Saturday, September 16, 2017

5 tips on how to set the correct pickup height

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about how to set the correct pickup height.
Bear in mind that this is not a technical article but more of a pragmatic guide on how to avoid it to be in the absolutely wrong position, rather than to give a fixed, perfect height, because it varies according to the taste of the player.

Let's start with a short recap: a pickup is a magnet that takes the vibration of the strings (or better the movement happening within the magnetic field around it) and turns it into a signal that, once sent to an amplifier, turns into sound.
The more the magnet is near to the strings the louder the signal will be, and therefore it will be more rich, saturated and with more bass frequencies content.
The farther it is from the strings, the more the guitar will sound acoustic, clean, trebly: these are the characteristics of a lower output.

How do we rise or lower the pickup? 
By turning the screws  on its sides: they touch the wood beneath and allow us to pull the pickup higher or lower. Keep in mind that if you know what you are doing, it can happen that the sound you are looking for is also with the pickup not 100% horizontal (if you want to add some output on a side or lower it on the other), and that some pickups offer also the possibility to adjust the single polepieces one by one. 
My suggestion is to do this only when strictly necessary or you will risk to lose the output balance among the strings.

What we are looking after is, when strumming the guitar with a clean sound, a tone that has on its tail a ring, like a slight tremolo/vibrato effect. If we are too close to the string the vibrato will disappear because it will be so fast that it will be inaudible, if we are too far it will be inaudible the same for the opposite reason, so we are aiming to the position in which the ringing is most audible, and this will mean that the sustain is optimal.  

Let's see the 5 basic tips on how to set the correct pickup height:

1) Avoid putting the pickup too close to the strings, first off because the strings can end up touching it (it happens especially with the neck pickup: try to play on the higher frets and see if you need to lower it a bit).

2) Another signal that our pickup is too high is when it is so bassy that it sounds muddy. We must lower it in order to increase the definition.  

3) Avoid keeping the pickup too low, because the guitar will sound just weak, and the sound will lose  its body.

4) The sweet spot lies somewhere in the middle between "too low" and too high, and it is usually found if you strum the guitar with a clean sound: the tail of the sound must ring, like a slight tremolo/vibrato effect. This means the pickup is on the optimal position.

5) This "sweet spot" of point 4 is actually not a spot but a range, and within this range you can move slightly up or down in order to increase or decrease the output until you find the tone you prefer (more clean or more aggressive).

I hope this helps!

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Harley Benton SG Kit Building Diary 3/3 (Harley Benton SG Kit VS Epiphone Les Paul VIDEO)

Thanks to our friend Daniel for playing in our video shootout!



Welcome to the third and last part of our building diary!
After taking care of the body and of the electronic part of the guitar it was time to mount the bridge.
The Tune o'matic bridge is composed by 2 parts: the Tune o'matic itself, which is the part with the saddles, and the tailpiece. Both these parts are anchored to the body with two big pieces of metal that needs to be literally hammered into the body, using the pre-created holes. be careful when hammering these pieces because any mistake is not revertible, so make sure they go down straight (and without damaging the body).

Once they are all the way in we can mount the Tune o'matic and the stop tail.

Meanwhile I have also screwed in the strap buttons, those parts in which you attach the strap. In this guitar one of the two buttons is set actually in the neck, to balance it a bit better.

Now it was time to make the fretboard nice and smooth, and for this task I have used the Dunlop Deep conditioner oil. This oil makes the fingerboard of a nice dark colour and the wood smooth and shiny, very pleasant to play. 

After applying the oil, letting it be absorbed and removing the excess part with a paper cloth I have mounted the strings.

Now it was time to set the action, I have adjusted the Tune o'matic bridge until I have found the right height of each string, which for me is the lowest one before hearing fret buzz when picking a string.

Once the strings were in place I have made sure the neck was straight, by playing all the strings in all the frets, looking for parts in which there was some "dead note", or in which some bending was muted. Luckily everything was playing fine, sign that the fretwork was impeccable and that the neck was perfectly straight.
Then I proceed with the perfect intonation of the guitar, adjusting the saddles according to the technique explained in this article until everything was perfectly in tune.

Finally, I have set the right pickup height using the two screws on the sides of each pickup: I have raised them until I heard the perfect ringing tail of the note, which is the sign the pickup is at the optimal distance from the strings and ready to rock.

Here is with the strap attached (and yes, I haven't yet removed the protective plastic foil from the electronics chamber cover).

