Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review: It Might Get Loud - RIOT Drums

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are reviewing another drum sampler by It Might Get Loud prod.: RIOT Drums!

Riot Drums is a library of processed drum samples that is inspired by the classic '90s punk and hardcore albums, and it tries to recreate the raw power of that sound, which was very natural and similar to the rehearsal room one, even in the high end albums.

With this sampler you can achieve very realistic sounds, but unlike for KVLT drums, this one doesn't need any particular extra mixing, the sounds are already very usable (in facts in the video sample I haven't touched them), although with some fine tuning you can really obtain some fantastic drum tones.

This sampler is different from the others of the same software house also because it offers more: more drum samples, several adjustable microphones, a super cool old school mixer interface, which lets you basically mix the drumkit as with a live mixing board, one of these cheap ones that you find in the rehearsal rooms (even with missing knobs!), and several other goodies very useful, but I like how everything is kept simple and essential.

Riot drums is another product of It Might Get Loud Prod., software house that is slowly building itself a name for its products with a very good quality to price ratio, and because it offers something different from the competitors, libraries for specific genres which were simply not available before, and I can't wait to see what will come next (personally I would love some Fear Factory/industrial metal type of library).

Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the website:

- Over 2700 drum samples.

- Drums: 1 kick, 1 snare, 3 toms and a whole set of cymbals (hihat, ride, 2 crashes, china, 2 splashes).
- Each drum has many adjustable mics: Close, room close, room far, overheads and bassdrum & snare 

- includes also close rear mic.
- Each drum has it's own pan and gain knobs.
- Each mic has it's own gain knob.
- Each mic can also be routed to any of the 16 stereo outputs.
- A simple 1 stereo output mode by default.

- Each drumhit's midinote is freely adjustable.
- A soundcheck-mode for adjusting drums without the need of external midiclips during the pre-mix.

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Saturday, September 8, 2018

5 Songwriting Tips to make your chorus more effective

Hello and welcome to this week's article!

Today I have gathered together some interesting tips on how to create a chorus that would work for our song, regardless for the genre (obviously these ideas needs to be worked and adapted according to the style).

It's important to say that this is not some sort of marketing technique, I don't believe in creating music or any form of art as one would create an industrial product; these are just ideas that have proven to be successful from where to start if we are crafting a song, but the most important requirements, the idea, the inspiration, are up to you.

1) A strong message: a chorus is called like that because, ideally, it would be the part of the song that recurs more often and that encourage people to sing it as a choir, therefore the message works better when it's simple, straightforward and capable of grabbing the attention of the listener.
There are several ways to obtain the attention of a listener: to use a very easy phrase, to use a question, to use terms that calls for a vocalization (for example the "woooh" in Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer"), or using an interesting word or a short phrase that makes the audience think.

2) Buildup and dynamics: As I have already mentioned in my other songwriting articles (use the meta tag to visualize them all), dynamics are crucial. To make a chorus really stand out it's important to put it at the right place in the song, so that the song is dynamic.
To make a song dynamic there must be alternation between quieter parts and louder parts, parts in which the drum beat is less strong and parts in which it's more in the spotlight, and more importantly for the chorus placement, there must be a buildup. In order to make a chorus effective there must be a pre-chorus that prepares the listener to the best part of the song like a wave: first there is the backwash, then the wave comes with full force.

3) Frequencies and tempo of the chorus: ideally, unless we are experimenting in the opposite direction (loud chorus and pre-chorus and super quiet chorus), the chorus is the part in which all the frequencies of the song explodes, so for example it is where, if a singer was singing the verse on a lower octave, he passes to the higher one.
Similarly as per the voice, we can set up the arrangement of the song to make sure the "hook" (the part of the song that grabs the attention of the listener) is in the chorus by using the frequencies that the human ear is programmed to prioritize, the ones of the human voice (around 2/2.5khz), by adding instruments (piano, strings, synths and so on) with octaves that gravitate also around that area.
On the other hand, in the other parts of the song, we can make the opposite: leave room for lower octaves, or, alternatively, we can use only thin sounds during verse and pre-chorus and let the mid-low end part of the song drop only during the chorus.
Finally, some famous producer likes to add 1 or 2 bpm to the chorus tempo: they say it's practically unnoticeable, but it gives the chorus an additional sense of upbeat that makes it even more energetic.

