Sunday, April 30, 2017

Guide to buy a guitar for around 500€ / 500$ PART 1/3

Hello and welcome to this weeks' article!
This time we're publishing an article written by a dear friend and singer/songwriter for The Observants, Edoardo Del Principe, about his criteria / checklist to buy a good guitar for around 500$ / 500€.
Keep in mind that this is his personal opinion, and that if possible is ALWAYS better to try the instrument in your own hands before buying, because since the wood is living material, a guitar is never exactly identical to another one, even if they are built from the same person with the same materials.

What’s the dream of every guitarist? To find an awesome cheap guitar. This article wants to answer to the question: is it possibile? The answer is “yes” but with several caveat.
I want to show you the general rules to “how to buy a decent guitar for less than 500$”, which is in my opinion the average budget of an high school student who is studying guitar and wants to buy a new one for his/her birthday.
First all of must be clear what makes a guitar expensive and then what makes a guitar cheap.
Wood: this a very controversial point because there’s not an objective argumentation of which wood is the best, but it’s also true that there are bad and good woods. Where can we find these?
Easly over 700$ guitars can have a mahogany body and an ebony fretboards, as many Gibson have. Mahogany seems the best for guitar but its “expensiveness” can come also from its rarety now. Before 80’s it was more common than now, so you can find this wood especially in guitars from before the 80’s.
Ebony and Rosewood are the two most desired wood for fretboards. Nowdays it’s practically impossibile to find ebony on a fretboards of guitars under 700-800$ because of its rarety and its features. Even this time its all about tastes because there is no rules saying that Ebony it’s better than Rosewood, today it’s even harder than before to find a good piece of this because the high quality wood are now much harder to find than 30 years ago. Deforestation caused a “manipulated market” of guitar wood, and the wood used by the most prestigious brands are now on the “apex” of the “wood chain”, which this means that the wood used by a Gibson Les Paul Standard sets the “standard”, but this doesn’t means it is necessarily the best.
Manufacture: This point it’s damn critical because if you talk with a guitar maker probably he will tell you that nowdays it’s practically impossibile to find a good guitar for 500$. There’s no way out. This is because for that price none of them is handmade, not even partially. Industrialization and globalization have transformed the way to produce guitars, so now for that price they are all assembled in a chain production. Less care about the manifacturing, less care about how the neck is built, less care about how it is attached to the body, less care about almost everything, and you must know how much this influences the final sound of the instrument.
Expensive guitars have very few parts or none done in the chain production, so every piece is controlled and maybe crafted by the hands of a guitar maker to make it sure that is the best instrument you can have on your hands. Investing big amounts of money into a new 500$ guitar to make it sounds like a 1500$ it’s stupid because if you have spent 1000$ in PU, mechanics, a new bridge etc the guitar will never sound as a guitar handmade and crafted in US or Japan by the best guitar makers. Anyway it will sounds a lot better, of course.
In order to have “that” quality of sound it requires a specific process in order to build the parts of a guitar in the best way possible with effort put into every detail; this makes the difference between a 1200$ guitar and one of 500$ or less that will never be good as that, even if you put hundreds of dollars in that.
Production: Here we can talk with more certainties. Under 500$ guitars are made in Indonesia, South Korea or China where factories produce tons of guitars so they cannot control well every piece, where the people are paid less so they care less about the final product.
During the last decades, however, the avarage quality of a low-budget guitar has become higher because of the know-how and experience of certain factories that produces for several brands at the same time. This assure you a sufficient quality and playability for almost every entry level guitar in the market now.
Highly expensive guitars are built generally (not everyone) in the homeland of the brands and the name of the top factories are well known by their fans. During the decades it has become harder to find a guitar produced in the homeland brand because of globalization, so now only the finest pieces are handmade in America or Mexico by Fender, for example.
Hardware and Pick Ups: Because of chain productions these are the parts where the brand spend less. Guitar for less than 500$ can easly sacrifice details as mechanics, colouring and PU. On the other hand when we see a guitar with really high prices (1200$+), what makes the price higher are details as the handmade production of frets, a particular colour used and limited series production (Practically you pay maybe 100 or 200$ just for a number on the back of the head of the instrument). Hopefully these parts are the most easy to change so you can buy a cheap guitar and change PU (and maybe tuners and/or bridge) to have a decent guitar for less than 500$, anyway, as said before investing zillions in cheap guitars doesn’t make them sound “great”.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: Toneforge Jason Richardson (with video sample)

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

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

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

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


- 3 channels: Rhythm, Clean and Lead

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

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Review: Peavey Triple xxx

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

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

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

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

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


- 120W tube power

- 3 footswitchable channels

- Clean channel: volume, passive 3-band EQ

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

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

- Master volume

- Footswitchable effects loop

- Damping switch: tight, medium, loose

Saturday, April 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Review: Boss Katana Head (with 2 video samples!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specs taken from the website:

30 W (Using internal speaker)
100 W (Using external speaker)
POWER CONTROL switch (STANDBY, 0.5 W, 50 W, 100 W)

DELAY/FX button
REVERB button
TAP button

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

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