Wow. Whining to the Ether works?

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Guess I should gripe blindly into the empty blogosphere more often. The Gibson was ready for pickup last night, so at least I have that back now. The other stuff… not so much.

Can you just do your damn job?

Gear, General, Guitar, People Comments Off on Can you just do your damn job?

The past week or so has been a series of frustrations. Mostly waiting for other folks to get their acts together. I’m sure I’ve let people down myself in the past, although my ego has blocked the memory for the moment. But the stuff that’s been going on here is getting kind of stupid.

First up we have a bureaucrat at my wife’s school, who seems to think she’s suddenly been promoted to some sort of Administrator position (she’s the ADA coordinator). She’s taken it upon herself to threaten Patty with refusal to let her start her fall semester if she doesn’t comply with the workarounds they’ve concocted to cover for their lack of ADA compliance.

It’s a long, long story, but the bottom line is that she’s required to attend two weeks’ residency each semester, and the rest is done online. It’s a great program, but the residence facilities there are absolutely abysmal. Example: on the day I dropped her off last March for the first shot at this, the temperature there was a record-breaking 28 degrees below zero. And there was no heat in the “dorm” where they’d put her. I quote “dorm” because the building where students are housed is more like a summer camp billet than any kind of dormitory I’ve ever seen (including during 3 years in the Army). The list goes on: no lights on the grounds at night, cobblestone walkways at the mercy of the incessant northern New England frost heave cycle, doorways too narrow for a standard walker, let alone a wheelchair, drainage so poor that the roads turn to instant mud with each rain… and then freeze into an impassable badlands during the night. It’s a joke.

But the issue, really, is that Patty was able to cope with all that (and much, much more) and still be the first student to have her semester program approved (part of the residency activity – all done online, though, so it’s a mystery why it has to be done there). Naturally, we informed the school of the vast deficiencies in their ADA compliance, making suggestions where appropriate – from the viewpoint of one whom the ADA regs are supposedly designed to help. The newly hired coordinator has apparently decided to take that information personally, not sure why. But of course now, on top of dealing with the “fun” of MS AND completing the coursework for her summer semester, Patty has to deal with this idiot telling her she might be prevented from continuing her education because the school refused to comply with basic ADA regulations.

So that’s one… Next on the list are the guys who have my guitars.

My Lyle 12-string, which I purchased in 1973, has been through the mill, big time. In the 34+ years I’ve had it, it’s neck has gotten warped, there’s a hairline crack in the heel (from a motorcycle incident, no less), a few of the tuning machines are falling apart, there are string retention pegs missing from the bridge and it definitely needs a new saddle. But it’s the oldest thing I personally own and it has a sound that has been complimented by more than one studio engineer and at least two professional musicians. I’d like to get it fixed if at all possible, so I took it to a local music shop to see what their luthier had to say about it. Since I was making the trip, I also brought along the aforementioned Gibson The Paul II for a basic setup. Next Monday both these instruments will have been sitting at the shop for a month, with no indication whatsoever when -or if – they’ll be worked on. I’ve called numerous times to no avail. The option at this point looks like just picking them up and starting over somewhere else. Unfortunately, the paucity of luthiers in the area makes it a bit difficult to know where to go next, and I’m getting tired of researching the issue.

According to one of their salespeople, the Nashville B-Bender Telecaster I ordered from Music123 last Saturday was packed up and ready for shipment on Sunday… and it’s been sitting in the warehouse since. Several calls and emails to them as well. The most recent explanation is “The reason it has not gone out yet is the warehouse started shipping everything at the same time so there has been a slight delay although your order should go out soon.” I guess “at the same time” means they’re now trying to save money by having fewer pickups. Like once a month? Not sure what “soon” means. Maybe October. Hey! zZounds!! Why don’t YOU folks carry this item!!! *sigh*

Finally, I had the joy on Monday morning of learning that my boss had either quit or been fired. I still don’t know which. His boss (my new boss) won’t say, and he’s not responding to the emails I sent him asking what happened and, then, letting him know he’d be missed. What I do know is that the reasons he’s gone (there are multiple) are wholly due to the fact that his bosses won’t do their damn jobs. To boot, my new boss is now “out” for a couple days – with nary a mention of this to me – and apparently won’t be back until next Monday. I’m a big boy, and I can certainly manage my own time for the next couple days. That’s not the point though, is it. It is, however, a good example of the sort of thing that ultimately led to the issues that culminated in Monday morning.

