Recording yourself could help unlock your best playing yet. Plus, it can help with that cabin fever.
When I signed my first songwriting deal with a publisher, I recklessly spent $2,250 (most of my advance) on a Roland VS-880 home recording rig. Today, the VS-880 can be found on eBay for under $100. And yet, in spite of the brutal depreciation, this dinosaur-turd of a recorder remains one of the best investments I’ve made. Until I began recording and looking at my music under a microscope, I had no idea that I was a terrible musician.
Okay, maybe not terrible, but I had problems with fundamentals that would have forever undermined my work. It’s the equivalent of building a house on sand. The chief problem was that I wasn’t good enough to recognize what was wrong: You can’t fix a problem you don’t know you have.
Music is supposed to be fun, and focusing on my deficiencies is not my idea of a good time. Ideally, when we’re jamming alone or with people, we stay in the moment, enjoying the process, not critically evaluating every note. Even if you’re focusing intently on every note, it’s impossible to get an accurate read on the quality of a performance when you’re in it. Maybe your mix is off, maybe you’re in a bad mood or too buzzed, or not paying attention, or can’t hear how your part works with what others are playing. Live, a crap guitar player can fool themselves and others into thinking they play well, but recordings don’t lie.
Until I bought my recorder, I’d played in a lot of bands where we raced to the finish, picking up steam on every chorus. Our goal was to squeeze as many notes as possible into every bar. Our collective timing was, well, timeless. The first time I built a track, it was apparent that the click track was holding me back, or at least trying to. Rushing and dragging with a band felt effortless; locking in with a relentless steady beat felt awkward. Every flam and clam became apparent during the painful playback. Recording made me more aware of the pocket, and that’s 80 percent of it.
The good news is, it’s never easier to record yourself, as we all carry a digital recorder and video camera at all times thanks to the ubiquitous cell phone. I usually prop my phone up onstage and video a few songs during gigs and listen back on the drive home. There have been some depressing surprises. There were nights when I thought I was killing it, yet the playback confirmed that I sounded like tennis shoes in the dryer, groovelessly banging away. Other times, it sounds surprisingly good.
We’re spending more time in our homes than ever, thanks to COVID-19. The next time you’re wondering how to ward off cabin fever, grab your guitar and a timekeeper. (You can download a metronome app for free, or go online to https://metronom.us/en/, or fire up the drum machine.) Play whatever comes to mind for 10 minutes. Once you’re in the groove, try filming yourself playing so you can hear if you’re locked. If you come up with something cool, post it on Instagram and share it with the world.
Ready to take it up a notch? Jump into the world of multitrack recording. There are literally dozens of affordable interfaces that allow you to record on the computer you probably already own. Or you can buy a stand-alone recorder, much more advanced than my old Roland VS-880, for as little as $150.
Multitracking a song by yourself is one of the best things you can do to improve your musicianship. For the most part, guitar players make poor bass players, because we have trouble keeping it simple. When you’re tracking a bass part, you learn that those complex bass riffs you played alone do not groove as hard as a simple part. You’ll also discover that simple guitar parts played well sound better than most intricate riffs. Recording from the ground up gives you carpenter-like skills to build a strong foundation to support vocals … because as much as we love guitar, for most popular music, it’s all about the vocals. Most importantly, recording alone taught me to serve the song.
Gaining that skill set earned me another pub deal, a couple song cuts, a few ill-fated record deals, and all my TV work, which allowed me to upgrade my studio. When I bought my first recorder, I had limited musician skills and no engineering skills, (I still engineer at a 7th-grade level), but through recording myself, I improved enough to make a living in music. You can, too. No matter where you are on your music journey, you should be recording. It just makes you better, and it’s fun, which ultimately is why we play.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.