Coming To Terms With The Status quo

This guitar is called an “Invicta.”

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This particular Invicta was made in 1980 by a company called Electra. For a while, Electra  (and some others) were making copies of Gibson and Fender guitars. A trademark-infringement lawsuit ensued, and Electra started making different guitar shapes. This one cheekily blends the body shape of a Les Paul and a Telecaster. They used this basic shape for a number of models with different features.  If you’re interested, check out this link to see different Electra models: http://www.rivercityamps.com/electra/

Side note: Someone bought the rights to Electra guitars a few years ago, and has started manufacturing several models (and variations) again. I have no personal experience with these. 

I got an Invicta very much like the one I photographed, either the summer before or after 8th grade (I forget which). It was the closest thing to a Gibson Les Paul that I could imagine owning, and it was on that Invicta that I learned to play solos that sounded like I knew what I was doing. I felt (and somewhat resembled) like this kid:

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The status quo of electric guitars has always been held by Gibson and Fender, hence the imitations that have happened over the years (including a robust market of counterfeits). Up until I was about sixteen, I was a dyed-in-the-wool classic rock fan. Van Halen’s 1984 album  changed the guitar status quo overnight, and soon enough, the trends changed (later still, in Cincinnati, Ohio). The classic rock sound and look was no longer cool.

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Eventually, I bowed to the trends, and started yearning for something a little more modern. I got a “shredder” guitar, and started incorporating the techniques and tricks of that genre. I lent and eventually sold the Invicta to my friend Aaron, who still has it. My shredder guitar is long gone. It’s interesting to me, in hindsight, how the status quo was Gibson/Fender in 1984, and “shredder” guitars, or “super-strats” in 1985. Seriously, there was a point where those classic Gibson/Fender guitars were just hopelessly passé. The trend continued relatively uninterrupted until Grunge arrived like a dam breaking, and the Gibson/Fender status quo returned.

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Interestingly, music styles have become the influencers of guitar types, instead of the other way around. And you BETTER have the “right” guitar for the gig. What do country players use? Telecasters. What do hard rockers use? Les Pauls. Texas blues? Strats. Think a roots-americana type band is going to love it if I show up to a gig with my emerald green Ibanez RG? Nope. Wrong gig, dude.

wrong gig

True story: I was invited to audition for a heavy rock band a few years ago, and, based on older photos, they were reluctant to extend them an invitation until I showed them I had shoulder-length bleached-blonde hair (this did not end well for my hair). I received a notification of what types and brands of guitar equipment were expected… no mention of my capabilities or tones. They wanted a Gibson or PRS guitar, and a Marshall, Mesa, or comparable amp head. I had a couple of cool Gibsons, but my vintage AC30 was not invited! I actually considered getting a Plexi or a Dual/Triple Rectifier. Reason and good advice prevailed. I politely declined the invitation. That band never went anywhere anyway.

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Here’s my point (finally). As artists, when we seek to engage people by bowing to the status quo, we’re engaging in a sort of law of diminishing returns. In a world of Les Pauls, the Stratocaster stands out (and vice versa). In a world of standard classic rock guitars, Eddie Van Halen’s “Frankenstein” super-strat stood WAY out. And then, in a world full of copycat super-strat type guitars, the classics, all of a sudden, stood out.

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It isn’t just guitars, its artistry. I’m really impressed by music artists who do something that is both unique and approachable. It’s such a difficult fine line. When the status quo goes left, an artist should choose a direction based on inspiration, not imitation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that left is bad or that right is good. It does mean that mimicry leads to a location that gets crowded quickly, and listeners eventually relocate.

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So what the Invicta represents to me, is a time when a company tried to do something that was different, incorporating bits of what was known  with something inspired and different. I truly enjoy playing different types of guitars, because the unique shape and sound of each type somehow prompts me to play differently. I can’t NOT play ripping solos on an Ibanez RG. I can’t manhandle my 1941 Epiphone archtop the way I fight a Strat or Tele. While these are all common shapes, the Invicta stands out in my guitar-stable, as a whole different breed. I enjoy that it inspires different approaches while delivering what is still classically mine.

Isn’t that the kind of instrument we should all be looking to play?

What’s the instrument that makes you play differently? Is there some cool lesser-known brand or model that really turns you in an unusual  direction? What about different sounds? Where are you finding those? I’d love to hear about them.

Being an Inspired Guitarist in the Modern Church

This one may touch a nerve, so I apologize in advance.

Let me first say that it’s my great honor to have played with some of the area’s finest musicians in several of the region’s largest houses of worship. I don’t mean that they’re “good for church players.” I mean that they’re considered GREAT by anyone who hears them anywhere.

