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Friday, January 21, 2011

Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook Contest

Enter to win a copy of The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook.

My latest book (co-authored with Rich Tozzoli) provides an intensive overview of why electric and acoustic guitars, amplifiers, speaker cabinets, and effects, sound the way they do, and shows you how to get the sound you've been searching for. Also loaded with recording and production tips, interviews, and a DVD.

Click here to learn how to enter.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"Who Are You" - The Who Isolated Guitar

We haven't done an isolated track for a while, so here's the guitar track from The Who's hit Who Are You. The album, the last by drummer Keith Moon before he died, was released in 1978 and reached number 2 on the Billboard charts. An interesting aside, this was to be the debut of keyboard player John "Rabbit" Bundrick (who's been the band's keyboard player ever since), but he broke his arm falling out of a cab right at the studio door and never performed on the album as a result. Here are some things to listen for.

1) Quite the contrary to the precision of guitar parts in today's productions, there are lots of guitar noise, mis-fretted chords, and ghost notes in the song. We'd probably never let a lot of these things get by today, but it certainly didn't hurt anyone's enjoyment of the song in the 30 plus years since it's been recorded.

2) Pete Townshend's guitar has a nice long delayed reverb on it that really sounds good.

3) Listen to the dynamics of Pete's playing; everything from a whisper to a power chord, all on the same part. Once again, this is probably not the way we'd do it today, as we'd use multiple tracks with different passes and maybe even sounds instead.

4) This track sounds pretty much like a single take except for the audible punch at about 3;00 coming right before the bridge out of the solo

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Check out my Big Picture blog for discussion on common music, engineering and production tips and tricks.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

NAMM 2011 Report Part 4

Here's my final report from Winter NAMM 2011.

The Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec is another significant product that appeared at NAMM (sorry I didn't mention this sooner). This is a mastering tool that enables the engineer to compare multiple encoders both visually, numerically and audibly in order to tweak and pick the best one. In other words, if you wanted to make an MP3 file, you could immediately listen between the audio of the original file and the encoder (without having to actually encode the file), listen to the difference audio, and make any minor level adjustments so there are no overloads (encoders are notorious for outputting hot). Plus you're able to do 5 encodes simultaneously and enter a ton of meta data. It's the best tool for mastering online audio ever. Plus, it will only be about 500 bucks, and available as a PC or Mac plug-in for virtually any DAW.

For some reason, this show featured a lot of small guitar tuners and this Snark was one of them. I especially liked the Abbey Road reference.

The Soft Step by Keith McMillan Instruments is a USB foot controller that's different because each key provides pressure, side to side and up and down motion, as well as rotation information. As the sales literature says, "It's a mouse at your feet."

I actually saw a "Sound Control" guy walking around with an SPL meter, although it was obvious that he never stepped foot into Hall A (the drum hall), which was so loud as to be disorienting sometimes.

For those of you who want the coolness of tatoos without the pain or the potential social stigma that goes with it (let alone trying to cover up at work), we have the "tat sleeve." All you do is slip it on and you instantly become a bad mutha for the gig.

Most vocalists are hip to Entertainers Secret, which has been a singers secret for keeping moist vocal cords for ages. I've always been surprised that there wasn't a competitor, but it looks like there is now, with Superior Vocal Health coming out with a whole line of products designed for the vocalist.

And finally, for the geeky techy engineer in your life, comes the Vari-Ohm from Magneto Audio Labs, which allows you to correctly match the impedance of your microphone to you mic preamp. Sometimes you can hear a big difference when you do this, and sometimes you don't, but it's way worth it when it works.

That's it until next year. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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 the music business.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

NAMM 2011 Report Part 3

Here we go with Part 3 of my Winter NAMM 2011 report. Once again, the order is totally random depending upon how the pictures came up.

OK, we've tried every other material for a guitar body, how about glass? That's just what this guitar is made out of. I'd be really afraid to drop it. Looked good though.

This was the year of the iPad and iPhone accessory as they were everywhere. While iRig seemed to get all the publicity, there were probably a couple of dozen similar devices like this one from Sonoma WireWorks, although you can plug a mic simultaneously with a guitar in to it.

For you guitar players who can't get enough of fingering practice, here's a mini-neck that you can take everywhere you go.

And speaking of mini, for you bass players that just have to have that SVT sound, here's an Ampeg Micro-SVT amp and cabinet. It's small but packs a wallop with 200 watts into two 10 inch speakers.

This isn't a product, but I thought it was pretty cool. It's all 4 players of a band, each on their own individual display. It was so much more compelling than watching them all together on the same screen for some reason.

Paul Reed Smith came out with their own amp line, which sounded great in the demo. They also had one pulled apart on a bench in the their demo room. Take notice that it's point to point wiring, just the way the old Fenders and the like were made.

Tascam came out with their version of their groundbreaking Portastudio (complete with cassette tape) for the iPad. I wonder if it sounds as bad as the original?

The pickguards on these guitars change design and color about every 5 seconds. Unfortunately, the video that I took didn't come out too well. I wonder how distracting that would be for the player or the audience?

This is actually a musical device. The Reactable is a new way to make electronic music by placing different sound and control blocks on the table. It gives you instant visual feedback, but I have no idea how long it would take to really be able to make music with it.

The last part of my report will be tomorrow, and it will contain at least one significant product that I previously overlooked.

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 the music business.

Monday, January 17, 2011

NAMM 2011 Report Part 2

Here are some of the other things that I spotted at Winter NAMM 2011. Most of these are sort of oddities that may be amusing only to me, but a few things were really cool as well. Let's begin, in no particular order.