Then there’s the 110th Congress…

we have ignition…

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The move went fairly smoothly yesterday, and the exercise was a good point to clean up a lot of the cruft that has been accumulating behind my desk here over the years. I ended up replacing some long, bundled CAT-5 cables with shorter ones, removed some of the tangle… that sort of thing. Plus, I had an HP LaserJet IIIP sitting on the ‘top rack’ above my monitor (I have an old O’Sullivan Corner Cockpit) that has slowly quit feeding paper over the last couple years (the rollers are just worn out). It’s now history and allofasudden I have LOTS of room to put a growing stack of books on my reading list, plus other stuff. I was toying with the idea of stacking the Tascam and JV up there, but (1) the FireWire cable I have wouldn’t have reached and (2) it would have been virtually impossible to get at the back of either unit to change patches, etc.

I can’t imagine one of today’s HP printers lasting 15 years anymore. Of course they’re about 1/5-to-1/10th the price for what you get in terms of functionality these days. At over 15 years old, I figured I’ve gotten my use out of this one and decided not to take it in again for a repair, which would only be its second. It’s functional, though, so I’ll likely drop it off at the local tech school and let them fiddle with it. Truth be told, I probably have 5 or 6 old computers I should bring along as well. They’re just taking up space. Kind of amazing how many computers I’ve (we’ve) gone through in 17 years living here. I count …

  1. Arche Rival 286 Desktop
  2. Gateway Desktop #1
  3. Gateway Desktop #2
  4. Homebuilt (from parts) Tower – Windows
  5. Homebuilt (from parts) Tower – Overclocking experiment / Linux
  6. Dell Desktop (purchased when I left Meca) – Linux
  7. Dell Latitude CPxJ Laptop
  8. ABS PC Desktop #1
  9. ABS PC Desktop #2 (current -mine)
  10. Dell Inspiron 9400 Laptop (current -Patty’s)

Scary. I wouldn’t even want to count up all the CRTs and peripheral crap stuffed in drawers, chests, corners, closets, attic, boxes, basement, crawlspace, etc. The Linux boxes still fire up, as well as a few of the others. None of them older than the CPxJ will run XP or the more recent versions of the various Linux GUI desktops, however. Probably time to take the hard drives out of those and just donate them someplace. If I didn’t throw it out, I may also actually have an old Atari 520 ST (w/upgrade to a full megabyte of RAM!!!) in a box somewhere in the attic. I’m pretty sure I sold my Atari 800. The Arche was the first “IBM Compatible” I ever bought. These days I sometimes almost wish I’d taken the Mac route. Still could, I suppose.

SONAR‘s now updated to Producer ver. 6.2.1. Nice installer. Doesn’t require uninstall or overwrite of your older version (this is discouraged in their Read This First sheet, actually), which still functions fine as far as I can tell. Also does you the favor of tracking down and copying over your previous version preferences and INS settings. This was particularly appreciated, as it’s not a trivial task to get the JV-1080’s INS files installed and set up so that SONAR can make sense of them.

I loaded up the Wannabe Life project, saved it as a new copy (be sure to do this if you ever want to open the original in a pre-6 version of SONAR), moved a few of the outputs around and – after recovering from my initial confusion about the “new” MIDI latency coming out of the sound card (introduced by the Tascam), plugged a set of headphones in (to the FW-1804 monitor) and things sound great! So of course now I’m thinking about a pair of active studio monitors. Since I can simply send the 1804’s analog output to the Audigy card’s Line In, for the moment monitors aren’t really a priority. Although I have a feeling the sound difference is going to be pretty serious, as the 2.1 sound system I’m using came along for the ride with that first Gateway desktop you see up there. I’ll definitely get a pair before trying to actually “master” anything. For now, this works just fine.