Therefore, it grieves me that since I’ve gotten to be among such fine players, as a rule, christian/worship music is so derivative and unremarkable. Certainly, it is  expertly produced, copying all the most successful current formulas, but it covers no new ground. Now it’s considered provocative or edgy only if someone writes a phrase like “wet sloppy kiss.” I neither want to know the artist nor hear the song. Don’t tell me. Just. No.

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I’m not convinced that these people know what deep, real songwriting entails. It can’t just be something quickly scribbled out in response to s brief emotional surge (though I concede that could legitimately happen occasionally). If the net result is a lyric that rhymes “praise” with “days” again, it might be time for a new writing scenario.

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I’m not sure what chord he thinks he’s playing. 

Check out this example: Regardless of your opinions on the band or the song, Led Zeppelin spent THREE YEARS writing Kashmir. First, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant traveled through the East, absorbing music and culture. Afterward, Page began writing a part he found interesting. The band began working on it together after he brought the idea in. Three years after the writing started, they completed what is generally considered their finest work. Here’s a more detailed account from Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashmir_(song)

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Here’s another one:  Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody was an idea being kicked around for a while. There is some indication that Freddie Mercury had been writing parts of it as early as the late sixties. When the song was released in 1975, they had spent three straight weeks RECORDING it (after the writing process was finished). From Wikipedia – “May, Mercury and Taylor reportedly sang their vocal parts continually for ten to twelve hours a day. [emphasis mine] The entire piece took three weeks to record, and in some sections featured 180 separate overdubs.” Read up on it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohemian_Rhapsody

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Let’s be honest. Christian/worship songwriters are clearly not investing this amount of time or attention, at least in the music-composition… OK, and yeah, probably not the lyrics either. The genre seems desperate to make the smallest possible changes to its formulas, and it shows. There are no innovations or departures, only safe repetitions, tendered over and over again.

So how can this subset of the music industry move into a new era of creative growth? I think the MUSIC ITSELF has to be inspired. When you hear Kashmir, the music speaks volumes before Plant sings a syllable. It took a long time of trial and error to arrive on the sounds that were being used, and the parts each instrument played. This is what christian/worship music needs to do- something new, inspired and different… something AUTHENTIC.

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An artist friend of mine attempted to pay me a compliment a couple of years ago. He said, “There’s something so worshipful about the way you play guitar.” What he tried to convey in that statement was that there was a distinct mood that was being created, and that it ushered him in to a place of deeper spiritual communion. Well, that’s exactly what I have tried to do all the time, no matter where I played (most of which was outside of the church). Success! As an artist, I want to move people emotionally/spiritually. If I’m not playing something that inspires ME, how can I expect to inspire others. That’s MY authenticity, for good or bad. It can’t just be default chords and the coolest effects. The actual phrases that I’m playing need to be saying something.

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I include this picture only because it’s awesome and hilarious.

I approach what I do with great care, and a thousand questions, like… What sound am I going to make? Which guitar does it best? Which pickup? What notes/chords/fragments/phrases? Is it better to play the notes low on the neck, on the higher strings, or high on the neck on the lower strings? Will I use a different type of pick for this song? Slide? Ebow? What effects? Should I play more in concert with the song’s mood or should I add contrast?

Then I’m interested in seeing how I can get the rest of the band to interact with that.

Caution: Not everyone is ready to make changes.  Worship leaders, in particular, are usually successful by perpetuating the status quo, so they have no pressing need to change their game (understandable). In my modest experience, they tend to be resistant to ideas that don’t originate with themselves or other worship leaders. If you press, you might find yourself sitting at home on Sundays.

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“Look, they really just want to hear me doing the same thing I did last week.”

If you’re a guitarist (or any musician) playing in a modern church, what can you do to drive your music team into a new place of authentic expression? Do you just copy the trends because the trends are what your bandmates expect to hear? Or do you reach for something beyond the music; something you hear in your heart/mind that you’re inspired to find on your fretboard (or equivalent)?  I will always try to bring the full measure of my influences and inspiration to my playing, either inside or outside the church. What about you?

Sound off.

How to Get Perfect Stacked Delays on a Musician’s Budget.

 

The “DDA” (“Dave’s Delay Array”)

Developed circa 2002, by Dave Eberhardt.

In the mid-90′s, I bought my first Boss DD-5 Digital Delay which finally allowed me to have a portable tap-tempo delay.

Up until that point, my only tap delay was a Lexicon JamMan rackmount delay/sampler. Over the years, I tried combining lots of different delays, and spent a lot of time tapping and switching and generally being miserable.

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 A few years later, the DD-6 promised some new features, so I bought one. Immediately I discovered that I couldn’t use it the way I liked, and I sold it. But as I was trying to come up with a graceful way to synchronize and cascade my delays, it hit me like a thunderbolt one afternoon in my basement:

I could split the tap-tempo footswitch cable, and trigger TWO DD-5′s!

