-enabled iPod touch) is that Android models allow what’s called “user serviceable” batteries. This is not only more environmentally conscious (you don’t replace the unit just because the battery gives out), it has a practical side, too: you can pop in a spare battery when the onboard one goes kaput. These are no bulkier than a pack of sugarless gum, and so are easy to carry. On an Apple device, once your internal battery dies, you have to plug in to a computer or an AC outlet, which is not always possible. Because we live in a time when a mobile-device battery barely lasts the day under normal use — and much less if you truly use you gadget as a mobile computer — spare batteries should be essential components of anyone’s portable rig. And the good news is, they’re cheap and plentiful. But if you’re talking about Apple batteries, it helps to understand that there are two kinds: 1) a simple pop-in replacement for your existing battery, which plugs into the dock, or charging port; and 2) a portable charger/battery, which attaches via a cable, also into the charging port. If you’re really into the portable thing, you’ll want the first type, as it doesn’t really change the footprint of your iThing. You can use it with one hand and operate the unit as you did before. Figure 1 shows the Stitchway, a popular device for this scenario. Figure 1. The Stitchway is a battery replacement that sticks right into your iDevice’s dock/charging port. The disadvantage is the that these devices don’t last that long, and you can’t charge the external battery and the phone’s battery at the same time. The second type is bulkier, because it has a bigger battery to start with, and usually plugs in via a connecting cable. The battery plus the tether means you’re really negotiating two devices, not one, but if you can stick the remote power unit in a pocket (and you don’t mind the cord), this will give you increased lifespan over the other type. One of my favorite solutions in this format is the Sentina Energy Shot (Figure 2), because it operates on four AA batteries, which you can get just about anywhere, including at a gift shop on top of a mountain. This is about the best hedge against loss of power. Figure 2. The Sentina Energy Shot uses a separate pack and a cable, but it runs on AA batteries. When you travel w/a mobile device you can often feel like you’re living from outlet to outlet. It’s always a race to get your device plugged in. And you can get stuck on the tarmac while you wait for your plane to take off. You start to record a short segment (audio or video) that turns out will last a lot longer than you first anticipated; and the best reason, you’re hit with a burst of creativity that requires you to be online longer, recording, writing, or videotaping your activities. Sometimes uninterrupted power is worth paying for.
  9. Use your digital delay to produce many more effects than just echo—including flanging, chorus, doubling, and reverb By Jon Chappell The Deja Vu, by Seymour Duncan, is an example of a delay pedal that includes modulation control, and can therefore be pressed into service providing effects like flanger and chorus, in addition to conventional delay-based effects. (Click images to enlarge.) The two most important effects in a guitarist’s signal chain are distortion and delay. And if you derive your tone strictly from the amp—whether it’s squeaky clean or buzzsaw nasty—then the digital delay is numero uno. Many guitarists think of delay (a.k.a. “DDL,” for “digital delay line”) as the effect that produces an echo sound, and while that’s true, it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story of what a delay is capable of. A full-featured digital delay unit, one with precise controls, complex modulation circuitry, and good display read-outs can produce a range sounds—from flanging to chorus to doubling to ambience to slapback, to discrete repeats that can be synched to tempo-dependent rhythmic values. The Seymour Duncan Deja Vu is one example of a delay unit that includes extensive modulation controls, but other pedals, including the Empress Superdelay and Diamond Memory Lane 2 have them as well. Many smart guitarists employ more than one delay in their chain, assigning them different duties, even if each has identical parameters. A DDL is one effect that works especially well when chained together with itself. Let’s take a look at the many roles in which a digital delay can serve the guitarist. BASIC DDL OPERATION Most people know, or can intuit, the way a delay works: it produces an exact copy (a sample, or digital recording, really) of the original signal in real time, and blends the signals together. The normal parameters are Delay Time (how long in milliseconds after the original sound the copied sound plays), Effect Level (the loudness of the repeated signal relative to the original), and Feedback, which is just another way of saying “number of repeats” (which goes from a single repeat to infinite repeats). All delays feature two outputs, which allows you to route the original, straight signal to a different place from the effected (repeated) signal. You can get the blended signal from one output (the most common usage) so that you can plug into one input on your amp, as most guitarists do. But you can also send your outputs to two different destinations—to different channels on a stereo amp, to separate mixer channels, or even separate amps entirely to produce a true stereo guitar signal. With longer delay times, you can create drippy-wet sounds to fill out a slow-note solo in ballad or produce the famous “cascade” sound, which includes Van Halen’s “Cathedral,” Nuno Bettencourt’s “Flight of the Wounded Bumble Bee,” and Albert Lee’s “Country Boy” or his solo on Emmylou Harris’s “Luxury Liner.” With super-long delay times (from a few seconds to several seconds), you can turn your delay into a live multitrack recorder, laying down successive looped passages to jam over. Units such as the DigiTech JamMan, Line 6 DL4, and Boss Loop Station series are loop recorders, and are actually several DDLs in one box that allow for overdubbing loops. With all these different possibilities at your delay’s disposal, let’s take a look at some sample control settings that will get you on your way to producing the many different types of effects available on a DDL. TIME DELAY AND OTHER EFFECTS The length of the delay time is the primary factor in determining the effect you want to create, whether that’s a modulation type (flanger, chorus) or more ambient (reverb, echo). Figure 1 shows a graph of the different effects in order of increasing delay time, shown in milliseconds (thousandths of the second). Most high-end delays have a modulation feature, which is some variation (or variations) on a low-frequency oscillator that sweeps the delay time up and down. Depending on the initial delay setting and the amount of feedback (regeneration), it’s the modulation control that can create a flanger and chorus sound, or generally turning the signal whooshy. Keep the modulation control on zero if you want the delay effect a sound like the original input signal. Fig. 1. A graph of time in milliseconds and the associated effect produced. Some stomp box versions dispense with the modulation control, so you won't be able to get a very deep sound in the flanging and chorus departments. But subtle effects that approach a true chorus is sometimes all that’s called for to give a sound a slight sense of movement. The Feedback control, also referred to as regeneration, determines how many times the output, or effected signal, is fed back into the processor. With the Feedback control at zero, a single repeat is produced, which is good for cascades, harmonies, and loops, but not good for ambient or more swirling textures. Cranked to the max, the Feedback control produces infinite repeats—or runaway feedback of Feedback, if you will. About five or six repeats are good enough to produce reverb and slapback (an effect popular in rockabilly vocals), as each successive repeat gets quieter, simulating a natural echo. The Effect Level determines how loud the effected signal is relative to the original input signal. At 0\\% you won’t hear any effect (the signal comes through dry); at 100\\% the effect signal is at equal loudness to the original. So if you take the following three steps of 1) setting the delay time long enough (200ms or longer) to hear a separate repeat; 2) putting the effect level at 100\\%; and 3) applying no feedback or modulation; you will hear two identical repetitions of a note or chord struck once. To a listener who can’t see your hands, it would sound like you played that note or chord twice. This is the key ingredient in the cascade sound, but it’s also good for other rhythmic repeats that are synched to the existing tempo. EFFECTS SETTINGS Figure 2 shows how to roughly set your knobs to achieve some different time based delay effects. Exact settings will depend on the musical situation and your particular tastes. But it’s a good idea to establish the time delay first, and then the effects level, before moving on to feedback or modulation. Fig. 2. A four-knob schematic showing various settings for delay-produced chorus, reverb/slapback, cascade, and loop. CONCLUSION Most shorter delay-time effects are “set and forget”; you dial it up according to how it sounds in isolation and don’t have to do anything more for the effect to cooperate with the surrounding music. In other words, one setting can apply to fast or slow tempos, 16th notes, or whole notes. But when the delay time gets past the slapback stage into the 200ms+ range, you have to structure the delay time to the particular tempo and rhythmic values you’re playing. That’s when some math is necessary, but where the real fun begins. \\_\\_ Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).
