Archive for September, 2008
Yep. That means U2.
Sorry, I posted my more technical post just below this one, so I was looking for a funny or mildly amusing post to go right here for those who dislike the technical posts. But I failed today. So, as is my default, I decided to go with a couple U2 clips. If you don’t like U2, I’m really sorry. But take a look at these clips and keep a few things in mind. One is that these are live. There’s some post-production, but seriously, these sound really good for live. Also, check out the energy they infuse into their shows. Astounding. And probably the most important part, look how full a band of 4 guys can sound (although there is a loop track on the second clip.) Every instrument in its place, not stepping on the other, just arranged perfectly. U2 is one of those bands where when you listen to their music, it’s like, ‘Nothing is happening. Why does it sound so good?’ I think that’s something we should be striving for.
And of course, tone. Whether you like U2 or not, most guitarists (myself included) can usually only dream of tone like that.
Enjoy. Or don’t enjoy, if you don’t like them. Either way.
New Year’s Day at Slane:
Until the End of the World at Slane:
Delving into getting good tone out of your amp…..and if that proves impossible, selling it, and getting a better amp. It’s the guitarist’s way. And as is my custom when I post these ‘a-little-more-on-the-technical-tone-side’ posts, there’s a more humorous one right above for those of you who are already bored just with this intro. And for those of you looking for really in-depth techy stuff, unfortunately, you won’t find it here. I’m a musician (although that’s debatable as well), and tend to describe things in terms of how they make stuff sound, rather than the schematics of things. Not that that’s good or bad, it just is. hehe
Now, there will be a couple parts to this (which is why this one is called part 1); so this first part might be a little redundant to a lot of you who have already gotten passed the whole tube versus solid state issue. But as this issue was my first intro into guitar amps, I’ll start off basic. Because there’s a lot that goes into amps, and it can be overwhelming. A good friend of mine once told me how he chose his first amp. He said he walked into Guitar Center, saw a Crate and thought, ‘I’ve never seen a rock star playing a Crate.’ He saw a Fender and thought, ‘Only blues guys play Fenders.’ Then he saw a Marshall and went, ‘Marshalls! Rock stars play Marshalls!’ And he bought a Marshall.
(Rock Stars use Marshalls. Point in case. Oh, the cheesiness in this picture is seriously astounding. The best part about this picture is that of that whole wall of cabs, you can see that only two speakers are mic’d.)
And it can be really overwhelming. If you don’t like the tone of your amp one day, it’s like, ‘Is my eq wrong? Did a tube go bad? Do I need a new amp? What if I just don’t like this style of tube? What if the tube’s are okay, but a I need a different circuit style? Why do I think about buying something new as the first resort? But what if my amp just sucks and I spend another month trying to dial it in only to realize it sucks? Maybe I need a solid state amp. No! Heresy! Maybe it’s the humidity in the room today. Yep! That’s it.’ I mean seriously, it can be daunting.
My first amp was a Crate 10 inch. I remember wondering why my tone didn’t sound like the tone from my friend’s tube combo and tube half stack. And I thought, ‘Well, obviously. I need a bigger Crate.’ So I bought a Crate 2×12. And my tone still didn’t sound the same. And as I had just gotten into U2, I started to look at their guitarist’s setup of two Vox AC30′s. And I thought, ‘Well, obviously. I need to run stereo.’ So I grabbed my old band’s Fender 2×10 Fender PA system, and ran stereo out of my GT6. Oh…….yes. Are you picturing my rig right now? Wait…….just wait. And to top it all off, U2 still hadn’t pounded out all the punk and glam rock of my high school days yet. So thumping signal into this wonderfully toneful stereo rig was……wait for it…….a BC Rich bronze Series Warlock. With the action and intonation set up by the brilliant skills of the truck ride from the BC Rich Manufacturing plant to Guitar Center.
Now, not every guitarist goes through this. A lot that I’ve seen, but not all. You gotta realize that I have this ‘prodigy’ complex. I always think that I am this undiscovered prodigy, and I would lay awake at night dreaming of the tears forming in people’s eyes as they listened to my beautiful want-to-be metal-jazz? solos, and then were dumbfounded when they saw all that tone and skill coming out of such a cheap rig……but a cheap rig so briliiantly and originally done! What? Stereo through a PA system? That’s amazing! And then some British guy comes up and says how he and every other band on his continent wahave been talking of this new idea of sharing the same guitarist, and the search for said guitarist has just ended…..when he saw me ripping the pentatonic through the Marshall model on my GT6. That British guy? Sting.
(What I thought I looked like.)
(More like what I actually looked like.)
So, ya, I have issues. Anyway, once I finally came to the realization that the tears my tone and playing were bringing to people’s eyes were not tears of wonder or amazement, but rather of something much more frightening, I decided to jump into looking at different amps. And at first, I was extremely overwhelmed.
