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January 25, 2010

A Bit Of Diving Duck Blues

Screwing around with Reaper (again). Managed to iron out the latency issues by installing universal ASIO sound drivers (though I think I could have manually calibrated the latency offset anyway... found that setting!)

Had a go at a bit of Diving Duck Blues...

Yes, I know I haven't learnt the lead part properly. I only started on it this evening!!!!

I'm not unhappy with the recording. I'm still crap at mixing, but I guess that takes time to learn!

Sequencer Virginity Lost

I'm definitely liking this whole sequencing thing.

Over the weekend I had a proper play around with Reaper. I'll admit that it took a bit of juggling of settings before I actually managed to record anything directly, as opposed to recording in a separate package then importing the media. To begin with I was recording the output master (ie everything except what I was playing). Much head-scratching led me to directly selecting the recording input from the Windows Volume Control, external to Reaper itself. As far as I can tell, this is the only way to do it. The 80MB pdf manual (yes, I did RTFM) was of little help!

What I really liked was the ability to dial in your bpm then record chunks of rhythm, chop it up into multi-bar loops with snap on and then just shuffle them around, copy/paste etc. Each clip was automatically assigned a steep ramp up/down in volume at each end for seamless blending.

Obviously, the ability to EQ, pan etc individual tracks was great, too. A major step forward from where I had to mix down every step before progressing to the next.

Oh, and the biggest shortcoming in my earlier demo recordings was the distinct lack of bass! Lately I've been looking to my band's bass player to supply me with clips, but obviously that has to be at his convenience, so they may or may not appear in a timely manner. Enter Reaper's pitch-shift FX plug-in! Record bass line on guitar, drop one octave on that track and with a bit of EQ fiddling, Bob's your uncle... a bass line! Okay, so it's not perfect, but what I did was to take one of the lines that our bass-player had already sent, shifted one octave up, then tried to emulate that tone on my guitar. That way, when I shifted down it sounded about right. Ta-dah!

My one bug-bear with Reaper so far is latency. I'm sure I can tweak the settings to improve things and, frankly, whilst recording guitar via a mic'ed amp it's not really necessary for me to monitor the input. But, what I was finding was that a newly recorded track was out of sync with everything else in the project and hence had to be manually adjusted. A small price to pay!

What else... I need to investigate multiple takes, punch-ins etc. Oh, that and the rest of the FX that come with the package.

After a very brief play I managed to make a quite serviceable version of "Diving Duck Blues" (another Taj Mahal cut). I'm thinking I might take that one along to the band's next meet (tomorrow)!

I'm still not an expert with the ol' sequencer, but I'll admit the flexibility of the thing has won me over. Everything was so easy, just the way it should be. I now can't imagine going back to recording my old way!

January 22, 2010


So, I downloaded Reaper.

It... um... came up with a nag screen saying that I was in day five hundred and somethingth of my one month evaluation period.

I [cough] guess [cough] I [cough] must have [cough] downloaded it [cough] before...

Surprised the crap out of me that it came pre-loaded with one of MY SONGS!!!!!

Just lends evidence to my theory that I get abducted by aliens every weekend.

The truth is out there...

January 20, 2010


I need to move into the new century... somewhat late, granted.

So, I've been trying to put together some demos/backing tracks for songs that I want my new band to learn... for arrangements I want the band to learn. So far it's been a really laborious, time-consuming task.

The problem is that I'm using a screw-driver to hammer in a nail, as it were. My only real experience of putting tracks together has been by painstakingly mixing together clips onto a single stereo track, piece by piece, using a wave-editor. Granted, I figured out early on that I could take a mono copy of a drum track and put it over on the left or right channel then use that as a template for the rest of the instruments, one by one, in separate files. The mix-down would then be very hit-or-miss as far as the levels were concerned as each track needed to be merged one after the other.

On Sunday night I set to re-recording the guitar parts for "Outside Woman Blues". I felt it went really well. Red's newly lowered action felt great and I was jamming. The Blackstar sounded crunchy yet funky... the E-"Hendrix" chords were stinging. Although I was tempted to just record the whole thing from start to finish in one go, instead I elected to record in sections, playing each snippet over and over, giving me a selection of decent cuts. I picked up that technique from U2... I should have known better, eh?

There I was with a wav file full of Creamy soup (a pun!). It was all pretty decent and finding useable clips was no problem at all. Then I started in on the slow process of stitching each bit together using headphones, drums in the left ear, guitar in the right. Mistake. I should have just used speakers! What sounded great in extreme stereo wasn't so great when mixed together properly. My synching was spot on in places, but lousy in others. As the guitar had been mixed to one track, there was nothing I could do but to throw my hands up in despair.

Hours wasted.

Imagine then, even if I'd got it right, our bass player is going to send me the deep end which I'd have to mix in there, too... then there's the guitar solo...

The bottom line is that I need to rethink the way I assemble songs. I need to start thinking about using a multitrack sequencer. Last night I found that I have a demo version of one, downloaded years ago but never used. I'll have a go with that and see what all this techno-wizardry is all about...

January 18, 2010

Lockdown Weekend

Okay, so this weekend was supposed to be a "lockdown", where we didn't go out, just stayed home and worked on our respective projects.


Didn't quite work out that way.


Never mind, eh?

Things outside of the lockdown included going to the London Art Fair, which was interesting. We're normally comped tickets to the annual Affordable Arts Fair in Battersea Park and, well, we saw lots of pieces from that, supposedly "budget" fair being offered at much higher prices! We also got recognised from our appearance on the BBC's Imagine show. Quite the surprise!

