Saturday, May 19, 2018

Free guitar tablature and notation software: Tuxguitar

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about a free, open source songwriting tool: TuxGuitar!

Tuxguitar is a notation, tablature writing and songwriting tool, similar to the more famous Guitar Pro, but free and open source.
The software lets the user write in staff format (the one for classical music) and in tablature format (for guitars and bass), letting us choose tuning, number of strings and so on, and it features a real time midi engine that allows multitrack playback, so that the user can write also complex, multi instrument songs, using a variety of General Midi sounds (drums, classical guitar, distorted guitar, orchestra and so on).

The software lets us visualize a guitar keyboard or a regular keyboard and see the notes played in real time, import and export midis, and export the music sheet in a variety of formats, from to ascii, to pdf, letting us also import Guitar Pro files (but not the latest version ones).

I come from a generation of musicians that still likes to share the songs with the other band members by writing a drum track with a VstI and tracking on top of it the guitar and bass parts, and handing them also the tabs exported via pdf with this tool (here is a guide on how to make rough mixes super fast), but there is a new generation of guitarists that writes songs directly on these notation tools and hands the files to the other band members in order to give them directly the tabs and notations of all the instruments, using the integrated sequencer to create a song structure by copying and pasting the various song parts.
For some of these guys using a software like Tuxguitar is faster, more complete and easier to share, and probably it is the most rational solution.

Recording the guitar and bass tracks, on the other hand, gives us a clearer vision of what we can do and what we cannot, and the risk of not recording real instruments is to write parts that are completely beyond the musicians skills, so it's important always to keep in mind the band members when writing their part, or letting them write the part on their own.

Finally it's important to add that a drum track exported in midi format from Tuxguitar can be imported in any Daw and used with a Drum VstI, if someone feels more comfortable in writing it with the notation tool instead of the piano roll.

Thumbs up!

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Review: Schecter Jeff Loomis JL-7

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are talking about one of the most popular 7 strings guitars on the market for metal: the Schecter JL 7 Jeff Loomis!
Schecter is a legendary american brand that counts several artists on its roster (The Cure, Avenged Sevenfold, Abbath, Type 0 Negative, Keith Merrow and so on), and that has the core of its production on rock-metal oriented guitars, basses and related accessories, and it has started producing instruments in 1976: the company went through a series of highs and lows, and today there is an American headquarter and a Japanese one (the latter one controlled by Esp) that are two separate companies which shares the same brand.

Jeff Loomis instead is one of the most influential extreme guitarists / guitar heroes of the 90s and early 2000s, one of the few artists that succeded in mixing shred, great melodies and heavy, articulate riffing with a tasteful songwriting, as guitarist of Nevermore, Arch Enemy, Soilwork (as a session player), Sanctuary and other projects. Basically some of the best bands in modern heavy music.

The union between Schecter and Jeff Loomis has produced one of the few signature guitars that doesn't feel like a signature guitar (like a Les Paul), that has enough character to break out from the niche of the fanbase and be adopted by a broader audience, due to its high playability and features.
The Schecter JL-7 is a seven strings guitar with body in swamp ash and a baritone (25,6 inches) maple neck with cross inlays, it has locking tuners, signature active pickups (the Seymour Duncan Blackout Jeff Loomis) and comes with a hipshot hardtail bridge or with a floyd rose.
The neck is particularly interesting, because it's a set neck guitar with easy access to the higher frets (which are 24), and the shape is "ultra thin C", with a radius of 16", which means extremely flat and shred-friendly.

