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Like many, I don’t have a lot of money to spend on studio time, so I’m left to recording on my own. I’ve gotten better over the years with mixing and equalizing and in general, my production quality has gone up significantly. But one area where I haven’t been that satisfied is with guitars.

My “normal” way of recording guitars has been through close-miking my amps. But in the recent past, I’ve been using a lot of software sims for amps – they just make it easier. For instance, the amp models in the Amp Designer in GarageBand 10 (which is based on the Logic engine) are pretty damn good now. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have touched them because they were very dry-sounding and lifeless. But they’re so responsive and dynamic now that it’s just easier to use the models for recording.

Up until recently, I’ve just been using the default cabinets that are supplied with GarageBand, and admittedly, they’re just okay. They get the job done. And I’ve been able to EQ the guitar parts to liven them up.

But a few months ago, I discovered Impulse Responses (IRs), which are digitized profiles of speaker cabinets that were said to be extremely realistic. Companies like OwnHammer have huge libraries of cab/speaker sounds. I had heard recordings of IRs and was completely blown away by how good they sounded.

So today, I finally pulled the trigger and got the Core Library from OwnHammer to use in GarageBand. It took just a little while to get all the software configured and usable in GarageBand and once I had it set up, wow! What a difference in sound!

Below are clips that I made using a Silverface amp model totally clean, with the spring reverb set to 5. I used the default EQ settings on the amp model with no EQ in GarageBand.

Both clips actually sound pretty good. But the clip using the Impulse Response has a lot more definition – at least to my ears. πŸ™‚

The GarageBand cabinet was the default for the Silverface 2 X 12 amp model. It is supposed to simulate the cabinet being miked with a Royer 121 ribbon. The IR I used was a profile of a 1 X 12 cabinet from a Deluxe Reverb and uses a combination of Shure SM57 and Royer 121 mics. I chose the IR file that positioned the mics roughly between the center and the edge of the speaker cone. You can’t do that with the default cabs in GarageBand!

With Impulse Responses, many are set up with different microphones PLUS positioning on the speaker cone. This is incredible because it allows you go really fine-tune the cabinet sound.

I’m looking forward to playing with this even more!

Ever since I got my BOSS Katana 50, I’ve gotten a sudden, renewed interest in modeling amps. My first modeling amp was a Line 6 Flextone III. That was a great amp, but modeling technology was still a bit immature at the time. The sound was actually great, but the feel just seemed a bit off. So I sold the amp believing that eventually, digital technology would improve.

Well, digital technology has improved, and in a big way. Even with software. For instance, the following Soundcloud track was recorded entirely with GarageBand amp models for the electric guitars.

When I recorded the song, I was all set to mic a couple of different amps. But to prep for the song, I just used some amp models. After listening to a couple of takes, I thought that the guitars sounded great, so I just went with the models.

Now, that said, if the song was much more focused on guitar, I would have used a regular amp, but since I was just adding little highlights, the digital models worked just fine. But this is where I started thinking that there are modelers out there that are now so super-high-quality, you’d be hard-pressed to tell whether or not an amp sound is digital or natural.

That damn Pete Thorn! πŸ™‚ He’s a real Line 6 Helix lover, and I made the mistake of watching his videos of the Helix and HX Stomp, and I’m seriously gassing. Check out the Helix demo:

When I saw that video, and more importantly, listened to the sound, I was blown away. And I can attest to the dynamics of digital models: They respond much as you’d expect. Hit your string harder or turn up your volume knob on your guitar, and the amp responds to the gain. Years ago, that wasn’t the case, but manufacturers of digital models have totally figured it out.

Other notable amps are the Kemper Profiling Amp and the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx lines. These are apparently even better-sounding than the Helix, BUT I love that Line 6 made the Helix line as floorboard units (there is a 3U rack version as well). The other two are also more expensive than the Helix, and none of the others have floor models, though they have remote floor switches.

You can probably tell I’m leaning towards the Helix line. I was VERY close to pulling the trigger on an HX Stomp, but I’ve learned to hold back my GAS. It is so very tempting. However, because I’m still doing a lot of recording, I’m very interested in the Helix Native plug-in. It has all the models and cabs and effects as the physical units but in a convenient plug-in that I can use in GarageBand.

But who knows, maybe I’ll break down… GAS sucks…

Last weekend I finally had the chance to gig with my Godin Artisan ST-V. It performed incredibly well, but it’s clear that I have a bit more work to do in dialing in my signal chain to get the best sound out of the guitar.

How do I describe the natural tone of this guitar? It is very much like a Telecaster tone, but with balls, if you catch my drift – like a super-Tele. I started out setting the amp at flat EQ to see where the guitar’s natural tone sits. Not a bad sound at all, but a little more midrange than I prefer. So I turned down the mids to compensate, but the guitar also creates a pretty fat bottom; not flabby, mind you, but it required that I dialed down the bass just a smidgen. That fixed the tone, and the result was a crisp and rich sound out of my Katana 50.

