The Siren’s Song Of Old School
More and more, I get players who stick with un-amplified acoustic guitar for performance. Mind you, playing acoustic guitar and really articulating every note can a BEAR, but it’s such a dynamic instrument that gives you back exactly what you put into it. There’s something really satisfying about strumming a chord on an acoustic and just having it decay naturally.
However, this isn’t about the easy solution. ; )
A Tale of Two Gigs
A while back – I talked about how I had taken my POD HD500 out for a show and was really surprised by how well the Tones went across. Basically I had 2 dirty and 2 clean tones (Really one dirty and one clean with a slight variation) – and running that out into the hall with a single QSC K-8 speaker.
After the latest Variax debacle, I decided to upgrade to the POD HD500X and, as I understood it, the only real difference was an upgrade in switches, and more memory so my tones would remain exactly the same.
But a funny thing happened. I played another gig – with the same group and in the same hall, and this time a PA was set up. So I ran a stereo pair to the house through the XLR outs and also ran a line out to my QSC K-8.
And I wasn’t digging my tone.
It was really shrill and strange and I was fighting it (along with the looper which was acting a little glitchy as well) for the duration of the evening. I was able to limp through the gig but I wasn’t psyched.
So I went back to the drawing board.
Whatever happened to that Laptop Guitar Rig?
Several of you may remember a NUMBER of posts about my laptop rig (Just check the Blueprints page for the Laptop Guitar Rig section). Funny thing about that. My laptop got really out of date.
Enough so that running any kind of intensive audio software on it required disc repairs, defragging and obscure incantations.
Gradually, my system wouldn’t support the newer versions of AU LAB, and my software wouldn’t run on the updates I had.
I still use it for sound sculpture, but it’s been a little too glitchy to run live. But one idea that I had there (running a signal out to a impulse response for a more 3-D tone) was one that still appealed to me as it seemed like I couldn’t get a tone out of the cabs without MAJOR EQ tweaking that worked for me. Also, I liked a few of the distortions but I also felt limited with the models there. So I started looking into solutions outside the POD.
DAMN!!! The Torpedo! Full Speed Ahead!
Here’s the first part of the solution. A local music shop had a used version of a Two Notes Torpedo C.A.B. for sale for about 1/2 the street price. After sitting on that for a while (and seeing it sit around on the shelf desperately looking for an owner) I offered them $20 less than the asking price and brought it come.
The Torpedo Cab is basically a speaker cabinet simulator that acts as an Impulse Response (IR) loader in a stompbox format. It doesn’t have any load box capabilities so you can’t use it directly with your JCM 800 speaker out (they do make gear you can run right out of a power amp into) – but it offers substantial tonal flexibility. In addition to using their own format (which allows for virtual mic placement and different cab and mic options) you can also use a simulated power amp and EQ which is accessible through either the pedal screen or through the free Torpedo Remote software.
Out of the box, there were some decent cabs and mics – but I wasn’t getting them to sounded the way that I wanted them to. Fortunately, Two Notes BlendIR came to the rescue.
BlendIR is a free app that allows you to load multiple IRs and mix them down to a single file that can be read by the Torpedo CAB.
This is a big deal, because if you want to mix the sound of say a room mike, a close mic and a mid distance mike in the proprietary format, you’re out of luck as it only supports one mic at a time. In my case I had a bunch of REALLY GREAT Marshall IRs that I was able to download for free from RED WIREZ (http://www.redwirez.com/). In the above example I mixed multiple IRs to create a stacked sound I was looking for.
Also, I was obsessing about distortion a little bit and thinking a lot about how much I dug some of Shawn Lane’s dirty tones. Part of his sound started from front loading a solid-state Holmes Mississippi Bluesmaster Amp with a Westbury Tube Overdrive (later the Holmes was replaced with a Peavey Pro-Fex that Peavey had modded for him). There’s a thread with some REALLY interesting insights on his tone here (about 1/2 way down the page).
Westbury was bought out by NADY, and NADY’s TD-1 is the updated version of it.
Nady released several versions of the pedal. The original just had an on/off switch with Gain and Level controls. The current version features 3 different levels of drive, and an EQ section. Now I like some of the Line 6 distortion pedals, but they haven’t modeled enough of them for my taste, so I wanted to experiment with this.
A sale on Amazon had one shipped to me for under $100.
