Saturday, May 4, 2019

Strymon Volante:

Frankly, I'm not a big fan. As background: I use the Source Audio Nemesis (and Ventris) and I love the Neuro desktop app, which I use extensively. My board is plugged into my pc and when I record, I'm dialing in the sounds from the Neuro. My go-to engines on the Nemesis are the Tape and Tape Noise.

OK, so first, the Volante, as is always the case with Strymon, sounds great. No worries there. All three engines are beautiful. And the controls are fine, good even, (but still no desktop app interface for deeper editing and saving pre-sets). But as far as the sounds from the Volante, I believe I can get all those sounds, or close, from the Nemesis Tape and Tape Noise engines. With the Neuro app, I can dial in a variety of sound parameters to match (exceed) those of the Volante: (3 modulation parameters, tape speed, lo-cut/hi-cut, diffusion, distortion, tremolo, 3 wow/flutter knobs, sweep filters, pan). I did an A/B test comparing the Nemesis and the Volante, and, well, to my ears, they are a little different, but I can get almost all the sounds on the Nemesis. And the Nemesis has sounds the Volante doesn't. I would call it a draw.

What I really wanted in the Volante was an improvement of the SOS over the El Capistan. And yes, it is an improvement. 64 seconds now instead of just 20. And you can adjust the delay while looping. And that's a lot of improvement. But frankly, most (except the degradation) of what the Volante offers in SOS I can do with my looper running through the Nemesis. And I've watched almost all the demos of the SOS on YouTube, and most of what everyone is showing is, too me, not musical. Reversing, and stepping down to half speed, and adding a whole lot of decay, and switching the delay engines while looping is all a wonderful technical achievement, but it doesn't inspire me in the kind of music I'm using it for (ambient guitar soundscapes).

Sorry to be negative here, and I'm a big fan of the Strymon sound, but this pedal just doesn't knock me out. If I didn't have the Nemesis (and use it all the time), I'd love the Volante. If I want 4 or 5 delays on my board, the Volante would be one of them. I'm going to keep working with it, but for now, I'm probably going to send it back.

P.S. Update 5/24/2019.... I sent it back to Strymon for a refund.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Podcast music

Podcast 2: High Plains Epiphany:
                  Intro: Am... Em... F... F...  (underlying drone: Am)
                            Am... Em... F... F...  (underlying drone: Am)
                            C...    G...    F... Em  (underlying drone: C, then Em)
                  Music throughout: variations on Am

Podcast 3: Black Hole Incident:
                  Intro: Am... Fm... Am... C#m
                  Pad:  C#m... G#m
                  A drone: G#m... C#m... F#m... B7... EMaj (3, 6, 2, 5, 1) using looper's Reverse Mode
                  B drone: G#m... C#m... F#m... B7...           (3, 6, 2, 5)     using looper's Reverse Mode
                  C drone: AMaj... Am... CMaj... Cm... GMaj... CMaj... FMaj... Em     
                  D drone: A... GMaj...     
                  E drone: AMaj... FMaj... AMaj... FMaj... GMaj... EbMaj... GMaj... EbMaj... AMaj (3x)...

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Chase Tone Secret Preamp

Yeah, the Chase Tone Secret Preamp arrived and I spent maybe 2 hours with it exclusively. So, to go back, I've been wanting to get a boost in my signal; I don't use an Avid Eleven Rack or anything like that to simulate an amp; I just go from guitar to Strymon OB.1 Compression/Boost, then through my chain to the Neunaber Iconoclast Speaker Emulator (which adds no gain) into the recording interface. Sometimes it seems I'm just not getting enough signal strength into my DAW and I've gone through all my pedals and adjusted gains and outputs and such, and I think I've snatched all the boost along the way that I can get (plus my Strat is usually at 9). Mind you, my biggest, hugest issue is noise. I can't stand the slightest noise in the chain and a lot of pedals are just flat noisy, (I'm talking to you, long-gone Tube Screamer, among others.)

I considered the Two Notes Le Clean preamp, which has an actual 12AX7 tube in it; it sounded good on YouTube, but after talking with Sweetwater and thinking about it, I'm pretty sure that it will introduce noise along with all that luscious warm-ness. So from DreamPop I found out about the SP (Secret Preamp) and bought one. Here's what I've found.
There's debate about where to put the pedal in the chain: beginning-ish, or end. Since it is mono only, I'd need two of them to put it at the end, so I tested in mono thinking that if it really is the secret sauce, I'd gladly buy another for stereo. I tested it in both the end position, and at the beginning-ish of the chain.
Basically I was testing for three things: 1) does it introduce noise?..... 2) Does it give me a boost to my signal? ....... 3) Is it really the secret elixir to unbelievably great sound (as the testimonials on the website seem to say)?
1) Noise: At the beginning-ish of the chain, it is very quiet. Can I hear ANY noise at all? Yes, a little. It's like when you held a conch shell to your ears and you were told "it's the sound of the ocean"; that open, hollow, whooshing, deep quietness sound? Yeah, you get some of that; very little. Is it noise? A little, but you have to REALLY listen to hear it, and it's within my acceptable limits.
At the end of the chain, when I have a moderate delay and moderate reverb turned on, the noise is un-acceptable to me. There is definite hiss/whoosh/schuss sound. Not OK. I would not use the pedal at the end, which is what is recommended by Kyle Chase. Now for most guys/gals, playing in a band, or playing loud, or playing covers, whatever, I would call this pedal "very quiet". It's not in the same universe as a Tube-Screamer. But for ambient music like I do, and for really quiet sections, I just don't want to introduce ANY noise that I have to fight in the DAW.
2) Does it boost? Yes, quite a bit. As much as I need. It's actually just what I was looking for in that regard. I can't be exact, but using a looper as input and measuring the dry guitar through the SP I seem to get maybe 5 or 6 dB boost, with quietness. Which is fantastic and I'm really digging that.
3) Elixir? Well, the boost alone "makes it sound better". But there is some un-definable "improvement" to the tone. When I flip the SP on and reduce the overall volume simultaneously (to remove the "it's just louder" effect), and compare it with the dry signal, there is an open-ness, a fuller sound, a "bigger" sound, a bigger field of sound... I can't describe it. Is it unbelievable? No, not at all. Could my wife hear the difference? Probably not. Is it, alone, worth the price of the pedal? Probably not. But it's nice. And having the bright/mid/dark switch is a nice easy way to mod the tone quickly.
Overall, the pedal is a keeper. It'll be an "always on" type of thing, and it will let me get the signal strength I want, cleanly, without always fussing with my OB.1 and Strymon Sunset, and fighting the noise from it when I get too pushy. And the price, $160 shipped, is really attractive.
Nice work to Kyle Chase and thanks to DreamPop for turning me on to it.

