/* Google analytics ================================ my script would go here */

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What a difference a (tube) stage makes

Blackface Fender Deluxe amps sell for much less than blackface Deluxe Reverbs. An informal survey of completed Ebay sales shows about $1000 difference between the two.

This is due to more than the lack of reverb; the Deluxe Reverb has just a touch more gain to it, giving it a slightly different sound. There is one extra triode that's used to mix the reverb return with the dry signal, and even with the reverb knob set to 0, it's still in the signal path of the Vibrato channel. This, I think, is what endears it to a lot of guitar players.

When you add the reverb into the picture, the signal now goes through 3 additional stages, so the reverb adds additional coloration to the amp. I've read newsgroup posts where the Deluxe's fans feel they can get the same thing through a reverb pedal or other effect, but it doesn't duplicate the the signal path. There's reverb, but it's not achieved the same way.

The Deluxe is a great amp and has great sound. Although it's similar in name to the Deluxe Reverb, it's a different amp, and not as flexible. Its two channels are differentiated by one having tremolo, and the other not. A Deluxe Reverb's channels on the other hand, are almost like having two amps. The normal channel is a Deluxe with the tremolo turned off, and the vibrato channel adds a gain stage, reverb, and tremolo.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Another take on using your ears

Just came across a Gibson online article that is similar to two of my early postings, the July 2, 2012 On Using Your Ears, and the July 19, 2012 More On Using Your Ears. In the Gibson article, Dave Hunter talks about "home tone" vs. "gig tone." The take-away line for me is

"When you get “your tone” set up and ready to go in sound check, then find it is lost in the ether once the band kicks in, don’t be too proud—or too stubborn—to change it."

 And he sums it up with

"...get your tone out there to the ears that matter most to the live performance: someone else’s."

 It's a good read for another take on this topic.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Selection strategy

Knobs courtesy Derek Jensen (Tysto) WikiMedia Commons
A lot of digital gear comes with hundreds of preset patches or at least hundreds of spaces for you to record your own patches. For live playing, this is overwhelming; at best you can remember a handful of your favorites. One way to deal is to simplify and memorize a just a small bunch at at time. But you need a way to call these up quickly, and that's where things get interesting, how to map the list to a control device. I think the best schemes provide an analogy (visual or mental), and simplify (reduce) the number of choices.

I've heard that there are 128 pickup combinations on a Strat (pickup(s) chosen, series wiring, parallel wiring, phasing) yet the original Strat wiring simplified by provided just 3 with a lever switch. The switch pretty much pointed at the pickup that was being selected, providing the analogy. That's since been expanded to 5, and uses the same position analogy. But even if you only consider the parallel wiring that's so commonly used, there are 7 combinations, so some simplification is still happening.

In trying to get at more of the possibilities, I wired in a 3 position mode selector to one Strat that ups the combinations to 10. The 5 position selector switch is still the same, but the mode switch changes what 5 pickup combinations you get. This makes it a lot easier for me, since I only need to remember 5 things at a time, and the position of the switch tip uses the traditional analogy to sort of point at the pickups being selected. There is still some simplification going on, as this setup can theoretically have 15 selections, but wiring limitations lower that number. Also the groupings are meant to be functional not exhaustive. The modes group pickup selections into usable groups. Mode 1 is the stock wiring, so you don't need to remember anything new. Mode 2 gets at the missing 2 combinations--neck+bridge, and all 3 pickups on. The 4th and 5th positions are rewired, but positions 1-3 still give you the stock combinations. I think of mode 3 as a 2 pickup humbucker guitar. It's louder, and has only 3 pickup combinations.

Some people choose to implement pickup wiring with a set of 3 or more switches to individually control the pickups. This doesn't work for me, there's no visual or mental analogy that I can lock into. It also isn't simple, it takes several switch throws to select a pickup combination. A compromise is to provide a switch that just turns on the bridge pickup so it can be added to any combination selected by the pickup selector. I tried this for a while, and didn't like it because selecting pickups is still a 2 step operation--use the lever switch and check or throw the bridge pickup switch.

Another example came up with a Marshall JMP1 preamp. This has 100 patches. On its front panel, these are laid out linearly using a knob to sequentially scroll through them. I originally started out using a MIDI foot controller that allowed me to access any patch. I noticed however that I never used more than 5 patches in any situation. I think Marshall realized this too, because in addition to MIDI switching, they have a footswitch connection that puts just 4 patches at your disposal (simplification). You can map the 4 buttons on the footswitch to any patch. I made a footswitch for it and laid out the switches with the idea that the cleanest patch  was at the left side, and the highest gain at the right. This mental analogy, like the visual image on the Strat pickup selector switch, helps me keep things straight.

There's another way to remember patches that works for me, and that's a table layout. Patches are arranged in banks, with the patches in a bank being a variation on the theme of the bank. Way back when, I set up my Zoom 9002 that way. There is a distortion bank, a time based bank (chorus, flange), a weirdness bank (envelope follower, arpeggio generator), and a harmony bank (added octaves, fifths). The patches in a bank use other effects like distortion, reverb, and compression, but the main flavor of the patch was what got it added to a particular bank. Doing this, I was able to remember a 4x4 array, or 16 patches.

The MIDI controller for the JMP1 also used table layout. However remembering the large array needed for 100 patches (10x10?) misses the  idea of simplifying. Still this layout has the advantage of making it quicker to get at patches at different ends of the spectrum. On the JMP1 itself, going from patch 1 to patch 50 involves scrolling through 49 patches (still, it's fairly quick with Marshall's spin knob). With the MIDI foot controller, you step on the bank switch to get to the correct bank, then select the patch in that bank.

I think the inability to hold all the possibilities in our heads is what contributed to the decline in popularity of rack effects processors in live guitar rigs, and the return to stomp boxes with analog style controls. The stomp box provides the simplicity of a few knobs to control parameters, and a visual indication of where those parameters are set. This has extended into audio recording software where there is often an optional interface for effects plug ins that looks like a stompbox. Somewhere along the way the technology parted ways with the way we think and we went back to the tried and true.