One of my tone mentors had been working on me a while with the idea of a tube amp. I had been telling him for about a year that my digital modeling Boss GT6 through two solid state amps was the ‘way of the future’. (I remember, those were my exact words.) But in secret, every time we would play next to each other at church, I would listen to his tone, then go home and try desperately to tweak my solid state/modeling rig to sound like his. And one day I finally had to admit to myself that there was a warmth, and a dynamic, and an overall bigness and sweetness of real sound that his rig had and that I was completely missing, no matter how much I tried.
So I started the journey. Now there are two main types of amps: transistor and tube. Transistor is better known as solid state. Tubes used to be the only way to make amps; then sometime in the ’60′s or ’70′s, all these solid state amps started coming out. And it was a big deal. Because tubes are expensive and unreliable at times. Solid state is a much more stable way to make amps. So you can look at some Fender amps from the ’70′s that proudly boast in big letter marquee’s on their fronts, ‘Solid State!’
And then, somewhere down the road, guitarists started to realize that solid state didn’t sound very good.
Now that’s a huge and gross generalization. Even though the sentiment generally tends to be that tube is way better than solid state, solid state does have it’s advantages.
See, tubes are finicky. Out of the 2-10 tubes that are usually in an amplifier, sometimes you can get a bad sounding one. They’re fragile, and can break quite easily. They have a short lifespan, and have to be changed out. Different manufacturers’ tube sound audibly different. They need to be warm to sound their best; but not too warm, or they can blow. Solid state amps, on the other hand, are (like aforementioned), much more stable. They don’t break down as easily, the sound is much more consistent because you have taken out the variable of the ever-changing and wearing out tubes, and they’re much easier to dial in the sounds you like because their clean and overdrive sounds are not dependent upon misusing tubes. That’s right. That’s the sound we guitarists have come to love……the misuse of tubes. We get them too hot so that they distort, and we dig it. We call it that saturated tube overdrive. And solid state, in general, because it does not have those tubes to misuse, tends to sound more sterile.
Of course there are exceptions, and most of those are due to very clever circuit design by some genius manufacturers. The Roland JC-120 is a solid state amp that is renowned for its cleans. Some of the old Silvertone solid state models from the ’50′s and ’60′s are rumored to sound just like tubes. And one time I heard a jazz guitarist rocking out of a boutique Evans amp, and it sounded fabulous. So there are definitely exceptions……..
(Sweet little Silvertone tube head. On a lot of amps, such as old Silvertones, you can’t tall if they’re tube by looking at the front or even sometimes the model. You gotta flip it around and look to see if there’s tubes. Obviously, they’re there in this one. If you don’t see any, stay away! Just kidding……..not really…..)
…….But on the average, a tube amp will sound warmer and fuller, have more harmonics, be richer in both tone and feel, will better bring out the dynamics in your playing and in your guitar and effects, and have a much better overdriven sound. But it will also be less reliable and less consistent tone wise.
That being said though, once I finally played through a tube amp and sold my Crate and lost (literally) my Fender PA, it’s like my ears were opened up. There is a warmth, weight, and reality to the sound of a good tube amp that I have yet to find in a solid state or transistor amplifier. So my vote is hands down for a tube amp. If you have yet to try one, or if you are looking for a first amp, really try to find a good tube amp. The best tube amp with the best tone/price ratio I can think of is the Fender Blues Junior. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a solid state amp with the warmth, feel, and responsiveness of that Blues Junior.
There is also a little something to be said for both tube rectifiers and solid state rectifiers, but that will be covered in the next part, as this post is already probably years too long for most.
Tubes. And then someone will rock some amazing tone from a solid state amp and put me to shame. But still, as I have yet to hear that consistently, and as the shame of my past rig and metal/glam awesomeness continues to push me further and further away from anything resembling solid state……
Okay, this is the best thing I have seen in a while! Quite subtle, British humor. If you’re a Spinal Tap fan, this is for you. If you have never seen or heard of Spinal Tap, this just might make you a fan. It’s Christopher Guest reprising his role as Spinal Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel (which he does for random tv or movie clips every few years) explaining the origins of Stonehenge, which as a lead guitarist, he of course has studied extensively.
There are five parts, and here’s two of them.
‘Stonehenge was an amplifier:’
‘You’re not a musician are you:’
Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. And Splendid.
Well I am very stoked indeed. It seems my amps break down all the time….I don’t know why. I do run them hot and I play out a good amount, but still; it seems abnormal. So a good tech is crucial for me. And you gotta have a good one…..we’ve all heard the horror stories about techs touching amps and them never sounding the same again.
So I usually go to Jerry Blaha in Hollywood. Not only is he a brilliant tech and amp builder, but come on now….it’s Hollywood. And some of you may know that I am just slightly less unhealthy with my movie obsession than I am with my music obsession.
