Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best Guitar Gear for 2009 - Guitar Pedals

Creation Audio Lab's Holy Fire Overdrive and Distortion pedal gives you that warm, tube-driven tone for your guitar or bass.

We've chosen the most versatile pedals to give you the most bang for the buck. These are also the essential stompboxes no respectable pedal board should be without. After playing for a while, you'll find that you've collected a case full of pedals but only use a few on stage. You may also find that you'll only get one tone using the same sequence of boxes on your pedal board. While there is a logical order to using foot pedals, you needn't be bound by them. Looking for a warm vintage tube sound? The Holy Fire distortion / overdrive pedal offers a tube driven tone for both guitar and bass players. Want to switch it up? Keeley Electronics allows the most adjustments due to their under the hood and topside trim knobs.

Holy Fire by Creation Audio Labs
Often times you'll need to streamline your pedal board so that set up is quicker and you have better control over your tone. Look at the rigs of seasoned players like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, who has been quoted saying, "Sometimes when you start from an area of complexity, a composition can be crushed under its own weight". You'll see that they do not have overly cluttered pedal boards. Yes, they utilize rack mount units but their on the floor set up is often quite simple. How do they do it? They get the most versatile, key pedals and then tweak them for the tone they are looking for. The Holy Fire pedal pictured here comes with an AC adapter but I run all of my other pedals off a VooDoo Lab Pedal Power Plus II power source. This means less wires and clutter. The Holy Fire Pedal imparts a tube like warmth to your rig. With four control knobs topside, it is easy to adjust for your signature tone. Gain, overdrive and distortion levels are all very easy to dial in with their topside controls. Amazing sound out of this one box but its even better when coupled with the Keeley Fuzz Head. Very unique pedal looks like it's on fire behind the letters! It does get warm. Solid built, it is very gig-worthy. Made in America and now available by direct sale to musicians. Visit Creation Audio Labs online at: http://www.creationaudiolabs.com/

Keeley Electronics Compressor
This is perhaps the best compressor you can get! A compressor is actually an amplifier so it should go in the front of your signal chain. Put it before the Fuzz Head and/or the Holy Fire pedals. Compression is so important to your tone. Without it, your performance lacks the guts and attack necessary for soaring leads and blistering riffs.
My VL4, (Vocalist Live), signal processor has compression built in and I've come to appreciate it on vocals. Here Keeley offers the same killer effect but for your guitar. If you would like to record, I would recommend their 4 Knob Compressor as adjustments are easier to make topside. Built like a brick. Made with pride in the U.S.A. with Keeley's ice blue light.
Visit Keeley Electronics online at: http://www.keeleyelectronics.com

Keeley Fuzz Head
Keeley's Fuzz Head is what we recommend to be paired with the Holy Fire distortion/overdrive pedal. Why? Well, the Fuzz Head on its own terms, is an amazing fuzz pedal. There is no doubt about that. Still, when coupled with a serious distortion pedal like Holy Fire, it literally sings forever! The synergy is incredible. I found that the sustain you get when using the Fuzz Head next to a distortion pedal is unreal. So place it after the Holy Fire on the way to your amp and try a classic metal or rock riff like Smoke on the Water. In fact all of the Keeley pedals we've tested have worked extremely well with other pedals including wahs. The Keeley Fuzz Head is a very adjustable pedal which allows you to dial in just the right amount of "Fuzz" due to the inner trim knobs. Very cool too with its signature blue light and germanium toggle switch on top! Quality made in the U.S.A.
Visit Keeley Electronics online at: http://www.keeleyelectronics.com
For more information check out our article: Guitar Pedals: Get the Effect-Part III

We're back in the studio recording with our NEW Audio-Technica AT4047/SV large diaphragm condenser mic and all new Spectraflex mic and instrument cables! The AT4047/SV is in my opinion THE BEST vocalist recording mic, period. We now have the CD recording of our live performance for the Bluegrass & Oldtime Music Assoc. and hope to share some of these tracks and recording sessions online. Stay tuned and all the best in 2009!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Best Guitar Gear for 2009 - Strings 'n Things

Dr. M. & her vintage, Aria Pro II - Fullerton model. New strings make all the difference! ("Dizzy" Blouse by Fender - The Collection)

We've found some of the best guitar tools, parts and accessories to help keep your axe fit as a fiddle. (O.k. maybe as a guitar!) If you are willing to learn how, changing the strings on your guitar is probably the best way to keep your tone pure. There are many different rules but my guitar teacher said after something like 40 hours of playing, the strings should be replaced. This may sound like a lot of work but many professional musicians change strings much more frequently than that. In fact, they often have guitar techs that tour with them to do JUST THAT before each concert. With the right tools, you can change your own strings and even experiment with new types such as the coated varieties. Either way, you can save time and money if you do it yourself.

Gravity Guitar Innovations-Pro Bridge Pin Puller

Here are some serious tools to have on hand to make the task not only easy but will lessen possible damage to your instrument. This Pro Bridge Pin Puller by Gravity Guitar Innovations should be first on your list.
Extremely well made and foldable, Gravity's Pro Bridge Pin Puller easily removes bridge pins for quick string changes. It fits all standard bridge pins and will not damage the bridge or pins. I like the fact that this bridge pin puller is easy to hold and chrome plated. Comes with a key chain clip to keep it handy. Its the best pin puller I've found! By Gravity Guitar Innovations.

Ernie Ball - NEW Extra Slinky Strings
Made for electric guitar, Ernie Ball has come out with an upgrade to their famous coated Slinky strings. I attended a Heavy Metal workshop taught by the lead guitarist of Jack Frost and he said he uses these strings. He did rip it up, I might add! I've found these to be very light and easy to bend. They have a great feel for sliding fretwork, hammer ons and pull offs. In other words, they won't work your finger pads.
Our expert guitar tech, Randy Cauvanaugh pictured below, did the set up said these strings are similar to Elixir's. He aslo said the reason why many guitarists choose coated strings is because they tend to last a little longer than non-coated ones. If you don't like to change strings so frequently, this might be just what you're looking for. Made in the USA. Visit Ernie Ball http://www.ernieball.com or click on thier banner ad in the left hand column on this page to check out their online store.

