Gear Reviews

The ultimate mobile guitar setup

I’m not a professional guitar player, but I do play with a band occasionally. For short trips to rehearsals and gigs, my home setup is fine: guitar, cables, accessories and my Helix Floor with its backpack. That all fits nicely in my car.

But with family or for work I quite often go on trips by plane – and I mean commercial flights where space is not so generous…Hence the need for a truly mobile setup.

This time I’ll flip things around and start from the solution.

I will list below the components of my mobile setup, and then discuss caveats and alternatives:

1) LapAxe EX series guitar (short scale, ~60cm long overall, tuned in standard)

2) Apogee Jam HD – the latest, 24 bits 96 kHz version

3) iPad Pro 10.5

4) Bias FX from Positive Grid, for the iPad

5) Audio Bus 3 for the iPad

6) AnyTune Pro+ for the iPad

7) Garage Band for the iPad

8) Other iPad tools such as Guitar toolikit, guitar pro, etc

9) JBL headphones

With this setup I’ve played in places ranging from airport lounges to cockpits of sailing boats. The LapAxe bag is quite small and the rest of the gear fits nicely in a backpack. If you source a larger backpack you can even fit all in one.

The few caveats:

– Dependency on the iPad

– A chain of gear that has to be connected every time I want to play, and that is not concise and monolithic

– No speaker apart from the iPad- Short scale guitar is harder to play than a normal one

The alternatives I’ve considered:

– A portable tone shaper such as the Mooer Audio GE200 or a Line 6 mobile pod instead of the iPad. The issue is that the iPad is virtually limitless as you can download new software. So from tones to tuners to background music and even recording you can do it all. Dedicated gear sounds great and it’s ‘plug and play’ but will be limited to what comes in the box

– An iPad dock. Focusrite had one but apparently it is discontinued. I’m in the market for a new one, especially if it has built in speakers. This would make the iPad setup monolithic

– A speaker. The Marshall Stockwell is the one I tried but it’s a bit heavy. I’m thinking of sourcing a JBL flip in the near future

– Other travel guitars. The travel guitar brand is the one I used before. It was 76cm long and required one step for assembly (the LapAxe is pick and play and 62cm long) but the scale was natural, similar to my Gibson SG. I’ll always keep an eye out for more portable natural scale guitars and also smaller ones that tune to standard

There’s a plethora of options out there and the quest is to find one that works for you. The above setup is my ‘ultimate’ for the moment, but it may change once new gear comes out.

Ultimately my goal is to be able to play everywhere and anywhere – hope that is your goal too.

Any suggestions drop me a line

Cheers,

AudioGeek11

Experience

Travelling Overseas with a Gibson SG

To be or not to be..

That is the question. Well in my case, as soon as I booked my 5+ week vacation in Brazil (to visit family and friends), I asked myself if I should take my guitar or borrow one.

I do have quite a few friends and relatives who play music and playing with them with my own guitar would be a joy.

On shorter trips, I’ve used my Lapaxe travel guitar and it does the job. But for a longer stay and/or playing in a studio set-up, that guitar is quite limited. Smaller scale, high action, OK-ish sound.

So I then initiated my quest to be able to bring my Gibson SG. The general steps and things I’ve considered are listed below, and should help fellow travelling guitar players in their own experience:

1) It appears that in the US, some airlines allow musicians to take guitars as carry-ons. My journey from Australia to Brazil is via Chile with LATAM airlines, who were very specific in their website: anything above 115 linear cm is a check in. The SG in a hard case is 150+.

2) Some people put their guitars in a soft case and hope they can sweet talk the airline into letting them carry it on. While in Chile I saw a guy with what looked like an acoustic guitar in a soft case, going through security (so taking it as carry on). The risk is not only overhead space, but the fact that if you rock up with a soft case and they force you to check it in (this could happen at the gate at a connecting flight) you just painted yourself into a corner.

3) LATAM stated that if the hard case is below 158 linear cm you don’t pay extra for the aforementioned journey.

