AF’s Weblog

August 23, 2012

4 Steps for Effective Guitar Mixing

Filed under: Guitar reviews, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:46 am

To read the full detailed article see: 4 Steps for Effective Guitar Mixing

The world may not revolve around guitar music anymore, but there is still a lot of it out there. Whether you’re working on face melting hardcore or a gentle country ballad, the presentation of the guitar content in the mix has a lot to do with the overall stylistic impression of the song.

Here are a few tried and true techniques for working with guitar tracks:

Hear the Arrangement

Some guitar tracks are played and recorded to stand out as focal points in the mix. Other guitar parts are intended to work as tonal layers of another instrument. Before you dive into the mix (or even the tracking session), take a moment to consider why each guitar track exists.

You’re probably going to come up with one of three answers:

  • It’s a musical focal point, a source of interest and energy in the song.
  • It’s a rhythmic element that adds tonal complexity to a percussive instrument.
  • It’s not musically functional at all (and should be muted).

With your answer in mind, you’ll have a great benchmark for evaluating the guitar parts within the mix, as opposed to evaluating them as individual elements.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Refine the Tone of Your Guitar Content ‘In Place’

With the musically essential choice about function established by rough balance and reinforced by smart panning, it makes sense to address how the harmonic content of the guitar tracks can be optimized.

There’s no point in pretending to relate EQ specifics (or even most generalities), but if the guitar tracks you’re working with haven’t already fallen victim to knob twisting, there are some themes that might help organize your decision-making.

The fundamental frequencies of the guitar lay largely between 160Hz -1300Hz. In reality, your typical rock or country rhythm track is probably played in the 160Hz-700Hz range.

This frequency band will provide ‘fullness’, ‘warmth’, or even ‘muddiness’ when accentuated. The same range can be attenuated to get thinner, less supported tones. Try starting in the 350Hz-500Hz range with your center frequency.

Boosting a wide peak approximately two octaves above the fundamental frequency center can very easily, naturally brighten picked performances on metal-stringed instruments. This is the frequency range in which these instruments are naturally bright, so it pays to play along.

Below about 80Hz even the most theoretical harmonic contribution to your guitar sound has been exhausted. Don’t hesitate to high-pass filter guitar tracks to prevent non-programmatic low frequency content from messing with your gain staging and dynamics control.

Working From a Musically Relevant Basis

Notice we haven’t touched a single multi-band compressor or 8-bit distortion-cruncher-thing. Tricks aren’t tricks unless the tracks are working in the arrangement (i.e. for the song). Starting with these types of basic considerations can take decent tracks most of the way to musical effectiveness, and take excellent tracks all the way.

To read the full detailed article see: 4 Steps for Effective Guitar Mixing

June 8, 2012

How to Adjust Your Guitar Pickups for Best Sound

Filed under: Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:33 am

To read the full detailed article see:  Adjust Your Guitar Pickups for Best Sound

It occurred to me that for all the tweaking guitarists do with their tone — rolling tone controls up and down on both their guitars and amps — very few ever touch the pickups. Most guitarists I know don’t even look at the pickups and wouldn’t know if they were out of alignment even if they did.

When I interviewed Eric Johnson in his Austin-based studio a few years ago, I was struck by something that at the time seemed rather mundane. With his guitar in hand, Eric talked and played, demonstrating some of his approaches to soloing. But as brilliant as that was, what caught my eye was the periodic modifications he made to the his guitar while he played. In between demonstrating the Mixolydian mode and a string-bending lick, Eric casually reached over and grabbed a small flathead screwdriver, gave the polepiece below the B string on the neck pickup of his ES-335 a quarter turn, and then kept playing. He did this as quickly and as effortlessly as you and I would tune up a slightly flat string. Here’s a guy with total control over his sound, I thought.

Be truthful: When’s the last time you looked at the alignment of your pickups to make sure they were still optimally placed from the strings? And do you even know what that distance should be? Your pickups are as critical to your guitar’s tone production as anything else that follows downstream, and as we know from our devotion to all things audio, there’s no place like the source to really fix a problem.

There are several ways to tweak your pickups without causing a permanent change, so there’s no reason not to have it as an option. If your tone has been lacking, or if it’s out of balance with respect to the individual strings’ outputs, consider adjusting the pickups first, before trying other, EQ-based methods. If you’ve never tweaked a pickup before, just think of Eric Johnson. He would adjust a polepiece as readily as he would roll the tone control from 9 to 8 — if it were the right thing to do. Wouldn’t you like to have that kind of confidence over all your guitar’s parameters?

Pickup Types

All pickups can adjusted with respect to their position to the strings through a simple, reversible (if necessary) turn of a screw. Whether you have single-coil, humbuckers, covered pickups or exposed polepieces, or even pickups with non-adjustable polepieces, you can always move your pickup up or down in relation to the strings. Moving a pickup up, or closer to the strings, will increase the output of the pickup (i.e., make it louder), because you’re moving the magnet and the magnetic field closer to the source (the vibrating string). This is similar to moving a microphone closer to your mouth. In a pickup, moving the magnet closer to the string causes the vibrations to increase the amplitude of the disturbance in the magnetic field, which in turn creates a stronger current at the output.

