z Gear Stories 44

Gear Stories Issue #44 – SO MUCH GOING ON!

Hey there my friends!

Welcome to the 44th installment of Gear Stories, my almost-monthly newsletter about the goings on at Sweetwater and exposition of cool new technologies!

If this is your first time getting Gear Stories, the rules are simple… if you don’t want to get it in your inbox once every five weeks or so, then let me know and you won’t…  but try it first.. you might like it.  I have a lot of fun making these for you!

Let’s start with the most important news!  GEARFEST is this coming weekend!  (June 22 and 23) and it’s bigger and better than ever.  Gearfest is similar to the N.A.M.M. show (National Association of Music Merchants   … or “Nasty Artillery Maims Mathematicians” if you prefer)  There are booths representing all the major brands (and a lot of the minor, but very cool brands) of music technology, from drums and guitars, to digital converters and mic preamps, and everything in between!  The difference is that to get into N.A.M.M. you have to be a music merchant (or a math hating artillery operator)… but if you want to get into Gearfest, you only have to want to come!  It’s free to all, and loads of fun!  There are incredible seminars and demonstrations, and among this years special guests is Thomas Dolby!  (For those of you who were not alive in the 80’s, check out his tune “She Blinded Me With Science” which was absolutely ubiquitous during that decade!)

Many of you may be thinking, “I live to far away to attend this trade show”   Fret not… you too can benefit from this festival of technology, for it is not only a trade show, but a MASSIVE sale!  There will be bargains that are frankly insane!  The funny thing about it is that even we, the sales staff, do not find out specifics about these sales until the morning of Gearfest, so there’s no way I can tell you about what is on sale and what kind of prices there will be… you just have to call me or e-mail me on Friday or Saturday, starting Friday morning at 9 eastern!  It will be worth your while!

Next… It is the long awaited return of that ever popular feature, the “Deconstructed Song” where I take a song that I have recorded throughout my long history of being a professional recording engineer, and I post the entire song, and then describe the methods and gear that I used to create that recording.  This month’s Deconstructed Song is a very cool retro-rock vibe song called “Take Me To the Hovercraft, NOW!” by a group of amazing musicians called “Vandolah.”  The recording features a few very novel approaches to tracking and mixing that I had never tried before, and I learned a thing or three while recording this tune… Here is the link…   http://dreamrodeo.com/y-deconstructed-song-take-me-to-the-hovercraft-now/

Now, a Sweetwater exclusive that takes just a little introduction…   It’s called “Pure Mix” and it is actually a subscription based educational video web site…  I know… this sounds boring… but believe me, it is anything but!  First of all, It stars the Fabulous Fab DuPont!  Apart from Johnny Depp, he is the most entertaining French guy on the planet!  (And Johnny Depp is only French because he moved there!  Fab is the real thing!)

Fab is a hard working recording engineer, who specializes particularly in mixing hit songs that you hear on the radio all the time!  At times, when he has come to Sweetwater to demonstrate pieces of equipment to the sales staff, he has even brought sessions that he was working on (which will remain nameless in this publication), which then a few months later, are inescapable on pop radio stations!   In the videos, his familiar greeting “Good Morning Children” and his youthful enthusiasm are infectious, but the important thing is the content…

I have subjected myself to educational videos from several different companies, and found them rudimentary, and tedious… kind of like (Say this in a squeaky voice with a pinched nose) “To make a new track, you simply go to the “project” pull down menu and click on “create new track”….”   B-O-R-I-N-G!

Fab is anything but boring, and let me share with you MY first experience with Pure Mix… I set out to experience it myself, and pulled up one of the videos included there…  I had low expectations, based on my previous experience of educational videos… but the production value was high, and rather than just reciting functions of the software, he was talking about real techniques that you don’t learn in the manuals… tricks of the trade!  It was tips on mixing made out of pure gold!  The first cool technique he showed was something I would have NEVER tried without his suggestion, and the next time I was mixing a song, the opportunity popped up…  rather than going to my old standby technique, I tried what Fab suggested and was amazed at the results… not only in quality of sound, but in how easy it was to make it happen!  I won’t tell you what the technique was (maybe I want you to discover it yourself, or maybe I am embarrassed that in all these years, I hadn’t thought of it – I’ll never tell!)  You should really discover it yourself… I can’t give you the link yet, because it has not been launched on Sweetwater.com at the time I’m writing this, but it will be lunched at Gearfest, so hop on our site starting Friday, and look for “Pure Mix”

