august 2009

We review German manufacturer Lehle''s newest switching boxes, and discover just how versatile they can be.

Lehle (pronounced Lee-La) based out of Germany, manufactures switchers based on the needs not just of rock stars, but the everyday musician. Sleek design, solid powder-coated steel enclosures, large, cool LEDs and innovative new switching technology give these pedals instant allure. Not only will they not interfere with your tone; they may actually improve it. Founder Burkhard Georg Lehle has built his switchers from the ground up, filling a much needed gap in the music equipment industry. [For more about Lehle’s designs and company history, see our Builder Profile “Switch Hitter” in PG’s August, 2008 issue.] While the runaway hit of Lehle’s SGoS line of switchers is the Dual, I wanted to take a look at the D.Loop and the 3at1 first, to see what they brought to the lineup. But before we get to them, let’s look at Lehle’s new Sunday Driver.

Sunday Driver
The Lehle Sunday Driver is a compact, no-frills preamp providing two modes of operation; you can use it as a buffer or booster. The Driver mode amplifies the signal path from your guitar to your amp, mixer or computer. This is to strengthen a weak signal caused by routing your guitar through pedals, and it offers true tone and clarity. The second mode, or the Sunday mode, multiplies the input impedance by four, and is designed to bring out subtle tones and warmth that were previously unheard. Running the Sunday Driver between my guitar and amp using gold Monster cables, I was surprised by how well defined my tone was—my signal was stronger and clearer. At first, I couldn’t believe my ears, so I plugged my guitar directly into the amp. To my surprise, the notes just sounded dead by comparison with the unmodified signal boost provided by the Sunday Driver. Plugging it back in, I could hear that my ears weren’t deceiving me; my overall tone was better.

Switching to the second, or Sunday, mode my signal was not only louder, but even more defined, providing more sustain from each note played. The guitar signal remained clear throughout the process, and no distortion was ever present, even when turning the +15dB buffer all the way clockwise. I tried this out on two guitars with different pickup arrangements— one guitar with a Rio Grande Dirty Harry single-coil (bridge position) pickup and a Fender Jumbo humbucker (neck), the second with two Seymour Duncan humbuckers (bridge and neck). The results were the same, no matter what combination of pickups; both guitars sounded better than they had without the help of the Sunday Driver.

My only qualm with this preamp is that I wish it were in pedal form. The switch is between the 1/4” jacks at the back of the unit, which doesn’t allow the user to switch between the two modes by foot. Maybe an auxiliary pedal input could be provided as a feature for guitarists who may want this option. I presume Lehle designed this preamp with the idea that you would find your setting and just leave it, and maybe that’s why there isn’t a bypass mode. No problem here, because after hearing what the Sunday Driver can do, there would be no reason to turn it off.

Buy if...
you're looking to boost your guitar signal through a pedal chain, or just looking for a great preamp.
Skip if...
you need a preamp that can be controlled via footswitch.

Street $190 - Lehle Gitarrentechnik -

D.Loop SGoS
The D.Loop is part of Lehle’s SgoS, or Second Generation of Switching, line. All SGoS pedals are fully MIDI compatible with each other. They can be easily synced with other Lehle SGoS pedals and still keep their own settings. The D.Loop provides an In/Out and two separate Send/Returns. Also provided is a buffer switch with volume, which provides a +12dB boost. You’re also provided with three separate, fully programmable switches, three bright LEDs for status indicators, and program switches. By default, the Buffer switch is for the buffer, Loop A switch for loop A, Loop B switch for loop B—which may make it look like less than the highly versatile pedal it is. But looks can be deceiving: each switch can be programmed to any combination of Loop, A, B or Buffer. Programming this pedal is as simple as pushing a button. I can even imagine changing the programming of the switches between songs, it’s that easy. And as compact as this thing is, it saves you from buying a larger rackmount switcher that you still need a MIDI controller for. If three switches is not enough, the D.Loop SGoS can be controlled with separate MIDI controller so you can program even more combinations, and it still retains its settings on its own.

The D.Loop is completely silent and clears your signal chain (it sure made my pedals sound better). Plugging a distortion pedal into one loop and a delay into the other, I was able to switch back and forth, or combine the two, with no extra switching hums or sounds, and my volume remained constant throughout switching. If you do have some volume loss between pedals, there is a buffer volume to even things out. Overall, this is an indispensable switcher for any guitarist’s pedalboard setup.
Buy if...
you need to tame an unruly pedalboard and provide yourself with a more versatile way of switching.
Skip if...
you need more Send/Returns (or buy two, and network them together).

