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Jon Chappell_1

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  1. Whether through modern subdividing delay pedals or sheer number crunching, here’s how to merge musical time with real time. By Jon Chappell The above delay pedals allow you to specify a musical subdivision as you tap a quater-note tempo. (Click any image to enlarge.) Many modern delay pedals offer you the option of specifying the discrete repeats according to musical subdivisions. For example, if your pedal has a tap tempo function, all you have to is tap to the beat (which the pedal assumes is the quarter note), and the chosen mode (usually) does the work for you, spitting out perfect eighth notes, eighth-note triplets, or 16th notes. A pedal with this ability (see photos above) is great to have on stage for certain kinds of music, especially dance and techno, where a throbbing but rhythmically related underpinning helps add a sense of activity to the music without overcomplicating the melodic harmonic content. If you can produce steady 16th notes by playing only four-to-the-bar quarters, think how much energy you’ll save! They may seem miraculous, but all these modern marvel pedals are doing is some simple math and providing an onboard calculator. The convenience is that you only have to tap quarter notes, which is far easier than accurately tapping, say, a dotted-eighth rhythm in order to produce the famous “cascade” effect, as evidenced by Eddie Van Halen, Albert Lee, John Jorgenson, The Edge, and others. But the math itself is elementary school level stuff. You can do it in your head, or more quickly on any simple external calculator—even the one the comes with a “dumb” flip-phone. We’re talking about basic long division here. THE BASICS: REAL TIME AND BEATS Whenever converting back and forth between time (as is the language of delay pedals) and beat divisions (eighth notes, etc.), you use the value called “beats per minute” (BPM). This exists on metronomes, where, you’ll see “90 | Andante” (see Fig. 1). That’s just saying that there are 90 beats in a minute. That’s faster than one a second (which would be 60 BPM) but not as fast as two per second (120 BPM). In fact, it’s right in between one and two seconds at 1.5 beats per second. But musicians don’t think of minutes or seconds, at least as they relate to beats. They think of BPM as fast and slow. For example, if the BPM setting on your metronome, drum machine or DAW’s conductor track, is too slow at 86 BPM, you crank it up to 90 or 92. BPM really only gets related to music when you bring in your digital delay. That’s when the math comes in handy. BEATS ARE FROM MARS, DELAYS ARE FROM VENUS There are many tricks and shortcuts for converting BPM to musical subdivisions, but here are two key numbers: 60,000 and 60. Either of those will convert a BPM to quarter notes. From there, you just perform the additional math to get to eighth notes (one half of a quarter), 16th notes (one quarter of a quarter), or 8th-note triplets (one third of a quarter note). But how and why would you use 60 and 60,000? If you take 60,000 and divide it by the BPM, you get the quarter note rate in milliseconds. Milliseconds are the units that digital delays traffic in. So to take our example of 96 BPM, 60,000 / 90 = 625. That means quarter notes are coming 625 milliseconds apart—slightly faster than 1,000 ms, or one per second, but not quite as fast as two per second (500 ms). The problem with 60,000 is that it’s a rather large number being divided by a small number. The second number is never going to be more than 208—the maximum tempo in normal music. Better to use 60. So to take the same example, 60/96 = .625. This is the same answer in seconds (not milliseconds) except with a decimal. However, if you ignore the decimal, you have 625. So 60,000 and 60 are related in that one answer gives you hundreds of milliseconds (666) and the other parts of a second (.666), but the second is more manageable, especially for calculators that limit you to just a few places. Doing calculations on the fly can be a hassle, so you can create two types of cheat sheets that give you pre-determined answers. One way is simply to create a chart of all the basic metronome markings (there are only about 40 of them), fill in the appropriate slots, and carry it as a document in your laptop or smartphone. That’s the example shown in Fig. 1. Fig. 1. You can make up a simple beat-division chart in milliseconds and save the document on your laptop or smartphone. FORMULAS ON THE FLY A better way is to create a spreadsheet that will do the calculations on the fly. For this, you enter a value in one cell that’s governed by a formula (which you’ve keyed in in advance). Once you enter the number—whether it’s a standard metronome marking like 96, 100, 120, or 132 or an unusual one like 121.25—the spreadsheet does the work for you. The formula works like this: Cell A2 = Apply formula for Cell B2: =60/(A2) * 1000 (Repeat for all Cells in Column B. Shortcut: shift-drag A1’s lower-right corner) And Fig. 2 shows how it looks in Excel, a common spreadsheet program: Fig. 2. Note that the formula is active in the formula field (indiated after "fx," and that "* 1000" (multiply by a thousand) gets rid of the decimal point. The disadvantage with a spreadsheet is an obvious one: you have to know how to work a spreadsheet—and not just for creating sortable lists, which is what most people use them for. No, for this use you have to know how to format and enter a formula. But it’s really not hard, and once you get the protocol down, you can plug in any number. For example, Here are the formulas for deriving quarters, eighths, eighth-note triplets, and 16ths from a spreadsheet, based on 80 BPM in cell A2 above. 60/(A2) * 1000 = 750 (quarter notes, or beat for beats per minute) 60/(A2)/2 * 1000 = 375 (8th notes) 60/(A2)/3 * 1000 = 250 (8th-note triplets) 60/(A2)/4 * 1000 = 187.5 (16th notes) THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS Perhaps the most ideal approach is to combine the fixed-document approach of Fig. 1 with the on-the-fly spreadsheet approach in Fig. 2. This is where you take the time to set up the formulas for the seven common subdivisions (quarter, quarter-note triplet, eighth, eighth-note triplet, 16th, 16th-note triplet, 32nd note) acroos the length of the columns. Then Enter in all 40 standard metronome markings, which you see in Figure 3. Fig. 3. Standard metronome settings are limited to about 40 (39, to be exact), as found on the faceplate of this electronic metronome. The cool part comes in the blank rows beneath your entries. The formula still works, so you can plug in any number and the sheet will fill out all the values across the seven columns. CONCLUSIONS Letting the spreadsheet fill in all the values in your matrix means no legwork on your part, other than plugging in six formulas across the top—simple, once you get the hang of “spreadsheet-speak,” and 40 rows of pre-designated BPMs (a no-brainer). But the best part is, you still have active, formula driven cells in Column A. Plus, you'll find you can use your newly cultivated spreadsheet chops in other applications, too--music and non-music related.
  2. A Subwoofer Can Extend the Power of Your Current Setup By Jon Chappell More and more people are recognizing the benefits of a powered subwoofer, and not just DJs or techno musicians who need to pound out an earthshaking beat. A subwoofer handles low-end frequencies very well, and can offload some of those responsibilities from your P.A.'s midrange-oriented cabinets. You can buy a three-speaker system that includes a subwoofer (or will accommodate one when the time comes to upgrade), but anyone can use a subwoofer in any system. The trick lies in the mixer, and the feature called an aux send or aux bus. Using your mixer’s aux bus, you can selectively route low-end signals to a dedicated subwoofer, leaving your top boxes, or midrange cabinets, to handle everything else--guitars, vocals, keyboards, and the drum kit minus the kick. For bands who have been getting along with their current P.A. and are starting to play larger venues, or just realizing they need to kick up the output a notch, investing in a subwoofer will often get you the additional power you need at an economical price. And you don’t have to scrap your current system! The trend toward using powered speakers makes the mixing and matching of top boxes with subs much more versatile and commonplace. A powered speaker is one that doesn’t require an external power amp, either as a stand-alone unit or as built in to a powered mixer. But even if you do elect to use passive cabs, most modern power amps, such as those by Crown, QSC, and others, are allowing their amps to be split, so that they can drive midrange speakers and subwoofers separately but simultaneously. A self-contained, powered subwoofer is a tool that you don't always need to bring out, but is handy to have for special occasions. TAKE THE SUB WAY Here are some of the advantages of bringing a subwoofer into your system. You maximize your total power by directing midrange and treble frequencies to the top boxes and low end to the subwoofers. This means that your system will be louder at the same power output, or that your maximum output power will be the same as a larger system’s.You can be more directional with your midrange cabs. This is because subwoofers are non-directional; you can place a sub almost anywhere near the stage (within reason) and achieve a similar effect as if it was directly under (or connected to) the midrange boxes. This way you can tilt and angle the top boxes any way you like.You can keep stage rumble out of open microphones. This is especially important in outdoor gigs with makeshift stages that often ring and rumble when people walk across them or when vehicles pass by in close proximity. For rumble reduction, you need a high-pass (low-cut) filter, but they’re fairly inexpensive, and if you do a lot of outdoor venues and festivals, they’re well worth the money. And even when you can’t always hear it, without a high-pass filter your midrange components are expending energy inefficiently in attempting to transduce these extraneous and spurious low-frequency energy impulses in your system.The two different signal paths can be processed separately. You can obviously apply individual effects and EQ to each channel, but sometimes it’s helpful to process the entire bus, such as when using feedback eliminators, cross-overs, or delay compensation. In these cases, a separate subwoofer path allows you to modify just the mid/high signal, just the low-end signal, or both. Want more bass? Don't EQ, just turn up the Aux Send control!Adding an aux sub to your system is easy. First, decide on what instruments will go to the subwoofer. That's usually the kick drum and bass (electric or acoustic), though you could additionally add a floor tom and split keyboard part. Fig. 1 shows a drum kit whose kick mic is set up to go to Channel 1 in the mixer. Fig. 1: Take the kick drum mic and run it into Channel 1 of the mixer. SUB MIXING Once the mics and inputs are taken care of, you have to set up your mixer so that the drum is sent to the subwoofer. This is done using an aux send. The aux send volume control is on the channel strip. The output of the signal is a back-panel jack, usually to the right side of the mixer (as you face the mixer during normal operation). Run a cable of the appropriate length from the Aux Send output jack to the subwoofer's input (see Fig. 2). If you have other instruments, run those at the appropriate level using the channel's Aux Send level as well. It will be grouped with the kick and output to the subwoofer as well (also shown in Fig. 2). You can now think of the aux send control as a low-end EQ. Turning up the level increases bass response. Fig. 2. Use the Aux Send level control (on the channel strip) and the Aux Send output to feed the subwoofer. CONCLUSION Deciding whether a dedicated sub will suit you is a simple test to make, as it's pretty easy to borrow a subwoofer, and you should hear the results almost immediately. Routing gets more complicated if you're going to hook up a feedback eliminator or a high-pass filter. But the first step in maximizing your available power is to get the subwoofer into the system and feed it the signals it's best suited to reproducing. That leaves the midranges boxes free to do their thing, achieving the same volume level with less power, or using the same power to boost the output a little. And with a small P.A., every little bit of clean, efficient boost helps. 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).
