New Music, New Shows, Gear News and Guit-A-Grip Posts

Hi Everyone,

This is just a brief update of new gear, news and music with some things that may be of interest to you.

New Project

I’m playing in a new project that’s currently an acoustic duo with an incredibly talented guitarist and artist form Iran named Farzad Golpeyagani who recently relocated to the capital district.   He has an extensive discography and portfolio of projects and you can see his website here.

For those of you starting new projects or developing new things, there may be several aspects of this that might be of interest to you.

  • I met Farzad at the Festival Cinema Invisible Film Fest back in June of this year.  People that I met at that event have since opened a series of friendships which has lead to other doors, opportunities and gigs for me.   What’s interesting about this to me is that I almost didn’t end up making it to the festival and if I didn’t have full passes for the festival – I might have missed it entirely.  So (for me) it’s yet another reminder that opportunities are made more than they are found.
  • While there are several reasons for playing as an acoustic duo (rather than starting an electric band) the primary reason is flexibility.  Years ago, I played in a live hip hop band, which I loved, but trying to schedule regular rehearsals and gigs with 6 people was a perpetual mess.  Our thinking behind starting as an acoustic duo is we can make a soft launch of the project, develop material and cultivate an audience in the short term and then expand the lineup out over time.  This will eventually give us the flexibility to be able to perform small shows as a duo or larger shows as a larger ensemble.

For now, this is our acoustic guitar duo project with heavy note density – expect tunes from and/or inspired by the musics of Iran, Turkey, Spain, Romania, Northern India, Japan and other parts of the world all rolled up into some kind of Kati roll / Sushi roll / Gumbo / Goulash. 

We’re working on a name and a logo (I’ve penciled in a name of KoriSoron for the time being).  Farzad and I have been been testing out some material with soft launches at open mics in the area that have gone over very well and now we have some actual shows coming up.

  • “The birthday show” – Saturday, August 23rd – The Moon and River Cafe in Schenectady 8pm – 10pm.  Several short sets to herald in some new material which also happens to mark my birthday on the following day.   As my gift to anyone there, the show has no cover, but supporting the venue with food or beverage purchases is encouraged.
  • Thursday, September 18th – Kickoff screening for Festival Cinema Invisible‘s monthly film series at Proctor’s Theatre. FCI will be showing an Iranian Film, “Common Plight”, serving tea from the fantastic Persian Bite on Jay Street in Schenectady and have a performance by the two of us.
  • Saturday, November 1st – Amsterdam Library Fundraiser. 6pm-9pm.  No information yet but you can check back with the Amsterdam Public Library website for details.

We should have a name, website, Audio/Video and other information soon….

New Gear

For this acoustic based project, I’ve gone back to the shed for getting the tunes together and back to basics for getting the sound I want.  This required some new tools and (for anyone interested) I’ve settled on a few items for live use.

Amps – Amps might seem like a strange place to start, but given that this is an acoustic-electric project, it’s the lynchpin that holds things together.  I’ve tried a bunch of amps and none of them touch the ZT Lunchbox Acoustic.

Lunchbox_Acoustic

I’ll have a full review up in the weeks ahead but for quality of sound, features, portability and price point, nothing else even comes close.  It’s the only acoustic amp I’ll use live now.  Farzad will be using a lunchbox acoustic for our project and he’s using the regular Lunchbox  for his live electric guitar performances as well.

Guitars – I think of all the time I spent trying to get my other acoustics to work in a live setting and now laugh that I didn’t just look at guitars that are designed for electro-acoustic applications and for my money the best in the field for that is Yamaha. I’m using an APX500 II and and APX700 12-string and they both work great for live use and I’m using Yamaha acoustic electric guitars exclusively moving forward.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Years ago (as in about 6 or so), FnH guitar’s John Harper took in my custom double neck fretted/fretless that he and I designed in for some work.  The problem was that as the guitar was designed to replicate a Mosrite – the necks were too narrow for standard bridges.  So the solution was either to custom build replacement bridges or to make new necks.

New necks were made and the guitar (now forever dubbed “The Harper Albatross”) was delivered last Thursday.  Some features of this beast include:

  • The Albatross weights about 14 lbs and is about 20″ wide.  It’s HUGE!
  • It has one fretted and one fretless neck (both with a 25 1/2″ scale).
  • Both necks have bone nuts and locking Sperzel tuners. (The tuners are a major contributor to the overall weight so those may be going soon).
  • The fretless has a Fernandes Sustainer circuit and pickups in it.
  • The fretted has a gold foil in the neck position and a Lace Alumitone DeathBucker in the bridge position.
  • The fretless has a stop bridge the fretted has a floating Wilkinson bridge
  • Mouradian in Boston custom-made the gig bag for this guitar by modifying a keyboard bag design to fit it.  I love my Mono bags as well but my Mouradian bags are second to none for design, comfort and durability.  Here’s the guitar with the bag.

