Archive for February, 2010
…is sometimes far greater than tone itself. That’s one of the reasons that gear is so cool. You can look at my rig, see a Tyler strat, and assume I sound good. (And I don’t own a Tyler strat right now…just a dream i have. hehe) Without ever actually hearing any art. Which isn’t necessarily bad…as long as the art, and in the highest form, art for the glory of the Creator, does follow at some point. Which is why after a very lengthy post on tone and a new pedalboard, without ever showing any sounds, it is most likely a good time to try to start grabbing emotions again. The emphasis, of course, as always, being on the ‘try.’ But we do want to make sure that we always maintain the focus that the gear, although wonderful (oh so wonderful), is a wonderful tool. Just a pallet and a paintbrush.
So, definitely waxing a little too poetic here, without the benefit of the ‘poetic’ part. But couple that with the many requests I received to hear the pedalboard actually being played (novel concept I’m sure…ya, apologies for not including that in the first pedalboard post, hehe), I give you the world premiere of the brand new song, ‘Awake…or Turning Random Knobs on a Pedalboard I Don’t Know What to do With’:
For those of you interested, that’s a Timeline doing the looping, another one doing the swells, and then a Memory Lane and an SAD-1 for warmth. Subdecay phase for, well…phase, and a Hartman Germanium Fuzz for the bowish swells, with a Mosferatu for the feedback holding-ish stuff. Oh ya, and the octavey shimmer was provided by an RV3 into a POG, mixed politely by the Dan Burgess parallel looper. George Dennis volume pedal, but who cares about the volume pedal right? It doesn’t delay anything! hehe
So, I hope at least some type of emotion was conveyed by that. Come on, something to help me justify the board! haha But I am going to be trying to record different pieces like this quite often, and offering them for download here:
I do apologize, but since these are pieces, rather than backdrops for ministering through worship music, they’re not free. But the ambient pads in the 12 keys are and will always remain, free. But that should be all academic, as I doubt most of us who frequent this blog spend our money on anything that doesn’t have strings, a tube, or a true bypass switch. Nevertheless, I’ve gotta pay for my gear habit one way or the other. Hey, at least I’m honest.
So that was a bit of the new pedalboard doing pedalboard stuff. And what do you know! No dotted 8th delay anywhere to be heard! I almost feel a little bit dirty.
For those of you who took one look at the pedalboard post below and went, ‘Lame. I can make better music without having to have 95% of that gear,’ I humbly submit to you some of my own personal cures for boredom as a musician:
- Sing Fergie’s ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ on the chorus:
- Picture them selling out stadiums 20 years later (and Edge is still just as annoyed by Bono):
- I apologize. This one is really, really dumb. But I just can’t seem to help myself:
- And lastly, the inexorable end for all of us rockers:
You can’t take this…
…and make this:
And how can the afore-mentioned ‘this’ in the second picture, not be fun. For me, that’s half the reason for pedalboards. Sure, some of it is to sound good, but mostly it’s just legos for adults. And Line 6 says that their M13 is a complete replacement for pedalboards. Psssh. (I need to learn to not type that sound.) I defy anyone to make their M13 do that. Can you make a physical pile of sweet tone (pedals) with the M13? Can you vacuum the M13? Can you spend hours untangling rat’s nests in the M13? Can you saw the M13 in half? Such is the glory of real pedalboards.
So to recap what I’ve been talking about for months now, my pedalboard was too big. And too small. I couldn’t fit everything I wanted onto it, but at the same time, I kept running into things. And, at 48″ long, it was starting to extend my arms to the breaking point. And, it just looks awkward and unprofessional to be carrying anything 48″ long to a gig. And then all people see is the pedalboard. Which is an unfortunate side effect of being a tone junkie. See, I can’t bring myself to compromise on tone, but yet I am not The Edge. I still play places with audiences of like, 4 people, on stages in what appears to used to have been a walk-in freezer. So, everybody notices the huge rig and comments on it, when that’s not the point at all. So I thought that I would try to make the board easier to carry, give it more space for pedals, and make it a lower profile. And…well…it does have space for more pedals. Behold, the awful price of being a tone junkie:
Ya…not exactly low profile. Well, it looks low profile to me. But I couldn’t find any better place for the volume pedal up there on the left, so when I use it, there is a bit of a quite unfortunate Yngwie-cheeseball (can you say one of those words without the other?) power stance going on; and hence, low profile is lost. But I’m working on ways to do it gracefully. And I did build a carpeted 48×12″ facade that sits behind the board and hides the lights and wires from the seats. I don’t use it all the time, but at certain churches where I know I’ll be out front and I want to take care not to distract too badly from worship.
