Saturday, January 21, 2017

Review: Marshall DSL15H Head

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about an amp that has really surprised me: the Marshall Dsl 15 H head!

In these recent years we have witnessed a trend in amp making: besides the classic 100w heads, manufacturers have started to produce more and more low wattage versions of their tube amps (from 5 to 20w), to satisfy the needs of the average player, which wants to play home with a good tone (and a 100w tube head, if played at 0.1 volume, doesn't provide it) and with enough power to be used also in the rehearsals room.
Besides the tone quality, another thing that modern players crave is a reduced size and weight: the 2017 guitar player doesn't want to carry around an extremely large head weighing 23kg (on an average) to have a good tone.

We are talking about tube amps because we know that solid state and digital amplifiers don't have this problem: a 100w transistor amp, for example, will sound the same at any volume, so it's usable in any situation without sound degradation.
With a tube amp is different: according to the amp, the bias, the transformer, we have a sweet spot, an ideal volume to use it, and if we keep the volume too low the tubes will not be driven enough to thicken the sound, if we turn the volume too loud the tubes will be overdriven, and not always this is a wanted result.

As we have said in our article "tube amps vs transistor amps" there are several elements in play, so for lower wattages, so far, I have always preferred the transistor ones (from 30w up, otherwise my experience is that they are completely covered by the drums), but lately I have played in a rehearsal room using this Marshall DSL 15H Head, a 15 w tube head loaded with four ECC83S in the Preamp section and two 6V6 in the power amp, and, damn, this little amp is loud!

The head is a smaller version of the 100w Marshall Dsl Head, it features 2 channels (clean and overdrive), and the overdrive is switchable for ultra gain, it has a Deep control that adds more Bass frequencies and a switch to choose between 7.5w (a good home volume) and 15w (for the rehealsal room and live). 
So far I have never played a 15w tube amp capable of delivering a good metal tone, driving easily a 4x12 cabinet and stand out in the mix so well: the sound is crisp, clean and the size and weight are the half of a 100w marshall Dsl.
Of course it will have less headroom, a little less Bass frequencies (in this the deep switch is very useful), but for the first time I find the tone extremely usable and credible, compared for example with the Mesa Boogie Rectifier mini, which struggles much more in delivering a good tone at higher volumes.
I would say that if you're on a tight budget or a home player and want a classic tube Marshall sound, this amp is a good choice, and probably it is the best in its category (less than 20w tube amps).

Give it a try!

Specs taken from the website:

- WEIGHT: (KG) 10.2

Friday, January 13, 2017

6 Tips to write better song lyrics 2/2


3) Rhyme
: I like to write my lyrics as a poetry, respecting rhythm, metrics and rhyme, because I think this helps a lot the song groove and adds a pleasant added value to the track. Rhyme can come in many forms, from the easiest AA, BB, CC... To more complex, concatenated structures. Check out the image on top for some illustrous examples, but there are countless others around. If you struggle in coming up with a good rhyme check out the RhymeZone website: you provide a word and it will list you a serie of words that rhyme with that, ordered by the number of syllables.

4) Alternate/repeat: rhythm is created by an alternancy between downbeat and upbeat, a sound that calls and a sound that answer, for example the alternancy between kick and snare in an Ac/Dc song, and the same technique is used conceptually also in lyrics.
There are songs in which we have for example an alternancy between one voice and a choir, e.g. "My Generation" of The Who. To insert elements that rotate, repeat or alternate inside a lyric can help creating dynamic and be memorized more easily, like adding a phrase that repeats in each verse, for example in the song "These Days" by the Foo Fighters.

5) The point of view: like when writing a novel, the point of view is fundamental. The lyric can be descriptive, like a documentary with a voice of a narrator describing the events from outside, or in first person. About the time, the lyrics can describe something happened in the past ("I used to love her", by Guns n'Roses) that will happen in the future ("I'll be there", by Megadeth), or something happening right now ("Unforgiven" by Metallica). Obviously also point of view and time can change during the song, as in the song "SK8R BOI" by Avril Lavigne: in the verses she alternates between a third person description of the male and female protagonists, then she enters the lyric first person towards the end.

