31 October 2012

Guitars: Testing G&L JB-2 Tribute Bass Guitar


This entry was already published during August 2009, in my old Spanish version of this blog. Just revisiting the entry here.

I am a guitarist not a bassist so, I just wanted some not so expensive bass guitar that could do the job while recording bass guitar tracks.

Mi first try was with a Peavey Zodiac. This one was made in China and, even that its overall look is good, the knob of its potentiometer was loose and, still is.
I've recorded bass tracks with the Zodiac and, quickly I knew the truth: this bass guitar has a lot of dead spots, there is a big level difference between notes, some seem to fall into a dark hole, some seem to explode in my face so, the material was inconsistent, with high peaks and an low average level.
All that made really complex to suit the bass to the mix. Additionally, lots of "bings", "plincks" sounding behind the notes made the recording really dirty.
The 24 frets of such a bass give an strong tension to the strings, making the bass difficult to play.
After that experience, I searched info in Internet, always keeping in mind to get a nice bass guitar whitin a reasonable budget and, finally I've decided myself to go for a G&L bass. Since I was more interested in some Jazzbass type and, I don't like active pickups, I've ordered a model JB-2, that came today.


Heavens!. It came in a carton box, without soft or hard case, just an ugly carton box.
So, I've opened the box with some excepticism about what I would find inside.
Removed the protective plastics and, hold the bass on my hands.
Hmmm... the woodwork seems good. Well, not the quality levels you can see in a Fender USA Deluxe or Ibanez Prestige but, at least it seems to have same finishing level as a Fender USA Standard. So far, so good.
Let see the backside... Damn!. Made in Indonesia!. Can be anything worst than a Made in China? Made in Indonesia, maybe?.

The guitar was well protected inside the carton box, with some polyspan seats to hold the neck and body so, it came with any single flaw or ding and, perfectly tuned!.
It comes with a cheap instrument cable (of those that last a week) and a key for the thrussrod.

Overall, disappointed with the box but, satisfied with the look of the instrument, for this price level.

Playing it

After seeing that "Made in Indonesia" I was really scared!.
So, I plugged the bass guitar with the cheap cable to my preamp SPL Track One, without compressor neither EQ, just adjusting the input and output levels and, started a Pro Tools session to test the bass.

Alleluia!. That's what I wanted. No dead spots. Every note sounds clear and defined and has a nice attack. Its pickups are designed in USA and have an overall good sound.
The G&L bridge gives a good sustain to this bass guitar.
The neck is well finished, easy to play and, the settings were perfect for me.

I've inserted the plugin SVX then, and tested the sound thru a virtual bass amplifier and... I liked what I heard!.


Well built, goo sound and cheap... what else do you want?.
If it came with a soft or hard case I would be even more happy with the purchase but, at the end, it's the sound what really matters.
I recommend you this bass guitar, if you are in a similar situation as mine.

Home Studio: Testing Wizoo Wizooverb W2 and Massey Plugins


This entry was already posted during August 2009, in my old Spanish version of this blog. I am just revisiting the entry here.

Wizoo Wizooverb W2

One of the weaker points in my mixes has been ever the reverberation effect. After watching those DVDs named "Internal Mixing" by Tischmeyer, this plugin called my attention so, I wanted to test it in my mixes.
Unfortunately there is no demo version (or I wasn't able to find one) and, this product seems to be out-of-catalog.
Finally, I've found this product in an Spanish online store and, it was a sale, since it was out-of-catalog so, I bought it and, today I was able to check it.
Easy to install, already authorized and tested in very few minutes.
I've substituted three reverberation effects in my mix with three different reverberation models of W2.
I am sending each track to one or more auxiliary channels and, each one has one W2 reverberation model.
First one corresponds to a short reverberation, usually to be used with the kick box and bass and, any other thing that needs just a bit of a very controlled reverb.
Second one corresponds to a medium reverberation, of type Room, a bit more opened and with more ambience sound.
Last one is a big reverberation, of type Hall.

I had to retouch the sending levels for each track, to get the wanted results for each reverberation channel but, after doing it, the music sounded wider and way clearer than with those plugins that come with Pro Tools.
W2 is easy to use. I didn't put my attention on preset names but, I was just trying one by one for each channel until I got what I was looking for, mainly searching reverberations by reverberation time. By example, about 0.5 s for the short one, 1.5s for the medium one and 1.8 for the long one. In each case, I've just choosed the one that better sounded in the mix between that range of times.
W2 can work both, with High Definition Impulses (HDIR) or with digital models (AIR). I've set up its parameters to the highest resolution, with maximum CPU consumption, to check high definition results and efficiency of algorithms. Surprisingly, with two of the three reverberations working in HDIR, everything worked flawless. I hadn't any dropout or any evident delay.
Very happy to have this tool.
I was previously checking other free reverberations, as Modern plugins, Khaerjus, 112dB Redline Reverb, etc, and some demos, as SIR, IRL, IR1, Perfect Space...
None of those satisfied me. Perfect Space, that comes included in Sonar, is the best of those mentioned above but, with W2 I am quite sure I will restore the mix ambience in a better way.
I think, this reverberation plugin, together with the Sonnox' one can be enough for my own projects.
I am very conscious that nothing can be better than the TC Electronics Reverb for their System 6000 (according to all expert people) but, a System 6000 is absolutely out of my budget.

Massey Plugins

Massey L2007 master limiter

I've inserted this plugin at the end of the Master Bus, and bounced the audio file to disk. Then, I've converted the audio format to MP3 and, analyzed it with the help of TT DR Offline Meter, searching for overs. I saw that the mix was producing some overs in a channel, even with the ceil of the limiter set to -0.3dB.
Further investigations clarified this. The bouncing is preserving the limit below -0.3dB but, the tool I am currently using to convert the WAV file into MP3 is generating the overs. Therefore, the Limiter is working properly and, I have to change the MP3 conversion tool.

Massey Tape Head

I had to buy this one!. This plugin has some special magic that I cannot describe.
After reading how a real drummer was preparing his mixes, I wanted to check this plugin.
The Drummer was routing their mics across a tape recorder, with different levels of input (depending on the drum), only just to get more or less tape saturation that, at the end, made the drums to sound warmer.
So, I've decided to emulate such a way with the help of the Tape Head plugin.
It's really easy to use. You set up the button Trim to zero and, you increases the button Drive until you make the drum to sound to your taste. Then, you move the button Trim to balance the input and output levels (you can compare levels switching on/off the plugin).
I had tested it with the hi-hat and plates, warming the sound and removing some digital taste to it (I am using it with midi loops built with EZDrummer).
I've substituted the chain LA-2A / 1176 with this plugin and, removed the Pulteq EQP-1A from the drums bus. The work that the Tape Head makes is good enough.
I've only had to add the Massey L2007 limiter to the snare, in clean mode (without gain makeup), just to control the excessive peaks (I still have not some kind of Transient Designer for this, until I don't get the Sonnox bundle).

I've tested it also with the guitar panoramized to the right hand and, obtained some interesting results. I bet that it will also work with vocals and other cases.
But, anyway, I prefer the "1dB Magic" setting of the Fairchild 670 in the guitar bus (left hand) to have a different taste.

Massey CT4

Not satisfied with he work of the tandem 1176 / LA-2A on the bass track, I wanted to check this other plugin there. I liked how it worked and, to my ears, it preserved better the "air", without darkening the bass sound.
As the rest of Massey's plugins, easy to use and very effective.
Vocals were sounding very dark also, due to the results of the IK Multimedia Optocompressor. I've swapped this late with the CT4 and voilĂ !, vocals started to sound more defined.

I think it can be used in more tracks but, since I've already achieved the sound I was looking for with other plugins in the reminder ones, I haven't checked it, by now.

I bought this plugin because I think it will be of help for some particular things and, Massey's prices are reasonably cheap (compared to other makers!).

Massey De:Esser

Another great plugin, very easy to use and highly efficient. I will not purchase this plugin since, I've already bought a preamp that includes a good de-esser so, I am not planning to use Massey's one, once the voices are being recorded thru the pre-amp.

You can choose to hear what is happening inside the side-chain so, you can always know what is being "removed" by the plugin.

Home Studio: Testing IK Multimedia T-Racks 3 Singles


This entry was already published during August 2009, in my old Spanish version of this blog, I am just revisiting it here.

I am still learning to mix but, while I was viewing the DVDs named "Internal Mixing" of Tischmeyer, I've realized that he was using some plugins very often (with an UAD card): Pulteq EQ-1A, Fairchild 670, LA-2A and 1170.
So, I started to search for information related to such a UAD plugins and, what I've read in several forum is that every DSP card (as UAD or Powercore ones) introduce some important delay, during their processing.

Unfortunately, Pro Tools 8.0 LE is one of the few modern high level DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software that hasn't automatic compensation of that delay introduced by other devices (as others do, like Nuendo or Sonar, by example). To solve this issue, you should insert one more UAD plugin that allows such a compensation but, Pro Tools users with UAD cards claim about the effectivity of such a solution.

Seeing how expensive those DSP system are, together with their compatible plugins, I've decided to give up this idea. I don't want to put my few money in something so expensive and that seems to create more problems that I currently have.
So, I've resumed my search for other options, cheaper and compatible with Pro Tools and, after reading lots of forums and specialized press, the list of candidates was narrowed to the following:
  • McDSP Plugins, that doesn't accurately model such an outboard gear but, they deliver convincing results.
  • URS Plugins, that are considered as excelent reproducing vintage equipment
  • IK Multimedia T-Racks, surprinsinly having good inputs from relevant people. 
While most of the people had a similar opinion about McDSP or URS plugins, the opinion over T-Racks was more variated.

Previously, I already downloaded some demo versions of T-Racks, even before knowing that they were including emulations of the Pulteq EQP-1A and the Fairchild 670. But, while reading some forums, I knew that there was some interesting offer for this Summer (2009), in a way that you just had to pay for a single T-Racks plugin and you could obtain up to 5 more free plugins and, the price was really interesting: just paying 80$, I could have 5 interesting plugins and, the CSR Hall Reverb plugin as a gift.
  So, I bought the Pulteq EQP-1A plugin and downloaded for free the following ones:

  • Fairchild 670
  • Optocompressor
  • 4-bands compressor-limiter
  • Metering suite
  • CSR Hall Reverb
I have a first impression about each one but, I've concentrated myself more over the Pulteq EQP-1A, the Metering suite and the CSR Hall Reverb.