  10. The latest in Korg’s miniature multi-effects makes all the right moves by delivering both better sound quality and a smaller footprint $225.00 MSRP, $99.99 Street www.korg.com/pandoramini By Jon Chappell The latest in Korg’s miniature multieffects for guitar and bass makes all the right moves by delivering both better sound quality and a smaller footprint. At just over 3-3/8” wide and 2-1/8” inches high, the Korg Pandora Mini’s silhouette is almost exactly that of a credit card, about as thick as a tin of Altoids, and is available in either black or white. It is impressively miniature, but still easy to view, navigate, and control. The Pandora Mini accommodates either guitar or bass and has 158 different effects that can occupy six effects blocks, with 200 user-writeable and 200 preset memory locations. THE MINI TOUR The front panel consists of a large LCD (with an option for backlight on/off), two sets of four pushbuttons and a large rotary knob (the Value dial) for changing data parameters. The ports are all labeled on the front panel, making it easy to see all the I/O connections at a glance and without touching the unit. There are two 1/4" jacks on the front edge for guitar in and out and a thumbwheel for controlling output volume (including the headphone out). On the side edges are two 1/8" stereo mini jacks for headphones and aux in, a mini USB port (which powers the Pandora when plugged into a computer, preserving battery life), and a three-way On/Standby/USB switch (“Standby” is Korg’s weird terminology for “off”) for the Pandora’s different operating modes. The distribution of the buttons is logical with the Play/Edit, Utility, Rhythm, and Tap/Tuner together and across the top (see Fig. 1). The bottom row of buttons (A, B, C, and D) is for changing programs. You can use the Tap button to set either the delay time (for rhythmic repeats) or to dial in the tempo for the rhythm patterns in Rhythm mode. The Rhythm button both puts you in that mode and starts the pattern playing. Pressing the button repeatedly cycles you through the pattern selection (where you can select among the 100 pre-programmed patterns), tempo (40-240), pattern volume, and reverb level. The Play/Edit button either puts the unit back in normal (Play) mode, or opens up the menus for effect and rhythm editing. This scheme works well enough, except that a rhythm pattern always plays once you enter the Rhythm mode, preventing you from switching patterns in silence. Having a silent memory location would help, but the patterns are not editable. Utility allows you to set the backlight option (very handy for practicing in the dark!), set the pitch shift of the aux input (for tuning playback tracks up or down to your guitar), and view the battery type (alkaline or NiMH rechargeable). 5359a09b094f4.bmp Figure 1. The Pandora Mini is well laid out, with a backlit LCD, large buttons, and a gigantic data wheel for quick adjustments. (Click images to enlarge.) The lettering of the effects blocks’ labeling is a little small for reading at a distance, but you quickly realize that the blocks’ positions in the chain are fixed position (e.g., Cab is always in the third spot from the left), so you don’t really even need to read the labeling after you get the hang of it. The block is either on (appearing) or off (a space where a block should be.) Though Korg includes a helpful and well-written manual, you don’t really need it to navigate the unit. The manual becomes helpful (but not necessary) when you delve deeper into the editing functions. THE SIGNAL CHAIN The PM has six effects blocks representing the typical stages you’d encounter in a multieffects for guitar or bass: Dynamics, Amp, Cabinet, Modulation, Delay, and Reverb. Additionally, there is a noise reduction circuit (NR), which is variable and storable as part of a program. An overall level control helps to create a consistent output between programs, if you want to normalize, say, a clean acoustic sound with a metal lead one. Fig. 2 shows a schematic of the blocks. Where there are multiple block entries (Amp, Delay), it means that there are additional pages to scroll through. It’s a simple and intuitive way to keep the menu navigation linear. Figure 2. The Pandora Mini features 6 effects blocks, some of which have multiple parameter pages. Assigning a program to a front panels A-D switch is easy. After selecting a preset program from spinning the big Value dial, or by working in Edit mode and crafting an original sound, simply press and hold one of the four program switches to assign your edited sound to a button—similar to programming a car radio. Assigning to a big button is independent from saving your work to one of the 200 user-programmable locations. THE EFFECTS BLOCKS Four of the 6 blocks have just a single adjustable parameter, but in some cases (Modulation) the function of that control changes. Fore example, in a Filter, the parameter is width; for Intelligent Pitch Shifting, it’s the key (all 12 tones of the chromatic scale). As mentioned, two of the blocks have multiple parameters: Amp has four—Gain, Treble, Middle, and Bass. You use the Gain in combination with the output Level to effect the amount of distortion at a given volume. Each EQ knob offers 30 discrete steps in its range. The Delay block is the other multipage block, featuring FX Level in addition to Time, which has a range of 0 to 2,000ms in 20ms intervals, allowing you to craft the repeat distance to a fairly precise value. I GOT RHYTHM The Rhythm Mode has 100 non-editable patterns, including several metronome sounds. You can change the tempo, overall volume of the pattern (in relation to your guitar and aux input sounds), and reverb level. The reverb program, while selectable, is shared by the program effect. But there’s nothing to stop you from setting up different program effects with reverbs matched to the rhythm sound instead of the guitar sound, if you’re getting your ambience from, say, the modulation and delay. It’s nice to have a plethora of rhythm sounds to stand in for a boring metronome, but even the metronome sounds have variations, with shuffle and 16th-note subdivisions. This is very helpful as a teaching aid when you’re trying to get students to understand different grooves and feels. You can either dial in or tap in the tempo. As well, you can still switch programs (via the A-D switches) while in Rhythm Mode. Very handy and well-integrated. Even the Tuning mode operates in two ways: Bypass (where the straight, unaffected signal is sent out of the PM) or Mute, where no audio signal exits the PM and enables silent tuning. Audible tuning (in Bypass) is useful for teaching situations as well as providing other musicians with a sounding pitch to tune to. Nice. THE SOUNDS I was really impressed with the quality of the Pandora Mini. I was expecting harsh and fizzy sounds, but there was none of that here. Some of the core quality is quite complex, and the gradation provides smooth and natural-sounding progressions through the range of the controls. To be sure, the sounds in the Dynamics section won’t replace your favorite and dedicated stompbox, but for effects like Delay, the Pandora Mini is every bit as good as a dedicated effect (just with fewer parameters). Considering the total sound, or the combined effect of the six effects blocks, the Pandora Mini yields a sound that is not only good enough for rehearsal, but in many cases, good enough for the gig and for recording. SOFTWARE EDITOR It’s easy enough to edit from the front panel, but it’s even easier if you have a computer nearby, as it allows you to see all the parameters at once, instead of scrolling through them one at a time. This is especially true of effects that have more than one parameter (like Amp, which has four, or Delay, which has two) because it requires your having to remember what the previous (and now invisible) value was. The editor lays out all six effects blocks plus any internal parameters, along with the Noise Reduction and overall output Level on one screen, for at-a-glance viewing. Korg has proven itself good at providing supporting editor/librarians for their hardware processors, and the Pandora Mini is no exception. After downloading and installing the editor and plugging in the Pandora Mini, I was loading and offloading (saving to disk) several presets with ease. Fig. 3 shows the main screen. 