Saturday, January 28, 2017

GNB top 10 humbucking pickups for rock/metal

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today I would like to share with you my top 10 humbucking pickups for guitar, among all the pickups I have ever tried.
The characteristics I take in consideration are several: the pickup needs to have a good signal to noise ratio, which means that the sound must be clear and with as little hum as possible also at high gain, it must have a good mid range capable of cut through a mix without needing to intervene excessively with post-eq, and it must have enough gain to let us obtain a sound distorted enough also with the most common amplifiers that can be found in a rehearsal room, without forcing us to bring a booster.
In this top 10 I list, without any particular order, neck and bridge pickups, active and passive ones, and I suggest you to take this as a starting point to check out if you decide to improve the sound of your guitar.

Seymour Duncan Distortion: This passive bridge pickup sets itself in the middle, among the range of the high gain Seymour Duncan passive pickups, and in my experience is the passive pickup that comes closer to the response of an active one like an Emg 81. The characteristics are a very musical mid range, a good amount of gain, and a very tight bass response. The only downside of this pickup is that it requires a bassy guitar wood, like mahogany, otherwise it risks to sound a bit "ice-picky". It is very easy to find a good tone with this pickup, and to mix it in a band context. It is a pickup that can be heard in many videos of Ola Englund.

DiMarzio Crunch lab: A very well balanced passive bridge pickup, designed by Dream Theater's guitartis John Petrucci. This pickup has the characteristic of having a powerful, tight and mid rangey tone, with strong low-mids and that sounds very mix-ready. It is the passive pickup that comes closer to an Emg 85 on the bridge position, or an Emg 707. Recently John Petrucci has also created a new signature model, called Illuminator, that seems to be even better than the Crunch Lab, but I haven't had yet the chance to test it.

Gibson 498T: also called "Hot alnico", this bridge pickup is a Gibson Les Paul trademark. It is a high gain pickup, with a squeaky high-mid range that marries perfectly with the bassy heavy mahogany body of a Les Paul, giving as a result an incredibly full and warm sound, with a beautiful bluesy-classic rock mid range that allows us to play succesfully almost any kind of music, from blues/jazz to Guns n'Roses to punk, from rockabilly to thrash metal. With high gain levels tends to be a bit noisy, but its tone is legendary.

Emg 85 / 707: This pickup is born as a neck companion (in the Emg Zakk Wylde set) of the Emg 81, but I actually prefer it in the bridge position (and the 707 is basically a 7 strings version of the 85): it has less bass frequencies of the 81, a little less output and less highs, the tone is more mid range oriented and probably it is the active pickup with the most "mix ready" tone, in my opinion. The sound is clear, the mids are very pleasant and it is very aggressive when needed, but without providing useless highs and lows. An example of this pickup can be heard in many Fear Factory songs.

Emg 57: this active bridge pickup is part (together with the 66) of a new set with alnico magnets (instead of ceramic ones), and it basically takes the old Emg81 and gives it a more vintage twist, resulting in a much more "usable" tone, with a little less output and a much more prominent and euphonic mid range. The result is a pickup that beats the predecessor in every possible way, and that is a good candidate as the best active pickup in the market today.

Emg Het Set: the new, improved version of the classic Emg 81-60 Het set, it's an active, ceramic set of 2 pickups that improves the original combination by making it more open, less dark and bassy, and giving to the high mids a beautiful definition. Probably this is the best Emg set in the market right now, unfortunately it is only for 6 strings at the moment.

Seymour Duncan '59: quite possibly the best passive neck pickup I have ever tried, practically a must have. The sound is very dynamic, it responds beautifully to the touch, and it is amazing also when using a high gain amp and lowering the guitar volume until it gets clean: you obtain a warm, slighly overdriven tone that is creamy and a real delight to play. Great when used in conjuction with its bridge best counterpart, the Seymour Duncan JB, an amazing hard rock pickup, this pickup is great also for playing solos.

Seymour Duncan Blackout: An evolution of the already cited Emg 707 created by Dino Cazares of Fear Factory, but this time with Ceramic magnet and produced by Seymour Duncan. There are several versions of this active bridge pickup: the original one is designed by Dino Cazares, another one is tweaked by the guitarist of Slipknot and it is called Blackout Metal, and a third one is signed by Jeff Loomis. The version that I suggest is the original one, AHB1, which is a little less extreme than the other two. The sound is similar to the Emg 707, but with more gritty, defined highs and slighly more output. This is the pickup that I am using in the bridge of my main guitar from several years now.