4) Choose the emotions to transmit: this suggestion is interesting because it applies to many forms of art, from writing a book or making a film, to composing a song;
it's important to have clear in mind the emotions we want to provoke in the listener.
You wouldn't like to see a comedy film that halfway, out of the blue, becomes a scary horror, and the same concept applies to a song: you need to have clear in mind whether you want to talk about something happy, melancholic, angry, and let the song soak into this mood, so that you will carry your feelings through the song (and the song will be more authentic), and at the same time the listener will connects more to it and it will resonate with his soul.

5) Chord progressions and alternation: many memorable songs have a theme that repeats during the various parts in different forms, but to make the song not repetitive it's important to spice things up: if the verse is fast and full of chord changes, a chorus with few slow open chords can bring balance to the song, or on the other hand a song with a slow verse can double its speed during the chorus to add energy and an uptempo feel to it. Don't be afraid to mix and match, to take the chords of one part and change their position to give the song continuity and variety, and, final suggestion: never stop creating.

I hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, September 1, 2018

Review: It Might Get Loud - Djenthuggah Drums

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are reviewing a very specific product, created by the software house It Might Get Loud Prod.: Djenthuggah Drums!

Djenthuggah Drums is a drum sampler with sounds created explicitly to replicate the very particular sound of Meshuggah: the band that literally created the Djent genre, a type of metal that unites extremely low tuned instruments, a fast thrash metal riffing that sounds like an evolution of the Fear Factory tone, growling vocals (although other bands of the same genre offers also clean singing) and a very, very complex, prog-like drumming.

The drum tone is very specific, because the band relies heavily on samples for their albums (to the point that some member created the famous software house Toontrack, which is one of the leaders in drum sampling today): it has a powerful mid range designed to cut through the most dense mix, and a lot of attack and "clickiness".

Djenthuggah Drums is a sampler that features only the drum shells (kick, snare and toms) and no cymbals (in the video sample I have used the ones of Dieswitch Drums), and they come either with their standalone interface, or in Gog and Tci format, to be used with a Drum Replacer.

The sound is as expected powerful, and it's designed to poke easily through a mix, although I find it somewhere in between KVLT drums and Dieswitch Drums: in KVLT drums the samples are not processed at all, so it needs to be treated like an acoustic drumset, in Dieswitch Drums the samples are already processed, so they can be used right away, while in Djenthuggah the samples are yes processed, and they also offer 3 parameters each to fine tune them, but I still had to mix them when working on the video sample, adding some reverb on the snare and toms and some highs on the kick in order to make it sit better in the mix.

The bottom line is that this small sample pack will be very useful for all the Djent lovers out there, but be ready to work on it and blend it with other kits in order to obtain a polished result.

Thumbs up!

- Snare: Kumu Birch Custom 14″ x 5,5″, SuperWoodHoop

- Toms: Kumu Birch Custom 10″ x 7″, 12" x 8, 14″ x 12″, PowerHoop

- Kick: Kumu Birch Custom 20″ x 16″, SideHoleOver 50 samples.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Seymour Duncan Blackout vs Emg 707 bridge pickup comparison

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
The title speaks for itself: I wanted to compare my 2 favourite active pickups, the ones that I am mounting in the bridge position of my 2 guitars, to see how they perform with exactly the same settings (Jst Ben Bruce amp sim).

To be honest the comparison is not 100% fair, since I have used the same settings and as you can see the Emg 707 has a much lower output compared to the Blackout, nevertheless I wanted to show you how big can be the difference from one pickup to another, even among actives.

The Emg 707 (that I use in a LTD MH-417) features an alnico magnet, which gives it a more classic tone, thus retaining power, tightness, and sits extremely well in the mix.
By tweaking the amp you can achieve many different tones and due to the not so extreme output it retains also some dynamics, which are not so common in active pickups.

