Sunday, April 24, 2016

DrScythe - working, no blog today

In case you follow this blog: there won't be a post today (except this excuse). I am just too busy working on the two tracks that I will release next friday. Which will be the "half-a-year" mark so that I want to sum up the first six months and what I took away from the project so far.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

DrScythe Recording Blog - Part IV: My mixing philosophy



I wanted to do a blog about EQing and then noticed that I didn’t explain my approach to mixing so far. And that would leave you with my tips for using EQs without knowing why I do use them in this way. So my mixing philosophy boils down to this:

Keep it as natural as possible but do whatever necessary to make it sound good to your ears.

This leads to several consequences.
1. My mixes will never sound as modern as most of the others.
This is pretty obvious. Modern mixes sound everything but natural and are pushed to the max in terms of usage of limiters especially the releases of mainstream artists or the big players of some genres. Of course this doesn’t apply to every major release…but the ‘plastic sound’ as I tend to call it is a standard at the moment. A standard I chose to avoid for matters of taste. I know that some of my songs would profit from an overly processed sound (Calling The X for example) but I prefer to keep learning how to achieve a fat but also warm sound that keeps the character of the originally recorded tracks. It seems that gluing the tracks together is a little bit more complicated this way but I will keep on learning and improving.

2. My mixes will never have a constant volume.
If there is a more quiet part in a song I won’t use the tricks of modern loudness to eliminate the overall dynamic of it. What you might have noticed is that I am very cautious when it comes to compression so far and that’s something I am working on. Controlling the dynamics on track level so that I don’t need much compression on the sum. I think it’s becoming better. Compression works a little counterintuitive so that I think most of the people will struggle a little with that when beginning to mix music.

3. Very few effects.
Well…I had a POD XT Pro, POD X3 Live, POD HD and a Vetta II Combo for years and used all the effects extremely rarely. I like effects when just fiddling around but not really in a finished song. A little chorus on an arpeggio here and there and the almighty duo of reverb and delay. But that’s it. Bit crusher, phaser, flanger, ring modulators…nice to play with but nothing more to me so far. We’ll see…I am not against them by default (although ‘natural’ seems to suggest no effects) but it’s basically just not my style.

4. I don’t care about competitive loudness.
Seriously. I just don’t care. I don’t think it’ll ever have to compete on airplay so I can just keep it at a normal level.

5. You wouldn’t normally…too bad.


You wouldn’t pan the drums from the drummer’s point of view – I do because it sounds and feels right to me. One of the most important things I took away from reading and watching interviews with well-known mixing engineers: they really don’t care about things like ‘normal’ or ‘regularly’. They are called if someone wants their style of mixing applied. Try out their tricks and tips, try out the standards but be honest with yourself and ‘mix it your way’ if that’s what you want the music to sound like.

6. But your mixes sound really cheap so far.
What a surprise I am still a beginner. I am not even able to achieve the things I want to but that’s part of the whole learning process. And instead of ruining other people’s hard work I am practicing with my own and will be able to easily remix everything later on.

Well this was a shorter one as I am busy getting two tracks out to you this month. And I am pretty sure that only few will like both songs. And owls won't like either of them.
Guaranteed displeasure if you're an owl


So long,
DrScythe

Saturday, April 9, 2016

DrScythe Reviews III - Kuassa Cerberus



Intro
You could ask yourself: why even bother with bass amp modeling? Often enough the bass is recorded and mixed as a DI track. Even live some bass player don’t use an amp. So why spend time on creating a versatile piece of software for basses? Then on the other hand there are still a lot of bass amps out there so there are also a lot of people who’d like an amplified bass sound. Like me. And I am so happy that the team of Kuassa decided to create this. I know that giving away the final verdict at the beginning is kind of pointless but I would like to make something clear at the beginning: I bought this and I am just so satisfied with it that I wanted the world to know about it. So here we go…


I decided to do this review with the help of the screenshot so can easily see what I am writing about.

Functionalities


1. I’d call this the ‘management panel’. Input, Input level, Presets, Gate, Quality-Switch – you can see them so I won’t list everything in detail here. I love the option to compare presets and the master CAB-switch. While it works I’d say that the preset window is somewhat clumsy in terms of handling but I don’t know any better examples (or at least none with other flaws) so I’ll let it pass. Personally I tried the Dry-Wet-option once but to be honest: it only makes sense if you really change the sound via Cerberus.

