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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: Toneforge Jason Richardson (with video sample)




Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to review the latest Toneforge amp modeler: Toneforge Jason Richardson.
For those of you who don't know him, Jason Richardson is a young guitar hero which has played with several important bands such as Born of Osiris, All shall Perish, Chelsea grin, and which now has a solo project that features many guests, such as members of Periphery, Veil of Maya and even Jeff Loomis.

The style of Jason is an extremely technical and fast paced modern metal, with a strong djent influence and the use of downtuned guitars, therefore this plugin is created to satisfy that particular type of sound need.
The main difference between this plugin and the others created by the same producer is that here you have not one but three different preamp modules: Rhythm, Clean and Lead, each one with a particular voicing and unique controls: the rhythm module has (besides the usual eq section) a Clarity and a Range knob, used to find harsh masking frequences and removing them; the Lead module has an Edge control, which combines a preamp and a power amp boost plus a dynamic adjustment, while the Clean module has a Shimmer control which increases the presence while reducing dynamics (a slight compression for the strummed parts).
The effects section features three stompboxes: a Delay, a Reverb and a Lo-Fi filter, while the "rack" section has a parametric Eq and a Peak Limiter (here called dynamic processor, specifically tuned to work on the downtuned guitar frequences).
Finally, the cabinet section features two cabinets and four microphones, together with a flexible IR loader.

What separates this plugin from the others of the Toneforge range? This is by far the most complete and feature rich, thus retaining the usual good, plug and play tone that is a prerogative of the brand.
This specific plugin works great with downtuned guitars and for djent tones, but in general it has also some of the best lead tones I have ever heard in an amp modeler, good for any genre.
The three modules and the additional features gives the product enough depth to achieve a pretty wide range of sounds (of course it is not a plugin suited for blues, but you would remain surprised also by the quality of the clean tones, especially playing with the Shimmer control, which is very intelligently designed and that produces a very usable tone also for jazz and funky, for example).

In conclusion another very good product from Toneforge, a company that release after release is creating a very solid array of software, easy to use, at a good price and extremely useful for the modern producer.


Features:

- 3 channels: Rhythm, Clean and Lead

- Two custom cabs, each with 4 microphones and an IR loader


- Tuner, Reverb, Delay, Noise gate and Lo-Fi filter




Saturday, April 15, 2017

Review: Peavey Triple xxx



Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are reviewing an amplifier, currently discontinued but still quite easy to find on the market usually at a decent price, which features a 120w tube power amp and 3 independent eq channels, and that has been widely used for shred, hard rock and metal.

The Peavey Triple XXX amp has several particularities: a huge amount of power (120w all tube, with 3 12ax7 preamp tubes and 4 6L6CG in the power amp), 3 channels with independent eq: the clean one has a passive eq, the crunch and the ultra one has an ACTIVE one, which is very uncommon on guitar amps and lets us do not only subtractive eq but also additive one, actually boosting certain frequences, and giving us more tonal control.

All in all this amp is clearly designed for hard rock and metal guitarists (actually it has been used by the guitarists of NevermoreAsking Alexandria, Trivium, Suffocation, Behemoth, Decapitated, Exodus, Protest the Hero and Havoc, among the others), although the clean channel is, unlike many others gain oriented amps, quite warm and shiny, but it's the high gain channels those in which this amp performs better.
In general this unit boasts a HUGE amount of gain, with a very particular gain structure, especially in the Ultra channel, that makes it almost a bit too extreme to handle, especially in studio, therefore we will need to dial very carefully the tone, finding the right amount of gain and utilizing the active eq (which is almost an exclusive to this amp) to shape the tone with much more freedom than any other amp.

In conclusion this is a very good, powerful and versatile amp, but it's not for everyone. I would say it is not a very plug and play amplifier, but it requires us to have a certain awareness of how to use it in order to obtain the best of it: if you have the patience and the skill, you can achieve some incredible tone out of it.


There has been also a Triple XXX II version, with one additional tube in the preamp section and an integrated noise gate, which came out some year after the first edition.


Specs:

- 120W tube power

- 3 footswitchable channels

- Clean channel: volume, passive 3-band EQ

- Crunch channel: gain, volume, active 3-band EQ

- Ultra channel: gain, volume, active 3-band EQ

- Master volume

- Footswitchable effects loop

- Damping switch: tight, medium, loose

Saturday, April 8, 2017

5 Tips on how to choose a live setlist for your band



Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today, following our article about how to create an album setlist, we are checking out some tips on how to build the most effective live setlist possible for our gig.


