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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.
  16. This book and CD package offers comprehensive instruction in all styles of blues, from historic to modern Backbeat Books, an Imprint of Hal Leonard Corporation 256 pages, $29.99 (list) www.halleonard.com Reviewed by Jon Chappell The Blues Guitar Handbook is appropriately named if only for its format: a 256-page instruction book that includes text, music, tab, chord and neck diagrams, and an accompanying audio CD, all in a spiral binding—which allows it to lay open and flat on a table or music stand. It is designed to be read, and used, by players. But the musician-friendly format doesn’t begin to tell the story of this excellent reference for blues history combined with step-by-step instruction in all styles, whether it’s acoustic fingerstyle blues from the early 20th-century Delta or blazing lead guitar from modern masters like Stevie Ray Vaughan. In between are thorough explorations of styles and techniques ranging from rhythm, lead, special articulations, acoustic blues, classic electric blues, blues-rock, and jazz blues. Author Adam St. James, an established blues player and educator, structures the material according to three parts and 12 chapters, or sections. The main parts are Blues Guitar Basics, Mastering a Blues Sound, and Blues Styles Through the Ages. Supplementary material makes navigating the book a breeze, allowing for a linear, start-to-finish read, or a more modular approach, where you may want to jump from, say jazz blues, to a discussion on blues scales. BACK TO THE ROOTS Though it’s referred to as the “Introduction,” the first 40 or so pages are devoted to an in-depth chronological survey of the blues, starting with the blues’ humble beginnings in the South Central U.S. in the early 20th century. From there the story moves to the post-War migration north to the big cities, where the electric blues of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and B.B. King prevailed. Then it’s on to the blues-rockers of the '60s and '70s, including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, before bringing us into the modern day with Keb’ Mo’ and Duke Robillard. This introductory section of the book is richly illustrated (see Figure 1) and quite uncommon for an instruction book. But it’s an excellent addition that helps readers understand the context in which the following instructional material fits. Figure 1. A richly illustrated history appears at the front of the book, giving readers a good grounding in the blues before the instructional material begins. Note the spiral binding (extreme right), which allows the book to lay completely flat on a table-top or music stand. (Click images to enlarge.) YES SIR, YES SIR, THREE PARTS BLUES After the introduction come the instructional parts. Part 1 gets guitarists oriented to basic instructional practices as they relate to the blues. This includes the definition of terms and the basic of music theory, including identifying major and minor scales, and the building of chords. Part 2 begins the real meat of the instructional stuff, and breaks down the four sections into two on rhythm and two on lead. This is very well-organized material, which is presented in a linear fashion that would make a good lesson plan for any student interested in a structured approach to the complementary techniques of the blues: rhythm and lead. Part 3 is a study of different styles through the ages, including acoustic blues, slide, classic electric blues, blues-rock, and ending with jazz blues. Supplemental material includes a discography (but there is no index). The lesson material is easy to absorb, due to its elegant layour. Take a look at Figure 2, which shows a typical approach to rhythm playing. The music is presented in a double-staff system that shows standard music notation and tablature. The text explains how to execute the rhythms, strums, and any techniques involved, while the chord diagrams (see the right hand page) complete the visual presentation. Figure 2. Rhythm guitar examples are presented in standard music notation as well as tab, and chord diagrams (on the right-hand page) show neck diagrams. Here’s another example of the excellent visual presentation and integration of graphics and text, this time for a lead guitar example. Figure 3 shows the notation (complete with special symbols for showing guitar-specific techniques such as bends, vibrato, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides), along with the scale pattern on a neck diagram (on the left-hand page). Figure 3. Lead guitar music is notated in detail, including bends and slurs, and shows neck diagrams with scale patterns. Beginning in Part 2, every written music example is performed on the accompanying audio CD. The tracks consist of a count-off (allowing you to play along in time), a drum track, and the featured guitar. A handy track sheet allows you to locate on the disc every example (more than 120) in the book. These are performed by the author, and the sound quality, as well as the performance and tone, is top-tier stuff. Check out Track 86 from the CD, a dead-nuts-on rendition of classic Clapton, from the section on blues rock: Other styles are just as adroitly captured, including those of Robert Johnson, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, T-Bone Walker, and Robben. I mean, St. James just nails it. My only criticism is that in the lead section, the performed rhythms often don’t line up with those in the notation (though the pitches do match perfectly). This means that as transcriptions, the written figures are not completely accurate. But either the notation’s version or the recorded one are equally viable in terms of an authentic interpretation of the riffs and licks presented in the lead section. Author St. James provides excellent explanations of the various theoretical concepts at work, including the different scales and hybrids (six-note blues scale, major-pentatonic, mixo-blues, etc.) used in the excerpts and solos. CONCLUSION This book covers all the bases, in terms of the scope of its subject matter as well as the depth of its instructional approach. In The Blues Guitar Handbook, you can devote yourself to any aspect of blues guitar, from creating a good rhythm groove to learning the scales that make up the different blues sounds to capturing the authentic sound of a particular style or era. And when you’re not playing from the tutorial sections, you can deepen your knowledge of blues history and codify your understanding of all things blues guitar from well-written instruction that graces every page of this fine book. __ 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).
