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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A Game Changer? The Sonuus i2M musicport overview

I haven’t done a gear review in a while – so I thought I’d bring something exciting to the table this time.

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Lately, I’ve been thinking more about Midi guitar.  Not in the traditional sense of, “wouldn’t it be great to get some flute sounds out of my guitar for this smooth jazz solo?” but using it in (potentially) some more subversive ways.

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Midi conversion as an improvisation tool:

The first thought that occurred to me was midi guitar is a glitchy proposition to begin with. Even optimizing everything (picking technique, muting, pick choice, tracking parameters, etc) – there was still a lot that could go “wrong”.  This excited me from an improvisational standpoint because it meant that I could have other notes spit out at me that I didn’t play – and that I’d have to actually improvise with what was happening there.  To me, this is much more in the spirit of improvising that playing the same 40 licks I’ve worked out over Stella by Starlight.

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Midi conversion as a texture:

Additionally, the glitch effect can work really well in sound scape ideas where I might be generating different sounds over (and within) a loop.  That’s appealing to me as well.

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Midi conversion as a transcriber:

The real interest for this idea though came up with the dvd instructional material that I wanted to generate.  After seeing clips of John McLaughlin’s instructional dvd and realizing that he was simply using a midi guitar to capture audio and midi data in Logic.  By doing this – he would have a rough transcription of what he was playing and then be able to tweak it to make it more accurate from there.  A really good idea and one that stuck with me.

But midi always struck me as a lark.  The pickups and converters meant that I was looking at $500-$600 minimum for something that really wasn’t necessary.  Then I started seeing the ads for…

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The Sonuus i2M musicport:

If you’ve picked up a guitar magazine or been anywhere guitar related on the internet – you have undoubtably seen an ad for one of the Sonuus Midi Converters.  Their newest converter the i2M musicport, is a small (read: tiny) monophonic midi converter and a 16bit 48k digital audio interface.  Listing for $199 (and selling for $149) this is one of the most intriguing products on the market to me right now.

The unit has a ¼ inch jack on one side and a USB connection on the other which makes it about the size of an adult thumb.  It’s bus powered by the USB – so there’s no additional power supply (the green lit SONUUS logo is a nice design touch as well as the key clip.

It’s impossible for me to image a smaller device but how does it sound?  Since the i2M acts as an audio interface and an audio midi converter – I’ll address this question in two parts.

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Audio:

The ¼ inch jack is actually a high impedance (hi-Z) input preamp with a 16 bit/44.1 or 48k conversion rate.  Even though I typically like higher audio specs when using my guitar the sound is remarkably transparent and I had no issues with quality.  In fact, this is an ideal interface for practicing or jotting down ideas and would even consider trying it out on a gig if I needed to.  It should also be noted that while I’ve only tested it with a guitar it can be used with bass guitar or other line level sources (like a microphone).  There should be no real issue in using a 7 or 8 string guitar with it either.

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Midi:

First: I should state that this unit is a midi converter.  It doesn’t have any midi sounds on its own so you’ll need appropriate software (any software with a midi sampler or synth  will probably do) to hear and record midi.

Secondly: The midi conversion is monophonic.  Anything involving chords or multiple held notes will produce unpredictable results.

Having said that, the i2M does monophonic conversion remarkably well.  Tracking was fast, smooth and had very low latency with stock settings (particularly on the higher strings).  If you go to the sonuus website, you can download the Desktop Editor software which will allow you to adjust midi settings to suit your style as well.

Rather than just list them, I’d recommend that you go to the Sonuus web site where you can get full specs.

In use:

I decided to see if I could use the i2M as both an audio interface and a midi converter to see if I could use the score function in Logic to transcribe what I was playing.

The i2M is class-compliant which means that it’s plug and play.  I opened up Logic and had no problem setting it up as a default audio and midi input.  To create a real world example of what it sounds like it when you plug-in and play – nothing was optimized.  The audio is generated from a FnH Ultrasonic guitar plugging into the i2M at 48k.  No amp sims were used in Logic.  The guitar track only has LA convolver, some speaker IRs and a reverb on the channel. The midi is generated from the EXS 24 (using the Garageband/Logic Yamaha Piano).

