Category Archives: Equipment & Instruments

Guitar Pedal Signal Chain Basics

So you buy your first guitar and amp and start learning to play. I can almost guarantee that it will not be long before you start to become interested in buying some pedals to stick between your guitar and amp and start a lifelong stomp box obsession……….

Pedal order is something that is talked about all the time and nothing is cast in stone and I always say to experiment and if it sounds right it is right!!!

That being said when you first get going you are going to want the basics so that is what I intend to do here. So in no particular order…………well actually in this order…………

  1. Tuner
  2. Wah Wah
  3. Overdrive
  4. Distortion
  5. Modulation (Chorus?Phaser)
  6. Reverb/Delay

The above order running into the front of the clean amp will give you the perfect starting point to experiment.

Hendrix for example was Wah-Fuzz-Uni vibe-Marshall Stack which follows the above starting point with the uni vibe being his modulation at the end of the chain.This is a classic signal chain and lets (fuzz) face it Hendix had a fantastic sound.

The other subject to touch on here in the basics is when you use the amp itself for your distorted tone. This is where you will find the reverb and delays respond differently going in the front end of your amp. Based on the above signal chain if your amp is providing the distortion then you are now running the reverb and delay before the distortion which is a completley different ball game. At this point it is time to find the effects loop on your amp and plug your reverb and delay through the loop to keep the signal path correct as shown below.

Effects Loop Send-reverb-delay-Effects Loop return

Effects loops are another lesson  to explain fully the different types and uses but for now lets just use the basic rule of reverb,delay,modulation(chorus/phaser) etc can all go through the front end or the effects loop but lets just leave overdrive,fuzz,distortion and boosters going through the front of the amp via the input socket and leave them there where they belong.

In the coming weeks I will post some alternative pedal orders and how to set up your pedals for the best results.

Akai MPC Makes A Return With Two New Standalone Models

Back in January at NAMM Akai announced the release of two new additions to the MPC line – the MPC X and the MPC Live, with a clear focus on  bringing back the standalone functionality to the range. Beat fiends around the world are waiting with anticipation for the launch date of the new MPCs and while no solid date is available at the time of writing, what we do know is that it is going to be soon!

I’m one of the lucky folk to have actually had my hands on the MPC X and even though my time was limited I can tell you that it certainly impressed from the off. There are so many features on this new line that I could literally write for a week and will have probably only scratched the surface so I’ll try and keep this short. The first thing you notice when sat in front of the behemoth MPC X is that this thing is huge, it feels like you’re sat at the helm of some other-worldly spaceship armed with rapid fire beat blaster rays! Every control and function you could want is surgically positioned to be at hand when you need it, the encoders feel solid and the little OLED screens above each pot is a very nice touch. We’ve got a plethora of I/O, CV outputs, countless controls, a VU meter, 16 RGB pads and a nice responsive 10.1″ touchscreen which I will come to later.

The pads are tight and responsive just as you would expect from the company that basically swamped the world with the things! The easiest way to describe the pads is – they just work, and they work damn well. They are able to capture every nuance of your performance. If you have played with an MPC before then you will be right at home with either of the new models. The MPC swing returns in full glory, breaking up, yet gluing together your drum hits for a natural swing that works flawlessy.

The screen is a big highlight on this new line. The X has a 10.1″ screen while the Live has a 7″ display, both are way more responsive and tactile than I thought they would be. They work brilliantly, integrating the hands-on approach to a deeper level than previously available. It supports multi touch for pinch and zoom allowing you to snip, chop and move as you please with absolute ease. I was genuinely impressed by how well it worked and I’m sure you will be too!

The Live is a gorgeous little black box which retains most of the features of the X with a much smaller footprint. We lose CV outputs and a lot of encoders and front facing controls but this doesn’t detract from the experience at all, thankfully the touchscreen takes over some duties here – so it’s a good job they’ve done a cracking job with it. It also houses a rechargeable Lithium-ION battery so you can unplug from the box, go and sit in the sun and knock out some beats!

The release of the new MPC line also brings with it MPC Software 2.0, fully loaded with critical in-demand productions and performance capability. Both units are able to record audio directly into the unit and use as audio tracks within MPC. The software was still in late Beta while I played around with it and was already solid, I didn’t experience any glitches or crashes. When hooked up to a PC 2.0 allows you to use VST instruments and effects and then bounce the audio down for use in standalone mode! Absolutely phenomenal.

Now I’ve not mentioned one of the new highlight features yet – clip launching! This is the familiar performance mode found on other devices and gives the MPC another weapon in it’s already formidable arsenal. Add to that the outstanding collection of expansions from well respected sound designers such as Capsun Audio, Loopasters, Toolroom and more, and you have a truly fearsome expandable music machine!