  17. Based on the high-end Doyle Dykes Signature Model, the DDX delivers superb playability and quality sound at an affordable price $1498 MSRP; $1199 street by Jon Chappell The Taylor DDX Doyle Dykes Deluxe, a maple back-and-side Grand Auditorium. Taylor Guitars and fingerstyle virtuoso Doyle Dykes have had a long and productive association with each other. Much of Dykes’s stellar rise to the top of the fingerpicking pantheon is tied to his playing of Taylor guitars, as both player and instrument are known for clear, brilliant tone and virtuosity. Dykes worked with Taylor for years to get an instrument that would best suit his playing style, offering design modifications and suggestions on everything from the electronics to materials to playability. In 2000, Taylor released the high-end Doyle Dykes Signature Model (DDSM), which embodied all the work and refinements Dykes and Taylor had collaborated on over the years. The model even featured a white rose inlay, which figures significantly into Dykes’ life and music, as his fans well know. As beautifully rendered as the DDSM was, though, it was beyond the reach of many guitarists on a budget. So Taylor has released the Doyle Dykes Deluxe (DDX), which retained the spirit of the higher-end DDSM, but costs well less than half the price—about $1200 street. The homage to its high-end inspiration is immediately obvious: it’s an all-black-finish, gleaming Grand Auditorium acoustic-electric guitar with the distinctive half-moon pearl thumbprint position markers along the fingerboard, white binding and white headstock inlays. The only real obvious differences are that the ornate rose on the headstock of the DDSM has been replaced by the signature of the artist, and the cutaway on the DDX is Venetian (rounded) versus Florentine (pointed). The DDX features Doyle Dykes signature instead of the ornate white rose in the DDSM. OVERVIEW Built in Taylor's Mexico factory, the DDX is a laminate maple back-and-sides Grand Auditorium model drawn from Taylor’s 200 series. It features laminated maple back-and-sides, a solid spruce top, maple neck with an ebony fingerboard sporting Chet Atkins-style “half moon” inlays, an ebony bridge and Taylor’s ES-T electronics, which consists of a single under-saddle pickup and three side-mounted rotary controls: bass, treble, and volume. The scale length on the DDX is the standard 25.5" versus the DDM’s short scale of 24.875". The neck is 1-11/16" wide at the nut and the string spacing is 2-3/16" at the saddle. It feels perfect for fingerpicking, both when using a thumbpick for that Chet Atkins/Merle Travis country ragtime sound, as well as for a more free-form arpeggio and strumming approach using an unadorned right hand. Flatpicking is a pleasure too, thanks to that legendary Taylor neck. The DDX is outfitted with the Taylor-branded chrome tuning machines and an endpin jack for connecting to an amp or P.A. The 9V battery is also accessible in a latch near the jack. It comes strung with Elixir Lights, and plays smooth and fast under the fingers. Aesthetically, the DDX is beautiful, with its gleaming and reflective black scheme offset by white accents (binding, rosette, and neck and headstock inlays). It looks like the guitar is outfitted in a tuxedo. The workmanship is flawless, as is typical and expected in a Taylor guitar, and though the top is an opaque black, the character and grain of the wood show through, adding a nice organic dimension to the otherwise formal all-black presentation. The all-black scheme is nicely set off by white accents in the binding, rosette, and half-moon neck inlays. ACOUSTIC PLAYTHROUGH From the moment you touch it—picking it up and bringing it into playing position—the DDX feels light, sleek, and responsive. It seems to almost want to play itself. The hard rock maple body, spruce top, and forward-shifted bracing all contribute to a sparkly, buoyant sound. Doyle Dykes has stated that he prefers maple for its crisp attack, and that maple guitars seem more responsive to fast and virtuosic playing, where the articulation of rapid notes seems to read better. That character is in abundance here, coupled with the fantastically playable neck that just begs for some speedy fingerpicking, chicken pickin’, and other fleet-fingering romps. Played acoustically, the sound is quite balanced in the midrange while providing high notes that speak clearly above thumb-picked bass notes or plucked inner-voice chords. Access to the upper frets is well accommodated, making this guitar a good lead instrument for flatpickers. IN ELECTRIC MODE I plugged the DDX into a Fishman Loudbox Artist to test the electronics. The ES-T, while not as full-featured as Taylor’s higher-end Expression System, nevertheless produced a nice tonal signature that was balanced in the lower and middle registers. The clarity of the treble notes I heard in acoustic mode were well represented when the guitar was plugged in. In fact, it’s noteworthy how close the amplified sound matched the acoustic sound. The ES-T does not deliver quite the acoustic realism and range of the Expression System, but it sounds very, very good, and for enabling the guitar to cut through a busy or muddy mix, or for being heard over a large ensemble, the DDX’s ES-T system works fine. The three controls on the guitar’s upper bout are bass, treble, and volume, and I like how Taylor put the volume control closest to the face of the guitar, where you can more easily see it and make quick adjustments, as this is the control you’ll access most often in a live or studio setting. The DDX is outfitted with Taylor's ES-T system, which consists of an under-saddle pickup and preamp sporting three controls: bass, treble, and volume. I went through my repertoire of fingerpicking classics, from Chet and Merle to Dave Matthews and original compositions that employ strumming, harmonics, and hybrid picking along with straightforward fingerstyle playing. The Taylor neck is always a joy to play, especially for more modern styles that bring you far up the neck. The transition in the cutaway area, from the regions below, was transparent and effortless. The tone was clear and crisp, and even on the high strings among the upper frets, never got plinky. You can hit the guitar fairly hard, too, without the dreaded “quack” that other guitars in the same price range will produce, due to inferior electronics. I found I did need external EQ to bring out the mids, but that’s a personal preference. CONCLUSIONS The DDX is, for the money, an incredible guitar—a fully professional instrument that can not only withstand the rigors of the road, but can satisfy musicians who plays a significant portion of their sets instrumentally. The maple construction produces a sharp, bright sound with a rapid decay that is especially at home in a country-rock setting, and for guitarists playing lickety-split fingerstyle music. The rhythm sound is not as deep or mellow as some other grand auditoriums, but what it lacks in mellowness it makes up in focus. The guitar’s upper-midrange thrust and brilliant high end make it fairly easy to place in a mix and very handy for stage work. This is a really solid, pro-level guitar that pays homage to one of the best fingerstyle players the world has ever seen, and is a great instrumental axe to boot.