You would think, then, that moving your pickups closer, for more output, would be a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t want maximum output from their pickups? Well, the problem is that two other aspects of the sound change when you move the pickup closer to the strings. For one, the tonal balance of bass and treble shifts, because the frequency ranges don’t produce bass and treble with equal energy. The bass tends to dominate here. This phenomenon gets magnified when you put the pickup closer to the string, where things get boomy fast. The other issue is that the pickup’s magnet increases its magnetic pull on the string itself as you get the two closer together. Putting the pickup closer to the string inhibits the string’s ability to vibrate, causing the string to decay faster than normal. Not the best thing for those sustained string bends on ballads.

In addition to adjusting the overall height of the pickup to the string, consider that you can raise just one side higher than the other. For example, if your neck pickup sounds too boomy or bassy, you have two choices: You can lower the bass side of the pickup (reducing the output), or you raise the treble side (increasing its output). Either move produces the same relative effect: the treble side of the pickup will be closer to the pickup than the bass side, increasing its output relative to the bass side. Because the pickup is now on a slant, the change between the bass and treble strings will be gradual, with a linear, or straight-line, fall-off toward the bass side.

But what if you need even more precise control over the tone? For example, what if just the B string is sounding anemic, with its notes becoming buried when played against its two neighbors, the G and the high E strings? In that case, you can — if your pickups allow — adjust the individual polepieces. For this to be an option, you have to have exposed screw heads facing the strings. This isn’t an option for non-adjustable polepieces (such as those found on a classic Strat), or bar magnet pickup designs, such as many well-known models by EMG.

But if you do have adjustable polepieces (that is, with screw heads), you can try moving them up and down to get your strings in balance. Keep in mind, that as with our side-to-side example earlier, you can increase the presence of the B string in two ways: by raising the B string polepiece or by lowering both the G and high E polepieces. Once the individual strings are in balance, you can raise or lower the entire pickup, or raise or lower either side. This gives you lots of options!

If you do decide to adjust your polepieces, follow these precautions:

  • Don’t screw the polepiece to the extremes. If your screw juts out to within a 1/6th of an inch of the string, you should consider another route. Conversely, don’t torque the screw all the way down, as you risk compressing or damaging the pickup bobbin.
  • Count the screw turns, and write them down. Whenever making any type of adjustment, always note where you started from, so that you can get back to square one if you really screw things up (no pun intended) or become totally disoriented. Also note the orientation of the screw’s slot when you start, and make adjustment in quarter turns, noting the results and checking your work (with your ears) constantly.
  • Have your amp sound together before you start. It’s easier to make polepiece decisions with a clean amp sound. Forget the effects, and get a good workable clean sound before you break out the screwdriver. Then when checking your results, vary the volume of your amp and your guitar to make sure you’re getting consistent results.
  • Choose the correct size screwdriver. If you choose a tool that’s too large or too small for the job, you risk scratching the pickup cover or gouging the screw slots, respectively. Also, take care when using any sharp metal tool near your guitar. You can easily slip and scratch the surface of the top.

    Now let’s take a closer look…

    Manufacturer Recommendations

    Many manufacturers will recommend how to ideally set up their pickups. They typically start from the factory setting, or provide turn-numbers assuming the screw head is flush with the pickup. Here’s one set of instructions using the turn method:

    Set all poles when looking at the screw head from the side that only the rounded part rises above the flat part of the pup.

    Low E: no change

    A: raise 1 full turn

    D: raise 1 ½ full turns

    G: raise ½ turn

    B: lower 1 full turn

    High E raise ½ turn

    Some guitar manufacturers give measurements from the strings to the pickups, as in this example from a Carvin owner’s manual:

    Adjusting Pickup Height:  Each pickup has 2 or 3 height adjusting screws. For maximum power output keep the pickups adjusted as close to the strings as possible while maintaining enough clearance so that the pickup pole pieces will not touch the strings when playing on the upper frets. If you want a mellower sound, then adjust the pickups further away from the strings. For humbucking pickups we recommend 5/32” clearance. For single coil pickups go with 1/8” clearance.

    Adjusting individual pickup poles:  We set each magnetic screw head in both pickups for a balanced sound. If you wish to raise or lower the output of a certain string, then lower or raise the adjustable screw heads until you get the desired power output of that string. Press strings down on the 24th fret and make sure that you have at least 1/16” clearance between the strings and the pickup screw heads, otherwise you may get static as a result. Keep the pickup pole pieces clean as any metallic particles on them can cause static.

    What’s clear here is that both approaches assume you will be adjusting your pickups. They don’t warn you that it will “void the warranty,” and they even offer their recommended setups. You should feel encouraged by this to experiment for yourself.

