Saturday, July 28, 2018

Refocusing your mix and master using bypass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope it was helpful!

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Review: Washburn Idol WI65 Pro

Hello and welcome to this week's article!

Today we are going to review a classic Washburn guitar (sorry for the picture that is not very clear, it is one of the few I have) I owned for 5 years, in the mid 2000s, and which paved the way to the Washburn philosophy that still today is applied on the latest serie, the Parallaxe.

Washburn is a string instrument producer born in 1883 in Chicago (Il), and it has always distinguished itself for the implementation of particular patented technologies, such as the Buzz Feiten tuning system (a compensated nut saddle that granted a better string intonation), the Stephen's extended cutaway (a particular bolt-on neck joint that allows the guitarist to reach the higher frets with more ease), and the Voice Contour Control (also known as VCC, it's a knob that allows to switch gradually from a humbucker pickup to its coil split version, with all the shades in between).

Today the company produces both in Usa and in the far east, according to the model serie, and has among its featured artists Nuno Bettencourt, Jennifer Batten, Michael Sweet and Scott Ian (Anthrax).

The guitar we are reviewing today is a Korean made model for the year 2005/2006 and it is Idol shape, which is a single cut model a bit wider and thinner than a Les Paul (it's the model used also by Scott Ian of Anthrax), and as I said it had already the same philosophy of the recent Parallaxe serie, meaning that it offers for a medium price many of the typical upgrades that guitarists perform on a guitar after they buy it: premium pickups (two Seymour Duncan: a Custom-Custom and a '59, but there are models also with a Jb on the bridge), the aforementioned Buzz Feiten tuning system and VCC, and Grover tuners, which are some of the best in the market.

With these features the guitar is good to go: no further upgrades are needed (unless you want a different sounding pickup), no cheap parts to replace. The only thing that cannot be replaced obviously is the wood, and this is where probably the company did some economy, since it's mahogany, but it's extremely light, and maybe it's the reason why the guitar is mid priced (it started around 900$, today it can be found for less than half the price).
The Idol model today is offered both in Parallaxe version (which is more premium) and its basic version, which is more entry level.

Aesthetically speaking this model has a beautiful satin finish, inlay dots only on the side of the black painted keyboard, black hardware and a skull sticker in the headstock.

The guitar is extremely well finished and playable, the fingerboard is smooth, the back of the neck has the same satin finish that makes it very fast to play, and the VCC lets us achieve a very wide range of tones, from the most aggressive to more mellow (but noise free) single coil sounds, and it's especially good with the neck pickup, the 59 that in my opinion is one of the best neck p.u. on the market.

The only downside of this guitar is the wood: it's lightweight and doesn't add much body to the tone, so the sound is sometimes a bit too trebly, expecially with distiortion, but all in all I absolutely suggest anyone to try it, because the quality-to-price ratio is still one of the most favorable in the market.

Thumbs up!


- Mahogany body. One-piece set mahogany neck for a better sustain.

- Exotic rosewood fingerboard.

- Voice contour control (VCC) for both pickups

- Grover 18:1 machine heads

- Buzz Feiten tuning system

- Seymour Duncan US humbuckers (Custom-Custom and '59)

- Black hardware

- Matte finish

- 22 frets

- Tune-o-matic bridge with stop tailpiece

- 3-way toggle switch

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Guitar and bass cabinets: everything you need to know (Part 2/2)


The power amp can be connected to the cabinet through a back panel which has the input jacks, and in this is very important the impedance (click here for a dedicated article): we must make sure that the power amp impedance matches the one of the head if we want to avoid damaging it.
Many cabinets have different inputs for different impedances, or a selector.

Speaking of speakers (click here for a dedicated article), we choose among a big variety: usually guitar speakers goes from 5 inches to 15 inches, and bass speakers ranges from 10 to 15, but there are also in this case exceptions.
The classic speaker for guitar has a 12 inches radius, while for bass are also very common 10 inches or 15.
The rule of thumb is that the smaller the radius, the more boxy and trebly the sound will be, the bigger, the more bass content will produce.
Sometimes bass amps have different size speakers to reproduce singularly the high end (tweeters) and the low end (woofers), and the division of the tone between the two speakers is done by a crossover circuit built in the cab.

Cabinets can also be connected between them in a method that is called "daisy chaining": the amp goes into a cabinet, and from that cabinet into another connecting them in parallel, but this option must be present in the back panel of the cab.

A final interesting note is about recording.
When recording a guitar cabinet (click here for a dedicated article) we must choose the speaker that sounds better (through some trial and error), since usually there is some difference between speaker and speaker in the same cabinet, but it's important to point out that in this case the rule "the bigger the better" does not apply: sometimes 1x12 cabs will sound more focused and clear than a 4x12, so consider spending a bit more time in the studio experimenting before making your decision.
For bass instead is a common practice to record both the d.i. sound and the microphoned one in order to blend them, since is quite hard to obtain all the tone we need just by microphoning the cabinet.
About recording is worth to mention also the isolation cab (like the one in the picture): a cabinet that can be microphoned like a regular one and that is closed by an insulation lid so that it produces no sound on the outside: the only thing audible is the sound captured by the microphones, that is sent to a mixer for recording or live mixing purposes. Sometimes touring bands use this for the signal to be sent to the p.a., to avoid microphoning one of the stage cabs, but this method is starting to fade as speaker emulations are becoming increasingly common also among touring bands.

I hope this was helpful!


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Saturday, July 7, 2018

Guitar and bass cabinets: everything you need to know (Part 1/2)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This time we talk about guitar and bass cabinets: what is the best choice for us?

A guitar or bass cab is a box shaped enclusure in which one or more speakers are placed, and they are the output device from which we can drive the sound of our amplifier.
Guitar cabinets can come standalone or as Combo, meaning that they incorporate also a preamplifier and a power amp, making them a single, portable solution for the musican on the go.

A cabinet can come in many different shapes, and during the years producers have become very creative, proposing alternative, lighter versions, but for this basic article we are going to focus on the classic type, which can be straight (a cube or parallelepiped version) or slant, meaning that becomes thinner on the upper side to save some weight and direct the sound not only on a straight line but also towards the ears of the player.

Usually a guitar cabinet has one, two or four speakers, according to the needs (not everyone wants to carry around a big, heavy 4x12, but sometimes on big stages it is really helpful!), and the speakers can be set in two horizontal rows, to be as space effective as possible, or in some 2x12 they are placed diagonally, in order to achieve the opposite result: to have as much room possible for each speaker.
Cabinets with two speakers can be engineered to give their best when put horizontally or vertically, but most of them can be placed in both positions with no difference.

Every kind of cabinet can have the back panel open, half open, closed or modular.
A closed back cabinet will have more sound waves bouncing inside, summed up to the one projected from the front of the speaker, and this will result in a darker, more bassy tone, while open back speakers will have more sound diffusion, and this will produce a more "open", highs oriented sound.
Half open back speakers tries to achieve a bit of the two effects.
Cabinets can be built in various types of wood too, and although many claims that it can affect somehow the final sound, I am not sure about this, as I have never noticed huge differences.
Another variable is the size: smaller , thinner cabs are lighter and easier to carry around, but will provide a slightly thinner, more highs oriented sound, compared to those with the same speakers but larger in terms of depth (which is measured in liters).


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