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Guitar Recording: Max your Axe with these Timely Tips and Rockin’ Reviews

August 1, 2009
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IT'S AMAZING WHAT YOU CAN DO WITH GUITAR RECORDING THESE DAYS. It’s not just about sticking a mic in front of an amp, but about plug-ins, pedals that think they’re shrunken rack units, affordable ribbon mics, small amps that sound huge, mobile laptop recording, hex outputs, and much more.

In fact, if we changed the name of the mag to “Guitar Recording,” we’d have enough material to fill up at least a year’s worth of issues. But for now, we’ve squeezed as much as we can into this month’s roundup.

In addition to reviews of five hot new products, we’ve also solicited the brainiacs at my Sound, Studio, and Stage forum to reveal their secrets on guitar recording—and they came through with some pretty amazing info (once you try Mike Shelton’s Mid/Side recording technique, you may never record guitars the same way again). So tune up your guitar—or if you have a Gibson Robot Guitar, have it tune itself—plug in some cables, grab your pick of choice, and enjoy the latest scoop on the art of recording guitars. (Note: All prices are suggested list prices.)

TIP: Instead of doing my perspective of how the recording should be done, I ask the musician to get his sound. Then I start setting up the mics—Shure SM57 next to the amp, off-axis, for the “bite” of the sound then 20 inches away, a large condenser mic (M-Audio Solaris and Groove Tubes GT 67) for the added body. Love that Groove Tubes! I may add a third mic as well, and I record all of them. Then, I send a straight DI to the computer and try some plug-ins to beef up the sound—Sans Amp (Pro Tools) as a preamp, iZotope Trash for fine EQ/Compression settings and some distortion, then Eleven (Pro Tools).
On bass, it’s pretty much only a DI and plug-ins, with a compressor between the bass and the audio interface to control the peaks if that’s part of the sound. —Gus Lozada

IK Multimedia StealthPedal Deluxe ($449.99 Deluxe, $269.99 Standard)

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IK Multimedia got an early start with amp sims, and now has a very complete product line for guitarists with multiple “powered by AmpliTube” stand-alone/plug-in software programs, as well as hardware (like the outstanding I/O Stomp foot controller). StealthPedal, a Mac/Windows USB interface built into an extremely sturdy, all-metal expression pedal, is the latest addition to the roster.

INTERFACING

Two hi-Z/line audio inputs accommodate stereo instruments like Chapman Stick, or a guitar and (mono) drum machine output. However, stereo isn’t preserved through AmpliTube’s mono signal chain, so this feature is most relevant with host software, or for switching between two instruments onstage. There’s a 1/4" input jack for an additional expression pedal, and another jack for connecting up to two footswitches. Although StealthPedal is designed to control the bundled software from IK, there’s a useful generalpurpose MIDI controller application that can assign the pedal/footswitch and remote switches/additional expression pedal to different MIDI channels, controllers, ranges, etc. This takes StealthPedal beyond being an “IK-only” product.

Audio outs consist of stereo balanced/unbalanced outs and headphone output (all audio connections are 1/4" jacks, except the 1/8" headphone jack). There’s also a USB connection, and three status LEDs (status and with AmpliTube, Level, and Tuner). Resolution is 24-bit, up to 48kHz.

THE SOFTWARE

The Deluxe version includes AmpliTube 2 and Ampeg SVX; given their cost and the pedal price, that’s a good deal. The standard version includes AmpliTube 2 Live and Ampeg SVX Uno (“lite” versions with an upgrade path). Both versions include Riffworks’ T4 recording software and AmpliTube X-Gear—a “shell” for IK products that lets you mix and match modules from the various AmpliTube-based programs (e.g., use an amp from AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix, with a cab from AmpliTube Fender).

IN USE

After installing the Windows drivers (the Mac doesn’t need drivers), I was up and running. The audio quality is on the same level as the pedal’s excellent build quality. Tested as an audio interface for Ableton Live, the roundtrip latency for reliable operation was around 15ms (most programs measure only input latency, and would report it as being 7ms).

Tying the pedal to parameters is easy, as X-Gear incorporates a window where you can assign the pedal and footswitch, as well as the external footswitches/pedal, to particular parameters (as well as set ranges). You can control different parameters in different presets, but you can’t control two parameters at the same time from the pedal unless you use StealthPedal as a MIDI pedal, and set up control via X-Gear’s MIDI Control option.

