Saturday, December 26, 2015

How to prepare your tracks for someone else to mix (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are talking about a topic that is often overlooked but that often makes the difference between a perfect record and a flawed one: to set up perfectly your tracks before sending them to the mix engineer that will mix your album.
When giving tracks to a professional mixing engineer there are some rules to follow, otherwise your album will sound sub-par, no matter how good the music is:

1) Decide, together with the mix engineer, wether to make a project for every single track, or a project with the whole record inside, and set up bit depth and sample rate as the mix engineer suggests (e.g. 24bit / 44khz). You can then decide with him wether to send him the projects with the tracks inside (if he uses the same DAW you use) or to send him just the exported wave files.

2) Label your tracks the same way (e.g. 01 kick, 02 snare...) for every song  and make sure to export them all starting from the same point (therefore every track in the same song all must start from the same mark, e.g: point 0).

3) Do editing and autotuning before exporting the tracks, or hand them over to an editing/autotuning engineer first, since not always the mix engineer does the editing (which is a long and tedious process) too, and anyway talk about it to him before exporting.

4) Send along with the tracks a text file in which you list for every song the particularities (like "on song n.1 there are 2 tracks more than the others: "16 - whistle" and "17 - fart", and they should be treated with reverb etc..")

5) Set the gain staging properly and, especially, keep the gain levels as consistent as possible throughout the whole project: the more the volumes are consistent, the more the album will sound coherent and the less automations will have to be done.

6) Send the tracks as dry as possible: if possible, send the guitar and bass tracks dry (for reamping),  and same is for every other instrument (including vocals): if you effect a track, like exporting a track with already a reverb on it, it's impossible to revert it or modify it, and it will surely create problems.

7) Export all tracks in mono. The only tracks that can be exported in stereo are certain keyboard tracks like pads with particular stereo effects, otherwise leave them all mono and centered, and let the mix engineer to place them in the stereo field.

8) Export the tempo track (for example as a midi file), or set it up properly inside the project and send the whole project with the tempo track done. It is a good habit to set up perfectly the tempo track, with all the tempo changes in the right moment, in order to not drive the mix engineer totally crazy trying to figure out what changes when.

Guitar Nerding Blog wishes you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Review: DP Music Cristorsore

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to review an interesting piece of hardware, with a name that can be very well considered a blasphemy from a Catholic point of view: il Cristorsore (a joke with words between Christ and Distorsore, distortion in italian), made by an italian artisan producer called DP Music.

This unit is a boutique variation of the classic Tube Screamer scheme; we had the chance to try it thoroughly and compare it with other classic tube screamers, like the Ibanez Ts-808, the Mxr Zakk Wylde and others, and we must say it has a very harmonically rich sound, and more gain than the original version.

Besides the different names, the three controls are the classic OD knobs: gain, tone and level, but this unit features also a switch which changes the style of this OD (actually the switch is not in every unit since the producer customizes it with the requests of the customer, and it should adapt the stompbox to a bass or a guitar input) adding additional gain, making it sound more like a distortion. In general this stompbox sounds hotter than a Tube Screamer, and ranges from a tone boost to a very hot saturation; the only bad note we can say is the fact that it has a bit more noise than its competitors, using similar settings.

A honorable mention to the graphics, which represent the former pope with 2 red leds for eyes. Brilliant!

Check out also the other stompboxes of Dp Music, most of which have some religion-related pun on their name, and you will discover that this producer features a pretty wide range of products for being a handcrafter!

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Saturday, December 5, 2015

How to use Guitar Cabinet Simulators (with free Vst Plugins)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about Guitar Cabinet Simulators, in an article that should be taken as an evolution of our first article about Speaker Impulses, which can be found HERE.

After we have chosen our favorite Guitar Amp Simulator from this list, it's time to find a good speaker, and we'll be good to go for recording or even for live playing, if we have an audio interface that grants us a low enough latency.

Today there are essentially 2 ways of simulating a speaker sound:

- A way that tries to recreate how actually the cabinet works and that usually lets you play with the interaction between one or more types of microphones and the speaker.
Usually programming this type of simulation takes a lot of work and this is why you can find it mostly on paid plugins (like Amplitube, or Overloud Th2), but that sometimes some producer still provides for free, like the good Mercuriall CAB 2.1 and 3 which lets you choose among various microphone types and positionings.

- By using convolution impulses (IRs), which are basically a "photo" of how the interaction of a certain sound source, a certain ambient, and a certain tracking hardware respond to an audio signal.
These Impulses can therefore recreate easily the behavior for example of a Celestion Speaker on a Mesa Boogie cabinet, miked with a Shure Sm57 straight to the dustcap.
Convolution impulses are a way to "start from the end", from the final effect of the microphoning instead of going through the recreation of every single component, and they often lead to results which not only has nothing to envy to the classic approach, but also avoids the usual "digital grit" of the old way to simulate a speaker.

