Saturday, March 29, 2014


Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about VST guitar distortions!
Let's start with the typical question "what is a distortion"?
The distortion is a tool used by musicians to add bite and aggressiveness to a sound that can be usually guitar or bass, but it can also be used on vocals, drums and anything else (noise and industrial music experimented a lot in this sense).
A distortion takes the raw incoming signal and intentionally boosts it to the point where the top and bottom of the sound wave "clips", causing the sound to distort.
This operation deliberately degrades the signal, but if handled carefully this distorted signal can sound pleasing, and today it is an essential requirement for many modern music genres.
As for the overdrive and the fuzz, pedal distortions were created because in the sixties and seventies guitar amps were usually not able to deliver a distorted signal, they were only able to give a saturated sound if the power amp was cranked to the limit, and this was not enough for the young bands of the time that were searching for more harsh and gritty tones.
Since a guitar distortion is more strong than an overdrive, many guitarists of the eighties, especially in the heavy metal scene (for example Judas Priest and Steve Vai), were used to plug a Boss Ds-1 distortion in the clean channel of an amp and use only the distortion generated from the stompbox, but in the last two decades we have seen an increasing of the popularity of amplifier distortion (that in the meantime have become very strong) ad its digital simulations, to the point that an overdrive is today often used just to tame some frequency of an already distorted guitar amp tone, instead of adding gain.
Guitar distortions are still today very popular, nevertheless, and every guitar and bass effect producer has some in their catalogue.

Here are some of the best free Guitar and Bass Vst distortions, try them out and let us know what do you think!

Softamp GT: The simulation of the Sansamp GT2 stompbox, really suggested both for guitar and bass.

Softdrive GV: The simulation of the legendary Marshall Guv'nor Stompbox

Retro Sampling Stomp Box Collection: a free collection of guitar stompboxes, including distortions.

7Amp Guitar Distortion Pedal Emulator: an interesting distortion for guitar with many controls

TSE BOD: a bass overdrive-distortion modeled after the Sansamp Bass Driver DI

Extremist: a vst guitar distortions with a 15 band equalizer

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Saturday, March 22, 2014


Hello and welcome to this weeks'a article! Today I'm going to talk about another interesting 7 strings guitar: the Schecter Demon 7.
This Made-in-Indonesia model is a 7 strings-fixed bridge guitar, with basswood body and rosewood fingerboard, with pearly crosses as inlays.
The guitar comes from the factory with a couple of Duncan Design HB 105/7 active pickups, which doesn't sound very good, so the owner of the model portrayed in these pictures switched them to a couple of Emgs, anyway the overall building quality is pretty solid, as it is the good precision of the finishes, which can especially be noticed in the smooth satin paint and the beauty of the inlays. 

The quality of the neck, and in particular of the fretboard is very satisfying, and the weight is well distributed, even if, playing the guitar, it's easy to notice the economy of the woods, especially from the body, which does not resonate particularly.
Today Schecter and Esp/Ltd guitars, which are owned by the same holding, are built in the same factory using the same tools, so the real difference lays in the design choices: the two brands have different shape models and specs, for example usually the 7 strings Schecters have a 26,5" scale while the Esp features a 25,5" one, but the woods, the paints and the instruments used to build them are all the same.
All in all this Demon 7 is a good mid-low budget guitar, that looks good and that can deliver a pretty good sound, surely is a proof that budget guitars in the last few years have taken a considerable leap of quality forward: a guitar of this playability and with this specs, ten years ago, would have probably been sold for twice the price.


