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Roland GR55 modelling -Deep Filth

With my Les Paul currently offsite, I decided to give the Tanglewood Tomkat an outing. It’s fitted with the Roland GK pickup so had a much overdue play with the GR55. The models are incredible. I modelled a Les Paul, Big Muff, Blues Driver amp, Marshall 8×12, SM57 combination in drop C (the tuning is done on the unit so the guitar still tuned to standard). Sounded filthy and heavy in itself, especially double tracked but overdubbed with a complementary riff in standard tuning with a standard Marshall model gave it a real fullness. Quality-wise, it’s up there with the analogue rig. Less versatile in some ways but way more in other ways.

I have used this as a basis for my first proper solo recording. It’s just a sketch for now but the idea has legs.

Project Pedal Board #2

Pedal Board Nov-18

Back in the spring, I set about putting together a guitar pedal board in order to explore different sonic tones and have a quality studio rig with which to record guitar parts. I had hitherto achieved very good results using the Boss GT-8 COSM amp and cab models and so an ampless solution was very much my intention. My studio room is very small and I have neighbours so amping and cranking is not something I can do very much of. Additionally, I have often recorded with the band in the rehearsal studio, which is a harsh environment as it is as we are neighbours with some very noisy metal bands. Therefore DI was very much the order of the day.

My journey began with the AMT M1, F1 and CN1 pedals which I talked about in a bit more details in my previous article. These essentially gave me a Marshall hi-gain tone (modelled on the JCM800), a Fender clean toner (Fender Twin) and a very versatile cab simulator. This is all in the analogue domain which yields a very warm and well rounded palette of tones. I particularly love the M1 and it provides a very convincing emulation of the JCM. I used it extensively on the last Dawn of Elysium release Divide and Conquer. At the time, I only had this single pedal out of this setup, so when recording, I dialled in a very subtle “room” reverb on Logic Pro to simulate the room space in which a mic’ed up cab would be recorded. The M1 has a cab simulated output so this was used. The results were promising. I had previously used a JCM800 to record with on other recordings and to my ears it sounded very close indeed. The real magic came for me when it was multi-tracked.

I have not recorded in earnest with the remaining pedals but I have played with them a fair bit. The F1 has a very Fender-like clean tone. I’m not sure it’s quite to my tastes but since I have only been using my Les Paul studio so far it was probably not the best guitar/amp match. The CN1 brings many tonal possibilities. In fact it can be confusing at first. My first tendency was to set it to maximum cab size and speaker magnet size which sounded big. It’s tricky to find the microphone distance and rotation sweet spot. I guess when I do commit anything to disk, I will try multi-tracking and using slightly different settings for each track.

My next device was the Ibanez TS9 Tubescreamer. This interacted with the M1 really well. The JFETs in the M1 really do behave like valves in this application and the saturation made for a really powerful and cutting tone yet still with that sweet analogue sound. I played with this for hours and I have to say, the TS9 has been my favourite pedal so far. I think sometimes people misunderstand Tubescreamers. They have to be used in conjunction with some kind of pre-amp stage to get the best out of them. In fact, I have found that its job is to help you get the best out of whatever it feeds.

I had been intrigued with distortion pedals for a while since I had only ever really used either a pre-amp or a simulated pre-amp, which mostly provided all the heavy tones I had needed. Many of my friends were talking about the Electroharmonix Big Muff fuzz pedal and I saw many a board which included one. I started researching. The original Big Muffs are huge in size, probably unnecessarily so. Real estate was at a premium on my little board so I looked at the “Nano” series. Comparison videos and reviews convinced me enough that there is no real advantage to using the much larger device. Of the various flavours of Big Muff, the tonal characteristics seemed very similar between their original and reduced size counterparts. After all, the boards are made up of simple analogue circuitry and so I saw no logical reason why using surface mount technology would yield wildly different results from through hole parts. Despite a friend of mine wanting to sell me his original Big Muff for a very reasonable price. I just couldn’t justify the space.

