the daily dub

July 11th, 2009

Guitar Strings

Posted by rdub in Music, Musings
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I can’t seem to win with my guitar strings. I put .009’s on my guitar so I could bend the crap outa them. Turns out, when you do that, they like to break more often. .011’s are too stiff, and .009’s are just right, but they break too much. I’m going to try .010’s next – hopefully that’ll be a decent middle ground.

Or maybe, I could buy two sets of .009’s and just use the .011 B-string from the second set as my high E-string. Expensive option, but it might work out the best…

who knows.

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January 17th, 2009

Gear Review

Posted by rdub in Music
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I’ve been reviewing some recording/guitar playing gear lately.  I’ve got a bit of an unusual setup, given that most electric guitar players don’t record directly, but instead play through an amp first.  The sound coming out of their amp is then mic’d and that microphone signal is boosted up and recorded.  This gives the recording the character of the guitarist’s amp, as well as the studio’s audio reflections and reverb. The problem with that setup is that it’s not very neighbor friendly – you really need a sound-proof space to record something like that effectively.

So, in my endless search for the right tone for a direct inject recording (that’s what it’s called with you hook the guitar to a preamp, skip the amp+mic stage, and go direct into a recording interface), I’ve tried at least 5 different approaches.  Here, I’ll outline what worked, and what didn’t.

Recording Setup

My recording setup consists of a MOTU 828mkIII audio interface and a MacBook Pro.  The MOTU is an 8 analog in/out, 16 digital in/out, and 2 mic in audio interface, all of which can be recorded simultaneously using professional digital audio software, such as Apple’s Logic.

The guitar I’m working with is a Paul Reed Smith Custom 22.

These are the parts of the setup that remain constant throughout.

What Didn’t Work

Recording Direct

Originally, I started with my guitar plugged directly into the MOTU interface.  In this configuration, I had to push the trim on the input up into the +10–14 dB range.  Trim is not the same as a preamp, so what I had done, along with increasing the sound volume, was increase the noise. But that wasn’t the real problem.  Another problem with this setup was my guitars tone alone was too … flat, empty. It was missing some essential body and fatness.

Sound: 6/10
Versatility: 2/10
Build Quality: 10/10 (hey — I like my guitar and interface, what can I say?)
Subjective Tone Rating: 3/10 (this sound sucked.)

Multi-effects pedal

My next attempt involved a Boss ME-50 multi-effects pedal on the signal in between the guitar and the interface.  The idea was that the pedal would boost the signal from instrument level to line level. Buuut, that didn’t work out.  The signal out the other end was a bit louder, but still not as full of a clean tone that I was looking for. I did, however, gain a relatively decent amount of effects for the price of (maybe) two stomp boxes.  The distortion leaves A LOT to be desired. The compressor and noise gate on the pedal do, however, provide a large amount of sustain, and a mediocre amount of noise suppression, respectively (I always have to run the noise gate at full blast). Still not quite the sound I was looking for though. Still missing that body. But I decided to keep this one. I like the wide variety of effects, including a very nice stereo chorus sound.

Sound: 7/10
Versatility: 9/10
Build Quality: 8/10
Subjective Tone Rating: 6/10

What almost worked

Fulltone Fulldrive2

The Fulltone Fulldrive 2 was the closest I came so far to achieving the clean, sustained tone for which I was looking. It has a very, very nice, clean sustained tone when used in the “CompCut” (meaning compression cut) mode.  With that mode disengaged, it goes into saturation almost immediately.  Given that, my impression was that this was mostly useful as a distortion pedal, and not a preamp – and using it only as preamp was not getting my money’s worth (since I don’t play with much distortion).  This was very close, but ultimately, not what I wanted in a preamp/direct inject setup.

Sound: 7/10
Versatility: 7/10
Build Quality: 9/10
Subject Tone Rating: 7/10

What Worked

Given that the Fulldrive pedal was very close to what I was looking for, I decided on two things: 1) I wanted to try something similar, but with vacuum tubes (AKA valves, AKA that thing before the transistor was invented – yea, they still make and use them), and 2) anything I tried from now on needed to be an actual preamp – no more stomp boxes (at least none without preamp in the name). I wanted tubes because I know a tube sound when I hear it – it’s fat, it has body and punch, and it just sounds good.

Seymour Duncan Twin Tube Classic

The Twin Tube Classic definitely fit the bill.  The tube sound was *exactly* what I wanted. It definitely colored the raw guitar sound in a way that filled it out, bringing a certain fatness to the tone that was definitely missing in all the other tests (except for the Fulldrive – it also had some fatness, but it felt a bit more “digital” so to speak).  The Twin Tube has two tube channels in it – one is internally biased for a bit more drive for lead. Switching between the two channels occurs seamlessly, without pop, and sounds great.  This thing was pretty awesome for what it was aiming to do – provide a tube gain sound, covering the range from clean to overdrive and distortion.  I definitely liked it, but, for lack of a better description, it lacked knobs.  I wanted a tool I could use to really dial in every single aspect of the tone: how distorted are the low notes, how distorted are the mids, the highs? How much sustain do I want to add?  Do I want pre-amp distortion, or power-amp distortion?  More low-end thump, or more high-end twinkle?  This pedal was very cool, and I had a really hard time bringing myself to return it, but… alas, not quite the versatility I was looking for.