There are many IR loaders made specifically to load impulses for guitar, some of them are paid (like Redwirez MixIR2, or Kazrog Recabinet), and some are free. Let's see the best Free IR impulse loaders:

- Rosen Digital Pulse
- Ignite Amps NadIR
- Kefir
- Lepou Lecab
- Voxengo Boogex

And now let's see the best free guitar cab IRs to be loaded in the aforementioned Cab Simulators:

- Our Exclusive TRIDENT Ir pack made by Guitar Nerding Blog
GuitarHack Impulses part I by GuitarHack
Recabinet Demo by Recabinet
Free Redwirez IR Library by Red Wirez
Kalthallen Cabs by Kalthallen
IR Library by Noisevault
God’s Cab by SignalsAudio
Fredman Impulses by Catharsis Studio
Beamsonic Impulses by Nick Beamso
Orange Cab Impulse by fearcomplexmusic
IRs by le Châtelet

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Review: Mercuriall Tube Amp Ultra 530 (with video sample)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we are reviewing the most recent Guitar Amp simulator on the market: Mercuriall Tube Amp Ultra 530!
This amp simulator is based on the Engl E530, one of the best sounding preamps in the market, and offers a full circuit simulation of the hardware unit, plus some extra feature that the original unit doesn't have: a 3 position contour switch (instead of 2), a Stereo Chorus and a boost switch for the Lo Clean channel.
The simulator offers you also to choose among 3 types of preamp tubes, and features a class A power amp section with presence and master control. 

The cabinet section is, oddly, not Impulse driven but features a 2d positioning system of a virtual Shure sm57 microphone into one of the 8 available cabs: you can choose and adjust the position of the microphone until you find the sweet spot between the distance from the speaker and, horizontally, from the dustcap. Anyway the cabinet section can be disabled and the segnal can obviously be fed into an external IR loader.

This plugin sounds really good, and it holds on well against the direct competitor: the X30 of TSE audio, which simulates the same preamp: the sound is smooth, the plugin is not a cpu-hog (which is very important since usually one has to run more than one instance of it in a project), the controls are many and accurate, and I had fun finding the sweet spot for the microphone.

The only critic maybe we could make to this product is the fact that it could definitely incorporate more features: an Ir cabinet loader could be very useful, same for a noise gate, an overdrive simulator, a tuner and a delay. 
Just adding those essential modules would make the guitar track signal chain much smaller and cleaner, but something tells me that the future editions of this plugin will surely be more complete, since Mercuriall features also a pretty wide freeware section, and some of the good software in this section could undoubtly be revamped and incorporated in this paid suite making it more complete, as it is happening in the Ipad suite of the same producer: Amp One

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Using more than one interface at the same time and adding inputs (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! 
Today we are going to see if it's possible to combine two audio interfaces in the same computer to sum up all their inputs.
This is particularly useful if we need to record more tracks at the same time, but it creates a big problem: drivers.
The Daw in facts, uses one single driver and assigns it to an audio interface, and if we have two of them, with the driver of both installed, the program lets us just choose one of them.

While the problem is much easier to solve in a Mac environment (you must simply create an aggregate audio device in Audio MIDI Setup and set your main interface as the master clock), in Windows it gets much more complicated.

Basically there are 3 ways:

1) Daisy Chaining the interfaces: sometimes interfaces has a firewire, a Sp-dif or a usb "loop", like an input and a "through" output to connect themselves with other interfaces. 
The best brands (like Motu or Presonus) have drivers that can recognize other audio interfaces, usually only the ones made by the same producer, and lets you stack them one upon the other, multiplying the number of input channels.
The clock used is the one of the first Audio Interface, and the others will adapt to that one.

2) Expanding your channels via Adat: This connection has a few names, like Optical, Adat, Lightpipe, but they all mean the same thing: a fiber optic technology that can stream up to 8 channels of stable 44.1 or 48 khz 24 bit digital audio between audio hardwares. 
There are many units that add preamp channels and that are made just to be connected to another audio interface (like the Behringer Ada-8000) via Adat, and in this case, once hooked on the Audio interface, the drivers internal mixer should display the extra channels not as a separate audio interface but like additional channels of our first interface.

3) Adding channels to our unit using external preamps and the line inputs of our audio interface: if we don't want or can't pass through the Adat input of our audio interface we can often use our additional preamps, like a mixer or a rack unit like the aforementioned Ada 8000 going from the output of each channel into the line input of our audio interface
This can be done obviously only with the interfaces that has, besides the preamp inputs, also other line inputs made to be connected with external preamps or other processors.
Also in this case, the additional channels will be considered by the software as part of our main audio interface.

Do you know other ways to expand the input channels of your interface? Share them with us!

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

How to sound like: Metallica (with sample and using only free Vst Plugins)

Hello everyone and welcome to the second episode of our "How to sound like" serie!
Today we will talk about a sound that is considered to be one of the most imitated of all times: Metallica's Black Album rhythm guitar tone!

This tone is considered to be one of the best guitar tones ever produced in heavy metal, and it was created with a guitar equipped with Emg active pickups through a Mesa Boogie Triaxis preamp, a Mesa Boogie Simul Class 2:90 power amp and a Mesa Cabinet.
The cabinet was microphoned with several microphones, but the producer, Bob Rock, always stated that a good part of the sound was achieved with a common Shure Sm57.