(Ya, sorry for another disturbing picture….but I had to show how much I am in love with films…..especially those with Al and Bobby. They were actually quite nice here in person. A little quiet, but….. Thanks to my wonderful wife Jamianne for taking this picture. Most wives would have been embarassed, but she’s very cool. Much cooler than I am…..and if you think I’m just being sweet, take another look at the picture. Not so much cool there.)
I love going to Hollywood. I used to go once a month. (I didn’t break my amps once a month. We used to go there just for the guitar shops.) But as gas prices rose, amps breaking came to be my excuse for going to Hollywood……as well as Jerry’s teching skills. Here, for those of you who might be new to this blog, you can read about the last Hollywood escapade as well as repairs and mods to my amps here (and it has pictures! in case you find words in general a bit dull):
Yep. Very awkward pictures of me in those posts……what can I say, Heat is one of the greatest movies ever. But then gas prices rose even further. So when two of my amps broke down this last month (okay, seriously, one broke and I bought another one to play while I sold the broken one, and then it broke), I just literally didn’t have the gas or time to go all the way to Hollywood at the end of the month……the end of the month is when there’s this big zero in my wife’s and my bank accounts. Every once in a while there’s a number there……ya….usually with a negative sign next to it.
So I decided to try out Tim Pinnell at Top Gear Guitar in San Diego, which is much closer for me to drive and has waaaaay less traffic. Someone on gearpage said they live in Arizona, but drive all the way here to California to have Tim fix their amps. I was like, okay…..sold.
(An example of some of Tim’s work….this is one from his own line.)
So I took him two of my amps. Again, how am I so unlucky as to have two broken at the same time?
(Holland Brentwood. This is my loops amp as well as my ‘plug straight in’ amp.)
(Bassman clone. Handwired as well. Sounds great, but it’s up for sale as right now in my life there is a lot of guitar gear and not a lot of….uh…..money.)
And he fixed them beautifully. Even modded them very slightly to get rid of some excess hum. He really knows his stuff……and the amps sound better than they ever have. The best thing was how stoked Tim is about his job. He was explaining all kinds of stuff to me that I didn’t understand. (I pretend, though…..you don’t want to look foolish around geniuses.) So, my loyalty is still with Jerry up in Hollywood, but when gas money is short, it’s really nice to know there’s a tech like Tim Pinnell who can just nail the repairs and mods.
Just thought I’d give some quick props for two jobs well done, in case anyone in my neck of the woods is looking for a good tech. Or for those of you as crazy about films as me…..go see Jerry and make a day of it in sweet, sweet Hollywood.
This is the delay pedal I never thought I would replace. The one with few features, but amazing sound quality. Finally, I found that the Damage Control Timeline, at least to my ears, matched it in sound, but outdid it in features. (You can check out the Timeline demo videos here to compare:
So I sold my Replica. At one time or another, I’ve owned 5 of these. Same pedal. Just 5 different ones. And the one in these demo videos I’ve owned for 3 days….and now it’s up on e-bay. Don’t ask. It’s this crazy sickness that it seems only guitar players contract. (Some of you are doing the fist to your chest pump twice thing right now letting you know that you are also a guitarist with this sickness and in firm agreement with me. I appreciate the sentiment. Just don’t do the fist bump thing….it’s awkward.)
Anyway, the Replica is a killer digital delay pedal that keeps your dry signal completely analog. And the best thing about this pedal is the depth or ‘weight’ of the sound of the repeated notes. It sounds so natural. The brown switch is really cool to get a darker, more analog-sounding tone out of this pedal, and the subdivision switch allows you to tap quarter notes and get back out triplet/dotted eighth U2/Police-sounding delays.
Plus, it actually says on the pedal itself, ‘Handcrafted in Denmark’. So it’s perfect for us boutique snobs. We don’t have to make up something crazy about the pedal no one’s heard about before. Oh no. ‘Handmade’ and ‘Denmark’ are actually written on the pedal itself. Good times.
So here’s the videos, complete with my video card that can’t last more than 4 minutes at a time, and my obviously professional lighting skills.
If you’re looking for a simple delay that does the basics, this might be the best sounding one out there. Plus, John Mayer uses it, so that gives it even more awesome.
Alright, so the below post on part 2 of the effects chain is again very much for us gearheads…..so for those of you who would die before you described yourself as a gearhead, or for those of you who don’t mind gear talk but just glanced at the post below, saw its length, and said, ‘Ya right’, this post is for you.
I think Bach said it best way back in the 17th century: “Music is melody.” All our fancy effects, cool sweep arpeggios, amps at 11, and harmonic theory don’t mean a thing if there isn’t a great melody, backed with a nice understated bed of harmonic flavor. Everything else is just icing. How many times have you heard a band where you could drool all over the technicality, but the music did nothing for you?