DiMarzio D-Sonic: A passive bridge pickup with a very strong low mid range and a lot of bite, used often in hard rock and nu-metal. It has the particolarity that one of the two coils is not divided in poles, it is one single magnetic strip that gives the pickup specific tonal qualities (the producer claims that this way the sound is brighter and more defined). It can be heard for example in the song Don't Stay by Linkin Park.

Bare knuckle Painkiller: Bare knuckle is an english producer that offers high level passive pickups, and they are considered to be extremely good, especially in the metal guitar community. Among the various models, I have chosen this ceramic bridge one because of the clarity that it retains also in extreme environments, such as a Fleshgod Apocalypse song.

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Review: Marshall DSL15H Head

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about an amp that has really surprised me: the Marshall Dsl 15 H head!

In these recent years we have witnessed a trend in amp making: besides the classic 100w heads, manufacturers have started to produce more and more low wattage versions of their tube amps (from 5 to 20w), to satisfy the needs of the average player, which wants to play home with a good tone (and a 100w tube head, if played at 0.1 volume, doesn't provide it) and with enough power to be used also in the rehearsals room.
Besides the tone quality, another thing that modern players crave is a reduced size and weight: the 2017 guitar player doesn't want to carry around an extremely large head weighing 23kg (on an average) to have a good tone.

We are talking about tube amps because we know that solid state and digital amplifiers don't have this problem: a 100w transistor amp, for example, will sound the same at any volume, so it's usable in any situation without sound degradation.
With a tube amp is different: according to the amp, the bias, the transformer, we have a sweet spot, an ideal volume to use it, and if we keep the volume too low the tubes will not be driven enough to thicken the sound, if we turn the volume too loud the tubes will be overdriven, and not always this is a wanted result.

As we have said in our article "tube amps vs transistor amps" there are several elements in play, so for lower wattages, so far, I have always preferred the transistor ones (from 30w up, otherwise my experience is that they are completely covered by the drums), but lately I have played in a rehearsal room using this Marshall DSL 15H Head, a 15 w tube head loaded with four ECC83S in the Preamp section and two 6V6 in the power amp, and, damn, this little amp is loud!

The head is a smaller version of the 100w Marshall Dsl Head, it features 2 channels (clean and overdrive), and the overdrive is switchable for ultra gain, it has a Deep control that adds more Bass frequencies and a switch to choose between 7.5w (a good home volume) and 15w (for the rehealsal room and live). 
So far I have never played a 15w tube amp capable of delivering a good metal tone, driving easily a 4x12 cabinet and stand out in the mix so well: the sound is crisp, clean and the size and weight are the half of a 100w marshall Dsl.
Of course it will have less headroom, a little less Bass frequencies (in this the deep switch is very useful), but for the first time I find the tone extremely usable and credible, compared for example with the Mesa Boogie Rectifier mini, which struggles much more in delivering a good tone at higher volumes.
I would say that if you're on a tight budget or a home player and want a classic tube Marshall sound, this amp is a good choice, and probably it is the best in its category (less than 20w tube amps).

Give it a try!

Specs taken from the website:

- WEIGHT: (KG) 10.2

Friday, January 13, 2017

6 Tips to write better song lyrics 2/2


3) Rhyme
: I like to write my lyrics as a poetry, respecting rhythm, metrics and rhyme, because I think this helps a lot the song groove and adds a pleasant added value to the track. Rhyme can come in many forms, from the easiest AA, BB, CC... To more complex, concatenated structures. Check out the image on top for some illustrous examples, but there are countless others around. If you struggle in coming up with a good rhyme check out the RhymeZone website: you provide a word and it will list you a serie of words that rhyme with that, ordered by the number of syllables.

4) Alternate/repeat: rhythm is created by an alternancy between downbeat and upbeat, a sound that calls and a sound that answer, for example the alternancy between kick and snare in an Ac/Dc song, and the same technique is used conceptually also in lyrics.
There are songs in which we have for example an alternancy between one voice and a choir, e.g. "My Generation" of The Who. To insert elements that rotate, repeat or alternate inside a lyric can help creating dynamic and be memorized more easily, like adding a phrase that repeats in each verse, for example in the song "These Days" by the Foo Fighters.

5) The point of view: like when writing a novel, the point of view is fundamental. The lyric can be descriptive, like a documentary with a voice of a narrator describing the events from outside, or in first person. About the time, the lyrics can describe something happened in the past ("I used to love her", by Guns n'Roses) that will happen in the future ("I'll be there", by Megadeth), or something happening right now ("Unforgiven" by Metallica). Obviously also point of view and time can change during the song, as in the song "SK8R BOI" by Avril Lavigne: in the verses she alternates between a third person description of the male and female protagonists, then she enters the lyric first person towards the end.