5359a09b0a0ac.bmp Figure 3. The software editor/librarian makes it easy to see all the parameters at a glance, on a single screen. CONCLUSION Even before you consider its chief attributes—miniaturization and sound—the Pandora Mini strikes you as a very well designed multieffects that is easy to use and program. In an era when smartphones can provide effects processing, tuners, and drum beats, they still can’t beat a dedicated hardware unit like the Korg Pandora Mini. Korg keeps pushing the envelope on this series, and it definitely shows here. No smartphone can replace what the Pandora Mini offers. This is clearly an evolved product, as evidenced by its great sound, multiple features, and transparent operation. \\_\\_ Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).
  11. A DAW offers two different ways to apply effects momentarily: plug-in automation and track-adding by Jon Chappell The great thing about working with a DAW is that there is often more than one way to get a desired result. Take the example of “spot processing,” which is applying an effect or modification to a single sound, or “sound incident” within a track, rather than to the whole track itself. This comes up all the time in sound design and scoring work, but it can provide a nice point of punctuation in a purely musical context as well. And you can accomplish the task in two principal ways: plug-in automation and adding a special-purpose track. Each has its advantages, which we’ll explore in turn. Let’s say you want to add a deep reverb, swirly flange, and metallic sound to a final crash cymbal hit. Note that your idea includes the element of reverb, which is an effect you probably have on the track already. A “normal” use of an effect like reverb is usually a set-and-forget proposition. You load a reverb plug-in into a channel’s insert slot, adjust the parameters to taste (including the send and return levels), and you’re pretty much done. It’s very similar to EQ in that you don’t usually make dynamic changes as the track plays. But you’re not using reverb that way in this case—nor are you likely to use the same type of reverb to produce this dramatic effect. So you have to think about effects—and plug-ins—differently in spot processing than you would for the normal applications. AUTOMATION TO THE RESCUE The question is, how do you employ a plug-in that has to come in and out in a very short period of time—perhaps even instantly? The answer is plug-in automation. Most people are familiar with DAW automation for controlling levels: You record your fader moves, and then upon playback the faders move by themselves according to your performance of the previous take. You can also make fader automation moves graphically by drawing envelopes (curves and slopes) in the edit/project window. This too moves the faders accordingly upon playback, but in some circumstances (such as when editing in a really tight spot) it’s better to draw the moves in than it is to perform them. Automating a plug-in is a very powerful concept. Not only can you bring the levels up and down (on both the send and return controls), but you can automate other aspects as well, including the changing over time of delay time, filter cut-off, EQ, or whatever parameters that particular plug-in offers. It’s exactly the same as volume fader automation, but you may be twisting onscreen rotary controls instead. Some plug-ins, such as Overloud’s Breverb, even offer faders for what would normally be assigned to rotary knobs, to facilitate automation. Once you realize you can automate your plug-ins, you might think that all you have to do is load in the appropriate plugs for your spot effect, and simply apply tight envelopes for that single passage in the track that requires the dramatic treatment. But there’s another way too. ADD-A-TRACK STEPS You can create a separate track to handle just the affected part of the file. On a DAW it’s easy to clone or duplicate a track and place it adjacently to the existing track. Then you have an exact copy of the track, complete with all the mixer settings. But instead of using the entire audio on this cloned track, you’re simply going to use the passage that needs the special processing. Here are the five steps for employing the add-a-track option for spot processing: Duplicate your existing track and place it somewhere in view of the original (adjacent is recommended, but not necessary). Delete the audio in the cloned track, leaving a track with all the channel settings of the original, just minus the audio content. Original track selected, at top: Choose "Duplicate Tracks," copy, etc., as applicable to your DAW. Duplicated, or cloned track now on top of original: Using the “region split/separate” tool (e.g., Cubase = scissors icon, Pro Tools = Edit/Separate Region) to isolate the desired region for processing. Keep in mind, creating the two edit/split points has no effect on the audio yet; you’re simply providing a graphic edit point. Select the isolated region and copy it. Move the copied region to the cloned track, using the appropriate modifier key to restrict your movements to the vertical axis, so that the clip doesn’t move forward or backward in time. Selected region, copied into clipboard: Moved to cloned track, with movement restricted to vertical axis: Once the new clip is in place, you will still have the original region on the original track. You can elect to: 1) mute the original clip; 2) leave it as is; or 3) reduce its gain to give prominence to the new clip. Here, I mute the original using Cubase's Mute function (an "X" in the toolbar). Go to the cloned track and set up the plug-ins that you’ll use for your special effect (in this case, reverb, flanger, and ring modulator). Adjust the volume fader of the track, as well as any other track controls (pan, EQ, existing plug-in effects) as desired. You can of course automate any of the controls here, too. THE ADVANTAGES OF ADD-A-TRACK Many experienced DAW users would employ their automation chops on added plug-ins to the original track, obviating the need for an additional track. But there are several reasons for going with the add-a-track method: You now have a whole channel’s worth of control over the spot, instead of just the plug-ins. The cloned track requires no automation; set up the track with the special plug-ins, and it will just sit there inert until the spot arrives. Having a separate track with a separate clip means you can perform “parallel” operations, experimenting with blending the spot-processed track with the original. You might widen the region boundaries of the copied spot (revealing more audio before and after the copied portion) to effect a smoother blend. It’s conceptually easier to add a track with plug-ins than to delve into the automation processes of a particular DAW. This is critical if you work on several DAWs and can’t quite recall each DAW’s particular way of handling plug-in automation. The add-a-track method allows you to start working immediately, which feels better in a “work rhythm” sense, and looks better to a client than if you’re struggling with unfamiliar parameters. CONCLUSION Spot processing is just one example of a task that can be handled different ways, and is handled differently by different DAWs. It’s always a good mental exercise to be able to perform the same task in different ways on the same DAW, and over different DAWs. Flexibility is a key advantage in not only DAWs but the person operating the DAW. \\_\\_ Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).
