Tag Archives: tone

The Power of Illogical Attachment

I have to admit that I’m a sentimental guy.

I have strong attachments to inanimate objects, because they evoke powerful associations and memories. A silly and simple example of this is that I have a hard time getting rid of old shirts. I associate them with positive memories, and they are hard to discard. Strangely, pants are not as dear.

Image result for pants in garbage

Music gear is significant in this regard. Once I have poured a certain amount of my soul out through a guitar, pedal, amplifier, microphone, etc, it starts to feel like a piece of me.

Image result for piece of myself

Today I sold and shipped my old Line 6 DL-4 Delay Modeler pedal. There’s nothing rare or special about this gadget. I bought it in late 1999, and we have done a lot together since then.

I believe they are still being made, and if not, then they are still in plentiful supply at most music gear retailers. And all of the sounds that the DL-4 makes can also be found within other Line 6 products.

I have strong memories of it…

*…Being in a loft-type bedroom in a friend’s house, that we had converted into a recording space, while he was touring in Europe. I had TWO DL-4′s chained together, and was recording atmospheric guitar parts for Katie Reider’s second studio album, I Am Ready. I remember getting the sounds dialed-in to my amplifiers, and as I was preparing to record, Katie began running up and down the stairs, bringing more and more candles into the room. Then she lighted them all, and I recorded spacey ambience, alone in candlelight, while she and everyone else listened from downstairs.

* …Writing a guitar-arrangement for a song that got played frequently at Crossroads church, in the early days, and figuring out a way that I could slide these interesting echoes up the guitar-neck, and quickly disengage the pedal. The echoes would continue while I played the next part of the song, and everyone marveled at where these multiple sounds were coming from.

* …Taking the DL-4 apart on my family room floor, while my three-year-old son played nearby. One of the footswitches had unscrewed itself and fallen into the enclosure. I had to fish it back out and secure it.

Anyway, it has been quite some time since I had a use for it. I have had all those sounds in other units for a while (an M9, and now an HX FX). The DL-4 has literally been sitting on a shelf gathering dust for a few years. Maybe two years ago, I spent the money to have it upgraded and modified. Then I promptly did nothing with it.

Today it is en route to a buyer in Arizona, and while all those sounds a re available here, there and everywhere, I can’t help but feel like I sold a significant piece of myself.

Goodbye, old inanimate not-even-an-instrument friend.

Have you ever become illogically attached to a piece of equipment? What was it? Did you get rid of it? How did you feel afterward?

Music-Making Tool Reviews from 2018

 

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.

Meet Blobfish, a real bottom-feeder. Yes, Blobfish is real.

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.

Hear my hearty cry! On we sled, away from mush!

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.

  1. 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 “MixCentric” by Waves

 

  1. 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.
Greg Wells “ToneCentric” by Waves

 [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.]

  1. 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.
The Eleven Rack, by Avid, has been my only source of recorded amplifier tones from March 2018 to the time of this blog publication.

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.

The BodyRez pedal by TC Electronic – redeems piezo pickups. I would highly recommend that a guitar manufacturer make a deal with TC Electronic ASAP, to put this circuit into their onboard preamp.

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!

 

20 Years of Wonder (Part 2)

 

As I started recording the guitars for Wonder, it became apparent that I was going to have to work pretty hard to get sounds worthy of sharing with the world.

My studio space was a cinder block 6′x11′ coal room with a low ceiling (6½’?). I hot-glued egg cartons and foam all over the walls and ceilings to try to tame the sound, but it was still pretty bad. My twin daughters were just over a year old, so making loud noises in the basement was only allowable in short bursts. I often re-recorded parts multiple times, once I heard what horrible sounds I had captured.

Back then, I had no real studio gear; just a tape machine, a small Mackie mixer, and a couple of microphones my band used when we performed live. I didn’t even have speakers yet, to listen to my recordings! So I just patched my mixer into the auxiliary inputs of a portable stereo I had gotten on my 16th or 17th birthday. That was my “studio.”

This is the very 1202 I used.