If you don't have any other plugins with meters, it's a good tool but, it lacks some accuracy. Every meter is easily visible, whitin a compact view (average and peak levels, correlation, stereo image, spectrogram...).
I am missing here the K-System meter (as implemented in RNDigital XL Inspector) but, I can compensate it with the TTL Dynamic Range Meter that, includes also a Mono button that allows you to test the Mono compatibility of your mix.
Well, at least, if was for free!.

Update (August 2009):

Finally, I bought the RNDigital Inspector XL and, it's very clear that the IK Multimedia meter lacks precision. RNDigital Inspector XL can seem very expensive, just being a plugin that the only thing that does is to provide some meters, not processing the sound but, in my opinion, is of great help.
A good plugin with quality meters makes easier the mix, with a better control over the dynamic range and stereo image.

CSR Hall Reverb

Is the typical digital reverberation but, behind the button Advanced, there are a lot of parameters to heavily modify the behavior of the algorithm. You can work with this plugin in a very simple way or as complex as you like. Not a bad reverberation. I still have to go deeper with this one.
A reverberation plugin for FREE!. Welcome!.

Update (August 2009):

After testing several convoluted and digital reverberations, my election is the Reverberation plugin of the Sonnox suite. For me, it covers any kind of reverberation and sounds very natural, much more than any other plugin I've tested till now. For other time-effects, the plugins of Sound Toys work with a high quality sound and, are very efficient CPU-wise.     Pulteq EQP-1!!!

I really don't know how the real outboard unit sounds, since I had never the opportunity to use it but, what I can say is that, for the very first time, I smiled after buying or analyzing a demo plugin.
What came to my mind was: "Pal, this is the kind of things that makes music to sound really professional!".
The Pulteq EQP-1A plugin worked fine in every part where I've tested it. In the master bus, it allows you to get that punch and presence for the drums and, it helps to open the overheads sound, giving a very musical color to the mix.
"This starts to sound like a real disk!", was my sensation, while using it.

In my honest opinion, just this single plugin worthed the purchase but... wait... there is something else there... the Fairchild 670!.

Update (August 2009):

Where I like more this plugin is in the drums bus, if I need to give to it more punch or open the overheads; or in the bass guitar bus, if it sounds muddy or weak and; mainly, in the masterizing chain, to give some warm color to the mix and enhance some frequencies and add some air to the mix.

It works really good cutting unwanted frequencies. By example, I was trying to cut those frequencies below 30 Hz, specially in the bass track, since I had too much energy below 30 Hz, what creates some rumble and weaks the representation of more interesting frequential range. I tested first the Digidesign EQ III (the three, with 1, 3 or 7 bands) and, the cut wasn't so good as I wanted. Finally, I've found that the Pulteq worked way better for this function so, I've inserted it at the beginning of the track to remove the excess of energy below 30Hz and, also at the end, to enhance other fundamental frequencies of the bass guitar.

Fairchild 670

"Do I really need it?". Pro Tools already comes with two plugins called Fairchild 660 and 670 so, I just got the IK Multimedia's one because it was for free so, I wanted to compare it to the Pro Tool's one.
I remember myself testing Pro Tool's Fairchild and, it never convinced me so, I've opened this new plugin with very low expectatives.
Man, once again, I don't know how the real outboard gear sounds but, what I can say is that this plugin is simply awesome!. Is as good as the Pulteq one!.

The combination of the Fairchild and the Pulteq in the main bus is just incredible!. And, for free!.

Update (August 2009):

Still one of my preferred plugins. The Fairchild 670 works really well in guitar tracks, where I like to use it with just an slight compression, without killing the tracks' dynamics, since it adds a nice color and a signature sound that enhances the guitar' sound.

I can use it also in the Master bus, where it helps to "glue" the mix and, where it helps to increase the level to the quietest parts, working overall as some kind of "musical glue".
The Digidesign BF670 plugin destroys a bit the stereo image. By example, I had the guitar panoramized to the left but, after applying the BF670 the guitar sounded very centered and, if I raised the left channel then, some unwanted frequencies appear.
The T-Racks 3 Fairchild 670 has not such a problem and, particularly, the preset "1 dB 670 magic" is really magic inserted at the beginning of the Master chain. The Stereo Image is preserved in way better way.


I've choosed this free plugin because I recalled that it was delivering a good sound, specially on voices, while I was trying the demo version. Late tests confirm it. Is a plugin that adds some color to the sound but, in a very musical way, tasty as the Pulteq and Fairchild do.
Other nice FREE plugin!. I still have to spend more time in this one.
Update (August 2009):

Since I've bought the Sonnox suite, practically every work on dynamics I do, it's being made with Sonnox Dynamics plugin but, that doesn't means that the Optocompressor is useless. I still love this late and, I think it works very well in vocal tracks, where it can add some nice warm.     Classic Multiband Compressor and Limiter

I've choosed this plugin because I have no other Multiband Limiter.
As any Multiband compressor I've tested, it still remains a cryptic mystery to myself. I really don't know how or when to use a Multiband compressor and, every time I try to use them to enhance the mix, I end ruining it.
But, ok. I hope that some day I will be able to valuate what this plugin is able to do. Until then, I have no a firm opinion over this plugin.
But, it was for free, anyway!.

Late, I've realized that there was other compressor that I liked more, during my demo tests but, I wasn't able to remember it: the Classic Compressor.

30 October 2012

Home Studio: Plugins for Mixing and Mastering, the soap


This entry was already published during July 2009, in my old Spanish version of this blog and, I am just revisiting it here in English.

Missing seems a child's game but, it isn't, absolutely not!. I am still trying to get a good mix in my own songs, without success.
I've bought some videos to learn some basics about Mixing and Mastering and, some book, with the goal to understand which tasks correspond to each etage.
Bob Katz' book "Mastering Audio: the art and the science" has a lot of useful information but, there are not concrete examples, neither instructions, parameter settings, list of steps, etc. So, you can have an overall idea of what is behind and get some basis information but, nothing that can help me to masterize, if I have no idea still.

I bought also a couple of sets of DVD (Internal Mixing and Mastering Audio) to Friedmann Tischmeyer.
Those are more detailed and, are well organized and structured, in a way that you can start to work in your mix with more confidence. It also includes sample files and exercises to understand some key concepts, as the use of tools for dynamics, like compressors and gates.

Bob Katz seems more focused to obtain results by using outboard gear, extremely expensive and sophisticated, while Tischmeyer thinks that you can obtain professional results using some plugins, supported with some DSP hardware (as Powercore or UAD units) and, to limit the outboard gear to input and output sections.
Being a guitarist, with not big resources, I need some efficient and reasonablely cheap solution so, I want to try Tishmeyer's way.

As output gear, I have planned to buy a preamp SPL Track One to record voices, bass guitars and, eventually some acoustic guitar.
Electric guitars I am currently recording them with the help of a Palmer PDI-03 Speaker Simulator, that helps me to get a direct sound from the amp routing it to some DI input in the Digidesign Rack 003. In fact, I am using two inputs. The first one for the filtered output (speaker simulation) and the other for the unfiltered output, to be recabed with the help of some plugin, as Pod Farm, Revalver or Amplitube (still to decide).

Fact is that, whichever the way (Tyschmeyer or Katz), it seems of vital importance to have a good set of plugins that allow you to do the right job for each situation.
From Katz' book, I would like to enphatize the use of the K-System, as a nice way to calibrate monitors and as a natural way to achieve a good loudness in your mix while preserving a good dynamic range. Also, its discussions about dynamics tools (compressors, expanders, limiters, gates...) is absolutely a must for everyone.
From Tischmeyer's Internal Mixing DVD, I think that everything there is useful and practical. But, even being more structured and detailed that Katz' book, I am still missing some clear examples about how to work but, at least, these DVDs make me clear about what to do and what I need.

K-System meter

I have searched for measurement plugins that include the K-System meters but, unfortunately, the few I found are expensive. Tischmeyer recommends Pinguin (about 400 Eur), Katz recommends Algorithmix' meters (even more expensive). I've found myself the plugin named XL Inspector by RNDigital (around 300 Eur) and, had the opportunity to use it during 15 days.
While testing XL Inspector, I've realized about the importance of have good meters whitin your set of plugins. To control the frequential content, the stereo wide, phase correlation and dynamic range, helps a lot to your mix.

XL Inspector gives all the same plugins that Pinguin gives to you, maybe Piguin's ones are of best quality, I don't know since there is no free demo to test. But, to get the same meters with Algorithmix, you need to buy several plugins. So, definitively, XL Inspector is the most reasonable solution I've found.

Searching a set of plugins

I've checked a bunch of plugins, free and demo versions. Here follows my impressions with some of them.

Waves plugins

Waves plugins disappointed me a lot. I find them excessively expensive and, I don't find anything in them that I can see as spectacular.
I've installed the demo version of the Gold Bundle and, just trying the first one I've got a.... BLUE SCREEN!, killing the PC!.

I look some info in their support page and, oh surprise!, if you want to use Waves' plugins in a PC with an Operative System in a language different of English, you will be forced to change Windows User Preferences to setup the dot (.) as comma decimal and, the comma (,) as thousands separator.



BIAS plugins seemed to me very interesting but, I wasn't able to check them. The installation tool assumes that you are using an English version of the Operating System and then, the installer changes the default folder where you have your VST plugins installed and, install RTAS plugins where it thinks should be in an English environment so, at the end, nothing works, at least that you manually move those plugins to the right folders.

I am not going to spend a lot of money in a set of plugins that have basic installation issues so, bye bye BIAS.


I wasn't able to check Sonnox plugins, since the demo period expired before I was able to check a single one so, I have not a formed opinion about them, still.


Let be clear: there is no cheap plugin. Said that, Massey plugins are a bargain for their money. Massey plugins are really good, high quality (maybe not top notch but good enough). The peak limiter L200 is one of the best Limiters that I've ever testes (and I checked Voxengo Elephant, Izotope Ozone 3, Waves L1 y L2, the standard coming with Pro Tools and a bunch more of free ones).
One of the good things of those plugins is that you can download and use for free, without time limitation. The only limitation is that you cannot store the settings so, every time you open your project, you need to reset the parameters, until you buy the plugin.
I hope that Massey can some day do a K-System meter!.


These plugins are of very high quality. XL Inspector is an useful tool to clearly understand what is happening to your mix. D1 and D4 compressors are really interesting.
RNDigital is using a different approach to the typical Multiband-compressor. Instead of split horizontally, by frequency bands, it splits the sound horizontally, by loudness levels so, you can differently compress the sounds of each loudness level.
The use of D1 and D4 is really easy, very graphical and user-friendly.
Its Equalizer is more complex, instead but, it includes any kind of EQ filter you can ever need, even harmonics filter.
Rest of their tools are interesting as well but, more cryptic and you need a lot of time to be spent there to get some interesting results and, the demo period ends so fast that there is no time enough to analyze them in depth.

