Sunday, April 29, 2012

HOW TO CHANGE GUITAR / BASS STRINGS (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about how to change your guitar / bass strings. Last week we have already seen how to remove the old strings, on our article about how to clean your guitar / bass, now we must take on to the next step: installing the new strings (Click Here for a dedicated article with Everything about Strings!)
The first thing to think about is the strings gauge: the thicker our strings are, the easier we can achieve lower tunings without having them too flabby and out of tune. For example if you are used to have the gauge of your thinnest string (usually the "high E") .009, with the guitar tuned in E, you might want to use a .010 to tune your guitar in D, a .011 to tune it in C and so on, to keep it in tune and with the right string tension.
There are many string producers around, the most famous of which are Ernie Ball, D'Addario and Elixir; these last ones features a specific coating to protect them against the hands sweat and dirt, therefore prolonging their life.

- To install the new strings on a Guitar, pass them through the tailpiece (according to the kind of bridge, wheter it's tune o matic, a floyd rose, a Gibraltar...) and then insert the string on the nut and the tuning post, but not at the full tension: place your hand between the string and the fretboard, perpendicular: the distance must be about 10cm, so that when you start winding, you can wrap the string a bit (at least three wraps) around the post before having it perfectly in tune.
Now, before starting winding, let's pass the part of the string that has passed through the tuning post under the string itself (the part before the tuning post, between the nut and the post), and then pass it again over it, in order to "lock" the string around the tuning post.
In order to wind the string faster, you can use your hand or a String Winder, anyway in in the "winding phase" just keep in mind that the string should wrap the tuning post from the bottom up, so direct the spire with your finger while winding.

- In order to change the strings on a Bass, instead, you can use the same method, but you can't lock the string on the tuning post, so just create an angle on the string and make it pass through the post, then wind it DOWNWARD (on the guitar we've seen it's better to do it upwards), until it reaches the right tuning.

After the new strings are mounted and tuned, we can remove the exceeding part of the string from the tuning post, using a sharp pair of cutters.

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

HOW TO CLEAN UP A GUITAR / BASS (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about how to take care of the cleaning of a guitar or a bass!
We must start by lowering the strings tuning until they are completely loose, so we can cut them without risking to have a whiplash on our face (which is painful), then we can cut them with a pair of cutters at the height of the pickups and remove them. Especially for bass, you can save the strings instead of cutting them, since bass strings are more expensive, so just unwind and remove them: you never know if some day they could come in handy.

Now it's time to move to frets polish, we can use a silver specific product (like fine steel wool), or the Planet Waves fret polish, which is even more specific. With the P.W. fret polish, you also have a "mask" to apply to your fretboard that has holes for the single frets, so you can rub the grit side of the sheet on the frets until they are clean like they're brand new :)
If you don't have the Planet Waves template, you can just apply some paper-duct tape on the fingerboard, to avoid ruining it while cleaning the frets.

Moving on to the cleaning of the fingerboard, it's time to use the Lemon Oil, which is a particular kind of oil suggested for guitar and bass, and it's produced by many brands, for example by Dunlop. Just apply it on the fingerboard, and then wipe it off rubbing hard with some paper.
If you have a maple fingerboard, SKIP this step, since it is not required, and may even leave some stain!

Finally, for all the painted parts of the instrument, we should use some drop of a simple liquid neutral detergent with some paper, and after we have applied it, we must make sure of wiping it off completely.

Now it's time to install the new strings!

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

HOW TO CHOOSE GUITAR AMP TUBES (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about TUBES! How to choose them? I have made many researches throught the last few years and tried many of them on my own amps, plus I've made treasure of the experience of other people I've known (for example the guys of my forum, Guitartribe, which is in italian), so today we're going to see and introduction on how to choose them, which are best suited for certain amplifiers and genres, and how to obtain the right sound.

Let's start by saying two words about vacuum tubes: A vacuum tube consists of two or more electrodes in a vacuum inside an airtight enclosure, and these electrodes are attached to leads which pass through the envelope via an airtight seal. On most tubes, the leads, in the form of pins, plug into a tube socket for easy replacement of the tube (tubes were by far the most common cause of failure in electronic equipment, and consumers were expected to be able to replace tubes themselves).
Tube-based electric guitar amplifiers are also preferred to solid state or digital ones by many guitarists, because in this application users are not seeking the most accurate reproduction of an original sound, but rather for the equipment to add its own characteristics. The sound produced by a tube power amplifier when overdriven has defined the texture of some genres of music, starting from classic rock and blues, and spanning through all the music spectrum. Rather than the hard clipping characteristic of solid state power amplifiers, a tube amplifier and output transformer produces audibly different and distinctive distortion. Guitarists often cite the sound of tube amplifiers for the "warmth" of their tone and the natural compression and eq cut that results when overdriven (as guitar amplifiers routinely are).  (Wikipedia).


