Saturday, May 25, 2013

THE EFFECTS LOOP: what it is and how to use it

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about an important aspect of every amplifier and mixer: the FX LOOP!
What is it?
The effects loop, talking practically, it's a part of a sound's Signal Chain (Click here for a dedicated article!), set between the preamplifier and the power amp (therefore, AFTER the Gain Related Area), and its relevance has been increasing through the years with the increasing of the amount of gain required from the players: if we set a Delay BEFORE the Gain Related Area, the repetitions will be distorted as well, often with chaotic results if the gain is high.
To make sure the effect is clean, the only solution is to set it after the gain area, and that's what the Fx Loop is for: we're going to take the signal of our preamplifier (and therefore of any stompbox set in the input of the amp) from the SEND out and we're gonna send it to the IN of our effect (for example, a modulation unit), then we will go from the OUT of our effect to the power amp via the RETURN of our amplifier.

There are two types of Loop Connections: Serial and Parallel.

- Serial: This is the simpliest connection, and it's the aforementioned one: Guitar -> Preamp -> effect -> Power Amp.
The upsides of this connection are the simplicity and the compatibility with any effect, the downside is that usually, except for the most expensive amplifiers, the signal with effects in the loop gets slighly degraded.

- Parallel: in this case we could say that the signal is split in two: part of the signal will be effected (Wet) and part will not (Dry). Most of the times, in amplifiers that features a parallel loop will even be possible to choose between Serial and Parallel; to know if our amplifier features a serial or parallel loop we just need to connect a jack cable in the send out: if our amp becomes mute, the loop is Serial.
The upsides of this connection are the fact that the Dry signal is not degraded, since it doesn't pass from the loop, the downside is that we will have less flexibility, and that if we use a digital
effect we're gonna set the signal to 100% Wet, because due to the AD-DA conversion, the processed signal could be slighly delayed, generating unpleasant results when used together with the Dry one.
Finally, since Parallel loop effects only one part of the signal, if we use a Booster, or an Equalizer or a Tremolo, they won't affect the Dry sound, and will lose most of their effectiveness.

Some digital floorboards (such as the Pod Hd or the latest Digitech ones) also lets the user to connect them with a Four Cable Mode, in order to separate correctly the effects that needs to go in the Input of the amp from the ones that must go in the Loop, and to connect them to the correct plugs while still using the preamp of the amplifier, without replacing it with the digital one (if we wanted to use just the preamp of the floorboard the connection would have been much easier: Guitar -> Floorboard -> Return of the amp).

Finally, there is an Effect Loop in the mixer too, in order to connect an external hardware or software unit and to place the effect after the Channel Preamps. The Dry-to-Wet ratio is controlled by the FX control present in the channel. This feature is present in the DAW mixers too, and the process of loading an effect and sending it to the various tracks in different amounts is explained in the article dedicated to the FX TRACKS.

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Saturday, May 18, 2013


Hello and welcome to this week's tutorial! This time we will discuss about a very interesting topic: 
How to "deconstruct" the mix of our favourite song, so that we will have a clear reference on how to build ours from the ground up, trying to replicate as much as possible the solutions used.
We have already seen a way of "copying" the eq of a song or a single instrument into ours (click here for the article about copying eq), but this time is different: we won't try to copy the eq, since often the same setting of one mix or one single instrument applied to a different one will result into an unnatural, twisted sound, instead we will just locate and take notice of the zones reserved to the single instruments, and try to build our mix in a similar way, or at least we will learn some trick used by the producers :)

The ideal would be to have a song in which there is a moment where you can hear the instrument playing alone, but this isn't absolutely essential: part of our ear training is to learn to isolate the single instruments from a mix, and to focus just on it until the other sounds "disappear".
A frequency analizer is very useful for many things (click here for a dedicated article), but it can't help us isolating the region of a single instrument inside a mix, so it' usable only if the instrument is playing alone.

There are many ways to find the right frequencies with the aid of our ear, here are the two most common: 

- using an Equalizer: apply a high pass filter on the mix, starting to roll off the lows until we find that the instrument we need to isolate starts to lose energy, and back off a little bit, then we do the same with a low pass filter; we may find for example that the rhythm guitar of the song we love is placed exactly from 100hz to 8500hz.
Some high end equalizer (such as the Fabfilter one) also lets us isolate a single area in real time, letting us listen only the selected part of the spectrum.

- using a Multiband Compressor: this processor divides the wave in different bands (usually four, click here for a dedicated article), so what we're going to do is to listen the single bands in solo (often multiband compressors have this feature) until we find the one with the instrument we are looking for, then we adjust the starting and ending point of the band with the same method explained for the high pass and low pass filters. 

Once we have written down all the areas of the mix roughly reserved to the single instruments, we can analize them and surely learn something: how much room is reserved for rhythm guitars? Where is located the snare? How deep the bass goes? how much room is taken from the vocals?

Here is an interesting article about mixing with a referencing track!