Waves Art
I was mainly interested in their Master Restoration Suite, because in the reviews I've read in SOS and other specialized publications, that suite was highly considered and, after discarding Waves, this was the natural election.
Surprisingly, Waves Art' Suite is incredible good. I have compared it to he Waves bundle and to the Sony bundle included with Sound Forge 9.
I ever left a declicker as a plugin by default in the bass track, to clean the floor noise and, it works without overloading the CPU (having Equalizers, Compressors, Delays, etc in other tracks). So, I think they are so friendly and efficient with the CPU as they ads say.
Even more, they are cheaper than Waves or Sonnox equivalents.
So, I am planning to buy them as soon as possible.

I am not interested in their Mastering Suite, since same tools are already in Sonnox plugins and, I know that Sonnox tools work better in that area.

Modern free plugins

Those plugins try to emulate outboard gear and they are completely free.
Well, they have a quality clearly below all the plugins mentioned above but, they can work for some tracks so, it's good to have them at hand.

Arts Acoustic Reverb

I don't find nothing interesting in this reverberation plugin (well, in fact, I even don't like the IR reverberation by Waves). I think that I can achieve better results with the convolutive reverberation Perfect Space included in Cakewalk Sonar 7.

Camel Audio

They have that CamelCrusher and CamelPath plugins that seem to excite a lot of people. To me, they sound excesivelly distorted and, I don't find for what to use them.

Nomad Factory D82 Sonic Max (BBE)

I cannot compare the plugin to the real outboard gear but, what I can say is that to insert it at the end of the chain is like night and day. It cleans the mix and details the bass lines in a very musical way.
I have to save money to buy this plugin or the outboard hardware some of these days.

Nugen Audio

None of the plugins I've tested say me anything. They aren't bad, they aren't good. Anodyne.

Peavey Revalver MKIII

I don't see this plugin as being superior to POD Amp Farm or to IK Multimedia Amplitube. The available amp models are very few (compared to POD) and, I cannot see that great advance in sound that users seem to find. The only interesting thing is, maybe, to play with the program to design your own amplifier but, for plug and play, I am still preferring Amplitube (the bad thing is that consumes lots of CPU) or POD Amp Farm.

IK Multimedia T-Racks 3.

This suite is overloading my CPU in a way that it's impossible to use their high resolution modes in real time (specially reverberation). But, they sound really good and, are a bargain for its price.
Note: this was my vision on July 2009. Nowadays, I am using T-Racks practically for every project and, I love them and, very specially the Fairchild, Pulteq, 1179 and L2-2A emulations but, also their Breakwall Limiter and the Classic Compressor.


Two plugins here, the Redline Monitor and Redline Reverb.
The reverberation is very common but, the Redline Monitor is an awesome tool!.
This little plugin allows me to hear the mix thru my headphones as if I were hearing them thru my monitors.
The plugin shifts the stereo image, specially the phantom center, in a way that what you hear thru your headphones is very close to what you would hear thru your monitors.
Very useful for silent mixing tasks.
The only thing I don't like of this plugin is that adds some color to the mix and, alters the loudness level so, if you insert a Limiter before, the mix will be saturated. So, insert it just before the Brickwall Limiter.

Sound Toys Native Effects

This bundle has more or less the same thing spread into several modulation tools. They are very useful when you are looking for reverberation, echo and extreme delays. Very CPU efficient, even with the complexer effects with lots of feedback.
They work smoothly and have lots of available presets and it's very user friendly.
Probably not the reverberation you want for you mix, overall but, it can be exactly what you needed for that wanted FX.


I've checked the BitterSweet and the Stereo Tool.
The Stereo Tool is useful when you hanven't any better tool to check your stereo image and your phase correlation. Stereo Tools is coloring the mix.
The BitterSweet seems somewhat similat to BBE or some kind of exciter but, it doesn't results exciting to me. BBE works way best.

Kjaerhus free plugins

It's classic series of plugins is of medium quality and some can be useful just for certain tracks. Nothing wrong, nothing good.

KR free series

Their Reverberation and Delay work in the same league as Kjaerhus ones.

Other plugins

I've test a bunch of other free and demo plugins but, I've deleted most of them so, I don't even remember their name or maker.

One of the most interesting plugins I bought is FXpansion VST to RAS Addapter. It allows you to search in your disk for VST plugins and to convert them to RTAS plugins, to be used directly inside Pro Tools. So, now I am able to include good VST plugins in my Pro Tools sessions.
I've tested the tools over 200 VST plugins and, the plugins was able to convert around 95% of them. Awesome. Therefore, this tool worths what it costs and opens a lot of possibilities for Pro Tools.
To masterize, I am evaluating  if to purchase a TC Powercore unit (but is a lot of money) but, I have concerns about how good will work with Pro Tools. I've read that it has VST plugins that can be used inside Pro Tools after being converted to RTAS but, that those include a lot of Latency and they consume lots of CPU resources. So, if the goal was to use outboard gear to reduce the CPU load and, I am achieving the contrary, it doesn't seem the best solution.
Same happens to UAD cards.

Home Studio: Drums From Hell Expansion for EZDrummer


This entry was already posted in my old Spanish version of this blog during July 2009. I am just revisiting here that entry.

EZDrummer delivers a very limited set of instruments, with a very basic drumkit and a limited amount of drum patterns to play.
The DFH expansion is oriented to Hard Rock and, more specifically to Metal, increasing the number of instruments (toms, plates, double-kick, etc), patches for each instrument and patterns.


Same way as with the original EZDrummer, same need of registering the software. Other than that, once installed, everything is available under the same user interface of EZDrummer and, you just need to select the drumkit of your DFH expansion. Automatically, the interface adapts to the new drumkit, which means a lot more of different plates, a double-kick drum, more toms, etc. This expansion upgrades a very basic drumkit with a huge metal drumkit.

How it sounds

Simply, bestial!.
The original drumkit is somewhat dull or smooth, nice for very standard work but, not powerful enough for hard rock or metal stuff. So, if you want that sound, this expansion is a must for you.
The patterns are practically all oriented to metal but, playing with half tempo, they can be reused in other kind of styles, as well. For sure, you can always use the patterns that came with the original EZDrummer with this new drumkit and enjoy how alive they sound now.

Even that the number of instruments included in the drumkit are way more (6 toms, 2 kicks, several plates...), the number of outputs (tracks) is the same (8) and therefore, you need to combine some of the patches together, in the same track. By example, all toms together, all kicks together, all overheads together, etc.
The way to prepare things for recording those outputs is exactly the same we already discussed for EZDrummer 1.1.6 and Pro Tools 8.0 LE (see previous entry).

29 October 2012

Home Studio: EZ Drummer 1.1.6 and Pro Tools 8.0 LE


This is a revisited entry already published in my old Spanish version of this blog that I found interesting to share again here. Information is related to April 2009.

Why EZ Drummer?

If I could, I would record real drums for sure but, the real thing is that I have not a drum kit, I have no space for it and, I am not a drummer so, simply no way.

Next step was to buy some loop libraries. I bought some Smart Loop and all Drums On Demand available packs. Smart Loops allow you to include the loop as multi-track, therefore you have a better control over every instrument of your drumkit but, the main issue is that those loops aren't sorted in a way that can make them easy to use. Additionally, the same loop was recorded with 3 different drumkits, being one of them a Dry (unprocessed) one. They result me difficult to work with so, I searched more alternatives in Internet and, finally, I went to Drums On Demand loops.
DOD loops are better structured and sound good enough. It's easier to find a loop that can be closer to what your are looking for your song but, the organization of loops is a bit inconsistent. By example, for one "song" (that is the way how they are being ordered) you can find an intro, verse, chorus, bridge, fills and endings and, even alternatives for each one but, such a structure isn't the same for each song and, for some songs, you can have really very few parts to play with.
One more issue is that all the drums are already processed and, equalization, compression and other studio settings change from song to song and, more specifically, from library to library. Therefore, if you try to get some part of one song and mix it with some parts of other songs (because they better suit your song), results can be very frustrating, because of the differently processing for each song.
Also, the available styles are very limited. If you find a song that fully suits your project then, DOD is really useful. The main issue is that you have no independent control over the different instruments of the drumkit, so you cannot change the settings of plates are high or low, by example, there is nothing else you can do to correct it. Also, the drumkit is already equalized and compressed and, it can suit better or worst to your song's settings.
I was using Session Drummer 2 in Sonar 7. Very easy to use and with the possibility to route every instrument to an individual track and, with some loops really useful but, as in the case of SL loops, the structure and organization of such a loops was very chaotic. Also, the available drumkits were poor and with low sounding quality (hi hat, crashes and rhythm plates sounded specially bad). But, that program saved me a couple or three times, by using the loops already available or, creating myself my own loops.
So I focused my search in a similar program but with better quality.

At this time, everybody seemed to agree that the only possible alternatives were BFD2, Addictive Drums and EZDrummer. A version Lite of BFD is already included with Pro Tools Factory so, I had the opportunity to personally check that software. Probably, BFD is deeper, allowing me to control everything to reach the sound I am looking for but, because of this, it's really complex to handle and far away of my idea of "easy to use" so, I quickly discarded BFD2.

I reviewed some videos about Addictive Drums, as well as others related to BFD2 and EZDrummer, to have a global idea o each product. I've found Addictive Drums as an easy to use program but, I didn't like their sounds and, specially their plates.
I also discarded the big brother of EZD, Superior Drummer, since it seemed to me as complex or even more than BFD2 so, I finally decided to go for EZD, as the best compromised solution.

Installation (first)
So, I've installed EZDrummer over Pro Tools 8.0 (upgraded from 7.4) and, I choose one of my songs with sequenced drums and pending on some arrangements.
The  Drag and Drop option of EZDrummer to the track of Pro Tools DIDN'T WORK!!!.

I went to EZD and PT forums, to see if someone else had issues and... surprisingly YES!. I wrote a mail to the technical support of PT, asking for a solution and, I am still waiting for some answer! (what a shitty technical support that PT has!).
The answers in EZD forums weren't of help, also. For half people, everything worked fine and, for the other half things simply didn't work. So, I've started to thing that, maybe the installation order could fix the issues.
After installing EZD, I completely erased PT 8.0 and re-installed it.
Since this instant, everything worked silky and, I can drag and drop midi samples from EZD to Pro Tools' tracks. So, you better install EZD before Pro Tools!.

Updated info at  July 2010

Those installation problems were occurring just in the case that you installed first Pro Tools 7.4 and then, the upgrade to 8.0.
If you start a brand new 8.0 installation, all those issues disappear.

