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Archive for the ‘GarageBand’ Category

Sennheiser e609 Silver Instrument Microphone

Summary: Need a great mic to close-mic your amp? Look no further! The e609 delivers on all fronts, able to withstand high SPL’s, and still accurately reproduce your tone.

Pros: Flat-face design makes placing the mic a breeze, but more importantly, placed correctly (as you should with any mic), it’ll capture your tone beautifully!

Cons: None

Features (from the web site):

  • Hum compensating coil reduces electrical interference (I can attest to this – it’s super quiet)
  • Neodynum ferrous magnet with boron keeps mic stable regardless of climate
  • Metal construction—rugged and reliable
  • Super-cardioid pick-up pattern provides isolation from other on-stage signals

Price: ~$95 streetTone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Going back to my “using the right tool for the job,” I don’t know why I didn’t pick up one of these earlier. I have some good mics, but now that I’ve got the e609 that was made explicitly for micking instruments, I kicking myself a bit. Lesson learned yet again!

I told myself that all I would get was a speaker cable for my cab when I walked into my local Guitar Center today. Unfortunately for me, the cables were located in the Pro Audio area where GC has a big case of very nice mics. And, gear slut that I am, I couldn’t resist a look. Granted, most of those mics were completely out of the ballpark for me, costing several hundreds of dollars. But it did get me thinking that I really should be using a dedicated instrument mic for my home studio when recording my clips and songs.

Fortunately, they didn’t have any instrument mics in the case, but silly me, I just had to ask the guy behind the counter if he had an e609 (I had researched this and other instrument mics several months ago). “Oh yeah,” said another sales clerk, “We got those. They rock, and they’re cheap.” Damn! Words that a gear slut should never hear in one sentence: ROCK and CHEAP! That will instantly elicit a fidgety, twitchy response as the pragmatic half of the psyche wrestles with the GAS half. And usually the GAS half wins, as it did today.

So now I am the very proud owner of a Sennheiser e609. And I do have to say that it does rock, and it costs far less than what one would normally expect to pay for a great mic. At less than $100, how can you argue with that?

How It Sounds

I recorded a little blues solo over a standard GarageBand backing track to demonstrate. Give it a listen:

For the solo, I used “Blondie” my Squier Classic Vibe Tele, the insane-sounding Aracom VRX18 amp (it’s customized with an EZ81 rectifier), and my custom Aracom 1 X 12 cab with a Jensen P12N speaker. The e609 was placed about halfway between the dome and the speaker edge about an inch away from the grille cloth.

I added a touch of reverb to the dry clip in GarageBand, but that’s it. No EQ (I don’t like to EQ my guitar parts anyway). What you hear on the clip is what I heard in my studio. Freakin’ amazing! Like I mentioned above, after recording this clip, I should’ve gotten one of these a long time ago. It’s a great mic!

Mixed Reviews

I re-read some reviews today, and interestingly enough, they come back mixed. Harmony Central user reviews rate it at about 7.5 on average. People other love it or hate it. But in reply to the negative experiences, I have to call into question mic placement. If it’s one thing I’ve learned from years of home studio recording, placing your mic correctly is critical to getting a good tone. Maybe they weren’t experimenting enough with mic placement. Who knows?

With the e609, I first went with the recommended placement in the user manual (yes, I am one of those anal people who do indeed RTFM), then moved it maybe half an inch more towards the speaker edge to reduce the highs just a tad. That made all the difference in the world because my amp is pretty bright micked up close, and I didn’t want that to dominate the recording, especially since the mic was only an inch away from the grille cloth.

Overall Impressions

The Tone Bones score says it all. I’m hooked! Frankly, it didn’t take me long at all to dial this puppy in. It’s a truly great mic!

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I wrote this song a few years back, and had the hardest time trying to record it. Unfortunately, the stock drum tracks in GarageBand just don’t cover the blues very well, so I finally found some decent audio drum loops that I could use. Ostensibly, this is a song about everlasting love, and how in marriage or even lifelong relationships, despite their occasional downs, if you truly love someone, you’ll return to them.