4) My Gibson branded hard case looks fancy but it’s hardly plane ready. I then sourced a Gator TSA case built specifically for SG guitars.

5) Through various websites and forums I found out that detuning is a bit of a myth, but humidity is not. So I bought some satchels of D’Addario humidifiers to put inside the case.

6) My travel insurance talks specifically about music instrument coverage, with a depreciation of around 1% per month since the purchase date – which in my case would amount to 15%.

The results

No problems checking in, in Melbourne they labelled the case as a normal piece of luggage but directed me to the oversize baggage check in as it’s allegedly too long to go through the normal conveyor belt system – probably a good thing.

The case was tagged to go directly to Brazil so no need to claim it in Chile.

When I arrived in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I could find my guitar safely waiting for me on the oversized luggage section. I then took the pictures that can be seen below: the case had very few noticeable scratches, and the guitar was in perfect condition and plays well !

This was therefore a relatively good experience and I hope some of my notes will help others who also want to travel overseas with their beloved guitars.

Cheers,

AudioGeek11

Gear Reviews

Helix DI or Rupert Neve DI

Introduction

In this experiment, I wanted to try out the DI capabilities of the Helix for re-amping. I also wanted to try the difference in sound quality between Helix input (used as a DI) and a Rupert Neve DI.

According to the Helix manual, this can be done as the Helix can send up to 8 channels via USB to your DAW, 2 of them being a DI pair coming from its guitar and microphone inputs.

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 9.41.01 am

So the direct guitar sound coming from the Helix can be recorded in your DAW and also sent back to the Helix for on-the-fly processing, and then via USB back to the DAW for recording of the processed sound.

As a second option, I will try to route the guitar directly to the DAW via a Rupert Neve DI, record the dry sound, send it to the Helix and then capture and record the processed sound on the DAW via the same USB method

Configuring the DAW

Since I wanted to be able to output the mix back to my monitor speakers, I had to create an aggregate device to combine the Helix with my RME Babyface Pro in the manner shown in the picture:

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 9.39.02 am

As observed, I decided to preserve the routing of the Babyface by adding it first, and using it as a master for the clock to the Helix. So the USB input channel 7 from the Helix, which according to its manual is the Guitar DI signal, then becomes channel 21 in my DAW as the Babyface has 14 channels.

This channel’s output is then routed to output 17-18 on my DAW which is equivalent to USB input 3-4 on the Helix. An important note is that this didn’t work straight away; you have to manually set-up the Helix patch to receive audio from USB 3-4 instead of multi. I’ve achieved this making a ‘re-amp’ copy of one of my favourite patches. The user manual states that you can leave the output as multi, but to be sure and avoid confusion with the analog Helix signal going into the Babyface, I’ve also changed the output to USB 1-2 only, which in my DAW turned into 15-16.

The next channel is to receive the processed sound. This of course will have to be set up to 15-16 (so it will receive the processed audio from USB 1-2 of the Helix, coming out of the selected patch) and then it can be routed normally to a stereo output for listening.

Note that software monitoring in the DAW has to be turned on, and the analog sound coming from the Helix into the Babyface has been disabled.

Enter the Rupert Neve DI

Once I got the above working, I wanted to compare the quality of the DI sound of the Helix with the Rupert Neve. For that, I’ve replaced the DI channel in the DAW (input channel 21 output channel 17-18) with an equivalent coming from the RNDI into the Babyface, and then out to the Helix as before.

Obviously, disconnected the guitar from the Helix and connected straight into the RNDI to record and make the comparison.

Conclusion

Both methods worked fine. The DI procedures in the Helix manual work as expected. Once that is set-up, creating the additional track for the RNDI or any other DI is easy, as long as you remember to route it to the Helix for processing.

Needless to say, the RNDI recording had a bit more body and sustain, as expected from a top tier DI. But the DI inside the Helix also worked well and both allowed me to record direct guitar sounds that I can now use for re-amping and post-processing at will.

