Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review: Toneforge Ben Bruce (with mp3 sample)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are reviewing (with a bit of delay since its initial introduction) a new virtual guitar amp: Toneforge Ben Bruce!
This amp simulator tries to combine the key elements of the tone of Ben Bruce, guitarist of Asking Alexandria, a well known british metalcore band produced by Joey Sturgis, which is also the man behind the Toneforge brand.
The sound of Ben Bruce is based on the classic Peavey 5150 tone, which is an amp very popular in metalcore for its definition and its tightness, and it can be head in the Asking Alexandria's song "I Won't Give In".

As for the other Toneforge amps, the Ben Bruce includes two channels (clean and overdrive), four stompboxes (an overdrive, although the head sounds already so gainy on itself that probably you won't ever need it, a stereo delay, rotary and reverb), a Cabinet simulator with the emulation of four microphones (a condenser, an SM57 on axis, an SM57 off axis and a Sennheiser Md421) and Ir Loader, a chromatic tuner, a parametric eq and a peak limiter.

By testing it I have appreciated as always how Toneforge plugins are so lightweight on the cpu and straightforward to use: the UI features a pleasant scheumorphist interface (which means that it recreates the interface of hardware products) and sound good right away, without even needing to dial anything, which is honestly pretty rare in the world of virtual amps.
The amp has a very pleasant and usable mid range, very mix ready, and it is very tight, perfect for metalcore, making it probably the easiest Toneforge virtual amp to mix with so far, for the genre.

Here is a small sample of an album I am working on for my band, Strider, done using Toneforge Ben Bruce, check it out!

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

How to build a home studio for less than 500$ in 2017

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to see how to start recording quality music on the tightest budget possible, keeping in mind that a chain is as strong as its weakest link, so I have suggested products that respects a minimum standard of quality (as there are surely even cheaper ones, but they in my opinion don't guarantee a reasonable result) to obtain a good product.

Let's start by saying that obviously a pc is required, but if you are reading this, it's very likely for you to have one. This pc should have a decent amount of ram (I'd say that 6/8gb would be a good starting point), and a processor not too old. For the software side, both the audio interfaces that we suggest have a basic version of a Daw and some plugin, which are absolutely enough to start working right away, so for a budget studio there shouldn't be need of much else.

For the sound interface, in my opinion the best quality to price ratio in 2017 is the Presonus Audiobox Vsl 22: this is an amazing sound interface, very complete (it has usb 2.0 connection, Midi in and out, 2 combo Xmax preamps etc.). Some people says it is better a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, in my opinion the Focusrite sounds a little more thin and some models have gain problems when recording guitar, but in doubt I paste both links, since they cost the same and are pretty much equivalent. Another pro of the Presonus one is that it comes with a Free copy of the Daw Studio One,
but on the other hand, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 comes with a limited version of Pro Tools and a set of plugins made by Focusrite itself.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

Now moving to the monitors, we can choose between a set of monitors and/or a pair of headphones. For monitors the choice is hard, because there are very few monitors capable of letting us mix properly at a very entry level price. The choice boils down pretty much only to Presonus Eris e4.5 and Tascam VL-S5, both of them for about 200$, or around 150€. On one hand the Presonus ones comes also with two stands and a smaller size and weight, on the other the Tascam, at the same price, offer you a 5 inches speaker instead of a 4.5 one, which means that it will have a better response in the low end area.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

Speaking of headphones, instead, it is also hard to find a budget pair that can be considered mix-capable, but always moving in the same price area there are some that are considered to be quite usable, both for mixing and recording, in the 100/150$ area.
Let's start with Beyerdynamic Dt990, which are an industry standard in the 150$ area, and if the budget is tighter (around 50$), there are the Akg K240 Studio, which are probably the most widely used studio headphones in the world.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

Finally we need some microphone. I'd suggest in this beginning stage a dynamic one and a condenser one that can serve more or less all purposes, and that can be used also together to capture a wide range of details also for acoustic instruments.
If I would have to buy just one microphone I would go for a Shure Beta 58: it is dynamic, great for vocals, guitars and and all around amazing microphones for about 150$.
For lower prices (around 100$) we can check out the smaller brother, the Shure Sm58, which is another great all purpose dynamic mike. Finally, among the condenser microphones, one that has a great quality-to-price ratio, good both for music and for radio-podcast streamings, is the Audio Technica At2035, the evolution of the legendary At2020, that comes in a bundle (for 150$) with also a shock mount, an anti-pop filter and an xlr cable.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