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Well, I got a second DD-5, did a little splicing and soldering, and it worked perfectly. Later I added a third DD-5. This has been my delay rig now for nearly fifteen years. Only recently has anyone produced a synchronized tap delay that works as well as several DD-5′s.

Note: Boss’ DD-7 will work the same way as the DD-5. It offers more options, but I don’t think it has as much clarity as the DD-5. Just my opinion.

 

What I like about the DD-5 and DD-7 are these three features:

  1. Each pedal is always listening to the tap, even when it is bypassed.
  2. Echoes decay naturally when the pedal is bypassed.
  3. Can be connected to a common tap pedal.

 

With the DD-5′s, I can be just playing along with the band and tapping my foot. As soon as I step on the delay pedal, the echo of each is in perfect sync, and they are all in perfect sync together! You want that U2 thing? Simple. Want big swimmy volume-swells? Done. At present, the only modern units that offer the same grace of live operation are the Line 6 M9 and the TC Electronic Flashback Triple Delay. Those have some negative details that I will save for another time.

In any case, here’s how to make the DDA (“Dave’s Delay Array”). Wiring will require the sacrifice of a few cables, or the creation of some new ones. I like to connect the tap-tempo input cables to the DD-5′s with right-angle jacks like these:

You can use a special tap-tempo pedal, but any momentary-interrupt, non-latching footswitch will work. I like to use those simple sustain pedals that get used with keyboards. They tend to be quiet and durable. I don’t like my audience to hear my foot going ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk…

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Anyway, strip the cable’s black outer covering down to expose the two wires inside. In my diagram, I have colored them red and yellow, but they may be any two colors. Strip the colored covering down to expose the bare wires. Lightly braid the respective wires going to each DD-5 together, red and red, yellow and yellow.

Now expose the wires on the tap-tempo footswitch cable the same way, and lightly connect it to the braided DD-5 wires. Connect power and audio, and test to see if it works. If neither delay syncs to your tap, switch the wires on the tap cable. Once it works, make the connections permanent, wither with connectors or by soldering. Don’t leave the bare wires exposed. I use heat-shrink tubing and/or tape. Make sure that the separate wire connections don’t touch each other (keep the red away from the yellows), or it will short out the connection (this isn’t harmful, but it just won’t work).I bend the reds to one end of the cable, and the yellows to the other end.

It may take you a few attempts to get it all laid-out and connected the way you want. Experienced solderers can do this kind of work in a few minutes. The good news is that you can start with two delays and add a third. This is how mine are connected.

s DD5 delay-array

Connect all the yellow wires together, and then all the red wires together. Don’t let the reds tough the yellows! And again, these may not be the wire-colors you see.

This is my actual pedalboard. You can see that I marked each DD-5 with the beat-value of each echo. Oh, by the way, that’s correction fluid (“Wite Out”) on black gaffer’s tape. I usually cover manufacturer names and logos. It’s MY pedal now.

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Oh yeah. That VS-XO is a recent addition. I will be doing a demo and review of it later :)

For the record, this is basically what I used for all of my live gigs with the Katie Reider Band, Crossroads, everyone I worked with at Blue Jordan records, sub dates, The Mood Rings, Horizon, etc.  I hope the DDA works well for you, saves you money and headaches, and gets you the same kind of easy sonic victory that it has for me. Best of luck!

Got any other cool delay ideas? I’d love to hear them. Feel free to ask me for more details on the DDA. Remember, that’s “DAVE’s Delay Array.”

 

All information herein © 2016. You may use it and share it, just document where you heard it first. :)

 

 

 

Product Review: Electro-Harmonix Superego

Before you dig in to this, I recorded a demo of the Superego, which you can listen to here: https://youtu.be/CGQK4QuGzdM

I’ve been making ambient guitar sounds for a long time, mostly by cascading a few delay pedals into one another, and doing volume swells (I have gotten a lot of mileage out of this). But it’s an old trick, and lately I have been looking for different ways to make interesting sounds without resorting to rack gear, MIDI, or a real guitar-synthesizer, or something even more outrageous.

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The Electro-Harmonix Superego pedal caught my ear, and the video demonstrations looked promising. EH claims the Superego samples “granules” of sound and makes a synth bed out of them. Granules? OK, whatever. It sounded cool, and I wanted to try one out. I resolved to wait until a used one showed up on eBay. One did, and after another eBayer’s surprise bid-retraction, the Superego pedal was on its way to my cluttered home studio for review.

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Aesthetics leave a bit to be desired. The plain aluminum case is only emblazoned with a logo on the face, leaving the sides bare. This is probably all it needs, considering it is going to be buried in a crowded pedalboard, but it seems a little cheap to me. Add a coat of paint, EH. Seriously. It’s a $214 pedal.

