Just Play

For those of you who like my Facebook Music page, this may be a repeat. For those of you who know my obsession with this man and by proxy, Blade Runner, may roll your eyes. But I shall not rest until every musician, nay…every person, has seen this video. Please disregard the incredibly clueless and yet somehow still condescending Tony Harris. What Vangelis says about music, it’s relation to life, and how to enjoy rather than use music, is more than worth your time. The ending is quite powerful, too.


(Only way I can ever get our names together. 😉 )


Just got to page 4 in a Klon thread on Gear Page before I even realized what was happening. I would love to say it was just to make fun of everyone posting, but in reality, I think that every time I see the word ‘Klon’, I hold on to some gasping hope that I will find this:

…and then sell it. I mean, use it constantly for the magic tonal dust and not make $1400 profit and buy a Matchless Spitfire. 😉


P.S. The real magic in the Klon is Bill Finnegan’s insight into the nature of guitarists and subsequent vision of turning $25 of circuitry into $1500 of demand.

Using Ambient Effects & Techniques in Songs

Been kind of committing the cardinal sin of blogging for the last few months, which means going more than two days in between posts. Apologies for that, but there is a lot of music going on right now, so thankfully I have more playing opportunities than writing opportunities. Nothing wrong with writing, but you have to have something write about or else it all just becomes, ‘Hey, have you guys heard of this band called U2?’ and ‘Remember when I tweeted about my burger?’ So here’s a piece I’ve been working on for a film called Semblance, and it’s also the single off the album I hope to release before the end of the month. I’m using a couple techniques that I get questions on a lot, so I figured this would be a good time to talk through which effects were used for which parts.

Guitars and Amps:

Prairiewood Hardtop (Woleftone Dr. V’s), Matchless HC30 (EF86 channel, input 2), 65 Amps Cab (Scumnico 30 mic’d).

In a post about effects, I’m starting with the guitar and amp for this reason: You will never like the sound of your effects if you don’t like the sound of your base tone. In other words, sell the Memory Lane and get a better amp. 😉 This is not a hard and fast rule as there are a million different ways to good tone, including having expensive effects and cheap guitars and amps. However, this one thing has been incredibly instrumental for me personally.

Swell Effects:

George Dennis optical volume pedal, Prairiewood Hardtop, Strymon Brigadier delay, Strymon Capistan delay, Strymon Blue Sky verb, Arion SAD-1 analog delay, Arion SPH-1 analog phaser.

I mention the volume pedal first because it, or the volume pot on your guitar, are the most important parts of swells. If you’ve ever heard the session player Greg Leisz, he does some of the best volume swells ever, with minimal delay. It’s his volume control that is so good. Swell too slowly or too far after the string hit, and your delays cannot ‘hear’ the swell well enough to get any sustain. Swell too quickly or too close to the string hit, and your delays ‘hear’ too much of the swell and it becomes choppy and obvious that the delay pedal is working. The swell technique is hugely important, and the only way to get there is practice. I’m still practicing…there are many takes that sound so bad that I just want to pack it up and go home. Except that I am home, which makes me want to pack it up and go home all over again. 😉

I mention the guitar secondly because the guitar has a ton to do with getting a good swell tone. You want a guitar that sustains and rings very well, as it is still making sound as you swell in. So the main sound of your swell is the original hit, but the delay is still now hearing the sound from your guitar as your volume pedal is now up. The sustain from your instrument is what helps fill in the gaps and make things more full and pad-sounding.

Effects-wise, I use Strymon delays because Terry’s a friend and they make great sounding pedals. So if you have a chance, try to get ahold of the Brigadier delay. Since the Timeline and Capistan came out, it’s not quite as in demand, so you might be able to find one for cheaper. However, it has this uncanny ability to sustain your sound without really getting in the way. Perfect for ambience. But you do not need Strymon to get ambient tones. Any delay that gives you at least 1 second (60 bpm, 1000ms) of delay time, has a tone knob or some sort of ‘brown’ or ‘analog’ control, and of course sounds good, will do. The basic settings for any delay would be 60 bpm (1000ms), tone rolled off, repeats at 14 or 15 audible repeats, and mix slightly below unity (just less audible than your original signal). I throw one or two more very warm, washed out, and dirty delays on top of that to really wash it out. That’s what the analog delay and the tape delay modeler are for. The reverb then smooths everything over. When setting your dirtier delays, set modulation depth fairly high, and rate fairly slow. For reverb, the secret is a good deal of pre-delay. Phaser is added just to make things sound slightly more ’80’s and deep, and less generic.

Trem-picking Effects:

Strymon Brigadier, Arion SAD-1, and Curt Mangan strings.