As for the accessories, there are very few things which are really essential, and they can all boil down in some jack cable, xlr jack cable, anti pop filter and a microphone stand. I will just post one link for each type, as there is no need to invest too much on these, in the beginning.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

Hope it was helpful!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Review: Peavey 5150 / Peavey 6505 and all its variants

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review a legendary guitar amplifier, the Peavey 5150, known since 2004 (as Eddie Van Halen has moved the rights for the 5150 name from Peavey to Fender and eventually to an EVH brand) as 6505.

For those of you (few I hope) that doesn't know who Eddie Van Halen is, a brief recap: he is the guitar player of Van Halen, a Hard Rock band from California, which has produced some of the most famous hard rock songs of the 70s and 80s, as "Jump", "Ain't talking 'bout Love", "Panama", "Hot for Teachers" and "Running with the Devil", just to name a few.

Eddie Van Halen is also known for being one of the first Guitar Heroes in history, having contributed in innovating the rock guitar sound in many ways: introducing an extensive use of tapping and legato in guitar solos, creating a trademark sound very creamy and mid focused that is known as "brown sound", and basically making guitar shredding mainstream and appreciated from a wide audience, not only from guitar geeks.

Eddie in his incredibly long career has experimented with many amps and guitars, by modding and customizing them until they were completely different from the original model, until arriving to 1992, year in which Peavey offered him a signature model based on his requests, and this model is today, 25 years later, the standard in in heavy metal guitar tone: the most used amp by metal bands and metal producers, even the most extreme ones, due to its extremely tight tone and massive gain.

The head is 120 tube watts, a monster in volume, and it gives its best when pushed over the half of the volume knob, meaning that in order to really enjoy this amplifier you need to play it extremely loud, it has a low gain and a high gain input, and two channels that shares the same passive eq section.
The preamp section has six stages of gain (just to give you the idea, the Marshall jcm2000 DSL is Dual Super Lead, meaning that it has two stages of gain), it is loaded with five 12AX7 tubes (one is in the effect loop), the power amp has four 6L6, and the two channels shares also the presence knob (which decides how narrow or wide is the control of the entire eq section) and the resonance one (that adds some oomph to the lower area).
The head, finally, has also two separate gain knobs, one inside and one after the preamp section, and two switches that affects only the clean channel: bright (that adds some sparkle if the tone is too dark) and crunch (that adds additional gain turning the clean channel into a rhythm one).

Although this head is created to produce huge amounts of gain mantaining an exceptional clarity and definition, the amp has been used also for its creamy crunch tones: the interaction of the tubes creates a very warm harmonic richness and sustain that makes it extremely pleasant to play also for lower gain situations, although the amp is not famous for producing particularly pleasant pure clean tones (they are, in facts, rather cold compared to other amps).

When presented in 1992, this amplifier was revolutionary due to the six stages of gain, which meant a big amount of gain from the preamp section that goes into a powerful power amp section with tubes (the 6L6) which are famous for the tight low end and for mantaining a lot of headroom compared with for example the El84 of many Marshall Amps: the result is that the tone is less saturated than a classic Marshall tone, it's more defined and the gain structure is much more compact, perfect for palm muting, that's why this amp is today a standard for thrash and death metal bands, even more than for hard rock.

From 1992 the Peavey 5150 (from 2004 called 6505) has grown very much, and today it offers several variants, all with the trademark original tone but with some interesting twist:

- 6505 Plus (formerly known as 5150 II), a version with the eq separated between the two channels and a slighly brighter tone

- 6505 combo, a 60w combo version of the amp

- 6505 mini and micro, two smaller versions of the big one, one 20w all tube and the other one 20w transistor.

Over the years Peavey has also produced other versions, such as one with EL84 tubes, but they have been discontinued.