The other challenge that I had was using my drive pedal. When I got the Katana 50, it was going to be used expressly as a clean headroom platform. In that respect, it performs incredibly well. With all my other guitars, I use my trusty Tone Freak Abunai 2 for dirt. But it didn’t sound “right” with this guitar for some reason. I think it has to do with the fact that the Abunai 2 adds a bit of darkness, even with the diode lift setting (it acts as a traditional overdrive in this setting). With the natural fat bottom that the guitar produces, it was a bit much.

So I’m going to have to go back to the drawing board as far as overdrive is concerned. I’m going to have to try my TubeScreamer (TS-808), but I’m thinking that my Timmy pedal will work great with this as it is a really transparent overdrive.

As far as cleans are concerned, oh man! The cleans that absolutely love in a Tele are present in this guitar. Add to that the fat bottom-end and when played with an analog delay, the sound is pretty haunting. I love it!

As I said, I’ve got a bit more experimentation to do with this guitar. It has a unique and unexpected tone that I have not had in a guitar ever. This one for sure will be staying with me for years.

I didn’t mention that there’s also the Roland Blues Cube which is technically the same brand company as BOSS, but I won’t go there.

Just the same, there has been discussion as to which amp to consider. Well, considering the pricing, I’d say both. BUT, it’s really the sound that matters and what you’re after.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Nextone, this amp purports to model the sound and feel of – using BOSS’ TubeLogic technology – four different power amp stages: 6V6, 6L6, EL84, and EL34. As BOSS puts it, this will give you total control over your tone. Check this video out by the guys at Anderton’s:

VERY cool! There are notable differences between the valve amps and Nextone, but at least to my ears, they’re not differences that couldn’t be narrowed with a bit of EQ. I particularly liked the sound of the EL84 setting on the Nextone. It was nice and bright, while the actual AC30 was a little warmer.

Back to the question: Which one to choose?

This is a tough one to answer because – at least for me – I love the versatility of the Nextone, but on the other hand, what I love about the Katana is that it has a sound all its own. I set it up to have a response and midrange hump like a Marshall, but it doesn’t sound like a Marshall, so it kind of stands on its own in that respect.

I would totally consider the Nextone if I was doing a lot of covers. Being able to get the sound of different power amp sections would be totally useful for that. Also, this amp would be great for recording.

I use different amps for different songs so I could see using this to get a Fender sound when I’m recording reggae-style music. Then when I want a more hard-driving sound, I’d switch to the EL34 to get that Marshall sound. The versatility is incredible.

But that said, as with any amp, you have to do a lot of tweaking to dial in just the right sound. I imagine that would take a bit of time to dial in each power section model. That’s not a negative mark against the Nextone, but that kind of versatility comes at a price, and for someone like me who prefers to just plug in and play from the get-go, tweaking can be a bit tedious. It was an issue I had with my Line 6 Flextone III. Nice-sounding amp, but it required quite an investment of time to get it dialed in.

So to answer the question, if you want a lot of versatility, and are willing to tweak, definitely consider the Nextone. If you want something with a sound all its own, and much more plug in and play, then the Katana makes a lot of sense.

…albeit not cheap.

For those of you who are familiar with attenuators, you know they solve a real problem with cranking a tube amp to get the power tubes to fully saturate: The volume that even a low wattage amp produces when it’s cranked is LOUD, and an attenuator helps to alleviate that by taking the amp’s output and reducing the power that ultimately gets to your speakers. I can tell you from personal experience, being able to record my cranked amp at conversation levels has saved my ears and saved me from the wrath of my family getting pissed that my amp’s too loud.

But the drawback of reducing the output power to levels that low is that you take the speaker out of the equation. Most amps work best when their distorted signal works in concert with the speaker cone moving air as the speaker add its own character to the overall sound. For a recent recording I made, I had to wait until no one was home to record my overdriven guitar parts so I could take advantage of the speaker moving some serious air. My ears didn’t appreciate the abuse they got, but the result was so much better than close-miking an attenuated amp.

But the folks at BOSS have seemingly overcome that by providing a unit that not only attenuates a cranked amp but also provides models to mimic various cabinets via built-in IR and a whole rash of other features. I’ll list the highlights later. Watch this demo. It’s pretty cool:

Here are the features off the BOSS website:

  • First-of-its-kind tube amp command center, built with Waza expertise and the Tube Logic design approach
  • Advanced variable reactive load circuit with discrete analog components supports tube amps up to 150 watts
  • User-adjustable impedance tuning correctly matches the reactive load to your amp, retaining its natural tone, dynamic feel, and distortion characteristics
  • 10 recallable rig settings for storing favorite setups
  • Deep real-time performance control via GA-FC/FS-series footswitches and MIDI I/O
  • Built-in 100-watt Class AB power amplifier with discrete analog design and seamless volume control
  • Powerful DSP section with 32-bit AD/DA, 32-bit floating-point processing, and 96 kHz sampling rate
  • Customizable stereo effects with premium tone quality: compressor, delay, reverb, and four EQs
  • Twenty-two mic’d cabinet emulations with five selectable close-mic types and three room-mic options, plus four slots for loading user speaker IRs
  • External effects loop with selectable series/parallel operation and control jack for switching amp channels
  • Parallel speaker outputs for connecting up to two cabs for gigging
  • Balanced XLR line outputs (mono and L/R stereo) for connecting to FOH console, stage monitors, and recording devices
  • Headphones output for quiet practice with cranked-up amp tones
  • Dedicated editor software (Mac/Windows)
  • USB for direct audio recording and editor communication