So, if the thought of a brand new, all singing, all dancing Akai MPC gets you all giddy, keep your eyes peeled for more info on the release date. If it gets you more than a little giddy then you might want to get a pre-order in and be one of the first to get hold of one of these beauties! In the meantime, take a look at some videos to get more of an idea what the new line brings to the table.

https://www.scan.co.uk/products/akai-mpc-x-standalone-music-production-center-101-full-colour-multi-touch-display-16gb-of-on-board-s

https://www.scan.co.uk/products/akai-mpc-live-music-production-center-standalone-capable-16-pads-7-inch-multi-touch-display-16gb-on

Transparency…. Loudbox from Fishman

Fishman Loudbox:

One of the questions I’m constantly asked, is which acoustic guitar amplifier do I recommend…

So here’s some thoughts on the matter….

It obviously depends on the sound you ultimately want to achieve, i.e. the sound in your head. Your reference sound.

If your ‘sound’ relies on pedals and compressors, or you have a percussive playing style, then you’re going to need a different sounding amplifier to someone who plays straight fingerstyle.

That’s true isn’t it?

Well actually no.

There is a solution out there that can accommodate pretty much every style of acoustic guitar and push it out loud and clear without any colouration.

What do we mean by ‘colouration’:?

Many acoustic amplifiers are ‘voiced’ to sound a certain way, and if you enjoy that particular sound, then that’s the very fellow for you, as pretty much any guitar you put through the amp will come out coloured by the amp’s tone, and again, if you like that particular tone, all’s well.

However, there is one set of Acoustic amplifiers that deliver a transparent tone, which allows whatever instrument is plugged into it, to sound like itself and nothing else with no added colour, and that’s the Loudbox series from Fishman.

Fishman of course, have a proud heritage of pick-ups and pre-amp knowledge gained from years of being one of the leading manufacturers in the US, of acoustic amplification tools.

So their amplifiers have every right to sound excellent.

But again, the main reason they do, is that they allow the natural tones of your guitar to shine through.

Not only are they Loud! (the clue’s in the name…), but they reproduce the sound from your guitar, cleanly and accurately, with just a simple eq and some cool effects.

They even have a channel for a Mic, allowing you to sing at the same time as play your guitar, and believe me that’s where these little boxes come-on strong.

The vocal channel is so very good, I’ve never seen a singer who didn’t like the sound of their voice through it, and if you’re a singer songwriter, or just backing a vocalist, these amps are so portable and so LOUD, that you can easily play a pub gig or small restaurant without the need for a PA.

And all the while here, I’ve only been referring to the Loudbox Mini!

The Artist and Performer both have 2 channels and are 120 W and 180 W respectively.

 

Focal announce the new Shape Studio Monitor range at Messe

The Focal CMS series have been very popular options at their respective price points for a few years now, and they certainly offer a well balanced set of specs that we’re always happy to recommend here for smaller budget concerned studios in need of great near fields.

Focal Shape Front

So it’s with great interest that we see the announcement of the new Focal Shape range, coming in around the same price points as the older CMS models.

What’s changed you may ask?

Focal Shape Diagram

Well, at first glance, quite a lot and not in the least those new side radiators. Yes, multiple! 

For those not overly familiar with passive radiator setups, its hardly surprising given they are not the most common of speaker designs, although many studio user will no doubt have come across a pair of the Mackie HR series over the years which made great use of this technique. The Mackie design however is a single rear radiator, so seeing a dual setup in play on the Shapes is something even more unexpected.

Focal Shape Side

The passive radiator design is there to help reinforce the low end, simply by taking the internal noise of the speaker and focusing it into usable sound. Most speakers tend to have some kind of bass port to achieve this reinforcement as smaller speakers can hardly be expected to hit those super low frequencies, although the side effect of more traditional bass ports is added harmonic distortion and the tendency to slew the time domain to some extent.

The passive radiator design removes the cause of the distortion which normally is air being pushed through a tube, and instead offers  a more controlled way of handling the bass reinforcement. 

The other side effect of this means that thanks to the lack of porting, this also looks be fully sealed box design. Sealed box speakers naturally tend to have a tighter sound with more responsive transients, giving you a more tighter more clinical and detailed sound. The downside however is that without venting it takes a more powerful amp to deliver the same sound pressure levels as ported designs, but the sound that is there should be all the more detailed because of it.