With this song, I wanted to capture a smoky lounge with a jazz quartet kind of groove. And BTW, the guitar in this was recorded using IK Multimedia Amplitube Fender. Damn! That ’57 Champ sounds great! Anyway, here’s the song:

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Fender 60th Diamond Anniversary Stratocaster

I’m normally very methodical in my approach to writing music. But sometimes, I just get carried away with playing that I’ll just create a riff, and jam over it again and again until my fingertips are numb. Writing my latest instrumental was exactly that experience. I came up with a riff, added some bass and a basic drum kit loop to it, and spent the next several hours trying to cop my best SRV. 🙂 Believe me, no one can play like that dude! He was special.

But the point of this is that after hours and hours of playing, I really got inspired to not just let it be a jam track, especially after I came up with a phrase that felt like it could define the theme of a song. So over the next few days I tweaked with the song, and this is the final result. Note that I had a version of this up as of a couple of days ago, but I remixed it, added an echo part for the last section, and removed a bunch of layered on effects from the first cut. I ended up with a much more raw sound, which was really what I was after. Here it is:

All the guitar parts were played with “Pearl” my 60th Diamond Anniversary Strat. After playing ‘buckers for awhile, I forgot how fun it was to play my Strat! My amp, of course, was my ever versatile tone machine, my Aracom Amps VRX22. For effects, I used a Hardwire RV-7 Reverb, a Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 booster, and a Voodoo Lab MicroVibe.

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!
stroborack
Peterson VS-R StroboRack

Summary: Super-accurate, super-sophisticated, yet super-easy-to-use. With point-one cent accuracy and built-in temperament and sweeteners, plus a huge display, accurate tuning is a breeze with this unit!

Pros: The big display makes tuning extremely easy, and the built-in sweeteners (I’ll get into that in a bit) ensure that once you’re tuned you sound great.

Cons: None, at least from the standpoint of features and capabilities. But as I’m not really a rackmount guy, lugging this around would mean having to get an enclosure. But in the studio, IT IS THE BOMB!!!

Features:

  • 0.1 Cent Accuracy
  • Large, Backlit Virtual Strobe™ Display
  • Exclusive Sweetened™ Tunings For Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Dobro®, Baritone, Steel Guitar, Electric Violin- total of 34
  • Buzz Feiten Tuning System® Presets
  • 8 User-Programmable Sweeteners
  • 25 Presets
  • Built-In Mic
  • Mute Button & Remote Jack
  • Tone Out Jack
  • All Metal Construction
  • Neutrik® Jacks
  • 12V BNC Output For Gooseneck Light (not included)
  • Built-In Power Supply (No Wall Wart.)

Price: $359 (street)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0. I’ve used a lot of tuners, and this by far is the most accurate I’ve ever used. Despite it being a rackmount, my use of it in the studio has proven

I used to never be into rackmount gear, let alone sophisticated tuning equipment. But the Peterson StroboRack has me reconsidering both those things, especially in my workshop/studio where tuning accuracy is incredibly important.

I received the StroboRack a few days ago, and since I set it up (which required all of two minutes to plug in the cords), I can see why so many people love these tuners. It’s a completely different way to tune an instrument. Instead of lining up a needle or LED, or even using the “strobe” effect on a TU-2, you tune by making the “checkerboard” pattern on the LCD stop moving. If it moves the left, you’re flat. If it moves to the right, you’re sharp.

Tuning with one of these things does take a little getting used to. First off, I had to really lighten my touch with the tuning keys, and also had to make sure I didn’t put any pressure on the neck. At .1 cent accuracy, even a slight pressure throws off the tuning. But once I got used to it, tuning was a breeze!

Do you take sugar with that?

The StroboRack includes what are called “sweeteners” for specific types of instruments. I’m not sure I understand this idea completely, but it has to do with setting the right intervals between notes – compensating for the type of instrument – so that the tuned instrument doesn’t just sound great tuned up, but when you actually chords, the chords are much more tonally accurate. Apparently a lot of math goes into calculating these sweeteners.

All I can say is that my guitars tuned up with the StroboRack, actually sound better than when tuned up with my little TU-2. It probably has a lot to do with the high degree of accuracy, but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the “GTR” sweetener. For instance, I did an A/B comparison of tuning with the StroboRack vs. my TU-2. I took my time to get the most accurate tuning I could with both tuners. When I struck an E chord after tuning up with my TU-2, I had to make a couple of minor adjustments to my G and B strings – it wasn’t that the chord sounded bad, it just seemed to sound a bit “off.”