One more piece of news, then on to the “Gear Stories”…  Sweetwater is proud to announce a new line that we are carrying called “Maple Lake Guitars”

Many of you are familiar with the ever growing guitar company called “Wechter” ( http://www.sweetwater.com/store/manufacturer/Wechter_Guitars  ).  If you are not familiar with the story, Abe Wechter used to work at the Gibson Custom Shop and then created his own company where he built extremely high end custom guitars, that were each unique, and special ordered by very high profile clients…  But Abe decided he wanted to touch the lives of many more people, by making affordable guitars of extraordinarily high  quality for the price.  We have tested his theory with blind tests of Wechter guitars against high end acoustics from the BIG names in acoustic guitars like Martin and Taylor.  We pitted Wechter  guitars against other brands of similar guitars that were priced three to four times more than  the Wechter guitars, and when it came to the sound, the consensus of the entire Sweetwater sales staff was that the Wechters sounded as good if not better than the much more expensive guitars.

Well, Maple Lake is the Economy line of Wechter guitars.  Think of it like this…  Maple Lake is to Wechter as Squier is to Fender, or Epiphone is to Gibson, or for the younger generation, as Chloe is to Kim Kardashian.  Similar designs, similar sounds, but more affordable.

The difference is this… Just like Wechter is to other high end brands of acoustic guitars, the three hundred dollars one might spend on a Maple Lake guitar will get you MUCH more value than you would get spending that money on one of the other economy brands.  Maple Lake guitars feature details that you only find on much more expensive guitars from other brands… things like and abalone rosette, and maple binding, and a maple heel cap on the neck brace, a real rosewood fretboard, a bone nut, onboard tuner and three band EQ, excellent quality preamp, and high quality mahogany and solid spruce construction.  And best yet… they sound GREAT!

There are two models of Maple Lake guitars to start with.  They will be available for us to ship in a few weeks, and we are taking pre-orders at this time.  Check them out here…


Now, on to the main event, where I feature two items… One that is quite affordable, and one that is priced for the dreamers among us…

Part One… the Fretlight guitar!   Excellent instruments that help beginners and pros alike play BETTER!

Every musician wants to get better on their instrument… I think that is one of the most awe inspiring things about musicians… Call us slackers… tell us to get a real job… make jokes like “What do you call a musician who broke up with his girlfriend? … Homeless”   But in a shining example of pure self improvement, musicians ALWAYS are trying to get better at their instrument!  And now, if you are a guitar player, there is an instrument that will actually HELP you get better.  It is statistically proven to help students progress two thirds faster than traditional lessons alone.

The Fretlight guitar is a unique approach to an educational instrument.  FIRST and FOREMOST, it is an excellent instrument.  There have been other “educational instruments” that have come on the market that focus on the education part, but no self respecting musician would be caught dead playing one of those instruments in front of an audience, or an a record…  but the Fretlight is different.  They are of excellent quality, especially when considering the price of the instruments.  And actually, it could really add to your stage presence if you used the Fretlight function on stage… imagine a light show under your fingertips!

The concept is simple… there are lights in the fretboard that light up in conjunction with the video discs that you get with the guitars (and can buy additional discs… they are always making more).  Rather than looking at your fingers and then looking at a chart of lesson book and then back and forth from the page to the fretboard to make sure your fingers are in the right place, on the Fretlight guitar, the frets light up and show you exactly where your fingers should be.  (So it also helps avoid neck and eye strain!)  It’s a simple, but brilliant concept!  And it’s even FUN,  kind of like the video game Rock Band, except you are really making the music, and you walk away with skill on a real instrument!  You can also have the lights show you the patterns to play chords, and dozens and dozens of different scales, so it will help you make your own music in addition to learning how other songs are played.

The lessons go from basic to extremely advanced.  It comes with  a video disc for the basic learner, as well as the Lennon McCartney songbook!  Personally, my favorite from their demonstrations was one of the world’s greatest guitar solos ever, from the venerable Mark Knopfler… it was the solo from Dire Straits, “Sultans of Swing”  I play guitar enough to figure out parts and play them on records, but if I need a lead played, I call a session man, but for the first time in my life, I truly feel that if I worked with a Fretlight Guitar, I could actually learn the techniques to play my own guitar leads!

