Thursday, May 16, 2013
Not having a job for this length of time has been extremely frustrating and painful to my psyche. I'm selling off much of my gear. I started off with memory cards and synths I did not use much, then started dismantling my racks of ROMplers and USB MIDI controllers. I keep reminding myself that this stuff can be replaced, and I'm really lucky to have used all this gear, but I realize it's a new era, which requires a new, software-based environment. It still makes me sad.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
I've just started posting photos of my gear at http://vintage-synth.tumblr.com/ as well as links to my songs at http://m.soundcloud.com/badsamaritan
I plan to post more info in 2013 across my related websites. Not sure if I'm ready to produce video reviews yet, but I'll likely end up with a YouTube channel as well.
I plan to post more info in 2013 across my related websites. Not sure if I'm ready to produce video reviews yet, but I'll likely end up with a YouTube channel as well.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
The best editor/librarian for creating new sounds for hardware synthesizers is/was SoundDiver. Apple bought Emagic, treated SoundDiver like an unwanted stepchild, kept the OSX update in beta for 5 years, released it with Logic (7 or 8, I forget) then casually dumped it with version 9 -- and killed it with the 10.6 upgrade (I'm currently running 10.68, 10.7x, 10.8x on different Macs). SoundDiver's killer feature is the ability to import MIDI System Exclusive files (.SYX) by drag-and-drop -- which means for any synth, you can just drag sound collections you find on the internet to your library. Also it keeps 1 sound in an edit cache, so you can compare the sound you started with to the sound you've edited before saving. Like with most MIDI software, it's a little flaky. It still works fine under Windows XP and Windows 7 32-bit. I intend to test it running in VirtualBox to see if I can get it running on OSX once more. The CD is copy protected, which means it can't be easily copied or given away; it requires you insert the cd every few times you use SoundDiver.
The only alternative left is SoundQuest MIDIQuest. I'm not a fan of their company because version 9 corrupted my Windows xp every time I installed, screwing up my licensing for several products. Their suggested fixes didn't work, so they said the only alternative was to buy the 10XL upgrade at the full $350 price. Worst. Canadians. Ever.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
There were 2 reasons why I purchased a Roland V-Synth:
1) it's the most interesting synthesizer to come out in years
2) it can behave as a D-50 with the overpriced and rare VC-1 D-50 card
But after playing with it for some time, I've come to discover that it has one of the most intuitive programming interfaces of any of the synthesizers I've ever used. In the upper right corner are 3 basic audio flows, with buttons to modify the routing of the signal amongst the what I guess are virtual operators handled by the operating system. Turning these operators on and off can help you to focus your programming on specific parts of sound, and in turn, teach yourself how the synth works. I cannot think of a better synth someone who wishes to teach themselves programming; using an onscreen virtual editor/librarian may be helpful, but Nothing beats teaching your muscles kinetically how to edit sounds on the fly as well as actually spending time on the keyboard, adjusting knobs and sliders.
When this synth was first released, the main complaint was that there weren't enough sounds to showcase its capabilities. Now that it's been retired and is available on eBay and Craigslist for $500-$650, that still applies -- even though the version 2.0 operating system from Roland increased the onboard patches from 256 to 512, there were never enough people using this keyboard to develop the thousands of patches which one can find for the D-50, Korg M1, or Yamaha DX7, even though this is a far superior instrument. Truly, the original V-Synth is a classic synth. I guess the second big complaint, that it cost too much money, holds true -- it must have been difficult for Roland to prove its value with so few sounds and the fact that it does things that other synths cannot -- which means keyboardists have to try playing it to get a better understanding of what it can do.
The keyboard feels _splendid_, with as near a perfect synth-style action as I have ever felt.
The Time Trip Pad in the upper left corner makes up for the fact that Roland's joysticks kind of suck compared to pitch and mod wheels. Using the Time Trip Pad, one can perform all kinds of interesting modulations upon the sound. Especially if you're making music that adheres to a strict rhythm, like dance or techno, it's very easy to use your fingers to affect the sound in time with the music.