2014-08-10 09.13.00

Here’s another photo with more of a close up of the controls.

2014-08-10 09.13.27Look for some new material featuring this and the Yamaha guitars this Fall!

New Guit-A-Grip Posts

It’s been a while since I’ve announced any of these here so there may be some topics below that may be of interest to you.

  • In this post, I dissect the “$1.7 million” figure that was quoted for a former student of mine whose band signed to a major label.
  • In this post, I’ve posted an excerpt from one of my e-books that talks about the necessity for strong opinions in the arts.
  • In this post, I talk about the disadvantages of burning bridges to your career.
  • And in this post, I talk about how opportunities are sometimes wasted before they ever come to fruition.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll have the full audio for the panel discussions for artists from the Buckmoon Arts Festival and there’s a lot of GREAT insight and information for those of you who are trying to build your carer or get you business project off the ground.

In the meantime, that’s it for now!  As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

 
 

More Things Rig

Hi Everyone,

It’s been a while since I had a gear post, but I thought I’d put up a quick update that some of you might find interesting.

And besides – what guitar player doesn’t like gear (or reading about gear?)

That Muse Of Guitar

The Guitar-Muse posts are on a bit of a hiatus for the moment, but I did a short series for them about the evolution of my live rig and getting it down to something manageable for travel.  You can read those posts below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

I never got to do part 5 or 6, but for people that are interested here’s some of the things I make sound with now (and it may be something you can apply to your own live rigs):

Electric – The Exonerated

As part of the Buck Moon Arts Festival, I volunteered to do live accompaniment for a staged reading of the play, The Exonerated.  The play called for a Slingblade/Daniel Lanois sparse type of accompaniment.  As the drummer I wanted to work with wasn’t available, I brought my full rig and laptop.

Live Rig

Can improvise, arrange and mix multiple audio signals for a live show. Can not shoot a picture in focus.

What you’ll find here:

  • FnH Guitar (not pictured) being played with picks, slide and ebow running into
  • Nady TD-1 (with 12AU7) going into a
  • POD 500X HD
  • (there’s an additional expression pedal as well) running the effects send into a
  • Torpedo C.A.B. and running that out to a
  • QSC K-8 speaker.

The laptop is running Logic Audio/Absynth and a few other apps and I’m triggering sounds and loops with the Korg Nano Key.  The audio leaves my headphone jack and goes into the 1/8″ input of the POD.

Perhaps you noticed the white Zip Ties….I tried using just the Velcro on the PedalTrain and when I opened the bag, all the pedals were pulled off the board and on the bottom of the bag.  I went to the hardware store and got the longest ZIP ties I could to hold everything down and all was right with the world.  A dedicated power supply for everything would be nice, but as that would require having the power input completely re-wired on the TD-1, that’s on a back burner for now.

I really dig the Scuffham amps S-Gear, so if I could have gotten the Scuffham amps and SooperLooper plug in in AU Lab to play nice with the Line 6 USB shortboard I might have just brought the Apogee Duet, laptop and shortboard.

But my laptop isn’t getting any younger and a new laptop is out of the budget right now so rig B right now is my iPhone, Sonic Port, Positive Grid, Audio Bus and Loopy HD.  I dig the loop features a lot and if the AirTurn BT-105-PB4 works the way I think it will I might be able to make it one of my default live rigs.

Having said that, the POD rig does a LOT of things really well and while I like the Positive grid guitar tones, in its current incarnation it can’t touch the POD for non-guitaristic tones (i.e. the weird stuff – i.e. the good stuff).  Using a RADIAL splitter and a SONUUS i2M to allow the guitar to be a MIDI controller is also something I’ve experimented with before and will come back to.  Again – it depends on the consistency of the laptop.

I also have a ZT junior amp, which I really dig and I’ve done a couple of background music gigs that just required showing up with a small amp.  For a straight jazz, country or for just a warm clean tone in small settings it’s my go-to.

Acoustic Tone

The last set up on my Tam Hiep made it borderline unplayable due to a sympathetic vibration on the low E string.  File that under substantial repairs/bummer.

In the meantime, since I don’t want to gig with my Jeff Chappel guitar – I’ve gone back to Yamaha APX’s for live use.  I have an APX700 12 string that I’m using for more Dastgah/Maqam type things with a B-F#-B-F#-B-F# tuning.  Right now I have it set up for octave tuning but will likely use the same adaptations I used on the Rogue (i.e. making it a 10 string with unison strings on the D and G strings.

I’m keeping an eye out for another APX700ii, 700 or 500ii.  The Yamaha and the BT-105 are the last anticipated gear purchases for quite a while but we’ll see what happens.

