Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Difference Between Vintage And Current Instruments

Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook cover image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
During a long discussion about vintage instruments in the studio this week, it prompted me to think about this excerpt from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (written with writer, composer and good buddy Rich Tozzoli) that describes some of the intangible factors that went into manufacturing Gibson humbucking pickups in the 50's and 60's. As you'll see, there are a lot of external factors that went into making a pickup back then, and those factors can pretty much be applied to all instruments in one way or another.
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"As if the known factors in building a pickup weren’t enough, consider the many intangible factors as well. For instance, most pickups loose their magnetic strength over time because of environment and electrical interference. Pickups can become weakened or demagnetized completely by leaning your guitar against an amplifier with large transformers, or even from taking your guitar too close to the train motor of a subway (as happened with Andy Summers of The Police).

Another intangible is the fact that tolerances of just about every component were much looser until the 90’s. While the difference was indeed subtle, add enough components at the edge of their tolerances together and you suddenly get a pickup that sounds different even though it’s made the same.
Manufacturing intangibles are a whole other story and for that we’re going to go a bit into the history of the Gibson humbucker.


The Changes In The Humbucker
The first humbucking pickups on the 1957 models of Gibson guitars had a sticker on them saying “Patent Applied For” as the design was in the review cue before being granted a patent (see Figure 3.27). These became known as PAF pickups (“Patent Applied For”) and have become highly sought after today for their great sound. The problem is that most PAFs sound different from one another due to manufacturing process of the time.
Gibson PAF Humbucker image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Figure 3.27 A Gibson PAF Humbucker

Until 1961 when Gibson standardized the selection process, they randomly used different strength magnets (grade 2 through 5) in their pickups, which accounts for some of the reasons for the different sounds. To make matters worse, sometimes a shorter magnet was selected (mostly seen in gold-plated guitars for some reason), which decreased the power of the magnet as well. In July of 1961, Gibson consistently began to use all short Alnico 5 magnets, although occasionally a few Alnico 2’s showed up. In 1965, Alnico 5’s became standard in all pickups, which finally brought about a bit of consistency to the process and the sound.

If that weren’t enough, the number of windings on the pickup varied enormously as well, especially in PAFs. The early coil winding machines didn’t have an auto shut-off so the workers would shut off the machine when the bobbin looked full, which was at about 5000 turns. As a result, no two pickups were ever the same.

Even when Gibson bought a winder with an auto-stop, there continued to be problems even though the pickups became more consistent. The stop mechanism was controlled by a fiber wheel which would wear out and break, at which point the workers would approximate the number of winds by timing the wind, which resulted in more inaccuracies.

Since the humbucker is made up of two coils, sometimes the windings of each coil were different even though the total number of turns were correct. This would cause certain mid-range frequencies to stand out and give it more bite.
Gibson Patent Number Pickup image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Figure 3.28: A Gibson Patent Number Pickup
By mid-1962, the patent for the humbucker was granted and Gibson changed the sticker to read “PATENT NO 2,737,842” which was actually the patent number for Les Paul’s trapeze tailpiece. No one knows for sure if printing the wrong number was merely a mistake or a way to throw off the competition. From 1963 to 1975, these “Patent number” pickups are very consistent, as are the ones thereafter when new, more precise winding machines were used (see Figure 3.28).

In the 1990’s, Gibson further refined their manufacturing and began to manufacture pickups based on the original PAF design. Thanks to precision modern manufacturing techniques, these pickups are remarkably consistent, which also means that a “magic” pickup made as a result of loose tolerances is no longer possible to get. That being said, most experts agree that you can now get 90% of the way there sound-wise for 10% of the cost of a vintage PAF."

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is this Mackie Video Any Good?

Here's an "interesting" video on the Mackie DL1608, the new 16 channel live sound mixer built around the iPad than the company just released at the NAMM show.

I'm not sure how I feel about it personally. Is it brilliant advertising? Is it condescending to potential buyers and users? Is it funny or not? Where all these guys on acid when they created it? Maybe some of this, or none of it, I can't decide. One thing it does do is grab your attention and make you talk about the product, which is what advertising is intended to do.

What do you think?

Thanks to my buddy Steve Harvey for giving me the heads-up on this video.




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Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Look At NAMM 2012 - Part 3

Here's the last of my NAMM 2012 overview, and this time it's more about some of the odd or unusual things that I spied during my all-too-fast gallop around the show. I was actually at NAMM for 2 entire days, but the problem was that I was involved in meetings most of that time, so my floor time was actually pretty limited. Sometimes that's for the best though, since you tend to see the big picture a little better as you race through the 4 giant halls, the basement, and 2nd and 3rd floors (yes, NAMM is pretty big). Let's see what we have.

