Category: Tech


The Best PA System Ever

…for churches, that is. See, churches tend to have wildly different requirements for good audio equipment than the rest of the world. Some facts to back that up:

1. Churches tend to be driven by inexperienced and under-educated (for their ministry), if well-meaning, volunteers.
2. Churches are restrained by extremely tight budgets.
3. Churches require very versatile equipment. It has to do live music, video and speech, sometimes all at once.

What do those things mean for companies looking to capture a growing market share? They need to make equipment that is:

1. VERY easy to learn and use, with good results.
2. Cheap and reliable.
3. Multi-role.

Disclosure time. I do not work for any music company of any kind, nor do I work in sales of musical equipment. I am not paid for anything I say (I do accept donations, though). I just really like the product that was released at NAMM 2012 by Line 6. Here we go…

The StageScape M20d

The quick: Imagine a touch screen mixer that shows you a virtual, color coded stage environment that you can interact with simply by pointing and dragging. Now imagine that mixer with total dynamics, EQ and FX control PER CHANNEL, including smart feedback suppression, all tweakable via an X/Y graph style interface instead of twisting virtual knobs. Now imagine that mixer with multi-channel recording capability via USB to your PC or Mac OR portable media, like a memory card or thumb drive. Now imagine that mixer with total recall capability, and a deep edit mode for the engineering freaks to do their fiddling. On top of all of that, make sure to remember that your inputs AND outputs automatically detect the equipment at the other end as you plug it in, and customize that channel for its use. Oh, and it can be remotely controlled via an iPad.

Keep all of that in mind.

The StageSource L3t and L3s

Speaker cabinets in a live sound setting can take many forms. Main PA speakers, acoustic and electric guitar amps, reference monitors, movie/music playback speakers, and keyboard amps. Each project sound differently for their use. Enter the L3t, which can (and does) digitally alter crossover points, frequency response curves, and then adds some modelling wizardry on top for certain applications. All at, you guessed it, the push of ONE button. 1,400 watts, tri-amped (2 cones and a central horn). Yes please.

Self powered.
Basic mixer and effects fully integrated.
Orientation and mounting sensors (for such things as virtual tiltback, since it knows whether or not the speaker is elevated).
“Flyable”.
Feedback suppression.

The L3s is the accompanying subwoofer, with more ridiculous flexibility. It can be used as a PA reference sub, with the option of more punch from the bass drum. It also has an additional 2 settings specifically for DJ applications, further bumping frequencies into the abyss of human hearing. Push-button polarity switching and your choice of 4 crossover points make for one flexible subwoofer.

But we’re not done yet. Each component can be connected with L6 Link, a digital connection through an XLR cable that allows each device to talk with one another. I think the word you are looking for is “synergy”. That is, of course, if you can wipe the drool off of your silly looking face.

Please refer to the above church criteria.

Now understand that for one mixer, 6 L3t cabinets (2 mains, 4 monitors) and 2 L3s cabinets, your cost, before taxes are applied for your area, is $11,700.

Seem like a lot? You forgot that you don’t need power amps, rack equipment of ANY kind (that’s EQs, compressors, effects, crossovers, etc) or a lot of training to use it all. Add it up folks…this is a bargain.

You’re welcome.

D2W Update: Technical Guitar

This was the first session I took, and while a lot of what was discussed was the concept of ‘less is more’, there was also a good deal of energy directed towards gear, and how to use it well without over-using it or using it improperly. Here were a few bits of information that I gleaned. Some I ‘knew’ but didn’t KNOW, and others were completely new to me:

1. Putting your volume control ahead of your effects (which are also ahead of the amplifier) can actually determine the amount of effect or overdrive that comes out. The same is true of the volume knob on the guitar. If you weaken the signal, your effects will have less to work with, and will hence weaken those effects. This means you can always have crazy distortion on, but roll off the volume in order to roll off the distortion. The obvious application is a calmer verse and a jumped up chorus. This is also handy if you use a solid state amp or pedal where patch switching actually takes an appreciable amount of time.

