Some people want a specific guitar for each tone. Perhaps some chime and cluck from a Strat, or low-end chunk from a Les Paul. Maybe you want the ring or a Rick, or the aged darkness of a hollowbody. This is all well and good if you can own all the guitars you want and have a safe place to keep them all. In the studio it is nice to have the option of all of the right sounds for every part. Live it is great to bring the right guitar for every song too, but sometimes it isn’t practical. Rather than a boatload of different guitars, most working bands get by with a main guitar and a backup capable of many different tones. This article will explain how I like to wire my guitars that have two humbuckers, one volume, one tone, and a 5-way switch so I can get five distinct tones capable of covering a wide variety of sounds. Continue reading →
A multi-meter is a handy tool for guitar players to have on their work bench. They have a myriad of uses when it comes to guitar, effects and amplifiers, and it’s always worthwhile having even a basic multi-meter around to troubleshoot things. If the electronics in your guitar stop working properly, a multi-meter will help you diagnose the cause of most problems. Let’s have a look at a couple of the basic uses of a multi-meter for the guitar player; testing the resistance of a pickup and a potentiometer, and checking your guitar’s ground. Continue reading →
The DIY spirit is at the heart of guitar innovation. What would the guitar-playing world be like If Eddie Van Halen hadn’t created his “Frankenstrat” Les Paul his world-famous Gibson, or Leo Fender and the first guitars that inspired so many? Many of us would never have picked up a guitar in the first place.
You’ve practiced for years. You’ve scoured thrift stores for the right wardrobe. You have a new set of strings, an amp that goes to 11, and you are ready to rock! There can’t be much more than that when preparing for your first gig, right? I mean, how hard can it be? You see bands all the time! Your friends encouraged you. “Look how easy it is!” they taunted. You watched videos of performances your whole life. We’re all human, right? Why do they get to rock and not me? Today it’s my turn! I thought of everything! I printed out set lists and bought gaffer’s tape*! Look at my hair, I mean, is there anything as perfect as my hair? Hold on there, cupcake. Preparing for your first show isn’t as simple as putting your gear in the minivan next to the car seat. There are probably things you didn’t think of, and that is where this article comes in. As someone who has tried their best, and failed many times, you can learn from my shame. *I use painter’s tape. It isn’t insanely expensive like gaffer’s tape. It keeps cords and set lists where you want them, without sticky residue. Continue reading →
Chances are, if you are in a performing band or soon will be, the term ‘backline’ will be mentioned sooner or later. Backline can refer to a number of things, but essentially is the personal gear (amps and drums) provided by the club or festival organizer. I say essentially, because as I can attest, it may mean something different to different people. This is generally a problem of communication, but as we will learn in this article, dealing with what is included and not included in a provided backline can make the show go smoother, and keep the audience rockin’ through the night. Continue reading →
Guitar players have known for decades that when we want to make our guitars sound better, the first place to turn to is Seymour Duncan. In fact, this has been so true for so long, a lot of guitar manufacturers are now saving us time by building their instruments with Seymour Duncan pickups already installed. These companies range from solo ventures of a single master builder hand-making exquisite blues machines one-at-a-time, to large companies producing precision shred weapons on a massive scale, and all points in between. No matter your style, budget, or aesthetic sensibilities, it seems that someone out there is building the exact guitar you need, and the odds are becoming pretty good that it will come with Seymour Duncans in it. Continue reading →
If you haven’t got your paws on a .strandberg* guitar with an EndurNeck™ before it’s a strange experience simply because contrary to what your eyes may tell you, it doesn’t feel strange. The EndurNeck™, the choice of woods and the way everything balances is just naturally comfortable and you forget about it almost instantly and just get on with the act of playing. .strandberg* Guitars has just announced the availablity of the Varberg. A few Varberg models have surfaced in the past – like this Varberg Tremolo for instance – but the Varberg is now available through the US Custom Shop with various Seymour Duncan pickup options, including the JB and Jazz as the standard. Let’s have a look at what makes this guitar so unique. Continue reading →
Being a rock and heavy metal fan, many are surprised to learn I have a deep soft spot for country and blues music. Many of the best guitar players in the music industry right now are session and touring musicians from the country genre.
Advancing as a guitar player is never seen as a slow and steady climb. It is more like a series of steps with pretty long spaces in between. While it might seem like you don’t get better for weeks or months at a time, one breakthrough can lead to months of inspiration. Those are the times I look forward to, and probably the reason I do this whole guitar thing. Modern ‘guitar culture’ sends us an endless stream of messages about what guitar to use, what to wear, how to look, what to listen to, and debate endlessly about gear. In the end, it is the player that has to push through all of that and not just reinforce what we already know, but be brave enough to venture into something we don’t. This article will help us along that journey, but only if we take the leap. Continue reading →
The delay, or echo, is one of the oldest effects for guitar. Probably my favorite effect, I have one on every recording I do, at least somewhere. Knowing a little history about this effect and some common settings can help you transform an otherwise boring guitar part by transporting it to a time machine or into outer space. This series will focus on the history and application of standard effects for those who are just getting started, and hopefully be a gateway into the wonderful world of effects use. No, not everyone uses effects, and that is just fine too. But if you are curious about what this whole “delay thing” is, stick around. These descriptions and clips are based on the Vapor Trail Analog Delay, because that’s what is on my pedal board right in front of me.