In terms of amps and effects.  It depends on the situation but the Yamaha AG-Stomp does everything I could ask it to do in a live setting and a ZT Acoustic lunchbox is arriving via UPS today and I anticipate that that will solve any live need I could possibly have.

That’s it for now!

 

My Interview With Daniel Donato On Guitar-Muse and Positive Grid JamUp Update

Hello everyone,

Two quick Things

Guitar-Muse

Just a quick note to let you know that my interview with Nashville Guitarist Daniel Donato is up on Guitar-Muse.  At the ripe old age of 19, he’s accomplished a lot more than seasoned players twice his age and has a new DVD out on Hal Leonard.  He also offers some great tips on Practicing, the value of Post It Notes when pushing one’s limit’s when performing, and how to go from being in the audience to being on stage.  Also, some great tone tips as well.  You can check that interview out here.

I’ve got an interview with Joe Romagnola at Grooveyard Records, a guitar-centric label in Upstate NY coming up soon as well. There are some more interviews in the pipelineand some gear things as well.

Positive Grid Jam Up Release

Positive grid released a massive new update for Jamup.  If you own any type of supported IOS device, you need this.  It’s a free upgrade for current owners but if you’re new to the game here’s an overview.

The good

  • The price is now $19.95 – but you get BIAS bundled with it for free.
  • There’s a drop box feature for tonesharing
  • The New acoustic bundle ($9.99) is awesome!
  • There’s an acoustic simulator that sounds really good.  It’s a decent acoustic tone on it’s ow and I think it would sit well in a mix but the real excitement for me is that it’s one of the best Jazz guitar tones I’ve ever heard!  If you were playing Gypsy Jazz or wanted to incorporate more of the warm acoustic tone into your playing.  What’s also amazing about this is that JamUp has been asking players on FB if they would have any interest in being able to choose pickups or wood materials for bodies – which could mean that they are getting closer to releasing something akin to a software version of the Variax (which honestly Line 6 would have made infinitely more money from than every Variax sale that they’ve ever made).
  • The acoustic processing is also very good.  There’s a new EQ, amp and reverb to go with it.  I could show up at an open mike with a sonic port and my iPhone and do a set no problem.
  • There’s a new Vintage effects pack (also $9.99) with some cool choices.  I’m still not down with the decay on the notes in some of the gain settings (and the gate) but the effects are cool.
  • There’s also a new amp pack (again a $9.99 add on).  It’s cool.  I don’t know that it’s anything radically different than other amps that are there (or that you could build in BIAS) but they sound good – particularly the clean amp.

The bummer

  • Still no dual signal path.  That’s a minor quibble.  But it would make it awesome.

Also, the BT-4 Bluetooth Midi Switcher is really cool but I think sending audio through it is a waste of time.  I’d rather see the energy spent on being able to daisy chain boards so you could run multiple boards and say use one for the looper and one to switch patches.  The addition of the expression pedal is a great feature though.  Even with that said, the BT-4 looks like a great product and I’m psyched to check it out.

Okay!  That’s it for now.  As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

Rig-O-Tone-y or More Hybrid Tone Approaches

When Gear Acquisition Syndrome is fuel for the fire

After my last post on using the Torpedo Cab and the Nady TD-1 in conjunction with the POD HD500X, I thought I’d talk a little bit more about the configuration I’m currently using and then A/B the approaches for you.

The TD might stand for “Terrible Design”

I had done a substantial amount of research for a BIAS review for Guitar-Muse that may or may not be see the light of day and in researching all aspects of the tube pre-amp, rediscovered the 12AU7.

12AU7

This tube is a direct replacement for a 12AXA7 but has some different tonal characteristics and offers less gain.  On a recent trip to Drome Sound, I found a NOS Groove Tubes 12AU7 for $10 and decided to swap it out in my Nady TD-1.  The TD-1 is a cool pedal in terms of tone, and a terrible housing design as replacing the tube requires completely dismantling the casing.

As a first step, you’ll need 3 tools to do this.

ToolsOn my first dismantling attempt, I realized that I didn’t have a star shaped driver to undo the sides of the casing.  It seemed cruel for Nady to not simply use philips head screws but a quick trip to Radio Shack got me the driver I needed (with some other attachments) and soon I had this.

Nady Pedal DisassembleThere are 36 parts holding the casing together.  You need to remove all 36 to get the tube out (a Chinese made 12AX7B in this case).

Pedal Interior

You’ll also notice that you don’t have a lot of wiggle room to extract the tube.  The photo above shows the replaced GT in the socket.

