Saturday, December 28, 2019

How to use Strip Silence (a guide for dummies)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about editing (click here for a dedicated article), and about how far technology has arrived, with the automatic identification and cut of silence parts.

Editing, especially if we're talking about a complex multi track (or even multi-song) project can be frustrating: it takes surgical precision, zen patience and countless hours if we want really to align the transients and insert silence in the right spot in our tracks, but today technology can give us a hand, by identifying a defined threshold and simply cutting automatically the track where it's supposed to, saving us literally hours.

Inserting silence in a track can be fundamental for our project, because it eliminates completely the ground noise (espacially in live projects or songs in which all instruments are playing together and the microphones inevitably pick up some sound, called "bleed", coming from the other instruments).

The Strip Silence feature is present in all the major DAWs: we're describing today the Studio One method, but it can be found easily also in the other workstations, and it works in the same way.
In Studio One you just need to click on the Strip silence icon located in the top area of the interface, and a menu will pop up: we can choose between some presets in the menu called "material", which are made to cut away just the ground noise, or to insert silence more and more aggressively, then we can decide the threshold below which to trigger the cut and the attack and release (that in this case are called "pre roll" and "post roll", which will create also a fade in and out curve to not make the cut too violent.

Basically the Strip Silence function as you might have guessed works as a Gate (click here for a dedicated article), that instead of lowering the volume under a certain threshold to zero, creates a cut in the track, which has a dual function: to free up headroom to the maximum and to prepare the track for some timing adjustment, saving us time when editing.

All it takes is just the initial settings: if we're working on a vocal track for example, we need to fiddle until we nail the right setting that doesn't cut where we don't want and doesn't stop the track too early or too late, once we have found the perfect setting we can apply it to the whole track (by selecting the track/s we need to process and pressing "apply") and from there do the needed manual adjustments.

Sometimes even if we have a very low noise floor, if we don't eliminate it completely and if it's present on several tracks, it will add up and in the final song and we can end up having a considerable amount of background noise, that will even increase with bus compression and mastering, so it's better to enter these stages with as little ground noise as possible, and for this task, the strip silence function is our best tool.

I hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, December 21, 2019

Review: Audio Assault Duality Bass Studio

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to review the latest bass amp simulator by Audio Assault: Duality Bass Studio!

Duality is the most ambitious bass amp simulator ever created by Audio Assault, and it features a very complete suite capable of satisfying any type of bass player.

Among the other functions, the plugin features a 3 channels head, 10 different types of distortion and saturation, octave boost, compressor, parametric and graphic eq, reverb and modulation effects (all of these processors are movable in any order in the chain), allowing infinite combinations, which are impossible in their other bass amp simulator, Bassgrinder, which is more focused (and equally useful) in just picking a good tone right away and playing.

By fiddling around with this suite, I have found a couple of things which we can consider the core values of the software house: a streamlined, easy to use interface, not too many technical options in which to lose yourself (I'm thinking about plugins as the Bias FX in which you can choose even what type of transformer to simulate in the power amp section), and every knob and switch with a clear purpose: not to waste too much time in dialing a good tone and not to consume too much cpu resources.

Finally, the real ace up the sleeve of Duality Bass Studio is the cabinet section: it features 33 impulse responses from various cabinets and microphones that can be mixed and matched among them (2 impulses at the time), they sound very good and are largely responsible of the goodness of the final tone.

How to compare this with Bassgrinder? They serve 2 different purposes: with Bassgrinder you just use it like a real amp, you dial in your tone, choose the cabinet and you're done, plus it's really focused for hard rock and metal, while Duality Bass Studio is much more versatile, it lets you create tones for any genre thanks to its more in depth editing, and it has a ton of effects and fuctions which makes it a jack of all trades.

I really suggest anyone who is looking for a good bass amp simulator to check this out, because in terms of this type of plugins I don't know many other companies that can rival Audio Assault.

Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the website:

- Three Channel Head with sub-octave switch and compressor

- Bass Drive with 10 different types of distortion

- Dual IR Loader with 33 bass cab IRs

- FX Section featuring a 10 band Graphic EQ, Chorus, Delay & Reverb

- Preset Browser

- Stand Alone mode

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Saturday, December 14, 2019

How to create song metadata - meta tags

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!

Today we're going to talk about a topic that is often overlooked, but that especially now, in a time in which 99% of the music is listened via streaming and mobile phones/mp3 players, it has become quite crucial: how to enter the song informations, to make sure the author, album, track name etc are embedded in the audio track, so that once you will play them in the digital player, all the info will be indexed in the right place and the song will be easy to find among the gigabytes of music.

Usually the phase in which we dial in all these information is the mastering phase, because we need to enter them in the project before exporting the final track, and every DAW has a different menu in which to enter these information, but they look more or less the same, and the one in the pic is taken from Presonus Studio One.

Usually this window can be found in the "song information" section of the DAW, and from there you can enter a surprisingly high amount of information, but the main ones are Title, Artist, Album, Year and then you can also add the album cover as image file.
Why just these fields? It's easy: 99% of the players will index the songs only through these data, sometimes they can also index them by Genre, but it's very unlikely that they will filter by composer or arranger (but you can fill all the fields if you want to leave your watermark, of course).

Another good idea is to tag the tracks putting in front of the song name in the meta tags its position in the setlist (e.g. 01, 02, 03...), because the player doesn't know the order, and will list them alphabetically.

Is it essential today to enter the song information? Yes, because in many digital players (for example in my Android phone, which is a very common model) there's not even the option anymore to list the songs by file name, it relies exclusively in the meta tags, and the same happens for a lot of modern dj gear, so unfortunately the file name is not anymore enough to find your song in the ocean of tracks.

Do you usually enter these information in all of your tracks? This could be the right moment to start doing it.

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Saturday, December 7, 2019

Review: Mesa Boogie V-Twin Pedal

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review my first tube preamp, which incidentally was also a pedal: the Mesa Boogie V-Twin!

