Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Recording The Beatles

Another Beatles book.

I thought I had every book I could ever want or need...and now comes Recording The Beatles. At first glance this looks like a reworking of Mark Lewisohn's The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. That book, for those that haven't come across it, is a blow-by-blow of The Beatles recording sessions. It goes by date, and notes what was recorded and a lot of how it was done. There's also notes about what else was going on in their lives, and how that might have influenced what was recorded. Despite sounding more like a diary than a riveting read, it's suprisingly interesting (at least for this Beatles nut) and one of my favorite Beatles books.

Recording The Beatles goes one step further than The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. Full disclosure; I haven't read it yet - I've only seen the sample pages on the website - but if that is any indication, where Lewisohn will note that Paul recorded 24 takes for Mother Nature's Son, and then overdubbed on take 26, Recording The Beatles provides a visual guide to how it was probably recorded and mixed (i.e. what tracks on the 4 track tape had what instrument.) The book also includes a lot of information about the recording equipment and techniques.

For many people this will be way too much information, but for some people - me! - it's a book that's going to be really hard to resist. At $100, it's expensive, and the publisher does mention the possability of a cheaper edition, which makes the buying decision a little difficult.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Abbey Road Keyboards

This has little to do with guitars, but for those fans of The Beatles it's something interesting; PropellerHead software has released a pack of Abbey Road keyboards for use with their Reason sound tool:

"The Abbey Road Keyboards ReFill brings the sound of legendary Abbey Road Studios into your Reason rack. Recorded on location using Abbey Road's recording rooms and vintage equpiment, this ReFill gives you access to seven time-honored Abbey Road instruments - these are the keyboards heard on all those immortal Abbey Road recordings. Abbey Road Keyboards ReFill is now available worldwide."

Did you know that ABBEY ROAD is a trademark of EMI?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Taylor Guitars Road Show

I went to a Taylor Guitars Road Show last night at Acoustic Outfitters near Portsmouth NH.

Whether you already own a Taylor, or are thinking of getting one, it was a great event to catch up on the things Taylor is doing. They brought along about 12 different models that people could try and that were on sale (at a good discount; but not give-away prices!)

The event started off with an explanation of the ES system complete with a cut-away – no back – guitar, and then they did a demo of the effects of different kinds of wood; they had four GC models constructed with different top and back woods and talked about the sound differences. Next they demoed different body shapes. A T5 demo explained the differences between the 5 different pickup settings.

Finally a guitar tech did a quick care and feeding demo (and he also did some inspections and adjustments on guitars people had brought in with them during the break.) At the end they gave away some t-shirts and picks. All-in-all a fun evening, and while it wasn’t quite like going to the Factory, it was a good event to learn about their products.

Things I learnt:

They can neither confirm or deny the existence of an ES system for nylon string guitars; the problem is that you can’t use a bridge pick-up with nylons strings, but they may have a solution coming.

Their custom shop currently takes 60 days. Also, they will be offering later this year an online custom order tool that will let you go in and choose different options. How this will work with relation to dealers (I’m assuming you won’t just order straight from the factory) was not explained.

If you send a picture of your T5, they’ll try and match the wood to make a matching T-5 12 string!

Someone asked about R.Taylor, and they basically said that it’s a completely separate operation to Taylor Guitars. They do share technical knowledge, but marketing etc is completely separate. Also, they only build about 300 guitars a year, which is why not all Taylor dealers are R. Taylor dealers (given that they have about 500 Taylor dealers.)

They will be coming out with Australian Blackwood limited editions in the Fall. These will be announced at NAMM.

Someone asked why the GC models have slot heads. It sounded like one of the big motivations was to distinguish the models for buyers, though they also mentioned that they are considered “more traditional” in appointment and they are short scale.

Taylor doesn’t stain their ebony

They are working on a cut-away for the GS models. The GS was described as a replacement for the Jumbo; the Jumbo sound without the Jumbo size. But the dimensions are very similar to the popular GA. They want the cutaway GS to look different to a GA.

Several changes made in construction were noted. This included the relief cut; a channel cut in the sound board near the out edge of the sound board, and also that they are moving towards using different thicknesses in woods depending upon the type and density of the wood. The latter started happening this year.

The T5 12 string has a new compensated bridge that adjusts for the different thicknesses of the different sets of strings.

Oh, and there will be a new solid-body electric at NAMM; though they cannot confirm or deny that.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Pickup Manufacturers Round Table

Acoustic Guitar's latest issue contains a transcript from an acoustic-guitar pickup manufacturer round table hald at Winter NAMM. It's definitely worth reading:

But how do people know what a pickup is going to sound like in their guitar? I find it very difficult to pinpoint. I can have a pickup that I love in one guitar, and I’ll put the same system in a different guitar and it’ll sound completely different.

TURNER Isn’t it the same as going into the studio with microphones?