Oh, and I’ve decided on Fender’s American Nashville B-Bender Telecaster.

Happy Friday the 13th!

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Marking time here.

Part two of the Tascam adventure will need to wait a few. I really wanted to redo/document the steps I used to get a clear, low-noise, direct-input, simple guitar recording, but part of what I was doing was to get the difference in tone ‘on tape’ and the pickup switch transient finally just pissed me off. So the Telecaster is on its way back due to the electrical problem. I really couldn’t see spending the time and effort to ship or bring the thing in for a warranty repair after having spent that much on what should have been an excellent git, out-of-the-box. I know, Fender quality isn’t the greatest. At this point I’m willing to accept that sometimes getting the right instrument requires a few tries – or spending lots of time (which I don’t have) playing multiple guitars in lots of stores.

Hopefully the Paul II will be back from the shop soon – it’s having it’s first mechanical tuneup/setup (after well over 10 years, it deserved some love) – and I can continue the process with that while considering the next move on acquiring a nice Telecaster.

After having seen what was done (by Fender) with the Vintage ’52, I have to say that, ultimately, I wasn’t very impressed – except maybe with the remarkable tweed case! Anyway, I think I’m leaning back to my original plan, which was the American Series Telecaster – Natural Body / Maple Neck model (0118400721), although I’ll definitely be putting a single-ply black pickguard on it. The white just doesn’t quite cut it, IMHO. The hitch at this point – and this is something that’s been in the back of my mind all along, ‘cuz I’ve toyed with the idea of getting one since I first saw a Bender back in the ’70s – is whether or not to choose the Nashville B-Bender. The options are to get a nice, basic model – like the American Series – and have it refitted later by The Man (Gene Parsons), or get the factory-installed Nashville model straight from Fender.

The former choice is quite a bit more pricey, but in the long run probably a better way to go in terms of quality and – though it’s not really a consideration at this point – resale value later on, having been installed by the Master. The question is whether or not the difference in quality will be noticed by a relatively mediocre player like myself. Also the Nashville Telecaster Fender ships with their factory installed Bender seems much more versatile, tone-wise, than the simpler American Series model that I’d probably have refitted: extra pickup, 5 tone combinations instead of 2-1/2. Most importantly, those combinations include the ‘standard’ Tele’ pickup selectors, so it would seem you get classic Tele’ sound plus others as well. Maybe one of the local shops has one to try out. Downside: it only comes in black and 3-color sunburst, no natural. Upside: black is my second color choice (with a single-ply, black replacement pickguard, of course).

On the writing front, I’ve gotten the chorus, bridge(s) and the bulk of the first couple verses put together for a rewrite of Hard Road Down – something I started and actually finished quite a few years ago, but was never totally satisfied with. I have always felt it had the potential to be a ‘great’ tune, but lacks in the area of compelling lyrics. They’re just so-so, IMHO. Workin’ on that, and now I have motivation and inspiration in the form of the stuff needed to do a “full-band” recording for it, complete with a cello/guitar duet instrumental section I’ve been noodling on. Most likely it’ll be me playing everything, so it’ll stay pretty simple, but the important thing is to finish it, for the sake of finishing it, and get it down for posteriority.

Recording-wise, back when I got to This Page in Rich the Tweak’s awesome Guide, I took him up on the challenge there and actually started putting down the basic drum/bass tracks for Wannabe Life, another tune that’s only ever been heard by the demons in my head. When they’re listening. Which isn’t often. There are some nice vocal “Doos” in the Vocal expansion I have in the JV-1080, so I put down some (super)scratch vocals just to hear what the harmony might sound like with a little pseudo-B3 along for the ride. Here’s 30 seconds’ worth – everything centered, no mix, no effects. Progress on this has been interrupted by EDLI (every-day life issues), but things are settling a bit, and so once things are hooked together tomorrow, I can get back to it.