This pedal has been in production from 1993 to 2005 and it was actually one of the first tube preamps packed in a stompbox, and to make sure it was solid, they build it ultra heavy and protected: the chassis is sturdy like a nuclear bunker!

I have bought the Mesa Boogie V-Twin in the early 2000s, I wanted to try a Mesa Boogie (basically all the nu metal bands at that time were playing Dual Rectifiers) but I didn't have much money, and I wanted to see the difference between a preamp with tubes and one without, having played only solid state and digital amps up to that point (except the awful Laney heads in the rehearsal's room), plus it had a direct recording out, and I couldn't microphone an amp at home.

On the paper this was the perfect preamp for me, and maybe it was, but I didn't know how to handle it.
I expected an instant metal sound, and only years later I realized how Mesa Boogie amps are not properly "instant metal": they incarnate the "California" sound, as opposed to the "British tone" of Marshall and Orange, and they were created with totally different purposes, the fact that those amps became famous for metal is (as per the creator's words) "totally unexpected".

The Mesa Boogie sound is, in facts, quite darker and fuller than the classic "upper mid rangey" British sound: it lets you obtain easily very thick and warm clean tones and fat, chunky crunches that in many amps of the brand don't have a lot of gain and are full of low-mids.
What the producers around the early 2000s  found out was that this type of amp, boosted with a tube screamer to dig out most of the useless and "cloudy" low mids and adding some gain, would let them obtain a good balance between fat low end and definition for modern rock and metal (especially with downtuned guitars), and for 10/15 years basically the Mesa sound became what the Marshall tone was in the '80s: the standard.

This little, heavy pedal was a jewel of technology when it came out, it featured 2 12AX7 tubes, 2 channels for a total of 3 modes, eq and gain section, a bypass switch, external switching inputs and a speaker emulated out to record straight into the mixer.
The speaker emulated out, specifically, was using analog technology similar to the Sansamp, and it had only one voicing, which was anyway very rare in the '90s and very useful.

All in all I have used this pedal almost exclusively in the studio, it made me achieve the first good clean sounds I have ever recorded, but live it was too limited, and the fact that I had to boost it with another overdrive in order to obtain good metal tones made the whole thing less convenient, so eventually I have switched to my first tube head, the Randall RH50T.

Still to this day I wonder what I could achieve now that I have more knowledge on how to obtain a tone I like, and if I will ever be able to try it again, I will surely spend some time with it.

If you're looking for good cleans and fat american crunchy tones this unit still today can give you a lot of satisfaction, otherwise around there are other great alternatives, both analog and digital.

Thumbs sideways!

Specs taken from the website:

- Handcrafted in Petaluma, California

- 2x12AX7

- 2 Channels, 3 Modes (Clean, Blues & Solo)

- Mode Assignment Switches

- Gain, Master, Bass, Mid, Treble and Presence (Universal)

- Bypass Switch

- Clean Gain Adjustment Control

- Record/Headphone Out

Saturday, November 30, 2019

How to connect a mixer to an audio interface

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're talking about a problem that probably many musicians have encountered: how to connect a mixer to an audio interface, for live or studio purposes.

Today there are in commerce several types of mixers with audio interface function, capable of transfereing the data directly to our DAW without passing through an audio interface: some of them can even split every single channel to a separate audio track, while others can export only to a left and right track.

The reality, though, it's that 80% of the mixers around doesn't have an usb out, therefore we will need to plug them somehow to our audio interface in order to record through them.

Why would we need to pass through a mixer?
Simple: to use more microphones than the inputs in our audio interface, for example we can use an 8 track mixer to mic a live drumkit (or a live band, or our rehearsals if we feel fancy), make a relative mix on in and connect the left and right output tracks to our audio interface to record it in our daw.

What we need in our interface it's basically just 2 TRS line level inputs, so we need to go with a regular jack from the 2 MAIN OUT outputs of the mixer (left and right) into the 2 line inputs of the audio interface.

Now we need to take care of the gain staging: before turning on the mixer, set the gain knob on each track to zero and the "main mix" level to unity (12 'o clock).
Once the mixer is on, slowly rise the gain knobs of each track until the recorded levels arrives at around 0db in the output meter, but without clipping.

Now take a look at your DAW and adjust the gain knob in the audio interface to make sure the input level is not too low nor too high. Once you find the optimal level, that is not clipping but that can record everything clearly, the gain staging is done

So far we have talked about connecting a mixer to a 2 input audio interface, but there are mixers that have also separate audio outputs, and audio interfaces with many

Now you're ready to record, enjoy!

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Saturday, November 23, 2019

Review: Boss GT-6

Hello and welcome to this week's article!

Today we are talking about a legacy Boss pedalboard that was launched in 2001 and that represents a big leap forward in Boss flagship pedalboards (after the GT-3 and GT-5), stepping up the COSM modeling technology that Boss has been implementing in its products for at least 20 years: the Boss GT-6.

I have owned this pedalboard from around 2002 to around 2006; it was different times, times in which you couldn't hook up your pedalboard to the pc as an usb audio interface and you had to navigate through complex menus and sub menus mutuated from the '90s excruciating rack experience, times in which no one used to consider important the "user friendliness".

The pedalboard is very rich in functions and still today (despite at least other four new models that came out in the following years) represents a really complete solution for the live guitarist: it lets you hook up to your amp with the "4 cables mode", it has an expression pedal and 7 programmable footswitches, plus a very wide (even for today's standards) array of amp models (30) and 340 effect programs, plus it's built (and heavy) really like a tank.

How does it sound? It depends on what you need. The effects are very precise, "digital", but in a good way, meaning not "dirty sounding", and the many knobs really lets you edit them in depth, plus the number of effects is incredible, in facts besides the classic reverbs and modulations this pedalboard features a full fledged guitar synth with everything, from strings to arpeggiators to bass emulator, pitch shifting and so on. If you have a good tube amp with a preamp you like, this pedalboard still today can cover your effect needs for ages to come.
If we're talking about the preamp section, instead... The sounds were not good. Especially with the high gain, you could really tell that it was early 2000s emulation, they were practically unusable back then, and now even less.