The thing that is REALLY impressive about the way this works, is that the Fret light system has been embraced by professional players.  When you have been playing an instrument a long time, you establish techniques and styles that can turn into ruts… The Fretlight way of learning will break you out of your ruts and show you how other amazing guitarists are doing things… Even if you play the same music, you will have a fresh perspective on how to make things happen… you will expand your vocabulary and breathe new life into your playing… and also, What guitar player doesn’t want to add another high quality instrument to their collection!

There are several models of Fretlight Guitar to choose from, from the basic model, the FG411, which goes for an extremely affordable $399 (and comes with two video discs)  This is a basic solid body guitar  which is slightly  reminiscent of a Gibson Les Paul Junior in construction, (but not shape)   It comes in black white and red… http://www.sweetwater.com/store/search.php?s=fg-411

Next up is the FG421, which is a Strat style guitar, which EVEN COMES IN A LEFT HANDED VERSION!   It goes for an excellently low priced $499, and comes in black, white, red and the classic sunburst…  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/search.php?s=fg421&go=Search

Next up is the classic, FG-421 that is a Telecaster style instrument, and comes in jet black and natural.  It’s priced at $599.  Check it out..  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/search.php?s=FG431&go=Search

Following  up the hundred dollar increment ladder is an oddly Mustang like shaped guitar called the FG-431.  It’s a special order for us, and comes in a dark sunburst color.  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/FG441/

And then, For the guitarist that has everything, there is the FG-461.  This is a stylized Strat type, similar to some Jackson Strats, and comes in two beautiful finishes.  One is simply natural wood, but the wood they use is beautiful, with a birdseye maple top. The second color is called pacific Blue, and is a translucent sea blue/green that allows the beauty of the birdseye maple to show through… These are remarkably beautiful guitars!  They are priced accordingly at $1199.  Check these out here…  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/search.php?s=fg-461&go=Search

The additional videos (to which they are always adding) are priced in the neighborhood of 20 each, and I should mention that they allow you to slow them down without affecting the pitch, so you can learn the riffs easily and then increase the speed until you are playing like a pro!  By the way… they are made in conjunction with Hal Leonard publishing… one of the most respected names in musical education publications!    There is a disc of Blues classics, several classic rock volumes, along with disc featuring single artists, like Erick Clapton, Bob Seger, Credence, Aerosmith, (who doesn’t want to play the riff from “Walk This Way”!?) and Nirvana… There is also even a disc that teaches you all the guitar parts from “Dark Side of The Moon” by Pink Floyd!

So, if you are a beginner, or a professional, or somewhere in between, the Fretlight guitar will help yo do the one thing that we ALL want.  It will truly help you play better, faster!

Part Two…  The Lauten Atlantis…  A Mic for all seasons… or formats.

There are microphones that are legendary in the history of recording, such as the Neumann U87 and U47, or virtually anything from the old Telefunken company.  The classic AKG 414… I’m sure a few pop into your mind… If you are familiar with recording, you probably have a few mics in your imagination that you would love to have because of their legendary status.  But think about how records are made NOW, as opposed to how they used to be made, and you realize that it is far past time for a NEW paradigm in microphones.

You see, the OLD way… (and I must admit, this is the way I started in recording way back in the early 1980’s)  We recorded through an analog mic pre, and usually a compressor and an EQ, and through the console, onto a multitrack analog tape, then off of the tape, into a console, through a compressor and an EQ, and other hardware effects units, and then onto an analog two track master tape, which was then played through a mastering console, with a compressor, EQ and back onto analog two track tape, which was then played from that tape to a record lathe and pressed and played from the record, through a stereo amplifier ( possibly through an EQ  on the way, if you were an audiophile) and then out your speakers or headphones.  In each of those stages, there were transformers, often on the way in AND on the way out…    Let’s face it, thats a LOT of gain stages for a tiny little analog signal to go through… and a little bit (or a LOT) was lost from the signal… especially the high end of the signal) as it went through each one of those transformers.