So here’s a video of the most simplistic song ever. And it gives me goosebumps every time. It’s from a little indie film called ‘Once.’ Incredible flick. (Fair warning, it is an Irish film, so there’s a fair amount of words in it that we Americans consider curse words. In Ireland, I’m not so sure there’s such thing as a curse word! hehe) But here’s one of my favorite exhibits in simplicity touching my soul:
I don’t know if that does anything for you. But for me, that’s what music is about…..not technicality, but about touching you in some way nothing else can. Imagine when we can take that gift God created, and use it back for Him. Simplicity is beautiful…….and that’s what I want my music to be 9 times out of 10.
Alright! We got the tone suckage part out of they way. Now we can move on to the chain of effects. And please, I gotta have a disclaimer in here. This post was really, really boring…..so I decided to spice it up a bit by being controversial. Ya, maybe not the best way to spice things up, but certainly the most fun way! So a lot of what I’m going to say is tongue-in-cheek. hehe I’m going to say bad things about effects you like. My apologies. My opinions are not fact, and could definitely be wrong. But where would the fun be in a blog if there wasn’t at least a hint of sporting controversy? These are just my honest opinions as of this afternoon. Tomorrow, they will change–I’m a guitarist. Please feel free to lash back at my cynicism with ‘yo momma’ or ‘yo delay’ jokes in the comments section. You know…..
‘Yo analog delay is so thin-sounding……when you play it, I think it’s digital!’
Sorry…..guitar player jokes……ya, no…….I think even the guitar players are shaking their heads right now. So’s Jean Luc:
(I’m guessing most of you are feeling this same way right now. Due to my, what I thought was, quite inventive ‘yo delay’ jokes.)
So, now that the disclaimer has been said, back to the effects and my may-not-be-so-right opinions. Like I said in part 1, my chain looks like this:
–>Delay pedal–>delay pedal (always on)
But with the effects in the different loops, it looks like:
–>mid gain overdrive/distortion
–>light gain overdrive (with boost switch)
–>delay–>delay (always on)
Yikes, this is looking boring again. Quick, to the effects!
(To the effects, Batman! Sorry everyone……you’ll notice I’m in an interesting frame of mind tonight. And when those come along, you just gotta embrace ‘em. And as a side note, I’m really not sure what they told Adam West as Batman to do here. ‘Ok! Now, pretend you’re sucking helium! Good! Ok, now we gotta see more ribcage!’ Seriously, I’m at a loss. Great show, though!)
So, the first things you’ll notice right away is that there are no wahs or compressors in my chain. The reason for that is that personally, I don’t particularly care for the sound of each. They have their place, and lots of great guitarists get great sounds out of them, but they’re just not for me right now. I’ve never been a big fan of compression, even in recording. If it needs to be used, use it sparingly. By it’s very nature, it’s squashing your tone. Most of the time I find that if I need to clean up my sound in a way that compression will help, I can do it more naturally through better eq’ing, more focused speakers, a cleaner guitar, a less gainy overdrive, etc. If I need more sustain, I re-setup my guitar or get a fret job or whatever. I guess what I’m saying is that to me, compression is a fix-it effect, and I prefer not to add something to try to fix something. Alright, I know them are fightin’ words to a lot of compression fans out there, and if you have one on your board and you like it, more power to you! You figured out how to get a good sound out of a pedal I couldn’t. But for now, no compression for me. I did at one time own an Emma compressor, and it was very, very good. I kept it a low setting, first in my chain, and it kind of focused my tone. But as my guitars and amps got better, I no longer had a need for it. Seriously, I can like already feel the daggers in people’s eyes as they’re reading this…..and it’s not even published yet! Well, if you’re reading this, it is…..but not right now as I’m writing it……hmmmm, conversations with myself. And I know. You come to a blog with pictures of 74 million pedals on top, and then you read a post saying how certain pedals may be unnecessary. Heresy!! Heresy in the guitar world!! But before you scream that, just remember that I’m still a guitarist……which means that by next week, I’ll probably have sold all my delays and have used the money to buy compressors. Well, maybe not so much. But it’s possible. That’s why being a guitarist is so great! You have the luxury of completely bad-mouthing today the pedal you’ll buy tomorrow, and no one says a word about hypocrisy. They just say, ‘Oh, he’s a guitar player.’ Fantastic.
(And by the way, my new friend over at http://lespaulplayerdoctor.wordpress.com just did a killer post on compressor pedals, and I’m sure his playing does them way more justice than me. If you like compressors, you should go check it out. That post is changing my mind about them! hehe)
And the wah? First off, let me say that there are guitarists who make a lot more money then I do who enjoy using wah pedals profusely. And if they make more money than you, you have the right to make fun of them, right? I thought that was a rule somewhere. Anyway, the wah for me is a bit of an out-dated sound. Every so often I get a hankering for one, and then I just listen to any rock band from the ’70′s, and I’m cured of wanting one for the next few months. (Oooh! Daggers again! I’m ducking behind chairs right now.) Seriously, though, you can get some great classic as well as modern sounds out of wahs, but I just don’t like the sound enough to use it enough to justify having one. Creative use of a phaser can cop convincing enough wah sounds for me the one time a year I get asked to replicate an exact guitar part that has a wah sound in it.