The A/B Rig

First off.  I had a strange experience with my hybrid solution at the last gig I played.  Soundcheck went fine and then live when I switched to my lead patch the volume dropped by 70% or more.  I had to full crank my QSC K-8 (which I’ve never had to turn past 10 o’clock [the off position starts at 6 o’clock]) to be heard.  I assumed it was a cable or a bad connection but checking the cables after the gig, they were all fine.  Line 6 just released a new Firmware update to deal with volume drops with that occurred when switching patches with specific configurations and I guess mine was one of them as it seems to be working now.

I started the process this weekend of porting all of my patches from the HD-500 over to the 500-X (and trying to recreate some of my POD Farm patches there as well) and thought I’d give you an A/B example of the dual rig.

This was one of my old POD patches that I liked.
Dual 800It was a great dirty rhythm sound but the leads were hit and miss.  I put a FX loop in with a 6 DB increase and used it as a boost for solos.

In contrast, here’s my current configuration.  The tube screamer is gone and replaced by the TD-1.

J800 + J45_1The TD is also the first step of my signal chain so I use that for the lead boost.  Here are the amps:

800 + 45_2You may notice that the cab models are turned off.  The FX loop now goes out to the Torpedo for the cab simulation.

So this means that I have 2 extra things plugged in with my POD.  Which is way more of a pain than simply using the POD direct.  But does it make a difference?

Well the tones are completely different but here’s the A/B.  I’m just improvising some D major patterns over a D5 chord.

Recorded the TD/Torpedo is more saturated, but the biggest difference is live.  When played through my QSC, the second tone has substantially increased presence in the room.  I don’t know how to describe it but seems to jump out more from the speaker.  There’s also a little hiss from the pedal, but I can live with it in a live context.

Wait there’s a third option?

Having said all of that I took advantage of a recent cancelled rehearsal I showed up to to put my Positive Grid Jam Up App through the paces.  I can work with it at home but it’s a different context to put it through an amp on a stage in a large hall and see what happens and I have to say – I was pretty blown away.

I’m going to be doing live accompaniment for a production of The Exonerated at the BuckMoon Arts Festival in July and currently it looks like I’ll just be bringing my iphone, a laptop for some synths and looping and a powered speaker.  It doesn’t have the flexibility that the POD set up does, but for situations where I just need a decent clean/dirty tone – it gets the job done and then some.

More tone reports as the summer progresses – but hopefully this is useful to some of you.

As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

So You Want a “Budget” 8-String – An Omen 8-String Update

Go With What You Know

Of all the posts on my site – by far the two most popular are my post on Guitar Street in Vietnam and the post on my Omen 8-string.  Since I’m not going to be able to make it back to Vietnam anytime soon, I thought I’d post on some things I’ve been working on with the 8-string.

Budget is the mother of invention

I basically have two views on gear.

On one hand, I fully believe that you should invest the money and buy quality gear that works for you.  On the People’s Court, Judge Millian has an common quote I’ll cite here, “Lo barato sale caro” – The cheap comes out expensive.  I have often found that when trying to cut corners on certain things (“That $30 chorus pedal doesn’t sound that bad”) that it ends up costing me more in the long haul (like having to spend valuable studio time testing out a bunch of other gear because that $30 pedal and that $100 amp DO sound that bad).  My QSC K-8 is not a cheap speaker, but given that it can push me in front of an entire band, it’s a bargain.

On the other hand, the quality of gear available now is better than it’s ever been.  I’ve been using Positive Grid’s JamUp and Bias with a Line 6 Sonic Port and I’m consistently blown away with the high gain tones and the quality of some of the effects coming out of my iPhone.

Transformer Front

Mind you, the hidden cost of this IS the iPhone but the apps are ridiculously inexpensive.  With the discounts they were offering before the BIAS release, I think I was fully loaded on the software for $60 or so.

Moving this argument to guitars, the building standards on mass produced guitars are constantly improving and the price is consistently dropping.  So when I looked at getting into an 8-string guitar, there were two routes.

  • Spend (for me) a lot of money on a custom model or
  • Try out an inexpensive model and see if it would work for me

Since it was a large unknown for me, I decided to go with the Schecter Omen 8-string.  You can read that gear review here, but a lot has happened to the guitar since then which may be of interest to people who are looking

This is another example of “Lo barato sale caro” BUT in this case it’s still much less expensive than purchasing a custom guitar and it’s good to see how these things develop.

There’s no going back to Kansas Dorothy

8 String Close Up

You’ll notice that on the right hand side of the body, there’s a modification that there’s no real turing back from.  (Side note:  When Mrs. Collins saw this mod she had a strange expression on her face and when I asked what was wrong she said, “Now you’ll never be able to sell it.” 😉 – Very true.)  However, you need to make gear work for you.  And this mod was done for a very specific reason.

