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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Line 6 Pod Farm

The Line 6 Pod Farm is not just for guitar guys but is a powerful studio tool.

I was interested in the Console 1 from Softube but I realized that the Pod Farm is actually a lot more powerful and it sounds fantastic -- additionally, the Pod Farm gets around two aspects of Console 1 that I don't care for.

Console 1 costs $1K and requires an iLock account. I have never been interested in anything requiring an iLock.

I've been a harsh critic of Line6 hardware (and I think their amps are garbage constructed mainly out of car audio parts) but where they are weak in hardware they are strong in software.




Pod Farm contains not just amp and guitar effect emulations but also classic studio hardware so it is easy to set up a virtual console (from clean to mean, depending upon the emulation you use) with preamps, eq, and compression on every channel and a lot more to choose from than the single flavor that Softube offers, even if it is a great flavor.

You can use a clean console plugin on your master bus or on tracks you don't want to hype or you can use API emulations, for example on a drum bus, to kick up the mojo.....whatever mojo is.





Softube Console 1 Alternative

The Softube Console 1 is pretty awesome yet it's not something I want to buy because it's overpriced and it requires an iLock account. I have never been interested in anything requiring an iLock.

There is a cheaper and more flexible alternative that works great: Pod Farm from Line6.

I've been a harsh critic of Line6 hardware (and I think their amps are garbage constructed mainly out of car audio parts) but where they are weak in hardware they are strong in software.




Pod Farm contains not just amp and guitar effect emulations but also classic studio hardware so it is easy to set up a virtual console (from clean to mean, depending upon the emulation you use) with preamps, eq, and compression on every channel and a lot more to choose from than the single flavor that Softube offers.






Monday, October 20, 2014

Best Pick for Acoustic Guitar

By far and away the best plectrum for acoustic that I've found is the Wegen bluegrass model (in either 1.0 mm or 1.2 mm).

It's fantastic for strumming, alternate picking, and hybrid picking as well.

These picks are really durable -- a pack of four might last you years if you don't misplace them.

Once they get worn down beyond your preferences a little work with an emery board get's them right back into shape.

If you like a smaller, jazz-style pick for acoustic the Wegen Big City is the best choice in my opinion.






Best Guitar Pick for Shredding

I've been playing since 1982 and finally found the best pick for alternate and sweep picking. It's also great for hybrid picking, etc. In other words, this is the best pick ever.

And which one is The One you ask?

The Wegen Big City. However, as it arrives from the manufacturer it was only an 'also ran' to the many picks I have plowed through over the years. To transform the Big City into The One Pick to Rule them All, I perform an ever-so-slight and easy modification with a common emery board to make the tip a litter thinner and sharper than the 1.2mm body.

Enjoy and let me know how it goes for you.




Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dear Robben: An Open Letter to Robben Ford Regarding the use of Cameras during Live Performances

Mr. Ford,

Your prohibition of cameras at your live performances and the way you react to photographers is alienating your fans and driving them away from future shows.

I certainly understand your intolerance of cameras. My ability to perform is negatively affected by the use of technology during my 'shows.' I perform six times per week and I have a strict ban on any cell phone or electronics use in my presence. However, I can enforce this rule because those in attendance are (a) required to be there and (b) I can bribe them by offering them a bonus for obedience.

Moreover, I don't even have to enforce this rule myself as the attendees of my performances police themselves in order to receive as much of a bonus as possible. The last person who attempted to sneak a use of her phone received a verbal thrashing by her peers and she started to cry for blowing it for others.

Collective punishment works with Marines and it works on little league baseball teams and it works in classrooms.

All this works for me but it cannot work for you.

Your fans are not required to attend your shows (you're the one begging here if you want to have a future) and you have no surplus that can be withdrawn and you cannot rely on your fans to police each other.

Yes, the music business sucks and you're being ripped off at every turn but that's the life you chose and, like every entertainer you are at the mercy of your fans. When you ruin their experience they will, ultimately, ruin your life.

Like foreign nations buying US T-Bills you have the choice of slow motion exploitation by going along to get along or rapid extinction by refusing to let the one with the real power have its way.

You are a talented musician but, like every entertainer, you are a slave to the audience and when the slave gets mentally upside-down by imagining that their conferred authority is intrinsic to their being, they will be cast aside for one more entertaining.

Say "Cheese!"





Friday, October 17, 2014

The Taylor Guitar Sound

The essence of Taylor acoustic guitars can be summed up thusly: overbuilt.

Taylor guitars are overbuilt because once the guitar leaves the factory they never want to see it again, i.e., never return for warranty work.

The guitars are over-braced, the necks are bolted on, and the result is a guitar that sounds harsh and brittle but that will hold up to the rigors of the road. Collins more or less falls into this same category: bolt-on, neck-heavy, overbuilt guitars for pros on the road.

If I was a touring singer songwriter type I would definitely play a Taylor: they are ridiculously easy to play, are durable, and if something goes wrong, it can be repaired by a local dude.

But Taylor guitars sound like shit. Live, their biting tone is a plus but if you're writing songs or recording they are, basically, horrible instruments. Taylor instruments are the exact opposite of, say, Martin or Santa Cruz Guitars that are light, resonant, and euphoric.

True, Taylor attempted to overcome this reputation by designing new lines for vintage-minded players but those do not represent the essential Taylor design and manufacturing philosophy.

So, if you want a durable, easy-playing guitar go with a Taylor; if you like a beautiful acoustic timbre go with something else.


