Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Playing Bass Is Hard

I mean it's really hard. Have you noticed how smooth and controlled Paul McCartney's bass playing is?
He's a really fine bass player.
Me? Not so much. Playing bass is hard.

Warm Day in April

The Delicate Cutters in this brilliant little single-take video.


What causes their drummer to be so handsome?

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Last Word on Flatwound Bass Strings

So one odd thing about flatwound string sets is that they don't have the variety of sizes in sets that roundwound strings have.

The answer is that I got a 5-string set of TI's. Yeah. I know. If I haven't made three more albums by this time next year something is very wrong.

Anyway, here is Ethan on lighter-gauge versions of flatwound strings (starting with 40's).
I find the fish hysterical.


"Here's one:

You could try these:
Or get the extra light 4-string set here:
And add a B string from here:

Or get this 4-string set:
and add a B string from here:

Or build a 40,60,80,100,120 set from here:

Or get these, which feel much lighter than they are:

I've never put flats on a 5-string, so I didn't realize that the selection of sets is more limited.  This is where Jason is really useful because he carries singles of so many brands and you can just add a B to a four string set."

Tension

From PBnJBassist (on the Internet):
 If you're looking for low tension flatwounds, I recommend any of the following sets from (get ready) lowest to highest tension, low-tension sets:

Thomastik Infeld 43-100
La Bella FX 39-96
GHS Precision 45-95
Ernie Ball Group IV 40-95
D'Addario Chromes 40-95
Sadowsky Black Label 40-100
D'Addario Chromes 40-100
La Bella 760FL 43-104
GHS Precision 45-105
Fender Super Light 40-100
Rotosound 77 40-100

*Left out other brands due to my unfamiliarity with them. Many apologies to the other flats out there.

Remember that all of these gauges are, for the most part, low tension, with Thomastik Infeld (TI) coming in at an average of 34lbs. while La Bella, GHS, and EB & Chromes come in very close with tensions ranging within the 37-39lbs. Once you break into Sadowsky territory and up, the tension is extremely minor with an average "feeling" of 38-42lbs. of tension. Basically, if you want the lightest of the light, go with TI flats, but if 3-5lbs. of tension is not going to be a significant factor with your playing style, then any of these light to light-medium sets are fine, fine choice.  And as always, select accordingly so that your brand matches your sound, as all strings (let alone flatwounds) are not made equally.

A Bass

 The Squire Vintage Modified Jazz Bass V actually.
$329 at Sweetwater. I'm still a bit confused, the pictures don't show the words "Duncan Designed" anywhere on the pickups and the copy (below) says the pickups are "Fender Designed". But all the reviews talk about the Duncan-branded pickups. I dunno.
It comes, presumably, with this set of Fender round-wound strings. Nobody really has much positive to say about those strings (see previous post on bass guitar strings.)
So you know. A thing. For $30 less one could get a 4-string Jazz. I just figured... you know.
These are pictures of the actual instrument.
This is all text from the Sweetwater site:

The 5-string Squier® Vintage Modified Jazz Bass® V's offset-waist body and an ultra-slim, fast-action maple neck make this a truly outstanding instrument in its class. Although its soft maple body design and overall appearance are clear nods to the past, the Vintage Modified Jazz Bass V also incorporates some futuristic elements, such as high-end cosmetic touches and sizzling Fender-designed Jazz Bass single-coil pickups. The value-packed 5-string Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass V is an excellent entry/intermediate-level instrument for any bassist.

Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass V at a Glance:
  • Lightweight, "offset-waist" soft maple body
  • Neck designed for fast, comfortable playing
  • Fender quality at a great Squier value

Lightweight, "offset-waist" soft maple body
Bass guitars are big and that can mean heavy, too. Supremely comfortable whether you're seated or standing, the Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass V comes with the distinctive "offset-waist" body, but it's made from maple, which is resonant, but relatively light, which you'll appreciate after several hours up on stage. And with its classic finish, your Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass V will command the eyes - as well as the ears - of your fans!