Update: 3/17/2018.... After use, I was dissatisfied with the noise. Talked to Kyle. After experimenting and good sleuthing on Kyle's part, it turns out that the power supply, (from a Strymon Dig), was causing an impedance mismatch. I swapped to a different clean power supply and the noise is gone.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Whisper 10 - Horses

I can't get eighth notes out of my head, so I made an effort to combine a rhythmic eighth note thing, with my more normal ambient sounds. Ambient purists might object to the drums and "rock sound", that's fair, but I just followed my intuition on creating this piece.
The first 30 seconds and the last minute are El Capistan Sound-On-Sound swells, using Em, CM, GM chords. The repeats degrade and fade, and I add some melody notes sparingly.
As for the rhythmic part: the drums are created in Band In A Box, using a blues style at 100 bpm. I created a swelled chords layer, an arpeggio layer, a bass swells layer, and a melody layer. The chords are Em, CM, Am, Bm7b5; 2 bars per chord and then it repeats. As far as Delay/Reverb, I used the El Capistan and the Source Audio Ventris Dual Reverb.
I liberally used panning throughout as I am just beginning to understand that part of mixing. Kenny Gioia's tutorials are incredibly helpful; I took his ideas and went a little crazy with them. The bass layers use an "auto-pan" feature that oscillates the pan slowly left and right. The big bends in the solo start from the right side and swoop through to the left and fade out there. The arpeggios under the guitar solo are panned 20% left; the solo is panned 12% right. That sort of thing.

I created the video from stock (and royalty free) photos and videos from (thank you very much!) I used photos for all the video except for where the drums and guitar solo are, in which case I used a single video clip of running horses that I really love. I had to loop the clip 3 times or so to get the length correct for the guitar solo. I did watch the video to get inspired to create the guitar solo.

Call it an experiment. My grand-daughter loves it, (she lovingly says most of my ambient pieces are “boring”.)

Here's a link to the YouTube channel: Whisper 10 - Horses

Thursday, February 1, 2018

El Capistan Sound-On-Sound: A new piece by whispersinspace

Night, Sleep: Next Stop, Tomorrow This is an exercise in the Sound-On-Sound (looping) feature of the Strymon El Capistan, which I absolutely love. The El Cap Repeats are set to about 11 o'clock, which means it will decay to inaudible in about 45 seconds. It's all in the key of F, and there's no metronome; the time is loose. First I laid down a roughly 12 second loop of a Gm drone and added some melody notes in Gm. Halfway-ish through the decay, I overlaid a loop of Am with some Am
melody notes. Halfway through that decay I added a C7 layer. Then a Dm layer, then an Em7b5 layer. All, key of F chords.
At 2:54 I slipped in a Bm7b5 layer for some dissonance. And finally, an FMaj layer, (feels like "home" doesn't it?).
It's all about the El Cap delay. I used its primary and secondary settings to give the cleanest loops possible (but with tape, it's still kinda dirty,) and I added a 3dB boost because it's pretty quiet. I kept the note-playing to really minimalist, letting the El Cap do the work.
It's all guitar music; no overdubs, one complete take.
Here's a link to the YouTube channel: Night, Sleep: Next Stop, Tomorrow

Monday, January 1, 2018

Didn't fall in love

After 6 months or so living together, I have my big Strymons: Timeline, Bigsky, and Mobius, on eBay today! Just changing tools.

Here's the stripped-down board today------->

I'll probably go with the Source Audio Ventris Dual Reverb to replace the BigSky. Then the Neunaber Inspire Tri-Chorus to replace the Mobius (I really only use chorus and tremolo/vibrato). Won't replace the Timeline for now (I have El Cap, Dig, Nemesis, so I'm good).

Update 2/01/2018, here's my board today ------->

Here's a thought: the Timeline came out 7 years ago (2011); the BigSky came out 4 years ago, 2013. A lot of improvement happens in this field of Digital Signal Processing every year or two. The Ventris is less than a year old. The Tri-Chorus even newer. Both of these are DSP processed and they both sound fantastic. Let's give the kids a chance in my studio.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Pedalboard re-do

Today I broke my pedalboard completely down. I labelled, (with my handy labeller), the cables coming out of my PedalPower pack (100mA or 400mA). Then I connected:
Guitar -> Volume -> Compression -> Pitch -> Distortion -> Modulation -> Reverb -> Delay1 -> Looper -> Delay2 -> Delay3 -> Delay4 -> Reverb.
So this will let me have a Reverb and Delay in front of the looper. I know this is a challenge to get a clean loop with delay and reverb on it, but I wanted to set it up to try. And having reverb in front of delay, at the beginning of the delays, is a twist that I want to experiment with.
Another thing: I figured out that I ran 100mA power to the Nemesis when it requires 200, and it just flat conked out. It would pass the signal through it when the pedal was off, but when I hit the on switch, it just killed the whole signal. Nothing came through. That's why I labelled all my power lines coming out of the Pedalpower. I guess turning the board upside-down and trying to figure out which power line was which, was not a fool-proof effort. The labelling is brilliant.
Also, maybe because I under-powered the Nemesis, I dunno, maybe I damaged it. It's been flaky. When I got the board all together, I had a constant high pitched warbly tone. I checked cables, everything. Finally, I isolated it to the Nemesis (should have looked there first). I figured it was the power again. So I plugged it into a Strymon provided (very good) power bar and it didn't fix it. Then I put the original Pedalpower cable back into it, and voila, no more noise. What the heck? Didn't make sense. So basically, all I did was take the power out and put it back in. Of course I had tried that umpteen times. It seems to be working fine, but I'm suspicious of that Nemesis until proven innocent. Time will tell.
But taking all the pedals off the board, then just looking at them, was a very good exercise to see where I really wanted each one! For instance, I now have stereo all the way from the modulation (Mobius) pedal forward; before that I went mono out of the modulation. More stereo!
Plus it all looks neater and tidier.

Goodbye Helix!

Well, after well over 40 hours of experimenting, I've returned the Helix to Guitar City for a refund.

