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Sunday, February 27, 2011

1995 & 2007 Mackie CR1604

Like a few things I have posted about on this blog, the Mackie CR1604 is an item that I ahve owned twice.
The first time was shortly after inheriting some money as a teenager, and it cost around $3k at the time.
I used it with a minimal rig of one Alesis ADAT, a Digitech TSR12 and a few Shure mics. That was about it. This combination worked for me, I had little experience with effects and my main goal was to be able to record bands and my own stuff. And that is what I did.

In the town I grew up in, there was little to do for under 18's that didn't involve watching movies on VHS, loitering at the local shopping center (a worldwide phenomenon I understand) or petty crimes. There were two other things available for a time in the early 90's and that was to hang around a two bit guitar store and subsequently join a band.

This was the height of the post glam/hair rock era of the 1980's. Grunge was all over the radio and if you were a serious guitar player, metal in all of its forms was the way to go to get your chops up (a recent visit to a guitar store tells me that metal is still vogue). Most of us were decent players, probably because none of the girls were interested in dating us until much later on, so we had plenty of time to practice. I was probably one of the least talented of the bunch. But I was keen to capture our sounds for posterity!

So much for posterity, I've lost all but one recording and that was recovered from a copy of a copy of casette! Maybe one of the guys from the other bands have 'em, but I've lost touch over the years.
The first time around, we tried recording in my mothers lounge room. Unfortunately the neighbours objected to this and ended up calling the police (these were neighbours who were fond or revving their engines and driving back and forth in their driveway. Injustice!). After that incident, we'd pack my gear into some friends cars and lug them to wherever my band or my friends bands were playing. I don't think we actually did that many recordings though, but that was one summer which was a heck of a lot of fun.

I ended up selling a lot of my gear off because I had the analogue bug and wanted to record on reel to reel.
A very bad decision, but lessons were learned the hard way.

If anyone reading this knows what I'm talking about, please feel free to contact me. I'm not going to reveal names though, in the interest of privacy. The town was close to the nations capital, but across the border.

Jump to the present day, or at least a couple of years ago.

I'd been looking for a 2nd hand 1604 for a long time after I got back into playing and recording. It took a couple of years, but I eventually picked one up from ebay for under $200! There was a slight problem with it.
The master fader had one knob that would fall out of the slider it was attached to. No big deal, I just glued the left and right channel together and it works the way I want as a stereo pair.

This time around I have a computer recording rig. The mixer acts as an interface for the M-Audio Delta 1010lt (the cable version, not the breakout box version). So far I've been getting some high quality results from the board. Compared to running a sound source directly into the soundcard, there is a little bit of hiss, but nothing significant and no real colouration of the device itself on the recordings. If anything it warms things up a little with some minor distortions. I don't recall this from the first one I owned, so maybe its down to the age of the machine as it's definitely of the same era as my old one.

If you can get one for under $500, it's well worth it. Though for that price you might be lucky enough to score a VLZ model which has quieter preamps and more headroom. Essentially they function the same and I'm no pro so a little noise doesn't bother me (note: the noise experienced is nothing compared to some of the cheaper brands out there and only really noticeable at high gain levels on the inputs and monitoring via headphones).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

2010 - Behringer DC9 Compressor

The humble compressor.
An oft misunderstood, yet incredibly useful device.
I have two of these MXR clones. One modded, one stock.
Like the original, the stock version filters out a bit of bottom end, which gives the perception of a treble boost.
Modding it to get some bass back is as simple as adding a .1uf cap in parallel with the input cap. You don't even need to pull the PCB out to do the mod either.


I have a few different uses for these pedals.
One of them is to add a master volume control to my Peavey Delta Blues, via the FX loop.
The amp is far too loud for my flat. Actually even a 5w Valve Jr is too loud for my flat, but I can't do much about it. The Delta Blues on the other hand can be tamed.

Adding the modded CP9 to the FX loop and reducing the sensitity to minimum gives quite a bit of control over the volume of the amp. It's easy to get the clean preamp distorting at maximum volume, while still having good standing with the neighbours! If you need to add a little compression, it's just a turn of the knob.
This is especially handy in the FX loop after the Line 6 M13, which has compressors built in, but they don't reduce the overall volume nearly as well as this bargain basement clone.

The CP9 is also incredibly useful for driving a DI before a mixing desk when recording Bass.
It adds Volume obviously, but also allows the Bass to sound more controlled and clean into themixing board, perfect for manipulating with your favourite bass amp modeler.

My main use for the CP9 is actually something not really music related, ans certainly not for performance.
I use them in stereo to control the volume of my television!

That's right I'm using them on the TV and now I no longer have to put up with being blasted out of my chair by overly loud commercials or having difficulty hearing dialogue when the volume of the hifi is set to a sensible level for watching action movies.

Since there may be problems with impedance on some consumer devices, I recommend the addition of a simple circuit on the input. The unmodified pedals were fine with a DVD player output, but when it came to the TV output I was getting some strange noises due to mismatched input/outputs.