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Basic functions are covered in the manual, which is amply present online. So I will just say it has four easy-to-use knobs and a single mode switch, so basic operations are simple.

Skipping the sample & “Freeze” functions, the two obvious settings are these:

  1. Have your dry -signal volume adjusted to match the sound your guitar makes, so you hear a note or chord exactly as if played without running through the effect, and then to adjust the effect level to blend in the synthesized “trail” to follow it. It’s a bit like playing a long reverb that changes as soon as you do.
  2. Turn the dry signal all the way DOWN, and play the Superego like it’s some sort of guitar synth.

These are the two settings I used in my recorded demo (again, here: https://youtu.be/CGQK4QuGzdM ). 

The Superego features an effects-loop; a send and return. This is SURPRISINGLY important. By itself,the pedal sounds -quite honestly- disappointing. There are ways to get it to work reasonably well, but I wasn’t thrilled by it. However, running the synthesized sound out of the loop and through something as simple as a modulated delay produces stunning results, which are no doubt the reason the YouTube videos feature this approach so much. I ran a delay through it, but found that this confused the synthesis engine. So I killed the delay, and ran it the delay in the Superego’s loop. Glory! Sadly, this limited the delay I chose to being only a mono effect, but for live guitar applications, mono is fine.

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I’m almost convinced that EH is releasing pedals knowing full well that they can release obvious upgrades of the same pedals later, because I could imagine the Superego having a lot of additional features. In general, I found it an interesting tool, but not interesting enough that it stayed with me.

Pros: interesting concept, allows for some different approaches previously unavailable without bigger and more-complex gear.

Cons: Looks a little homemade, really needs another dedicated effect to shine.

Have you used a Superego? How did it work out for you? Any cool/interesting discoveries? Share your thoughts if you have them.

Guitarists – What Do You Take From Your Influences?

What Do You Take From Your Influences?

I was 11 when I learned Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven.” Up to that point, I really had no concept of what could be done with a guitar, and I was stunned by the beauty of this music I had never heard. To this day, Jimmy Page remains my biggest influence, though I don’t really sound anything like him.

It was sixth grade, and it was as if a veil had been removed from my ears. Suddenly I was REALLY HEARING the music on the radio. The next year, MTV went on the air, and suddenly I could SEE Rock and Roll… and guitars; beautiful awesome guitars! Prior to this, and even for several years after, it was almost as if showing rock bands on mainstream network TV was inappropriate.

 

MTV didn’t have enough material to fill their programming time, so they showed concert footage. It was there that I saw The Who for the first time, and Rush and Triumph and Van Halen. Through produced videos, I saw Lindsey Buckingham with Fleetwood Mac, and some teenagers called Def Leppard and U2. As MTV grew, guitars seemed to wane in importance as the 80′s went in the direction of Madonna and Michael Jackson. But by then, I was a guitarist, tried and true.

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I have three main spheres on influence on my playing: classic rock, shredders and early metal, and what I once heard someone call the “guitar anti-heroes”

The classic rock genre is easy, because it’s where I started. There’s Page and Hendrix and Clapton, Brian May and Pete Townshend and Alex Lifeson. Lifeson in particular carried me into and through the 80′s, where the others didn’t do much that was new or different.

It was Van Halen who changed the game for me (and millions of others). The early metal bands caught my ear, particularly Iron Maiden with Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Vivian Campbell’s work with Dio floored me, and then Vai and Yngwie and Satriani appeared and floored me again. I thought I was doing well keeping pace with them (for a teenager) until I discovered Nuno Bettencourt. That’s when I knew I couldn’t keep up. The consolation at that point was that I had a girlfriend who was WAY more interested in my songwriting and singing.

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It was then that something clicked for me. It was all about “the hook.” Peter Buck and Lindsey Buckingham and The Edge and Andy Summers and Mike Campbell and modern Alex Lifeson all suddenly made sense to me. I started writing guitar hooks into each song, and people really connected to that. When I ended up in the band I toured with, it was because my guitar hooks gave voice to the instrumental passages where our fantastic singer wasn’t actually singing. Every part became identifiable.

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It was Page that taught me atmosphere and the incorporation of unusual chord voices. Hendrix taught me soul and swagger. Clapton gave me heart. Brian May gave me dexterity. Alex Lifeson gave me unconventional thinking.

Van Halen gave me freedom. Vai let me get weird, and Satch pointed out the beauty of melody. Nuno made me reach farther to reconcile funk with rock, and have fun with it. Peter Buck brought me back to the value of a jangly rhythm. Lindsey showed me how to get out of the way of the song. The Edge taught me how to make small things carry a big sound. Andy Summer let me use my jazz training to up-end stale pop formulas. Mike Campbell taught me how to write phrases that speak without words, in the middle of wordy songs.