The sound is bassy, but with a surprisingly rich mid range and a medium amount of gain, that makes it very defined and sets hit somewhere between thrash metal and hard rock; the result is very euphonic.
To achieve a sound that tries to get close to the original one I have used (as you can see from the image) the amazing Tse audio Tube screamer simulator, the Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier made by Lepou called LECTO and the best Free Impulse loader on the market: Ignite Amps NadIR

Then I have loaded in NadIR a free Impulse made by sampling the tone from the Enter Sandman song from the BGelais Metallica Golden Ir Pack, and I have just made the tweaks on the amp that you can see in the image.
If you feel that there is still too much midrange content compared to the original song, you can also lower the "tone" control from the Tube Screamer, even up to zero.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

How to prepare your band for a live gig (a guide for dummies)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article! Today we're doing a small checklist for what to know and remember before playing live.
Obviously this small guide is aimed for the young musicians and emerging bands with little knowledge, just some small advice  to make things easier to the musicians and to the organizers!

1) Tune your instruments!: This may seem obvious but not all beginner musicians do it; they think the guitar is already in tune, or they can tune it by ear if they hear something wrong, or they can tune it between one song and the other using the tuning pedal.
If the string instruments are not in tune, everyone will notice it and the band will automatically sound cheesy.
Tune your guitar at the beginning, and please, please don't make everyone wait 3 minutes between the songs because your guitar can't hold the tuning so you have to retune it every song! :D

2) Share the backline: don't be a dick and agree with the other bands on who brings what, and don't be afraid to share your amplifier, or cabinet, or some part of your drumkit with the other bands.
This will ease the transport of the instrumentation to the location, will make you earn respect and will reduce stage changing times among the bands, which should be as short and smooth as possible, and instead sometimes it turns itself into a long ordeal with the audience that leaves the room.

3) Make a list of the instrumentation before going to the venue: this is linked with the previous point; everyone should have very clear what he's bringing to the venue (e.g. an amplifier, a guitar, 3 jacks, 2 stompboxes, etc...), especially the drummer, because things can "disappear" pretty easily, also because someone can put them into their bag mistaking them for his own stuff.
Having a checklist helps us in remembering everything better.

4) Use a Metronome: not all drummers are born with the perfect sense of tempo in their head, and especially while playing fast, complex songs like a death metal song, it's important for the whole band to rely on a perfectly consistent tempo.
Using a metronome on the ear of the drummer, and if the band is very organized, on the ears of all the other members, can REALLY improve a performance, giving it that tightness that makes the difference between an amateur and a pro.

5) alcohol does not help: don't believe the movie legends that getting on stage drunk will make you play smoother, it is not true! When playing is better to deal with shyness than to have your playing impaired by an alcohol intoxication!

Hope this helps!

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Sunday, November 1, 2015


Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to review one of the finest Esp guitars: the Horizon Nt7!
This guitar sets itself in the top tier of Esp Horizon models and it just went out of production, after having been produced for several years.

The body is neck through, which helps the sustain, and the neck part is made of maple, while the sides are alder.
The scale is the typical Esp/Ltd 25,5" scale, which is the ideal for 7 strings, and it's a good compromise between lenght and comfort, since above that it starts becoming a little too uncomfortable for the hands of many guitarists.
The neck is U-shaped, it's not as thin as an Ibanez neck, but it's very comfortable without resulting too thick.
24 X-Jumbo frets, Tonepros Tune o'Matic bridge and Gotoh locking tuners on the hardware side, and a couple of Emg pickups (707 and 81-7) on the electronics side.

One of the aspects in which you can really notice the fact that this guitar is really top-tier is the building quality: everything, from the painting to the binding to every connection is made with great care, in the japanese Esp Factory, and this is also represented by the price tag (around 1600/2000€).

We have tried this guitar thoroughly in the latest years, both on studio and live, and the most important thing we have noticed (besides its playability) it's how balanced its sound is: it's mid oriented, with powerful lows and the right amount of brightness; the typical sound that once recorded, needs less processing to sound perfect.
Overall is probably one of the best seven strings guitars we've ever heard, and definitely a suggested buy if you want uncompromised quality.


Neck-Thru-Body Construction 

25.5" Scale 

Alder Body, Maple Neck 

Ebony Fingerboard 

45mm Bone Nut 

Thin U Neck Contour 

24 XJ Frets 

Black Nickel Hardware 

Gotoh Magnum Lock Tuners 

Tonepros Locking TOM Bridge 

EMG 707 (neck) and EMG 81-7 (Bridge) 

Finish: Black

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Recording and mixing using Reference Tracks! (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we will talk about a little trick that everyone uses (also the pros) to improve our ear and to check out if our mix is going in the right direction: using a reference track while mixing.
What does it mean?
It means using a track that we "trust", like a song that we consider a perfect mixing and mastering balance, to confront in real time with our project, when mixing it, in order to make sure we nail the right balance and overall tone we are aiming to.
Note that this article is an integration and expansion of our Ear Training, Referencing and Mixing Articles! 

Everybody, when mixing a project, tend to fall in the psychological "trap" that the project sounds good, that everything is well balanced, even if it's not, because our "ear" tends to "accustom" itself to what is hearing, and after a certain amount of time we tend to not notice anymore certain problems, especially eq-wise.
What can we do? Surely one remedy is to stop for some minute every hour or so of mixing, to let our ears rest and reset the "eq-bias" they have accustomed to.
The other method is switching back and forth between our song and a reference track.

The greatest producers in the world (for example Dave Pensado), has an array of songs they trust (for example one song in which there is the best vocal processing, another one in which the drums sounds perfectly balanced and so on), and when mixing they create an empty channel, load those tracks into it, adjust the volume so that it is comparable to the volume of their project and make a/b comparisons all the time, checking out all the most important areas of their mix, to see if it's comparable to the best industry standards in term of overall sound.