Working with EZDrummer

EZD comes with an user interface really easy and direct. You have a basic drumkit represented (hi hat, snare, kick drum, 3 drums, rhythm plate and crash plate) and, about 4 to 6 alternative for each instrument. From those alternatives, I liked more the ones coming as default.
So, you select first every instrument (if you don't like the default one) and that's all. You can directly hear how the alternative patch works just pushing the mouse over the drum or plate.
There are still two more things that you can do in this user friendly interface: to select a loop and to access the mixing board.
Loops' organization is reasonable. You have a basic style and, whitin each style, several loop patterns (basically, snare and kick drum patterns change in tempo along the different patterns). For each of those patters, you have several variants (with open hi hat, semi-open hi hat or closed hi hat, with crash plates, with rhythm plate, etc.).
One more interesting thing is that any of those loops can be heard with their original tempo, or at double or half tempo and, you can mix them in your midi track in any of such a formats.
Any loop can be drag and drop to your midi track and, you can edit it to your taste.

The mixer allows you to individually control: kick drum, snare top, snare bottom, hi hat, tom 1, tom 2, tom 3, plates and ambient. Each bus can be independently routed to a different output track (track 1 to 8) so, you can record each of its 8 outputs in a different audio track in your DAW. The only controls that you have available for each track (output) are: volume and panoramization, that's all.

In Cakewalk Sonar, it's really easy to use. You just insert EZDrummer as a Sequencer and, when you insert it you select to create the track for the midi input and 8 mono outputs. You arm the automatically created 8 tracks for recording and, you start recording the loops you dropped in your midi track.
In Pro Tools, the work is a bit harder. You need first to create an Instrument track and to assign EZD as the instrument for that track. That track will be also the midi track (where you will drop the loops), as well as the first audio output (output track 1 in EZD), usually the kick drum.
After this, you need to create 7 more Auxiliary tracks and to select as their input the EZ track, from the Instrument Group. You will be able to individually control each EZD track with the Auxiliary tracks but, you will not be able to record anything in those auxiliary tracks. Therefore, you will need to create 8 more audio tracks to be able to record the output of the Auxiliary tracks and, to do that you will need to route the auxiliary track outputs to some internal bus and, the audio tracks will have as input such a bus. That means that you will hijack 8 internal buses just for the drumkit and, this is a real issue, depending on how many do you need for other tasks and how many are available for your PT's version!.

And how it sounds?

Well, the sound is acceptable but, nothing that can replace a real drumkit, you know. Loops have some "feeling" so, they are useful.
At least, you have an individual control over the kick drum, the snare, the hi hat and toms. You don't have separate control over plates, instead. The last track (output) of EZD is the Drum Room. That output has a mix of the rest of instruments, processed with some reverberation, that emulates some mics getting the ambience's sound.

At least, you can always leave there the same drumkit and, readjust later any compression or equalization parameter, from project to project or, whitin the same project, if you change your mind at any time.

What am I missing?
It would be very interesting to include some homogeneous structure in their loops and that, all them included intros, bridges, variants with plates, etc. Even that it is easy to add some midi notes to change which plate should sound (crash instead of rhythm, by example), you will never be able to get the feeling that the drummer gives to the endings, by example.

One more thing I am missing is higher variety. Available loops are very few, even taking into account that can be multiplied by 3 if you play with the double and half tempos.
I know that they are selling separate libraries that will increase the loops, as well as the available drumkits.


I think is a good alternative or, at least, one more weapon. Its user friendly interface allows you to quickly determine if there is some available loop that you can use in your project (you can hear the loop at normal, double or half tempo, to help to decide). You can always retouch the loop midi that sounds closer to your needs, until it suits your project.
It is quicker than look for audio loops in any of my loop libraries and, I have the possibility to adjust the sound to my taste (compression, equalization, reverberation, echo, flanger...), something that you cannot do with an already processed loop.

Home Studio: the long walk from Sonar 7 to Pro Tools 8 - Part 3


Originally, this entry was published during March 2009, in my old Spanish version of this blog. I am revisiting this entry, together with the previous two, because I find them interesting for that people that wants to migrate from Cakewalk Sonar 7 PE to Pro Tools 8.0 LE.

Current situation (at March 2009)

Finally, I was able to work with acidized loops!!!.

There are several things that you have to take into account if you change from Sonart to Pro Tools. In Pro Tools you have to:

  1. Go to the window named Workspace and, push the button with a metronome icon, to be able to hear the loop in your project's tempo, instead of the original file's tempo. This, Sonar explorer does automatically, without your notice or intervention.
  2. Go to any of the loop files and push that button with an speaker icon. If you pushed the metronome button, the wav file will be analyzed looking for its structure and ticks and, an Ok mark will appear to its left hand, before you can hear the loop.
  3. To be able to drag and drop the llop as a region with "Elastic Time", you need to previously change the option Setup -> Preferences, tab Processing, Drag and Drop from Desktop Conforms to Session Tempo, radiobutton group set to All Files.
  4. With this option active, the loop will be pasted to the track with elastic time properties, independently of if the track was defined as to wrok with Samples or Ticks.
  5. To adjust the imported loop to your session's tempo, you will need first to push the button Conductor, in the transport bar and to choose the tempo for your project.
  6. Only then, you will be able to change the track from Samples to Ticks and, to select some kind of algorithm to be applied to adjust the tempo (Polyphonic, Monophonic, etc).
  7. Once done with previous steps, you can enjoy the looping options of Pro Tools, way versatiler than in Sonar.
Something that doesn't work very well is to apply faders to a couple of acidized loops. If you do that and you try to consolidate both regions in a single one, part of the information in one or the other stereo channel is missed. So, you better leave your fade outs for the end of the project.

Well, it's time to migrate Sonar projects to Pro Tools!.

Home Studio: The long walk from SONAR 7 to Pro Tools 8 - Part 2


This entry was posted on March 2009, in my old Spanish blog and, it's a continuation of the previous entry, where I've described the incredible complexity of Pro Tools installation and, my first impressions, coming from Cakewalk SONAR 7 PE.

One more related entry (also posted during 2009) will complete the "trip" from SONAR 7 PE to Pro Tools 8.0 LE.

Current Situation (at March 2009)

In my previous related entry, I've already talked about the installation issues that I've suffered while installing Pro Tools 8.0 LE. In the meanwhile, I've contacted Digidesign because I was unable to work with the audio interface Rack-003 and Cakewalk SONAR 7 PE. The answer I've received from Digidesign is: "Contact Cakewalk". What a wonderful, useful and friendly technical service!. I am impressed!.

But, as I am old cat, I already contacted simultaneously with Cakewalk. After 3 mails technically correct but, perfectly unuseful, I've received a mail that really fixed the issue. Thanks, Cakewalk!. You are slow but, at least, you attend your customers!.

So, if you have SONAR 7 PE and you want to use it with Digidesign Rack-003, be sure to unmark following option:

Options -> Audio -> Advanced Tab -> Use Multiprocessing Engine

After unflagging such an option, the Rack-003 comes back to life and it can be used flawless with SONAR 7!.
While all that was happening, I've also received my near field monitors (Dynaudio BM5A) and the headphones (Sony MDR-7509HD) and, I was able to route the monitor's output of the Rack-003 to one input in my PC's audio card.
The output level of the Rack-003 is so high that my integrated audio card delivers a very high distortion level. I had to lower the input level below a 10% in such an input and, even like this, I still have distortion.
But, ok, that's enough to route the output of Pro Tools to my multimedia speakers and check the portability of the mix.

I think that the integrated audio card (RealTek HD) is introducing interferences. In fact, I think it's even catching radio aficionado's talks. I've removed my old Creative X-Fi audio card and, as I give it as a gift to a friend of mine, I cannot go back.

My short experience with Pro Tools 8.0 LE as experienced user in SONAR 7 PE   Since I've got both DAWs properly working, with the same audio interface, I can establish some comparisons here.
First - learning curve

The learning curve in Pro Tools is higher but, I really think it worths more the time spent to learn Pro Tools in depth. There are a lock of tricks that allow you to cut, copy, paste, duplicate, loop and any other common edition need in a faster way that can be done with SONAR.

Second - the sound

Using same source material and working it both, in SONAR and Pro Tools, any possible doubt is gone. Pro Tools sounds better!. PERIOD!.

Third - plugins
Pro Tools can seem a bit weak respect of plugins, if we compare it with the big amount of plugins that are being included with the purchase of SONAR 7 PE but, the sound quality that is being obtained with Pro Tools' plugins is radically different to the one obtained with SONAR 7 PE plugins. PERIOD!.
Additionally, it's easier to tweak the controls of Pro Tools' plugins and achieve good results.
The virtual instruments sound "more professional" also, in my honest opinion.

Forth - Recording
Recording tasks are easier with SONAR. You can always to choose between to hear or not the track you are recording, even if you aren't recording. Pro Tools is a bit more complex. To hear one instrument, you should arm the track (R) and, change the option Track -> Input Only Monitoring to Track -> Auto Input Monitoring. In that case, you will hear the already recorded track until the punch spot (where you start to record) and, when the punch spot starts you will hear the direct sound of your instrument. In SONAR you are able to even hear both parts simultaneously.
Something that I don't like in Pro Tools is that you cannot control the input volume inside Pro Tools. You should control the input volume in your sound source. So, if if you have a signal level very high in you input, the results will be clipped and distorted. There is no way to attenuate the input level in Pro Tools.
SONAR has a better approach, in my opinion, allowing you to monitorize the recording level and, allowing you to adjust it with the fader control, to avoid distortion during recording. The bad thing in SONAR is that the input level becomes the output level of the track, also.

The takes are better organized in Pro Tools (Regions) and, they are easier to work than in SONAR.

Fifth - Edition
If you work with audio, Pro Tools is simply faster than SONAR for editing tasks.
It's really easy to cut and paste, duplicate regions (parts of a track) or complete tracks, to establish loops with audio files (with options as to reproduce loop until next loop, etc.). Crossfades between two adjacent regions or including all regions of a track are really easy to do (and they work really good!).

Pro Tools include 4 different edition modes and, each one is useful for a very defined task. In my opinion, it worth the time to learn each one (or at least 3 of them) to speed up your edition work.
One of the things that its driving me crazy in Pro Tools is the Tempo. In Pro Tools you can work with any kind of audio file, independently of the preset Tempo so, you can have the metronome set up to 100 bpm and, maybe you are recording parts at 190 bpm.
In SONAR, Tempo is a keystone. When you import an acidiced wav, the file will automatically converted to the Tempo of your session and, the file length will fit to the score.
Pro Tools is more complex. The acidized files doesn't convert to the Tempo of your session, by default. There are some tools that allow you to adjust the wav file to your Tempo but, they modify the pitch of the sound.
I guess there should be any other way, by example to import wav files as Ticks, instead of Audio and then, to use tools of the Elastic Time set to better control the importation of such a files but, at this moment, it is not clear for me how to do it.
Something that I like in SONAR and that I am missing in Pro Tools is the possibility to explore acidized loop, hearing them with the session's tempo. Pro Tools is playing the file preserving their original tempo so, it's quite difficult to understand if the file will suit your session or not.