The Seymour Duncan Blackout (mounted on my Ibanez ARZ 800), on the other hand, is raw power. It has a much higher output, a ceramic magnet, and even if it has a bit too much lower mids, it has this slightly scooped high-mids that makes it clear in a very pleasant, not ice-picky way. This is the first version, the AHB-1 designed by Dino Cazares of Fear Factory, which is more manageable than the others.

From this comparison probably the Blackout comes out as a winner for metal, it is punchy, full of low end, and it has the right clarity to bite in the right frequencies, but I strongly recommend anyone also to try the Emg 707 and set the amp accordingly, you will discover why it is still today considered a 7 strings standard, especially in the studio, where a more controlled tone and the right mid range can make the difference in the mix.

Which one do you prefer?

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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Review: It Might Get Loud - KVLT Drums

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review a very particular drum sampler, produced by It Might Get Loud Prod., that tries to recreate a sound that made the history of heavy metal: the classic early '90s Norwegian black metal one.

In the early '90 Norway took by storm the metal scene with the most extreme, satanic, fast and malevolent fringe of heavy metal ever conceived up to that moment, with some young metalheads that took the sound of Venom, Celtic Frost and Bathory and brought it to a new level by adding to the speed of the fastest part of thrash metal (like Slayer) screaming vocals, a pinch of raw punk attitude and lyrics that depicted black and cold atmospheres, often referring to Satan and occultism. 

Bands like Darkthrone, Mayhem and Emperor were formed by extremely young guys, angry with the establishment and the modernity, and their sound is characterized by very raw and lo-fi recordings: the early albums of Darkthrone were literally recorded with a four tracks tape recorder, and those limitations contributed in making the records even more menacing and unpolished.

Kvlt drums is a very peculiar drum sampler, because it tries to recreate this raw and unprocessed sound, that feels like being in a rehearsal's room, and that lends itself to the fastest and most in your face blast beats and grooves.

As I mentioned, this drum sampler is completely unprocessed, unlike the Dieswitch Drums produced by the same company, and it lends very well to a deep mixing session, thanks to its many layers of velocity, but I have decided to use the raw sound, completely untouched, for my video sample, in order to give you an idea of the starting sound.

This is another very pleasant drum VSTi to work with, a good bang for the buck, and I suggest any fan of the cold, northern sound to check it out, also because, being unprocessed, gives us a lot of room for shaping the sound exactly the way we want.

Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the website:

- 1 Kick

- 2 Snares (Piccolo & Wooden Tama Snare, Sidestick + Left & Right Articulations)

- 3 Toms

- 1 Hihat

- 1 Ride

- 2 Crash

- 1 China

- 2 Splash

- 2 Unique FX Cymbals (Lid of a stove = minichina & an aluminum pan = zilbell)

Drums played by: Peter Zana
Engineered & mixed by: Ron D. Rock

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Saturday, August 11, 2018

5 ideas to get your music creativity running

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
It's been a while since our latest songwriting article, maybe I had some songwriter's block myself, so I started thinking: what could be some effective way to win back some inspiration?
Here's some tip I think may be useful:

- Mix things up: try to look at your music from a different point of view; if you are a singer that writes starting from a vocal line try to start from a guitar riff, or from a drum beat. If you are only a guitarist try using a different guitar, with different sound features, or a different amp, stompbox etc. If you are a mix engineer try to ditch your daw, your favourite plugins and get out of your comfort zone: change daw, change plugins, start from zero just following the rules and your knowledge, all these small changes will help you seeing things from a different perspective.

- Take a pause: creativity is not (luckily) a "use it or lose it" skill, either you have it or you don't.
Sometimes we expect the creative flow to be constant, like water from a tap, through all our life and we get scared when it is not flowing ALL THE TIME.
Sometimes it stops because we have other things in our mind, or because we want to put these ideas into practice at a faster pace than they come. Let the ideas arrive slowly, don't push them, even if it takes months: every attempt in forcing them will result in uninspired, procedural music.