  3. Two affordable American-made basses with faster, improved necks $1,399.99 List; $999.99 Street (Jazz) $1,299.99 List; $979.99 Street (Precision) By Jon Chappell Fender Jazz Bass (Three-Color Sunburst finish). (Click images to enlarge.) Fender Precision Bass (Candy Apple Red finish). Ask a bass player about electric basses, and chances are Fender is the first brand that he’ll mention. Over the years Fender bass guitars have made it into so many recordings that it’s hard to imagine a musical style that hasn’t been graced or improved upon by the sound of a Fender bass. Yet the cost of a new Fender American Standard bass has been out of reach for many aspiring musicians, while the lower-end Fender models didn’t always work for all players. Now, Fender has bridged that gap with their new American Special basses: two fantastic instruments that provide solid, American-made Fender quality at an affordable price. INTRODUCING THE AMERICAN SPECIAL BASSES According to Fender, these two new American Special basses—the American Special Jazz Bass and the American Special Precision Bass—were designed to fill a hole in the Fender product line. On one end of the American Fender bass spectrum you have the Fender Highway One series of instruments, which offer American manufacturing and basic features. The next jump up in price and features is with the American Standard bass line, which gives you more options yet at a much higher price. With a price point under $1,000, the American Special Basses fit nicely between the Highway One and American Standard bass models. Both American Special bass guitars feature the same Alder body, 34" scale length, and solid craftsmanship found on the American Standard bass guitars. You’ll also find the same smooth, glossy finish that’s on Fender’s high-end bass models, which gives both of the American Special bass guitars a beautiful, professional look. So how did Fender manage to reduce the price on these great basses? One way was to create a new Vintage 4 saddle (see Fig. 1). Unlike the High Mass Vintage (HMV) bridge used on the American Standard, the Vintage 4 saddle found on the American Special bass guitars is a top-loading bridge only. Yet while the American Special Vintage 4 bridge is a bit simplified, it feels solid and provides great sustain on both the Jazz and Precision models. Fig. 1. Fender's Vintage 4 saddles were produced specifically for the Special series. YOU'VE GOT OPTIONS Another way that Fender was able to keep costs down was to provide the new American Special Jazz and Precision basses with more limited body color and fretboard choices. Like the American Standard basses, you can pick either Maple or Rosewood as your fretboard wood. The key difference is that you can get only the Maple fretboard with the Black or Candy Apple Red color, while the Rosewood comes on the Olympic White or Three-Color Sunburst color. This is a reasonable trade-off, as choosing your preferred fretboard wood is not an option with Fender’s Highway One bass line, either. AH, THAT NECK For me what truly makes the American Special bass guitars a joy to play is Fender’s incredible new “Slim” C-shaped neck. Both the American Special Precision and the American Special Jazz sport a redesigned neck style that is shallower from front to back, and an absolute joy to hold. You’ll still find the same great feel and Medium Jumbo frets that make Fender basses the standard to beat, but the new slim neck gives you even faster action. With less arching around the neck, my hand could effortlessly move up and down the fretboard with even greater ease. IN PERFORMANCE Over a busy weekend I decided to try out the two basses, each in very different playing situations. Saturday night I brought the Candy Apple Red American Special Precision Bass to a gig with a rock and roll cover band. From the very first tune, heads turned when I pushed through tight, punchy bass, riffs thanks to the Vintage Style Precision pickups on the American Special Precision bass, which use an Alnico V magnet in the single pickup. Sunday afternoon I put the American Special Jazz bass through its paces at a standards and jazz session. This tasteful tobacco-sunburst model performed like a champ, offering a variety of tones thanks to the two different Vintage Style Jazz pickups. One feature that was very impressive during this gig was the Fender Greasebucket tone circuit, which is built into both basses. Sometimes during a jazz set, I need to reduce the high end on my tone, but on most basses this means I also turn the bottom end into mush. Thanks to Fender’s Greasebucket, this is now a distant memory. Turn down the tone on either the American Precision or Jazz bass, and you’ll roll off the highs without losing the clarity on the bottom end. BASS-MENT BARGAINS Fender clearly has two winners with the American Special Jazz and the American Special Precision basses. If you’ve been waiting for a great American-made Fender bass, then you should definitely check out the new Fender American Special Jazz or American Special Precision bass guitar. Featuring incredible new necks and high-end options, both basses offer bass players a chance to get a solid American-made Fender bass at a great price. \\_
  4. How to Identify and Eradicate the Different Hum Gremlins that Haunt Your Studio By Jon Chappell and Craig Anderton Figure 1: Ground loop schematic. Ground loops produce that noisy, low-pitched dirt that plagues your audio signals. You find them whenever your audio hookups start to get complicated—such as multiple pieces of plugged in gear all linked by audio cables. You’re even more vulnerable if these multiple units are plugged into different wall outlets around your studio. But ground loops can happen in a setup as simple as your laptop computer and powered speakers. More than a few people have reported that their AC-powered multimedia speakers buzz when the computer is plugged in, but are quiet as mice when the computer is unplugged and running on its internal battery. THE LOWDOWN ON LOOPS Ground loops are easy to eliminate, once you understand them. And really, you don’t even have to understand ground loops if you just memorize the steps to fixing them should they occur. But bear with me a moment to see why your music will get a buzz on (in a bad way). Any device should have only one AC path to ground. A ground loop occurs when a signal finds more than one ground path available. In Figure 1 above, one path goes from device A to ground via the AC power cord’s ground terminal (in red), but A also sees a path to ground through the shielded audio ground cable (also red) via AC ground of device B. The reason that path exists is twofold: 1) both the AC and audio grounds are connected via the device's metal chassis; and 2) the voltage is not 0, on one or both of the lines. Because ground wires have some resistance, a potential difference in voltage between the two ground lines can exist, and that causes current to flow through the ground paths. This signal may get induced into the hot conductor. The loop can also act like an antenna for hum and radio frequencies (called the loop antenna effect). Furthermore, many components in a circuit connect to ground. If that ground is “dirty,” this noise might get picked up by the circuit. Ground loops cause the most problems with high-gain circuits, since massive amplification of even a couple millivolts of noise can be objectionable. There are two main fixes: 1) break the loop by interrupting the audio ground; or 2) break it by interrupting the AC ground line. The preferred method depends on the nature of the problem, so let's look at various options. BREAKING GROUND Ground Lifters. Some musicians simply “lift” the AC ground by plugging a 3-wire cord into a 3-to-2 adapter. This is definitely not recommended since it eliminates the safety protection afforded by a grounded chassis. In other words, you risk getting shocked. But if you're on a gig, and it's an emergency and temporary, and you’re really careful, you can try this method as a quick fix. Solution #1: The Single Plug. You can solve many ground loop problems by plugging all the equipment into the same grounded AC source, such as a power strip that feeds an AC outlet through a short cord, as this attaches all ground leads to a single ground point. However, it is crucial that the AC source is not overloaded and is properly rated to handle the gear plugged into it. Solution #2: The Broken Shield. A solution for some stubborn ground loop problems is to isolate the piece of gear causing the problem and disconnect the ground shield at one end or more of the audio patch cords between it and other devices. The inner conductor is still protected from hum by a shield connected to ground, yet there is no completed ground path between the two devices, except for AC ground. Sometimes a ground loop shows up as objectionable only if the grounded metal chassis of a piece of rackmount gear contacts the metal rail of rack cabinet. There’s an easy fix: Humfrees, from Dana B. Goods, are little plastic strips attached to your device’s rack ears that insulate the device from the rack (see Figure 2). They can be particularly effective with rackmount computer peripherals that dump a lot of garbage to ground. Figure 2: Humfrees isolate the metal chassis of your device from the metal rails of your rack. Solution #3: Audio Isolation Transformer. Using a 1:1 audio isolation transformer is much more elegant than simply breaking the shield, but delivers the same benefit: it interrupts the ground connection while carrying the signal. Although a cord with a broken shield is less expensive, the transformer offers some advantages. If necessary, it can also change impedance or levels if you choose a transformer with different impedances for the primary and secondary windings. For example, use the transformer to boost the level of a device with a fairly low output; this produces less noise than turning up the mixer’s preamp gain. For a commercial solution, check out Ebtech’s rackmount Hum Eliminator. This consists of audio transformers in a rackmount case, and uses TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) phone jacks that work with balanced or unbalanced lines. To “break” an audio ground line, just use one of the transformers in the Ebtech instead. Ebtech also makes a model that converts back and forth between +4 and -10 signal levels—see Figure 3. Figure 3: Devices like the Ebtech Hum Eliminator isolate the audio ground (note the 1/4" connectors at the bottom of the unit). Solution #4: AC Isolation Transformer. Many times you can also break a loop by removing the direct connection from a piece of gear to AC ground through an isolation transformer (see Figure 4). This doesn't always work because the ground loop may not involve the AC line but various ground-to-ground connections; however, loops involving the AC line generally seem to be more problematic and common. Breaking the audio connection is a simpler, lower-powered solution (and can also minimize computer-generated “hash), but an AC isolation transformer provides ancillary benefits. In summary, an AC isolation transformer can clean up the AC line, reduce spikes and transients, and provide performance almost equal to that of a separate AC line. One such device is made specifically for musicians: MIDI Motor’s Hum Buster, which has a large transformer with 10 isolated AC outlets. Figure 4: Furman IT-1220 includes an isolation transformer, which works on the AC ground, not the audio ground. GROUNDING OUT So which is better, breaking the audio connection or the AC connection? It depends. If you have a lot of microprocessor-controlled gear and less than ideal AC, adding isolation transformers can solve various AC-related problems and get rid of ground loops. If you have just a simple ground loop problem, then patching in an audio isolation transformer may be all you need. Jon Chappell is a guitarist and Associate #Editor at 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). Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  5. A professional-level mobile recorder featuring optional binaural recording $299 list, $249 street www.rolandus.com By Jon Chappell The Roland R-05 Recorder A few years ago, all the major manufacturers jumped on the two-track mobile recording format, releasing units—multiple units, in some cases—about the size of a cellphone or smaller that could capture high-resolution audio onto an SD card. All of them had certain common features, such as decent-quality onboard stereo mics (some were even adjustable) and a range of recording formats from MP3 to CD to 24-bit/96kHz. If you opted for a smaller recorder the size of a cigarette lighter, you might forgo some high-end features for the sake of portability, but all these units provided unprecedented quality and storage capabilities. So the trick became trying to sort them out. For a unit to really shine, it would have to not only have the requisite high-quality mics and multiple file formats, but a really good interface and, possibly, one bonus feature no one else included. That’s exactly the case with the Roland R-05 WAV/MP3 Recorder. While it is similar in quality to its price-comparable brethren, the R-05 is the easiest recorder to operate of all the ones I’ve tested, tried, or purchased for my own personal use. And that unique feature? Try binaural recording, which is a fancy way of saying that its optional set of earbuds doubles as stereo microphones (the CS-10EMs, sold separately). I found more uses than I thought I would for these in-ear mics, while the unit itself seemed almost clairvoyant in anticipating my needs. I never had to crack the manual, despite the depth of the features. Even when I had to drill down in a menu, I always reached for the right menu to do it. I credit that to the recorder, not me. Let’s see what uses binaural recording has, and what Roland got right in their R-05 that make it such a winner for recordists on the go. Overview The R-05 is about the size of a pack of cigarettes or a standard cellphone, except a little thicker. Its side-to-side width is still narrow enough to hold comfortably in one hand, yet the display is highly readable even though it sports a lot of info (see Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Several views of the R05, showing the intelligence of the control layout. As with most Roland recording gear, there are tons of thoughtful, well-implemented features, too many to list (so check out http://www.roland.com/products/en/R-05 for a complete list). So here are just some of the things Roland got right. First, it uses AA batteries. You can use disposable alkalines or rechargeable lithium ones, but you can be assured you’ll never be stuck without power as long as there’s a 24-hour gas station around. It also has an AC adapter for people who use the unit in a permanent (or quasi-permanent) setting most of the time and want to save batteries for when they’re on the road. The physical switches on the housing are thankfully limited to mic gain, limiter on/off, low-cut, and power—all the things you might change on the fly and none of the things you wouldn’t. For example, I’ve seen some units that put the Delete File command on the outside. Why would you need that on the outside of the unit? On the front panel is where you find switches that are not the global set-and-forget kind, including the transport and navigations buttons. I like the arrangement of having the transport and level controls on the bottom—where your thumb can easily reach them in the heat of the moment—with the nav keys (the ones you access less) at the top. You can still wrangle all the switches and buttons with one hand, though, which is important if, say, you’re say, holding an external mic with your other hand. Selecting the file format for recording is done with the Menu key, under which are other related parameters such as Recorder Setup (file name, auto record start), Player Setup (continuous play, loop, reverb, speed setting), Display, Power Management, Input Setup (limiter, external mic type, binaural mic power), and more. Rather than cram every function under one menu switch, Roland wisely includes an additional front-panel Finder button, where you perform most of your file-management tasks. The division is welcome, and the Finder function is critical for renaming, moving, copying, trimming, deleting, combining, and dividing files, as well as seeing the files’ information. Whereas Menu takes care of the recorder, Finder is dedicated to file organization, and it’s a great interface design touch. Mercifully, though, input levels and output volume are separate, external switches bookending the basic transport controls. Especially important for musicians is an A/B loop switch that allows you to play back continuously any user-defined passage. When recording, the A/B switch acts as a Split control, dividing up files based on your switch presses, for more manageable playback. A novel Rehearsal switch (whose total time is user-definable) could be called “soundcheck,” because it listens to the source and automatically adjusts the input level. When you hit the recessed Record switch in the center of the transport, the red light blinks under the switch to indicate standby, and the display also pulsates—nice. This allows you to test levels before committing to “rolling tape.” Of course, there’s no tape, only an SD card for storage, and you can get hours of high-quality recordings on a single inexpensive 2GB card (included—yay!). See Fig. 2 for the breakdown of recording times vs. SD card capacity. The available resolutions run from 64 kbps mp3 all the way up to 24-bit/96kHz, which is better (way better) than CD quality and on a par with high-end DAWs. Note that on the chart in Fig. 2 there’s an entry for an mp3 + wave file. This mode records two versions at once—a high quality wave and a low quality mp3, which you can email or offload immediately. There are choice touches like this all through the recorder, making it a well-thought-out pro-level tool. Fig. 2. A chart showing the available recording times for different file formats using different capacity SD cards. Note the combine WAVE + MP3 modes that simultaneously record a high-res wave file along with a low-res mp3. The display has only one screen (some recorders have two, allowing you to see file info such as date and time), but the parameters shown are the essential ones, and well-displayed. You see the file name, total time of the file, sample rate, elapsed time, and generous metering that spreads the width of the display. A status bar shows you how far through the file you’ve gone, for the times when you can’t read the numerals on the meter. Slick. My only true beef with the R-05 is that it doesn’t have an onboard speaker. Any onboard speaker—even an underpowered one—is welcome, if just to let you know you recorded what you thought you did. And most units in this price range do have them. But it almost becomes moot because I’ll never travel anywhere with the awesome binaural earbuds that allow me to record sounds as nature intended—through my ears. Binaural Recording Roland offers an option in the CS-10EM Binaural Microphones/Earphones ($149 list, $130 street, see Fig. 3). The onboard omnidirectional electret condenser mics allow you to record binaurally—a fancy way of describing mics placed on a dummy head that sport artificial pinnae (human outer-ear contours) to effect a realistic listening experience. For the mics to work, the power must be sourced from the recorder, so only certain Roland recorders will work with these headphone/mics, as the unit sends power along the audio cables in the same way phantom power works in studio-level condenser microphones. You activate the power through a Menu control. FIg. 3. The CS-10EM's are well-designed in-ear microphones/earphones. They allow you record using the binaural (human-head oriented) method. Binaural recording is one of those thing you don’t know you need until you try it. Then you can’t live without it. You plug the buds in your ears in the normal fashion. These particular models are quite comfortable and snug. I wore them around town, on an airplane, and even on the treadmill at the gym, all to great satisfaction. But they really showed their uniqueness as microphones. I recorded several lectures and a large-ensemble recital at Carnegie Hall in New York City—one of the world’s best acoustic spaces. The results were uncannily real. Upon playback, it sounded like I was back in the Hall. Of course, I had been monitoring the sound in the first place through the headphones (and looking a little conspicuous as an audience member), so I might have been influenced by memory, but the stereo separation was ultra-realistic. Roland advertises 360-degree sound, and it’s really true. Sounds seem to be coming from all around you—above and behind, as well as left and right. Because the mics hear what your ears hear, there are numerous applications for binaural recording. For example, I’ve always had trouble recording phone calls, which I do a lot of in my capacities as a journalist. But the CS-10EM has solved the problem. With the earphones in, I simply hold the phone up to my ear the normal way, and I monitor through the headphones. Weirdly, I’m not actually listening directly to the phone in my ear. The sound comes through the mics, goes down the wire and into the recorder and then back out as a monitor signal through the headphones—some couple of millimeters away from the mic. It works beautifully, and I no longer need a separate setup for my landline vs. my cellphone. The good and the bad of binaural recording is this: your recorder hears exactly what your ears do. But it also means that you have to wear the mics in your ears to achieve the effect. As realistic as the Carnegie Hall recording was, I wondered if I had missed anything by not listening to the music directly, without earbuds and A/D-D/A conversion. But then again, in my telephone recording, it’s the most efficient system possible. Conclusion The Roland R-05 is a typical Roland product: feature rich, powerful, and evolved. It has an excellent manual, and the interface is the best I’ve seen. When considered along with the wave + mp3 dual-recording capabilities, its musician-oriented functions of A/B and Rehearsal, and the game-changing binaural recording option, and you have a professional-level mobile recording tool that is the best in its class. \_\_ Jon Chappell is the author of six books in the well-known “For Dummies” series, including Rock Guitar for Dummies and Blues Guitar for Dummies, as well as 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).