Neck designed for fast, comfortable playing
Made from solid maple, with a maple fingerboard, the neck on Squier's Vintage Modified Jazz Bass V is designed to deliver a smooth and fluid playing experience. The 20 medium-jumbo frets provide you with added playing comfort, so you can continue for hours without hand fatigue. A fast-playing neck is vital when you're holding down the bass line, and Squier understands that. The Vintage Modified Jazz Bass V features a neck and fretboard that ensure you'll never want to put it down.

Fender quality at a great Squier value
Squier Vintage Modified Series electric guitars and basses provide you with renowned FENDER® quality at an affordable price. The Vintage Modified Series features some of the most time-honored models, including the Stratocaster®, Telecaster®, Jazzmaster™, Jaguar®, Mustang®, Jazz Bass®, and the Precision Bass®. These versatile guitars and basses are offered at the very best Squier value to make Fender quality more available to everyone. If you've been looking for a great guitar or bass to complement your playing, Squier Vintage Modified Series electric guitars and basses have an instrument for you.

Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass V Features:
  • Fender quality at a great Squier value
  • Fat, growling tones from a pair of Fender-designed Jazz Bass pickups
  • Comfortable and lightweight maple body with offset-waist
  • Modern C-shaped maple neck and fingerboard with block inlays
  • 20 medium-jumbo frets
  • Top-load bridge
  • Open-gear tuners

Get amazing modern tone from this classic-style 5-string Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass V!
NOTE: This product is available in the United States only - no international sales.
Specification Detail
Body Type Jazz
Left-/Right-handed Right-handed
Number of Strings 5
Color Natural
Body Material Soft maple
Body Finish Polyurethane
Scale Length 34"
Number of Frets 20 medium jumbo
Fingerboard Material Maple, 9.5" radius
Fingerboard Inlay Black blocks
Neck Material Maple, bolt-on
Neck Shape C shape
Nut Width 1.875"
Bridge/Tailpiece 5-String Standard Vintage-Style with Single Groove Saddles
Tuners Knurled chrome dome tuners
Number of Pickups 2
Neck Pickup Fender-Designed Jazz Bass single-coil
Middle Pickup No Middle Pickup
Bridge Pickup Fender-Designed Jazz Bass single-coil
Controls 2 x Volume, Master Tone
Strings Fender USA 7350/5M, (.045-.125)
Case Included No case included
Manufacturer Part Number 0306760521

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bass Strings

Ethan discusses flat-wound bass strings. Published here for your edification.

"With flats, the question of nickel vs. stainless is less of an issue. The issues become more about tension, tone and how smooth they feel.  Flats can sorta run the gamut with D'Addario Chromes being among the brightest sounding and highest tension, GHS and LaBella being among the darkest sounding (LaBella also has very high tension) and a whole bunch of options in the middle. Ernie Ball flats are a nice in-between flat with medium tension and a tone not too bright or too dark. Cheap, too. Not very popular, but I'm not sure why. I've used them on my fretless P-bass for years. I go one gauge lighter than my usual for rounds: 40 - 100 instead of 45 - 105.
"An interesting brand in the flats department also worth consideration is Thomastic Infeld - a German company best known for it's double bass strings that also makes strings for anything that needs them. TI Jazz Flats are by far the most flexible and lowest tension of the flats on the market and they have a pronounced midrange and more sustain than a lot of other flats. The result is a string that still sounds like a flatwound, but has some characteristics of rounds as well. They're very expensive and they're only available in one gauge, but they last nearly forever - literally years. Some players find them to be a little too floppy. I like them on certain basses and I think they'd work great on a Jazz Bass.

"Another consideration might be compression wound strings: Roundwounds which are then pressed through rollers to make the outer wrap an oval instead of round. They feel smoother than rounds and don't sustain as much, but they sound more like rounds than flats. GHS Pressurewounds and Ken Smith Compressors are very similar (both made by GHS, in fact, but to slightly different specs) and I like the Compressors a little better.

"There are also groundwounds (also known as half-rounds) where the outer wrap is ground flat.  The idea is that you get the best of both worlds, but in my experience - and I've given them several chances on various basses - you really get the worst of both worlds.  They feel smooth, but not smooth enough, you lose the sustain but don't gain the strong fundamental, they just kinda suck.