Tuning

 Initially, I was experimenting with the following tuning:

(low to high) B-E-A-D-G-C-E-A.  

And then using a .007 for the high A and a .062 for the B.  But it didn’t work for me because the high A was incredibly unstable.  When I tracked some alternate takes for the Trials Evolution game, I ended up going through 3 of them at the session.  

So I thought I’d try the Tobin Abasi (Animals as Leaders) tuning with an additional Low E/A added to the standard 6 string tuning [(low to high) E-A-E-A-D-G-C-E].

I got a DiMarzio D Activator bridge pickup and had FnH Guitar’s John Harper install it and set the guitar up for the heavier gauge strings.  I got it back earlier in the year and used a F#-B-E-A-D-G-C-E tuning and I didn’t dig it.  I just couldn’t find a tone that worked with that tuning.

So I went back to the drawing board and decided to try to see if dropping the entire tuning down a step would give me the stability to make it through a live show.  I had about 20 .007 strings to experiment with so I figured I’d give it a try.  Also, I was reading about a string development that was interesting to me

Ernie Ball 7-String Cobalt set

After experimenting with various strings over the years I’ve always come back to using D’addarios for my electrics.  I still swear by their Pure Nickle .011s for my FnH – but I didn’t like the strings that shipped with my Omen and I didn’t like any of the 8 string set options that I tried.  When I realized that I’d have to throw a high string on the top anyways, I just started looking at 7 string sets that would work for me.  I liked a Rotosound set that I found, but when Ernie Ball announced their Cobalt 7-string set that supposedly had more output and clarity, I figured that I’d give them a try.

Out of the bag, the wound strings had an interesting texture.  I realize that interesting is a terrible descriptive, but I don’t really know how to describe it other than to say that they felt more “metallic” than the strings I was used to.  Not in a bad way, just a different way.  Using the new tuning, I found that the guitar had a lot more clarity on the lower string on high gain settings.  Often with high gain tones, the bottom end becomes mud – but I found that I could still use 4-5 note voicings and have clarity in each note.

My other string discovery was more counter intuitive.  After going through 6-8 .007s with the high G tuning – I decided to try to use .008s and they’re holding up much better!  I can only bend a step or so on the high frets – but I’ve only broken 1 .008 string so far and I’m pretty sure I can make it through a live set now.

Getting back to the photo:

8 String Close Up

With that tuning in mind, the upper bout on the treble side made it impossible to access the upper frets.  The reason for this is that the chunky bolt-on joint

Heel Cut

required pushing the wrist out to access the frets above the 18th fret which bumped it right into the bout.

It doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re going to go through the trouble to have a high G string, you want to be able to fully utilize it.  So out went the bout.

It was a great decision!  Not only did I get access to the upper frets on the high string, but it gave my full access above the 17th fret on the lower strings which wasn’t possible before.  Second only to this mod:

8 String Guitar

which allowed me to comfortably rest my arm on the body, it’s done a lot for the playability of the guitar.

Mod Review:

Okay – so for those of you interested in going the “inexpensive” route with an 8-string – here are the mods that were added to the guitar.

Pickups:  I’d say that you have to go into this guitar an expect to replace the pickups.  I like the Bare Knuckle and the DiMarzio for completely different reasons – but I find that they compliment each other really well.

Tuners:  Same thing with the tuners.  I’ve replaced the Low A and high G with Grover Rotomatics, but the middle 3+3 need tuner replacement as well.

Kill Switch:  Some people thought that was really gimmicky – but it’s turned out to be really great when acting as a uber-noise gate.  I can hold it down and get ultra-tight exits and entries into tunes.

Lower Bout Bevel:  The carving on the lower edge looks nice but doesn’t feel good when resting your forearm on it.  Also, aesthetically I think the single line of natural wood peeking through the black looks bad-assed.

Upper Bout Removal:  You’ll have to wear a strap with this mod as the guitar won’t be sitting on your knee, but what it does for upper fret access is a game changer.

This might sound like a lot, but as I said in the initial review, the Omen is a well built guitar at a great price point and that was the template that was really necessary for this to be possible.  All in when everything is said and done – I’ll probably have about $850 into the guitar but the Omen is a serious player now and the ability to go from the A on a bass guitar to a high G a full octave above the G on the 15th fret of a high E string gives me all the range I could possibly hope for.

Now comes the hard part

Actually getting around on the thing at the same level I can with my string is still taking me a while.  The strings are REALLY close together so every time I go from playing this to playing my electric 6 string or acoustic I can’t believe how far apart the strings are.  Also the modified tuning means that I have to transpose everything in my head.  This means that occasionally I’ll start to play something and have to switch mid-stream because I’m in the wrong key!  Fortunately, those “whoops!” moments get worked out at home so they’re not being made on the stage.