1) Lenght: as a first aspect we need to take in consideration the lenght. A 30 minutes setlist requires a different strategy than a 60 or a 90minutes one. For a short one we can push a little bit more on the impact side, if we have only 30 minutes it could be an idea to try to leave a strong impression playing only the most effective song we have. From a 60 minutes up setlist instead we need to start taking into consideration other aspects that we will analyze in the next points: fatigue, attention, dynamics, extra musical performances.

2) Fatigue: we are not robots, so playing a long setlist with high energy songs, especially in genres which are highly demanding in terms of physical performance as extreme metal or hardcore can result (especially for touring bands) in a not sustainable result, in the long run. This means we need to keep in mind that every couple of very fast songs for example the drummer might need a slower one to recover some energy, or the singer might need to start the concert with songs that are not extremely demanding in order to let his voice warm up properly before hitting that high pitch note in that song, or he or she might need a quieter song after a very tiring one to give his (or her) vocal cords some rest.

3) Attention: the attention of the audience is fundamental, and to keep the crowd interested in what is happening on stage should be the main task of the band. Usually the band, when it has some experience, knows more or less which songs are more effective (for example they have a particularly catchy hook or beautiful lyrics), which ones are less direct and maybe are enjoyed more when the listener already knows them from the record, and so on.
The band should choose a setlist that can blend together the songs keeping the crowd interested, considering that if you play a song that is very interesting opr known and that keeps the crowd wanting for more, they will probably be more receptive also in the next one, so you can maybe put after that a new song noone knows so they will focus on it. After the song they didn't know and that has forced the audience to focus in order to assimilate it, we could propose another popular one, or maybe a cover (even better if rearranged in our style) to give them back something familiar and raise again their involvement and attention, so that the crowd will be never bored, as it would for example be if our setlist would start with 5 very famous songs and end with 5 songs noone knows.

4) Dynamics: for a record, also live dynamics are fundamental. Starting with 5 very fast songs and ending with 5 very slow ones would make them completely ineffective as the audience would very easily lose interest this way. To know how to connect and cue together fast songs, mid tempos and slow ones is an art, which roots into being empathically able to connect with the audience mood and proposing a setlist that should predict and adapt as much as possible to what the crowd expects. After two fast songs maybe a third one would be uneffective, so a mid tempo could introduce some variation and increase the attention (consider that also the audience is subject to fatigue), after a slow song we could set the fastest one in order to wake up the crowd after the romantic moment.
The main idea should be to create movement, alternancy of moods and rhythms within the setlist, also to leave the audience an idea of a rich, non monotonous performance.

5) Extra musical performances: if you go to a concert of any headlining, high level band that performs a full setlist (for example 90/120 minutes), you will notice that there is not only music.
Most of the times there will be small breaks here and there in which the singer or other band members can talk to the audience, sending some message, or just some funny interaction while the others take a minute of break. This is a good moment to plug your new album or merchandise, to say a message to encourage, to use some props (Alice Cooper, Kiss and Rammstein are masters in this) or to pretend to leave the stage waiting for the encore, before performing the last part of the setlist.
This will add a different dimension to the performance (obviously it depends on the performer's charisma, so use wisely!).

Hope this was helpful, if you have any other suggestion let us know in the comments!


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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Review: Boss Katana Head



Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review an a small, amazing solid state guitar head: Boss Katana Head.

The Katana serie is the latest amp serie produced by Boss, the most popular guitar and bass stompbox producer in the world.
It is an affordable serie of solid state amplifiers: 3 combos (1x12 100w, 1x12 50w and 2x12 100w) and a 100w head; the four amps all shares the same solid (yet lightweight) build and the same preamp section.

The top panel is quite straightforward: 5 preamp types (acoustic, clean, crunch, lead, brown sound), an eq section, an effect section, a preset saving menu and a power amp section which lets us choose between several power settings, ranging from 0.5w to 100w.
The effect section is very simple to use, but plugging the amp via usb to a computer (it works also as a sound interface), we have access to deep editing possibilities, which can let us use up to 15 effects at the same time choosing from a palette of 55.

The back panel offers various in-out connections: an effect loop, a speaker emulated out for headphones rehearsing/recording, a midi in to connect the amp to other devices and so on.
Finally, the head version features (on a very compact, 8.8kg format) an exclusive feature that sets it apart from any other guitar head in the world: a 5 inches (for 30w) speaker built behind the grill that allows it to be played  also without a cabinet, and that is loud more than enough to be played in a home environment.