Planet Waves Pro Winder Tool
You can literally wrap up your string changing job with one of Planet Wave's most useful multi-tools, the Pro Winder.
The Pro Winder is touted as the ultimate all in one restringing tool. It both winds and cuts. It's extendable handle increases torque and control. It has a hardened steel cutting edge, (comes with a protective cover), that clips evenly. The overmolded plastic head accomodates a variety of pegs with a sure grip. My guitar teacher demonstrated how to change strings in class but one thing he forgot to bring was his winder. He recommended that we definitely invest in one! Saves time and gives your strings a nice shop finish. I would definitely go with the Planet Waves Pro Winder because it has just about everything you'll need to change your strings except the strings themselves! Visit Planet Waves online at: http://www.planetwaves.com

Pro Guitar Tech - Randy Cauvanaugh
We'd like to thank our professional guitar technicians of Freehold Music Center, namely Randy Cauvanaugh, for his expertise and participation in this article. Mr. Cavanuagh is himself a professional musician and does all of the set ups, upgrades and modifications to our electric guitars.
Want to learn how to replace your guitar strings yourself? Read the article, "How to Change Your Guitar Strings" at abclearnguitar.com by Kathy Unruh right here: http://www.abclearnguitar.com/guitar_strings.html

Hey! We're still rockin' down to the wire with the Best Guitar Gear for 2009! Who knows? You might get some cash for Christmas so you can buy your own gift. We'll keep it goin'.

Also see 2009's Top Gifts for Audiophiles over at the Best Picks BLOG!!!:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Best Guitar Gear for 2009 - Educational Tools

It's about time! The Chromatic Watch shown above, gives you the 12 semi-tones of the chromatic scale and intervals in Circles of 4ths and 5ths.

We all need to stay on top of our game and for any musician, this means keeping up with music theory. Reading notation is not necessary to be a good player but I have found that having the ability to read both standard sheet music and tabs gives you a definite edge. If you are even thinking about composing or writing your own songs then you will need to start with music theory.

We have found some really innovative and yes, portable ways of taking your lessons with you for easy transposing and on the spot chord to key changes. The best music education tools are going to be ones that come along for the ride and are there at hand, (or on your wrist), ready to roll. Here are two must haves for your favorite guitarist and musician:

The Chromatic Watch Company Invented by William T. Hankinson, The Chromatic Watch Company produces beautiful quartz watches and clocks with the 12 semitones of the Chromatic scales as shown in the photo here or Circles of 4ths or 5ths. This wall clock is absolutely perfect for a recording studio, practice room or guitar classroom. Musicians and students can just glance at the wall for the time or the all the halfsteps found in an octave. There is an association you will begin to make with seeing or visualizing the semitones of the chromatic scale this way. Soon you will see them in you mind's eye and they will become part of your "chops" as a literate musician. Now who wouldn't want that? These clocks and watches are very well made but have an added bonus. Having a wristwatch with the chromatic scale or even intervals of 4ths or 5ths is a fantastic way to take this information along with you. The numbers have been replaced with major root keys a 4th or 5th apart in clockwise order. Having it handy and visible right on your wrist will make the notes more accessible to you especially if you are at band practice or a jam session and need to have the next interval. This has happened to me at jam sessions when someone has changed the key the song is being played in. You're told the first note and the key it is being played in but where do you go from there?
These watches are truly "golden" for this application. I have the demure, Ladies Quartz Circle of 5ths as shown in the middle photo on the right. It not only looks great but gives me my intervals of 5ths right there on my wrist. Genuine black leather strap. Needless to say it is what I choose to wear for any musician get-togethers or jams. These make a fantastic gift for any guitar player or musician on your list. MSRP is $39.99. Check out all of the fine timepieces by The Chromatic Watch Company online their banner ad on this page or at: http://www.chromaticwatch.com

The Guitar Wheel
Wouldn't you like to ditch all those manuals and music books but still take along a library worth of guitar and music transposition information? Well, it can be done. All that you need is the Guitar Wheel. Invented with some heavenly inspiration by Dennis Cheatham, the Guitar Wheel is a serious educational tool for musicians. You won't believe how much information is found on the Guitar Wheel but even more amazing is the fact that when you flip it over, it gives you a whole world of Music Theory too!
The Guitar Wheel is very thin and easily goes where you go. To a concert, jam or guitar class, it is the on tool you will find indispensable for:

Chord Inversions for alternate chord fingerings
Enharmonic Equivalents
Comparing Scales such as Major, Minor, Pentatonic & Blues Scales
Determining Concert Pitch
Finding Minor 7th Chords
Finding Dominant 7th Chords

The Music Theory on the flip side of the Guitar Wheel offers even more with a piano keyboard & staff, concert pitch, intervals and transposing abilities built right in. If you are serious about advancing your composing and song writing skills to the next level, I highly recommend the Guitar Wheel. It is used in many guitar classes across the country with children as young as eight. The Guitar Wheel is configured like a curved guitar neck complete with numbered strings and frets, therefore making it easy to visualize how the chording or fingering works. Understanding that most musicians don't play in a vacuum, the Music Theory side of the wheel brings in keyboard access with major & minor scales, pentatonic scales, blues scales, degrees and eharmonic equivalents. The Music Wheel can be as simple or complex as you need it to be. All the same, it is an educational tool that will grow with you as you go deeper into music theory. This is important especially when you are spending about $15.00 for Book One then after out-growing the material, having to purchase Book Two. The Guitar Wheel is made of tough plastic, not cardboard and I figure if eight year olds can't destroy it, well, it should hold up for you! The MSRP is only $24.95 and the wheel comes with an instructional DVD highlighting its uses. Visit Music Master Publishing and the Guitar Wheel online via their Guitar Wheel, banner ad in the left hand column of this page or order it online at Amazon.com by clicking the link here: Guitar Wheel on Amazon.com

"Jingle all the way...." We're keepin' it real by giving you the best gifts for guitarists and musicians. Keep checking back as we countdown till Christmas with the Best Guitar Gear for 2009!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Best Guitar Gear for 2009 - Gig Bags & Cases

Martin's 600 Series Molded Dreadnought / Jumbo Guitar Case is plush lined and offers superior, lightweight protection for your instrument.

