Two new software additions, Breverb and SpringAge – thanks to Overloud for the opportunity to check ’em out.

September 28, 2010

That’s right, two additions from the Overloud product family. As a reviewer who isn’t associated with a huge magazine or anything it can sometimes be difficult to work with manufacturers to procure products for review, but I have to say that Overloud is extremely easy to work with. Nice folks. Anyway, on to the tools!

BREVERB, a pretty comprehensive “rack style” reverb plugin that seems aimed at competing directly with IK Multimedia’s CSR for a quality algorithmic reverb:
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
SpringAge, a new and very cool release that emulates three different types of spring reverbs, in addition to a tube preamp and a two-band parametric EQ. The whole package is put together very nicely. I have only worked with it preliminarily, but my first impressions are positive. I love that the EQ’s “Q” factor turns into a shelving EQ at the extremes, that’s a very clever way to add some functionality without adding needless GUI complexity. There’s a lot of parameter control over the springs, too. They market the product as combining the fidelity of convolution reverb with the versatility of algorithmic reverb, and from what I can tell, they are not exaggerating. I will have more to say about the product soon, as I get more of a chance to try it out!

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I feel it’s worth mentioning that Overloud is definitely at the front of the pack for format support, offering 64-bit native versions of their plugins. There are too few companies doing that. As a 64-bit operating system and 64-bit DAW user, I really appreciate the attention to detail in making sure their plugins aren’t just cross-platform, but also fully supportive of modern operating systems. At this point there just doesn’t seem to be any excuse for the industry to be so behind everybody else in their support for 64-bit; after all, 64-bit processors have been the norm for over six years now! At least a few companies are keeping with the times.

A demo of Pipe Amp!

September 25, 2010

I recorded a demo of Pipe Amp. I had to get a new mic stand because I couldn’t find my old one.

The backing track is something I got a long time ago in HC Cool Jam if I remember correctly, or from one of the free backing track sites. I have a tiny bit of reverb on the Pipe Amp lead track to help it fit in a bit better but other than that no EQ or other post processing surgery, you’re hearing Pipe Amp’s fuzz mode in all its pipey glory.

I have an amp, in a pipe. It rocks.

September 21, 2010

Indeed, I have a

FuzzHugger Pipe Amp!

It is an amp in a pipe, powered by a 9V battery. Two modes, OD and Fuzz. It can be used to fend off an attack by a smaller pipe (or a similarly sized pipe moving at a sufficiently slow velocity) if necessary as it is very durable.

The Fuzz mode has a really cool, tight gating action with a wide-open heavy fuzz sound. Inspires me to a kind of old-school play style, helps me make my notes count and keep in mind how my guitar’s sustain really behaves. I’ve got quite a few fuzzes but this is the only thing in my whole collection that is gated like that, so it’s a really fun toy to play around with. Maybe less exciting for people who have tons of gated high-gain fuzzes (or just one they love, that’s okay too), but I dig it a lot, and the actual sound of it is awesome.

Don’t discount the pipe enclosure; yeah, it’s aimed at making it rugged, but the chamber (and the “wave guide” surround of the speaker) fattens up the right frequencies to make that 3″ speaker sound way bigger than it has any right to, especially considering that it’s all powered by a single 9V. No bottoming out and getting all farty and over-extended. It kind of reminds me of some magic that a college friend was able to work with folded horn designs powered by 3″ speakers; put it in the right enclosure and that 3″ speaker can pump out a full frequency at surprising volumes. Of course the Pipe Amp is a lot less complex in its physical construction than a folded horn speaker enclosure, but the same acoustic principles of the enclosure having a lot to do with the sound apply, and this has a very nice response that surprises you given the compactness of it and everything.

The Overdrive mode is fine, I mean, it’s characteristic for a small practice amp and sounds good enough to do your thing on the go, but the Fuzz mode is where it’s at. It has a really unique sound and feel; I’m going to find my mic stand and try to show how this thing can sound.

Costs $95 for now and is way cooler than any other practice amp ever. Tom, the guy behind FuzzHugger (who is a really cool dude, by the way), describes the target audience for this product as follows:

That about sums it up. I have a Pipe Amp. Rock n’ roll.