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I finally got the chance to put it all to work, to take it all out into the world, sort it out, and apply it in front of hungry listeners. I think it worked. I had a pretty good run with it. I developed a style that reflects those influences and became a pretty unique blend of them all.

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Who are your main influences, and what did you take from them? How do you apply it to what you do? How well does it work? I’d love to hear about it.

Product Review: Wampler Dual Fusion

My pedalboard used to be a real source of contentment for me. I’d open it up, play a gig, and glorious sounds would pour forth.

This is approximately what my guitar-playing experience felt like, if I had been empty-handed, outdoors, and female.

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Somewhere along the line, the two gain stages I was using started to dislike each other. For several years I have been swapping out different gain pedals (overdrive and/or distortion). Presently, I’m pretty attached to a pair of custom pedals which were made by two different friends of mine, but I would like to simplify, and use a single pedal if possible. I checked out the Wampler Dual Fusion, and put it through its paces.

I recorded and made a video of the whole process, which you can see here: https://youtu.be/aqgg4Xv8ct4

The pedal is visually gorgeous. Mine is the maroon/brown (mahogany?) metal-flake version. It’s housed in a sturdy 3½” x 4½” enclosure.

LAYOUT- The Dual Fusion has two inputs and two outputs, and a switch that lets you choose which order the gain stages will go.

  • Channel 1 (left side, blue LED) is “Vintage.”
  • Channel 2 (right side, red LED) is “Modern.”

Signal path order is selected via switch, either 1 → 2, or 2 → 1, or Separate***. The pedal features two sets of input/output jacks which correspond to this switch setting, so you’ll need to plug cables in correctly for your desired channel order to work. ***You can also run the gain stages independently, but I have no interest in doing this. Basically, the Dual Fusion has a voicing switch on each channel, plus standard Gain, Tone, and Volume controls. It uses those big white knobs that are usually found on boutique-type pedals. The controls are very responsive, but these knobs are why I don’t like using Fulltone pedals live—  They turn too easily on accident.

  • Channel 1 / Vintage / Right / Blue:  features a voicing switch to let you choose between “smooth” and “fat.”
  • Channel 2 / Modern / Left / Red:  features a voicing switch to select either “throaty” or natural.”

LED’s for each channel are very bright, which can be great for playing outdoor stages on sunny daytime stages, but for dark rooms and dynamic performances with strategic lighting, it could be distracting. Admittedly, this is a pet peeve of mine.

This is not what I want to see at my feet.

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Overall layout pros: Makes perfect sense, once you look at it. Easy to use. Overall layout cons:

  • Having to switch cable jacks to change circuit order is a pain.
  • Big knobs on responsive controls can mean trouble, live.
  • Compact layout is nice, but footswitches are dangerously close together.

Digging in: I plugged the Dual Fusion into my early-90′s UK reissue Vox AC15. This is an amp that does clean sounds extremely well, and has a good midrange voice when overdriven. Setting it to a big clean bright sound, I went to work dialing-in tones on the Dual Fusion.

SOUNDS- On the Vintage/Right/Blue channel… “Fat” boosts the mids in a way not unlike a classic Tube Screamer, and I found this was very flattering to my Fenders without sounding like yet another Tube Screamer copy. I REALLY liked this for rhythms. The “smooth” setting, being more transparent, worked nicely with my Les Paul. Both settings were good with my Telecaster. Gain levels cleaned up nicely in response to guitar volume. Looking at the recorded waveforms, both settings are very compressed. It pushes the guitar’s sound forward in the mix, which is a nice end-result, but might not be as “transparent” (this term seems to mean a lot of things) as one would expect. Listen with your ears. In my experience, a Tube Screamer loses a lot of the articulate treble (which can be appealing when using single coils). The Dual Fusion lets all that come through. It’s nice for chunky rhythm work, but increased gain meant more high-end noise, and some biting pick-attack.

On any given day, “transparent” seems to mean anything from a clean boost, to an overdrive with no EQ changes, to a blend of gain and unaffected signal, to a lack of any gain-induced compression; or combinations of any/all of the above. I tend to use the term to describe the EQ, but recognize that this is subjective.

The Modern/Left/Red channel features a voicing switch that allows one to choose between “throaty” and “natural.” The “throaty” setting through the AC15, was very nice. Near as I can figure, it is boosting lows and highs (or scooping-out mids) and boosting volume noticeably. Again, with the warm midrangey humbuckers on my Les Paul, this was nice. I preferred the “natural” setting on single coils. On all settings, the Dual Fusion produces (or allows) a LOT of bass frequencies through. This sounds great when playing alone in a room, but could be a mess for a live sound man, or a recording engineer. I ended up cutting my amps’ bass significantly to record the demo tracks. In the room, I heard some pretty harsh trebly tones, but what came out on the recording was very nice. For the record, I was sitting pretty close to the amps, with their speaker cones at about the level of my belt. The best recorded sounds, strangely, came from pointing the microphone RIGHT AT the speaker cone.