- High and low gain inputs
- 120 watts (rms) into 16, 8, or 4 ohms (switchable)
- Rhythm channel: pre-/post-gain, bright and crunch switches
- Five 12AX7 preamp tubes and four 6L6GC power amp tubes
- Channels share 3-band EQ
- Presence and resonance controls
- Switchable post-EQ effects loop
- Preamp output
- Lead channel: pre-/post-gain

Saturday, January 28, 2017

GNB top 10 humbucking pickups for rock/metal

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today I would like to share with you my top 10 humbucking pickups for guitar, among all the pickups I have ever tried.
The characteristics I take in consideration are several: the pickup needs to have a good signal to noise ratio, which means that the sound must be clear and with as little hum as possible also at high gain, it must have a good mid range capable of cut through a mix without needing to intervene excessively with post-eq, and it must have enough gain to let us obtain a sound distorted enough also with the most common amplifiers that can be found in a rehearsal room, without forcing us to bring a booster.
In this top 10 I list, without any particular order, neck and bridge pickups, active and passive ones, and I suggest you to take this as a starting point to check out if you decide to improve the sound of your guitar.

Seymour Duncan Distortion: This passive bridge pickup sets itself in the middle, among the range of the high gain Seymour Duncan passive pickups. The characteristics are a very musical mid range, a good amount of gain, and a very tight bass response. It is very easy to find a good tone with this pickup, and to mix it in a band context. It is a pickup that can be heard in many videos of Ola Englund.

DiMarzio Crunch lab: A very well balanced passive bridge pickup, designed by Dream Theater's guitartis John Petrucci. This pickup has the characteristic of having a powerful, tight and mid rangey tone, with strong low-mids and that sounds very mix-ready.

Gibson 498T: also called "Hot alnico", this bridge pickup is a Gibson Les Paul trademark. It is a high gain pickup, with a squeaky high-mid range that marries perfectly with the bassy heavy mahogany body of a Les Paul, giving as a result an incredibly full and warm sound, with a beautiful bluesy-classic rock mid range that allows us to play succesfully almost any kind of music, from blues/jazz to Guns n'Roses to punk, from rockabilly to thrash metal. With high gain levels tends to be a bit noisy, but its tone is legendary.

Emg 85 / 707: This pickup is born as a neck companion (in the Emg Zakk Wylde set) of the Emg 81, but I actually prefer it in the bridge position (and the 707 is basically a 7 strings version of the 85): it has less bass frequencies of the 81, a little less output and less highs, the tone is more mid range oriented and probably it is the active pickup with the most "mix ready" tone, in my opinion. The sound is clear, the mids are very pleasant and it is very aggressive when needed, but without providing useless highs and lows. An example of this pickup can be heard in many Fear Factory songs.

Emg 57: this active bridge pickup is part (together with the 66) of the new James Hetfield set, and it basically takes the old Emg81 and gives it a more vintage twist, resulting in a much more "usable" tone, with a little less output and a much more prominent and euphonic mid range. The result is a pickup that beats the predecessor in every possible way, and that is a good candidate as the best active pickup in the market today.

Emg 66: the neck counterpart of the Emg 57, the 66 is an active pickup that provides a very pleasant clean tone, bright and warm thanks to the Alnico V magnet. The sound is slighly brighter than the previous model, the Emg60, and capable of cutting better through the mix, adapting well to effects as well as to solos. Here is a Devin Townsend demo.

Seymour Duncan '59: quite possibly the best passive neck pickup I have ever tried, practically a must have. The sound is very dynamic, it responds beautifully to the touch, and it is amazing also when using a high gain amp and lowering the guitar volume until it gets clean: you obtain a warm, slighly overdriven tone that is creamy and a real delight to play. This pickup is great also for playing solos.

Seymour Duncan Blackout: An evolution of the already cited Emg 707 created by Dino Cazares of Fear Factory, but this time produced by Seymour Duncan. There are several versions of this active bridge pickup: the original one is designed by Dino Cazares, another one is tweaked by the guitarist of Slipknot and it is called Blackout Metal, and a third one is signed by Jeff Loomis. The version that I suggest is the original one, AHB1, which is a little less extreme than the other two. The sound is similar to the Emg 707, but with more bass content and slighly more output. This is the pickup that I am using in the bridge of my main guitar from several years now.