  18. DAW Basics: Collecting, Combining, and Optimizing Files By Jon Chappell Selecting start and end points, and defining the "silence gap" in Pro Tools. (Click images to englarge.) DAWs are wonderfully creative tools for composing, arranging, capturing improvs, and mashing loops, but they’re also really good for just doing workaday tasks like audio editing, file clean-up, and track assembly. Though it might seem like overkill to launch a DAW to perform a basic task—using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut—it’s sometimes the quickest and simplest way to get something done. I often encounter people who traffic in lots of audio files (mp3’s, waves) and who have all sorts of housekeeping needs but don’t know that a DAW could serve as their Swiss Army Knife, handline all their needs. You don’t need to access a DAW’s deepest editing depths to make good use of one, and basic housekeeping and management is something full-fledged DAWs do particularly well—much better than programs like Windows Media Player and GarageBand. CONSOLIDATE! If you have a lot of small but related files, you make your life easier by consolidating them into a single file. Then just break them out as discrete file names on an as-needed basis by going into the master file and generate the smaller subfiles on the fly. For example, if you have collected a bunch of field recordings of a similar type, whether they’re bird calls, crowd noises, or snare drum samples, you should gather them in a DAW project where they call all be trimmed, optimized, and loudness-normalized together. Think of them as a single listening experience where you don’t want varying levels between them. You can also structure them such that all start with no delay or lag time, and all have a uniform interval (usually three seconds) after the last sound dies away. This will be especially handy if you're creating a CD. TRACK TIPS Moving all files of a similar kind into a single track can be thought of as “track hosting.” Start by opening up a new file in any DAW (I’ll use Pro Tools here, but the steps are similar in other DAWs), and create one or two stereo tracks. Even if the source is mono, your resulting output should be in a stereo format, and if you use any kind of ambient effect, such as reverb, you’ll also want that in stereo. Import your audio file by selecting the Import command. A navigation window opens up. In my example, I’ve selected two files, one called Adele.wav and the other JerryReed.mp3. DAWs allow you to mix audio files of different formats and sampling rates by converting them for you in the import process. Note that in Figure 1 below, the DAW flags the mp3 as needing conversion before it will work in this project (see text in red oval). This window also shows you other specs of the audio you’re importing. Fig. 1 You can assemble all your audio in one track or two. If you use two (as I do), you just have to make sure the settings (level, pan, choice of plug-ins, etc.) are exactly the same between them. In Figure 2, you see what my two test files look like in the track or project window after importing. Here, the different coloring (blue for the track named Audio 1, green for Audio 2) is just for easier visual differentiating; in all sonic aspects, the two channels are identical. Once the files are in track view, they can be slid around the timeline just by grabbing and moving them. We can also trim the files on both the front and back ends in this view, and apply any gain adjustments or envelope shapes (fade-ins and fade-outs). Fig. 2 THE 3-SECOND RULE The first thing I like to do with files is separate them by the same amount of time. I use three seconds, which is fairly standard, based on the countdown gap used for CDs. Figure 3 shows my markers 3 seconds apart (adjust your timeline to read out min|sec vs. bars|beats), and I slid the two files along their respective track lanes until the end of the first file was three seconds from the start of the first file. Fig. 3 Note above indications in red. The ovals surround markers, which I’ve named meaningfully (“End Adele File” and “End 3-Second Gap”). The double-headed arrow shows the three-second gap as it looks on the track. But note the descending read arrows on the lower track. You can see that though the “JerryReed” file begins right at the marker, the file contains some silence before the music actually begins. You can fix this two ways: 1) simply slide the track to the left until the waveform aligns with the marker. You’ll have some “region overhang” to the left of the marker named "End 3-Second Gap), but it’s silence, so the listener will still hear exactly a three-second gap between files. However, the better way is to do what I’ve done in Figure 4, shown by the yellow border, which is to close up the gap in the file itself, otherwise known as “trimming.” This file will be much easier to deal with later on if I take the time now to fix the gap at the file level, and not just its placement in the project. Fig. 4 Take a look at the way the two files align with the markers below, indicated by the red bracket (Figure 5). Note that I’ve also introduced a fade-out in the upper track, represented by the vertical line and 45-degree line going from top left to bottom right. The vertical line shows the start of the fade, and the slanted line indicates the slope of the fade. Here, it’s a linear fade, but you can have different types of fades, including logarithmic fades, which contain curves. Fig. 5 Just to be different, in Figure 6 I’m not going to trim the other file’s starting point. This allows me to show off another DAW tool, and that’s the region markers, which are up on the timeline (indicated by a blue downward arrow). The vertical red line shows where the start of the region falls, according to where I’ve dragged the start point to; the arrows show the gap between the beginning of the actual file, as imported, and the first appearance of sound. Fig. 6 Why would I not want to “do the right thing” and trim the file? Two reasons: 1) there may be a good reason for starting the file in silence, but I don’t know what that is, and I don’t need to know as long as I leave the original files intact and just manipulate the region markers as a temporary fix; and 2) if I’m in a hurry, I can set the region markers and “bounce to disc” (the process of making a separate, mixed-down master file) much faster than I can trim the files plus set the region markers. Sometimes speed is of the essence. The final step (Figure 7) shows a hybrid of approaches used to prepare a file that was imported into a DAW track. Note the three circles above: the first shows a region marker that aligns with the first appearance of sound, not the beginning of the file; the second show the end of the file, after I’ve crafted a fade-out; the third shows the three-second gap that should follow after every file, starting from where the last sound disappears. This is an important point: If you want a gap between two CD or mp3-player tracks, better to build it at the end of the first file rather than at the beginning of the second file. This way, the operator can lean over and hit the Stop, Repeat Track, or Loop button before the following file plays. When you’re practicing an instrument or running sound effects for a live show, you’ll immediately appreciate this approach. Conversely, all songs should ideally start the moment you hit the play button, unless you have a special situation where you want a gap of silence before the music plays (e.g., you might be practicing along with a piece, and you want to get your hands in place on the instrument after controlling the player). The arrow at the bottom, bracketed by the two short vertical lines, shows the total length of the region (defined by the markers above), and in the most typical way: a new file where the sound starts immediately (even though the source file has a gap of silence), fades out, and is followed by three seconds of silence before the file stops (or loops back to the beginning) playback. Fig. 7