The main areas to compare are:

- Balance: How loud are the vocals, or the drums, compared to the rest of the instruments? Are all the instruments sitting properly in the mix? 

- Overall bass amount (this is good for comparisons also in the Mastering Phase): is our song too bass heavy? Or not enough?

- Effects: do our vocals need some more reverb? Or, when comparing them to our reference track they are drowning on it?

We can also use reference tracks in the recording phase: since we know that the starting sound is the 60% of the final sound, we should try to nail a tone as perfect as possible before even starting to work on it in the mixing phase.
This could help us placing the microphones in a certain position while recording a guitar, or in working on the drum sound (both in finding the right tuning configuration or finding the right samples when using them, for example), and so on.
In the Mastering phase using a reference track is interesting to compare the overall loudness, the overall eq (to see if our project is too "dark" or too "bright" compared to the perfectly balanced reference track), and so on.
(just remember, though, that if we put our mastering plugins in the master buss they will affect the reference track channel too!).

As we have seen there are many, many uses and good reasons to use a reference track. It can sound like an extra waste of time, but I assure you that it will bring its results! Let me know if you have tried it, and if it helped you improving your mix!

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Review: MXR Wylde Overdrive

Hello and welcome to this week's article! 
Today we are going to speak about one of the most iconic overdrives ever made: the MXR Wylde Overdrive!
The first version of Wylde overdrive was developed by Mxr, a legendary stompbox brand, which later was acquired by Jim Dunlop, so today the actual name of the latest version of this pedal is Jim Dunlop Berzerker Overdrive, but besides the different name the hardware part is identical.

When designing this pedal Zakk Wylde, the guitarist of a good part of the Ozzy Osbourne solo career and singer and guitarist of Black Label Society, he took as a base a Boss SD-1 (Super Overdrive) and made his own tweaks, increasing the gain and making it true bypass, while keeping the same controls: Tone, Gain and Output (which in the original Boss Sd-1 is called Level). 
The resul is an overdrive that can be used to add warmth and grit to a clean channel, like all the other overdrives, while mantaining a certain level of dynamics, but that is even more suited for its main purpose (the way it's used by Zakk Wylde): to boost the distorted channel of an amplifier to add attack and to scoop the mids, in order to obtain a very aggressive heavy metal tone, Black Label Society or Pantera style. 

How does it compare to a classic Tubescreamer, the most famous booster in the world? 
The Zw44 is brighter (like its Boss original overdrive) and more aggressive, and when pushed it can acquire a character which sounds almost like a fuzz, in terms of gain style. This gives to the guitarist a wide range of sounds to play with, even if after a few tweaks it becomes clear the true vocation of this stompbox: to be used in a hard rock-heavy metal environment, rather than in a blues/jazzy one, since it is more about giving the player a huge amount of gain rather than the subtlety and the dynamics of the smoothest overdrives on the market.

The final thought is that if you are looking for an overdrive to boost your crunch channel to play heavy metal this stompbox is almost unbeatable, also because it's true bypass, so when turned off it doesn't eat your guitar signal.
If you are looking for a very subtle overdrive that underlines the nuances of your clean playing, instead, maybe is better to look somewhere else.

SPECS Taken from the Jim Dunlop / Mxr Overdrive:

Input Impedance 1 MΩ

Output Impedance 7.5 kΩ

Nominal Input -22 dBV 

Noise Floor* -88 dBV

Bypass Hardwire

Current Draw 2.2 mA

Power Supply 9 volts DC

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

How to sound like: Jimi Hendrix (with sample and using only free Vst Plugins)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to see how to obtain very easily one of the most iconic and classic guitar sounds of the history of this instrument: the classic Jimi Hendrix tone.
Let's start by saying that Jimi hendrix was really an innovator: he took effects which were new at the time, like the modulation effects, and made them famous and mainstream, to the point that many of them are still today a standard in any guitar player rig.

Another thing to say about Jimi Hendrix is that he actually had a LOT of tones; almost a different one for each song, to the point that some commercial simulator (for example the very complete Amplitube Hendrix) today recreates the tone of the various single songs.

I wanted to recreate the classic Little Wing sound, that in my opinion is the best one, using only free plugins or the ones bundled in any commercial Daw: as you can see from the picture above (which shows the full chain, to be read from left to right, from top to bottom) I have used Presonus Studio One, but the same rules can be applied to any DAW, since they all feature these processors by default.

First off I have loaded on a track the original Little Wing, to use it as a Reference Track, so I could compare in real time the results of my tweaking, until the sound was similar enough.
I have used my cheap Squier Stratocaster, using the neck pickup (although in the last part of the sample I have switched to the bridge one, which was a humbucker, in order to have a little more output), tuned it, found the right Input Level, and proceeded loading a Preamp to use with the clean channel. I have used the Ignite Amp NRR-1, with no cab emulation (when using clean guitars it's possible to act this way to obtain a more direct sound, it's no blasphemy :D), and I have added enough gain to simulate a booster in front of the amp.
From here I have proceeded to add two modulation effects typical of the Hendrix sound: a Phaser and a Chorus. both of them in a very moderate amount, just to add some depth and character to the sound.
In the end I've put a sprinke of Reverb, do give some space to the sound, that otherwise without Cab emulation would have sounded too direct.