    Conclusions

    Even the simple act of changing your brand or type of strings (from a light set to light-top/heavy bottom) may require a pickup modification. And if you find your guitar’s tone has been uneven, lackluster, or just wanting in general, try adjusting the pickups first. Your actions are completely reversible, and you can’t hurt anything — except perhaps for the tone if you go too far, but then you can just “hit Undo” in the analog way — by reversing your screw-turning steps!

    To read the full detailed article see:  Adjust Your Guitar Pickups for Best Sound

May 28, 2012

Yamaha FS740SFM Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Yamaha FS740SFM Review

The sun is shining and the air is warm. Nice weather to sit down on the terrace, open the cardboard box and there it is… It’s small, it’s new and it’s beautiful! Its half-jumbo size in vintage sunburst finish recalls the Gibson LG01 from the 50′s and 60′s, clandestine bars, cigar smoke, and blues players. It’s time to stop staring at it and put my hands on it.

Description

Yamaha FS740SFM

It feels very pleasant. The frets are not too thick and make chord playing much easier. The Nato neck with faded finish feels very smooth.

It’s thin, round but not too thick, which is convenient for people with small hands and women. The guitar is provided with premium anti-rust Yamaha strings that are ideal for sweaty hands. The rosewood fingerboard features small pearly dots that emphasize the slim shape of the neck with standard scale length (650 mm / 25.6″).

So, what is Nato?

Nato comes from the Malay “kavy o”, which means hard. This is a sacred wood from Madagascar that can also be found in Hawaii and in South Carolina, where our Yamaha guitar comes from. The wood is similar to mahogany but it is more flexible. In the USA, it’s called eastern mahogany. It is frequently used for guitar and ukulele manufacturing. Unfortunately, it reacts badly to temperature changes, so it’s not recommended to play it outdoors on a cold winter evening and then go back home and put it next to the chimney fire.

The guitar is equipped with sealed lubricated tuners. They are not awesome but stay in tune.

The small body matches different styles of playing. The instrument is rather light and its shape naturally fits the body in sitting position. The lacquer has been properly laid on. The rosette with thin abalone inlays and the small turtle scale pickguard give a classy look to the instrument. Aesthetically speaking it is the mix of two different influences: vintage body and modern neck with satin finish, which is quite pleasant.

Now let’s take a closer look…

And How About When Standing Up?

Yamaha FS740SFM

Since I like instruments with king-size body, I usually play sitting down. But considering the compact size of this Yamaha, I took a strap and stood up. It feels pretty good since it’s light and not bulky — almost like holding an electric guitar. You can move your body and dance without the fear of hitting something. But then suddenly hit me and made me sad: I can’t plug it into my amp. Of course, it’s not such a big problem because it is very loud and it can be equipped with a piezo pickup.

As a conclusion, I would say this is a very good acoustic guitar in terms of manufacturing and finish quality. The instrument is available in three versions: natural, vintage cherry sunburst and vintage sunburst. It’s a pity that the guitar is sold without a gigbag. The instrument will fulfill the needs of both beginners and experienced musicians. Its playing comfort and loudness give you a lot of flexibility, which is what most people expect from an acoustic guitar, right? We all want a guitar we can play anywhere, anytime to write new songs and play music just for fun.

Advantages: 
  • Guitar build
  • Powerful sound
  • Versatility
  • Value for money
Drawbacks:
  • No gigbag
  • Some people will find the sound too crystal-clear

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Yamaha FS740SFM Review

May 21, 2012

Kemper Profiling Amplifier Review

Filed under: Amps, Guitar reviews, Hardware — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:13 am

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Kemper Profiling Amplifier Review

The world of amp modeling is merciless. It’s been a long way since the first 6U rack processors came out with their utterly obscene prices and a sound that would make every POD Mini owner laugh out loud today.

Considering the huge offer available right now it’s quite difficult to choose a product: between plug-ins (Eleven, Guitar Rig, Amplitube…), custom-shaped devices like the giant bean (Line 6 POD), multi-effect pedals (VOX Tonelab…), amplifier heads, guitar combos, rack processors, and strange things in between (VOX AmpPlug, Amplitube iRig for iPhone…), most musicians looking for different legendary amp imitations at an affordable price almost always feel helpless.

All the more since the simulation quality has dramatically increased, even if it’s surprising to see that some pioneer products are still very successful, especially the first SansAmp. Now, as if by magic, a hungry newcomer just appeared in this wild jungle. It is committed to lay down the law and beat all competitors. Let me introduce you to the magic preamp, the gear that simulates your own amps and even more, the Kemper Profiling Amplifier! With such a name you feel like in a third-rate science fiction movie, and it’s nearly true… I know, it’s hard to get excited when you hear for the umpteenth time that you can “just throw your all-tube amps away because here comes the solution to your problems: all your amps in a single, universal magic box that can do everything…”. But forget about the past: a little bird told me that this product is really valuable, that it could revolutionize modeling concepts and that it will be a crazy source of inspiration for the most creative people among us…

Winter 2012, Antarctica — A team of German scientists discovers…

Kemper Profiling Amplifier

… a small but extremely appealing unit. And this is the first highlight for people who use public transportation like me: the cardboard box containing the product is very light. It may seem like a small detail, but it does count, especially if you take into account that Kemper’s goal is to put all your old and modern amps (and more) into a single box that you can take anywhere with you to use with every single setup! In this regard, Kemper didn’t forget a thing: they also added an optional transport bag that recalls the bag of an Orange Tiny Terror, and an optional amplifier module to change the Profiling Amplifier into a real all-round amplifier head.