All Logic and i2M settings are stock.  I heard the piano sound and decided to improvise in a Cecil Taylor style where caution was just thrown to the wind and I approached ideas as melodic flourishes.  I wanted to throw the unit some curve balls so I tried sweep picking, alternate picking and tapping various ideas to see how it reacted.

This video below is just a screen shot of the score pages with an mp3 of both channels so you can compare the difference between the audio and the midi tracking. (You’ll probably want to see it at full screen size – FYI).

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Here’s what impressed me:

The tracking was pretty clean.  There were a few random glitches on the midi score  but those could be easily fixed.  For the most part, I got a rough sketch of what I was playing while I was playing it.  Very cool.

There are certain open strings ringing and other string noses that were ignored.  This was surprising and cool.

The audio signal sounded pretty good out of the box – but to be 100% fair – this was with a clean sound.   I  ran this through POD Farm to see how the distorted tones were – but  for me, the resolution and bit depth weren’t there for a satisfying dirty tone.  In other words, as an audio converter – this isn’t going to replace my Apogee Duet – but this is really nit picking as the unit is, first and foremost, a midi converter so the fact that it processes any audio is just as bonus.  Additionally, comparing a $150 multifunction unit to a $500 specialized audio interface isn’t a fair comparison.   That being said, the i2M has a reasonable starting point for a clean tone.

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Also while the unit is plug and play as an audio device for Logic and Garage band, AU lab didn’t recognize it.  Not a deal breaker and something I need to research further but it may be something to look into depending on what platform you plan on using.

This unit is just a lot of fun.  I probably spent 2 hours just playing the various logic EXS patches.  Additionally the piano/guitar sound gave me a lot of compositional ideas in a Maria João idea – which is always a good thing.  I tried it with Absynth as well and it worked seamlessly (it even kept tracking as I took liberal swipes at my tremolo arm).

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In my opinion this unit is a game changer for guitarists (and hopefully for a lot of other instruments as well).  To have something that works this well at this price point while putting an audio interface and a midi converter well within most gear budgets.  For this demonstration, I’m essentially using it as a toy, but the potential applications for this are exciting.

Whether you’re looking to lightly tread the waters of midi guitar, get in deep for sonic mangling or just need a decent pocket audio interface, you’re hard pressed to do better than the i2M.

Thanks for reading!

-SC

Apogee Duet 2 Announced

For those of you familiar with my series of posts on using a laptop as a guitar preamp, a key component of this rig is the Apogee duet.  Apogee just announced a new version of the Duet that has some really interesting features and may be worth exploring.

The superficial:

Well the new unit looks great:

(All graphics from this post are taken from the Apogee website)

There are 4 output channels now instead of the 2 on the first Duet.  (The headphone is now a separate stereo out).  They’ve added a touch pads on the front screen that are assignable. Through these pads you can now, “Mute speakers, headphones or all outputs”, “Assign headphones to outputs 1-2, 3-4 or low latency mixer”, “Dim speakers, headphones or all outputs” or “Sum to mono speakers, headphones or all outputs”.

Having the ability to see all of the monitoring levels on the unit itself is also a nice touch.

Connectivity

There are a number of new upgrades that have been made to the new unit in terms of connections as well.

  • New cables: The Duet 2 now only has 4 cables.  2 combination mic/instrument connectors (XLR and 1/4”) built into a single connector and 2 balanced 1/4” connectors for speakers.

 

  • Optional breakout box.  Slicker looking than the breakout box reviewed here, it also comes with a 6′ cable.  Very handy.

 

  • The new unit is USB rather than firewire.  This is fine if you have a newer computer, but for the computer I have firewire still runs circles around usb in reliability and speed.  Still, due to the relatively small number on ins and outs – it probably works fine.

 

  • You also get a Universal Power Adapter for US, UK and EU (it’s USB powered with an optional converter).

Under the hood

There are a number of changes within the unit as well.

  • New mic pres: “The Duet 2 mic preamps feature a new design, all new components and seamless click-free transitions as the gain increases and decreases throughout the incredible range of 0-75dB.”

 

  • The AD/DA converters are also an all new design.

