We’re starting with our favorite amp as the basis for our tone, then we’re using a second amp to blend in with the first, creating our composite signal.

It’s been a month – have you acquired that second amp? Picking up from my last article, in the most basic setup, we’re starting with our favorite amp as the basis for our tone. Then we’re using a second amp to blend in with the first to create our composite signal. For the sake of simplicity and building our knowledge one step at a time, we’ll limit this article to talking about using only two amps.

Achieving independent control of each amp is the next step in the two-amp setup. After the signal split, we could put a volume pedal inline to one or both of the amps. We can now blend the amps for different flavors beyond just two straight amps. Also, odds are that at least one of the amps has channel switching. That adds a whole additional layer of possibilities just from two amps, a volume pedal or two, and an A-B-Y box.

What about effects? The wet/dry setup is very effective. We can use the second amp to color and tone-shape the primary amp. Rather than muddy up that great amp we spent all of that money on, we can color and affect the second amp, leaving the first amp’s tone and punch untouched. The primary amp will come roaring through surrounded by, but not masked by, the tone and effects of the second amp. Adding a multi-fx unit with MIDI or channel switching controls in the effects loop of one or both of the amps gives us even more sonic combinations and control than any single amp could ever achieve. In addition to simply adding effects, many of the current effects units on the market today have a CC (Continuous Controller) input that would expand your tonal capabilities even further.

So many of us get locked in the mind set of getting that one "great" amp that''s going to do it all for us, when in fact, sometimes it takes a team effort.

Read More Show less

The transition to a digital world comes closer to being completed each day, and in the meantime a new paradox has arisen. While we have the ability to record

The transition to a digital world comes closer to being completed each day, and in the meantime a new paradox has arisen. While we have the ability to record pristine audio and video, the ultimate destination is going to be either a high-end system where it’s reproduced accurately, or more than likely a pair of small desktop speakers and a YouTube window, or a phone earpiece with a 2” display. Video killed the radio star, and now technology has made it possible for anyone to try to be a video star, regardless of quality. Music is now and forever more a visual medium.

Starting in early 2009, all TV broadcasters will only be transmitting a digital signal (DTV) per FCC mandate. What that means is that more sports broadcasts, commercials, talk shows, concerts, etc., will be shot in high-def to keep from looking dated against the competition. The NFL and late night talk shows are already there. Television manufacturers will rapidly move away from the standard 4:3 ratio TVs and start pushing widescreen 16:9 HD capable sets, to go along with growing numbers of Blu-Ray Disc and HD-DVD catalogs, Playstation 3s and XBox 360s, and the increasing availability of HD channels – DirecTV claims that they’ll soon be able to carry 150 HD channels. Radio has already gone digital, with stations storing songs and commercials digitally then cuing them from a computer. Almost everything you do with audio beyond your speaker cabinet will end up being digital, no matter where it’s seen or heard.

So how does that affect the modern musician and how can one make sure their sound and image translate well to both the HD world and the world of YouTube? On the visual side, performers need to be aware that shooting in HD differs greatly from shooting in the standard NTSC we’ve become accustomed to, just as recording to digital is different than recording to analog. The black gaffer tape on the stage will no longer just disappear in the darkness. The smudges on the guitar will stand out like spaghetti stains on a white dress shirt and the fly-away hairs on the singer’s head will call attention to themselves like a neon sign. With standard TV, it’s a good idea to wear makeup just to look normal, but in HD it’s a must, because a person without make-up will look ill. An amateur makeup job in HD looks like a Halloween mask gone wrong and the lines in a person’s face become harder to hide.

Lighting and makeup for HD are hypercritical, as HD cameras are very sensitive to the slightest difference in color and contrast. Attention must be paid to every detail when shooting in HD, but when done right, it looks amazing, and that’s all before you get to the music.

On every street in the modern world, somebody is listening to digital audio of some kind. In the midst of it is the guitarist with instrument and vintage tube amp in hand, ready to deliver pure analog tone. But other than someone standing next to the amplifier, that tube amp will only ever be heard after it becomes a digital signal. With the ever-increasing cost of producing tubes and the decrease in the cost of making processors, the distant future may consist of amp modelers modeling other amp modelers, because nobody has heard an original British stack.

So while we’re still walking the line between analog and digital, it’s important to get the best sound and look before letting it out to the rest of the world. On stage, in the studio, or on video, the rules of the digital world must always be considered in regards to how your music will translate to HD and to YouTube. From the guitar pick to the mic-pre, pay attention to what each piece of gear does to your sound. If it doesn’t help it, get rid of it. Anything that takes away from your quality – visibly or audibly – will make it that much worse when down converted to an Internet video, and will show its shortcomings if it’s presented in a high-def setup.

Therefore, our only option is to record everything in the highest quality available to us. Though what we record may only be played on a Myspace page, you never know who might look at your Myspace page; just ask the growing number of pop stars discovered this way. Even if it is only played on the Internet or an iPod, you’ll still look and sound way better than those who take shortcuts or don’t pay attention to detail. And if your audio and video is top notch from the start, it will be ready for the world of HD when you’re discovered on Myspace.

Bryan Lionman
Creation Audio Labs, Inc.

Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Johnson, Eddie Van Halen, Zakk Wylde, Steve Morse … how do they get that sound? Chances are the subjects of that question are using a composite signal.

A great sound can inspire a better performance, a new song, even identify a band or musician for their entire career. Most players are always buying new gear trying to find “the sound.” Vintage, new, boutique, solid-state, tube, hybrid, modeled … it’s apparent that the quest never ends.

So what is one to do, short of winning the lotto, and where does a composite signal play into all of this?