Here's a must for every DJ. It's the All-In-One DJ System from DJ Tech. Believe it or not, this thing is supposed to have 3000 watts worth of power, which would probably make it catch on fire long before it became annoying. On second thought, maybe that's a good thing.

Down stairs in Hall E is what we affectionately call "Inventors Row." This is where you usually find the startups that have an idea and a dream but barely enough money to exhibit. It's also where you find the most unusual stuff. This year it was a reemergence of traditional analog synthesizers complete with real patchcords, just like we used to use way back when. The difference now is that most synth modules are digitally based so that they're small and more reliable, and a commonly used backplane system has been devised that's similar to the API Lunchbox, so that modules from different companies can be freely interchanged. There were 9 companies that adopted this system (all in one booth) and a lot of excitement around the movement, at least in that one booth.

Shameless plug, so look away if you're not interested. My new book (along with co-writer Rich Tozzoli) called The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook was on display at the Alfred Music booth. I also gave a presentation about it on Thursday which was well attended. Thanks for those of you who stuck around.

The Korg booth seemed curiously odd this year because they're no longer distributing Marshall. That being said, they gave a lot of space to the new Blackstar amp line, which was started by 6 former Marshall employees. I've been told by independent players that I trust (i.e. not salesman or reps for Blackstar) that the amps sound great. Couldn't tell at the show because most amps sound good on the floor.

Just like the CES show, Chinese companies were everywhere, not just in the Asian section of the hall. In fact, it was interesting that so many had 40 by 40 or larger booths. Most of the companies no one has ever heard of outside of China. Someone has too much money, apparently, but I'm sure NAMM is happy to take some of it.

You never know what you'll find at NAMM. Here's a CNC machine for carving guitar bodies, should you decide to join the 5,000 other guitar manufactures exhibiting at the show.

There were a lot of crossover between traditional instruments and amplifiers, and LEDs. In this case, this speaker cabinet had a ring of LEDs around the cone that changed color every 10 seconds or so. I'm sure it improved the sound by at least a factor of 10 as a result. Didn't you know? LEDs make everything sound better.

Some version of the Fairlight company introduced the 30th anniversary edition of the original CMI. The new CMI is updated with current hardware and even has a space for an iPhone (look down at the right end of the keyboard). I can't image that a new CMI like this can be better than any number of much cheaper software and hardware combinations, but it does look cool and "vintage." Check out Fairlight Instruments for more info.

And speaking of updates, Gibson sort of reissued a version of their famous Firebird guitar, calling this one the "Firebird X." The only problem is that this is the most confusing, incomprehensible guitar ever made. It has so many controls and configurations that I couldn't get the thing to make more than a single sound (there's a tone modeler on board). I admire when a company tries to take a classic instrument into the future, but come on Gibson, if a technie like me can't get it going, you have a problem.

That's all for today. More tomorrow in Part 3.

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 the music business.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

NAMM 2011 Report Part 1

NAMM 2011 in Anaheim is now over, and unlike a great many previous shows, there were actually a few products that I would daresay are significant. I'm sure I missed a whole lot of cool new items, but these couple really caught my eye as something special.

Anyone who has ever dealt with drum samples knows that the cymbals are usually the weak link in the whole concept. If you're a drummer triggering samples, you know that the cymbals just don't react the way that real cymbals do, and if you're a composer programming drums, you have the same problem. A variety of the best drum libraries get close, but never really capture the essence and feel of the real thing.

So it was quite a surprise when Zildjian introduced their Gen16 line of cymbal models and controller. The fact that a 400 year old company (yes, 400 years) that was never considered electronically hip could disrupt their own business model certainly came out of the left field.

Gen16 looks like a cymbal and acts like a cymbal, but that's where the similarity ends. As you can see by the picture on the left, the unit is perforated and has a blue glow thanks for a ring of blue LEDs under the bell. The controller isn't meant to be tonally active, so it's made for strength rather than tone. Apparently even a heavy hitter like Kenny Aronoff can't break them.

How do they sound? Just glorious and everything you'd expect from the Zildjian. And they act like really cymbals too. You can play on the bell or on the side, or choke them and they act just like you'd expect.

I think the Gen16 cymbals are going to change the way drummers and engineers use cymbals, both live and in the studio. I don't think we even know how significant this is yet. Get more information on Gen16 here.

While the next item isn't as groundbreaking as the Gen16, it is significant in it's own small way, especially for the way we track in the studio. Peterson (the strobe tuner people) just came out with something called the Body Beat Pulsating Metronome which is an absolutely brilliant way of keeping time yet eliminating the click track.

With the Body Beat, you clip the vibration clip onto your belt or shirt (seen on the bottom of the picture on the left), and you can feel the beat instead of listening to it (although you can still listen to it as well if you want to). But what really makes this cool is the fact that you can sync a bunch of them together via BlueTooth, and have one that's a master that receives clock from Pro Tools or your favorite DAW via USB.

This is so cool for many reasons. For any player that hates playing to a click, or performs stiffly to a click, feeling the pulse of the song is a lot more natural. For doing string sessions, you can eliminate the headphone leakage by just letting the players feel the pulse instead. Maybe this will even work for drummers who need unbearable loud click in their phones too. One more thing - the units are on $129 retail.

This is one simple yet useful device that clearly falls under the heading of "Why didn't we think of this before?" Discover more about the Peterson Body Beat here.

Tomorrow, more of my observations from the 2011 NAMM show in Part 2.

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 the music business.


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