Focal Rear

The are 3 models with the range flagship the Shape 65 looking to offer a flat response down to around the 40Hz level with around 109dB SPL @ 1m, looking like it should offer a superb monitoring solution for even the most bass focused artists in a smaller home and project studios. 

The simply doesn’t appear to be anything offering this sort of spec at the price points being discussed here. The speaker design in theory looks like it could be very, very interesting, although how that pays off in the real world is ultimately the key question right now and one we won’t know for sure until a pair arrive in the building.

The one thing we can be sure of is that we can’t wait to hear a set of these in our demo room here in Scan.

Key Points

• Low tweeter directivity for a flexible listening position

• Designed without a port allowing it to be placed near a wall

• Numerous settings for optimal integration

• Accurate control, even in the very high end

• Flax sandwich cone: controlled and articulated bass, natural and detailed lower mid-range and upper mid-range registers

• Fastening mechanisms present on the back and underneath the loudspeaker: for installing on the ceiling or a wall (fastening accessories not supplied)

• Threads for ceilling and wall mounts (fastening accessories not supplied)

The full Focal Shape range specs in full can be found below.

Focal Shape Specifications

Launch Prices for the range are as follows :

Focal Shape 40 : £349

Focal Shape 50 : £479

Focal Shape 65 : £599

 

All Focal hardware available from Scan

The Focal Shape range from Scan

 

sE Electronics Expand Their X1 Series With The New X1 S Studio Condenser Mic

The X1 is renowned for its sound quality and versatility at a budget price. There’s been several variations released over the years and just last year we saw a follow up to the original X1, the X1 A. Now we have another revision, the X1 S which boasts some new and improved features. This latest revamp comes housed in an all-metal body and utilizes a hand-made condenser capsule.  It features two high-pass filters as well as a 3 position attenuation switch. An SPL rating of 160dB is also worth a mention… Not bad for an all-purpose large-diaphragm condenser mic.

The X1 S is set to be priced at $249/€249 and is expected to be available in May.

The Vocal Pack and Studio Bundle have also been updated. The X1 S Vocal Pack and X1 S Studio Bundle are set to be priced at $299/€299 and $399/€399 respectively.

Head on over to their product page for more info.

SE Electronics Products @ Scan

Bluguitar AMP1 Nanotube 100 Guitar Amp

Bluguitar AMP1 Nanotube 100 Guitar Amp

Ok, I have to confess a bias here before I start.

Thomas Blug is a German guitarist, who has for the last couple of decades, built a reputation for having one of the best Guitar tones in the business.

He’s also been a mate of mine for a long long time.

We met first at trade shows in the early ‘90’s when I was demonstrating Takamine and Parker guitars, and he was demonstrating for Hughes & Kettner amps (for whom he was hugely important in the development of their sound)

Later, the company I worked for, took over the distribution of Hughes & Kettner, and Tom and I worked together on sales and demo’s for the UK.

So I know him as an old friend.

I also know that he has 2 of the best ears in the business.

This guy really does know about guitar tones.

So when he announced he was coming to market with what appeared to be a pedal, I was intrigued.

But I needn’t have been, you see,

It’s still an amp.

In fact it’s all amp.

In fact it’s a fully functioning 100 watt amp head, that you can attach straight to a 4 X 12 cabinet and make a proper racket with.

Light, Portable and efficient, yet capable of generating a full 100 Watts of blistering tone, this amp is at home either on stage or in the studio.


The first time I heard it in the studio, I immediately removed all the other Amps, Amp sims, modelling units etc, because this, is the best I have ever used.

Bar none.

Because it’s real.

Don’t get me wrong, I love using my UA plug-ins for mixing down, but when it comes to tracking, there is nothing to beat a real amp.

And remember, it’s not just for the studio, it sounds unbelievable live too.

The Amp One features 4 configurable channels. Clean, Vintage Classic and Modern.

Each of these is switchable and has adjustable Boost and Reverb controls.

The amp also features a Killer speaker simulation output for use in the studio as well as a headphone out.

This tiny package, that can fit easily into Hand luggage or a gig bag, delivers a round, fat bass with crisp, non ‘tinny’ trebles and an overall tone that you’ll recognise immediately as that of a true modern, boutique amp.

Why not give us a ring and arrange to come and demo one in our new ‘Blue Room’ demonstration suite.

