Archive for the 'Guitars' Category

Bass Rig Update

November 8, 2009

Hey there folks. Here’s the status of my bass rig / guitar rig. What I’m running right now is:

Schecter Elite 5 -> X2 Wireless -> Axe FX Ultra -> Crown I-T6000 -> 2x LDS 15T cabs

But that’s definitely not the whole story. First let’s start with the bass. I got the older version of this bass for $200 because the eBay seller mistyped the auction listing (probably saving me at least $150). But the newer version has a better bridge and is string through. So I bought a new bridge (chrome instead of gold) and converted the bass to string through. I tried this disastrously once before on a Fender Jazz. It went better this time, though not perfect. I was able to use my dremel routing station as a drill press, so the holes were reasonably straight. I still messed up the finish on the back of the bass a bit, but not as bad as last time. So, next in line was the tuners. I’ve had these Sperzel bass tuners forever (they’re the only brand of locking bass tuners) but never had a bass with small enough peghead holes. Now somebody on eBay sells conversion bushings, so I decided it was time at last to install them. The bushings worked great, though I had to get a couple new tuners (I only had 4, and they were all one side). Unfortunately they don’t sell chrome finished ones anymore, so I have them mismatched a bit. But I may get more “satin chrome” ones later to match. Finally, the electronics. Ever since I tried out a Lace Helix at Bass Player Live last year, I’ve wanted to try out their Alumitone technology on one of my basses. I tried retrofitting the Variax with it but it didn’t work out so well. So I got their new “bass bars” and removed the EMG pickups and preamp from the Schecter. Instead of pots I put in little switches — Series / Parallel, Neck and Bridge on and off. And it’s still in reasonably good shape after all that work.

So, next in the chain is the wireless. I love wireless, but don’t like a) tone sucking b) changing batteries and c) having that dumb pack attached. X2 Wireless solves a) … it sounds like a cable. I am solving b) by using a camcorder battery instead of a 9V. Roughly 7 times the power. But c)? Well, I discovered that the transmitter pack for the X2 (after you take off the plastic housing) is really just a small PCB and a battery. So I soldered an on / off switch onto the PCB and mounted it in the control cavity of the bass. I also set up the back plate with magnets instead of screws for quicker access to the battery.

Now, the Axe FX. Sort of a boutique POD, I bought this so I could run either guitar or bass through my rig. It isn’t quite designed for bass, but it has a few models that work, and LOTS of EQ options, which is really what you need for bass anyway. I have it set up to send one channel through a “tube pre” sim, and the other through and SVT sim. I also added a few little tricks, like a subharmonic generator (fixed pitch shifters).

My power amp is a Crown I-Tech 6000. Lots of power. I was having problems with it when I got my new cabs. It would fault a lot when I was playing (basically it would turn off). Not good. I sent it in for repair, and when it came back? Lo and behold. Still doing it. So, at my wit’s end, I tried raising the Low Cut and lowering the High Cut frequencies of the amp sims on the Axe FX. I had them ridiculously low and high, so I put them into the actual usable range (roughly 30Hz – 15K). No more faults! How about that? It has great options as well — an incredible damping factor (5000!) and preset EQ curves. I programmed one in to flatten out the response of my cabs. I haven’t gotten a chance to test the response yet, but according to the models I made in WinISD it should flatten it out to +/- .5db 32Hz-15Khz. Awesome.

So, the cabs. I got them custom made from Low Down Sound. They are 2 15s with tweeters. The drivers are Faital Pro, power handling about 750W each at 8 ohms. Quite light too. I thought up this idea to have them latch together so you could transport them like an Ampeg fridge, but separate them for stereo use if you wanted. So far that seems to be working pretty good. The top cab has a built in two-space rack for the power amp. The weight of the whole thing is probably about 100 lbs … not bad for 1500 W 8 ohms power handling and 6000 W 8 ohms power generation! I also added a couple little apportionments to the cabs — like a instrument hanger on the side for my bass, and wiring channels for the speaker cable so I don’t have to plug them in all the time.