I've written here a lot about what I found with this device, so I'm not going to summarize. OK, I will...first, this device is a technical masterpiece; the connectivity is awesome, the UI is phenomenal, etc… I don't have a single thing bad to say about the device in that regard. If I was a gigging musician, I'd go with this instead of my large pedal board. If I was starting out in ambient music from scratch, I'd go with this instead of the pedal board. But I'm neither.
Bottom line, I just couldn't get sounds that I really loved. The dirt/rock/crunch/etc…. All those sounds are awesome. The ambient sounds? I dunno.
After literally a month of every day experimenting, I decided today would be the shootout. I recorded 3 (ambient style) loops on my Boss RC-300 looper: 1) Swelled chords, 2) a drone, 3) A single note line. After finding what I felt was the best sound for each on the Helix, I recorded them each on a separate track in my DAW (Reaper). Then I played the 3 loops into my pedal board and recorded 3 separate tracks through the pedals (Strymon OB.1 compressor, Strymon Sunset Dual Overdrive, Strymon Mobius, Strymon El Capistan, Strymon Dig). I used equivalent pedals/blocks in both of the “Pedal” vs “Helix” signal chains, trying to get them to be as identical as I could, (e.g. Hall Reverb on both, with 8 second decay, etc.)
Then I sat comparing: chords Helix vs chords Pedal….. single note Helix vs single not Pedal….. To me, and again, I have 67 year old ears, I know what I like, etc….. To me, I preferred the Strymons, enough so that I just packed up the Helix and took it back.
Now I'm not saying that you can't make great ambient sounds with the Helix; because I don't know. Frankly, there are SO MANY different choices, that in no way did I exercise every amp, cab, amp/cab in combination with all the choices of effects. Not to mention dialing-in every effect and really learning all those parameters. But I couldn't get sounds I loved. And I had real trouble with a low end rumble and boominess that I spent a lot of time EQ'ing out in the DAW, and just didn't like the result of all that EQ.
Now I have a lot of respect for Graham (at; he makes great music and he knows a lot of stuff. The fact that he loves the Helix just goes to show that it's not a cut-and-dried thing. I'm sure he'll produce awesome music with it and make me second-guess. I loved his Christmas tune he did through the Helix.
I did decide early on that I'd either go “all the way with the Helix”, or “all the way with pedals”. Wasn't going to hang a few pedals off the Helix. I saw a great ambient demo of the Helix, but he was using the BigSky to get his huge wash-y sound. I can't see the point in that for me.
Anyhow, as Forest Gump said, “that's my story and I'm stickin' to it!”

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Thoughts on pedal placement in chain

My current pedal sequence is: 
Guitar -> Compression -> Distortion -> PitchShift -> Mobius -> Volume pedal -> looper -> Neunaber Immerse Delay -> Delays (4) -> BigSky w/Cab Filter -> Interface
So I get a reverb before and after delays.
Looper in front of delay/reverb is what I generally do, so I get a clean loop (no detectable change when it ends/starts.) Sometimes move it to the end and use a light delay/reverb and can still get a clean loop. That way is good because then I can change the effects on the live guitar while the loop still plays the effects I recorded for the loop. Reverb is the prime destroyer of a clean loop. I can get away with a little Delay on a loop. Maybe a little reverb, but not much.And I like to capture the distortion and modulation BEFORE the looper. Those effects don't mess with the "clean-ness" of the loop. So I capture those effects cleanly on the first loop. Then I can change the distortion and modulation for the next layer that I want to put on top of the first. Etc.
A good looper is important for me (drones, swelled chords, layers). The Timeline has a good, although rudimentary, looper. Allows you to record the loop "before the Timeline effects" or "after the Timeline effects". If you set it on "after", then you can set Global parameter to let the loop continue to play after you turn it off, then change the Timeline's delay engine for instance, and get your live guitar played through the new setting. That's pretty cool and useful. Unfortunately, I can't get the loop to "fade out"; maybe with a MIDI controller you can do that. (There's a night of experimenting right there!)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Helix vs Board, the story continues

So now I've had the Helix for 3 weeks, and I work with it for hours every day. I really like the user interface (UI); no question. If I were a gigging musician, this would be much better than hauling around a pedal board and the associated cables. Now that I've gotten to know the ins-and-outs, it's pretty easy for me to dial in a sound that I want. I've set up a "Favorites" list that allows 128 presets, and I've organized them under: 1) Drone settings, 2) Big Ambient Swells, 3) Clean guitar arpeggios and Lead Guitar settings, etc.

I did buy some presets from Glenn DeLaune, (a big name in this business), and loaded them up. The primary benefit of that, in hindsight, was to see how Glenn thinks when setting up his presets. Like: where does he put the amp and cab in relation to delays? What delay does he feed into what delay? What kind of distortion does he use? It was helpful to see his way of setting up sounds.

Then I went through all the "Ambient Presets" on the Line 6 Customtone website. This is a site that lets Helix users upload/download their personal favorites to share among the community. Frankly, most of this was not interesting, but I did download about 15 presets that I liked and can use. Again, mostly to just see what others are doing in designing their signal chain. One comment on that: I found that most guys/gals stack up too many, (IMO), pedals in their chain, e.g.: two amps, two or three delays, two or three reverbs, a chorus, a pitch-shift, etc..... It's just so easy to go crazy. What happens is that the output sound gets thinner and thinner the more pedals you go through. At first, I thought it was an inherent "thin-ness" to the Helix; but no, if you have a chorus, a tape delay, into a hall reverb, you can get a really clear, bell-like, deep, clean, sustaining chord swell. Don't be fooled by a complex signal chain. Get an amp/cab sound that you like, sensibly stack the signal chain, and the Helix is sweet.

Finally, regarding the Impulse Response capability of the Helix and all the chatter that "IRs are mandatory. They improve the cab sound dramatically!" I watched an excellent video, "How to love your Line 6 Stock Cabs", which makes the argument that the stock cabs and amps are actually very good, that by setting up the amp/cab configuration as he does, you get a really good amp/cab sound and don't need to mess around with the Holy Grail of IRs. I like what he says a lot, his explanation makes total sense, and I've taken his suggestion and incorporated it as my "base sound" that I use in (almost) all my presets. Here's his link:

So now, after maybe 40 hours of studio/playing time with the Helix, I think I've totally got my arms around this device. I can make the changes I want really quickly. I use the HX Edit software on my PC (via USB) to create the sounds I want, and it's extremely friendly and effective. For example, if I want to record a drone, or some chord change swells, I record them on my looper, set it to playback, and then go the computer and mix-and-match my effects: dial in the best sounding feedback and mix for the delays, try a few different distortion effects, switch from plate to hall reverb, stack two reverbs, try a reverb in front of the delay, etc. on and on. The beauty is, then I can hit "save", give it a name, and I've got it for tomorrow. It's really easy and powerful. I've created a piece using only the Helix, and frankly, I think it sounds quite good; especially the drones, because as I've mentioned before, the dirt/distortion/rock/grunge/metal sounds are pretty prominent on the Helix.

The issue that I go to bed thinking about, and wake up thinking about is the "quality" of the effects. For the distortion, EQ, modulation, etc, I'm OK with what the Helix provides; it's good, some are great, but all-in, it's very good stuff there. It's the Delays/Reverbs that bother me. What I've really learned in this process is that I am a "sound freak". Didn't think I was.

Regarding Delay/Reverbs: Sometimes the Helix has that "organ-y", "metallic-y", "hollow-y" sound on the delays and reverbs. But I can only hear that clearly on direct A/B comparisons to my Strymons; eyes closed, clicking between track one (Helix) and track 2 (Strymons) playing the same loop.) My Strymon Timeline/Bigsky pedals are just, well, magnificent. They just plain sound great; I can listen to their clarity, their depth, their lush-ness, their integrity...heck, I can't describe it in words, but I absolutely love their sound. I can listen to a loop of swelled chords through any of 8 of the Timeline engines and 5 of the Bigsky engines and am totally satisfied. Smiling even. The Helix is close; nearby; somewhat the same; in the general vicinity. But NOT AS PHENOMENAL. That's it! That's the whole story. That's the decision to be made.

