File this under reviews, with the caveat that when it comes to studio engineering, I consider myself something of a promising knave in a world of wizards.
I’ve been quietly and modestly building my own small project studio since the late nineties. At some point, my goal was to operate as a bottom-feeder, serving the penniless musicians who couldn’t pay for real studio time.
But, as a guy attempting to operate a bottom-feeder recording operation, I was always unhappy. I may have looked like this.
Finally, I got tired of being broke, and changed my approach to center around the things that I do (vocals, guitar, pedestrian bass, even simpler keys). Now I’m happier, though perhaps no less blobby.
Anyway, one of my main headaches has always been mix-quality. I always feel like my recordings come out as mush.
I’ve gotten better at this, particularly in the last year or so. It’s all about subtraction. Remove the unnecessary, make room for highlighted, etc.
We have now reached the age in which there are no limitations to recording, except environment. Aside from a good-sounding space (the importance of this cannot be overstated), all you need is a good microphone, a decent preamp, a decent interface and a computer. All of these can be purchased and made operational in a day.
I thought I would share a couple of tools that have really improved my recordings.
Greg Wells MixCentric, from Waves: This is a magic plugin to drop on the main mix bus. It does some EQ, multi-band compression, and overall compression. In short, it just “makes the mix come alive,” though it can be a little bright. It’s a great addition to vintage-style warm recordings that could use a little shimmer.
Greg Wells ToneCentric from Waves: This is a totally different magic plugin. It increased low-end girth and clarity (this would seem mutually exclusive, I realize), making the middle of one’s mix more authoritative. It’s hard to notice at first. Then you bypass it, and all the guts fall out of your mix, and you wonder how that ever sounded good.
[NOTE: There is a Greg Wells Plugin Bundle from Waves which includes the MixCentric and ToneCentric plugins, as well as a VoiceCentric (nice tool for vocal tracks) and PianoCentric (great on keys). I think it's pretty cheap now. As of this writ, the bundle is $99 from Sweetwater, and the four plugins purchased individually add up to a lot more than that.]
Avid Eleven Rack Amplifier Simulator: I bought this in early March of 2018, because it was cheap, and I thought I’d risk it. I have not touched my old POD Pro 2.0 (which I had used for a couple of years, almost without exception, up to that point). I have not recorded through an amplifier either. In fact, I am probably going to sell the POD, all but two of my amps, and my Leslie (Vibratone) cabinet. “Nuff said.
This is not related to recording, but I thought I would share it as a live acoustic guitar solution…
The TC Electronic BodyRez Acoustic Guitar Pedal: This little box apologizes for piezo pickups in wonderful ways. Andy, my partner in our acoustic duo (The Mood Rings) got one too. I discovered that DI recordings of piezo pickups can be greatly improved by multiband compressors. I think the BodyRez is just doing that with a few tone-shaping options. Great little affordable tool for live work.
Have you landed on any great new solutions? What about old solutions? Any solutions you’re looking to find or improve? What about recommendations? I’d love to hear about ‘em. Let me hear!
Guitarists, I have good news, and I have bad news,,,
In early March of 2018, I bought an Avid Eleven Rack for my studio. I had been using my POD Pro 2.0 for quite some time, with results that fell mostly into the “I suppose that is OK” category, and I spent a lot of time processing tracks (EQ, etc) to get them there.
I was headed into ankle-reconstruction surgery, and wanted something to inspire me back into music creation while I recovered (experimenting with new gear always helps). Yes, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to walk for a long time, but I was unprepared for how much NOT sitting upright I would be able to do (had to keep my foot elevated). I’ve done far less recording than I had planned to do this year, but I HAVE done some, and solely with the Eleven Rack (henceforth “11R” for brevity).
The good news is that this has been a fantastic experience.
The first evidence I’d like to share is three songs I recorded for my friend Todd Gilbert in the Flint, Michigan area, for an album of covers. This seemed like a perfect test for the 11R- sending the product off to a collaborator., and comparing them to known, published works.