So I dug in. If I was recording a single-note passage, I would try to use a big round tone, and get a roomy sound. If I was playing chords, I would get the microphones closer, and try to catch more articulation. It was mostly mad science or shamanism; lots of trial and error, wishes for good fortune, and frequent disappointments.

How could I decide what to play? Perhaps fortuitously, my car stereo was broken, and all I could listen to was the radio. Based on what I was hearing, I felt that too many female artists kept their guitarists on pretty short leashes. In the name of keeping the vocal out in the forefront, their music seemed forgettable. Why listen to the singer, if the music is forgettable? So I mentally made a graph that looked like this:

SAFE <——– | ——–> WEIRD

I figured that if I landed in the exact middle that was one step too close to “safe.” So I tried to add something to each song that would add a little more weirdness.

I remember that I wanted to steer attention away from the repetitive, basic chords of “Piece Of Soul,” so I composed a melody that moved dramatically like an old church hymn (at least that’s the idea that drove it). So I reached for my Ebow to play the passage, and that became the hook.

Keep in mind, no one had any expectations for Wonder. We were all doing a favor for a young girl we knew in different degrees. Katie and I had met, but she was the little sister of a guy with whom I was casual friends. No one was spending any real money on studios, or talking about production. They handed me a tape with some blank tracks and gave me carte blanche. I don’t claim that all my ideas were good, or that we made a tremendous record, or that I somehow “saved” it… but something definitely clicked in to place, and people connected with it.

My work on the album concluded shortly after Halloween, and November became a blur of activity. The tapes were handed off, the songs were mixed hastily and mastered a few days after my final recording. The first sonic draft of the album was a mess. It was distorted. So they re-mastered it.

We musicians all gathered in a photography studio in downtown Cincinnati for a photo shoot, and posed like rock stars. I had a flannel shirt and a goatee. We looked like this.

The print material was sent off to be made, and the first visual draft was a mess. Instead of a high-contrast black & white image, Katie was gray. So they had it reprinted. I kept my gray copy. I imagine it’s pretty rare.

Good thing we hurried. Right?

A CD-release party / concert was planned for mid-December, at York Street Café in Newport, KY. I had played there quite a bit with my other band, so I was glad to be on familiar turf.
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This is the York St. Café. It used to be red. I’m not sure if it’s faded or just painted pink. Those second-floor windows behind the tree are the back of the stage.

A blizzard hit. We performed anyway. There was a surprisingly large crowd. Regardless, it didn’t feel like a big enough event, so we planned another CD-release for a week or two later. Another blizzard hit. Once again, we performed anyway; and once again, there was a surprisingly large crowd. And once again, it seemed like we needed one more chance to get it right. So we performed a THIRD CD-release in early January 1999.

Within weeks, we were winning awards, and being praised in the press. Other guitarists were trying to copy my gear and talk Katie into letting them replace me. People were pulling me aside to let me know how much they noticed how my guitar brought her songs to life. I felt like my life’s ambitions were finally coming together. The CD was selling out everywhere we put it, and my middle-school aged guitar students thought I was a celebrity. I was now in one of the top acts in town. In 1999, we won multiple entertainment awards, performed at the prestigious Aronoff Center, had our work featured on Dawson’s Creek, and were on the radio pretty often. I had arrived.

All of this, as I have clearly described, happened with very humble beginnings; basement recordings, “consumer-level” equipment, and low expectations. I’m not calling this anything like a recipe for success (in fact, mostly I insist on the opposite approach), but I can’t deny that something special happened. At the very least, I developed a style of playing guitar that set a standard for ambient-organic pop music in the area. I got to take that into the modern church arena, and it seems like some variation of that has now spread worldwide (you’re welcome, and/or I’m sorry).

Perhaps the saddest part about Wonder is that its original tapes were destroyed. ADAT tapes back then were about $10 each, and it took three 8-track tapes to make a 24-track recording. So usually, one would spend $100 on a ten-pack of ADAT tapes, and call that a normal production cost (compared to old reel-to-reel tapes, this was very inexpensive).

There was some dispute about media cost, and before I knew about it, one of the producers chose to erase the tapes and recycle them to use on some other project. I was speechless. I would have gladly paid $100 to keep those tapes around. I sure wish I could hear those original recordings again, correct some errors, re-mix and re-master the album.

