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An Outtake from “The Lucky One”: Waka Blues

The sessions for my upcoming record “The Lucky One” are taking place in Philadelphia in the third week of September, and preparations are feverishly underway. My producer, Ed Abbiatti, passed on this piece, a basic blues driven by an auto-wah harmonica part. If we’re not going to put it on the record, we might as well give you a glimpse into the kinds of sounds we’ll be putting down in September.

So here’s “Waka Blues.” The demo you hear in this clip consists on a programmed bass line, drums courtesy of EZDrummer, and me playing harmonica. It’s a pretty traditional harmonica line with the auto-wah (delivered via a Digitech RP500 running my patch set) adding plenty of juice. If I were to record this for “The Lucky One,” I’d add another couple of harmonica parts, and Mike “SloMo” Brenner would put in some lap steel magic. So you can imagine all those things when you listen to this, or just enjoy the big sound of the auto-wahed harp.

Dig.

“Waka Blues’ by Richard Hunter. Copyright 2016 R. Hunter/Turtle Hill productions, all rights reserved.

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Another day, another (country) session

I took some time off this week from working on the songs and arrangements for my upcoming record, “The Lucky One,” which is set for recording in the third week of September in Philadelphia, to record harmonica parts for Austin TX producer Bobby Flores. (Congratulations Bobby on winning the 2015 Ameripolitan Male Western Swing Award! That’s the style Bobby was playing when I met and jammed with his band years ago in Austin, and it sure was fun.)

Bobby contacted me late last week and sent a couple of mp3s. The music was very interesting: country with more than a touch of rock and roll, and some unusual chord changes for this genre. (When you’re going from F major changes on the verses to C major changes on the chorus to a solo in Bb major in the same song, it’s a little unusual for country.) Bobby told me he was going to send the changes, but he never got around to it. Oh well; that’s why we make the big bucks…

As per usual for this time of year, I’m out in Tetonia, Idaho, far from my home studio in Monroe CT. Not to worry. The laptop Jim Rosenberry built for me is portable and powerful, and it goes where I go. Add a Digitech RP–in this case my RP500, loaded with my patchset for Digitech RP–for an audio interface, plus an Audix Fireball V, and I have everything I need to make great harmonica tracks. The Fireball V is crucial, because it’s the only mic I know of that can produce beautiful acoustic harmonica tracks when it’s hand-held, which is REALLY important when you’re recording in totally crappy rooms like the one I use for recording in Idaho. (The place is essentially a long rectangle with no sound treatment, and it sounds like a cave. There is no way I’m going to let that room sound into a recording.)

Digitech RP500: pretty much all the recording rig I need

Digitech RP500: pretty much all the recording rig I need

FX? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ FX

All those chord changes notwithstanding, country music demands pretty simple harmonica sounds. To put it another way, the first thing I think of in terms of harp sounds for the genre is never a patch with an octave down pitch shift followed by an envelope filter or a flanger. The first thing I did with the RP500 was dial up one of my Direct amp model patches. The Direct amp model basically takes whatever’s at the RP’s input, adds or subtracts gain to the signal, and sends it to the output. When coupled with the Audix Fireball V, the resulting sound is clean, clear, and full–a great harp sound to send to any producer. (Hey, if they decide they hate clean and they want to f— it up, they’ve got all the FX they need on their own computers.) I have no doubt that Bobby is going to add whatever ambience he wants to my sound, so before I recorded I used the RP500’s dedicated footswitches to turn off the reverb and delay, so the only effect running on the RP was the amp modeling.

I set up a new project in Cakewalk Sonar, my DAW, and loaded in the mp3s Bobby sent to me. Then I set up three harp tracks for each of the songs (we’ll call them “Texas” and “Tennessee,” which happen to be the first words in their respective titles) and started recording.