(Ah, one of the great and perhaps slightly over-used wah sounds of all time. Joe Perry. But, he does make much more money than I do……and when you make that much money, you’re free to dress like you’re from the American Revolution and nobody cares. And obviously, you’re free to buy incredibly gorgeous guitars. If I tried to buy that guitar, even if I had cash in my hands, they would look at me and say, ‘Sorry, kid. This finish is too nice not to ever be on tv. And they would be right.)
And honestly, if money and board space were limitless, I’d have both a wah and a compressor in bypass loops, just for the odd times that a worship leader will want the exact cd sound, and to get it I would have to use compression or wah. But that’s only happened a few times, and I can usually get close to the same sound with other tactics. But if you were to run them, traditionally you would want the compressor at the very beginning of your chain (i.e. right after the guitar), followed by your wah. (The rare exception is that some fuzz pedals freak out–literally–if they are not first in the chain.) There’s also been some recent talk amongst guitarists (and the guitarists here have been no exception) about experimenting with the compressor’s place in the chain. So you may want to try it last in the chain (i.e. right before the amp), as this is how compressors are usually used in recording or front-of-house sound.
You’ll also notice I don’t have a tuner in my chain. It’s out of a tuner mute send from one of my bypass loopers. Tuners are one of the most important pedals you can have…..probably the most important. The best tone in the world will suck if it’s out of tune. But tuners suck a lot of tone, so it’s nice to not have them in your actual effects chain. Some of them, like the Boss TU-2, have buffers; so some people like to place them like they would a line buffer, at the beginning of their chain as the first pedal, or at the end as the last pedal, to push the signal along and regain some highs.
Next is the fuzz pedal. I love fuzz pedals. (Some of you are going…..wow, an effects pedal he actually likes in a blog about guitar effects? No way! Ya, ya……I know.) Anyway, fuzzes are interesting beasts that kind of take on a life of their own. That being said, they usually (though no one really knows for sure) like to be first in your overdrive chain. After the compressor and wah, but before anything else. One time I put it after something else, and the world almost caved in on itself with out of control overtones. It was in the middle of a service. The sound guy was yelling at me to stop. But I was powerless. The fuzz had taken over. So, they don’t like to have too much fed into them…..or maybe they just like it too much. But usually they should be the first in your overdrive chain.
And after this, I like to put the vibe pedal. It’s like a mix of phaser and chorus, and it just gives subtle, vintage modulation color to your overdrives. Bluesy type sounds. I have yet to land on a vibe pedal I like, but soon enough it’ll be in my chain. It can go after the drives, too…..but I really like what it does to the tone before them.
(Yep. The man who basically pioneered the fuzz and vibe sounds. Sorry…..got absolutely nothing tongue-in-cheek to say about Jimi. His tone’s too good, maybe. hehe)
As for the other overdrives, I like to go from gain first down through less and less gain. This is because I like to set my overdrives to a sound I like them at, and then use my less gainy drives and boosts to simply ‘boost’ that sound I like. That’s just me. I’m a control freak and like to know exactly how everything will sound. But it’s also crazy fun to go the other way and go less gainy to more gainy. Then the less gain and boost pedals will feed into the higher gain pedals, and have them take on new characteristics. It can be really fun, and you can get a lot of different sounds. So, no wrong way there…..except that my way is just slightly more right……I’m kidding, I’m kidding! Just experiment and see what you like.
Next is the modulation pedals: trem, phase, ring mod, filters, chorus, etc. Now, there is a tradition that puts modulation pedals before the drives, like I like to do with vibe pedals. It tames them a bit and gives a more subtle sound. Very cool….a little more vintage sounding. I did that when I had a Moog Murf……that thing was so crazy, it had to be before the drives to be tamed enough to be useable. But for more modern stuff where you really want the effect to be out front, it works best to put them after the drive pedals. I like phasers, filters, and weird stuff before the tremolo, because I like to be able to ‘trem-a-cize’ my phased sounds. But both ways will work. The trem usually gets a little softer if it’s before the phasers and such. Then you’re phasing the trem sounds, which can be cool as well. The comes chorus. However, for me, I love that huge ’80′s chorus sound…..so I actually like to put my chorus even after the delays, as my last effect. Just to chorus and mush everything together the few times I actually use chorus.
Next I have my volume pedal. I like to put this after the drives and effects for swells……so that I’m hitting my volume pedal with as much signal as possible. Then I place my delays after it, so that the delays are delaying the swelled sound. gets some cool keyboard-ish effects.
