Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The 9 Factors In Pickup Sound

Seymour Duncan's vintage pickup winder from the Gibson Factory
Seymour Duncan's vintage pickup winder from the Gibson Factory
As any electric string instrument player knows, there are a number of different types of pickups, and within each category there's a tremendous variation in possible tone. This excerpt from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook explains the 9 factors that affect how a pickup sounds. The next time you're in the market for one, keep these in mind so you can better tailor the pickup to your needs.

"Just like most things in life, something that seems so simple on the outside is very intricate on the inside and a pickup is no exception. Here are the numerous factors that contribute to a pickup’s sound.
  • The number of turns or winding. This is the number of turns of wire around the bobbin of the pickup. The more turns, the louder the pickup, but the worse the high-frequency response becomes. The number of turns is measured by the electronic resistance of the wire, which is measured in ohms. The higher the ohms value, the hotter the pickup but the less high-frequency response you’ll have. Humbucking pickups have more resistance than a single coil because there are more turns of wire, which is why they’re hotter and have less high end.
  • Type of wire used. The diameter and insulation determines the number of windings that can fit on a bobbin, which will determine the resistance, which determines the output, etc.
  • Type of winding method used. We’ll look at this a bit closer in a bit, but many of the pickups in the early days of the electric guitar were wound by hand, which meant that there were more or less than the required number of windings on the bobbin, and an uneven wind would also affect the capacitance of the pickup, which can cause a peak in the frequency response. This problem was virtually eliminated when manufacturers switched to machine winding (see above), but while every pickup was now the same, some of the magic that occasionally came from a hand-wound pickup also disappeared.
  • The type of magnets used. Although Alnico (a blend of aluminum, nickel and cobalt) is the alloy of choice for most pickups, occasionally you’ll find pickups made of other materials such as ceramic or neodymium. This will affect the strength of the magnetic field which we’ll cover next.
  • The strength of the magnets used. Magnets used for pickups are categorized by strength on a scale of two to five with five being the strongest. A stronger magnet will produce a louder and brighter sound  while a weaker one will produce one that’s warmer.
  • The magnet height. How close the individual magnets are to the strings will determine how loud that string is. On pickups that have adjustable pole pieces that’s not so much of a problem, but on pickups with fixed pole pieces (like a Fender Strat or Tele) that could cause a slight imbalance in the string output. As an example, prior to the late 60’s, most guitarists used a wound G string, so the fixed height of the magnets on a Strat were different to compensate.
  • Pickup Cover. Metal covers on humbuckers can cause a resonance that results in feedback problems at high volumes. That’s why many of the early rockers removed their pickup covers, and why many guitars and pickups are sold that way today.
  • Pickup potting. Many pickups are sealed in wax to eliminate vibration induced signals that make a pickup microphonic. The heat from the hot wax can weaken the magnet though, thereby changing the pickup’s sound.
  • Potentiometers. Although not exactly a part of the pickup itself, the volume and tone pots are part of the electronic circuit along with the pickup and can affect the sound. The higher the resistance of the pot, the more high end will pass. Fenders use 250k ohm pots, Gibson uses 500k, and many other manufacturers use 1 Meg pots.
There are other factors such as winding direction, magnetic polarity, and the type of bobbins used, but their contribution to the final sound is subtle at best."


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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Checking The Drum Phase

As I've stated in many previous posts on recording, phase problems are one of the major sound destroyers, causing frequencies to cancel out in a way that they can never be recovered regardless of how much EQ you add later. That's why I've featured a section on checking and correcting phase in a number of books like The Audio Mixing Bootcamp, Recording Engineer's Handbook, Audio Recording Basic Training, and Drum Recording Handbook. Get this right, and you're way ahead of the game when it comes to making things sound good, especially the drums.

In this video from the Audio Recording Techniques course from Lynda.com, you'll see and hear one of the ways to correct phase problems on the drum kit either during recording or mixing. The examples are pretty apparent, and once you hear it once, you'll be aware of what to do and how to fix it forever.

You might like to see more of this or other Lynda courses, and you can click here for a free 7 day trial.



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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.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Greatest Craigslist Musician Ad

Bass Player image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Those bass players. They secretly control the music world. There's never enough of them, and you can never find one when you need one, since what few of them that exist are always working.

That's the untold secret of the music business - if you want to be a working musician, become a bass player. You may not get enough respect, but sometimes you can name your price.

To illustrate the point, here's an ad that appeared in the Nashville Craiglist listings from a bass player looking for work. He has plenty of demands, and he'll probably get them, as laughable as they are.
Bass Player Available NOW (Nashville (only))Bass player available for PAYING GIGS ONLY. I play G, C, D. If your
songs are not in G, please transpose them into G. If your song has an
Em or Bm or anything off the wall I will probably sit out that chord. 
Or I could learn those notes for $30 each. If you want me to do fancy
stuff like go back and forth between G and D while you hold a G chord,
forget it because I’m a “pocket” player. 
Minimum $100 per gig within a 5 mile radius of 37204. $5 per mile travel
charge for other areas out of town. 
Please make sure your gigs are on a Metro Nashville bus route, or you can
pick me up at my place. Must be home by 11 pm due to previous legal hassles.
No gigs within 500 yards of schools, parks, or playgrounds.
So remember, if any of your kids want to be a musician when they grow up, encourage them to be a bass player. At least you'll know that they'll always work.

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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.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Katy Perry "Firework" Isolated Vocal

Here's the isolated vocal from Katy Perry's big hit "Firework," from her even bigger hit album Teenage Dream. First of all I should say that I'm a fan, as unpopular as that may be. She writes some really catchy songs, isn't afraid to take chances live on stage, and does have a pretty good voice. Any time someone can rack up the number of big hits that she has, there has to be some real talent behind it.

That said, this song is in some ways the best and worst display of her talents. Listen for:

1) Uggg, the autotune. It really makes the vocal sound terrible. The problem I have is I'm sure she could've sang this song perfectly well without it with a few more takes and some comping.

2) The compression. The vocal is absolutely crushed during the b-section and chorus.

3) The sound. Wow, the vocal really sounds strident during the chorus. Cuts through the song though.

4) The nice short ping pong echo on the vocal to give it some space. This technique of two different timed delays left and right is being used more and more in pop music.

While it sounds like I'm ragging on the song, it really does have a great melody, hook and arrangement. It just goes to show that something doesn't have to sound great by itself to sound good in the song!



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

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

New Music Gear Monday: Universal Audio Apollo 16

The original Universal Audio Apollo took the world by storm last year, providing a great sounding computer interface coupled with an array of their great plugins built into the unit. Now comes its big brother, as they've now introduced the new Apollo 16.

The Apollo 16 features 16 x 16 analog I/O that can be cascaded with additional units in a large DAW system. It also features low latency sub-2ms monitoring during recording, even while using plugins, as well as 4 stereo cue mixes and a dedicated monitor section.

Check out the video for a full description.



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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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