Archive for August, 2007

Fulltone OCD Drive Pedal
There have only been a few times in all the years that I’ve been playing guitar that I’ve had an epiphany with a pedal, where after just playing a few notes, a light bulb would go off in my head, and I’d exclaim, “That’s the sound I’m after!” The Fulltone OCD did that to me this afternoon. I just love when that happens! Here are some of the features of this little beast:

  • First off, it has a true bypass switch, so when it’s off, it’s off, and you don’t have to remove the battery if you’ve got it plugged into a 9 volt power source.
  • Volume knob – speaks for itself. But here’s a real treat: The volume knob can give you up to 30dB of boost!!! Need a clean booster? Here it is, plus you can get that sexy, smooth distortion out of it as well. Special note for my friend IG over at igblog: Here’s your clean booster, and you get a freakin’ amazing distortion box to boot!!!
  • Tone knob – according to the manual (and I confirmed this as well), the tone knob only affects the high frequencies, but you can use it to sweeten up a lead or get a more squishy, punchier sound – very cool.
  • Drive knob – again self-explanatory. It’ll give you more or less distortion depending up on the position you set it to.
  • HP/LP switch. This is unique to this pedal. Set it to (H)igh (P)eak and you get glorious sounding bottom end and increased dynamic range, plus more distortion throughout various volume levels. Set it to LP, turn down the drive, and the pedal acts as a clean booster with the volume knob.

How it sounds

  • Whether you’re in HP or LP mode, the thing that I noticed the most was the amount of sustain it added to the notes I was playing. One thing that can be a bit of a frustration for me when playing my Strat is when I bend a high note (above the 12th fret), there’s just not much sustain in the guitar itself (of course, unless I crank my amp). But the OCD adds a lot of sustain with hardly any tonal interference (that makes your sound really muddy).
  • As far as distortion is concerned, the OCD will not muddy your tone – especially at lower volumes, and you get all the juicy, complex harmonics that you get out of a cranked amp. With the OCD, your tonal clarity is retained, even with heavy distortion, AND you get those overtones and harmonics – EVEN AT BEDROOM LEVELS!!! Think of the OCD’s distortion as an extension and enhancement of your tone. It’s very much in character with a box like the Ibanez TS-808, another overdrive box that I have that I love for its transparency.
  • With the OCD, you also get the touch sensitivity you’d expect out of a cranked amp. That’s yet another amazing thing about the OCD, it’s sensitive as all get-out even at lower volumes.
  • I haven’t confirmed this, but from other reviews I’ve read, and from the dude that sold me the pedal (I trust him mightily), the more voltage you run through the OCD, the better it sounds. I only have a 9 volt power supply, but it’ll take up 18 volts, though I’ve read that 12 volts is probably the best.

In a nutshell, if you’re looking for a distortion box that will make your good tone sound even better, this box is for you. That said, before Mike Fuller released this box, there was A LOT of hype surrounding it. Once it was released, a lot of players were disappointed, thinking that this would be the be-all, end-all of distortion boxes. It’s not. It has a different character; actually, a VERY unique character, that will endear it to some, and ward off others, especially those who are expecting a real low-end oomph. The OCD has that, but that’s not its strength. As I mentioned, it’s a tone enhancer, that will break up your signal as much or as little as you want. It won’t pour on oodles of low-end, especially if your setup is on the thin side.

An important note: The OCD works best with a single channel Class A amp, or on the clean channel of a multiple gain stage amp. It does not sound good when used in the drive channel, which already breaks up your tone. That said, if you do use it with a drive channel, either let it do the driving, and turn your amp’s boost down, or turn down the OCD’s distortion, and pump up the volume knob on the box. Otherwise you’ll get a very rough (read: ugly) distortion. A lot of folks have complained about this pedal clipping too much with their amps. Most likely, they’ve tried to use it in the way I described above.

Comparisons? Well, I’m never one to say this box is better than this box, unless the tonal quality is perceptibly that much better. The closest box I can think of to compare the OCD to off the top of my head would be the box I mentioned above: The TS-808 Tube Screamer. But where the Tube Screamer is more of a midrange booster, and it produces a much more crunchy tone, the OCD has much smoother distortion characteristics, and has way more inherent sustain than the Tube Screamer. Which one is better? Neither. For me, they both have their uses, though I’ll have to admit that the Tube Screamer will most likely be my go-to box for crunchy rhythms, and the OCD will be used for leads and more funky rhythm parts played high on the neck.