So here’s what I did. In order to save my arms, I sawed off the 12×16″ rectangle on the right side of the board. And then in order to keep the Furman Power Factor Pro power conditioner on the board, I carpeted another board, and put it underneath the current board, about 3″ below. But I also made sure that new board was 36×20″, so as to have an extra 4 inches for the Loop-Master bypass boxes, and hence more room on the original part of the board for pedals. There’s the power conditioner:
And then I took the piece of the board I cut off, and made it into a second board of all the things that run off of their own power and that I don’t use at every single place I play (and not without some ghettifying on the stapling of extra carpet to mask my less-than-stellar sawing skills):
That’s the click track that is only used at my home church and that prefers to run on battery, my Loop-Master input switcher that I rarely use but it looks rad, that runs off of an internal watch or G.I. Joe sound effects backpack battery (oh ya!), and the passive volume pedal for my pad rig that I don’t use when I play with places with two keyboardists, or one who does a ton of pads and ambient stuff. So that works out. And it fits perfectly in the bottom of my rack, so I just bring it wherever I go and only pull it out if I need one of those pedals. Although I do use the pads almost everywhere (why are ambient keyboardists so hard to find?), so this board does come out quite often. Together:
Prairiewood Les Paul (Wolfetone Dr. Vintage pickups)–>
Hartman Germanium Fuzz–>
VHT Valvulator Buffer (with JJ gold pin 12AX7)–>
Loop-Master bypass box–>
(Loop 2: ZVex Ooh Wah–>
(Loop 3: Hermida Mosferatu (at 12 volts)–>
(Loop 5: Paul Cochrane Tim (at 12 volts)–>
(Loop 6: Fulltone Fatboost first version (at 12 volts)–>
Loop-Master bypass box–>
(Loop 1: Subdecay Quasar phaser–>
(Loop 2: Dr. Scientist Tremolessence–>
(Loop 4: George Dennis active volume pedal–>
(Loop 5: Damage Control Timeline–>
(Loop 6: Diamond Memory Lane–>
(Loop 8: Damage Control Timeline–>
(Loop 9: Arion SAD-1 delay (black box version)–>
Dan Burgess parallel looper–>
(Loop: Boss RV3–>
Electro Harmonix POG–>
65 Amps birch cab (Celestion Blue & G12H-30)
Comments about the chain:
The whole thing, including the amp, is powered by the Furman Power Factor Pro, with a Voodoo Labs PP2+ coming out of the Power Factor to power most of the individual pedals with isolated outputs. Then there’s also a tuner out on the first Loop-Master box that mutes my signal and goes to the Peterson Strobostomp. The loops not mentioned on the Loop-Masters are currently empty. The Hartman has to be taken out of the bypass boxes because it revolted (a lot) when I put the buffer in front of it. And unfortunately, the buffer sounds blasted good. But the bonus round about having the VHT on the board, is that it also powers four pedals in isolation, so I was able to sell my second PP2+. The parallel looper runs the pedals for my ‘shimmer’ sounds, and that large knob on it is to blend the dry signal with the effected signal. The trick is to run the reverb at full mix, and before the POG, so that there’s almost a slow gear effect on the shimmer. And then Strymon came out with the Blue Sky reverb. Blast. But if it sounds good, it’ll definitely free up some space on my board. For more delay. Oh, most definitely. Oh, and in order to plug in the Rocktron Midi Mate’s (one for each Timeline), I had to reverse the positioning of the two Loop-Master’s on the board, because one was smaller than the other. So the chain there is flipped. Caused some major dyslexia issues the first couple times playing out, but I think I’ve got it figured now. And then there’s an M-Audio expression pedal plugged into one of the Midi Mate’s to control certain parameters on the second Timeline. Oh, and the Midi Mate board disconnects for easier transportation of the board. I also sawed off about six inches from one end of that board to make it less awkward that it’s a little longer than the rest of my board now. (It’s still me, and I’m still not very good at building things, hehe).