Monday, October 13, 2014

iMac for Recording

There’s not much to do when it comes to configuring your iMac for audio recording. One potential problem is the “Fusion Drive” that has been causing a lot of people headaches.

What is the fusion drive? Fusion is one of three storage options: ATA, Fusion, or Flash

“Fusion Drive combines 128GB of super-fast flash storage with a traditional hard drive. And now it’s up to 50 percent faster than before. It automatically and dynamically moves frequently used files to flash for quicker access. With Fusion Drive in your iMac, booting, copying files and importing photos are faster. Over time, as the system learns how you work, Fusion Drive makes your Mac experience even better. All while letting you store your digital life on a traditional, roomy hard drive.” (Apple). 


You want to either stick to the traditional ATA hard drive or, better, go with the flash storage option (as much as you can afford). If you purchase 256 or 512 GB of flash then buy a USB 3 external hard drive to store all your project files. 

For whatever reason, putting the ATA and the flash together in the fusion combo has caused more than its fair share of problems for recordists. The new iMacs are just around the corder (2014) so we'll have to wait and see how things change. 

Best Shred Pedal

First of all, is a distortion pedal necessary for shred guitar? I’d say yes, insofar as your amp’s preamp section is lacking gobs of distortion and you don't possess the best technique. Why? Shredding is more or less synonymous with playing fast and, while it would be natural for you to assume that shredders, for the most part, possess above average technical chops, you’d be mistaken. The distortion pedal is useful for shredding because it will compress your sound and provide the illusion that you possess skills you do not have. Sometimes the distortion pedal has been referred to as "instant talent." There's truth to that. 

You almost never see a shredder ‘shredding’ on a clean guitar or acoustic because they rely on distortion as a crutch. Distortion is just a word for higher order harmonic overtones, the more distortion, the more compression. 

Distortion helps to level out all the notes you play (or misplay) so that you get an even sound — which falls apart as soon as the distortion box is switched off, revealing the fact that you are a hack with terrible technique.

There’s a baldheaded clown on youtube, for example, that teaches speed techniques for tweens who leans on the most distortion I’ve ever heard on a guitar. It might as well just be a synth patch. When you have that much distortion going you can just mush your way through a sequence and whether you hit the strings accurately or just scrape, ping, chop, or drop your pick altogether, your fretting hand can keep it going with nothing more than a shit ton of distortion flattening things out. 

Which pedal is best for shredding? The one that emphasizes the most upper-midrange frequencies. You don’t want a lot of low end to muddy up affairs. An old Tube Screamer or one of the thousands of clones will get the job done — just crank it up and use the tone knob to make it bright. Also, some shredders will solo using a wah pedal as part of their sonic crutch because that is useful for carving out a lot of extraneous noise their bad technique engenders.


You’ll know you have the right distortion pedal when you find the one/setting that makes pinch harmonics the easiest. Go out a try a few and find the one that you can make squeal like a pig and you’re good to go. 



Best Distortion Pedal for Shredding

First of all, is a distortion pedal necessary for shred guitar? I’d say yes, insofar as your amp’s preamp section is lacking gobs of distortion and you don't possess the best technique. Why? Shredding is more or less synonymous with playing fast and, while it would be natural for you to assume that shredders, for the most part, possess above average technical chops, you’d be mistaken. The distortion pedal is useful for shredding because it will compress your sound and provide the illusion that you possess skills you do not have. Sometimes the distortion pedal has been referred to as "instant talent." There's truth to that. 

You almost never see a shredder ‘shredding’ on a clean guitar or acoustic because they rely on distortion as a crutch. Distortion is just a word for higher order harmonic overtones, the more distortion, the more compression. 

Distortion helps to level out all the notes you play (or misplay) so that you get an even sound — which falls apart as soon as the distortion box is switched off, revealing the fact that you are a hack with terrible technique.

There’s a baldheaded clown on youtube, for example, that teaches speed techniques for tweens who leans on the most distortion I’ve ever heard on a guitar. It might as well just be a synth patch. When you have that much distortion going you can just mush your way through a sequence and whether you hit the strings accurately or just scrape, ping, chop, or drop your pick altogether, your fretting hand can keep it going with nothing more than a shit ton of distortion flattening things out. 

Which pedal is best for shredding? The one that emphasizes the most upper-midrange frequencies. You don’t want a lot of low end to muddy up affairs. An old Tube Screamer or one of the thousands of clones will get the job done — just crank it up and use the tone knob to make it bright. Also, some shredders will solo using a wah pedal as part of their sonic crutch because that is useful for carving out a lot of extraneous noise their bad technique engenders.


You’ll know you have the right distortion pedal when you find the one/setting that makes pinch harmonics the easiest. Go out a try a few and find the one that you can make squeal like a pig and you’re good to go. 


Best Distortion Pedal for Shred Guitar

First of all, is a distortion pedal necessary for shred guitar? I’d say yes, insofar as your amp’s preamp section is lacking gobs of distortion and you don't possess the best technique. Why? Shredding is more or less synonymous with playing fast and, while it would be natural for you to assume that shredders, for the most part, possess above average technical chops, you’d be mistaken. The distortion pedal is useful for shredding because it will compress your sound and provide the illusion that you possess skills you do not have. Sometimes the distortion pedal has been referred to as "instant talent." There's truth to that. 

