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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Review: Washburn Idol WI65 Pro



Hello and welcome to this week's article!

Today we are going to review a classic Washburn guitar (sorry for the picture that is not very clear, it is one of the few I have) I owned for 5 years, in the mid 2000s, and which paved the way to the Washburn philosophy that still today is applied on the latest serie, the Parallaxe.

Washburn is a string instrument producer born in 1883 in Chicago (Il), and it has always distinguished itself for the implementation of particular patented technologies, such as the Buzz Feiten tuning system (a compensated nut saddle that granted a better string intonation), the Stephen's extended cutaway (a particular bolt-on neck joint that allows the guitarist to reach the higher frets with more ease), and the Voice Contour Control (also known as VCC, it's a knob that allows to switch gradually from a humbucker pickup to its coil split version, with all the shades in between).

Today the company produces both in Usa and in the far east, according to the model serie, and has among its featured artists Nuno Bettencourt, Jennifer Batten, Michael Sweet and Scott Ian (Anthrax).

The guitar we are reviewing today is a Korean made model for the year 2005/2006 and it is Idol shape, which is a single cut model a bit wider and thinner than a Les Paul (it's the model used also by Scott Ian of Anthrax), and as I said it had already the same philosophy of the recent Parallaxe serie, meaning that it offers for a medium price many of the typical upgrades that guitarists perform on a guitar after they buy it: premium pickups (two Seymour Duncan: a Custom-Custom and a '59, but there are models also with a Jb on the bridge), the aforementioned Buzz Feiten tuning system and VCC, and Grover tuners, which are some of the best in the market.

With these features the guitar is good to go: no further upgrades are needed (unless you want a different sounding pickup), no cheap parts to replace. The only thing that cannot be replaced obviously is the wood, and this is where probably the company did some economy, since it's mahogany, but it's extremely light, and maybe it's the reason why the guitar is mid priced (it started around 900$, today it can be found for less than half the price).
The Idol model today is offered both in Parallaxe version (which is more premium) and its basic version, which is more entry level.

Aesthetically speaking this model has a beautiful satin finish, inlay dots only on the side of the black painted keyboard, black hardware and a skull sticker in the headstock.

The guitar is extremely well finished and playable, the fingerboard is smooth, the back of the neck has the same satin finish that makes it very fast to play, and the VCC lets us achieve a very wide range of tones, from the most aggressive to more mellow (but noise free) single coil sounds, and it's especially good with the neck pickup, the 59 that in my opinion is one of the best neck p.u. on the market.

The only downside of this guitar is the wood: it's lightweight and doesn't add much body to the tone, so the sound is sometimes a bit too trebly, expecially with distiortion, but all in all I absolutely suggest anyone to try it, because the quality-to-price ratio is still one of the most favorable in the market.

Thumbs up!


Specs:

- Mahogany body. One-piece set mahogany neck for a better sustain.

- Exotic rosewood fingerboard.

- Voice contour control (VCC) for both pickups

- Grover 18:1 machine heads

- Buzz Feiten tuning system

- Seymour Duncan US humbuckers (Custom-Custom and '59)

- Black hardware

- Matte finish

- 22 frets

- Tune-o-matic bridge with stop tailpiece

- 3-way toggle switch


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Guitar and bass cabinets: everything you need to know (Part 2/2)




CLICK HERE TO READ PART 1/2


The power amp can be connected to the cabinet through a back panel which has the input jacks, and in this is very important the impedance (click here for a dedicated article): we must make sure that the power amp impedance matches the one of the head if we want to avoid damaging it.
Many cabinets have different inputs for different impedances, or a selector.

Speaking of speakers (click here for a dedicated article), we choose among a big variety: usually guitar speakers goes from 5 inches to 15 inches, and bass speakers ranges from 10 to 15, but there are also in this case exceptions.
The classic speaker for guitar has a 12 inches radius, while for bass are also very common 10 inches or 15.
The rule of thumb is that the smaller the radius, the more boxy and trebly the sound will be, the bigger, the more bass content will produce.
Sometimes bass amps have different size speakers to reproduce singularly the high end (tweeters) and the low end (woofers), and the division of the tone between the two speakers is done by a crossover circuit built in the cab.