 

  • Soft limit has been added. “An Apogee technology first introduced in 1992 on Apogee’s AD-500 converter, Soft Limit can be heard on countless platinum selling records around the world. Once a technology exclusively reserved for Apogee’s most advanced audio converters, Soft Limit is now available in Duet. This superior analog design prevents the digital clipping that causes distortion by instantaneously rounding off transient peaks before they hit the analog-to-digital converter. Soft Limit allows several more decibels of apparent level to be recorded while subtly providing an analog-like warmth to the sound.”

 

  • Increased Sample rate: Where the 1st generation Duet has a 24 bit 44.1–>96kHz Sample rate, the Duet 2 supports up to 192khZ!!!!

 

  • Decreased Latency: They’ve managed increase the sample rate with lower latency as well.  Here are some specs from the web site:

Roundtrip Latency performance 1st Generation

32 buffer @ 96kHz = 4.6 ms

64 buffer @ 44.1kHz = 7.23 ms

Roundtrip Latency performance 2nd Generation

32 buffer @ 96kHz = 3.6 ms

24-bit/44.1-192kHz

Maestro ( the controlling software) has received and upgrade as well.

 

It looks like Apogee has made a very smart launch with this product.  They added in a lot of features that users had asked for and kept all of the core features (like core connectivity with ProTools, Logic, Live etc) that users wanted.

I’ll be interested to see what this unit can do.  $595 might seem like a lot for a stereo in USB converter but if the quality is even better than the first generation it could be an excellent investment.  In the meantime, 1st generation Apogees will probably be selling for a song by the end of the year, so if you have an older firewire macbook like me this could be very good news for you.

Full information can be found on the Apogee website.

As always, thanks for dropping by.

-SC

Rough Hewn Trio Pasadena Library – 1pm – Tues. 3/29/11

Pasadena, CA: The Rough Hewn Trio (Craig Bunch – Drums, Chris Lavender – Chapman Stick and Scott Collins – Guitar) will be playing a set of improvised and composed music at the Pasadena Library as a soft launch before our Tribal Cafe gig on April 15th.

If you’re in the Pasadena area, and like improvised dreamlike textures, cartoon music or odd time Balkan tunes churned through an instrumental trio drop on by.  If you were reading the negotiating a chord chart series – we’ll be playing Chris Lavender’s 232 chart as well.

Thanks for reading!

-Scott

Hardware vs. Software – Or Praises And Perils In Live Laptop Use

Before I drag this article kicking and screaming down the bloody cobblestones of memory lane, I’ll mention that the kick off for this post was a recent effort to stabilize my laptop rig.

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A couple of months ago I found out that the 4 gig chip that my laptop would support had come down in price.  This would allow me to max out my elder laptop at 6 gigs instead of the current 4.  I surmised that had to improve performance overall.

After saving up some cash – I ordered the chip from OWC.  It came very quickly and installation was a snap.  I turned on the laptop and seeing the memory say 6GB – was thrilled for about a ½ hour.

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At that point, the laptop screen did a big wipe down and I got an error message of death – you need to shut off your laptop, which I did.  It powered back up and 10 minutes later did the same thing.  I took out the memory and added the old memory back and everything worked fine.  I contacted OWC – they had me try a few things, and then sent me an RMA so I could send it back for free.  The promptly sent me another chip.

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I got that chip in the mail on Monday.  I installed it in my laptop and everything was fine.  I ran it all day and there were no issues.  I got it home and was streaming a video while I was working out and sure enough about an hour in the laptop screen did a big wipe down and I got an error message of death – you need to shut off your laptop, which I did.  This time however, when I turned off the laptop, I felt underneath it – I had the laptop elevated to get it some air to help cool it down, but even so – it was still hot enough that you could fry an egg on it.  I set the laptop on its side to cool it down and once the back was cool to the touch – maybe a couple of minutes later – started it up and it’s been working fine ever since.  I think it was the combination of the poor airflow and table lamps I have to increase the lighting. I’ll have to go to staples now and get one of those self cooling USB fan jobs and hope it doesn’t mess with the audio signal.  But it was an important reminder about the precarious nature of laptops as signal processors.   The reason I was trying this in advance was because at the next gig I have, I don’t want the laptop to shut down mid song and leave me stranded.