You almost never see a shredder ‘shredding’ on a clean guitar or acoustic because they rely on distortion as a crutch. Distortion is just a word for higher order harmonic overtones, the more distortion, the more compression. 

Distortion helps to level out all the notes you play (or misplay) so that you get an even sound — which falls apart as soon as the distortion box is switched off, revealing the fact that you are a hack with terrible technique.

There’s a baldheaded clown on youtube, for example, that teaches speed techniques for tweens who leans on the most distortion I’ve ever heard on a guitar. It might as well just be a synth patch. When you have that much distortion going you can just mush your way through a sequence and whether you hit the strings accurately or just scrape, ping, chop, or drop your pick altogether, your fretting hand can keep it going with nothing more than a shit ton of distortion flattening things out. 

Which pedal is best for shredding? The one that emphasizes the most upper-midrange frequencies. You don’t want a lot of low end to muddy up affairs. An old Tube Screamer or one of the thousands of clones will get the job done — just crank it up and use the tone knob to make it bright. Also, some shredders will solo using a wah pedal as part of their sonic crutch because that is useful for carving out a lot of extraneous noise their bad technique engenders.


You’ll know you have the right distortion pedal when you find the one/setting that makes pinch harmonics the easiest. Go out a try a few and find the one that you can make squeal like a pig and you’re good to go. 


Randy Rhoads: Overrated Architect of Bad 80s Guitar Sounds

The 80s metal sound actually does not come into existence, formally, until 1981 when Marshall released the JCM 800 amplifier which incorporated a master volume control and unleashed the era of preamp saturation. Of course, it took a while for the 800 to become ubiquitous so, really, it is the recordings of the mid-80s that represent the apex of the 80s sound.

Metal prior to the JCM 800 (still subsumed under the classic rock rubric) are exemplified by such albums as Back in Black by AC/DC or Screaming for Vengeance by Judas Priest. In adulthood one may look back and dismiss these records as juvenile (and they are, especially the vile misogyny of AC/DC) but the guitar sounds are timeless, whereas metal albums from the mid 80s that relied on the 800 sound ridiculously dated and cartoonish; when we hear "80s metal" we think of hair metal bands.

And bands with great guitar sounds in the late 70s and early 80s, like Judas Priest, succumbed to the cheap thrills of preamp saturation -- and suffered because of it. Contrast the full-bodied sounds of Screaming for Vengeance (1982) representing the 'Plexi' sound to Turbo (1986) just a few years later where you hear the JCM 800. The sound is thin, bright, and crispy. Notice the heavy reliance on synthesizers to fill out the thin sound of the guitars in the mix. Screaming will live forever whereas Turbo will live in infamy. And once bands drank the preamp saturation Kool Aid they tended to go even further sideways into Rocktron preamps and whatnot.

The horrible reign of the JCM 800 was not displaced until Metallica made the shift from the JCM 800  on the first few albums (Kill 'Em All is a good representation of their early sound) to Mesa Boogie (best represented on the so-called 'Black' album in 1991). As Hetfield stated:

“The last time I used a distortion [overdrive] pedal was on Ride the Lightning, and it was hell. It was an Ibanez Tube Screamer like Kirk uses. It really helps his solos cut through, but it puts a shitty coating on smooth rhythm tones, and it was hard to make it not sound like a pedal. You can recognize Marshall distortion in an instant; that's why I shied away from that and went with MESA/Boogies.”

And who was to blame for this 80s sound where everybody wanted a fizzy, bright, thin sound? Was it just Marshall forcing new technology on guitarists or was there a prestigious sound on the charts that everybody wanted to achieve?

Listen to Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard of Oz (1980) or Diary of a Madman (1981) with Randy Rhoads making two Marshall Super Leads from the 70s sound as bad as possible. These recording sound like he was prevented from cranking his amps and making up for the loss of power amp saturation with pedals. But what is the real story?

“Before recording Blizzard of Ozz with Ozzy, Randy ordered some Marshall amps direct from the factory, based on the 1959 Super Lead but customised with white Tolex and including several modifications. The most important of these mods is a change to the way the two channels interact with each other. Typically, a Marshall Super Lead would have two channels, I and II, which each have 2 inputs. Players discovered early on that they could run these two channels together by joining them up with a short cable, but the 1959RR offers an internally-facilitated variation on this idea, all in the name of increased gain. The mod, which is only on channel II, cascades both halves of the first 12AX7 preamp valve, feeding the output of the first stage into the input of the second, instead of using each half separately for channels I and II. This effectively makes channel I’s volume control function as a master volume, while turning the channel II volume into a gain control. Or if you are after a classic Super Lead sound, just plug in to channel I, throw in some industrial-strength earplugs and off you go.”

So, perhaps, we can thank Randy Rhoads, one of the most overrated guitarists in history, for the shitty sound of the 80s. I recall very well the Blizzard/Rhoads effect as a young guitarist in the US in the early 80s. Everybody wanted that thin shitty sound all of a sudden and the old Plexi amps were being sold/traded for the new 800 amps that helped to create an entire era of unlistenable music. 




Marshall JCM 800

The 80s metal sound actually does not come into existence, formally, until 1981 when Marshall released the JCM 800 amplifier which incorporated a master volume control and unleashed the era of preamp saturation. Of course, it took a while for the 800 to become ubiquitous so, really, it is the recordings of the mid-80s that represent the apex of the 80s sound.