But you don’t have to install the microphone.

TURNER I understand that. But it’s the same issue, with a much more difficult solution.

I've heard many mentions of things that effect sound, but this was the first time I have heard about the angle of the saddle:

MARINIC […] the whole thing falls apart with the installation in the guitar. The inclination of the saddle in the bridge is the most important thing on the guitar. It’s pure physics. If you look at the drawings from the old masters—from violins to other instruments—the bridge inclination is the most important thing.

TURNER I’ve been tilting saddles back about eight degrees for 15 years now, and it really makes a huge difference in being able to get that balance happening.

So many people talk about altering their saddles, and compensated saddles on the forums that I thought this was particularly interesting:

FISHMAN I will add another element: When people started using molded saddles with exaggerated B-string compensation, they stuck a knife in our gut. Because that saddle hasn’t got a chance of having a balanced set of forces on it. I’ve seen guitars that were hopelessly out of balance, and we made a saddle with a rounded top on it and stuck it in, and all the problems went away. Another real problem can be smile-shaped bridge-pin setups.

One final warning:

What are some of the most common mistakes that you see players making with your gear?

TURNER One thing that I see is too much gear—too many EQ stages. You’ve got EQ in the guitar, you’ve got EQ in your preamp. You have situations where there’s five stages of EQ between the guitar and the loudspeakers. I advise people to get their stage rig happening and plug it in to some really flat speakers or listen to it on headphones. Have that available as an XLR [out] and give that signal to the P.A. and say, “This is my sound.”

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Fichman Aura Acoustic Imaging Pedals

It's always refreshing to quote someone, so why not quote myself? In a thread on the UMGF about the Fishman Acoustic Imaging Pedals someone asked about the differences between the pedals and the Blender box, and since I'd just recently been talking about the Aura stuff with Ian at The Music Emporium, I felt almost knowledgeable enough to offer the following overview. Of course, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!

Note: The Imaging Pedals should be shipping about now, so I'm waiting to hear some user reports:

My understanding is that the pedals are a sub-set of the Aura Blender. The Blender includes a lot more Aura Images, and also has the capability to download new Aura Images (via a MIDI connection though.)

And then there's also the Ellipse Aura, which can be installed inside your guitar (the controls are accessible through the sound hole of the guitar.)

So you have three products to choose from. This is how I see the differences (but am interested to get other's take on this.)

i] The Blender gives you the most options and you can install custom images. It's much larger than a pedal though. It's best for those that have multiple models of guitar they'd like to play through Aura.

ii] The Imaging Pedals are much smaller than the Blender, so convenient for performing. If you have multiple guitars of the same body size, then that's great. If you want to use two different body sizes (a dread and an OM) then you might have to get two pedals (though you might be happy with the way the OM pedal sounds with your dread or vice versa.) Cons: Two pedals cost as much as the Blender, and are almost as bulky, so if you're thinking of getting more than one pedal you should probably get the Blender.

iii] The Ellipse Aura mounts inside the guitar. You can download custom Aura Images, so you can set it up for the guitar. Less hassle than pedals. Cons: If you have more than one guitar it becomes expensive.

USB Mics

I bought one of those Samson USB mics a while back, and while it's nice to just plug the thing into a computer and go, I'm not really that impressed with it. Particularly since - the last three times I've tried to use it - it's had an annoying static noise that I haven't been able to isolate.

Compound that with problems getting it working in the first place (on a Mac) and I can't really recommend it.

But if you are in the market for a USB microphone, then check out the April issue of Electronic Musician, which has an article comparing six different USB mics.

My own perspective: I have a Line 6 Toneport USB box which I use with 'real' microphones, and while it's a little more baggage to work with, the results are much more consistent and satisfactory.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Mark Hanson Workshop

This past weekend I attended a workshop at The Music Emporium given by Mark Hanson. Mark is an accomplished fingerstyle player who has written a number of instruction books including The Music of Leo Kottke.

The title of the class was "Arranging Beatles for Solo Fingerstyle Guitar" and it was a great lesson. He gave us the tab to three songs; I'm So Happy Just to Dance With You, It's Only Love and Good Night.

The big takeaway from this class for me - apart from the tabs and having him go through the songs talking about how they are played - were Mark's comments about how he approachs these pieces. His theory is that he trys to mimic the phrasing of the vocal, because that's what people hear in their heads (they are so familiar with the songs.) When working out the fingering, he's looking not just for an easy way to play the notes; he's looking for the smoothest way to play it. So it's important to think about where your fingers are coming from; and where they are going to.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Building a 3D guitar

In August 2006, Suzanne Vega performed live in Second Life avatar form.
Robbie Dingo was commissioned to make the Guitar and animation for the Vega avatar, and you can see an animation showing the "building" of this guitar at the Second Life Showcase.