What’s left? 15s are supposed to have very poor off-axis response. However, I saw a page online where a guy describes how to fix this with about $30 worth of polyurethane foam. So I am going to try that. Also when I get some cash I may buy matching tuners for the bass … that’s pretty much it? Next stop. Getting a guitar set up I’m happy with?!

Stay away from Dr. Bass Cabinets!

September 16, 2009

Hey folks. This is a public service message. Don’t buy anything from speaker cabinet maker Dr. Bass. I ordered two cabs from him a year ago and paid up front. He never delivered the cabs. A few months ago I asked for my money back and have yet to receive it. I am not the only one having this problem. This guy is a smooth talker but he does not keep his promises … I was very patient and tried to work with him to get a resolution. Stay far away.

Update: Well, it’s now been a year and two months. I received a couple “you will have your money by such and such a date” promises that have passed. But don’t take my word for it: here’s a thread of people who have also bought from Dr. Bass and received nothing:

Axe FX and RackVax

August 13, 2009

Well, you know how it goes. I figured out recently that the Axe FX, a sort of “boutique POD”, does all the stuff that I use the Eventide for. Plus most of what I use the POD for, better. In 2 rack spaces. I also realized that I really want to try wireless again. Seriously, going wireless is so freeing on stage. Anyway, so I took a bunch of gear to Showcase to sell and I think I’ll get an Axe FX with it.
I also have my eye on a product that isn’t really out yet — the “RackVax”. This is like a rackable set of Variax electronics that accepts 13-pin … And they are working on a wireless version. Totally awesome.

Latest Rig

July 29, 2009

Well, in my absence I’ve made many discoveries. With a toddler running around now, I don’t get as much time as I used to for playing music and figuring out new gear, but I’ve managed to learn a few things and now have a pretty sweet setup.

So, my current rig is as follows: Variax (Electric or Bass) into Pod X3 Pro (Eventide Eclipse in the loop) into a Crown I-T6000. This setup carries a lot of benefits, not least of which are an insane amount of power and lots of effects / tone options. Just need a good wireless solution for it really.

I’m using an RJM Mastermind to control it. Works great so far, although I would like to be able to send more than 8 CCs per patch.

One of the nerdiest features of my current rig is the power system. All of the components run on any voltage, first of all … And I have a nice heavy gauge extension cord that terminates in an IEC connector (not the regular kind, the kind they use for servers … IEC20?). The power amp has a built in circuit breaker, and I placed a ground fault circuit interrupter just ahead of the other components to protect them.

VoiceLive died again

March 8, 2008

Egad, I’ve only had it back for like 6 months. And I haven’t used it very heavily since then. And, during winter too (it would be understandable if it had been hot, as that is a frequent source of problems for electronics). I hope I can get it fixed again, but it may be time to get rid of it even so. To have an item for a year and a half and have it out of commission for 6 months of that time, is not really practical.

Tonelab for Bass

January 14, 2008

I finally got around to making a bass patch for the Tonelab (thus far I had been bypassing it when using bass). It worked surprisingly well, and I got a number of compliments on my sound from the music team at church when I played this week. To review, my rig is set up thus:

EBS Multicomp -> Tonelab -> Hush pedal -> Epifani PS-600 -> Dr. Bass 2260 Neo

I came up with a good, clean patch using the “Boutique Clean” amp model and the “No cab” setting. I figured the cab models would be mostly an EQ hump and filter anyway. I decided not to use any of the effects (except light chorus and reverb).  It turned out really well, as I said … kind of a best of both worlds. The Epifani kept it clear, tight, and awesome-sounding even at high volumes, and the Tonelab’s 12AX7 gave it a surprising amount of added warmth. The low end was tight, even going through the certainly-not-designed-for-bass Tonelab. I have a feeling that using a cab model would ruin this, though I didn’t test it. All in all, a success … I am now confident having only one amp and one pedalboard for bass and guitar. The only (minor) drawback is the footswitch — perfect for guitar (I only really need four channels), but as it doesn’t have a bank control, I can’t really use it for bass unless I overwrite my guitar presets. Not really a big deal, as I have never really had occasion to use channel switching on bass before.

MIDI Footswitch

December 10, 2007

I embarked on one of the least frustrating music projects of my career this weekend. I wanted a cool footswitch for my new rig (Tonelab / etc. into Epifani / Dr. Bass). Now, I have one, and the somewhat dicey process worked great on the first try.