- Try to draw inspiration from other media: music is only one of the many forms the human creativity can be expressed: go to an art exposition, read a book (believe it or not the world is freaking full of AMAZING ones), go to cinema, explore the best videogames and you will notice that all these inputs will pour new mojo in your half empty musical ideas glass.

- Listen to a completely different genre of music: I know, all you want is to listen and play true norwegian satanic black metal, but, guess what, music doesn't end there, and you shouldn't take every other genere with diffidence.
Choose one or two genres at the complete opposite of what you are currently listening to and deep dive into them: try to understand them, to find out why people listens to them, what are the feelings those musicians wants to express with their music, you will find out the reasons WHY that music is being played, and you will find out that usually they are good reasons, and this experience will give you a fresh perspective also towards what you are currently loving.

- Change your environment: what we have around us influences our creativity and our perception of reality. Sometimes if everything around us is always the same we can end up with the same ideas, the same colours in our palette. I am not saying to move to another house, but maybe taking walks to different parts of the city, hanging out (or jamming) with someone different or having a vacation to some place different can literally make new ideas bloom into our mind.

I hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Review: It Might Get Loud - Dieswitch Drums

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review a VSTi instrument, the Dieswitch Drums virtual drumset from It Might Get Loud Productions!

IMGL is a recent Finland-based brand that offers several samplers and Midi grooves, focused on punk, rock and heavy metal; the prices are very competitive and the quality is pretty good.

The drumset we are going to review today is a sampler with pre-processed sounds that tries to recreate the classic "early 2000" metalcore vibe that can be listened on the Killswitch Engage records for example, and it's surprising that a dedicated library is coming out just now since how beloved and searched for is this type of sound.

The layout is quite simple: besides the 3d model there is an integrated mixer to control individually each drum part in the box, and the content of the library includes 4 velocity and 4 variations for each drum part, so it's pretty essential, it can be considered a sort of Ezdrummer, and it includes also a dedicated metalcore Midi pack.

The sound is surprisingly similar to the original KSE one, although being pre-processed it won't let us intervene too much on the samples, but as a songwriting tool or to put together a quick mix it's the ideal, and the tone that can be heard on my sample is the sampler without any further processing from my side.

I really recommend this product, since it's easy, affordable and provides a very good tone for all the metalcore lovers out there.

Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the website:

- 1x Kick

- 1x Snare

- 3 x Toms

- Hihat, Ride, 2x Crash, China, Stack, 2x Splash

- Includes Metalcore Essentials MIDI Pack

Each Drum contains 4 velocity layers and 4 Round Robins.
Total Library Size ~60Mb.

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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Refocusing your mix and master using bypass

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to check out a very easy tip, so easy that may sound obvious but obvious is not, since I have found myself several times in the situation in which I have overloaded my signal chains with plugins, and then I realized that removing some of them was actually making the mix sound better (the same concept applies to mastering). 

This is the reason why I ended up, after analyzing on this blog every single effect type usable I ended up writing two articles such as the minimal mixing approach and the minimal mastering chain.

A mix engineer, both professional or amateur, is most of the times a geek at heart: we love to try new solutions, new plugins, new hardware to see how they change our sound, if we can get that 0.1% improvement that we dream of, and this, paired with today's infinite choice of tools, can bring us to an extensive library of plugins that is always there tempting us.

What if I add a second compressor? What if I add a saturation plugin? And a harmonic exciter after that?
Eventually we may find ourselves with 10 plugins chains for each track, both slowing down our computer and making incredibly hard to find out what to tweak in case we want to change anything.

What I'm trying to say today is not "let's go back to the '30s in which the whole band was recorded with a single microphone and then bounced into a vynil with no processing": experiment all you want, but then, at the end, try this procedure:

Start running the whole song, open up your console, go track by track and hit the bypass button on each plugin, one by one, and listen in real time the effect on the mix: if the overall sound gets worse, even by a 0.1%, leave it on the chain. If you cannot notice any particular difference, or if the overall sound is even better, or cleaner, remove the plugin.  