One of the most important investments you'll make towards keeping your instrument safe and in top playing condition is your guitar case. In fact, keeping your guitar in its case is perhaps the most preferable way to prevent accidental breakage and scratches. It also helps to keep your guitar in tune especially when using an "in-case" guitar humidifier. All the same your case must fit both your guitar and you. Cases that are too heavy, bulky or poorly constructed will most often be left at home, seldom being used. There is also a place for gig-bags and instrument covers so we have included the top choices right here:

Martin 600 Series Molded Guitar Case

This was the case that came with my Martin D-18 Sustainable Wood acoustic guitar. Martin is known the world over for beautifully crafted guitars so it was no surprise that they would want to protect one of their masterpieces with the finest guitar case available. Manufactured for Martin by SKB in North America, this case holds my D-18 Dreadnought perfectly and is meticulously lined for a perfect fit and extra protection for my instrument. This is the case I take to guitar class and jams because it is so lightweight yet tough. It has an inner compartment under the neckbrace to hold a tuner, extra strings, picks, etc. The only thing I added was a luggage tag, purchased from Martin's Gift Shop. I am a Martin's Owner's Club member so anything I purchase from them is 10% off. Rugged ABS molded exterior with a foam interior and green velour lining. Nickel plated hardware with key locking latch. These cases are also available for your sized guitar so
visit Maury's Music online at: http://www.maurysmusic.com/

Levy's Leathers LTD Leather Guitar Bag

If you are looking for a gig-bag instead of a hardshell case, there are a few options. I have a very thick denim electric guitar bag by Levy's which I prefer over the flimsy one that came with my Fender Stratocaster. Solid body guitars are a bit studier so a gig-bag is fine most of the time. The Fender logo bag though is a poor choice offering little padding or protection. Levy's denim gig bags are very well made and properly padded. Still, I prefer a leather gig-bag for both durability and looks. Should something spill on your instrument, a leather bag will more readily repel the splash better than cloth. Levy's leather guitar bag offers stylish protection with an extra "saddlebag" on the outside for storage of music, books, tuners, cables and a lot more. A smaller zippered upper pouch is an added bonus for space. In fact, a bag like this can carry a lot more gear than a hard shell case. The interior is plush lined with a thick pile. Over sized dual zipper tabs with a inner cover to prevent the zipper itself from touching your instrument. Very heavy yet comfortable backpacker straps and leather carry straps make this a quality bag. Black Leather Luggage tag was included. Photographed here is Levy's Leather Guitar Bag for Electric Guitar in Burgundy. Visit Levy's Leathers LTD online at: http://www.levysleathers.com/

Open Mic Guitar Strap Messenger Bag by Overland Equipment

There are times that you just need an extra bag to carry your sheet music, a small laptop, (think Cakewalk or Garage Band software), or microphone to a gig or band practice. Here's what I use to take along all those extras. Overland Equipment's Open Mic Messenger Bag is made of distressed canvas with magnetic closures on the front flap. Leather trim with brass rivets, this bag means business! Inner compartments include space for your cell, MP3 player and a zippered compartment. Better still is the bag's woven jacquard "guitar strap" which reminds me of one of Bob Dylan's vintage ones! Tough enough to over stuff too. This is a great, lightweight sidekick to your gig bag or guitar case, allowing you to carry in gear that might otherwise get crunched or scratch your guitar. Visit Overland Equipment online for their Open Mic Messenger Bags: http://www.overlandequipment.com/

Drapester Guitar Cover

Sometimes you just want to leave your guitar out on the stand for easy access. Nothing wrong with that except that dust gets in everywhere. Your strings, bridge area and if it is an electric, your pickups will suffer for it. I have a custom made dust cover on my Autoharp which stays on the stand. It works very well but is sometimes a hassle getting on and off. The Drapester is a very cool way around all that as it simply "drapes" over your instrument. No fitting or stretching needed. Throw it on and go! Whip it off and play! The Drapester even comes with a little pouch on the front for guitar pics. Simple yet very effective for keeping the dust off and your guitar on...the stand. Under the pink camouflage Drapester here is a full sized Martin D-18. It works well covering nearly any model of guitar from a Strat to a Martin Jumbo. A no-fuss way of keeping your guitar clean and handy. Made in the U.S.A. Visit Drapester online at: http://www.drapester.com/
Drapester also has a banner ad in the left hand column of this page.
We are going right down the list! So far we've covered the best guitar straps and cables. Check in again as we show you even more of the coolest guitar gear for your Christmas gift ideas! Ho, ho, ho!!!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Best Guitar Gear for 2009 - Guitar & Pedal Cables

Dr. M's Fender Strat getting the Snap Jack treatment!

The cables you choose can either enhance your guitar's tone or suck the life out of it. Another problem with poor quality guitar cables is they can actually add noise to your performance or even worse, your recording projects. We have sought out the best cables on the cutting edge of design, construction and innovation. The ones we have chosen both have a circuit breaking device on the tips which allows you to silently disconnect from your amp without running to turn it down or off. This feature alone saves time, steps and damage to your sound equipment. We have also separated them into two categories. The first cable we found was best for live performances and the second for recording. Since many of our guitar cables are also hooked up to our stompboxes, we included the best pedal cables as well. Here are the finalists:

Snap Jack Guitar Cable by ZZYZX for Live Performance

We have found this cable to be the best for live performances and concerts. This is because noise is not as much of an issue when you are onstage as it is in the recording studio. The Snap Jack Cable all is same is very quiet but not the most quiet cable that we tested. Where the Snap Jack does shine is its ability to completely cut off the signal upon disconnecting the neodymium magnetic two piece tip. I have disconnected from a live sound system in concert without having to wait for the sound man to come on stage. Using extra tips,(available in straight and right angle), I've also been able to switch instruments quietly, on the fly with absolutely no popping or squeals coming over the amp. I like the fact that it will disengage under a certain amount of pressure, therefore should you catch your foot on the cable, you're not likely to go for a nasty fall or damage your equipment. Visit Jodavi 's ZZYZX online store and see all the models of Snap Jack cables at: http://www.zzyzxsnapjack.com/