A lot of guitarists have lamented the loss of bass frequencies from certain pedals (the Tube Screamers, for example), and favor exaggerated bass response. I’m not one of them. Being a producer/engineer in addition to a guitarist, I spend a lot of time removing unnecessary bass-frequencies from guitar tracks. You can be sure that any sound engineer, live or studio, is doing the same. Why muck up the headroom of your amp with messy bass that needs to be removed anyway, for the clarity of the mix?

The pedal mated well with both my AC15 and my JCM-800 4010. The JCM-800 has no switches or loops or anything, and basically exists as a (small) 50w 1×12 rock machine. Pushing it’s natural distortion into harmonic bliss is always easy with any gain source, and the Dual Fusion was no exception. It is probably more than a user of this amp would ever need, though. The pedal’s responsive tone controls allowed me to get more gain out of the amp while taming its tendency to get piercing high end (no lack of treble in Marshall amps!), so that was positive. However, high gain settings from the pedal were noisy on both amps.

Ideally, I can get 4 gain stages out of two stacked gain circuits:

  1. Totally clean (all off)
  2. Overdrive (one on)
  3. Distortion (the other one on)
  4. SCREAMING (all on).

What I expected was to want to run 2 → 1, that is, the “Modern” (let’s just call it “distortion”) channel into the “Vintage” (let’s just call it “overdrive”). This is how I have had the greatest success in the past. The overdrive fattens up when hit with the distortion, and the combined gain (when compatible) creates a fantastic singing solo sound. On the Dual Fusion, this worked well, and setting the overdrive (Vintage) gain hotter, made the mids jump out more when hit with the distortion (Modern). Fantastic. However, I also liked (and maybe preferred) running 1 → 2, for more tonal consistency from gain stage to stage to combined stage. There were a lot of tonal variables to explore.

Sound pros:

  • Extremely versatile, engaging tones.
  • There’s probably something for everyone here.

Sound cons:

  • Treble transparency = noise, especially on high gain settings.
  • Bass-frequencies are loud, and can make a mess.

SUMMARY- The Dual Fusion is well-made, well-voiced and well-appointed, with useful features and LOTS of options on how to use them. In short, I really like it, especially for mid-level gain and rhythm on single coil guitars. I’m not crazy about the lack of midrange response/boost, and I find it noisier than I expected. Having to unplug/re-plug when switching circuit order makes this feature unusable on the fly, if it’s fastened to a crowded pedalboard. Pros-

  1. Versatility- Users can choose gain stage order and voicing, opting to flatter different types of native guitar tones (single coils versus humbuckers), or dial in something that works well for both.
  2. Sounds great everywhere from low-gain blues/Americana to hard rock.
  3. Compact size, solid construction.
  4. Concise, sensible layout; easy-to-use.

Cons-

  1. Requires unplugging and re-plugging cables to change gain-stage order.
  2. Can be too bassy, treble can be too bright (admittedly subjective).
  3. Treble can cause hiss from the amp, especially at high gain settings.
  4. Bright LED’s plus close footswitches means tall guys with big feet might not stomp the footswitch(es) they intend.

Conclusion: I ended up NOT keeping the Dual Fusion after I made the demo. It isn’t for me, but it came pretty close to being the new pedal on my board! Maybe it will work better for your playing style. Any questions” Feel free to ask. And if you’ve used the Dual Fusion with great results I’d love to hear about them. Also, if you have another dual pedal that you think is worth a review/demo, let me know.

How To Do Everything Wrong, And End Up With An Embarrassing Album

The year was 1994… 

I had started a band with a drummer and bassist, assembling an original song list that sounded like it would fit in the Grunge universe, but also allowed us to play some more complex stuff. We were already doomed to fail.

Our drummer, who had a great aesthetic sense, was a teenager with a skinny teen boy’s body, and had little stamina behind the kit to play long and hard. Our bassist was a singing guitarist who picked up the bass to start a band with me, and he played bass like a guitarist. I was a know-it-all lead guitarist, determined that we could change everyone’s mind in Cincinnati about what they wanted to hear.

Grunge? Really? Who listens to THAT? We’ll do BETTER stuff.

These guys are hacks, and they’ll never be successful.

The fact that we had lasted for six months was, in itself, a triumph. But we were getting antsy. We wanted to gig. We wanted an album. We wanted to sell an album at our gigs.

In 1994, the home recording market had been exploding for a couple of years with the release of Alesis’ ADAT 8-track modular digital recorder. It used super VHS tapes, and multiple ADATs could by connected together to make more simultaneous tracks available. Link two ADATs, and you had a 16-track system. Link three, and you have 24 tracks. Well, I had an ADAT, and a friend had one too. So we had the capacity to make something like an album.