Molecule Drums image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blogFirst up is a rather interesting drum kit from Molecule Drums. As you can see they have this round bulb on the bottom where the bottom head should be. Surprisingly, they actually sounded really good for the brief bit that I heard.










LED drum head image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog




Speaking of drums, this company puts blinking LED overlays on drums, heads and guitars. You can't see them blink here, but it probably looks pretty good on stage.








Stained Glass Drum Head/Speaker Cabinet Grills image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog




Here's a company that makes stained glass drum heads and speaker cabinet grills. This is definitely a case where image wins over audio quality, but if that's important to you, contact revampedglassdesign.com.


Footbass image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog





With Mumford And Sons so big at the moment, having a guitar player also play a rhythm instrument has become an important musical element. This piece (I think it's a "Footbass") is just the thing for that acoustic act that needs a heartbeat.
NAMM hats image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog





If you want to be cool, you need a hat. What better place to buy one than at NAMM?











Slaperoo NAMM 2012 image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog




Here's an interesting instrument called a "Slaperoo" that's a combination upright bass and percussion instrument. I can actually see this going somewhere as it seems to have some real possibilities in the right hands.













Hand-Built Piano Co. NAMM 2012 image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog

Just won the lottery and want to buy the fanciest piano known to man? The Hand-Built Piano Company can help you out. I don't know what they sound like, but they sure are ornate.









Grand Illusion Piano Shell image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog

Want everyone to think that you're playing a real grand piano onstage instead of your synth? Time to get a Grand Illusion piano shell. This looks like the real thing from every angle except that of the player.






Unique Piano NAMM 2012 image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog


Okay, imagine you're playing playing in a piano bar in Afganistan and you want to keep the Taliban away. What better way to do it than to make them think that you have a Predator drone at your disposal. Yes, this really is a real grand piano.



string keyboard device NAMM 2012 from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog

Let's say you're a piano player that never could get the hand of guitar fingering, this device let's you use what's familiar.
Big City Music organ NAMM 2012 from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog


Believe it or not, this is really an organ with 5 white keys on the left hand and 5 on the right. The songs aren't great but the sounds are good. It was found at Big City Music.

NAMM 2012 sound police image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog



And finally, the sound police were out in force at NAMM. Here one regular sound cop and one undercover one check the sound level of a dobro player with a Radio Shack meter and an iPhone app. At the same time, none could be found around the various drum, brass and amplifier booths.

That was NAMM 2012 through my eyes. The other stuff you can read on any blog or website, but you have to come here for the cool stuff.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

A Look At NAMM 2012 - Part 2

While yesterday we looked at what's new in audio at the Winter NAMM 2012 show, today we'll look at lots of guitars and amps. Keep in mind that I'm not noting what may be the hottest things at the show, only the things that stood out to me. Let's get down to it.

Orange Micro Terror image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blogA big trend at NAMM this year was small amps like this Orange Micro Terror. Not only were these amps low-wattage, but they were small as well. The problem with most of these kinds of amps is that they didn't have a case around them (although the Micro Terror at least has a metal cage around the tubes). Highly impractical for gigging, although that seems to be the hot thing, for this year.






Four Force amp image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog

 There were more amps than you could shake a stick at (see my video of how many guitars and amps there were back during the 2009 NAMM show for an idea), but I happened to like this particular design from Four Force. Sounded pretty good too.















Milbert GaGa amp image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blogPerhaps the most unique amplifier at the show was this Milbert GaGa (yes, that's the name). It weighs only 12 pounds, uses any type of tube that you care to put into it, and still puts out 90 watts. Supposed to be a new type of circuit design that can even power your pedals directly from the amp! Sounded pretty good, but I only listened for a minute. I'd like to find out more about it.





 Over to the guitars, when 7 strings just won't do, here's an 8 string for you.













girl body guitar NAMM 2012 image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog


When your band is so bad that you can't pick up chicks, a least you can simulate having one close to you when you play.