DiMarzio D-Sonic: A passive bridge pickup with a very strong low mid range and a lot of bite, used often in hard rock and nu-metal. It has the particolarity that one of the two coils is not divided in poles, it is one single magnetic strip that gives the pickup specific tonal qualities (the producer claims that this way the sound is brighter and more defined). It can be heard for example in the song Don't Stay by Linkin Park.

Barek nuckle Painkiller: Bare knuckle is an english producer that offers high level passive pickups, and they are considered to be extremely good, especially in the metal guitar community. Among the various models, I have chosen this ceramic bridge one because of the clarity that it retains also in extreme environments, such as a Fleshgod Apocalypse song.

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Review: Marshall DSL15H Head

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about an amp that has really surprised me: the Marshall Dsl 15 H head!

In these recent years we have witnessed a trend in amp making: besides the classic 100w heads, manufacturers have started to produce more and more low wattage versions of their tube amps (from 5 to 20w), to satisfy the needs of the average player, which wants to play home with a good tone (and a 100w tube head, if played at 0.1 volume, doesn't provide it) and with enough power to be used also in the rehearsals room.
Besides the tone quality, another thing that modern players crave is a reduced size and weight: the 2017 guitar player doesn't want to carry around an extremely large head weighing 23kg (on an average) to have a good tone.

We are talking about tube amps because we know that solid state and digital amplifiers don't have this problem: a 100w transistor amp, for example, will sound the same at any volume, so it's usable in any situation without sound degradation.
With a tube amp is different: according to the amp, the bias, the transformer, we have a sweet spot, an ideal volume to use it, and if we keep the volume too low the tubes will not be driven enough to thicken the sound, if we turn the volume too loud the tubes will be overdriven, and not always this is a wanted result.

As we have said in our article "tube amps vs transistor amps" there are several elements in play, so for lower wattages, so far, I have always preferred the transistor ones (from 30w up, otherwise my experience is that they are completely covered by the drums), but lately I have played in a rehearsal room using this Marshall DSL 15H Head, a 15 w tube head loaded with four ECC83S in the Preamp section and two 6V6 in the power amp, and, damn, this little amp is loud!

The head is a smaller version of the 100w Marshall Dsl Head, it features 2 channels (clean and overdrive), and the overdrive is switchable for ultra gain, it has a Deep control that adds more Bass frequencies and a switch to choose between 7.5w (a good home volume) and 15w (for the rehealsal room and live). 
So far I have never played a 15w tube amp capable of delivering a good metal tone, driving easily a 4x12 cabinet and stand out in the mix so well: the sound is crisp, clean and the size and weight are the half of a 100w marshall Dsl.
Of course it will have less headroom, a little less Bass frequencies (in this the deep switch is very useful), but for the first time I find the tone extremely usable and credible, compared for example with the Mesa Boogie Rectifier mini, which struggles much more in delivering a good tone at higher volumes.
I would say that if you're on a tight budget or a home player and want a classic tube Marshall sound, this amp is a good choice, and probably it is the best in its category (less than 20w tube amps).

Give it a try!

Specs taken from the website:

- WEIGHT: (KG) 10.2

Friday, January 13, 2017

6 Tips to write better song lyrics 2/2


3) Rhyme
: I like to write my lyrics as a poetry, respecting rhythm, metrics and rhyme, because I think this helps a lot the song groove and adds a pleasant added value to the track. Rhyme can come in many forms, from the easiest AA, BB, CC... To more complex, concatenated structures. Check out the image on top for some illustrous examples, but there are countless others around. If you struggle in coming up with a good rhyme check out the RhymeZone website: you provide a word and it will list you a serie of words that rhyme with that, ordered by the number of syllables.

4) Alternate/repeat: rhythm is created by an alternancy between downbeat and upbeat, a sound that calls and a sound that answer, for example the alternancy between kick and snare in an Ac/Dc song, and the same technique is used conceptually also in lyrics.
There are songs in which we have for example an alternancy between one voice and a choir, e.g. "My Generation" of The Who. To insert elements that rotate, repeat or alternate inside a lyric can help creating dynamic and be memorized more easily, like adding a phrase that repeats in each verse, for example in the song "These Days" by the Foo Fighters.