The most impressive thing about this amp is the sound: producers have come a long way in the last few years, and from the old solid state or digital amps produced 20 years ago, the quality today is uncomparable. Just plug into one of these Katanas (or also a Blackstar Id Core) and you will hear a tone that is impressively mid rangey and similar to a tube amp, with all the solidity, affordability and versatility of a solid state one; by the way, finally these amps sounds as loud as a real tube one.
The 5 preamp settings are Acoustic, Clean, Crunch, Lead and Brown, and this last one tries to recreate the classic Van Halen sound, creamy, mid-rangey and with a very tight attack.
The effect section is digital and it is taken from the latest generation of multieffects of the company, giving us the possibility to choose and set them via the software Boss Tone Studio.

All in all a very good amp, travel friendly due to its size and weight, but very versatile and powerful.
The best feature? You can play it at home using the small built in speaker, and plug it into the cabinet in the rehearsal room to unleash its full potential.
A real swiss army knife at a great price tag!

Specs taken from the website:

30 W (Using internal speaker)
100 W (Using external speaker)
POWER CONTROL switch (STANDBY, 0.5 W, 50 W, 100 W)
AMP TYPE knob (ACOUSTIC, CLEAN, CRUNCH, LEAD, BROWN)

BOOSTER/MOD button
DELAY/FX button
REVERB button
TAP button
BOOSTER/MOD knob
DELAY/FX knob
REVERB knob

AUX IN jack: Stereo miniature phone type
REC OUT/PHONES jack: Stereo 1/4-inch phone type
SEND jack: 1/4-inch phone type
RETURN jack: 1/4-inch phone type
LINE OUT jack: 1/4-inch phone type
SPEAKER OUT jack: 1/4-inch phone type
MIDI IN connector
USB port: USB B type


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Saturday, March 25, 2017

How to use a Vst Plugin once installed (a guide for dummies)



Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to answer a question that I have probably took for granted but that recently a user asked me (thanks Jewfro), so I have noticed that we have actually no dedicated article about it.

Once you install one of the many Vst plugins suggested on this blog, how do you actually use it?

The answer is "you need a real time Vst host".

What is a vst host? A software that lets you load your Vst plugin and use your instrument (a keyboard, a guitar, your voice and so on) through it, giving the processed signal as a result.

Which are some good Vst hosts?
The most commonly used Vst hosts are the Digital audio workstations (DAWs), here is a list of the best ones:

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) overview.

How do you get your signal in your pc? Here are my tips on how to build your perfect home studio with the smallest budget possible:

How to build a Home Studio.

Once you have an audio interface and a Vst host it's very easy: you open your (Vst compatible) Daw, create a new track, and you'll notice that for each track there will be several empty slots called Vst inserts (or Vst chain). Here you can load any Vst you want, in any order you prefer, and experiment with it. In order to be visible in the menu that lets you load the plugins in the slots, the Daw must know where to look for them, so you must specify in the options of the workstation where to look for them, but once everything is setup your Vst plugins will all appear in the list and you will be able to load them in the insert.

One last thing: if you are trying to play through a plugin in real time and there is a bit of latency that doesn't let you play well, you must reduce the size of the buffer:

Here is a guide that explains the relationship between buffer size and latency.

I hope this was helpful!


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Saturday, March 18, 2017

How to build the perfect tracklist for our record PART 2/2


(Nine Lives, from Aerosmith, another excellent example of tracklist picking)

CLICK HERE FOR PART 1/2

- After the wave has crashed we can slow down in the fourth position with a slower, more reasoned song, also to create a change in the album dynamics and to give some rest to the listener's ears: this is a good place where to put some ballad or anthemic mid tempo.

The fifth song (or in general the last song of the first half of the album) is the one that in the vinyl and audio cassette era was closing the first side of the album, therefore concluding a chapter and forcing us to get up and change side. This today has no meaning anymore but in terms of strategic disposition of the songs in the tracklist this could be a good place where to put a song that is not so strong (I don't want to say a filler because the ideal album should have no fillers), considering that it will be statistically one of those songs that will be noticed the less.

