january 2009

Using impulse response/convolution reverbs to help smooth out your sound.

Most of us would probably agree that the sound of a tasty reverb on a great guitar part is a thing of beauty. And you’d think that with all the latest generation of guitar plug-ins, this wouldn’t be that hard to achieve. Unfortunately, most of them are sorely lacking in this one all-important area. One way to get around this problem—aside from owning classic amps—is to use any of the widely available impulse response/convolution reverbs to help smooth out your sound.

As a quick reference, a convolution reverb is a process where a pulse or sine wave sweep is played back into a space or actual piece of gear such as an amp or reverb unit. Using a process called deconvolution, the sine sweep is then removed leaving a clean sample called an impulse response.

When needed, I tend to rely on a number of different plug-ins to get these great reverb sounds for guitar. Audio Ease Altiverb, Digidesign TL Space, Waves IR-1 and McDSP’s Revolver are used daily in my Pro Tools system, although there are several other excellent brands available as well. Specifics vary, but most will work across the popular platforms such as RTAS, TDM, VST and AU.

So, what is it about these IRs that make them better (typically) than a traditional reverb? While the quality of the actual sample is, of course, important, it’s the fact that you’re actually hearing the real thing. When you put your instrument “into” the reverb from an old Fender amp, the sound just comes alive. The depth and character of real reverb is an almost tactile issue, and each person will have their own opinions on their favorites.

One of my first go-to settings is Altiverb’s Fender Super Reverb. The samples done for Audio Ease by Joe Gore are simply selectable as Bright or Normal. The Reverb Time (RT) is fixed at 6.70 seconds, but you can shorten it if needed using the RT dial. Gore also has samples of a Magnatone 480, a Baldwin Amp and a Real Tube Reverb, all of which are also quite nice. Altiverb also lets you sample your own amps, which I and Vincent Miraglia of Analog Design group recently did when we recorded the tasty reverb of my 1964 Gibson Falcon amp; an amp I also turn to quite a bit when needed.

And don’t think about just using the sound of actual guitar amp reverbs. You can call up such goodies as EMT 140 and 250 plates, Echoplates, spring reverbs and echo chambers. By using a buss to send just a little bit to one of these IRs you can get dull-sounding electric guitar parts to stand out. For a really “wet” signal, enable the “Pre” button on your reverb send/fader. This will send the audio directly into the reverb, bypassing the fader level. You may have to pull your fader down to compensate for the dry/wet balance, but you’ll get a full wash of ’verb that way. Experiment with that setting for a lush sound.

Impulse response settings are not just for electric guitars or amp simulators. Amazing sounds can be had for acoustic guitars as well. Think about recording that beautiful acoustic you have in your bedroom, or in a small, tight space. Yes, it probably sounds good up close, but what if you wanted something more? This is the perfect situation to use an impulse response.

One of my favorites for acoustic instruments is The Stone Room at Masterfonics Studio in Nashville, Tenn. Available in the Waves IR-1, it adds an incredible sense of depth and brightness. Also, there are many other great sampled recording studios, scoring stages, churches, opera halls, arenas and even stairwells available. Not every studio/room works for the sounds you’re seeking, so its best to get a setting, and then on the plug-in itself run through different IRs. Sometimes the room is too big, too dark or too bright. That’s when it’s time to break out some more plug-ins.

The essence of dialing in one of these sounds is to get that perfect fit in a mix situation. To lift a track up or even set it back behind the rhythm section, you may want to try EQ-ing the reverb. Instead of just settling for the sound of that plate/amp/room, try placing an EQ after the reverb. While yes, some IRs have settings allowing you to EQ the actual output, they are usually limited in scope. I tend to use a good, flexible high-quality EQ such as the Sonnox Oxford EQ, Universal Audio Cambridge, URS A10 or the EMI TG1214. These allow me to really dig into which frequencies need to be boosted or cut. Of course, you can patch in a hardware reverb as well—whatever works best for you.

Placed directly after the reverb plug-in, you can then roll off the unwanted/unneeded low frequencies (usually below 120–150Hz) in the ‘verb itself to clean up the bottom of your mix. Then, by sweeping the EQ you can also boost and/or cut any frequencies to accentuate, like string noise on an acoustic or scratches on your electric part. Impulse response reverbs are simply great for adding character to a mix. For guitarists, it’s a surefire way to get that flat-sounding DI track or amp simulator to really shine. Poke around the Internet for yourself and see which version might work best for your studio setup. Your guitar will certainly thank you for it.

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Engl''s Ritchie Blackmore Signature combines gain with clarity at an reasonable price.

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Download Example 2
Recorded with 2006 Gibson Flying V
From the late-sixties rock quintet Roundabout to the pummeling Deep Purple to the driving melodic rhythms of Rainbow, legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore has had a defining career in rock and roll that few can claim to match, let alone exceed. The prolific guitarist has crafted some of the most infectious riffs in the history of the genre and helped found what is now known as heavy metal. Like other guitarists of the time, his style was heavily blues-based, but he incorporated a strong classical influence that would later serve as a foundation for modern-era metal guitarists such as Randy Rhoads, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie J. Malmsteen and Dimebag Darrell.