  19. If you're ready to step up from a stompboxes and a combo to an approach that gives you more control, this book and DVD package shows the way. by Scott Kahn. 155 pages, with DVD. $24.99 www.halleonard.com Review by Jon Chappell Modern Guitar Rigs, by Scott Kahn, includes a DVD. Published by Hal Leonard. (Click images to enlarge.) Guitarists hardly need instruction on how to put together a basic rig. Grab a guitar and plug into an amp. Want a ready-made distortion sound or a weird underwater effect? Splice in a distortion pedal and and flanger, respectively. But once you get a bunch of effects together, and all the attendant patch cords, it quickly becomes obvious that there must be a better approach. If your stage rig starts resembling a bowl of spaghetti and the straight signal doesn't sound like it does when you go straight to the amp, you're clearly in need of some greater knowledge about the signal chain, and possibly a different approach altogether. That's what Scott Kahn's book Modern Guitar Rigs addresses--the rig that shows intelligence, planning, and a strategy. The book covers the steps that guitarists need to take to build pro-level rigs, for recording or live performance, on the stage or in the studio. Author Scott Kahn explores different approaches, from the straightforward to the complex, including setups for multiple scenarios (stereo output, piezo + magnetic, acoustic and electric, etc.). As a book, it’s well written in a breezy, uncluttered style, and the text is richly illustrated with both photos and schematic diagrams of the setups described. The book comes with an accompanying DVD that includes over an hour of video on topics such as building a pro guitar rig, setting up your first small rack, taming the pedalboard, and a music video of the song “The Sky Is Falling” by the author’s own progressive rock band. TURNING THE PAGE The book is organized well, with separate chapters devoted to different rack gear platforms, multiple-amp setup (and switching between them), a wet/dry rig approach (for pulling your effects out of the direct signal path), MIDI, audio loopers (not to be confused with waveform looping, as a DJ would do), mixers, and a miscellaneous chapter that deals with everything from speaker emulators to power attenuators to cabling and cases. Three chapters at the end are devoted to specialty topics not covered in the first nine and more linear chapters. There’s a chapter on suggested uses of popular products, which takes existing systems and shows you how you would set them up. This is a great way to see what approach you might prefer in signal routing and processing. In Chapter 11, Kahn interviews several rig builders, including Scott Appleton, Mark Snyder, and Bob Bradshaw, whose Custom Audio Electronics systems are perhaps the most famous of all. The last chapter is advice for building your own rig, and contains advice on amps, effects loops, MIDI foot controllers, rack case planning, and issues to consider if you’re thinking of going wireless. MULTIPLE INSTRUMENTS One concept that book deals with well is setting up multiple instruments. Many guitarists often find themselves trying to figure out how to get two or more guitars (or a guitar plus another instrument, like a mandolin or banjo) routed so that they can control and switch between them with ease. Then there's the issue of getting the optimized sound for each instrument through a single rig. Below is just one of many well-illustrated diagrams that shows how you would set up four guitars--wirelessly, not less--in the Radial Engineering JX-44. Modern Guitar Rigs includes detailed setups using pedalboards from various manufacturers. Again, the fact that the author uses an existing product to illustrate how the concept is realized takes the advice out of the realm of the theoretical and makes it very practical and hands-on. COMPLEX ROUTING A sort of counterpart to the multi-instrument approach would be one with a single guitar with a complex routing scheme for numerous effects under MIDI control. In another example, Kahn explains how to work with the Voodoo Lab GCX. In the illustration below, he shows how to patch in and label the various effects. This worksheet shows how you would incorporate your various effects into the Voodoo Lab GCX. CONCLUSIONS This book deals with some pretty sophisticated concepts, but the logic and explanations of why you would use audio looping, amp switching, and effects placement is well explained and appropriate to all guitarsist using more than just a couple of effects, or who want to harness technology to create a multi-amp setup. If you're thinking of going big, or are just curious as to the advantages of a high-end system, check out Modern Guitar Rigs for its well-explained strategies.
  20. Today's cameras shoot great video, but outboard gear is required to get top-quality audio results. by Jon Chappell A DSLR with an attached portalbe recorder, in this case, a Zoom H4n. (Click images to enlage.) From the visual side of things, shooting video for music events has never been easier. You can get excellent quality video (well, more than good enough for YouTube purposes) from inexpensive vidcams like the Flip, Alesis, and Zoom models, or you can use a more upscale solution such as a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) or handheld videocamera—ones made expressly for shooting video. Any of these sources will produce crisp and colorful videos. The problems come when you start to consider the audio. Let’s take videocameras to start. You’d think that by plunking down a four to five hundred bucks you’d have a camera that could shoot good audio along with that crisp video. But you’d be wrong. Almost all vidcams under about $600 rely on a small onboard mic and don’t include a mic in jack. This presents two problems: 1) The onboard mic is often substandard and limited by a single pickup pattern (usually omni); 2) The mic can’t be separated from the camera. So imagine standing back far enough to get three talking people in the frame. The mic moves back along with the visual. If the ambient noise is high, you won’t be able to hear them, much less get a good signal. If only you could hook up a mic (either by wire or wirelessly) to the input, but cameras don’t include this feature. They used to, but not anymore. On the other hand, the good thing about the Alesis and Zoom cameras is that they’re made for musicians, and so include a stereo mic in jack, as well as having very good onboard mics. The problem with these units is that, though they shoot in HD format, their optics and features are quite limited. For example, they don’t include the ability to zoom the lens (which is different from digital zoom, and inferior to a true optical zoom). With the Zoom and Alesis, the video suffers even when you can get pro-quality audio. So how do you get high-quality audio out of a video camera or DSLR? There are three strategies that all use outboard gear, but will guarantee your video’s audio will be CD-quality or better. Which method you choose depends on your style of working and the extra steps you're willing to go through. Let’s take a look at the three approaches, in order of simplicity. SOLUTION #1: USE A PORTABLE AUDIO RECORDER There is a plethora of good portable recorders, made by such companies as Yamaha, Sony, Roland, Olympus, Zoom, TASCAM, and others. TASCAM even makes a model, the DR-60D, specifically for using with a DLSR. By recording your audio onto one of these, either by using their onboard mics (which are far superior to your camera’s built-in mic) or plug-ins that you provide, you’ll be getting just about the best audio possible. That includes the ability to record in a variety of formats, from low-bitrate mp3s to CD- quality (44.1kHz/16-bit) and beyond (96kHz/24-bit). A popular recorder for the video crowd is the Zoom H4n because it has XLR inputs. That means you can use pro-level dynamic or condensers—the same ones you’d use on stage or in the studio in your normal one, ones that you already own—without adapters. The H4n and its ilk include the standard 1/4" threaded collar on the back or bottom for attaching to tripods and the posts of many camera holders. By recording onto a separate recorder, you are assured much better fidelity, a better user interface, and more features than the camera can provide. The downside is that you have your audio and video on different media, and so must sync the audio files to the video “in post” (that is, at a later time, in front of a computer, using software). That’s an extra step, and prevents you from, say, uploading your video to YouTube immediately upon concluding your recording. Syncing in post, however, is