All of this got me rethinking the laptop vs hardware debate that I partially discussed here but is worth a broader examination.

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The obligatory history lesson to stave off initial pointed questions of, “Do you even know what that stuff is supposed to sound like?”

As with many of the things I do, my entry into laptop guitar was completely unplanned, but in retrospect not that surprising.

When I first started playing guitar, the amp I had was a no frills, no name combo amp with a 12” speaker.  Given my influences at the time (Hendrix, Sabbath, Ozzy, etc.), it’s no surprise that almost immediately I started looking for distortion.  Then every dollar I could put together was going for other effects: wahs…chorus….delays… anything I could get my hand on to try to replicate those sounds.

When I was playing in the Committee of Public Safety (my avant-garde core French Revolution fixated band with voice, guitar, bass, cello and drums) – my signal chain was really small.  I had a Marshall JCM800 50 watt combo amp with a single 12 (this was run through a 4×12 Marshall 1960A cab).  I had a channel switcher for the amp, a volume pedal and a TC Distortion/Boost pedal.  The committee lead tone was the TC preamp before the Marshall distortion channel – and it was a creamy tone.  I want to say there was some kind of cheap delay in there as well (maybe an Arion), and from what I remember  that was it.

The Marshall got stolen from a rehearsal space in Allston while I was trying to resurrect mach 2 of the Committee.  The stolen amp was my cue from the universe that it was time to move onto another project.  In the meantime, something interesting started happening.  The more I got into pedals, the more I started getting into sounds that didn’t sound like the tones I was initially trying to emulate.  Soon the more a pedal disguised the fact that I was playing a guitar, the more I wanted that pedal.

At the time, I was working at a music store and an Ampeg guitar amp came in, and I got it for a super low price.  I started picking up some EH pedals at the time as well (including a really sweet 1st generation Russian Big Muff Pi), and I found an old tube echoplex.  I remember playing a gig and the sound man took a look at my pedals and said, “Wow – this would be a state of the art rig in like ’72.”  It was meant as a dig, but I took it as a compliment.  The rig had character, the tones were right there and it sounded as guitaristic (or non guitaristic) as I wanted it to.  That amp eventually gave way to amps by Seymour Duncan and Gibson before settling on a 4×10 Hot Rod DeVille (really a pretty great sounding amp with some mods by Tom at AzTech Electronics).

In between a lot of other pedals and effects crossed my path. This included a 1st generation Jam Man (with additional memory slotted in which really turned my head around) and eventually sold, a Rhythm and Sound (also sold), various distortions wahs and other filters.   By the time I was playing in Visible Inc (and later in The Bentmen/Tubtime/One Of Us) – my full rig was a tuner, Ernie Ball Volume Pedal, Digitech Space Station, T.C. Electronics Chorus, Memory Man Delay (original), Guyatone MD-2 delay, Akai Headrush looper, Vox Wah and another Ernie Ball volume pedal that went into the front end of a Fender Hot Rod Deville (4×10 amp).   The full rig sat in an 88 key keyboard flight case that would not fit width wise across my car seats.

During all of this, I was constantly investigating different digital options.  I had the original zoom effect that I used for quite a while, and when the line 6 came out – I remember getting a used 2.0 bean and just being blown away at the flexibility of it.  Even later – my B-rig (and the one I used primarily with Annette Farrington) was the pod bean with a line 6 pedal board, the looper, wah and volume pedal.  (Later in a cover band – it was only the Pod 2.0 in front of the amp). And that rig sounded pretty damn good in front of my amp.  Even the band’s sound guy went from dismissive to begrudging concession.  It really didn’t sound AS good as the full board – it sounded different – but it worked and it was a hell of a lot less stuff to bring than a huge pedal board.

This is all mentioned because about a month before I left Boston to go to CalArts, my rig was stolen out of an uninsured rehearsal space.  The only thing I had taken home with me was the space station and the Akai Headrush – the amp and all the rest of the pedals were gone.  The band hadn’t been rehearsing for a while so I had no idea anything was missing until a month later.  By then there wasn’t much of anything to do – but leave Boston and start what would now be my acoustic studies at CalArts.