On the bottom of the signal chain I've added a Low pass Filter to shave off some of the harsh frequences typical of the digital sound, and put a limiter on the master bus.

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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Interview: Adrienne Zolondick

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today our good friend Tammy of Moonstruck Promotions is interviewing Adrienne Z, an american pop-rock singer and songwriter, here is the result of out chat with her!

Florida USA musician Adrienne Zolondick (Adrienne Z) was raised in Boston, Ma., in a house filled with music. Her immediate and extended family sang and even her childhood babysitters played guitar and shared songs with Adrienne and her sisters. Adrienne followed her musical heart and attended Walnut Hill School of the Performing Arts in Natick, Massachusetts. “My voice was very young and small back then and I didn't quite understand all that I learned in those four years singing classical music as well as show tunes,” says Adrienne. “I liked to sing along with record and I discovered the expert vocal training I received helped me sing what I was hearing correctly. “I didn't choose to wail and scream like Janis Joplin because I didn't like how it felt in my voice. I preferred a nuanced, emotive type vocal style. It seemed to suit my songwriting,” she says.
Compared to singers like Joni Mitchell, Ricki Lee Jones, Dido and Stevie Nicks, Adrienne's voice is pure emotion, stylistically elegant, soulful, and ethereal.Chameleons is a captivating listen. Songs run the gamut from ballads like “Blue Day”, to all out rockers like “You Push My Love Away” to sweet reflections like “When The Day is Through” complete with a heavenly violin solo.
Adrienne tours steadily in the Florida Keys and is planning a US tour in 2017.

Hi Adrienne! Welcome to Guitar Nerding Blog. We're pretty excited because you are our first female artist feature!

GuitarNerdingBlog: Can you tell us what brand of guitar you play? All guitarists have a wish list of the "perfect" guitar. Can you tell us what sort of guitars are on your wishlist?

AdrienneZ: A couple of years ago I heard about a man named Dean Nickless who lives here in the Keys, Big Pine Key to be exact. I first heard about him when I accidentally put a small whole in my 1944 Martin 000-18 when my guitar strap broke and the bottom of the guitar landed on a rock. I was devastated. Fortunately, I was at the right place at the right time to hear about Dean and his amazing ability with not only fixing guitars,but actually making them. After he fixed the whole in my old Martin, impeccably well I must say, I was thrilled at the job he did, I played one of his guitars that he made himself and learned about many other musicians in the Keys he personally made guitars for to the exact specs that they wanted. I really needed to retire my old Martin, having played it for many years in not always ideal conditions. It doesn't look nearly as bad as Willie Nelsons guitar, but as it was my road guitar for so many years, it certainly looks like it's been played a lot I can tell you that! Lol! I asked Dean if he would make me a guitar to the exact specs of my Martin 000-18 and he did just that. This is my dream guitar and number 12 in the Nickless catalog. He was so meticulous with his measurements, he measured down to the thickness of the varnish on the old girl! He used local Wild Tamarind wood for the back and sides, a Sitka Spruce Bear Claw top, stripped ebony fingerboard and bridge and Cuban Mahogany neck which he describes as, "the only true Mahogany." (He knows a lot about wood and guitars I can tell you that!) This guitar is for my solo, duo or trio shows. I also have a Line 6 variax acoustic guitar which I use when I perform with a band. It is a guitar with a computer inside with 16 different recorded guitar sounds. Everything from a sitar sound to various sized acoustic guitars have been recorded to create the sounds in the line 6. I use this to keep from having issues with feedback in band situations when many monitors are on stage.

On my wishlist? I have to say I'm pretty satisfied right now with my stay at home Martin, and my new Nickless guitar for my live shows. The bass response I am getting with it is unlike anything I have ever heard for a live guitar sound. It's truly a one of a kind and I feel blessed to have it! In fact, every time I see Dean at a show I always ask him, "I can really take this guitar with me? It's really mine?" I kid with him. And he just laughs. He is very humble and I'm happy to share his name with you all.
I am still in awe mode with my Nickless guitar and for recording purposes I like having other stringed instruments like, a ukulele. My wish list right now includes more acoustic instruments: a mandolin, a baritone guitar.

GNB: You mention being a fan of James Taylor's guitar style. Can you tell us a little about your technique (fingerpicking, strumming, do you use a pick)? and guitarists you admire? When did you first start playing guitar. Do you play other instruments?
AZ: I started playing guitar when I was 8 years old, inspired by the babysitters I had actually. :-) Four sisters came to the house to babysit us and they were just in high school. Having both sides of my family into music and a love for singing, I opted to learn guitar in grammar school when other kids were choosing wind instruments or percussion. I like to fingerpick, and strictly fingerpicked for years before getting a pick. As a matter of fact, to this day I am more comfortable with my fingers on the strings than a pick in my hand. I prefer to feel the strings. My technique developed from listening to music and trying to play exactly what I was hearing. I did this a lot with James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg, Nancy Wilson of Heart, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, I also play the piano and use it mainly as a tool to write songs and arrange tunes I'm recording in my studio. I have a bass guitar as well and love to write bass parts to my songs or a song I'm producing.

GNB: Adrienne, do you use outboard gear? Guitar effects? Pedals? Amps?

