Blog, Recommended Gear

Labeling my harps for easy recognition in low light

I’m getting ready to play the Forbes/Inc. Magazine corporate battle of the bands semifinals at Gypsy Sally’s in Washington, DC on Saturday, May 30 with a band called Gartner in the Cloud. It’s going to be fun. Our set includes five tunes, all classic rock. The low tune count notwithstanding, I use five standard-tuned harps in this set: A, C, D, F, and Bb. On one tune, the Buffalo Springfield’s “Mister Soul,” I switch from 3rd position on a D harp (E minor) to second position on a Bb harp (F). It’s a short but busy gig, and one of the things I realized at the last rehearsal is that I really need to be able to find the right harp for a song without my glasses on, in a poorly lit room.
Read more

Blog, Recommended Gear

I just bought a bunch of Manjis, and they’re better than they used to be

I buy harmonicas every so often (because I use harmonicas every day, and they do wear out). A recent sale on Suzuki Manjis in all the popular keys happened to take place at Rockin Ron’s on the very day I decided to buy some. So there you go: need coincides with opportunity. I have eight new Manjis.

The last time I bought a Manji was over a year ago, and something changed in the meantime. Suzuki, perhaps responding to comments by yours truly among others, upgraded the cover plates on the Manjis. Those plates used to be the flimsiest I’d ever seen on a production harmonica. Now they’re stiffer, and opened up at the back end to project more volume.

That’s progress, innit? Anyway, I’m glad to see a good harmonica get better. I’ve always liked the Manjis for their basic responsiveness–if you have to play a line at speed, a Manji is a good place to start. Kudos to Suzuki for making the investment in quality.

Blog, Hunter's Effects, Recommended Gear

Gear Review: Low Priced Amp Modeling: the Vox Stomplab IG

The Vox Stomplab IG is a full-blown multiFX device that includes amp modeling, dynamics processing, a range of FX, delay, and reverb, all in a two-button stompbox design that runs on 4 AA batteries and sells new for under $70. I’ve had good experiences with Vox modeled amps, and I decided to give this box a try, especially because I’m not yet entirely satisfied with any of the battery-powered devices that I use for jam sessions and other situations where setup time is at a premium and AC isn’t always conveniently located, such as the Tech21 Blonde pedal. (I might be satisfied with the Blonde if it had delay and reverb, not to mention a rotary speaker and pitch shifter FX.)

StompLab_1G

First Impressions: Solid, not Perfect

The IG arrived from Sweetwater Sound last week. The form factor is very nice: smaller than a Digitech RP155, and very lightweight. The overall design could be improved. Yes, it runs on batteries, but to load the batteries you have to remove the rubber feet from the bottom of the device with a screwdriver. Whatever happened to removable battery cover panels? The device’s layout and user interface is fiddly and a bit complicated; most of the controls serve two functions at least, and every function is coded as a 2-digit mnemonic on the display, which means that you either memorize what all those (literally) hundreds of 2-digit codes mean (e.g. a 4×10 speaker cab model is coded as “t3″–that’s easy and intuitive, right?), or keep the manual close by while programming. The same issue applies to the Digitech RP155 (not to the RP250 and up), which only has a two-digit display, but the RP can be programmed using Digitech’s very good Xedit program, which gives you plenty of additional information about every parameter. Alas, the Stomplab has no USB port, so you can’t connect it to a computer for editing, saving, and loading patches. In summary, programming this thing is more difficult than I’d prefer.

The programmable memory is also much less extensive than the RP155’s: 20 user slots instead of 50. However, keeping in mind that I bought the thing for use in jam sessions, where you usually only need a few good sounds at most, that may not be a problem.

In Use: Sounds Good Without Too Much Work

I spent a few hours working with the Stomplab IG over the last couple of days. The architecture of a patch is very similar to the Digitech RPs, with 7 FX in a fixed order. The Stomplab’s fiddly interface is not terrifically helpful to a programmer. Among other things, the setting for any given function only is visible while you’re editing it; if you move away to edit something else, when you come back the parameter you previously edited resets to whatever the current rotary dial position is. That’s a real bummer: you can’t be sure what settings you just created unless you write them down as you go along. I like machines that remember that stuff for me.

Still, in a few hours I’ve managed to produce eleven or twelve good blues-rock amped tones for it, one of which is an uncanny match for a tone that I put together on the Digitech RP500 for the lead harp on my looped arrangement of “Key to the Highway”– a big loud amped sound with a slapback delay. In other words, the Stomplab sounds good, and it’s plenty loud.

Here’s a clip of me playing a groove with all of the sounds I’ve created for the Stomplab, one by one.

Overall: A Great Price For A Device That Makes Some Great Sounds

The Stomplab IG has a lot going for it at its price point of $70: a metal case and two metal footswitches, four bands of EQ on every patch, good FX, including nice delays and spring reverb, a decent pitch shifter, a rotary speaker effect that sounds very good, and a broad selection of good-sounding amp and cabinet models, including plenty of crunchy stuff. I really like the echo models, which have a big fat sound that adds a lot of depth to the harp tone. The most difficult omission to accept is the absence of a USB port and computer backup and restore for single patches and the entire user memory. But the price is amazing considering what’s in the box.

I’m trying to figure out how I can package these sounds for sale, but the fact that an owner can’t just plug the thing into a computer and load my stuff in makes it difficult. Perhaps I can figure out a way to communicate both the sound configurations and the process for setting it up to a Stomplab owner. I hope so; I think this device, with its low price, good sound, and high portability, could help a lot of people figure out that they need an amp modeling device in their kit.