On the other hand, the E chord struck after tuning with the StroboRack with the GTR sweetener engaged sounded absolutely right on!

Fit and Finish

The StroboRack is encased in a nice, heavy-duty aluminum casing. It is really built like a tank, so I have no doubts that it could survive the rigors of the road. But I do advise getting an enclosure for it. It’s still a precision instrument, and should be handled with some care.

Overall Impressions

To say The Dawg digs this unit is an absolute understatement! Last night, I used it to set the intonation on a new guitar I got, and I have to tell you, the big display and scrolling checkerboard really made it easy. I know, a lot of folks would say, “But it’s just a tuner.” Well yeah… but the accuracy it affords you – especially you tone freaks out there – just can’t be beat. This is a unit that I will definitely be adding to my rig!

At $359 street, it’s not a cheap proposition by any means, but hell! We gear sluts spend tons of money each year on gadgets to make us sound better. One would think that sounding better also means being in tune. Of course, Peterson has several other tuners, like the StroboStomp that doesn’t have all the features of the rack unit, but it uses the same “Virtual Strobe Technology” as the StroboRack, so you know you’ll get the accuracy you need.

Mind you, I didn’t try out all the other features like outputting to two outputs, which is pretty cool, or using the XLR jack to go into a board. Those are great features, but frankly, they’re secondary to what’s important with this unit: Accurate tuning.

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runningaway

Ever been in one of those situations where you have to face up to something you’d said or done, but avoid it all costs because it gives you this feeling of impending doom? I was recently in a situation like this, and it wasn’t at all comfortable going through the emotional and psychic turmoil leading up to the conversation the ultimately resulted in – nothing. No slap on the wrist, no punishment. Just a good conversation where everyone involved learned from the experience.

Anyway, last night I was noodling on my guitar; my eyes were closed, letting my emotions drive my playing. Then I remembered that situation, and came up with the rhythm track for the song. It’s all instrumental – it’s not something I would ever want to put to words, but I did want to convey the emotions. Give it a listen let me know what you think:

Gear Used:

Rhythm Guitars: Strat and Prestige Heritage Elite
Lead: Prestige Heritage Elite
Amps: Hot Rod Deluxe (Strat); Aracom VRX22 (Heritage)

For the rhythm parts, the Strat/Hot Rod is panned to the left of the mix, and the Heritage/VRX22 (clean channel) is panned to the right. The lead part sits dead center.

I’m particularly pleased with the Hot Rod’s tone. The clean tone with that awesome spring reverb is to die for (though I had the reverb down pretty low on it to give the Strat more presence). I’m also diggin’ the Prestige Heritage Elite; especially after I set it up. In particular, I adjusted the pickup heights to smooth out the treble pickup, and to get less boom from the rhythm pickup. It’s now very balanced; and played through the VRX22, it sounds just awesome. I played the lead part through the drive channel of the amp, and set the volume so that it was just on the edge of breakup, so if I dug in a bit, I’d get just a touch of overdrive. I wanted to create an effect of subdued aggression, and the VRX22 is so dynamic, I can achieve that easily.

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4.75 Tone Bones - Almost perfect but not quite
Amplitube Fender Edition
IK Multimedia Amplitube Fender Edition

Summary: Modeling 12 of the most famous Fender Amps, Amplitube Fender is pretty amazing. It’s scary how close to the real thing this software gets!

Pros: Super-easy to install, and super-convenient to use in your DAW software. The package comes with TONS of presets that require very little tweaking.

Cons: This is just a little nit because it sounds so good, and I don’t want to take that away from this excellent piece of software. But it doesn’t quite respond like a real amp.