The minimal work I've done with my V-Synth just scratches the surface -- bad turn of phrase, don't scratch the surface of this beautiful synth! I have much more to learn but I get the feeling that as I liquidate my home studio assets, this synth has to stay even though I haven't done much/enough with it, because it has so much more sound creation & manipulation potential than my racks of ROMplers. The V-Synth is a player's synth as well as a programmer's delight, and they're sure to become collectors items in the future as they have a wicked flexibility that is still unmatched by synths 10 years younger.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
The past couple of nights I've spent a few hours working on my new (used) Mac Pro that I bought last August. There's been a ton of boring / frustrating technical stuff to handle with my migration from my Mac Mini: cloning the hard drive, installing programs and updates, handling licensing issues, troubleshooting crashes, etc. However I'm pretty good at resolving these kind of issues, having nearly thirty years of experience with both computers and MIDI. I finally have it working with Cubase 6.51 and I recorded about 19 seconds of music last night. That sounds ridiculous, the fact that seconds of creative work cost hours of technical bullshit, but I always feel a real sense of accomplishment when I make new songs.
My personal goal for 2012 is to resuscitate all my old recordings and put them in updated file formats so I can use them / finish them. I have a lot more to go. So far I have around 25 mp3's between 20 seconds and 6 minutes long. It's maybe 5% of my recordings since 1991 and doesn't include many of the 200 or so songs I've written (most have never been recorded). But I'm getting better at music production and I quite enjoy creating melodies. By the way, my songs are scattered across several versions of Apple Logic, Avid ProTools, and Steinberg Cubase, with the earliest / most difficult-to-recover songs in Opcode Vision format.
I realize these efforts will never earn money, nor win me the girl, but it's a calling. Plus it keeps me busy and is somewhat better than hanging out in a bar, kvetching about how shitty my life is. I know I'm a lucky guy every day that I wake up. I just wish I could afford to spend more time on my passion for music, and less time doing prep-work and file management.
Saturday, June 9, 2012
Okay, this may come as a surprise to many, but I just realized I've been playing guitar (poorly) for over 20 years. I'm pretty good on keys but I've been a sloppy guitarist since graduating college, mostly teaching myself a dozen chords or so and leaving it at that. There's no better way to celebrate my lackadaisical attitude towards guitar than by doing a review of several stompboxes (guitar effect pedals). I've recently increased my collection several-fold and will use this posting to review what I've tried, what I've liked, and what I haven't. It's kind of funny - I loved my Line 6 Pod, and moved to the Pod 2 then the Pod Pro. Now I've got Pod Pro XT in my studio, but I was missing the role of complex effects chaining, so I started buying a bunch of pedals used & new to get myself more interested in coming up with new guitar parts. At some point I'll post examples to SoundCloud and will link to them here.
Behringer AM100 Acoustic Modeller
This pedal is somewhat disappointing as reviews on Amazon warned.The newer, more featured AM400 pedal arrived today, and will post my comparison here later this week.
Behringer DM100 Distortion Modeller
I'm not sure what to make of this. Best sound is DS1 emulation but I already have one of those. I wish I had played with a RAT pedal so I knew what I was looking for tone-wise.
Behringer Vintage Delay VD400
This benefit to Analog Delays over their digital counterparts is how the delay trails off with each iteration. Although this is a digital device, it features that Analog "Vintage" sound, although much quieter than actual vintage delay units I've used in the past. I expect to use this pedal a lot. It sounds pretty good and most of my music is pretty straight-ahead, so it may take some tinkering to find where to use it, but that's what I'm looking for: a little bit more sheen here and there to keep my songs sounding a little different from one another.
Behringer Digital Delay DD400
This inexpensive delay pedal fares well. I prefer the Behringer Analog Delay VD400 better. I bought it to use instead of my Digitech PDS1002 which is busted. But I prefer the 2 pedal approach for tapping out delay times. I haven't decided yet whether or not I'll keep it.