Metal prior to the JCM 800 (still subsumed under the classic rock rubric) are exemplified by such albums as Back in Black by AC/DC or Screaming for Vengeance by Judas Priest. In adulthood one may look back and dismiss these records as juvenile (and they are, especially the vile misogyny of AC/DC) but the guitar sounds are timeless, whereas metal albums from the mid 80s that relied on the 800 sound ridiculously dated and cartoonish; when we hear "80s metal" we think of hair metal bands.

And bands with great guitar sounds in the late 70s and early 80s, like Judas Priest, succumbed to the cheap thrills of preamp saturation -- and suffered because of it. Contrast the full-bodied sounds of Screaming for Vengeance (1982) representing the 'Plexi' sound to Turbo (1986) just a few years later where you hear the JCM 800. The sound is thin, bright, and crispy. Notice the heavy reliance on synthesizers to fill out the thin sound of the guitars in the mix. Screaming will live forever whereas Turbo will live in infamy. And once bands drank the preamp saturation Kool Aid they tended to go even further sideways into Rocktron preamps and whatnot.

The horrible reign of the JCM 800 was not displaced until Metallica made the shift from the JCM 800  on the first few albums (Kill 'Em All is a good representation of their early sound) to Mesa Boogie (best represented on the so-called 'Black' album in 1991). As Hetfield stated:

“The last time I used a distortion [overdrive] pedal was on Ride the Lightning, and it was hell. It was an Ibanez Tube Screamer like Kirk uses. It really helps his solos cut through, but it puts a shitty coating on smooth rhythm tones, and it was hard to make it not sound like a pedal. You can recognize Marshall distortion in an instant; that's why I shied away from that and went with MESA/Boogies.”

And who was to blame for this 80s sound where everybody wanted a fizzy, bright, thin sound? Was it just Marshall forcing new technology on guitarists or was there a prestigious sound on the charts that everybody wanted to achieve?

Listen to Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard of Oz (1980) or Diary of a Madman (1981) with Randy Rhoads making two Marshall Super Leads from the 70s sound as bad as possible. These recording sound like he was prevented from cranking his amps and making up for the loss of power amp saturation with pedals. But what is the real story?

“Before recording Blizzard of Ozz with Ozzy, Randy ordered some Marshall amps direct from the factory, based on the 1959 Super Lead but customised with white Tolex and including several modifications. The most important of these mods is a change to the way the two channels interact with each other. Typically, a Marshall Super Lead would have two channels, I and II, which each have 2 inputs. Players discovered early on that they could run these two channels together by joining them up with a short cable, but the 1959RR offers an internally-facilitated variation on this idea, all in the name of increased gain. The mod, which is only on channel II, cascades both halves of the first 12AX7 preamp valve, feeding the output of the first stage into the input of the second, instead of using each half separately for channels I and II. This effectively makes channel I’s volume control function as a master volume, while turning the channel II volume into a gain control. Or if you are after a classic Super Lead sound, just plug in to channel I, throw in some industrial-strength earplugs and off you go.”

So, perhaps, we can thank Randy Rhoads, one of the most overrated guitarists in history, for the shitty sound of the 80s. I recall very well the Blizzard/Rhoads effect as a young guitarist in the US in the early 80s. Everybody wanted that thin shitty sound all of a sudden and the old Plexi amps were being sold/traded for the new 800 amps that helped to create an entire era of unlistenable music. 




The Marshall JCM 800 and the 80s Metal Sound

The 80s metal sound actually does not come into existence, formally, until 1981 when Marshall released the JCM 800 amplifier which incorporated a master volume control and unleashed the era of preamp saturation. Of course, it took a while for the 800 to become ubiquitous so, really, it is the recordings of the mid-80s that represent the apex of the 80s sound.

Metal prior to the JCM 800 (still subsumed under the category of classic rock) are exemplified by such albums as Back in Black by AC/DC or Screaming for Vengeance by Judas Priest. In adulthood one may look back and dismiss these records as juvenile (and they are, especially the vile misogyny of AC/DC) but the guitar sounds are timeless, whereas metal albums from the mid 80s that relied on the 800 sound ridiculously dated and cartoonish; when we hear "80s metal" we think of hair metal bands.

And bands with great guitar sounds in the late 70s and early 80s, like Judas Priest, succumbed to the cheap thrills of preamp saturation -- and suffered because of it. Contrast the full-bodied sounds of Screaming for Vengeance (1982) representing the 'Plexi' sound to Turbo (1986) just a few years later where you hear the JCM 800. The sound is thin, bright, and crispy. Notice the heavy reliance on synthesizers to fill out the thin sound of the guitars in the mix. Screaming will live forever whereas Turbo will live in infamy. And once bands drank the preamp saturation Kool Aid they tended to go even further sideways into Rocktron preamps and whatnot.

The horrible reign of the JCM 800 was not displaced until Metallica made the shift from the JCM 800  on the first few albums (Kill 'Em All is a good representation of their early sound) to Mesa Boogie (best represented on the so-called 'Black' album in 1991). As Hetfield stated:

“The last time I used a distortion [overdrive] pedal was on Ride the Lightning, and it was hell. It was an Ibanez Tube Screamer like Kirk uses. It really helps his solos cut through, but it puts a shitty coating on smooth rhythm tones, and it was hard to make it not sound like a pedal. You can recognize Marshall distortion in an instant; that's why I shied away from that and went with MESA/Boogies.”