You will be amazed by the amount of plugins you will remove, and the project will suddenly sound cleaner and punchier, you'll probably recover transients that went lost in all the processing, and eventually also your project will go smoother.
Moreover, the final product (unless you screw up the mastering) will sound more natural and dynamic.

I hope it was helpful!

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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!


- 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)


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!


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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).


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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


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.


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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.


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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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Saturday, June 2, 2018

6 Strategic decisions to make before starting a mix Part 2/2


4) Dynamic mix: these are the types of mix that contain extremely dynamic parts, which means strong differences between the loudest and the quietest parts.
This type of mixes are often used in jazz records in which the band wants to recreate a vintage vibe, since in the 30s the bands were recorded live, with only few ambient microphones and compressors were practically non existent in the way we know them now.
Bands like the aforementioned ones likes to play with dynamics, which means alternating extremely quiet and gentle parts to others much louder, and today we can recreate this lively and breathing sound, instead of overcompressing the mix, by using automations.
We can automate the volume of the single parts in order to make them stick out more when needed and to tame them when they are excessively loud, rebalancing constantly the mix (some light compression though will still be needed, expecially on snare, cymbals and horns): it is more complex and more tiring than putting a strong compression on each instrument group, but this way we will preserve the natural sound of each instrument and we'll arrive to the mastering phase with much more clarity and headroom; during mastering the engineer will have to preserve our style, by using a very gentle mastering, otherwise all our careful work will be wasted.

5) Non dynamic mix: this type of mix is exactly the opposite of the previous one, and it is the one made to be heard as clear and stable as possible even in a car radio that doesn't receive a good quality signal. It is used in the most mainstream and ear catching rock and pop music (but also in metal, which is usually a genre very low in dynamics), and often it is involved in aggressive masterings that fight in the loudness war, since the mix already offers low headroom and it's made to be pushed.
In this type of mix every sound must be super stable (a good example would be any latest Nickelback song), which means that every snare or kick hit, every vocal part, every bass note must have the same volume, and in order to do this we must rely heavily on compressors (and sometimes also limiters at the end of the chain of every group, just to be sure).
This type of mix is extremely popular because it is relatively easy to achieve, there is a reduced need for automations compared to the dynamic one, and usually everything is loud and clear, but it works better with a songwriting that doesn't rely much on dynamics, otherwise the result can sound flat.

6) Acoustic / orchestral mix: in this last category I am grouping several song types very different between them, but that all have in common the use of acoustic instruments.
According to the number of instruments (for example just a voice and an acoustic guitar, or on the other hand a big strings ensemble), we need to think strategically on what to put in the spotlight and what in the background, and usually it will be the lead parts in the forefront, and the secundary parts, for example groups of violins performing the same notes, in the background. These decisions, unless we are close miking every single thing, must be taken during the recording phase, so if we have many violin players we can group them by tracking with one single microphone per group of them or just recording the left and right side of the stage, according to our gear.
The main difference between recording acoustic bands or orchestras and the other types of band therefore is that most of the strategic choices here happen actually in the recording phase, since then in the mixing phase we should try to preserve sound as natural as possible; this mean that we will have to get the tracking right, even if it means experimenting, doing and redoing the same part until we find the perfect mic placement.
Once the recording is done, in the ideal world we would have mainly to set the levels, high pass and low pass where needed, compress and add some effect, but we will have less room for completely change a sound, unlike what happens for electric guitars, drums or other instruments.


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Saturday, May 26, 2018

6 Strategic decisions to make before starting a mix Part 1/2

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This article takes the basic guidelines of how to define the focus of a mix and tries to adapt them to different types of song, because every music genre gives its best when the mix engineer has clear in mind the final result and knows the steps that lead there.
Obviously there are many more approaches than those in the list, and often the song we're mixing is somewhere in between two or more of these mixing styles, but these are in my opinions some of the mix archetypes we can come across when we approach a new project, and each of these types is made to draw the attention of the listener towards the main element of the song.
It's important to clarify our vision with the band before starting mixing because we need to make sure we know what the client expects, and they must know the direction we imagine for the final sound to avoid misunderstandings.