In terms of playability the guitar is quite heavy (some source says 4.5kg) and the neck is very long, so it takes some time to get acquainted to, but the fretboard is just perfect, the build quality is very good and so is the hardware.
The sound is just impressive (even in the earlier models, which used to come with EMG 707 pickups): it's thick, but has a strong midrange capable of poking through very dense mixes, and it's very reliable both in studio and on stage.
If you will come across one don't miss the chance to play this guitar, you will find out why it's one of the most appreciated 7 string guitars for metal, and probably you'll end up buying one :)

Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the website:

- Tuners: Schecter Locking

- Fretboard: Maple

- Neck Material: Maple/Walnut Multi-ply

- Inlays: Metal Crosses

- Side Dot Markers: Glow In The Dark

- Scale: 26.5” (673mm)

- Neck Shape: Ultra Thin ‘C’

- Thickness: @ 1st Fret- .748” (19mm)/ @ 12th Fret- .787” (20mm)

- Frets: 24 X-Jumbo Stainless Steel

- Fretboard Radius: 16” (406mm)

- Nut Width: 1.889” (48mm)

- Body Colors: Vampyre Red Satin (VRS)
- Arched Top

- Set-Neck w/Ultra Access
- Body Material: Swamp Ash

- Bridge: Hipshot Hardtail (.125) w/ String Thru Body

- Volume/3-Way Switch

- Bridge Pickup: Seymour Duncan 'Jeff Loomis' Signature Active

- Neck Pickup: Seymour Duncan 'Jeff Loomis' Signature Active

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

What is MIDI? a guide for dummies

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
I have realized that during those years we have been talking a lot about MIDI, but we have actually never made an article with a brief explaination of what it is: here it is.

First off: MIDI is an acronym: it stands for MUSICAL INSTRUMENT DIGITAL INTERFACE, and it is the standard protocol for interaction between electronic music instruments, and between them and a computer.
This standard was created in the '80, but somehow it got so popular and widespread that still today it's the standard for electronic instruments (and not only, also for routing the signals and creating patches that controls also analog devices, through a dedicated hardware, or for controlling lights in a concert etc.).
Some of the biggest perks of this protocol that granted such a long lasting success are in facts the reliability, the lightweight of the data and the low production costs, that allows every hardware and software producer to work with it, also because it's supported by an infinity of freeware tools.

So the basic concept here is that MIDI is a Standard: no other standard has been able to replace it so far (even if the technology has advanced and in theory Midi could have been improved in several ways), and at the beginning in the early 80s there has also been a sort of a war similar to the Vhs vs Betamax one, but the Midi standard got the upper hand and was adopted by the majority of music instrument producers (Yamaha, Roland, Kawai and so on).

Without the need of getting too technical the connection is a 5 poles DIN cable, which was commonly used in the early 80s, only 3 of which are actually used by the Midi, and these cables are able to connect to the serial ports in 3 ways: In (to send the signal to a Midi device), Out (to send out the informations), Thru (to allow the device to send its signal to the In port of another Midi device).

The Midi data that flows through these ports contain the informations that must be received from a device like a Synth, a Sampler or a Sequencer, which can be hardware (for example an electronic keyboard or a synth) or software (a computer), and the information is contained in a Midi File, a file that supports up to 16 channels (meaning that can send at the same time notes that can be played for example by up to 16 virtual instruments at the same time). Modern Daws can play hundreds of Midi tracks at the same time, using as many virtual instruments as the computer can support, leading to an infinite amount of sound possibilities that until few years ago was unimaginable.
A Midi file can also send for example the lyrics of a song synchronized with a music, and it is a standard widely used also for Karaoke, or it can be used to control the lights in a concert.

A Midi can be played in real time through a Midi controller (for example a keyboard), or it can be written in a Daw via a notation software (the best Daws allows also to manipulate it modifying the variables from a minimum value of 1 to a maximum of 127, creating automations and articulations), or it can also be programmed in a sequencer.

For more informations about the Midi standard you can visit the official website, which has an infinity of resources for those who want to go more technical or in general to have more knowledge about this formidable tool.

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Review: Mesa Boogie Quad Preamp

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review a classic Mesa Boogie preamp (now discontinued but still quite easy to find in the used market), that has appeared on countless hard rock and heavy metal albums. from the late '80s Metallica to the early Dream Theater, Red hot Chili Peppers and so on: The Mesa Boogie Quad Preamp!

The Mesa Quad is an all tube preamp (it has 8 12AX7 Tubes) that is based on an expanded version of the Mesa Mark III circuitry, and it features two channels and six modes: Rhythm Channel 1, Lead
Channel 1, Rhythm Channel 2, Lead Channel 2, Eq1 on the active channel, Eq2 on the active channel.
Each channel has a separate graphic and parametric equalization that can be activated or deactivated with a switch, doubling the amounts of tones achievable, a boost function and a reverb.