Wishing doesn’t change much. But gratitude helps remind me of the best parts.

Every Spring, I’m reminded of having recorded a couple of songs for Wonder, meeting everyone downtown for Taste of Cincinnati, and playing together for the first time. I’m grateful to have gotten in on the ground floor, and to have seen it through to its end.

Every Summer, I’m reminded of our live performances at places like York St Café in Newport, KY, where the room was so packed that no one could move; where people would pay each other $20 to get a spot in front of the stage; where the heat and humidity caused water to run down the walls, and I would get a Mickey Mouse shaped sweat-print on my shirt. I’m grateful to have played for ravenous attentive crowds.

Every Autumn, I am reminded of that exciting time when a young Dave was desperately hoping to make a good impression on a larger music world with the recording of Wonder. I’m proud of the minor-league success it achieved, and grateful for the odd circumstances by which it came to me.

Every Winter, as we slide into December, I’m reminded of the excitement of traveling to New York as a seasoned band at the peak of our powers and the height of our camaraderie. I’m grateful for the deep love and friendship, and the beautiful music.

And so, twenty years after Wonder, and ten years after Katie’s passing, I’m grateful for all of it.

 

REVIEW – Avid Eleven Rack

 

Guitarists, I have good news, and I have bad news,,,

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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.

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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).

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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

“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.

Summary:

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.

 

 

Ten Years Gone

Twenty years and a few months ago, some friends of mine asked if I might record some guitar tracks for a young girl named Katie Reider. She had about an album’s worth of material, and with their help, they gotten it to where it was a few electric guitars away from sounding like a real record. Well, I added those very guitars, and that record ended up being called Wonder.

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In just a few actual evenings (which were spread-out over the course of several months), I managed to record eight of Wonder’s ten songs. I never expected anything to happen with it, really. I thought, maybe, in a year or so, she might have sold enough CD’s that, if all went well, I might get $100.

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The album was a local smash. We won a bunch of awards, we were on the radio, and in the papers. My guitar students thought I was famous. Overnight, I became the guitarist in one of the most popular bands in town. I had arrived. Image result for yatta

 

There were highs and lows, but in fairly short order, I was the only original band member. Katie and I had no choice. We became the best of friends, confidants, and musical partners. The next couple of years were great. In 2006 everything suddenly caught fire. I was convinced we were just a few yards from the proverbial touchdown. Then she got a toothache.

Only, it wasn’t a toothache.

It was a horrible monster, and it destroyed my friend.

 

My first gig with Katie was at Taste Of Cincinnati in 1998. My last gig with Katie was at Taste Of Cincinnati in 2007. The next year, she was gone. That was July 14, 2008; ten years ago.  This was how she looked at our last show together.Image result for katie reider wonder

When 2018 started, I was aware that the ten year echo of her passing was coming. Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone” has always been one of my favorite songs, and I thought it would be a fitting tribute. Robert Plant wrote it about an old girlfriend, so it doesn’t quite fit, but the music captures the feelings, I think, of a yearning for a time in the past with someone dear. Also, no one knows this (until now). When I was recording Wonder, I felt a tremendous pressure to accomplish something special. When in doubt, I would ask myself, “WWJPD” (What Would Jimmy Page Do)?

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“Ten Years Gone” is a fantastic anthem. One of my favorite discoveries about it, once I dissected the guitar parts, is that, apparently, I record layered guitars rather a lot like Jimmy Page did on this song.

Fitting, right?

Anyway, I know Katie would love it, because she loved the music I made. This is for Katie. But also for me.

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Small Steps, Stomps, and Stages

Greetings, Friends.

It’s been a bit since my last writ,
And I’m glad to be a-typing.
See, I hurt my ankle (tendons mangled!),
So to work I’ve been a-Skype-ing.