This was my experience, share yours !

Cheers,

AudioGeek11

 

 

 

Gear Reviews

Line 6 Helix: Patch arrangements

Talk about tone obsession

So I’ve pulled the trigger. After trying many entry level multi effects for guitar, and even trying to assemble a pedalboard with individual pedals – let’s be honest, something cool about all those coloured pedals that you can mix in lots of different ways – I’ve decided to pull the trigger on the Line 6 Helix.

My main reason was the fact that it’s the top of the line from Line 6. Fractal Audio AX8 looks impressive but it’s hard to find in Australia. Kemper profile sounded overkill for what I need. And I had tried both the pocket POD and the Firehawk FX.

I did dance with the idea of getting the Helix LT – less I/O, a bit smaller and cheaper, etc – but quite often I end up regretting not having ‘feature xyz’ that only after the purchase you realise you wanted… so I aimed for the top.

My approach to patch making

I’m a quite systematic engineer – a good and a bad thing really – so I started by trying out the factory tones / patches, then later moved to the ones you download from Custom Tone (Line 6 online forum for tone aficionados). The latter was the inspiration to start building my own patch.

Here is what the basic diagram looks like:

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 10.22.27 am

The idea was to stretch both signal paths for just one guitar, and make the most out of it so you wouldn’t have to move things around to get more processing blocks into the path,

The top level path is centred in initial gain and amplification. The bottom level path follows on with effects and a looper at the end.

The order of the top path is:

  • Volume pedal
  • Wah pedal, both controlled by the included expression pedal
  • Dynamics – normally this is a compressor that I use for the clean snapshot of the patch
  • Stompbox, normally a tubescreamer
  • Amp, and this will vary as I make new copies of the same patch
  • Cab and IR so you have the option to alternate between them if you wish and see which sounds better with a given Amp / Song situation
  • Off to the bottom path

The order of the bottom path is:

  • Modulations, 2 of them so I can combine or alternate between chorus, flanger, etc
  • Delay
  • Reverb
  • Final gain boost – as I found this helps in levelling the loudness difference between the clean and the crunchy snapshots

The snapshots are:

  • Clean, normally used for Intros / “acoustic” parts
  • Rhythm, normally crunchy overdriven for rock / hard rock / metal
  • Lead, boosted
  • FX, for the parts that require most effects turned on

The variants of the patch are:

  • One with the J45
  • One with the JCM800
  • One with the Mesa Rectified
  • One with the Engl
  • One with the 5150

This allows me to play songs from multiple decades of rock and metal without much hassle, just by changing the patch (which essentially changes the amp), and playing with the snapshots and FX a bit

The caveats

I’m a newbie to this multi effects thing. So what I haven’t tried (but seen in other patches) is:

  • Alternating amps for the clean snapshot. Some Amps I used sound dirty even with gain or drive turned down to min settings
  • Parallel path for Cabs
  • Other IR options than the Allure supplied by Line 6

Hope you can share ideas on how I can improve this.

You can download a zip file with 4 of these patches, below.

Cheers,

AudioGeek11

HELIX_TONES

Gear Reviews

Review: Rupert Neve DI

DI or not DI, that is the question…

I’ve debated that for a while, but the reality is that if you want to do home recording of Guitars directly into the audio interface of your DAW, you should get one. You need a box designed to deal with the high impedance output of your guitar.

By recording directly I mean not using pedals, pedalboard, multi FX or amp + microphone. You want to plug your guitar into your audio interface and explore the wonderful world of plugins…

Pros:

– Plugins have evolved a lot. There are a lot of plugins for the most popular DAWs (Pro Tools, Cubasis, Logic Pro X) and they range from modelling vintage amps to all kinds of cool effects. Some sound very authentic.

– By recording directly you will capture the pure sound of your guitar. You can change plugins later, re-amp, or even take the recording to a professional studio to run it through their gear

– The plugins cost way less than having all that gear, you can take them anywhere with your tablet or laptop, and most allow you to try before you buy

– Amp + microphone requires a room designed for recording. Most of us don’t have that at home.