Let me explain.

Rather than buy an expensive Tonelab footswitch, with features I didn’t need, or shell out more cash for the floorboard versions of the Tonelab, I thought, “why not get a MIDI footswitch? It has MIDI in.” I tried picking up a cheap one on eBay, but unfortunately MIDI floorboards are neither simple (I didn’t really care about 20 buttons or an expression pedal — just wanted channel switching) nor cheap. And most of them are VERY 80s. Finally I discovered that Randall made some nice looking MIDI footswitches for their MIDI-enabled amps, in particular the RF-4, which can be obtained at Sam Ash for $50. After a few questions asked of Randall’s tech support, I determined that it would work with the Tonelab — but would only select the first four patches. Fine with me. Unfortunately, it used a 7-pin phantom power MIDI cable. The Tonelab uses a 5-pin cable. I bought it anyway (or rather, had it bought for me for my birthday), hoping to figure something out.

When it arrived, it did in fact have a 7-pin MIDI cable. So here’s what I did. I bought a small 5-pin MIDI patch cable. After some nervous deliberation, I cut it in half. Then I cut the end off the 7-pin cable. I stripped off a bit of the rubber casing, and used a multitester to figure out which wire went to which pin. I wired the relevant wires of the 5-pin and 7-pin cables together, and then I wired the female plug of a 9-volt daisy chain to the two remaining pins of the 7-pin cable. To my surprise, when the 9v plug and 5-pin MIDI were plugged in, it worked flawlessly.

Randall RF-4

Vox Tonelab

November 2, 2007

Well, here’s another entry in my ever-hypocritical series of “my latest rig is the best!” posts. My last post about getting a great tone was totally true. That being said, it was a total pain to use. A pain to move, a pain to set up, it would start to sound not as good when the tubes were hot, there were a million little parts that could go wrong at any second. I also realized that the sound of those pedals going through just the ultimate chorus was almost as good. I also had about $1500 tied up into this rig.

For a while, I had been wondering, too — why can’t guitar rigs be like bass rigs? On bass, I have a pre-eq DI out for my amp (last 3-4 amps have been like this). This is an invaluable feature, because it means that I can send a signal to the PA, and control EQ and volume of my rig separately, without too much mess and without too many potential problems. Also, my current (and probably last) bass amp is a great Class D amp, which means that it sounds roughly the same at bedroom and stage volumes … and my cab is a clean full-range cab, capable of producing a lot more volume and bass than a guitar cab.

This led me to some questions:

1) Why can’t I have all the benefits of a bass rig in my guitar rig?

This question I tried to answer with the Hot Plate, and things like a Palmer DI box. Never quite got it to work right.

2) Why have so much money tied up in a rig that could be much cheaper?

If my $150 Ultimate Chorus can sound as good as the $400 head into the $400 cabinet through the $300 Hot Plate, something is wrong.

This led me to the current setup:

[Samson wireless unit] -> Vox Tonelab -> my bass amp (Epifani PS 600 into Dr. Bass Neo 2260)

How did I arrive here for guitar, you may well ask!

Well, it was like this.

I went up to Guitar Center to check out amps. I wanted to check out the Spider Valve and the Vetta. Turns out they had already sold the one Spider Valve they had received, so I played through the Vetta for a while, but couldn’t get a sound I liked. So, I took my guitar around and tried a bunch of amps all around the showroom. I tried a VHT, a Framus, a little Mesa Combo, that Tech 21 solid state thingamabob, the Fender Super-Sonic. I liked the Super-Sonic the best, but it wasn’t excessively great, and too much money for what you get. Then, on a whim, I said, oh I’ll try this little Vox Valvetronix thing next to it. Oh, modeling with a tube, eh? I had heard a little bit about this, but had written it off so far.

I couldn’t believe it. It was the best tone I had heard so far!

