5 Things Guitar Players Can Stop Doing Thanks to Technology

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Recently, a friend of mine told me about an incident where someone asked him to send a fax.  In this age of technological convenience, he was shocked anyone was still doing this sort of thing.  He surmised that this person may possess one of the only working fax machines in existence today.

Guitarists are a sentimental bunch.  Just as we enjoy checking out the latest goodies to hit the stores, we never really lose our fondness for the “classic” way of doing things, like plugging straight into an old tube amp with all the controls on 10 and melting the paint off of the walls of our jam room.  But just as technology has put the Internet, email, and TheToneKing.com’s video reviews in the palms of our hands, innovative gear manufacturers are bringing us new and improved ways to be creative without dealing with some of the occasional hurdles of old school technology and methods.  In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the ways manufacturers are staying on the cutting edge, helping guitarists modernize their methods and move beyond some of the technology that was en vogue when fax machines and typewriters ruled the world.

Hauling Half a Dozen Guitars to the Show

peavey-at200-headstock-630-80Most guitar players own more than one instrument, and for very good reasons.  The most common reason is that different guitars evoke different types of playing and creativity, just as different types of brushes or paints inspire an artist in different ways.  Of course, you already knew this since you read Five Kinds of Guitars Every Guitarist Should Own.  Even a player who owns nothing but Telecasters can make each one of those instruments a unique animal with pickup swaps, bridge modifications, and alternate tunings and set-ups.

Of course, things can get tricky for the gigging guitarist that relies on a variety of tones, set-ups and features to make his or her live show work.  I used to drive to my gigs in a Toyota Corolla, which could barely fit the two guitars, large combo amp and small road case filled with pedals, cables and extra stuff I needed at the minimum to play out.

Fortunately, today’s players have extensive options at their fingertips (no pun intended).  Does your show require a variety of tunings that would normally necessitate carrying multiple guitars or awkward tuning breaks between each song?  Late last year, The Tone King told us about the Peavey AT-200.  This amazingly priced axe has built-in Antares pitch correction software that not only keeps the tones coming out of your amp solidly tuned and intonated (regardless of how the strings are tuned) and knows when you’re applying a little vibrato to add a bit of color to your lead lines, keeping the sound and feel of the guitar natural.  Accessing common alternate tunings like Drop D, Open G and half and whole-step drops is mind-numbingly easy and intuitive and takes about perhaps even less time than using a typical pedal tuner.  Your drummer will barely have time to crack open his third Red Bull of the set.

Letting The Size of Your Home Dictate the Size of Your Amp Collection

Positive-Grid-BIAS-iPad-app-690x389-1I’ll admit that I have fantasies of living in home built completely out of amp heads and cabs and have the ability to plug in literally anywhere (except the shower…that would be bad).  Thankfully, every player can get extremely close to living that dream with the strides made by amp modeling technology and software.  From the modeling combos first pioneered by companies like Line 6 to PositiveGrid’s BIAS  amp modeling and design app, not only can you literally carry an entire collection of amps in one hand, players now have the ability to tweak classic amp models to your tonal desires.

Amp builders are also putting this powerful technology into traditional amp formats.  I’m particularly a fan of the Blackstar ID line of amplifiers and their True Valve Power feature, which allow the user to select the overdrive, response and dynamic characteristics of several different amplifier power sections, add effects and then save you newly created patch.  This format enables you to build your own stable of custom tones that would cost thousands of dollars ofr a boutique amp builder or custom shop to build for you.

Building a Two-Ton Pedal Board

pic-fly-boys-group-01-650pxI love building pedal boards.  I have my large “do everything I like to do” board, my “classic rock” board, my “if I could only have three pedals” board and I’m always brainstorming others.  This approach works for playing and recording at home, but obviously wouldn’t make much practical sense for a gig, even one where I had to cover a wide range of styles.  But once again, The Tone King shows us that we have lots of options for putting together a compact, practical board that can deliver the tones we need for a variety of styles at a moments notice.