I did three takes on “Texas”, two with an acoustic sound and one with a patch based on a GA40 amp model for a little more grit. The GA40 patch had a LOT of gain dialed in, so I dropped the gain level on the patch down to a much more moderate 34 (as opposed to the original setting of close to 60, which is some pretty crunchy gain) to smooth it out a little. (I did mention that this is country music, right?) Of course, I took off all the FX except amp modeling before I recorded with this patch. For all the takes on “Texas” I used a Manji in C played in second position. I like Manjis for country music; they play fast and sweet, and they’re just the thing for those quick Country lines. The first harp I tried was a Seydel Session Steel in C, but I just couldn’t get the chords to sound sweet enough, so bye bye Session Steel, hello Manji.

Let the Producer Choose

My favorite of those tracks was the second acoustic take, which featured a rippin’ solo, but I sent Bobby separate rough mixes with the acoustic and amped-up takes, and one with both, because I liked the way the rhythm licks sounded when both tracks played together. I used the same Direct model setup to record two acoustic tracks for “Tennessee,” of which I sent Bobby the second. “Tennessee” is the song with all those chord changes, and I ended up using a Manji in F, played in first and second positions, for the verse and chorus, and a Manji in Bb, played in first position, for the solo section.

It took more time to record two takes for “Tennessee” than to record three for “Texas,” because all those chord changes on “Tennessee” demanded a lot of extra attention. But that’s part of the fun, innit? Taking a beast of a song and making it behave?

Get Paid and Wrap it Up

Bobby checked out the rough mixes and liked them. He paid me via Paypal, and I sent a RAR (compressed) archive file containing all the harp tracks, soloed, in the form of 24-bit 44.1 kHz WAV files–a nice high-resolution format that happens to be the RP500’s highest-quality recording mode.

So there you go: another session conducted over the Internet, with the participants separated by a thousand miles or so, collaborating on their own schedules. Of course it would be absolutely tops to be in the room with the producer when the tracks are cut, so we can get double the brain and emotional power working on the song in real time. But I’m still knocked out by the fact that I can collaborate with musicians all over the world, no matter where they, or I, happen to be. How cool is that? And if you take all that for granted, lemme tell you, you weren’t recording in the 1980s, when a basic recording setup with overdubbing capability cost thousands of dollars, and sending a track to a producer the second you finished it was a wishful and seemingly impossible fantasy. (It takes time to box a tape and take it to the post office, and more time for that tape to make its way halfway across the country.) How delightful to live in an era when those fantasies come true.

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Digitech’s Software and Firmware Troubles with the RP360 Continue; We Recommend the RP500 Instead

It’s been about 2 years since Digitech released the RP360 and RP360XP, two great-sounding devices. Unfortunately, in that time Digitech hasn’t seen fit to address the terrifically daunting software issues they’ve laid on unsuspecting RP360 owners. Those issues begin with a firmware update that consistently fails, leaving RP360 owners with a device that won’t work and forcing them to repeat the update procedure, over and over, until it decides to take. The Nexus application, which is the ONLY software support for backing up and reloading an RP360, apparently won’t run under Windows 10 (at least if our customers are to believed), and even when it works it doesn’t work as well as the Xedit application that supports every other RP from the 150 to the 1000.

In short, Digitech has more or less completely dropped the ball on software support for the RP360/360XP. At Huntersounds, we are sick of seeing messsages from our RP360 patchset customers telling us how much time and effort they have to put into getting these basics to work. I mean, for God’s sake, Digitech can’t make a f—ing firmware update work? That’s Comp Sci 101. Who the hell writes the code at Digitech, and why don’t they know how to make their own gear work?

Digitech RP500: buy this instead of the RP360/360XP

Digitech RP500: buy this instead of the RP360/360XP

At this point, we can no longer recommend to RP buyers that they go with the RP360 or 360XP. Fortunately, there’s an excellent alternative available. RP500s are still widely available new and used, and they now sell at the same price point as the RP360XP ($200 new, around $150 used in good to great condition). The RP500 is larger and heavier than the 360XP, but it sounds almost exactly the same, and the Xedit application that supports it is a perfectly viable piece of software that does its job without messing with your head. (In some ways the increased size and weight of the 500 are advantages, because they’re the result of a greatly expanded set of real-time performance features.)