  6. Tweaking Reverb Parameters to Effect a Sense of Distance and Depth By Jon Chappell With the popularity of ultra-realistic-sounding convolution reverbs, musicians are in a better place than ever to create the illusion of instruments and sound sources appearing at different depths from the listener. The challenge remains, however, to learn how reverb and other processing can place instruments on your virtual soundstage. The Depth Positioning Chart below lists a variety of ways in which you can localize an instrument at near or far distances, using adjustable reverb parameters and other programmable settings also included on many multi-effects processors, synths, and drum programs. Also thrown in are a few mixing, EQ, and microphone techniques. Reverb Settings Let’s take a brief tour of what these parameters are, and how to apply them. Keep in mind that not every processor or instrument is going to offer every parameter, and that the names may vary (e.g., “Damping” on one reverb processor might be called “roll-off” on another). If you’re in doubt, compare the chart’s descriptions with the ones in your processor’s manual. Dry/Wet Level Balance This sets the amount of “dry,” or unprocessed, signal relative to the amount of reverb. A big “wash” of reverb will position a track toward the back of the soundstage—though it risks making the track sound muddy. For an extremely distant effect, go 100\\\% wet. For up-front, in-your-face tracks, and especially on vocals, go 100\\\% dry. For most applications, this setting will be somewhere in between—for example, 25\\\% wet. Reverb Decay Time This parameter adjusts how long the reverberation lasts; a good way to hear reverb decay time is to trigger a single dry percussive sound, like a clave, and listen to the reverb. Decay time is often listed in seconds or milliseconds (thousandths of a second, abbreviated ms). If two sources have similar dry and wet levels, the source with the longer decay will sound farther back; one source has considerably lower levels, then less decay will keep it positioned farther back. Keep in mind, as you crank the reverb pass the five-second mark—just because you’re diggin’ that cavern sound—that many clubs have a natural reverberation of about half a second; many concert halls have a natural reverb up around 2-1/2 seconds. Reverb Algorithm/Room Size Digital reverbs use different algorithms (mathematical models) or impulse responses (if it’s a convolution reverb) to simulate arenas, halls, clubs, and other spaces. Choose smaller algorithms or sizes to bring a particular track forward on your soundstage; choose larger ones to push them father back. Reverb Pre-Delay In most live concert settings, the first sounds you hear follow a path directly from the instrument (or singer, or P.A. speaker) to your ears. This is the initial dry signal, and is free of natural reverberation. Right on its heels, however, usually 5 to 75 ms later, come a number of reflections, which are sounds that have taken a more circuitous route to your ears—bouncing off the stage, a balcony, or a wall before they arrive at your ears. The total of these reflections make up the overall reverberation. To simulate the natural lag between the initial dry signal and the first reflections, many effects processors offer a pre-delay parameter. Closer objects have relatively long pre-delays between the time their direct sound reaches your ears and the time you hear any reflected signals. Consequently, increasing pre-delay times can help position some tracks closer. If large amounts of reverb or early reflections follow their respective delay times, however, a track my still some far away, particularly if the overall mix is so complex that the pre-delay might not be noticed. Early Reflection Delay Early reflections are the first reflections to reach your ears, and sometimes sound distinct, like little echoes. Like pre-delay, closer instruments will generally have a longer delay between the initial dry signal and the first early reflections. Early Reflection Density and Level Sometimes we never hear direct, dry signals from faraway sources. For example, if someone is singing in another room or playing a tuba at the bottom of a canyon (doesn’t everyone go hiking with a tuba?), everything we hear will be reflected. So, if the source must sound really far away, apply mega-amounts of early reflections and reverb, with no dry signal present. Such distant sounds usually have very tight early-reflection patterns, so increase ER density to move sounds backward; decrease the density to bring them forward. Diffusion and Density These parameters control the number of later reflections, the spacing between them, and how distinctive sound. For sweet, smooth reverb, engineers refer high densities and high diffusion. Reducing them, however, can help position attract closer (though the reverb might sound more "chattering" then smooth). Typically, precaution uses more diffuse and dense settings than vocals. Reverb EQ In real life, high frequencies tend to lose energy more quickly than low frequencies; that’s why foghorns can be heard for miles. Reverberation from distant objects usually has fewer high frequencies, and sounds “darker” than reverb from closer objects. If your reverb offers a color or EQ control, try experimenting. If it doesn’t, and you’re using an external processor, you could adjust the reverb’s EQ at the mixing console. Jon Chappell is a guitarist and Associate Editor at 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).
  7. Great Sound Plus Focus Control in a Budget-Priced Condenser Mic $299 MSRP, $199 street By Jon Chappell Fig. 1. The Spark, by Blue Microphones, is an inexpensive studio-quality condenser mic. (Click images to englarge.) BLUE microphones has established itself as a producer of quality microphones packaged in unique and strikingly stylish housings that make them unmistakably recognizable in studios and on stage (see Fig. 1). Their Bottle, Baby Bottle, Kiwi, and Dragonfly models have already gained acceptance among recording aficionados, and sit comfortably alongside classic models decades older and bearing revered German names. With Spark, Blue continues its twin traditions of providing excellent sound in a polished package, but this time venturing into the lower-priced tier of the mic-shoppers’ market—which is great news for recordists on a budget. Like other Blue models, the Spark’s capsule is segregated from the rest of the housing, following the company’s signature design flair. But the Spark is not just a looker. It boasts great sound and includes a new twist in its circuitry: a Focus Control, which can be selectively activated via a switch to produce a more focused sound. Included in the purchase price (under $200) are both a custom-designed shock mount and a pop filter. Completing the package is a classy wooden storage case. Let’s see what’s under the hood of this lowest-priced recording mic from Blue. Overview The Spark is a cardioid condenser microphone, so it’s quite versatile and appropriate for almost any studio application. The diaphragm size is not specified, but it looks to be a little under 1", placing it in the mid-size category, and striking a nice utilitarian position between large and small diaphragm mics (see Fig. 2). It features Class A discrete electronics, which makes it a viable contender for guitars, drums, vocals, pianos, and horns. Fig. 2. The diaphragm is just under 1", making the Spark a medium-diaphragm condenser, sporting Class A discrete electronics. When you lift the mic from its case and hold it in your hand, you’re immediately aware of the mic’s excellent build quality. Physically, the Spark is smaller than the larger, full-size Bottle mics in Blue’s line, with a diameter about the size of a Red Bull can, but weighty and solidly constructed. The canister is a matte-finished red with a recessed part at each end (in matte orange) connecting the capsule and stand mount. At either ends of the canister are the base—a thick, glossy-chrome-finished cup that surrounds the canister and holds the mic to its mount—and the capsule mount, a dome that bookends the cup and creates a nice element of symmetry. The silhouette formed by the mic, from capsule to canister to base, creates an interesting contour, and keeps the body from looking too cylindrical. If Hammacher Schlemmer sold mics, the Blue Spark would be on their catalog’s cover, based on solely its industrial design. The capsule follows Blue’s signature “doll’s head” look with a circular mesh enclosing the pickup element. The mesh is a bright, glossy gold finish, and I found I could easily see the mic’s orientation from a good distance away, based solely on the mesh’s reflective quality—even when viewing it through the pop screen. Inside the mesh, you can see the diaphragm in a three-point suspension mount, with a generous cavity inside the mesh surrounding the suspended element. Positioning the mic is easy, partly because the mic is so easily handled in one hand, and because the mount allows you to move the mic itself to be quite close to the source, if necessary. This came in handy when I recorded a soprano ukulele that had a lovely, sweet tone, but not great projection abilities. Fig. 3. The Spark includes a specially designed pop screen and shockmount, and comes in a handsome storage box. Must. Maintain. Focus. New to the Spark is Blue’s propriety technology called Focus Control—which, when engaged, reduces any overly prominent low-end frequencies and tightens up the overall sound. The effect is activated by a pushbutton on the mic’s housing, so it’s easy to A/B any sound source quickly to see if the Focus Control improves the sound or not. I found Focus helpful in a situation with a male R&B singer with considerable natural vocal gifts but less than perfect mic technique. The Focus Control seemed to smooth out the singer’s irregular distances to the mic and reduce the intensity of the proximity effect common to all cardioids. More than just a bass roll-off switch (though it had a distinct impact here), the overall effect it produced was a more, well, focused sound, as the feature’s name implies. I found the Focus Control somewhat less significant on an airy soprano with a soft voice and consistent delivery, but I was grateful to have the option. It really does provide a choice of two distinct sonic signatures, each one unique and musically useful. In Situ I used the Spark for several different types of sessions, including the aforementioned uke recording, and vocal work with both a male R&B stylist and female children’s singer/songwriter. The first thing you notice when working with the Spark is just how good it feels in your hands and how nicely scaled it is when put up to the mouth of a singer or aimed at the 12th fret of an acoustic guitar. It’s a well-designed and balanced mic, from the physical perspective, and, as mentioned, its mount allows the head to be placed quite near the source, unimpeded by its own hardware. The Focus Control can be discreetly engaged, and I was pleased that it employed silent switching so that my assistant could press the switch and not have it create an audible click in the headphones of the talent. The sound was uncolored and faithful—another nice surprise in so inexpensive a microphone. It was a reliable conveyer of varied sources, instrumental and vocal, producing a clear, finely detailed sound that was full and quite transparent in the mid and upper mid registers. I really liked that it was not overly-bright, produced no perceptible midrange bump. Conclusion The Spark is typical for Blue, which is to say that it boasts impeccable build quality, stylish aesthetics, and a wholly professional presentation—complete with custom built shock mount, pop screen, and wooden storage box. Attaching the mic to its mount and pop screen is a very satisfying motor-mechanical experience, and shows the attention to construction in all its component parts. The sound is transparent and faithful, and its versatility makes it appropriate for so many applications. When you consider that you can own a Blue mic of this caliber for under $200, it’s an amazingly sweet deal. \_\_
  8. A Time-Saving Shortcut for Turning Aux Sends into Tracks By Jon Chappell Pro Tools 9 came out with a whole host of improvements over its predecessor, Pro Tools 8 LE. The watershed feature of PT9 is that you can now run Pro Tools with any interface, not just one made by Avid. This means you can now work with Pro Tools and an Apogee or MOTU interface—or with no interface at all! Gone is the “expensive dongle” approach that was so odious to people who objected to Avid’s closed-system approach. As well, Avid decided to grace PT9 with many more goodies, including three highly visible ones: 1) multi-track beat detective—essential for multi-track drum parts, as most are in the DAW domain; 2) automatic delay compensation when using plug-ins—a much criticized omission in PT, and one which all other DAWs have adopted; and 3) increased bus and track counts, for greater flexibility in routing and assignments. Pro Tools 9 also added some subtler features—one of my favorites being just a simple step-saving utility. But it’s a vitally important procedure when working you need a lot of effects or you’re working with both audio and MIDI tracks in a DAW. I’m speaking of the new function called “Convert Bus/Send to Track.” NEW TRACK SHORTCUTS You can take any track—audio, Instrument, or MIDI—and use its Send or Output Selector to create a new track. This handy process for creating tracks on the fly formerly took several steps before PT9: you had to create a new aux track, assign that track’s input to a bus, create an aux send from the original track and assign it to the new aux track. Then you had to name the bus and track as separate steps. Meh. In PT9 this has been collapsed into one step. In the existing track, you simply right-click on the Send output selector and the internal mix bus creation and I/O connections are made for you. As well, the new track and bus can share a common name with no additional steps. Mostly you’ll use this function to create Reverb, Delay, and other effects that benefit from using a send (versus an insert effect), but it’s handy for other tasks, too, such as converting a MID track to an audio one. STEP BY STEP Let’s say you want to take a straight guitar track, process it, and have the processed sound recorded on a new track, so as to leave the original intact. Here’s how you do it: Step 1: Go to the track labeled Guitar. Click and hold on a Send. Step 2: A drop-down menu appears. Select “new track…” from the bottom of the drop-down menu. Step 3: The New Track window will appear. As this will be an effect track, make sure the Width is set to Stereo and theType is Aux Input. Type in the name “Gtr. Reverb” in the Name field. Hit the Enter/Return key or select Create. Step 4: Once you hit Create, Pro Tools automatically creates a new Stereo Aux Input named “Gtr. Reverb.” It also creates a new stereo Internal Mix Bus named “Gtr. Reverb.” Additionally, the program assigns both the Send Output and the Input of the Aux Track to the newly created “Gtr. Reverb” bus. (You can verify all this in separate steps, if you like.) Step 5: The last task you need to perform to complete the operation is assign the appropriate plug-in to the new Aux Input track.