1) Vocals / keyboards driven mix: this is a type of mix that is usually very common in pop and rock songs, for example many classic Queen or or Elton John tunes. In these type of mix we need to carve in the eq of the other instruments (guitar, bass, drums) the space to leave the vocals or keyboards as full as possible: their position in the mix must be prominent compared to the other instruments, which should have a lower volume. Once we have nailed the sound of the most important element in the mix (for example in the case of vocals we can fine tune it in terms of eq, find the compression sweet spot and play with effects until we find a satisfying result), we can place the other instruments in the space that's left, for example we must not be shy in equalizing the guitars to make them less invasive, even if this means pushing them into the background, or making the snare drum transient less "poking".

2) Guitar driven mix: this type of mix is very different from the previous one, and it is very common in '80s and '90s heavy music, from hard rock (Van Halen) to classic metal (Iron Maiden) to thrash metal (Megadeth) up to the various forms of extreme metal (At The Gates).
That was the golden age of guitar heroes, and everyone wanted the guitar, both rhythmic and lead, to be the main focus of the mix.
A mix focused on guitars relies on thick layers of rhythm guitars, one for each side or sometimes two, and this wall of sound requires us to push the bass in the lower part of the spectrum and squeeze the eq of vocals and drums to make them thinner and with a very strong transient, this way they will cut through the noise and avoid frequency masking.

3) Rhythm driven mix: This style is more suited for edm and certain aggressive styles of funky,  rock, pop and rap music.
In this case we need to put in the spotlight drums and bass, because they will be the main driver of the song, and hopefully they will get the people moving.
In this style vocals are still important, but a powerful beat and bass line will share the same level, (unlike what happens in a vocals driven mix), leaving to the arrangement (synths, guitars, keyboards and so on) a background role. It's very important to nail the drum tone, especially to have a snare and a kick sound in line with the modern commercial productions, and a low end that will perform well also with the p.a. of a club (in which it is strongly emphasized both in terms of volume and frequences), therefore a very accurate monitoring and testing will be pivotal to avoid unexpected results.


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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Free guitar tablature and notation software: Tuxguitar

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about a free, open source songwriting tool: TuxGuitar!

Tuxguitar is a notation, tablature writing and songwriting tool, similar to the more famous Guitar Pro, but free and open source.
The software lets the user write in staff format (the one for classical music) and in tablature format (for guitars and bass), letting us choose tuning, number of strings and so on, and it features a real time midi engine that allows multitrack playback, so that the user can write also complex, multi instrument songs, using a variety of General Midi sounds (drums, classical guitar, distorted guitar, orchestra and so on).

The software lets us visualize a guitar keyboard or a regular keyboard and see the notes played in real time, import and export midis, and export the music sheet in a variety of formats, from to ascii, to pdf, letting us also import Guitar Pro files (but not the latest version ones).

I come from a generation of musicians that still likes to share the songs with the other band members by writing a drum track with a VstI and tracking on top of it the guitar and bass parts, and handing them also the tabs exported via pdf with this tool (here is a guide on how to make rough mixes super fast), but there is a new generation of guitarists that writes songs directly on these notation tools and hands the files to the other band members in order to give them directly the tabs and notations of all the instruments, using the integrated sequencer to create a song structure by copying and pasting the various song parts.
For some of these guys using a software like Tuxguitar is faster, more complete and easier to share, and probably it is the most rational solution.

Recording the guitar and bass tracks, on the other hand, gives us a clearer vision of what we can do and what we cannot, and the risk of not recording real instruments is to write parts that are completely beyond the musicians skills, so it's important always to keep in mind the band members when writing their part, or letting them write the part on their own.

Finally it's important to add that a drum track exported in midi format from Tuxguitar can be imported in any Daw and used with a Drum VstI, if someone feels more comfortable in writing it with the notation tool instead of the piano roll.

Thumbs up!

