Saturday, January 5, 2013

Earlier Today In Music - January 5th

The #1 song in 1959 - "The Chipmunk Song" - David Seville

Born - George Brown (Kool and the Gang) -1949, Bryan Hitt (REO Speedwagon) - 1954

1940 - The first test of FM radio was heard by the FCC.  It took a year before radios with FM capacity would hear the static-free signal.

1998 - Sonny Bono died at the age of 62 in a skiing accident.

Source - A book.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cause and Effect - Part 2

In ‘Cause and Effect – Part 1’, I talked about signal strength from your guitar, through your effect chain and to your amp.  I talked about buffer switches and true bypass switches and your tone.   In this post,  I'll address the effects of a coiled instrument cable.

If you look at pictures from your guitar heros from the 60’s and 70’s, you’ll notice that they probably have a coiled cable going from their guitar to the device it’s being plugged into (foot pedal or amp).  You might even notice that most of them were playing a Stratocaster (Hendrix, Townshend, Zappa, SRV, etc.).  What I discovered from extensive research (or ten minutes on the internet), was that the pickups in the late to mid 60’s Stratocaster were low resistance (weaker) pickups and didn’t do much for controlling the high-end frequencies created in the signal and sent to the amp.  The coiled instrument cable basically provided somewhat of a solution by providing more resistance to the signal in a shorter straight-line length of cable than a straight cable.  In other words, a ten foot coiled cable had close to twice the amount of copper as a ten foot straight cable did because of the coils.  More cable, more resistance, less high-end frequency to the amp.  Get out your tapes and listen to the deep tones from the 60’s and 70’s.  Other benefits of coiled cables:  Easier to use on stage because of the recoil, causing less cable tangles and they just look cool.  Why are coiled cables still available today with all the fancy effect pedals and modeling amps out there to control your tone?  Because the guitars and amps from the 60's and 70's are still out there.  If you're lucky enough to find a used amp from 'way back when' at your local guitar shop, plug into it.

A quote from  SRV’s guitar tech about high-end (and expensive) instrument cables, “When we were doing the In Step album with Stevie, I had an endorsement with Monster Cables. They would send me all of this free stuff and I was very excited because I could manage these things for a guy like Stevie, who really didn’t even know how to wash dishes. All he knew how to do was play the guitar, but God bless him for that, because he really did something with what he knew. Anyway, I took these cables we got to Stevie and he said, “I hate these things.” I asked him, “Why, man, they’re the best cables in the world?” He said, “They pass to much electricity.” Those were his exact words, and I’ll never forget it as long as I live. “They pass too much electricity.” “
In other words, they were too effective and messed up his tone.

It all boils down to your own preference in your personal tone.  If you want deeper tones, add more resistance to your signal.  If you like high-end, remove the resistance.  You just need to decide if you want to do it through your effect pedals, through your amp, through your cables or through the guitar itself.  There are a million different pickups out there that all sound different and your local guitar dealer would love to sell you one...or two.   Hmmmm- Cause and Effect – Part 3?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Cause and Effect

“So you want to be a rock & roll star…..if you hit the charts the girls will tear you apart!” – Tom Petty

Before you order the bands tour bus and decide what to include in your contract rider, let’s discuss a few basics about your sound/tone.  Unless you are a Rush tribute band, chances are there is another guitar player in your band.  TURN YOUR SHIT DOWN!

Amplifiers - There are basically three types:
  • Valve (tube) pre-amp and valve power-amp. 
    • Traditionally preferred amp (warm overdrive tone)
    • Heavy
    • Expensive
    • Require some sort of maintenance 
  • Solid state pre-amp and solid state power-amp
    • Transistors replaced tubes (cleaner sound but less warmth in overdrive tone)
    • Requires less power
    • Less weight
    • Less expensive 
    • Printed circuit board (more difficult for amp tech to repair)
    • Less maintenance but more expensive when needed
  • Valve pre-amp and solid state power-amp (Hybrid)
    • Less warmth in overdrive tone but better than solid state
    • Less expensive
    • Less weight
    • Printed circuit board

What causes a valve amplifier to become distorted?  The amplifier is being overdriven and attempting to deliver an output voltage beyond its capacity resulting in waveform distortion.  When you turn the amp to 10, the signal can no longer be amplified any further and is simply cut off or “clipped”.  Amplifiers have built-in power ratings to protect the circuits, so if you install a volume pot that goes to 11, you might damage your amp. In solid state amplifiers, the output voltage is increased with transistors and operational amplifiers located on circuit boards.