This pedalboard left me all in all with good memories, I have played some nice gig with it and used it to record, before moving to the flexibility of Vst effects, and if you are a live musician that needs many effects in a reliable casing and you happen to find it at a cheap street price it's definitely worth a try.

Thumbs sideways! :D

Specs taken from the website:

- Flagship floor-based guitar effects processor with advanced COSM preamp

- 24-bit converters and coaxial digital output for recording applications

- 30 COSM amp models, plus new Distortion/Overdrive Pedal Modeling (15 types) and Wah Modeling (5 types)

- 340 effects programs—more than any other pedal in its class!

- Customize function for creating new amp types, distortion and wah pedals

- Easy, analog-style control; 15 knobs for editing commonly used parameters

- New "Uni-V" and "De-Fretter" effects, plus improved Feedback Modeling

- EZ Tone feature for creating custom patches based on 30 templates

- Built-in Expression and Control pedals for realtime control of effects

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Saturday, November 16, 2019

3 tips to handle the low end in our mix / master

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Let's start by saying this: the low end frequencies are the most inconsistent ones in a mix; they are the ones that requires more energy to be reproduced, and the bigger the speaker, the better they will sound.
The fact that a song need to sound good from any type of source (from the 100k high end tube system to the tiny speaker of our phone or laptop) poses a huge challenge to any mixing and (especially) mastering engineer, and it's virtually impossible to create something that sounds perfect from any source, also because we use when mixing (ideally) good reference monitors.

- Hi pass the useless low end rumble: not all the low end is good, there are often useless subsonics below the 50hz that are generated by the breathing in the condenser microphone, or by the singer accidentally touching the mic stand with the foot and so on, that will eat up headroom in your mix without adding anything to the song: better to cut them out.

- Use a spectrum analyzer (click here for a dedicated article with some free download): in this case you can visually see what sometimes is hard to hear, and you can compare the spectrum of your favourite songs with the one you're mixing, to find out where is the low end content and where it should be.

- Use multiple sources, each one will reveal a different aspect of your mix, this way you can perform some troubleshooting before finalizing a song (click here for an article about testing our mix on various sources).

I hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, November 9, 2019

Review: Zoom GFX-3

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today I'm proceeding with my walk through the memory lane by reviewing another one of the gadgets I have owned during the years, this time a pedalboard by Zoom, called GFX-3.

Back then, in the mid 2000s I had just switched from a rack system to a head+cabinet one, I was tired of the wirings, patchings and so on, and I wanted the simpliest solution possible, so I needed something with these features:

- at least 3 footswitches for various effect combinations

- lightweight and battery powered

- cheap

- with an in-built tuner

- capable of giving me what I needed with max 1 minute of tweaking

I looked around and this small Zoom one seemed the best choice, but I didn't consider a fundamental thing: I needed something that would allow me to use only the effect section going into the loop, so I could use the amp section of my tube amp (I think it was a Randall or a 5150 back then), and I didn't want to pass through the multi effect preamp section; unfortunately I realized this only some day after I bought it.

The unit was very solid and with a very simple interface, it was clear that after going through the '90s in a direction of complicating the interfaces to the impossible, the manufacturers were trying to move back towards a much simplier approach, and this user friendliness luckily has remained in most of the multi effects still today.
The Zoom Gfx-3 offered (and still offers, if you happen to find it second hand) a selection of 60 presets plus 60 user ones, in which you can choose among 10 amps and 10 distortion types, several cabinets and a 50 effects, with a maximum chain lenght of 8 effects.
Sound wise the effects were pretty good: they tried to model the analog delays and reverbs by making them sound warmer (that in practice it means less hi-fi, a bit dirtier and more saturated) and they were very pleasant and usable, but the preamp section was good only in the department in which these budget multi effect shines: cleans and overdrives.
The hi-gain tones, instead, were basically unusable: fuzzy, thin and extremely "digital sounding" meaning that they sounded like sand paper.

Eventually I stuck with it for a while by applying the effects before entering the preamp of my amp head, but this way the tone was bad (imagine having the delay BEFORE the distortion) and there was no other way to use this unit, therefore, since I wanted to use the amp's preamp section, I decided to sell it.

What can I say? As many Zoom products, also this is very cute looking, it had a very affordable price, a nice interface and a lot of features, but if we talk about preamp tone, at least this one didn't sound particularly well.

Thumbs down!

Specs taken from the website:

- Large Foot Switches and Metal Chassis

- Built-in Auto-chromatic Tuner

- Built-in Expression Pedal

- 10 Amp and 10 Distortion Types

- 50 built-in Effects / 60 preset Patches

- 8 Simultaneous Effects

- 60 Available User Memory Presets

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Saturday, November 2, 2019

Best 5 Free Vst plugins for mastering 2019

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're proposing the version 2019 of another 5 years old article: the best 5 Vst plugins for mastering that I have written in 2014, and this time we're focusing on the free ones!

1) Minimal System Group Stereo Buss Compressor: this cute little buss compressor has everything you need (and nothing you don't) to glue the mix in the mix buss or to shave the transients a bit in the mastering buss.

2) Blue Cat Triple Eq: this is a very good three band semi-parametric eq that offers no latency, +-40db range for each band, and it works very well to give the last surgical touches to our master, plus it has an essential mid-side function.

3) Polyverse music Wider: this is a very simple yet extremely effective tool; Wide is a stereo enhancer with just a percentage control. You can go up to 100% in order to achieve a fully stereo, phase coherent version of a mono sound, but you can also increase it up to 200% in order to have an exaggerated, larger than life sound!