Blackmore’s unique guitar tone was a combination of the best of both worlds. Originally achieved with a Fender Stratocaster with a scalloped fretboard (purchased from a roadie of Eric Clapton’s) into modified Marshall Major 200-watt heads, it had the cut and tightness of the Strat and the heft, thickness and power of the Marshall Major. Since 1994, Blackmore has been using amplifiers from Engl. More recently, his own signature model was released to try to replicate the sheer power of his past rig and offer a larger, more modern tonal palette.

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The E 650 head presents the player with a relatively simple layout, consisting of a 3-band EQ section with a Presence control. A total of four channels share this circuit, and can also utilize the included Bright and Contour switches (more on this later). Along with a separate Lead Volume control and two Master Volume Controls, each channel setup reacts differently, depending on how the amplifier is set. The amplifier is all tube, running a quartet of 5881 power tubes and a total of four ECC83 preamp tubes.

Plugging In
After setting up the head with the matching Engl PRO series 4x12 cabinet, the head was set with the EQ controls at the 12 o’clock positions, the clean channel engaged, and fed with the input from a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom and a 2006 Fender American Stratocaster. Two words can best describe this channel: intense power. Older-era single channel Marshall amps, especially the Marshall Major, had a reputation for pushing a lot of air even when clean. Certainly, one of the defining characteristics of the Major was the added headroom; it was a very difficult amplifier to distort because it was extremely loud. It was certainly a shock to hit an open G chord and feel that old school non-master volume amp punch in the chest—that feeling that lets you know this is a healthy amplifier with a lot of power underneath the hood. This channel can be pushed into a light crunch more easily than a non-master volume amp by using the preamp gain control knob in tandem with the Master Volume A control, but it isn’t necessary. Pressing the “Gain Lo-Hi” button shoved out a killer British drive tone capable of handling any seventies rock tone you could want. In addition, the channel still had the punch and cut of the stock clean channel— the great vibration that exudes from a welldesigned amplifier, and that you can feel in your chest. The surprises did not stop there, though; this amp had a lot more say as the trial pressed on.

The lead channel section in the Blackmore has a somewhat different feel from the more unsoiled half. While the clean side has a very immediate attack with an extremely muscular tone, the lead channel gives in, just a little, for a spongier feel. It certainly doesn’t lose its defined punch, clarity and grind. Rather, it makes the amp a little easier to play, which is very nice, considering how much gain this thing has. For rock players of all eras, this is a great amplifier, but it is especially so if seventies hard rock is in order.

If more modern metal is what you’re after, the Engl Blackmore can hold its own against pretty much anything. The drive is rich, thick and enormously clear, sounding better and better as the master is turned up. Make no mistake, the Blackmore sounds great at low volumes, but sounds out of this world when pushed hard. It surely shares the tonal hi-fi ranks of other brilliant European amp makers, such as Diezel. It has that great British high gain tone with perfect midrange, but melded with modern, high fidelity circuitry and a particularly efficient power section. In the world of guitar tone, this is a relatively new sound and feel. Some players don’t care at all for the hi-fi quality of these amps, while others have been waiting their whole careers for something to come along that does it. Obviously, the best bet would be to play one in person, simply because the Engl Ritchie Blackmore is a very punchy and uniquely-voiced amplifier.

The lead channels are the only channels where the Contour control has any affect in the circuit. When pushed in, the frequencies between 300 and 500 Hz are boosted, providing a nice cutting edge for the toneto make its way through the mix, with plenty of harmonics for fast, easy runs. The Lead channels can also be further tweaked with the Presence and separate Lead Volume controls, which help add a sparkling top and balance the levels between the two channels. When reaching the higher gain settings, the amp handles modern metal and thrash tones with ease.

The Final Mojo

The Blackmore is a high gain player’s amp. That being said, players should definitely take warning: the impressive amount of gain coupled with the intense clarity will not cover up any lack of detail in the player’s style. Considering the price of the amplifier, the number of tones available and the simplicity of the features, some could easily consider it a bargain. There are other amplifiers that have similar tones but cost a lot more than this particular model. Without a doubt, it will make you feel, as Ritchie Blackmore himself put it years ago, “like you own the stage.”

Buy if...
you want a loud, reliable, efficient high-gain amp with a high fidelity feel for a great price.
Skip if...
you consider the hi-fi tones too anemic, need less power or separate EQ control for each channel.

Street $1699 - Engl - engl-amps.com

The Normandy Chrome Archtop is a solid guitar with a great sound that just happens to be metal.

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The Normandy’s neck humbucker, with the Tone full up.
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The Normandy’s bridge humbucker, with the Tone full up.
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The Normandy played through a Fulldrive 2 set at medium overdrive
All clips recorded with Tone and Volume knobs on guitar full up. Played through a modified Epiphone Valve Jr. with a 12” Eminence Red Fang speaker, and recorded with a Shure SM57 through a ProSonus Audiobox interface. Guitar by Randall Davis.
When Jim Normandy and his crew arrived in Nashville this summer for NAMM, they likely had no clue about the buzz their guitars would unleash. Normandy’s booth remained a hot spot the entire weekend, attracting equal numbers of curious players and voracious media types. While the company wasn’t promoting any huge technological breakthrough, they were offering attractive guitars built entirely out of aircraft aluminum (save for a wood neck), and the fact that they actually sounded good was enough to arouse the interest of an industry jaded with “non-traditional” materials.