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Review: Schecter Jeff Loomis JL-7

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are talking about one of the most popular 7 strings guitars on the market for metal: the Schecter JL 7 Jeff Loomis!
Schecter is a legendary american brand that counts several artists on its roster (The Cure, Avenged Sevenfold, Abbath, Type 0 Negative, Keith Merrow and so on), and that has the core of its production on rock-metal oriented guitars, basses and related accessories, and it has started producing instruments in 1976: the company went through a series of highs and lows, and today there is an American headquarter and a Japanese one (the latter one controlled by Esp) that are two separate companies which shares the same brand.

Jeff Loomis instead is one of the most influential extreme guitarists / guitar heroes of the 90s and early 2000s, one of the few artists that succeded in mixing shred, great melodies and heavy, articulate riffing with a tasteful songwriting, as guitarist of Nevermore, Arch Enemy, Soilwork (as a session player), Sanctuary and other projects. Basically some of the best bands in modern heavy music.

The union between Schecter and Jeff Loomis has produced one of the few signature guitars that doesn't feel like a signature guitar (like a Les Paul), that has enough character to break out from the niche of the fanbase and be adopted by a broader audience, due to its high playability and features.
The Schecter JL-7 is a seven strings guitar with body in swamp ash and a baritone (25,6 inches) maple neck with cross inlays, it has locking tuners, signature active pickups (the Seymour Duncan Blackout Jeff Loomis) and comes with a hipshot hardtail bridge or with a floyd rose.
The neck is particularly interesting, because it's a set neck guitar with easy access to the higher frets (which are 24), and the shape is "ultra thin C", with a radius of 16", which means extremely flat and shred-friendly.

In terms of playability the guitar is quite heavy (some source says 4.5kg) and the neck is very long, so it takes some time to get acquainted to, but the fretboard is just perfect, the build quality is very good and so is the hardware.
The sound is just impressive (even in the earlier models, which used to come with EMG 707 pickups): it's thick, but has a strong midrange capable of poking through very dense mixes, and it's very reliable both in studio and on stage.
If you will come across one don't miss the chance to play this guitar, you will find out why it's one of the most appreciated 7 string guitars for metal, and probably you'll end up buying one :)

Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the website:

- Tuners: Schecter Locking

- Fretboard: Maple

- Neck Material: Maple/Walnut Multi-ply

- Inlays: Metal Crosses

- Side Dot Markers: Glow In The Dark

- Scale: 26.5” (673mm)

- Neck Shape: Ultra Thin ‘C’

- Thickness: @ 1st Fret- .748” (19mm)/ @ 12th Fret- .787” (20mm)

- Frets: 24 X-Jumbo Stainless Steel

- Fretboard Radius: 16” (406mm)

- Nut Width: 1.889” (48mm)

- Body Colors: Vampyre Red Satin (VRS)
- Arched Top

- Set-Neck w/Ultra Access
- Body Material: Swamp Ash

- Bridge: Hipshot Hardtail (.125) w/ String Thru Body

- Volume/3-Way Switch

- Bridge Pickup: Seymour Duncan 'Jeff Loomis' Signature Active

- Neck Pickup: Seymour Duncan 'Jeff Loomis' Signature Active

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

What is MIDI? a guide for dummies

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
I have realized that during those years we have been talking a lot about MIDI, but we have actually never made an article with a brief explaination of what it is: here it is.

First off: MIDI is an acronym: it stands for MUSICAL INSTRUMENT DIGITAL INTERFACE, and it is the standard protocol for interaction between electronic music instruments, and between them and a computer.
This standard was created in the '80, but somehow it got so popular and widespread that still today it's the standard for electronic instruments (and not only, also for routing the signals and creating patches that controls also analog devices, through a dedicated hardware, or for controlling lights in a concert etc.).
Some of the biggest perks of this protocol that granted such a long lasting success are in facts the reliability, the lightweight of the data and the low production costs, that allows every hardware and software producer to work with it, also because it's supported by an infinity of freeware tools.

So the basic concept here is that MIDI is a Standard: no other standard has been able to replace it so far (even if the technology has advanced and in theory Midi could have been improved in several ways), and at the beginning in the early 80s there has also been a sort of a war similar to the Vhs vs Betamax one, but the Midi standard got the upper hand and was adopted by the majority of music instrument producers (Yamaha, Roland, Kawai and so on).