4) Loudmax Limiter: this is probably the most beloved free mastering limiter, and for a reason: it sounds good. It's very simple: you just dial the output level, then you lower the threshold (thus increasing the gain) until you reach the desired gain reduction level.

5) Youlean Loudness Meter: a very complete metering tool to keep an eye on the dynamic range of our song. It's fundamental to nail the right loudness for the platform we intend to play our song on.

I hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, October 26, 2019

Review: Zoom Tri metal

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're reviewing a stompbox that is not anymore in production but that I consider a nice memory, a piece of my musical history.

There has been a time in which Zoom has been producing also stompboxes, and they did it actually in style, even if probably they did not achieve the expected success (except for the Power Drive overdrive, endorsed by Kiko Loureiro), and they were also aesthetically nice: sturdy pieces of metal with a matte finish, in various colours and with a stylish layout.

The Tri Metal was obviously the one dedicated to metal players, and it went in direct competition with the Boss Metal Zone, which in the 90s was very successful, and it did by playing the same game: by offering besides a 3 bands eq, also a control to choose the range of the mid frequences knob, increasing the tone capabilities of the pedal.

The Tri Metal had more to offer than the Metal Zone though: it had 3 stages of gain (one more than the Metal Zone!), it was true bypass and had what Zoom called "Low Noise Design", which means they designed it in order to minimize the noise, which really worked; I have used this pedal live for around 3 years, playing metal, and even cranking my Marshall Valvestate 65 combo (I was going straight from the Tri Metal to the clean channel), when I was stopping the guitar there was literally zero hum and feedbacks, which was very, very unusual for a metal distortion pedal pushed to the limit.

The tone was razorblade sharp, with a lot of attack and ultra compressed, as it's expectable from any metal distortion, but it was super clean and defined, and it gave me a lot of good time, so I regret a bit of having sold it, but after some year I have changed my tastes, I was looking for the full roaring tone of a tube amp, and this little metal box had to go to help me buying my first Peavey 5150.

If you have the chance try it out!

Specs taken from the website:

- 3 stages of gain circuit

- 3 bands eq with separate mid-range knob

- True bypass

- Low noise design

- Metal chassis

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Saturday, October 19, 2019

Best 10 Free Vst plugins for mixing 2019

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Around 5 years ago I have listed my favourite 10 plugins for mixing, and in 2018 I have made a new version of that article (Click here to check out the 2018 edition too!).
During these recent years a lot of things have changed, the world of music production has evolved and today to achieve a good sound it's easier and faster than ever, so this time we're focusing only on how to create great recordings only using free vst plugins; Enjoy!

1) Ignite Amps Emissary Bundle: this is an easy choice, since it's one of the best virtual guitar amp simulators around, plus it comes with a great cabinet simulator and a good collection of Impulse responses. With this amp you can easily obtain good tones for every genre, from clean to extremely hi gain.

2) Spitfire Audio LABS: actually this is not just one virtual instrument but a serie of instruments that ranges from piano to strings to drums, and they are all made of high quality samples.

3) Tse BOD: a software version of the classic Sansamp bass overdrive, which still today is a standard in aggressive bass tones. The sound is very credible, and this is just a magnificent piece of software that I have used in probably most of my productions.

4) Reacomp: there are many free compressors out there, but none of them has the reliability and the flexibility of the one included in the free Reaper plugins bundle: you can do basically everything with this compressor, it is also probably the only free one that has a side chain function included.

5) Steven Slate Drums 5 Free: Slate Drums is an industry standard among the drum samplers, and this time there is a great free version that allows you to use one of the kits with all the basic functions of the paid version.

6) Native Instruments Kontakt Player: Kontakt is another industry standard as host for virtual instruments, and this free version comes with 50 VSTi instruments.

7) Native Instruments Komplete Start: this is an impressive bundle of virtual instruments, 6gb of samples taken from real instruments or synths, which will give you a pretty wide landscape of sounds to use in your projects.

8) Ignite Amps PTEq-X: this is a very particular type of equalizer modeled after a classic Pultec Eq, and I'm not going to lie, it will take a bit before you will master it, but once you do it I guarantee it will provide some of the most euphonic equalization you've ever heard, natural and analog sounding.

9) Audio Assault Bassgrinder Free: this is a very simple yet versatile and good sounding bass amp simulator, which offers 2 amplifiers, 3 cabinets and it's totally self sufficient to shape a great tone.

10) Sonic Cat LFX-1310 Multi Effect:  this is a super cute multi effect that models a rack unit of those that were popular in the '80s and '90s. It has all the modulation effects, plus compressors, distortions, filters and reverbs, and it can be used as a low-cpu draining Swiss army knife in our projects.

I hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, October 12, 2019

Review: Ibanez universe UV777 bk

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are talking about an Ibanez guitar that stayed in production for 14 years (in its original form, today it is still sold in a slightly different variant): the Universe UV777.

This is another guitar designed by the guitar hero Steve Vai, and it's a seven strings evolution of his original Jem design; it debuted in 1998, a time in which seven strings guitars were not very common, and it became popular not only thanks to Vai himself, but also because it was used by Korn, probably the most influential and original band of the Nu Metal genre: basically this guitar helped shaping that ultra bassy, aggressive sound that still today is synonyme of modern heavy guitar.

The UV777 has a basswood body, maple neck and rosewood fretboard, it was made in Japan and through the years it had different bridges and different neck materials, but the neck always remained 24 frets and 25.5 inches, and both body and fingerboard features a white binding.
Unlike the Jem, the Universe doesn't have the monkey grip, but it has the same taste for original finishes, and besides the binding it rocks pyramid shaped inlays and a pyramid-with-eye on the top, made of mother of pearl.

The mechanics are Gotoh made, and in the mirror pickguard are mounted 3 DiMarzio Blaze II pickups (in some model can be found mounted also the Blaze I), in HSH configuration that give this guitar a very bassy sound, but with the mids slightly scooped and the highs a bit boosted, and it's very resemblant to the tone in Steve Vai's "Passion and Warfare" album.