Cons:

– No matter how much technology evolve, some will argue that it will never sound the same as playing through a vintage tube amp or similar – but wait, you can record direct, clean, and later re-amp through your friend’s impressive vintage amp…

– They don’t impress your friends as much as a massive pedalboard or a mean Marshall stack

– It’s software, right 🙂 so that means bugs, crashes, patches, versions and all sorts of things you have to deal with. And your DAW needs to have the right spec, so check all that before getting the latest el cheapo laptop

– If you invested in a multi effects pedalboard and want the plugins by the same brand, you will have to pay again, or record clean and re-amp via the multi effects

But I have an audio interface already, thanks …

Yes and so do I. The RME Babyface Pro. FocusRite, RME, UA, Apogee etc they all claim to have high impedance (or Hi Z) instrument inputs where you could plug your guitar directly. And you can ! I’ve recorded directly using RME Babyface pro, Apogee Jam and Duet and it sounded decent.

The key word is: decent, but not amazing. It’s expected that the focus of an audio interface is the quality of the A/D conversion and low latency, not necessarily catering specifically for direct instrument input, so they can remain flexible and affordable.

Enter the Rupert Neve DI

So my requirements for a DI were quite simple:

– Active, since my guitars have passive pick ups

– 1 instrument input, high impedance, > 1 MOhm

– 1 output (typically microphone level unless the DI is also a pre-amp)

– ‘Neutral’ sound, as some DIs intentionally ‘colour’ the sound. This is to allow proper processing of the signal later via plug ins or other

The options I looked at were Radial, Countryman, Rupert Neve and REDDI. I ended up settling with the RN as:

– the Radial, while very well reviewed online, had lower input impedance than the instrument input of my Babyface pro (220 kOhm x 470 kOhm).

– Countrymen had impressive specs and reviews, but was harder to find in Australia

– REDDI seemed a bit to much for my budget (it was over $700)

– Rupert Neve has a name for amazing audio gear

When I plugged it in…. and played a few chords with my Ibanez JS2450… the warmth, the body, the low noise conquered me straight away. Simple logic pro X plugins sounded better than my multi-fx pedalboard. Recordings are clear, balanced, free of undesirable noise.

I then asked myself ‘was it worth it?’ So decided to A/B test this, by recording and comparing with a direct injection into the RME instrument input. Don’t get me wrong, it still sounds decent directly on the RME, but the DI takes it to another level.

The signal chain then is:

Guitar -> RNDI -> RME Babyface pro Microphone input (XLR, balanced, 48V on as the RNDI requires phantom power) -> DAW

With the plugins in Logic Pro X, and also Line 6 Helix Native, I found that gain of 10 to 15 dB is enough to get the results I’m after.

The verdict

Totally worth the investment. I’m quite sure the other top brands of DIs would have a similar effect. In the end, if you’ve already invested in a good guitar, DAW, interface, etc, you’re just a few hundred bucks away (or a DI away) from near perfection. And all of this in the comfort of your own home.

Cheers,

AudioGeek11

References:

https://rupertneve.com/products/rndi/

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Gear Reviews

The quest for the perfect Guitar Tone

We all know (or should know) that what makes those legendary players so special is – aham – the player ! As I read recently, Eric Clapton playing your guitar will still sound like Eric Clapton… but the opposite…

Well, having said that, there is a lot of work that can be done to improve your guitar tone and to ensure that the best of you as a player is coming out.

My quest started with reading the book “The Ultimate Guitar Tone” by Bobby Owsinski and Rich Tozzoli. It is definitely a recommended read for all guitar players out there.

They share insightful information about guitar setup, recording equipment, amps, effects and some clever studio tricks. Plus there is a plethora of info from real recording experiences by award winning engineers.

I will be sharing more about my own personal quest in the future – share yours and let’s chat !!

Thanks,

AudioGeek11