So after focusing on the nano series, I watched various videos which compared the different flavours. At the time there were three variants, namely the Original Big Muff Pi, the Op-amp Big Muff and the Green Russian. For my ears, it was a toss-up between the Op-Amp and the Green Russian. I found the original a bit dull sounding, certainly on the videos. Too scooped and no real mid-presence. The Op-Amp seemed very versatile if a bit harsher sounding. The original Op-Amp was used prominently on the Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream album and I always loved that guitar sound. Billy Corgan made a video comparing the nano Op-Amp with the original Op-Amp and this convinced me that I could have access to those types of tones with one on my board. However of all the videos I saw, the Green Russian appealed to me the most and I decided to go for one of those with a view to buying the Op-Amp as well at a later date, which as you can see from the picture, I duly did. The Green Russian has a massive, warm, powerful sound with out being too dull. I have not tried it with bass guitar yet but on the videos it sounds great. I am not a fan of many overly distorted bass sounds since many of them simply aren’t very good and they prevent the bass from kind of doing its job. The Green Russian seems to deliver though.

Since the fuzz pedals produce such a heavily distorted tone, I opted to primarily experiment with feeding them into the F1. They both sounded great and in very different ways. I could spend months exploring the rich tonal palette of one pedal alone so this setup will keep me going for a long time. I haven’t really tried stacking the two Muffs to any big degree. It gets very noisy very quickly. Feeding the TS9 into the Green Russian has been a favourite so far and a combination which I want to explore further. I’m not sure in general about the F1 though. I think it’s just the particular Fender tonal characteristics which aren’t entirely to my taste but I have different guitars with which I can try it. Maybe I haven’t yet found the tone setting which works well with the Les Paul.

Regarding clean tones, I was curious about compression pedals. Opinions seem to be mixed on them. I idly started investigating them when a friend of mine kindly gave me the Buddha Chakra. I have had a little play with it but as with the F1, I don’t think it suits the Les Paul. Humbuckers tend to provide a certain amount of natural compression anyway and mine are very hot as they are. I think it will have application when recording clean, picking guitar. Since the rest of the pedals each apply their own type and amount of compression, I don’t think an additional pedal will bring anything to the table but it may be good for certain lead work. There’s a lot more experimentation to be had with it. In itself, it’s a very nice analogue compressor and I am very grateful to my friend for it. It’s not plumbed in right now simply because I have run out of patch cables.

The final piece to this setup is subtle but very effective. The TC Helicon hall of fame mini I bought with the intention of only ever using for understated room type reverb. As I described above when recording with the M1, I added a subtle bit in the DAW. This way, I have the whole simulation on one board from pre-amp to cab to mic to room ambience. It works incredibly well. The HOF is a powerful pedal and can be reprogrammed using TC Helicon’s Toneprint technology. The stock sound is a large hall effect which is nice but I would never ordinarily record with reverb in an obvious way as it’s always better to add effects after recording. I reprogrammed it with a studio room setting. It just gives the sound that bit of body. It’s the only digital part of the chain and I decided it is to be the only time based/modulation effect but it really does sound great.

I am really looking forward to recording with this rig and with my rock band Crash Scene Flowers, it will be the perfect opportunity to lay down some huge multi-tracked sounds. It has been an exciting and educational journey so far and I have my eye on one or two nice additions or substitutions. It has been great to go (almost) pure analogue with it after years of multi-fx and modelling. It lacks the versatility of the GT-8 which is why I will continue to use that for live applications but for recordings, it provides me with some very powerful tools in the box.

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any similar experiences or suggestions, then I am always happy to read your comments. This is a fairly new part of my guitar playing journey and I’m learning all the time. Many thanks to my friends who have guided me so far. I am fortunate to know so many talented and knowledgeable people.

Echofire – Run EP

This is a project I have been working on for some time, as and when time or inspiration has allowed. Echofire is a band I was in a couple of years ago and this EP is something we started but never finished in the time I was in the band. Recorded and engineered by Tim Walker at Voltage Studios, it sat on his computer for quite some time with never any concrete plans to go back and finish it. Frustrated by this, I took the source files and have since been producing it myself. It has been some time in the making but I can finally state that it is finished. It has been a fun learning curve. I hope you enjoy it.