AZ: I did buy a Fishman Aura after reading about James Taylor using it for his live shows, but I wasn't happy with the sound of it with my Martin. I prefer guitars that sound as close to what you hear un-amplified as possible so as far as my acoustic guitar sound. I prefer it realistic and un-effected.

GNB: Can you tell us about your guitar set up?

AZ: Dean installs KK pickups on all his acoustic guitars, I have been really happy with the sound of my guitar with these pick ups. The volume control clings to the underside of the sound hole via a magnet. I plug straight into my PA. I just purchased a Fishman SA 220 and it's clear as day. I can tell you I was on stage performing in the round with 6 singer songwriters. for a songwriters night playing my brand new Nickless guitar and Steve Spellman, who owned The guitar Shop in Washington DC from 1968- 2011, came up to me after the show and said I had the best sounding guitar on stage. That's a huge compliment coming from a guy who would lend Crosby Stills & Nash his exquisite Martin guitars. Steve Spellman himself had to sit in for Neil Young when he missed his flight at Bill Clinton's birthday party! I just learned Steve has a house here in the Keys. Dean told me he spoke with Steve about making a 000-18 size guitar and he wondered about the bass response Steve reassured him it would be fine, and fine it certainly is.

GNB: You perform a lot in tropical climates. HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR GUITAR in tune with obvious heat and humidity?

AZ: I have never had an issue with my Martin or my Nickless going out of tune. I keep my guitars in the ac at home with me which keeps them out of the elements most of the time. Even when I take it out to shows where I may be in the sun for an extended period of time, they require very little tuning once I tune it up at the show. I do know a guitarist that keeps 3 guitars outside in his van all the time. I believe his van isn't kept in direct sunlight. He says they're not his high end guitars but he uses them all at his shows and I perform with him and don't recall having to wait too long for him to tune though I am sure he tunes more than I do. :- The guitars are fine... me on the other hand.... I'm sweating way more than my guitar!

GNB: We understand you have a new record out! Tell us about it!

AZ: This record has many different styles and themes. From Nu folk, pop to more of a rockin sound to Americana and even Trop Rock. I was concerned about how all the various styles would pull together actually, It wasn't until I figured out the song order that it occurred to me how well they actually flow into each other from song to song, like a concept record, which I really like. Not even sure there are a whole lot of concept records being made these days.The words and music for Chameleons is an outpouring of emotional songs filled with desperation, feelings of loss and deep sadness that came about from the break up of a long term relationship I had. The great thing about the record is the sadness comes and goes from song to song and transitions to a happier place through the course of the record. Blue Day, When the Wolves Cry and For Your Soul are pure emotional tunes born out of deep sadness. There's the angry love song, "You Push My Love Away", which flows into "Back on the Road", a song that embodies the awareness of how much better it feels to move on, let go and fly. Other songs like Little Bit of You in Me and Twinkletoe Land are love songs. Bringing Some Where There is None, Chameleons and When the Day is Thru all express the desire to make a change and grow, revealing that we have the power to change our situations in the moment. "Dancing in the rain, there is sun again, rainbows in the Moonlight." Feelings of loss are evident for sure on Chameleons but the awareness of change and rebirth, getting back on track and on the right road to enjoying life is where the album takes you. I never would have imagined that all these tunes from different emotional places would work so well, not in my wildest dreams, but they do and I love this record!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

4 Ways to move your guitar sound towards the midrange without equalizing it

Hi everyone and welcome to this week's article!

Today we will speak about alternative ways to push our instruments, especially guitars, into their place inside of a mix without being too drastic with the eq!
The common mistake that a recording newbie does is to start with a bad sounding recorded track, and hoping to fix it in the mix with a drastic eq work, while the truth is that for example boosting strongly a midrange means recontructing digitally certain frequences, and the more we do it, the more it sounds digital and unnatural.

So, how does the pro obtain that sound? 
They surely have great microphones, great preamps, great a/d converters and so on, but most of all they nail the right sound at the source; this is a boring task, but they spend in finding the right amp settings, the right speaker to use and the right mic placement, probably more time than what they spend into shaping the guitar sound while mixing. 

1) They know by the experience how to get into the computer a sound that sounds already as much as possible "ready", and this is the first and most important method I can suggest to move a guitar sound in its place while keeping it natural and not overprocessed: to spend more time in the recording phase, trying ALL the different possibilities we have with the tool that we have, until we find a sound that we feel it can be acceptable even without processing, comparing it constantly with a reference track of our choice. 

2) The second method to emphasize the body of a guitar (but also any other instrument, like a snare or a vocal track, or cymbals) is to saturate it a bit. What do we mean a bit? Less than it becomes noticeable. Usually there is a sweet spot before it becomes too evident, in which you can add some harmonics without changing too evidently the base sound. A great saturation vst is Fabfilter Saturn.

3) A third method, which is sometimes less invasive than saturation, is harmonic excitement. A harmonic exciter add some frequency that makes the sound to pop out more, just watch out because, exactly as it happens with saturation, harmonic excitement must be added with care, avoiding it to become noticeable. A great Harmonic Exciter is the one included in the Izotope Ozone bundle.