6) The mood: there are bands which have made a career out of depressive songs, such as Sentenced, others which made a career only based on happy songs, like Aqua, some band speaks exclusively of love, some exclusively of rage and hate, and so on. The mood reflects what the band feels towards its art and often adapts to what a certain market requires, but if we see the greatest bands in the world, we will notice that at least most of them are the ones which haven't let the expectations of the market or the label to corner them: nobody is angry, depressed or happy all the time, and it takes a lot of personality to be able to express yourself in multiple registers, such as System of a Down that can range from a sad song like "Lonely day", to a comedic song like "Violent Pornography". Other bands that have produced high quality songs moving elegantly through a very wide range of moods and registers are MuseQueen and Aerosmith among the others. Our suggestion is, if you care about the lasting of your inspiration, to not let yourself be clustered into a single mood but to be free of moving where your heart takes you without limitations: the quality of your music will benefit greatly.

Hope this was helpful! Have fun in writing great music!


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Saturday, January 7, 2017

6 Tips to write better song lyrics 1/2

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we will talk about a very sensitive topic in songwriting: lyrics.

Lyrics are the story we are telling with our song, the message we are trying to transmit, therefore we should carefully choose what to say and how to say it, because often they are the most important thing in a song (as Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters once said "white people dance to lyrics"), and while on some music genre they can be also not the focus of the song (for example in certain death metal song like Children of Bodom, which doesn't even write them in the booklet and in an interview the singer was even surprised when someone asked him about them because he consider them completely secundary), more often than not they will decide the difference between a succesful song and one that will be completely overlooked (for example in pop, rock or rap music).

In all honesty there is no way to help you inventing from scratch a lyric, you should dig deep inside your thoughts and find some original idea, something impactful and that would be an interesting subject of discussion, or maybe even some good old commonplace like unrequited love, but seen from a fresh perspective, because there is nothing worse than listening to something boring or heard one thousand times. Another good source of inspiration are films, comics, videogames, books and everything else that can feed our thoughts. I, personally, like to write layered lyrics: I start with a deep concept, some aspect of my life or some message that I consider to be important, and then I build on top of it another layer of science fiction or fantasy or whatever, so that who listens can stop at the surface and enjoy the cinematic images, and if they want they can dig deeper to get to the profound meaning.

What we can help you with is the methodic-technical side, with this list of 6 tips to write lyrics:

1) Take a look at the structure of the song: how many verses? How many choruses? How many bridges or special? And lay down your story distributing it through the song as you are writing a novel: an initial part, a central part, maybe a twist that surprises the listener, a conclusion.
The song doesn't have to be long, you just need to be good in managing the economy of words, getting the message as powerful, fast and efficiently as possible, without watering it down.

2) Metrics. If you want to keep your song flowing and euphonic you must be perfect with the timing and the number of syllables, because otherwise the song will lose the groove. This is fundamental in lyrics intensive songs like rap, but also in pop or rock songs, in which lyrics are much shorter, the vocals must blend with the music and the groove, not kill it, if we don't want to sound amateur.
We can adapt to the rhythm below, using quadruplets, triplets or any other type of quantization required by the song, or adapt the flow to the words, the important is to sit gracefully on the beat. There are surely artists which defy the metrics rules, like the spoken word singers, or those who prefer to sing in a more theatrical way, but our suggestion is, before arriving to that, to master perfectly the art of singing on time.


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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Challenge: Mixing only with filters (with free Vst plugins!)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
We are starting the new year with a challenge that will teach us how to separate the various parts in the mix, carving the right place for each instrument.

The challenge consists in this: to mix a project, even better if a project with all microphoned parts (for example a microphoned drumset, microphoned guitar amps and so on).