Some would say, "Well then, run the Timeline and Bigsky through the effects chain and get the best of both worlds!" Yeah, I tried that. It's easy, the UI totally supports it, it's stereo, very slick. But, I still don't like the idea of hanging a couple of pedals off the Helix. When will that end? Why not hang the Mobius off there, too? And then how bout the nice Sunset Overdrive, or my beloved Strymon Dig? Heck, I can strap the whole pedalboard on there!

I also know that I'm a victim of "paralysis by analysis"; I haven't completed a piece of music in almost a month. But I feel that this is an important junction for me: Go down the Helix route, or go down the pedals route. A decision that I'm going to live with for some years. I know, it's not like asking someone to marry me, (oh, wait, maybe it is!)

And lastly: I just love pedals! I saw Chords Of Orion demonstrate the new Neunaber Inspire Chorus and thought, "oh, yeah, I gotta get that pedal!" I guess if I go Helix, I'm locked in to the "no new pedals" mantra for a while. Bummer there.

I'm gonna do some more A/B testing with the pedalboard vs the Helix. I'll be back.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Helix part 2

So after about 10 days with the Helix:
The BIG DECISION is: "Do I keep the Helix, or return it and go back to my 10-pedal Strymon heavy board". Another decision is, suppose I keep the Helix; what pedals are "must-haves" that I'll run out of the (4) effects loops on the Helix. Now I can't keep a whole lot of pedals; if I did, why bother with the Helix at all? So at this point, how many pedals must I keep?
1) About every other day I change my mind on the BIG DECISION. After watching too many Helix videos, and hours of experimenting, I'm thinking "keep it."
3) I've spent probably 10 hours just listening to the various blocks while running 3 types of loops from my Boss RC-300 looper, 1) swelled chord changes, 2) a drone, 3) a swelled lead line. Blocks are e.g. 50 amp blocks, 15 delay blocks, 12 reverb blocks, etc.
4) The basic blocks (pedals) conclusions as related to keeping the current board:
Compression: I can live with the supplied blocks. I like my Strymon OB.1 better, but it's not a show stopper. There are a couple of very mellow compression effects that I like.
Distortion: OK, most of the effect here are for rockers, metal, cover. 98%. This is a challenge to me. I did find a few "mellow" distortion effect and I can live with them. Are they as nice as the Strymon Sunset's creamy, smooth, lovely, thick distortion? Take a guess. (No.)
Modulation: I really only use Chorus,Vibrato, Tremolo. All the other stuff on the Strymon Mobius I can live without. The Helix has pretty good modulation effects. Actually very good. This is a plus.
EQ: I don't have anything like this on my board, and the Helix has effective, good choices, so this is a plus. I like being able to dial-out the boomy bass before I get into the DAW. Big plus.
Built in looper: OK, this is a plus. It can "stamp" the effects on the loop, or record the dry loop. It can be anywhere in the chain which is really nice. Has reverse and 1/2 speed and overdubs. Plus.
Foot pedal onboard; nice, haven't used it as I like my Boss volume pedal. To be decided later.
Amps/cabs: Whoa, these are really great. Tons of them, too many of course, but I've found at least 3 that are real nice, clean, good for ambient. And I haven't downloaded any Ownhammer IR's yet, which should really improve this sound. This is a super plus. Otherwise, I'd be looking at an Avid Eleven Rack or something to give me the amp/cab sound. Haven't been able to get a good amp/cab sound from Reaper, and anyhow, I want the sound "live" not on my DAW. Amps/cabs: BIG plus.
Pitch-Shift: the Helix has pitch-shifters at least as good as (or better) than my Pitch-Fork. This is a plus for the Helix.
Delays: OK, here's where the rubber hits the road as delay/reverb are really the bread-and-butter of ambient guitar (at least my ambient guitar.) Again, I'd say the delays were primarily built for rockers, but, well, there's a lot of good stuff in here. There are a few, (Ping Pong, Sweep Echo, Reverse, Vintage Swell, Tape, Adriatic Delay, Adriatic Swell, Cosmos Echo), that are very useful for ambient. I'd say it's a full set of ambient delays. Now, compared to the Strymons I own, (El Cap, Dig, Timeline), how do they stack up? Well, to be fair, those 3 Strymons costed me $1,000, so I can't expect parity. They don't have that crystal, pure, organic sound that Strymon is know for. Are they terrible? No way, they are very, very good. I let go of a Carbon Copy because it didn't stand up to the Strymons; I was being very picky. Well, this is a similar deal. But you have to look at the overall picture. The Helix has 19 delay effects, all with adjustable parameters, all of "very good" caliber. So this is acceptable overall I think. Keep the Timeline, too?
Reverbs: Same argument as for delays. Not as good as Strymon's BigSky, but right up there with the Boss RV-6's of the world (which I also sold because it wasn't "as good as Strymon".) There are 12 reverbs available. Some, (like: Octo (shimmer), Cave, Particle Verb,) are particularly good for ambient. Onboard reverbs are fine. Keep the BigSky, too?

Now the UI on this thing is phenomenally good. And in looking at the Fractal AX8 reviews, I concluded that the effects on the AX8 may be better than the Helix, but it assumes you'll be doing all your setup and tweaking on the PC software, so they provided only a small screen on the AX8 itself, and the navigation seems clunkier. This is a big deal for me; I can't stand clunky, and I want to sit in my work area with guitar in hand making setting changes on the fly, not in front of my computer. So I'm not going to try out the AX8. I assume the "better effects" are marginal anyway. Whatever.

So the Helix has great ease of use, e.g.: recalling and storing presets; having 8 "snapshots" within each preset; a full-screen tuner (really nice); a vast list of back panel connection options; a big volume-out knob; headphone out with volume; ability to move the external looper to anywhere in the chain in 2 seconds (no cables to change); and more. This makes it a serious partner in creating and playing ambient music.
Can I envision performing with this? Absolutely, and much easier than punching switches on my pedal board; way easier. Not to mention transport.
Will the sounds "inspire" me the way my pedalboard does? I think so, especially with the Timeline and Bigsky. Can it do so without those two? Dunno yet.
I'm just getting below the surface now with the Helix. I just ripped up my pedalboard and took off the Timeline and Bigsky and I'm going to spend a week with my rig now being the Helix plus:
External volume pedal; external Boss looper; external Timeline; external Bigsky. That's it.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Helix is onboard