The sixth song (or in general the first song of the second half of the record), similarly to the fifth song, had in the past a special role: being the first song of the second side it had to be almost as captivating as the first song of the first half. We need to win back the attention of the listener and navigate him through the second half of our record, since he trusted us enough to spend one hour of his life in listening to our music, therefore this position could be good for a nice, melodic uptempo that energizes the listener.

The seventh song, similarly to the second, should make the listener recover from the blast of the sixth and prepare him to the final part of the album: this position often is reserved to mid tempos, or songs that can have the listener relaxing a bit.

The eight place is probably the last one we can use for a second "single", intended as a song that came out particularly well and that we could use as a business card for our album: it is the moment of the album in which the listener that has arrived so far is deciding whether to stop listening or not, and we need to give him a good reason to keep going: this is a good position for a nice ear-candy, and statistically, if the listener finds a reason to arrive this far and he likes the eight, he will much probably arrive to the end of the record.

The ninth song is the song in which we can experiment: do we have a song very different from the rest of the album, like sang by another singer, or played unplugged, or performed in a way that is very different? We can put it here as a gift for those who have arrived until here with the listening, without the risk of giving a wrong impression to those who were casually just giving a listen to the beginning of the album.

The last song, finally, should be decided since the beginning. The idea would be to close the album with a reason, like the ending credits of a movie, so this is a good place for a song that is particularly long and articulated, or with a long fade out ending that gives the impression that the band will keep on playing that part forever. Some bands likes also to put here some connection to the beginning of the album, so that if the listener would play the album in loop he would find a circular connection between the end of the last song and the beginning of the first one.


Do you have other interesting tips? Let us know!


CLICK HERE FOR PART 1/2


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Saturday, March 11, 2017

How to build the perfect tracklist for our record PART 1/2



Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we will go on with our songwriting tips talking about the best ways to create a tracklist for your record: how to decide the order of the songs to make them effective and to keep high the attention of the listener.
Let's start by saying that a tracklist is a concept of the past: those of you coming from generations in which internet was not yet mainstream will remember creating compilations on tape or on cd, carefully picking the perfect tracklist in the perfect order to be the ideal soundtrack of our life, or to be a gift to our significant other.
Today people listens to music often by the phone, the computer or the car stereo with an usb drive, so they are not tied as in the past to a certain tracklist to be forcefully listened in order, but nevertheless an artist should create and suggest still today a certain sequence for his album to be listened, if he wants his message to be delivered in the way he intended it to go; then if his songs ends up in some Spotify playlist.... It's not a problem.

P.s.: why did I choose Painkiller of Judas Priest as a cover image for this article? Simple: because I think it is a perfect example of excellent tracklist creation skill.

Let's begin by saying that there is a difference between a single (usually 2 songs), an Ep (usually 4 or 5 songs) and an album (usually around 10 songs): the album lenght is different, the attention span in the first 2 cases is not a problem, because if the album is 20/25 minutes or less the attention of the listener remains high, therefore there's more freedom in choosing a tracklist: the important is to have an impactful beginning and an ending that sounds as a conclusion, that doesn't leave the work incomplete.

For a full lenght album as we have said the situation is more complex, and in this psychoacoustics can come in our aid, helping us in picking the right song order, making them flow one into the other gracefully.
Let's say we have 10 songs, each one 5 minutes long for a total of 50 minutes of music: our aim is to keep high the attention of the listener, to not bore him and to not make him change album; let's add also that in this example we are not talking about a concept album in which the songs needs necessarily to be played in a certain order because of the lyrics.
Last forewords: as always these are not fixed rules, it's just a collection of tips I've gathered through my years in songwrting experience, and by making reverse engineering on some of the best tracklists in the history of music.

- Obviously we should start with the introduction, if we have one, or with the song with the most attention capturing first 20 seconds. Since the first song will be the one listened the most and will decide whether the listener will want to proceed in playing also the other ones included in our record we must consider it as the shopping window of our album; the first impression is crucial, therefore we must showcase the best that the album has to offer: the best impact, the best melodies.

- The second song is often overlooked, like the second page of Google: people is often still thinking about the first song, so the main purpose of this position is to be pleasantly connected to the first one, to consolidate the good impression to and prepare the listener to the big wave.

- The third song should be the heart of the album: we have done our introductions, now we can get into the real business. There is a reason why in many pop-rock albums the big single is at the third position: the listener is already hooked in the album, and this is the moment to serve the main course. In this position it is a good idea to place the best song we have, maybe a nice uptempo with a very catchy chorus.


CLICK HERE FOR PART 2/2


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