(It’s also interesting just how different this guitar is in terms of timbre from my other guitars.  In JamUp Pro for example, I had to make my own amps in Bias to find a high gain model that worked with my guitar well as none of the high gain models provided did what I needed them to do.  With the 8-string even stock models like the Jeff Loomis model sound really good to my ears with no modification necessary.)

I’ll be documenting some of the strategies that I use in navigating the 8 string fingerboard later this year – but suffice to say that without the 2-string visualization methods that I’ve been using (and writing about) on the 6-string, I don’t know how I’d be able to tackle this.

More gear and playing posts in the pipeline.  As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

Rig-O-Lution Or More Notes From The Trenches Of Tone

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 home.

CAB_3D_721

Photo Taken From TWO NOTES Web Site.

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.

This is a GREAT pedal!!  It’s super solid and offers a lot of great tones on the fly.  Out of the box, there were some decent cabs and mics – but I wasn’t getting them to sound the way that I wanted them to.  Fortunately, Two Notes BlendIR came to the rescue.

BLENDIR

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.

Blend IR

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 example above, I mixed multiple IRs to create a stacked sound I was looking for.

That Distortion

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 TD-1 fron Nady Website

Nady TD-1 fron Nady Website

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.  I do 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.  

The Pluses:

  • It’s a REALLY sturdy pedal
  • it’s relatively quiet
  • it has tremendous tonal variance

The Minuses:

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.

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

Rhythm 1

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.

Lead 1

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 off 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 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!

-SC

Mas Modeling!! POD Farm, POD HD, Scuffham Amps And A Whole Tone lick

Computers, and models and amp sims – OH MY!

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There’s been a lot of interest in the posts on this site regarding modeling,  POD Farm and POD HD.  When I made my initial post about this, I didn’t have the 2 units to compare, but I do now and here are my thoughts.

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POD FARM

I still like POD FARM.  For tonal flexibility – it’s really cool.

  • The first thing about POD FARM to recognize is that the amps are more like specific snapshots of amps than fully realized models.   By that I mean, if you have a Marshall sound with a killing setting that you dig, then that’s great.  But if you roll back on the volume, it’s not going to clean up the way a real Marshall would.  There are ways to circumnavigate this (and you can definitely adjust your playing around it), but when playing through it, you’re definitely playing a good sounding model rather than an amp.
  • The second thing is that there’s a BIG sonic difference in the distorted sounds between 44 and 96k.  This is to be expected, but there are certain models that are unusable at 44k.
  • On the plus side the laptop functionality of POD FARM is awesome.  I can get sounds out of this rig that I could never get out of a conventional amp.  I can run two rigs with more pedals than I could ever run live and, furthermore, when I run it through the Atomic tube amp – even the 44k sounds come alive and works well live.
  • Breaking out POD Farm into individual elements is really smart – and very cool.  It means that I can run (for example) pre-amps or compressors in my AU LAB shell anywhere in the signal chain.  A nice touch.
  • I love AUs.  Why?  Because when the power goes out at my place for 4 days and I have to type this from a coffee shop, being able to discretely pull out an electric and play in a corner with a set of headphones (and not take up multiple tables) is a GOOD THING!

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Conclusion #1:  If you’re the type of person who like’s to get a great tone and park it – this may be a good option for you.

Conclusion #2:  If you’re the type of person who wants to reference guitar tones (clean, dirty etc.) but then go beyond that into the stratosphere tonally – this is the unit for you.

Conclusion #3:  If you want more amp, effect or cab options than you ever imagined – you know the drill.

Conclusion #4:  If you expect different tones from your guitar when you roll off the volume, or the thought of using a laptop guitar on stage makes you nervous, this may not be the unit for you.

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POD HD 500

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This review is specific to the 500 as it’s the only unit I have (and have played through).  Comparing this to POD FARM is kind of like comparing apples and onions.  They may have a similar shape, but they’re very different things.

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  • The POD HD has substantially fewer models than POD FARM.  Having said this, the architecture of the modeling is completely different and the tonal detail is stunning.  There may be much fewer amps – but they all sound really good.  The amps themselves have controls like BIAS, BIAS-X, HUM and SAG that the POD FARM amps do not and when plugging in the guitar signal feels like it’s plugging into an amp.  You can roll off the volume and the signal acts in a musical way.  As of this writing, Line 6 updated the HD500 and HDPRO w. a new variable input impedance that affects the tone of certain distortion pedals when you back off the volume (so they behave more like the real thing).
  • While the unit supports 96k as an output, the distortions sound good at 44k.  Much better than the POD FARM distortions at that setting.
  • As a hardware unit – it has a number of ins and outs.  It’s extremely flexible in that way, has a built-in expression pedal and a looper.  I’ve never liked USB recording, but the USB recording in the HD works well.
  • The unit has some tricks up its sleeves that are unique.  Particularly the particle verb, which is a gorgeous sonic mangler.
  • On the down side – the unit doesn’t have the horsepower that a laptop has so you can’t use any combination of amps cabs and effects on the unit. If you’re using a DSP intensive amp and effect, you can get the DSP limit screen pretty easily.
  • I have some minor global EQ and loop quibbles that you can read about here.