What are the options for adjusting the tone of the amplifier?
  • Valve amp - Pre-amp volume high, master volume low.  Result is a warm, bluesy, clipped tone.
  • Valve amp - Pre-amp volume low, master volume high.  Result is a cleaner, trebly, chimy sound.
  • Valve amp - Mix and match, see what you get.
  • Solid state amp – Less flexible with output volume from guitar pickups but tone is cleaner.  Caution – If the pickups are too hot, the result through a solid state amp may be less than desirable.

Interesting side note:  Valve amplifiers supposedly aren’t the best at reproducing the tone from a guitar.  We are just accustomed to hearing the tone from a valve amplifier and consider it “the best” and it’s what we expect.  Thoughts?

Determine your budget (include allowances for accessories, effects, etc.).  Go to your favorite guitar store and play as many amps as you can.  Determine if you want a single or multi-channel amp and do you want an effect loop built in.  A single channel amp will be less expensive.  The “clean tone” can be set and the overdrive can be controlled through effect pedals.  Multi-channel amps will be more expensive but the overdrive tone can be set at the amp as well and then switched between clean and overdrive channels through a foot controller, reducing the cost of overdrive/distortion pedals.   Most amps will have an effects loop built in.  Congratulations, you know what amplifier you want!

Effect pedals/stomp boxes/ foot switches – There are basically 9 billion to choose from that sell for $20.00 – $whatever you pay on e-bay.00.   There are single pedals, double pedals (Steve Vai’s Jemini distortion from Ibanez), multi- effect processors (floor and rack mounted), home-made (bypass/loop), etc.

Order of effects – There are no set rules that must be followed when setting up an effects chain.  The following is a guideline that is typically followed.  You will not break your amp if you move effects in and out of this order.  Just keep in mind that the previous effect pedal impacts the next effect pedal in the chain.  Experiment and see what you like.

Guitar effects fall into three areas in a signal chain from your guitar to the speakers of the amplifier:
  • Pre-Gain
    • Utility Processors
      • Buffer
      • Tuner
      • Noise Suppression
      • Wah
      • Envelope Filter
    • Dynamic Controllers
      • Compressor
    • Intelligent Processors
      • Harmonizer
      • Pitch Shifter
      • Acoustic Simulator
      • Octave
  • Gain
    • Signal Changers
      • Overdrive
      • Distortion
      • Fuzz
  • Post-Gain
    • Time-based Modulation
      • Chorus
      • Flanger
      • Phaser
      • Tremolo
      • Vibrato
      • Rotary
    • Pure Time-based Modulation
      • Delay
      • Reverb

There are a few effect pedals that work in different places of the chain.  An equalizer can be placed in the post-gain area to control feedback or in the pre-gain area to control the signal for the entire chain.   A noise suppression pedal with a built in loop can be placed anywhere in the effects chain, cleaning up the effects in the loop circuit without changing the effect pedals downstream.  Consider leaving delay and reverb out of the noise suppression loop.

What are buffer pedals? Buffer pedals are used to maintain the input impedance of the signal through the effects chain and lengths of cable running from the guitar to the pedal board and from the pedal board to the amps. Without a buffer pedal, the signal loss through the effects chain will start to degrade your tone by losing the high-end.  The magic number is 18.5’ of cable before the high-end of your tone is noticeably decreased.  Why not just use a bypass switch? A true bypass switch will reduce the amount of signal loss through the pedals being bypassed, but does nothing for the capacitance of the cables involved in your total setup (typical in vintage pedals).  Newer effect pedals have built in buffer switches that will reduce the high-end signal loss (BOSS). Gain boost pedals can be used as a buffer pedal to bring your signal strength back but can also add a little punch by increasing the output volume for soloing.  Gain boost pedals can also be considered overdrive pedals. 

What’s the difference between overdrive/distortion and fuzz?  Overdrive pedals/gain boost pedals are little preamp pedals that can be used to punch the input of the tube amp without adding distortion on their own but can drive the amp into distortion with the volume control on the pedal.  Some overdrive pedals have some “clipping” capabilities that introduce mild distortion.  True distortion pedals have higher gain or “clipping” capabilities that result in heavier distortion.  Fuzz pedals were not intended to mimic overdrive or distortion.  They were meant to be over the top with no “natural” sound to them.  Mr. Hendrix used fuzz.  Put these pedals in order of least aggressive to most aggressive if multiple distortion pedals are in the chain.  BOSS makes a hammock full of different distortion pedals.