In short, until Digitech fixes the software issues that should never have been present in the first place, and which they have failed to address for 2 years, we strongly recommend that anyone considering an RP360 or 360XP pick up an RP500 instead. Better is better, and at this point in time, taking all factors into account, the RP500 is simply better value for money. And if you’re planning to pick up one of our patchsets to go with your RP, rest assured that the patches we’ve created for the RP500 are the best we’ve done for ANY Digitech device, mainly because they take advantage of every single one of the footswitches in the 500’s expanded footswitch array.

We’re not happy about this announcement, but our first loyalty is to the people who use our patchsets in their RPs, and those people deserve a hell of a lot better than the crap software Digitech has pushed on them for the last two years with the RP360. We put a lot of time and effort into our patchset for the RP360/360XP, and we look forward eagerly to the day we can announce that Digitech has fixed these issues. In the meantime, buyer beware the RP360/360XP.

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Why Bullet Mics in Home Studios are Not Tops for Recording Harmonica

In a recent post to the Harp-L list, the poster said that he’d found a recording setup that he liked: a Green Bullet mic on a stand, into which he played from over a foot (about half a meter) away. I’m glad the guy got a recorded sound that he likes, but I’m duty-bound to say that I would never record an acoustic (or for that matter, amped) harp this way if I had a choice.

Let’s start with the obvious: recording acoustic harp and amplified harp are two different things, and a Bullet mic is far better for the latter than the former. The Bullet’s frequency range tops out at about 6 kHz, which is in the high midrange. On the plus side, you’re cutting out the high frequencies where recorded harp can be pretty screechy; on the down side, you’re cutting ALL of those frequencies out, so you’re missing the high end gloss and sheen that a harmonica can produce. The reason harp players like bullet mics so much is that they sound good coming through a tube guitar amp, mainly because tube amps tend to top out in the same frequency range as a bullet mic, and bullet mics distort in a very pleasing way when hand-held. (Human ears love distortion, which in itself does a lot to explain the attraction of electric guitars.) I have never, repeat never, heard a great sound from a bullet taken direct to the board, and I’ve heard a lot of guys try, including John Sebastian Jr. on a live broadcast from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where the sound techs generally know what they’re doing.

The Green Bullet: Great for amped blues, not so great into the PA

The Green Bullet: Great for amped blues, not so great into the PA

It’s true that this setup avoids a proximity effect–a big boost in the low frequencies–but that’s not due to the mic. You have to be close enough to kiss the mic to get a proximity effect. If you record into an open mic from 18 inches away, you won’t get a proximity effect no matter what mic is on the stand. Anyway, a proximity effect isn’t much of a problem in recording harmonica. Proximity effects show up only in the low frequencies, and it’s easy to EQ those out of a recorded harmonica track without damaging the rest of the signal. That’s one reason why Toots Thielemans always asks for a Shure SM58 in the studio, which he hand-holds. Yes, he gets a lot of proximity effect that way, but the engineer can easily take the added bass out of the mix.

Beyond that, with an open mic on a stand, you’re inevitably letting a lot of the room sound into the mic. If your room is treated to be neutral-sounding, or it just happens to be a great-sounding room, that’s cool. Most rooms outside of professional recording studios sound like hell, with standing waves producing frequency bumps and dips all over the place. That’s certainly the way it works in my house. I’ve managed to improve the situation in my home studio with a portable enclosure that blocks out sound from the sides and back, but without that I’d never try recording into an open mic in my house again (unless I truly did not care about the quality of the sound, which for a practice session I might not–I’ve used all kinds of junky stuff to record practice sessions).

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. That said, in the end, the sounds you make have to inspire you before they inspire anyone else. If you want to record through a Green Bullet into the board, and you like what you hear, go for it. If you get to the point where your recorded sound isn’t inspiring you anymore, try a hand-held Audix Fireball V (which also exhibits very little proximity effect, even hand-held), or a vocal mic or large diaphragm condenser mic on a stand with an enclosure around it to take the room out of the sound. Either of those solutions is relatively inexpensive, and will give you a wider range of tones to work with in your recordings.