Finally, in case you’re not familiar with AmpliTube itself, I’m a big fan of how it sounds. Every amp sim is different, but AmpliTube has the “clean transition to overdrive” thing down, allowing it to get subtly crunchy tones as well as clean sounds and full-out distortion.

CONCLUSIONS

StealthPedal seems intended for live performance (just add a laptop), but also provides a high-quality interface for guitar in the studio—the icing on the cake is MIDI control possibilities for non-IK devices. I really didn’t know quite what to expect when this showed up for review, but I’m definitely impressed.

Strengths: Built like a tank. Integrates smoothly with Ampli-Tube X-Gear. Stereo I/O for studio applications. Excellent sound quality. Accommodates additional pedals and footswitches.

Limitations: No mic input for studio use. Pedal can only control one parameter at a time in X-Gear unless used as a MIDI pedal.

I try to get as many feeds as I can—direct from the guitar, direct from the effects pedals (stereo if possible), closemiked amp, and distance-miked amp. Who knows—the sound you want might just be one of them, or all of them. And use new strings for a bright, clean sound. —John Sayers

For fat power chords or rich distorted sounds with an open-back cab, mic both the front and rear of the cone, record two tracks, and reverse phase on one of them. Pan them oppositely for broadness (good on rhythm parts) or centered for a focused thickness (better for solos).
I’m currently using a DSP amp emulator I designed for my Sonic Core SCOPE system [Alfonso designed Adern’s Mojo amp sim —Ed.]. With amp sims, monitor the processed sound while you record the dry guitar sound. Apply the amp emulation on the recorded sound, because as the song progresses, you might want to tweak the amp sound differently. —Alfonso D’Amora

If you get a great sound coming from a nice tube amp, you can almost throw an SM57 randomly a foot in front of the amp and end up with an extremely good sound. If you are going for something other than traditional guitar sounds, that’s another matter.
Also, people often overlook the creative power of a few pedals. A modest collection of pedals that you can tweak and re-sequence often provides a wider palette of cool sounds than some of the more advanced DSP options. —Ronan Chris Murphy

Native Instruments Guitar Rig Mobile ($119)

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With more musicians recording on laptops, several companies have introduced mobile-oriented products—including Native Instruments, a veteran of guitar-oriented software and hardware. Guitar Rig Mobile follows up NI’s Guitar Rig Session, which is about twice the price and includes more I/O (for my review of Session, check out www.harmony-central.com/ articles/reviews/ni guitar rig session/ ).

INTERFACING

The Mobile interface box is tiny—about the size of a pack of cigarettes—weighs only 3.2 ounces, and would fit in any laptop bag. Despite the low price, the package is complete: software, USB cable, Quick Start guide, and a one-pager on getting up and running with Windows XP/Vista or Mac OS X. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

I/O includes a 1/4" input jack, 1/4" stereo output jack (for headphones or driving a mixer, active monitors, etc.), USB connector, and side level controls for input level and output level. Two LEDs indicate input signal present and USB connected. Done!

THE SOFTWARE

You get drivers, and Guitar Rig 3 LE (VST, RTAS, AU). As a confirmed Guitar Rig 3 user, LE is limiting compared to the full version; it’s kind of like going into a gourmet restaurant and only having the soup. Sure, the soup is good, but the entrée is something else altogether.

That said, you get two guitar amps (a “Marshall” and a “Twin Reverb”), bass amp, and 12 effects: reverb, delay, chorus/ flanger, phaser, two distortion boxes, auto filter, wah, graphic EQ, volume adjustment pedal, noise gate, and compressor. Two digital recorder modules can feed signals into Guitar Rig 3 LE or record your playing; for example, when tweaking a preset, you can record a riff and play it back while you tweak, and it’s easy to grab an idea when inspiration strikes. As expected, there’s also a metronome and tuner.

IN USE

The converters offer resolution up to 24-bit/192kHz. As someone who feels 96kHz sample rates really do make a difference with amp sims, I’m glad to see that option—especially because a modern laptop running a stand-alone app can handle 96kHz without problems. As to 192kHz, I could care less but as the Cirrus Logic converters (also used in the Rig Kontrol 3) run at that rate, I’m sure NI saw no downside to making that option available.