The end of this piece uses a good deal of trem picking. Not exactly sure why it’s called that, or if that name is technically correct, but it’s the current colloquialism. The strings mean a good deal here, which is part of the reason I like using pure nickel strings to give it that percussive sound. However, you want to pick out of time with the music, so delay is used to help wash it out. I set my Brigadier at the same setting I use for swells. Then put the analog delay at unity mix, with 16 or 17 repeats, at about 250 milliseconds. This gives it that runaway delay feel. Add verb to taste. The main technique to this is changing your chord hand on tempo, but making sure to strum slightly off tempo.

Guitar Vocalizing Effects:

Brass slide, Strymon Blue Sky.

There is also a lot of what I call guitar vocalizing in this song. By using a slide, setting your amp and pickup selection bassy, and then cranking the mix on your reverb, you can get the slide to almost sound like a hollow voice. This can be a great effect in ambient music, where things need to wash, but perhaps you have melodies in your head that may be a bit too staccato to stand out enough when washed out by delay and reverb. Slide also fills your piece with, as Bob Ross would call them, happy accidents. I use a full slide instead of a ring slide, and it picks up a lot of transient notes and sounds which help add a very live feel to the piece. If the transients get to be too much, capo so that most of your open strings are in the key. This is a great technique to master (I have not even come close to mastering it, but trying to!), and slides are probably the cheapest effect you can buy. You don’t even really need to buy one. Within the upcoming album, there’s a piece on which I use a slide on one hand and a screwdriver in the other. Sounds almost exactly the same…and anyone who says differently is most likely a slide salesman. 😉


Matchless HC30 and pickup selection.

As usual, I don’t use any post-effects on my recordings…every layer is as it came out of the amp. As such, each layer must be eq’d and tailored to sit properly in the mix beforehand. This is a good exercise to get into the habit of, especially when playing live. Don’t rely on the sound guy to post-eq your band to sound good; orchestrate the song and instruments beforehand so that everything comes together to create the whole eq spectrum with minimal mixing. So with layers, use your amp settings and pickup selection choices to fit everything into its place in the mix. And if you’re looking for big ambience, a good tip is to reverse engineer this. Figure out where in the eq spectrum certain parts will congeal together, and then play them in that close eq space so that they do congeal together. This technique works very well for live looping, so that everything just creates a wall of sound on top of itself. And other times, just regular engineering is fine…stick a lead part in the treble, and use middle position pickup selections for the base layers. 🙂

I hope that gives a nice base and background for how to create and use ambient effects within songs. And, as always, melody first. Us guitarists have a tendency to get so bogged down with effects that even though we’re able to get the perfect sound, we have no melody to play with it.

Hope that’s somewhat useful, and enjoy the song! You can download it here, and you also have the option of not downloading it here, if you so wish. (See what I did there? 😉 ) Thanks, folks.


Tone is in the Big Pedalboards & Lots of Delay

So for the sake of this article, let’s go ahead and rule out compensation for lack of skill, bragging rights, because we don’t know what else to do, and because Jonny Greenwood does. All of which have most definitely been deciding factors in the size of my pedalboard and copiousness of my delay usage in the past. 😉 So barring those, it’s this:

Because we can’t turn up.

It really is that simple. If you have a place to do this, whether it’s staying late at church or going early to a gig, crank your amp and turn off your pedals. It’s incredibly surprising how much sustain you get, and how fluently lead parts come. Now turn down, and hear the space between the notes increase. Turn on a delay though, and you can mimic some of that sustain without much space between the notes. Turn on a fuzz or a compressor, and you can start to make the lead parts flow a little more easily again. Turn on a buffer and a clean boost, and some of the fullness comes back. Turn on a reverb and an ambient delay, and you can fake some of the moving air again. And now we’re at six or seven pedals not even for effect, but just to fill somewhat of the same air space in nature that a cranked amp does.

I’ve been finding lately that the louder I play, the less I need pedals. And I’m not talking about cranking your amp in a back room and hearing yourself through in-ears, because that’s less feel than when your amp is turned down but on stage. There really is no way around the fact that we need to curb our volume somehow in many venues, and effects help us get the feel back. The thing is, it’s just a tad artificial. So remember that just because it sounds good live, doesn’t mean it will translate into recording. Pedal settings need to change depending on the volume of your amp. So if you go into the studio, put your amp in a control room and just crank it, sometimes you’ll notice that your delay is incredibly pronounced. So pronounced, that (*gasp!) you might not even need it.

So there you have it. Another excuse to add to the arsenal when arguing with the ‘tone is in the hands’ guy. Because just maybe, tone is partly in the volume. And when you can’t push enough air, your hands benefit from a little effecting of the choked signal.

Nigel may have been on to something.