We here at the TheToneKing.com recently showed you the latest entrant to the red-hot micro pedal market, the TWA Fly Boys.  Offering three types of drive that cover everything from mild to metal, a versatile chorus and a delay that sounds like something which costs twice as much, you could drop all five of these pedals on to a Pedaltrain Mini and use that board for your Police tribute band gigs, guitar duties in your Swedish black metal group Krzkrguggah (someone should use that as a band name!), the monthly jazz-fusion open mic at the local Elk’s Lodge, jamming on some Ratt tunes with your buddies and just about any other style you can think of.
Another trend that is helping guitar players get the most bang for the pedal board real estate buck is the emergence of compact pedals that are rivaling studio-grade rack-mounted effects units in number of effects available and sound quality.  Two pedals that have broken serious ground in this arena are the Eventide H9 and the Line 6 M5, both featured on TheToneKing.com You Tube channel.  Both are one-effect-at-a-time deals, but the range of tones and styles is so far-reaching that pairing both gives a player access to just about every effect out there, including synth, wah, harmonizer, fuzz, compression, phasing and flanging effects.  I really like the distortion options available on the M5, which includes a nice combination of mainstream sounds and interesting, vintage style drives and fuzzes.  The H9 doesn’t do distortion but it does basically everything else, including some delay, reverb and pitch-shifting effects that I don’t think are available on any non-Eventide product.  Putting both of these units together, you get a ton of processing power that fits in a space less than a foot wide.  You don’t even have to worry about a tuner; both units have one available (or you’re using an AT-200!)

Leaving Home to Make a Professional Recording

Line 6

MainscreenThere’s little doubt we’ve all been following TTK’s project with studio maven extraordinaire Peter J. Cruz.  But if you haven’t checked out the series, please do.  It’s a great primer on how songs are built and the role a studio producer and engineer plays in bringing those songs to life through your speakers.

Back in the day, making a professional quality recording often involved a trip to a recording studio outfitted with sophisticated, high-end equipment and staffed with the people who know how to use it.  But as TTK and PJC have shown us through the “TTK Makin’ Music with Peter J Cruz” series, developing ideas into a full-fledged, professional recording can be done from the comfort of your very own Tone Lounge.  The wealth of digital audio workstation (DAW) software out there, like Sonar puts the professional studio tools at your fingertips.  Instead of tracking in a studio, getting a cassette of a rough mix after the session and figuring out what you’ll work on or record the next time you’re able to get back into the studio, TTK and PJC exchanged working files of the tracks through the magic of the Internet and letting TheToneKing.com audience get a free, extensive education in how to bring music to life.

But what about all those big, fancy paneled rooms that the pros track drums and guitars in?  What good is the software if I can get feed it any good tones?  Once again, modeling to the rescue!  As we saw in TTK’s Line 6 HD500X demo, modeling technology gives you quick and easy access to a wide variety of base tones, making it easy to find the one that suits your tune.  Then, you can sprinkle on a little ambience and delay to add vibe and interest, just like you might audition a tracking room in a professional studio.

Wondering if Your Tube Amp Needs Maintenance

P03608850-PAs you can tell, we here at The Tone King think very highly of modeling technology and all the great things it brings to the table, but that doesn’t take away from the pure satisfaction of plugging into a good ol’ tube and letting it rip.  After all, tube technology is the inspiration behind most modeling-based products and the tones they are delivering to players.

Tube amps can be tricky, however.  For most players, tube amp maintenance is, at best, a bit of a nuisance or, at worst, possibly fatal.  Messing around with the tubes inside a tube amp is something that needs to be done with extreme care and not something that many of us can just jump right into in many cases.  This is particularly important when it comes to power tubes.

Some manufacturers have stepped up to the plate to take some of the guess work out of tube amp maintenance.  Lately, we’ve seen TTK cranking some of his signature riffs through the Peavey’s Valve King 20MH micro head.  In addition to providing excellent tones in a compact, affordable package with front panel TSI power tube monitoring that takes the guesswork out of whether your power tubes are still running strong or about to give up the ghost.  All of Peavey’s Valve King amplifiers feature this handy tool for monitoring power tube health on the fly.

Even if you relish the thought of switching guitars for each song, diving into the guts of your tube amplifier or getting out of the house and laying down tracks in a real studio, it’s still worth exploring all of the ways new gear can streamline our musical activity. In the October 2012 issue of Guitar Player, Brendon Small, the creative force behind Metalocalypse, has said that his DAW is an excellent scratch pad; it’s always up and ready to record whatever idea pops into his head at any given moment.  Some modeling software allows the player to build, in seconds, signal chains that would difficult at best to execute in the world.  So even if you still have that “fax machine” mindset about gear, there are modern products out there which will no doubt be of benefit to you.

And now it’s your turn to talk to us.  How have some of the latest gear innovations made your musical life easier?  Tell us your story in the comments below!

 

 

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