I had the chance of playing with this guitar few years ago through a dear friend of mine, and I must say the build quality is very good, you can really feel the fact that you're playing a premium guitar, plus the hardware is also good, even if the bridge can't be abused too much, or it might struggle a bit in keeping the tuning stable.

Besides the sound, which is very aggressive but versatile, the thing that strikes me of this guitar is its playability: it stays in perfect equilibrium and the neck is very thin and comfortable, you can really tell it was designed with shredding in mind.

Definitely a guitar to try if you have the chance, 

thumbs up!


- Year(s) produced: 1998–2012

- Made in: Japan

- Finish: Black (BK)

- Body material: Basswood w/ white binding

- Bridge:
1998–2002; 2010–2012: Lo Pro Edge 7 tremolo
2003–2009:Edge Pro 7 tremolo

- Pickguard: Mirror

- Hardware color: Chrome

- Neck material:
1998–2004: 1-piece maple
2005–2012: 5-piece maple/ wenge

- Scale length: 648mm/ 25½"

- Fingerboard material: Rosewood w/ binding

- Fingerboard inlays: Disappearing pyramid

- Frets: 24 / large

- Machine heads: Gotoh SG38

- Pickup configuration: HSH

- Bridge pickup: DiMarzio Blaze II bridge

- Middle pickup: DiMarzio Blaze II mid

- Neck pickup: DiMarzio Blaze II neck

- Controls: Master volume / master tone / 5-way lever

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Saturday, October 5, 2019

5 ways to improve an amp sim guitar tone

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're starting a new serie called "How to improve", in which we will add some element to our basic mixing articles.
This time we're talking about 5 ways to improve our amp sim guitar tone, which even if we are using some high end plugin, still needs some polish before it can perfectly sit in the mix.
These tips are to be applied after recording, editing, finding the right guitar amp sim and tweaking it.

1) Impulse responses: impulse responses are the single most revolutionary thing happened to the world of guitar tones in decades, since they can change radically a sound and make it realistic in a way that few years ago was unthinkable without microphoning a real amp.
Get yourself a nice collection of impulses, at least a couple of hundreds, it doesn't matter whether free or paid, just make sure to have enough variety to cycle through them until you find the one (or the combination of more than one) that fits perfectly the song, and in order to do it, use a referencing track with a sound similar to what you have in mind.
A good starting point would be our free IR Pack Trident, which has 14 impulses ready to use.

2) Create a guitar bus: route all the guitar tracks that should have similar tones (e.g. the rhythm guitar tracks) into a stereo guitar bus, in order to control with one fader the general presence of guitars in the song.

3) Compress the minimum necessary: the general rule here is "the more the gain = the more the natural compression", so if we have clean guitars we will need to compress more, while if we have high gain ones, we're going just to use a multiband compressor in the low end area, shaving off a couple of db when needed in the area from 80 to 350hz (usually during palm muting).

4) Equalize with wisdom: here the general rule is "boost wide, cut narrow". We could spend hours talking about how to clean a guitar tone, but in this article let's just add the fact that we need to find balance: the sound must be natural, similar as if it's coming out of a real amp, so:
- high pass up to 50 to 80hz
- if the guitar still sounds weak and lacks of presence, add some body in the area between 1000 and 2000hz, finding where it suits, with a wide bell boost of 1 or 2 db.
- cut a couple of db with a narrow bell in the 4k area, sweeping the eq until you find the "nails on a fingerboard area"
- add some air, with a wide bell around 8-10khz

5) Don't be afraid of saturation: this is another tool to be used if our tone (especially if clean or overdriven) is too weak, thin, and we can't solve by using the eq; a touch of tape or tube saturation can add the weight and the midrange our tone needs without altering too much the sound.
This tool can be used on other instruments too!

I hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, September 28, 2019

Review: Audio Assault Bassgrinder (with video sample)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to check out Bassgrinder, by Audio Assault!

Bassgrinder is a Vst bass amp simulator very simple in its interface (as for all Audio Assault plugins) and lightweight but very, very effective if you're looking for a quick and realistic rock and metal sound for your bass DI tracks.

The interface represents an amp, with gain, eq section (including a "detpth" control), and a "crush" knob which is a one-knob limiter, then it features input and output levels, high pass and low pass knobs, noise gate, an amp section that lets us choose between 15 amps and a cab section with 20 cabs.

Finally, the most important feature: two separate mix controls, one to blend the amount of the DI signal with the amp, and one for the cab.
These 2 knobs are fundamental because here's where the fine tuning of the tone shaping takes place: you can hi-pass the processed signal and introduce the DI track to have a clean low end, choosing the right amount of amp and cab to use, and this avoids us the dual or triple bass track technique, in which we need to use a separate bass track for each type of sound and then blend them together.

In conclusion, I have been positively surprised by this revamped version of Bassgrinder, which took the original plugin and added more models, the limiter and other features, and I will definitely use it in my projects, since it sounds very aggressive, very realistic and makes bass mixing a breeze.

Considering also the fact that the price is very affordable, I really suggest you to give it a try!

Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the website:

- Hi pass and Lo pass filter

- Gate

- 15 amps

- 20 cabs

- Mix knob for cabs and for amps

- Crush knob (Limiter)

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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Pan automation, how to use it and why it matters

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to elaborate more about the topic of panning (click here for the basic article).

Let's start from this assumption: if a mix is 100% stereo all the time, then it's never really stereo.
What does it mean?
That also the space disposition of the mix elements it's part of the arrangement, and we should use it to our advantage, to create dynamics and excitement in our songs as much as with all the other tools.

The use of pan as an arrangement tool is often heard in pop productions, when in the verse the arrangement is minimalistic and the song opens up during the chorus: more vocal lines adds up, maybe more instruments or a distorted guitar, the drums becomes more explosive.