The Alesis ADAT: Finally, home studio recording can sound like the pros, when it isn’t eating your tapes.

What we did NOT have was a good recording location, or sufficient microphones.

With polite inquiries, my bandmates and I got the OK to use a church sanctuary late one night. We set up our gear, and hastily recorded ourselves playing all our songs to get the drums on tape. We knew we could overdub everything else later. Our engineer friend cobbled together some sort of method to get signal on to tape, and give us a stage monitor.

So far, here are the ways we had already failed:

  1. We recorded before we were ready, because we were impatient.
  2. We recorded hastily.
  3. We planned to overdub, and made no effort to get good bass, guitar or vocal performances on tape.
  4. Our recording system was cobbled together. No headphones!

 

We used a click for tempo, and played it through our stage monitor. The click bled into the drum kit’s overhead microphone. That wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but our young drummer tended to get nervous, and fall out of time.

When I got everything back to my townhouse, I heard all the flaws in playback. Being the persistent sort, I took it as a challenge to make it all work. I spent a lot of time processing the bad drum tracks, and then tried to add my guitars in such a way as to make the drum recording work.

Here are some more ways we failed:

  1. We kept on trying to polish a turd, instead of starting over and doing it right.
  2. We used substandard gear.

 

In the midst of this, we became self-conscious. Our sound was rather heavier than what our friends listened to, and we started trying to get them to like us by writing things that were a little lighter.

At about this time, I sent a demo in to a regional indie label, and got a polite rejection letter that read, “We think your sound is a bit too avant-garde, and we’re looking for something more like the next Hootie And The Blowfish.” I sure wish I had kept that letter. In any case, I sat right down and wrote something a little Hootie-flavored. Our sound was already evolving, and we reasoned that a couple Hootie-like songs mixed in with our King’s X / Soundgarden heavy stuff would make us more widely appreciated.

More things we did wrong:

  1. Tried to please everyone.
  2. Changed our sound.
  3. Handled rejection poorly.

Still, what made perfect sense was to keep pounding away on a poorly-conceived album. On every work lunch-break, I raced over to my recording rig to sing a little, or get some guitars recorded. I overdid everything. Right in the middle of all of this, our bassist moved back home to Indiana. This only lasted a few months, but it put an end to our gigging and rehearsing. In the meantime, I finished the album (mostly just to prove I could). This seemed noble.

 

I mixed the finished album at a friend’s studio, and started working on the visual components. CD’s were the standard, but a lot of bands still trafficked in cassettes. I could see no way to afford a CD project, so I had the album mastered to a DAT, and had a small run of cassette copies made. Then (and remember this is the 1990′s) I poured money into a good tape deck, a laser printer, card stock, cassette labels and cases. I spent a ton of time learning to design logos. I printed out the adhesive labels and inserts for the cassettes, and made a few every day. Our bassist moved back to town ,and we got right back to the business of making music. He hadn’t really played bass since he moved, but that didn’t stop us from recording.

When the album was finished, here’s what we had:

  1. Bad performances,
  2. Poor recordings,
  3. Time spent trying to fix things that should have been scrapped.
  4. A homemade cassette album that featured…
  5. Songs that didn’t belong together.
  6. Money thrown away on supplies and equipment.

All you have to do to end up with a similarly inferior product is to copy any of this process.

Twenty-some years later, the home recording universe is a different place. Any crap performance can be edited, and almost any bad sound can be processed into something listenable. But is that what you want? A fake representation of your abilities? To me it’s like a toupee. It isn’t real hair. You didn’t grow it, and you’re trying to fool people into thinking it’s the real you.

If your bandmates can’t perform well on their instruments, just don’t even start. Take the time to get it right. Break rehearsals down, and take turns listening to how everyone plays. When it’s tight and accurate, THEN you’re ready to start the rest. Take the time. Earn it. Somewhere down the road (sooner than you think), you’ll be listening back and wondering about your time and energy spent. Don’t you want to be proud of it?

To illustrate my folly, I’ve made the whole album available online, here: http://davideberhardt.com/html/trosa.htm

Fiat Lux – The Return of St. Andrew

There are some back-stories and related details. Enjoy the spectacle. Learn from my folly!

I invite your comments, related tales, and questions. Bring ‘em.

Product Review: Tech 21 FlyRig RK5

Review of the Tech 21 FlyRig RK5, by Dave Eberhardt

First off, I recorded a demo of the FlyRig RK5, which you can check out, here: https://youtu.be/vzaO05Kvlvs

Tech 21 has produced several items which I like very much. The original SansAmp has shown up on a many of the recordings I’ve made (I’ll bet you a sandwich you can’t identify which ones), and I liked the Bass Driver preamp on my bass so much that I bought an RBI to keep in my studio rack.