And the PP2+:
Along with the back of the Furman:
And the back of the whole board:
And I was stoked to be able to have my inputs and outputs connect easily to the guitar and amp:
And lastly, I’ve also been working on professionalizing and transportationalizing (yep) my pad rig. And I actually bought an actual board for it. Very unlike me:
But this company, Rondo Music, is selling these CNB cases online for really, really cheap. And they’re good quality, look like Jason Statham should be carrying one, and the velcro could probably hold 6 Pete Cornish pedals stacked on top of each other. (Had to throw Cornish in there somewhere. What’s a blog post without a little controversy? Oh ya. I already mentioned Yngwie Malmsteen.) Here’s it open:
The nice thing about having an old G3 Mac? It still runs iTunes and you don’t feel bad about putting velcro on it. The other piece there is a cheapo little PreSonus tube preamp that does so little that it actually effects your signal quite naturally and unobtrusively. I use it to run the pads direct (*gasp*) for those rare times when I need to throw in the bargaining chip of removing one amp from my rig in order to get the sound guy to agree to having the other amp on stage. hehehe Shhh. That one’s a secret. And then there’s a re-housed and modded old Bogen Challenger amp into a RaWoods pine cab with Weber 12A150b speaker, out of which I usually run the pads.
So, forgive the self-indulgent nature of this post, but I get asked quite often about my rig and signal chain, and I figured I’d finally give a full post on it. But don’t worry. I’m a guitarist. That means it’ll all be changed by next week. I’ll probably get on a bohemian kick and sell everything and buy a fiddle. Hmm…maybe a fiddle and delay… So, for the record, here’s my rig. As of today, and if you’re reading this any time after today, then probably not as of when you’re reading this (hehe):
And…since it is possible that this post may seem like a, ‘My tone is better because my board is bigger’ post, just to show you how rockstar I really am…I had to take this chair out of the closet to put the guitars there for the picture. And when I did, I saw this:
That says ‘Karl V’ and ‘The Porch’. In reference to the worship band that I played two gigs with and was paid enough money to go out to Denny’s (that’s making it) afterwards, named The Porch. Why did I write that on a chair? Oh, because the chair, in cooperation with the car bungee, held up my Crate 2×12. Yes, I considered the chair enough of a part of my rig to write my band name on it. I still remember how proud I was when I wrote that. Folks, if you have a special chair on which you like to set your amp, and you are so proud of that chair that you now believe the aluminum to be made of some little known tone-metal, don’t broadcast it. Don’t write your band name on the chair as if someone is going to steal and use it’s magical tonal properties for their own purposes. Just keep it to yourself.
There. All sense of rockstar…gone. Now I can say things like, ‘The M13 sucks’, and when you become angered about me saying that, you can just remember that photo above, and then you will no longer care about anything I say. And I shall now refer to this post, every time someone disagrees with me. Win, win.
So that’s the new board. I failed a little bit at making it lower profile, but it is a lot less awkward to carry, and much more functional. That means, ‘can fit more pedals.’ And I was going to try to say something funny, or purposeful, or even remotely related to the post here. But it has been the longest weekend on universe and I am tired. So instead, I will borrow from one of the greatest movies ever: ‘Hey, Big Gulps, huh? Alright! Well, see ya later!’
No blue led’s. No hand-painted finishes. No Swedish monks slaving away on magic circuit board spindles. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. On the contrary, there’s probably everything right with that. But not all of us have that kind of money. I know I don’t. Oh, I like to pretend that I do, but in reality…I buy a Matchless, I don’t eat for a month. So I decided to start a little series on sounding good without money. Now, that doesn’t mean cheap gear. It does mean worse-looking gear, which to some of us might sound worse to our eyes, but it still needs to be quality. The point is that with a little bit of research so that you know what you’re looking for, you can get quality gear at quite low prices. Rarely can you get amazing gear at quite low prices, even though I know we all dream of the day we find something like this:
Stuff like that is once or twice in a lifetime. But you can get ‘decent’ gear for low prices. Such is the case with Keith Brawley guitars. He designed guitars a few years ago, and they are now no longer made. He moved on to designing Laguna guitars. But the Brawley ones from ten or so years ago, are of much better quality. Good wood, surprisingly warm and high output pickups wound specifically for Brawley, locking tuners, one-piece necks, two-point Wilkinson tremolo’s, and the coolest feature, recessed strap-locks. I first ran across Brawley five or six years ago searching for my first ’boutique’ guitar. And there it was, in the used section of Guitar Center (ya, I know…I was searching for boutique in Guitar Center…I was very young). Under $400 with a case. Better wood and pickups than stuff three times its price. Unfortunately, it was also snakeskin:
(Absolute yikes. I’m pretty sure I’ve shown this picture before, but it never gets old. Not only am I rocking…on Nigel Tufnel’s guitar…but I am also rocking the crazy uncle in the basement hair, the fu manchu, and the cross necklace. But I’m trying to play U2 licks. It was an interesting time…that, sadly…was not that long ago. 5 years is a long time, right? Right?! Oh, and the no grill cloth on the amp look. I can’t remember if that was to show off the fact that I had ‘modded’ the cab by changing the speakers, or because the grill cloth sucked tone. Probably both.)