Let's start with this example: we have in our song an acoustic drumkit, and the overheads are two mono tracks which takes more or less the whole drumset, but especially the cymbals.
We can create a pan automation track (in Studio One is particularly easy because it suggests you right away 2 default automation tracks: Pan and Volume) for each of the 2 OH tracks and keep them quite narrow during the verse (40% left one and the other 40% right, for example, or even less), then when the chorus hits we can make them 80% on each side, and same we can do with the left and right guitar tracks.

To create an automation we need to click in the pencil tool and create in the line a point where the setting of the pan needs to change: we draw it at 80% during the chorus, then we draw it back at 40% during the verse, in our example.

Does it work? Does it create some appreciable change? If we want we can try moving slightly also other stereo elements of our mix to create some extra dynamism, but, as always, let's not overdo, otherwise the final results can get a bit confusing.

In order to succeed with a song is we don't need a ton of moves, but some strategic, well thought arrangement element that is noticeable and understandable.

I hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

Review: BC Rich Warlock NJ-7 FR

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today I'm going to review the second guitar I have ever owned, my first seven strings: the Bc Rich Warlock NJ-7.

After my first guitar, which I will review another time, I wanted to go full metal and have the edgiest instrument I could find, so I went to a famous Italian guitar store, probably around the year 2001, and I bought the most aggressive 7 strings guitar I could find for my budget, which was around 550€.

I tried this Bc Rich and I immediately fell in love with it: the look was super menacing, it had 7 strings, which would have allowed me to play Fear Factory, the pickups were very hot and there was a (licensed) Floyd Rose.

This guitar was part of the so called "bronze serie", the less expensive of the producer;
it was made in Korea and the body was a very heavy piece of basswood almost completely muted by a thick layer of paint and coating, the neck was bolt on, with a surprisingly good fretboard with diamond inlays in mother of pearl, and the pickups were stock Bc Rich (a model called BDSM), with a very scooped sound, more oriented towards the high end, which is odd considering the weight.

The build quality was not perfect: the bolt-on neck wasn't super stable, and the non-original Floyd Rose wasn't the best at keeping the tuning (which is the reason why, since then I have switched to fixed bridges), plus the jack connector was loose and the sound after a while started to come and go (but these are all things to consider when buying the cheapest model of a brand).
Eventually, though, these are not the reasons why I have decided to trade this guitar in for another one: the reason was the weight, which was enough to hurt my back, and the fact that the guitar was pointing down and needed a certain strenght to keep the neck in position.
Very uncomfortable.

In terms of sound what was lacking in body and low end was compensated with a razor sharp high end: the guitar sounded very "90s thrash metal", and the cleans were crystalline, so in terms of tone I was satisfied back then, and the playability wasn't bad besides the weight, because the neck was all in all quite comfortable (but not thin).

Today the american brand, after some rough times, is reinventing itself and is planning to return in the market with a new array of models, but at the moment the website is not accessible.


- Number of frets: 24 Jumbo

- Bridge: Licensed by Floyd Rose

- Pickups: 2 stock BDSM Humbuckers

- Electronics: 1 tone, 1 volume, 3-position selector

- Body: Basswood

- Neck: Maple, bolt-on

- Fretboard: Rosewood

- Inlays: Pearl Diamond

- Mechanics: Bc Rich diecast

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Saturday, September 7, 2019

Using a second pair of ears to improve your mix

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are talking about a simple concept that can be put in the same box of our article about Referencing, which is using the ears of someone else you trust to help you fixing what you are not noticing.

After long mixing sessions, even not continuous, our perception of the song can become a little bit distorted: even if we are experienced mix engineers, we burn in each mixing session most of our critical listening capacity in the first 45 minutes of mixing, more or less, then we get so acquainted to the sound of the song that we lose objectivity.
Sure, stopping mixing and starting over the day after will give us a fresh point of view, but if we are working on a mix for weeks (or months), there will anyway probably be details that we will not be able to point out anymore, for example the cymbals are in general too low or too high, or the mix in general has too little or too much low end.

This happens because we focus on the details: we create, for example by automating even the smallest parts, a perfect equilibrium, and this way we lose the overview of the song, to the point that when at the end we realize for example the mix lacks IN GENERAL low end, we need to destroy all the equilibrium to fix it.
And this is frustrating.

Does this sound familiar? It happens to everyone, even the most professional mix and mastering engineers, and that's why often mixers sends drafts of their songs to other engineers or musicians they trust, in various stages of completion: to have a second pair of ears capable of pointing out what we can't notice anymore.
The more often we do it during the various stages of mixing, the less we will have to "roll back" when something needs to be fixed.
And if you trust the person you need to trust his or her opinion, because you in that moment are looking too close to the song to see it as a whole, and only 2 or 3 months after finishing the mix you'll be able to notice what your friend is noticing.

So my suggestion is to find someone you trust and send him/her your mixes for opinions, and you do the same to that person: it will take the projects of both of you to the next level.

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Saturday, August 31, 2019

Review: Ibanez SZR 520 TGB

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about a guitar that I have owned for about 5 years, from around 2009 to probably 2013, the Ibanez SZR 520 TGB!

This serie of guitars was made in China in 2008-2009, and was a half-way between the classic Ibanez style, fast, comfortable and light, and a more classic Gibson - PRS style: the guitar featured a nice flamed maple top (exceptional for the price range, which was around 500$), a slightly rounder neck, a thicker and heavier body.
After featuring also a Marty Friedman signature model with this same shape, the line was discontinued in 2009.

What can I say about this instrument? I loved it, and it embodies the things I love from Ibanez (a fast and very playable neck and fretboard, great quality to price ratio, a cool looking Gibraltar III bridge) and the classic elements of historic brands like Gibson, such as a white binding both in the body and in the neck, a set-in neck joint, 22 frets, solid mahogany body, and a classic shape.