My first year at CalArts, my wife got me a Pod XT for a Christmas gift – and that was my ticket back on the crazy train of gear.  But back when I was rocking a G3 ibook – I remember thinking that someday I’d be able to get guitar tones from a laptop.  The day would come that I’d be able to bring a guitar and a laptop and leave all those pedals behind.  And now I can say – that day is partially here.

Computer guitar tones are the best they’ve ever been, but there are a number of issues big and small that I think need to be acknowledged.

1.        Laptops do not sound like tube amps.  They just don’t.  Even running a laptop with a Marshall patch through a tube amp – doesn’t sound like a Marshall.   Having said that,  it doesn’t sound bad.  In fact, it sounds pretty damn good.  What laptops have all over traditional amps and pedals is flexibility and portability.  Knowing that I can bring a laptop and a guitar and (if the venue has a PA) get through a live show makes touring a LOT easier for me.

2.       Pedals don’t often break – but when they do – they can be bypassed and the amp still used.  The downside is that when the laptop goes down – you’re done.  I’ve never ever had a hardware POD breakdown at a show (other than one time when the venue lost stage power and ALL the amps (and PA) lost power.  I have had laptop programs crash mid set and it’s very nerve-wracking in a live context in the best situations.  In the worst situation – the show’s over.

Laptops are fragile and pedals are built for durability.  I don’t have to worry a well-built pedal getting ruined at a show (unless someone pours their beer on it) – but any one of a number of things could be the end of my laptop.

3.  The technological barrier to true emulation will be cracked.  The news of the new Thunderbolt protocol in mac books is stunning to me.  12x faster than firewire 800?  At a certain point the algorithms will be improved enough, the data transfer rate and processing power will be so high – that you will no longer be able to tell if something was recorded on tape or not.  You will no longer be able to tell if that’s a real tube amp you’re playing through.  It isn’t a question of if it will happen – only when – and honestly I think we’re only about 5-10 years away at the most.

4.  Emulation allows for sounds not feasible in the real world.  Do I want to get an idea of what running a guitar through 6 tube echoplexes sounds like?  Digitally? No Problem.  In the real world – you’d have to first find 6 working tube echoplex units – and the hiss would be unusable, trust me on that one.

If you’re planning on using a laptop live – here are some suggestions I have for you

1.  Optimize it.

  • From the get go, get the fastest processor, maximum memory and fastest hard drive you can afford initially. It doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest – it just needs to be relatively fast and expandable.  For my live looping rig I have a 2-year old Macbook Pro (2.4 gig Intel Core Duo) with 6 gigs of memory and an internal 7200 rpm drive.  I bought it with 2 gigs of ram and a 5400 rpm drive .  My initial upgrade was 4 gigs of memory and a 200 gig 7200 rpm drive as that’s what I could afford at the time.  The first time I looked at a 4 gig chip the cost was $150.  The one I just installed to get the machine to 6 gig was around $90.
  • As time goes on (and costs decrease) plan on upgrading when necessary.


  • Count on needing an external drive if you’re going to do any recording.


  • Defrag your drives – frequently. When I went from the 200 gig drive to the 500 gig drive I defragged it during the drive cloning and my system speed increase was about 30%.  It makes a big difference.

2.  Back it up.

The first time you lose all your data – you will know how important this is.  I’m especially bad at this as well and only back up once a week or so.  A hard drive is a very delicate thing.  If you knew you easily it lost information, you would lose sleep at night.

3.  Make Multiple patches and back them up as well.

Patches take up almost no drive space.  I probably have 40-50 different AU Lab settings.  The reason for this is that AU LAB remembers all of the patch parameters as you save them.  So if, for example, you finally optimize your work flow and settings and accidentally close the mixer window and save it when you close out  –  that window is gone when you reopen it – and there isn’t  a way to recall it.  What that leaves is no way to change parameters, levels etc.  In other words – you start from scratch.  I do this with POD FARM patches as well (multiple variants of tones so if I can call up parameters at will), SooperLooper, Apogee Maestro and FBV preferences as well.  Hugely helpful in sessions – believe me.