It’s time to open Pandora’s box and… surprise! The beast looks pretty nice (a mix of an old tube radio receiver and the control panel of a jet) even if it doesn’t feel very rock’n’roll, if you know what I mean. A good thing is the leather handle: it’s a simple feature but it gives the electronic box a classy style. The manufacturing quality is very good. Germans are famous for that and people at Kemper are no exception. Turning the controls and checking out the connections you get the impression that the unit is quite sturdy in spite of its very light weight.

So, now it’s time to power on the device and start checking out the control interface. Honestly, if you have used this kind of product before, you shouldn’t have a problem browsing the presets (yes, Kemper packed presets into the product) and edit them. The interface is not the most friendly, fun or colorful (simple display, no pictograms), but you’ll quickly find what you’re looking for: each button is assigned to the function described by its name; everything is quite practical if you think logically. Just read the short (but nice!) user’s manual and you’ll master every feature. First of all, let’s check out the presets of a product that seems to be just a competitor of the Eleven Rack (for example): to that effect I connected the master out to a Neve channel strip and sent the preamp signal directly into Pro Tools.

Now, let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

People who know me also know that I’m a living paradox when it comes to amp simulations. My heart tells me that the endless charm and poetry of a real good amp, vintage or not, with its imperfections and intrinsic tone richness are worth the few technical disadvantages of analog gear. On the other hand, the strong scientific background I got from my family taught me to value technical progress, because only innovation can bring the human brain to new creative dimensions. And here is my personal opinion: Kemper has done an amazing job! The profiling process works really good and you can create very special sounds depending on your application and your imagination (you can can model an old radio receiver, an ambiance mic, etc.). However, I won’t sell my amps overnight — a copy will always remain a copy! That being said, huge congratulations to the team that designed this product: it blew me away! And the price is quite reasonable considering all the innovations it entails. Hats off!

Advantages: 
  • Good sound
  • Clever design
  • A real amp cloner!
  • Nice look
  • Reasonable price
Drawbacks:
  • XLR input without phantom power
  • Storing process too long
  • Really old-school way to exchange data with a computer

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Kemper Profiling Amplifier Review

April 30, 2012

Gibson Les Paul Faded Blue Stain Review

To read the full detailed article see:  Gibson Les Paul Faded Blue Stain Review

A soft launch last Christmas, the Les Paul Blue with roasted maple fingerboard caught our attention. Get your pick and come meet the beauty.

FBI, Gibson’s official partner?

When special agent Jack Malone arrived at Gibby, we thought it would be for an endorsement contract. But we were wrong. John M. Rayfield (his real identity) was followed by several more agents, who were heavily armed to fight against wood smuggling. In order to cover the event, American media was invited and they broadcast this private showcase to the world. Screeching tires, counter-terrorist arsenal (in case of counterattacks from Nashville’s luthiers), war cries — just like a Hollywood action movie trailer. In spite of a legal loophole to substantiate the claim and ask for the wood purchase and export documents in question, the officer in charge of the investigation, Rayfiled, seized part of the rosewood and ebony in stock, some guitars and computer data.

Roasted? Like coffee?

To make up for the lack of rosewood and ebony, the manufacturer had to improvise in a very unorthodox manner because the only wood at their disposal was maple. Imagine a Les Paul Custom with a maple fingerboard… it’s out of the question! To give the guitars a real Gibson feel rather than a California touch, they decided to roast the fingerboard (yes, in an oven). This made it look like rosewood, but with a dryer feel to it. Skeptical but open-minded, it’s time for me to open the cardboard box and give this new affordable US beauty a try.

Getting Started

Gibson Les Paul Faded Blue Stain

After opening the cardboard box, you’ll discover that the guitar is sold with a classy gigbag with the Gibson USA label on it. Some sort of black quiver with an immaculate white zip. Inside the bag a white and very soft protection foam will fend the guitar against the aggressions of everyday life. First surprise, thanks to a new chambered body, the guitar weights almost the same as an SG (the visits to the physiotherapist won’t be that often, I guess). As for wood, the chambered body and the neck are made out of mahogany with a maple top and the already described roasted maple fingerboard. Everything within typical dimensions: 628.6-mm scale length, 42.8-mm nut width, 22 frets and a ’59-type shape. As for electronics, you get two Burstbuckers Pro pickups, a three-way toggle switch, two volume and two tone controls. The beauty wears a translucent blue dress showing the grains of the wood and the maple top. The faded finish gives the guitar an aged look — you’ll either like it or not at all!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Gibson Les Paul Faded Blue Stain