- It’s a REALLY sturdy pedal
- it’s relatively quiet
- it has tremendous tonal variance
The power connector is funky.
(I only mention this as making it a part of a pedal board will require more than a pedal power supply.)
While you can get high gain tones from it, I think it works best as on the low-mid gain settings – and it works great there.
The Line 6 Story I Can’t Find Now.
Somewhere in my jumble of posts is a brief anecdote about the time I met with Rich Renken when he was working at Line 6. Rich had a great story about the (much maligned) Marshall cabinet that was modeled. There were a number of people online who hated the Marshall cabinet that Line 6 had in the POD saying it sounded nothing like a Marshall.
What Rich said was funny about that was Line 6 tested a NUMBER of Marshall cabinets until they found the cabinet that everyone agreed had THE Marshall sound. That cabinet was modeled and they then A/B’d the sound of the amplified cabinet with the sound of the model and everyone there said it sounded identical. End users were brought in and they also couldn’t tell the difference. The guys at Line 6 assumed they hit a home run.
But the thing is that it’s all about context. That Marshall cab that Line 6 modeled may have sounded exactly like that cabinet miked up in a studio environment – but that same tone might not work at all in someone’s headphone mix. The tone you hear on a mastered recording is sometimes radically different than what you’d hear coming out of the cone.
So, I don’t think that the Marshall sound is awful, but I don’t think it fully works in the context that I’m trying to use my sounds in. And that’s what’s prompting the current signal chain.
The signal chain is FnH guitar –>Nady TD1 –> POD HD500X. The Nady is only used for a solo tone.
In the 500X – The FX send goes to the Torpedo CAB back into the unit.
From the 500x – I use the XLR outs for the house and run a line out to my QSC K-8 either for monitoring OR for live sound if there’s no PA.
Here’s The Signal path of the Dirty Rhythm Sound I’m Currently Using
Basically what I’ve done here is try to combine the best of both worlds. Amp A runs to the Torpedo for the cabinet sound and I’ve blended that with Amp B for the modeled cab. Some people use the Pre-Amp versions of these amps to save on DSP, but I find that the deeper amp controls like SAG play a big role in the feel of the amps. Amp B does have some additional EQ thrown on it to boos the cab sound a bit and amp A had bit of slap back delay. Both signals are then mixed (around 30% in the left channel for A and 30% in the right channel for B) and run through a common reverb for continuity.
Here’s the basic lead tone.
This is essentially the same as the rhythm tone, but I’ve removed the Tube Screamer and addd a volume and wah. I think the modeled Tube Screamer works well with the modeled amps (it sounds great when you roll of the volume a bit rhythm) – but it just didn’t have the lead sound I was looking for.
Even at lower levels, the NADY does introduce noise, and the Line 6 gate I’m using needs a lot of tweaking. There’s some digital dirt on the end of notes as they decay – so I find that the NADY is causing me to ride both Tone and Volume controls on the FnH more than before. (In other words it’s forcing me to be more expressive and thus more musical). Gain staging was a bit of an issue with the FX loop as well and it took a couple of passes to tame some sound issues there as well).
Live Versus Phone (or Phones Home)
One GREAT thing about using the QSC K-8 is that it gives me a pretty accurate picture of what my tones sound like through a PA. I like the Atomic amps I was using before a great deal, but they weren’t accurate at all for live sound, and having to mike one for the room, was completely counter to the point of running a modeler.
I’ve talked about this in other posts as well – but it’s still amusing to me just HOW different those tonal requirements are. Even after getting it close to dialed in on my phones, I had to use a different IR for the QSC with the K-8.
I’m not posting any tones now, because this is still very much a work in progress – but I’ll have something up relatively soon (hopefully a live clip!) The word of the day here is EXPERIMENT. That’s the truth of it. Plugging a box into the front of a POD may get you something out of the unit you weren’t getting before.
For now, I think I’m going to see a lot more of hybrid rig configurations in my future until digital technology fully catches up – but rest assured it’s catching up and while the all in one solution is already here for many players, I anticipate that even players like me that need some old school feel and flavor will see an all in one digital solution within the next 5-10 years (if not sooner – I’m pretty knocked out by the Positive Grid software – look for some words on that soon!) The future is not only coming, for the most part it’s already here.
Okay! Enough rambling for one day. As Always thanks for reading!