Welcome to the first installment, fellow tech-o-philes. In the following musings we delve into the technical side of this band. We'll look at three main areas: how we write songs using the internet, technical stuff on our recording sessions, and my live guitar rig details for all you gearheads. Feel free to ask questions and we'll post responses here as we get them.
Song Writing System Techniques
Our band is stretched across the USA these days with guys in California, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia. We get together for our recording, arranging and rehearsing sessions in the Atlanta area. In order to prepare for these we usually write our material ahead, so the challenge is how to collaborate when we can't exactly go sit on each other's front porch. We use the Internet, our web site, mp3's and small digital recorders to get this trick accomplished.
Our cyber "porch" is a password protected depot page on this website that allows us to post our song ideas as mp3 files. Dwight and I have Boss BR-532 recorders that we lay our musical idea tracks on and we convert these to the mp3's. We use a rather low rate of conversion that results in poor quality - but it keeps the file size down since some of the band are still on dial-up connections and we need to keep the track's file size under 1 MB. The quality is okay because we are just trying to get across our ideas. The Boss units are very good for making demo's and we also use them other ways - see the recording section.
We can lay down guitar, bass, a drum track with the internal drum machine, and some pilot vocals. Michael, who writes the lyrics, gets these tracks and puts lyrics to them, sometimes recording them through a direct mic into the computer (he's on a Mac) and sending them back. When we get together, we work out the arrangement with Ralph and Willi adding in their ideas. Harmonies, bridges and general mayhem are created when we work the songs out.
We're currently laying down tracks and mixing our upcoming release at Jim Boling's studio in North Atlanta. Jim uses Sonar as his primary weapon of choice, although he uses so many other tools even I can't keep with them.
We laid down the drums on his house set with Willi's snare, and lined in Dwight's Warwick bass. The keys were on a direct midi in and run through some kinds of interface (I'm not a midi guy, I'm a guitar player, can't you tell) using some really fabulous samples of various organs, grand pianos, horns, etc. Jim is really great with this stuff. He's an excellent musician, arranger, and engineer and we are very fortunate to have him on the band's "Present At The Creation" project.
The acoustic guitars were mostly run direct, using my Ibanez acoustic and Ralph on a Takamine I think. I later laid down another acoustic track with my Alvarez "beach guitar" using his booth. It has a very smooth sound. Electric guitars were also run direct using a connection straight into the Yamaha board he was using.
I used my pedalboard, relying mostly on my Visual Studio Jekyll and Hyde overdrive for adding in the right amount of dirt. Jim ran these through a combination of mixer front-end models and amp farm modules. He's able to take already recorded tracks and change the amp, effects, and even add a whammy where we want it. The BBE Maximizer plug-in's he uses are excellent.
Guitars for the electric tracks were my Stratocaster with Lace Holy Grail pickups on it and a cheapo Squire Tele that is just a great guitar - they are making some good guitars in Indonesia. We recorded the lead to"Oilman" with the Tele, running it directly through the Boss recorder and it was just an awesome sound. Jim cleaned up some noise and artifacts left by the unit. It was a surprise to all of us how good that sounded.
Live Guitar Rig Stuff
Like most players, I'm pretty anal about my rig. It's always in flux, searching for better tone. I have about nine guitars and three amps and more pedals than I can count.
Currently, I'm back using my trusty Mexican Strat as my main guitar. It was set up by a guitar tech in Houston before I left for Florida and is really right now.
The Holy Grails are great pickups - very close to the original Strat sound, with none of the hum. They are also a bit stronger. The key with these seems to be getting them balanced and away from the strings a bit more that regular Strat pickups. The guitar gets back
its musical voice then.
I'm also using the Tele (best sounding cheap guitar in the world) but it has a marked decrease in volume. My other main guitar is a truly wonderful black Les Paul DC Standard. It's almost too powerful - I may lower the pickups on this guitar, too.
The other guitars that I use regularly are my Ibanez acoustic, a Danelectro DC-12 string that is great fun, and Slivertone SG copy that I have setup for slide and tuned in open D. I also find myself playing the Alvarez "beach guitar" more and more. It's got a very nice tone and the neck is very comfortable.
For amps I'm using a Marshall JCM 2000 DSL401 small combo. The unit really sings - 4 EL84's are the best for my money. I've also got a Fender Stage 100 DSP with extension cabinet that really rocks. My back appreciates the lightness of this amp. It's very good, considering it's solid state. I'd like to use the two together and see how that sounds - the great Fender clean tones with the Marshall drive combined.
For pedals, you never can tell, but right now the chain goes like this:
Guitar - Crybaby wah - Boss TU-2 tuner - Guyatone VT-3 Tremolo - Guyatone ST-2 Compressor - Boss CE-2 chorus - Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer - Boss DS-1 distortion - and an older Electro Harmonix Electric Mistress flanger. I particularly like the CE-2 and the Electric Mistress, and of course the TS-9. My Jekyll and Hyde is at Visual Sound for repair. The TS-9 and DS-1 are taking its place.
Well, that's it for now. If you have questions, input or your own ramblings, send the to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll post them and responses here.