"Strings are a hot topic with the Internets, and if you go to Talkbass and search under "best flatwound", "best flats" or "favorite flats" or some such thing you could grow old reading it all.  There is some very good information buried in there, though. When you decide what you want, http://www.bassstringsonline.com/ is the place to go. Jason is knowledgeable, nice and he has the best prices.  He's cool about answering questions, too.

"I'm sure there are those who might think my string preferences are rubbish.
For instance, D'Addario Chromes are extremely popular flats, but I don't care for them at all. Thomastic-Infeld flats, on the other hand, have loads of proponents and loads of detractors.  They are a love-it-or-hate-it kind of string. I currently have them on a '51 reissue P-bass, but it was a poor choice, IMO. I like the way they feel and the way they sound, but I should have put them on a Jazz Bass. It would have been a better fit.  

"I've been meaning to try both Pyramid flats (another expensive, German option) and Sadowsky flats, which are getting a lot of love on Talkbass.

"Also, when playing flats, the decision arises of whether or not to use a foam mute near the bridge. Usually, I do use one, but I like to use one that is not very wide and touches the strings only lightly.  I like to take the extra ring off without killing all the sustain. Best to experiment by cutting a piece of foam into several sizes and try muting by different amounts and at different distances from the bridge until you find a combination you like. On some basses, I don't use one at all.  Bob Babbit, who played on about a zillion hit records, uses a P-bass with LaBella flats and mutes with a sink sponge - an entire freakin' sink sponge! - about half way between the pickup and the bridge. Most reggae players use flats on Jazz Basses and forego the mute.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Threebly

Any excuse to post this baby otter and I'll take it.
With an acoustic drum kit, one generally wants to record some elements to separate tracks in order to not have the sound bleeding from various close microphones when they're otherwise not doing anything.
For instance, on tom drum tracks (back in the olden days of analog tape) one would actually listen through a whole song and erase all of the sound on those tracks between drum fills. The result was to help reduce the squonky squishy sound the mics at the toms would add to (say) cymbal tracks.
I think that with entirely sampled drums I nominally need to only work with six tracks.

  1. Kick
  2. Snare
  3. Toms L
  4. Toms R
  5. Cymbals L
  6. Cymbals R

Now note that the "cymbals" are not "overheads" as they would be in a normal recording of acoustic drums. They're actually separate of, and divorced from, the toms. But let's back up a moment.
The kick and the snare are almost always given their own tracks for a couple reasons. One is that the sound of each of those drums is typically extremely important to the overall sound of the drums and of the piece of music being performed (in our case, rock music).
But the other thing is that they can do a marvelous job colliding with other instruments. The kick absolutely needs to work with the bass (guitar or keyboards) in order to complement rather than compete with the low end.
The snare drum is typically in a fight with the singer although in almost all the music I've done lately we've been instrumental so the snare is just arguing with guitars. This argument is easier to calm down if you can equalize and compress the snare separately from the rest of the drum kit (especially the kick drum).
So -- why split up the toms from the cymbals? Well, it's mostly because the toms will likely get more compression and more reverb than the cymbals. They'll certainly get different compression from one another. Could we put toms and cymbals on the same track? Well, yeah. In fact there (used to be a) school of thought where you'd put cymbals and maybe hihat on the kick track because you wouldn't have to worry as much about them interfering with one another. But that's only when you were on an analog machine and desperate for tracks. Those days are long gone.
This is just some rehearsing betwixt Lily, Greg, and me. Lily is on drums. Sometimes I'm on bass, other times on guitar. I'll let you guess which is which.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kids These Days

Look at this. Just look at this thing. Sixteen analog inputs. Fourteen analog outputs. A gazillion more digital. And all for fifteen hundred bucks. Good grief.