Sound: 8/10
Versatility: 7/10
Build Quality: 9/10
Subjective Tone Rating: 8/10

Coup de Grace

Tech21NYC SansAmp PSA 1.1

The one pedal to rule them all didn’t turn out to be a pedal at all.  I bought the rack-mountable Tech21NYC SansAmp PSA 1.1, which is really just a long way of saying “badass tone machine.”  This thing dials in any tone I can think of, from clean-lead-sustain, to so-distorted-i-cant-tell-what-chord-i’m-playing, and all the colors and variations thereof.  Plus, it has a really kick-ass feature that the stomp box version does not: the internal signal path is entirely analog, BUT the control knobs are digital, and so is the microcontroller that controls the analog signal path.  What that all translates to is this: memory!  It has 128 programmable memory locations, each of which stores the settings of every knob.  This is a tone-maker’s dream machine of a preamp. There are probably way better signal processors out there, but I have not, at least not yet, found a more versatile preamp.  This has found a permanent home in my rack.

Sound: 9/10 (incredibly clean until you put the drive up above 3 o’clock)
Versatility: 9/10 (-2 for not having two channels, +1 for having stereo effects loop returns)
Build Quality: 6/10 (this thing definitely
needs to be racked, as it’s top-cover feels a bit flimsy).
Subjective Tone Rating: 9/10 (one can’t ever be satisfied)

This would be killer paired with the Boss ME-50 and an MXR DynaComp. That setup would earn it a 10/10 on the Subjective Tone Rating.

Conclusions

It’s all about versatility.  You don’t want to buy one stomp box, and have it collect dust for every song except for that one that you bought it for.  Instead, you want something you can program, or dial in for the entire range of your repertoire. In my case, I found what I was looking for in the SansAmp PSA.

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November 19th, 2008

First Barefoot Music podcast

Posted by rdub in Music
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The first podcast of Barefoot Music went out late last night.  It’s a cut of Athena  improvising some beautiful classical piano music.  Give it a listen for free at the link below (will play right in your browser), or subscribe to our new podcast (follow the link, then click “Barefoot Music Podcast” on the right).

Athena Rahm – Day Dreaming.

Very exciting stuff!

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November 18th, 2008

ryan du bois (dot) net

Posted by rdub in Music

I just put a new website for our music and jam band online at the link below (bottom of the post).  It includes an entirely new web design, an announcement mailing list, a brand spanking new pod cast (which I’ll talk about later), and bios on the current “permanent” band members.

Podcast, Podcast, Podcast.  I’ve started a new, listener-contribution driven podcast for original music.  It’s called Barefoot Music, and it welcomes everyone’s original content for posting.  Currently, it has the full-length mp3 of our second two Cafe Trieste shows. I’m going to start posting more cuts of some acoustic guitar music as well.

If any of you out there feel like contributing original music to be heard on a podcast, simply send an email to music@ryandubois.net

Without further ado, the new site:  ryan du bois (dot) net » Welcome.

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September 18th, 2008

Round Here

Posted by rdub in Music

One thing I’ve always dreamed of is to write and play music. I’ve always known this is what really drives me. I have an album I put together a few years back that I was never really satisfied with — there was something about it that was… someone else. Rushed maybe. Or unduly influenced. And partially cliché. It was as if I started off with a clear direction, and ended up — by introducing other inspired, talented musicians without first knowing and communicating my direction — losing sight of that direction, and settling for a sound that was close, but not quite.

Almost every song I’ve ever heard in my entire life follows that “close, but not quite” pattern — I can usually tell the song is inspired (except for most pop), driven, and passionate, but I can also always tell exactly where the artists compromised for the sake of whatever — be it the label, the “demographic,” or the genre (which I’ve always felt was a stifling way of pigeon holing music). Somehow, that compromise always shines through, nearly as much as the artistic expression.

Tonight, that all changed.

The counting crows put on an amazing show tonight. The opening song was a cross between Broadway and Radio City. I’ve never seen such an amazing display of human emotion, passion, and feeling — especially not one so powerful, moving, and free as tonight. It felt as if the inspiration just came to him then and there, and his entire band had the passion and the presence to mirror his every feeling — completely in the moment and energized.

They opened with “Round Here,” in such a way as to blend the feeling of a musical — with all the grandiose movement, physical expression, and musical cadenza — with a progressive rock concert, rife with complex meters, dramatic chord changes, and loud, talented musicianship.

That complete disregard for the rules — that radical, musical self expression — That is what I want to do.

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