After a little pleading, the company agreed to ship us their top-of-the-line offering, a chrome archtop, for a run in the review chamber.

Normandy the Riveter

Made entirely of aluminum and featuring fat rivets up and down the front and back of the body, the Normandy looks like a militarized Gretsch 6120 from most angles, from its curvaceous singlecut design to the placement of the controls on its face. While the chrome version looks especially industrial— until the fingerprints start—there’s also a variety of metal flake and powder coat finishes conjuring up other hard-working vehicles, like school buses and army jeeps. Hardware enthusiasts will find a lot to like on this guitar, as the Normandy comes decked out in chrome components. It features two Volume knobs and a Tone control (all of the dome variety), a pickup selector on the upper bout, and a heavyduty kill switch hiding innocently behind a Bigsby B70 tailpiece. An adjustable locking roller bridge sits behind two humbuckers, both of which are made by Normandy, and are, of course, encased and surrounded by chrome. It’s truly a sight to behold, and odds are you’ll spend plenty of time just looking at the guitar if you add one to your arsenal.

Of course, there are plenty of eye candy guitars made out of fancy woods and alternative materials that sound like shit upon first strum; Normandy is proud of the fact that their guitars are made to be played. The maple neck is made by Warmoth and features a rosewood fingerboard; it does the job without being flashy. The neck profile strikes a balance between fat and thin, maintaining a well rounded C up and down the neck—I would have liked a little more thickness to it, but the Normandy stays faithfully in vintage archtop territory. The 25.5” scale neck and a 1 11/16” nut width give you plenty of room to stretch out, and the medium jumbo frets keep things modern. Chunky Gotoh tuners with an 18:1 ratio round out the package atop a fairly nondescript headstock. Fortunately, a cool, chrome Normandy Guitars emblem gives it a bit of personality.

Playing the guitar acoustically reveals a surprisingly clear, snappy tone, akin to an old resonator sans biscuit, and I found myself jamming on it many a night without even having to plug in. It’s comfortable enough to sit around with, and surprisingly well balanced, although the aluminum does tend to start feeling heavy soon enough. That said, the guitar only clocks in at 8.6 pounds—about the same, if not less, than an old school LP, so it’s certainly not tipping the scales, but you’ll want to make sure you can pull off a set with it, all the same.

Plugging in, I should begin by mentioning that there are a plethora of great sounds in this guitar, from dark, jazz tones to bright pop comping, and I have to tip my hat to Jim Normandy for creating such a musical instrument out of a material a lot of us had written off. The pickups sound warm and round, and combined with the guitar’s spectacular clarity, the Normandy covers a wide swath of ground with very little effort. But don’t let the archtop or the Bigsby fool you; this guitar is meant to rock.

The Normandy loved any and every opportunity to crunch up, to gang up on an unsuspecting tube amplifier with a ballsy overdrive and a heavy touch. I found myself plugging in all of the fuzzes I had around the house, just to hear the Normandy in its element. There’s nearly infinite sustain: strike a chord and you can ride it well into next week. At its hardest moments, the warmth of the pickups and the guitar’s beefy midrange turn into a weapon, battering everything in its path. The feedback was wonderfully controllable; I’ve been already been banned from playing my (probably slanderous) rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” in my apartment complex.

What makes this guitar perfect for gain is its edge, this immediacy in the attack of every note you play. It’s not an offensive edge or a sharp edge, but a distinctly metallic one coming from the body. There’s this biting midrange attack, a powerful snap over everything, and when it’s fed to an amplifier on the edge of distortion, the Normandy begins attacking. It’s something that you can hear in wood guitars, but the aluminum brings it front and center, presenting that midrange proudly and saying, “Let’s kick some ass!”

The Final Mojo
The Normandy is a solid hunk of aluminum that sounds like a guitar, plays like a guitar and looks like a guitar. But honestly, you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it, and the odds are that the sound will only be a part of that decision. There’s a lot of psychology in an aluminum guitar. As players, we’ve had the “wood is better” argument ground into our pores, and Normandy’s all-chrome approach only serves to highlight that difference. You can feel vibrations coursing through the instrument while you play, but the body remains a little mechanical, a little cold. The sound bites and snaps. And if you play with your eyes open, you’ll quickly find yourself thinking, “This is made out of the same material as my lawnmower,” and you’ll think about how much you hate the sound of your lawnmower and that’ll be it. It’s easy to talk yourself out of this guitar, out of even trying it. But if you’re open to something new, and you like the thought of saving a tree or two while you’re at it, then I cannot recommend Normandy enough.

Buy if...
you want a great sounding guitar that will likely last longer than you.
Skip if...
it’s not made of wood, dammit!

MSRP Chrome w/Bigsby $3199 - Normandy Guitars - normandyguitars.com