  12. A Versatile and Compact High-Speed MIDI Interface for Mobile Devices and Computers $199.99 MSRP; $179.99 street by Jon Chappell www.iconnectivity.com More and more music production is being performed on Apple mobile devices. But because the iPad, iPod touch, and iPhone don’t come with a USB port, or any other direct accommodation for standard music gear, a cottage industry for specialized peripherals and interfaces has flourished. Many audio interfaces have already surfaced, but the field for MIDI devices has been relatively unpopulated. Until now, that is. Enter iConnectivity’s iConnectMIDI, which fulfills the mobile musician’s MIDI needs with a small but sturdy and highly routable MIDI interface of commendable versatility. OVERVIEW iConnectMIDI will hook up to both Mac and Windows computers and iOS devices via USB, and can also accommodate 5-pin DIN MIDI components. Because iConnectMIDI is CoreMIDI compliant, you can use it with any Apple mobile product with no special drivers, and it includes a locking mini-USB-to-30-pin iOS cable. At 2-3/4" x 4-5/16" x 1-5/16", iConnectMIDI is about the size of a pocket camera, and packs a lot of I/O into its compact footprint. On the front panel are three USB jacks—one standard USB-A and two minis. The USB-A jack will support a powered USB hub, allowing up to eight USB MIDI controllers to be connected at once; the mini jacks are used to connect to mobile devices and computers. There are eight status LEDs indicating power and MIDI transmission status. In all, 12 separate MIDI streams per jack are supported. On the back panel is the power supply jack plus four 5-pin MIDI jacks, MIDI 1 (In and Out) and MIDI 2 (In and Out). There is a recessed reset switch on the side, four rubber feet on the bottom, and the unit is encased in a heavy-duty black metal housing. The industrial design is handsome and professional, with good spacing between the connectors and legible iconography on the port and LED labels. A nice bonus is that the power supply kit includes a variable-voltage transformer and four adapters for U.S. and overseas operation. iConnectMIDI comes with no printed manual, but a single statement on an insert inside the box directs users to the website for the manual and any updates. The website is straightforward and easy to navigate, with the Downloads section providing a schedule of firmware updates, directions for updating the latest firmware version (if necessary), and a downloadable pdf manual. The manual is well written and well illustrated, but I wish the instructions for software (the PortManager app, described later) were included here too, in addition to being on the iOS device itself. MIDI MATCH-UP iConnectMIDI allows legacy MIDI devices (modules, etc.), which have only 5-pin DIN connectors, to be driven by USB-only MIDI controllers (keyboards, drum pads, control surfaces) without the need of an intervening computer. This makes it very handy for the portable setup shown in Fig. 1. Fig. 1. At the very least, iConnectMIDI obviates the need for a computer when connecting a USB device to a 5-pin DIN device. Because iConnectMIDI’s USB-A jack is powered (via the unit’s built-in DC power), it can support up to eight USB MIDI controllers whose signals are ganged together via a hub, as Fig. 2 shows. Fig. 2. Similar routing to Fig. 1, but with more stuff daisy-chained on either side of iConnectMIDI. iConnectMIDI’s real versatility becomes apparent when you connect together devices that communicate MIDI in three different ways—iOS/mini USB (computers, iOS devices), USB-A (modern controller), and 5-pin DIN (legacy and high-end gear). iConnectMIDI allows all of the connections in Fig. 3 to work simultaneously. Fig. 3. This shows all three types of connections: iOS, USB MIDI, and DIN-based MIDI. Remember, you can connect multiple iOS devices, as shown in Fig. 4. In this setup, either the iPad or iPhone, or iPod touch can act as the controller or the slave. Fig. 4. This shows that you can have different controllers if you like, all working simultaneously. Of course, a computer is a MIDI capable device, and uses the bidirectional mini USB connection for this. The USB-A jack allows for 8 different MIDI channels (see Fig. 5). Fig. 5. iConnectMIDI at the center of a system using a computer, an iPad, a USB keyboard, and a MIDI-DIN keyboard. TRAFFIC CONTROL It should be pretty obvious by now that iConnectMIDI is a very versatile box as far as hookup. But how about managing the data flow from all the various devices you connect to it? That’s accomplished through the free iOS app PortManager (available from the iTunes Store). This is the interface that allows you to configure the box, and whatever changes you make to the device from PortManager can be saved (and reloaded), even when the box is powered down. PortManager allows you to configure the ports with respect to I/O routing and MIDI filtering in an easy, intuitive way. Here’s how it works. For each input port, there are 12 output ports to which MIDI data can be sent. For example, if you hook, say, your iPhone up to mini USB port 1, you can direct MIDI to the two back-panel DIN Out jacks, the two mini USB out ports (even though you’re connected to one of them), and the 8 output channels on the USB-A jack, like this: Fig. 5. This shows the outputs available for any input port--in this case the mini USB 1 port, where you'd connect a computer or iOS mobile device. Each port is separately configurable with respect to ins and outs and filtering. The interface relies on simple touch gestures to toggle functions on and off in a list. Any input, output or filter function cab be activated or deactivated this way, and color-coding helps you distinguish among which ports are active and in which direction MIDI data is flowing (especially handy for the USB connections, which are bidirectional). Figure 6 shows the two screens used for inputs and outputs. Fig. 6. Two iPod screens showing all inputs (left) and then the specific output selections of the MIDI 1 DIN Input. It takes just a few seconds to get oriented to PortManager's approach of lists and toggles, and it's a great system for making quick routing assignments via your mobile device. GET FILTERED Filtering is important in any MIDI setup, because data that isn’t used just clogs the stream and could create potential delays. For example, if you’re playing piano and conventional keyboard or percussion sounds, you would filter out pitch bend and after touch data. In all, 14 different filter parameters keep the data streams lean and mean. There are both input and output filters (as the right-hand page in Fig. 6 shows), and the filters themselves are displayed on a third page. The approach of using three pages—Inputs, Outputs, and Filtering—allows you a quick and easy way to configure any device or devices you connect to iConnectMIDI to control any input, output or filter. Two buttons, Retrieve and Commit, allow you to save to flash