not such a big deal if you plan on editing the video anyway (including minor tweaks, like trimming the front and back ends and maybe adding a beginning title and an ending copyright). In fact there is software built expressly for this purpose. But it’s easy enough to do manually, simply by eyeballing the two tracks of audio (your recorder’s and your camera’s) and lining up the waveforms visually. Since the recorder is often only inches from the camera mic, there are no phase or delay issues to deal with. In this case, you use the camera’s audio for synching purposes, but it’s not heard in the final output. (You would simply mute the camera’s audio track when you go to render or output the final video.) The Zoom H4n is a popular choice for an external recorder because it includes XLR inputs. SOLUTION #2: USE A LINE MIXER If you don’t want to use an external recorder, but you still want some control over the sound going into the camera, then employing small mixer is the way to go. Mixers built for recording audio onto video are essentially no different than mixers in the audio world except that they’re built small enough to be mounted on camera rigs. But all the controls and I/O will be familiar to any audio person. Juicedbox makes several models, and is a popular choice for video recordists. Look at the photo below, and you’ll see XLR inputs for your mics, a stereo 1/8" output to feed to the camera’s input, and a headphone jack for monitoring the sound. There are also trim pots and phantom power circuitry for control over the signal that enters the camera. The JuicedLink is a mixer that includes XLR inputs, phantom power, trim controls, and a heaphone output for controlling and monitoring audio that goes into the camera. It also disables the Automatic Gain Control in some DSLR cameras--a very handy feature. A mixer gives you more control than just hitting the camera with nothing in between, but less control than a dedicated recorder has. Still, the advantage here is that the audio is now attached to the video file—no synching in post necessary. The metering isn’t as good on a mixer, but as long as you’re not distorting the input and you keep an eye on the camera’s audio meters, you’ll be fine. SOLUTION #1 Vs. SOLUTION #2 SMACKDOWN: A CHART There are other advantages to using Solution #1 or Solution #2 not related to audio quality. Here's a chart that shows some of the logistical advantages of recorders and mixers. The advantages are shown in blue; the disadvantages in red. AUDIO MIXER AUDIO RECORDER Inputs Multiple ins Stereo inputs only Phantom Power Active (pwrd) mixers only Most audio recorders Monitoring Monitors input only Monitors actual recording VU/LED Meters Only some mixers Better VU/LED meters Sync To Video Yes Requires synching in post Audio Formats Limited by camera (1 or 2) Many options Record Length Limited by camera: ~12 mins. Capacity of card (up to 4 hrs.) SOLUTION #3: RECORD IN PARALLEL If you're not sure whether to record externally (though a portable digital recorder) or internally (through a mixer), why not combine the two for a parallel approach? This gives you both immediately usable audio on the video track, plus a separately recorded file that is certainly superior to the on-camera audio. If the on-camera video distorts (as it can) or otherwise fails, you always have a backup. And you can use the recorder's track for critical listening situations. There are actually two ways to employ the parallel approach. The simplest way is to use just the external recoder. Record separately onto this as you normally would, but instead of monitoring the output of the recorder through the headphone jack, use this jack to feed your camera's mic input. (Some recorders have a line out, which is a better match for this purpose.) Then you would monitor from the camera's output jack. This has the advantage of being able to monitor what's on the camera (not just what's on the recorder), your ultimate destination. The second way is to employ a mixer and an enternal recoder. The mixer output feeds the camera (as is normal), and the monitor out feeds the recorder (not your headphones). You don't really need the mixer for the recorder in this setup, but the extra control can't hurt. This scenario might occur if you already have an outboard recorder anyway (because you're an audio person), but want a mixer for those times when you want better audio for the camera, but still want to have the audio and video synched. Again, having synched audio does save time in post. But if you don't mind carrying around and hooking up two pieces of gear, Solution #3 will give you maximum control and great post-production audio--the best of both worlds. \\_\\_ 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).
  21. “And Now, Heeeere’s George Lopez!” Studio Log: Notes on recording voice-over announcements for a network TV talk show By Jon Chappell The humble bedroom of one of my kids was the setting to record the voiceovers for a network TV talk show. The George Lopez Show was a late-night talk show hosted by comedian and actor George Lopez that was just canceled last week. I was sad to see it go, not because I watched it, but because it employed me. Specifically, I had recorded several of the show’s voice-overs with its announcer, Billy Vera. Billy Vera is a singer, songwriter, bandleader, and producer whose credits are long and impressive. He’s produced albums for Lou Rawls (including one with Nat King Cole), led and sang with the band The Beaters, and wrote and sang a number one song called “At This Moment (You Just Don’t Love Me Anymore),” which was featured famously in an episode of “Family Ties,” starring a young Michael J. Fox. And here he was in my studio recording voice-overs in his wonderfully resonant, soulful baritone. It was a real pleasure to work with Vera for a week, and the circumstances that brought him to my home studio were interesting. COAST TO COAST TALENT Vera lives and works in southern California, but he’s from Back East, where I live (right outside New York City). He has a demanding professional schedule, one that doesn’t let up just because he travels out of town to visit family. So when he left SoCal for the Big Apple, he somehow had to maintain his voiceover recording commitments for the George Lopez Show while on the road. Vera must record his announcements on the day of the show, because the show’s producers never have a finalized line-up until just hours before the taping. The easiest way for Vera was to simply find a studio wherever he happened to be. After he recorded his spots, they could be sent via a large-file transfer service (like yousendit.com or transferbigfiles.com). Through a mutual friend, I got the call. Could I record Vera’s spots, each day, every day for week? Sure, I said. MOBILE SOLUTIONS My full studio is currently dismantled and under re-construction, but I figured I could simply set up a vocal mic, interface, and laptop in any room in my house. This made it more like a mobile recording gig. I realized later, I could have done this in a hotel room, as Vera stays very close up on the mic. In other words, the room factored very little into the equation. His close-mic technique allows him to use the proximity effect (the pronounced increase in bass response when getting closer to the mic) for dramatic purposes as well as deliver an advantageous breathy quality to his readings. He’s got a great TV announcer’s voice. My gear of choice was an AKG SolidTube large-diaphragm tube mic, an Avid Mbox, and a MacBook Pro running Pro Tools 9. Just as important, I had set up a music stand and a portable battery-powered light to shine down on the script. I included a sharpened pencil (with a good eraser). In Pro Tools, I set up a template several tracks with different EQ and dynamics settings for playback, depending on what I was to hear. We’d be listening back to every take, and Vera doesn’t know me, so I wanted the playback experience to be reassuring to him. And I made sure I had other things taken care of, like a pitcher of cold water with lemon slices in the fridge, and tea in the cupboard (though most vocalists show up with their own bottled water these days, as did Vera). Billy Vera stands ready to record his announcer cues for the George Lopez Show. We used an AKG SolidTube mic through an Avid Mbox into a MacBook Pro running Pro