Each channel has also a "bright switch" and a "deep switch, which emphasize respectively the high and the low end, adding more sparkle or more thump.
On the back, besides the classic inputs, outputs and effect loop we can find a MIDI switching out, quite rare for that time, and an equally rare recording output which simulates the sound of a Mesa 4x12 cabinet, to be used straight in the recording interface.

The sound is typical Mesa Boogie: cleans are very clean and dynamic, overdrive and crunches are dark and fat, with a lot of growl and low end, and actually the graphic equalizer is a unique feature that has been a Mesa prerogative for years, that adds a huge amount of flexibility in terms of the tone we can achieve: the classic early Metallica sound, called "V shaped" because it had the mids scooped, comes from this graphic equalizer, that was present in Mesa amps since the Mark II.

Today, looking at this preamp that was considered back then top-notch for any guitarist, we can't help but think that the world of tube guitar amplifiers hasn't evolved that much: it has expanded touching territories of solid state and digital that doesn't sound like crap (unlike the early models), but fundamentally what people looks for in their quest for the best tone it's the same: a well crafted tube preamp with a lot of flexibility and tone shaping functions, plus all the goodies that the guitarists of any moment in history needs.
This unit still today could be sold as a new product and be credible, plus it has a legacy of legendary albums in which it has been used that has very few equals, the only downside could be the weight, that is considerable, and a not total MIDI integration, but besides that it is still a killer preamp, which still represents one of the best gems Mesa Boogie has ever produced.

Thumbs up!


- two channels, six modes

- eight 12AX7 preamp tubes

- reverb

- both a parametric and a 5 band graphic equalization per channel

- bright and deep switches

- recording out

- based on the Mesa Boogie Mark III circuit

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Difference between Synth and Sampler

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
In this article we are going to see the differences between a Synth and a Sampler, since sometimes there's confusion between these tools.

Let's start by saying that both these pieces of software (or hardware) are sound sources, and they can achieve also fairly similar results (e.g. a Strings ensemble sound): it's the process to get to the result that is different.

The earliest synthesizers were first introduced at the end of 19th century, but they got their moment of glory around 60 years later, with progressive bands like Pink Floyd or Van Der Graaf Generator, and they became increasingly popular until the '80s, period in which they were present in almost any music production.
A synthesizer (or synth) generates a noise waveform (there can be several according to their shape: sine, square, sawtooth, triangle..., each one with different characteristics) through one or more oscillators (which vary from synth to synth) and then applies a serie of processors (filters, modulations and so on) to shape it, so that the starting noise is twisted and turned until it sounds like a snare, a violin, any other instrument or a completely virtual sound that has nothing to do with any real world instrument.

Samplers obtain similar results with a totally different approach: instead of taking the original noise and, like a piece of stone, carving it until it sounds similar to the tone we have in mind, a sampler starts from the end: it takes a pre existing sound (a sample, like a piano key) and applies it, through a serie of techniques, to a keyboard or to any kind of sampler device we want.
The first prototype of a sampler was the Mellotron, which was a keyboard with every key tied to a tape mechanism which would reproduce a sound when hit.
Samplers can be considered as an evolution of synthesizers considering that the technology used in the early models were called "sample based synthesis", meaning that they were applying the tone shaping criteria of synths to a sample, instead of a noise.
Samplers became very popular in the '80s, when the producers discovered they could replace a drummer with drum samples obtaining a very fresh and specific type of electronic drum sound that still today dominates in pop and dance music, but it would be unfair to reduce them to that: with the recent technology, samplers are today capable of pre-loading extremely heavy sound libraries (we're talking about hundreds of GB of samples) containing any kind of articulation and variation, allowing us to create for example complex orchestrations to a level of detail that makes them completely impossible to tell from a real one, for an untrained ear.
In conclusion, what started with a single sample (due to the computing restrictions of that time), for example a single piano key that was applied, shifting the pitch, to the whole keyboard, is today a very heavy collection of many samples ("multisampling"), often with different dynamics in order to change sample also according to how hard or soft the key is pressed.