I can't even begin to express how important input metering is on channels. Especially for live sound.
The Behringer X32 Producer solves many of life's problems.
When I look back on my time in audio I realize that I've spent a lot of effort trying to get cheap mixers (read: more expensive than $1500) to work for me. Sure, on high-end mixers there were always enough outputs (strangely, inputs is almost never the problem outputs is). And now you can just buy one of these Behringer things and have all the routing you've always needed.
Yup, all the time I'd spent on mixers back in the day where I was frustrated there was at the time a solution. It just wasn't cheap. The solution was several tens of thousands of dollars. And it wasn't 'till nigh on the end of my career that I was working on those mixing boards.

Anybody remember these things?
Looking at this makes me sick to my stomach.

Thinking about that Yamaha PM1000 the New York Shakespeare Festival used to have just makes me shudder. Three generations later with the PM3000 they still couldn't get it to sound good. But everybody specified them in the late 80's early 90's because when you flipped the power switch they turned on. And in the world of pro audio, just getting the thing to turn on was half the battle.
When I was using a PM1000 it was hopelessly out-of-date at the time (Macbeth with Raul Julia if you must know).
While I was there it got replaced with a DDA mixer which was vastly, oh so vastly, better. Sheesh.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Electronic Kits

You know what you can't do on an electronic drum kit? Cymbal scrapes.
There's some other drum special effects you can't do but for all intents and porpoises you can basically do whatever you need to.
Here's a dude giving a fairly good overview of the sounds and playability of the Alesis DM10 Studio kit. You know, by playing it.
You know what the downside of an electronic drum kit is? At the high end at least?
They're #&*$($&)#)! expensive!
Why would I pay more on a dumb electronic drum kit than I've paid for all my guitars? Good grief.
I mean really. Sure, there are some cheap and mid-priced ones. But to get pro you have to spend some real bank. There is no Yamaha drum kit between about $1800 and $4300. The stupid "brain" of the kits -- the actual thing which makes the sounds -- the only one of those which have more than two outputs (which is honestly pretty critical to recording) are at least $1500 in the Yamaha and the Roland range. The Roland is actually over two grand thank-you-very-much.

Sure. There's the Alesis.
For me, as long as the triggering works well, we can use the sounds from a computer via MIDI. Actually. Huh. That opens up our options quite a bit doesn't it? I think having a continuously variable hi hat is important. And who doesn't want three zones on the ride? But if we're just pouring MIDI into a computer we don't have to worry about multiple outputs from the drum module itself (and you pay a monster premium for more than two outputs, let me tell ya.)
The other thing about the Alesis which is interesting is that although nobody really likes the stock heads it's fairly simple to put on new mesh heads. So there's that.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Selling Out

Sometime over a year ago Dave Wolf suggested he just get an electronic kit and that would solve our issues with bass guitar getting into the drum tracks (which, at the time, I was trying to record with only three mics). I suggested we go with bass going D.I. and using a headphone mixing system instead.
And now I'm thinking we should do both.
Yeah. Both.
Electronic drums and D.I. everything else. (And yeah, that must needs includes guitars at least most of the time.)

Doing recordings using a fully electronic drum kit, bass direct, and using guitar amp emulations is not entirely a new idea but it's way not the "cool" way to record a live band. It does, however, offer a lot of advantages. For instance we could work at my studio or my apartment and have a super party down without bothering anyone. 

Cons:
  • Electronic drums are not as fun
  • Emulated guitar amps won't sound as good (although it's my contention that emulations do a good job of dirty amps, not clean amps.)
  • My little ritual of going to Hanco's on Smith Street to get a bubble tea before rehearsal.
  • We need six outputs from the drums: kick, snare, stereo cymbals, stereo toms. Right? Most single modules do not allow this so we'd have to get multiple modules.
  • Monitoring will be a tad more of a pain in the tuchus
  • Electronic drums are a bit sterile and have to be dirtied up to sound good (or at least to sound less giant 80's-90's.
  • Electronic drum kits are freaky deaky expensive. Like the price of a very high-end acoustic kit. Well, at least for the high end ones.