When will be time for us to mix our song, if the source tone and style we obtained is not completely different from the one of our reference mix, we can try to place the various instruments in a similar way (but let's not be too rigid, if the sound isn't completely identical, it's pointless to use the exact numbers of the reference mix, our aim is to understand the area), and then we can move on to the following phase: to "poke holes" in the eq of the instruments, in order to let the other sounds to cut better through them, if there is some frequency masking (click here to learn more).

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

GUITAR AND BASS NUT! materials and characteristics.

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about a topic usually overlooked by most of the players, but since we are GUITAR NERDS we're going to analize it, and maybe we will also tweak our instrument accordingly: I'm talking about the GUITAR and BASS NUT!

The nut is a small strip of material, usually plastic or bone, placed at the joint where the headstock meets the fretboard.
"Its grooves guide the strings onto the fretboard, giving consistent lateral string placement. It is one of the endpoints of the strings' vibrating length. It must be accurately cut, or it can contribute to tuning problems due to string slippage or string buzz. To reduce string friction in the nut, which can adversely affect tuning stability, some guitarists fit a roller nut. Some instruments use a zero fret just in front of the nut. In this case the nut is used only for lateral alignment of the strings, the string height and length being dictated by the zero fret." (Wikipedia).

The nut marks one end of the vibrating length of each open string, sets the spacing of the strings across the neck and usually holds them at the proper height from the fingerboard; this small but essential piece has been produced with any kind of material, but today the most characteristic materials are essentially four: Plastic, Bone, Graphite and Metal.

- Plastic: it's the cheapest material, but today it represents also a very technological replacement to bone: new materials like Tusq features almost no difference from a real bone nut (plus, no animal killing is involved :D).

- Bone / Ivory: bone is considered one of the best materials to be used for nut construction, as it features volume, a wide open tone, strength against mechanical shocks and offers a fine tuning reliability. Best results are achieved with periodic lubrication.

- Graphite: the use of graphite is very common in case of a Tremolo-equipped guitar; the result is a good compromise between tone and performance. Today is also available a similar material: Graphtech, which is graphite mixed to teflon, and it assures an even better lubrication and tuning stability.

- Metal: in this category we may find many kinds of nuts, but the most characteristic type is the Steel one, with rollers to ease the strings slide. Steel is a fine material for nut if we're not after the classic "vintage" tone, or we need for more brightness on our sound.

The material a nut is made of influences the tone of an instrument on the open strings, and on the difference between them and the fretted strings; the ideal would be to have the open strings to sound as similar as the fretted ones as possible;
The best way to achieve this result is by using a so-called "zero fret", which is basically a fret installed right after the nut, sometimes equipped with a strings guide itself, which holds the strings in the correct position. By using a metal nut, a "zero fret" is usually not required.
A way to lube the string guides it's just to use a needle, with a little bit of lipstick (like the lip protecting ones with cocoa butter), and to put a small quantity of the lipstick directly on the slide.

Finally, speaking of Tremolo-equipped guitars, we must not forget the locking nut: this kind of nut, usually used in conjunction with a Floyd Rose system, clamps the string before the node point. This system greatly improves tuning stability when using the vibrato bar, however a drawback is that the locking nut must be loosened using an Allen wrench, to tune strings outside the range of the fine tuners on the bridge.

Click here for a dedicated article about Locking Tuners!

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

FUZZ! (with Free Vst plugins inside!!)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about Fuzz!
With "Fuzz" we refer to a type of distortion used mainly in the '60s and '70s to add more drive to an amplifier, increasing the input level and cutting mid frequencies, bringing the original sinusoidal wave to a square wave.
This effect was used in many ways, but at the beginning the aim was just to saturate the sound, as can be heard on many Jimi Hendrix (with his famous Arbiter Fuzz Face) or Keith Richards guitar parts (like in the legendary "Satisfaction" riff). 

The first Fuzz box, the Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz Tone, made its American debut in 1962; it was created in an attempt to have the guitar imitate brass and string instruments, but it's been the Rolling Stones, few years later, to make it famous.
In the seventies the Fuzz (especially the Electro Harmonics Big Muff) has been used not only to distort the sound but also, lowering the settings, to obtain a long sustain, keeping che sound with a low saturation, and this is the use made by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd

The effect has been used also to saturate and add bite to the Bass sound, and it's still used today, especially by extreme metal bands, and vintage sounding projects.
Today the effect is used mainly by bands that look for some vintage shade on their sound palette, especially of the Indie-Alternative genre, and it is also used to distort vocals, drums and synths in creative ways; 
our suggestion is to try some of these free Vst and to get creative!!

Here are the best free Vst Fuzz simulators available!

- Fuff Muzz: an interesting Big Muff Emulator.

- Face Bender: A nice Fuzz Face Emulator

- Fuzz Plus 2: An interesting, vintage sounding Fuzz

- Fuzz Stone 2: a stompbox style Fuzz with cabinet simulation

- Dirty Fuzz Distortion: "the classic Fuzz sound with the addition more dirt"

- Octave Dirty Fuzz: a simulator of the Octavia Fuzz, Octave+fuzz

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