Liner notes

It was the closing weeks of 2014 and our band Suicide By Cop was coming to an end. Drummer and founder member Steve Ward had left in the spring of 2013 and in the intervening time, we had been attempting to continue with his replacement Liam Brook. It had been a slow process as we essentially had to start again, working through the material we had written over the previous four years whilst trying to keep things moving by writing new songs. Try as he might, Liam wasn’t taking to the older stuff (even though we all thought he was doing an admirable job). The whole dynamic of the band had changed and so we came to the decision that it was time to start afresh. We proceeded to play our last two gigs as Suicide By Cop and we finished the year on a high.

During this time we had written four new songs, which were in various states of completeness. We decided to retain these, ditch the old material and form a new band with a new name. And so, in the new year of 2015, we recruited guitarist Paul Gooding, renamed the band Echofire and set about developing the songs further.

DSC_0314_1020
Echofire 2015: (from top) Kaz Buxton, Paul Gooding, Liam Brook, Steve Malley, Alec Marlow

With Paul’s input, the sound of the band very quickly became more sophisticated, taking on a more contemporary heavy rock sound with a bit less emphasis on the new wave/post-punk influences. The first song we wrote together with this line-up was “Without Fire”. Musically, this was always seen as Paul’s baby and the scathing lyrics, written by Kaz really gave it some bite.

The lyrical content and approach had also changed. The social commentary present in Suicide By Cop had given way to something more introspective and reflective.

“Drink In You” can probably be regarded as the last remnants of Suicide By Cop and the last lyric I solely wrote for the band. Out of the five pieces on the EP, it was the only one to be dropped after my departure. Understandable I guess, given the desire to progress. Despite being of its time, I still think it holds its own alongside the rest of the songs.

Kaz had started writing more and was finding herself as a lyricist. Her first piece was the powerful and very personal epic “This Fight”, a dark monster of a song.

The last lyric I was involved in writing was “Run”. Kaz and I wrote it together in the rehearsal room, with crucial input from Liam and it’s certainly one of my favourites.

I think the band favourite at the time was “Ghost”, which in my opinion was definitely one of the strongest musically. I love the haunting breakdown in the middle and Kaz’s evocative lyrics are fantastic.

The recording sessions took place in the spring of 2015 at Voltage Studios, with Tim Walker. All of the instrumentation and most of the vocals were committed to disk. However, recording came to an abrupt end leading up to our first (and only) gig in the June and never continued. The files sat on the studio computer for months. Eventually, I copied the source files with the intention of finishing it myself. However, the band was going through a tough time and consequently, apart from a bit of a start on the mixing in the early part of 2016, the EP remained largely unfinished.

The difficulties we were experiencing came to a head for me and in the spring of 2016, I took the incredibly difficult decision of leaving the band. It was a very emotional time and for a while I couldn’t bring myself to even listen to the material.

In the months following, Echofire reinvented itself with a new and very strong line-up. It somehow seemed inappropriate to revisit the EP for some time to come. The new line-up needed to establish itself and I still had a few things to get out of my system. Everything was very amicable. Not only did I remain best of friends with my erstwhile bandmates but the new members Mick and Chillo are also very good friends of mine, both of whom I think the world of.

In the new year of 2018, I had finally got my home studio set up how I wanted it and named it Idle Hands. I had started working on a variety of recordings in earnest. One day, whilst looking through old files, I loaded up one of the tracks and started playing around with it. Before I knew it, I was on with mixing most of the EP.

It felt very natural and that the time was right. Echofire had released their first recordings some months before and were on with writing new material. I had seen them play live a couple of times and even shared a stage with them briefly. I was finally totally at peace and it was great to revisit the material with nothing but love for it, the only motivation being to finish it and have it sounding the best I could make it sound.

So here it is a snapshot in time, a glimpse into the potential of what might have been. A transition between what had gone before and what was to come.