First off let's give some general advice: If you want to replace Power tubes on your amp, after the replacement you should adjust the Bias (or have it adjusted by someone who can do it without risking his life), in order to use it at their best and avoid to ruin your power amp. If you want to learn more about how to set the bias, check out This Page. Preamp tubes instead cannot be biased or adjusted, you can just replace them. Also you don't need to use (except for exceptional cases) preamplifier tubes of the same brand, you can use a different brand for each position, if you wish. 
A low gain amp cannot be turned to a hi gain beast just by replacing tubes, although the tube that you put in the first position may  change a bit the general sound of your preamplifier: a 12AT7 will make it more dynamic, a 12AX7 will make it more overdriven and gainy, a 5751 will make it cleaner, and a preamp tube will last more or less 2 or 3 sets of power tubes.

Now, according to the Tube Town Map, we can give some general advice in choosing the right tubes for your amplifier, keeping in mind that obviously these are not rules (and many more tubes than these, which are just the most common), so the only real way to choose the right tube for you is to do some test.

Preamp tubes (sorted by music style, these are the most commonly found on online stores, at a reasonable price):

Acoustics - Clean guitars: Electro Harmonics 12AY7, GE 5751, Fender 12AT7

Blues - Classic rock: JJ 12AX7, TTE 83CC, Mesa Boogie 12AX7

Grunge - Classic metal: TT 12AX7, Tung Sol 12AX67, JJ ECC83S

Thrash Metal  - Extreme metal:  SOVTEK 12AX7LPS, JJ ECC83S, TT 12AX7

(And here are some of the most sought-after, rare/boutique/vintage):

GE 12AX7WA: clean, dark sound.

GE JAN 5751: 30% lower gain than a 12AX7, bright sound.

RCA 12AX7A: hi gain, american fat sound, good for crunch

RCA 7025: lower gain, very good for clean tones.

RAYTEON 12AX7: lower gain, enhanced higher frequencies, great dynamics.

MULLARD 12AX7/ECC83 modern/old logo:  hi gain, enhanced mid frequencies, suggested for british amps (beware of the price!).

BRIMAR 12AX7: similiar to the Mullard, but slighly less gainy.

TELEFUNKEN ECC83: high definition, bright sound, less gainy than a Mullard. Very expensive!

TUNGSRAM ECC83: Balanced sound, enhanced mid-lows,high definition, high headroom.

RFT ECC83: strong lower frequencies and good for crunch, lower headroom and break up level, suggested for blues.

TESLA ECC83S: good amount of gain, suggested for british sounding amps.

Power tubes (sorted by type)

EL84: JJ EL84 for a Standard sound, Sovtek / Electro Harmonix for an all around tone, JJ EL844 For a tight, low power sound.

EL34: JJ EL34, Electro Harmonix EL34 for a sound ranging from blues to hard rock, TT EL34 and Tung Sol EL34 for Heavy Metal, SED EL34 for dropped tuning and Bass.

6L6: JJ 6L6 and TT KT66 for a sound ranging from blues to hard rock, TT 6L6, Tung Sol 6L6, Sovtek 6L6 WXT+ for heavier tones up to the extreme metal, and SED 6L6 for dropped tunings and bass.
JJ 6V6 are lower power tubes, which leads to a lower output and a softer overdrive.

KT88 / 6550: JJ KT88, are basically good for every genere, Electro Harmonix KT88 are suggested for Bass amps, while SED KT88 are rich of lower frequencies.

Have fun trying all of the combinations!!

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

HOW TO MIC A GUITAR AMP (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about how to get a good tone miking a guitar amplifier.
First off let's say that miking a guitar amp is not particularly difficult, but it should be done on an acoustically treated room, otherwise, if you want to microphone an amplifier, especially a tube amp which needs to be pushed at a high volume in order to achieve that "roaring" sound, your room will be crowded with reverbs, and the final result will be a "live on a cathedral" type of sound.