Installation is the usual deal of installing Windows drivers (props for accommodating 64-bit Vista), or just plugging into a Mac. You do need to go through NI’s Service Center to register Guitar Rig 3 LE; this may seem inconvenient, but I’ve come to appreciate how it informs me of updates and allows easy authorization management.

CONCLUSIONS

Guitar Rig Mobile works for studio or stage. Some people even run Guitar Rig on a netbook, which sure beats carrying around a pedalboard and amp—just plug the Mobile I/O output into a mixer or PA system.

It’s likely you’ll tire of Guitar Rig LE 3 after a while; although you can upgrade to the full version for $289, the price-conscious may find upgrading to Guitar Rig 3 XE attractive—the $59 upgrade fee gets you six amps and 21 effects (interestingly, the ones I tend to use the most often). It’s a really good deal.

Overall, NI hits the target with Guitar Rig Mobile. For under a hundred bucks street you get convenience, sound quality, and enough software to get you started (and for some, it will be all they need). That’s a tough price/performance ratio to beat.

Strengths: Super-portable. Quality audio. Goes up to 192kHz sampling rate. Includes useful software, with upgrade path.

Limitations: Plastic case, not metal.

A lot of classic guitar recordings were done on analog tape—and the preamp matters a lot too, especially with an SM57, and even more especially if the amp is loud—the pres need enough headroom to take the higher levels. Imagination doesn’t hurt, either: Keith Richards recorded a couple of tracks on Sticky Fingers with a Fender Champ stuck inside a toilet. Muscle Shoals studio was remodeling their restroom, and the old toilet was sitting outside the door. Keith was getting frustrated moving his amp and mics around and still not getting the sound he wanted, so he stuck it in the toilet and that worked.
I’ve certainly done the “stick an SM57 in front of a great tube amp and let it roll” thing enough times, but I can’t say I always get the best possible sound that way. My preferred technique is to use a dynamic mic just off the speaker, and at a slight angle, whether it’s the SM57 or a Beyer M88 or a Heil PR30 (these days it’s usually one of the last two). Then I place a second mic, usually a large diaphragm condenser mic, between 1 and 3 feet off the amp. Move ’em around till they sound good. —Lee Flier

Use a looper pedal, re-amp box, or Line 6 BackTrack to play a pre-recorded guitar loop through the amp while you move the mic. —Fabian Smith

When recording guitar amps, I use what I call “Split M/S,” basically a modified M/S (Mid/Side) setup. I place a cardioid mic close on the grill doing the typical voodoo—edge of cone vs. voice coil, angled vs. straight on, etc.—whatever it takes. Then, I use a Figure-8 mic a few feet back in the room, with the null pointed at the amp. Treat the two mics as an M/S pair, and decode to stereo. The distance imparts a bit of “pre-delay” that allows the direct sound to hit first, which makes the room sound seem even bigger.
I’ve placed the Figure-8 mic as far away as 7–10 feet in a few great-sounding big rooms. Sometimes I use the same mics (AKG 414s work nicely, Royer 121s can be really warm), other times I’ve used different mics.
When double-tracking with this technique, move the Figure-8 mic around in the room to get different reflections. Or, move the whole setup around in the room. For the rougher Keith-y type parts, move the Figure-8 mic closer and don’t use as much in the track.
For some variations, try placing the amp a few feet from a wall, firing along the wall. Say you’re looking at the amp and the wall is on the right: Set up the Figure-8 mic so the null faces the amp, and one side faces the wall a few feet away. That’s your “Right” track. Next, move the setup so there’s a wall on the left, and there’s your “Left” track. Now put up the stereo tracks for a real stereo vibe. Also, for some fun textures try compressing the Figure-8 or cardioid mic differently before decoding: Squash the close mic/expand the side, expand the close/squash the side, etc. These techniques work really well when re-amping, and also with bass that has a lot of high frequency info like slap bass. Just roll up the HPF on the side mic to about 600–800Hz so you don’t mess with the bottom end’s phase integrity. —Mike Shelton