Street $370 - Lehle Gitarrentechnik -

3at1 SGoS
The 3at1 SGoS has three separate inputs and two outputs, allowing you to run three separate instruments and 2 amps, or an amp and a tuner. Each switch has three modes. For example, by pressing A once, you route the signal to Output 1, indicated with an orange LED. Press A a second time, and you route the signal to Output 2, indicated by a blue LED. Press A again, and the signal is turned off, indicated by no LED. This works the same for all three switches. Also provided are two potentiometers to reduce gain for the inputs A and B accordingly. This unit does not run both outputs at once, nor will it run more then one instrument input at a time. The 3at1 SGoS is designed to provide silent switching between instruments, amps and/or a tuner, and does so flawlessly without loss of tone or volume, and in stereo if want to switch between multiple instruments, amps or a tuner with no added switching noise or hum.
Buy if...
you want to switch between multiple instruments, amps or a tuner with no added switching noise or hum.
Skip if...
you don't need to switch between instruments and already had a tuner routed another way—save your money for the Sunday Driver or D.Loop.  

Street $320 - Lehle Gitarrentechnik -

The most exciting feature for me was MIDI syncing the D.Loop and the 3at1 together using a standard stereo cable— that’s right, no MIDI cable required. Networking any combination of Lehle’s SGoS pedals together, including the Dual, is easy to do, even if you have little or no experience with MIDI. Lehle has done all the work already, saving the rest of us from the headaches involved.

I connected the MIDI jack of the D.Loop to the MIDI jack on the 3at1, instantly networking the pedals together, and used both hands to press down on all six switches until the lights went on and off, to let me know I was in program mode. Say you want to have Input A of the 3at1 to use Loop B of the D.Loop. First activate Input A of the 3at1 (the orange LED will light), then press and hold the Loop B program switch until that LED blinks on and off. That’s it; you’re done—Input A is now routed to the D.Loop, and the D.Loop can still be programmed and used on its own.

The Final Mojo
Lehle pedals are high-quality switchers and preamps that provide plenty of versatility and lots of imagination. I’ve never come across gear of this type that offers as much functionality between each and every unit, and with the simplist MIDI programming I’ve ever encountered. These pedals improved my tone and breathed new life into a growing pedalboard setup. I couldn’t stop myself from imagining all the pedal combinations I could get with two D.Loops. I will say that I was a bit overwhelmed by the manual, and didn’t fully understand the capabilites of these units until I watched the video provided on Lehle website. After that, I didn’t even need a manual. Lehle makes some great gear that actually works and is compatible with every guitarist’s setup. And with such an indestructible build, they’re sure to provide years of “cool switching.”

Mitch clues us in on some recording tricks to make your guitar tone sound even more massive.

Bigger is always better. Okay, maybe that sentiment isn’t 100% true, but more times than not when you’re dealing with guitar tracks, you’re looking for the biggest, thickest, punchiest sounds you can get. Here are some suggestions for making your guitar tracks so fat they should appear on The Biggest Loser.

Make it big at the source.
While we can do a lot of magic and reconstructive surgery with plug-ins and other studio tools, it’s a law of nature that the finished result will only be as good as the original source. Get your guitar sounding huge when heard through the amp, in the room. Then, do your best to capture all that corpulent majesty with your microphones—get it down onto tape or hard drive as big as you can, so you have a great foundation to work from. This means choosing the right guitar (with the right pickups, etc.) and the right amp, using the best mic or mics, choosing a full-sounding mic preamp, and so on.

Use the room.
Adding some natural ambiance from a room mic or mic that’s back a few feet from the amp can really increase the sense of size and space in a recording. Record the ambiance mic or mics to separate tracks, so you can blend them in to taste later. Try putting the dry/close-mic’d track on the right side of the mix, and pan the ambiance to the left side (or vice versa).

Double it.
An old studio trick is to record a part, then go back and record the exact same part, with the exact same guitar tone, onto a new track, so you end up with two nearly identical versions of the same thing. When you mix those two tracks—either panned left and right or layered right on top of each other in the stereo field—the small timing, tone, and pitch differences between the two tracks result in a much bigger sound than either track by itself. Some producers like to add even more doubled tracks—making three, four, or even more passes on each part—but in my experience, you quickly reach a point of diminishing returns, where you sacrifice clarity and presence for a small amount of additional thickness.