Behringer Digital Reverb DR600
I bought this pedal because I downsized from my humongous Roland JC-77 which needs some servicing to a 10 watt Marshall solid state amp that has no reverb or chorus. I missed the built-in reverb which I do not use often, but when you need it, you need it. I find it hard to believe that Boss Reverb pedals sell for $100-$150 which seems a bit pricey for such a basic effect.
Behringer TU300 Chromatic Tuner
It works all right as far as I can tell. It reminds me that I should pack away my pawnshop Les Paul clone and start playing my 1995 Fender American Standard Stratocaster more often. It seemed a little fiddly on my second attempt to use it.
Behringer Echo Machine EM600
I just won this in an Ebay auction and plan to compare it to my Vintage (analog) and Digital delay pedals later this week.
Behringer Equalizer EQ700
I just won this in an Ebay auction and am waiting for it to arrive.
Behringer Ultra Vibrato UV300
I just won this in an Ebay auction and it just arrived this morning. For years I had been dismayed that my Roland JC-77 amp lacked the vibrato function of the massive JC-120. Then I realized I should just use a pedal since I don't want to lug around a huge amp to gigs (I'm committed to NOT blowing out the eardrums of the audience, and let's face it, I don't need much more than 30 watts or so to fill the room).
Boss PH-2 Phaser
My next phase shifter pedal. I used it a lot on the Korg Poly-800 which had no effects.
Boss PH-3 Phaser
I bought this recently to replace my Boss PH2. I haven't used it much yet.
My first flanger pedal. I used it the last couple of years that I played my Korg Poly-800 after I had gotten familiar with the built-in flanger on my Korg DS-8.
Boss BF-3 Flanger
I bought this recently to replace my Boss FL2. I haven't used it much yet.
Boss BD-2 Blues Driver
Pretty good sound through a small guitar amp. I like the fact that the pedal is indeed Blue. I'm not sure if it's worth modding for my purposes, although I'm sure that's what some guys prefer.
Boss OS-2 Overdrive
Pretty good sound through a small guitar amp.
Boss DS-1 Distortion
Color is orange. I see them everywhere (on stage, at Best Buy) but color me unimpressed.
Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Distortion
I like this one and it may be a permanent addition to my pedalboard.
Boss MD-2 Mega Distortion
I'm still playing around with this one.
Boss CS-3 Compression / Sustain
I still haven't found the best setting for my songs but I am hopeful.
Boss AW-2 Auto-Wah
I still haven't grokked this pedal enough to get the sounds I want from it.
Boss CH-1 Super Chorus
I missed the built-in chorus from my JC-77 amp; although I do not use it often, sometimes it's just the sweetening a track calls for.
Digitech PDS1002 Sampler (delay pedal)
My first delay pedal. I've used it for vocals to get a rockabilly slapback effect. My battery connector is busted and the friend who borrowed it also borked the AC input jack. I fixed it this weekend but the nut is too big so I'm still looking for the correct size part; they didn't have it at Menards, Home Depot, or Walmart.
DOD FX53 Classic Tube Overdrive
I liked this enough to keep it for using on one of my organs, but now I need to try it again because it's been sitting unused in storage for many years.
DOD FX55B Supra DistortionI just won this in an Ebay auction and it sounds pretty similar to my Classic Tube Overdrive.
DOD FX64 Ice Box Chorus
I just won this in an Ebay auction and have not yet tried it out. It's missing one of its plastic knobs.
DOD FX69 Grunge distortion
I haven't plugged this in for years. It's rougher than the first two DOD pedals, and not as annoying as the Death Metal pedal.
DOD FX86B Death Metal distortion
I just bought a used model from Ebay and it's sick. Generally speaking, I can't stand this kind of high-presence guitar distortion but I intend to find a way to use it in my own songs.
Morley Pro Series 2 Wah/Volume pedal
I just bought a used model and haven't tried it yet. The pedal needs some adjusting. Tech support was super-responsive. I'm impressed.
Zoom 506 Bass Pedal
Cheezy plastic design. But has a tuner and compression functions, which were all I needed. Well, ok a little chorus doesn't hurt now and then.