Options for Midi and Score are way huger in SONAR. PERIOD!. Pro Tools is mainly focused to audio.

Sixth - Mixing

In SONAR you can create an unlimited number of tracks. That limit is only restricted by the processing capacity of your PC. In Pro Tools the maximum number of tracks depends on the version of the program that you purchased and, they are really few. Same happens with the auxiliary buses, which number is even lower. By example, Pro Tools 7.4 allows 8 stereo buses or 16 mono buses. Pro Tools 8.0 allows you 16 stereo buses or 32 mono buses. To double the number of available tracks and buses, you need to purchase some additional pack that costs a lot of money.

Anyway, the routing options (sends) of Pro Tools are more naturals and follow the pattern of studio mixing desks. Controls are more complex to understand if you come from Sonar, because the send level of each track to the bus is hidden and, you need to open the bus to adjust it.

But, overall, mixing tasks are more comfortable in Pro Tools. Like the sound is more accurate, it's way easier to achieve a good mix.

Importing and exporting files, Sonar is more versatile. It can work with more file types than Pro Tools and, it automatically readjust file's formats to your current project. You can mix files of any resolution (16, 24 or 32 bits) and any sampling frequency (22.1, 44.2, ...); Sonar automatically and transparently adapts the files to your project' settings, without modifying the original file.

Pro Tools is more restrictive, in this sense. You select the settings for your project just before creating it and, then, every imported file should be converted to suit your project' settings and, once you fixed the settings for your project, you cannot change them later. In Sonar, you can choose to change your settings at any time, going from 16 to 32 bits, without impact.
So, the way to work with files in Sonar is more advanced and flexible than in Pro Tools.

To be continued...

I am still learning the basics so, I will come back with additional info, once I am more familiar with Pro Tools.

Amps: Orange Rockerverb 50 head + PPC212 cab


This entry was already published in my previous blog in Spanish, during March 2009. I am revisiting here the entry and adding information derived of the use of this head.
Information about this head corresponds to the first version of the Rockerverb (MKI, if you like it) and, not to the next MKII one.


This head is a Limited Edition that has white tolex and that was specially made for NAAM '96. The cab is standard Orange, with the typical orange tolex.

The look of the head is impressive. It smells to quality everywhere and looks to be built like a tank. The white tolex makes it really sexy, more than with the typical orange tolex. The logo of the 2009 Limited Edition and the Great Britain flag hanging of the handle complete the picture.
The head isn't so long as a Marshall head but, maybe a bit wider.

The PPC212 cab is HUGE, really huge and weighty, with a closed back and a pair of Celestion V30 loaded inside. As the cab, smells to quality and his weight says about the amount of wood used to build it. It comes without casters so, it's a pain to move it from here to there.

The complete pack costed me LESS than a Mesa Boogie 5/25 combo and, that's a good point for such a rig.

The head has two foot switchable channels, one clean and a second one overdrived. The first one is delivering sweet clean tones while the second one can cover crunch levels, as the JTM45 ones, to modern hi-gain, with some JTM800 sounds in between (gain around 6-7).

Clean channel has three available controls: Volume, Treble and Bass so, the Mids are obtained be tweaking trebles and basses in different ways, a bit tricky but, its made in a way that it's really difficult to set it up in a wrong sounding way.
Dirty channel additionally has a Gain and a Mids control, so it can be tweaked more accurately.
Both channels share the Reverberation but, rest of controls are independent.

On the back panel, several speaker outputs that allow any kind of cabs configuration, the jacks for the two foot switches (channel and reverb) and a "Damping Switch" that changes the negative loop feedback behaviour, changing the foundational voice of the head, from classic and dynamic to modern and compressed.

The Sound

The Damping Switch on the back panel controls the way the Feedback Loop works in the amp. In its HIGH position, the sound becomes thicker and compresser, with less dynamics and better for modern stuff. In its LOW position, the sound becomes more classic, with great dynamics and better for classic rock stuff.

The amp loads 4 6V6GT tubes so, it delivers more American cleans than other Orange models. Cleans are realy beautiful, even that they can sound a bit sterile at low levels, when the dial is about number 6 or 7 the sound is really good. Not a Fender clean, not a Vox clean, it has its own clean but, a very nice one.
The reverb is ENORMOUS-MOUS-MOUS-MOUS and, can easily go from discrete and subtle to the hyper-space. With the right amount of Reverb and a Stratocaster, you can dial really nice tones there.

The Dirty chanel covers a lot of ground and goes from slight overdrived crunch (a la JTM45) to creamy and thick high gain, with JMC800 tones in between. Since the tubes are more American flavored than British, the distortion character is more creamy than crunchy but, it delivers nice rock tones but, slightly modernly sounding.

The independent group of controls allows you to easily balance the loudness levels of both channels, in a way that switching from one to other, you retain same level.

Be sure to test the amp in both modes, because it behaves very differently in dynamics and overall feel, being my preferred setting the LOW one, because it's more dynamic and classic sounding but, for more high gain stuff, probably the HIGH mode is the one you would like more.

About headroom: more than enough.The amp can easily eat with potatoes the hardest of the drummers and, it's incredible loud. In fact, to really enjoy the sound of that amp you have to really crank it (at least, at 6 or 7) and, at that loudness, the amp can be painful louder, if the room isn't big enough.
The Dirty channel allows you to play to lower levels, even that when you achieve the real mojo is also when cranked enough. Even that the gain doesn't reach the level of the red channels of Mesa Boogies or Diezel or similar, they can go really thick in the HIGH mode and, very close. It has a good amount of basses and, works fine with detuned tunings.

This is clearly NOT an amp for home practicing and, even too loud for studio work. It's a real gigging amp or, to be played in a band. If you plan to use it at home or studio, maybe you will want to use some kind of attenuator or an smaller cab with less efficient speakers, since the V30 are one of loudests.

The FX Loop is fantastic and, not a surprise, since Orange was the company that introduced first the FX Loop concept in amps. All pedals I've tested in front and in the loop worked flawless and, the amp seems to take with ease everything.


Even that I have some videos with the Rockerverb, I wasn't satisfied with them so, I would prefer to link videos of some other user that I find more interesting than mine to demostrate some of the amp's character.

Also, for more high gain tones, Monkeylord can give some light here:

28 October 2012

Home Studio: The long walk from Sonar 7 to Pro Tools 8 - Part 1


Note: This is an entry that I've already posted in Spanish on February/2009. Just revisiting it, since it has some interest for people walking the same path.

After some time visiting the studio of a friend of mine, I'ver realized that, for recording, mixing and editing, Pro Tools is the way to go. Seen how he cuts, pastes, build the fadings, etc, I've realized that works way faster than myself with Cakewalk SONAR 7 Producer Edition.

One more issues is that, I am bringing my SONAR projects to studio and, then, I start to hear some low and high frequential content that I wasn't able to hear at home and, that they seem to be revealed there magically thru his monitors.

So, I made some money, selling all my guitars except for one and, y bought an audio interface Digidesign DIGI-003 Rack Factory, that includes Pro Tools 7.4 LE and, the possibility to upgrade to 8.0 LE for free.
I bought also a couple of autoamplified near field studio monitors (Dynaudio BM5A) and, a headphones to monitorize the mix (Sony MDR7509HD), that I am still waiting for.
At this point of time, I have to monitorize my work with my old multimedia speakers (Creative Gigaworks T20) and old headphones (Sony MDR-V700). Since I still didn't received everything, I am just playing with Pro Tools, trying to learn something useful. I cannot go further in mixing tasks until I have my studio monitors.

So, consider this entry as the first experiences of a Cakewalk SONAR user that tries the Pro Tool path.


Incredible complex!!!!.

SONAR is being smoothly installed. You give the installation Key and everything goes fluidly. Later, you can apply the additional patches, downloaded from Internet, that are very easy to identify, locate, download and install, with clear instructions about the requirements for each patch and what's the correct installation order.

Pro Tools needs that you create first an user account in http://www.digidesign.com/ and, that you validate the product there before you can even start the installation, therefore, if you don't have an Internet connexion, you are sold.
The installation disk comes with several folders were you have programs and additional plugins. From those, you are not clear about which of them were included in your purchase.

Every plugin has to be validated, as well. So, you need to go to your Digidesign account and look for the validation keys for each included plugin. If that plugin belongs to a third party, you will additionally need one more account in such Third Party's web, among their own validation key.

If your plugin wants an iLok key (an USB device that hijacks one of your available USB ports, just because is mandatory for Pro Tools) then, you will need to create an account in http://www.ilok.com also, and you will need to synchronize your licenses within your iLok USB key.

When you finished installing the additional software (Ignition Pack Pro 2, AIR, etc) and, you already created all the necessary accounts, then it's time to validate the upgrade to version 8.0 LE and, you have to download all the installation files from Internet.
After my first try, I've downloaded a corrupt file (after 4 hours downloading). So, I searched in Internet for some kind of Download Manager software, to better ensure the download quality and to be able to stop and resume download at any time.
Surpresively, to install the Upgrade, you must first uninstall 7.4 before. But... wasn't it an UPGRADE???.
Some of the plugins I had are now gone while new ones appeared so, the dance of licenses starts again. Damn!.

Digidesign people: please, think on the final user and make it userfriendly!!!.

Windows' sound

I've removed my old sound card, a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum, to avoid any potential issue with that Rack 003. The Rack 003 isn't being populated in the list of Windows Audio Cards so, there is no way to route Windows' sounds thru the Rack 003.
¡What a nice!.

You to Youtube and you can watch the video and hear nothing. You cannot replay music with your Windows Media Player, etc.
I've lost a lot of time looking for some alternative solution. I've read that there is certain Driver for Windows that allows to use the Rack 003 with Windows, even without installing Pro Tools.
There is the possibility to install some third party utility, that allows to add windows applications to the list of the driver so, you can add the WM Player, etc.
So... I went to Digidesign site and downloaded the driver and the software tool and, I tested both.
First issue: the standalone driver cannot be installed if you already have Pro Tools installed. Oh my God!.
Second issue: there are available drivers for version 7.4 but, there is none available for 8.0.