Time After Time
First, we should understand what we mean: A delay pedal produces an echo of the original signal. In other words, the original signal is what you are playing. A delay pedal copies that original signal and repeats it. The space between the original signal and the copy is called the delay time. All delay pedals have a delay time knob, and as you turn it up, the echoes get further and further apart. They can vary from a few milliseconds (thousandths of a second) to more than 20 seconds (depending on the pedal) between the original signal and the first repeat. As someone who uses delay a lot, I will use echoes 3 minutes apart for ambient music, but this article will focus on the most common time values: 50ms-600ms. The Vapor Trail Analog Delay has a light that flashes every time there is an echo, so you can see where it is set even if you are on a dark stage.
Three Repeats! Three! Ah Ah Ah!
You can always get echo the old fashioned way: by playing really loud in a place like this.
The next most common knob is the repeats or feedback knob. This tells us how many echoes come after the direct signal. These can range from one to infinity. You have to be careful with some of the higher settings of this knob: the more you play, the more it repeats, so it is easy to have everything repeating over itself. At the highest position on the knob, the repeats never die out, and become very dense. It sounds a bit like feedback, and it is a cool effect if you can control it from getting too out of hand.
On the Level
The last knob most delay pedals have is a level, or mix, knob. This allows you to balance the direct sound (what you are playing) with the echoes. Only you can find the right balance, but a good place to start is to have the direct sound about twice as loud as the echo. This varies with the type of echo, and the kind of music you are playing, but it is a good starting point. While there are scientific methods to figure this out, I recommend using the most popular musical measuring device: your ears. Turn the knob until it sounds good. Play a song, and if the delays overtake the live playing, turn the mix/level knob down.
What is this true bypass thing, and do I need it?
True bypass on delay pedals can be useful to preserve your signal when you switch the pedal off: When it is off, your signal goes right through the pedal without any kind of coloration from the pedal itself. This does preserve your tone, but it has an important trade off: the echoes don’t trail off when you turn the pedal off. For some, this isn’t a problem, but if you like really long echoes, and want to continue playing a solo over the repeats, you will have to have a delay that keeps the echoes going when you turn it off. For my very long delays, this is an important feature, but for short ones (less than 800ms or so) it isn’t.
What is this mod delay then? Do I want that too?
Mod stands for modulated, which means that the echo is not an exact copy of the direct signal. See, many years ago, the echo effect used an actual loop of recording tape, to record the signal and play it back. The time it took to get from the recording head to the playback head on the tape machine gave you the delay time. Now, anyone who grew up in the cassette tape-era knows what happens when you play the same piece of tape over and over: the tape degrades. It sounds wobbly and hissy, and loses high frequencies. Modulated delays mimic the way the tapes in the old echo machines sounded. They sound a little wobbly, and slightly distorted. So while your direct signal remains untouched, the echoes themselves sound a little fuzzy and shaky. The Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail Analog Delay mimics the sound of old tape delays with a circuit that adds that quality right in. The rate knob controls how fast the wobbles are, and the depth is how wobbly the echoes get. Some people feel that if the echo is too ‘clean’ sounding, it interferes with the direct signal. We delay junkies get pretty particular about these things.
Tap Tempo? Digital vs. Analog? What means this?
I feel like I’ve seen this delay pedal before…
Tap tempo is the ability to tap a switch in time with the recording or band you are playing with. This allows the echoes to fall ‘on the beat’ of the music. This is relatively new (last 20 or so years), as classic delay units never had this. For some people, this is essential…other people just set their delay time and leave it there no matter where the tempo is.
Generally speaking, digital delays use a microprocessor to control all aspects of the echoes. You can get very long delay times, and there are usually many more parameters to tweak. I use digital delays for old school looping, where I want the loop to sound exactly like what I played.
Analog delays get their sound the way they used to: with good ol’ analog electronics. They have the warm sound from all of the records we grew up with. The delay times are not very long (usually less than 1 second), but the delay actually melds with your direct signal in a warm, fuzzy glow. I use analog delays for almost everything, as it is easier to blend with the rest of the band. The echoes don’t compete with the direct signal, and it sounds so good that you want to keep it on all the time. For classic slapback and runaway feedback effects, nothing beats a good analog delay. Analog delays are also a great choice if you are the kind to leave the pedal on all the time.
Some Simple Sample Settings
These are for the Vapor Trail, but can work with almost any delay. These settings make use of the Vapor Trail’s modulation and analog sound. For an exhaustive look at the Vapor Trail (including sound clips), check out this article.
The slap-back delay is one of the most commonly used delay effects, giving a subtle thickening to the overall sound. It adds solid punch to power chords and depth to articulate solos
. Run to the Edge Need we say more. Start picking some eighth notes and hear the magic!
Vibro-Delay Classic long delay with light modulation gives an atomsphereic vibrato effect.
Sparkle & Shine Light, airy delay with a lush and ambient trail off
. Long and Liquid Heavier amount of classic delay that hangs in the air long enough to play off of.
Dark Side Classic delay and modulation warmth, reminiscent of classic tape delay sounds.
Don’t be afraid to turn the knobs, or use echo in interesting ways. You might just be the person the next generation wants to sound like.
How do you set your delay? What songs have the best use of delay?