Spectraflex Fatsoflex Silent Plug for Recording

When we wanted to do studio recording, we had to look at a lot of factors. Ambient sound, mic placement and especially the type of studio mic to pick. Where a lot of us miss it, is the fact that having poorly shielded cables can add even more noise than many environmental sources. We did a guitar instrumental as our first demo CD recording. What we found was a great deal of buzzing or hum on the track. Nothing we did seemed to help until we switched all of our studio cables to Spectraflex. The difference was incredible. All you can hear now is the sound of the instruments, (a Fender Stratocaster and a Martin D-16GT). The Spectraflex Fatsoflex Silent Plug allows for instrument switching but this cable's forte is in their super thick, braided insulation design. We've not found any other cable that could match it for noiseless recording and replication of clear tone. We've even replaced our new Audio-Technica AT 4047/SV side address condenser mic cable with a Spectraflex Braided Low Z cable. When everything comes across crystal clear on the studio monitors, you know that's going to transfer to your recording as well. Visit Spectraflex online at: http://www.spectraflex.com/


Using great guitar cables not only improve the quality of your tone but will carry over towards improving your pedal board's performance too. Some pedals do rob your guitar's tone but often times it is the type of cables you are using to connect from your guitar, to your pedals and then to your amp. A lot can get lost along the way, especially if you use a lot of individual pedals in a daisy chain of effects.
Personally I have always preferred the right angled pedal cables over those with straight tips although it is good to have a few of those onboard. Right angled tips allow more boxes to fit neatly on the pedal board. You'll appreciate this even more as your collection grows and you want to add some variety to your sound. Just as poorly shielded cables will add noise to your guitar's sound, the same is true for pedal cables. They should be of the same quality and insulation as what you plug into your guitar so here's our pick:

Spectraflex Braided Pedal Cables

Carrying over the same quality and shielding found in their braided guitar cables, Spectraflex does it all in style. I've used their braided guitar cables for years, (Spectraflex is the original braided cable, after all), and they are all still going strong. Their cloth braiding helps insulate from excess noise but also makes for a tougher, more durable cable. Not only that, the very cool colors and designs on the cables themselves can help you visually organize your pedal board. You can set up according to they type of effects, (modulation, compression, etc.), and use specific pedal cable colors to designate them. The quality is unsurpassed for connecting all of your stompboxes and even looping out an effect for your multi-effector like our BOSS GT-10 with Keeley's Compressor. Visit Spectraflex online to see their braided Fatsoflex and pedal cables: http://www.spectraflex.com/

The BOSS GT-10 in its custom Tarcase. Spectraflex pedal cables are used to loop in extra effects such as a Keeley Compressor.

Stick around for our continuing countdown of the Best Guitar Gear for 2009! If you are looking for that perfect Christmas gift for your favorite guitarist, (that could be you, actually), check out our reviews before you buy. You can also see our previous articles in this series, namely the first on the Best Guitar Gear for 2009 - Guitar Straps: http://mariejmiczak.blogspot.com/2008/11/best-guitar-gear-for-2009.html

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Best Guitar Gear for 2009 - Guitar Straps

Dr. M. & her Martin D-16GT with the super-soft premium High End Leather Guitar strap from C.F. Martin.


Unlike other publications, we are looking ahead into 2009 to give you the best and most current guitar gear list to help with your holiday shopping. Since guitar straps are the accessories most intimately attached to your instrument, (and YOU), we are going to start with ones we have found to be at the top of their game:

Photo: C.F. Martin High End Leather Strap

This is the strap that I am using in the photo above with the Martin D-16GT. If you are looking for the best in luxury and quality, here it is. This guitar strap is made of the highest quality, supple, naked finish, garment weight calves leather. The underside is non-slipping suede and the core is padded with 1/4 inch of foam. The gold embroidered Martin logo finishes the design in style. This is my favorite strap for acoustic guitar. The strap holes are thick and tight enough to prevent slipping and the ultra-softness of the leather makes it a dream to wear. Other leather straps pale in comparison to this one. Available in black or brown. Made in the U.S.A. Order online at Martin's website store right here: https://www.martinguitar.com/1833/newitems.php

Levy's Leathers Ltd. Platinum Collection

Coming in at second place, another leather guitar strap we liked was one from Levy's new Platinum Collection. This long fringed strap looks great on both your guitar and you! The metallic colors of the leather Platinum Collection straps set them apart, (shown here in green), helping you to be seen and heard. Beautifully done, this strap has so many details added into the topside of the leather including a metallic inlay that Levys is so famous for. This one is a head turner, not really for wallflowers! If you are ready to make a statement on stage, go on wearing this strap. Made in Canada. Visit Levy's online at: http://www.levysleathers.com/

Photo: Planet Waves Dare Strap

Now for the electric guitar strap of choice. We've found that Planet Waves makes the most comfortable, ergonomic strap available for the electric guitar. Here's where it really counts. Solid body guitars often weigh much more than their acoustic counterparts. That extra weight can stress your back and shoulders over time. The dual strap design of the Dare Strap evenly distributes the weight of your guitar over both shoulders. Can also be used with most strap lock systems but it has been easy enough for me to simply slip my head between the straps. Fully adjustable too. Non-bulky so I don't even have to take it off my strat before putting it in the case. It folds pretty flat next to the instrument and gets neatly packed away in my leather gig-bag! You can spend more for a fancier strap but you won't find one as well made and comfortable to wear for long periods of time as this one. Another gem from Planet Waves! You might also take a look at their quick release system which can be used with most acoustic and electric guitar straps or buy one of their straps with quick release built in. Check it out online at: http://www.planetwaves.com/pgeardetails.aspx?ID=1

UPDATE! We tested Ernie Ball Super Strap Locks on our Levy's and Planet Waves guitar straps and they are fantastic! Easy to install, very secure and super quick to get your strap off and on. The low profile design helps avoid accidentally unlocking your strap in the middle of a gig. Simply depress the two curved buttons at the top of the lock and you're good to go! Available in Black, Gold and Chrome as shown here in the photo. Check out Ernie Ball Online at: http://www.ernieball.com