The original FlyRig seemed like such a great idea when I first discovered it, and the RK version had the sort of gain I really like, so I jumped on it. The SansAmp section, reverb and DLA (delay) are the same in both models, so the only difference is the OMG gain in the RK version, versus the PLEXI gain in the original.

First reactions: The FlyRig box is surprisingly tiny, and so I was even more surprised at how tiny the actual FlyRig actually is, inside it. Seriously, it’s the size of two cell phones end-to-end. It came with its own proprietary (and alarmingly flimsy) power supply. Sadly, this is not a standard 9v adapter, so you can’t add a FlyRig to an existing pedalboard daisy chain.

Sounds and features: By itself, the SansAmp section is glorious. It sounds like an amp, and responds like one. Tone controls are responsive and musical. The reverb is remarkable. Unfortunately, it isn’t foot-switchable. There’s no graceful way to deal with this on stage. Just don’t even try.

The OMG gain is fantastic, and interacts well with the SansAmp. Then the OMG boost sends it all into screaming rock Valhalla. Used without an amp, the SansAmp functions well as an amp-simulator, letting you boost it with the two stages of the OMG. With an amp, the SansAmp section can be used as its own boost/gain, and the OMG and its boost can be tweaked differently. So there are lots of gain combinations to explore.

The DLA section boasts a really nice-sounding tap delay, with the option to add a randomized modulation. Turning the delay-time all the way down allows the modulation to be used as a “secret” chorus. As a delay freak, I was disappointed that the only realistic use of the delay was tapped quarter notes (or 8th-notes if I double-timed it). If you want dotted-8th delays, you better be able to tap a beat-and-a-half. Lotsa luck with that. I was further disappointed (and really surprised) by the DLA noise floor.

Persnickety: There is a current trend to have footpedals color the clouds with their huge bright light shows. I hate this. When I perform, I want my pedal rig to be as unobtrusive as possible. The Flyrig lights up every knob in each section that’s enabled. I wish each function just had a single LED. If you like footlights, you may love it. Moreover, when powered-up, the whole unit -I mean, each section- defaults to being ON.

At the end of a few weeks of using it both live and in the studio, I found myself craving more options, or wishing I had just gotten an OMG pedal. To me, the unit doesn’t offer much that I don’t already have, and it’s tiny footprint (while impressive) isn’t enough of a perk to replace anything I already have.

I asked Tech 21 if the FlyRig could be modded with extra jacks (I was really interested in a send/return, perhaps on a single stereo jack), and was told that they couldn’t imagine such an option. In my experience, manufacturers are rarely imaginative in this regard.

Maybe someone else will mod their FlyRig, and I’ll revisit the option. Until then, I’d rather use something a little larger, quieter, and better-appointed

Pros: Compact, great amp-sim and gain stages.

Cons: Reverb isn’t switchable, delay is limited and noisy. Power supply is distressingly cheapo.

 

Have you tried one? What was your experience?

Tonal Identity: What’s the guitar that best transmits YOUR sound?

I grew up with an unapologetic worship of Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin, and as such, was dead-set on becoming a Gibson Les Paul / Humbuckers / Marshall guy.

The shred-era exploded while I was high school, and “super-strats” with pointy headstocks ruled the day. I got a non-pointy, affordable model with a locking tremolo, and contented myself with whatever amp I could use at the time. Even back then, Les Pauls were hard to afford, and seeing them with tremolo just looked weird.

King’s X invaded my world in the late 80′s, and I heard Ty Tabor getting incredibly heavy, yet articulate tones out of his Strat. While I had already landed on doing volume-swells with a volume pedal, I really appreciated how he was doing them all with the Strat’s volume knob.

Somewhere around then, I also really started to crave the classic sound of a Strat. I knew nothing about them, really. I bought one in complete ignorance, brand new off the shelf, and got VERY lucky to have gotten one that sounded so good (it’s a Mexican model). To this day, it’s the guitar with which I have been seen (and photographed) the most. It took a while to adjust my playing style to single coils, but no matter what other guitar I try, that Strat is what works best for me on stage.

My studio go-to guitars are a Mexican Telecaster and an Electra Invicta from about 1980. I even have a real Gibson Les Paul that I tried to use live for years, and I finally got a Jazzmaster about 2 years ago (wanted one for years, but that’s another story). For me, on stage, it’s almost always a Strat that makes it happen.

I put together this dorky little video to illustrate a bunch of types of sounds I might pull from a Strat, using only an original POD Pro. Check it out here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5YUrhHtlUY

What guitar works best for YOU? What fits your playing style/vibe/etc, and why? Forget hero-worship and brand identity. What do YOU get the best results from?