Body Material
Top Contour
Arched Top
Aged Crème 1-ply
Neck Material
Fretboard Material
Grey Pearloid Gothic Crosses
26.5” (673mm)
24 X-Jumbo
Fretboard Radius
16” (406mm)
Neck Shape
Thin ‘C’
@ 1st Fret- .787” (20mm)/ @ 12th Fret- .866” (22mm)
Nut Width
1.889” (48mm)
Graph Tech XL Black Tusq
Truss Rod
2-Way Adjustable Rod w/ 5/32” (4mm) Allen Nut
Duncan Designed HB-105/7B
Duncan Designed HB-105/7N
Volume/Tone/3-Way Switch

Schecter Custom Hardtail w/ String Thru Body

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

HOW TO USE A CLIPPER (with Free Vst Plugins)

Hello and welcome to this week's article, today we're going to talk about Clippers!
What is a Clipper? A clipper is a Limiter with zero attack and release time constants.
Why is it important? Because it can do some things that a Limiter can't, and vice versa it has some downside that a Limiter doesn't, so it's important to know both of them and choose the right tool for our job.
Although Limiters are basically compressors with a 1:20 to 1:infinite ratio (according to the type), they work differently from a clipper, which is basically a brickwall that just cuts flat everything that surpasses the given threshold; the only thing that can be adjusted is basically the knee of the cut, which is the softness of the level curve before starting the actual clipping.

What is the basic difference between a Limiter and a Clipper? A clipper is so hard that on one side is very easy to distort and ruin the song (while with a limiter there is usually a curve of sound degradation that can be tolerated before really damage the result), on the other side the Clipper helps us raising the overall volume retaining the (perceived) shape of the transients.
This means that using a Clipper instead of a Limiter will expose us more to the risks of really unpleasant distortions, but it will also help us retaining the snap of the snare, for example, which is the first thing that gets degraded when pushing a Limiter.

The controls are usually the same of a limiter: there is a Gain-Drive knob that raises the signal level, a Threshold-Clip knob that sets when the plugin should activate, and sometimes a knee control that helps slowing down the initial attack of the Clipper.

To understand when to use a limiter and when to use a clipper we shoul try both of them at the end of our Mastering Chain, and see for that specific project which tool is the most suited.

Today there are many Free Vst Clipper, and some DAW also features a bundled one. 
Here are the most used freeware ones:

Gclip: probably the most famous and appreciated free Vst Clipper

Ncl Basic Soft Clipper: very simple soft clipper with Drive control

Lvc Audio ClipShifter: the most complete of all, available in both freeware and paid version.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


Hello an welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about an interesting low budget guitar: The Squier Stratocaster Vintage Modified '70, released in 2013.
Squier, as we all know, is a musical instrument brand owned by Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, and with this name they release instruments of the Fender roster aimed to the lower price area: pickups and mechanics are less expensive and woods are less valuable to make the price more affordable, but the playability is still quite good.
This brand is especially good for beginner guitarists that needs an affordable instrument with a quality standard guaranteed from a top brand, and that's why Squier guitars are usually preferred to unautorized Fender clones, even if cheaper: this brand tries to recreate in detail an authentic Fender experience, and this model, the Vintage Modified '70, is a good example.

This made-in-indonesia model recreates some of the characteristics of '70s Stratocasters: the big headstock (bigger than the current production), the glossy neck, which is maple but with a "vintage" look, and the six joints tremolo, while the current models features only two.
This bridge creates also a bit more space (2mm) between the strings than the modern one.
This model is called "Modified", though, because the original '70s guitar had a very thick neck with a radius of 7", (which means very round, which is good for playing chords but, especially for today's standards, it's quite unconfortable for playing solos), while this one has a radius of 9,5", a little more flat and versatile.
Some of these are built in the Cort Guitars and Samick Guitars factories, and this can be seen on the serial number (if there is an S it's Samick, if there is a C or a SC it's Cort).

In the second picture you can see the three Duncan Designed pickups, while in the last pic the guitar shows an humbucker (I have mounted a Seymour Duncan Distortion, with coil tap, to give to this guitar a bit more versatility).