The Things I Can’t Understand

There are many things in life that baffle me. I shall endeavor to share some of those with you. Because it’s my blog, and I can. 😉

  • The guitarist who maintains that he doesn’t need effects, and proves it by showing me his studio recording of his guitar. His studio recording of his guitar that has been double-tracked, stereo-panned, doubled again, post-eq’d for different phrases, master reverb’d, and is that delay I hear?
  • The guitarist who only plays analog delays…like Strymon.
  • The worship musician who defends dishonest business practices from ‘Christian’ pedal builders, by professing that one can ‘feel the anointing’ in his or her pedals. So…can you feel the anointing in the original builder’s pedal, or does anointing only come from stealing a pedal and slapping a Bible verse on it?
  • Wait, wait. I’ve got another one. The worship musician who defends dishonest business practices from ‘Christian’ pedal builders, by professing that one can ‘feel the anointing’ in his or her pedals. So if I blindfolded you, and turned on and off different pedals from ‘anointed’ and ‘un-anointed’ builders, you could choose the anointed ones? Or would you just end up choosing the ones with the most shimmer.
  • The soundguy who tells me my amp is too loud, when my amp is sitting behind the unbaffled, acoustic cymbals being pounded like they just slapped Neil Peart’s mama.
  • The soundguy who tells me my amp is too loud, so turn down and he’ll give me more in my monitor. Wait…my monitor and my amp are right next to each other facing the same way. So now you’re just telling me that I suck, aren’t you…and that any less volume from my amp can only possibly help the overall mix. I’m not saying you’re wrong, just that you need to find a better cover story. 😉
  • The guitarist who berates the soundguy for eq’ing his guitar on the board, but yet refuses to turn down whatever knob that’s driving ice picks into our ears. 😉 😉
  • Pedals with internal trimpots. Makes them more versatile! Yes, it makes them more versatile for the one time I’ll actually have it off my pedalboard, with the bottom plate unscrewed, and am testing my guitar through an upside-down, open pedal, with a mini flathead screwdriver in my hand.
  • Amps that don’t have light-up logos.
  • Churches who stress that transitions must be smooth, practiced, and perfect, to show that we’re not about production. ????????????????
  • Glee.
  • I taught a guy at a gig the other day how to use a tuner. He has 2000% more facebook fans than I do. To be fair, he is also much better looking than I am.
  • The Skreddy Lunar Module Deluxe. It simply cannot sound that good. And yet it does.
  • Arion pedals. They go against everything you know about tone, and totally throw a wrench into the boutique mindset. And sound wonderful.
  • Grace. And I’m not trying to be cliche here. It’s amazing, and yet unfathomable.
  • How come Boss pedals never, ever break…except when in the Guitar Center Boss kiosk?
  • Guitar Center in general. If you want to sell me an amp, can I please have a cable?
  • Samash. If you want to sell me anything…does anyone even work here besides the security guard at the front who just yelled at me to climb down off the display case and put the guitar strings down. I honestly don’t know how else I’m supposed to buy strings here.
  • The guitarist who knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Klon is just a tubescreamer clone, and all Klones sound exactly the same, with slightly less haunting mids. He’s never played any of them.
  • Why guitar pedals sound better before anyone else has heard of the company yet.
  • Why we in America (myself included) tend to care more about ‘what the Bible is saying to us’, rather than what the Bible is saying. We can tend to subconsciously water things down when trying to get personal meanings out of certain passages, rather than trying to discover what Jesus was actually trying to convey when He said those things.
  • The worship guitarist who hates dotted 8th’s, but loves Nigel Hendroff.
  • The guitarist who hates delays that digitize the dry signal, but bases most of his sound off of volume swells, in which the dry signal is not supposed to be heard. (Wait, that’s me! 😉 )
  • That atU2.com forums. I have never seen a group of people who hate a band so much, hang out so much on a website sporting that band’s name. If you love U2, but are tired of being made fun of for loving U2 (most likely by people who closet-ly love U2), hang out on that message board. It’ll cure ya.
  • How much money we spend on gear trying to sound like recordings that were made using gear we wouldn’t be caught dead playing.
  • Us, for taking ourselves so incredibly seriously most of the time.
  • And of course, this photo, taken by me at our local Ralph’s:
(Just what every kid wants. Without the creepy guy staring at you underwater.)



All That You Need & All That You Don’t

A Barnes & Noble sound system. A sort of fake sounding piano patch. An electric guitar probably running direct. A New York police siren in the background.

And still I’m brought to tears.

Music is something more than gear, more than you can buy, more than you can produce…more than the sum of its parts. If you could define it fully, the magic might be lost. But it certainly has something to do with heart and soul…which are things of which we in this day and age could certainly do with more.

So turn off The Gear Page. Turn off the hundreds of Facebook Gear Pages. Turn off this blog. I’m sure that Strymon would agree with me that you don’t need an El Capistan to play what’s in your heart.