The pickups were stock pickups with a neodymium magnet, that supposedly should have performed quite good, but the truth is that I swapped them pretty soon with two EMGs, which were resonating well in that thick, heavy body (I mounted an 85 in the bridge position, because I think it sounds way better than the 81).

The sound was surprisingly "Gibsonish", meaning that it was round and full in the lows, but with the active pickups it had also a powerful musical midrange, and I really loved how it sounded, until I realized that its short scale (24.75") was not the ideal for the tuning I needed (B standard), and therefore I had to trade this guitar in for a longer scale one.

All in all the guitar was anyway very pleasant to play, the fretboard was as smooth as butter, the aesthetic was very pleasant, and the sound was super warm, and I have used it to record the rhythm guitars of this album:

I definitely suggest anyone who doesn't need to play a particularly low tuning to check this guitar out!

Thumbs up!


- Body type: Solid body

- Body material: Mahogany w/ flamed maple top

- Neck joint: Set-in

- Bridge: Gibraltar III fixed

- Hardware color: Chrome

- Neck type: SZR

- Neck material: 1-piece mahogany

- Scale length: 628mm/ 24¾"

- Fingerboard material: Rosewood w/ binding

- Fingerboard inlays: Small pearl dot

- Frets: 22 / medium

- Pickup configuration: HH

- Bridge pickup: Ibanez ND1-B (H)

- Neck pickup: Ibanez ND1-N (H)

- Controls: 2 volume / 1 tone / 3-way toggle

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Saturday, August 24, 2019

How to mix vocals with stereo slapback delay (with Free Vst plugin download)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about an advanced Delay technique for Vocals (click here for a dedicated article about how to mix vocals) and Lead Guitar (click here for a dedicated article) that will allow us to create some space and focus around our track without the downside of pushing it behind in the mix.

As we know, in facts, effecting a track is a double edge sword: it makes it smoother, gives it a sense of space and coherence with the other instruments, as if they were recorded in the same room at the same time, but on the other hand the more ambience effect we add, the more the track will sound distant, up to the point to end up quite buried in the mix.
It's a matter of finding a good balance, because we need to add thickness and fullness, without sacrificing the position of our vocal track as the focus of our mix, and one of the techniques that we can use is a stereo slapback delay, which is a delay with little or no feedback (the feedback controls the number of repetitions of the delay), meaning that with the slapback delay you use only one repetition (the so called "slap back").

In order to create a slapback delay we need to create an fx track and load on it our favourite stereo delay plugin, then set the feedback control anywhere from 0 to 10% (the important is to have only one repetition per side);
now we need to set a different timing for the left and the right repetition, so that the "slap" arrives from left and right in 2 slightly different moments, for example on the left side after 100ms and on the right one after 150ms.

The timing of the repetitions must be adjusted according to the how fast is the song, 50ms for a very fast one, up to 200ms to a slow one.

In the fx track obviously we can put also other effects, in order to send it to our single vocal (or lead guitar) tracks, each one in the right amount (let's not overdo it, not all the tracks needs to be hyper effected, though).

With a Slapback delay we will add depth, a 3D, "larger than life" effect, without pushing the track too far back in the mix.

There are several free Stereo Delay Vst plugins available, here's our 3 top picks:

- Voxengo Tempo delay: the most complete among the free ones

- Easy-Q Delay: a simple, easy to use Delay

- Entropy: a Delay with an interesting stereo crossover effect

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Review: Ibanez Jem 77 BFP

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are reviewing one of the best sounding guitars I have ever tried: an Ibanez Jem 77 BFP (blue floral pattern), made in Japan in the early '90s (this model has been in production from 1991 to 1996, and it's considered today one of the best of its serie).

The Jem serie is still in production today (although most of the models are now manufactured in Indonesia), and it has been created by the guitar hero Steve Vai: he has designed a guitar so unique and comfortable that still after 30 years is one of the best sellers of the company.
The Ibanez Jem has been sold throught the years in countless versions: its lineup ranges from very affordable models all the way up to several thousand of dollars ones, and this 77 bfp that I have been playing for a while is a top of the line version made in Japan, one of the early originals.

The guitar is a superstrat model, as the '80s guitar heroes wanted: similar to a stratocaster but with a Lo Pro Edge tremolo (very similar to a Floyd Rose), a much faster neck, hotter pickups (Di Marzio PAF), premium woods and build quality, and a look that draws attention;
the guitar features in facts a gorgeous blue floral pattern both in the body and in the fretboard, the neck is 25.5" and has 24 jumbo frets, in maple, and it's as fast as it gets.

Another particularity is the fact that the Ibanez Jem features a cutout in the body that serves as a "handle", like it's a luggage: it is called "Monkey Grip" and it is sometimes used by Steve Vai in his live performances.

You can really tell the premium attention this guitar received when it was built: it is made for the most demanding players, and still today it has a market value of 2500 $.

So far I have described the looks but how does it sound?

The version I have tried had active EMGs, the 81 and 85, pickups that I had also in other guitars, so I could make a recording comparison with another guitar with the same pickups to hear the differences in the wood (recording that unfortunately I have lost, because I have made it several years ago), and I can assure that this guitar is the best sounding guitar I've ever tried, the tone is sparkling, perfectly balanced, the bass is tight and the midrange is very sweet, and you can really tell where the money go in a high end guitar compared with a low end one: even if the wood is the same type, it can be super cheap or very expensive,  and this, combined to the build quality, makes the difference in the end.

Besides how it sounds, you can tell the difference by how it FEELS: the neck of a high end Ibanez guitar it's like melted butter under the fingers (and in this specific model the higher frets are also "scalloped"), and it really helps you, it's easier to play and encourages you to go faster.

Thumbs up!