And eventually, I sold it to move on to guitars that were a little better. Remember, this isn’t about being completely unreal and saying that John Mayer’s tone can be had with a Cort and a Pig Nose. There are better guitars than a Brawley, and you will have to pay for them. This is about getting really good and decent gear for lower prices than most of the $1,000+ junk out there right now. You just have to know what you’re looking for. And Brawley is a good one to look for. I’ve run across a few over the years, and they always have tremendous build quality.
Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I had an incredibly packed weekend playing at a few different places. And for whatever reason, I started to get nervous about not having a backup electric. I don’t know; I get weird sometimes. Ate some cheese or something. Or maybe I had just watched ‘Live at Slane Castle’ and had seen Edge’s 41 guitars, and thought, ‘Okay, I at least have to have 2!’ But I specifically sold my other electric and haven’t gone into the market again because my main one has a coil tap and does so much so well, that when I have other electrics, I just never play them. Plus, as afore-mentioned, if I would like to eat, I can’t buy gear. But I started to get nervous. So I went into Guitar Center hoping to pick up like, a Squire for $75. And then I saw a Brawley. Way up on the wall. And I just had to try one out again. Call it nostalgia. Plus I had a backup guitar for the weekend. Which I of course didn’t use. But it did give me the chance to start a series here about spending less money, which is ya..kind of odd for me. So that’s pretty cool.
–Keith Brawley fat strat
–Custom alnico pickups (that’s just what it says on them)…H/S/S
–Maple neck one-piece
–Alder body (not one-piece but cleverly constructed to look as if it is)
–Made in Korea, which is where a lot of good stuff is coming from lately. Not China, and not America (if they came off of machines). Korea and Japan, though, seem to have some good stuff. Or maybe someone told me that and I liked it, so I decided it was true. But from what I’ve seen, that’s a huge way to get a good guitar for cheap. Look and see if it says Japan or Korea on the back of them.
Work Done on the Guitar
When I got it, it looked like someone had thrown 11′s on a guitar set for 9′s. The neck was pretty warped, and action was like a tire run for your fingers. So I put 10′s on it, and set the whole intonation/truss rod/action deal. For those of you wondering, I learned how to do all that off the internet. Just some time, practice, and then you can save yourself a ton of money by being able to buy slightly beat-up guitars and then fixing them yourself.
And the Demo:
Surprisingly warm and outfront sound. Not incredibly weighty or with a lot of presence, but very good. Tone was very balanced. Pots are nice and smooth. Sounds good at every pickup position. Plays very nicely…just like a strat should. Locking tuners amke for an easy re-string. Keeps its tune nicely, due in part to the two-point Wilkinson trem.
As I mentioned, not as much depth as I’ve heard in some of the handmade strats. But still a great sound, especially for around $400. Oh, and even though the wood finish looks cool, there’s just something about the design of Brawley’s that screams ‘Don’t trod upon the dwarves.’
You know what? I might just keep this guitar. I really liked it. I mean, when the opportunity arises to get another Melancon, maybe an alder one this time, I’ll probably jump on it, but this is a great little guitar for the money. So, if you’re looking for a decent guitar that’ll sound very good for a very low price, and better than most of the stuff you’ll find in a store, maybe check out Brawley’s. And maybe I can find a way to solder in some blue led’s to the fretboard.
I dislike falseness or pretentiousness of any kind, so I’m just going to call this post what it is: I’m stalling. I know about all the posts I’m supposed to do, but time is always against me. (Not really, but it sounded cool to say it for some reason. Is that from Matrix? I think it is. My rule is that if Laurence Fishburne says it, then you should say it too.) And I could just do the pedalboard post, but I am waiting on one more pedal to come in (hopefully tonight!), and my love of pedals (some would say my Gear-Page-bred-boutique-snobbery-blue-led’s-really-do-effect-tone) won’t allow me to post a picture of a pedalboard with any carpet showing. So I decided to appear magnanimous (that barely passes for a movie quote…if anyone gets that, I’ll send you a pedal) and give a wrap-up of some new gear that you should definitely open up new credit cards for. Man, what a great time it was a few years ago…I could max everything out on gear, and they’d still send me more apps in the mail! Ah, the joys of the wondrous and what everyone now knows to be the imaginary world of credit. Still, you can’t deny those were some good times. But, I digress…as per the usual…which I should probably stop doing…but definitely won’t. Here’s the important stuff. Gear. Yep. Rock. Do you know there are people who have never seen Wayne’s World?