Sometimes, it’s just in the stars…
I stayed home from work today to take care of my toddler who has an ear infection. He’s been cranky all day with a fever, and of course, the incessant annoyance of the inner ear infection. So to calm him down, and help him take a nap, I took him for a drive. I wasn’t actually intending to go to my local guitar gear shop but I ended up exiting the freeway on the street that the shop was on, and just happened to drive in the direction of the shop (I really wasn’t meaning to go there, dammit! 🙂 ) Anyway, as I was driving, I noticed the “Guitar Showcase” sign, and turned into the parking lot. I figured I could browse around in the nice, air-conditioned space, which would be great for my little boy with a fever. So I put the baby in the stroller and entered the store.

Once I entered the store, I noticed that Peter, who sold me my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe was working behind the counter, so I struck up a conversation with him. He’s a touring musician, so I asked him how the gigging was going, and we swapped stories. Then it occurred to me to ask him about a good drive/distortion pedal that I could use in conjunction with my TS-808 (which he also sold me and also plays through). He said, “Man, here it is: The Fulltone OCD. This’ll do the job for you. You can use it as a clean boost, but you’ll get the sweetest, creamiest distortion you’ve ever heard. Other pedals, can sometimes make your tone turn muddy, but this will break up your signal and retain your clarity.” Peter knows what I play through, and the guitars that I have, so he knows how important my tone is. With that, I replied, “You know, I wasn’t banking on buying any gear today, but based on what you’re saying, I’ve got to try this pedal out.”

So Peter hooked me up to a Hot Rod Deluxe. I played one simple phrase: An ascending minor scale in E. Actually it was more like 4 notes with a bend and vibrato at the end, and my jaw just dropped!!! I couldn’t believe the sexy tones that came out of this little box! It was like the sea had parted and the way was made clear! Then Peter twiddled the knobs a bit, then told me to play some funky rhythm line, and it’s like the song just came to life! I swear, within a minute of playing through the OCD, I just turned to Peter and said, “Sold. I’m gonna play a bit more, but you can start writing up the order. I’m not leavin’ the store without one.” So, I am now the proud owner of a Fulltone OCD.

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In my latest GarageBand project, I just finished recording a song that I wrote back in 2004, but never managed to record it until now. The song is called “I Will Sing (of Your Salvation).

While the song is very special to me, the recording was actually a bit of an experiment as I wanted to see if I could replace my synthesizer using only vocals. As far as the whole album of which this song is part, I wanted to take a very minimalistic approach to instrumentation to see how full a sound I could achieve with as few instruments as possible.

As always, I welcome your comments!

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Last night, I finally finished re-recorded a solo for a song I’ve been working on releasing (Great God). The original solo was actually pretty good, but because of some errant picking on my part, there some distracting “extras” that I could easily wave edit away. So I decided to re-do the solo entirely. But that’s not the painful part. The painful part is actually physical. I ended up doing over 200 takes over the past couple of nights to get the solo just right. It’s still not perfect, but it’ll do for now… I need to rest my fingers a spell…

With my first set of takes, I duplicated the original solo. This only took a few takes to get it right. But then, I had a bit more complicated of a solo in my head, and it just wouldn’t let me settle. The only problem was that I had to learn how to play it! If you listen to the solo, it’s not a very difficult solo for anyone with the technique. I could actually play it myself from a technical standpoint, but the challenge for me was to play it entirely clean, without any added “touches.” It’s amazing how playing in overdrive masks out those little mistakes! A brush with the pick here, a mis-fingering there, and it just messes up the phrase, not to mention bending strings to just the right pitch. Playing clean, you can’t hide behind any kind of signal breakup.

So I used this recording session as much for recording as I did for a practicing clean technique; and this is where the pleasure kicks part kicks in. I still need to re-record the solo because I missed some pitch bends, but I’ve now learned some new technique that I can employ in other songs…

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I finally got a couple of songs to a mostly finished state though I have to tweak the vocal volumes on one of the songs.