Layer different tones.
While doubling parts works great, sometimes you can get even better results if you change the tone of the doubled part. This might mean playing it the second time with a cleaner sound, with a dirtier sound, or even with a completely different guitar or amp rig. Try playing a part with a Les Paul through a Marshall, then double it with a Tele through a Twin, or some other combination. On mixdown, blend the tracks to create a huge sound that includes the best of both tones. If you’re recording a crunchy rhythm part, and getting your dirt from pedals, you might record one pass using a Zendrive, then a pass through a Tube Screamer, then a pass through an OCD, each set for a slightly cleaner than normal sound. Pan one hard left, one hard right, and one up the middle for a wide, thick, vast tone.

Use multiple amps.
Try splitting your guitar’s signal so it feeds two, three, or even more different amps— maybe a Marshall through a 4x12” cab, a Deluxe 1x12” combo, a little mini amp, a modeled amp, whatever you have available. Set each amp for a great tone and mic each one up so it can be recorded to a separate track. During mixdown, you can combine the various amp tracks to create a “super tone” that contains the best tonal components from each source.

Work the arrangement.
Instead of recording an exact double of a part, record the first pass, then record the double an octave higher, or with different chord voicings or inversions. Experiment with the double coming in and out of the song to reinforce certain sections.

As an example, some of the biggest crunchy rhythm guitar tracks I’ve recorded using these tricks consisted of an original track featuring a Les Paul through a Boogie Mark IIB, doubled by a superstrat through a Marshall, then those two parts each doubled with a slightly different tone, played higher on the neck using inversions and alternate voicings. A bit of compression, a short delay or two, careful panning, and a couple of reverbs were used during mixdown. The results were simply massive!

Fortunately, with today’s hard disk recording systems, we have plenty of tracks to work with. If you try something and it doesn’t work, who cares? Move on to another track and try something else—experiment! One last tip: keep all your “failed” experiments; you never know when one might work perfectly later in the production process.

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A hybrid texture of legato and staccato playing

Punchy Legato is a term I use to describe a hybrid texture containing both legato and staccato characteristics simultaneously. Aside from this texture being relatively common in the world of high-speed overdriven guitar playing, it also happens to be the texture I personally prefer most when it comes to playing fast.

One of the methods that I use to achieve this texture involves the use of partial barreing, which is, quite simply, the idea of flattening the tip of one or more of the fingers of your fretting hand over two or more strings in order to perform high-speed licks with minimal finger motion.

With many guitarists, this technique is commonly performed within the blues box area, since the nature of that fret lineup completely lends itself to this approach. You’ve likely seen many guitarists do this on the high E and B strings, using the first finger as the barreing finger—Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, Jimmy Page, EVH, etc. Essentially, the first finger acts as a capo while the other fingers assume their normal fretting duties.

As a kid, I remember watching guitar players use this barreing/capo technique and thinking, what a clever way to play fast. I was totally struck by the fact that fast playing didn’t necessarily require fast finger movement as long as accurate synchronization could be maintained between left and right hands. Subsequently, it became a natural quest of mine to try and expand upon this concept, since it seemed so incredibly convenient.

Most of the significant modifications I was able to make to this approach were based on barreing with other fingers along with the index finger. When used in this manner, their function is generally quite different from that of the index finger. The index finger’s main function is to be a mini-capo, whereas the purpose of flattening the tips of other fingers over two or more strings during fast licks is generally to introduce optional or wider interval interplay.

The following examples are in the key of Eb major… better known to the guitar community as C minor.

The first few examples are basically repetitive exercises: short sequences intended to get you comfortable with barreing. The later examples show how these exercises can be incorporated into scale shapes for the purpose of randomly inserting less predictable intervals, as well as achieving that punchy legato texture.

Example 1:
Basic 4-note barreing sequence using the C blues box.

Example 2:  Variation requiring two fingers to barre the high-E and B strings.
Example 3:
Variation--altering between the first two examples.

Example 4:
12-note variation--adding the G string (blues note).

Example 5: 10-note sequence on three strings.
Example 6: Variation--16-note sequence.

Example 7: 32-note sequence using common scale shapes.


Example 8: Descending run
Example 9: Ascending and descending run using previous examples

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