Pros:
  • In the end, the sound quality will be album-quality.
  • We can replace the guitars with amped guitars. In fact, we can entirely mute a guitar and it really disappears. So when somebody makes a mistake (me) it can easily be cut out.
  • We can do overdubs with completely clean backing tracks.
  • We save about $1800/year in rehearsal space costs.
  • We don't have to deal with how loud other bands are in the rehearsal studio.Their leakage can't bother us.
  • My least favorite sound (snares vibrating whenever a guitar player does anything) won't happen.
  • What's a more comfy place than my apartment? 
  • The Yamaha controllers have what they call a "vintage" kit and it really does sound pretty good.

It may be that the "best" kit is some kind of combination of Roland and Yamaha. I dunno. Roland for the snare and toms and Yamaha for the cymbals? Or maybe the other way around.

Update: my office might be a better location. And a guitar amp (at least one) could run in the VO booth. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

12th Diatomaceous of Earth

This Gretsch Catalina Maple 7-piece kit for $600 seems like a pretty good deal. But such kits are available and around on (say) eBay and who needs that very high tom anyway? Still, if you buy it before Monday it'll be a great price on a new kit.
Recording 12 tracks I really shouldn't have so many ASIO lost buffers. Especially at only 44.1 or 48kHz (and 16-bit). I mean. Right? But with my laptop that's a thing. It doesn't seem to affect the sound though. I'd expect clicks or pops.
That being said, I don't know why I bother to record these things. Most of the band is stunningly uninterested. They won't read my emails much less actually listen to this. But oh well. Here's various things from the Diatomaceous Earth rehearsal on the 12th.


You know. I'd really love to have a rehearsal space where stuff could be left set up. With a drum kit that's good. Like a Gretsch. Should I learn to play drums? I really don't want to. But being able to just kick on the rack and the computer and have the monitors just work would be very nice.
Now let's talk about this mix.
On most of the instruments the compressor is an emulation of an LA-2A. But some things (basses?) I'm using an 1176 compressor (emulation). I'm hitting too hard. I know this. I do have issues of trying to keep the two bass instruments away from one another sonically. Those are a Chapman Stick which goes through some Lindell preamps "direct" via a couple DI boxes, and a Fender Jazz fretless going direct through an outboard preamp (and then, just for giggles, through another Neve preamp.) I realize that the 1176 is more popular with some instruments but I'm enjoying the sound of the LA-2A emulation better.
I threw my guitar through a Leslie emulation. For some reason on this session that seemed like an okay idea. I actually used a duplicated track for the Leslie.
You may note that the drums sound particularly bad. The hi-hat barks because it doesn't sound that awesome to start with and also I have too much compression on the overheads to make up for the lack of tom mics on this session (those having been rejected by drummer.) I should have backed off on the limiting. It would be nice if there were some ride cymbal but that's just not going to happen either.
On technical matters more: I was having a bad time with the Tascam A/D converter on this session. I don't know why. It may have been something as simple as the USB cable not seating in the laptop properly. Which is less than awesome. Because if it means the USB connector at the computer is getting wonkity then I'm not going to have a good time.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Deliberate Blanding

I'm really sick and tired of one aspect of modern pop music: the lack of drum fills.

Is it from the scourge of drum machines? Are real drummers emulating simplistic drum-machine drumming?
I have no idea.
Perhaps it's because drum fills might make the music too exciting and put less focus on the singer? 
Who knows. But it's clear that the lack of drum fills makes the music more boring. It's like a deliberate bland-ing of rock 'n roll.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Diatoms of Earth

This is the first full-band rehearsal of Diatomaceous Earth in two months. We played two new things which we've been working on.

These are edited performances. Lily is going direct into a Neve through her preamp. Ethan is hitting the Lindell preamps. I've pretty well decided that Greg's guitar amp does perfectly well through the Tascam preamp built into the interface (if you were to go to last week's rehearsal and listen to his guitar -- one side is a Tascam pre and the other is a Neve pre, see if you can tell the difference.)
Lily and Greg

The kick and the snare are replaced with Drum Workshop kick and snare. I believe that Lou didn't play the toms even once for the whole session.
I've decided that for a distortion pedal, the Iron Bell is for me.
Also, doesn't anybody want to manage a rehearsal studio for us? We could rent one by the month and all you'd have to do is rent out the rest of the nights and walk home with the profit. We just want to be able to keep our stuff set up.