Obviously we're not talking about a challenge with a prize, but an educational one: to dig into the root of the sound, and draw out a mix as natural and unmodified as possible, just avoiding the various parts to clash together (or to cover each other) without all the layers of effects, editing, autotune, quantization.  The ideal would be to mix a live song, and luckily it is sufficient to google "live multitrack project" to find some free one, available for educational purposes.

How to achieve mix separation
For this challenge we just need to rise in each track the high pass filter until the sound starts to become thin and to lose its body, and then stop and take it a little back, then to use a low pass filter until the track starts sounding dark.
This way we will achieve separation, and we'll be forced to choose what element to leave in which area.
We could start from the picture on top.
I've drawn on this picture the starting points: we can start by filtering more or less the tracks bringing them on these areas, then from there it's all a matter of fine tuning, which changes from song to song, and from genre to genre.

Here is the website of Christian Budde, which offers a selection of free equalizers and high pass and low pass filters, among which Rubberfilter, but any eq/filter which lets us dial the frequency is good!

I'd be really happy to hear your mix just using a filter, if you want, share it with us!

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Monday, December 26, 2016

In - Out level matching when mixing and mastering

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about a topic related to psychoacoustics: if we eq or compress a sound making it louder, somehow, regardless if it's actually better or not, it will probably sound better to us. 

That's why people usually starts mixing at -15db, and once the sounds of all instruments are done and balanced, the peak in the mix buss is -5db: because we tweak one track to make it sound better and it ends up being louder, and then to compensate we rise the volume on the others, then we pass on the next one and make it louder, and then rise all the others... and so on... and then eventually before mastering we turn the master volume down when exporting like real cheapos.

The experienced producers can start with a chosen project level (for example -12db) and arrive at the end of the mixing phase without touching the master fader with the maximum peak still at -12db, because they did level matching when mixing, and they have kept the volumes of the single tracks at the same level of the balancing phase, thus preserving all the headroom of the project for the mastering phase.

Why not to just turn down the master fader at the end, e.g. 10db down to create headroom for the mastering phase? Because this way we will just raise the noise level 10db in our tracks, since the noise point is always there, in the same place, therefore if we sink the whole project 10db lower, it will eat up 10db of signal, the final result will sound dirtier and data will be lost for no reason.

What to do to keep the level of the tracks stable? 
Match the in-out level when mixing or mastering, both when using Equalization and Compression.
While we have seen already how to do with compression, we haven't yet talked about the equalization; on an equalizer like the Pro Tools one (as you can see from the picture on top) you can monitor the level of input and output signal, which means that for every db of boost that we apply on the sound we can lower the overall output knob of the plugin in order to match the same level of input: this way we will avoid the process of raising and raising the volume of all the tracks that I have already mentioned.
If we don't have the input and output level in the plugin ui, we must use the track metering tool: we must see how loud is the signal with the plugin bypassed and compare it to how loud it is with the eq on: if with the equalizer on the signal is louder, we should lower the output of the plugin until it matches the loudness of the bypassed one.

Once the tone balancing phase and the tone shaping phase with compressors and equalizers are done, in theory the additional processors that we can add to our mix (like modulation effects) shouldn't impact much on the level of the single tracks, therefore we should be quite safe not to raise too much the volume of our single tracks (watch out for the group tracks and the mix buss though!).

Merry Christmas and Happy new Year from Guitar Nerding Blog!

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Review: Fabfilter Pro-C 2

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about the new version of a plugin we already know: the Fabfilter Pro-C 2.
I have already praised Fabfilter in many occasions for being a company that has understood better than others what modern producers need: instead of proposing dozens of different compressors, equalizers and so on they just focus on creating one tool (one single compressor, one single equalizer...), abandoning any scheumorphism and offering a clean, modern interface with more features that any competitor, but also intuitive and at a good price.