Yeah, I haven’t done much lately. I injured my ankle a while ago, and was foolish to think it would just get better on its own. Finally, at the recommendation of a trusted teacher, I visited his favorite podiatrist. Ill at ease about the whole thing, I expected a protracted process of “Hmmm… yeah, not sure what’s going on here. Let’s try anti-inflammatories and rest, and you pay me an exorbitant office visit fee… and see me again in 2 weeks.”

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Well, he walked into the room, and within seconds, knew from the angle of my foot, and the description of the injury, EXACTLY what had happened. To be sure, he ordered an MRI for me (my first!). He was right. It’s busted. Course of treatment: surgery. Heal with STEEL!!

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So several stitches, a couple of screws, and 24 staples later, my ankle is fixed, but it will be recovering for many more weeks. That hasn’t stopped the kid from trying out new gear, no, certainly not.

Prior to surgery, I knew I’d need motivation to get me moving and being productive again, so I ordered an ELEVEN Rack (without Pro Tools, because I’m an individual) to get me excited about recording guitars WITHOUT amps for a good long time (Can’t lift an amp on crutches!). It arrived fasted than expected, giving me about a day and a half to play with it. I still don’t really know how it works.

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I just started moving around again, and have recorded a few tracks with it. I will share some serious insights, once I get more familiar with it.

Not long afterwards, I went crazy and ordered the Superego+ pedal from Sweetwater. It arrived 30 hours later. I’m using it with my acoustic duo.

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Oh yeah, by the way, I’m now in an acoustic duo. We call ourselves The Mood Rings (this was a band name I was using back in the early 2000′s), and we have played one whole gig so far. It was so well received that we got two more gigs out of it, that same night.

As a result, we have a gig this Saturday night. I will still be one-footed, so my buddy Andy has to carry all the gear. I can’t believe he agreed to it.

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, playing a musical instrument and text

THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY

Many years ago, I cobbled a makeshift studio space together in the old coal room in my first house’s basement. It was a 6′x11′ room, scarcely larger than a closet, with only an approximately 6½-foot high ceiling. Some of the earliest professional work I did down there was with a “boom box” as my studio monitors. True story.

It looked like this:

DCP_0152

At some point, Cream’s White Room got stuck in my head. So I started a demo recording of it. I have no idea what ever became of the project. Yes, I definitely remember programming it, recording parts of it, and even dumping some rough mix onto a cassette, along with what were some new (back then) original songs. It just didn’t survive.

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A few years later, I made a huge gear-upgrade purchase, and to test out my new gear, I created a few percussion loops, and recorded myself singing Van Morrison’s Moondance with some simple instrumentation. I had gotten the idea from hearing a much better singer do a much cooler version. Little did I know, but I had just snagged myself on a hook that would sink insidiously deeply into my psyche.

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Fast forward a bunch of years. In the interim, I have recorded hundreds of songs for different clients, and dozens of my own songs as well, not to mention different commercial projects, voice-overs, etc.

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I got this regular live gig, which I ended up really hating (it paid well). After a few cancellations, I had all this pent-up creative energy. So I solicited my Facebook friends for requests, and began recording cover songs with only one microphone, acoustic guitars and hand percussion.

It was more fun than I had thought possible.

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A few of those songs, over time, grew up into larger productions. Eventually, I just started tackling big cover song productions of songs that “clicked.” I can’t describe what made a song click. It just did. Somehow I knew I could do it. In other cases, there were requests that I fulfilled for other people.

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Anyway, after collecting these finished works for a while, it appears that I have a batch, a volume. Call it “Volume One.” There are certainly more in the pipeline.

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They won’t be ready for a while. In the meantime, enjoy what I’ve done so far, HERE

http://davideberhardt.com/html/sincerest.htm

 

End-of-Summer Demo of Chrome Dome Audio’s Tone Philosopher VG-44

In the early Spring, I was propositioned by my friend Kyle to join a show band at Kings Island, a local theme park.
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I had to wait a couple of weeks before I heard I got the gig. Then I frantically learned thirty songs from scratch (OK, really it was twenty-nine songs, because I already knew “Free Ride.” But you get my point). Two weeks after our first rehearsal, we were performing. I played three nights per week. That doesn’t sound like a lot. Somehow it took up my whole summer, but it was a blast.