  9. How to thicken a single guitar sound in two ways: one live, one overdubbed By Jon Chappell I have two tricks to thicken my guitar sound that are a little outside of the norm. When it comes time to add a little dimension to a guitar part, I always consider these two because in the first case, the resulting sound comes from one guitar that can be played live. The second trick involves an overdub, but there is still only one guitar that the listener hears. So in both cases, it’s only one guitar sound that makes it to the final output, but there’s an extra dimension that gives the listener a little something to think about. How do you overdub a guitar and still have just one, you ask? Read on to find out! PROCESS YOUR PIEZO, MANGLE YOUR MAGNETICS I took a look around at my main axes recently and realized that all of them have a piezo pickup—even the iconic solidbodies, like my Les Paul and my Telecaster. Many modern electric guitars come with piezos built in, and I’ve gravitated to them because I’ve always considered a piezo an extra feature worth its weight in gold and one that doesn’t change significantly the control layout of your guitar or otherwise impact the sound. It’s just a bit of circuitry, usually built into the bridge. The Fender Deluxe Nashville Power Telecaster includes one, and you can imagine how an acoustic quality might benefit the Tele sound. But several Les Pauls contain them, including the Les Paul Piezo, Dusk Tiger, and 2010 Standard. Many guitars even have their identity wrapped up in the combined piezo/magentic combination, including the Michael Kelly Hybrid, Parker Fly, Hamer Duotone, Brian Moore C-90, and Godin LGX are but a few. Companies like Fishman, L.R. Baggs, Graph-Tech, and Stewart-MacDonald all make after-market bridges for Strats, Teles, Tune-o-Matics, and more, allowing you to piezo-ize virtually any guitar. The photo to the right shows an L.R. Baggs T-Bridge installed on a Les Paul. Its piezo circuitry is virtually invisible to the eye and doesn't disturb the original aesthetic of a traditional Les Paul. Figure 1 shows the L.R. Baggs T-Bridge system uninstalled. It's a drop-in replacement for a Les Paul-style bridge, or any Gibson or other brand that uses the Tune-O-Matic. Fig. 1. The L.R. Baggs T-bridge, a drop-in piezo replacement for a stock Tune-o-Matic, such as those found on Les Pauls. Fishman makes a whole gamut of bridge replacements in the PowerBridge series. Figure 2 shows the unassuming front of a Tele-style PowerBridge, with individual saddle piezos. Figure 3 shows the underside, with a magnetic pickup installed. Lots of stuff going on there, but you'd never know it, as evidenced by the clean look of the Fender Nashville Tele shown in Figure 4. Fig. 2. Looking frontward at the Fishman PowerBridge for a Tele. Fig. 3. The underside of the Tele PowerBridge showing the works. Fig. 4. The Fender Nashville Tele, with a Fishman PowerBridge sporting under-saddle piezos for that acoustic sound in a magnetic-equipped solidbody. BEING CABLE ABLE If you have both a magnetic and piezo output, you can process them separately, for a rich, layered sound that creates your sound at the core, well in front of what a stereo split in your chorus or delay can do. To do this, you need to know whether your guitar's piezo-magnetic system splits the signal as well as blends it. In the case of the former, a stereo jack is used, and you need a stereo Y cable (Fig. 5) to send the signal to two different destinations. Fig. 5. A stereo Y cable into the guitar's stereo jack is necessary to split the signal and send the piezo to one destination and the magnetic to the other. Keep in mind that you can blend the piezo/magnetic sound at the guitar (varying the balance between the two pickup systems--but what we're taking about here is a split signal that can, among other things, create the illusion that two guitarists are playing. For example, in rock and electric-blues playing, you can take the magnetic output and run it through a wah-wah, while leaving the piezo output fairly dry and unprocessed. This will create the illusion of an acoustic guitar doubling the wah part. Obviously, sending the signal to two different amps--one an acoustic combo, the other an electric guitar amp--further heightens the separation effect. Or you can send the piezo sound straight to the mains--which is often the preferred way to route acoustic signals, as they don't need the tonal coloring of a guitar amp to achieve their ideal sound. If you use two amps on stage, placing the amp together will tighten the stereo image, separating them will widen the image. If the amps sit side-by-side, and the audience is back more than about 6 feet (which they certainly will be), you'll perceive no localized distance between the two. The two-amp sound--even with no spatial separation--will sound like a blended sound. But by using two amps, each specialized for the task, you're creating a blend with much more independence and articulation than you would if you had blended the signals inside the guitar and onto the single output of a mono cable. USE JUST THE REVERB OF AN OVERDUB And now the answer to the "overdub guitar" riddle. It's a neat trick that’s subtle enough to turn the heads of the attentive, but won’t distract from the musical impact of the principal signal. Start by recording a melodic line onto one track. Then double the line by playing it onto a second track as an overdub, but take care not to play it exactly like the original. Take a few liberties with the tempo and the articulation (such as sliding into a note instead of striking it, and so on), and maybe even vary the choice of a note or two (but do this sparingly, as it will come back to “haunt” you). Here's the important part: Run the second part through a reverb and have only the effected signal sound against the original guitar track. Typically you’d use the little-understood pre aux send for this. The “pre” in this case refers to the fact that the level going out to the aux send jack occurs before, and is therefore not influenced by, the channel’s volume fader. The signal level is pre-determined at the channel’s trim control. Moving the fader up increases the dry-to-wet ratio and moving the fader down decreases it (or increases the wet-to-dry ratio, which is the same thing). In other words, move the fader all the way down and you’re left with just the ghostly effect sound—100 percent effect. And this is precisely what we want here. The pre aux send effect with the fader at zero lets just the effect of the doubled guitar through (see Fig. 6). Combined with the original track, it sounds like “wrong-note reverb” where the effect is misbehaving and deviating from the original signal. This technique is great for atmospheric effects. Fig. 6. Use the Pre Aux Send to create a "ghost" reverb by putting the channel fader at minimum. Only the effected signal of the second guitar track gets through, combing itself with the original guitar track, but not matching it exactly.
  10. Don’t even THINK about playing guitar without these essentials By Jon Chappell, Phil O'Keefe, and Craig Anderton Having the right guitar accessories can do everything from help you play better, to sound more interesting, to survive a live performance meltdown. But what exactly constitutes the "right" set of accessories? Well, you've come to the right place to ask that question. Following is our list of essential pieces of gear no guitar player should be without, otherwise known as Stuff Guitarists Need Besides a Guitar. And if you’re in gift-giving mode, consider that if your intended already has one of the following items, he or she could certainly use two. Wouldn’t it be nice, for example, if each guitar had its own capo and tuner that could reside right in the case of the instrument it was ideally suited for? You could put the ornate, exhibitionistic Kyser in the Martin case (because capoing is de rigueur for acoustic guitar), while the subtler Shubb goes the Tele case for when you want to do your Albert Collins thing, but you don’t want to broadcast that you’re using a “cheater.” But even if you’re just doing a reality check for your own kit bag, read on for our must-have accessories that every recording guitarist should own, and the supporting reasons for them. TUNERS The bottom line is simple: you sound better when the instrument is in tune. You can mess around with old-school tuning references such as pitch pipes and tuning forks, or go with a high-tech solution like Gibson's Min-ETune, but quality electronic tuners are so inexpensive and common it's crazy not to have one. Guitar tuners today are faster and more accurate than ever, and using them is quite easy to learn, and there's much less guesswork involved for the neophyte player. Tuners come in a variety of shapes and styles. Pedal-shaped tuners and portable tuners have been popular for years, and clip-on tuners have also become quite popular recently. Everyone has to tune sometime; sometimes surreptitiously, so as not to disturb other activities (stage patter, etc.). There are many time-sensitive sessions where you can’t even make noise, much less find a break in the action to tune; an easy solution is having a tuner placed inline with your guitar, effects and amp, so that you can check your tuning periodically. Once you get the hang of tuning visually, you can actually tune faster than tuning by ear, and it is definitely more reliable when ear fatigue sets in. An electronic tuner (see Fig. 1) can also aid you in alternate tunings within the same piece of music, or within a quick segue that would normally prohibit a retune. You could, for example, play one passage in standard tuning, rest for eight bars, come back in drop D tuning, rest again, and again re-enter in standard tuning for the next passage. All multi-effects processors mute the output when you enter their onboard tuning mode, which is a great convenience, especially in the sometimes tense goings-on of the recording studio. Fig. 1: An electronic tuner is essential for playing in perfect tune in the studio. STRING WINDERS Sooner or later, your guitar is going to need a new pair of strings, and when it does, you'll find the process of changing strings goes a lot smoother and faster with the right tools - and that means a string or peg winder. This handy tool allows you to wrap the string on to the post much faster than doing it by hand. Fig. 2: Dunlop's string winders also include a gripper for pulling bridge pins out of acoustic guitars. A slot in the front of these Dunlop String Winders (Fig. 2) also serves as a handy gripper for pulling bridge pins out of an acoustic guitar without damaging them like you would by using pliers to grip them, and it's generally easier than trying to push them out by reaching into the soundhole to push or tap them out. Bass players, don't feel left out: string winders are also available for bass-sized tuning keys. The Planet Waves Bass Pro String Winder even has a string cutter built-in… which leads us to the next essential accessory - a good set of tools. WRENCHES AND OTHER TOOLS General guitar setup and maintenance requires the right tools. This can be one multi-tool, a few select tools, or even a pre-configured collection of guitar setup tools, but you need to have something that can cut strings, adjust the truss rod, bridge height, and string intonation settings. Depending on what type of guitar(s) you have and the tools required, that might mean a couple of allen wrenches, string cutters, and a small screwdriver. You may already have these tools in your toolbox. If not, there are affordable guitar-oriented toolkits available, and also multi-tools designed specifically for guitar. How important is it to know how to adjust your guitar? Once when interviewing Eric Johnson for an article on his guitar technique, he picked up his Strat and began to play, stopping almost instantly because it had developed a slight buzz on the 3rd string. In a matter of mere seconds, he reached into his case, pulled out a truss-rod wrench, administered a couple of cranks, and eliminated the buzz—without ever breaking his conversational stride. This shows what an intimate knowledge of your instrument can bring. You can not only play it, but also make adjustments and minor repairs to it too—often on the fly. These repairs can be as simple as fixing fret buzzes and intonation problems, which can happen as a result of an environmental change or some other event’s causing a misalignment of your guitar. To obviate the negative effects quickly and accurately, you must know the mechanical elements of your guitar and be facile in dealing with them. If you have a floating bridge system with a locking nut, make sure the corresponding hex drivers (Allen wrenches) are within reach should a string break. A small Phillips-head screwdriver is usually what’s required to raise and lower pickups if they ever get too far from or close to the strings. Pliers and wire cutters can accomplish in seconds what might take an unaided human hand minutes to complete. A socket wrench enables you to tighten or even remove the output-jack nut, should you ever develop a problem down there. While it's not that hard to assemble the tools you need to do minor repairs and adjustments, one of our favorite "all in one" options is CruzTools' GrooveTech Guitar Player Tech Kit (Fig. 3; there's also a version for bass). Fig. 3: The CruzTOOLS GrooveTech Guitar Player Tech Kit includes metric and inch hex keys, thickness gauge, ruler, capo, cutters, string winder, 6-in-1 screwdriver, LED flashlight, and ball end truss rod wrenches. It’s also very handy to have around when setting up a guitar. Depending on the guitar and rig you have, you should also develop an additional "electronics" toolkit that includes extra fuses, alligator clips (for making temporary electrical connections), spare batteries, and even extra tubes for your amp, so that you can problem-solve virtually any situation within your technical abilities. CAPOES A capo is a device that clamps around the strings and underside of your neck, pulling the strings to the fretboard at a given fret—like a permanent 1st-finger barre (see Fig. 4).This allows you to transpose the guitar chords from the actual “concert” (true or absolute) key you’re actually in. Fig. 4: A capo clamps over the strings at different frets, allowing you to transpose easily. For example, if you want to play D chord you can either play it as an open-position D, or capo the 2nd fret and play a C chord, which will sound as D. This might seem arbitrary until you consider what happens if the required chord is Ab major. Here, you can either barre the 4th fret as an F-type chord, or you can capo the first fret and play an open-position G chord. If it’s supposed to sound like a ringy, open-string, fingerpicked part, it’s better to pop on the capo and play it in “G” than to grip an Ab barre chord. Capoes can save your life when people decide to switch keys up or down a half step, which often happens when playing and recording with vocalists. Some players consider the use of a capo a "cheat", and in some respects, it can be. So while it's important to learn how to play in all keys, there are other advantages to capoes that even technically-proficient players can appreciate, such as the timbre shift that also occurs when using a capo in higher positions. Savvy players have been using capos to get different tones out of their guitars for ages - like the acoustic guitar part that opens "Here Comes The Sun" by the Beatles. For example, suppose you’ve just recorded a song on acoustic guitar using A, D, and E7 chords, all in first position. The producer likes the full-bodied sound of the part, but thinks the overall mix lacks some sparkle and high-end activity in the accompaniment. This is a perfect opportunity to put on the capo at the 9th fret and play the open chord-forms C, F, and G7, which will come out sounding as A, D, and E7—the original chords in the rhythm part. The difference is, these capoed chords are played way up the neck with higher notes. What’s more, the capo gives them an open-string quality. If you’re the one who laid down the original part, you can usually play the new one exactly in rhythm, which can sound more like a “doubled” guitar than two different guitars playing at once. Suddenly your double-tracked guitar sounds more like a 12-string, but with an expanded range. This situation would work well for a Nashville-tuned guitar, which would yield a similar effect. There’s an important musical reason for using a capo, too. By playing a part in “C” that’s really in D (to take our previous example) you also end up playing C licks instead of D licks. Each open-position key on the guitar has idiomatic properties to it. For example, some people find it easier to play acoustic blues in E than in G. So if they encounter a song in F or G that’s supposed to have a swampy, Delta feel to it, they’ll probably slap on a capo at the first or third frets, respectively, and play out of an E position. SLIDES There are a variety of objects that can be fashioned into a slide, from the medicine-bottle type (Duane Allman used a Coricidin bottle) to a length of brass pipe to a wine-bottle neck to an actual nickel-chrome machined slide for a pedal or lap steel (see Fig. 5). Which one is right for you is largely a matter of individual taste and comfort (as is the decision to play the guitar itself on your lap or upright in the normal guitar-playing position), but a well-versed recording guitarist should have some slide facility in several styles. Facility means not only having a clean, noise-free and in-tune technique, but also being able to play idiomatically, i.e., knowing some licks. Slide players play both in open tunings (G and D, and their relative transpositions A and E, being the most popular) as well as standard tuning. Fig. 5: A variety of slides offer new playing options. PICKS Unless you play fingerstyle exclusively, you'll want a good selection of guitar picks (Fig. 6) made from a variety of materials and in various thicknesses. Fig. 6: Picks are available in all sizes, shapes, materials, and - colors! This not only gives you a bunch of different picks to try out (so you can see what models you prefer), but it also provides you with the multitude of different tonal options and flavors that are available to you just by changing your plectrum. And as your pick collection grows, you'll probably want some kind of pick holder as well. STRAP OR FOOTREST Unless you're a classical guitarist who always plays from a seated position, you're a good candidate for a nice strap (Fig. 7). Fig. 7: The Vee Strap distributes weight more evenly over both shoulders. Just like picks, straps are available in a wide range of styles and colors. Harmony Central has done some strap reviews, such as Planet Waves' Black Satin Planet Lock Guitar Strap and the innovative Wells Company Vee Strap. And if you're a classical guitarist who doesn't need a strap because you play while sitting down, feel free to substitute a footrest (Fig. 8) in place of a strap. Fig. 8: Modern adjustable, lightweight footrests are a huge improvement over the essentially wooden boxes of yesteryear. STRAP LOCKS If you're using a strap, consider adding some strap locks (Fig. 9). Fig. 9: A strap lock is one of the least expensive insurance policies against a damaged guitar. Trust me - the first time you drop a guitar because the strap accidentally detached, you'll kick yourself for not having spent a few bucks for the protection that strap locks provide. And it's not a question of "if" your guitar strap will accidentally become detached, only a matter of "when" - and a fall from a strap can lead to significant damage to your cherished instrument. GUITAR CASE HUMIDIFIER Listen up, acoustic instrument players - you need a guitar case humidifier, particularly if you live in a dry climate, or in an area where it gets cold enough in the winter that you have to heat your home. In low humidity, the wood in your instrument can actually dry out and shrink to the point where frets stick out past the edges of the fingerboard. Low humidity conditions can also lead to cracks developing in your acoustic's top, and cause bridge and other action-related issues - all of which can be prevented by keeping a humidifier inside your guitar case. Fig. 10: Basic humidifiers require adding water which then gets dispersed with your case. The operating principle is simple (Fig. 10). With basic models, you inject water into an absorptive object, like a sponge. This then inserts into your case, or in some bases, between guitar strings, which holds the humidifer in place. However, be