I have the Line 6 Helix. I found one at Guitar Center, used (slightly, it's like brand new), and I saved $400 from the list. The reason I went with Guitar Center is that they are local and I have a 45 day return policy. I'm still concerned that I may not like the effects enough, or that the Helix may be noisy, or whatever.
So yesterday I spent about two hours messing around with the connections and getting to understand the user interface. Got my Boss volume pedal and Boss looper hooked into the chain, (no problem there,) and then tonight I spent almost 2 hours just stepping through the different sounds. Couple of things to say, and by no means is this an extensive review.
1) It's very well-built; solid, excellent feel on the foot pedals. Plus it's cool as can be; great LED lights, etc.
2) The UI is really well laid out, as all the other reviewers said. I picked up the important parts really quickly, and was able to build signal chains almost immediately.
3) There are 128 factory preset signal chains, (maybe 256, not sure). I haven't even stepped through those factory presets. Then there are another 600+ user presets; (I'm hedging because there are 8 "setlists", and there are 128 "destinations" to save presets in. So that's 1,024 presets. The first 2 setlists are factory, then there's 6 setlists for the user. Something like that, anyway.)
4) What blew me away tonight is the amp modeling. Frankly, up to now, I've had no amp model on my recordings, just the Cab Filter output from the Strymon Bigsky (a simple cabinet model that Strymon throws in on the BigSky). And then I have been going direct into the pc and I've not used amp or cab models in my DAW. But, wow! I recorded a loop of chord changes, added a delay (well, two delays) and a hall reverb, and just let it play, then I stepped through some of the amp combo models. Holy cow, what a difference! Really amazing sounds there. And lots of clean ones, too. I've never been much of an amp connoisseur, just using whatever, but stepping through not even half of the amp combos, I found at least 3 that I really love, and that make a BIG DIFFERENCE from what I've been using previously.
5) To continue number 4, most of the review I read said that you really need to buy the Ownhammer IR's (speaker cabinet impulse responses) and add them. Cost will be about $30. Reviewers just rave about the difference. So I haven't done that yet. I'm sure I will if I decide to keep the Helix.
6) Overall, it seems like the Helix was designed primarily for rockers, metal, cover bands, etc. Probably didn't spend a lot of time interviewing ambient guitarists for their needs. As I worked through the effects I was disappointed in the breadth of the effects that I could use. I'm not jumping ship yet, because I really, as I said, only spent a couple of hours on sounds, but I'm noticing a real emphasis on the hard rock sounds. For instance, I use a Strymon Sunset distortion pedal, and it's really clean, quiet and just adds a bit of grit or substance to the guitar sound. It has no noise at low levels and it's a beautiful "full" gritty sound. I haven't found anything like it's equivalent. I did find one distortion that may be usable, I need to play more with the parameters. And with the amp/cab modeling, maybe I'll find a slightly overdriven amp sound that I can use for some light dirt. Dunno, still hunting.
6) Delays and reverbs are the ambient guitarists main weapon. I did find some nice delays and the reverbs seem all right also. Again, didn't spend a lot of time but I'm not disappointed yet. There don't seem to be any "cloud", "bloom", "swell", types of delay/reverbs as I'm used to with the Strymon pedals. I'm thinking maybe the best thing would be to keep a very simple set of Strymon pedals, bring them in through the effects chain, and get the best of both worlds. I was hoping the Helix would be my "end all" rig, but maybe I need to be open to a hybrid approach. This is a big question that I will be wrestling with.
7) So far, the noise doesn't seem to be a problem. I haven't recorded anything yet, but I'm not hearing unacceptable noise from the Helix. Of course when I step through the distortions, many of them seem to scream noise, as do some of the amps. But I just don't use them, so no problem on that account yet.
8) If hours turn into days, and I still like the Helix, I'll download a couple of the free Ownhammer IR's, just to hear what folks are talking about.
9) As far as the effects chain, you can have up to 32 "blocks" or "things" in the chain, such as: guitar, compressor, distortion, effect loop, amp, effect loop, delay, delay2, reverb, reverb, EQ, noise gate, cab, etc. The effect loop can be placed anywhere in the chain, so the Boss looper for instance, can be placed before the delays, or very simply, move to after the delays. No wires to move. Pretty nice. Move the reverb in front of the delays takes about 2 seconds to accomplish. Once you have a chain you like, press the SAVE button, tell it the "setlist" and "destination", name it, and it saves it there. Sweet. Like I said, they really did a great job designing the UI.
10) Tomorrow I'll test more of the effect sounds, and hopefully make a simple recording.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Line 6 Helix vs "All Those Pedals"

So, a fellow ambient guitarist pointed me to the Line 6 Helix guitar processor. One pedal does it all. I use a pedalboard, laden with 10 pedals, 7 of which are Strymon, etc. Lots of money on good cables, etc. You get the picture. So I researched this Helix, and wow, it has great reviews, and the sounds I'm hearing on YouTube are very good. Price new=$1,500. eBay maybe $1,100. This thing is really well-designed, with about any connector on the back you'd want. It has 4 effects loops, so you can insert delays/reverbs/whatever and place them anywhere in the chain. By accounts, the effects are very good, (as good as Strymon? I'm sure not.) The amp modelers are very good, but all reviews recommend adding Ownhammer IR's ($50-$100) on top, after which the amp/cab sounds are by all accounts pretty great. 

To me, the "pros" are: one stop shop; I can transport this rig far easier than my overflowing pedalboard; I could sell a lot of pedals and have a net savings of maybe $2k after buying the Helix; I would spend less time futzing around with my Mobius and Timeline settings or moving a reverb physically in front of a delay to try out a new idea; I'd have a lot more choices (after which I'd probably select only one or two) for amp/cab sounds as I go direct to my pc interface now. I would hope this would allow me to be playing and making more music. Also, after I become more adept at ambient guitar, I'd like to be able to perform live, whether it's for friends who say "show me something", or for my family, or at a coffee-house or art-opening, etc. Has anyone seen the demo of Andy Othling's "live performance rig" that he now uses? Holy cow, it is unfathomably complicated (not to mention expensive) for him to play his music. (Not comparing myself to Andy, just saying, to get changes in settings during a piece, instead of tap-dancing, he's got midi controllers driving a switch on the pedalboard that turns on and off pedals, etc.) So the Helix would allow a guy like me to play live, without a lot of gymnastics. Another advantage: it's a lot less expensive (did I already say that?)! 

The big thing I think I'd appreciate though is simply the ability to store all the settings that I've finally dialed-in into a pre-set "scene". I always seem to spend an hour or two trying to "find a sound I like", and then when I power down, it's basically lost and I have to find it again. Really seasoned ambient guitarists, (Andy Othling, Monochrome Seasons, The Monk By The Sea, etc.) probably know their pedals so well that they can dial up the sound in their head quite quickly. I doubt I'll ever get there (and I've been working on this pretty hard for about a year.) Plus this is a hobby for me; I'm not trying to build the state-of-the-art ambient studio here. 