I use two mics, one bright (like a condenser—Neumann U67, Shure KSM44, Røde NTK) and one dull/soft—like a ribbon (AEA R84 or R92, Royer 121, etc.). Make sure the diaphragms, not just the front of the mics, are the same distance from the source. Blend to taste with a room mike as well. More tips:
· Use two amps.
· Do double and triple takes with the same or different EQ on the amp. Turn off the reverb for this.
· Try different picks—they sound different.
· When overdubbing, listen to the sound you’re recording way down in the mix to make sure it works with the other sounds that are already present. —Halljams

I like smaller, lower-wattage amps. They saturate earlier, allowing you to get “that” sound at lower volumes, without “over-exciting” the room and creating unwanted resonances/rattles (or upsetting the neighbors). I frequently place a dynamic cardioid mic up close (the Heil PR30 is my new favorite mic for this), and a large-diaphragm condenser several feet away as the distance mic (e.g., Lawson L251).
Because I record in a room that sounds terrible, I surround the distance mic with RealTraps MiniTraps acoustic treatment panels, which take a lot of the poor-sounding reflections out of the mic while allowing me to record far away from the amp. With these panels, I can record with the distance mic in omni for a gorgeous, full sound. This also works with acoustic guitar; with the panels, I can record the acoustic guitar about 2 or 3 feet back in omni, and it sounds beautiful. I’ll typically aim the Lawson L251 at where the body meets the guitar’s neck.
Regarding bass, several years ago I was going to record a bass player who always got a fantastic tone both live and in the studio, so I was curious to see what he was using. He walked in with a Fender P-bass and a tiny Roland Bass Cube 30. That was it. I used an Audio-Technica AT4060 through a Peavey VMP-2 tube mic preamp, and it sounded gorgeous and warm. Sometimes small amps can be shockingly good for bass.
One last tip: Aim your amp into odd-sounding places, such as floor heaters, showers, staircases, open dryers, metal trash cans, etc. Place the mic inside the odd place (in the floor heater looking up, inside the shower, down at the bottom of the stairs of a staircase, inside the open dryer, etc.). No plug-in or effect can touch this. —Ken Lee

There are alternatives to the standard SM57; I’ve gotten better results from the Audix i5 and Sennheiser MD 421. Also, it’s worth mentioning that most DAWs have a “loop recording” function that lets you loop a section of a song and then record multiple takes without needing to hit record again. This is a great feature for recording another player, it helps keep them focused because you can minimize distractions from the recording process. —Mike 064 Freeman

Line 6 POD Farm (from free to $299; see text)

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Line 6’s GearBox software was released shortly after the fall of the Roman Empire, when Europe was in chaos and guitar amps were hard to find. Well not quite, but it’s a testimony to Line 6 that their GearBox software has stood the test of time so well.

POD Farm has a great many similarities to GearBox, as well as significant differences. There are two versions, POD Farm (similar to the GearBox Silver bundle) and POD Farm Platinum, which has every model Line 6 can throw at it, including the model packs. Also, you can choose to authorize via iLok, or use Line 6 hardware as a dongle. If you already have model packs, they’ll port over to POD Farm when you upgrade.

But first, if you have any Line 6 gear, run the Line 6 Monkey to see if you’re eligible for a free POD Farm license. For some other Line 6 products, you can get an update for $49; the iLok version (which doesn’t work in stand-alone mode—VST/AU/RTAS plug-ins only) runs $99 for POD Farm and $299 for the Platinum version, but you can get a 15-day free trial. Visit the Line 6 website for details.

THE INTER-FACELIFT

Operationally, there are three main differences compared to GearBox.
· The interface looks much cooler, with a Rolodex-type flip chooser at the top if you select “Gear” mode. You can also select from menus, or both—e.g., click on the Delays menu, and the chooser will flip to the selection of delays, where you can then flip through the options.
· You now build chains via drag-and-drop into the lower half of the screen.
· Best of all, you can now assemble two parallel chains. Before, I had to create a parallel track and insert another plug-in; this is a lot more convenient.

What hasn’t changed is relatively inflexible routing of effects—you can’t freely place any effect wherever you want it. Most situations are covered, though; you can put up to six effects before an amp (providing the first one is the Noise Gate, otherwise you’re limited to five). To help sort this out, when you drag-and-drop a device into the chain, little arrows show where the effect can go. If the arrows appear on an existing effect, then dragging the effect replaces the effect already in that position. For most applications, the routing issues won’t be a big deal but for some of my “specialty” sounds, it’s a limitation.