What is an envelope filter?  The envelope of your sound is how loud it is over a period of time.  The filter listens to the volume envelope of your sound and opens or closes the filter in an amount proportional to the envelope.  Its also know as an Auto-Wah.  The sound is choppy and funky.  Listen to Stinkfoot by Frank Zappa.

If the amp is being used for overdrive/gain, it becomes the gain area of the signal chain and the post-gain area of the signal chain should be moved to the effects loop of the amp.  Why?  The effects loop of the amp sits between the pre-amp and the power amp.  As mentioned above, the post-gain area of the effects chain follows the gain-area. By using the amps overdrive/gain capabilities while using post-gain type effect pedals before the input into the amp, the order of the “areas” have been disrupted.  Your post-gain area is before your gain area.  Fix it!

I wanted to talk about effect processors a little.  An effect processor is a device that can be rack mounted and operated by a foot controller or a pedal board that sits on the floor and controlled by your foot.   These are very cool devices and can produce a ton of cool sounds, but they can be very confusing to set up.  I have an ADA MP-1 and it’s fun to use, but took a while to set up especially when trying to daisy chain it with another effect processor.  I’ve also had BOSS processor that was fun to use but was awkward to switch between banks of settings.  Not very “gig” worthy in my opinion.

Home made pedals.  Don’t.

Hope this helps.

I guess some credits are due since I didn’t know all of this on my own. – overdrive, distortion and fuzz differences. -  BOSS pedals – Types of amplifiers
Tom Petty

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Frank Zappa - Apostrophe/Over-Nite Sensation

This morning I decided to research an issue that I’m sure was the topic of discussion at every dinner table last Thursday.  Was Apostrophe and Over-Nite Sesation every released as separate CD’s?  As I began my internet quest, (relying on Wikipedia), I found a simple yes/no answer was not what I was looking for……

As a Zappa collector (thank you Dr. Demento), I knew that Apostrophe and Over-Nite Sensation were separate vinyl pressings.  Over-Nite Sensation was FZ’s seventeenth album and Apostrophe was the eighteenth.  In fact, the two were recorded during the same sessions.  One thing I didn’t realize was that Over-Nite was released as a Mothers Of Invention album while Apostrophe was released as a Frank Zappa solo album.  I had to refer to my album crate to verify. 

Another tid-bit: The Ikettes were considered as backup singers for a few selections on Over-Nite.  After Ike Turner listened to one of the recordings, he insisted that they were not credited on the release.  Referring back to the crate, I couldn’t find any credits on the album.  I’m assuming that they did sing the backup vocals though.

Both albums represent Zappa’s humor, musical arrangement mastery and bizarre lyrics.  One exception to the humorous lyrical themes is found in Uncle Remus from Apostrophe.  Frank expresses his thoughts about racial disharmony.  On a personal note, the guitar tone in this song is amazing.

A few things that seems odd to me:
·          If Over-Nite was the seventeenth album and Apostrophe was the eighteenth, why is the combo CD      called Apostrophe/Over-Nite Sensation?
·          If Over-Night was released as a Mothers Of Invention record and Apostrophe a FZ solo record, why were they released as a combo?

      Any thoughts?  Let me know.

As far as the separate releases, all I needed to do was go to Amazon.  This year, both albums were released individually on CD.  I’m glad I did a little investigating though.

Thanks for all the music Frank!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

GWAR - America Must Be Destroyed

It's been a while since my last post and a friend at work keeps scolding me for not posting.  Here you go TL.

GWAR - What to say about GWAR.  They are big, loud, probably smell like a litter box in a kiln and are made of foam.  Members are: Beefcake The Mighty, Oderous Urungus, Balsac the Jaws of Death, Jiz Mac the Gusher, Slymenstra Hymen, The Sexicutioner and Flattus Maximus (at least for this record).  They are labeled a "Satirical heavy metal band" and include political and morally taboo themes in their music.  Their discography includes 12 tapes from 1988 - 2010.

GWAR has been nominated for two Grammy Awards but lost to Nine Inch Nails in 1996 and Annie Lennox in 1993.  DAMN YOU ANNIE LENNOX!

For a first listen of GWAR, try Ham On The Bone.
If you already listen to GWAR, why the hell are you reading this?  Hmmmmmm?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Once Upon A Tape...Licensed To Ill


Fight For Your Right
Brass Monkey
No Sleep Till Brooklyn
Hold It Now Hit It

You know you liked this.

iTunes + iPod = youListen


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Once Upon A Tape...Cheetah


Bang Bang
Rock 'n' Roll Women
Coma And Get It

You know you liked this.

iTunes + iPod = youListen