memory and load iConnectMIDI with a default or preset configuration. (Momentary changes are immediately implemented.) There’s even a diagnostic page for specifying which port system exclusive data is routed to, and a window for viewing MIDI data coming into the device. CONCLUSION iConnectMIDI at the very least solves a big problem: allowing USB and 5-pin DIN devices to talk to each other without computer intervention. But because of its flexible routing possibilities, generous I/O, and easy-to-use iOS interface, iConnectMIDI becomes a powerful MIDI router and live-performance enabler. Since you can use the physical jacks simultaneously, you could have up to five controllers active at once (the maximum number without resorting to the expandability that a USB hub provides), each with different roles as master controllers and slave sound generators. The mind boggles with the possibilities, and especially for live work because of all the controllers—both in number and type—iConnectMIDI allows. It not only enables MIDI playback through mobile devices, but provides complete and powerful control over all MIDI devices in the ensemble. And that is music to the ears of clever and industrious live performers everywhere. \\_\\_ Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).
  13. Blue Book of Electric Guitars - $39.95 MSRP, $35.96 street Blue Book of Acoustic Guitars - $29.95 MSRP, $25.45 street By Zachary R. Fjestad The bible for the used electric and acoustic guitar aficionado—in two volumes and now in their 13th editions Bluebook Publications, Inc. www.bluebookinc.com by Jon Chappell Blue Book Publications has made a name for themselves by publishing comprehensive and respected guides for used guitars, both acoustic and electric. Now in its 13th edition, the Blue Book of Electric Guitars weighs in at a whopping 1,300+ pages. Its unplugged counterpart, Blue Book of Acoustic Guitars, also in its 13th edition, is over 800 pages. These books are available in different formats: soft cover (price listed above), combo pack ($59.95), a three-pack (which includes amps, $74.95), or CD-ROM ($49.95, MSRP). My review units were the soft-cover books, which happens to be my preferred medium. I don't mind my reference and trade materials being an actual book. The larger format (it’s now 8.5"x11" instead of 6"x9", as in earlier versions) allows for more information on the page and makes it more of a true reference tool. I can see the value of a CD-ROM for search purposes, and for being able to look up a guitar's value on my laptop while on the road. For serious and professional collectors, this would be the way to go. But it's so much fun to thumb through the pages sitting at my dining room table, I wouldn't want to lose that experince to a screen. Besides, the Blue Book offers web access to see over 6,000 color images of selected guitar models. Both volumes are identical in organization and structure; they're merely separated by whether the instruments are acoustic or electric. If you have trouble deciding whether a certain archtop jazz guitar is in fact acoustic or electric, you should just buy both volumes to have the complete set. For less than $60, you'll be the envy of your used-guitar collector friends. The info in the Blue Book is collected and assembled by author Zachary R. Fjestad, with support from contributing editors, auction tracking results, and dealer and collector reports. Mr. Fjestad & Co. manage to make quite readable and entertaining a large collection of listings and data. Most people will be tempted, as I was, to immediately flip open the book and look up a guitar that they either already own, or have been following with interest, and therefore may know something about its market value. A quick look at the entry for a Gibson L-5 CES (Fig. 1), a guitar I own and track on the used markets, revealed that the price estimates are very much in line with my experience: Fig. 1. The listing for the Gibson L-5, a jazz guitar in several configurations, which will fetch a pretty penny on the used market, if it’s in 100\\% new condition. (Click images to enlarge.) As Figure 1 shows, each piece information in the listings is intuitively presented, and the terms are easy to understand. But there is a lot to take in, so you can benefit by reading up on some of the Blue Book’s specific nomenclature, notably, explanations of the gray bars that signify the instrument's condition (and price determinant), and the guitar icons in the left margin. So before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at how to use the Blue Book effectively, and take a look at some of its key sections. MAKING THE GRADE Though you certainly will use this book in a modular fashion—skipping around to the various alphabetical section looking for specific makes and models, it’s helpful to start at the beginning of the book. Here, informative front matter tells you how the book is organized and explains the updates and enhancements for the current edition. For example, there’s a new 15-page Color Grading System, which features high-quality color photos on coated paper stock (Fig. 2). This is a nice addition to the book showing exactly what differentiates, say, a 100\\% New-condition specimen from a 90\\% Excellent one, or an 80\\% Very Good Plus guitar from one that’s merely 70\\% Very Good. The Blue Book uses nine grades, with detailed explanations defining the different qualities: 100\\% New 98\\% Mint 95\\% Excellent Plus 90\\% Excellent 80\\% Very Good Plus 70\\% Very Good 60\\% Good 50\\% Fair 40\\% Poor Fig. 2. The Photo Grading System is useful for showing the conditions of used guitars, and the criteria on which the value is based. While perhaps not a standard everyone may recognize, a buyer or seller in possession of a Blue Book can refer the other to this guide as a point of common ground for negotiating. It’s well thought out and logical, not only in the divisions and descriptions, but the price variances assigned to each grade. As the book correctly notes, condition is the most important factor for determining a guitar's value, so knowing the differences well--and even committing them to memory--is critical to understanding the whole used-instrument market. BE SERIAL FOR A MINUTE A big question that concerns used instruments is what vintage they are, and the way you determine that is most often through its serial number (though this is not always a foolproof way). The Blue Book’s guide to serialization may not list serial numbers for every guitar make and model on the planet—as such a thing would be impossible—but it does provide general information that’s quite helpful. It’s a real kick to hear how different companies have tried to tackle this seemingly straightforward task. You learn, for example, that B.C. Rich was quite successful using a five-digit scheme, encoded XYZZZ, with the first two digits indicating the year and the last three for consecutive models in production. But