So, tomorrow is a minor Moving Day. The JV – which right now is kind of neatly buried in my corner cockpit desk here – will get a new home over there underneath the Tascam so I can use short cables to connect them. After that, install SONAR 6, which arrived this week, and get back to tweaking!

First Time Using the Tascam FW-1804

Audio Recording, Gear, Guitar 2 Comments

The Tascam FW-1804 Audio Interface has mixed reviews here and there. What originally drew my attention to this unit, frankly, were threads like this one and Rich the Tweak’s comment here:

One of the best deals, if not the best deal, for a Mixerless rig in terms of bang for the buck.

For my setup, he’s right. And I spent a lot of time reading, learning, thinking and looking over specs, etc., to come to this conclusion. The only other contender, for my needs and budget, was the Presonus Firebox. That probably would have been fine, but it didn’t have effects insert send/returns. Plus ideally, I’d like to have four inputs just for the Roland JV-1080 (Dry L/R and EFX L/R), although 2 will suffice (MIX L/R). So, for an additional $30, the 1804 lets me experiment and has expandability for later. I wasn’t too-too concerned about preamp hyper-quality. When we get there I’ll get an actual preamp that does nothing else. In the meantime, it’ll be a long time before I need anything more, so I decided this was the best deal for my needs.

Some folks have actually taken to replacing “Tascam” with “Trashcan” (some with domains like gearslutz.com… erm…). I’d seen all this stuff before purchasing and although it sounded like a few had genuine beefs with reliability or Tascam support, quite frankly, many of the negative reviews were so inarticulate in terms of the real problem that I wrote them off to simply being unwilling to read the manual, etc. “WORTHLESS PIECE OF CRAP!! I COULDN’T GET IT WORKING!!!” doesn’t do much to describe the actual problem. At least not a problem with the gear.

I see this daily in my Tech Support position, though I’m thankfully no longer responsible for coming up with diplomatic responses to such screeds. Remember: the customer is always “right”, even when they’re blatantly, inexcusably wrong. It’s usually easy to identify the people who install a piece of complex software – one that’s designed to simplify the use of a complex standard (in this case, WS-BPEL 2.0), which is in turn based on a bunch of other complex standards – and who dive right in with no training, none of the peripheral or prerequisite knowledge and no time spent reading the thousands of pages of documentation, tutorials and examples we created to support it.

The questions these kinds of folks post to the support forum tend to be rants rather than real questions, and they sometimes even get indignant if you suggest training, reading the manual, going through the painstakingly constructed tutorial (at least once, fer crissakes!) or simply checking the text of the standard to resolve their confusion. They seem to want to be able to jump right in to using it with no real investment in time. I see this most frequently with college students working on “theses” and other school projects. Most of these folks, basically, want YOU to resolve their issue (i.e., do their homework for them).

Seems like many users of Audio Interfaces (in general) fall into this category, i.e., they see a CD, an interface unit and one cable going into the computer, and they think “Huh. Just like a USB external drive!” Uhm… no. Sorry, you can’t simply plug one of these into your SONAR-equipped computer, stick a guitar into the “Guitar” input, turn the Trim up to +40dB, open your mouth, throw back your head and start recording that last wailing track of Black Star. It simply won’t work. No doubt at least one or two (ok, probably more) of the neg reviews on the Tascam (and others!) resulted from exactly that sort of scenario. As it turns out, one needs to work at it to get any sort of sound at all… let alone something acceptable. In my case this took a few hours of reading, installing, tweaking, reading, thinking, rewiring, tweaking and then some more tweaking.