Once again, Gibson adds a new Les Paul Studio to their product catalog, but this time for under $800. Sold with a Deluxe gigbag, this young beauty will fulfill the expectations of vintage-sound fans who want a real US-made guitar. The sound variations emphasize the mid-frequency range because of the chambered body and the maple fingerboard. This will certainly not meet everybody’s taste. Moreover, I asked several luthiers about the roasted fingerboard and none of them could tell me how the wood would age and if the fingerboard would withstand a future refretting. Glossy finish fans won’t be too excited about the “old-school” finish. I had the opportunity to see two different guitars of this same model and I noticed inconsistencies in the finish quality. Thus, I recommend you to choose your guitar in a brick and mortar store.

Advantages: 
  • Design
  • Weight
  • Vintage tone
Drawbacks:
  • Finish inconsistencies
  • Lack of low frequencies

To read the full detailed article see:  Gibson Les Paul Faded Blue Stain Review

April 16, 2012

Fender Modern Player Marauder & Jaguar Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Modern Player Marauder & Jaguar Review

This time, Fender comes from an unexpected direction! The Fender Modern Player series includes four different guitars (Marauder, Jaguar, Telecaster Plus, Thinline Deluxe) and three different bass guitars (Jazz Bass, Telecaster, Jaguar), while trying to distinguish itself from the countless Standard Stratocaster and Telecasters variations available either as reissue or special versions (with different neck width, wood type or pickups combination).

The Modern Player is Fender’s entry series. Manufactured in China, these guitars can be considered Super Squier models: for instance, we noticed that Fender was not as thrifty with the lacquer layers… Today, we will review the Gibson-inspired Jaguar and the Marauder, a wink to the instrument that never saw the light of day back in 1966, but equipped with the brand new Fender Triple Bucker. We won’t review the Telecaster Plus (three pickups) nor the Thinline (P-90) nor the bass guitars. All instruments are available at the same price $400 (except for the Jazz Bass that sells for $500).

Marauder, the stillborn baby

Fender Modern Player Marauder

After launching many products in the early 60′s (Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Mustang, …), Fender assembled two different guitar prototypes to create the Marauder, a new instrument based on a Jaguar and a Stratocaster that never hit the stores. The first prototype was equipped with a tremolo bridge, three pickups and nine switches for tone variations! The second prototype had a hardtail bridge and the pickups were hidden behind the pickguard! The Marauder had already been announced, photographed and included in Fender’s product catalog. It had even been ordered… Like the ’57 Gibson Modern, the Marauder remained a mystery due to its high manufacturing costs. The legend says that there were eight Marauders actually manufactured, making it Fender’s rarest guitar…

Let’s go back to our Marauder Modern Player! You’ll immediately notice that the guitar didn’t inherit the myriad of switches from the original instrument. You get two pickups: a Jazzmaster-type single-coil in bridge position plus a triple-coil on the bridge controlled by a Strat-type five-way toggle switch. Yes, you read well: you get a real triple-coil pickup, not a single-coil+humbucker combination — it’s almost like having a volume control going up to 11 on your amp. Here is an overview of the different pickup combinations provided by the toggle switch. A, B and C refer to the three coils of the Triplebucker (A next to the bridge), while N refers to the neck pickup:

  • Position I: A + B
  • Position II: A + B + C
  • Position III: C
  • Position IV: C + N
  • Position V: N
Fender Modern Player Marauder

The other features are less original… The maple C-shape neck has a rosewood fretboard, 22 Medium Jumbo frets and a 25.5″ scale length. The headstock is equipped with vintage-type machine heads requiring you to cut the extremity of each string and insert it into a hole before winding the string up. Two controls (Tone and Volume) and a Strat-type tremolo bridge…and that’s it! There is another unusual detail caught our eye: the body is made out of Koto, an African wood rarely used for guitar manufacturing, at least not often enough to have fans or detractors. Certainly Fender used this wood for cost reduction reasons. However, I noticed nothing unusual when playing the guitar. As a summary, you face a guitar based on two legends: the body recalls the Jaguar, while the electronics and tremolo bridge are inspired in the Stratocaster.

Fender Modern Player Marauder

I had no problems except for the tuning stability of the tremolo bridge. But with a new guitar this is rarely a problem: don’t forget that a classic and simple tremolo bridge can work perfectly if you pay attention to the friction points on the bridge and the nut. Consider carving them a bit so that they match the thickness of your strings (this also applies to very expensive instruments) and rubbing a pencil on the friction points (graphite helps the strings to slide better through). Apart from that, nothing seems to be fragile or improperly made on this Marauder. The neck feels very pleasant and inspiring, although the combination of a long-scale neck and a Jaguar body is pretty surprising. All five pickup combinations are pleasant, appealing and special. The sound ranges from very thin and twangy (position 3 is the least twangy) to full and rich (especially with position 4 combining all three coils of the Triplebucker). To wrap it up, this pickup combination recalls a HSS Strat with the center pickup next to the bridge pickup and the bridge pickup of a Jazzmaster to produce a rather low-level output and a very contoured sound.