And who was to blame for this 80s sound where everybody wanted a fizzy, bright, thin sound? Was it just Marshall forcing new technology on guitarists or was there a prestigious sound on the charts that everybody wanted to achieve?

Listen to Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard of Oz (1980) or Diary of a Madman (1981) with Randy Rhoads making two Marshall Super Leads from the 70s sound as bad as possible. These recording sound like he was prevented from cranking his amps and making up for the loss of power amp saturation with pedals. But what is the real story?

“Before recording Blizzard of Ozz with Ozzy, Randy ordered some Marshall amps direct from the factory, based on the 1959 Super Lead but customised with white Tolex and including several modifications. The most important of these mods is a change to the way the two channels interact with each other. Typically, a Marshall Super Lead would have two channels, I and II, which each have 2 inputs. Players discovered early on that they could run these two channels together by joining them up with a short cable, but the 1959RR offers an internally-facilitated variation on this idea, all in the name of increased gain. The mod, which is only on channel II, cascades both halves of the first 12AX7 preamp valve, feeding the output of the first stage into the input of the second, instead of using each half separately for channels I and II. This effectively makes channel I’s volume control function as a master volume, while turning the channel II volume into a gain control. Or if you are after a classic Super Lead sound, just plug in to channel I, throw in some industrial-strength earplugs and off you go.”

So, perhaps, we can thank Randy Rhoads, one of the most overrated guitarists in history, for the shitty sound of the 80s. I recall very well the Blizzard/Rhoads effect as a young guitarist in the US in the early 80s. Everybody wanted that thin shitty sound all of a sudden and the old Plexi amps were being sold/traded for the new 800 amps that helped to create an entire era of unlistenable music. 



Saturday, October 11, 2014

How To Shred On Guitar

How To Shred (Part I)

Well, first of all, we need to figure out what kind of "shredder" you want to be!

Which of these statements do you find most agreeable?

A. I like leather pants and songs about dragons, rainbows, and castle maidens. Thinking about vikings, bronze underwear, and armed conflict turn me on.

B. I like classical music and heavy metal about the same and I also think that champagne goes well with corn dogs and cotton candy.

C. I want to specialize in one technique that will make me go as fast as I can even though it will make me sound repetitive and predictable. I may or may not be okay with a day job.

D. I like random note generators, calculus, and the word "jazz." I'm okay with either a day job or homelessness.

E. I could look good in motorcycle racing outfits and I like jazz.

F. I'm down with producing terrifying sound art that freaks people out, living in abject poverty, and dying young.

G. I (a) love myself and think I am the center of the universe or (b) I hate myself and hate you so that I can love myself in my self-hating projection.


If you chose A, you need to check out neoclassical rockers like Yngwie and hone those alternate picking skills and maybe a little legato. Eat as much as possible and take boxing lessons for when your maiden gets out of hand.

If you chose B, you need to check out guys like Paul Gilbert and work on alternate picking. Invest in ear plugs. No, seriously. Oh, and a cordless drill could come in handy.

If you chose C, you need to check out Joe Satriani (legato) or the king of the zig-zag arpeggio sequences of doom, Frank Gambale (sweep picking). You'll also need to invest in hair replacement solutions very soon. Do you like hats?

If you chose D, take lessons from any fusion dude you find living in a cardboard box in NYC or Boston. Main technique is, apparently, rolling your guitar down a flight of stairs over the changes to "Giant Steps."

If you chose E, you need to check out my main man, Burnin' Vernon Reid and turn your picking hand all the way around until it hurts then alternate pick like a man possessed by demons. You'll also need  an effects system that makes the NASA control room seem like a Hasbro Lite Brite by comparison.

If you chose F, Shawn Lane is your dude and you should just give up now. However, you might emulate his chain smoking habit and comrade style hat. Kicking the habit? Arthur Rhames is your man and you should just kill yourself now.

IF you chose G, your models are either Steve Vai or Al Di "Mute them all and let god sort them out" ola. You'll need either a mirror + a bad horsie (you naughty, naughty boy) or psychoanalysis and an Italian sports car.

Stay Tuned for Part II where we'll work on those specific techniques you'll need to shred your way into the hearts and minds of young white competitive males everywhere.






Friday, October 10, 2014

Eric Johnson Stratocaster Stiff Action Problem

I see complaints regarding the "stiff" action of the Eric Johnson model Strat. Is this guitar unusually difficult to play? A lot of variables come into play in determining the ease or difficult of playing a guitar.

I discuss the nature of the EJ Strat in the following video and I encourage you to also check out our article on how to correct a guitar with stiff action. A don't miss the piece on vintage frets.






Eric Johnson Stratocaster E String Problem

A lot of folks complain about the 1st E string on the EJ Strat running too close to the edge of the fretboard but what people don't seem to recall is that this is how Eric Johnson's Strats are setup. If your 1st string is off the neck or incapable of being fretted then, yes, this is a factory defect but if it is just weirdly close to the side of the neck compared to your other guitars, this is actually how the guitar is supposed to ship, it is setup this way according to the original specifications. This was all explained in his early video lesson, Total Electric Guitar, back in 1990. The nut is cut to shift all the stings slightly to the treble side of the neck. I discuss this in the following video:










Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Studio Tip: Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard

We spend a lot of time thinking about computers, interfaces, microphones, preamps, effects, and so on, but one of the most useful things you can get for your studio is a wireless keyboard.

I use a bluetooth-enabled Apple keyboard with my iMac running the Reaper DAW.