Here’s the basic sequence I used, including some of the wrong turns, to get what is (so far) a very nice electric guitar sound recorded on a track in SONAR using direct input – with and without a distortion box. I’m using Windows XP SP2 and SONAR 2.2 (yeah, I’ve heard a million times that it’s old – bite me – 6 is on the way). Be sure to follow directions specific to your system if you’re using Vista (god help you) or a Mac (lucky bastid). These may seem a tad too meticulous, but I’ve learned not to trust anything anymore – especially when it’s manufactured in certain parts of the world (anyone had a pet made ill or killed by supposedly “safe” pet food in the past year? ’nuff said), which most stuff is these days.

Read Everything First, THEN Start Tweaking

  • Whatever documentation you get with your unit, read it all before you install any software or take the twist-ties off any of the cables.
  • Get a soda (or a pop), go back, and re-read the parts you didn’t understand the first time.
  • Make sure all the A/C adapters, parts, cables and CDs are there. There’s typically a list (with pictures) in the Owner’s Manual.
  • Unpack the A/C adapter. Plug it into wall outlet. Verify that it doesn’t blow a circuit breaker.
  • Unpack the main unit and connect it to the A/C adapter. Turn on the power. Verify that the lights stay lit. Punch the buttons, watch the lights change.
  • Plug a microphone into one of the inputs (or a guitar into Input 8, which has a duplicate input marked “Guitar” on the front panel) and plug a set of headphones into the Phones jack. Verify that you can hear sound in the headphones when you speak/play.
  • Power the unit off.

Software Drivers for the new Hardware

Dealing with hardware drivers in Windows (any flavor) is always “fun”. I’ve already gotten at least one BSOD since installing this unit. Though it occurred just after a SONAR crash during a “Remove Silence” command, it was while the unit was connected and powered up. If it had anything to do with the Tascam drivers, I would guess that it was because the hardware wasn’t gracefully informed that the client application (SONAR) was no longer there, and cacked the system trying to interrupt a nonexistent process (i.e., the error message was the standard IRQ_NOT_LESS_THAN_OR_EQUAL, or however Micro$oft spells it – “IRQ” stands for Interrupt ReQuest). BSODs are a part of using software that gives your computer a workout. Hopefully SONAR 6 will be better behaved.

  • Create a Windows XP System Restore Point in case you need to back out any driver changes. Never done this? Time to go read/learn about it.
  • Determine which FireWire inputs to use. If you’re like me, you’ll probably have at least two: one on the motherboard and one on your sound card. Follow the instructions in the Setup Guide and locate your FireWire interfaces using the Device Manager. Don’t have any? Well, you probably should have checked before you bought the unit, huh? Sorry. Time to shop for a sound card with a FireWire port.
    • Here, I decided to use the one on the motherboard and disabled the one on the sound card. Why? My theory is to remove latency whenever and wherever it can occur. In this case, why have the data go through the PCI bus, through the circuitry on the sound card and out the FireWire port (and back!) when I can have it go to/from the FireWire port connected (almost) directly to the CPU? Couldn’t think of a reason, so I’m using the mobo port. Since I won’t be using the sound card’s, I disabled it to free up any resources that might have been allocated to it.
    • To determine which FW port was which, I looked at the Properties for each and disabled the one whose Location was PCI Slot 4. Your mileage may vary.