In addition to the Gear view, you can show the selected piece of gear’s panel in the window’s top half by choosing Panel view. The knobs are nice and big, making them far easier to manipulate onstage compared to GearBox. Similarly, you can choose to view Presets, Tuner, or Mixer. From the latter, you can adjust settings for Line 6 hardware if you’re in standalone mode—again, more convenient than GearBox.

CONCLUSIONS

GearBox with a new skin? Yes, but that’s only part of it. The Dual Tone option is a huge deal, and the flip view can make it easier to find a particular piece of gear. I also appreciate being able to run POD Farm without Line 6 hardware—although I use Line 6 hardware a lot anyway, so I’m equally glad Tone Direct Monitoring didn’t go away.

But most importantly, POD Farm can make some absolutely wonderful sounds—and that’s the bottom line.

Strengths: Dual Tone option is great. Flip-style browser is more than just eye candy. Preserves existing GearBox presets and model packs. Free update to many Line 6 gear owners. Better value than previous incarnations.

Limitations: Relatively inflexible effects placement. Non-resizeable window. No new effects or amp models compared to what was previously available.

Don’t be lazy—don’t use the same amp and mic setup for all of your tracks. Try a different amp, and/or use a different mic for the overdubs—or both. Did you wax a heavy, dark crunch rhythm tone, and now you want a bright accent part? Pull down that ribbon mic and stick up a C414 or other “brighter”-sounding mic, and do your sparkly accent part through that. I’m also a fan of small amps. I currently own about eight different amps, all 25W RMS or less. It’s not about disturbing neighbors (my studio has great isolation) but we’re not trying to fill a large club; we’re trying to wax cool tones. A smaller amp will be less likely to saturate the room and drive it into acoustic compression, and you can crank it to the point where those power amp tubes work hard—without deafening everyone. Also, bleed among players in a multi-player tracking situation is less of an issue.
With mic placement, aiming it on-axis, directly at the center of the speaker’s dustcap, generally sounds brighter while moving it out to the edge of the speaker’s surround generally gives a fuller, warmer tone. Sometimes I like to have the mic a couple inches from the speaker’s edge, but at about a 45 degree angle so it’s aimed more towards the dustcap; this gives a fairly balanced sound.
Distance from the source can give distance on the recording. Don’t be afraid to move one or more of your mics back a foot, or even several feet from the amp.
For stereo, I often run two different-sounding amps (e.g., a Vox and Fender) in two different rooms, with each having different types of mics . . . e.g., C414 on one, Beyer M160 on the other. Of course, watch for phase cancellation, but feed a bit of stereo effects into a rig like that and the sound really blossoms. And with a dual amp setup, you can switch from one sound to another without having to go out and rearrange the setups—just select the one you want to use for a particular part. Toss in an EQ pedal (the very inexpensive Danelectro Fish and Chips and the Catalinbread Varioboost are personal favorites), a compressor, and a few nice overdrive/distortion/fuzz pedals, and you can get a lot of different sounds without leaving the control room.
Two more tips: Work those guitar knobs! Many amps, and even dirt pedals, will respond differently with just a simple twist of the tone and volume knobs. Also, cocked-and-locked wah pedals are fantastic tools. Kick the wah on, sweep it until it’s emphasizing a frequency that you find complementary, then leave it alone and play. —Phil O’Keefe

Peavey Windsor Studio ($499.99)

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There are a zillion small guitar amps out there, so why is Peavey getting the nod for this roundup? Simple: The Windsor Studio was not only designed with studio applications in mind (gee, ya think the name gives it away?), but includes several desirable features that make it unique among amps for recording guitarists.

TUBES: THE ULTIMATE “TUBE SOUND PLUG-IN”

The single-channel amp architecture includes a preamp built around two 12AX7s, and a nominal 15-watt RMS power amp based on a single-ended EL34 running in Class A mode, with no negative feedback. However, the Windsor treats the output tube as a “plug-in”—you can replace the EL34 with a 6L6GC, 5881, KT66, KT77, KT88, EL34, 6550, or KT90 (the output varies from 10 to 20 watts depending on which tube you choose). Because the amp was designed from the ground up for swapping tubes rather than having it be a “hack,” there’s no need for re-biasing. Furthermore, the Windsor Studio Hot Rod Tube Pack ($179.99) is available as an accessory, and contains a collection of output tubes (KT77, 6L6GC, 6CA7/EL34, KT66, and KT88).