5) The point of view: like when writing a novel, the point of view is fundamental. The lyric can be descriptive, like a documentary with a voice of a narrator describing the events from outside, or in first person. About the time, the lyrics can describe something happened in the past ("I used to love her", by Guns n'Roses) that will happen in the future ("I'll be there", by Megadeth), or something happening right now ("Unforgiven" by Metallica). Obviously also point of view and time can change during the song, as in the song "SK8R BOI" by Avril Lavigne: in the verses she alternates between a third person description of the male and female protagonists, then she enters the lyric first person towards the end.

6) The mood: there are bands which have made a career out of depressive songs, such as Sentenced, others which made a career only based on happy songs, like Aqua, some band speaks exclusively of love, some exclusively of rage and hate, and so on. The mood reflects what the band feels towards its art and often adapts to what a certain market requires, but if we see the greatest bands in the world, we will notice that at least most of them are the ones which haven't let the expectations of the market or the label to corner them: nobody is angry, depressed or happy all the time, and it takes a lot of personality to be able to express yourself in multiple registers, such as System of a Down that can range from a sad song like "Lonely day", to a comedic song like "Violent Pornography". Other bands that have produced high quality songs moving elegantly through a very wide range of moods and registers are MuseQueen and Aerosmith among the others. Our suggestion is, if you care about the lasting of your inspiration, to not let yourself be clustered into a single mood but to be free of moving where your heart takes you without limitations: the quality of your music will benefit greatly.

Hope this was helpful! Have fun in writing great music!


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Saturday, January 7, 2017

6 Tips to write better song lyrics 1/2

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we will talk about a very sensitive topic in songwriting: lyrics.

Lyrics are the story we are telling with our song, the message we are trying to transmit, therefore we should carefully choose what to say and how to say it, because often they are the most important thing in a song (as Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters once said "white people dance to lyrics"), and while on some music genre they can be also not the focus of the song (for example in certain death metal song like Children of Bodom, which doesn't even write them in the booklet and in an interview the singer was even surprised when someone asked him about them because he consider them completely secundary), more often than not they will decide the difference between a succesful song and one that will be completely overlooked (for example in pop, rock or rap music).

In all honesty there is no way to help you inventing from scratch a lyric, you should dig deep inside your thoughts and find some original idea, something impactful and that would be an interesting subject of discussion, or maybe even some good old commonplace like unrequited love, but seen from a fresh perspective, because there is nothing worse than listening to something boring or heard one thousand times. Another good source of inspiration are films, comics, videogames, books and everything else that can feed our thoughts. I, personally, like to write layered lyrics: I start with a deep concept, some aspect of my life or some message that I consider to be important, and then I build on top of it another layer of science fiction or fantasy or whatever, so that who listens can stop at the surface and enjoy the cinematic images, and if they want they can dig deeper to get to the profound meaning.

What we can help you with is the methodic-technical side, with this list of 6 tips to write lyrics:

1) Take a look at the structure of the song: how many verses? How many choruses? How many bridges or special? And lay down your story distributing it through the song as you are writing a novel: an initial part, a central part, maybe a twist that surprises the listener, a conclusion.
The song doesn't have to be long, you just need to be good in managing the economy of words, getting the message as powerful, fast and efficiently as possible, without watering it down.

2) Metrics. If you want to keep your song flowing and euphonic you must be perfect with the timing and the number of syllables, because otherwise the song will lose the groove. This is fundamental in lyrics intensive songs like rap, but also in pop or rock songs, in which lyrics are much shorter, the vocals must blend with the music and the groove, not kill it, if we don't want to sound amateur.
We can adapt to the rhythm below, using quadruplets, triplets or any other type of quantization required by the song, or adapt the flow to the words, the important is to sit gracefully on the beat. There are surely artists which defy the metrics rules, like the spoken word singers, or those who prefer to sing in a more theatrical way, but our suggestion is, before arriving to that, to master perfectly the art of singing on time.


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