 Bluguitar AMP1 Nanotube 100 Guitar Amp

 

 

To D Or Not To D…Behringer Targets Classic Synth Revivals

Last week the internet spontaneously combusted at some news from Uli Behringer that his company was thinking about developing a cheap ($400) Minimoog Model D clone. Ok, that may be a little bit of an exaggeration but the salt was definitely flowing over at the Gearslutz forum and it’s safe to say that Mr Behringer sure knows how to split people into two distinct camps. His following comment rubbed some people up the wrong way:

“Many people have asked us to revive synth jewels from the past and make them affordable so everyone can own one. This very much resonates with me because when I was a kid, I spent hours in stores playing and admiring those synths – however I couldn’t afford them which was tremendously frustrating.

Frankly, I never understood why someone would charge you US$ 4,000 for a MiniMoog, when the components just cost around US$ 200.”

I actually see a lot of merit in this and hot on the heels of the success of the Deepmind12 I see no reason why the company shouldn’t use the engineer talent from MIDAS for every good use they can possibly think of. I highly doubt with that level of talent on-board that they will settle for simple clones, the Juno 106 clone that slowly transformed into the DM12 is a prime example of this train of thought.

Anyway, I digress. On one hand we have a group of people who think that this behaviour is total sacrilege. More so coming from Uli’s company who have the manufacturing facilities and buying power to make this cheap Model D a reality. Certain commenters have been quite vocal about this being a case of big B throwing a serious spanner in the works for the smaller boutique companies who simply cannot compete in terms of buying power and manufacturing cost – especially as Moog have reissued the Model D recently themselves.

On the other hand we have struggling musicians and those who don’t care what badge a piece of gear has, as long as it sounds good and they can afford it then its a win-win. After all the posturing and proverbial mud slinging, Uli posted a gorgeous little render of a Eurorack compatible Model D clone…and with it the internet fire seemed to be suffocated by the lack of oxygen due to the communal gasps.

Some of the staunchest naysayers on the thread seemed to relax a little once Uli revealed it wasn’t going to be just a cheap 1:1 clone. Among the ashes of the weeks bickering and moderated comments, there were posts that say Behringer may have plans for another 20 synths. Wait, what?!

Fast forward a week, Uli has now teased that the OSCar and ARP 2600 are high on the priority list and I am personally over the moon! He left this comment on Gearslutz last night

“Aside from the Oscar synth, I can confirm that the 2600 is high on our priority list as it is a truly remarkable synth; I always wanted one for myself:-)

We are currently trying to acquire an original unit for benchmark purposes.

We hope we will be able to show you a first design draft within the next few weeks, while we’re studying the circuit diagrams to provide you with an estimated retail price.

Once ready we will reach out to you to see if there is enough interest.”

Considering I’m not rolling in dosh, I have never had the opportunity to play on any of these mythical beasts, and his projected price range is much more suitable for someone like myself. I personally don’t see these units taking any market share away from the likes of Moog as they are aimed at completely different price points and completely different customer bases that very rarely venture into each others gear territory.  Uli Behringer I salute you!

For more info be sure to head over to the Gearslutz forums, unfortunately some of the more colourful posts have been moderated but these threads are still a fantastic read.

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/electronic-music-instruments-electronic-music-production/1142144-behringer-mini-model-d-good-idea.html

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/electronic-music-instruments-electronic-music-production/1141074-what-synths-should-behringer-make-next.html

Uli’s post regarding the OSCar and ARP 2600:

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/electronic-music-instruments-electronic-music-production/1141074-what-synths-should-behringer-make-next-9.html#post12499056

If this little article has got your synth buds salivating, why not take a look at the oscillating goodness we have in store!

https://www.scan.co.uk/shop/pro-audio/instruments/synthesizers

Wampler Pinnacle Distortion Pedals. “Brown Sound” Anyone?

The entire range of Wampler Pedals are now available here at Scan and we are just slightly pleased to have them all here under our roof. I say slightly pleased……..as a pedal freak I’m ecstatic that these pedals are here as they are fantastic and I get to sneak off and have a play through them whenever I have some spare time!

I get asked about distortion pedals all the time and often the customer has a particular sound or style in mind. This narrows the search beautifully as a player looking to nail that SRV tone is not looking to buy a high gain pedal and vice versa the high gain lovers are not looking to buy a mild overdrive pedal. This is all well and good but what do you do when you fancy a light crunch for lunch and a high gain thump for dinner? Buy different pedals is one answer and many do for specific tones that they can switch between instantly but if this is not a requirement then a wide ranging drive pedal is probably ideal for your needs. Which after all this rambling brings me to this beauty……

In a nutshell the Pinnacle gives you mild overdrive AND extreme gain all rolled into one beautifully built pedal and its party piece is one of the most convincing “Brown Sounds” in a pedal you will hear. In fact, Eddie Van Halen’s guitar tech Zeke Clark played through this pedal and said….