Blog, Hunter's Effects, Recommended Gear, Upcoming Performances

Going Out to Jam with the Zoom G3

I’m traveling to London tonight, and tomorrow (Sunday March 15) I plan to sit in at the Sunday afternoon jam at Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues. I’m taking a kit that includes 18 diatonic harmonicas–most of the standard Richter tunings in keys from low F to F, with the rest comprised of Dorian minors, Natural minors, Country, and Melody Makers. It’s what I need to play most of the pieces in my solo repertoire, and it’s a good kit for blues too. I add a C chromatic to the pile and I’m ready for a jam session.

The kit also includes a Zoom G3 running my latest patch set for that device, my refurbished Audix Fireball mic, an XLR cable with a rat-tail transformer, and a long 1/4″ cable to connect the G3 to the PA, which I know from experience at ANBTB is across the stage from where I stand when I play. The G3 runs on batteries, which is the main reason I’m taking it instead of the Digitech RP360XP–it’s a lot faster to set up when you don’t have to find a power outlet.

The last time I played at ANBTB, I had the G3 with only a draft set of patches, plus a different mic, and I couldn’t get comfortable with the gear–too much feedback, for a start. The Fireball mic is easily the most feedback-resistant mic I have ever used, so that eliminates one problem. I’ve completed the G3 patch set since then, so the patches are engineered to be louder and more feedback resistant too. I’m expecting the gear to do its job this time around, which of course makes it more enjoyable for me and everyone else in the room too.

The specific patches I intend to lean on most include the BasmTapEco (Bassman amp with tape echo) and BasmVib (Bassman amp with vibrato). The former is a nice Chicago sound that works well with and without the Tape Echo slapback, and the latter is as close as you can get to an organ sound with the G3, a nice changeup from the basic Chicago sound.

I’ll file a full report on how the gear worked on my return. In the meantime, if you’re in London on Sunday afternoon, drop by Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues.

Audio/Video, Blog, Hunter's Effects, Recommended Artists & Recordings, Recommended Gear, Recorded Performances (live and otherwise)

4 Years After: Mississippi Queen Redux

I recorded myself performing Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” about four years ago, and I happened to record it again last week while I was running through my solo repertoire. This performance is backed by the same recorded arrangement I used four years ago, so it’s easy to compare the performances.
Read more

Blog, Hunter's Effects, Recommended Gear

Backing Up the Hardware

As my recent posts describe, I’ve been re-configuring my rig lately. At this point it’s pretty stable, but while I was messing with it I discovered a few problem pieces in my kit. My ART MP tube preamp went flaky, and I pulled it from the rig. (I probably won’t replace it. The rig seems to work pretty well without it.)
Read more

Blog

What I Learned This Week From Kenny G

Kenny G is beloved by the public, if not by a lot of musicians out there. Whenever there’s disparity like that between the appreciations of the masses and the cognoscenti, I wonder what the latter are missing. Yes, the masses like a lot of crap, but they don’t like crap only, and even when they go for crap there’s something different about the crap they go for. I never much liked Kiss, but they definitely weren’t like anything that came before them. Trent Reznor has said publicly that they were a big inspiration to him, and anything that inspired Reznor is worth hearing. So the question I ask of anyone who’s popular is: what is it that makes them stand out to so many people? What’s the single big thing they got right?
Read more

Blog, Hunter's Effects, Recommended Gear, Recorded Performances (live and otherwise)

Big Sounds Looped and Unlooped: Zoom G3 and Digitech RP500 Combined

I’ve been jamming with my new rig, and as usual I’m recording those jams. The new rig lets me get big tones in two different ways: first, I can combine the amp modelers and the iStomp running SwingShift to get big textures with lots of motion in them in real time; then, I can loop those sounds and add more on top.

The rig that makes the amazing big sounds

The rig that makes the amazing big sounds

Here’s a cool sample that combines the Zoom G3 with the Digitech RP500. The Zoom is running a patch from my new set for Zoom G3 that features an autowah with a Twin Reverb amp model. The Digitech RP500 is running the patch called “TuffSli” from my patch set for RP500, and it’s also getting its input from the iStomp running SwingShift, meaning that there are multiple octaves in the signal. You can hear the pitch of the RP500 moving up and down against the G3’s tones as I work the expression pedal to shift the pitch.

This one uses the same patches on the same devices as the first, but the lines are played in chords. The pitch on the Zoom G3 doesn’t change in tandem with the RP500, but because the RP500 patch has a stronger tone than the G3, you hear both sounds as shifting pitch, with the autowah putting more attack on the tone.

This sound is created by looping a phrase from the Digitech RP500 using a single patch from my RP500 patch set, MA816D, which shifts the pitch two octaves down or 1 octave down depending on the expression pedal. I record a phrase using both, then play over that using a very nice clean amped tone based on a Fender Twin amp model with a big medium-length delay.

And finally, a nice funky phrase that uses a Zoom G3 patch that combines a Bassman amp model with the G3’s very funky phase shifter, over which I play various tones from the RP500.

All these samples were recorded with a Zoom H4 parked a few inches from the front grill of a Peavey KB2 keyboard amp. Sample volumes were normalized to the same level; otherwise there was no post-recording processing applied.

Enjoy!

« Previous PageNext Page »