I set up a custom command in Reaper such that the "." keystroke automatically stops the recording, undoes what has been recorded, rewinds to the beginning of the project and when I'm ready to record again, the custom keystroke "r" gets me going again.

This way, I can set up my stereo mic system in another room with better acoustics and away from the computer fan noise while still controlling transport, recording, playback, undoing things, etc.

Taking things a step further, some interfaces now utilize remote control via an app on your iPad or iPhone to control levels and whatnot. You can step away from your computer and simultaneously be the performer and the engineer without running back and forth constantly.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Apogee Ensemble Thunderbolt

Well, here it is folks, and it looks amazing. Check out all the specs at Apogee if you haven't already.

This Thunderbolt 2 interface has everything and more that a recordist needs for a project studio.



My only reservation is this: Thunderbolt is here and now but will it fade away like FireWire, leaving owners of this with nothing? You cannot even get a TB to FW adapter (FW to TB is available) and there is no USB 3 port to future-proof the relatively large investment ($2500).

I used to record with a PCI card, then came PCI-express, which I skipped on (relying on my PCI card for ten years or more with three computers) then I got another interface to use with the FireWire port on my iMac and now Apple has phased it out.

I can easily imagine buying my new iMac in March with TB and, six or seven years later, when that iMac is outdated, replacing it with another only to find out that TB has bitten the dust and we're on to the next great thing. And you know there's going to be a next great thing, there always is.

Let's put it this way: my new iMac (2015) will have a TB connection and an array of USB3 connections. The computer I buy in 2022 will have an array of USB connections (backward compatible with USB 3 if things have progressed beyond version 3) but will it have a TB connection? That's anybody's guess. USB has been around for 20 years, that's right, since the mid-90s. And you can bet that it will going strong years from now.

An interface of this quality and price could easily last a person ten years or much more but only if the surrounding hardware is compatible. And I can see adapters looming on the horizon but I hate those compromises.

I was so ready to jump on board with this Ensemble (I love the sound of a little Duet that I own) but I think I'll stick with RME for my next interface.

Perhaps RME will now see the light and release a TB box but, I'd be willing to bet that if they do, a USB3 connection will also round out their unit. But even if they continue to shun TB, as I suspect they will, their USB3 technology is definitely future proof whereas the TB route is uncertain to say the least.

And I see that Apogee, in Q&A over this new interface, has poo-pooed USB and made bold assertions regarding the future:

Regarding USB, Ensemble simply could not perform with the same incredibly low latency and efficiency through USB. We were shooting for more of a "Tesla" design rather than a "Chevy Volt" - the very best Thunderbolt interface possible, and not a Thunderbolt+compromised-USB hybrid. We know not everyone can use a Thunderbolt audio interface yet just like not everyone can drive a pure-electric car, but we wanted to design this unit for the present and the future.

But the performance that RME is getting out of USB (they have the first USB3 interface) is simply astonishing and if I spend $2K on their top-flight interface (saving money up front as well) I can rest assured that, while it might not be as amazing as the new TB protocol, at least I can make it last over the life of two or three computers. Can Apogee really guarantee that the Ensemble TB is built for the future, as they claim? I hope so, but I'm not willing to bet $2500 on it when less spent on RME is a sure thing.



Monday, October 6, 2014

Apogee Jam 96K

I've been using the Apogee Jam 96K daily for the last few months and I gotta say, this piece of kit is really awesome.




I use it in conjunction with Positive Grid's JamUp app on my iPhone 5. At first, there was no love but after rebooting my phone a couple of times and fiddling with the settings in JamUp it all came together perfectly. And thanks goes out to my buddy, Chris Shaffer for the P-Grid recommendation.

No noticeable latency, good sound, solidly built for what it is, and zero problems with reliability.

And here's a little tip for you: if you're using a highly distorted amp simulation, like a virtual Plexi that "goes to eleven" and want an easy boost just crank the input volume on the Jam. Naturally, you'd think that doing so would induce a horrible digital over distortion but it can actually sound quite good, not what I expected at all. Doing this does not sound good with a clean 'amp' setting. So, obviously, you should try that as well. ;-)






Gibson Price Increase 2015 and Other Derangements

Gibson has whipped the masses into a frenzy with the announcement of a 25% price increase in guitars along with a host of other changes you can read about on this page at Sweetwater.

This is the same deranged company who brought you the Firebird X; got into a scrape with the federal government and went all Tea Party on everybody; and came out with a Ralph Macchio Crossroads Tele.

And don't even get me started on their neck joints or their Bumblebee Caps (external link).

Now this: whopping price increases, min-Etuners, brass zero frets, holograms, etc. Why all this?






First is the simple financial reality of selling guitars in the US. The market is hyper-saturated. There are way too many guitars on the market and most are really high quality.

Firms will be biting the dust. It's just a matter of time. The economic recovery post-2008 is largely an illusion: the jobs that have been created are low-level dead end things for the most part and the stock market success is mostly driven by corporate buy-backs in the billions of dollars. That will come to an end sooner rather than later and we will see a major "correction" which means the market bubble will implode and, likely, we will see another breakdown in capital markets that shook up a lot of guitar companies last time (e.g., PRS).

Wages have stagnated for 44 years (in real dollars) and prices of guitars keep going up at the top end of the market and, accordingly, down in the bottom end of the market. Which means that, like the world of handguns and other superfluous items, there are fewer and fewer people every year buying this stuff but those who are buying are buying a lot of it.