2. Now it’s time for what you could control on the real thing (if it were the pictured rack device). VALVE gives you an extremely rich and fat tone and if you crank up gain it will slowly begin to become something on the border between heavy saturation and overdrive. It will keep an extremely low punch if you don’t cut out the bass via EQ or Cabs what is really great. FET behaves a lot more, well, behaved. It’s clean to hell and back. It can feel a little sterile at times but you have to force that. It’s a lot more flexible if you’re willing to use all the other controls (including those on your bass). DRIVE is self-explanatory. It features a slightly generic sound but it’s usable. Personally I would put TSE B.O.D. in front of VALVE or FET and call it a day. COMPRESS does is job subtlety but effective. You can use it as a nice support up to noon and from there it acts more and more like a ‘drunk bassist’s best friend’. I don’t use CONTOUR myself a lot. It feels like a scoop at the mids which cleans up a little but I prefer shaping my tone with the EQs.

3. What more of an EQ-section do you need? LO effectively controls the bass its working point was chosen very well. The Boost really adds a lot of punch. I wouldn’t use it unless your bass sounds really thin or you want to have fun. But for recording tasks it just blows up the whole bass too much. Maybe if you’re using a pick and a pickup close to the bridge. LO MID and HI MID will help you massively adjusting Cerberus to your liking or manipulating the sound to quite extreme settings, especially when using the FET mode. HI and its boost option can be used for slightly dull basses and I really like to use those when playing with my Epiphone T-Bird Pro. Especially while recording because I can remove too bright sounds quite easily but not recover them from a rendered but dull signal. Excellent work here!

4. To answer the introductory question of No 3: A graphic EQ! I am not particularly fond of those but after I tried a Mesa Mark V I know that they can be really helpful. In this case I have to say: I don’t need it. It works fine but I am happy with what the regular EQ does and so I never switch it on but for reviewing purposes. If you want to know something specific about it you might want to check it out yourself as you can download Cerberus from kuassa.com

5. CAB and MIC selection and a MIX bar. I like most of the included cabs and mics although I mainly use the 8x10 one (which most probably is a SVT-cab-simulation). This section is quite unspectacular but functional so…that’s it. Better to hear some stuff later on.

6. The mics can be positioned freely although one can hear the changes quite intensely. So I think it would’ve been better to just offer 3 or 4 distances and the two angles. Maybe a choice between cone and cap but that’s all you need. But it feels and looks nice. So no complaints here ;)

7. If you don’t like the included cabs you can load yours here. There’s also a Limiter and a Master Output Level. They all work perfectly fine. There’s not much to say about here because I don’t know which IRs you would want to use and I only checked the function once.

Sound
So now over to some samples. I used my father’s 1974 Framus S-380 (Jazz Bass) and my own C-tuned Epiphone T-Bird Pro. Settings were as shown.

First the pure DIs


Preset01



Preset02



Preset03



Preset04



Preset05





Preset06



Preset07



Preset08







Conclusion
I love it. Do I need to say more? It’s really fantastic. VALVE, slight compression, Contour off, EQ adjusted to T-Bird or Framus, 8x10, done. Pure fat and warm growl.

Overview
Pro
Neutral
Con
Sounds (!!!)
Preset management
Nothing
Ease of use
Drive a little boring

Lots of options
Looks
Available as Standalone
Price and value






PS: I used it on every DrScythe-song since 'Destiny':


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

DrScythe Reviews II - D'Angelico EX-SS black'n'gold



Premise
If you haven’t read my review of the D’Angelico EX-SD you might wonder how I got this beautiful guitar. Well, first of all I don’t own it. It was lend to me by FACE - the European distributor for D’Angelico guitars – after my third place was sort of a runner-up in the endorser search over at Germany’s largest musicians community musiker-board.de. When applying for the game you had to name the guitar you’d wish to play in case you win and I instantly loved the EX-SS most. My favorite color was the transparent grey with black hardware. But the classic black’n’gold look of the instrument they send me is a classic for a reason: it looks great…


Links to the endorser search and the German review:


First impressions
Well I had to play Matrjoschka first. Giant box -> guitar box -> guitar case. And there she is. What a beauty. Just lying there elegantly. And there are other types of ‘existing’ in a guitar case for a guitar. I remember my Mockingbird hanging sloppily in her rectangular case. And even the Dean Soltero in its matching case didn’t look so well when being ‘parked’. Even the EX-SS’ little sister the EX-SD lacks this elegance…