careful not to add too much water - wood can absorb water in high-humidity conditions, which may lead to warpage. Planet Waves' HuMIDIpak Humidity Control System is more costly than other systems as it requires periodic pad replacement, but maintains a constant 45\\\% relative humidity level by raising or lowering humidity as needed. For more about controlling humidity, check out the article Maintaining a Healthy Humidity Balance for Guitars. GUITAR STAND Sure, you can lean the guitar up against your amp, or drop it back into the case, but many players appreciate the safety and convenience of a good guitar stand (Fig. 11). Fig. 11: A good guitar stand will keep your guitar handy and secure. One piece of advice: The cheapest possible guitar stand isn't always the best idea. Spending even just a couple dollars more can make a big difference in longevity. If you have multiple guitars, you might want to consider some of the multi-guitar stands that can hold up to five guitars.There are even models that hold up to seven guitars (Fig. 12). Fig. 12: If you have a lot of guitars, there are stand options for you too. If you're more recording-oriented and don't gig a lot, you may want to consider wall hangers (Fig. 13) instead of stands. Fig. 13: A wall hanger is a practical alternative to guitar stands, and keeps the guitar off the floor. These allow you to hang the guitar from the wall, where it is not only readily available, but displayed like a piece of art for all to see. However, note if the back of the guitar contacts the wall; if so, affix something soft (like a cloth) on the wall where it's contacted by the guitar. A CASE OR GIG BAG And while we're in a protective mood, don't forget a quality instrument case (Fig. 14) or gig bag. If your guitar came with a gig bag, you might consider upgrading to a hardshell case. Fig. 14: A hardshell case is a worthwhile upgrade from a soft gig bag. This not only provides protection for your instrument when you're traveling and safe storage when it's not in use, but also gives you some place to store some of the other accessories that we've mentioned in this article. EXTRA STRINGS Seems obvious, right? But there is a way to be smart about something as simple as extra strings. For example, don’t just pack one extra set. Keep three Gs, Bs and high Es, because these break more than the lower, wound strings. It’s not uncommon to break the same string twice in one session, especially if you’re doing multiple takes on some outrageous bent-note passage. CLEANING AND POLISHING CLOTHS Have some soft, lint-free cloths handy - and not only for cleaning your guitar's body to keep it shiny. Fig. 15: The Music Nomad Edgeless Microfiber Guitar Detailing Towel costs under ten bucks, and does the job. A cleaning cloth is also essential for wiping your strings down after you've finished playing, which can help them last and remain fresh-sounding longer. Consider keeping at least two cloths around - one for wiping down the strings, and a microfiber cloth (Fig. 15) for cleaning and polishing. CLEANING SUPPLIES In addition to cleaning cloths, don't forget about cleaning supplies. These include not just polish (Fig. 16), but also fingerboard conditioner and string cleaning products like FastFret and Finger Ease. Fig. 16: Gibson's Pump Polish has been an old standby for years - not just for guitars, but for basses, banjos and mandolins as well. BATTERIES Now let's transition into more of an electronics vibe, starting with batteries. Take an inventory of what kind and how many you use in your setup and have a complete replacement set. Upon insertion of any new battery, stick white masking tape on it and write the date. Come to think of it, pack the tape and the marker in your bag, too. Masking tape can also be used to reduce rattle on a trapeze tailpiece or Dobro cone. If you want a higher-tech solution for testing batteries, Keith McMillen Instruments' Batt-O-Meter (Fig. 17).This not only reads the voltage, but gives an estimate of remaining capacity, Even better, with most effects and active pickups, you don't even need to remove the battery - just plug into the pedal's input jack that switches the battery on and off. Fig. 17: The Batt-O-Meter lets you check most effects batteries by simply plugging in to the effect. METRONOME A metronome is one of the most time-honored practice aids. They're been around for nearly two centuries, and greatly assist you in terms of keeping a steady tempo as you practice. Today's electronic models (Fig. 18) have largely replaced the larger, wind-up models of days gone by, and you can even get apps for your smartphone that turn it into a virtual metronome. Fig. 18: Korg's MA-1 digital metronome is inexpensive and accurate. Handy practice tip - when struggling with a tricky part, try playing it at a very slow, easy to play tempo. Once you have the part down to where you can play it correctly and comfortably at the slow speed, set the metronome tempo a little faster. Repeat the process while gradually increasing the tempo each time until you're able to play the part at full speed. CABLES AND ADAPTERS The cable part is easy: Have at least one long and two short in reserve. Don’t wait for total failure before substituting the cord, either. Intermittent crackles can kill a take just as dead as a totally non-working cable, so at the first hint of trouble, swap for a new one, and work on the problem after the session. Adapters are items many guitarists don’t pack, but they can be the “crescent wrench” that saves the day. In a pro studio, you probably don’t have to worry about scaring up, say a direct box, but in a demo studio, if you bring your own, you’ll be self-sufficient, should you decide to go direct and there’s not a spare D.I. around. Music electronics is a surprisingly simple, intuitive affair if you can locate the source of the problem; sometimes a cursory look will reveal the defect—a broken solder joint, a loose wire, a dirty contact. Alligator clips will hold two contacts together, but if you have the time, drop a glob of solder onto the connections. CABLE TESTER AND VOLT-OHM METER These items cost about $12 and $20 respectively, and earn their keep the first time they diagnose a bad or reverse-wired cable (see Fig. 19). Learn how to use the volt-ohm meter with respect to your equipment; i.e., know what power supplies you have and what the appropriate settings are on the meter. You can impress your friends with your “gearhead geek” aptitude. Fig. 19. A cable tester and a volt-ohm or multi-meter can help make electrical troubleshooting a breeze. FUSES Any new environment—even a studio—can have unpredictable wiring schemes that could cause havoc with your gear, and especially to your amp. Your amp’s first line of defense is its fuse. If the house current is weird, the fuse will blow. Having replacements is your responsibility, just like having extra strings. If you blow subsequent fuses, alert the engineer and asked that your amp be moved to a different circuit. DUCT TAPE This is the musician’s baking soda—an all-purpose utility product that cures a multitude of maladies. You can use it to fix everything from a rattling tailpiece to a broken mic clip. Even the roll itself is handy: you can use it to tilt your combo amp up for better monitoring. E-BOW An E-bow is a nifty little device that fits in your right hand and uses a battery-powered magnet to excite the string directly under it, without making contact (see Fig. 20). What you can do then is play the guitar as you do normally in the left hand, substituting the E-bow placement for right-hand picking. This produces attack-less notes, emulating the sound of a bowed string instrument, like the violin, viola, or cello. Because the E-bow has to magnetically oscillate (vibrate) the string into producing a pitch, the response is not as immediate as if you’d picked it, so it’s generally better on slower, more lyrical melodic passages. It doesn’t take that much technique to master an E-bow, and it can contribute a completely different flavor to a guitar part, especially as an overdub. Fig. 20: An E-Bow can add a violin-like texture to your parts. FLASHLIGHT It doesn’t have to be dark to use a flashlight. Shadows and small sizes pose as much a problem for diagnosing an electrical problem as the complete absence of light. If you’re trying to locate a bad connection inside a volume pedal, you may not see the broken bit of solder that’s causing it because it’s behind a shadow. You can hold a penlight between your teeth as you reach into the back of your amp to fix a broken speaker lead. PENCIL AND PAPER And finally, in a totally non-electronic direction...let's not forget the mundane. You can take notes, dash out substitute chord changes, and even pass notes to the other session musicians where conversation is discouraged or impractical (see Fig. 21). Write your cheat notes on a separate piece of paper, not on the chart, so that you can take your scrawlings with you, and no one will ever see “Hit the E chord when the big fat trumpet player gets ready for his entrance.” Fig. 21: Sometimes plain old pencil and paper will be the life-saving "gadget" that saves the day . Jon Chappell is a guitarist and Associate Editor at 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). Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines. Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.
  11. Audio-Technica's Active Ribbon Mics Vintage Technology Gets Active Electronics and a Modern Reworking http://www.audio-technica.com By Jon Chappell Audio-Technica has several technologies at work in their AT-series ribbon mics including, active circuitry. It’s reassuring to see that the trend in new ribbon microphones is continuing. This means that a classic technology gets the benefit of new improvements in manufacturing and materials, while still respecting the sound qualities that made them so popular decades ago. Ribbon mics offer the sensitivity normally associated with high-quality condenser mics, but with greater warmth and body than some condensers, which can sound a little brittle under certain conditions. If you have a source that could use some warming up or thickening, reaching for a ribbon should be your first move. Audio-Technica’s AT4080 and AT4081 are two new bi-directional active ribbon microphones. Note the word “active”—it’s important. We’ll get to why later. If you’re hazy on the history of ribbon mics, the technology dates to the 1920s, and many classic recordings were made with them. They were a favorite choice for vocals, including the RCA 77—that famous big one you’ve seen in Elvis and Frank Sinatra photos. But while they sounded great, the mics’ element (actually a very thin strip of aluminum or other metal) was fragile, and their output was relatively low. As a result, condenser and other dynamic mics eventually took over as the go-to tools for studio and live work, while ribbon mics became more specialized. It followed then that mic preamps that were designed to match those more popular mics became the standard. So even when a ribbon mic was working well, it didn’t always deliver its optimal sound due to level and impedance mismatches with the preamp. Fast-forward to the modern era, which is turning into a ribbon renaissance. These two Audio-Technica models are a prime example of how new approaches to old technology can yield great results. Both are solid enough to handle regular studio and (careful) live use. Right out of the box, each of these hand-made beauties exudes Audio-Technica’s trademark combination of sleek design and sturdy construction. Each has solid metal housings with an open acoustical design to reduce internal reflections and an ultrafine metal mesh to protect the ribbon element from damage. As when handling any sensitive electronic instrument, you should still take care to keep the mics in a clean environment and use a pop screen for close-miking vocals, but these babies aren’t going to fall apart if someone sneezes or taps them with a music stand. CONSTRUCTION AND FEATURES The AT4080 (see Fig. 1) is about the size of a large-diaphragm condenser (the kind you typically see on pro vocal sessions). It comes with the great AT8449/SV shock mount, a really nice addition for vocal applications, but also useful when you want to mic a guitar cabinet or other source that could produce rumble. The frequency response is an impressive 20Hz–18kHz, with incredible low-end response and signal-to-noise rated at 72dB at 1kHz (translation: the mic is quiet). AT4080 can handle anything from voice to brass to amp stack to drums. Fig. 1. The AT4080 is what you'd use in place of most studio quality large-diaphragm condensers. The AT4081 is in the shape of a large pencil mic but, like the AT4080, it’s a side-address mic, so it doesn’t “point” at the source the way some pencil mics do (see Fig. 2). It mounts to a standard clip, and its compact size makes it ideal for instrument recording, especially guitar and percussion (it can also handle 150 SPL), or application where space is tight. Frequency response is 30Hz–18kHz, signal-to-noise is 69dB. Fig. 2. The AT4081 is just the ticket for any application where a small-diaphragm "pencil" condensor would normally be called for. Each mic employs a figure-8 pickup pattern, which captures sound equally at the front and back—a pretty a common feature on ribbon mics. Both mics feature proprietary technology, including Audio-Technica’s MicroLinear ribbon, which, according to the manufacturer, offers superior durability and the ability to handle sound pressure levels (SPL) up to a whopping 150 dB. Dual-ribbon construction offers even more sensitivity than other ribbon designs, and the powerful N50 neodymium magnets give each mic a high output level. Now for the part about “active” technology: Both mics feature phantom-powered circuitry that boosts output without adding noise, and offers a better impedance match with today’s microphone preamps than you’ll get from typical ribbon designs. IN USE Audio-Technica’s mating of classic and modern design proved itself the moment I plugged the mics in. On vocals, the AT4080 delivered articulation and clarity, yet the singer also sounded natural and full-bodied. Sometimes, people say “warm” to refer to a sound that’s dull; but this was real warmth—strong, solid, and totally present. The AT4081’s sounded great on acoustic guitar, electric guitar cabinet and actually worked pretty well on a vocal part. Both mics impressed us for their low self-noise, but in the end, it was that sweet, natural sound that won the day. CONCLUSION Audio-Technica has always offered excellent value, and these two new ribbon mics uphold that tradition. The AT4080—the more expensive of the two—is a classic vocal mic that can also get down with an amp stack and marshal high SPLs into warm and full signals. And you’ve gotta love the fact that it comes with a shock mount. The AT4081 is a versatile instrument mic that could well end up relegating both dynamic and small condenser mics to backup status at your sessions. But while each has its own personality, both of these two modern ribbon mics share the magic combination of innovative active circuitry and sleek design. The AT4080 and AT4081 go beyond just “bang-for-the-buck” to deliver outstanding performance—regardless of price. Audio-Technica AT4080 Bidirectional Active Ribbon Microphone Specifications: Element: Ribbon Polar Pattern: Figure-of-eight Frequency Response: 20-18,000Hz Open Circuit Sensitivity: -39dB (11.2 mV) re 1V at 1 Pa Impedance: 100 ohms Maximum Input Sound Level: 150dB SPL, 1kHz at 1\% T.H.D. Noise: 22dB SPL Dynamic Range (Typical): 128dB, 1kHz at Max SPL Signal-To-Noise Ratio: 72dB, 1kHz at 1 Pa Phantom Power Requirements: 48V DC, 3.0 mA typical Weight: 474g (16.7oz.) Dimensions: 177.5mm (6.99") long, 53.4mm (2.10") maximum body diameter Output Connector: Integral 3-pin XLRM-type Audio-Technica AT4081 Bidirectional Active Ribbon Microphone Specifications: Element: Ribbon Polar Pattern: Figure-of-eight Frequency Response: 30-18,000Hz Open Circuit Sensitivity: -42dB (7.9 mV) re 1V at 1 Pa Impedance: 100 ohms Maximum Input Sound Level: 150dB SPL, 1kHz at 1\% THD Noise: 25dB SPL Dynamic Range (Typical): 125dB, 1kHz at Max SPL Signal-To-Noise Ratio: 69dB, 1kHz at 1 Pa Phantom Power Requirements: 48V DC, 3.0 mA typical Weight: 152g (5.4oz.) Dimensions: 155mm (6.10") long, 21.0mm (.83") maximum body diameter Output Connector: Integral 3-pin XLRM-type
  12. There are several good reasons to use a USB hub with your computer, but choose wisely . . . by Jon Chappell and Craig Anderton It seems like there are never enough ports of any kind—and with more and more devices connecting via USB, you can often use up the half-dozen or so USB ports found on a typical computer in short order. Keyboard, mouse, dongles, USB memory sticks for system speedup or backup, printer, USB mics, hard drives, interfaces . . . what's a modern musician to do? USB hubs, which are basically multi-in/single-out patchbays of USB connectors that use only one USB port on your computer, seem like an ideal answer. And while they can be, if improperly applied, they can end up robbing performance, screwing up updates, introducing clicks and pops into your audio, and making your life more difficult instead of easier. Fortunately, you're reading this article—so instead you'll be able to take full advantage of USB hubs to streamline your musical computing processes. A hub serves another purpose, too: because it connects to your computer via a normal cable, it doesn’t take more than its fair share of front-panel space, the way some USB devices do. For example, many iLok keys and other devices have bulky housings that interfere with each other and prevent secure, straight-on connections when you try to plug two of them into adjacent USB ports. Also, a hub saves wear and tear on the computer's ports if you do a lot of USB plugging and unplugging. POWERED VS. NON-POWERED Virtually all USB devices draw some power from the USB bus, but some draw more than others. Devices with light power requirements can get by with a non-powered hub, but for the extra few bucks, consider getting a powered USB hub. Someday you'll plug something that needs a lot of current into your hub, and you'll be glad you had the foresight to go for the powered type. The only downside is they require an AC adapter, so for mobile use, if you can get by with a non-powered hub that's generally advisable. SETTING PRIORITIES The general rule of thumb is to connect high-performance or high-speed devices directly into your computer's USB ports, and avoid using a hub. Some companies insist that you plug their interfaces directly into the computer's port for best results but even if they don't, it's always a good idea to have as direct a connection as possible between interface and computer. Hard disk drivers also benefit from plugging directly into your computer. On the other hand dongles, keyboards (both QWERTY and keyboard controllers), mice, USB memory sticks, and even printers are excellent candidates for USB hubs. THE ONE TIME NEVER TO USE A HUB If you're updating a device's firmware via USB, never use a hub. Any interruption in the updating process can result in corrupted data or worst case, a non-functional unit because the part of the firmware that boots the device will become corrupted. Furthermore, make sure any connections are totally secure, and use quality cables when doing any kind of firmware update. Although iLok and other dongles usually work fine with hubs, if you're going to be doing any critical operations—like transferring licenses from one dongle to another—it's a good idea to have them plugged in to your computer's USB ports while doing these operations. After the operations are complete, you can then put them back in their hub home. THE OTHER KIND OF "HUB" If you run out of high-performane USB hubs on your computer, there's another kind of "hub": A PCIe or similar card that contains multiple USB ports. These are inexpensive, yet deliver the kind of performance needed for audio interfaces and hard drives. In fact, it's not a bad idea to use the USB ports on a separate card specifically for audio devices, and letting your computer motherboard's ports handle peripherals like hard drives. Sometimes these drives can put spokes or "dirt" on the USB bus, which can work their way into audio devices. However, if you also need FireWire, don't be tempted to buy a card that has both USB and FireWire ports. Most manufacturers advise against this; get a separate card for the USB ports, and a separate card for the FireWire ones. 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).