6) The mood: there are bands which have made a career out of depressive songs, such as Sentenced, others which made a career only based on happy songs, like Aqua, some band speaks exclusively of love, some exclusively of rage and hate, and so on. The mood reflects what the band feels towards its art and often adapts to what a certain market requires, but if we see the greatest bands in the world, we will notice that at least most of them are the ones which haven't let the expectations of the market or the label to corner them: nobody is angry, depressed or happy all the time, and it takes a lot of personality to be able to express yourself in multiple registers, such as System of a Down that can range from a sad song like "Lonely day", to a comedic song like "Violent Pornography". Other bands that have produced high quality songs moving elegantly through a very wide range of moods and registers are MuseQueen and Aerosmith among the others. Our suggestion is, if you care about the lasting of your inspiration, to not let yourself be clustered into a single mood but to be free of moving where your heart takes you without limitations: the quality of your music will benefit greatly.

Hope this was helpful! Have fun in writing great music!


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Saturday, January 7, 2017

6 Tips to write better song lyrics 1/2

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we will talk about a very sensitive topic in songwriting: lyrics.

Lyrics are the story we are telling with our song, the message we are trying to transmit, therefore we should carefully choose what to say and how to say it, because often they are the most important thing in a song (as Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters once said "white people dance to lyrics"), and while on some music genre they can be also not the focus of the song (for example in certain death metal song like Children of Bodom, which doesn't even write them in the booklet and in an interview the singer was even surprised when someone asked him about them because he consider them completely secundary), more often than not they will decide the difference between a succesful song and one that will be completely overlooked (for example in pop, rock or rap music).

In all honesty there is no way to help you inventing from scratch a lyric, you should dig deep inside your thoughts and find some original idea, something impactful and that would be an interesting subject of discussion, or maybe even some good old commonplace like unrequited love, but seen from a fresh perspective, because there is nothing worse than listening to something boring or heard one thousand times. Another good source of inspiration are films, comics, videogames, books and everything else that can feed our thoughts. I, personally, like to write layered lyrics: I start with a deep concept, some aspect of my life or some message that I consider to be important, and then I build on top of it another layer of science fiction or fantasy or whatever, so that who listens can stop at the surface and enjoy the cinematic images, and if they want they can dig deeper to get to the profound meaning.

What we can help you with is the methodic-technical side, with this list of 6 tips to write lyrics:

1) Take a look at the structure of the song: how many verses? How many choruses? How many bridges or special? And lay down your story distributing it through the song as you are writing a novel: an initial part, a central part, maybe a twist that surprises the listener, a conclusion.
The song doesn't have to be long, you just need to be good in managing the economy of words, getting the message as powerful, fast and efficiently as possible, without watering it down.

2) Metrics. If you want to keep your song flowing and euphonic you must be perfect with the timing and the number of syllables, because otherwise the song will lose the groove. This is fundamental in lyrics intensive songs like rap, but also in pop or rock songs, in which lyrics are much shorter, the vocals must blend with the music and the groove, not kill it, if we don't want to sound amateur.
We can adapt to the rhythm below, using quadruplets, triplets or any other type of quantization required by the song, or adapt the flow to the words, the important is to sit gracefully on the beat. There are surely artists which defy the metrics rules, like the spoken word singers, or those who prefer to sing in a more theatrical way, but our suggestion is, before arriving to that, to master perfectly the art of singing on time.


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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Challenge: Mixing only with filters (with free Vst plugins!)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
We are starting the new year with a challenge that will teach us how to separate the various parts in the mix, carving the right place for each instrument.

The challenge consists in this: to mix a project, even better if a project with all microphoned parts (for example a microphoned drumset, microphoned guitar amps and so on).

Obviously we're not talking about a challenge with a prize, but an educational one: to dig into the root of the sound, and draw out a mix as natural and unmodified as possible, just avoiding the various parts to clash together (or to cover each other) without all the layers of effects, editing, autotune, quantization.  The ideal would be to mix a live song, and luckily it is sufficient to google "live multitrack project" to find some free one, available for educational purposes.

How to achieve mix separation
For this challenge we just need to rise in each track the high pass filter until the sound starts to become thin and to lose its body, and then stop and take it a little back, then to use a low pass filter until the track starts sounding dark.
This way we will achieve separation, and we'll be forced to choose what element to leave in which area.
We could start from the picture on top.
I've drawn on this picture the starting points: we can start by filtering more or less the tracks bringing them on these areas, then from there it's all a matter of fine tuning, which changes from song to song, and from genre to genre.

Here is the website of Christian Budde, which offers a selection of free equalizers and high pass and low pass filters, among which Rubberfilter, but any eq/filter which lets us dial the frequency is good!

I'd be really happy to hear your mix just using a filter, if you want, share it with us!

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