In order for the mics to get their signal all the way through that maze and come out intact and musical sounding on the other side, they anticipated that signal chain and the loss that would happen, and they would compensate for it.   The signal that was put out from the microphone was weighted toward the high end, and it worked.

Let’s fast forward to today, and how records are made… Heck.. even that makes me sound old!  It’s the way CD’s are made.  OK, maybe it’s about how material to be downloaded gets made… First, the sound comes into the mic and is transduced (I don’t think that is a word, but you get the idea) and sent to  an interface that has a built in microphone pre amp.  it is then , instantly converted to digital, where it stays as it goes through plug ins and is mixes through algorithmic mathematics (watch out for the artillery!) until it goes out through your computer sound card or your iPod headphone jack…

So the process has gone from about twenty something transformers to possibly TWO!  (Of course, if you have cool outboard gear in your studio, there may be a few more, but nothing like it used to be.)

The effect of this is that the classic microphones which were designed for a different age and a different signal path, but are still the standard for excellence in the industry, because of their legendary status, actually sound a bit bright…  But we don’t really notice it that much, because the recordings we listen to have dictated our expectations as to the way recordings are supposed to sound.

But now think about it…  When you are watching a movie, and the dialogue is interrupted by what is supposed to be the characters listening to a recording of something, what does it sound like?  In order to convince the ticket buyer that they are really listening to a recorded voice, they EQ it to sound very tinny, and thin… and because we have been conditioned by what we listen to, when we hear something sounding tinny and thin like that, we know it’s because we are listening to a recording!

As a recording engineer, I know I don’t want the experience of listening to MY recordings to be associated with something tinny and thin!

Enter the Lauten Atlantis microphone.  This mic was designed in cooperation with the Fabulous Fab DuPont (of Puremix.net fame) specifically for the modern method of making songs that are recorded and distributed digitally!  Instead of it naturally being weighted toward the high end, it is a natural, even and un-hyped sound… not compensating for ANYTHING!

The Lauten design team and Fab went back and forth so many time with prototypes that stock in Fed Ex overnight went up three percent!  (OK, I made that up… but you get the idea!)  The result was the most natural, realistic and pleasantly musical sounding mic that I have ever heard!  It is not “dark” in it’s sound, but it is not nearly as bright as the mics we normally think of as classic, high end condenser mics.

Fab brought a case full of Atlantis mics and set one up next to a few classic, very highly priced microphones that are very popular, and then had  a well known French Jazz Singer, Cyrille Aimee, perform on stage through the Atlantis, along with an ensemble of musicians playing acoustic instruments, each one through an Atlantis microphone.

Let me point out that this is a studio microphone, and much too sensitive to be used in a live setting under normal circumstances, unless you are TRYING to deafen your entire audience with feedback… but they were very carefully balanced and played at a low enough volume in a hall with excellent acoustics, so the mics did not feed back (much).

The sound was truly amazing!

It’s hard to describe a sound… (There’s a new band in town, but you can’t get the sound through a story in a magazine…)  but I will try…   It was warm… smooth, but accurate.  Not so smooth as to be hearing distortion in the second and third order harmonics…  It was very musical and pleasing.   I think the best way to say it is it sounded natural… like you were actually in front of the singer with no microphone… just a really good singer and really good musicians… no technology to get in the way.   It just got out of the way of the sound.

Now, of course, there may be those times when you would actually want the bright sound of the mics we have known and loved for all these years, and for those instances, the Atlantis has an answer… There is a switch on the mic that lets you set it to the completely natural sound that Atlantis was designed for, as well as a slightly brighter setting, and then one that is fully weighted to equal the brightness of the classic old school mics.  So, it is truly a mic for all seasons!

When the ensemble was backing up Cyrille on stage, all the mics were set to the natural setting, except the lead guitarists mic, which was set on the middle setting, and it helped him stand out on top of the mix.  I know that especially in Hip Hop vocals, it is desirable for the vocal to stand out over the top of the mix.  The bright setting on the Atlantis allows you to do that perfectly.

Check out the specs and some videos on the Atlantis, and give me a call and well get one on it’s way to you!

Well, that’s it, friends!  Until next time, I look forward to being of service.

Jon Gillespie, Sweetwater Sales Engineer
800 222 4700 x 1352
260 432 8176 x 1352 (outside the U.S.)
260 432 1758 FAX
[email protected]

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