  13. Lace Helix Basses Innovation and Affordability for Today’s Bassist www.lacemusic.com By Jon Chappell Lace Musical Produces is a company known primarily for its quality pickups, which have been used on many classic instruments in the Fender stable, as well as being highly desired for aftermarket replacements on all guitars. The company also has an instrument division, and has always tried to provide intriguing and forward-looking solutions for both basses and guitars. New to the company’s arsenal is a line of basses called the Helix series. There are several versions, including a single-pickup 4-string with a bolt-on neck, a two-pickup bolt-on 4-string, and a two-pickup 4- or 5-string with a neck-through body. My review covers the single-pickup 4-string ($499, street), but I also got to check out the two-pickup 5-string neck-through model. As a bonus, Lace offers a no-cost option for fretless versions. Sweet! All models feature the same modern-looking body style and Alumitone pickups, which designer Jeff Lace created to capture the response and sound of an active system but using passive (non-powered) circuitry. Lace describes the process as being “current driven” rather than “voltage driven,” and this approach provides a broader and stronger signal, creating more girth and smoothness to the sound. At the same time, the company notes, this process eliminates the use of batteries, which is not only a convenience for the user, but the more “green” and less wasteful way. The pickup is housed in an attractive soapbar design, with chrome-, gold, or natural-aluminum-colored strips offsetting the exposed, darker-colored magnets. The adjustment springs are situated under two Phillips screws which sit discreetly under the second and third strings. METALLURGIC REACTIONS The Alumitone system uses the aluminum exoskeleton to function for the windings—really, a single loop of wire—rather than conventional copper material, to surround the ceramic magnets. The aluminum is inductively coupled to a smaller coil, or transformer, located just underneath the exterior. Most of what the pickups do is visible from the top; if you remove the pickup, all you see is the little coil underneath. It’s mostly hollow space (and way lighter than most pickup constructions), and exhibits a fairly radical design approach. The high-current/low-voltage output retains characteristics of active, low-impedance pickups, including a higher output (compared to other passive pickup designs), a higher resonant frequency, a broader frequency response overall, and very low noise. WOOD STUFF The non-hardware materials for the Helix series are traditional hardwoods: maple for the neck and mahogany for the body. So while you’re sporting a progressive appearance courtesy of the body shape, and sounding unique because of the Alumitone pickups, you can at least be assured a familiar feel. I really liked the quasi satin finish on the bolt-on 4-string (I actually preferred this to the gloss finish on the 5-string, but that’s just my personal preference). I could play this bass comfortably all night, moving my hand up and down the neck with ease. The fingerboard is wide, but the feel is nice and fast. The neck is joined to the body with six bolts, and the neck cutaways, upper-fret access, and body sculpting made this bass very comfortable for my hands. The fretwork and workmanship are impeccable as well. The instrument ships with a well-made, solid, padded gig bag that’s fitted to the Helix’s unique shape, making the entire package very appealing for professional bassists looking for a solid performer. ELECTRONICS As for the single-pickup Helix, the electronics are a pretty simple affair—one volume knob, one tone. But I liked the variety the tone control produced and was pleased that I could set up a bright sound on the amp and then roll off the tone for mellower tones without losing focus or introducing mud. The tone control is well calibrated and offers quite a nice deep sweep in its treble cut. The two-pickup basses feature a volume control for each pickup and a master tone control. On the five-string, the two pickups provide a wider palette of tonal colors than the one-pickup version, due in part to the placement of the bridge pickup placed closer the bridge and the neck pickup closer to the neck. And of course, you then have the option to blend the two pickups. The two-pickup version would be essential for modern bass styles, or in any situation where you might be called upon to produce a wide range of tones. The data-jogwheel knobs have a plastic disc on the top that forms circular depression with a protruding rim (similar to data controllers of many microprocessor-based components). This makes it easy to feel if you’re just using a right-hand finger to determine the knob’s position, but it’s mostly there to provide an interesting look. When grabbing the knob in the normal way—between the thumb and index finger—the rubber coating provides a firm grip, even when your hand is sweaty. I didn’t miss having ridged or knurled edges on the bass and tone controls. In addition to looking good, the Alumitone pickups sound great and feature a current-driven design. ON BASE WITH THE HELIX I used the 4-string Helix bolt-on, single-pickup bass on several gigs in the time I had to review it, and appreciated its light weight, compact and ergonomic body shape, and the feel of the neck. Since I play in a cover band (that does pop and R&B from Motown onward), I’m used to employing a lot of tonal variety, and I like to do it from the bass, if I can (we do a lot of medleys, and fussing with the amp is impractical). So I was initially concerned that the single Alumitone pickup wouldn’t provide enough variety when going from, say, a crisp, ’60s-era flat-picked P-sound to a fuller and funkier thumb-and-finger funk approach. The single-pickup on the bolt-on actually proved to be a good acid test for the Alumitone pickup technology: With only one sound source to feed the amp (in my case, a 300-watt Ashdown combo with two 10" speakers), I had to rely on the pickup’s range to fill the sonic bill. I found the tight bottom end, smooth midrange, and crisp highs delivered by the single Alumitone to be quite versatile, and I was fine using just the bass’s tone control as my primary tone modifier. The Alumitone definitely has personality—in addition to providing a relatively high output for a passive pickup—and one that suits many musical styles. CONCLUSION The Helix basses combine a radical look with a traditional feel and a great sound. The 4-string feels comfortable in the hands, and the instrument performed very well under the rigors of professional demands, both on stage and in the studio. The Alumitone pickup does a nice job of bridging the gap between passive and active technologies, providing clear tone and broadband frequency response in a noise-free setting. For an instrument boasting all of these qualities, coupled with solid workmanship and a street price of well under $500, the Helix 4-string bolt-on is a great choice and darn hard to beat. Jon Chappell has written five books in the For Dummies series (Wiley Publishing), as well as 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).
  14. First-Rate Sound in a Top-Notch Interface http://line6.com by Jon Chappell The M13 and M9 shown together. Line 6 has made a lot of classic processors for guitars, both in a multi-effects format and in the single-function Modeler series, the DL4, MM4, DM4, and FM4. Now those highly regarded individual effects come packaged in the M13 and the M9 multi-effects platforms. While they were at it, Line 6 threw in Verbzilla, Echo Pro, a tuner, a comprehensive looper, and other goodies you’d expect from a top-of-the line multi-effects. But to say that Line 6 combines their Modeler line into one unit doesn’t even begin to tell the story. The M series is simply the easiest and most versatile pedalboard I’ve ever used, owing to its inspired design, brilliant logic, and Line 6’s habit of including features that guitarists want and find useful—from the front panel’s Bradshaw-like switchpanel matrix to the color-matching of the displays to effects to the internal architecture and routing. Even small innovations—such as the unit’s remembering your knob tweaks—completely change the way you work. And for the better. LUCKY 13 OR 9 LIVES Line 6 offers two versions of the M series, the M13 and the M9. Both feature the four Modelers’ circuitry under the hood, complete with upgrades to these now classic effects. For example, the DL4 module now has a dry-through option—a much-requested feature from users. Line 6 listened, and now here it is. Both the M13 and M9 offer the same number of effects: 109 in total: 12 compressors and EQs, 17 distortions, 23 mods, 26 filters, 19 delays, and 12 reverbs. Additionally, both units include a 28-second looper (up from 14 seconds in the DL4), with an astonishing complement of controls that get mapped to the switches once you invoke the looper function. I got more use out of this looper than I expected from a multi-effects, and now I can’t live without this valuable rehearsal and creative tool. The M13 and M9 offer a true, matrix-style approach to effects, incorporating Line 6's stand-alone modelers. \_\_\_\_ The back panels of the M13 and M9 show the units are serious about audio I/O. WELCOME TO THE MATRIX The layout is a grid or matrix: four columns with three rows of switches on the M13 and three columns with two rows on the M9. The columns are like side-by-side effects units, with each column offering choices of stompboxes arranged vertically. Do the math, and you see that the M13 lets you set up 12 separate modules (or stompboxes, if you like) while the M9 gives you 6. You can put any effect under any switch, for true matrix-like configurability, but it makes sense to order them by effect family—with compressors and distortion units in the first column, followed by filters and modulation, and then delays and reverbs. On the M13 you can have any four effects sound simultaneously, with eight more only a tap away. The M9 gives you three at once, with instant access to three alternates. Another really cool feature of the matrix approach is that you can configure the unit either from left-to-right (the way we normally read, and the “engineer’s perspective”) or from right-to-left—the way guitar players are used to hooking up their pedals, with the distortion appearing in the right-most position. Other functions on the front panel include buttons for Tap Tempo, Scenes, and Looper. Tap Tempo lets you sync any or all pedals with a speed or rate parameter to this dedicated front-panel switch. The Scene button enables you to set up and access 12 front-panel layouts of 12 effects. A Scene can be organized in a number of ways: by music style (metal, country, jazz, etc.), by song (according to the order of your set list), by effect (“Distortion Library”), or any customized setup (“Hendrix Rig”). You could even, for example, have a Scene where all 12 buttons access the same effect (such as a delay) with different settings. Because a Scene remembers an effect’s on/off status when you store it, you can change Scenes to facilitate two identical effects layouts that have different pedal-activation statuses. This saves you from any difficult “tap dancing” moves over several stomps in the same layout. A MODEL APPROACH TO SOUNDS Once I got the hang of loading in modules—which took about two seconds—I immediately started creating Scenes in the above-described way. I started with some basic setups—compression, distortion, delay, reverb—and then moved on to more exotic mod and filter combinations. The delays and reverbs are pristine, and the tape-based delays and Echo-Plex have an authentic low-fi sound to them that imbues the sound with analog-like warmth. The modulation and filter effects are the best in the industry, having been trickled down from Line 6’s FM4 and MM4, with the Seeker—inspired by a Zvex Seek Wah—being just one standout. The distortions were very strong, particularly Line 6 Distortion, Line 6 Drive, Screamer, and Overdrive. The M13 integrates well with an existing pedalboard (photo courtesy of Jaymeister). ICING ON THE CAKE The Tuner, Tap Tempo, and system-level functions (MIDI, copying routines, etc.) all let you customize the board for any scenario that comes your way, and there are a few other noteworthy features. The effects loop on the M13 can be moved to anywhere in the chain, and both units allow for two expression pedals. This is ideal, as you can dedicate one to a volume or wah, and use the other for changing parameters live. You can map any parameter to the pedal and define the minimum and maximum points with the pedal in any position. Autosave remembers the location of any adjusted parameters—just as if you were working with physical stompboxes. CONCLUSIONS Boasting exactly the same total number of resident effects as its big brother, but in a smaller footprint, the M9 is in fact, only slightly bigger than a DL4. You could easily swap in an M9 for an older DL4 and get all the updated delays from the original plus a tuner and full-featured looper. In this way, the M9 is like a portable pedalboard: Throw it in your gig bag when you’re going to a rehearsal or gig where your needs are more basic. The M13, with its four simultaneous effects, movable effects loop, and larger footprint, is more a complete pedalboard solution for replacement of your existing rig or for consolidating all the pedals you use for live performance. The included Modelers are improved in many ways over the originals, through updates and with the added functionality that being in a multi-effects environment brings. The speed and intuitiveness of the interface just means you can get to all the great sounds that much quicker and easier. Whichever you choose, the M13 or the M9, you’ll benefit from ingenious design, a comprehensive feature set, and outstanding sound.