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The POD HD Verdict

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For the price point this is a great sounding unit.

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  • If you want an all-in-one unit that has the potential to create really musical guitar tones – this may be the unit for you.
  • If you like to get under the hod and mess with things like SAG and Bias to get a good tone – this may be the unit for you.
  • If you need more outrageous non-guitar tones, there are some excellent possibilities on this unit.
  • If you’re the type of person who needs specific distortions, eq, compression or delays to get your tone, and don’t have the patience to chase tone to do so, this may not be for you.

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PODFARM HD

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So in my mind, PODFARM HD would really be the best of everything.  All of the CPU/DSP resources of the laptop mixed with the sounds of the HD unit.  Unfortunately, there’s no word on when this is coming out (there’s a lot of new Line 6 gear coming out right now – but even so I’m guessing you may see a demo version at NAMM and then a release in 2013).

(A few tips for Line 6 between now and NAMM.

  1. Please add global EQ and allow looper wet volume to be pedal assignable.
  2. Please release all of the LINE 6 Model amps in POD FARM (Like Bayou) for POD HD.)

And why do I think that Line 6 may step up the time-table on PODFARM HD?

Because  despite what the forums say, in terms of hardware, I don’t believe that Line 6 is in the competing market with Fractal Audio.  They’re at completely different price-points.  AVID’s Eleven Rack however is a completely different matter.  Software wise, you have Amplitube and Guitar Rig as probably the two closest competitors.  Both sound good for different things.  Both have a lot of the modelling issues that Line 6 has.  Only Guitar Rig comes close to the number of effects that POD FARM has though.

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So why do I have Scuffham Amps in the title of this post?

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Because Scuffham Amps has something neither of these do.  They have the nearest thing to a PODFARM HD AU on the market.

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Scuffham Amps

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I understand that Mike Scuffham was one of the guys behind the JMP-1 (Which was a great sounding pre btw).  He’s done something several really cool (there’s that word again – but it’s applicable) things with the design of this plug-in.

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  • Limited amps – and specialized limits at that.  His “Duke” amp is based on Robben Ford’s amp (a DUMBLE) and has three channels to choose from.  The “Stealer” is loosely based on a PARK and the “Jackal” is based on a Soldano.  This is cool only because – they’re all really good sounding amps.
  • PRO Convolver and RED-WIREZ IRs.  The 64 bit convolver hosts a slew of really good sounding RED WIREZ IR’s (or  you can load your own).  For someone like me who typically runs IRs in LA Convolver – having them bundled in the AU is a nice feature.
  • Dynamic Power Amp.  In addition to the amp drive switch, you all get tweak controls like SAG High Frequency cut and Presence Frequency.
  • FX are limited.  It’s got a nice sounding delay, and the gate also works well the amp drive switch acts as like a distortion pedal – but no other fx onboard.
  • This might seem like a small thing, but the presets sound good.  There’s a lot of gear a I use where the presets range from ok to trash, but the presets here have really had some attention given to them.

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I’m not going to put a million mp3s up here as there are already a bunch of them on the site here.

I am going to put up what I can get away with in a coffee shop.  First here’s the AU Lab session I’m using.  The only external effect is a spring reverb.

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The Stealer has great blues/classic rock tones.  But here’s the odd thing, The Jackal has the 80’s metal vibe – but I REALLY dig it’s punchy clean tone and I’ve never really been into any Soldano clean tone I’ve heard.  Maybe I’m just not hearing the right ones. For rhythm/lead distortion – I’ve been into the Duke.

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Breaking up is (not so) hard to do

I think I’ve used that title before….

Anyway, here’s the Duke and a favorite voicing of mine – an open E min 9 chord in the 7th position.

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With many distortions – anything beyond a root-5th craps out and looses all definition.  Here, I’m going to play an mp3 with full distortion and then keep strumming the chord bringing my volume know down a notch or so.  Notice how:

1.  Everything cleans up as I lower the input volume and

2. how even at full volume and distortion you can still make the notes out!

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Note:

For those of you interested in the tech side – this was recorded with an FnH Ultrasonic guitar, neck pickup through an Apogee Duet into AU LAB and Scuffham Amps’ THE DUKE model.

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Let’s see how cleaning these things up sound with an actual lick.