4) A fourth and last method is to use a Console Emulation or a Channel Strip. Every piece of hardware in which we let our signal to pass through adds something and takes out something, this is obvious, and some piece of hardware is used specifically for the colour it gives to the tone.
Virtual emulators of these pieces of hardware can help us giving our tone that character that we need, without being too violent: some people just adds them in the vst slot and leaves'em there untouched, just to add their sprinkle of colour. A classic example of Console Emulation vst is Sonimus Satson, while a typical Channel Strip used to colour the sound in a nice way is Waves SSL.

Obviously these four methods will not replace completely an equalization work, but our mindset when approaching a guitar sound should be to record it as it should be perfect without any further processing, then equalizing it just to filter out the unneded-overlapping frequences (so high pass, low pass and some attenuation here and there), and finally just try to use one of these four methods in order to push the sound towards the midrange, if we feel it doesn't have a stable position in the mix yet.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Interview: Onqel of TSE AUDIO

Hello and welcome to this week's interview! 
This time we had a chat with John A. Johansen, a.k.a. Onqel, Ceo/Lead developer of Tse Audio, one of the most interesting guitar and bass amp simulation developer around, which offers top quality free and paid products. He is also one of the most respected users of the Ultimate Metal / Andy Sneap forum, due to his proficiency in the vst developing field.

GuitarNerdingBlog: Hi! Can you give us some detail on how Tse audio was born?

J.A.J.: TSE Audio was born back in 2009 when I decided to take a dive into amp simulations myself.
I wanted a simulation of the Engl E530 since there was no software at that time simulating that kind of amps, and eventually the X30 was born.
It started out as a hobby, and it still is exactly that :)

GNG: What do you think about the digital amp modeling business nowadays?
J.A.J.: I think the digital amp modeling business has come a far way the last 5 years or so, but there's still parts of amp simulations that are considered more or less "impossible" to do in real-time with todays techniques without simplifying the circuit in one way or another.
at the same time I also feel the market has become more or less flooded with "hype" marketing schemes/slogans that I feel doesn't really represent what they actually delivers to their customers in terms of the progress of new technology. It's a shame but it's reality, it's a tough market out there so I guess some people doesn't really care wether or not to put some extra icing on the cake just to make more people taste it.
We have a freeware software background and is a lot more humble in that area I believe. 
We are not afraid to let the customer make their own decisions without us throwing in a pitch how good we think it is, we have a demo version of the X50 and that's it. What you see/hear is what you get! :)

GNG: What does the design and production process of a Tse Plugin is like?

J.A.J.:The X50v2 started out as a IPlug plugin (Cockos Inc.) but as the project got bigger it just got messy and hard to work on, we recently switched to the JUCE framework to make GUI implementations etc easier and more flexible without making it too complex.
We have a fantastic small group of very dedicated beta testers that has sticked with us from the idea is created up to the product is released, even after the product has been released they are hanging around to make sure we don't miss anything when the updates are made :)
The actual modeling process depends on the complexity of the circuit we're looking at, it is mainly analysis of the target circuits and turning them into a set of equations that represents the electrical and
(discrete) dynamic response of the system. in the end the model ends up looking like a SPICE simulator optimized to process oversampled audio signal at fixed time steps.

When we feel the response of the resulting model is meeting our expectations the work is then handed over to our graphics designer.
From that point we are mainly looking for bugs to make sure there are no negative surprises when our customers takes it for a spin at home or in a live/jamming session.

GNG: What is the philosophy behind your software: analog modeling, black box approach or else?

J.A.J.: We do analog modeling wherever it is possible.
So far we haven't needed any black box approach, but if it's absolutely needed to make the job done we are open for it.
Lately I have been interested in checking out the use of Artificial Neural Networks as a MIMO (multi input multi output) approach to replace large lookup tables that can eat up the memory for even smaller circuits. The biggest downside of this approach is that ANNs needs to be "trained" beforehand to know what they should do and that is a very time-consuming process with a lot of trials and errors.

GNG: What have been your career highlights so far?

J.A.J.: My biggest highlight so far has been the release of X50 v2.4 where I finally got the chance to bring back to life the X30 model inside a environment that I had been working on what felt like forever. 
The choice of not exclusively working on freeware projects anymore was also a big decision to make that I had been postponing for a couple of years. 
I'm not excluding the possibility of maybe releasing something free in the future though :)

GNG: What do you think the future of analog and digital amps and stompboxes will look like?

J.A.J.: I think we will see a lot of new software in the next new years as new simulation strategies/technology are developed.
There are many new and original analog amps and stompboxes being made every day by small one-man companies etc and I hope people will continue to support these guys. 
Personally I think it is still cooler to see a man crank up the volume knob on his analog amp rather than seing someone sweeping his fingers over a iPad screen ;)

GNG: The interview is over! Thank you for your time and give us one last message for our readers!