The "cons"
of the Helix: you don't get best-of-breed effects. My guess is that in a straight-up comparison of say, Strymon Hall Reverb to the Helix, I'd prefer the Strymon. But not by a huge margin, and not a show-stopper difference. (I'm not a "tone-phreak": It's not as if know the exact tone I want and nothing else will do. I just know what I like when I hear it, I'm flexible.) I'd probably be giving up a lot of "engines" in the Strymon pedals, like the "Lo-fi", "Filter", "Ice", "Duck" on Timeline delay, which I don't know if I'll ever use anyway. (On the other hand, I can always keep say, the BigSky or the Timeline and run it through the effects loop pretty simply.) I won't know until I've tried it whether it will pass my "it's gotta have really low noise" test. Haven't seen any comments on this. Plus there is some chatter in forums about overloading the dual DSPs, but I think that chatter comes from newbies not setting up their signal chain effectively. These last two would come from a test-drive in my studio, which makes buying it on eBay a little more risky than, say, getting it down the street at Guitar Center where I can try-to-by real easy (at a cost of an additional $400.) Not sure there are other cons, yet.

P.S. Made the pitch this morning after coffee to the budget committee, (Mitzi!),  and got the green-light to get the Helix. Love that committee. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Whispers: Between October and December

Listening to The Monk By The Sea, a wonderful ambient guitarist, I was really captivated by his song, November, and another piece called In November which is essentially the same basic song but with a different tempo and arrangement. The chord changes haunted me for months and I have tried a few times to create a song based on his changes, but never had results I cared for. I took another shot at it this week and I think I have something that I like.
It's an experiment in building a song around proper chord changes, (see attached chart which may not be exactly accurate as to what The Monk recorded, but it's close enough for my purposes), and using a click track so there is an actual steady beat. All of my previous pieces have been "free of time", that is, no consistent beat that can be counted, but instead, just a loose time moving around as the feeling of the piece evolves.
These chord changes are, uh, not what I'm used to coming from the jazz side of music. It's not that they are crazy or weird or anything, but they don't conform to standard jazz practices. Which is I think why I love them! They are haunting; they go where you don't expect; they spend a lot of time in minor; they use chromatic movement a lot; and while it is a short piece, it really covers a lot of ground.
First I laid down the chords using foot-pedal swells. Then I dialed in a buzz-saw crunch and recorded a bass-line over the chords. Frankly, I think this bass-line is interesting enough to be the actual melody of the piece. Next I added a layer in the higher register of the guitar which is an "icy" sound using the Pitchfork to get a "perfect fifth" sound and a "major third" sound. This is interesting for the theory-minded guitarist. To get the "major third" sound: remember that Major chords are comprised of a stacked "major third, minor third", while a minor chord is a stacked "minor third, major third". So for each major chord, I played the root and the Pitchfork played it's major third (resulting in a Root/major third sound); for each minor chord, I played the minor third and the Pitchfork played it's major third resulting in a minor third/fifth sound. I think it's pretty cool. I never thought I'd use those kinds of intervals on the Pitchfork, but, here I did!
I'm grateful to The Monk By The Sea for creating this cool piece.

Update 11/25/2017.... Ughh, for the third time, I've given up on this piece. I just can't seem to get anything that I like when I try to add a melody, or upper line to this. I like the chords and the bassline, but what to put on top? I'm going to put it on the shelf.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Hello Reaper; Goodbye Audacity

I've made the transition to Reaper, and wow, I am really happy. I had no idea what I was missing while exclusively using Audacity.

Here's Reaper, (hard to see, I know.) It has so many more features than Audacity, that I find myself saying, "OMG, it can do that?". Like volume and Fx envelopes for instance. And just the user interface is so sophisticated. As a retired software engineer, I'm always smiling just thinking about how much work has been put into this.

Here's Audacity. Well, it's just plain simple. I understand that it's free, and, well, it's an amazingly good product (for free.) If you are just starting to use a DAW, it's great. You'll be editing and rendering songs in no time. With Reaper, I had to use a tutorial series to get over the original hump. But if you really want to do any kind of even semi-serious sound engineering, you've got to graduate from Audacity.

The most obvious example for me is that adding effects in Audacity is a "destructive" event. Sure, you can undo it, but once you, for instance, add reverb to a track it's on there. Plus, the killer is, you can't add effects in real time. You have to add the effect, then play the track. You can't play the track, and while it is playing, turn reverb on and adjust the parameters while listening to the effect of the change. That's a show-stopper. Especially if you are trying to use EQ to say, remove a hum. With Reaper, you can put that section on "loop play", then adjust the EQ (which has all kinds of controls) to nail down the frequency in question and solve the problem. No can do in Audacity.

So, thank you and goodbye to Audacity. I've mixed A LOT of music over the years on you, and you've served me well, but it's time to move on.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Pedal Board Today!

OK, here's the pedal board now. I swear to all things holy that I am done, finished, fully loaded. I will not look at gear reviews, I won't read through the signal chain review of any ambient tune I listen to. I'm not going to open emails from Sweetwater or Musician's Friend. Nada. No more.
I've got everything I need or want.

Get this device!

A "Sound Level Meter". It measures how loud the sound is. It measures how much damage you are doing to your ears at any given moment. My ears are 67 years old. Like many guitar players and other musicians, (and I don't just mean Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend and other big name rockers,) I have tinnitus and hearing loss. As we age, ear damage is, basically, unavoidable. I didn't listen to music way too loud (much), nor did I go to a ton of concerts and stand by the speakers. And for the last 20 years, I've been really cautious about the abuse on my ears, e.g. wearing earplugs at gigs, concerts, when vacuuming the house, near power equipment, etc. But yeah, I have tinnitus and have measurable hearing loss according to the audiologists. Not enough for hearing aids (yet), but I notice issues in restaurants and in conversations. I probably don't need to convince any of you, but I suggest you may need to do more to protect your ears.
You can get a meter like this Radio Shack version for anywhere from $20 up. I use it when I'm practicing or recording a piece to make sure I am not overdoing the volume. It's always nice to hear the sound loud; frankly, it's just better. But I force myself to keep it low.
Here's a great article from Sweetwater:
Bottom line: Rustling leaves: 25dB; Average conversation: 65dB; Hearing damage begins at 80dB; Busy traffic: 85dB (max 8 hours a day before damage); Lawn mower: 110dB (damage could start at 30 seconds); Rock concert: 120dB (damage 7 seconds).
So I aim for 55-65 dB for my playing at my home studio. Same with the tv, and listening to music at my desk. My mother was really, really deaf before she passed away. It's a horrible impairment; especially for those of us that love music.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Noise, and a lot of Time