Now let’s take a listen…

Conclusion

Both guitars are definitely modern instruments conceived for Brit rock and pop: the different pickup combinations aren’t suited for high distortion because they turn too noisy. The Marauder has something special to it — an extra that will please beginners, experienced players and even pros looking for a “small” guitar with a real sound personality both for live and studio applications. As a summary, the Marauder has something “Asterix”-like to it… What’s that you say? It reacts fast and bravely, and the electronics are really clever! Plus, owning a guitar with a triple-coil pickup can be lots of fun! The Jaguar is also a good guitar but it seems to have less personality compared to the Marauder. Considering the price ($400), there’s no risk in buying a Modern Player guitar, but you’ll have to decide which one. Don’t forget to give the Modern Player Telecasters a try, especially the Tele Plus and its three pickups. The Tele Thinline equipped with P-90 pickups can be an excellent alternative to the Jaguar.

Technical note:

The sound samples were recoded using an Egnater Tweaker amplifier head and a Two Notes Torpedo VB-101 speaker simulation.

Advantages: 
  • Value for money
  • The Marauder is amazing: a real breath of fresh air!
  • Nice finish
  • Triplebucker on the Marauder
Drawbacks:
  • Marauder: for this price, nothing! …Except maybe for the unusual look of the pickguard
  • The Jaguar is not inspiring
  • Volume control position on the Jaguar

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Modern Player Marauder & Jaguar Review

February 23, 2012

Ampeg GVT52 112 & GVT15H Review

Filed under: Amps, Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:41 am

The name Ampeg makes bass players’ ears stand up and tails wag. There is a good reason for that: launched during the 1969 NAMM, their SVT amp still has a leading position in the hearts and minds of most bass players. However, today we won’t review a bass amp, but an amp conceived for six-string players. Focus on the GVT52-112 & GVT15H.

Even though Ampeg has released guitar amps in the past, they are still pretty unknown and even underestimated. What’s more, bass products clearly take the lion’s share in the manufacturer’s catalog: bass heads, bass combos, Heritage Series, SVT Pro, Portaflex… So we were surprised to discover a brand new guitar amp range at the Musikmesse 2011! Called GVT, this series looks a lot like the old SVT monsters (300 watts in those days…) and will seduce Ampeg and vintage gear fans.

With their chrome control panel, buttons evoking a time most people under 40 didn’t know, and old-school logo, these new GVT amps have an appealing look and ride the wave of vintage gear for guitar players. One can easily imagine the sound coming out of the speakers just by looking at them and immediately feel nostalgic.

Let’s start with simple things: the small 15-watt head and its speaker cabinet.

Small But Tough

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

I don’t know about you, but personally I can’t resist tiny stacks! They look lovely, don’t they? With its compact size (9.8″x18″x10″) and light weight (27.4 lbs), this amp head is perfect for home use while being easily transportable. The speaker cabinet is equipped with a Celestion Vintage 30 12″ woofer, weights 30.8 lbs and has similar dimensions 16.5″x18x11″. Both devices together weight less than 60 lbs, plus they are easier to transport than the combo: just hold the amp head with your left hand and the speaker cabinet with your right hand, stand upright and you are ready to go.

The two devices look pretty sturdy: 15-mm plywood, thick leather handle and metal front panel. The knobs feel very firm and inspire a lot of confidence, the switches feel pretty tight as well.

And what’s inside?

A Well-Furnished Mind in a Small Head

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

The GVT15H features only one all-tube channel (class-A push-pull technology). The preamp stage has a pair of 12AX7 tubes while the power amp uses two 6V6GT tubes. You can halve the output power and get 7.5 watts instead of 15 (15 W = tetrode; 7.5 W = triode).

The Baxandall three-band EQ provides standard Bass, Middle and Treble settings. On the front panel you’ll also find the gain, volume and reverb controls. The Treble setting allows to cut/boost up to 12dB @ 5kHz, the Bass control is set to work on 80Hz, while the Middle knob allows you to cut up to 6dB @ 800Hz or boost up to 10dB @ 2kHz. The spring reverb and the rear FX loop can be disabled with a footswitch. You can connect 4, 8 or 16 ohm speakers to the amp using the appropriate rear output.

And that’s it for the overview of this extremely straightforward amp head. But how does it sound?

C-c-c-c-combo Breaker

Same look, same manufacturing quality, so let’s move on to the interesting parts right away.

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

This time, you get two channels, 50 watts of output power and an all-tube class-AB amplifier stage. The amp uses three 12AX7 tubes at the preamp stage and two 6L6GC tubes for the power amp. The triode operating mode is still available and allows you to halve the output power (25 watts). Weight (52.2 lbs) and dimensions (19.5″x24″x11″) are still reasonable. The internal speaker is a 12″ Celestion Custom Design. A good-quality footswitch is provided and it allows you to select a channel and activate the booster. Notice that it is possible to add a second footswitch to enable/disable the internal spring reverb and the FX loop.