Also see 2009's Top Gifts for Audiophiles over at the Best Picks BLOG!!!:

We're going to continue our most wanted list of Best Guitar Gear for 2009 with even more top picks for Christmas and beyond. Keep checking back as we count 'em off for you!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Guitar and Vocal Humidification

Oh yes! Winter is fast approaching and the humidity in the air is already doing a nose-dive. Low humidity,(below 40%), can wreak havoc on your instruments causing soundboards to crack and strings to go quickly out of tune. There is another instrument that we all own but often take for granted. That is our voice. Nose, ear and throat specialists have identified a condition known as Environmental Laryngitis. The symptoms of EL are: nasal and chest congestion, cough, watery eyes and constant throat clearing which often leads to the loss of your voice. Dry air can also leave mucus membranes in the nose and throat unable to defend themselves against airborne germs and pathogens. This need not happen if you use both an air cleaner and humidifier in your studio.

If you have a large studio area and don't want to have to refill humidifier tanks daily, we recommend the AIR-O-SWISS 2071 Combi-Unit. It is both a humidifier and air cleaner combined. This professional quality unit has two HEPA and one active carbon filter plus two water tanks for carefree operation. We have used this in the larger area rooms and found an almost instant improvement in air quality and humidity. The active carbon filter eliminates odors instantly. The HEPA filter traps the smallest micron sized particles such as dust, dander, dust mites and pollen. It has three settings and offers silent operation on low which makes it perfect for use in your recording studio. Silence is golden! Photo right: AOS 2071 Air Cleaner & Humidifier Combined.

What about a small studio or bedroom? AIR-O-SWISS has solutions for adding humidity to these areas as well. For smaller studio spaces up to 860 sq feet, the AOS 7142 Digital Warm & Cool Mist Ultrasonic humidifier is perfect. This unit offers everything. A mineral cartridge which eliminates the "white dust" often found with other humidifiers. An ion silver stick which keeps the water in the unit clean and bacteria free. A warm mist setting which heats the mist exiting the humidifier to a comfy 104 degrees. This means it will not lower the ambient temperature of the room. It is recommended that you keep your instruments between 40-45% humidity. The AOS 7142 has a digital hydrometer and shuts off when the selected humidity level is reached. With a unit like this, you can have your instruments out on their stands and they will stay in tune longer because the room itself is properly humidified. Good for you AND your instruments! Photo right: AOS 7142 Ultrasonic Humidifier
If you have a smaller bedroom or area of up to 650 sq feet, the AOS 7144D can handle it. This is perfect for vocalists especially who may need a smaller unit in different work areas but still want many of the same features offered by the AOS 7142. Therefore AIR-O-SWISS has a model of humidifier / air cleaner for every space need. Since using them, I have recovered more comfortably from colds and hoarseness. In fact last year, despite a terrible upper respiratory infection, I did not lose my singing voice. That was a first for me. After using the AOS 2071 Air Cleaner & Humidifier combination unit, my breathing is completely clear and I no longer suffer from congestion, coughing and constant throat clearing which was causing my vocals to be strained. These are the best solutions I've found to Environmental and cold related Laryngitis. If you value your musical instruments and your voice, take a hard look at your home and studio's air quality and humidity. You'll never know how good you could sound unless you address these important environmental factors. Photo left: AOS 7144D Ultrasonic Humidifier
Visit the AIR-O-SWISS banner ads to your left or online at: http://www.airoswiss.net/

Just in Case....
Obviously you can't take your pollen free, perfectly humidified air with you on the road! You'll need another solution to keeping the humidity at just the right level inside the guitar case. Planet Waves makes perhaps the neatest solution to in case humidification that I've seen so far. Simple, easy to use, it is their Acoustic Guitar Humidifier. Wet the little sponge. Slip it back in the holder. Place unit between the strings down into the sound hole. Close the lid. That's it! Depending on the ambient or surrounding humidity, it will keep your guitar humidified for about 4 days. It is great for trips and gigs out of town where you can not be sure of the surrounding mositure levels. Planet Waves does it again! I keep one in both my acoutsic guitar cases and found that when I take them out to play, they are not way out of tune. A couple of minor tuning tweaks and I'm playing! Photo left: Planet Waves Acoustic Guitar Humidifier.
In the Works: "Makin' a list, checkin' it twice..." It's that time of year again! Yes, we are making our final selections for our list of 2009's Best Guitar Accessories! Wait till you see what we've found for you, just in time for the Holidays. Gift giving time is almost here so check our review first. Right now you can check out 2009's Top Gifts for Audiophiles over at the Best Picks BLOG by clicking here: http://www.angelfire.com/ak/anakee/drmiczak/index.blog/1345195/2009s-top-gifts-for-audiophiles/

Monday, September 22, 2008

BOSS GT-10 and DigiTech's RP-90

The BOSS GT-10 road-ready to rock!
Case by Tarcase Co., custom made in the USA

On the Floor...in Your Face!

One of the most outrageously fun things we've done this summer is check out the NEW BOSS GT-10 and DigiTech's RP Series of on-the-floor guitar multi-effectors. Having had experience with the BOSS DR-3 Drum & Bass Machine plus their BR1200CD Digital Recording Studio, this was an easy transition as the GT-10 is light-years more simple to use than any other BOSS gear I've worked with. The same goes for my owning DigiTech's VL2 and VL4 Vocalist Live line of signal processors. Kudos for both companies for making their units user-friendly without hauling out the phone book sized manuals BOSS is especially known for.

So how do these multi-effectors stack up, especially since in our last issue, we showed how to construct your own pedal board? I'll be honest. No multi-effector can replicate the tone and subtle nuances of your favorite pedal. On the up-side, these multi-effectors offer something of their own but you need to appreciate them for what they are and what they are not. First off, they are not boutique pedals. The Keeley Compressor and Fuzz Head boxes we tested are in a class all their own....really. You can even tweak the Keeleys for even more control over your individual sound. These are the originals upon which the analogs in the floor multi-effectors are based. In other words, manufacturers will try to approximate an electronic copy of the sound of your favorite effects pedals, cabinets, amps and pickups. They can get close but there's nothing like the real thing!