Project pedal board #1

Over the years, I have made a fair few recordings. Primarily at Voltage Studios, I have for many years made use of one of the resident guitar amps. This has always been a Marshall valve or valvestate. In most recent years a rather lovely JCM800. For my live rig, I have used a Boss GT series multi-fx board for about 20 years now, in the main through a solid-state Marshall. I started with the GT-5, which I had to upgrade to the GT-6 after it came to an untimely end at a rather lively gig around 2002/3. A few years ago, I bought myself a GT-8 as a friend was selling one and subsequently sold the GT-6. Throughout all this time, I have always used the COSM amp simulators and almost always modelled a Marshall JCM type amp. It’s a tone I love and am very happy with. Pre-1998, I had a little collection of Boss stomp boxes and used the distortion in my amp (a Laney solid state at the time) and so never really explored distortion, overdrive or tone in general to any greater extent than this.

Since getting into making my own recordings, I have used the COSM Marshall model to reasonably good effect, directly connected from the GT-8 into my Tascam DP32 and/or my audio interface into Logic. I have tried the software models in Logic but I was never totally happy with them, at least as a bread and butter sound. The GT-8 though is bulky and a bit of a pain to cart to and from the rehearsal studio every time I think I might want to record and it’s also overkill for just the amp sound. So, I started passively looking at what compact pedals were available.

AMT M1

I wanted basically a Marshall JCM800 in a box with an integrated cab simulator for direct recording. After doing some research and asking friends, I was introduced to a Russian company called AMT who do a whole series of amp model pedals. The Marshall model is the M1. The thing I liked about them is that they are all analogue. They have essentially copied the original ciruit from the JCM800 and substituted the valves for JFET transistors. JFETs have a very similar mode of operation to thermionic valves and so the saturation characteristics are very similar. I subsequently watched loads of YouTube videos and convinced myself that it was worth a punt for £70. Upon receiving it I started doing some test recording. It has excellent tone and is very reminiscent of the real thing. Layered up, I managed to get a really cool wall of sound.

This process had me thinking about different guitar tones more than ever before. I had seen friends with different amps, pedal boards and various overdrive/distortion pedals so I took to YouTube again and watched a load more videos, paying attention to the tone characteristics of a number of amps, pedals and configurations and it led me to thinking that I might like to put together a rig specifically for recording. It’s always best to add modulation and time-based effects at the mixing stage anyway so I wasn’t going to concentrate on those.

AMT F1

My next two purchases were the AMT F1, which is essentially a Fender Twin in a box. This would give me richer clean tones and the AMT

AMT CN1

CN1, which is a cab simulator pedal. Although both the M1 and F1 have cab-sim outputs, the CN1 gives much more control over the tone characteristics such as cab size, speaker magnet cut-off response and microphone distance and rotation. It’s still all analogue too.

I next purchased an Ibanez TS-9 Tubescreamer to extend the pallette further and give me access to heavier high-gain sounds and clean tones with a bit more breath to them.

With the exception of the M1 obviously, I have yet to try the other pedals out. I have bought a multi-output power supply and ordered myself a pedal board on which to mount them so have decided to wait until they are all mounted and connected before playing further.

I have been told that this is the start of a very addictive journey. For playing live though, I can’t practically replace my Boss GT8 since I use a multitude of combinations of effects. I can however potentially improve the patches as I go by tweaking the models.

Creatively, I am feeling very inspired and am looking forward to more recording and playing in the studio. I have already planned my next phase of pedal purchases but they will have to wait until funds allow. In any case, I’d rather spend time with the ones I have and get used to them first.

More news on this and sample recordings as I go.

The beginning …

Hello and welcome to the Idle Hands web-site / blog. I intent to use this as a vehicle for documenting progress on my studio projects as well as write a bit about the equipment I use. Granted there is nothing much here at the moment. There is much to add but as a start, I have written a bit of a biography covering a bit of my history with recording and how Idle Hands as an entity came to be.

It’s not a commercial concern by any means. It’s something I do in my spare time, as and when I get chance. I don’t profess to be an expert and I muddle my way through sometimes but I guess that’s part of the fun. My current main project is Dawn of Elysium. We are presently in the process of creating the second album which takes up most of my focus in the studio. I do however intend on working on more projects in time which should give things a bit more variety.

Feel free to keep checking back as I add more content. I always value feedback, so feel free to get in touch or interact with me on Twitter.