Talking about interface, this new version of Pro C shows an amazing versatility: there are 3 modes, a compact one that just shows the controls of a classic compressor (and that in my case has everything I need to work comfortably), the medium one which shows several real time metering tools and a full screen one that relies also on the computational power of the gpu, so that our daw interface will be clogged only when unavoidable.

Among the other interesting new features is the side chain, that offers an equalizer to choose surgically with what frequency trigger the compression, the functions Hold and Lookahead that lets us choose when and how to apply the set gain reduction parameters, and additional metering tools compared to the first version, which makes finally this plugin also an excellent choice as a mastering compressor.

All these additions are obviously summing up to the features of the original version, making this probably the best compression plugin money can buy today.

Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the Website (only the new features):

- Eight different compression styles, of which five are new in version 2: Vocal, Mastering, Bus, Punch and Pumping (NEW)

- Side-chain EQ section, with customizable HP and LP filters, plus an additional freely adjustable filter (NEW)

- Smooth lookahead (up to 20 ms), which can be enabled/disabled to ensure zero latency processing (NEW)

- Hold (up to 500 ms) (NEW)

- Custom knee, variable from hard knee to a 72 dB soft knee (to enable saturation-like effects) (NEW)

- Up to 4x oversampling (NEW)

- Audition Triggering option, which enables users to hear on which parts of the audio Pro-C 2 is triggering and how much compression is taking place (NEW)

- Multiple interface sizes: Small, Medium and Large (NEW)

- Range setting, which limits the maximum applied gain change (NEW)
- Mix setting, which scales the gain change from 0% to 200% (NEW)
- Accurate, large level and gain change meters, with peak and loudness level visualization. The loudness level complies with the Momentary mode of the EBU R128 / ITU-R 1770 standards (NEW)

- Optional MIDI triggering (NEW)

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

How to create guitar cab impulses from a song (free plugins and IR included!) PART 2/2


This happens because our impulse is too long, so what we need to do is to make it a little shorter, until it is half a second to one second (or even shorter: you will need 3 or 4 tries before get the right lenght, because it varies from impulse to impulse according to how dry we want our sound to be), and let's load an eq on its vst slot: since we are dealing with a produced and mastered song it will probably have certain frequences a little over-emphasized, so it's a very good idea to set a high pass filter starting from 50 to 100hz, and a low pass one at around 10khz. This way we will tame the excessive low end and some unwanted fizz in the high area.
An additional check that can be done is to compare the volume of our impulse response with others and see if it's clipping, if it's too high, or it's too low, and adjust it accordingly.

5) Now let's put this track in solo, export it in mono again, load it again in the cab simulator in our project and let's play again some riff with our guitar. Does our impulse still need some tweaking? If so, let's adjust lenght and/or eq again and repeat this operation until the sound is as close as possible to the original album, then save it with the name of the song and soon you will have a personal impulse library with the guitar tone your favourite songs!

Additional awesomeness: I have explained the simpliest version of how to clone a guitar tone to turn it into an impulse, but the truth is that there it would be so much more to say.
If you want to dig deeper into this world and for example fine tune furthermore the impulse you can also use an eq matching program to fine tune and copy even more the eq curve by following the procedure explained in this tutorial, this way you would combine two different cloning techniques into one.
Some producer also like to copy the overall response of a vst chain (or part of it), whether we are talking about a guitar, or a snare mixer channel, or a kick and so on, and use it in future projects to clone a certain tone print (this is also the way in which some vintage hardware modeler work), so the concept of impulse responses could be scaled in almost every aspect of our mix, but this is another story.

This sample impulse has been created based on one of my favourite guitar sounds of all times: Clenching the fists of Dissent from Machine Head.
I have tried it with TSE X50 II (but any other Peavey 5150 sim like the TSE X50 or the Nick Crow 8505 with a Tube Screamer as a booster in front should do), fiddling a bit with the eq and using the learn mode for input, and ROSEN DIGITAL PULSE as cabinet simulator.

Let me know what you think about it!


Happy 5th birthday, Guitar Nerding Blog!


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