    Disabled FireWire Port

    • Note: I didn’t say plug the 1804 in yet.
  • Install the driver software.
    • In the 1804’s case, they instruct you to install the drivers BEFORE hooking up the unit. Be sure to do this.
  • The install program will probably suggest that you reboot. Do it.
    • I’ve had mixed combinations of success and BSODs (failures on reboot) when I allow the installer to reboot my system. Interestingly enough, this happens most often with Micro$oft’s Update Manager, which is not really a surprise. So I’ve gotten in the habit of responding “No, reboot later” to this sort of dialog and then immediately powering the system down (using Start / Turn off the Computer), then back up. This makes sure EVERYthing gets power-cycled, and when you’re installing hardware drivers and enabling/disabling things, this will often make a difference. For me, it’s just a habit now.
  • Once the computer system is powered back up, check to make sure everything still works okay. Run WoW, Tomb Raider, SONAR – whatever gives your system hardware a workout, just to make sure there was no conflict with the driver installation.
  • Power down the computer and the 1804.
  • Locate the physical FireWire port on the computer and connect it to FireWire #1 on the back of the 1804 using the cable provided.
  • Power up the computer and get back to the desktop.
  • Power up the 1804. In a moment, you should see the standard XP dialogs coming up, telling you how excited they are that they just found new hardware and can’t wait to install drivers for it. Follow the steps in the Setup guide, as written.
    • When I did this, the installer actually went through discovering two sets of hardware and installing two sets of drivers. The Setup Guide isn’t specific about this and, again, your mileage may vary. I believe one set was for the 1804 FireWire control interface and the other was for the WDM/ASIO/etc. sound drivers. I answered ‘Yes’ whenever the dialogs asked if they could install a driver “automatically”. This worked for me.
  • Everything OK? Okay, power your computer down, then back up, one more time. Check to make sure everything that used to work, still works.

Next time: Connecting to SONAR

Cello Rondo

Audio Recording, Cello, Software, Video 1 Comment

Or… an amazing feat of musical, multimedia magic!

The video below was created by Ethan Winer a couple of years back. I plead no excuse for having missed it – I used to be a frequent visitor to Ethan’s site. Kind of speaks to the overall theme here, eh? Anyway, cellists will especially appreciate this. I’m surprised I’ve never heard of it being aired on (at least) PBS or something, as it’s been viewed something like half a million times on the web. It’s fascinating. Ethan describes it:

I thought it would be a fun project to write and record a pop tune using nothing but cellos, then make a video of the performance. The original goal was to keep everything entirely acoustic, with no recording studio effects or other processing. I quickly abandoned that idea to get more variety of sounds, but everything you hear was played entirely on my cello. There are 37 separate cello parts recorded on 23 tracks using 37 plug-in effects. I don’t know if I should be embarrassed to admit I spent hundreds of hours on this project, or proud to have paid so much attention to detail. You be the judge.

Uh…. proud, dude!!! Duh!!

Nice one, Ethan!!

Note: A Cello Rondo is Copyright © 2005 by Ethan Winer

Christmas in July

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I’m worn out.

Two of the items I ordered on Tuesday arrived this afternoon (yay for amazingly fast shipping from zZounds.com!!): the Tascam (see previous post) and a brand new American Vintage ’52 Telecaster. The Tascam is still in the plastic wrap – I’m waiting for some cables for that anyway.

But I must have spent 3 hours already playing the Tele’. If it weren’t for the transients it throws intermittently when I switch pickups, it’d be perfect. The cable it came with just plain doesn’t work at all – not that I’d ever use it anyway. Guess they don’t even test those anymore. All-in-all, a little disconcerting for what is actually a fairly expensive guitar. I’ve emailed Fender to see if it’s something I should bring it in for service on, or if it’ll wear in (like a dirty potentiometer).

Finish-wise, I was initially disappointed (that changed). When I look at this, I see a fairly light colored wood, and that’s what I was expecting – lots of contrast between that and the very black pickguard. The actual color is more of what the finish name – Butterscotch Blonde – actually implies. The wood grain has an almost grey tint and the wood/stain combination is, well, butterscotch-colored. The effect is that at a distance it has a kind of flat look to it, but as you get closer, the surface starts to look three-dimensional. Very cool. The finish itself is like polished stone – smooth as glass and hard. The inevitable first nick in the body of this babe will be a real heartbreaker. They always are. Same will be true of the first scratch on the case. This one is just a work of art – signature Fender beige tweed with leather accents. It’s built like a steamer trunk one might’ve taken on a cruise… in 1950.