I can’t resist no longer and get her out. The neck feels a little weird at first if you expect a pronounced C-shape. It’s a little flattened and actually feels really great. It appears to be slightly wider than usual necks but I didn’t measure (and to be honest: I care about how it feels – not its measurements).
Checking the tuning, strumming an E chord – fantastic! The typical boxy sound of a thinner semi-body but it comes with way more attack and sustain and in general louder than I expected. And way more acoustic touch to it too. The Semi-Hollows I own(ed) so far are/were way quieter and had less attack. This mystery is easily solved when looking at the construction details later. But for now the


Info and built quality
Body - 1.75" Semi-Hollow
Body Shape - Single Cutaway
Top Material -Laminated Flame Maple
Back Material - Laminated Flame Maple
Size - 15"
Pickup - 2 Kent Armstrong Humbuckers
Binding - 5 Ply
Pickguard - Stairstep
Bridge - Tune-O-Matic
Tailpiece - D'Angelico Stairstep
Controls - 2 Volume / 2 Tone / 3 Way Toggle
Tuners - Grover Super Rotomatic
Nut - 1 11/16"
Neck Material - Hard Maple 2-Piece Walnut Center
Scale - 25"
Fretboard Material - Rosewood
Inlay - Mother of Pearl
Output Jack - Switchcraft USA
Case - Deluxe Hard Case
Truss Rod Cover - D'Angelico Stairstep

The overall design is very harmonious. Compared to what’s called ‘Art Deco’ elsewhere the elements (trussrodcover, pickguard, tailpiece, knobs, and tuners) used here are also designed in this style and adding up to the point that I must say: this guitar would look great in the Orient-Express (and I might add that I say that based on a personal experience). 




A very nice detail for lovers of bindings like me: the multiple layers are visible from all sides not just the front. Another point added to the ‘elegance’-list.

Let us now resolve the mystery of the louder sound: there’s not a full sustain block hidden beneath the top but a smaller one just to support the bridge which otherwise couldn’t be mounted with screws. So more sound, less feedback resistance? Nope, it’s just as resistant as my Ibanez AS-53. Both not quite on par with solid body guitars but there are several examples for using hollow bodies (Killing Joke anyone?).

The built quality is excellent. Frets, nut – overall setup is well done. The only thing I would mildly criticize is the lack of strap locks. If you spend 1,5k on a guitar you want it secured don’t you? I install those very cheap (guitar) life savers on all my guitars and they never let me down so far. Back to the good things: the included case. Well made, basic cable, key and tool included. Nice.





Handling
As I already mentioned the neck profile let’s begin there. The flat C should suit anyone who’s not after a pronounced V or an Ibanez-style Wizard neck. Well rounded edges keep it very comfortable even for my short fingers. The whole instrument lies good on the lap and also hangs well balanced on the strap. I guess the larger body works against the pull of the headstock in both positions. The knobs and the toggle feel very good. Just the right amount of resistance. As usual with this type of setup on a larger guitar the knobs for the bridge are slightly more far away than what I would call comfortable and on the way to the bridge volume you’re running into the pickguard. Not too much of a problem for me but there are people who’re using the controls constantly and those might want to check this out before buying if they want to keep the pickguard on there.
Author’s note: I use 13-56 strings for standard tuning so the 10-46 which are used here feel like rubber to me. But as this is not an issue caused by the instrument itself I didn’t want to describe it as a part of the handling





Sound
I already stated that it sounds way more acoustic and louder than my Ibanez AS-53 or other Semi-Hollows I played and owned. The notes quickly ‘bloom’ to their fullest and then split up into overtones and a slowly decreasing base note. The Kent Armstrong pickups translate this very well balanced sound perfectly. Just like the EX-SD the bridge pickup seems a little too tame but with modern amplifiers that won’t be a problem in terms of achievable gain and could even help with keeping details like the picking attack when using high gain. Although the pickups suit the guitar very well I’d love to hear the EX-SS with some Bareknuckle Mississippi Queens or other Humbucker-sized P90s.


I wanted to use the guitar in a song right away and during the recording it just got the name ‘Lucy’. It wasn’t a conscious decision it just came to my mind and the damage was done…
Here’s the song:


Conclusion
D’Angelico says that the EX-SS shines ‘when kept clean or boosted with overdrive and is ‘ideal for R&B, jazz, rock and all the nameless places in between’. That’s right. And you can also use high gain for fat leads or metal stuff. It sounds great. Although you couldn’t tell by the looks it’s an incredibly flexible guitar if the amplification of your choice is flexible enough. If you like this guitar you will most probably be able to use it in any context especially since ‘music’ isn’t about using the correct gear but about the musician being inspired and implementing his ideas. And to me ‘Lucy’ does this perfectly. I’m going to miss her…