2. Placing that same control behind your effects will retain the level of drive/modulation, etc, regardless of the volume level you set. Handy if you want some heavy crunch, only quieter.

3. ALWAYS place your tuner first in the loop! If you’ve got a chorus effect (discussed here), you’ll end up ruining your tuning on your guitar. And that’s just one reason.

4. All-in-one floorboards do give you a lot of options to mess with as far as effects and sounds go for a good price. Your own customized rack will likely get to be more expensive, and powering them all can be tricky. But when you are done, you get sounds that are far more tailored to what you want.

5. Radial ToneBone pedals are, as I expected, amazing.

A while ago I did a small segment on some of the problems that are experienced when electric guitars are dialed in to a clean sound. I won’t go through all the details of EQ this time, but hopefully this is informative.

Sharing the format with the aforementioned article, you’ve all heard this before. At a completely inopportune moment, your lead guitarist decides that he is going to try some lead stuff, but he/she wasn’t careful enough when dialing in the sound. All of a sudden you hear a monstrous pick scrape, some noise that sounds an awful lot like static, and after what seems like a few days, he/she finally hits the note that is currently being played. And it’s a quiet song.

The distorted guitar sounds that can be used are arguably more varied than clean ones. Here I should clarify terms…I am talking about over-driven sound here. Simply mashing the overdrive button on the amp and/or stomp box will not likely work in a worship setting. You can’t use the wailing and screaming lead tone you like so much for some blues rhythm riffs…it just doesn’t sound good. I can say that as it stands, I do have a few sounds that are pretty much dormant until the song(s) they were designed for winds up on the set list. The point is that you actually have to be fairly picky about the sound you use.

Using that last example, you would likely overpower the rest of the band, and that blues song would become a heavy metal song with only one band member. If you reverse roles, you find yourself lacking the sustain needed to really pull of some of the licks you want in an energetic song. There are MANY examples of how this all works, but the simple fact is that you can’t use one, even two or three sounds for all of your needs. Three might give you enough versatility to get by, especially if you are a more skilled guitarist, but I need five or more before I can really feel at home in certain songs. Yet again, another reason why modeling gear is super handy.

Highway One Stratocaster HSS: Review Update 1

Well, I have now played around a bunch more with the Strat, and I still have nothing but good things to report. Every time I use it, and apply a new sound to it, I realize more and more how versatile it really is. Something that is becoming apparent is that it doesn’t really mimic any guitar you want (that’s what a modeling guitar is for) but it can really occupy the spaces you wouldn’t normally expect a Strat to go.

For instance, this Sunday we had 2 electric guitars playing…a Taylor T5 and my Strat (can you tell I’m a little out-gunned?). Because of that, we had a little freedom as to what we wanted to play. I sorta decided at the last second that I wanted to drop down and do some very heavy muted punk-like strums as we built up to the final choruses in a song. Almost to my surprise, the Strat delivered that sound by the truckload! Once again I find myself liking that Atomic humbucker pickup more and more.

The song immediately thereafter, I was using a clean sound the whole time, with only a bit of digital delay applied (barely noticeable in the mix). I started at the neck pickup, and literally every stanza, I moved further toward the bridge pickup down the 5-way selector. Without even having to think about what my amp was doing, I could literally overdrive my clean sound just by switching pickups. It wasn’t even a harsh, face-melting overdrive though. This was sweet. This was starting to sound a little like Johnny B. Goode, just with a little less treble.

I could give all kinds of little anecdotes about that, but the point I really want to get across is that this guitar is really inspiring me to venture into other realms in music. I’m still no great shakes at lead stuff, but because it can so convincingly play nice in multiple genres, it makes me want to learn more. Just like a good car or motorcycle, you want your instruments to inspire confidence. If it is totally out of control, you get afraid to try something new. Admittedly, I initially felt as though that humbucker had a little too much power on tap, but after playing with it for a few hours, you can use it really effectively. I would definitely call that a shining point in this guitar.