I just finished spending about 8 hours, (really), tracking down the noise in my signal chain. This is a recurring theme and peeve with me; any hiss, hush, rush, rumble, roar, even the slighest pops drive me crazy. I've noticed my last couple of recordings were noisy, (again), and I vowed to get to the bottom of it. I traced back from my current rig setup and eliminated one thing after another. Changed cables, turned on/off pedals in different combinations. Turned on the overhead fluorescent lights, floor lamps, overhead can lights, turned off the printer; none of that mattered to the noise. I concluded at one point that the Boss RC-300 looper was the culprit, so I removed it altogether. Still had the noise.
So I tried the other direction. I took my guitar and plugged it directly into the Steinberg UR22 interface. Wow, still had the noise! Well, that settled it. So it wasn't even coming from my signal chain, it was emanating from my "guitar/cable/UR22" connection somewhere. Could it be the notorious Strat single coil pickups? Even though I have the newest American Strat with the N3 Noiseless pickups? So I got out the PRS SE 177 with Humbucker pickups and plugged it directly into the UR22. Still noisy! OK, so it's the cable or the UR22. I had been running the gain on the UR22 at about 12 noon. I tried running it at 2 pm, and of course, the noise got worse. I backed it off to 9 o'clock and the noise was gone. OK, so now I know that I can't crank the gain on the UR22. I tried 10 o'clock, and it was not noisy. Great! Then 11 o'clock introduced a small amount of noise, but tolerable. And I know noon is unacceptable. So I picked 10:30 o'clock for the UR22. Was this the entire solution?
So I then plugged my rig back together and tested the signal and, wow, at 10:30 I can have all the pedals on, including the RC-300, and the noise didn't go up. It was fine! Yay!
However, when I recorded a simple chord change and then listened back through Reaper, I saw that the signal was way down at -42db. Arghh, way too low! Not loud enough for a re-mix by a long shot. I need the signal to be up around -18db; at least -24db. So, back the pedals. Having just purchased the Strymon OB.1 Compressor/Boost, I kicked that on and dialed the Output Boost Compression knobs to noon each. Brought the signal up nicely in the mix, but not enough. So I slowly worked with the settings and settled on 2 o'clock, 2 o'clock, noon for the Output Boost Compression knobs. And, the noise stayed low and acceptable. So, congratulations to Strymon for creating a Compression/Boost pedal that gives me a nice bump in signal with no additional noise! The Strymon site says this about the pedal, and I concur: "OB.1 combines studio quality, beautifully transparent analog optical compression with a Clean Boost".
Moral of the story: Some might wonder "Can't you just use EQ to reduce the noise?" Well, those more knowledgeable than I have said the best way to reduce noise is to eliminate it at its origin. So take the time to work with the signal chain; use only high quality cables; use clean power; be very wary of any pedals that add gain (Tube Screamer is no longer on my board); keep the gain moderate on your computer interface device; buy a Strymon OB.1 to get clean compression and boost; be careful with some fancy delays and reverbs that may add noise, for instance, the Bloom setting on the BigSky is fantastic, but it will take any string noise, or just clean signal, and "bloom it up" and can create noise/hiss/rush sounds.
Oh, and one more thing: I use a pair of Sennheiser HDR 170 wireless headphones; these are about $180, so they are pretty good and very comfortable. However, they introduce noise! Even with a flat signal, (i.e. no signal), they have a rush sound and a pop; it's like they are waiting for a signal to come over the air and making noise while doing so. Instead, I put on a cheap wired pair of AKG K52's ($50 new), and voila, a lot less noise. So another conclusion: wireless phones are great for listening to music; for mixing and really intense sound engineering, go with a wired pair.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Recording direct, or by mic'ing amps

I'm wondering about going direct into the audio interface vs mic'ing the amp. I've been mic'ing my two amps: one is a Blackstar ID:15 TVP, new: $225. The other, Fishman Loudbox Artist which is an acoustic guitar amp, new $520, both of which are solid state. So, not exactly high-end amps, and not exactly made for the purpose I'm asking of them (clean electric guitar). And I'm mic'ing them with Audio Technica 450D mics (they were promoted as “SM57-like” around 2004, and probably aren't the greatest mics for this job.) So the equipment is not, well, professional level.

Seems like my recordings are muddy, especially the low-end. There's no clarity in the low/mids and sometimes (often?) I hear a "runaway" mashing of sounds into like a hum of noise. Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but it certainly isn't clear like what I hear on the recordings of the guys I admire. 

I've done a little eq'ing in Audacity (I know, I'm switching to Reaper), which helps, but I'm still not happy. Some of the ambient guys I follow (Andy Othling, Monochrome Seasons), mic their amps, but they are using Suhrs, or Matchless, and wow, these are $2,500+ amps that I'm sure sound fabulous! And probably using high-end, exact-correct mics, which are also expensive.  No way I'm springing for two amps and mics. On the other hand, Chords of Orion for example, goes direct and uses an amp simulation and he gets great sound. I'm not a gigging musician, (those days are way over), so I don't need the amps if I don't have to.

I've heard it said about audio engineering that the best EQ'ing, is no EQ'ing. The point being that you should go back to the source of your noise and clean it up; not fix it in post-recording. So, setting that objective, I've decided to start recording direct to my computer interface. 

It'll take some slight re-jiggering of my studio to go direct to my Steinberg UR22 interface, but it's doable for hopefully just the cost of two patch cords. So I guess that's my next project; give it a shot. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Two New Additions to board

Well, these two Strymons just arrived for my board today and I've got to say, I am totally impressed. I've only played with them for an hour or so, but here's what I think. The OB.1 compressor (replacing the MXR Custom Comp) hits the mark. First, it's dead quiet. It's analog; not sure what the implications of that are, but it only draws 20ma which is weird. My chief complaint of many pedals is noise, and it's dead quiet, did I mention that? I couldn't get the MXR CC to give me the sustain and compression I wanted without introducing noise into the circuit, which is not OK in any case, much less being first in the chain. It's got a simple boost switch, which is also quiet, to warmly bump up the signal if I need it. Major improvement to the board.

Next, the Strymon Sunset Dual Overdrive. Going back, I'm replacing an Ibanez Tube Screamer, which already was on the shelf having been replaced by the Source Audio LA Lady. The TS was ridiculously noisy; who could play ambient music with this cacophony of hiss? I must've believed the wrong review. The LA Lady wasn't too noisy, but I could never dial in the right sound with the right level, and it required futzing around with the smartphone Neuro app, and well, I'm sure some of you guys could get nice sounds out of the LA Lady, (Chords of Orion, for instance,) I couldn't. The Sunset is a dream. It has two overdrive circuits and 4 of the 6 settings are very, very quiet. And they produce a bunch of really nice, warm, thick overdrive sounds, which I think are perfect for my style. If you want a rocker's overdrive, this is definitely not the pedal for you. And it's quiet...
The board went through a major improvement today; the bank account, not so much.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Revamping the pedal board