- Matt Solomon Cables–(I guess the link isn’t working anymore. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org . Not sure if he’s still running the same deal, but awesome cables.) This guy is wiring up Evidence Audio Cables 6-18″, a 10-pack for $100. Best deal I’ve found in a long time, and they sound great. EA cables are right up there with Lava’s ELC. And they’re the Monorail type, so low profile, bendable, and a cool muted burgundy color that makes people ask, ‘Ooh, what are those?’ An added bonus.
- Strymon Pedals–so much buzz going on about these things right now. Brand new pedal line from some of the amazing Damage Control engineers, with all analog dry path pedals: a delay with tap tempo, subdivisions for both dotted 8th’s and triplets, and new technology designed to get bucket brigade sounds out of a more versatile digital circuit; a reverb pedal with fully controllable decay and a ‘shimmer’ mode; a chorus; and probably the most useable and tweakable flanger to date. They’ve had their compressor out for a few months now, and it is the best one I have ever played. Which means a lot coming from me. (I hate compressors.) My demo of that OB.1 compressor is here, if you’re interested. I can only guess that the rest of that line of pedals is going to be just as stupendous.
- Analog delays with tap tempo! About time somebody caught up with Diamond’s Memory Lane technology. Not that I’ll ever sell mine, but I’ve been floored that’s it’s been this long before more of these came out from other companies. Analogman is working on one as a mod for his current ARDX20, Electro Harmonix is getting ready to release it’s Deluxe Memory Boy, and Young Pedals actually has its Time Stomp out now.
- Catalinbread is working on more editions of the WIIO, an overdrive designed to be a HiWatt sound, as opposed to yet another pedal being a Marshall. 100 of them got released, ebay prices drove up to past $1,000, and then he said he’d release more later this year. Ah, that was fun Gear Page reading while it lasted.
- And lastly, ZVex‘s new Inventobox. As if Zach (remember, way cooler to refer to these guys by their first names as if they contacted you for lunch, frozen yogurt, and a sponsorship when in actuality they just practiced good customer service by responding to your email) hadn’t done enough to revolutionize the way we view pedals. (That means hand-painting them. hehe Just kidding, they have some amazing and original circuits as well.) Now he’s working on a box where you can install 3 different pedal modules into it, and eventually perhaps design your own circuits for it, and then come into community with other Inventobox owners and swap circuits. Really bringing a cool communal aspect to the usually stand-off-ish, I play ‘Jump’ cleaner than you do, electric guitarist crowd. Ya, it’s old news…but it’s still pretty awesome!
- And lastly, an analog reverse delay with seventeen tubes. No, not really. Just a dream I have.
So…it appears that I am starting a trend of being wrong here. On Thursday, in a post about possibly (possibly, folks) being wrong, I posted a video of this new band called The Antlers. That same night, I went and saw them open for Editors at The Wiltern. I was excited. And wow. The most rambling, self-indulgent, condescending music I have ever heard. Huge, long, drawn-out Tchaikovsky endings to every single song, and then, as soon as you think the 11 minute song with the 4 minute ending must be over, the guitarist/singer and the keyboardist both drop to their knees and twist knobs on their pedalboards until there is this ambient fuzz wash thing hanging in the air. Now, the first time they did that, pretty cool. The 8th time…ya. Not so much. And no attempt whatsoever to connect or communicate with the audience. Which is really the point of music in the first place. The best part of the night was when, amidst the 6th, I believe, ending of a song with random feedback, the feedback I guess went on too long through the house system, because the singer then made some derogatory joke into the microphone about the sound guy. And then he waited for us as the audience to join him in laughing, but the whole audience was like, ‘Um, are you sure that’s not just your guitar?’ It was awkward. And I couldn’t help but think that if this band liked themselves just a tad less, and tried maybe for just one song, to humbly allow the audience to commune with their music rather than giving off the attitude of, ‘Here’s the be all end all of music, and if you’re too dumb to understand it, tough’, they could be the next great thing in music right now. I mean, they are talented. Amazing sense of melodies, incredible use of instruments and effects, and great orchestrations. Some of the fullest and most in-depth textures I have heard. But all of that was lost on us as we watched them drift farther and farther away from us into their own world of self-importance.