3.  Related to #2 and 3 – organize your folders and label them logically.

In working on my book, you would be amazed at the amount of time lost digging through folders with vague titles looking for old graphics.  All my patches are in one place and backed up to a flash drive.

4.  To the extent you can – run real world tests before going live.

If the stage has hot lights on it, it’s going to be doubly warm for your laptop – will it operate correctly in a live context.  In a related note, record yourself when you’re playing and check levels etc.  As I’ve said before, there’s a substantial difference in sounds that work when your practicing with headphones, sounds that work at low volumes and concert level sounds.  The more prepared you are, the easier it will be to keep it all together.

5.  Keep it compact

Typically in live performance you won’t have an hour to set stuff up.  5-10 minutes is optimal.  To the extent that you can, try to pre-cable all of your connections.  Don’t assume that the venue will have clean, continual power.  I have a surge protector built into my strip – it’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing.

6.  Go with the highest resolution your system will handle.

SooperLooper freaks out when I run anything higher than 44.1k – so if I’m looping – everything runs 44.1.  If I’m not looping everything runs 88.2, or 96k.  The clean sounds have more definition and the dirty sounds are a whole different ball game at 88.2 vs 44.1.  Again, this is where having multiple AU patches comes in handy.

7.  Be flexible.

Have a backup plan when things go wrong.  In a worse case scenario where the laptop completely fails – I can go directly into the amp and get a signal.  There won’t be any effects, but at least I don’t have to stop playing while it gets sussed out.

8.  Be calm.

This took a while for me to get my head around.  The problem with getting freaked out – is that it just exacerbates the situation as typically it leads to bad decisions which leads to more freaking out.  The more you can calmly assess what’s going wrong, the more quickly you’ll be able to solve the problem.

9.  Bring Extras.

I bring a trouble shooting pack to every gig it consists of:

  • duct tape – to tape down cables/or hold things together if need be.
  • a mag light – things get lost on stage very easily.
  • a small tool bag with screwdrivers, pliers and a wrench
  • a black magic marker and post its – in case I need to make any patch changes, write up set lists, etc
  • 9 volt batteries (for my ebow – also for my back up tuner)
  • strings and a string winder
  • back up usb and firewire cables
  • an extension cord
  • a flash drive with back up patches for everything

10.  Bring your A game.

Stage presence is a difficult thing to bring to a laptop performance, but to the extent that you can – show that you’re engaged (or at least don’t look bored/frightened) and come out from your laptop once in a while.  If it’s engaging for the audience, it’s going to make the performance go easier for you as well.

Thanks for reading!

-SC

Laptop Guitar Must Buy – Gator Viper Electric Gigbag w. Laptop Compartment Review

I know that I promised to scale back on the gear reviews – but because it’s the holidays, and because some people will procrastinate on shopping – I’ll try to get a few more of these out before Christmas.

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This will be a very short review – because the majority of features on this gig bag are the same as the Standard Viper gig bag  and have already been well documented in my earlier reviewAt the end of that review – I posited that perhaps the laptop addition would be convenient – but I wasn’t sure how necessary it was.

Santa came a little early this year – and while I had just asked for the standard case, I gave him the website for this listing which had the grey version of the laptop bag for $47.99 with free shipping (or if you’re really desperate – you can get the same version of the case – but Red – for 52 dollars more.  In other words  – yes – getting the red version of the bag is more expensive than buying TWO of the grey bags.).  While this is nominally more expensive than the Amazon listing I cited in the previous review, here’s the short of it:

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If you use a laptop guitar rig like I do – this is the case for you.

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There are two big differences between the bags that make me say that you should spend the extra cash on the laptop bag if you can.

1. Storage.  The storage compartments in the bag have probably twice the space of the standard bag.  If you use analog pedals – there are 2 pedal compartments built in.  Here I have my Apogee and my hard drive in them. I was able to fit my entire laptop rig in the gig bag (minus the shortboard).  Which is a big deal for me because that makes the rig much more portable for touring.

2. The weather sleeve.  In addition to all of the protection that already comes with the bag, behind the headstock is a zippered compartment holding an elastic rain coat for the gig bag.  This is huge for me – because even though I liked the idea of a laptop compartment – I was still a little worried about potential water damage.  Not now.