by the late ’70s, they exceeded 999 units, and therefore ran out of numbers. They began using serial numbers meant for the following year’s production. In 1980, the serial numbers were two years ahead; by 1981, they off by four years! Figure 3 shows a sample page from the very entertaining (who knew?) chapter on Serialization. Fig. 3. The chapter on serialization provides serial number ranges (where available) as well as insight into various guitar maker’s strategies. IN USE In its latest edition, the Blue Book has taken steps to integrate the printed page with the web. The book puts a guitar icon in the left margin whenever a listed guitar has a corresponding photo. For example, in the listing of PRS models, the Custom 22, one of PRS’s most popular models, is not only shown in a photograph on the page (see Fig. 4), but has a photo on the web. This makes it handy if you need to refer someone to the specific model you’re talking about. Also, if you weren’t aware of—let alone had seen—the 12-string version of the PRS Custom (the 22/12), the Blue Book will send you scrambling to the web (Fig. 5). You can also subscribe to a web version of the entire Blue Book for as little as $4.95, which will give you access to updates and additions as they become available. Fig. 4. Listings in the book that have a guitar icon in the margin have a corresponding photo on the web.Note in the page excerpt above, both the PRS Custom 22 and 22/12 have icons. Fig. 5. Shown here are the PRS 12/22 models on the Blue Book website, as indicated in Fig. 4 above. INDEX FUN Another helpful tool is the book's index. This is perhaps the best way to familiarize yourself with a manufacturer's models and lines, as it hierarchically lists editions as separate entries. For example, under Gibson/Les Paul Series, the book provides 15 different sub-classifications, including Classic, Custom, Double Cutaway, Special Studio, Anniversary, Signature, and more. If you don't know exactly what model you're looking for, but have it narrowed down to a model or line, the index can help you sort things out. Figure 5 shows the index page that has Gretsch, Guild, and Hamer. This is one of the book's secret weapons--showing the various models and lines throughout a company's production history--and it's in the index! Fig. 5. The index is a helpful tool for showing makes and models in a hierarchical fashion. Another nice touch in the book's interior is that every manufacturer's listings begins with a history or overview of the company, often mentioning relevant aspects for the collector. If you're unclear as to when CBS bought Fender, for example (and why collectors always crow about "pre-CBS" model guitars), you can read about it here. And it's not just the majors (like Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, Washburn) who get the historical treatment, but smaller companies and luthiers, such as Dan Armstrong, Bob Benedetto, and Ned Steinberger. CONCLUSION The Blue Book of Guitars (both volumes, electric and acoustic) provides a comprehensive resource for investigating used guitars. More than being comprehensive, though, the Blue Books, with their reader-friendly layout, logical A-to-Z organization, and helpful articles and guides surrounding this well-organized listings, provide a rich narrative of the history of guitar making itself, and makes it easy for a reader to "become lost" in the pages--even if you just set out to check a simple fact or compare an eBay asking price. And when a reference book can do that--allow you to wander off to your heart's content amidst a catalog of good organization and consistent presentation--it's a testament to its success as an indispensable resource.
  14. Modeling power combined with classic Vox tone $900.00 MSRP, $549.99 street http://www.voxamps.com By Jon Chappell The Vox VT120+ is a 2x12 combo sporting Valve Reactor technology and a complete effects section. (Click images to englarge.) Vox Amplification has always done a great job of melding their classic design, appeal and core sound with modern features of the day, including modeling technology and digital effects. In their latest line-up, the Valvetronix VT+ series, Vox serves up the best of both worlds: modeling versatility backed by a 100-percent analog power-amp stage with an onboard 12AX7 tube. The result is the classic tone-creation familiar to those who know and love the Vox sound, but in a presentation that meets the current demands of modern gigging musicians. MEET THE FAMILY The new amps in the Valvetronix line all bear a plus sign (+) at the end of their names, and consist of a quartet of combo amps whose main difference is output wattage and speaker configuration. The numerals in their names don’t actually reflect the actual output wattage (which ends up being more), so you need to remember that for a given model name containing one speaker, the power, in watts RMS, is actually half-again as much (which is a good thing!). So the VT20+ is 30W (8" speaker), the VT40+ is 60W (10" speaker), and the VT80+ is 120W (12" speaker). The VT120+, a 2x12 combo, is actually 150W (not 160), but that’s more than enough to push the two 12" speakers. My VT120+ review unit was loud! After several weeks of working with it, I can’t imagine any situation where a 2x12 combo is called for that the VT120+ couldn’t cover with headroom to spare. All Valvetronix+ combos use Valve Reactor technology with a 12AX7-driven power-amp circuit, and share common features, which include 33 amp models, 11 pedal effects, 11 modulation/delay effects, 3 reverbs, and 1 noise reduction processor. The amp is programmable, with 99 presets and 8 user-designated programs (2 banks of 4 channels each), accessible from a footswitch as well as the front panel. Any four effects (five, if you use multi-effects versions) can be used simultaneously. That’s an entire signal chain’s worth of stuff, even for guitarists who use a lot of effects. CONTROL FREAK The control panel is a thing of design beauty, with different styles of knobs and switches purpose-built to their function (see Fig. 1). Following an analog approach, there are 8 large vintage-style chicken head knobs on the top row for Amp Select, Gain, Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Master, and Power Level. On the bottom row are the switches and rotary knobs for bank/channel, tuner, and effects selection and control. Fig. 1. The VT120+ controls are top-mounted and logically laid out with different styles of knobs and switches that facilitate quick and intuitive adjusments. Speaking of the control panel, one nice feature is that Vox amps have top-mounted controls, which leaves the front—the part facing the audience—free and clean of knobs. In this scheme, even with the plethora of controls necessary to provide the comprehensiveness of the VT+ series, the classic Vox look is preserved. All VT+ combos have a single 1/4" input, and 1/8"-stereo headphone and Aux In jacks. The