  15. Taylor Baritone 6-String ($2,999) and Baritone 8-String ($3,199) By Jon Chappell Taylor's Baritone 6- and 8-String guitars. As the curious guitarist knows, dropping down a guitar from its standard E tuning provides a wealth of tonal possibilities, from a piano-like bottom end to subterranean disturbances to a different complement open strings when playing in a transposed key. That’s the concept behind a baritone guitar, which is tuned a fourth below a regular guitar (B, E, A, D, F#, and B, low to high). To accommodate this lower register, baris have a longer scale length and thicker baritone-gauged strings. They play just like a regular guitar, but their sound is other-worldly while still being very versatile and an option in just about any context a normal guitar is welcome. Taylor is leading the bari guitar charge with two superior instruments, a 6- and an 8-string version (known by their model names Baritone 6-String and Baritone 8-String). Both feature all-solid-wood construction, with rosewood back and sides, a Sitka spruce top, mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard and bridge. Among the additional appointments are a Venetian cutaway, bone nut and saddle, abalone rosette and diamond-shaped mother-of-pearl inlays, and gold-plated sealed Taylor tuners. The electronics are Taylor’s Expression System®, which consists of two magnetic pickups (one internally attached to the soundboard and one mounted beneath the fretboard extension). Each bari arrives in a plush-lined hardshell case that’s as handsome as it is robust. The aesthetics are typical Taylor: flawless and gorgeous. And because the longer scale length is accommodated in their normal GS (Grand Symphony) body style (with some adjustment to the internal bracing), you don’t have to worry about wrangling a large-body guitar. To the untrained eye, the baris resemble normal guitars. EASY ON THE HANDS Part of the reason both of these instruments succeed so well on the playability front can be found in Taylor’s legendary necks, designed with their patented New Technology (NT) construction. The slim depth and 1-3/4" nut width also makes playing them quite easy, in that distinctive Taylor way (“like buttah,” as we say in New York). Because of the longer scale length, the frets are slightly wider apart than a normal guitar’s, and this is perceptible in the lower frets. But I had no trouble playing full, six-string barre chords and never experienced left-hand fatigue. The neck is truly a joy to play on, and because the tension is balanced out with the thicker-gauge strings and longer scale length, I adjusted quickly and soon forgot I was playing anything but a familiar-feeling guitar. The Taylor Baritone 6- and 8-String look normal because while their scale length in longer, the body size is standard. TONAL VARIATIONS A baritone’s range and tone take some getting used to, but once you’re acclimated to the southward spectrum shift, the Taylor baris will roll over you with their stately lows, rich mids, and articulate and warm highs. I was initially worried that these baris would skew toward the bottom end, but my suspicions were quickly allayed. Even when playing full, open-string chords, the sound never muddied out. I actually transcribed the pitches I was playing to a concert score and played them on the piano. Total sludge. But on the baris, the body construction accommodates voicings that would otherwise be unworkable on a piano. They give you piano-like tones (including bass notes and bass accompaniment patterns, such as walking-bass) and opens up a whole new area of guitar colors to explore. The Baritones feature Taylor's Expression System. EIGHT IS ENOUGH In its Baritone 8-string, Taylor has done no less than invent a new instrument. Combining a baritone’s long-scale fretboard and lowered tuning with selected octave strings from an acoustic 12-string, the Baritone 8-String is a guitar like no other. Taylor has chosen to double only two of the strings, the fourth and third (A and D), which is the interior pair. As in a standard 12-string, they’ve octave-doubled the main wound strings with unwound counterparts (gauged .014 and .012). The extra two strings of the Baritone 8-String shown at the bridge. As on an acoustic 12-string, these plain, high-octave strings are simultaneously fretted and plucked with their normal, wound mates. In fact, these octave pairs look and feel like the A and D pairs on a Taylor 12-string, except they run down the middle of the fretboard. Playability, as different from a 6-string, is almost imperceptible. Yet you get what is arguably the heart of a 12-string: the doubled richness of the inner strings. You still have single strings in the bass for punch and clarity, and your two high strings for facile lead playing (including bends and slurs). You really wonder why no one has thought of this before. Taylor has not only adopted a good idea, it’s created a viable and unique instrument. CONCLUSION Recording guitarists looking for an extra guitar dimension and performers who want to provide an alternate color palette for singer/songwriters are just two types who will benefit from playing the Taylor baris, but these guitars are not limited to that role. You can approach them as lead guitars with distinct sonic personalities. And with the Baritone 8-String, if you play lines along just the top two plain strings, you can bend, hammer, tap, and pull off just like on a 6-string flattop. Lower down, plucking the two lowest strings lets you explore a cello register—perfect for bass runs, driving riffs, and low-note solos. But re-voice some lines or dyads for the two octave pairs, and listeners will swear they’re hearing a 12-string. The fun begins when you explore ways to combine these different elements. With the Baritone 6-String I found one of the most satisfying things was to perform solo pieces on them. It can be a revelation to take instrumentals, both fingerstyle and flatpicking, and recast them in a bari setting. The effect, as mentioned, is more piano-like, and the added lower resonance is just the thing to turn heads on blues, ballads, and tunes where you really want to exploit darker and mellower moods. And if you want to shake the earth—or at least the tables or your listening audience, you can’t do better than these Taylor Baritones.
  16. Stereo-Typing Mixing and Recording Guitars in Two Tracks By Jon Chappell Guitarists have something of an “interesting” relationship when it comes to stereo. As listeners, we like our stereo sound, just like everyone else with two ears. But when it comes to recording, the meaning of stereo requires clarification. Not many guitarists play live in stereo, even if they do employ two speakers for dispersion or increased volume. In recording, stereo means two tracks and separate signals for the left and right outputs. True stereo means these tracks were recorded as two separate sources—such as two mics in an X/Y pattern. Simulated stereo can be achieved by taking a mono source (say, one mic or one cord from the mono out of your multi-effects), adding stereo effects, and splitting the signal in the mixer so that effects come out in stereo, but the guitar sound itself is the same on both left and right channels. In a normal stereo configuration, two inputs come into the mixer, each carrying a separate signal, even if these individual signals contain elements of the other sound, which they would if they were microphones in the same room. You can send these channels directly to the stereo output, preserving their Left/Right orientation by keeping the pan knobs rotated hard left (fully counter-clockwise) and hard right (fully clockwise). This way, the signals’ independence is preserved (i.e., they don’t mix), as shown in Fig. 1. Fig. 1. In true stereo, signals are separate, even if the mics pick up sound from the other source (which is natural). On a mixer, the signals are kept separate by being panned hard left and right when going to the stereo bus (output). MONO, AH, MONO If you’re a guitarist, most often you’ll track (that is, record to disc or tape) your axe as a single source, in mono, using one track (designated, numbered location on the DAW). This usually means you’ll have one mic in front of your instrument (if acoustic) or amp (if electric), or you’ll provide one line output from your amp, multi-effects, interface, or plugged-in acoustic to feed the board. If this is the case, your signal is going to a single channel of sound recorded to a single track. One track is always mono. It can become simulated stereo later on down the line, but you’re really recording in mono here. And just because you use two tracks for one guitar doesn’t always mean you’re recording in stereo, either. For example, a common case of two mics in a non-stereo configuration is combining a close-miked amp and distant-miked amp (which picks up more of the room, or ambient sound). This is known as layering or blending. Here, each mic goes through its own channel, just as it would in a stereo setup. But the difference is, we don’t want these two sounds to be heard as coming from two different places in the stereo field. So we combine the sources into a single sound by routing them to a bus (an extra channel that accepts multiple channels). The bus then feeds the stereo output with two identical sounds (the blend of the two mics), as shown in Fig. 2. Fig. 2. In a layered sound, the different guitar sounds arrive on separate channels or tracks (just as in a stereo signal). But then the sounds are combined when they’re routed to a bus, which in turn feeds the stereo output. The level is raised or lowered by moving the bus fader; the quality of the blend (close mic vs. room mic) is altered by changing the positions of the individual channel faders. When you mix the guitar sound with the rest of the band, you use the bus’s volume fader to raise and lower the volume of your carefully crafted blend. To vary the actual balance of close-mic and room-mic sound, you move the channel faders. But once it’s routed to a bus, that composite signal is treated as a single source when it’s sent to the L/R output. NOW APPEARING FROM LEFT TO RIGHT The phrase “placing it in the mix” can mean several different things, depending on the context. It could mean where in the stereo field a particular sound sits. It could also refer to the front-to-back placement, which depends on two factors: 1) the relative loudness of one sound to the others; 2) and the ambient effect level (reverb) relative to the dry sound. Since we’re talking about stereo, let’s deal with the more basic of the two strategies—position in the left-to-right sound field. To place your single track of guitar anywhere in the stereo field of a mix, you need only to have the sound assigned to one mixer channel or bus, provided that channel or bus has a pan knob. All the pan knob does is change the volume levels in the two channels in the stereo (L/R) bus, which you hear through headphones and speakers. Pan works on both channels simultaneously, in a ratio. For example, at a 50/50 ratio, the sound is equal in both channels and sounds like it’s coming from the center (sometimes called a phantom image, because the speakers are usually well to the side of the center position). Hard left, hard right, and center are pretty easy concepts to grasp. Where you have to put your thinking cap on is figuring out how those in-between locations are achieved. Obviously, you can’t physically have a sound emanating from in between hard left and center (because there’s no actual speaker there), but you can create the effect psycho-acoustically. By having the majority of sound come out of the left speaker with just a little bit of sound from the right, you can create the effect of the location that is neither hard left nor center. You can cause your sound to move continuously from hard left (sound coming from the left speaker only) to hard right (right speaker only) by slowly sweeping the pan knob from left to right. Although it sounds like your guitar is going gradually across a virtual sound field in front of you, all you’re really doing is changing the relative volume of the left and right channels, which gives the illusion of the sound traveling from left to center to right, and various points in between. Keep in mind, this is not stereo sound or stereo recording, but placement of a mono sound in the stereo field. Look at Fig. 3, which shows a seven step stereo field. (You can have any infinite odd number positions to represent the stereo field, but seven is a good working number.) Underneath the seven positions in the semi-circular sound field are the corresponding speaker loudness diagrams with the appropriate loudness levels indicated in red. Notice that as you scan the speaker diagrams, you see the right level go down as the left level rises, and vice versa, in a reciprocal action, like a seesaw. But the effect to the ear is that the sound is moving continuously from left to right—even through locations where there is no speaker. Fig. 3. As the relative loudness changes between the two speakers from #1 to #7, the listener will perceive the sound moving continuously in the stereo field from left to right. ASSUME YOUR POSITIONS So what’s all this pan stuff got to do with music? It’s quite simple: in order to create a proper illusion of musicians playing, you have to put them in relative horizontal positions in front of the listener. If you have multiple instruments playing different parts, it’s a good idea to delineate them with respect to placement in the stereo field. In a real-world example, let’s say you have three guitars: one guitar playing full chords; another playing low notes and riffs; and a third playing up-the-neck, high-string chord inversions. One approach would be to put the chording guitar straight up the middle (panned center), the low-note guitar slightly left, and the high-note guitar slightly right. This allows the listener to hear each part in its own space a little better than if all three guitars were panned center. Fig. 4 shows how the listener would experience this cycle acoustically. Fig. 4. The low-note guitar (green) and high-note guitar (red) will each appear slightly to one side, while the chording guitar (yellow) appears to come directly from the center of the stereo image. This allows the guitars to mix their sounds together slightly while maintaining a separate location, or identity. Each instrument will be present in both channels, but because of the different pan positions—really, varying levels between the two channels—the listener will perceive the guitars as in separate “locations,” which helps in hearing the individual parts a little more distinctly. If you didn’t want this, you’d simply pan all three center, and you would have a straightforward layer. But to best showcase three disparate musical roles, it’s better to employ a little judicious panning. STEREO-TYPING There are lots of discussions and disagreements about what stereo is. But as long as you know how to be specific about which version of “stereo” you’re using when recording, you can use the concepts of sound-field placement and blending to their best effect. It's important to separate this from the more complex operation of true stereo recording, where two discrete signals are preserved from the beginning to the end of the recording process. Jon Chappell is a guitarist and Associate Editor at 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).
  17. A Do-It-Yourself Tone Frame for Mandolin & Ukulele Enhance Tone and Projection by Getting your Mando or Uke Away from Your Body By Jon Chappell There are usually two reasons to do something yourself rather than to pay for it to be done by someone else: 1) it’s cheaper; 2) you want to learn how something works, and you want to be enriched by the learning experience. Number 2 is definitely the approach of do-it-yourselfers. They operate on the principle that it doesn’t matter whether you can do a better job or that it takes you a long time (and ends up being more expensive in the long run). It's the process that's rewarding. An example of #1 is changing your own oil. If you buy four quarts of oil, a filter, and the filter wrench, you’ll save a lot more money than if you drive into the local Jiffy Lube. Building your own solidbody guitar is an example of #2. Chances are it's going to look a lot uglier than even a $300 off-brand version, especially your first time out, but you don't care. For most DIY projects, from home improvement to modding my gear (instruments and electronics), I’m constantly faced with the above two questions. Often it’s not a clear-cut case of #1 or # 2, but some combination. That was the situation when I decided to make a “tone frame” for my mandolin. A tone frame is a structure that affixes to the back of a mandolin or ukulele in order to bring the instrument away from your body slightly, allowing it to vibrate more freely, creating a fuller tone with better projection and volume. Several world-class mandolinists use them, including Ricky Skaggs, David Grisman, Andy Statman, Mike Marshall, John Reischman, and Don Stiernberg. To be perfectly accurate, these players endorse a certain tone guard called a Tone-Gard™, manufactured by Tony Pires (http://www.tone-gard.com). When I decided to get a Tone-Gard, I went to the Tone-Gard site. Fig. 1 shows an example of Pires' invention, which is both artful and functional. Fig. 1. The Tone-Gard, manufactured by Tony Pires. Pires offers many reasons for using his Tone-Gard. One compelling observation he makes is that Lloyd Loar, creator of the F-style mandolin (considered the standard design in bluegrass mandolins), was a classical player, and was always photographed in a seated position. Therefore, it is logical to assume Loar designed his mandolin to be played when seated. When you sit and play the mandolin, you rest it on your right leg and hold it away from your body. Indeed, photographs of classical mandolin players show them sitting erect and leaning forward—presumably creating a cavity of air between the back of the instrument and the body. Pires’ Tone-Gard allows for this same void in a standing position. I was all ready to buy one of Pires’ Tone-Gards based on his elegant design and his description of the materials and the construction process. And if I had, I certainly would have gotten something that looked a whole lot better than what I could fashion myself using stuff around the house. But something drove me to build my own, for much the same reason people make their own wine or beer in the basement: They may not wind up with something better than the store-bought variety, but they want to try it just because they’re curious as to the process. And making your own allows you to appreciate what’s involved more than those who don’t, even if you go back to pre-made versions of your project. So armed with such altruism, I came up with the Tone-Frame©®™☺. (Note that the last symbol indicates that the first three symbols are meant to be a joke.) The best thing about my version is that you don’t have to spend one cent to make it. It’s made entirely from a wire coat hanger and tape (electrical or duct, your choice). You don’t even need any tools, except for a pair of pliers to bend the ends of the wire pieces. And I was perfectly happy to sacrifice any artfulnes if I could keep the functionality part and save money. Read on to see how I did it. STEP BY STEP To make your version of the tone frame the way I did, start with an all-wire coat hanger (surely you must have one around, in case you lock your keys in the car). It’s faster to cut the coat hanger apart using snips, but I made the necessary individual pieces just by flexing the metal back and forth until it fatigued to the breaking point. Unwind the coiled part at the hook, break off these squiggly lengths and throw them away. What you’re left with is, more or less, a straight piece of wire, still malleable. Eyeball the back of your instrument and estimate the lengths of the pieces, based on Fig. 3 below. Measured the back using a tape measure. This allows you to create 3D shapes, as the wire has to bend out away from the back, and to curve around the sides. In this case, an F-style mandolin, I came up with the following lengths: a) 11"; b) 14"; c) 12". Your lengths may vary according to the type of instrument. Fig. 3. A sketch of my mandolin’s back, with the lengths of the wire pieces labeled. Bend-and-break three lengths of wire according to the three dimensions you've measured. Bend sharply the very ends of the wires to grip around the sides of the instrument (indicated in red). Wrap all three pieces in electrical tape (or duct tape). This shields the bare metal from touching (and potentially scratching) the finish of your instrument. Dry fit the top and outside curved piece to the back of the instrument to see that they’re roughly the right length and that the bent ends will grip the sides. Remember to bow the wires outward, away from the instrument’s back, to provide the air gap. Once the lengths and shapes are in place, tape the wire pieces together, again using tape (represented by the squiggly lines of the illustration). With the structure complete, you’ll have to bend it to fit some more, but you’re still dealing with a malleable frame. The bent ends should grip the sides of the instrument securely. A CHEAT I found that though my homemade frame worked, it wasn’t holding fast to the instrument as I thought it would. Although the frame held its shape, it really needed some “elastic pressure” to grip the sides, and coat hanger wire doesn’t have this property. So I used a small bungy cord (you can buy bungy cords of various widths and lengths from any home improvement store; I bought the one in the photo at Home Depot). Threading the cord through the wire and cinching it tight caused the whole frame “shrink up” with elasticity and hold its position on the instrument without slippage. In the end, I had the guard that you see in Figs. 4 and 5. Fig. 4. The back of my F-style mandolin showing my homemade tone frame installed. Note the bungy cord that supplies elastic pressure to the tape-wrapped three-wire frame. Fig. 5. A close-up of the frame, showing the wire pieces joined by electrical tape. CONCLUSION I think that if I ever went out on the road, completing a mandolin trio with Ricky Skaggs and David Grisman (as if!), I’d buy a proper Tone-Gard from Tone-Gard.com. But right now, I record my mandolin at home in a standing position, and I enjoy the functionality of my homemade tone guard. With the frame attached, the insturment sounds fuller and louder, and I can mic it from over my shoulder, in the same way I mic classical guitar (also played in a seated position, away from the body)—because the sound is allowed to emanate from all sides of the instrument, including the rear. My apparatus for achieving this option may be ugly, but it’s definitely functional. And you can’t hear ugly when you record. Mandolins Buying Guide Ukuleles Buying Guide Jon Chappell is a guitarist and Associate #Editor at 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).