Buy The Best Equipment For Your Needs

This was something I had heard not too long ago, except it was coming from the logic of a farm/ranching business, not so much music. However, the same applies. I realize that the Christian world is not lacking in penny-pinchers and bargain hounds (no offense intended, there are some in every crowd), but if you happen to land in one of those categories, read on anyways.

When it comes to your profession, or doing what you love, chances are that you know what you need to get the job done. If you are a keyboardist, you know that light, spring loaded plastic keys are generally not a good idea. If you are running a delivery service (like FedEx or UPS), you know that your vehicles NEED to be in good working order. Doing something to the contrary might save you pennies now, but I’ll tell you straight up…you are wasting your resources, and not just your cash.

I’ll pull from the automotive world for a minute and explain. I am using this example because I KNOW that there are some people reading this who have either had this happen or know somebody who has been there. An engine without oil will last less than 30 seconds at idle. And it won’t just quit, either. It will go out in an extraordinarily expensive way. The oil plays a large role in cooling your engine, and not having any will lead to catastrophic overheating. This means cooked exhaust valves, and they aren’t very cheap. At those temperatures, the coolant in your car can boil, which almost certainly means a blown hose or two. Because there was no agent to lubricate the motor and reduce friction, you’ll now have lots of metal shaved off of every moving part in there. The parts will have expanded so much due to heat and friction that many of them will seize. If that sounds violent, that’s because it is. If your engine dies because of this, it means more than a stop at the mechanic. It means buying a new engine. You can now kiss several thousand dollars goodbye. The alternative would be having regular oil changes and top ups. Over the course of 50,000 km, which is more that twice what the average driver does in a year, you would have only spent $800 on expensive oil, every 5,000 km. And that is being very cautious.

Now, for music. I realize that sometimes the bucks just are not there to get what you need. That happens to everyone. BUT, when the cash is there, you need to seriously consider your options. Going out and finding an amplifier that has the right price tag but not the right features won’t help you one bit. That is wasting money, because you bought something that you didn’t need. I have met a few musicians who do this/have done this, and they saved money. But you know what? They were never happy with their equipment. That is a problem, because it was affecting their ability to do their job. I am of the camp that says “If you have to spend a little over to get what you need, do it. Because as soon as you let loose on the gear that works for you, you won’t be looking at buying more gear for a while.” I prefer that to looking back at a poor purchase and having even less money to get what I needed than before.

Tomorrow, I’ll be breaking down the gear purchasing procedure that I use, and you’ll see that this is about more than just buying what you want.

Need guitar sounds? Look what I found…

I’ve said it before, but playing in a worship band requires that you have many different styles of playing in your repertoire (unless you record all of your own stuff, I suppose), and doing that sometimes dictates the need for different sounds. I found something today that just might be worth saving your pennies for…

I follow what Line 6 does fairly often, because even if their sounds aren’t perfect, they are always improving, always tweakable, and are probably the closest thing to a multi-faceted musician’s dream. I say musician because they cater mainly to guitarists and bassists, but they have a full load of recording hardware that is useful for more than just your typical stringed instrument.

In any case, they have recently released what they call the M13, which is basically the stomp box to conquer the rest. I know there are some rack mounted effects out there, but the appeal of the stomp box over the racked box (at least to me) is unparalleled. In any case, here is the link: http://www.line6.com/m13/

If you are at all familiar with Line 6s previous stomp box products…you’ll be thrilled to see this thing. Even better, Dwayne Larring from Sonicflood and other bands does the sound demos. Check it out.

Highway One Stratocaster HSS review

The following is my detailed but far from complete review of the Highway One Strat HSS from Fender.