Well, what are you getting with a multi-effect unit like the GT-10 and the RP-90? Quite frankly, a lot. The GT-10 offers something like 198 presets with storage space for 400 of patches giving you everything from dirty to clean to weird with some effects I've never even heard of. One of the other students in my guitar class brought in his DigiTech RP-70, (a model below the RP-90), and it made his guitar sound like a pro-recording studio demo. The effects that he got from that little box were off-the-hook, incredible. Now while I really respect a tone snob's right to be picky, I think the floor multi-effectors have a place in a musician's arsenal of gig-tricks. For
example, you have an early morning radio show and want to
play live on the air with the station's DJ. Good enough but I know from experience that most radio station sound booths are very small. There's barely enough space for the broadcasting equipment, let alone you. If you think you are going to bring your full rig in to set up, think again! In this case the DigiTech RP-90, shown here to your right, would be perfect. It is very small but gives you 12 amp/cab models, 6 distortion models and 32 effects, 50 presets plus a drum machine. The sound quality of your multi-effector, like anything else is going to depend on your amp. We used a Behringer 45 watt amp, a Roland SA-300 Stage Amp, (350 watts) and a Crate GX-20M guitar amp, (20 watts) for a stereo mix. Therefore we had plenty of top and bottom end to allow them both to fully express themselves. I've done an instrumental recording with the GT-10 and it was as easy as plugging in the 1/4 jack cables into the back of the recorder. The results were impressive.

The GT-10 has the advantage of being a bit more box than the RP-90 but it is also cost about $400 dollars more! The GT-10 also has USB/MIDI capabilities, a parallel effects chain and a sound on sound 38 second phrase looper. I recently heard Phil Keaggy use a loop station in his performance and all I can say is you need to get one! The GT-10 is also quite heavy, built like a tank and something you'll appreciate in the long run. You'll need a serious flight case for the BOSS unit while the DigiTech RP-90 can be popped into a padded gig bag without much fuss. The sound of both pedals was quite impressive, (each has an onboard tuner), and I would not hesitate to gig with either in a live concert. In fact, I've seen a BOSS GT-8 on stage at a major rock concert and it was doing the job. In practical terms, if you like to experiment or cover music that requires more than a few pedals, either of these would be a great investment with a strong lean towards the GT-10. You're getting so many boxes and effects in one easy to use unit. We recommend Spectraflex braided pedal cables as their shielding helps prevent problems before they start. We used them to connect a send-return effect, that is a Keeley Compressor to the GT-10 showing that you can insert an individual pedal if you want. For more information, visit the websites below or check the banner ads on your left.

BOSS GT-10 Price: $499.00 http://www.bossus.com/

DigiTech's RP-90 Price: $99.95 http://www.digitech.com/

Spectraflex Cables Price : $17.99 http://www.spectraflex.com

Fall Features: We're currenlty on the road through Christmas but will be doing our "Best Guitar Gear for 2009" list and "Your Home Recording Studio" due out this autumn!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Revelation Generation's 2008 Concert

Photos by Dr. M: The Newsboys rocking out with 'That's Where the Party's At', 'Something Beautiful', 'The Mission', 'Shine,' and many other hits from their 'Go' album. These Aussies offer amazing showmanship and light show effects coupled with a positive message of hope. We will be featuring Peter's, (pictured above on guitar), interview with insider tips on his recording studio and song writing experiences in our article, "Your Home Recording Studio".

All Photos by Dr. M. Above:Tobymac and his Diverse City Band settin' it off at the Revelation Generation Concert! Doing cuts from Portable Sounds & Diverse City, they were perhaps the most rockin' show of the evening. Right: Toby at our press conference where he discussed his latest project, the album "Alive and Transported", a DVD and CD combo which we will be reviewing right here.

Photo left: Matt Wertz and his aqua Fender Strat giving a breakout performance of, "The Way I Feel". Look for Matt's latest album, 'Under the Summer Sun', to be released in September 2008.

Other fantastic performances of the day included sets by acoustic guitarist, Phil Keaggy, Kutless, (Sea of Faces) metalcore Skillet and Sixpence None the Richer, (Kiss Me). With attendance nearing an estimated 30,000, concert goers were well behaved and the event staff very much on top of it. Most memorable performances of this event were by Tobymac with his no holds barred, R & B flavored Hip-Hop. Great old school style funk with some fresh twists, these guys were off the hook for dance, vocals and musicianship. The Newsboys capped off the evening with a steller performance which included lightshow effects reminiscent of the Backstreet Boys shows we've attended. In its 3rd year, the Revelation Generation Concerts are billed as a "Christian" music festival, but these high powered performances rival any of the secular concerts I've covered.

There was a wide range of musical styles represented from Industrial Metal to Hip-Hop and everything in between. This is also great venue for fresh, innovative talent such as Matt Wertz, Shawn McDonald and Bethany Dillon while offering the public a family friendly farmland space to enjoy a day out. We can't wait to see what Revelation Generation has to offer for 2009!
Next up! Guitar multi-effectors vs individual pedals, the pros and the cons. Plus the best on the floor multi effect boxes for every musician's needs and pocket book.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Guitar Pedals...Get the Effect Part III!

PHOTO: Custom road cases like these allow you to transport your individual pedals or floor multi-effector unit safely and securely. Once at the gig, simply lift the lid, plug in and play... right out of the case. Easy! Left to right: BOSS Digital Delay, BOSS Super Chorus, Keeley Fuzz Head, Keeley Compressor, Ibanez WD-7 Wah, BOSS TU-2 Tuner, in the back VooDoo Lab's Pedal Power II Plus. Fatso Flex Silent Plug Guitar Cable & Pedal Cables by Spectraflex. Pedal Board Case by Tarcase Co. USA. Guitar, Fender Strat.

Now we are going show you how to set up and transport your own custom pedal board with the individual pedals we're reviewed in Parts I and II. Likewise, you'll need to know the best way to power your individual pedals and effects rather than constantly buying 9 volt batteries or dragging along an adapter for each effect.