At $1299, it is not at all an inexpensive solution. However, that said, neither are the top attenuators that cost $500+. Considering the features this packs though, I’m surprised by the price point.

For me, this is something that I would seriously consider, especially for playing any of my tube amps on stage. I could attenuate the volume locally and use my speaker for local monitoring, then simultaneously send the signal via XLR into the board, eliminating a mic altogether and letting the sound guy do the mix.

Also, with the different IR models available, I could silently record my amp.

Looks like I’ll need to start saving my pennies…

Since I’ve fixed up the guitar, I have been having some serious fun with it, breaking in the strings and honestly, getting the guitar used to being played again. In the meantime, I was waiting for information from Godin on the provenance of the guitar. And nothing is better than waking up to great news – Godin replied!

They gave me basic make and model specs, and though the geek in me would like to know even more about it with respect to scale length, nut width, etc., in the end, all that matters is that I play the damn guitar! πŸ™‚ So here goes:

Model: 1992 Artisan ST V – I thought it was produced in 1996, but that was the last year it was produced.

Body: Limewood – Commonly known as basswood in North America, but called limewood in the British Isles and linden on the European continent.

Top: Two-piece, figured maple in a blue burst finish.

Neck: Maple – The type wasn’t specified, but based on experience, it appears to be hard-rock maple.

Fretboard: Rosewood – Again, the type wasn’t specified. It doesn’t really matter anyway. It feels like rosewood.

Pickups: Godin pickups manufactured by Schaller.

As for the pickups, they include a push-pull pot on the tone knob. I thought it was a coil tapper, but it’s not. Turns out that that acts as a midrange filter that halves the dB level at 600 Hz. So no wonder there’s a minimal volume drop. But this is actually a VERY useful feature because the guitar is naturally bright in tone, and with a midrange cut filter, that will help when plugging into a naturally bright amp like my Fender Champ or either of my Aracom VRXs that are based on the 18-Watt Marshall Plexi.

After work this evening, I went directly to my local Guitar Center and bought some strings (for me, they’re Ernie Ball Slinky Cobalts). After I wrote my previous article on the guitar yesterday, I couldn’t stop thinking about the guitar. I spent the entire day today dreaming of working on it when I got home! I just had to get it cleaned and set up.

So as soon as I finished dinner, I set a blanket down on my kitchen table, and with my computer in front of me, played a couple of tech videos on changing strings on a Floyd Rose. Contrary to the negative feedback these get, though it’s a little laborious, it’s EASY!

Once I got the strings removed, I did thorough wipe-down of the entire guitar, removing smudge marks and dust and grime from the body and the neck. It was clear that this guitar got a lot of use in its heyday.

After cleaning it up to my satisfaction, I took some light linseed oil and massaged it into the fretboard. Talk about a difference. That oil added so much life back into the fretboard! Here are some pictures I took after I was done:

The grain of the rosewood is absolutely spectacular! The linseed oil helped renew its natural luster, the feel – oh the feel of that fretboard is nothing short of amazing!

Even after the fifteen years the guitar sat in a storage shed and the year and a half it spent in its case in my house, after I got it cleaned, I was blown away at the mirror-like finish of the top.

I need to break in the strings over the next few days with some regular playing. EB Slinky Cobalts are notoriously bright right out of the package and need a bit of time to break in. But here’s what I can tell you about the sound of this guitar.

  • Right off the bat, it has a real Telecaster quality to it replete with that subtle quack you get with a Tele.
  • I mentioned that the middle switch position was probably where I’d mostly play, and thus far, I haven’t changed my tune on that – yet.
  • The bridge humbucker has absolute BALLS! I set up my Katana 50 to about 2pm on the Gain with the Volume at 3pm and played some lead lines. The guitar absolutely sings with a glorious tone! It is definitely a rock machine in this setting.
  • Coil tapping the bridge amazingly doesn’t result in a huge volume drop. I have other guitars with this and going to single coil results in a significant drop in volume. With this guitar, the result is a thinner tone as expected, but a very little drop in volume. I’ll be using this a lot!
  • For clean tones, the neck pickup is definitely like a Tele’s lipstick character, and the bridge clean is like a Les Paul bridge clean (even with an LP, it ain’t my cup of tea). But using both pickups clean is very nice.

Once I break in the strings, I’ll post some sound samples! I definitely will be gigging this guitar this weekend!