I have had my eye on this guitar for some time as a replacement to my Epiphone G-400. I needed something that could keep up with the diversity of the music encountered in a worship setting, as well as open the doors for me to learn more lead techniques. I really needed one that played well, and fit in a tight budget. Looks were a consideration, but far from top priority. After having the Strat for a couple of weeks, here is what I have discovered…

LOOKS:

The guitar, as advertised, comes in a satin nitro finish. Colors available are Daphne Blue, Wine, Sunburst and Black. I went with the wine, mostly because it was the only one in store and it played well. My preference was sunburst, but I wasn’t about to wait around much longer if I had a solid guitar in hand already. Either way, the finish is quite thin, and is already starting to set into the wood around the points where my body contacts it. If you take good care of this finish, it will wear beautifully. The pickups and tone/volume/pickup controls are all black on a white, 3-ply pick guard.The body is made of alder, while the neck is maple with a rosewood board and simple, white dot inlays. The whole guitar is styled after the 70s versions, the most noticeable feature being the large headstock. Tuning machines and bridge are chrome. Basically, it looks like a Strat. If you look at it, there is no mistake. The subtleties make this guitar what it is, and there isn’t anything that stands out as flashy or expensive.

FEATURES:

The bridge is a standard American floating tremolo bridge, and the guitar does come with the tremolo bar, which screws in to the bridge as desired. Frets on this instrument are VERY large, intended to aid in playability. As the name suggests, the pickup configuration is HSS. The two single coil pickups, located in the middle and neck positions, use Alnico III magnets. The bridge pickup is an Atomic humbucker. The Greasebucket tone circuit resides in the bridge tone pot, and is intended to “roll off the highs, without adding bass.”

SOUND:

I am playing this guitar out of a Fender Cyber Deluxe, using only the on-board effects, if any. Clean sounds are very smooth, if not understated when using the neck pickup. It was a little tough coaxing the kind of output I was looking for, but with a little tweaking it is possible. The middle pickup actually begins to border on country twang, while the humbucker ends up almost overdriving the clean sound slightly. With proper application of tone controls and attack, you can get all of the sounds to feel quite glassy, and by rolling back the tone knobs a little, even warm and Les Paulish. Adding a small dose of chorus and reverb helps this effect, and the clean sounds become slippery smooth. Becoming more aggressive in your playing will really bring about the classic Fender sound, so control is important when playing this guitar. Distorted tones are handled very well by the humbucker and middle pickups, while the neck pickup seems to sound more choppy and uneven. This could be because of the aforementioned output problems, but rolling the tone back tended to even things out. All pickups are very quiet, with the humbucker issuing the most hiss from the amplifier. Because it is so hot compared to the other two, it can be used as a little on-board overdrive. Every sound I could think of, this guitar could produce. All it takes is getting to be familiar with it, and you can have any sound from sparkle to twang to slap to crunch to grunge to metal. This guitar will only be as versatile as the amp though. I like the fact that I have a modeling amp, otherwise I’d be a little limited in my application.

FINAL IMPRESSIONS:

It is a paired down guitar built to sound great in any situation. I’d say it has succeeded. There are aspects to this guitar that may be unappealing, such as the basic looks and trimmed down hardware. Even with the cost aside, this guitar is fully capable of playing with the big boys. Is it a complete package? No, not really. I still wasn’t able to get a true blue Les Paul crunch sound, but then again, it isn’t a Les Paul. It is a Strat to the core, and thus has those particular strengths to its name. At the same time, it is capable of branching out to different styles quite easily, and has already proven to be a suitable tool for most any musician.

If you have any questions about this guitar or want to see something added to this review, be sure to comment.

I’m back…

With my new guitar! I alluded earlier that I was eying a new axe, and it is here. Here are some shoddy photos until I get out of this poorly lit apartment with it:

http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y224/hitchface/P1010004.jpg

http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y224/hitchface/P1010005.jpg

http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y224/hitchface/P1010009.jpg

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As you might have guessed (or googled), this is a Trans Wine colored Highway One Stratocaster HSS. This is an incredibly versatile guitar, in large part due to that humbucker on the bridge. As is characteristic of Strats, the clean sounds on this thing are CRYSTAL clear. That humbucker has got to be the hottest pickup I have ever used, and it is a tough one to tame. However, once you do and you’ve got the right settings dialed in on your amp, you are approaching the Les Paul warmth territory. The nice thing about it being so hot is that it is like your personal overdrive pedal. Either way, here are some youtube videos that I am particular to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFWkdl4wDvE


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEqeIEFAmEc

I’m running my Strat out of a Fender Cyber Deluxe, which is a modeling amp (don’t tell Fender I said that), and I’ll tell you that the guitar plays very nicely with all of the effects on it, adding to the versatility.