Monochrome Seasons did a video recently on the subject of “pedal addiction”, and it really struck home with me, and I posted to say, “I'm with you”, and that I was going to quit the “perfect pedals search”. Stop looking at pedal videos. Play more music. Well, that was OK for a while, but I found myself not happy with my rig and constantly fretting about it. So yesterday, I bit the bullet, got out the camera and took all my “unacceptable” pedals off my board to sell on eBay, and gave myself permission to replace them with whatever I want (within reason!).
Here's what I'm selling:
Source Audio LA Lady overdrive (Neuro app, see below).
MXR Carbon Copy delay (Timeline made this unnecessary.)
Ibanez Tube Screamer (so noisy!)
Boss RV-6 reverb (Big Sky made this unnecessary.)
TC Electronic Flashback Triple delay (Timeline, El Cap, Dig made this unnecessary. I know “it's all in the ears”, but to mine, the Strymon sounds are more inspiring than the Flashback. No knock on the Flashback pedal, it's actually incredible, especially for the price.)
MXR Custom Comp compressor (dunno, just didn't do it for me.)
And maybe the Source Audio Nemesis delay, (which I will cry over if I let it go. It's fabulous, but Timeline again.)
The Strymon Big Sky reverb is phenomenal; I'm totally happy with it in the reverb department. I'll keep the Neunaber Immerse because it's a handy simple reverb with very sweet sounds and I've memorized the settings so it's easy to dial in a reverb quickly (for a quick hit of shimmer, say). Plus I can keep a “Neunaber Wet” setting as my “base sound”, and free up the Big Sky for specific reverb sounds.
I bought a Strymon Sunset overdrive and a Strymon OB.1 compressor. Both primarily because I love the Strymon sound, and because I hope (pray) they are dead quiet. Haven't heard them yet, (other than youTube demos).
On my wish-list is an all-around modulation pedal, and I'm thinking of the Strymon Mobius.
It seems that I just love the Strymon products; I know they are pricey, but hey, this is important stuff! And I'm really unhappy with annoying (to me) smartphone apps and cables (Neuro and Toneprints); pedal designers, please give me the editing I need right on the pedal and give me a bunch of pre-sets for storage, (hello Strymon).

Sorry for the lengthy post, and an apology in advance for offending those who love these pedals. I bought each of them after extensive research and positive reviews from trusted sources. It's like a divorce where the guy is saying, “It's not you, honey, it's me!”

Monday, July 10, 2017

From Zero to Stereo Pedalboard

OK, so 8 months ago I decided to try ambient guitar after 40 years of other kinds of guitar playing. I had an acoustic, a Strat and two amps, but no pedals. I went into this thing full bore, and frankly, with a "spare-no-expense" attitude. I bought, over this time, about 12 pedals, two loopers, a pedalboard, cables, a baritone guitar, whatever. I think right now I have the perfect setup :) I'm trying to deal with GAS of course, but really, I've got a killer board and guitars and all I need to make the music I want. OK, bottom line, I spent $4,200. And I already had two amps and mics and odds-and-ends I could use. I've attached a spreadsheet of all the stuff I bought:
I wrote a post recently titled: Ambient Guitar Startup On A $400 Budget, which I still stand by. Here's the link: I've actually done in the last 8 months is the opposite end of the spectrum: Ambient Guitar Startup On An Unlimited Budget. I've got an 11 year old car, no other hobbies, and a very supportive wife. Sometimes you just gotta go for it!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Just starting ambient guitar?

I posted a reply to a guy on the Chords Of Orion Youtube channel, and I thought it might be interesting here. So if you are a new ambient player, and have $400 to spend on pedals and stuff: Interesting challenge: as a 40 year guitar player, but who has only been into ambient guitar for 8 months, I'll give my two cents. So, assuming you have a guitar and amp and mic to record the amp (or you go direct to your computer), etc, in other words, we're talking about just the pedal board: then here's my suggestion for what you need:
1) A volume pedal: go with Chords of Orion favorite Morley Little Alligator: $60 on eBay
2) Delay: TC Electronic Flashback Triple Delay: $220 on eBay. This gives you 3 delays simultaneously. Most ambient players stack delays; it's important. A single delay pedal is OK, but you'll want another soon. (And then another!)
3) Reverb: Boss RV-6: $110. It's a workhorse with a lot of different reverb engines.
That's $390.

You still need patch cords to connect the pedals (preferably not cheap-o jobs). And you need clean power. Hopefully some of the pedals come with a separate power cord. Beware of the daisy-chain power. Down the road, you're going to want some kind of looper. I use the Boss RC-300, but it's expensive ($450). You can get a looper for under $100; look for Ditto. It will never end.

Strymon El Capistan - remember the settings?

The El Cap has a lot of settings available, including the "secondary functions" that are available when you press and hold the two foot switches. Unfortunately, it does not have pre-sets to store your great ideas. To keep track of the settings, I asked Strymon if they had a worksheet, and indeed they sent me one. I've attached the link for the PDF if anyone wants to download it here:

Here's a snippet of what it looks like, but the actual document has eight to the page. I use a line inside the twist knob for the setting, and an "X" on the outside of the knob for the secondary setting.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Just a thought on ambient guitar and removing noise from tracks

I started ambient guitar style playing just 8 months ago, after 40 years of guitar playing for anyone reading that doesn't know me. In these 8 months I find that there's a bit of the dog chasing the tail. I bought a Big Sky as my first pedal last December, and immediately returned it because it was too complicated. I just re-purchased it last week and I am now in love with it. Two years ago a friend was searching for “noise-less” recordings; now he craves accurate tone and is willing to suffer some noise. In jazz, I concentrated on the “right” notes and scales and arpeggios and chords; today I set up my Big Sky and Strymon Dig, created a fantastic wash of sound, and then composed a spontaneous piece based upon sound, not notes. Frankly, the notes were irrelevant; they were just all in the key of C. It blows my world apart, and I love it. So each day I learn a little more, and feel my way through this new world of music making. Even my listening has changed; I used to listen for rhythm, melody, harmony and the scale sound on top of the chord. Now I listen for layers, texture, tone, emotional reaction, and quiet too. I'll remove the noise for a while, and who knows, after my ears have evolved more, maybe I'll embrace noise as a trade-off for something else.

Strymon Big Sky

Just received the Big Sky ($479), and I'm just getting my arms around it. I found a blurb on the Strymon website blog called "This Week's Pre-Set", and the setting is called Bloombient. It uses the Bloom engine and here's a link to the blog entry:
I am using the Strymon El Capistan in front of the Big Sky, and only a light compression. That's it for effects. Here's what I came up with today:

Noise reduction in Audacity

Monochrome Seasons posted a video ( about using a plug-in called Z-Noise. It's very sophisticated and lists for $99. Unfortunately, Z-Noise does not plug into Audacity. I know Audacity is a “low end” DAW, well, it's free, but I use it for all my sound editing. I bought Reaper a couple of years ago, but never took the time to really get comfortable with it and wound up being frustrated and went back to Audacity where I can do most everything I want without having to figure it out forever. Anyway, I did a test of Audacity's Noise Reduction effect and I posted it here:
It's 8 seconds of raw ambient guitar using Strymon's Big Sky Bloom, followed by that same piece after Audacity Noise Reduction. Is it perfect? I don't know, you guys out there judge. But it conforms to my philosophy of “Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good”; (thank you Voltaire). For me, it's good enough and I'll use it on my recorded pieces as long as it serves me.