And then the delays and reverbs. Usually reverb is last, to kind of wash everything together. Dlays go right before, so that they can delay your whole board….all the sounds you’re doing. Delays before effects make them lighter and less pronounced, and the delays themselves become less distinct. Delay chains in and of themselves could be a post on its own. If you have more than one delay, experiment with placement. A lot of people run quarter notes into dotted eighths, getting a very rhythmic sound. Or short into twice as long can give a ping-pong effect. That’s, at least for me, is where the fun is…..running delays into each other.
(And of course, the master of delay himself, Edge from U2. Although actually, especially if you’re new to this blog, you’ll find that it’s just any excuse to throw in something about Edge. I admit….I have a bit of a big boy crush. Him and Brad Pitt. Wow……so much honesty right now. My wife says big boy crushes are fine…..as long as it means I want to be them, and not be close to them.)
And lastly would be your phrase sampler. The sampler is usually last just so you can sample all your pedals should you choose. I put a chorusy delay after even the phrase sampler, so that I can do some cool things with the sampled phrase, but again, that’s just my preference.
Okay. So this seriously only scratches the surface of effects placement. The cardinal rule for effects placement is whatever sounds good to you. Experiment, have fun, and don’t judge your tone too harshly. Tone is a journey, and it will probably never end for you, so you may as well learn to have fun along the way. It’s nice to have guidelines as to where the pedals go, which is what I have attempted to do; but in the end, it’s about what sound best to you, and the people who are listening to you. And in worship music, it’s probably even more important that it sounds good to the people listening to you and than it is that it sounds good to you yourself. Because we’re up there to try to make this music a vehicle to help them worship. So, it might be best to err more on the classic side than the experimental side. Not always; but just something to think about.
Sorry for another long and boring post. But in this one I got to throw out my own controversial opinions on a couple effects….just trying to liven things up! hehe Alright……on with the ‘yo delay’ jokes.
This weekend, we did Wonderful Cross…..kind of a mix between the Matt Redman and Joel Engel version. But I sent out the Joel Engel version for the bass and the drums to listen to. Anyway, after we run through the songs Sunday morning, our drummer comes up to me and says, ‘Hey too bad you don’t have the effect that he has on his vocal for that song.’
Now, probably the most dangerous thing you can ever say to me is, ‘…too bad you don’t have the effect….’ Because immediately my brain goes into ‘Hmmm, how can I get that effect’ mode, not to mention the ‘There’s no way my tone and our music is going to be outdone by some professional musician’ mode. (Professional, come on! My sound is so better than him…..the only reason I’m not as famous as he is, is because I just haven’t met the right people yet. Or better yet, because I’d rather be serving here…..this is where God has me. Ah, the lies we tell ourselves. I really hope I’m not alone in this! And God may definitely have us where we’re at…..but a lot of times I am so unreal with myself and just tell myself whatever makes me happy. Whereas in reality, there might, just might, be a tiny thing called talent, that is the reason I’m not where the professional musician is at. hehehe I hope you all are tracking with me right now…..and that the sarcasm and me making fun of myself are actually coming through the typed words! hehehe) So our drummer just laughs as he watches my head go through all these things. And then I realize that for whatever reason, I do have an extra delay in my bag that is going on e-bay tomorrow. Sweet mercy, we are going to have effects pedals on vocals today!
And as a rule, delay makes anything better. Anything. Bass, drums, keyboards, trumpet, cowbell (hehe, that’d be awesome!), your car’s stereo, absolutely anything. Of course I’m kidding right now, though……but only a little.
(Mmmm……effects on vocals. REM’s way might be just a tad distracting in church, though.)
And of course at any church, if you need to jerry-rig something together, you can find anything you need in some random drawer in the tech room. Found a way to go from XLR to quarter inch, and then back to XLR from the delay pedal. And the big surprise was that there was no hum…….very nice. And by the way, the pedal was an older version T-Rex Replica. Just killer pedals; very well-built.
So, time goes down to almost a slapback, level up to get just a bit of compression, mix down, brown mode off, and repeats up. Made a nice chorusy effect, and I (this is seriously amazing) resisted the urge to use it in every song and bend down between every song (or during every song) and change settings. Just used it on the verses of Wonderful Cross and it sounded very cool. Those of you who know how much I love delay…..(meaning, if I didn’t have a beautiful wife, the delay pedals would go to bed with me just like your toys as a kid) know that that took a lot of will-power.
(How can that not make everything it touches better? See that switch on the left? You can’t read what it says, so I’m going to tell you what it says. That’s the ‘Talent’ switch. Also known as ‘On/Off’ or ‘Bypass’. But for a delay, those words translate to ‘Talent.’ Every time you feel like you sound sucky, just hit your ‘Talent’ pedal. That’s what I do.)