Speaking of that word, I wanted to talk a little bit about its importance. If you are playing in a worship setting, chances are that the styles of music you play are vast and varied. I know that we usually hit 2 or 3 different genres each Sunday, so having the ability to do each well is kinda important! This goes beyond choosing an instrument (though it is important) and speaks to playing style and ability. It will make your life exponentially easier if you can learn and practice many styles of music. Not only will it help you out in a particular song, but you might be able to do things you never thought of, like incorporating a jazz lick into a modern rock worship tune!

This is something that I am still working on, but I realize that if I don’t, I’ll not likely go much further as a worship musician than I am now. Being able to float between styles of music will make you an increasingly valuable part of the team, just as an instrument capable of different styles has the same effect.

The clean guitar sound…and its problems

We’ve probably all heard it before. The electric guitar is dialed in to a clean setting, and all you can really hear is the pick scraping the strings, with a little bit of actual melodious sound coming after it. Or the acoustic guitar that gets jacked straight into the PA system, and all of a sudden loses any warmth it once had.

The problem with this kind of sound is that it really can distract people from the music itself. I equate it to feedback always coming through a monitor when you are trying to sing.

The fastest solution to this problem is to really dive into whatever kind of equalizer you’ve got, and sit down with it until the problem gets fixed. Here are my tips from my experience of fixing this problem:

TREBLE: The treble isn’t something you need to roll back on a lot. In fact, more treble will help your clean tone STAY that way. Don’t goose it, but don’t roll it too far back either.

BASS: Bass will add to the warmth of your sound, but only by so much. Too much bass and you’ll begin to overdrive that sound…making it not clean as intended. Not enough and you’ll lose body and create an overly tinny sound.

MID-RANGE: This knob will be your primary focus, outside of effects (if you have any). Mid range boosts help you to cut through the mix and not necessarily be louder, but definitely heard more. Cut back on the midrange if you are having problems with harsh clean tones. This will eliminate some of the definition of the sound, so use just enough to be clear. Too low and you’ll end up muffling the sound behind everything else.

EFFECTS: I know if you add effects to a clean sound, it technically isn’t clean anymore, but with that side, these can help you shape your tone greatly. The two that I like to mess with the most are chorus and reverb effects.

CHORUS: For the uninitiated, chorus basically copies what you are doing, VERY slightly de-tunes it/delays the signal by fractions of a second, and then adds it to your playing. This makes it seem like there are more guitars than just yours playing, hence “chorus”. Increasing the modulation of the chorus will further pronounce those delays/tuning differences. Used in moderation, it can really soften up the sound and subract that abrasiveness.

REVERB: Reverb is an environmental effect, simulating different kinds of rooms. The bigger the room (like a hall or arena), the more reverb you are going to get. Because a hall is also built with different materials than a typical arena, the tonal differences in the reverb will also be apparent. Think of it like a very compact echo. You can’t generally hear individual reverberations (see: yelling down a canyon. “HELLO!” Hello….hello….ello…lo), but rather one elongated instance. Unlike yelling down a canyon, this copies your playing and replays it very quickly (slightly delayed and drawn out) as though the sound were travelling throughout the room. Very handy for filling up your sound and making it seem much less hollow and transparent. Experiment with the different ‘rooms’ and see what suits you the best.

Playing electric, your best EQ source is your amp. Make it as good as you can there, and give your sound guy some good input signals to work with. Same goes for the acoustic, though you’ll more likely be going directly through the PA via the sound board. If your acoustic guitar has an onboard EQ, tweak it as much as you can to give the sound guy an easier job.