Wampler Plexidrive quick demo

September 20, 2010

I hope you’ll forgive a slight bit of beating now and again with these demo clips. I recently put new strings on and they haven’t quite stretched out, plus the gauge is lighter than previously and I haven’t had a chance to adjust the intonation. As such there is some beating, particularly with anything involving a barre. Part of it is me adjusting to an unfamiliar feel on my main demo guitar. I may take them off and put the old string gauge on anyway, haven’t made up my mind yet!

Wampler Plexidrive

Here’s a clip of the Wampler Plexidrive on its own. First I show the clean sound, then I get into the clip, starting on a setting I use as my preferred sound for the pedal but then tweaking the controls quite a bit as I go along to try to show some of its range. I didn’t cover the full range of the gain or tone knobs, but I did mess around with them quite a bit and I did click the switch on and off (affects the bass, but it also alters the sound overall as you’d expect). If you prefer a darker JTM sound, you can definitely get it; I guess I tend a little towards more forward upper midrange and treble. Still, I hope that the adjustments I make to it do show that it has range, because it definitely does and it’d be a bad demo if you came away thinking it was only capable of bright. I end it with a little bit of wanky silly lead with the gain set lower, because I think it has a nice responsiveness even with the gain down and I wanted to show that it can liven up when you dig into the strings a bit. If it couldn’t do that, wouldn’t rightly be called a JTM45-in-a-box style pedal!

And here’s a clip of it boosted by the Paul Cochrane Tim pedal. My Tim has toggles and I run it asymmetrical, but for this clip I set it to the “pushed-in” setting for its symmetrical clipping since not every Tim has toggles to get the asymmetrical option. This clip is kind of boring I guess, I just play something a time or two with the Plexidrive on its own, then I play something similar to it with the Tim on set for a slight gain boost, then I kick on the Boost footswitch (with the controls set aggressively, for a Tim) so it really kicks in. This clip has a bit where I kind of crib Link Wray’s “Rumble” and you can really hear the beating I was referring to earlier. Sorry. If I had my right angle screwdriver I could fix that with no hassle… but I still need to let the strings get fully stretched and actually decide whether I want to stick with this lighter gauge or go back to my 10-52 usual setup. Anyway, clip:

It sounds really good boosted by any of the overdrive pedals I’ve got. It sounds lovely with a fuzz up front, too. Versatile. I dig it.

Wampler and… LePou??!

September 17, 2010

Oh, wow, one of my very favorite freeware software programmers, a gent who goes by the handle LePou and who has, for free, made some of the best sounding amp modeler plugins out there (in addition to a really cool dual IR loader with features specifically aimed at cabinet simulation) apparently has been working with Brian and the product is a digital emulation of the Cranked AC. It’s free, I tried it, it sounds awesome. I don’t have a Cranked AC to A/B it with, but it definitely has the same kind of “amp in a box” character that the Black ’65 and the Plexidrive (the two most comparable in the range of their gain that I actually own) do.

Here’s a pic of the plugin’s GUI, note that it has options for how much oversampling it does (from 2x to 8x), as well as mono or stereo operation. This shot was from the previously, and erroneously uploaded Alpha version, the final version is now up 🙂

Some Software Stuff, and More Hardware! (Catching up is a lot of work!)

September 8, 2010

I’ve got a few really cool software tools lately. Two commercial products from a really cool smaller company called Genuine Soundware and Instruments (GSi), with their whole product line currently on a substantial sale, though it ends this month. You might already be familiar with them if you like freeware (who doesn’t?) thanks to their great, free Watkins Copicat simulator, the Watkat. That’s how I knew them, and when I was thinking “man, I really need a good tape delay plugin” given that I really like the way tape delay behaves, I loaded it up and thought “wow, this really gets the behavior of tape right!” So when I browsed to the GSi page and saw they had a faithful emulation of the Roland RE-201 Space Echo I downloaded the demo and ended up buying it within half an hour of trying it out. It’s called the GS-201, and it does an absolutely fantastic job of capturing the nuances of the RE-201 space echo in a plugin format. It’s very affordable, too, which is a big plus for value-seekers like me 🙂 The plugin interface is pretty much 100% faithful to the original, feature complete and with three tape types, including the original Roland Tape Echo cartridge and two higher fidelity cartridges intended for mastering. They have very different sounds when used for delay due to the different bandwidth and behavior of the tape types, which just gets accentuated in a really nice way when you let it go into feedback. It is authentic to a fault, even; there’s no BPM sync or tap tempo functions (though when adjusting the time, it does helpfully display the millisecond values of each of the three tape heads), and it has exactly the same delay range as the original, so a quarter note at 120bpm is not quite possible because Head 3 maxes out at under 500ms. Here’s a picture of the plugin’s GUI. I paid $15.78, the exchange rate for 12 Euros at the time.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I’ve been using it extensively lately. Very cool sound. You can crank it up and still hear the original signal come through very clearly. The RE-201 was designed to be more reliable and less cantankerous than a lot of the earlier tape echo systems, so it’s not quite as unpredictable as a lot of tape delays can be (the “Wow” and “Flutter” factor and tape motor inconsistencies of the RE-201 are pretty low when the unit is well maintained), but it does have some very natural sounding, characteristic modulation of the delay signal in accordance with the functionality of the original. All in all, it is an extremely good and remarkably affordable recreation of one of the true classics.