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That Whole Tone Idea

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In the previous lesson, I talked about my concept of the modal microscope and how looking at things at multiple levels can help open new perceptions.

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Let’s take a look at this with the Whole Tone Scale.

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If I have C Whole Tone (C, D, E, F#, G#, A#(Bb) one chord that can be extracted from that is a C7+ (R, 3, #5, b7).  However, If we focus on the other chord tones of C7 (C, E, Bb), we can play it over a regular C7 chord with just a little bit o’ dissonance.

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Since I’ve always done things in C – I’ll move it to G and play a G whole tone (with a few chromatics) over G7.

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Here’s the lick (with some extra rubato, legato, vibrato and other atos):

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And here’s an mp3 of the lick – with the same volume drop approach as the E min 9.

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One thing that those of you who follow this blog might notice is that I’ve adapted my pentatonic 3-note-per string/1-note-per string – fingering to the whole tone scale (which I think is a cooler way to finger it and maybe you’ll agree!)

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Conceptually, I’m thinking G whole tone from B for visualization purposes (but moving back to the A on the D string for a little melodic velocity).  The point is as long as I resolve to either the B (3rd) or G (root) I can sneak this in even if G7 is the I chord in a I-IV-V blues.

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When I went to Berklee the best harmony lesson I learned was in Harmony IV, when the teacher told me that the whole point of Harmony I-IV was to teach students that any chord can precede or follow any other chord.  That means that you can superimpose anything over any chord – but the keys are 1.  having the knowledge to resolve it and/or make it work and 2.  having the experience and the confidence to go for it.

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This has been kind a weird lesson/review post (indicative of a few weird days) so please bear with me as I get back to the review aspect of the Scuffham Amp for a moment.

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  • On the minus side – I wish this AU had a tuner and a separate reverb built-in.  I understand why they’re not – but it’s nice to have a self-contained amp sound.
  • On that note – the amps sound really good and they’re unlike anything else really out there.
  • The list price is $90 – but they sell it online for $75.  Some people may balk at the lack of effects, but price-wise this is extremely reasonable for the quality of the amps and the red wirez bundle.
  • Don’t take my word for anything regarding YOUR tone.  You can download a fully working demo for 15 days and take it through the paces.  Some things will underwhelm you and there some things you will probably dig – particularly for blues/rock tones.

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I’m still waiting for Line 6 POD FARM HD – which I hope is everything I expect it to be, but in the meantime, I’m using this.  If you’re even remotely interested in getting decent guitar tones out of your computer , give the demo a try.

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As always thanks for reading!

-SC

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PS – if you like this post you may also like:

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POD HD FLASH MEMORY UPDATE, POD HD500 IN LIVE USE AND MORE THOUGHTS ABOUT GEAR

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SOME THOUGHTS ON MODELING, GEAR ACQUISITION AND THE POD HD500

LINE 6 POD FARM 2.5 UPDATE AND POD FARM FREE ANNOUNCED

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POD HD VS POD FARM: A COST COMPARISON

LINE 6 FBV EXPRESS MK II REVIEW

POD HD500 AND POD FARM CONJECTURES

RIG AROUND THE ROSIE OR MEDIATIONS AND MEDITATIONS ON GEAR

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SOOPERLOOPER LIVE LOOPING AU UPDATE 1.6.18 ANNOUNCED

HARDWARE VS. SOFTWARE – OR PRAISES AND PERILS IN LIVE LAPTOP USE

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X CODE 3.2.5 / AU LAB 2.2 NOW AVAILABLE – CAVEAT EMPTOR

AU LAB/POD FARM 2.0/LIVE LAPTOP RIG TUTORIAL PART 6 – DUAL RIG DISTORTED TONES

LAPTOP GUITAR SETUP OR NOTES FROM A LIVE SHOW

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AU LAB/POD FARM 2.0/LIVE LAPTOP RIG TUTORIAL PART 5

AU LAB/POD FARM 2.0/LIVE LAPTOP RIG TUTORIAL PART 4

AU LAB/POD FARM 2.0/LIVE LAPTOP RIG TUTORIAL PART 3

AU LAB/POD FARM 2.0/LIVE LAPTOP RIG TUTORIAL PART 2

AU LAB/POD FARM 2.0/LIVE LAPTOP RIG TUTORIAL PART 1

SETTING UP “TESTING ENVIRONMENTS” OR MULTI LAYERED TONES IN AU LAB

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BUILDING BLOCKS – OR MORE EXAMINATIONS OF A LAPTOP GUITAR SETUP

A QUICK LICK – AND A RIG DU JOUR UPDATE FROM HO CHI MINH CITY

TECH LIMBO (NEITHER HEAVEN NOR HELL R.I.P. RONNIE JAMES DIO)

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