There is still some work to do: as you can see the pickguard is attached to the body only with one screw because the holes for the other screws were not perfectly aligned (anyway this way is already very stable), and the pickup selector is not perfectly vertical but slightly horizontal. I still need to tighten some bolt and adjust it here and there, and maybe someday I will try a new bridge pickup too, but for the moment I am quite happy with this guitar: it is surprisingly playable, the neck is comfortable, it is in tune and the tone is pleasant, although as you can hear from the video quite treble-oriented. Maybe with a darker sounding pickup I can balance the thing a bit, but the wood is very light, so obviously I am not expecting any miracle.
All in all it was extremely fun and pleasant to build, and it is also quite fun to play!
Another sample played with this guitar can be heard in this article.

I hope this was helpful!



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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Harley Benton SG Kit Building Diary 2/3



Hello and welcome to this week's article!
After the body has been painted and sealed with tru oil, it was time to start assembling the kit.
I have mounted with ease the six tuners provided, using a screwdriver to secure it to the headstock.

Then I have aligned the neck on the body and I have fixed it with the screws and the metal plate (yes, it is a bolt on Sg :D)

After the neck was firmly in place, I have started the isolation process using aluminum duct tape, cutting it with scissors and adapting it to all the electronic cavities as good as possible, in order to isolate the pickups from unwanted electromagnetic sources.

I have also isolated the cavity for volume and tone knobs and the plastic cover.

As you can see those red plastic plugs means the pickups are solderless: I just had to attach them to the pickup wire to make them work.

After the shielding operations I proceeded to put the knobs and the pickup selector into place, tightening them with a bolt.

Then I have installed the pickups with their plastic frame.



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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Harley Benton SG Kit Building Diary 1/3

Hello and welcome to this week's article! 
Today and for the next 2 weeks I want to share with you a diary of the building of my Harley Benton Sg kit, a chinese guitar kit sold by Thomann, the biggest music dealer in Europe.

Why did I decide to buy a kit? 
Obviously not to have the best sounding instrument in the world, I just wanted to know more in depth the process of building and setting up a guitar, and to have fun with the finishes, the painting, and so on. This kit is a great antistress hobby and very useful for didactic purposes. Plus it turned out to be very playable too (although I have read mixed reviews on the web, some people have been less lucky than me with their kit)!

For the first phase I have made treasure of the tips of the luthier Luigi Valenti of Valenti guitars (check out his products, they're awesome): since the guitar body was already covered by a layer of wood sealer, I had to sandpaper it off, with a thick grain paper (200 to 320). 

I have eliminated most of the coat and risen the grain, so that the wood is now receptive to the dye.
Then I have applied to the wood (a very light basswood with a copper-ish colour a first coat of purple wood dye, using rubber gloves and a piece of cloth. 
In the following photos you will see me applying 6 layers of purple dye, leaving the paint to dry for 24 hours between one layer and the other.

Before each new layer of dye I have sandpaper the whole guitar with a thinner grain sandpaper (800 to 1200), to even out the wood and to make the veins of the wood pop out more.
After a while I have started focusing my sandpapering a bit more towards the center of the body, in order to create a lighter area that will be the core of my "raspberry burst" attempt.

Then I have started painting the central part of the body with a pink dye, instead of the purple one, in order to create some contrast (which is the core of the raspberry burst, even if the type of dye and the reddish wood below created something that is much closer to a cherry colour than my initial idea).

After about 5 layers of color and 5 sandpaperings, I have started applying a layer of tru-oil.
Tru Oil is a type of protective oil made for wood, and it is often used for the wooden part of guns, to make them smooth, shiny and protected. It is one of the best and easiest ways to preserve the natural look of the wood.

I have applied on the guitar six layers of tru oil, sandpapering with a 1200 grain between each layer and waiting 24 hours between each application (you can see in the following pictures one photo after each layer of tru oil). 

After the sixth and last layer of tru oil the body was ready to be assembled with the rest, and in the next weeks I will explain everything in detail.



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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Review: Jst Soar

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are reviewing a new delay plug in: JST Soar!

The producer and software developer Joey Sturgis is back with a new plug in that mantains the characteristics of his Jst lineup: scheumorphism (which means a graphic ui that resembles a classic piece of hardware), easiness of use (most of his plugins are really made to sound good almost out of the box) and good tone.
This Soar is a delay plugin that is made to recreate the classic hardware tape units of the past, but it features several modern tools to take full advantage of the digital age flexibility.

On the central and right panel the interface features the classic controls you would expect from a delay: a tempo control (with a tap button and another one that syncs it with the song tempo), a dry/wet mix knob, a mono/stereo switch and a control that lets us choose the delay offset.
On the left panel instead there are 5 controls that lets us fine tune the "tape" aspect of the delay: age of the tape, health of the machine and flutter (the older and more "ruined" it is, the less hi-fi it will sound), plus a repetition and a contour control, which makes us adjust the accumulation of the repetitions.