A composite signal is the result of two or more amps/signals mixing together to create a new sound with more characteristics and a bigger sonic impact than any one sound from any one amp is capable of producing. No matter your style of music, a composite signal will improve your sound – it also works great for the bass.

The first step in getting a basic composite signal is being able to split and independently control the signal coming from your guitar to two different amps. A “Y” cord will split your signal, but it will rob your tone. An A/B-Y box like a Whirlwind, or an audio splitter of some kind, is required to do it right. Do you have two amps, two preamps, or a combination thereof? If so, then you’re ready to dive into the world of composite signal. If not, get an A/B-Y box, borrow a practice amp from somebody and prepare to be floored. Even the combination of two cheap amps will get you started down the road to a better, bigger, more defined tone and change how you think about achieving it.

Start with whatever amp has your main rhythm/lead sound. With the second amp turned down and set clean, strum a chord and slowly start to turn up the second amp. As you bring it up, you’ll hear the composite of the two amps. Vary the level and change the EQ settings on the amps, all while listening to the different textures you can achieve. Try a variety of chord voicings to see the difference having a bit of clean mixed in can make to what chords you can now play – and still be pleasing to the ear, while still being distorted.

Next, set the second amp on a distorted sound and start experimenting again. The sound will be bigger than either of the amps on their own. In fact, you may find that the way you’ve set one of the amps makes it sound bad on its own, but yet it is the perfect fit for the composite set-up. The sum will be stronger than its parts. I haven’t scratched the surface regarding the myriad of ways to set up and control composite signals, mixing and blending, how to explain it to the sound man, wet/dry combinations, how it works on a bass, how to use more than 2 amps, etc. I wanted to use this opportunity to start you thinking about the idea and encourage you to experiment with it on your own. We’ve all heard composite signals on our favorite recordings, but in many cases it’s not realized that that’s what was creating a killer tone. It wasn’t one magic amp; it was a composite of amps. I’ll go into more detail in later columns and the technical reasons as to why composite signal is generally superior to a single signal, no matter how good that single sound is. Until then, experiment with it and paint your music with more sonic colors than you ever have before.

Bryan Lionman
Creation Audio Labs, Inc.

The mysteries of stage setups are finally uncovered.

In our last article we talked about speaker placement and how we perceive different frequencies. Let’s look at what we can do to hear everything on stage more clearly, and how we can sound better when playing live.

When Hendrix and Townsend were playing their amps wide open and facing forward, they were doing so because most P.A. setups and monitors usually only had vocals, acoustics, and a few drums in the mix. With today’s powerful P.A. systems you can literally play a stadium with a practice amp. Somewhere between our current technology and the cool factor of having a wall of speakers behind you is the solution to getting the best live sound possible.

Take a look at the diagrams I suggested you draw in the last article. Starting with the guitarist, his amp is probably directly behind him on the floor. This is generally the worst place for it since we don’t hear through the back of our legs. Guitarists should ideally have their amp/cabinet to the side of the stage to “side-fill,” and have it tilted back enough to project the sound up toward their ears. This stops the sound from being unbalanced for the audience directly in front of the guitarist, and allows the guitarist to hear better, play at a lower volume, and disperse the sound out for everyone else on stage to hear.

It also gives the guitarist more coverage, allowing them to move around more, instead of being trapped near their amp. They can walk across to the other side of the stage and still be in front of the amp. In many cases, this will also allow the drummer to hear the guitar better. Let the P.A. get the guitar sound out front. If everyone on stage is hearing mostly from the amp and not having to put too much guitar in the wedges, it helps the monitors sound clearer and the soundman won’t be fighting a blaring guitar. Use a dummy cab behind you if you need to have the look.

Bassists need to have some distance from their speaker cabinets. Bass waves are long and take space to develop. Often the stage will rumble and sound muddy because the bassist cranks up the volume to hear themselves better, simply because they are standing too close to their cab – all the while burying everybody else and not realizing how loud they are. The next time you see a band live and everything sounds muddy, go back to the board; chances are the bass fader will be all the way down. In most cases, the bassist will hear themselves better with the cab up against the wall, off to their side, or even coming from the other side of the stage.

Try getting the monitor wedges up to ear level and to the side if at all possible, even if that means sacrificing the wedges in front. With the amps and monitors off to the side, everyone on stage should hear a fairly balanced mix. If you have a monitor in front of you, move it off to one side of your mic stand at a 45 degree angle, aiming toward the center of the stage. Most cardioid mics actually reject audio slightly better at this angle and the monitor will give you a better sense of separation and a wider coverage area on stage. If the lead vocalist is having trouble hearing, try the same thing with their wedge, and if at all possible, have two wedges facing them turned in at 45-degree angles.

We perceive things better when there’s physical separation between sources. It’s imperative that we play at a volume that suits our surroundings, and that we think about how our stage setup influences how we sound.

Hissing amps and pedals, open mics, and excessive volume will ruin the front-ofhouse mix as well as the monitor sound. Many of today’s amps feature direct speaker simulated outs, and many cabinet simulator options for running guitars direct off the head or power amp are available, so we don’t have to mic our cabinet. Instead, we can use the cabinet to simply hear ourselves on stage.

There are microphone gates – Opti-gate for example – that mount on microphones to shut them off when someone isn’t standing directly in front of them, ready to sing. Even a drum shield will greatly enhance the mix out front and on stage. The more open mics on stage, the less tight the mix will sound out front, due to phasing, bleed, and frequency cancellation, making monitors and in-ears sound muddier, too. Try using as few open mics as possible, place your gear properly, and put as little in the monitors as you can. You will hear the difference.

Until next time, think differently than everybody else.

Bryan Lionman
Creation Audio Labs, Inc.