Are today synths still relevant?
OF COURSE THEY ARE! Besides the '80s revival that is dominating today's pop scene, there are certain vintage sounds, certain synthetic textures that can be achieved only by a synth, or if it's in a sampler, the sample is still created obviously with a synth.
The main difference between synths and samplers therefore is the application.
If we need a realistic sound, something that needs to be microphoned in the real world, a sampler is fundamental, while if we need a tone that sounds synthetic, computer generated, good for a science fiction soundtrack, a synth is the right choice, and luckily internet is full of Vst choices for every pocket, both free and paid, with literally an ocean of sounds to dive in.

I hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Review: Marshall 8008 power amp

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review a solid state power amp, one of the cheapest and easiest to find in the used market: the Marshall 8008!

This unit, now discontinued but still very popular in the used market, is often referred as one of the safest "entry level" if you need a cheap (around 100$), light and very reliable rack power amp. 
The Valvestate 8008 has enough power (80w per channel) to be used both at home and on stage, and it can drive a stereo cab or two cabs at the same time, giving us a good flexibility. 

The technology used is Valvestate, the second, (after AVT) Marshall attempt in recreating with a solid state circuitry the response of a tube amp, and the switch in the back activates this feature or leaves the power amp linear; when the switch is on the power amp adds some extra harmonics in the mid range and tries to push the overall sound slightly to the "Marshall territory", but the difference is very subtle, so most of the people just leaves it on to have a final tone less hi-fi (unless you're using a digital modeling preamp, in which case it could create conflicts, since the modeling preamp will already have its internal tube emulation).
Considering how the technology evolved with Marshall amps (the Mg serie), it is safe to say that the Valvestate is the best version of tube emulation ever developed by the brand.

I have bought this unit used several years ago and it has been part of my rack for some year before switching to a tube head, and I must say the power amp did its job, it was worth the money and it was extremely solid and reliable, but the overall sound was very "transistor", and trying my preamp in a tube poweramp made me understand how important are tubes in a power amp: most of the tone characteristics I love in a tube amp comes from the tube power amp, rather then from the preamplifier (but this is just my personal opinion based on empyric tests, I will make a more scientific analysis in the future).

Would I suggest it today as a power amp for a main rig? Probably not, unless you need a very inexpensive 1 rack unit power amp, but if you have some specific need in terms of weight, hi-fi sound or space, this can still be an interesting choice to evaluate.


- 2 Channels Stereo, 80w each.

- 2 volume knobs

- on/off switch

- 2 input switch

- 2 output switch (4 Ohm)

- linear/valvestate switch

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

6 Tips to customize the look of Presonus Studio One

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
This time we're going to make an addition to our Project Preparation Article focusing on how to improve-customize the look of our daw, and in this case we will use the Presonus Studio One interface, but most of these changes can be performed in any commercial Daw.

1) From the file brower on the right go on Files->Colours and from there you can drag and drop the various skins in the tracklist view to change the appearence of the Daw. You can change drastically the colour code with these presets.

2) Options->General->Appearence: from here you can create your own colour style using controls similar to those in Photoshop: Hue, Saturation, Luminance, Contrast and so on, you can also save your own preset.

3) Options->Advanced->Editing tab: from here you can tick or untick "draw events translucent" to make the events transparent and see the grid behind (good for editing).

4) Options->Advanced->Editing tab: from here you can tick or untick "don't show event names", to remove the file name label from the events. By ticking this the look of our project will become suddenly much cleaner.

5) In the console area (in the lower part), if you go to the far left part there is a wrench icon, if you click there you can tick the box "Colorize channel Strips" in order to turn the colour of each channel into the one of the channel label; this is very useful when the project is very large, to find faster the track we need. This same function can be used for the tracks in the Tracklist View by clicking on the wrench icon on the top left corner and ticking "colorize track controls".

6) In the lower right corner of the tracklist view there is a slider. This slider increase and decreases the size of the waveform without touching the gain, so you can see better the transient.

I hope this was helpful!

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