As for other Jst plugins, scratching the surface you will reveal a good amount of controls, to fine tune your sound in a very precise way, and to give it a twist not achievable with other processors (unless obviously you use several different plug ins combined), plus the plug in is surprisingly light on resources, compared to many other products of the same kind and that offer a similar amount of features.

Try it out, you will not regret it!

- True Analog Tape Modeled Processing

- Tape Control Including: Repeats, Age & Flutter

- Variable 15/30 ips Speed

- Groundbreaking Tape “Health” & “Contour” Adjustments

- Onboard Mono & Mix Controls

- Built-in Tutorial Mode and Control Definition

Saturday, August 5, 2017

How to use Delay and Reverb fx sends

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This article is a more in depth view of our group and fx channel article: how to actually set up and use a Delay (or any other modulation effect) and a Reverb fx send (or more than one) to give a coherent tone to our whole project.

This is done to achieve two results:

1) not having to open a single effect instance for each track, which can be extremely cpu-demanding

2) to create a tone that will give a consistent tone print through our tracks, as it used to happen in the hardware days, in which obviously the number of hardware processors was limited and the mix engineers had to send it, in different amounts, to various tracks.

We are using the classic Presonus Studio One interface, but the same concept can be applied to any other professional daw.

What do we need to do?
We take our vocal or guitar solo track, for example, and just drag and drop from the effect pool window on the right side of the screen our effect into the "send" area of our track in the mixer (you can show or hide the mixer by pressing F3). Once the effect is there, it will automatically create an fx send track in the mixer with the name of the selected effect (you can also rename it). Then from the send of each track (e.g. Vocals, solo etc) you can decide the amount of effect to be sent to that particular track.

Esample: more Reverb send for the vocal track, less send (but the same reverb, so it sounds like they are in the same room) to the snare drum.

Another interesting thing is that we can also create and save complex chains, like the following effect track that can be sent to many single vocal tracks, instead of loading the effects in the insert of each one:

1) Eq filtering up to 1000hz: this will affect only the effect track, meaning that the following effects will work in our track only from the frequences above 1khz, so the effect will sound less muddy.

2) Delay with short tail to thicken the vocal and give it some shimmer.

3) Reverb with short tail and low dry/wet ratio: we are using it only to create some tail.

the purpose of this chain is to create a subtle effect send to be used on all our vocal tracks (or guitar solos, for example), we can also click on the arrow on top of this fx track in the mixer and store it to recall it in other projects.

Hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Review: JST Conquer All vol.4 (with video sample inside)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to review the latest Impulse response pack from Jst: Conquer All vol.4!
Joey Sturgis is a popular producer from United States, the man behind the iconic sound of The Devil Wears Prada, Born of Osiris, Asking Alexandria and many other bands, and this is yet another very usable ir pack for various genres, but particularly suited for rock and metal.
This pack features 3 folders: Eq IRs (the impulse responses already Equalized by Joey, to start playing immediately with a polished sound), RAW (the same impulses but not equalized, to leave us total tone shaping freedom) and Kemper, which are the impulses in the Kemper format.

The speakers included in this pack are 3 Marshall (a 4x12 and 2 2x12 each with different speakers) and one Orange 2x12 with V30 speakers.
Each of these cabinets has different combinations of microphones (both on and off axis) and preamps, and it is very interesting to try to combine two impulses or more, since they are all perfectly in phase.

I must say that these impulses live up to the Jst name: they are solid products, very usable also in a professional studio environment and at the right price.
I consider the equalized version a bonus, since it lets us use a bit of Joey Sturgis tone with any guitar amp, both virtual or real. 
The sample you can hear on the top of this article was created by combining 2 impulses: an sm57 straight and a Sennheiser md421 blended together, with no post eq added; I have chosen the ones passing through a Neve preamp because they have a bit more rolloff on the high end, making them more realistic and less scratchy. It is literally the guitar (a self built Harley Benton Sg Kit) and the virtual amplifier (Tse X50II).

Specs Taken from the website:

Conquer All Volume IV Includes EQ'd and RAW IRs and Kemper Compatible IRs

There are 4 unique setups with 24 IRs for each setup
- Marshall 2x12 oversized 212 cab with Celestion Vintage 30s
- Marshall Mode 4 412 cab with Celestion K100s
- Marshall Vintage Modern 212 combo with Celestion Greenbacks
- Orange 212 Open Back Cab with Celestion Vintage 30s

Preamps Used
- Don Classics Neve 1073 clone

Microphones Used
- Shure SM57
- Sennheiser MD421
- Beyerdynamic M201
- Sennheiser E906
- Shure SM7B
- Neumann TLM103

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