The other plugin I picked up from GSi is the Spring Reverb Type 4, which is a quality spring reverb emulation with a lot of control over things. I’d say it compares pretty well to the Softube Spring Reverb simulation, which is a feat considering the price difference! I thought it was funny that when I bought the Spring Reverb Type 4, though it still cost 12 Euros, I paid $15.82 because the exchange rate had changed slightly in the intervening few hours. Haha. Here’s the GUI for Spring Reverb Type 4 if you can’t be bothered to click on the link up there 😉 The big thing that says “Don’t Hit Me!” just begs to be hit, doesn’t it? I like to hit it. It gives the same effect that kicking a physical spring reverb tank does. SPLASHCRASHKERRRANG. Woo!

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

All of GSi’s plugins feature intuitive MIDI control and are compatible with DAW automation, so you can do some pretty cool stuff with them in real time or on a track. Very cool stuff from a small developer whose products do not lack for quality or utility.

The last bit on software for today: Ken at AcmeBarGig had a lot of hitches along the way, but he’s powering down the home-stretch to release Shred 1.5x, a total overhaul and rewrite of Shred, his freeware amp modeling and effects suite. It’s in the late public beta stage now, and should be ready for full release soon. Windows only, but really remarkable sound quality with low CPU usage and a lot of functionality. Freeware has made humongous leaps and strides in the last few years, and this will be a new high water mark for sound quality and functionality at the price of zero dollars. You can follow the progress of Shred 1.5x over at the AcmeBarGig Forums. Registering a forums account gets you access to the beta itself, check it out. It’s very close to release, I think, and it’s sounding great.

Now, on to some more hardware!

I was going to get one of the last-ever production Barber Tone Pump EQs, he’s closing them out for a huge clearance savings. I was going to get it for the historical factor as much as anything. After an hour and a half on the phone with him, though, talking about what I was looking for in a dirt pedal that I don’t already have (among a lot of other stuff, obviously, can’t fill an hour and a half shooting the breeze about a pedal – David’s a great guy, willing to discuss pretty much anything you have any questions about, and he won’t BS you), we got into the topic of the recently made, limited-run Barber U-LTD (full name Barber unLimiTeD), a distortion made from the foundations of the Barber LTD-SR. The LTD and LTD-SR are known for their wide frequency response and resulting open and transparent sound, which in non-tonespeak-words means your playing dynamics and the sound qualities of the guitar itself (both its construction and its electronics) come through very well without a lot of tone shaping like in a many dirt pedals.

The U-LTD is a higher gain version, but with some careful usage of the gain knob, it still has the sounds of the lower gain LTD-SR available, making it a pedal with a lot of range. I was a little on the fence because I wanted the Tone Pump EQ – seriously, it’s a great pedal and one of the older boutique original design pedals around, I’m kind of sad to see it go since it’s indicative of a shift in the market toward valuing new designs over proven pedals – but then I heard a clip of the U-LTD which sealed the deal. Here’s the clip:

A TGP member’s demo

Not my sound, since he’s using a SSH strat with low to medium output pickups and I tend to favor more aggressive guitar electronic configurations (with at least one exception in my guitar stable), but the demo was enough to get me really interested in it, and talking to David about the ins and outs of the circuit and how it accomplishes some pretty cool goals sealed the deal. I hate to pass up the Tone Pump EQ, but it looks like the U-LTD is going to be one heck of a pedal.