Image result for kings island fireworks

 

While it was going on, I looked like this:

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Among the things that fell by the wayside as a result (including this very blog), were the album that I can’t quite gather the energy to complete, a steady stream of covers I want to record, and the intention to record some demos of an incredible amplifier I got.

Chrome Dome Audio’s “Tone Philosopher” VG-44

Chrome Dome Audio is owned and masterminded by my friend Adam White. A few years ago, he set out to modify an amp for me, which turned into him just giving me an early and unusual version of one of his Tone Philosophers, which he offered to modify for me. I took him up on it a couple of years later, and he turned it into a VG-44, his main production model amp. He also decided to go through all of my amps and tune them up, in exchange for me recording some demos of the VG-44.

Now, all of this is awesome and cool, but it happened right when I got super busy for the summer. So, having opened up my schedule a bit,  I have finally finished the first part of the first demo.

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Note: My VG-44 is slightly unusual. It’s a head and 2×12 half-open cabinet with Jensen Jet-Series ceramic speakers (the production models have different speakers in them), but it’s close enough to give you the basic idea of what it can do.

What you hear:

  • I recorded with the amp on my carpeted home-studio floor. Now, this is a professional production no-no, but is a lot closer to the reality of how most people will end up using it most of the time.
  • The microphone is a normal Shure SM-57 that I’ve owned since the mid 1990′s. It ran through a Grace 101 preamp (Grace preamps are legendary for transparency). The mic was never more than a few inches away from the grillecloth during my experimentation process.
  • The only post-production tone shaping was some bass-cut, and a little reverb added to the solo tracks. No pedal effects of any kind were used. The only thing between the guitars and the amp was a 20-year-old house-brand cable I purchased from Guitar Center.

Guitars I used:

  • A stock 2005 Made-In Mexico (“MIM”) Fender Stratocaster
  • A 1991 MIM Fender Telecaster (which may have had its bridge pickup replaced before I bought it)
  • A stock 1982 Silverburst Gibson Les Paul Custom.

The opening figure is the Stratocaster. The middle portion is the Telecaster, with a slide solo also played on the Tele, and a following solo played on the Les Paul. The closing figure is the Strat and Les Paul playing the riff together. Note how they all respond differently, and stack well in the mix.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Tone Philosopher VG-44, by Chrome Dome Audio:

What do you think? Like it? Sound off!!

Product Review: Xotic SP Compressor

My love affair with compressors began in high school.

I was all like, “I Image result for love compressors!”

At the time, I had limited gear, limited access to it, and limited funds to acquire it. In addition, there was no real source of information to guide me. Based on descriptions of the effect alone, I thought a compressor might make a good boost to my gain stages for solos. Turns out this was correct.

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My first compressor was made by Arion. Remember Arion? They made plastic pedals. The compressor looked like this:

The fact that it was designated “SCO-1” somehow made it seem VERY cool to 17-year-old me.

In any case, I got it brand-new at a local music store for about $25. It did what I thought it would, though it made me aware of what I’ve since described as a “papery” sound that cheap (and/or poorly-operated) compressors can produce.

Next came the Boss ME-5, Boss’ first multi-fx, which had a Boss compressor built in. Later, I got an ME-10 (because I needed MORE effects!), but then traded it for individual pedals, one of which was an MXR Dyna-Comp.

I used the Dyna Comp, mostly cheerfully, for several years, until I started to notice that it was hit or miss… and as time passed, it seemed like there were more misses than hits. I tried several compressors… various Boss comps (they all have that flat, overly squashed “papery” sound), Ibanez CP-9, some hand-made Ross clone, a couple of Jangleboxes, an Orange Squeezer and maybe a few others that I can’t remember. Someone suggested the MXR Super Comp as a viable contender. I found a used one, liked it, and used it for years. I even recommended it. In fact, it worked so well for me that I bought a second, for a smaller pedalboard I assembled.

For reasons that escape me, I sold the first Super Comp and kept the second. Maybe it isn’t as good as the first, or maybe my tastes are changing as I age (or both). In any case, I started researching and shopping for a new compressor in earnest about six months ago. That led me to the Xotic SP Compressor.