rear panel houses a single jack for the optional footswitch (VFS5), which changes programs or turns selected effects on and off. The amp, despite having a lot of programmability and offering a complete complement of effects, is blessedly simple to operate live. Any operations involving tone, gain, and volume are as intuitive as on any all-analog or vintage amp. And because the Vox VT120+ distributes the effects controls logically, dialing up a sound with the proper pedal effect, modulation, and ambient treatment is just as easy as working a physical pedalboard. Since the amp is programmable, it should be noted that you don’t need the manual to learn how to save a sound. The simple two-word instructions “Hold Write,” placed beneath the four channel buttons, says it all. AMPED UP There’s only one aspect of the VT120+ that requires even a glance at the manual, and that’s to glean how the Amp Select section works. This is the key to the amp’s multi-functionality, and here’s how it works: The Amp Select knob has 11 positions, each labeled and named for a classic or otherwise paradigmatic amp type (Cali Clean, US Blues, Vox AC30, UK Metal, and so on). Each of these 11 positions can be green (Standard), orange (Special), or red (Custom), courtesy of a pushbutton (and LED) on the left. So that’s 3 states for each of the 11 positions—a total 33 discrete amp models. Detailed descriptions of each model appear in the manual. Now, each of the 33 separate models can have, 3 further states themselves (green, orange, red, courtesy of a second LED to the left of the knob). This makes for a total of 99 separate states, or locations, when you consider the 11 knob positions x 3 LED1 states x 3 LED2 states. It’s all much easier to work than it is to explain, the upshot of it all being almost 100 different core sounds in just the amp choice! 33 of the preset choices are named after actual popular songs, which gives a great starting point for using as is or further refining. Once you’ve selected your sound (be it a model or preset song), you move on to the pedal effects, modulation, and reverb (see Fig. 2). The pedal effects include a compressor, acoustic simulator, Uni-Vibe, octave divider, tube and metal overdrive, fuzz, and several other distortion effects with different characters. Modulation effects include choruses, a flanger, phaser, tremolo, rotary speaker, pitch shifter, envelope follower, and several delays. The last stage is the VT120+’s reverb programs (room, spring, and hall). Fig. 2. A close-up of the controls. Apart from being able to dial up 99 basic sounds from a single knob and two pushbuttons, the V120+ also operates in three modes: 1) Preset allows you to select each of the 33 amp models’ basic, effect, or song programs for a total of 99 programs; 2) Manual is where the VT120+ behaves like an analog amp—the sound is a reflection of whatever positions the knobs are in at the time (except for Value and Depth on the bottom row); and 3) Channel Select allows quick access to the 8 user-assigned programs. VALVE JOB I found the best way to get oriented with the VT120+ was to tour through the songs, playing the appropriate rhythm figures and lead lines. This demonstrated the range of tones available from the amp, and it’s quite stunning how varied and convincing the sounds are—not just from the effects, but the core amp sounds themselves. I often strip away the effects (by degree) so that I’m working with a drier sound than was programmed, which lets me hear the amp more. Then I bring back up the effects to taste. I’m a big fan of Valve Reactor technology, where a 12AX7 (ECC83) tube (the “valve” in Valve Reactor) puts a tube in the power amp section, which imbues the 100 percent analog stage with real tube-like behavior. The Power Level control (which adjusts the output wattage) adds yet another gain-based tool (along with the Gain, Volume, and Master) for shaping the amp sound. Strapping on my Fender Stratocaster, I especially liked the Fender, U.S.-based, and Vox models. (No surprise about the Vox!) These were clear, bright, and punchy, yet gritted up nicely when I turned up the Gain, and backed off the volume. Applying Tube and Orange pedal effects got me 99 percent of the way to a nice classic rock sound. When I switched to my Les Paul Standard and went looking for that higher-gain, hard-edged sound, four models—the UK Metal, US High Gain, US Metal, and Boutique Metal—stood out. UK Metal was quite good for crunchy rhythm parts with the individual voices of the chords still clearly intelligible, and Boutique Metal produced my favorite, soaring sustain-for-days lead—jumping out of a midrange mix, but never becoming shrill in the process. The range of sounds I could get was quite impressive, and the fact that I could program them into one of the 8 memory locations for instant recall makes this an extremely valuable gigging amp for me. I play a lot of different types of gigs, where I have to go from acoustic to clean to crunch to a plethora of distorted characters for music from blues to country to classic rock to metal. The VT120+ is just at home producing a clean Roland JC120 with a subtle chorus as it is a mid-70s Marshall with nasty midrange snarl. My one criticism, after weeks of using the VT120+, has nothing to do with the sound or performance of the amp itself, but with the way Vox has packaged the VT120+: With its “total signal chain” approach to sound-crafting, it’s just not feasible to work with the amp without the optional footswitch (Vox VFS5, $59.95 street, see Fig. 3). Many amps include a foot pedal, and the VT120+ should be one of them. This is an easy fix, though: just order the footswitch along with the amp. You’re still spending around $600 if you do. Fig. 3. The optional VFS5 is essential gear for operating the VT120+ in a peformance situation. CONCLUSION Despite having a complete signal chain’s worth of processing stages onboard—including the controls to wrangle it all from the front panel—the VT120+ remains simple to operate and feels, well, like an amp. This is due in large part to the Valve Reactor technology, Adjustable Power level, and Vox’s devotion to nailing down the core sounds of the amps it emulates. I really appreciated having the effects and not using them (treating the VT120+ as a straight-ahead amp), as well as having them and using them, for the times when the uncluttered look of my guitar going straight into an amp—but having comprehensive effects processing—was advantageous. For all these features, the excellent core sound that’s convincing and realistic over so many styles, and at a purchase price of just over $600 (and that’s including the optional VFS5 footswitch), the Vox VT120+ is an excellent amp at an amazing price. \_\_ Jon Chappell is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Digital Home Recording (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular For Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).