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Looping with the Pigtronix Infinity

Pigtronix Infinity Looper:  more bucks for more power

Pigtronix Infinity Looper: more bucks for more power

I’ve been using the Digitech JamMan Solo XT, Jamsynced to an Express XT, for a few months now. It’s a decent setup for multi-track looping, and certainly the most powerful setup at anything near its price point, but it’s got some issues where live performance is concerned. In particular, you can’t erase the latest layer in a loop on either pedal easily or instantly–you have to hold the pedal down for three seconds to do so. Ditto for clearing a loop. The Jamman Stereo is a more flexible device in that regard, but it doesn’t offer the flexibility in layering that you get from a Solo XT connected to another looper via Jamsync. What’s a looping musician to do?

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We’ve shipped the first update to our Zoom G3 patchset!

Our first update to our patch set for Zoom G3 was released to our licensees today. For this update we’ve reconfigured a number of our basic bread-and-butter patches to be louder, clearer, and better able to reject feedback. We’ve also included an alternative layout for the patches that mixes up the bluesy, clean, and far-out patches for a different, thrilling kind of playing experience that changes the way you hear the harmonica. (Can you tell that this alternative layout is our favorite?)

The Zoom G3: we're gonna keep it fresh

The Zoom G3: we’re gonna keep it fresh

We’re committed to making sure that our patchsets give harmonica players the best sounds they can get, stuff that will let them approach any performance with the confidence that their setup will sound great no matter the style. We’re glad to offer this free update to subscribers who’ve licensed our patch set within the last 12 months (which at this point is all subscribers, because we began offering the set in late January 2015, i.e. less than one year ago). This version will be standard for licensees going forward (pending further updates, of course).

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

A Little (Harmonica) Organ Music for Christmas

As I have for a while now, I’m exploring the sounds I can make with a harmonica and two amp modelers running in parallel. I recorded this piece with a Digitech RP500 running a patch that combines a Champ amp model with a rotary speaker, paired with a patch on the Vox Stomplab IG that includes a low octave, an autowah, and a tough amp model. There are some subtle and not-so-subtle things going on here.
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Blog, Digitech RP Tricks and Tips, Hunter's Effects, Recommended Gear

RP Tip #26: Set the AMP/MIXER Button

Digitech RPs have a button on the back panel labeled “Amp/Mixer.” We get a lot of questions about that button, all of which boil down to “which way should I set that button?” To answer that question we need to start with “what exactly does that button do?”
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We’re ending development of new patches for recently discontinued Digitech RPs

We’ve been making patchsets for the Digitech RPs since the early 2000s, when we started with the RP200. We’ve designed some great sounds for these devices, and we’ll continue to do so.

However, when a manufacturer stops making a device, there’s no point in continuing to develop new sounds for it. And that’s what Digitech’s done with their RP line from the 355 on down. They’re all discontinued.
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RP500 Patch Update #1 is Here!

Our first update to the Huntersounds patch set for Digitech RP500 was shipped to all our RP500 licensees today (16 October 2015). This update contains 23 patches, all designed to make full use of the RP500’s array of footswitches to enable a player to easily add or subtract multiple FX from the mix in real time. It’s a live performer’s one-stop solution for a box full of big, colorful sounds coupled with plenty of realtime control. I even included some stuff to help loopers build fat layers of tones from the ground up.

Digitech RP500: uh huh

Digitech RP500: uh huh


I guess my pride is showing, but y’know, I really like the RP500, and I’m delighted to share my latest setups with our licensees. If you’ve previously purchased our patch set for RP500 and have since changed your email address, please send us an email that includes your old and new email addresses, and we’ll make sure you get the update.

Our next step is to set these sounds up for the RP1000, followed by the RP360. Stay tuned.

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