If you’re a fan of ReValver Mk III (Peavey’s softwarebased amp sim) and messed around with exchanging virtual output tubes, you know what kind of a difference this can make to the sound; being able to translate that into the hardware world is pretty cool. It appears someone at Peavey can’t tell the difference between hardware and software . . . and that’s a good thing.

OTHER STUDIO-SPECIFIC FEATURES

Two other features are extremely helpful when a band is cutting tracks together and you’re trying to minimize leakage. The first is a passive XLR direct out (with transformer, which I feel is an important element when trying to get vintage sounds) that taps directly off the speaker out, and includes mic emulation. The other is an output attenuator (Peavey calls it “Power Sponge”) that presents a constant impedance to the power amp, so you can crank the power amp up but attenuate the overall level without changing the basic tone. Changing the amp output level doesn’t affect the direct out, so you can nail the direct sound first, then work on the miked sound if you favor the direct+mic approach.

In conjunction with the direct out, this means you can get a loud amp sound, dial the volume down to where leakage is minimized, and run a direct signal so that you don’t have to mic the amp and pick up other instruments. Obviously, this is also good for doing overdubs in situations where controlling noise levels is a consideration (and on stage, you can use this feed for the PA to avoid miking issues as well as have more control over levels).

There’s also an effects loop, but this one isn’t just for patching in line-level studio processors (e.g., digital reverb, vintage compressor, etc.) because the loop return’s input impedance is 1 Megohm. This makes it compatible with ancient stomp box effects that want to see the highimpedance input typical of a tube amp. Note that you could use this as an auxiliary input that bypasses the preamp stage entirely, but I wouldn’t advise it as there’s no level control “downstream” from the loop return.

If the single-channel operation is a concern, the Windsor does have high- and low-level inputs, and also a Boost button footswitch that ups the preamp level. However, you won’t find any MIDI control over any of the amp parameters; if you want to change settings dynamically throughout a song, you’ll need to punch or overdub.

Also note that the cabinet is open back, so you can do the old trick of miking the front and rear of the speaker, and throwing the rear out of phase.

CONCLUSIONS

The studio bells and whistles wouldn’t mean as much if this wasn’t such a fine-sounding amp that also works for stage use. But the Windsor Studio wears both hats convincingly, and for those who like the characteristics different output tubes impart to a sound, simply use a different “plug-in”—I mean, tube. If you’ve been looking for a “little amp” to add to your roster of studio tools, you can’t do better than this. It packs a helluva punch in a compact package.

Strengths: Gets high volume sound at low levels. Can swap output tubes without re-biasing. Emulated mic out. All-tube amp topology. Effects loop. Switchable speaker impedance. Includes spring reverb.

Limitations: No parameter control via MIDI.

I used to just reach for an SM57. But one day when my (original Oz-made) Røde NT1 was out on its stand (actually, it’s always on its stand, socked up, as it’s my favorite for my own voice and acoustic guitar), I put the stand over on its side and used the pop screen arm to prop the mic up in front of the amp (about 6 inches out, off axis) on my Fender Blues Jr (a single 12" combo amp). I was very surprised by the definition and sense of air—it probably had more room than I was used to, but it also seemed to capture my tone (as well as the obnoxious Fender self-noise!) better. I’m a clean tone guy and I doubt the NT1 would work for certain distorted sounds, but for what I typically do, it’s now my first reach. —TK Major

For acoustic guitars, I move a KM-84 around in front of the guitar until I find the sound I want, which, nearly all the time, is what the guitar sounds like. Keep the mic away from the sound hole because that’s where all the bass comes out. While it’s not right for every guitar and every sound, a small diaphragm cardioid mic at the player’s ear level about a foot out from his head and pointed downward toward his left knee (reverse for a left-handed player) often gets a pretty realistic sound. If it’s a contemporary song with drums and electric instruments, use EQ to cut a lot in the 200–500Hz range. —Mike Rivers

Eventide PitchFactor ($579)

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In a previous article, I pointed out how amp sim software is a real bargain— for example, the effects in Waves GTR 3 are based on the same algorithms used in their big-bucks bundles. PitchFactor does the same kind of thing for hardware: Although pitched (sorry, couldn’t resist!) to guitarists and priced like a high-end pedal, it puts Eventide’s Harmonizer technology into a more affordable package that’s suitable for more than just guitar.