It’s a mini pedal, about 2/3 the width of the small MXR enclosures (like a Dyna Comp or Phase 90). It’s surprisingly TALL since Xotic thought it needed to carry a battery. In this day and age, I was a little shocked by that, as almost everyone now has access to power supplies and pedalboard solutions. It’s height helps make it more accessible, should you decide to put it in the second row of your pedalboard. You might not need a riser for it.

Here in the Tone Parlour, I tested the SP with my early-90′s British made Vox AC15 combo and my Telecaster.
   

The SP features a small toggle switch to choose high, medium or low compression ratios. I suppose this eliminates the need for another knob, but I think I would prefer a small knob. Frankly I would also prefer smaller knobs (in the ballpark of those smaller knobs Boss uses)  for the other two controls, which are simply Volume and Blend. There are also four dip-switches inside if you want to make more serious tonal alterations to it. The SP features a small fairly bright vivid green LED to indicate if the pedal is on or off. Controls are responsive and intuitive, and the build quality is excellent.

Here’s a link to Xotic’s manual on it: https://xotic.us/media/wysiwyg/Effects/SP_Compressor/manuals/SP_Compressor_manual.pdf

Guitarists tend to want either “color” or “transparency” in a compressor. I tend toward the latter. The blend feature on the SP helps quite a bit. I can either use NO blend (full effect), and build a compressor setting that I like tremendously, or I can build a whole different setting with the blend in play. Right now, I’ve landed on a setting with the compression toggle set on medium, the blend turned down from full-on to about 3 o’clock, and the volume just past noon.

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It was easy to back my playing off, and have the compressed signal sound enough like my dry tone for me to call it “transparent” with confidence. But something cool happens when I play harder into the SP,  and the glorious midrange growl of my Telecaster gets a little more pronounced. So… it’s “transparent,” but with some colorful side-effects? Maybe? Hard to describe.

In passing, I mentioned earlier that I had used a Janglebox in the past. When its toggle is set to high, the SP will do a pretty good Janglebox impression. The reason I don’t own a Janglebox (I think I have owned as many as three of them) is that it lacks sufficient output gain after compression. I want to use my comp as a slight boost as well. While this just didn’t happen with a Janglebox, the SP has more than enough gain to spare.

At some point, I may write an article listing the things about which I have said, “I can’t believe I waited this long to get this.”

It’s too early in the honeymoon for me to definitively say this about the SP, but it really clearly sets itself apart as a superior piece of gear.

Really impressed.

Timing is everything: Long waits and perfect delays

At the very end of 2013, (seriously, it was December 30 at about 8pm), I bought my first-ever, brand new car, right off the lot. It was nothing fancy- a Kia Forte, basically Kia’s version of a Civic. It had lots of cool options, and I felt very modern. I was “new car guy.”

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O N E   Y E A R    L A T E R . . .

The day before Christmas Eve on 2014, I was driving to a music rehearsal, when a dump truck ran a red light as I was making a left turn (I had the arrow). He hit the passenger’s-side front corner of the Forte, which, thanks to wet pavement, spun right out of way. I was completely unharmed. My slightly-less-than-a-year-old Forte, however, was destroyed.

After this, I was “Rental Car Guy” for rather a long time.

I decided to celebrate my survival on December 26 by a shopping trip to Guitar Center.

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I bought a TC Electronic Flashback Triple Delay. For ages, I had been using three Boss DD-5 delays, sync’ing them with a single tap-tempo pedal and a custom-soldered splitter cable connected to all three delays.

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“Dave’s Delay Array” ™ utilizing three Boss DD-5′s. 