“I’ve played tons of pedals that promised that “Brown Sound”… this pedal NAILS it better than anything I’ve ever heard or played.”

Trust me when I say if you are considering a drive pedal this has to be at the top of your list of must tries and if you love the tone but need extra versatility Wampler has got you covered on this score as well with the V2 pedal below. Full three band E.Q and a boost as well!

Did I mention it does that ”Brown Sound”…grab a PAF and enjoy !!

Wampler Pedals @ Scan

Multi Effects or Dedicated Pedal Board?

Multi Effects or Dedicated Pedal Board?

It’s an age old question, in these days of super modelling, Ultra High DSP and Super compact sizes, why would anyone ever bother with a Big Lunky Pedalboard?

Well, the first thing to say I guess is Horses for Courses….

If you’re playing at home or just jamming with friends, or even in a local ‘covers’ band down the local pub every Saturday, the quality of sound from the new generation of Multi FX boxes like the Zoom or Korg or Boss really is very accurate, and indeed if you’re looking to emulate the exact delay of a U2 track or the chorusy swirl of a Stone Roses cover, you’ll probably find that someone has done the hard work for you, and the sounds are VERY close indeed, but for those seeking the Holy Grail of real guitar tone from a real amplifier with real dedicated Stompboxes, the Pedalboard will always be the way forward.

There’s just something about the ‘physicality’ of the guitar, where you have to physically ‘make’ the notes using both hands, (as opposed to say a Piano player who just pushes a key and the sound is there) that sits so well with a dedicated pedal.

Let’s try and explain…

For me the one thing that will always be missing from the Multi Effects brigade is the movement of air by the speaker cone, and the way that sound evolves over the course of a show, as the room warms up and the tubes in the amp warm up and how a pedal fit’s right in to that mix, as another thing to be controlled.

Indeed, I usually recommend to anyone playing a Multi effects box live, to run it straight into the PA and let the sound guy give you your sound back through the Monitor. Especially if the unit has the ability to model or emulate a speaker cab. (What’s the point of a great speaker cab emulation which then gets run through your existing amp and consequently takes on the character therein, hence doing away with the Cab sim completely…)

In these circumstances as I said before, especially in a small Pub or club, these units can sound absolutely accurate for classic tracks, and the sound man will love you forever as you entrust your levels to him, but for the true guitar Tone Meister, only the real thing will do.

One of the problems of the Old Fashioned Pedal board, was the perpetual ‘Tap Dancing’ to be seen on stage, as the hapless guitarist tried to switch pedals in and out for different parts of a song, but nowadays, there are some pretty sophisticated switching systems that lie on your board alongside the pedals , and are capable not only of switching between various pedals, but also switching patches within the pedal or Patches via MIDI.

Also, in the same way that a real amp moves air in a different way depending on the venue, a real pedal can be reached down to and tweaked on the night, mid song, as the room eq becomes more apparent, in a way that a multi-effects unit can’t ( most of them being editable via a series of LCD or LED windows ).

However, it must also be said that in the studio, where you have the time to tweak the unit and add extra e.q.’s and tone shaping, there are some Multi-effects boxes that work a treat, and in truth, you’d be hard pushed to know the difference between them and the real thing in the depths of a mix.

Also, there’s portability…. My current board is not dissimilar to carrying a Mini Clubman under your arm, and the resulting benefits in tone, are completely offset by the lack of ability to play properly after carrying it in from the car… So… what’s the answer.

The answer is obviously, you have to have both.

In my studio at home I have all manner of Guitar FX units, each capable of creating sounds that fit wonderfully inside a mix, ( I have a Korg A1 unit from 1991 that does one sound I cannot re-create anywhere else…), and I’m seriously tempted by the latest little Zoom units,

but ultimately, for me to play live, I still rely on my board,

after all,

he who has the most toys wins, right? J

Fret Zeppelin – An LED based guitar tuition system

Providing a unique approach to learning how to play guitar, Fret Zeppelin by Edge Tech Labs aims to make the process easier for beginners. The system uses low-profile LED technology to display where to place your fingers on the fretboard. It fits to any regular guitar neck and aims to simplify learning chords, scales and even full songs.

The free smartphone app that goes with it will be released in beta versions before the official release so any special features/requests can be considered. It’s also being developed with an easy to use open API so other apps can be written to communicate with the hardware.

This crowd funded project has already superseded its target on Kickstarter. An initial pledge of $199 dollars will get you a Fret Zeppelin system and they aim to be ready to ship in October this year. There’s also talk of a system being made to cater for bass guitars as well as 7 and 8 string guitars!

Head on over to their Kickstarter page for more info.