Cabinets can also be connected between them in a method that is called "daisy chaining": the amp goes into a cabinet, and from that cabinet into another connecting them in parallel, but this option must be present in the back panel of the cab.

A final interesting note is about recording.
When recording a guitar cabinet (click here for a dedicated article) we must choose the speaker that sounds better (through some trial and error), since usually there is some difference between speaker and speaker in the same cabinet, but it's important to point out that in this case the rule "the bigger the better" does not apply: sometimes 1x12 cabs will sound more focused and clear than a 4x12, so consider spending a bit more time in the studio experimenting before making your decision.
For bass instead is a common practice to record both the d.i. sound and the microphoned one in order to blend them, since is quite hard to obtain all the tone we need just by microphoning the cabinet.
About recording is worth to mention also the isolation cab (like the one in the picture): a cabinet that can be microphoned like a regular one and that is closed by an insulation lid so that it produces no sound on the outside: the only thing audible is the sound captured by the microphones, that is sent to a mixer for recording or live mixing purposes. Sometimes touring bands use this for the signal to be sent to the p.a., to avoid microphoning one of the stage cabs, but this method is starting to fade as speaker emulations are becoming increasingly common also among touring bands.

I hope this was helpful!


CLICK HERE TO READ PART 1/2


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Saturday, July 7, 2018

Guitar and bass cabinets: everything you need to know (Part 1/2)



Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This time we talk about guitar and bass cabinets: what is the best choice for us?

A guitar or bass cab is a box shaped enclusure in which one or more speakers are placed, and they are the output device from which we can drive the sound of our amplifier.
Guitar cabinets can come standalone or as Combo, meaning that they incorporate also a preamplifier and a power amp, making them a single, portable solution for the musican on the go.

A cabinet can come in many different shapes, and during the years producers have become very creative, proposing alternative, lighter versions, but for this basic article we are going to focus on the classic type, which can be straight (a cube or parallelepiped version) or slant, meaning that becomes thinner on the upper side to save some weight and direct the sound not only on a straight line but also towards the ears of the player.

Usually a guitar cabinet has one, two or four speakers, according to the needs (not everyone wants to carry around a big, heavy 4x12, but sometimes on big stages it is really helpful!), and the speakers can be set in two horizontal rows, to be as space effective as possible, or in some 2x12 they are placed diagonally, in order to achieve the opposite result: to have as much room possible for each speaker.
Cabinets with two speakers can be engineered to give their best when put horizontally or vertically, but most of them can be placed in both positions with no difference.

Every kind of cabinet can have the back panel open, half open, closed or modular.
A closed back cabinet will have more sound waves bouncing inside, summed up to the one projected from the front of the speaker, and this will result in a darker, more bassy tone, while open back speakers will have more sound diffusion, and this will produce a more "open", highs oriented sound.
Half open back speakers tries to achieve a bit of the two effects.
Cabinets can be built in various types of wood too, and although many claims that it can affect somehow the final sound, I am not sure about this, as I have never noticed huge differences.
Another variable is the size: smaller , thinner cabs are lighter and easier to carry around, but will provide a slightly thinner, more highs oriented sound, compared to those with the same speakers but larger in terms of depth (which is measured in liters).

CLICK HERE TO READ PART 2/2



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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Review: Dr Bonkers Sound Lab Impulses (with video sample)



Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're reviewing some impulse response pack from Dr Bonkers Sound Lab!

Dr Bonkers Sound Lab produces Impulse Responses for guitar and bass, both in Wav format and in Fractal Axe Fx Format, in a variety of sample rates, up to 96khz and 32bit.

Each cabinet impulse comes in 7 versions, tracked with different microphone settings, and in 4 different folders: the HyperReal version (which is the main version these impulse should be used and consists in a mix of several microphones), the Choice Mixes version, which is an alternative version of the HyperReal ones, and the version with the single microphones, both unprocessed and created with the addition of a power amp for extra harmonic richness, both in 200ms and 500ms version.

Today I spent some time playing around with the HyperReal versions, and since I imagine these "almost mix ready" versions will be the ones that will be used by most of the users, I have made a video comparison of my favourite impulses of the 5 cabinets Dr Bonkers suggested me would be more suited for metal.