Over the years, I bemoaned that NO ONE made a multi-delay unit that was as “Live-Friendly” as this DDA (“Dave’s Delay Array”) that I had invented / discovered. I have written about this in a prior blog post, here: http://www.davideberhardt.com/wp/?p=73

Totally smitten with the TCE delay (or at least with the idea of it), I got right to work, dialing-in my sounds, saving patches, and even writing a glowing review. It was after 11pm, as I was AT LEAST a page deep in my delighted document, that I realized I hadn’t actually checked the obvious functions on how the tap-tempo worked. It was such a foregone conclusion, but I felt I really should just make sure that I hadn’t overlooked such an obvious…

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A simple Google search on the Triple Delay and “global tap” will yield THOUSANDS of results of horrified dismay from consumers, and a smug “we-know-what-we’re-doing-and-you-must-be-stupid” response from TCE. In short, each delay (remember there are three of them) had to be ON before the tap-tempo would work. That means you have to tap tempo over and over and over if you want to use different delay settings within a song.

Intolerable!

Much like my ill-fated Kia Forte, my dream of owning a single multiple-delay pedal (with specific features) was shattered. Utterly disgusted, I returned it the next day. The poor GC employee had no idea what I was talking about, and frankly, I’m tired of trying to explain music gear to people whose job it is to know these things.

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The TC Electronic Triple Delay’s tap-tempo is a design-failure of remarkable proportions, combined with a corporate hubris that needs to die. Working musicians are weary to the point of hostility toward music-gear manufacturers who flood the market with crap no one wants (“another Tube Screamer variant!”), not listening to what real musicians need, or making themselves available to field questions or suggestions.

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TCE had asked for design suggestions, got them, and then ignored them in favor of what they perceived would sell better. They were dead wrong, and like me, delay-freaks all over the world either returned their Triple Delays or sold them on eBay. This one feature, specifically requested by delay users, was discarded by TCE. They could have made the Triple Delay THE STANDARD (which, after sixteen years, might STILL be the Line 6 DL-4).

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The Line 6 DL-4 Delay Modeler is used everywhere, by everyone. I might be exaggerating, but not by much.

I really like the Line 6 DL-4, and have had mine since they first came out. Sadly, it only allows you to use ONE of its patches at a time, and it saves your last tempo in the patch you save. That means that every time you turn on, say, patch #3, you will have to tap a tempo in to get it to match the song, unless it just happens to match, or if you programmed it for that specific tempo on purpose. The TCE Triple Delay operates the same way, except you can use multiple delay patches simultaneously.

If you Googled the issue, you probably saw people begging for a fix that never came. Many (myself included) opted to wait for an update, upgrade, or 2nd-gen release. It’s been three years, and nothing.

Well, there’s good news and bad news here.

The Triple Delay CAN be used in the way most delay geeks would desire, BUT it requires MIDI to control it. In general, I think this is foolish and unnecessarily complicated, but there is a solution.

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Disaster Area Designs (http://www.disasterareaamps.com/) makes a “SMARTClock” MIDI tap-tempo pedal, that will do the job. Sadly, it costs about $200 to get it to your address ($179 plus tax & shipping). The good news is that it does a lot of other useful functions (for instance, can be used as an analog tap-tempo pedal as well).

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I picked up a used TCE Triple Delay and ordered that SMARTClock pedal, both of which arrived within a few days of one another. Adding power and a MIDI cable is a snap. Both run on standard 9v barrel-style power connectors. In no time at all, I had recreated my basic DD-5 setup, and was doing synchronized stacked delays with better converters, two fewer conversions and fewer patch-cables.

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The Triple Delay is slightly smaller than a Line 6 DL-4, and doesn’t have weird contours. It’s nicely rectangular.

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Its delay sounds are not as exciting as a DL-4, which features lots of novelty sounds (I have always loved the DL-4 “Sweep” and “Lo-Fi” delays, and could coax a convincing Leslie out of the “Analog /w Mod”), but it has much better clarity and fidelity in a mix. My decades of live delay use has taught me that subtle delays are a waste of time. You either hear a clear echo, or you hear mud. My EXTENSIVE prior use of the DDA (that’s “Dave’s Delay Array,” utilizing Boss DD-5′s) gave me plenty of clarity, but there was no option to tame it. Ever. Now I have some flavors, without loss of clarity.

Is there a product you’ve been waiting to see? Is there a multi-delay that you swear by? Have you ever used a DDA (“Dave’s Delay Array”)? What about manufacturers? Is anyone out there listening? I’m listening. Tell me your story.

Sprechen!