Oh and by the way, I think the majority of consumer instruments have a polyurethane finish these days. This one doesn’t. If you’ve ever purchased a lacquer-finished instrument but neglected to read the literature that came with it, it turns out that they’re allergic to latex – as in the surgical tubing that covers most parts of a guitar stand. I’ll be looking for something to deal with that.

Being so completely out of practice, it’s difficult to tell if the neck “plays well”, although what playing I have done has been next to effortless – the way I always envisioned playing an electric guitar should feel like. I’ve never quite managed that with the instruments I’ve owned which, other than a Gibson The Paul II, have always been lesser-brand copies that didn’t have very good action and always sounded “pretty good” but not great.

Very interesting going from the almost manhandling mode of the cello to barely touching the light, almost airy electric guitar strings. Tomorrow we’ll throw in some bass practice – just to really make things interesting!

Home Studio

Audio Recording, Gear, Software, Synthesizers Comments Off on Home Studio

Okay, so I was kind of catching up in that first post. This is something that’s been brewing for a couple of weeks. I don’t think it’s going to ‘phase out’ at this point. Things have a tendency to do that these days… as soon as the time spent pursuing them starts to feel too much like work it’s on to the next distraction. If this music bug sticks, well then it may turn out that the endless sequence of distractions was just something to do while I worked my way back to the right headspace to do it. We’ll see.

Deja sez: “Do NOT go to your grave without doing music again!!! Life is meant to be lived and you should use all your talents!!!

Yes, she really does use a hot pink italic font. The grave thing is a little disconcerting, but the rest makes sense. Patty seems to be 1000% behind this too. There’s a difference from past arrangements, I must say. Not that I didn’t already ‘know’ this. It was a self-permission thing (see previous post).

So, getting down to brass tacks, I’ve taken stock of what’s on hand here and did about two weeks of (spare time) reading over at TweakHeadz Lab, which is an absolutely awesome resource that I can’t possibly recommend highly enough, by the way. And not just because all the information there is made available 100% free of charge, either.

A couple weeks ago I went down to JC’s and bought a run-o-the-mill microphone, just to see what sort of damage I could do recording cello and 12-string guitar. Hey… it’s what he had on the shelf. We’ll call this microphone Mic 1. It kind of sat until I ordered a mic stand, more recently, at which point I spent a few hours experimenting. I discovered pretty good placement for mic’ing both the cello and guitar and getting a passable sound into SONAR via my Audigy 2 soundcard. It’ll work, but it turns I could’ve done a lot better.

Here’s a good example of why it’s good to do your research first – and why I’m grateful I took the time to do that before I spent any really significant ca$h on anything else. For like $40 more, I could have purchased a Shure SM57 dynamic microphone, which turns out to be an excellent all-purpose mic. I’m pretty sure we used these as far back as the band days (late 70s). Also, balanced signal paths are where it’s at, and I made the ‘error’ of getting a non-balanced cable so I could plug it easily into the computer sound card. Lesson learned. An XLR cable is on the way.

To be plugged into what, you ask? Well, I remember the kid at JC’s asking what I was going to plug the mic into. He gave me a funny/knowing look when I said I was planning to punch it straight into the soundcard… “to start.” I actually said “to start” because his question implied there was more to it and I didn’t want to seem like the totally clueless newb I really was. Turns out there’s a LOT more to it, and I’ve learned a good deal about all that at TweakHeadz’. Not only are most computer soundcards like about the worst thing in the world you can use as a front end for a microphone, but their analog-to-digital (A-to-D) capabilities leave a lot to be desired as well. Mics need a good preamp and a good converter to do anything halfway decent – and of course it doesn’t hurt to actually start out with a good mic to begin with.

