All the gain.

I’ve lately been enjoying the YouTube channel of “Scottish guitarist and luthier” Colin Scott, who seems to have a unique take and respectable presentation style about a number of both connected and disconnected subjects of interest.

And I keep coming back to this clip, because it keeps on making me giggle.

There is a followup, in which he actually does a demonstration that makes the point rather well.

“All the gain”.  The instructor in me just loves how powerful and memorable that imagery is.  Not likely to forget that point now!

Lots of other good stuff there, too.  I thought I’d leave a bookmark here for my own reference.  🙂

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Proof of concept.

This is mostly a note for myself, just so that I won’t forget what I did here.  There are still many more questions out of this than there are answers, but this was truly an interesting experiment.

Components

  • Strat guitar, tuned C2-G2-D3-A3-E4-G4, strung with flatwounds
  • Behringer UMC404 audio interface
  • MacBook Air laptop, running Tracktion 7 DAW
  • Morley ABY pedal
  • Boss ME-70 multi effects pedal, running “clean” amp at about half gain and 3/4 preamp output;  master out for unit set at about half
  • IK iRig 2, set at max HW input gain and set “thru” for amp out
  • iPhone SE, running AmpliTube with a high-gain amp model

Signal path

  • Strat direct into input 1 of the 404, instrument level with 20dB pad engaged, gain about halfway up.
  • Hardware insert set up on input 1.  Send signal went into iRig guitar input.
  • iRig amp out (set to thru) went into ABY pedal to be split.
  • “A” leg of split went to the insert return.
  • “B” leg of split went to ME-70 unit.
  • Output of iRig went to channel 2 in the 404, set as Line level without pad, gain halfway up.
  • Stereo output of ME-70 went to channels 3 and 4 in the 404, set Line level without pad, gain halfway up.

DAW settings

  • Channel 3/4 treated as stereo pair.
  • Levels tuned to slightly favor clean signal by 1-2 dB.
  • Levels brought to peaking at between -10 and -5 dB.
  • Saturation and reverb plugins used on “direct” guitar signal.
  • Channels 2-4 used no processing or plugins.

Observations

  • Took a while to get input levels matched.  Still need to understand this audio interface better, and the exact difference between the “input” and “playback” sources on the “Mix” dial.  Also, it seems that using the hardware insert may cause the input level meter in the DAW not to report input levels.
  • Interesting that the 404 could, conceivably, be used as a hardware-only interface here.  The way this was set up, the mix was available entirely at the “inputs” end of the “Mix” dial;  in this case you’re using the preamps, line/instrument level and pad selectors, and the channel inserts are like a serial effects loop.  May want to look further into how to use the assignable and main outs with this in mind.
  • This wound up being, then, a single signal from the Strat, split into 4 channels:  1) dry signal, 2) wet signal from AmpliTube, 3/4) wet signal from ME-70, all in parallel.
  • The idea of “tricking” Channel 1 with the hardware insert seemed to work well.  Signal degradation from the send to and return from AmpliTube was frankly better than I’d expected.
  • The Mac must cause some sort of ground loop, as there is definite noise added when the power adapter is connected.
  • I like this idea of the parallel signals.  In this case it was interesting to hear the initial signal with the high-gain amp sound, but then the delay repeats coming from the ME-70 were clean, not dirty.  Likewise, having a clean signal in parallel with the dirty one definitely helps note clarity.  It will be worth doing more work on this.

 

A successful experiment.  Now, to figure out what I want to do with this idea.  🙂

John Renbourn, ‘Caroline’s Tune’.

Another piece to which I was some-time-ago introduced by Pandora radio.  As it comes up again today, I realize it needs a bookmark.  Lovely and contemplative, and a great example of The Awesome that was John Renbourn.

There’s a YouTube clip of course, but the sound quality seems noticeably worse than what Pandora plays;  please forgive that and just listen to the playing.

One of the things about Renbourn (and the late Bert Jansch, for that matter) that I remain both fascinated and impressed by, is the overtly “raw” sound of his acoustic “lead” playing.  Sometimes (and there are examples in “Caroline’s Tune”) you can just tell that the “boost” of the solo or lead part is entirely in his hands;  he just plays harder when he wants the notes to stand out.  And here, I’m not just making the standard reference to someone who understands dynamics;  there is a difference between just playing louder, and playing harder, and I hear Renbourn and Jansch both as playing harder for many such passages.  Choosing that*.  These guys were clearly good enough players that this choice must have been a willful one.

As I learn more about audio processing, my developing ear wants to hear those timbres, which sometimes start to sound quacky, plinky, and harsh, as something to mitigate or otherwise smooth out.  These days it would be pretty simple to use a gain booster pedal to achieve that, to bring up the volume and allow a softer playing style;  likewise a saturation boost (quite possibly provided by the same pedal) could help to inject an extra urgency or fullness to the tone without changing the playing style.  But these guys seem to have done that with their hands alone, and somehow it seems too simplistic to say that it would have been better to inject technology into what could have been a purely acoustic performance.

Food for thought, at least for me.  One way or the other, I’m glad Renbourn and Jansch did it that way, because 1) I noticed, and it made me think;  and 2) it sounds plenty awesome to me regardless.

 

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* At least in the studio.  I’d guess that at that time, other options for pulling such things off live were a great deal more limiting than they are now, and with some of the pioneering sounds that Renbourn was trying for (especially with Jansch in Pentangle), it may well have been the only way to get there.

The ambient signal chain.

A few notes here, about my nascent interest in understanding the proper signal chain for doing the sort of ambient soundscapes that Chords of Orion has introduced to me.  For anyone who either happens across this post or who got sent here by me (upon threat of being made to work in the squirrels’ nut mines):  I would welcome constructive or enlightening comments to advance my understanding of what is a new area, but one of great interest, to me as a player.

Continue reading The ambient signal chain.

Dipping the toe in ambient.

Okay, so based on the ideas I picked up from the first few clips of the Ambient Guitar series at Chords of Orion, I went and tried to see if I could, using the very limited amount of gear I have, create a signal chain that would let me approach the same landscape.

In short:  it works!

Continue reading Dipping the toe in ambient.

Ambient guitar resource.

Bookmarking here what looks to be a major-caliber resource, at least for someone as new to electronics as I am, for approaching the live-looping-delaying universe first called “Frippertronics” and later “Soundscapes”.

So there’s this YouTube channel Chords of Orion, which has this fairly substantial series on the -fu of “ambient guitar”.  Installment #1 is here:

I’ve made it up to about #10 in the series thus far, and will be reviewing more soon enough.  This fella seems pretty well thought out, and the landscape this suggests is starting to poke at my hindbrain a little more insistently.

Continue reading Ambient guitar resource.