Price: $229 Full Version / $139 Studio Version

Specs (from the IK Multimedia site):

  • Standalone and plug-in software for all platforms
  • 12 of the most influential guitar amps of all time
  • 12 original matching cabinets
  • 9 microphones
  • 6 signature classic stomp effects
  • 6 rack effects
  • Incredible tonal flexibility: mix and match amps, cabinets, mics and more
  • Sound-certified and approved by the tone gurus at Fender®
  • 5 separate modules: Tuner, configurable Stomp pedal board, Amp head, Cabinet+Mic and Rack Effects
  • 2 fully configurable rigs with up to 32 simultaneous effects
  • Digital Tuner
  • Standalone and VST/AU/RTAS plug-in
  • Includes SpeedTrainer™ and RiffWorks™ T4 Recording Software
  • Can be expanded with any “Powered by AmpliTube” models using AmpliTube X-GEAR
  • Can be controlled live with StompIO™, StealthPedal™, StealthPlug (included in AmpliTube Fender® Studio edition), or any traditional MIDI controller
  • 400 presets included with more that can be downloaded online
  • Powered by AmpliTube® with exclusive DSM™ (Dynamic Saturation Modeling) and VRM™ (Volumetric Response Modeling)

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 overall, but for a recording plug-in, it gets a 5.0

Being a snobbish purist about “real” gear, 🙂 I’m not easily impressed by emulation software. But when I heard clips of the Fender Edition of Amplitube, I knew I had to check this software out. A million thanks go to the folks at IK Multimedia to letting me evaluate this software because I am definitely impressed by Amplitube Fender! It’s not everyday that you have access to 12 awesome Fender amps, and to have them literally a mouse-click away is just insane! I don’t think amp software will ever replace a real amp, but this software comes so close to sounding like the real thing that especially for recording, I’d be hard-pressed to NOT use it for recording lots of guitar parts!

I used an earlier version of AmpliTube a few years ago, and was not at all impressed by how it sounded. But being in the software development world, with time, software gets better, and I have to say that this software is absolutely incredible!

Now and then, I go off for a weekend alone, and I lug a couple of guitars, a couple of mics, an amp or two, and my MacBook, along with my MBox 2 interface to just do some writing and recording. With Amplitube Fender, I don’t need to lug my amps! I can just load my laptop and MBox an a couple of cords and a mic, and I’m home free! Hey! Not having to lug any extra gear is HUGE! I’m sold on using this software! Not only do I have my four real amps, I now have 12 other amps to choose from when I record! It’s really exciting!

How It Sounds

Imagine that! No need to write a section on fit and finish! 🙂

In a word, it sounds AWESOME! Right after I installed the software, I plugged my Strat into the DI jack of my MBox 2, opened up GarageBand, started a new project, added a new track, and selected “Amplitube Fender” from a plug-in drop down. It was literally that easy! I randomly picked a ’57 Deluxe Dual Mic, then started to strum this little ditty in Am. Before I knew it, I was adding drum and bass tracks, to record the riff.

I’ve played through a ’57 Deluxe in the past, and I was amazed at how the software emulated that warm, bright and crisp sound that that amp is known for! I kept on thinking to myself, “This couldn’t be software – it sounds to friggin’ good!” After I recorded that rhythm track, I took out the Goldtop to play a lead. I ended up playing for over an hour this evening just tooling around with different amps. In the end, I wanted to get a sample out, so I chose a ’59 Bassman with a Fender Fuzz-Wah plug-in to get some fuzz, then recorded the following sound bite:

I don’t know about you, but I really can’t tell the difference between the real thing and software. Maybe because I’m starting to lose my hearing and my ability to discern audio fidelity is kind of going south. No matter, I think this software ROCKS!

Overall Impressions

Amplitube Fender does a fantastic job of amp emulation – there’s no arguing that at all. But there’s a certain “mojo” about a real amp that just can’t be captured with software, no matter how close to the real thing that software sounds. That said, however, even one as snobbish as myself, and other gear freaks I know would be hard-pressed not to seriously consider adding this to their arsenal of recording plug-ins!

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I just dig it when I find a great guitar and amp combo! Featured in this Jam Track are the Saint Guitar Company Messenger Baritone and the Aracom Amps Custom 45R, both of which I’ve reviewed previously. (Messenger Review | Custom 45R Review). The Custom 45 has a really beefy low-end and a slight scooped tone, and the Messenger, while a baritone, has this incredibly bright-sounding voice. The two complement each other particularly well! Here’s the Jam Track:

You have just over 6 minutes to play around with this one. For the rhythm part, I used a fairly basic rock beat, but I also added some Latin drums underneath to take the edge off the heavy downbeat. And by the way, there’s no bass in this track at all. All of that is provided by the Messenger!

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