3 neck guitar image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog




Here's an interesting triple neck guitar. OK, I can see a 6 and a 12 string, but I can't see the need for the 2nd 6 string, unless maybe it had single coil pickups instead of humbuckers like the other. Uh, this one doesn't.
6 foot guitar NAMM 2012 image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog





 When big just isn't big enough, how about a 6 foot guitar?













knobs galore NAMM 2012 image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog



These are all guitar and amp knobs. Every kind, shape, make, model, you name it. And there were 2 more cases just like this.

pickups galore NAMM 2012 image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog


Here's a case with nothing but pairs of pickups, and it wasn't Seymour Duncan (hint: they're from that  country that makes everything cheaply).
tone woods NAMM 2012 image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog



Want to build your own guitar from scratch? I mean, really from scratch? Why not buy a brick of wood and route it yourself. There were actually a number of companies that sold guitar tone woods at the show, which I find incredibly cool.


video in guitar NAMM 2012 image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog

And finally, when your playing just isn't enough, how about adding an iPad in the body?

If you think some of these were odd, tomorrow we'll look at yet another side of NAMM that most don't bother to look for.


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Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Look At NAMM 2012 - Part 1

Another Winter NAMM show has been left behind, and once again it's time to reflect on what we've seen and heard. This year one of the things that really stood out was the enthusiasm of the exhibitors and crowd, both of which seem to indicate that the economic doldrums that we've suffered through recently may finally be in the past and better days are ahead. Most companies that I spoke with indicated that they had a solid 2011and 2012 was getting off to a better than expected start. Let's hope that continues.

Today I'll concentrate on audio gear, Tuesday on music gear, and Wednesday on oddities. Let's get down to it.

Universal Audio Apollo image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
 Maybe the most talked-about item at the show for those involved in audio was the Universal Audio Apollo, a multi-channel interface that also happens to come filled with all that great UA plugin DSP, as well as a rare Thunderbolt option.



Sonodyne SM200Ak NAMM 2012 image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Transaudio Group introduced the Sonodyne SM200Ak, a larger version of their already excellent  50 and 100 speakers. I've been using the 50's for about a month and I've got to say that it's one of the finest small desktop speaker that I've heard. Can't wait to hear the 200's for real.







SE Munro Egg image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog

Speaking of speakers, SE Munro showed studio designer Andy Munro's Egg 150 monitors. I've read a lot about the concept behind the speakers and I'm anxious to hear them for real. Unfortunately, NAMM is not the place.
















Emotiva monitors image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blogHere's a company that I'm not familiar with at all, but their Airmotiv 6 monitors sounded terrific on the show floor. With so many speaker companies already in the game, it makes you wonder why another company would try to take a piece of a saturated market as well, but it seems like they may really have something here.







Isoacoustics speaker stands image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blogSpeaking of speakers, you can't really hear them well unless you have some great stands, and the isoacoustics stands claim to be the best there is. I don't know about that yet, but they sure seem like they're the most adjustable.
















Line 6 Stagescape M20d image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blogLine 6 entered into the sound reinforcement business with an entire new line of products, including the Stagescape M20d, a mixer that has a new user interface that's almost entirely graphic. Could this be the future of consoles?

The Stagescape L3T and L3M powered speaker system and sub have a tremendous amount of features that aren't readily apparent, but they sure sounded good with music played through them. It should be interesting to see what happens with these products in the future.


Dangerous Music monitor controller image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blogThe always hi-quality Dangerous Music showed this cool monitor box. Sorry, but I lost the info on it. Wish I had one right now.








Masterlink Live image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blogI had expected this to be a huge iPad show, expecting a ton of interfaces, peripherals and apps. There were a few, but not what I expected. The Alto Masterlink Live is a 16 channel mixer with an iPad dock. I understand that Mackie also introduced a similar product, but I never spotted it at the show.






Marshall iPad mics image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Marshall showed a number of mics they claimed were designed for the iPad, and there were a number of devices that used the iPad as a controller, like this Pimitec personal monitor system.

Pivitec iPad personal monitor image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog





cheap headphones image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog

This was also a headphone show. It seems like the Dr. Beats phones that have become so popular exposed a huge market that hasn't been serviced and every manufacturer now wants a piece, although it's probably now too late. Just like most mics come from one Chinese factory (737, which also had a booth at the show), I wouldn't be surprised if all the headphones came from the same place as well.

Chinese Shure mic knockoffs from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog


 There were no shortage of blatant knock-off products at the show by Chinese manufacturers. Here's a box that looks like it comes from Shure, but they're all imitations.



Studio Mics?? image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
And of course, so many companies believe that if they copy the look of a famous vintage microphone, that automatically makes them a "studio microphone."

One of the funniest conversations that I listened in on was with a used-car-style salesman from a new mic company relentlessly telling producer-engineer legend Ken Scott about how cheap his mics were and how much money Ken could make because the margin was so high. Ken, being the gentleman that he is, just allowed him to rant.

Tomorrow we'll look at some music instruments from NAMM.


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Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

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