My judgement is very positive, I have even used this guitar in recording the Wisteria album "8-Bit Nightmare", which you can hear here (this is the cover of The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby):

Specs taken from the Fender Website:

Body Material: Basswood
Body Finish: Gloss Polyester
Neck Material: Maple
Neck Finish: Gloss Polyurethane
Neck Shape: "C" Shape
Scale Length: 25.5" (64.8 cm)
Fingerboard: Maple
Fingerboard Radius: 9.5" (241 mm)
Number of Frets: 21
Fret Size: Medium Jumbo
Nut Width: 1.650" (42 mm)
Position Inlays: Black or White Dot
Middle Pickup: Duncan Designed™ SC-101 Single-Coil
Neck Pickup: Duncan Designed™ SC-101N Single-Coil
Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1. (Neck Pickup), Tone 2. (Middle Pickup)
Pickup Switching: 5-Position Blade: Position 1. Bridge Pickup, Position 2. Bridge and Middle Pickup, Position 3. Middle Pickup, Position 4. Middle and Neck Pickup, Position 5. Neck Pickup
Bridge: 6-Saddle Vintage-Style Synchronized Tremolo
Tremolo Arm Handle: Vintage-Style Tremolo Arm
Tuning Machines: Vintage-Style

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Saturday, March 1, 2014


Hello and welcome to this week's article! 
This time we will talk about how to make our midi drum track more realistic, but the same method applies to any other Vst instrument, such as a piano track.

Let's start with a midi that we have, for example a very fast death metal song midi track: the faster the song is, the more evident will be that the hits are unnaturally precise and even in terms of strenght, while a drummer tends to have some slight fluctuation in timing and hit intensity (e.g. obviously a blast beat drum part will be hit with less strenght than a slower part).

Now, we can slightly move each single drum hit in the piano roll and raise or lower the velocity manually (which is the best way, but it's a very long process), or randomize some parameter in order to get this job done quickly.

If we want to adjust each velocity manually, it's important to know some basic rule:

1) The blast beat or press roll snare parts are usually at a much lower velocity (= hit strenght) than the other parts of the song, and it's a good rule to increase the strenght in the accents and lower it in the other hits.

2) The same rule of the accents applies also to the hi hat and the ride.

3) The crash cymbals should be treated creating variations in velocity only if they are played one next to another, otherwise it would be normal if the drummer hits them full strenght.

4) The tom fills usually should start stronger and then lose intensity, and we can also consider that the toms hit by the right hand (if the drummer is right handed) can be set with a slightly higher velocity than the other ones.

5) It's a good rule, especially for rock-metal songs, to leave the kick velocity constant. If we're working on a jazz song, instead, we should variate this one too.

More info on how to correct the velocity with the pencil too can be found HERE.

If we want to use a midi randomizer, instead, we can do as follows:

1) Move slightly the hits (this function can be also found bundled in some of the most recent drum Vsti). First off we need to select the section of the song or the single drum part we want to process, then we must go (in the Cubase/Nuendo interface) in Midi->Quantize Setup
From the Quantize Setup menu we can input in the "Random Quantize" section the amount of the variance we want to apply, and usually for a realistic drum sound, a good amount is 5 Ticks: if we increase it more we risk to create excessive "mistakes" made from our "virtual drummer".

2) Randomize the velocity. This will randomize the strenght used to hit the drums in our song.
We need to select the song part, or just one or more drum parts, for example only the hi hat of our song, and go to Midi->Logical Editor
From this new menu we can look for a preset (e.g. "Random Velocity 60 to 100") or manually find the "Action Target" corresponding to the Velocity control, and under "Operation" we must choose "Set Relative Random Values Between", and then we can choose under "Parameter 1" and "Parameter 2" a minimum and maximum value, between 0 and 127; once we have decided, we just need to press "Apply". 
A good starting point could be to try randomizing from 90 to 110 or 120, then we can adjust to taste. 

Eventually, if we have something that needs to be retouched manually, e.g. a press roll part, we can always correct it with the pencil tool. The ideal result will probably be a mix between manually adjusted velocities and randomized ones, according to the song part.

Hope this was useful!


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