This means that a company has to come up with new things to stand out from the crowd. What looks like "innovation" is really just market differentiation -- what sociologists call making distinctions.

Remember the wipers on Benz headlights some years ago? Yeah, like that. Pointless but memorable.
Read our article, The Difference between Making and Selling Guitars for more on "distinctions."


Gibson is making high end guitars in the US which means paying relatively high wages, being relatively regulated, and paying relatively high taxes (though, with all the loopholes that US firms have in the tax code, the corporate tax rate in the US puts them about middle of the pack, a far different reality than the propaganda foisted by Republicans).

In other words, props to Gibson for not simply moving all of their production to some hellhole where unions are formally outlawed, there are no regulations at all, no taxes, etc., and where workers are paid virtually nothing.

But just as America itself is devolving into a deranged and dysfunctional nightmare we should expect business in general, the guitar market included, to reflect the abandonment of the middle class, stagnation, austerity, and so on, for the biomass at the bottom of the social hierarchy, and weird, shiny baubles alternating with mythical golden pasts at the top of the market.







In Defense of Vintage Frets

Low, small, vintage, whatever you want to call them, I used to avoid them like the plague in favor of extra jumbo, jumbo, medium jumbo frets (so long as it had jumbo in the name).

In the last couple of years, for whatever reason, I acquired a couple of guitars that feature small frets, those low, skinny things that find your fretting fingers all over the fretboard ... or, really, fingerboard now.

One of these guitars is the Eric Johnson Strat



At first I thought this was going to be an unsurmountable problem and made plans to have them refretted with medium jumbo stainless steel wire.

But the more I played them the more I found myself altering my technique such that I was actually playing with better technique: more on the fingertips and less fingerprint, if you know what I mean.

Then those guitars grew on me. Especially the acoustic, a Martin OOO-15M that I've played every day since I've owned it. What a killer guitar.

The Joe's of the World

I'm pretty clueless when it comes to the flavor of the month but I have heard of this "Joe B" a few times and ran into this YouTube video which made me realize that most "guitarists" are actually "guitarists" in the same way I am a "drummer."

I would guess somewhere around 90% players are pretty terrible as players and musicians -- not actual players but "owners" of guitars, pretty clueless, easily impressed, and with an eye toward the past, recreating the past in the present, and with no concern for pushing the envelope.

I've owned a drum set for about 8 years, I chimp around on it, sometimes I can lay down some beats that are good enough to use in recordings, but I'm not even sure about what I'm doing when "tuning" the drums....that is a surprisingly esoteric operation as drums are not actually "tuned" to anything in particular which makes a "dead" kit preferable to one that resonates or breathes. As far as drum equipment goes I stick with what the herd uses and recommends.

I use Remo heads and ProMark sticks. Why? I have no idea, really. It just happened that way. Lots of people use them. I watched some famous dude, I cannot remember who he was, describe how awesome ProMark sticks were on YouTube, I guess.

Now, I do recognize amazing drumming when I hear it (and I can form an independent judgement between two cymbals based on sound and empirical observation) but since I'm not committed to being a drummer, it's like a side hobby to the guitar thing, I don't even bother trying to figure out what some of these monster players are doing. Why bother? I'm not going to practice drums for hours on end, day after day, year after year, so I just worry about playing simple things and try to play them more or less in time and with some degree of swing. And I tend to just go the lazy route and if I stumble into something I just go with that.

Those are pretty modest goals and, consequently, I'm easily impressed with really average skills and insights. I put "tone" and "feel" ahead of "chops" and complexity. And since amazing skill is so difficult to achieve (and really impossible given my lack of dedication to drums) I can focus on those things that are relatively easy to grasp: rudiments and gear and talking the simple lingo of the common lot.

I'm a peasant on the drums, not a prince.

Joe B is, like a lot of players, a guy known for being known. He's another guy who is good because he has some degree of fame, rather than being famous for being good. Joe B is like Average White Man elevated one or two rungs over the empirically existing average white man. He's not the Jesus of Guitardom, he's like the Arch Bishop of Guitardom.

Am I saying Bonamassa is not a good guitar player? Of course not, but "good" is in the eye of the beholder and if you're "not good" then mediocre can look pretty good and reconstructed to mean "tasteful" and "restrained" etc.

When SRV died the world was hungry for a clone to keep the flame alive, to have anything in the world of the living to keep them in touch with what was gone, even if it was just a heap of burning yard waste, and they momentarily worshiped some kid named Kenny and pushed him out on the stage of ACL and surrounded him with people already famous so that their fame would transfer to him in some degree. I recall his debut on ACL, it was so pathetic. Some kid who was so desperate to be taken seriously he took a sander to the face of his Strat to emulate the look of a guitar worn out by decades of playing.

The Joe's, Kenny's, and the Derek's of the world, etc., they're just a notch or two above what the average slob can imagine themselves doing so they are promoted by the music industry and gear manufacturers love to use them as tools to sell more stuff to people who will remain perpetually below average players, rocking out in their basements, and watching YouTube videos on "pro tips" on how to get the most use out of their volume and tone knobs.