The first channel produces only clean sounds and bears a lot of resemblance to the 15-watt head: same three-band Baxandall EQ, gain and volume controls. To switch to channel 2, you can use the small switch on the front panel or the footswitch.

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

The EQ in channel 2 is slightly different: the mid boost is set at 1kHz, instead of 2kHz like in channel 1. All other controls are identical. The reverb setting and (of course) the master volume are common to both channels. Even if the combo offers a bit more than the head, it’s still pretty straightforward. There’s an LED that lights up red in standby mode and green when the amp is ready to be played — nice little detail.

On the rear panel you’ll find an effect loop (TS jacks), two footswitch connectors (only one is provided), and the outputs for 4, 8 or 16 ohm speakers. If you’re not sure about this last point, the user’s manual clearly explains the impedance to be used depending on the number of speakers and their impedance. Before listening to the sound samples, notice that the booster is accessible only from the footswitch and is common to both channels.

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  GVT52 112 & GVT 15H Reviews

January 9, 2012

A Guide to Re-Amping Techniques

Filed under: Amps, Bass, Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:05 am

Re-amping is a technique that gained a lot of popularity in the last 15 years. The technique’s obvious advantages are numerous…

 

Direct recording is an ideal way to reserve tonal flexibility for mixing (especially useful in the DIY world);

Instrument amplifiers and stomp boxes offer virtually limitless opportunities to create the right sound with a not-so-virtual interface;

It’s fun, which is still allowed.

Sometimes the re-amping goal is simple. An electric guitar can be recorded direct while monitoring a software amp simulator. During mixing the direct guitar track (sans faux amp) will be re-recorded through an actual amp.

Re-Amp Signal Flow

Now let’s take a closer look…

Either or Both?

Sometimes it can be difficult to decide whether the original signal should be used in combination with the re-amped signal. In these cases there’s usually something unique about each signal, but they may not be working together well. This conflict can often be resolved by creating more contrast between the original and re-amped signals. On keyboard tracks, for example, I will frequently make significant, crossover-style EQ choices that allow me to more subtly combine the unique elements of each signal type. Another technique that can be used with remarkable ease is one I dubiously call “Sum and Amp-ness”. I think it kills for gritty bass, particularly with tight, close drums.

  1. Use a DI bass right up the middle of your mix. Get it sounding great, and setup a re-amp path;
  2. Setup a nicely overdriven bass tone on an amp. Somewhere in signal flow, HPF this path in the 300 – 500Hz neighborhood. I like to do it before the amp;
  3. Use the return from the amp just as you would use the ‘side’ component of a mid-side mic array. For maximum sum and difference affect, mic the amp off-axis.

This set-up leaves you with strong, centered low frequency focus, but adds an interesting distorted ‘width’ component. Try it out in mono-tending drum and bass situations. Finally, don’t be afraid to let the re-amp path hang out in input monitoring while you mix. There’s no real reason to record it until you’re getting close to printing mixes. It’s incredibly easy to make changes as long as it’s all still live.

To read the full detailed article see:  How to Re-Amp

December 19, 2011

Native Instruments Guitar Rig Pro 5 Review

Within a few years, Guitar Rig has become a reference in the world of guitar amps and effects simulation. The fourth version, which saw the light of day about two years ago, already brought major sound quality improvements with itself thanks to the new –however limited— Control Room feature… Can the German manufacturer surprise us with this fifth version? Read on…

Guitar Rig Pro is one of the pioneers in the history of guitar amp simulation and thus it is now a pretty mature product. This fifth version doesn’t introduce major improvements but rather fills some gaps in the features list. As usual, this new version includes new amps and effects, an improved Control Room (which first integrated convolution technology into Guitar Rig, see the Guitar Rig 4 Pro review), and some new features that will be useful to certain users…

Let’s start with the two new amps: Van 51 and Hot Solo+.

Two Amps for a Wall of Sound

Native Instruments Guitar Rig Pro 5

One thing must be clear: if you don’t like distortion, the two new simulations aren’t for you. The first one is an emulation of the famous Peavey 5150, the amp of Mr. Van Halen, famous for his high-gain sound, palm muting and tapping, and his drop-D tuning. This amp, appropriately named “Van 51,” has two channels. The rhythm channel features two switches: Bright and Crunch, while both channels share a 3-band EQ, a Post Gain control (master volume), a Resonance control (low frequencies), a Presence control (high mids) and a Hi-Gain switch. Even if the amp wasn’t conceived with clean sounds in mind, we tried it out with a 335 and a Telecaster, and the results are quite ok even if not jaw-dropping. With an ESP or an Ibanez in the lead channel, the amp was much more convincing. The tone is accurate but not too artificial. Moreover, both guitars sounded different, meaning that the software stays faithful to the instrument, which is often not the case with amp simulations. The addition of this amp is good news because Guitar Rig was quite convincing with clean and crunch sounds, but distortion was not at the same level.