Tools. Note the little touches: the battery-powered light that shines on the script (visible just under where the popscreen filter’s gooseneck joins the boom) and the pencil on the music stand. These were noticed, utilized, and appreciated by the talent. IN SESSION When Vera showed up, we hadn’t received the scripts via email yet. So we hung around, chatted, and then sidled up to the bedroom to get a soundcheck. I was grateful I had opted for the Mbox, because of its built-in limiter (called SoftLimit). Billy was loud. So loud that I could hear, acoustically, the flutter echoes from the corners of the untreated room. Fortunately, these reflections didn’t read over the mic, and were not a factor in the recorded sound. I scrambled to re-set my levels just to keep out of the red, and had a tough time riding the fader, because Vera would go from a whisper to a roar. I managed, but with some hardware help. Which brings up one of my pet issues regarding interfaces: For live work, I insist on having an interface that includes either an onboard limiter (such as models by Avid and M-Audio) or insert jacks that allow you to strap on an outboard compressor before the A/D conversion. Without one of these options, you have no way of protecting the signal from clipping as it goes into the recorder. If you’re fast and clever, you can ride the input fader, but this is fraught with danger, especially if you’re dealing with an unfamiliar source (especially vocalists, even speaking ones), a dynamic performance, or both. Better to have a limiter watching your back. I make sure all my interfaces have an onboard compressor/limiter (as shown here with the Mbox's SoftLimit function) or insert jacks that allow patching in of a dynamics processor before the A/D conversion. The script finally arrived by email, I printed out two copies (one for Billy on his stand, one for me at my table), and we got to work. Here’s where one has to be sensitive to the personal dynamics in a session. I was prepared for Vera to be anything from a tyrant to a pussycat, but he was completely normal. This means that he had ideas of his own, but was interested in my input. He also welcomed having a second set of ears, and that is the mark of a true pro who doesn’t let ego get in the way. I caught slip-ups during a take that made listening back unnecessary. We saved a lot of time this way. And he moved through the script like a hot knife through butter. He was a total pro. For my part, I made sure to keep the session rolling along. One of the best ways to do this is to provide clear direction to your talent. Without a producer calling the shots, it’s really up to the engineer, or recordist, to set the pace. Even though Vera has produced Lou Rawls albums, he was the talent here, concerned with delivering his performance. I was the one to say, “Let’s do a mic level check. Please read up to the line that says ‘And my special guest star, Manny Pacquiao.’” Billy obliged, I set levels, and we were off to the races. I was giving direction to the guy who gave direction to Nat King Cole. Freaky! Even though this session involved no music, I still had to use my ears in a musical sense. I heard places where I thought the dramatic arc of the sentence should come somewhere else, and we often tried alternate ways. Sometimes my way was the keeper, sometimes it was Vera’s. But it was a true collaborative experience. Once we got derailed because neither of us knew how to pronounce one of the show’s guest’s last names. We had to wait while the show’s production company got back to us. Twice, Vera had to return, hours later, because there had been a last-minute change. This meant I had to be sure to get a repeatable performance both from the talent as well as the recording setup. But in the end it worked out. ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT I made one slight error that I know not to make again: I should have kept a better line of sight with Vera the whole time. As it was, he was slightly in my periphery once I turned my head from him to my screen. This was just the nature of the furniture layout (my laptop sat on an immovable desk) and where the best spot for the mic was (in the center of the room). But there were times when I could have seen a puzzled look on Vera’s face as he struggled with a phrase, rather than relying solely on my ears to pick up the hesitancy. Even between engineer and talent, even when separated by glass and distance, you can develop eye contact that can put you on the same wavelength. DUSTING AND CLEANING Once we had the performances captured, Vera was done, and he went on with this day. I still had to do housekeeping—trim the files, delete false starts, get rid of mouth noises in between sentences, phrases, and sometimes individual words. Then I had to save in the file format requested by the production company (24-bit/48kHz) and send off the file. Upon hearing the first cues, the production company got back to me with a sort of left-handed compliment: “Great work. Not necessary to do all that housecleaning, as the TV guys are used to doing that themselves. We don’t want to set a precedent where they have our guys doing it. You’re a total pro, though!” THAT’S A WRAP “A total pro.” That made the whole thing worth it. And it’s the same thing Billy Vera said to me when we wrapped the week’s worth of work. Except that he added something: “Man, I’d work with you anytime. Now I know who to call when I have a recording gig in New York.” Music to my ears. \\_\\_ 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).
  22. Perfect for beginners or as a second guitar, these high-performance, low-cost axes will appeal to metal and hard-rock guitarists on a budget DS-1 ST: $869.99 MSRP, $649.00 Street; DS-2 ST: $529.99 MSRP, $329.99 Street www.charvel.com By Jon Chappell The guitars in Charvel's DS series are as affordable as they are playable. (Click images to enlarge.) Why is it that your first electric guitar often tends to be your most forgettable? The only thing I remember about my first guitar was that it had strings like a cheese cutter and came with a beaten-up case. It took many years of trading and selling before I could finally afford my first decent electric. Charvel Guitars has found a way to break this dubious tradition with their new Desolation Guitar series, a line of entry-level electric solidbodies aimed squarely at rock and metal players on a budget. These guitars are so well made that you will keep and remember them long after you add subsequent axes to your arsenal. Recently I had the opportunity to try out two of the first models, the Desolation DS-1 ST and DS-2 ST single cutaway guitars. The Desolation series is amazing, providing options galore and incredible playability, all at a great price. These kids today—puh! They don’t know how easy they’ve got it! A TRADITION OF COOL To fully appreciate the lineage of the Desolation guitar line, you have to know a little about Charvel history. Set the Wayback machine to the late 1970s, when Wayne Charvel starts up as the ultimate mod shop, catering to the likes of Eddie Van Halen, Warren DeMartini, and many other rock gods. Wayne was the go-to guy for these top players, who would have Dr. C. swap out necks, pickups, and anything else in an effort to carve out their individual sound. Charvel then broke out on his own and created iconic models for the instrumental metal movement, whose height was in the late ’80s and ’90s. Today, Charvel is part of Fender, but they continue to be the hot-rod of guitar makers, offering both standard production models and premium custom shop guitars. Amazingly, many of the people who worked with Charvel in the 1980s are still crafting guitars in Charvel’s custom shop today. The lineage of quality and pride in the craftsmanship continues. YOU'VE GOT OPTIONS To bring the new guitarist to Charvel, the Desolation line offer a variety of options while keeping the sticker price low. First, you can choose a mahogany body style in single cutaway, double cutaway, or Skatecaster models. Each style offers a scalloped heel, allowing easy access to the upper regions of the fretboard (see Fig. 1). Fig. 1. The well-shaped heel facilitates quick position changes and speedy picking in all regions of the fingerboard. Then you can pick your colors, from flat black and white to transparent red, black, and blue stains on a flame