I’m back, baby! Hardware I’ve got recently, and plans for the immediate future!

September 1, 2010

Got a few things coming!

First, from the Harmony Central Effects Forum’s own resident psychedelic madman Robopimp, a MOSFET boost pedal with his “OPM” artwork on top:

The gourd was not included in the purchase. 😦

Second, a pair of Wamplers that I’ll be reviewing. I have very high expectations based on my experiences with the Plextortion, Super Plextortion, and Triple Recstortion (which was a limited run, now he has the Triple Wreck to do the same tones and also a neat high-gain fuzz thing)- I’m very interested to see if these pedals pull it off as well as those ones do.

1. The new Black ’65 Overdrive, aimed at getting classic Fender clean and overdriven tones. No COSM here

2. A Plexidrive, a pedal I get asked about pretty often because I reviewed the Plextortion and Super Plextortion and people seem to want to know how this one compares. Well, I couldn’t tell them before, but now I’ll be able to.

So what else is new? Well, I’ve got a Digitech Hot Head Distortion

Pretty cool pedal, similar but not identical to some dirts in the Ibanez Soundtank distortion family. Digitech has cool pedal designers working for them. I’ve used this pedal before, and I don’t have anything else in my collection that has a similar sound. It’s less fizzy than a DS-1, in no small part thanks to the separate High and Low EQ controls that let you dial in the tone better than a stock DS-1’s tone knob.

I parted with my old Bad Monkey on good terms, and this is another quality pedal in the series. In fact, I think the Bad Monkey, the Hot Head Distortion, and the Screamin’ Blues (all pedals in the same series, along with the less awesome Death Metal and one-trick pony Grunge) are all three good pedals. They’re not particularly high tech, they don’t have the most transparent buffers around, but their buffers aren’t bad and can handle a line level signal without clipping like crazy (unlike, for example, Danelectro’s pedals) and their sturdy construction helps to ensure that they’ll keep making noises you like for as long as you own ’em. I think all three of the above mentioned pedals have b-stock units on sale at Zzounds right now, though the Bad Monkey only has one b-stock available. It’s been my experience that Zzounds’ b-stock products are every bit as good as anything you’ll buy new. I’ve owned several b-stock pedals, processors, and even some speakers from Zzounds and I’ve never had any issues at all (and if you do, their customer service has been great in my experience).

If you’re looking for a dirt pedal, you could do a lot worse than this, and it’s on sale cheap. I’ll be doing a more thorough review of it for FrugalGuitarist very soon, possibly published as early as next Monday. I’ll also be reviewing the …

Digitech Screamin Blues!

That’s right, another cheap dirt pedal. Hey, even though I’ve got some good OD pedals that I love dearly, I don’t have any BD-2 overdrives! Interesting to me is that it is basically a clone of the Boss BD-2, except instead of a Tone knob it has a Low and High EQ knob. That changes a lot about the sound, but it still has the same fundamental character of the Boss BD-2 and that makes it a very nice sounding low-gain overdrive for a very good price. I got it for $44ish from Zzounds. A BD-2 with more powerful tone shaping for less money. You’re not guaranteed to prefer it to the BD-2, by any means, but it is an excellent option if you find yourself a fan of the sound but without the extra money for the BD-2… Or if you want to try something that’s a bit of a different take on the same flavor.

You know… I mentioned the Bad Monkey I had earlier. I sold it about a year ago, and now I miss it, because I kind of feel like it ought to be in the little family of Digitech’s inexpensive analog pedals I’m putting together here. I might have to pick one up, to fill in the gap. They make an excellent trio. They even have rudimentary, separate cabinet simulated outputs for going direct to the board. They’re not going to knock your socks off with their authenticity but it’s a pretty cool feature that even works when the pedal is bypassed. If disaster strikes at a gig, it could save the day.

I also picked up another pedal not long ago when my wife and I were visiting family in central AR from my hut down in extreme southern AR. Of course I stopped in at my favorite music stores. Mostly the idea was to pick up strings; none of my guitars have had a string change in over a year now, and while I’ve grown to quite like the sound and feel of “worn in” strings, there’s a difference between “worn in” and “worn out” that a few of them are reeeally starting to show. Since returning I’ve started the process of re-stringing them, and also reconditioning the rosewood fretboards, some of which very badly needed it. I’m lucky there aren’t cracks.