So..... whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat now?.

Like my PC has an integrated audio card in the motherboard, I decide to activate it and to reroute the exit of such a cart to one auxiliary input of the Rack 003.
How smart I am!. How good I feel!.
Testing, testing... NO SOUND!
Uh? eh? ah?

If you wanted to hear your auxiliary input, you should push that nice button that says "Aux In".
Ok, let me push y and... I can start to hear Windows' sound.
Nice, nice, really nice. Time to check the damn program. I can believe how smart I am. How good I am resolving problems. Starting Pro Tools....
Uh? eh? ah?

Now, I want to hear my Pro Tools session, I have to push again the button "Aux in", to "disconnect" Windows' sound.
Theoretically, If I use the button "Aux in 7-8" then, I would be able to hear the auxiliary input within Pro Tools but then, inputs 7 and 8 remain inactive for recording (not an issue in my case). I try this option and... IT DOESN'T WORK!. Once that Pro Tools gets the control, forget Windows.

Man, all this is driving me crazy!.

And, what about Pro Tools?

Comparing it to SONAR, the learning curve is way higher.
By example, to be able to ear the metronome while recording, you need to add an instrument track, inserting an instrument called Click.
The 4 different edition modes could be really useful once you have very clear how to work with each one and when to use them but, they are a nightmare if you never used something like this.
To route a track to some auxiliary bus is a child's game in SONAR, you just create a new bus when you need it and you route the track's output to such a bus and then, that bus can be routed to one more, etc.
Same thing in Pro Tools seems more cryptic, you first needs to route the track to an internal bus (and you have just 8 mono buses or 4 stereo!!!) and, from that bus to an auxiliary track that reads from that bus.

The number of maximum tracks and buses in SONAR is just limited by the processing power of your PC but, in Pro Tools, that number is being limited with the Program's version.
Even all this, I've decided to learn Pro Tools, because it seems to be the standard in Studio and, I am planning to use it to record and mix but, I think I will remain using SONAR to work with MIDI tracks and, to be able to use some of their high collection of plugins and virtual instruments.

Time to test SONAR with Rack 003


Damn!, I cannot hear any of my SONAR's projects. I planned to bounce my midi tracks in audio format to lately import them into Pro Tools and, now it seems I cannot use SONAR because the program just hangs when I try to start replaying any project.
Digidesign people: think on the final user, try to do your products more compatible!.

Revisited Final Comments

Certainly my first steps with Pro Tools were an authentic nightmare and, to install first version 7.4, uninstall it and reinstall version 8.0 probably was the wrong of the possible paths but, it seemed the natural one since what I had was an upgrade from 7.4 to 8.0.
Some time later, I had everything uninstalled and started the installation directly with version 8.0 and, avoiding to install things that I know (this time, yes) that weren't included in the pack and, everything went smoother but, as complex as mentioned above in the rest of aspects.

Also, the issue with SONAR freezing immediately after pushing the PLAY button was due to some of the many options of Sonar. After discussing it with the tech people, I was able to play SONAR projects by using the Rack 003 card.

Windows audio issues were also solved later, as soon as the fresh installation of the version 8.0 was done, the Rack 003 card was listed under the Windows Audio devices and then, everything worked flawless but, with the restrictions already mentioned above so, the windows sounds are being disconnected when Pro Tools gets control.

My second entry related to Pro Tools will talk about this things and, include a better insight between SONAR and Pro Tools differences. This current entry was the tale of a nightmare installation.

27 October 2012

Home Studio: Palmer PDI-03 Speaker Simulator

When I lived in an small flat, full of neighbors, with paper-like walls, there was no way to play even with the smallest of the amps, without disturbing my neighbors. If I roll off the volume, the sound  lacks dynamics and any possible mojo, making me boring the session and frustrated. If I raise the level, I start to play very shy, avoiding a high attack that can sound so loud to disturb so, I am feeling frustrated again.

What to do, then?.
Well, I knew that that was the possibility to use a dummy-load unit to minimize the loudness of the sound of the speaker, while the tubes inside the amp were working hard so, I did some research and had the conclusion that the Palmer PDI-03 is probably the most tone-preservative dummy load till that moment.

And that's my review of such a studio gear.


Palmer has a lot of Direct Injection and Speaker Simulator units but, probably the one that gave them their well established name was the PDI-03 unit.
It comes in 1U Rack size, seems to be well crafted and with quality components.

A couple of knobs on the front (Filter Volume and Line Volume) and a couple of switches to emulate the sound of different cabs.

On rear panel, connectors for amp's head input, a speaker-thru output, 4 line level outputs (without speaker emulation) and 1 filtered (speaker emulation) output in two formats (balanced XLR and unbalanced TR jack).

This allows you to connect your amp's head without hearing the speaker, if you don't link your speaker to the Speaker Thru output, for a silent recording. But, you can also use it for recording, while hearing your amp at full throttle with that Speaker Thru output.

For direct recording, you have two possibilities and both can be used together.
The filtering output is delivering mic levels, as any traditional XLR connection and, therefore, needs of some pre-amp in order to amplify its signal level. The filtered output signal level is being controlled with the Filtered Volume knob and, it's speaker emulation is voiced with the two switches, that provide 9 different types of cab emulations.
The Line outputs are 4 and, share same raw signal, as it comes from the head and without the speaker emulation and, at Line signal levels, what needs an adequate pre-amp for such a levels (around -10dB). The level of those outputs is regulated with the Line Volume knob and, the other two switches have no effect, since there is no speaker emulation there. It can be used with an additional Speaker Emulation software in your DAW, anyway.

Everything together gives a big versatility to this unit, allowing silent recording with up to nine different speaker cabinet emulations and, providing both, speaker emulation output and raw output to your mix console or audio card.

How it sounds

The two volume controls are very interesting to maintain the input level on your preamp below overs. The raw sound of the line input can be recorded in a track and then, re-cab'd with the help of an Speaker Simulator plugin, of those that work with impulse files for a more realistic result. I tried it with Amplitube 3, just switching on the cab simulation section of the software and, switching off everything else (amplifier and stop boxes simulations).

The simulated output of the Palmer works specially well with overdrived or distorted sounds and, the different voices help to give to the final result the sensations between an small combo loading a 10" speaker up to a 4x12" cab.
Results aren't so accurate when playing clean stuff. For clean work I would prefer other solution instead. It seems that other simulators, as the Power Brake by Marshall, can work better in those cases.

Even that the Palmer unit was probably the best available Speaker Simulator for a long while, nowadays we can find some other interesting units around. I personally changed this Palmer PDI-03 with a TAD Silencer that, in my opinion, works better for cleans. But, I recognize that the PDI-03 has a better control, because of its dedicated volume knob and, that the format of the Silencer isn't the right one to stack it in a Rack unit but, to lay over the amp or table, in any case.

Note: This test was done during year 2008 and published in my old Spanish blog so, I am revisiting this entry here.

22 October 2012

Pedals: Checking different sound of the pedal board


After a while adapting myself to my wamplerized pedalboard, I think I've reached some point where I think I have every pedal set up to work alone but also stacked with the rest. So, I wanted to check different combinations for my own memory but, maybe they can be useful also for your needs.

I would like to share my impressions about how each pedal is contributing to my tone.

Tricky Clean Foundational Sound

I couldn't lie anyone, the best tones are always those coming directly from a tube amp with its tubes boiling but, unfortunatelly, is not always possible to put the amp in the desirable loudness level to make it sing and, that's the situation where some pedals can help to have a good tone even at lower levels.

To restore some high end, lost because of the capacitance of the cable (even using a high quality cable as Evidence Audio The Forte) and, some signal stregth, I have the Wampler Clean Buffer always on. For sure, any other quality buffer will do the trick. Since the amp was previously set up for a darker sound, the tone stack should be revisited again to compensate highs. Any buffer that I've used makes the sound apparently thinner and harsh but, this sensation quickly disapears when heard in the mix.

To give some ambience, I am using the Wampler Faux Tape Echo, with some kind of Slap delay. It's not really an slap delay but just the first echoisclearly heard, while the rest fade out quickly. This unit has some kind of emulation of a typical tape echo unit (as the Echoplex), saving the differences.

To give the final touch, I am using the Xotic EP Booster, with just the right amount of gain to put the sound on the border of break up. In that way, picking hard the tube breaks up and, picking soft the sound remains clean.The EP Booster was modeled from an EchoPlex unit so, I found natural to always place it before the Tape Echo simulation to make it more convincent.

This three pedals are just enhancing the signal, preserving the natural tone of guitar and amp but, adding some attractive nuances.

I build rest of sounds over this tricky clean foundational tone.

Compressor at work

A compressor pedal can have as many creative uses as you wanted but, in my case, I am using the compressor more like a sustainer than a compressor. I usually don't like to kill my attach but, a single-coil loaded guitar, as the Stratocaster, can benefit sometimes of an added sustain.
For sure, I am maintaining some compression level that helps to level the average level of every note during arpeggio parts.

In general, the compressor is adding sustain to the tails of the sound, while preserving most of the attack. In front of other gain pedals (overdrives and distortions), I find it as clarifying the signal. I think the reason is that because the peaks in both directions (high and low peaks) of the signal are being smoothened, the gain stages tend to clip less. Another clear effect is a very sustained sound, that can last long and provide some feedback at the end.

Also, when the Chorus is being combined with gain pedals, the compressor helps to clarify a bit the signal, making more present the chorus effect that, can be masked with the distortion.


Thre are the overdrives I am loading in my pedal board and, one more will come soon (tweed '57).


It's some kind similar to a Tube Screamer, but very different and way more versatile. It has a clear bump in Mids, a bit in the darker mids and, remembers me the overdrive sound of a combo (somewhat boxy). The distortion grain is smooth and creamy and, has an overall warmness.

It seems to like to push any other pedal and, its bump in mids helps to move the EQ of the guitar to its natural space in the mix.Very interesting used in combination with the Sovereign and the Plexi Drive to get some kind of Tube Scream in front of an old school cranked Marshall stack.


From the three modes, my election was the Smooth one, that is Wampler's take of the Dumbleish sound. Distortion grain is thick, more crunchy than creamy, in oposition to the grain of the Paisley. The EQ is somewhat even or, hollowed in the mids and basses are grainy and fat.
Used with other gain pedals, seems to clarify the signal, making notes more clear. Maybe, as in the case of the Compressor, has some compression level that it's not clearly noticiable but that can explain that behavior.

Likes to be pushed by the Paisley. With the Compressor in front, the overdrive quite well disapears. Stacked into the Sovereign gives a lot of clearity and adds some sustain. Stacked into the Plexi Drive, enhances the crunch and the mid highs.