maple top. I found the flat black especially nice, with its silky, stylishly classy look. Next, you select a neck style, from the low-cost bolt-on neck to the top-of-the-line neck-through models. Each of the necks are solid mahogany with a rosewood fretboard and beautiful abalone binding on the neck, body, and headstock. If that weren’t enough, the neck-through models offer the option of a Floyd Rose tremolo. ACTIVE PICKUPS To help further craft that high-end metal sound, the Desolation series uses active pickups on all models. At the high-end, with the Floyd Rose and neck-through models, you’ll find Seymour Duncan Blackout active pickups (AHB-1B and AHB-1N for bridge and neck, respectively), while other models sport either EMG 85/81 or Charvel’s own Custom Active Pickups (which appear on the entry-level single cutaway bolt-on model). My review model featuree the EMGs, and they provided all the low-end punch, midrange focus, and piercing, articulate highs these active p’ups are known for (see Fig. 2). Fig. 2. You have a choice of pickups when ordering your DS, including Seymour Duncan and EMG. Once you place high-gain guitar with an 85/81 combination, it’s hard to go back to passives. Another bonus: When they’re not supposed to be making noise (as in, when you’re not playing), the pickups are dead quiet. It’s not necessary to roll back the volume knob during the quiet passages. Just keep your hands lightly on the strings to mute them. THAT'S ONE SWEET NECK As good as the pickups are, it’s in the neck department where the Desolations truly shine. According to Charvel, the one place that was critical in the development of the Desolation series was the neck. Well, it shows. All the Desolation necks use a hybrid, compound-radius design that start with a 12" radius at the nut and gradually widen out to a 16" radius at the 24th fret (see Fig. 3). Fig. 3. The fingerboard and neck radius make for a very fast, smooth feel. The first thing you notice is the weight of the guitar—not too heavy, but with enough heft to feel substantial and provide sustain. Then there’s the effortless playability. The neck on my DS-1 and 2 models were truly things of beauty. The hybrid factor means you can move seamlessly from open chords to passagework at the 17th fret and beyond. The profile is a thin D shape, which is ideal for doing fast single-note runs, precision two-handed tapping, and compound riff/lead work. Another plus is that the necks all have a smooth, natural finish that facilitates quick and friction-free left-hand movement. A GREAT FIRST GUITAR I truly wish the Desolation guitars were around when I was ready for my first guitar. I think I would have developed a lighter and faster touch, which was my dream at the time. The craftsmanship is flawless, the feel is awesome and the options are plentiful—a level of versatility that’s impressive at these price points. If you are starting out or watching your budget, but are still ready for a professional guitar that builds on decades of custom guitar expertise, rock out with the new line of Desolation guitars from Charvel. \_\_ Features: Mahogany body with flame maple on Transparent colors Single cutaway shapes (double cutaway and Skatecaster body also available) Carved top Rosewood fingerboard Through-body neck (DS-1), set neck (DS-2), and bolt-on neck (DS-3) Compound radius fingerboard (12" to 16") Seymour Duncan AHB-1B and AHB-1N active pickups (DS-1) Desolation Active Pickups (DS-2) Locking Charvel tuners (non-locking on single cutaway models) Floyd Rose-equipped models available
  23. Petite Perfection in a Parlor $1299 MSRP, $999 Street www.twooldhippies.com by Jon Chappell Parlor guitars aren’t normally my thing. I’m a hard-charging bluegrass guy who likes the big sound of a full dreadnought or jumbo acoustic. But sometimes an instrument is so beautifully appointed, so well made, and so sweet sounding, that you begin questioning all the guitar characteristics you thought you preferred. With Bedell’s stunning OH-12-G Parlor Acoustic, modifying my preferences was a matter of pure seduction, in the best sense of the word. CRAFTSMANSHIP The Bedell OH-12-G, like all Bedell guitars, is made of solid wood (no laminates)—in this case, solid African sapele. And what a gorgeous finish it is. Highly grained, with a deep interlocking ribbon-stripe pattern, the wood appears roughly textured. Yet the light glossy finish makes the guitar silky smooth to the touch. The guitar’s top transitions subtly to the sides and back (also African sapele) past solid maple bindings. The maple grain shows through and complements the sapele gorgeously from the side edges to the handcrafted heel cap where neck and body come together. The neck is made of solid mahogany. The ebony fretboard is attached to the neck by a traditional dovetail joint. The 19 frets are laid in by hand. Nut width is 1.7 inches; scale length is 24.7 inches; and the body length of this petite looker come in at just 19.75 inches. It measures 10.25 inches wide at the upper bout and 14.25 inches wide at the lower bout with an 8.85-inch waist—a true beauty structurally and cosmetically. Gold Grover tuners adorn the OH-12-G along with the stylized Bedell peace sign on the softly curving headstock. The tuners provide ample resistance—easy enough to turn smoothly, but not easily enough to feel loose or compromise pitch while playing. A hand-laid “checkerboard” rosette enhances the organic, all-wood visual style of the bindings and surfaces, and the six-step precision natural finish ties everything together. It’s a guitar that provides a lot of pleasure before you pick a note. IN YOUR HANDS More important than its beauty, this Bedell is a sonic beast. It can sound like a much larger acoustic, especially when it’s played hard. The OH-12-G responds with rich and varied tones during aggressive strumming or soloing. I slammed this axe on everything from classic rock strummers from the Beatles and Richie Havens to heavy pickers like Yes’s “Roundabout” and fingerstyle pickin’ fests like “Jerry’s Breakdown.” The OH-12-G is a supremely responsive guitar that takes anything you throw at it. It also sounds impressively full for a parlor-style instrument, but without the low frequencies that could create a bass trap in a small studio or excessive feedback with a mic onstage. In fact, the OH-12-G turned out to be a great guitar for recording—not too boomy and not too bright, with ample overtones on solo harmony passages yet still enough bite to cut through on leads. I cut several test tracks in my home studio, playing passages from the artists and tunes named above, and after more than 25 years of recording acoustics, I can say that this surprising little guitar is one of the best sounding instruments I’ve heard in a studio. With the right mic, this guitar can fill up any room with clarity and any recording track with top-shelf tone that will fit in a mix without excessive tweaking. Fitted and broken in with light-to-medium gauge strings (it ships with D’Addarios), the OH-12-G sounds right on multiple styles and has terrific intonation (the finely tooled bone bridge saddle terminates each string at a different length before it descends into the bridge and is covered by an inlay-style pin). ACCESSORIES I can’t say enough about the full OH-12-G package. Fans of vintage style with modern twists will love the guitar’s case: a textured brown beauty with distressed latches and gold stitching—a great complement to the guitar’s shading and varied hues. Inside, the plush velvet lining and strap, which secures the guitar to the case just below the headstock, enhances the high-end feel of the entire package. The Tom Bedell signature on the sound-hole sticker is also a nice touch. The company includes a nice booklet of tips for guitar maintenance—adjusting, cleaning, and stringing—that mostly amounts to common sense: keep the guitar and strings clean, use very little water or polish, don’t put your strap in the case. This mixture of elegance and simplicity is a big part of the OH-12-G’s, and Bedell’s, charm. PARLOR POWERHOUSE You’ll want to baby this Bedell, not because its delicate beauty makes it look fragile, but because it’s a finely crafted instrument that will return many years of pleasure. Although it takes advantage of modern manufacturing techniques, you’re not likely to find a more finely crafted guitar in its class that’s better suited for gigs, whether you’re playing for petit-four parties in a parlor or killing the crowds in the coliseum. Features Solid African sapele top, back, and sides Solid one-piece African mahogany neck with hide glue dovetail neck joint Same-grain angle solid mahogany neck block and tongue; mahogany kerfing Solid African ebony fretboard, bridge and headstock veneer Bone nut and saddle Sitka spruce scalloped “X” style bracing Solid wood binding Inlaid all-wood rosette and headstock logo Gloss finish Gold Grover tuners D’Addario EXP Strings Deluxe sculpted hardshell case included Limited lifetime warranty