The Chain of Effects:
Now, you have these great pedals, distortion, phaser, digital delay, reverb, etc. ready to rock. Maybe you started out with a few but now you have a small herd you'd like to put to work. There are some basics, (not written in stone mind you), that will make sense as you daisy chain these pedals together. So from your guitar to your amp, you're going to have a set pattern in mind so that each effect can shine and allow the others to do their job as well. Here is a common set up for your pedals according to what they do:
Guitar > Buffer, i.e. TU-2 Tuner > Wah Pedal > Compressor > Distortion/Overdrive> Chorus/Tremolo/Flanger/Phaser > Delay / Reverb > Amp
If you use a volume pedal, that would fit in before your delay or reverb or next to last effect in your effects chain to the amp. This is so the fadeouts continue to decay after the volume is cut. Compressors are actually amplifiers and will increase the content of whatever is before them in the signal chain. Modulation pedals include chorus / tremolo / flangers and phasers. Since chorus likes to work on the entire tone, putting it before the overdrive or distortion will end up distorting the whole sound. When used after the distortion / overdrive, the tone is balanced. This is a basic set up according to many touring pros. You can and should experiment to switch things up for your own signature effect. Still, to optimize the individual characteristics of the effects you are using, this is pretty much the way it goes.
Pedal & Guitar Cables
Your pedal cables are just as important as your guitar cables. Noisy, poor connections will rob your guitar from the tone all these stomp boxes want to offer. That doesn't have to happen. I use Spectraflex's, Fatso-Flex Silent Plug guitar cables which were voted into the winner's circle of best cables in this year's Guitar Player Magazine. I use their Right Angle Pedal Cables between the boxes. They are fully shielded and colorful just like the longer guitar cables which helps me to organize my pedal board. For example, you can hook up red cables to your distortion and overdrive boxes to quickly identify them visually. Sort of like zoning your effects by color. Made in the U.S.A. Very cool!
PHOTO: Spectraflex Pedal Cables
Price: $18.95

Power it Up

The next and perhaps most important box on your pedal board is going to be your power supply. There are many on the market but the one that I see most consistently on the
pedal boards of the touring artists is VooDoo Lab's Pedal Power II Plus. Unlike some of the others that claim to take up only one outlet, the Pedal Power acts like 8 separate adapters. What this means is that there is less of a chance of loops forming between your pedals because they are essentially sharing one power source. This is not the ideal set up for your pedals. The Pedal Power II Plus comes with all the cables to connect up to 8 individual stomp boxes or effects. No noise, no hum. Packed in your pedal case, it looks like one of the gang but you'll find better performance from properly powered effects. Handmade in the USA.

Gotta Gig!

Undergirding all of this is my custom made Tarcase. Made in the USA, these individually designed pedal boards can accomodate individual pedals, wahs and floor multi-effectors. These are really well made and the fit is impeccable. It even has a built in rise for your volume or wah pedal. As they can be built to your exact specifications, the sky is the limit for your pedal board set up. Your stomp boxes, wah, volume pedal and power source can all stow neatly for safe transport to your venue. Lift the lid, plug in and start playing! Contact Jay at Tarcase Co. at: tarcaseco@comcast.net for more information on his custom road case pedal boards. You can check out all of the gear featured in this article by clicking on the banner ads to your left.

Next up!: The floor multi-effectors are coming! See what BOSS and DigiTech have been up to in the way of guitar and guitar/vocal multi-effectors. We're also going to discuss the pros and cons of using single pedals vs. a floor multi-effector. Don't miss this one!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Fender Strat Gets N-Tune!

Fender's Standard Stratocaster in Chrome Red
is North American made with lots of classic tone!

Just in case you wanted to know what we're using to test our pedals and multi-effectors with...here it is, our Fender Standard Stratocaster. Otherwise known as the "Pedal Meister"!
This is a rock solid, all time favorite with a fast maple fretboard, three pickups and tremolo bar. The Chrome Red finish has a semi-metallic look without being flashy. Its just a good, straight-forward axe! To make it even sweeter, we had the NEW N-Tune onboard tuner installed. This is a lighted, battery powered tuner from Zero Crossing, that fits under the volume knob of your Strat. It will even fit the volume knobs of other models, with different colors to match or contrast your pickguard.

N-Tune On Board Tuner
by Zero Crossing
List $99.99 - Street $79.99

We road tested the N-Tune Fender Style Package. The N-Tune onboard tuner installs under your volume knob. Offers a quick and very accurate tuning, (we compared it with the BOSS TU-2). Now you can tune up anytime, anywhere, even on a dark stage, without having to pack an extra tuner. A definite must if you are on tour or playing lots of consecutive concerts. You will need to be able to solder two wires and installation / battery changes require removal of the pickguard and strings. We suggest you use Duracell 9 volt Procell Alkaline batteries, (PC1604) and coordinate changing the tuner's battery with replacement of your strings. I do this with my Martin D-16 which has a battery powered, under the saddle pickup and it's no big deal. To prevent accidental draining of the battery, there is even an auto-power off feature designed into the N-Tune. If the tuner does not detect a note being played for 3 minutes, it automatically powers itself OFF to save battery life. Excellent!

Meet our Pro Guitar Tech Team, Ian West, (left) and Randy Cauvanaugh. They are known as the "Fender Experts" and keep all of our road gear in top, gigging shape. We rely on their expertise and knowledge of electric guitars, pedals and set-ups. They actually did the installation of the N-Tune on board tuner for us. Here's what they had to say:

Ian: "Very cool idea! I especially like the true bypass feature."

Randy: "It works great. The only thing I don't like is that you have to remove the pick plate and strings to replace the battery. Just like a pedal, don't leave your guitar cabled into your amp after playing or it will drain the battery."

Many of the top named guitar companies are installing onboard tuners on their newer models. I've seen a few in action and was not too impressed. They seemed to be hard to see and not very accurate. The N-Tune onboard tuner works as if it were custom made for your guitar as it fits unnoticably under the volume knob. Pull the knob, it lights up and flashes green when you're in tune. Push it back in and its true bypass feature lets your guitar perform business as usual. I really like this feature and the freedom of being able to tune up, even on a dimly lit stage, with ease. It was very close in accuracy to my BOSS Tu-2 which is in my opinion the best tuner on the market. So now I can leave all my tuners in the studio. With my N-Tune onboard tuner installed, I'm good to go!

