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Friday, January 2, 2015

Film Composer Richard Gibbs On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Film Composer Richard Gibbs image
I'm pleased to start the Inner Circle Podcast's new year off with film composer Richard Gibbs. My good friend has had a notable career, from playing with the LA cult band Oingo Boingo, to playing on hundreds of records as a session musician, to composing the music for television shows like The Simpsons and Battlestar Galactica, and over 30 films.

Not only that, Richard owns one of the most innovative studios on the planet (Woodshed Recording), ranking in my personal Top 5.

In the intro I'll also talk about the tax credits for music production offered by the various states, and a study that scientifically determines why we like music.

Remember that you can find the podcast either on iTunes or at, and now also on Stitcher.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Rush "Limelight" Isolated Guitar

Here's a cool isolated guitar track from Rush's big hit "Limelight" from their Moving Pictures album, which broke the band as a worldwide act. Guitarist Alex Lifeson used an usual technique for getting his guitar sound by placing two amps inside the studio as usual, plus another two outside so they could capture the sound bouncing off the side of the mountains beside Le Studio near Montreal. Here's what to listen for.

1. There are two distinctly different guitar sounds, with the guitar getting distinctly cleaner for the beginning of the B sections of the song.

2. The guitar sound is a very wide chorused stereo with the right side slightly delayed.

3. The solo is interesting in that most of the sound is up the middle but two different timed delays are panned hard left and right, with the longer one on the left.

4. Many feel that drummer Neil Peart is the ultimate timekeeper, but listen to the great timing in the guitar performance by Lifeson. There's not a note out of place.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year! Hello 2015

I want to wish every who reads this blog a very happy and prosperous New Year.

We're all striving for the same thing - to be part in the creation of some great music - and hopefully this blog helps you a little along the way.

As always, if you have any suggestions as to how I can improve this blog so it helps you even more, please send them to me at office @ bobbyowsinski dot com (sorry there's not a link as I'm trying to avoid the spammers).

Let's make 2015 be the best year ever!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Explaining The Sound Of Guitar Speakers

Guitar Speaker image
Most guitar players are blissfully unaware of the details of the speakers they're playing through. Sure, they may know what size the speakers are and how many are in the cabinet, but other than that, they have no idea about how much of an effect the make of the speaker can have on the sound. Here's a brief excerpt from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (written with Rich Tozzoli) that explains why they sound the way they do.

The size of a speaker has a great deal to do with the way it sounds. As you’ve probably noticed, an 8 inch sounds different than a 10 inch, which sounds different from a 12 inch, which sounds different from a 15 inch speaker. The reason is simple physics; the larger the cone, the more energy it takes to get it moving so the high end and the attack time won’t be as good as a speaker that’s smaller. Conversely, a smaller speaker has poorer low frequency response because it has less cone area to move air.

As a result, you’ll notice that an 8 inch speaker won’t have nearly as much bottom end as a 15 inch speaker, and the 15 with have quite the top end of a 10 inch speaker. That’s why 12 inch speakers are mostly used for guitar rigs; they’re a nice compromise between the two.

Number Of Speakers
That being said, the number of speakers in a cabinet can also have an affect on both the volume level and the low end. The more speakers that acoustically couple together, the more effective cone mass you have. As a result, a cabinet with two 12 inch speakers  gives you 24 inches of cone mass while a a cabinet with four 10’s (like Fender’s original Bassman) gives you 40 inches. Of course, other factors like resonant frequency are involved, but this is a simple way to look at it.

Speaker Wattage
Contrary to what you might think, lower wattage speakers usually sound better than high-wattage ones. High-wattage speakers have heavier cones and surrounds that change the response of the speaker and therefore the tone. Because the cone is heavier, it slower to move when a signal is applied so the high frequency response isn’t as good as one with a thinner cone.

Other things that change in a higher wattage speaker is the diameter of the voice coil and the type of wire used for it are usually larger, which again changes the speaker’s response. A heavier magnet is also required because the voice coil is a bit heavier to move.

As a result, what you have is a speaker that’s harder to blow up, but also one that has a different frequency response and doesn’t break up as easily, which may be an important trait of your sound.

Magnet Structure
There are three different types of materials used in speaker magnets, Alnico, Ceramic, and Neodymium, with each material having a distinctly different effect on the tonal characteristics of the speaker.
  • Alnico, an alloy of aluminum, nickel and cobalt, is the magnetic material used in the original speakers in all the vintage amps. It produces a classic tone that’s warmer and sweeter at lower volumes that many players feel reacts faster to the touch. Alnico was used for decades because of its strong magnetic field, but once the alloy became a bit pricey, many manufacturers opted for speakers with the less expensive ceramic magnets.
  • Ceramic magnets were developed as an inexpensive alternative to Alnico and have the advantage of being more versatile with a wider range of tones. Speakers with ceramic magnets tend to weigh more, but generally handle more power and sound better at high volumes. 
  • Neodymium is the latest development in speaker magnet material. It’s not as expensive as Alnico but costs a bit more than ceramic magnet speakers. It has the advantages of both weighing about 50% less than other speakers and having stronger magnetic properties. Speakers made from neodymium respond to a player's touch similar to Alnicos and have a well balanced frequency response."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Your Brain Thinks Your Smartphone Is An Instrument

Music Smartphone image
It's a scientific fact that a musician's brain is stimulated just by picking up a musical instrument. In fact, everyone knows that one of the reasons why musicians have GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) is that obtaining something new makes you want to play and opens up new creative gateways for inspiration.

It's hard to believe, but scientists have found that people who use smartphones stimulate those same regions of the brain, according to a paper in the Current Biology journal.

The scientists noticed that the constant finger movements were similar to what happens to a musician playing a violin. Because of the way a smartphone is operated with thumb, index and middle fingers, its substantially different from a traditional cellphone with buttons, so none of the same brain regions are activated.

There were two differences between smartphone brain stimulation and instrument playing. The length of time spent owning a smartphone did not affect neural activity, so it doesn't equate to practicing an instrument, and the more recently someone used a touchscreen phone, the more likely you are to master it.

Although there's no direct evidence, this may be why many of us continually look for music iPhone apps or new IO. It inherently feels like an instrument, so we naturally want to treat it that way. Now let's see what kind of new iOS apps NAMM brings.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

New Music Gear Monday: Eventide Mixing Link

If ever there was a Swiss Army Knife-like tool for the stage or studio, it's the Eventide's Mixing Link. It takes the form of a stompbox and contains a high quality mic amp with 65dB of gain and phantom power, an effects loop, headphone output and numerous signal routing and combination possibilities.

So what is it good for? How about switching a guitar between two amps, switching between two sound sources connected to one amp, or for reamping a signal. It can be used as a stand-alone preamp, a headphone amp for vocal monitoring, or silent guitar playing.

There's also an 1/8th inch 4 conductor jack that allows you to connect to a mobile device where it can act as either IO, or to access an app to mix in some different sounds.

The Mixing Link features a wide variety of IO connectors for such a small box. You'll find XLR ins and outs (the XLR is a combo jack), FX in and out on 1/4 inch jacks, instrument in, Aux in and out (1/8th inch) and an 1/8th inch headphone out jack. Couple this with an input gain, mix control and phones/output level along, with two routing switches and an in/out footswitch, and you have a powerhouse little box. Mixing Link also runs on a 9 volt battery or via a power supply, which you need if you intend to provide phantom power to the microphone input.

The Mixing Link has a street price of $299, and considering its many uses, is worth every penny. For more info, check out Eventide's Mixing Link page.


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