Anyway, while I was poking around, I noticed that one of the shops had an MXR Zakk Wylde signature OD. I had my buddy the shop-keeper throw it in with $60 worth of strings for a pretty steep discount, came to about $85 total. Here’s a shiny picture of a new one; mine shows stage wear but is in perfect electrical shape.

I’m not really a fan of Zakk Wylde or anything, but a well made signature pedal for less than $30 was kind of a no-brainer.

Electronically, it’s basically a modded Boss SD-1. That was Zakk Wylde’s pedal of choice and when he got an offer for a signature pedal, seems they decided to basically start there and tweak a bit then put his signature and a premium on the result. My ears (and a few glimpses of the schematic) tell me it differs primarily in the tone shaping itself, with more highs and a much lower cutoff point in its frequency curve compared to the classic TS-1 or the SD-1. I mean, there’s basically a diode’s difference between the SD-1 and the TS-1 to begin with… Anyway, it’s a really nice sounding pedal. Not complicated or difficult to work with, plays nice with any of my amps or amp sims and sounds better (to my ears) than a tubescreamer or an SD-1 through a clean channel, too. The extended frequency range does mean that upper harmonics make it through pretty well, good for the squealies that the dude has made his career with, but also perhaps more noise-prone as a result too.

Reviews generally suggest that people feel this pedal’s place is in front of an amp that’s already overdriving. Kick it in, and the amp hits eleven, or something. I don’t know, in my opinion there isn’t a dirt pedal made that won’t do that job as long as it has a gain knob and a tone knob or better. I guess if you really want to sound like Zakk Wylde you could copy his rig and with this get the exact sound he drunkenly plays live with. Well, that’s fine, not for me – I brought it back to where we’re staying and plugged my customized Japanese strat into it. With singles it is really, really responsive and lively, characteristics you can expect from any well-made TS variant (look, I’ve owned a lot of overdrives, right, there are differences that matter in some ways but at the end of the day a dirt pedal either works musically or it doesn’t, and this one is definitely based on a thoroughly proved “working” circuit). You can set it up at a little under half its gain and get a pretty good range of dirt by just playing lightly or digging in; you can crank it for a much more saturated sound. Since it lets more lows through by default, you’ll probably want to keep your tone control set no lower than the midpoint or else you run the risk of squaring out your lower notes, sounds really bad with chords. I spent a little time getting to know it and it wasn’t long before I had it figured out for use by itself or kicking the crap out of another dirt pedal or overdriving amp. It works well like that. It’s simple and reliable, much like the circuit that inspired it, but again with a cool thing of its own thanks to the wider frequency response.

I kind of don’t like comparing pedals to amps unless they were specifically made to emulate this or that from the get-go, but if I were asked to, I’d say that if the stock Boss SD-1 sounds kind of like an old Marshall running into a 4×12 cab, restricting the frequency response somewhat and giving it a tighter low end, then the Zakk Wylde signature OD sounds more like a Bassman in a big open-backed combo. More frequencies present, for better or worse, and a different take on what is otherwise the same sound.

Anyway – I dig it, cool pedal, looks alright too. I like the bullseye motif a lot more on a little box than I do on a big guitar. I wouldn’t recommend it at new prices since it really isn’t all that different from the more affordable SD-1, but if you can pick up a used one for a good price, as far as I can tell the construction is great – the stage wear evident on mine along with its perfect electrical condition attest to that – and it has some cool mojo with its sound thanks to the extended frequency range.

I also got an ISP Decimator G-String noise reduction pedal. Strictly a utility purchase, it does the job exceptionally well. I can run ludicrous amounts of gain without any noise – and then click it all off, and still have perfect sustain. Really remarkable trick, though at $230 it is pricey for a noise management tool.

Tomorrow, some words on SOFTWARE!

That’s right, I’m bringing this blog off life support and kicking it in to full gear. I’ve got some cool stuff to post about, so stay tuned, and thanks as always to my readers for keeping the traffic going even during the long, silent stretches where I lack the inspiration or means to write.