  18. Bugera V22 1x12 combo amp ($350 street) 22 watts of amazing all-tube sound on a budget http://www.bugera-amps.com by Jon Chappell Fig. 1. The Bugera V22 features all-tube power in a 1x12 enclousure and pushes out 22 watts. Nothing beats a vintage tube amp when it comes to creating classic guitar tones. But vintage amps are expensive and can come with all sorts of problems with regard to reliability, parts compatibility, and even electrical safety. The solution is to get a newly manufactured tube amp, but they’re often very expensive. Also, many modern tube amps tend to look, well, modern. Enter Bugera, which has addressed all of these issues in their V22—an inexpensive, well built, great-sounding amp that looks like it just stepped out of a time capsule from the 1960s. OVERVIEW The V22 is a lightweight two-channel 22-watt all-tube amp, driven by three 12AX7s in the preamp and two EL84s in the output stage (see Fig. 1). Included is a two-pedal footswitch, which activates the reverb and switches channels, allowing for hands-free operation. Standout features include an effects loop, a well-crafted digital Reverb, and a switch that enables you to operate in either Triode or Pentode mode. What you notice instantly, right as it comes out of the box, is that the V22 is beautifully designed, with an understated dignity that you’ll especially appreciate if you have an affinity for vintage gear. (The “V” in the name is, of course, for “Vintage.”) The cream-colored padded covering evokes the tube-driven times of the mid-20th Century, and the basic black-and-white scheme is subtle and classy. The chicken head knobs, scripted Bugera logo, gold-flecked grille cloth, and braided gold piping all add to the aesthetic. TOURING THE FRONT PANEL The V22’s front panel controls are laid out from left to right, beginning with a choice of input jacks labeled Normal and Bright, for single-coil and humbucker guitars, respectively (see Fig. 2). The preamp gain controls for the two channels follow. The clean channel has one control for gain, labeled (logically enough) Clean. For the lead channel, two controls are provided, Gain and Volume, which work in tandem to create varying degrees of distortion, and which you use to balance with the Clean channel’s output. It’s important to note that an overall Master volume is present too (on the other side of the EQ section on the right side of the panel), which is tied to the output stage and adjusts the overall speaker level. But the channel balance and distortion-shaping stages are right here in the first three knobs of the V22. The Channel selector switch is in between the Clean and Gain controls, but you can also switch channels via the footswitch, which is certainly the preferred mode in performance. Immediately to the right of the gain stages is the EQ section, with Bass, Mid, Treble, and a Boost switch. The Boost function bolsters the midrange and is active in both channels. I particularly liked this function when I was playing at lower levels, such as in rehearsal or just jamming by myself. You get a full sound with increased intensity without having to rely on the overdrive sounds as much. Fig. 2. The V22's front panel is laid out from left to right. Rounding out the front panel are the aforementioned Master volume, a Presence control which brings clarity and focus to the guitar sound. It’s especially effective in a lead setting and after you’ve shaped the overall tone with the Bass, Mid, and Treble. At the right end of the panel are the Standby and Power switches, plus a faceted blue jewel power status lamp. ODE TO A MODE Heading around back, you see three speaker jacks with varying impedances (the 70-watt internal speaker is patched to the 8-ohm jack), a Triode/Pentode mode switch, and an effects loop section, with 1/4" send and return jacks (see Fig. 3). One of the coolest features of the V22 is that it operates in either Triode or Pentode modes. All things being equal, Triode mode produces a slightly darker, mellower sound with a little less power. When overdriven, Triode mode breaks up earlier than Pentode mode and has a different harmonic spectra as well. The V22’s Triode mode was perfect for my blues-based playing, while Pentode mode, with its slightly higher-gain, produced a full-throated crunch that suited my garage rock and hard rock wailings. The V22 yielded equally musically useful results in both modes, and all it takes is a quick flick of the rocker switch on the back panel to go from Slowhand to Angus. Fig. 3. The V22 has versatile back-panel connections, including a switch to select between triode and pentode modes. TUBES TO GO I played several humbucker and single-coil guitars through the V22 for a couple of weeks in a variety of live gigs and rehearsals. One of the revelations for me was the pitch-perfect rating of 22 watts. This was just the right amount of power to deliver clear, shimmering clean tones in the Clean channel that cut through a four-piece band playing mid-sized venues. With the gain controls never above the halfway mark, the V22 meted out punchy lows, warm mids, and sparking highs with enough thrust to get the bandstand rocking. The Clean channel stays really clean and gets really loud without the tone coming completely apart. Switching to the Lead channel gave me all I needed for distorted tones—from a little extra hair on my single-note melodies to crunchy chord riffs to searing improvised leads rich in odd harmonics. Whether playing my three-pickup Strat or Les Paul Custom, I was always able to get useful tones, but special mention must be made of the bridge pickup on the Paul going through the Lead channel: the V22 positively sings here. CONCLUSION The V22 is a great-sounding all-tube amp that really lets you explore tube-driven tonalities, because its 22-watt output and amazing clean sound takes you into overdrive territory organically, without blasting out the walls. When pushed into overdrive, the V22 goes there smoothly, letting through just a hint of rasp in the beginning before proceeding linearly to stun mode. The Triode/Pentode option is an inspired feature, and the whole design and feel of the amp just exudes Class A/B class. Everything just looks right, sounds right, and feels right when you plug in and play. And last but not least, the price is right too. Bugera V22 Features: Hand-built 22W guitar combo, driven by two EL84 valves Vintage look and feel Heavy-duty 12" Bugera guitar speaker for true vintage sound Authentic 2-channel preamp design from the ’60s featuring three 12AX7 tubes Integrated high-class reverb with dedicated Reverb control Vintage Equalizer section with dedicated Bass, Mid, Treble and Presence controls Normal and Bright inputs to perfectly match your guitar Multi-gain stage Lead channel with Pre, Post gain and Master controls Mode switch to select between Triode or Pentode operation Impedance connectors (4, 8, and 16 Ohms) to match virtually any external speaker cabinet High-quality components and rugged construction ensure long life Durable footswitch allows you to select channels and engage the reverb
  19. Lâg Tramontane T400DCE ($699 street) A New Look and Fresh Voice in Acoustic-Electric Guitars By Jon Chappell Lâg Guitars, founded by master luthier Michel Lâg-Chavarria, have enjoyed critical acclaim and a successful following in Europe but have been relatively scarce in the U.S. That’s all changed now, as the acoustic line of Lâg Guitars is finally being distributed here by Korg USA. Which means these fine, affordable guitars will now be widely available to guitarists looking for something distinctive while keeping their budget in check. Tramontane is the name of acoustic models that include nylon-strings and steel-string auditoriums, dreadnoughts, and jumbos, available with or without cutaways and electronics. My review instrument was a Lâg Tramontane T400DCE, the flagship of the dreadnoughts, featuring a cutaway and StudioLAG Plus electronics. Even at the top of the line, this model can be purchased for $699. Let’s see what makes this guitar très magnifique. TOUR DE GUITAR The T400DCE is made of Indonesian rosewood back and sides with a solid Sitka spruce top. Its neck is African mahogany with a rosewood fretboard and a stylish layered-wood headstock face. The grain pattern in the rosewood components is quite pleasing, with a hue that is more medium brown than the darker reddish brown of some varieties of rosewood. A subtle center stripe and rosewood-and-maple purfling give the body a classy, detailed look, and a high-gloss finish is expertly applied to the top, back, and sides. The string-through bridge (sans bridge pins) is also Indonesian rosewood, with a compensated saddle made from a durable synthetic black resin (as is the nut). A particularly nice touch is the rosette featuring an attractive Occitan cross—a coat-of-arms emblem whose history is traceable back to medieval southwest France, where the guitar originates. The matte-black hardware, nut, and saddle all blend well with the tone and decorative woods to produce an overall aesthetic that is elegant and understated, looking much more expensive than it actually is. The neck has a fairly shallow profile, which will be well received by electric guitarists who don’t want to have to make huge adjustments in their left-hand approach. The width of the fingerboard at the nut is 1-11/16", which is ideal for flatpicking on an acoustic. On my review instrument, the action was low as well, which, combined with the neck’s shallow profile and narrow width, felt smooth and comfortable when playing single-note leads in the higher frets. For a fuller sound when banging out chords, though, I prefer a slightly higher action. This was accomplished easily enough with a quarter turn of the trussrod, accessible from just inside the soundhole. ACOUSTIC SWEETNESS When unplugged, the T400DCE sounds sweet and balanced—perfect for jangly open-string flatpicking, intricate fingerstyle work, and straight-ahead acoustic-rock strumming. The bottom end is warm and full without being boomy, and the fairly even response across the strings kept feedback to a minimal threat when miked. The high end was clear and sparkly—perfect for leads and high-neck chord inversions. As a side note, the thin neck also accommodates capo-playing fairly well. If you’re looking to create a faux-12-string or a mandolin-like color, the T400DCE is the guitar for you! ELECTRONIC VERSATILITY It’s when you plug the T400DCE in that the guitar really shines. The electronic system is comprised of a Nanoflex under-saddle piezo pickup and a StudioLAG Plus preamp, made by Shadow. Going from acoustic to electric, with all the controls set flat, retains very well the same even, sweet sound the T400DCE exhibits in the acoustic domain. For onboard tone shaping, there is one Volume and one Bass/Treble knob, plus a rotary selector with five preset EQ curves, named Natural Folk, Mellow Mids, Studio Mid-Cut, Fingerstyle Picking, and Mellow Jazz. The presets were created in a professional recording studio using a 31-band EQ and then saved to special circuitry accessible only from the preset selector. In other words, you can’t re-create these sounds by tweaking the Bass/Treble knob. From any preset, you can press the Bypass switch, which instantly takes you out of the preset and back to the straight setting, including whatever you’ve dialed up with the tone and level controls. This effectively makes six instantaneous settings. The presets feature a variety of sounds, all of them useful and showing off well the different characters of the T400DCE. I particularly liked the preset named Mellow Mids, which emphasizes the warm midrange properties, and is perfect for bossa nova, blues, and fingerstyle jazz à la Joe Pass. Another standout was Studio Mid-Cut, which, as the name implies, leans out the sound with respect to the midrange, but also enhances the bass and brightens the treble. When playing the guitar by itself, this preset might sound a little hyped, but it was perfect for focusing the sound to cut through the mix of my string band ensemble. Any preset sound can be further sculpted with the tone control, offering even more sonic variety. Also included on the control panel is an onboard chromatic tuner. It’s a rather good one, boasting fast response, two separate red LEDs for indicating whether the pitch is low or high of the mark, a green LED for flat and sharp pitch names, and a bright blue LED to let you know when you’re perfectly in tune. Being chromatic, you can use the tuner for alternate tunings (like DADGAG, open G, drop D, etc.) in addition to standard tuning. CONCLUSION While not fancy in terms of appointments, the T400DCE is nevertheless quite elegant, from its headstock design to its rosette to its maple and rosewood binding. The acoustic sound is sweet, warm, and balanced, and even with no tonal enhancements, it’s versatile enough for many musical settings. When plugged in, the EQ presets offer instant access to five additional sounds, further variable through the Bass/Treble knob. This, plus its excellent setup and easy playability make it a top choice for a stage guitar. The Lâg Tramontane T400DCE is a unique and distinctive choice in an acoustic guitar that shows quality and class in presentation as well as tone—all at an affordable price. \\_\\_ Jon Chappell is the author of six books in the well-known “For Dummies” series, including Rock Guitar for Dummies and Blues Guitar for Dummies, as well as 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).
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