All that needs to be done is a 22k resistor in line with the positive lead and a 1k resistor from the positive lead to ground. This drops the output impedance of the TV to something that the pedal can handle and improves frequency response as well as noise rejection. I actually got the idea from one of Ken Stone's circuits, the Stomp Box Adapter V2.

I'm certain this mod would work on just about any pedal if one were inclined to mess about with processing the TV. that's why I just built it into a black jiffy box with sockets to plug into whatever I want. It's also useful for dropping Keyboard outputs to be used by the pedal (it's original intent I believe).

Monday, February 14, 2011

2008 - Ibanez FL9 Flanger

This one came to me as a present.
Mine is pretty beat up and dates back to the early 80's.
No electrical problems, the switch if fine etc....

So... flangers eh?
Not my favourite kind of effect.
It's interesting sure, but I haven't found a use for it in a song yet.

The LFO on mine is capable of going so slow, that you don't even know if the thing is working or not.

Ibanez have made a whole bunch of sought after flangers, and the FL9 is no exception. It'll be really subtle, or do that big jet whoosh. There's also that hollow tube sound. Kind of like one of those rainmaker things. Sluuuuurp!

I like it for what it is, and as soon as I get off my bum and start recording, it's sure to find a place augmenting synth or guitar or something I haven't thought of yet.

Monday, February 7, 2011

2009 - J&D Luthiers Jagmaster - Modded to the max!

I picked this sucker up at the local pawn broker (can you see a pattern here?).
The electrics were shot, it wasn't in the best condition, but hey that is exactly what I was after.
You may have noticed that I sort of have an obsession for modifying things. Not everything I get, but things which need just a little bit of awesome added. That's what this guitar needed.
But it got a whole bunch of awesome poured all over it.

The first thing I did was replace the stock tremolo with a Stepmax tremolo, which allows full vibrato (both up and down) in the same place as a Fender style synchronised tremolo which only allows down and return to pitch.

This system works pretty well, but might not be to everyone's  taste. I will say that it's a lot easier to setup than a Floyd Rose style tremolo (I'll stick to my vintage style pivot tremolo thanks!).

After this I added in a Varitone capacitor bank, which allowed for 8 or 12 capacitors to be selected for different EQ curves. Fortunately the pickups that J&D used on this guitar were of the four wire variety and afforded the opportunity to add switched to split the coils and invert the phase of the humbuckers.

I also changed the neck to a reverse headstock Fender style, just for looks. It made tuning the damn thing a little harder though. Even so, it did look pretty sweet.

The coolest mod by far was the Sustainer.
I wrapped 8ohms of wire around one half of the neck pickup and hooked that up to a simple 386 based amplifier which was driven by the bridge pickup. The effect is similar to controlled feedback by standing in front of an amplifier and holding a note.

Sure Fernandes do it better, but I did it for about $12 in parts and a couple of hours labour.
If I've done my math right, it should be able to deliver 108 individual tones plus the sustainer function.

The guitar was sold so that I could get the Guyatone LG127t I posted about a few months back.
I have no idea who bought it, but I hope it's bringing them some far out sounds.

Infinite Sustain Project

DIY Sustainer Tutorial

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

2011 - Squier Affinity Jazz Bass V

Number two for the year is my spanking new (second hand) Squier Jazz Bass five string.
I picked this up for a little more than US retail, but significantly less that Australian retail.
For some reason everything costs twice as much in Australia than it does across the Pacific.

Growing up I had been led to believe that Squier products were inferior instruments and kind of an embarrassment to play one when you're past high school.

I was lied to.

Sure they're not full fledged Fender instruments, but when you find a good one, they come damn close!
In my case I think I got lucky. But I also believe that the manufacturing has become more consistent and of a higher quality over the last 10 years or so.

Mine is cream coloured with a white scratch plate.
The body is alder, maple neck and rosewood fretboard.

Even though I often complain that my fingers are on the stubby side, the wider neck doesn't really pose a problem (as long as I play sitting down anyway). The strings on the 5 string are a little closer together than on my Ibanez, and I find it so much easier to play because of it.

The neck is a satin finish, smooth and fast to play.

What I like most about this instrument is the tone. It sounds just like what I think a bass should sound like.
The pickups are stock, but they sound great. When both pickups are full, there is zero hum. This is a great advantage over the other bass I have as my home has severe problems with electromagnetic interference.
So while I love the sound of single coils, if I want a clean guitar sound, humbuckers are the only way to go.

I'd never really played a five string before and always thought they were a little showy. Once I spent some time noodling about, I discovered that the low B is a great substitute for playing lines otherwise reserved for the upper A string. It adds much meat to the mix and leaves those upper frequencies clear for other instruments.

On open notes the B does flap about quite a bit, but I've been told that it is a pretty common thing for five strings to do.

Prior to purchase, I went around to the various guitar stores in town and played both Squier and Fender basses to compare to this one. Quite honestly I think this is pretty damn close to the middle range Fender instruments as far as being comfortable to play. The tone is great and I doubt that I'd be more pleased if I bought a bass for $1000 more. This one is a bargain and a keeper.
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