Without the need of getting too technical the connection is a 5 poles DIN cable, which was commonly used in the early 80s, only 3 of which are actually used by the Midi, and these cables are able to connect to the serial ports in 3 ways: In (to send the signal to a Midi device), Out (to send out the informations), Thru (to allow the device to send its signal to the In port of another Midi device).

The Midi data that flows through these ports contain the informations that must be received from a device like a Synth, a Sampler or a Sequencer, which can be hardware (for example an electronic keyboard or a synth) or software (a computer), and the information is contained in a Midi File, a file that supports up to 16 channels (meaning that can send at the same time notes that can be played for example by up to 16 virtual instruments at the same time). Modern Daws can play hundreds of Midi tracks at the same time, using as many virtual instruments as the computer can support, leading to an infinite amount of sound possibilities that until few years ago was unimaginable.
A Midi file can also send for example the lyrics of a song synchronized with a music, and it is a standard widely used also for Karaoke, or it can be used to control the lights in a concert.

A Midi can be played in real time through a Midi controller (for example a keyboard), or it can be written in a Daw via a notation software (the best Daws allows also to manipulate it modifying the variables from a minimum value of 1 to a maximum of 127, creating automations and articulations), or it can also be programmed in a sequencer.

For more informations about the Midi standard you can visit the official website, which has an infinity of resources for those who want to go more technical or in general to have more knowledge about this formidable tool.

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Review: Mesa Boogie Quad Preamp

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review a classic Mesa Boogie preamp (now discontinued but still quite easy to find in the used market), that has appeared on countless hard rock and heavy metal albums. from the late '80s Metallica to the early Dream Theater, Red hot Chili Peppers and so on: The Mesa Boogie Quad Preamp!

The Mesa Quad is an all tube preamp (it has 8 12AX7 Tubes) that is based on an expanded version of the Mesa Mark III circuitry, and it features two channels and six modes: Rhythm Channel 1, Lead
Channel 1, Rhythm Channel 2, Lead Channel 2, Eq1 on the active channel, Eq2 on the active channel.
Each channel has a separate graphic and parametric equalization that can be activated or deactivated with a switch, doubling the amounts of tones achievable, a boost function and a reverb.

Each channel has also a "bright switch" and a "deep switch, which emphasize respectively the high and the low end, adding more sparkle or more thump.
On the back, besides the classic inputs, outputs and effect loop we can find a MIDI switching out, quite rare for that time, and an equally rare recording output which simulates the sound of a Mesa 4x12 cabinet, to be used straight in the recording interface.

The sound is typical Mesa Boogie: cleans are very clean and dynamic, overdrive and crunches are dark and fat, with a lot of growl and low end, and actually the graphic equalizer is a unique feature that has been a Mesa prerogative for years, that adds a huge amount of flexibility in terms of the tone we can achieve: the classic early Metallica sound, called "V shaped" because it had the mids scooped, comes from this graphic equalizer, that was present in Mesa amps since the Mark II.

Today, looking at this preamp that was considered back then top-notch for any guitarist, we can't help but think that the world of tube guitar amplifiers hasn't evolved that much: it has expanded touching territories of solid state and digital that doesn't sound like crap (unlike the early models), but fundamentally what people looks for in their quest for the best tone it's the same: a well crafted tube preamp with a lot of flexibility and tone shaping functions, plus all the goodies that the guitarists of any moment in history needs.
This unit still today could be sold as a new product and be credible, plus it has a legacy of legendary albums in which it has been used that has very few equals, the only downside could be the weight, that is considerable, and a not total MIDI integration, but besides that it is still a killer preamp, which still represents one of the best gems Mesa Boogie has ever produced.

Thumbs up!


- two channels, six modes

- eight 12AX7 preamp tubes

- reverb

- both a parametric and a 5 band graphic equalization per channel

- bright and deep switches

- recording out

- based on the Mesa Boogie Mark III circuit

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