For the video I have just plugged my Ltd Mh-417 with Emg 707 pickups to my Focusrite Saffire audio interface, and from there I have used exclusively Free Ignite Amps vst plugins:  Ignite TSB-1 - Ignite The Anvil - Ignite NadIR.


Here's a short description of the 5 IRs I have chosen for the video: 

- Mesa Boogie Recto Cab 4x12: this is a classic cab for metal, and it is probably the one that will need less fiddling during mixing. The tone is balanced, with a tight low end and a very usable, aggressive midrange.

- Marshall 1960 Jcm 800 Lead 4x12: totally different flavour compared to the Mesa Boogie one, this cabinet sounds more scooped and with a more sparkling high end, I bet it would give its best in standard tuning, maybe in a hard rock song or old school thrash metal.

- Marshall 8x10 Bass Cabinet: This is a bass cabinet that is usable also for guitar, but of all the impulses I have tried in this package is the most "boxy sounding". I would see it more suited for a mid rangey bass than a guitar tone, but surely it lends itself to many creative uses.

- 1960 Sunn 2x15 Guitar and Bass Cab: This tone is extremely bassy as the wide speaker suggests, and works in my opinion particularly fine with genres like doom or stoner. The mid range is slightly scooped but the highs remain intellegible and defined.

- Oahu 1x6 Guitar Cab: from this small speaker I would have expected a radio-like sound, yet it produces a very nasty, aggressive high mid range that puts in the spotlight all the gain of the amp. Obviously it lacks in the low end area, therefore a combination with another impulse would be suggested.


Before recording I have played with both the suggested microphone combinations and with the single microphones, trying to blend them in the impulse loader, and I must say the possibilities are really infinite, also because for each microphone there are several positions, and I am also quite sure that spending more time in mixing and matching the single microphones in various positions makes possible to come up with even better results than those in the HyperReal mixes, so I incourage all of you guys to check out these impulse packs and spend some time with the various combinations, because the possibilities are really infinite.

Thumbs up! 


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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Everything you need to know about drum triggers PART 2/2



CLICK HERE FOR PART 1/2


Now that we know the basic concepts behind a drum trigger let's try to understand its practical applications:

- Live environment: a drumset can be triggered entirely (except for the cymbals) or partially (for example just the kick or the kick and the snare) to make the sound cut through the mix better, and send the samples from the drum module to the mixer.
This way the sound engineer can use the samples and the microphoned drum parts the same way as they were all microphoned, with all the perks of the samples: more clarity, less dynamic range (usually drum modules features also effects like compressor, reverb...), and so on.
As in all environments, it is very important that the hits acquired from the trigger are received correctly from the drum module by setting the sensitivity, and if necessary, adjusting the pressure of the trigger on the drum skin.

- Studio environment: this is the environment in which drum triggers shines the most.
A recording engineer can record a whole drumset both with microphones and triggers, and decide during the mixing phase what part to use natural, what part to use triggered and what part in which to use a blend between microphone and sample (except for cymbals, which is better to keep acoustic because they are the drum part that result more "fake" when sampled).
Here the setup is crucial: the trigger must be placed correctly, not too tight because it would interpret hard hits like double hits, not to loose from the skin because it wouldn't notice the lightest touches, and the sensitivity must be carefully tuned in the drum module.
Once everything is set, the drumset will be recorded both acoustically and in a Midi track in the computer, and the mix engineer will be able to easily edit the Midi by removing doubles, reducing or evening out the dynamic range, quantizing, snapping to grid, "reintroducing humanity", or even rewriting certain parts.
This is very useful if the drummer is not very good and if the microphoned part is so bad that can't be fixed, but also just to add a sample on top of the microphoned drum part, if needed.
Finally, if we don't have triggers, we can always put a sample on top of a microphoned drum part by using a drum replacer.

- Home practice environment: there are electonic drum kits, usually pretty small and foldable like the one depicted in this article, that features skins made to reduce the sound to the minimum to not bother anyone in the house, and these drum parts (included the rubber "cymbals") have a trigger inside of them, so that the drummer can connect them to a drum module and play with the headphones (sometimes also playing along with a song). This is a very useful home solution for those who doesn't have a rehearsals room, the drum parts offers a feeling similar to a real drum skin in terms of "bounce" of the drum sticks and it can be used also for recording drum parts.