Er. Saw. Um. "It's Complicated". The rom-com with Meryl Streep. Yes, yes, I know. It was actually good, though. A pleasant surprise.

Went to see a friend of ours perform a monologue from a play he's written. Again, surprisingly good... considering he's actually a painter (of the fine-arts variety, not a painter and decorator)!

Add into that my Mum coming and visiting, which was lovely, but she was in a talkative mood.

All in all I didn't get to spend as much time playing and recording as I'd hoped I would. Having said that, what I did do was lower Red's action (finally). When I bought him I lowered it slightly, but not too much. Lately I've been finding it easier to play my faux Les Paul so I took the bold step of bringing the strings way down and adjusting the intonation. Can I just say... Red was rocking after that! Awesome! I went from stumbling through various songs to absolutely screaming through them. Much, much better. I'm actually thinking that perhaps I should take him to a shop to check the truss rod adjustment as I feel like the action's crept a little higher over the two years (two... or three?) I've owned him.

Still, for now, putting the action on the floor (without fret buzz, obviously!) really kicked the ol' axe into high gear. I kind of feel like there's a little bit less sustain on the high E, so I may push that side up a bit. We'll see. It's very subtle... might just be my imagination! I took the precaution of lowering the pup height at the bridge, too, just in case.

Oh, and I may have found a temporary singer for the new band. Seems very keen. Quite the bluesy voice, too. More G Love than Taj Mahal, though...

January 12, 2010

Mouse Away, Cat Can Play

Tim'll be late home this evening. Here's my masterplan:

Leave work
Buy cat litter
Go home
Pet cat
Start recording "Leaving Trunk" backing track
Heat up TV dinner (possibly curry!)
Finish recording "Leaving Trunk" backing track
Eat TV dinner
Change cat litter
Take out trash
Record "Outside Woman Blues" backing track (if time)

I guarantee I'll achieve at least one of those!

January 5, 2010

Brief BR-2 And DR-07 Test

Didn't really have time to screw around too much with either. Just a plug 'n' play test, really. First riff with no pedal, clean tone. Second with pedal and a bit of gain... Needless to say my amp's own crunch sounds much better, but it's getting some kind of tone from crappy studio kit that interests me!


It's here. The New Year. The new decade!

I, for one, am glad that 2009 is over. I know it's complete tosh to expect great changes simply because a couple have digits have incremented on a calendar, but I'm clinging to the hope that the insanity of 2009 won't be repeated in 2010. To say the least, it was a terrible year for health, wealth and happiness.

I'm not going to dwell on 2009, though, except to say that amongst other [cough] surprises at Christmas, I was treated to a £100 cash injection from my family. In my head, I'd already budgeted £100 to spend over the holidays on guitar stuff. On the self-service-Santa list were a pedal for use during rehearsals and a digital recording 'solution' for taping rehearsals. I knew £100 wasn't going to get me very far. £200? Well, that might just about stretch!

So, not long after the turkey had cooled, I headed into the west-end to check out what was on offer on and around Denmark Street.

Straight off the bat my plans hit a snag. Turnkey was closed. Not just 'closed for the Holidays' but 'closed: full stop'... Coming soon: Chipotle Burritos. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand it's sad when a music shop closes, but on the other, well, I miss Chipotle and as far as I know, this'll be the first of it's kind in the UK. I miss Mission Burritos even more, but, well, my waistline doesn't!

I should go to hell for saying that I'd eat there. That's like supporting Starbucks or similar business/cancers.

Aaanyway. Turnkey was a bust. After that I zig-zagged across Denmark Street, perusing wares. On the pedal front I tried the Boss Blues Driver 2 (RRP £85) and the Marshall Guv'nor (RRP £45). I liked them both but the BD-2 really grabbed me by the cahones and held on. Despite playing it through a shitty guitar/amp combo it rocked all over the shop. As I was jamming away I was actually asked whether I worked in the store. I guess that means I'm good enough to be a failed or wannabe guitar hero!

Yes, I decided to get one. No, I didn't pay the RRP. Two minutes on the ol' iPhone and I found that it was available for less elsewhere.

Next stop the 'digital recording solution'. When our bass player turned up on Day 1 with a digi-recorder in hand I was skeptical. In hindsight I realised that I was so excited by the music we were creating that I wanted to be in control of what I got to listen back to myself. My conundrum was whether to get a mic for the iPhone and use that or to go down the route of yet another piece of kit to stuff in my trusty gig-bag. In the end I talked myself into the stand-alone solution on the basis that if our drummer wasn't able to turn up for any reason, I'd need the phone to 'sit in', which would mean I couldn't use it to record. Also, whilst it's great that a phone can do all this stuff, sometimes it's best to use the right tool for the right job, as it were.

I'd pretty much settled on the Tascam DR07, but was open to other suggestions. None of the shop-assistants had any. Pound for pound they all seemed to think that the Tascam was the way to go. RRP? Well, the shops were selling them for around £170-£190.

No... Online they're more like £135.

So, £75 for the pedal and £135 for the digi-recorder. £200 pound budget... pretty close.

Of course, I ended up slapping some blue Tortex picks on the back end of the order, too. In store price? £5 for 6. Online? £3. Still not a bargain, but that's inflation for you, I guess.

I've not tried the pedal or the recorder out in anger yet. I need to dig a patch cable out and play something worth recording to test the Tascam. Hey, I guess I could tape, like, a set of pedal samples or something...

PS I'm totally aware that by not actually buying from the stores on Denmark Street I'm probably contributing to their downfall and hence the rise of The Chain!