Just a smile. Or a nod, or a laugh. Something to make us believe they were trying to communicate their art to us, rather than lord it over us. With that change in humility, they could be on top of the world in a couple years. Or maybe at least perceived humility. Who knows, they could be the most humble guys on the planet. But that didn’t matter as far as the concert went, because that didn’t come across to us. I watched the whole audience just drift away through their set. Talking, laughing, leaving for drinks…this huge disconnect started forming, and the worst part was that The Antlers seemed to be reveling in that disconnect. And then I started wondering how often we do that in worship music. Are we trying to communicate the worship of God to our audience, or are we reveling in our own musicianship? Or even in our own sense of communication? Reveling in your own ability to communicate can put an end to that ability really quick. Or…even not communicating because we’re reveling in our own worship, and using the stage as our personal prayer closet. We’re up there for a reason…and that is to communicate this sense of worshiping God through emotions, and letting that transcend into our daily lives. And sometimes we can get so caught up in how awesome we are, or how awesome the music is, or how awesome it is that world hunger is now alleviated because we played this song, that we can stop communicating altogether. And it’s really empty.
Oh, and by the way…Editors? Simply astounding. If you have not seen them live, you owe it to yourself before you die. The complete opposite of The Antlers. The whole feel of the night changed when they got on the stage. Suddenly, you felt as if you were feeling what they were feeling, and as if there was one song between them and the audience…and they just happened to be the ones with the instruments and microphones. The atmosphere was electric. There really is something about watching musicians truly feel the music, and stop trying to be cool, and let themselves go. And when Tom Smith, their singer, does a guitar dance that is so off-the-wall that you think, ‘What an idiot’, you know that he is no longer performing, but simply feeling. And that feeling, coupled with a humble and heartfelt desire to see your audience come on the emotional journey with you, rather than just watch you do it, is what communicates. Did you do that new David Crowder song because you thought it would communicate well with the congregation, or just because it was on his new cd? Did you do that tasteful anti-solo during that old hymn because you thought it would communicate well with the congregation, or because it would sound really good in the recording? Just some thoughts.
Oh, and for those of you doing the math, and noting that I posted the original Antlers video on the day I said I was celebrating my anniversary, and now seeing that in this post I mentioned seeing this show on the same day, yes. I have the coolest wife ever. And this is where she actually wanted to go for our anniversary. Wow.
And lastly…this has nothing to do with anything…but I was looking at my pedalboard this morning, and noticed my unused expression pedal, the expression pedal inputs on my Midi Mates, and the 50-some-odd patches yet to be written into the Timelines. Yep. And for those of you who have the Timeline, a $20 expression pedal plugged into the Midi Mate can control any knob on the Timeline, and is writable to a different knob per patch. I am discovering that it is very wonderful.
And of course, some Editors live footage:
My friends, apologies for being gone lately. Life has been lots lately (in a good way…meaning, lots of guitar playing out). But I had to give an update on my gear life here. Remember how I hate buffers? Ya well, the VHT Valvulator is good enough that it has convinced me to try it out live for a few weeks. I know. Crazy. But it’s happening.
So, I owe you a demo of it. And the Ooh Wah. And a budget guitar rig demo that I’ve been wanting to do. And my remodeled board is finished, and my fingers are almost healed from that. (Just kidding.) And instead, I’m giving you this cheeseball little updatey post. Because I’m on my anniversary getaway and hanging out with my wife is more fun than you. Sorry. And it’s okay that I’m posting this…she has some school work to do while we’re out, so I’ve got a couple hours. And in those couple hours, I just had to give the update……that a buffer may find a permanent place on my board. I understand it’s frightening. I’m frightened, too. I hate eating crow, or eating my own words, or anything slightly resembling having to be wrong. So, rather than admit to said ‘wrong’, I have decided that the reason the Valvulator sounds so good is that, due to me wanting to know definitively if this buffer was the way to go (because I’ve hated all other buffers), I put a JJ gold pin in it. Yep, it’s just that tubes are awesome. Not that I could be wrong. The next few weeks playing out live will tell.
What a difficult situation. If it ends up sounding better, than I have to have been wrong. But if it ends up sounding worse, then I have to subtract a tube from my rig. Neither are very good options. Hey! Maybe it’ll sound worse, and I can sell it and buy a Zen 2! The Zen 2 doesn’t really work in my rig, but it does have a tube! Problem neutralized.