  15. DSP tuning not only lets you play in tune, it provides you with alternate tunings by Jon Chappell The Antares Auto-Tune circuitry (inset photo) fits on a board no larger than a business card and comes installed on the new Peavey AT-200. Antares is the leader in the technology referred to as auto-tuning, also known as pitch-correction, and famously abused in T-Pain and Cher songs, but which is an indispensable production tool when used sparingly, to correct the intonation of a slightly out-of-tune note in an otherwise perfect take. Recently, Antares introduced Auto-Tune for Guitar, which promised to do for six-stringers what their vocal version had done for singers. Antares’ technology manifested itself at the 2012 Winter NAMM Show in two different configurations: the high-end Parker Auto-Tune MaxxFly and the affordable Peavey AT-200 (under-$400). Using a different system, but still applying DSP to tuning is Roland, who, also at the show, introduced the latest in their guitar synth line, the G5. In fact, at the demo, Skunk Baxter played A/B’d the straight guitar against the DSP-modeled version, and no one in the audience could tell the difference. To be fair, that was much the same reaction at the Peavey booth: the DSP guitar sounds a whole lot like the passive (unprocessed) guitar signal. And not new for the show, but only about a year old are the new James Tyler Variax guitars from Line 6. One of the upgrades of this line is that the a dedicated knob has been added for alternate tunings. (Previously you had to access this functionality through software.) This embarrassment of guitar DSP riches means it’s time to start examining the whole notion of DSP-based tuning and how it differs from the physical retuning of the guitar, as we’ve seen in the Gibson Robot Tuners and Trev Wilkinson’s ATD bridge. We'll highlight the two newest guitars on this front, the Peavey AT-200 and the Parker MaxxFly. NO STRINGS WERE HARMED IN THIS DSP TUNING First things first: In a DSP-based system, the strings don’t actually change tension. If the strings are out of tune, they stay that way. The sound coming out of the pickups, however, will be perfectly in tune. So a DSP-tuned guitar relies on the electronic output to be “heard” in tune. This means that if you can hear the strings acoustically (say, if the amp volume is way down), you’ll hear that the vibrating strings and the output pitch are not in tune with each other. This is ignorable if your strings are only a little out of tune, but it’s more distracting in the distance is pronounced, and certainly if you’re in an alternate tuning (more on that later). The cure is to turn up the volume or wear headphones to mask the acoustic sound of the strings. Obviously, on a solidbody the acoustic sound is not as significant as it would be on a guitar that projects more acoustically, like a semi-hollowbody. What’s true for an open string also goes for the intonation—the ability for an in-tune string to say exactly on pitch as it’s fretted up the neck. For example, let’s say you have a G string that frets sharp at the 12th fret (when compared to the open-string harmonic). No matter how perfectly in-tune the open string is, it will go out of tune as you fret up the neck, getting worse as go along. Well, Auto-Tune will fix that phenomenon, on the fly, meaning you can put off having that setup job by your guitar tech. This opens up the possibilities for slide guitar, where raising the action of your strings messes with your physical intonation. If the intonation (as well as the open-string tuning) is corrected (as Auto-Tune does), then it mitigates that setup issue, and allows you to go back and forth between a slide setup and a regular, fretted one without also having to adjust the physical intonation. That’s pretty cool. The basic version of Auto-Tune, as found on the Peavey AT-200 will both tune your strings and keep them intonated (or staying in tune as they’re fretted). It does this by putting an individual sensor under each string and giving it its own discrete signal path. If you’re worried about the constant tuning-monitoring interfering with subtle variations of pitch, like vibrato or quarter-string bends, well Auto-Tune has thought of that. According to Antares: “The Antares Solid-Tune™ intonation system constantly monitors the precise pitch of each individual string and electronically makes any corrections necessary to ensure that every note of every chord and riff is always in tune, regardless of variables like finger position or pressure. The technology is even smart enough to know when players intend to manipulate pitch, so bends and vibrato sound as natural as they always have.” ALTERNATIVE LIFETUNINGS That’s very impressive stuff for an eminently playable guitar for under $400. But Auto-Tune provides one more function: you can get alternate tunings out of it, in a sort of work-around way. For example, if you fret the 6th string at the 2nd fret, put the guitar in tuning mode and then strum, the guitar tunes itself to standard tuning, based on your fretting the 6th string. That means once you release your finger, the 6th string now sounds as a low D—voilà—instant Drop-D Tuning. If you take this a step further, you realize that you can create other alternate tunings. To create Double-Drop D (the outside strings are both tuned down a step to D, two octaves apart), simply fret the outside strings at the 2nd fret and tune up. To get open D—the tuning you need to play The Allman Bros.’ “Little Martha” and the Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels”— fret the guitar this way, from low to high: 2-0-0-0-2-2. See Figure 1 for a chord diagram showing how you’d finger this. Fig. 1. How to finger notes on the neck to get alternate tunings with Auto-Tune. You can create any alternate tuning this way, as long as the pitches are lower than the ones found in standard. To play DADGAD and open G (D, G, D, G, B, D, low to high), finger the left-hand (low to high) this way: 2-0-0-0-2-2 and 2-0-0-0-2-2, respectively (see Fig. 2). Fig. 2. Fingering DADGAD and Open-G tunings. The only drawback to this is that you can’t create any tunings where the strings are higher. For example, to get open E (E, B, E, G#, B, E), where the 5th, 4th, and 3rd strings are raised, you’d have to tune down to open D and use a physical capo. And that’s the other thing the basic version of Auto-Tune can’t do: act as a virtual capo. So to get mandolin- and ukulele-like qualities, you need an actual capo. ON THE HIGH END If you opt for Antares’ Auto-Tune as found in the Parker MaxxFly (Fig. 3), however, you get the full treatment of tuning features, including storable alternate tunings where the strings can be retuned either higher or lower. Here’s a list of tunings you can get with the press of a button: Drop D DADGAD Open G Open D Open E Seven string (low B doubled on lowest string) Twelve string Bass guitar Octaver User-created tunings Fig. 3. The Parker MaxxFly has a high-end version of Antares' Auto-Tune. As well, the MaxxFly’s version of Auto-Tune includes a virtual capo where you can go up (not possible on the Peavey) or down (available only through a work-around) easily, up to a full octave in either direction. Virtual capos have an advantage over their physical counterparts in that the entire full range of the neck is preserved. A real capo narrows the available playing range. The Parker MaxxFly also boasts pickup modeling and digital tone control for an unlimited variety of tonal shadings. You can select a specific guitar with a certain pickup configuration, and then switch among those pickup combinations, just as you would on the real thing. In addition to the modeling components the MaxxFly’s Auto-Tune’s function includes a tone control that boosts or cuts the frequency response of the modeled pickups for more organic control, once you’ve dialed in your sound. AUTO-TUNE FOR EITHER BUDGET Antares Auto-Tune for Guitar is built in to both Peavey and Parker guitars. Because the systems are software based, upgrades are easy to implement, and they can be controlled by any MIDI source—from a footswitch controller to iPad and iPhone devices running Auto-Tune control software. Whichever guitar and Auto-Tune version you choose, you get perfect tuning, Antares’ Solid-Tune intonation system to ensure every note of every melody and chord is in tune.
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