With our Les Paul the difference between the two channels is pretty evident. The Rhythm channel sounds very heavy, but the sound is nice! With a Telecaster you can hear the twang of the instrument, which is a good point. In short, the Van 51 isn’t limited to heavy metal guitars with high-output pickups. This is a nice surprise that enriches the software’s already comprehensive amp collection.

Native Instruments Guitar Rig Pro 5

The second amp is the Hot Solo+. Based on the Soldano SLO (Super Lead Overdrive) 100, which is not an amp for dance balls but is considered the ultimate amp by many guitar players. This high-quality boutique amp is eagerly waiting for your high-speed solos! It provides two channels (Normal and Overdrive) with independent gain settings, 3-band EQ, Master, Presence (high mids) and Depth (low frequencies) controls. The good news is that the Hot Solo+ is available with two very different speaker cabinets. We recommend you to combine both cabinets for your guitar recordings because they complement each other very well, allowing you to fatten your sound. We recorded the same takes with the same settings but changing the cabinet so that you can hear the differences. With the 335 and the Telecaster in clean mode, the amp gives better results than the Van 51. The sound is deeper and definitely useful, even if we might prefer some other amps available in Guitar Rig Pro. With the Telecaster and the Les Paul in crunch mode the sound difference between the speaker cabinets is obvious. You’ll notice that the second one is more hollow. In high-gain mode, the Hot Solo+ is very convincing regardless of the guitar (Les Paul, Ibanez RG or ESP).

Check out the sound samples and make your own opinion…

Conclusion

The new Guitar Rig version has more than one trick under its sleeve and is a great tool for users who like to tweak their sound and to make the most of their gear. Containers, side chain and effects like Resochord and Filterbank allow you to get very creative. But Native Instruments didn’t forget standard users: you get a more versatile Control Room Pro and many more speaker cabinets. The two new amps are high-gain specialists, but they sound very good and complement the amp collection precisely where it was lacking the most. If anything, we regret that there are not too many new amps and, as always, bass players will feel neglected with only one amp! The update price is quite affordable considering the new features. And if you are still hesitating about changing to Native Instruments, this new version adds some new arguments to the debate.

Advantages: 
  • More versatile Control Room
  • 23 new speaker cabinets
  • The two new amp models sound good
  • 6 new effects
  • The container is very practical
  • Guitar Rig Pro is still a reference on the market
Drawbacks:
  • Only two additional amps
  • Still only one bass amp
  • Some new effects won’t be of interest for every user

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Guitar Rig Pro 5 Review

December 8, 2011

Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar Review

Come on people now! Smile on your brother. Everybody get together. Try to love on another right now! To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the launch of Nirvana’s Nevermind, Fender presents a reissue version of the guitar bought by Kurt Cobain a short time before the recording of this album.

A collector lent the original guitar to Fender, who then decided to manufacture it in Mexico. Before its launch, Kurt Cobain’s Jaguar got a lot of people talking, especially due to the possible incompatibility between the “grunge spirit” and the signature and relic guitars trend. So… is this guitar a real instrument or a shameful business idea using the name of one of the most popular lefty rock icons.

Some History…

Fender Jaguar Kurt Cobain

Originally designed for surf musicians, the Fender Jaguar was introduced as the leading product of Fender’s electric guitar range in the 60′s. The guitar had two independent electrical circuits: a lead stage with volume and tone controls plus three switches (two switches for pickup on/off plus a low-cut filter to create a very sharp sound). Accessible via a switch on the left part of the guitar body, the Rhythm stage offered additional control for the neck pickup through the volume and tone knobs. But the Jaguar had little success and disappeared from Fender’s catalog in the 70′s. Even though this guitar had a vintage touch already in the 90′s, the Jaguar (as well as the Jazzmaster and Mustang) was still rather inexpensive then. But after the grunge wave, and especially due to Kurt Cobain, its price went up and Fender relaunched production. The famous Jagstang — an hybrid between the Jaguar and a Mustang (Cobain loved it), that was actually developed by Fender and Kurt himself — also comes to mind. But the musician wouldn’t have too much time to enjoy this honor and decided to take his life some time after receiving the first prototypes.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Rate Me

Without having the same magic as an original ’62 Jaguar (which would cost about $3,000 with custom pickups/electronics…), this Kurt Cobain signature is a very good guitar. Reliable, strong personality, beautiful, noisy, wild. The guitar is rather versatile but it is not made for guitar heroes regardless of music genre (jazz, blues, metal). This guitar will be the ideal partner for sound destroyers in music genres like pop, alternative, rock, post rock, etc. And of course, a lefty version is also available!

Advantages:

  • Nirvana’s spirit (if you like it)
  • Sturdy, almost indestructible neck
  • Right weight
  • Two independent pickup stages

Drawbacks:

 

  • A bit expensive for a Mexican guitar
  • Not easy to get used to the electronics
  • Access to the controls not easy

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar Review

 

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