Fatso Flex "Silent Plug" Guitar Cables
By Spectraflex
Price: $42.95 (10 ft) - $57.95 (25 ft)

Spectraflex guitar cables are the cables we use for both performing and recording. I've used Spectraflex for years now. In fact, this was the cable I purchased when I brought my first electric guitar, the Aria Pro II. What impressed me then as now was the quietness and beauty of these braided guitar cables. All of them are still going strong after all these years. The Fatso Flex, shown here, was voted among the Winner's Circle of best guitar cables this year by Guitar Player Magazine. Not surprising. Spectraflex makes incredible sounding cables! Ultra quiet and reliable now with "Silent Plug", I have the ability to switch guitars quietly without disconnecting from my stage amp. The best of both worlds. This is hands down, the best guitar cable I've ever used. Made in the USA, Spectraflex does it again!

Spectraflex Pedal Cables
Price: $18.95

This is our choice for pedal cables. These link up your individual pedals with the same noiseless quality you get from the Spectraflex line of guitar cables. Shielded, braided, high quality cables made just like their big brothers. Made in the USA. Multiple colors and patterns help you to organize your pedal board...in style! See how we put it all together in our next installment of Guitar Pedals...Get the Effect: Part III
Always disconnect your pedals and instruments with onboard battery powered devices such as preamps, pickups and tuners, after use. Even if they are shut OFF, leaving them cabled will cause the batteries to drain! Simply disconnect all your cables when you're done playing and you'll be fine. Duracell's PC1604's are cheaper than the consumer marketed "Copper Tops" and can be purchased in bulk packs for less. Best choice is to use a single power source for all your individual pedals. We'll tell you which one the pro touring bands use and why, up next!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Eve of Distortion

Photo: Dr. M. with the Keeley Fuzzhead on the right and DigiTech's Artist Series, Scott Ian pedal on the left. Rolling Stones promotional "Shine a Light" tee courtesy of Fender

Guitar Pedals Part II: Distorted Ideas & Wah-ing for fun & profit...

Distortion is by far one of the most distinguishable sounds of rock and heavy metal. It's what gives us the soaring leads we've come to identify with killer guitar solos and riffs. If you are into these styles, distortion and overdrive are going to be your best friends next to a decent electric guitar and amp. I play a Fender Strat coupled with a Crate GX-20M which is a very tough box, (I'm actually standing on top of it in this photo!), and has built in overdrive, chorus, reverb & eq. Another essential effect you'll want to include is a wah pedal. As the name implies, it gives your guitar a "wah-ing" or crying sound made popular by funk and other styles.

Keeley Electronics Fuzz Head

List: $250.00 / Street: $209.00

This is an amazing distortion pedal which is very unique in its design. In fact, it won Guitar Player's Reader's Choice Award for best effects pedal with good reason. This box sounds incredible! It couples a serious sustain and unbelievable boost for your leads with a rich blend of fuzz and overdrive. It will also drive other modulation pedals such chorus, phasers, flangers and tremolo which follow in your effect chain. Add another distortion pedal and it will sing forever. Keeley's trademark blue light and custom paint job assures it will stand out on your pedal board.

Internal Gain Control offers additional tone customization not found with other pedals. Externally you have a two knobs, "no waiting" approach with the Fuzz controlling the amount of distortion and the Head for volume control. The Si/Ge switch offers even more access to transparent tones and increased sustain. Built in the USA, Robert Keeley stands behind his equipment with excellent customer service and product reliability. Sound and quality wise, this is the best distortion pedal I've used. Prepare to be rocked!


DigiTech's Artist Series - Scott Ian Pedal

List: $166.65 / Street: $ 99.99

Do you have a cover band or are you just into a certain artist's tonal vibe? DigiTech's genius with Audio DNA2 & Production Modeling has produced a series of pedals which can offer the same "flava" of effects used by Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Dan Donegan and Scott Ian as shown here. These pedals allow you to dial in the lead guitar sounds on these artist's top recordings.

The Scott Ian pedal we tested featured the tones from Scott's Black-13, (Anthrax), recordings. Seven settings on the fourth knob offer the lead guitar sounds for: "I am the Law", "Madhouse", "March of the S.O.D.", "Protest & Survive", "Room for one More", "What Doesn't Die" and "Finale". Metalheads, needn't only apply. I've found these distortion settings to be seriously fired up and off the hook. I especially liked the phaser on Model #7. Very cool!!! A beautiful pedal in shiny metal, (of course!), but built like a brick. Definitely roadworthy and a great addition to those who want to pull off those blistering leads heavy metal is known for thanks to legendary artists like Scott Ian. Thanks Scott!
Ibanez WD-7 Wah Pedal
List:$179.95 / Street: $99.90
The WD-7 by Ibanez is a revolution in freeing your feet to control your wah and not the other way around. The WD-7 has a large sideswitch and is built to avoid the usual "clicking in" required of most other wahs. The Auto SW mode allows the wah to automatically turn on when you depress the pedal slightly. A spring tension adjuster controls the return of the pedal. It also sports an Auto Off Delay and a true bypass with no hum added to the signal chain.
Perhaps the best additions to the WD-7 are the most over-looked by manufacturers. That is the depressable control knobs. Dial in your settings, depress the knobs and no worries about your values being altered! Even without using the Wah pedal, the preamp on the WD-7 is fantastic. Suggested settings are included such as Vintage Wah, Funky Rhythm, Fat Lead and Bass Wah. My pick is the Fat Lead which offers just enough spank to the mix of my other pedals. Extremely well built, (I've seen flimsier tanks, really), this pedal is very heavy and would need serious Velcro-ing onto your pedal board. Also you might want to use an adapter as this thing eats 9 volt batteries like popcorn. Still, it offers a great quackin' - funk sound and is truly a gig worthy pedal.
Next Issue: Part III is going to pull it all together for you! We'll show you how to build your own concert-ready pedal board for the road. We'll also show you the latest in floor multi-effectors that prove you CAN take it with you!