Now, I don’t have the best voice; I mean, I can hold pitch fine, but I wouldn’t buy a cd where I was singing on it, if you follow. So now I’m thinking…..if I got another Damage Control Timeline with a Midi Mate so I can program in a different effect for each song…..and then another delay for strictly reverby settings….maybe a compressor……have to have tap tempo so you can Charlie Hall it for ‘Marvelous Light’….it’d make my voice sound way better! And now I have a whole new rig that I want to spend my non-existent money on. And just for the record, Diamond Pedals is working on something called the Altar Ego, which is like a bypass looper, but for vocals. It has XLR ins and outs, but all the loops are quarter inch ins and outs for pedals, and it’s supposed to be buffered and balanced. Oh, sweet, sweet mercy.
It never ends, people. Once you dive into the world of gear, you sink like Andre the Giant in the Sea of Shrieking Eels……”I only dog paddle.” (Sorry, there’s probably only like 2 people who actually get these movie references, and yet I just can’t seem to help myself.) And I am drowning, literally drowning in the ocean of gear………with the hugest smile on my face.
Alright, the post below was really technical and boring, so I added this one, too. If true bypass, buffers, and tone suckage in pedalboards really gets you going, see the post below. If that type of stuff makes you want to choke yourself to a slow and painful death by watching Adam Sandler movie marathons, then read this post here.
Sounding good live and everything that goes with it (tone, good sound technician who is preferably also a musician, knowing how to play live, practice, confidence, playing together as a band, etc.) is very important. Otherwise you end up just playing a cd and lip synching. Seems like a much easier way to do things……until this happens…..
Sorry to laugh at other people’s failures. But that is a huge:
Splendid. A lot.
So, wordpress is awesome. I just found out that I can actually tell what people are searching on my blog. So I can get a feel for what to post next. Could I do this on my last domain? Blog.com? Ya, not so much.
Therefore (I really was trying not to use the word ‘so’ again to open up a paragraph. I do that all the time. But I don’t think Shakespeare-sounding words are the best replacement word choices. And it’s not even really cool enough to be Shakespeare-sounding. It’s just awkward. Oh well), I am doing a post on the effects chain and the best placement for pedals, because I see a lot of searches for that. However, that post turned out to be like, 8 million years long, so I’m breaking it up. This first one is going to be the really boring one about buffers, true bypass, bypass loops, effects chains, and tone suckage. So, if you just read that and are already starting to feel all bored and like you want to vomit, I am also posting another post above this one with much more fun musical content. This one here is for the tone people that eat this stuff up. (I know; we’re really, really odd.)
But that being said, tone suckage due to pedalboards is probably the biggest culprit in bad or sub-par tone. It’s the main reason for the thought, ‘I have all the right gear, I’m a fairly decent guitarist…..why don’t things sound right?’ One of the best things that ever happened to me tone-wise, was a friend of mine taking a single bypass looper and plugging my entire pedalboard into it. Hence (oooh, another word from Hamlet or something), I could hear my tone when it went straight into the amp when the switch was off. And then when the switch was on, I could hear my tone through my pedalboard. And the difference seriously blew me away! Someone who had never picked up an instrument in their life could have easily heard the difference. My tone sucked through my board. I would recommend all of doing this every so often, just to see where we’re standing tone wise with our pedalboards, and how much tone we’re losing.
So, I’ll start by showing my signal chain:
–>Delay pedal (Diamond Memory Lane…..true bypass)
–>Delay pedal (Damage Control Timeline…..always on at very low, ambient setting)
Now, if you look at my board, you’ll see a ton of pedals. If I were to run through all of them, even with the high end cables I use and the fact that most of them are true bypass, my tone would suffer greatly. So I use bypass loopers that hardwire your pedals in and out of your chain with switches. I really, really like the idea of my signal running through the least amount of pedals as possible. As a general rule, your tone will sound best when it’s the purest as possible…..meaning the least amount of cable and circuits is has to travel through. So the best possible tone is guitar straight into the amp. I’ve even heard stories of guys going so far as to take all the tone and volume pots out of their guitars and amps, and then run a six inch cable from their guitar to the amp, so they have to literally hunch over the amp to play. And they record this way to get the purest tone possible. I’m just going to tell you right now that I am not that crazy……although, I once told myself that boutique pedals and expensive cables were a waste of time and money…….hehe. Things have changed a bit. So in five years, let’s hope I’m not leading worship hunched over my amp with my six inch guitar cable.
But, even though guitar to amp is the best possible clean sound, in modern music (and worship music), effects play a big part. So, you can just run a big board in front of your amp and not worry about tone loss (it usually ends up being high end, definition and sparkle loss), you can run bypass looper boxes that switch your effects in and out of your signal chain, you can run a buffer in front of or behind your effects, or you can use the amp’s effects loop.