GOZINDAS AND GOZOUTAS

One look at the back panel, and it’s obvious that this is not your typical floor pedal. Ins and outs are stereo (with jacks for each channel, so you can do mono), and there are switches for setting input and/or output levels to line and/or guitar. There’s a class-compliant USB port for software updates and MIDI (and maybe someday for treating the PitchFactor as a “hardware plug-in” for DAWs?), and jacks for an optional expression pedal or footswitch you can tie into the patches. Incidentally, I highly recommend using an expression pedal. It not only controls strategic parameters in the factory presets, you can program it to control parameters in your own presets as well.

I was initially disappointed when I saw there are “only” ten algorithms. However, these are like “Eventide’s Greatest Hits” with intelligent harmonies (up to four voices), delayed/pitch shifted sequences, arpeggios, unison options for thickening, an extremely groovy “Synth” algorithm, etc. What’s more, the 11 controls—I’m assuming that’s a coincidence, not a Spinal Tap reference— allow for a huge degree of preset customization when saving into the 100 user presets, which can also be classified into banks.

The harmonies have that glitchless “Eventide” quality that sound more like you double-tracked a guitar to create a separate harmony line. I fed it with both clean and highly distorted signals; the latter was a real treat, as it gave the equivalent of polyphonic distortion effects coupled with harmonization. And although Eventide cautions that the harmonies work best with single notes (and they do), if you hit another note accidentally, or even hit a chord, the sound doesn’t turn to glitchy garbage but remains relatively clean, even though the harmonies aren’t well-defined.

That’s a big deal.

For harmonies, you do need to specify a scale and key; this isn’t like the DigiTech or TC boxes that “listen” to your instrument and derive harmonies from that. I don’t consider this a problem, though, because a “Learn” function can analyze a chord you play, tell you the key you’re playing in, and create the appropriate harmony notes.

You should also know this is a deep box—far deeper than we have space to explore here. There’s extensive MIDI control (via 5-pin DIN connectors or over USB) if you want to automate changes with a sequencer; PitchFactor recognizes pitchbend, continuous controllers, program changes, and MIDI tempo sync, although you can also do tap tempo. The three footswitch buttons also provide functionality beyond bypass in/out, and just a slight turn of one knob can put you in a whole different sonic space. Even the documentation is good, which will be appreciated by anyone who wants to get the most out of this box.

CONCLUSIONS

It was almost a year ago that we ran a roundup on “Studio Meets Stage”—gear that’s equally at home in both environments. Had PitchFactor been available at that time, it would have been an ideal candidate. I even tried using it as a DAW external effect for processing existing tracks, and in terms of sound quality, it was definitely up to the task.

Granted, PitchFactor is no match for something like Eventide’s Eclipse processor—but the MSRP is about 20% as much. If all you really crave is a roster of Eventide’s best Harmonizer- related effects, PitchFactor will save you enough money compared to Eclipse for a decent vacation . . . or at least, a really good sushi dinner for two, every week for a year!

Strengths: Truly cool, innovative sounds. Suitable for a wide variety of signal sources. Eventide sound without the price tag. Extremely deep and flexible for tweakheads—or you can just dial up presets. MIDI control. USB port for software updates and MIDI over USB.

Limitations: Requires key and scale settings to produce accurate harmonies. Audio I/O jacks on back, not side.

I second the idea that “an SM57 isn’t everything.” A Neumann U67, Sennheiser 409 or 421, and other mics do really well. If you like the White Album or old Bowie, you like the U67. —Bill Plummer


 

EQ has been on top of guitar-oriented recording, so many current products were already reviewed when they first came out. However, some have had updates—check ’em out.

Waves GTR Solo: The program is now available free for one year; if you prefer, you can buy a permanent license for $140, or a bundle with “21st Century Guitarist,” an interactive DVD/eBook by yours truly (with session files, software, text, and an audio host program) for $165.

Peavey ReValver Mk III: Originally introduced in VST/AU for Mac and VST for Windows, this 64-bit amp sim program is now available in RTAS for both Mac and Windows. Current ReValver Mk III owners can download the RTAS version for free from www.peavey.com/products/revalver/index.cfm, where you’ll also find demo versions.