Plexi Drive

More than an overdrive is some kind of Amp-in-a-box. Its sound was modeled to cover the earlier Marshalls, something between the JTM45 and the 1959. Intantanely, mid highs are present and, some crunchy overtones are randonmly appearing. It adds complex harmonics but, overdone, can sound honky and harsh.

With the Sovereign in front, you get that crunchy distortion a la Purple. With the Euphoria in front, you get a more british rock overdrived sound, with lots of crunch.
With the Compressor stacked into the Sovereign into the Plexi Drive, you get some Marshall stack alike tone.

It's a good pedal to make your open chords to sound huge and full of harmonical content, as well as for crunchy distortions.
Together with the Chorus, sounds very acoustic like,a bit on the brittle side but with lots of spark and chime.


Even that I've got the Wampler Pinnacle and the Wampler SLOstortion, those are one trip ponies that perfectly mime the driven sound of the amps  that they are modeling.
So, my workhorse is the Sovereign. This unit is highly versatile and can cover a wide ground of distortion sounds (even the Pinnacle and SLOstortion territory) but, I've set up it to a medium distortion or hard overdrive to be able to mix it with the rest of gain pedals without saturating or excesivelly clipping the signal.

I can even run Compressor into Paisley into Euphoria into Sovereign and into Plexi Drive and the sound is defined, thick and sustained but, feedback can be high.

The generic character off the Sovereign allows it to be reshaped with the sound of any other gain pedal stacked before or after. The different grains, clipping modes and EQs of the three overdrives give different nuances to the Sovereign so, we can achieve crunchy distortions as well as creamy and flutty distortions.


The Nirvana Chorus has two modes: chorus and vibrato. I've set up the pedal as I liked more and, to be honest, I am not sure if it is in Chorus or Vibrato mode but, I think is in vibrato mode.
The set up is very generic and, made to work in the most of cases and with cleans as well as with gain.

Over the "clean" foundational tone or with the compressor in front, it delivers very interesting tones that make arppegied work very interesting. Also for open chords and, overall for sustained notes.

Under gain, can be maked by an excesive distortion level but, the compressor at the beginning of the chain refocusses the sound and makes the chorus more apparent and defined.

The Video

I tried to compress a large testing session with the fundamentals but, you know, even like this, is about 30 minutes long. I wanted to "save" in the video the settings of the amp, as well as of every pedal, basically, for me, to recall them if I lost some. Maybe you want to check those, also.
I am sorry if some licks are quite well the same between some combinations but, sometimes is the best way to compare different versions of the same effect type.

19 October 2012

Wiring Diagram: Tele HH 4-way mod with independent volumes, 1 tone, and coil split


Guitar moded

Fender Telecaster, with two humbuckers

  • Two humbuckers
  • 2 volumes
  • 1 tone
  • 2 pull/push DPDT on/on switches (under each volume pot)

Difficulty level

Medium     Features
  • Addtional position for both pickups in series
  • Humbuckers individualy split
  • Independent volume control for each humbucker
  • Master tone

Wiring diagram

Click over the diagram to see it full sized.


Important: this mod need you to drill a new hole to place the tone pot (or the additional volume pull/push pot).
Positions are:

1. Neck
2. Neck in parallel with Bridge (regular Tele position)
3. Neck in series with Bridge (additional position)
4. Bridge

Every humbucker can be independently split so, you can select to have each one in humbucker or split mode for each of those positions, giving a wide range of sounds.

Neck's pull/push splits neck humbucker, while Bridge's pull/push splits bridge humbucker.
  Since each pickup has its own independent volume control, you can mix both pickups signal to your taste but, be aware that, when both are being combined in series, both controls interactuate and, the neck's volume becomes some kind of master volume. Also, take into account that if you totally roll off bridge's volume, when both pickups are in series, you will get no sound.

The Cost of the Cup of Tone



From some time, I am thinking about tone and wondering what's really true and what is just snake oil.
I made lots of statements to myself, trying to run away from GAS, trends or sexy looking gear.
Thoughts as: "guitar's wood cannot have a big impact on tone, pickups are generating the tone, you change the pickup, you change your tone" or "any guitar cable should work, it's just transmiting the signal" or... you get the picture!.

Experience always confirms or rejects what the satisfied mind said and, OMG, I was often wrong, trying to avoid any single change to my gear that supposed an additional cost!.
We always tend to think that in our axe is where the tone is and, that the rest of the chain is just adding some little bricks to our well based building.

You will see discussions about if guitar tone's caps sound different or not. There is nothing in electronics theory that can support this but, the truth (for a group of guitarists, including myself) is that different caps sound different (another discussion is how much this affects to the overall sound and, if it worths the money go for that cap or the other).

You use same pickup in two different axes with same construction, let say LP-like but of different qualities, let say a Gibson and a cheap Chinesse one and, they don't sound the same. Isn't the pickup the device that generates the signal?. So... what's the buzz there?.
You even get two axes of the same maker / model / price and they can show differences that make you to choose just one of both and, I am not talking about the look but, how you perform on each axe and how it sounds to you.

I bought 6 different cables, from cheap to high end to demonstrate to myself that cables will sound the same, using same axe, same amp, same overall setup and... I failed!, I had to recognize that cables sound and feel different!.

What about solid state or tubes?. They are just amps, they should just amplify what is being generated in my guitar, just making it louder... why people loves tube amps, that are a mess from the maintenance point of view?.
What about tubes themselves?. NOS?. If an slot is prepared for 12AX7, everything should sound the same just throwing there any 12AX7 tube of any maker any brand right?. Damn wrong!.
And if the tube is the holy grail in amp A, it should be the holy grail on the rest of my amps, right?. Damn wrong!.

And about speakers? shouldn't they just transparently convert to sound what the amp amplified?.
Why some people wants pre-amp X and mic Y to record their takes in studio?.
And, why in the hell audio or musical stuff is so damn expensive?. Aren't electronics components easy to source and cheap enough?.

Well, you get the kind of questions that were rolling on my head for several years and, after my own experiments, readings and observation, I think I can start to understand what's happening here.
Interested? Let go...

Chain Reaction

What's our first tone generator?. The pickup, for sure but, the pickup itself isn't the whole equation. Firstly, the pickup generates its signal depending on the electricity that it's being induced by the changes in its electromagnetic field, mainly altered by the movement of ferromagnetic strings.
So, type of strings, gauge, entorchment, core desgin (circular, hexagonal, ...) and materials make a difference.

But also, the rest of parts that conform that system called guitar have something to say in the way as those pickups translate the strings' movement into electrical signals. Materials used for body, neck, fingerboard, frets, nut, bridges, stoptails, tuning keys, etc, as well as their dimensions, weight.
Wood grain and pattern, how was the cut, humidity level, among other variables, all these sums up to get a different "starting tone" or, at least, some different nuances of the same foundational tone.

But, the resulting sound, isn't just depending on how the guitar's caracteristics affect the pickup's magnetic field, the rest of electronics components after the pickup affect pickup' sound, as well.
Which potentiometers are after the pickup, which capacitors, which resistors, which cable and how it's the input in our amp affects the way the pickup works.

A pickup is itself a complex combination of an Inductor, a Resistor and a Capacitator but, straight electrical variables doesn't gives you everything about how they sound and, they can sound better or not, depending the rest of your rig.
Seeing a pickup in a very monodimensional way, its caracter is mainly influenced by its resonant frequency and its resonant peak. This gives to the pickup its natural place in a frequential chart.
When you are mixing, you need to bump some frequencies and dime others for a certain instrument to make it "to cut the mix". That resonant fequency and peak are doing just that, to make your guitar more present in a certain range of frequencies. If that range suits the natural guitar presence range, your guitar will be clearly audible in the mix, without big help. If that range suits the natural space of other instruments, an very specially the voice, your guitar (and the other instrument in conflict) will be lost in the mix.
Most of us, tend to increase the volume, instead of changing the amp's EQ or, to use some EQ pedal to better suit the rest of the band.

As said, the pickup is complex enough by itself but, things going even worst when we consider the rest of guitar electronics that (among other effects) can change that resonant frequency, that resonant peak or even the way the pickup is rolling off trebles after the resonant notch.
A higher resistance value for a pot, will increase the resonant frequency, making the pickup to sound brighter (or even harsh or honky). A lower resistance pot value will lower the resonant frequency, making the pickup to sound duller or warmer (or even muddy and dark). When you stack more than one pot, you are adding resistance increassing the resonant frequency, and so on.

Guitar cable has also some resistance and capacitance values and changes the high frequencies that are being rolled off and even the resonant stuff.
Also, the input of your amp has a resistor suited for a certain impedance level (usually of about 1 MOhm) and this also affects the resonant stuff.

But, dude, we also love pedals because they can add some other nuances that we love for certain things and, pedals are full of resistors, transistors, capacitors, potentiomenters, all them affecting the overall system.

Then we have that amp, full of tubes or transistors, diodes, resistors, capacitors, transformers, rectifiers, etc., where the signal is being "just amplified". The amp delivers its results to the speaker or cabinet and the speaker translates the electrical signal into that sound preasure waves that we call sound.

But, wait, if it must go thru a PA system or mixing desk, you will use a mic or more, and one or more preamps and then, the resulting mix will go thru some other speakers systems, ...

Yup!. Long run, from where the original tone was generated to where the resulting tone is being delivered. And, the worst of all, your original tone deads just in the first device it inputs!!!.

Preserve my tone

Aha!. That's our main objective to preserve "our tone". But, we don't often realize is that this tone is the result of the whole chain and not just of a subset of gear that we use.
Use a different pick (or plectro), of different shape, stiffness, material and grip and be surprised yourself about how much your performance changes.
Use a different brand of strings or, just a different model (pure nickel, steel, brass-nickel, different core shape, different entorchment...) and see how your "tone" changes.
Use a different cable, from guitar to pedal board, within the pedal board or from pedal board to amp and see how your "tone" changes.
Re-arrange your pedal board in a different order and see how your "tone" changes.
Plug all this in other amp and see how your "tone" changes.
Swap your amp's speaker and see how your "tone" changes.
Use another mic, or change the distance, height and direction were it's being placed and see how your "tone" changes.
Use a different preamp with the same mic and see how your "tone" changes.

Every little change in our system can affect in a a very subtile or dramatic way to our tone.
But, why are we choosing a certain tube, a certain amp, a certain speaker, a certain mic, a certain pre-amp if our tone is being generated in our axe and, the rest of chain should just amplify it to make it louder?.