Ok, I recognize the fact that Behringer started out by copying Boss pedal designs and even the colors, although now the colors are different and I find them a bit confusing since I'm more familiar with the Boss line. That said, their products are more reasonably-priced, likely because of their Chinese manufacturing agreements and the fact that their pedals are made of plastic, not metal. DOD and Digitech are part of the same company (Harman) but I never understood why they kept the two brand names; however it seems like they've discontinued the DOD line and are focusing on rebranding everything through Digitech, which they should have done years ago. Their pedals are also constructed of metal and mine have lasted 20 years with only a few scratches -- likely because I'm primarily a keyboardist and when I played bass for the Statistics, I used this cheezy plastic Zoom pedal. Hmm, gotta add it to the list.
I do not like the way Behringer pedals connect to 9v batteries. Behringer pedals are plastic, and they feel susceptible to breaking especially if you have to change your battery in a high-stress situation like at a gig. I doinked around trying to get the screw in place for several minutes -- which will feel longer when you are on stage. By comparison, Boss makes you screw a fiddly screw in the front of the unit, and DOD gives access through an easily-lost or broken plastic door on the back. So there are cons to each method, and I dislike Behringer's method the most. Digitech's battery compartment in their modern pedals is accessed much in the same way as Behringer's, but at least the pedal itself is made of a heavier metal instead of plastic. The Morley is a beast and could be used as a weapon in a bar fight. It has a simple metal sliding switch to access the battery - likely due to manufacturing and cost limitations from the 1980's or 1990's when I assume this pedal was made.
Boss Distortion Pedal Graph
Finally I found a picture that partially explains why the hell there are so many similar guitar effects pedals.
Busted / Killed / Missing in Action
Digitech Synth Wah
I just bought a used model from Ebay and haven't tried it yet. I didn't realize it was listed as non-working. It blinks 3 times when I put in a new battery. I'm waiting to hear back from Digitech tech support.
DOD FX17 Wah/Volume pedal
I used this in one song, then lent it to a friend who broke it. Soldering didn't fix it so I dumped it.
DOD FX58 Metal Maniac
I lent this to a friend's high school son and never saw it again. I lent him a second DOD distortion pedal, I think the FX59 Thrash Master.
Small Stone Phaser
Great noisy whooshing sound. Died and I couldn't fix it.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
www.vintage-synths.com (similar to this blog's URL, but plural). Eventually I will have all the Vintage Synth Rescue Cassettes loaded, but there are some difficulties with the VSRK downloads due to eBay's new policies regarding digital downloads. Apparently they would prefer to ghetto-ize digital content, in order to focus their sellers on moving physical wares. This is a bad decision, since moving content over the internet is much more efficient without the physical packaging which consumes a greater amount of resources (producing, shipping, making, shipping, trashing). It will likely take 2-3 months before I have enough positive feedback for Paypal to remove the limits on my account, because they see me as a completely different person, and ignore the 11 years I've spent working on my eBay store. So as a result, I will need to work a little harder on my marketing efforts and cross-pollination in order to improve sales and connect with synth owners worldwide. It's great to know that this tiny little blog has reached over 6,000 people in the past few months; eBay had shown a score of less than 4500 positive feeback, even though I had reached closer to 5000+ customers over my decade-plus time. While I do not have an eBay storefront just yet, once I get the tax paperwork in place, the actual store (and much lower listing fees) will become available. The trick for me now is to come up with the $500 for said tax paperwork so that I can incorporate this activity into it's own entity. I'm excited about these changes, and my future efforts to do more to keep vintage synths in the hands of musicians, and out of landfills. Another frustration that I've run into is the fact that my new Paypal account doesn't trust me as well, even though I've paid Ebay thousands of dollars in fees over the years. I'm now tracking this more closely, but watching Paypal hold a considerable chunk of my payments for 21 days before making it accessible ends up meaning that I'm shipping items at my expense, even when the customer pays for shipping, only to receive the shipping funds 21 days after the sale. It's a difficult burden to place on a new eBayer, but thankfully, eBay is not my livelihood.