Now, and this is just me personally, I want my tone to be as pure as possible, and I want to use effects. So I don’t use the effects loop because they usually mess a bit with the amp’s tone. Granted, some builder’s have done a great job with their amp’s effects loops, but I have yet to hear one I really liked. Also, I think the effects sound better out front, if you have an amp that takes effects well. I also prefer not to use buffers…..I understand the concept, but to me, it’s adding pedals to take away problems caused by pedals. Basically, you put a buffer either before all your pedals or after all your pedals, to ‘push’ the signal through all the circuits and cables, to regain your high end and definition. Again, some people get great sounds with these, and I have been itching to try out the VHT Valvulator or the Siegmund Missing Link; but I have yet to hear one that works properly in my rig without sounding just a tad bit fake. And it will definitely depend on the rig…..I have some guitar friends who use buffers (most specifically the HBE Uno Mos) and their tone sounds fantastic.
So, as far as my thinking goes, I would use either buffers, bypass loopers, or a combination. I choose to use bypass loopers. If you’re unfamiliar with them, they use hardwire switching to literally take your pedals out of your effects chain when they are not in use……..so there is no tone suck when you want the effect off. For me, I use those and pedals with no noticeable signal loss, and you can maintain almost all of your original tone while still using effects. (Notice I did say ‘almost all’…….no matter how good you use your effects loop, or buffers, or bypass loopers, there is still something really special about plugging straight into the amp.)
You will also notice that I do have two delay pedals on in my chain at all times. They are both in one of the bypass loops of my second looper box. I leave that loop on most of the time, because I keep that second delay on most of the time as just an ambient, reverby type sound. Just fills up and meshes things together nicely. The first delay is there because I am out of bypass loops. hehe I need to order a bigger one from Loop-Master. Ah, nothing’s ever perfect.
(Loop-Master is making some great bypass switchers right now.)
So, after you’ve got some bypass loopers or good buffers, it’s time to look at cables. This is where you lose people. Buffers are cool because you get to buy another cool looking pedal. Bypass loopers are cool because not only do they help with tone loss, but they actually clean up your board and create a nice control board at the front of your pedals (I don’t even touch the switches on most of my pedals. It’s all done from the control of my loopers.) But cables? I admit, it’s the absolute most boring thing to buy. But! The difference it makes in your tone is huge. Most run-fo-the-mill cables take away some serious tone. Now again, my thinking is that I want my gear to be as transparent as possible. (Yikes, I seriously use that word all the time!) Meaning, I don’t want a cable that puts tone or highs back in my signal, I want a cable that just lets my tone shine through. Currently, I’m using Lava ELC’s. I would highly recommend them. I also order them directly from Mark at Lavacable, and have him solder them. I really, really like the idea of all my connections being soldered. You can buy the build-it-yourself kits from Lava, George L, Bill lawrence, Planet Waves, etc. These are cool, but I would highly suggest sticking some solder in there. I used to use the George L solderless cables, and I was constantly getting fizziness in my tone because the ground connections would just come ever so slightly loose. If you move your rig around a lot to a lot of gigs, I would highly suggest solder. Lava’s are great, EA are great, and I even like the sound of Bill Lawrence’s. Planet Waves are okay, and George L’s add their own highs, which I’m not too keen on. I’m still in the process of replacing all my george L cables with Lava’s.
And lastly……get that tuner out of the volume pedal out. This is the easiest one to test. Play an open E, then pull the cable from your tuner to your volume pedal, in and out of the volume pedal. You can literally hear the sparkle come and go. I even go a step further and put my volume pedal in a bypass loop because it sucks tone as well. That’s a little extreme, but it definitely helps. But as far as the tuner goes, get one with a good buffer, or get a bypass looper with a tuner out. Hanging it off the volume pedal sucks a lot of tone.
And of course, note that this is all crazy, tone-head, gear-freak stuff. I see guitarists every day with a pedalboard with 15 tone sucking pedals, cheap tone sucking cables, and tuners hanging out of their volume pedals, and their tone sounds great. In fact, if you have a really bright sound, sometimes a good tone-sucking pedalboard will tame that. hehe But……a good exercise is to plug straight into your amp, especially if you haven’t done it in a while. If the tone is appreciably better, it may be time to start getting that pedalboard re-arranged to let your pure tone come through. Buffers, bypass loopers, good cables, switchers and effects loops–whatever works for you. This can actually be a fun time to experiment and get back to your best base clean tone.
And someday maybe we’ll get to this point. That’s Edge’s rig from U2. He has a custom made switching system from Skrydstrup to avoid tone sucking. Imagine being able to run through all that and still get pure tone. Impossible? Probably. But Edge’s tone does sound killer good. Sorry, I love U2 more than is even arguably healthy.
Splendid……and very long……and a little boring…..but hopefully helpful…sorry…….go read the post above!…….it’s way more fun!