You Stir My Soul
Great God

For the past week, I’ve been ever so tickled by the ease of recording that GarageBand provides. But no matter how easy the recording process has become, it’s still a very tedious process. In fact, the easy part is actually laying down the tracks. What takes the longest time is the post-production stuff that gets my songs to a finished state. I probably spend at least 4 to 5 times more time tweaking what I’ve recorded than actually recording.

But that’s the beauty of music production. The artistry is not just in the recording or the song. There’s also an incredible amount of artistry in how your sound is ultimately presented to your audience. The original recording is much like a line drawing or a pencil sketch on a canvas. That forms the basis of the picture. Then like using paints, you apply color and shading to the raw sketch to make it come to life, resplendent with colors that give the picture a “mood” of sorts. A touch of reverb here, some delay there, perhaps some pitch shifting, or time correction. It’s all part of the “painting” process.

So why all this focus on recording in this series? Well, I haven’t mentioned it distinctly, but I’m working on creating an album of the religious music I’ve written for the Catholic Mass. The album is entitled “You Stir My Soul.” You can listen to the title track here. Note that this is not in a finished state. I have to bring down the lead vocal volume a touch because it totally steps on the instrumentation. I put this out on my band’s website so my cohort Dave could see what I did with the harmony, and how I slightly restructured the song from its original form. I also laid down a groovin’ song called “Great God” that is mostly finished, though I have to re-record the guitar solo because of some bad string plucks on my part. 🙂

To tell the truth, I’ve been working on this album project for a couple of years. My wife has been bugging me to get my music out, and I’ve just given her the excuse that I’m so busy that it’s hard to find the time to record. But that’s not really the truth. The real truth is that I purchased much more advanced equipment than I actually needed to create spec recordings. I mean, it was total overkill, and on top of that, I’ve spent tons of time just learning how to operate the softaware! Don’t get me wrong: I love ProTools, but it’s so much more software than I need right now. For specs, you want to get your songs to a good enough state so that when you submit them to a music publisher, they have a good idea of what you’re after in your music. And as I’m doing this myself, ease-of-use and a short time-to-production are absolutely key!

This is where GarageBand is literally a God-send. Most of the hard sound engineering stuff like EQ and mixdown is either done automagically, or is incredibly easy to tweak. It has allowed me to concentrate on producing my music rather than spending inordinate amounts of time learning how to use the recording software. The net result is that where it used to take me a couple of weeks to get a song close to a finished state, it now takes a couple of days; or in the case of You Stir My Soul, I produced the mostly-finished recording in a matter of hours! I can finally see the end of the tunnel to create my spec recordings and get my demo album out!

I used to scoff at GarageBand as not being “real” recording software. But the the sheer quality of the recordings it produces rivals any recording software I’ve used in the past. It may not be as full-featured as “Pro” recording packages, but for what it offers and what it can produced, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better solution for home recording.

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All I can say is WOW! GarageBand is absolutely OFF THE HOOK!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was going to be using GarageBand to create song foundations for performing live. But to get myself more familiarized with the application, I decided to lay down a groove for a worship song that I wrote to see how easy it would be. I was not at all disappointed. I first auditioned a bunch of drum loops (BTW, I went out and purchased both iLife ’08 and the Rhythm Section Jam Pack today), found a fill, then inserted the loop into a new track. I then found a decent bass line, and dropped that in as well.

Software instruments such as the bass in GarageBand are actually software MIDI instruments. GarageBand makes it so easy to work with software instruments by providing a MIDI grid to adjust note pitches, duration, velocity, etc.. So once I selected a bassline, I could move notes around to fit to my song. Then it was a simple copy/cut/paste affair to get the bass “measures” into their proper places.

Once I had those two things laid down, I recorded my Strat for the rhythm track. Now here is where things got interesting. For my home recording studio, I use a DigiDesign MBox 2. It turns out that DigiDesign provides a Mac driver for the MBox 2 that you can download from their site. So now, I have my trusty MBox 2 hooked up to my iMac through a USB port, and I can switch from guitar to vocals or add some keyboard tracks with ease.