J.A.J.: Thanks for the opportunity to answer your questions! 
I have a message to the readers too :)
When it comes to purchasing new digital software I would highly recommend to get hold of a couple of demo versions of interest and actually compare them against eachother before making a final decision. 
Software is rarely a cheap investment, do what you would do when going to a store to buy a new TV or deciding between a couple of guitars to buy, take a moment to compare them yourself instead of
blindly trusting the salesman, you might have a different opinion than him after a while :) YouTube reviews are also a big business where the smaller companies usually aren't represented simply because of the ridiculous high fees set by the guys doing the reviews that only a big corporation can afford to pay. I think that is unfair to both customers and small businesses and it gives a one-sided view of the (big) market which has a lot more to offer than 2-3 programs.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Review: Direct Sound Extreme Isolation EX-29 Headphones

Hello and welcome to this week's article! 
Today we will talk about headphones, and we will review a very particular type of headphones: the ones whose main purpose is to isolate the sound coming from outside.
Headphones can be used for many purposes, and most of the times they are for listening to something, but not always, or not just that.
Sometimes they are made specifically to isolate the listener from the external sounds (like the headphones used by those who use a jackhammer to not become deaf, or from those who needs to sleep frequently on a plane and wants to cut away the hum of the airplane engine).
There are basically two ways to lower the external noise with headphones: or by using an active technology (with battery powered headphones that takes the external sound with a microphone and creates for the listener an equivalent-off phase one to nullify it) or by using a passive one, which consists into applying certain construction criteria that leads to a significant decibel cut from the external sources.
Today we are taking a look at the Direct Sound Extreme Isolation Ex-29, the top shelf product of this company, which offers, by using a Passive technology, a decibel cut of 29 db.
The main purpose of these headphones is the tracking use: they are great as a monitor for the recording drummer, since there is no spill (so the click will not bleed into the overhead microphones, which is a classic drum tracking problem), and the track will be clear on the ears of the drummer, who will also be able to hear its recorded drum sound in real time.
Another typical use is when you have to to find the sweet spot while microphoning a guitar cab: although these headphones won't be able to completely eliminate the external sound, it will be lowered enough to make you focus on the signal taken from the microphone, and place it more consciously.
In conclusion these headphones do what they promise. the isolation is good enough, especially for tracking drums, and the reproducted sound is not bad at all: obviously it would be a risk to rely on it while mixing or mastering, but considering the price the sound is not bad.
If you own a recording studio, they are an essential tool!

Specs taken from the Direct Sound Website:

Type: Dynamic closed back headphones with closed back drivers
Passive Attenuation: 36.7 dB at 8,000 Hz, NRR 29 dB
Frequency Response: 20-20,000 Hz
Fidelity Response: TruSound tonally accurate
Drivers: 40 mm, closed back
Impedance: 32 Ω
Sensitivity: 114 dB at 1 KHz 1 mW
Cord: 9 ft (2,750 mm) premium twin-lead cable
Plug: Straight stereo 1/8″ (3.5 mm) gold-plated with screw-on 1/4″ (6.3 mm) gold-plated adapter
Rated Input Power: 500 mW
Maximum Input Power: 1,000 mW
IncrediFlex padded, fully adjustable headband
Foldable for storage
Convenient jack adaptor keeper
Made in the USA

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

How to make pre-productions - rough mixes super fast! (with free plugins)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we will focus on how to optimize the routine as best as we can to realize rough mixes to pass to the bandmates, in order to explain them the songs or the riffs we're working on.

Let's start by saying that everyone has his own method: Kirk Hammett of Metallica just records his doodles on the Iphone and then explains them to the others in the rehearsal's room, others use Guitar Pro or Tuxguitar (the open source version), to write down the midi parts of all instruments (with the upside that it can also generate you the pdf with the tablature of those parts), while others still prefer to cure their rough mixes a little bit more, but without wasting the time necessary to make a full record, and I am one of those, because this way I feel like I can understand better wether some part will work or not in the final version.

Important: when recording real instruments, as always, set the input gain on our daw to a point that the peaks does't surpasses the -10/-12db!

First off we should create a template on our favourite Daw with a decent relative mix, so that we will lose time only the first time, and for all the songs we'll use the same template.
After loading up the Daw, we must go to "create new project" and start by creating on a Midi track our favourite virtual drum vst, for example MT POWER DRUMKIT 2, which is a very good FREE vst drum sampler; from there we can adjust the Tempo Track and write down our drum part.
If we feel like our drum sound needs a bit of extra edge, instead of working on the single sounds, just add a single band compressor on the whole drumset and fiddle with it until you find just that small sprinkle that adds some body without making it too squashed.

Now we must add 2 guitar tracks (one for the left side and one for the right one, plus a third track if we want to add a solo or some part that we specifically want to keep in the middle).
In these tracks we can load some free, lightweight vst guitar amp simulator, for example Grindmachine Free
If we want to equalize the guitar tracks a little bit we can route all of them on a group track and give them all the same Eq adjustments.

Now it's time to create a bass track, and we can just slam there a good T.s.e. Bod plugin, which simulates a Sansamp, and a compressor to keep the wave on its place.

For the vocal track, same thing: we can add all the tracks that we need and route them (if they are more than one) on the same group track and add some compression, reverb and/or delay.

Obviously we can add also other vsts, for all the synth/orchestral parts we need, or take out from our template the tracks we don't use.

Once we have tracked down all the parts, it's time to create a mix: just set the volumes to a way that each track doesn't peak above -10/12db, and use the few vsts we have loaded to stabilize the most dynamic tracks.
Then, in the master track, just add a limiter to bring the volume up to a level that is easily audible (remember that this is a pre production, though, and its purpose is to be as understandable as possible, so don't push it to the limit or make it distort, otherwise it will become even more useless than an overly pushed final master).

If everything goes according the plan, you should have obtained a very simple and stable mix, so you can save the template, and the next times you will have to record a rough mix of a song, just load this template and record over it, you will save a lot of time!

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