- Number of control knobs: 2 control knobs

- Pickup selector controls: 5-way selector switch

- Pickups brand and model: DiMarzio JEM single coil pickup(s), DiMarzio PAF Pro pickup(s), DiMarzio pickup(s)

- Pickups configuration: 2 humbuckers and 1 single coil pickup

- Finish colors: blue finish

- Graphics: floral or plant graphics

- Made in: Japan

- Scale length: 25.5 inches scale-length

- Body material: basswood body

- Body shape features: double cutaway, monkey grip

- Body style: super strat style body

- Pickguard material: transparent pickguard

- Hardware: Bridge Lo Pro Edge tremolo

- Hardware color: black hardware

- Fingerboard material: maple fingerboard

- Fingerboard position: markers vine fingerboard position markers

- Neck: Neck joint bolt on neck

- Neck material: maple neck

- Number of frets: 24 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

How to adjust the action of a guitar or bass (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!

Today we are going to see how to adjust the action of a guitar or bass, and this is to be considered the "prequel" of our article about how to set the intonation of our instrument.
Small disclaimer: this is more an article to explain how things work, if you want to have a professional work go to a luthier and have him set up the guitar for you, while if you're a DIY lover, proceed at your own risk :D

First off the definition: the action is the space between the top of the 12th fret of our guitar and our strings, and it determinates the comfort and the speed of our playing: a higher action will allow us to be more precise and with a cleaner sound, but a lower action will allow us to go faster with less effort, so the right distance varies according to our taste and there isn't a height that fits perfectly for everyone (even if Gibson suggests, for its guitars, a minimum string height at the first fret of 1.22mm for the high E and 1,98mm for the low one)
Beware that if the action is too low we will have fret buzz or mute frets, meaning that in some part of the keyboard the string gets muted (the so called "dead note"): in this case we'll have to raise slightly the string height or adjust the truss rod.

The normal position of the neck is either absolutely straight or with a very, very slight bow ("u" shape), in an almost imperceptible way; if the neck is too bent backwards (the so called "n" shape) or forward (the so called "u" shape) we will need to adjust the truss rod (which is a metal rod that lies inside the neck and counterbalances the string tension) with a hex key:

If the neck is bent "n" shaped, the frets will buzz in the certral part of the fretboard, meaning around the 5th to 12th fret, while if the neck is bent "u" shaped, it will buzz in the lowest and highest frets.

In both cases we can solve by finding the screw of the truss rod, which is usually located in the headstock, and sometimes it is covered with a lid, and turning the screw with the hex key.

By turning the truss rod screw COUNTERCLOCKWISE you will add relief, meaning that the neck will make less resistance to the tension of the strings and it will become more "u" shaped, while by turning it CLOCKWISE you will reduce relief, meaning that the neck will make more resistance and will become more "n" shaped.
By adjusting the neck curve what we are looking for is the sweet spot in which there is no fret buzz nor dead notes when playing every string in every fret of the fretboard: when this happens, it means our instrument neck is straight.

Once the neck is straight it's time to adjust the string height of our action: we need to turn the screws at the sides of the bridge (in case of tune o'matic bridge) to raise or lower the string height until we find the perfect action that is not too uncomfortable to play and that lets every note ring perfectly.
There are also bridges (like the Fender ones) that lets us regulate the height of each single string by raising or lowering the individual saddles.

Once our guitar is straight and the string height it's perfect it's time to work on the string intonation (click here for a dedicated article)!

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Saturday, August 3, 2019

Review: Epiphone 1984 Explorer EX

Hello and welcome to this week's article!

Today we are going to review a guitar that has been on my watchlist for long time now, and that a dear friend of mine has recently bought and let me test: the Epiphone 1984 Explorer EX!

This is another of those Epiphone guitars that sets themselves in the mid-high range of the brand (still not as expensive as a Gibson, but also not on the cheapest side), and features already all the most common upgrades a metal player does when buying a guitar: great mechanics and pickups.

This guitar is a version of the classic Explorer made for modern rock and metal, and it's clearly made to resemble the model (first Gibson and recently Esp) played by James Hetfield of Metallica in countless concerts: it is white, it has two active pickups (the duo EMG 81 and 85, the "Zakk Wylde set") and Grover machine heads, which really makes the difference in terms of tuning stability.

The body and neck are made of Mahogany, and the neck shape is a very comfortable Slimtaper D shaped, so it's faster and less chunky than most of the other Epiphone and Gibson necks, and all those features leads to think that this guitar is made with fast playing in mind.

The build quality is surprisingly good, better than your average Epiphone, and this is probably due to the very simple layout: most of the money value instead of going towards a fancy top or other aesthetical details went in this case into a very well crafted neck and fingerboard, perfectly comfortable out of the box, and premium hardware.

The sound of this guitar reflects its specifications: mahogany is a dark, round sounding wood, that united with active pickups delivers a powerful low end: palm muting makes a lot of "rebound" effect, but the Emg 81 packs also a lot of clarity in the top end, so the guitar is full of body but also capable of screaming in the solos.

All in all this is a very good guitar, that offers a lot of value for its price and I suggest anyone looking for a solid guitar for metal and any Metallica fan to check it out.

If only they would make a version with 25.5" scale!

Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the website:

- Body: mahogany

- Neck: mahogany

- Neck shape: SlimTaper™ “D” Profile

- Scale: 24.75”

- Fingerboard: Pearloid dot inlay

- Pearloid: Dot Inlay 12”

- Nut width: 1.68”

- Neck Pickup: Active EMG-85

- Bridge Pickup: Active EMG-81

- Controls: 1-Master Volume, 1-Master Tone, 1-Bridge Volume

- Battery: 9-volt, hinged compartment in back

- Pickup selector: Epiphone all-metal 3-way toggle switch

- Bridge: LockTone™ Tune-O-Matic

- Tailpiece: StopBar

- Hardware: Black

- Machine Heads: Grover® with small metal buttons

- Color: Alpine White (AW), ebony (EB)

- Typical Weight (+/- 5%): 8.3 lbs

- Strings: D’Addario® 10, 13, 17, 26, 36, 46