Tone has dead, long life to Tone

Resistors, capacitors, potentiometers (variable resistors, at the end), are just tone filters. They help to modify the frequential content of our signal. For sure, their work can be so noticiable to ruin or enhance our tone but, they are in some way, passive components that work over the signal that is crossing them, they don't generate signal themselves.
Once we reach an amplification component, our original tone deads and a new tone births.

Imagine that you go to one of those key-copying machines to make a copy of your home's key. We use our original key as the model and, the machine works in a virgin key to sculpt its teeth and slots. But, the key will still work if we changed the shape of the key's head (from circular to squared or hexagonal...). We can now use that new copy as a model for a new key and the new one for one more, etc.. But you know that, from time to time, copies doesn't work fine and you have to come back to the copying machine for some modifications.

Ok. Something like this occurs when we are reaching some amplification component or any transductor (that changes a type of energy in other type, as electric signal to sound presure, by example). The original signal is our original home's key that serves as model to sculpt the new signal but, at the end, we have a new signal (a copy key), not the original one.
Transistors and tube valves generate a flow of electrons from the emitter (or cathode) to the collector (or anode or plate), how much electrons are crossing both spots its being regulated by a third spot (the base or grill) and, it's just to that spot to were the "original" signal is being attached. So, the transistor or the tube generates the signal and, our original signal just regulates how it does it, serving as a model but, at the end, a new signal is being generated (a new key).
Usually a pre-amp tube has two amplification stages (two triodes) and, we can often see little amps with a pair of pre-amp tubes and a couple of power tubes, what means different "copying-machines" in series. After each triode, pentode or transistor, we have a new signal modulated by the previous one (original or copy).

Same happens with integrated circuits that cover amplifying tasks as op-amps, etc.

Pickups, microphones and speakers are transducers. They convert some kind of energy in a different type. Magnetic pickups convert the vibrational movement of strings into electrical signals. Piezo pickups sense the vibrations of the part where they are attached and transform such a vibrations into electrical signals. Microphones (traditionally) have an small diaphragm that moves with the sound preasure, moving a magnet over a coil what generates electrical signals. Speakers work in the oposite way than microphones, transforming that electrical signals into sound preasure.

If you are interested on all this, you should probably heard before that "simple designed" amps, with "short signal paths", have a best tone and, this makes full sense, if you think that we are reducing the number of "copying-machines" in series and, therefore, the number of copies of copies that we do of our original signal.

Amplification accuracy and Musicality

To make the best possible amplified copy of the input signal, all the electrical magnitudes should be multiplied by some factor but, they should preserve the proportion, just like if you wanted to zoom in a picture without pixelation. Anything that changes the proportionality in a single variable is known as Distortion. Using the example of a picture, when zooming it, distortion can be pixelation, defocused image, lost of colors, brightness, contrast, etc.

Every amplification component or transductor distorts the copy in one or more different ways.
Hi-fi devices are being designed to deliver an amplified image of the original signal with the less possible distortion levels (high fidelity). And, that's ok, because the source sound is already "cooked" (recorded, mixed and mastered). But, this is not the case of guitar stuff.

Did you hear your electric guitar unplugged?. Do you really like how strings sound?. Can you imagine that your gear is just giving you a loud exact version of that sound?.
So, some levels of distortion of some types are welcome in our guitar gear. Some distortion types sound more musical than others to our ears so, the kind of distortion that every "copying-machine" introduces in the signal has a lot to see with the final sound and how much we enjoy it.

Magical Parts?

In our guitar world and, extensively in the whole audio world, lots of gear are hyperhiphened. Is there anything real there?. Snake oil?.
Based on what we were discussing above, every amplificator or transductor will generate its copy with a certain degree of distortion (as even or odd harmonics, floor noise, etc) and, all them do it in different ways.

Ironically, transistors create amplified copies more accuratelly than tubes but, the kind of distortion that tubes introduce are felt as more musical, instead.
But, not all transistors work equally. Germanium tansistors are very raw and unstable, producing a sound that feels more musical than silicon ones but, that happens only when working fine. They are very sensible to temperature and other environmental changes and, they need often to be rebiased to get their best. But silicon transistors are more reliable and they always deliver same tone so, you have no surprises.
To fine tune a set of germanium transistors is certainly an art. A fuzz is one of the simplest pedal effects design but, even using the same transistors, some pedals seem to have more magic than others. Most of "self-made" pedals simply doesn't deliver that magic.

There are many kind of amplification components (JFET or MOSFET transistors, by example) and, some seem to work more musically than others, more close to how a tube valve works. What every maker chooses for each part of its circuit counts for the resulting tone.

There is a lot of noise around lots of components, depending on if we are talking about an amp, a pedal effect, a guitar or whatever other part of our gear.
By example, discussions about amp's resistors (carbon resistors give a warmer and raw sound but increase floor noise), coupling capacitors (some magic brand/models there), transformers and, even the material of the eyelet cards for wiring the components or the metal used for the frame.
Discussion about tubes goes so far as you want, not only talking about NOS (New Old Stock) tubes but, also discussing on how every internal component of the tube affects the tone.
Pickups are another good example, wire type and gauge, isolant type, magnet composition, shape and size, rods, screws, spacers, covers, etc. Everything sums up for the tone.

The magic attributed to certain NOS components (Tropical Fish or Buble Bee capacitators, Mullard Transistors or Tubes, etc.) has created a good ground for pedal or amp boutiquers, with more or less success but, always at high prices.
Similarly, we are seeing every day more cable boutiquers also, that aren't real cable manufacturers but which order special production runs to a cable maker under their own technical specifications (by example, Lava cable is made by Sommer Cable), in a similar way as the Tube Rebranders do (as TAD, Ruby Tubes, Groove Tubes or Harma), for just a few models of the tubes they sell.

Do two components of same electronic value, but different making, affect the resulting sound?.
Well, I cannot test everything but, all the experiments I did to convince me about the contrary went wrong and, at the end, I had to recognize that they affect, sometimes in a very subtile way, sometimes in a very clear way.
A resistor seems the most stupid, dummy and passive component that an electronic circuit can have. It just resists to the pass of current and disipates the "stolen" energy as heat. How in the hell can two different resistors with same resistive value give different nuances to the signal?.
I didn't experienced that personally so, I have not a formed or firm opinion. If I read amp boutiquers, they seem to agree that carbon resistors have some magic (probably because of their imperfections and rawness) but they are so noisy that they usually end mounting carbon-composite resistors instead, as a compromised solution between the "most musical but noisy" resistors and the "most accurated, quiet but sterile sounding" ones.

Strings make a difference, picks make a difference, pots make a difference, jacks make a difference, capacitors make a difference, wood makes a difference, nut's material makes a difference, wires inside make a difference, cables make a difference, tubes make a difference, ... I've experienced lots of things and, they certainly make some difference but, not all have the same "weight".

The Cup of Tone

Imagine your "tone" as a void cup. Each part of your gear is filling up the cup with some drops. Some parts fill up the cup more than others but, every drop contributes to fill up the cup.
To me, snake oil is anything that I try and for which I (personally) cannot distinguish any change in tone. This doesn't mean that no other people can hear something and be of their interest.

Then, there are those things that I really feel as affecting the tone in some way. If they affect the tone in a bad way, I am not interested on them anymore. If they affect the tone in a good way (always from my very personal perspective, that doesn't have to match yours!), my interest will depend on how much it helps to fill my cup of tone and, what economic effort it represents.
By example,its more important a different capacitor or a different pick?. Clearly, a pick (plectro) has more impact in my tone, since it seriously affects my performance (attack, speed, dynamics...) and, lately the resulting tone. A PIO (Paper In Oil) cap sounds to me warmer and smoother than an Sprage Orange Drop, even if it is theoretically removed (tone pot at 10) but, most of people doesn't seem to hear the excessive harsh frequencies of the Orange Drop. Even hearing that differences, the "weight" of that tone drop is so small that I have no way to justify to use an expensive NOS PIO cap. I can stand a reasonable priced modern PIO cap, as Sprage Vitamin Q or Mojotone Vitamin T or Q but, nothing else beyond that price.
Best practice is to focus first on the tone drops that fill more the cup of tone and then, go for the drops with less "weigth".

Guitar must be ergonomic and have a good resonant wood. To get guitar X because your hero has it, even if it is the guitar that worstly suits you its an error (that everybody, including me, does at some time). Maybe stock pickups aren't what you wanted but, if the guitar is good enough, you can only enhance it with changes, later, when possible.

The amp is even more important than the guitar. There is a rule that is plain true: use a bad guitar in an awesome amp and you will get a good sound, use an awesome guitar in a bad amp and you will get a bad sound, use an awesome guitar in an awesome amp and you will get an awesome sound.

The speaker or cab is so important as the amp is, because is the last "copying-machine" (if we are not using mics) in your chain. A change of speaker can produce a dramatic change in distortion grain and type, headroom, frequential representation and loudness, by example. Usually, amps makers are pairing their designs with certain models of speakers, as they designed the amp to sound and, usually there is no reason to swap the speaker but, if you want to experience it, try your amp's head with whatever speaker models that supports your amp's power and that matches the impedance levels of the amp (ask your friends to let you test your head with their cabs or speakers!) and, how knows it!, maybe you will find a speaker that helps you to fill half of your cup of tone.

Every pedal effect that you insert in your chain must help you to go where you want. If it compromises your tone,it doesn't matter how expensive it is, how recognized is by the dedicated press, your friends or forum mates. If it doesn't works for you, resell it and try another one. Sometimes, the pedal will work fine alone or in a different positon in your chain, try all that before rejecting it because, maybe you have to reject other pedal that compromises that good pedal, instead. Remember that every pedal is just one more (or a chain of) "copying machine" that generates a new signal.

To me, this vision of my gear as a chain of "copying machines" helps me to understand why some changes work better than others and, why I am feeling more comfortable with certain gear than other. It also helps me to understand the myths of studio gear. I can understand why a certain mic preamp will work better for your tone or why a certain processor (compressor, leveler, equalizer, mixing board, preamp, ...) will suit better your song.

Alright. All that basically summarizes my thoughts and experiences along several years. For sure, when I had no economics possibilities to buy even the cheapest of the pedals or to buy a complete set of strings (but just the 1st string to substitute the broken one), I had nothing to worry about. My tone was what the gear I had helped me to deliver, and that was all, but I recognize that I wasn't never satisfied with my tone. Nowadays, my cup seems more filled than void (contrarely to my pocket!) and, that makes me feel happier.

Unfortunatelly, gear that has real magic is very few and, since we live in an offer-demand market, the prices go so high that every drop of tone seems to be made of gold or platinum, instead of clear and fresh water.
I wish the good things were reasonablely cheap, for the love of music, instead of for the love of money!.