Even at $30 more than the standard bag (as originally priced on Amazon) this would still be a great deal.  At the $47.99 price – it’s an absolute no brainer.

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Part 2 of the chord scale lesson is coming up as is a post about the installed Bare Knuckle Cold Sweat 8 string pickup (spolier alert – it’s pretty sweet!)

See you next time.

-SC

POD HD vs Pod Farm: A Cost Comparison

One thing that occasionally drives me crazy is trying to find out about a piece of gear – finding a googled link – reading through a multi page posting involving specific gear only to get to a final point of, “Oh I don’t have the unit and I’ve never tried it – but I’ve read the specs.”

Having prefaced this – with any luck this post won’t make you crazy.

I have been taking a good look at the POD HD 500.  One thing I like about the laptop rig is being able to set things up quickly – but as a friend of mine once quipped about another unit, “…you can’t check your e-mail on dedicated hardware – but it’s also much less likely to break down on stage.”

Another nice thing about dedicated hardware is the fact that it’s self contained.  There’s something about being able to plug something in and be up and running in no time at all.  Even as compact as my laptop rig is – it would still be faster to run through the HD than setting everything up on my laptop.

The price tag – Part I

The POD HD 500 will run about $500.  For that you get the same ins and outs that you got with the POD X3 – 16 amp and cab models (apparently the modeling is built from the ground up in a completely different way than the previous pods – hence the “HD”), about 100 effects and an onboard looper that can loop audio up to 48 seconds (in 1/2 time mode – 24 in regular speed).

If you’re running POD Farm 2.0 on a laptop consider this for a moment:

A second generation Macbook will run you at least a grand.  You really need a 7200 rpm drive – and that isn’t standard on most computers so you’re looking $50-$100 or more (assuming you’re installing it yourself) and 4 gigs of memory or more (if not already installed – again let’s say $50-100 depending on memory and model) – so let’s just average $150 ($75+75) for memory and drive costs.

You’ll need an audio interface.  If you use line 6 gear – you can get a cheaper rate on Pod farm but it’s usb… Let’s assume for a moment you’re going to go whole hog and go with a high quality audio interface.  An RME Fireface will run you at least a grand – so let’s also assume you’re going to go “budget” and get an Apogee Duet for $499.  If you upgrade to a break out box – it’s a minimum of $95 more for the unbalanced version.

You can get Pod Farm Platinum for $149 on Amazon (and for $184.99 get the Ilok key as well) – This is opposed to the $299 you’ll be charged from Line 6 for Platinum alone.

From a software standpoint I use AU Lab (which comes free on the OSX installer disc) and Sooper Looper (which is shareware – but you should pay Jesse something for the product – it’s one of the best software investments you can make).

If you don’t want to have to click on a mouse for a set – you would need a midi controller.  I like the shortboard mk II (approximately $199 – but it you may want to spend the $7-10 bucks for a 10-15 foot USB cable if running it live).  It’s usb powered, well constructed and works really well (except for the fact that Line 6 currently doesn’t support displaying patch names on the controller – only midi values – this is a big minus for live use – because you have to stare at the screen to see what patch you’re playing.

So for a live laptop rig (from scratch) or The price tag – Part II

Computer:  1000 + 150 (average memory and drive cost) + $599 (Duet + breakout box)+  $184.99 (Pod Farm + Ilok key) + $199 shortboard = $2133!!!!

That $1995 for an Axe-FX ultra is starting to look like a steal (although the Axe-FX midi controller is $799 – which makes the shortboard look better and better all the time)!  Comparatively, an Eleven Rack Mount will run you about $760 or so.

This doesn’t include a laptop bag, external drives (for looping/recording to), IRs  (impulse responses), conditioned power supply, USB hubs, breakout boxes or other expenses.  To put it in perspective however, you probably already have a computer and an audio interface of some kind so many of these other expenses are not critical.

From a cost perspective – there is no comparison between a POD HD and a laptop rig running POD farm.

But here’s my thought on it.

I can’t imagine Line 6 not issuing a POD farm version of the HD models.  The code for the models is already written and they already have a wrapper (Pod Farm).  My guess is that they’ll wait a while for hardware orders to fill up and then release a POD farm version.