Native Instruments Guitar Rig 3: On the Native Instruments forums, several people have reported using Guitar Rig 3 with Atom-based Netbooks—and getting decent performance.

IK Multimedia: AmpliTube Fender is the latest IK “powered by AmpliTube” product, and suffice it to say that Fender endorses it for a reason: The collection really does sound like Fender amps. Also, IK is co-sponsoring a series of Guitar Recording Master Classes. Check IK’s home page for the schedule, including streaming events on the web if you can’t make it to the events themselves.

Ableton Live 8: Live 8 adds an “Overdrive” effect that clearly zeroes in on guitarists, along with a Looper effect—while not guitar-specific, it’s mostly guitarists who have embraced looping technology for building up phrases using live overdubbing.

Cakewalk Sonar Home Studio 7XL: The XL version includes Studio Devil VGA+, a guitar/bass amp sim with multiple cabinets, amps, and effects.


 

ADDITIONAL RECORDING TIPS

Here’s a trick Richard Dodd trick used on Tom Petty’s guitars: In addition to your regular mic, tape a PZM to the cab for a “bump” in size. It works!
  • When you like the sound you’ve recorded but need some room sound after the fact, re-amp with a different amp at a distance. Now your far mic is a whole different sound—maybe overdriven and loud, while your close mic is tight and controlled.
  • Open the door, and put your distant mic round the corner in the other room. Worked for Pagey, and Blackmore too.
  • Use painter’s tape to tape up the unused strings when the part needs to be really tight.
  • When re-amping, automate your send to the amp to simulate the guitarist working the guitar’s volume control for different volume and overdrive levels.
  • Use your DI to drive an amp sim set for a 60s fuzz sound. Blend that just under the natural amp tone for lead parts—BIG!

–Lee Knight

AMP SIM TECHNIQUES

 

  • Put EQ before distortion so you can choose which frequencies get distorted and which ones don’t, then put EQ after distortion to fine-tune the sound.
  • Some amp sims have the opposite of a “magic” frequency—an “annoying” frequency. Using a parametric to find this and cut it.
  • When trying to pick a cab, try all cabs first, and pick the one you like best. Next, go through the various virtual mic options, and pick the one you like best. Then, check out the various miking options (front, angled, distant) and pick a favorite. Finally, go back and run through all the cabs again. If you have the sound you want, great. If you find a better cab, use that and run through the various virtual miking options again.
  • After recording your guitar track, run it through Adobe Audition’s click and pop remover set for a fairly aggressive amount of removal. This softens the “spikiness” and makes the sound creamier.
  • I use hex outputs with splits to tailor the sound separately for the low and high strings. For example, the top three might have more overdrive and some echo, while the lower three have a “beefier,” chunky type of sound. Because all hex outs have some degree of crosstalk, the two splits sound more convincing than a hard split.
  • Presets seem to be created by people who pick softly. I need to pull back the gain or drive controls on virtually all amp sims because I use 0.010 high E and hit hard.

You don’t always have to play notes on a guitar. It’s a very cool percussion instrument, which becomes cooler with the right processing.

–Craig Anderton

LINKS

Here are the links for manufacturers mentioned in this roundup.

Ableton www.ableton.com
AEA www.ribbonmics.com
AKG www.akg.com
Audio-Technica www.audio-technica.com
Audix www.audixusa.com
Beyer Dynamic www.beyerdynamic.com
Cakewalk www.cakewalk.com
Catalinbread www.catalinbread.com
Danelectro www.danelectro.com
Digidesign www.digidesign.com
Eventide www.eventide.com
Fender www.fender.com
Groove Tubes www.groovetubes.com
Heil Sound www.heilsound.com
IK Multimedia www.ikmultimedia.com
iZotope www.izotope.com
Lawson www.lawsonmicrophones.com
Line 6 www.line6.com
M-Audio www.m-audio.com
Native Instruments www.native-instruments.com
Neumann www.neumann.com
Peavey www.peavey.com
Radial Engineering www.radialeng.com
RealTraps www.realtraps.com
Røde www.rodemic.com
Roland www.rolandus.com
Royer www.royerlabs.com
Sennheiser www.sennheiser.com
Shure www.shure.com
Sonic Core www.soniccore.com
Vox www.voxamps.com
Waves www.waves.com

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