I went to see Scofield play one time in Lawrence, KS where he opened for Derek Trucks. Man, that was a sight to behold. DT just stood in a corner of the stage in his drab, frumpy outfit playing his drab SG, with his head down the entire time, playing uninspired, cliche slide licks. Sco came out and ripped his head off -- at one point he "got all up in his grill" and nearly pushed him off the stage, trying to coax anything inspiring out of this kid. When we left, some guy walking next to me on the sidewalk got his phone out and excitedly informed the person on the other end that he discovered this great new guitarist named Derek Trucks who was just amazing: "He just stood there with his head down playing slide."

The gist of the message was: we could do that. Yeah, if you like the Joe's of this world you can imagine being on stage and getting your head ripped off by Sco. How awesome would that be?








Sunday, October 5, 2014

Zildjian Custom Dark vs Meinl Byzance Dark

When I bought my first set of darks nine years ago I went with a trusted name and got some cymbals that sound good and perform well.




I was perfectly happy until a year later I ran into some Byzance darks from Meinl. Back then Meinl wasn't as big a name and I wasn't that familiar with their products but after trying these out I was no longer content with the Zildjians and ran out and bought some of these.


Of course, you cannot really compare Customs and Byzance as they have different sounds and textures but the human mind insists on comparisons and declaring preferences -- and, at the end of the day, if I had to choose one set of darks I'd easily keep the Byzance cymbals and sell my Zildjian K collection.

The materials, workmanship, vibe, sound, nuance, complexity, etc., are all superior in the Meinl cymbals. The Z's are fine but the Byzance cymbals have that extra mojo that the others lack.




AKG K 701 Studio Reference Headphones

The AKG K701 is a certifiable classic in the world of audiophile and studio monitoring. But is it the right headphone for you?

I got my pair of 701 because I was stuck in a basement with lousy acoustics and, despite having good monitors (old pair of Tannoy) I was not getting anything like an accurate representation of the bottom of my mixes.

So, I shelled out the medium bucks on a pair of these.




Were they worth the added expense over the run of the mill headphones? Well, maybe, maybe not.

They do sound fantastic but my mixes ended up sounding bass heavy when relying on them compared to a $100 pair of Sennheiser HD280 Pro (which resulted in my mixes having weak low end).

I've since relocated out of my basement and rely on my near-field monitors in combination with spot checking with these AKG and the Sennheiser headphones. It's a learning process that results in using each source to provide the information they are best suited to provide. I hope my mixes improve over time using this method.

I will say this about the K701: they work best if you have a big ol' buckethead. Out of all the pair of headphones around here these AKG are the weirdest fit. If you don't have a big head you might steer clear of these and go with something from AT or Sennheiser that seem to fit normal heads better.

The ear cups are also heavy compared to the tension mechanism that prevents them from drooping. They feel like they're falling down sometimes.

Would I buy them again? I don't think so. The sound is amazing but I don't trust them to relay accurate info about my mixes and they don't fit that great.




Saturday, October 4, 2014

Gear Junkies: The Downward Spiral of Endorsement Deals

Like virtually all realms of social life, the music business is a miserable place with a few lucky souls on top raking in gajillions of dollars and the 'eternally damned remainder' fighting over the scraps. Typically, those that 'make it' are either (a) temporary corporate shills that look good and move around well on stage until the next big thing comes along, or, (b) mega groups that become multinational corporate entities in their own right, that team up with other multinationals to cram products down our throats whether we want it or not (Yeah, I'm looking' at you, U2).

The people left scrambling for the crumbs that 'trickle down' find themselves giving lessons, playing in less-than-glamours venues, and trying to attract the attention of media, fans, and, of course, entities that provide the means of production, i.e., vying for an endorsement deal.

Now, the musicians life is hazardous and there are seemingly endless sad cases of life gone sideways: wearing tight leather pants in your 60s, playing songs about dragons and rainbows in your 50s (while wearing tight leather pants), the overdoses, the addictions that make all your teeth fall out, the suicides, the bankruptcies, the overdoses....uh..... There are a lot of things worse than a bad endorsement deal, for sure, but where suicides and addictions happen quickly or unfold in private, nothing is more public and potentially humiliating (setting aside dragon castle rainbow songs) than losing your endorsement deal and having to beg downstream from a company with a lot less prestige.

One day, in your late 20s or early 30s you're on the cover of Guitar Player magazine sporting a new guitar from MegaCorp and 20 years later you've been dumped by Mega Corp, Macro Corp, Meso Corp, and Mini Corp and now you're dragging around your new signature guitar, the GulagGreed SUX made by a Slumsonesian subsidiary of Obnoxicorp Ltd. You spend your days giving lessons to kids who don't even know who you were back in the 80s, they don't want to learn that ridiculous lick that made you famous back in the day, and you spend your nights streaming your own back catalog on Spotify in the mistaken belief that doing so will earn you a few extra bucks.

When you finally arrive on YouTube shilling this abomination while blinking into the camera like a traumatized prisoner of war it's time to call it a day and move on to your next gig in life. As Hegel said, there are things worse than death -- such as leather pants and shilling poor quality wares that nobody needs. Why is that you ask? Clinging desperately to any or every endorsement deal that comes along signifies to the world that you will cling in fear to this thing called "musician" to the detriment of being a person; and worse, that you are a willing slave to the commodity form and corporate masters -- that your being is coterminous with sales and transactions. You are not a free being in any way, shape, or form, and have lost what it means to be a human being rather than being reduced to a pathetic tool for anything that presents itself to you. When you arrive at that moment in your musical life it is time to admit that facing the unknown outside of the music business (where you function as a gear junkie) is better than being a dreg and spectacle within the music industry.