So, I got back to my house and started reading reviews. Good sound, but a lot of the amps had reliability issues. None of them seemed to be real loud, either. And then I thought, what about this excessively loud, truly full-range, compact and light bass amp that I have sitting here? 600 W class D (super clean even when very loud) into a cabinet that gets, I think, +/- 2db from 35hz on up? Why do I need to invest all this money into two separate rigs, when I could use the bass amp to amplify a preamp. Like the Vox Tonelab. Which I then purchased for $150.

It arrived yesterday. My initial impressions are positive. It has some weird quirks, and it’s going to take some time to get the presets set up how I want them, but it sure has a lot of usable sounds. And the distortions sound like actual amps, and sound good too. With Line 6 stuff, even though they had so many amp models and configurations, I really only had one distortion sound I liked, and it was still a little fake. So far, this little Vox preamp is set to become my new all-encompassing guitar sound go-to box.

Clarity round 2: General meaning vs. specific meaning

October 8, 2007

Here’s another metric on our continuum. Bear with me as I’m going to work through some partly-formed ideas out here. I’m asking myself the question, I guess … so far, we’ve mostly looked, I think, at the characteristics of the didactic side, and defined the other side mostly as an absence of the didactic. Though of course we realize that the other side is marked by characteristics, I thought it might be interesting to talk about what exactly those are … so … here’s one.

When I think about movies or music, one thing that seems to also match the “didactic” side of our continuum (although in the case of Minor Threat, we might question how didactic that truly is) is that these works seem to be written to a specific time and place. Perhaps they could have relevance for all time, but that is not their purpose. On the other hand, works that are on the other side of the continuum, we might say “speak to the human condition” or, to put it another way, address the meaning of life, inform us about what people are like, and teach us not just about a particular subject, but how to live in general. Now, of course, we might say that Pilgrim’s Progress is valid for all Christians, and that people need to be Christians to live right, but … that’s not really my point. It’s still a very specific message to a specific section of the Church Universal. And I’d be the first to admit that Minor Threat doesn’t exactly carry a message for all people at all times.

Take “The Natural” for instance. This is not a movie about baseball. It could have been. It is in part. But really, it is a baseball movie about life, the human condition, redemption, and what it means to be a man. Or “The Shawshank Redemption”. Although closer to the “specific” end of the continuum than “The Natural”, this is not primarily a movie about prison life; it’s a movie about hope.

So, please chime in with your comments on that concept. In the meantime, here’s another tie-back to our clarity vs. obscurity discussion:

Co opt the intended
To fabricate ascendancy
Side step, scintillating
Social reform or revolution

Condemning yourself to death by proxy
It culminates in the evil-destined charge corollary

Distort, amplify, scintillating you’re so
Cordoned off, divide the resolution
To drown the consciousness

Imperially established, collective ethics
You’ve prescribed an
Anti – bi – otic, intolerate, enmesh

Sterilize and wither
It culminates in the evil destined charge corollary

The martyrs’ blood cries out
From the soil of your so-called Fatherland
You’re emblematic of what you castigate,
Condemning yourself to death by proxy
Unholy alliance with the powers of darkness
Sealed with a kiss
Your timidity belies that you’re
The hated interloper

This song can also be found on myspace (“Unholy Alliance”). So, with this piece I have a very specific meaning in mind, but my intention was to have a general meaning that transcends the specific, as well. The question is: is the specific meaning readily discernable? Is the general meaning readily discernable? If the general meaning is clear, is that enough?


October 5, 2007

Where wars have ended, the weapons fight on
And fears have passed, but defense is still active
Nuclear winter has passed into our homes
Fission split us, the atomic age was a deep gulf
And it sundered us

I tried to reach you, God knows I did
I tried to cure you, I gave my blood
But it was compromised, now I’ve caused more
Damage than I repaired

You cannot believe that I forswore selfishness
We could not give a full accounting of the prisoners

And the chemical winds its chimerical talons
Around the pillars of civilization
The end has begun!

I can feel my love grow cold, I’m dying from within
I can feel my love grow cold, I’m dying

Christ, call down a heart for me to reclaim

You can hear this song here — it’s the one called “Part Company”. So, here’s where the rubber meets the road … elsewhere, we’ve been discussing clarity of communication vs. beauty in word choice … so weigh in! What do you think this song means? And is possible misdirection worth it to use obscure words? Let’s see how close to my intended meaning you can get.