CLICK HERE FOR PART 1/2


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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Everything you need to know about drum triggers PART 1/2



Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about a topic very sensitive among drummers: drum triggers!

Why did I say this topic is sensitive among drummers? Because a drum trigger is a tool that takes a drum hit and turns it into a Midi impulse and sends it to a drum module (or to a computer with a drum VstI), so that we can replace the original drum sound with a pre recorded drum sample or with any other sound we want, and being Midi we can also quantize and manipulate the impulse in everywhich way possible.

Drum triggers started to be popular thanks to heavy metal music in the early '90s (especially with bands like Pantera), a moment in time in which music productions demanded more and more clarity, especially to make the super fast kick drum parts pop out of a dense mix with a lot of snap.
For these parts a normal microphone didn't seem to be enough, so the producers started to trigger the kick and replace the original sound with a very clicky one, capable of cut through everything and be very audible.
With time the bands started to use triggers for all drum parts for reasons that went also beyond the sound: to make drum editing way easier, and to even out the dynamics; today, especially in pop, rock and heavy metal is quite hard to hear a totally acoustic drum sound, as most of the songs features samples or a blend between samples and the acoustic sound (to make the sound a bit more natural).

This led to the paradox that often we can hear in an album an extremely complex drum part played perfectly, and then when we go to see the band live we realize the drummer would never be able to play it the same way it appears on the record.
This lack of "humanity" in modern day drums is perceived similarly to the "loudness war": since everyone is editing and quantizing the hell out of their drum tracks, the listener's ear is by now used to that super perfect performance, and the bands that does not edit and quantize to perfection will sound like the drummer performance is sloppy, and nobody wants to sound sloppy.
This led to an odd detachment between the record performance and the live one for most of the bands, as anyone can notice going to a live gig.

Going back to the main topic, a drum trigger comes usually in the form of a clip that gets attached to each drum part except the cymbals (but if we want we can trigger also just the kick, or only snare and kick and so on), then the trigger is connected to a drum module with normal jacks, and the drum module will interpret the signals received from the trigger and apply a pre recorded sample to the hits.
The "replaced" drum sound will then be sent via the output jack to the mixer and it can be used both live or in a recording session.


CLICK HERE FOR PART 2/2


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Saturday, June 9, 2018

Review: DDrum Redshot Trigger Kit



Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review the low cost tier of the DDrum trigger kits: the Redshot Serie!

DDrum is a well known swedish-american producer that creates drums and percussion instruments, both acoustic and electronic, plus triggers and other drum accessories, and it is used by many professional bands such as Korn, Pantera, Megadeth, Rihanna, Evanescence, Suffocation, Machine Head, Snoop Dog, Queensryche and so on.

This trigger kit places itself in the least expensive tier of the DDrum production line due to the fact that it is a very light piece of aluminum, which does not guarantee a super long product life, but on the other hand, if treated carefully (as everything should actually be) it can provide the same response of its more expensive versions at a fraction of the price.

The set is composed by one kick drum trigger and four snare/tom ones, and they can be easily attached to the drum part via an included screw. The installation is very simple: you fix the triggers in the desired drum parts (you don't need necessarily to trigger the whole drumkit) and connect them with a regual jack to a drum module, which can be made by DDrum or any producer, and from there we need to choose the desired sound and the sensitivity.
Once we are satisfied with the tracking of the hits (meaning that every drum hit is tracked with no double hits), we are ready to connect the drum module to the input of the mixer and play live or record.

I have personally used these trigger kit on several records and I must say they do their job, although sometimes I had to add some layer of paper between the trigger cushion and the drum skin to even out a bit more the sensibility, and once everything is perfectly calibrated these tools work very well.
Obviously in the long run I can imagine that a touring band that heavily relies on triggers might want to pass to some more solid unit, but for a home recording studio this kit could be an amazing bang for the buck.

Thumbs up!


Specs taken from the website:


- 1 Bass drum kick trigger with spacer

- 4 snare/tom Triggers (single zone)

- Red shot Triggers are compatible with 1/4 to 1/4 instrument cables




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