  24. Keep this Reverb Depth Chart handy whenever you have a complex, multi-instrument arrangement and need to place your instruments in the stereo soundfield with care. By Jon Chappell This chart shows instrument placement in the soundfield according to stereo width, distance, frequency response, and depth. (Click to enlarge.) Many people apply reverb to their tracks simply by using their ear. They find a program that roughly describes the environment they’re looking for (large room, small hall, etc.), and then proceed to tweak the controls to taste. This is fine for a solo instrument or small ensemble. You can usually get pretty good results by loading an appropriate reverb preset on an effects bus and have all instruments share that same reverb. This works whether the reverb is a hardware unit you’ve patched into your mixer or a plug-in you’ve launched and assigned to an aux track created just for that purpose. But when you start to get beyond a basic rock band, you find you really need to address reverb as a whole separate issue and create a reverb strategy or even a written plot that can be considered and analyzed for its own sake. For example, in an orchestra setting, you should know at any instant—without looking at the board for cues!—whether your French horns or your strings are further back in the mix, with respect to their reverb treatment. DISTANCE RUNNING Of course, reverb is only one way to bring instruments close up or push them further away in terms of placement in the soundfield. There’s volume (quieter sounds are perceived to be further away), mic placement (distant miking creates a greater sense of space), and frequency response (sounds that emanate in the distance will have reduced high frequency content). Reverb programs are very good at supplying these qualities for you, along with their reflected-sound emulation, but it’s always good to know how the aspects of a sound are affected when they’re actual physical placement in the space changes. Some years ago, I received a helpful chart from Alesis that accompanied one of their reverb units (I think it was a MicroVerb). I immediately digitized it, modular-ized it, and repurposed it for my own uses. The chart uses 3D shapes, vertical stacking, and shading to illustrate a soundfield plot for a variety of instruments and instrument families. For large ensembles, I often start with this scheme before making alterations according to my specific scenario. More often than not, I stick with the original plan. If I change anything, at least I’m aware of deviating from my original, and I have a good reason for doing it. CHARTING YOUR REVERB SUCCESS The chart is self-explanatory (you must use the Key on the right to understand the shapes, placement, and coloring of all the symbols), and I like the intuitive use of width and height to convey the 3D nature of the soundfield. In my own digital copy, the instrument modules are removable and sizeable. So if the situation warrants it, I can delete the background vocals and horn section modules, leaving just the instruments in my particular arrangement. I can stretch the modules to increase their width and move them along the horizontal axis to change their pan position. I leave the height alone, because the frequency content doesn’t change depending on your soundfield-placement experiments. I like to leave the depth (indicated graphically by the perspective drawing of diagonal lines) of the modules where they are too. For example, I almost always leave the kick and bass guitar dry and the strings as the wettest element in the mix. CONCLUSION This chart won’t solve all your space and placement issues, but I found I couldn’t disagree with a single aspect of it, as far as the “classic” way to treat instruments in a mix. That’s not to say you won’t find equally viable solutions—or better ones for your own purposes—but more often than not, if I start here, I don’t have to stray far to find the right placement for any ensemble. And working with the chart and noting the deviations I make gives me insight into instrument placement gives me a perspective on my mixes I might not have otherwise.
  25. Add a New Sound and Performance Element to Your Guitar through an Auxiliary Amp that Generates Feedback by Jon Chappell Every guitarist knows what it’s like to stand facing a stack of speakers with the guitar and amp turned up to feedback levels. It’s not only louder than heck, it increases the sustain of the notes themselves. It almost feels like the feedback is pushing you along, at times seeming to take over and make its own sound. Well, as far as the strings are concerned, it is. What happens in a feedback situation with a guitar is that an endless loop forms between the amplified sound and the vibrating strings—but only if the strings are allowed to vibrate. You can make the strings vibrate either by picking them or by allowing the high-gain, close-range feedback to oscillate the strings for you. It’s this second, hands-free method that provides us with a neat performance trick to increase the sustain of the ringing strings without affecting the sound of the primary amp or the recorded signal. All you need is an additional, small combo amp, and an available aux send on your mixer. (You could also accomplish this through an aux out of your preamp or main guitar amp.) We’ll use this aux send only to drive the smaller amp; we’re not recording the sound of the smaller amp. SETUP FOR SQUEAL Set up the amp and an aux send as shown in Figure 1 (which shows the line out as Aux Send 2). Run the line out from your mixer into the input of the smaller amp that you keep in the control room with you. It’s best to use a 10" or 12" combo with a clean sound. The idea is to play in the control room and use the small amp to generate feedback at desired spots during your solos or fills. We’ll be using the control-room amp to act as our “string exciter.” Fig. 1. Running an aux send from the guitar channel to drive a small amp in the control room allows you to selectively use feedback to increase sustain without affecting the sound of the amp in the live room. Remember, we’re not actually going to be recording this amp; we’re just using it to move the guitar strings. We’re looking for additional sustain and perhaps some octave feedback at choice times. Set the amp controls with a little high cut, boosted mids, and a little added low end. If you have a parametric EQ, you can analyze down to the note/frequency which note will feed back. For example, if you have a 17th-fret A on the first string that you want to feed back, boost the frequency at 880Hz. Put the amp on a chair or stool so that you can face your guitar into it when you want feedback. The position of the amp will vary according to the type of guitar you’re using, the pickup sensitivity, how loud the control-room monitors are, etc. DIALING IT IN There are two ways to initiate feedback: either by turning the face of the guitar into the pickups at the appropriate times, or by having someone actually turn up the amp's gain in time with the music when the desired feedback point comes. This way, as assistant “plays” the amp as you play the guitar. Again, no level change will be apparent in the recorded track, because this amp is not being recorded; it's merely acting as a string vibrator. You should practice with the track and your assistant, until you get the right performance down as well as establishing the right settings on the feedback-inducing amp. Even a subtle application of this works wonders. A little sustain as the result of feedback will not only enhance your sound but inspire a performance! 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).
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