Anyway, I’ll be using the XLR cable to plug Mic 1 (and later an SM57 and a condenser, when I can justify them) into a Firewire Audio Interface – specifically a Tascam FW1804. What’s the deal there? Basically, to do any serious, or even halfway serious recording using a computer, you need to find a way to take the soundcard out of the equation. One way to do this is with something called an Audio Interface. Bascially, this is a unit that preamplifies incoming sound from microphones, guitars and such, and then does the A-to-D conversion – all with hopefully far better quality components than you’ll find in your average computer soundcard. Why Firewire? Well because basically USB is still a little slow and there’ll be enough inherent latency in this system as it is.

This was a tough unit to decide on, weighing practicality, price, etc. What finally helped me decide on this unit over the Presonus Firebox was partly the increased number of inputs but moreso the availability of ‘inserts’. These are output/input jacks that allow you to insert an effect – like a guitar distortion box – between the preamp and the output to the computer. Essentially, it allows you to add effects to an instrument (or microphone) without preamplifying the noise that’s inevitably generated by the effect box. If you’ve ever run a guitar through a standard amp with the volume turned up, you hear the effect of this if you punch a distortion box (like a Boss DS-1) ‘on’ switch. The added hum you’ll hear is the noise from the box being preamplified by the amp’s circuitry. I’m guessing there are a number of amp models that have insert jacks, to avoid this very thing. Just haven’t had the need to research it.

Anyway, with the Tascam, I’ll be pretty much ready to record everything I can play – electric bass, cello, electric and acoustic guitar, MIDI synth, etc. – and some vocals as well. Next steps up for the studio will be better microphones, active studio monitors and perhaps a standalone mic preamp, but that’s all a ways off. For now I think we’re good to go. A little dated perhaps – the computer’s now almost 3 years old and my synth is probably considered ‘vintage – but I think I can produce some fairly decent tracks with this stuff nonetheless:

  • ABS PC Ultimate M5^64 w/1GB RAM, dual MAXTOR 6Y080M0 SATA 7,200 RPM HDDs
  • AUDIGY 2 ZS Soundcard and a very old Gateway 2.1 Sound System (hey, it works!)
  • Audio2000’s APM1066 Dynamic Microphone
  • Tascam FW1804 Firewire Audio Interface
  • Roland Super JV-1080 MIDI Synthesizer
  • Roland SR-JV80 Orchestral II Expansion Board
  • Roland SR-JV80 Vocal Expansion Board
  • Roland PC-200 MK II MIDI Keyboard Controller
  • SONAR 2.2 (don’t fret – it’s on it’s way to a SONAR 6 Producer Upgrade)
  • Fender BXR200 Extended Range Bass Amp (also great for beefy guitar sound)

Independence Day

General 1 Comment

Appropriate.

Not sure I’m totally sold on this WordPress theme yet. Maybe it’ll grow on me.

So… what are we doing here, exactly? Well, after decades (yes, multiple) of ignoring a passion for something that once Was a passion, I’m going back to it. This would be, of course, Music. As it turned out, this involved no small amount of self-permission. Pursuit of music – at least the performance of music – has always been at odds with life, making a living, relationships and such. Through the years I think that’s translated, evolved or morphed, if you will, into the foundations of a negative neuro-association. The result? Playing is ‘frivolous’. New gear is ‘a waste’. Practice ‘eats up time’ that could be better spent on more serious pursuits. And on and on.

Enough of that.

I hereby give myself permission to pursue something I’ve always loved and used to be pretty good at.

Done.

Why the blog? Mostly it’s just a convenient place (through it’s rather universal accessibility) to keep records, thoughts, lyric ideas, research, etc. Although there are times when actively playing, practicing, recording, songwriting, et al., become almost as much like work as work. Sometimes I just want to write about the process itself. Journals are cumbersome and my handwriting sucks anymore. Typing is easier. And I’m comfortable with blog software – especially WordPress which, I have to say, I’m really super impressed with, having just installed Ver. 2.2 and played around with it a little. It seems to get easier to install and use with each revision. More on that aspect in general, as it relates to getting things ‘for free,’ in future posts.

For now, we establish the beachhead and head beyond the shingle.