And, just because I won’t be back for a couple days, I leave you with this. Just heard these guys, and can’t stop listening to it.
Mmm…melody and shoegazer fuzz tone. Doesn’t get much better than that.
There is no easy answer to this fabled (just one of the many words that can be substituted for the immensely overused ‘epic’) battle between guitarists and sound techs. Every answer for sound techs dies with just one experience with the pig-headed (let’s face it guys, we are) I-am-Van-Halen guitarist who yells at you when you try to rearrange the mic on his treble-cranked Marshall Valvestate 100 watt towards the edge of the cone in a desperate attempt to save him the embarrassment of going for the big solo and ice-picking people’s faces off. And every answer for guitarists dies with just one experience with the ex-’80′s-Metallica-roadie sound tech who belittles your tone but somehow manages to make everything coming out of the house speakers, including your carefully crafted Suhr-into-Blackface-Bassman, sound like a poorly recorded version of an Aerosmith B-side. And it’s those experiences that cause us guitarists not to listen when the sound guy asks us to turn down. Or the sound techs not to listen when we try desperately to explain why our amp needs to be louder.
So, rather than trying to give definitive answers, I’ve put down some things that I have wanted at different times in my life for the sound tech and the guitarist to know. These come from real experiences, as although I’m a guitarist first, I am also ultimately in charge of the sound ministry at my church, and do my best to run sound at least once every six months in order to get that ‘Oh’ moment again when my own guest worship leader who I specifically asked to lead worship yells at me to give them more high mids on their vocals…no, not in the monitor…ya, just the house…wait…did you take the reverb off? hehe So, this is my humble list. And reading back over this (yes, I normally don’t do that because I am very not-OCD…but I did this time in order to make sure that each section had the same number of points…yep…this can be a nasty battle, and I wanted very hard to try to be fair out of fright for my own life), I realize that I might do myself good to read back over this, or at least to try to see things from the other person’s perspective, at least a few times a year.
What Sound Techs Wish Guitarists Knew
- You’ve got 5 knobs on your amp. There’s 237 on this board. Give me a second to find the lo mids frequency knob on the second overhead mic so that you can have the ride cymbal sound ‘crispier’ in your monitor.
- Please be honest with me. If you ask for the vocals to be turned up in the house, and you get frustrated that it doesn’t happen quickly enough, and then you just say, ‘Okay, it’s fine’, then you’re just going to get bitter inside and then bite my head off when I say, ‘How’s everyone’s monitors?’
- You know that feedback you’re hearing? Ya, I do too. You don’t have to patronize me into the microphone: ‘Does anyone else hear that low rumble?’
- It’d be nice to get the mp3′s like the rest of the band, so I could hear the sound you’re going for.
- If your amp sounds like ice picks through your speakers, it’s going to sound like ice picks through the house. If I turn down the treble, now it just sounds like really dull ice picks. Get a new amp.
- Contrary to what you might believe, I’m not actually trying to make you sound bad. I’m trying to help you.
- It’d be cool if you bothered to take the time to learn my name.
- I have to eq you. Your guitar is running through a 200 foot snake twice and a soundboard that is not dedicated solely to your tone like your pedals are. You’re going to lose a little something tone-wise, and I’m just trying to put it back.
- Please do not show up with an amp that hums at idle as if it had an engine, and then expect me to ‘eq it out.’
- No, you cannot have stereo monitors with both your amps panned left and right.
- Could you check your volume knob before I come down and start swapping cables?
- And that last one is for acoustic players. Electric players…if nothing is coming out of your amp, I can’t help you.
- And lastly…from me…I apologize for the times I’ve looked down on you and forgotten that you’re simply trying to rely on me to help you sound your best.
What Guitarists Wish Sound Techs Knew
- Yes, as a matter of fact, it does sound better louder. But seriously, tubes sound better hot, speakers sound better pushed, and air sounds better moved.
- If you see me lugging in hundreds of pounds worth of gear (as in actual weight…not trying to be British this time), please assume I know at least something about good sound and treat me accordingly.
- Please do not pin the entire 105db’s of sound on my amp, when there’s an unshielded acoustic drum set, and when you have the acoustic cranked loud enough in my monitor to drown out a HiWatt.
- The sound system is for reinforcement. A good source sound mic’d well and then simply ‘reinforced’ by the sound system, will always sound better than any soundboard ‘magic.’
- When I give you stage volume, I’m actually trying to help you get a warmer, fuller, and more lively mix.