Let's now talk about microphones: you can use dynamic microphones or condenser ones, which are more sensitive, delicate and faithful in terms of higher and lower frequencies, more suggested for acoustic guitars, clean electric guitars or low wattage amps;
my suggestion is, if you want to use just one microphone, to use a dynamic one, which is able to handle higher pressure levels, so it's better suited for rock and metal guitars, but if you want you can also use both dynamic and condenser in order to achieve a more harmonically rich tone (of course anyway you could experiment by using as many microphones as you want: rumor knows that Metallica used 9 or 10 mics to get the "...And Justice for All" guitar tone, and if you find that you don't need one, you can just delete it later on your Daw).
Two dynamic microphones which are the industry standard for both live and studio sound are the Shure SM57, which features a very strong eq curve made to cut throuhg every mix, and the Sennheiser E906, which under many points of view is the Sennheiser version of the Sm57.
Those two microphones represent the two standard ways of microphoning: the Shure SM57 and similiar microphones are directional ones, which means that they take the sound they're pointing at, while the Sennheiser E906 is of the "Lollipop" kind, which means they're flat and can be hung on the cab directly by the cable, so they eliminate the need for a mic stand.

How to get the right tone? The idea is to use your ear instead of the microphone, getting close with your ear to the speaker (use earplugs if needed) and moving your head as if you would place a microphone, while you, or someone else, play the guitar: that is the sound that is going to be grabbed by the microphone, so move the equalization and gain control of the amp accordingly, keeping in mind that on record usually is needed LESS gain and more mids than you think to obtain even the heaviest tones, preserving attack and clarity.
The optimal situation would be to hear the sound from a pair of monitors or headphones from an isolated room, so that you can hear exclusively what is going into the DAW. From there you can ask to the guy next to the cabinet to move the microphone closer or farther from the center of the cone, until you find the "sweet spot".

How to place the microphones? For a "Lollipop" style microphone, just hang it from the top of the cab, towards the center of the speaker. the more you move it off the center, the less treble it will catch, and the more the sound will be oriented towards the mid-lows. Find the "sweet spot" and you're done :)

For Directional microphones, instead, things gets a little bit trickier, since you can also decide the distance from the speaker, and wether to keep them on axis on the speaker or to put them off-axis, and of which amount. Here is some example of what you may obtain:

- On axis, 2,5 to 5 cm of distance, center of the dustcap: maximum presence, attack and high frequencies.
- On axis, 2,5 to 5 cm of distance, at the edge from the dustcap and the cone: a bit less attack and more bass.
- On axis, 2,5 to 5 cm of distance, halfway between the center and the edge of the speaker: a more balanced sound, compromise between attack and low-end.
- Off axis, 2,5 to 5 cm of distance, 22° or even 45° towards the dustcap: a mix between the sound you would get going on axis towards a point between the center and the border of the speaker, and the one you would get pointing at the dustcap.
- On axis, 15 to 30cm from the speaker, center of the speaker: Medium Attack, fuller sound.
- On axis, 60 to 90cm from the speaker, center of the speaker: Softer Attack, reduced low frequencies.

Move the microphone closer or farther the dustcap until you find the sweet spot that allows you to get a tone that holds all the tonal characteristics that you need!

Additional Awesomeness: you can also use a combination of two dynamic microphones: one pointing towards the speaker using one of the techniques listed above, the other pointing THE BACK of the cabinet. So now you'll have two tracks of the same sound, and if you listen them in mono (or check them with a SPECTRUM ANALIZER) you'll surely notice some phase problem: some frequency of one track will cancel some other frequency of the other. Try flipping the phase of the track recorded to the back of the cab, and choose the one that cancels less frequencies, this technique, although may need some practice to be mastered, may help you thickening your tone!

A very common microphonig technique for distorted guitars with two dynamic microphones consists into using a Shure Sm57 to catch the mid frequencies from the cone, and a Sennheiser MD421 for lowest and highest frequencies, this combination creates a very complete and usable spectrum (see picture on top).

A good technique for clean or slighly overdriven guitars instead, is to use a Shure Sm57 and a condenser microphone (a Neumann TLM for Vocals, on this example picture below): set the Shure close to the grill until you can capture the bulk of the midrange, then set condenser 10 to 20cm away from the cabinet, in a position that will allow you to catch that extra low end, the warmth and the harmonic richness of the tubes to make the sound really pleasant and "tri-dimensional".

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