I have no idea what the hardware is in the POD HD unit (it runs up to 96k internally) – but I have to think that:

1.  My laptop has more memory, hard drive space and a faster processor than what’s on the HD (or the Axe-FX or the Eleven for that matter)

2.  Related to this – that I can run more than 8 effects if need be on my laptop – which it the limit on the HD

3. The Apogee has to have better A/D/A conversion than the POD HD.

4.  While the built-in looper is a great addition – that it doesn’t hold a candle to Sooperlooper for features or loop time.

Does this mean that I’m dissing the HD series?  Not at all.  As you can see from the economic breakdown above – I think the HD is an amazing deal.

The Pod X3 was already useable – and even not having tried the HD (cough, cough) – I have to think it’s sonically a step forward. Heck if I could clear out some money – I might be willing to pick one up for sheer convenience alone.

But in going the laptop route – I’m making an investment in the future.

I’m putting my money on better software and better plugins and knowing that if the POD HD sounds that much better than the POD X3, that the Pod Farm version may even blow it out of the water.

There’s always cheaper ways to do things.  For a long time I ran a POD 2.0 into a Fender DeVille and always had people asking what I was using to get my tones.  As a general rule, I would suggest to get the best gear you can afford and make the most of it.

One final thought

If you own a car – you will always be sinking money into it – insurance, gas, oil, tires, breaks, maintenance, etc, etc.  It’s expensive – but it beats walking.

When I was at Berklee –  there was a shred guitarist whose pedal board had about 30-40 pedals on it and needed to be carried by two people.   This was before the signal hit the full rack space unit.  All of this gear was for 3 tones – clean, metal rhythm and lead.  Additionally, he had 2-3 Rocktron hush units in the rig.  When he stopped playing there would be a literal sound of locusts trying to break through the speaker before the gate kicked in (here’s an approximation of the sound: wheedley-wheedley-wheedley-wheedley-SCHHHHHKKKKKKK – silence).

A laptop guitar rig is kind of like a car.  If you own a guitar, you will always be sinking money into it (and the gear used with it) as well – but it beats walking with a pedal board with 30 pedals on it to a gig.

Thanks for reading!

-SC

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POD HD Flash Memory Update, POD HD500 In Live Use And More Thoughts About Gear

SOME THOUGHTS ON MODELING, GEAR ACQUISITION AND THE POD HD500

LINE 6 POD FARM 2.5 UPDATE AND POD FARM FREE ANNOUNCED

APOGEE DUET 2 ANNOUNCED

New SooperLooper Update 1.6.16

OCTAVE4PLUS A4 – .007 STRING REVIEW

BKP (BARE KNUCKLE PICKUPS) 8 STRING COLD SWEAT PICKUP

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LAPTOP GUITAR MUST BUY – GATOR VIPER ELECTRIC GIGBAG W. LAPTOP COMPARTMENT REVIEW

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS – GATOR VIPER GIG BAG REVIEW

SCHECTER OMEN 8 STRING REVIEW PART 2 – STRING OBSERVATIONS AND SOUND CLIPS

SCHECTER OMEN 8 STRING REVIEW

APOGEE DUET BREAK OUT BOX OVERVIEW

LINE 6 FBV EXPRESS MK II REVIEW

MONO PRODUCER BAG (LAPTOP BAG REVIEW)

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POD HD500 AND POD FARM CONJECTURES

STEINBERGER GEARLESS TUNERS – REVIEW

TOOTHPICKS AND THEIR PROPER PLACE IN GUITAR MAINTENANCE

WHERE TO GET YOUR GUITAR REPAIRED IN LA OR LESSONS FOR THE SELF EMPLOYED MUSICIAN

GUITAR STREET IN HO CHI MINH CITY VIETNAM

RIG AROUND THE ROSIE OR MEDIATIONS AND MEDITATIONS ON GEAR

LINE 6 POD FARM 2.0 OVERVIEW

VARIAX AC700 REVIEW/WORKBENCH OVERVIEW

FNH ULTRASONIC GUITAR REVIEW

GEAR

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