The three songs I recorded were Huey Lewis’ “Bad Is Bad,” Billy Joel’s “Laura,” and Hall & Oates’ “Out Of Touch.”
BAD IS BAD
“Bad Is Bad” was the first one I recorded. The original recording is an 80′s nod to a 50′s vibe, and the production (while pleasantly nostalgic) does not stand up well. So I built the whole thing around a swaggering Telecaster riff. The 11R transmitted my sound with both girth and clarity- clarity I always found lacking in the POD Pro. Through the whole song I recorded a lot of solo ad-libs on an old Electra Invicta, allowing Todd to pick and choose which of these he wanted to keep. Then, I recorded my Jazzmaster throught a Leslie patch I either found or edited-together on the 11R. It sounded as good as (if not better than) most good Leslie simulations I have heard. Finally, I played a slide solo with the Telecaster. Usually I reach for my old Marshall JCM800 combo for this task, but the 11R did the job exceptionally well.
“Laura” is a pretty close approximation of the original arrangement. I’m not sure what was really used on the recording of the original solo to give it that sound… but I just double-tracked it. All those electric guitar licks are my Telecaster. Since Billy Joel was clearly channeling The Beatles, I donned my George Harrison cap, and played the chord-changes with an electric 12-string (a mid-2000′s Fender Stratocaster XII). All of this was done with the 11R, straight in to my interface, with one exception- there is a swirly modulation phrase at the end of the solo, where I ran out of the 11R through my old Quadraverb.
OUT OF TOUCH
Finally, “Out Of Touch” came across my desk. Todd had envisioned a straight-ahead rocker, so I played an 8th-note chugging rhythm on the Invicta, and then added a double-tracked arrangement of the Telecaster playing some Alex Lifeson type arpeggios and minor 7 stabs. I dialed-in an obvious Van Halen inspired patch for the solo (complete with phaser) and recorded that on the Invicta, as well as a double-tracked slide part (without phaser). Then to give it all some more growl, I added a fuzz track from my Jazzmaster.
The bad news is that I might not need all these amplifiers anymore.
The 11R is a great comprehensive tool for guitarists in a studio setting. you can choose from a variety of classic amplifiers and speaker cabinets, a decent array of effects pedals, and even a small but respectable batch of standard top-shelf studio microphones. Each piece of the signal chain distinctively interacts with the next, and then responds accordingly. Once you understand the editing navigation, it is easy to bounce through settings and dial in a tone. It’s not the sort of thing I would use live (ask me again in a few years), so I cannot speak to that application.
I found it a little noisy, to my surprise. This may have something to do with how it’s connected to my rack, but then my POD Pro is comparably dead silent. To be fair, the noise is no more than the line noise of an old amplifier, but this may affect certain quiet passages of recordings. I was able to filter it out well enough with some standard DAW plugins.
Now that the 11R price has dropped to $299, it’s a safe and sensible investment. ProTools users can use it as a virtual instrument, record guitar tracks direct, and process them through the 11R afterward. I use Reaper, and I suppose there’s a way to do this, but it isn’t really how I like to work.
It has quickly become an easy go-to choice for me. I’m pleased with the purchase, nearly six months later, as well as with the end results of the handful of recordings it’s been featured on. Would definitely recommend it. Calling this one a strong 8/10, with the only complaints being noise (admittedly could be due to ignorance), and an interface that required reading the manual to be able to operate.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Totally clean (all off)
Overdrive (one on)
Distortion (the other one on)
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.
Extremely versatile, engaging tones.
There’s probably something for everyone here.
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-
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.
Sounds great everywhere from low-gain blues/Americana to hard rock.
Compact size, solid construction.
Concise, sensible layout; easy-to-use.
Requires unplugging and re-plugging cables to change gain-stage order.
Can be too bassy, treble can be too bright (admittedly subjective).
Treble can cause hiss from the amp, especially at high gain settings.
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.
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.