A totally cool new feature in GarageBand is the ability to loop record; that is, selecting a region in a song, then play several takes while looping over the same region. This is an awesome feature that I’ve appreciated in ProTools, but it’s here in GarageBand! With multi-take loop recording, you can dial in a section until you have it perfect. This saves so much time in the recording process because you don’t have to get to a spot, record, then splice the end. You just keep on playing that section over and over again until you’ve got it right. It also allows you to approach a particular phrase in different ways.

I’m really jazzed right now because I’ve finally found a music production tool that is incredibly easy to use. It’s so easy, it’s almost scary.

BTW, I need to put in a plug for GarageBand ’08. If you’re already a GarageBand user, YOU NEED TO GET iLife ’08 now! It is head and shoulders far more powerful and feature complete than the previous versions of the software. For a mere $79.00, it’s a cheap investment.

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I’ve been a gigging musician for several years, playing in all sorts of venues. 90% of my gigs are just me singing and accompanying myself with a single guitar and keyboard, which has worked for me for a long time. But as of late, the artist in me has yearned to stretch his wings and produce a more sophisticated sound when I’m solo. It’s frustrating to play songs that have a lead in the middle of the song, and I’ve just got to strum along, or if it’s on the piano, I’ve just got to stick with the chart (I can’t improvise very well on the keys). So what to do?

Since I’ve made the switch to the Mac, I’ve discovered a wonderful little program called GarageBand that allows you to record music on your Mac. But interestingly enough, it also includes audio loops of all sorts of instruments, so you can literally create a song using just loops. The ramifications are clear: I finally have a way of easily creating song foundations for when I play solo. All I have to do is move the songs to my iPod! So begins my latest journey of creating song foundations. It’s very exciting to me because it’ll allow me to arrange songs for a wider genre of music than I’ve been playing. Talk about having a “band in the box.”

What inspired me to start doing this was seeing a guy at Downtown Disney a few months ago using an Akai MPC1000 Music Production Center for his background stuff, and playing guitar on top of his laid down tracks. I don’t have an extra $1000 to spend on something like that so it has been difficult getting started down this road. But with GarageBand, I should be able to lay down tracks really easily. Oooh I’m excited!

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For those of you who’ve known me for a long time, I’ve been a PC devotee for as long as I can remember, and used to scoff at the Mac as being a toy. But a few months ago, I decided to try out a MacBook Pro at my previous job, and what I thought would never happen happened. I fell in love with the Mac. I have to say that it really boils down to falling in love with OSX, which is an incredibly usable operating system. Anything before that, I’d still be scoffing at the Mac as being a toy. There were lots problems with OS9, and I just didn’t like the interface. But with the new version of the OS, it’s just incredible! But I digress…

To make a long story short, my former company closed its doors 3 months after I arrived – yikes! But the fortunate thing for me was that I had to opportunity to get some equipment in the company’s fire sale. I ended up with two G5 iMacs, and real nice Dell laser printer.  Included with my iMacs is a nice little music composition program called Garage Band. I’ve been playing around with it for a couple of days, and I just love it! It doesn’t have the features of my ProTools, but for spec’ing out songs, it is incredible!

Central to Garage Band is the ability to drag and drop loops onto the workspace to create the foundation for a song. It’s a very easy process. You can drop guitar loops, organ loops, percussion and bass loops – there’s lots to choose from, and within minutes you can have a full song constructed on your workspace. Then you can add your own instruments by plugging direct into your Mac, or using the built-in microphone (not really recommended as it’s a very sensitive condenser mic and it picks up EVERYTHING).

For instance, this evening, I got an idea for a new song. I browsed around the loops till I found an acoustic guitar, bass, and percussion loops that I liked, dropped them onto my workspace, and arranged pitch and tempo as needed. Then I plugged my ES-335 directly into my iMac using a 1/4″ to 1/8″ adapter cable. Now here’s the cool thing about plugging directly into your Mac: Garage Band comes with built-in amp modelers and effects such as a noise gate, reverb and even delay. There’s even two manual slots available to add distortion and specific types of amp models. As to the amp models, they’re not all that good, but they get the general idea across. I wanted to get kind of a Tube Screamer effect on top of a clean amp, and with a couple of clicks, I had it.

The great thing about Garage Band for me is that I now spend less time getting the foundations of a song laid down, and can concentrate on my compositional ideas. Looks like I’m going to have lots of late night dates with my iMac… 🙂

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