- Please do not ask me to turn down by madly pulling gains down and waving your hand at me while laughing. I understand that is because guitarists have bitten your head off in the past when you’ve asked them nicely to turn down, but could you try it one more time?
- I am relying on you to be my ears out there. I really do want to work together for the best possible sound. However, that means both of us giving in to each other a little. I promise to turn my amp down lower than I would like, if you promise to turn the treble on my channel not as cranked a you would like it. Who knows? Maybe we’ll both learn something.
- The guitar is a mids instrument…not a treble instrument. Please don’t kill my eq into the treble range as if I’m doubling the female background vocalist.
- Please do not mic my speaker dead-on, complain about treble, but then act annoyed when I suggest a different mic positioning.
- If sound is coming from my amp, but you have no signal, um…I can’t do anything else for you. The problem is not on my end. (And yes, that actually happened.)
- Yes, the Avioms sound terrible. I don’t care what you’ve read. (In a nice way. ) Sound actually exists in nature; not in ‘Pro Audio Today’ trying to sell us things.
- I’m sorry, but the monitor simply does not have the sound or feel of my amp. If it did, I would be running my pedalboard into a 200-foot-snake, a soundboard with the wrong gain structure and a cheesey excuse for an eq, back through the 200-foot-snake and into a JBL monitor. Nothing wrong with all that; it’s necessary. But if I have to turn down my amp so that you can turn up the monitor, when my amp and the monitor are both in the same position on the stage, then I’ll just keep my amp’s volume where it is and you can turn down my monitor.
- And lastly…and this from me…I apologize for the times I’ve stepped on you and forgotten that you’re doing your best to help me sound my best.
You know, when I was a kid (sounds like the opening monologue from a method actor), and my sister and I would get in a fight, my dad would come in and say, ‘You know, this could all be solved if we just showed a little bit of love for each other.’ And I hated that. I wanted justice. Well, when it was her fault. And now, looking back on that, I realize that he was very right; for almost every situation in life. Just a little more love goes further than anything. Remember that your sound tech, or your guitarist, is a person. They have wants, desires, needs, and sometimes they even have bad days. A little bit of love can probably take care of 90% of these issues, and in turn, I guess love can actually make live sound better. One of the greatest things you can do is make your sound position part of the worship team. They’re the most important part anyway, and then you’ve started a loving, symbiotic relationship that will ultimately lead to better sound than you could have any other way.
And what takes care of the other 10% of the issues? Turning your amp up, of course. Sound techs, I’m kidding! Kidding! …Eh…kind of…
That phrase, when fully embodied for what it truly is, can have one of the most profound impacts on your life that you will ever experience.
And, contrary to blogging culture, my blogging this does not have a direct correlation to an argument with someone for whom I am wishing that they would read this post. No, no arguments, no disagreements, nothing personal. Just simply the fact that I was thinking tonight about when I wrote a prog-metal worship song on my BC Rich entitled ‘Blood and Fire’ (yep), and how when it inexplicably did not get widespread airplay (or, incidentally, a very good response from our guitarists’ parents at our one single show…uh…in his bedroom), my first thought was how close-minded and unintelligent the world must be to not ‘get’ the inherent earth-shattering of ‘Blood and Fire.’ And how, in recent years, applying the phrase ‘maybe I’m the one who’s wrong’ before making judgement calls on the rest of the universe, has served me quite well.
Now, when Kanye West continues to win Grammy’s, okay…now the world is wrong! And not just because U2 lost all their categories. (Which was actually kind of nice, because U2 seems to win Grammy’s even when they don’t do anything that year. So not winning for a year makes the other wins seem a bit more real. hehe) But because the whole show was terrible! I had to run off to youtube and soothe my head with this, just to remember that there are still musicians in this world:
And then I decided to take my own advice and think that maybe I’m the one who’s wrong. And then I listened to another Kanye West song. Nope.
But most of the time, making that phrase a part of your persona and your being, can change your life. In the Psalms, it’s called humility. And it’s the best thing I have ever experienced. It was a great 5 seconds.
The storm being, me (that means metro and glued his fingers together last time he attempted a project…and by project, I mean gluing the bow back on the snowman lawn ornament…which should never in a million years result in blood…and I found a way) with power tools. Er, a saw and a staple gun. I just found out that tools are a lot more expensive if you can plug them in.
Alright, pedalboard, it’s either you go, or my arms go. And I do find my arms to be somewhat useful in moving my fingers so that I can play a couple notes in between hitting pedals. So there you have it. Let the sawing (*sigh*, and blood) commence.