Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Memory Lane Review

The Memory Lane (1) from Diamond Pedals is an all analog bucket brigade delay with tap tempo and modulation.

I've been in love with the sound of analog delays (vintage Boss DM-2, Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man, Ibanez AD line) for a while now. While the sound is vintage, analog delay has been making a come back recently in my listening catalog - Hillsong United, Coldplay, Robby Seay Band, and Mutemath namely. Analog delay has a really warm sound that breaks down the more it repeats (unlike digital delay that sounds the same but softer as it repeats) and and make some beautifully ugly oscillation (repeating on itself and making noise). The line6 DL4, Echo Park, and the new Boss DD-7 have a mod of the Boss DM-2 (called analog delay in the line6 world) and the DL4 also has a mod of the EH Deluxe Memory Man (analog delay with mod in line6 speak). But a mod is a mod and I don't think they sound as good as the real thing.

The problem with the real analog delay pedals I mentioned earlier is that none of them have tap tempo. They only have a dial to chose the speed. Maybe I just lack some skill that lets you perfectly set a delay time in a live situation, but when I get 4 clicks before a song starts I don't have time to be twisting and guessing, I need to step on something! So my requirement was a true analog delay that also has tap tempo. After a long search, the only one I could find was the Memory Lane. After months of debating on whether it's worth the money (about $450 for version 1) I decided to get it and trust me when I say it's worth every dollar!

Here's what all the knobs and buttons do:

Delay: sets the delay time if you're not in tap mode
EQ: a tilt EQ - like a tone knob for the delays only that gets emphasised more with each repeat. If you twist it left the delays will get darker with each pass until it becomes a throb. If you twist right it will get brighter and brighter until it's just a click. You won't get to the extremes until at least 9 repeats I would say.
Level: Controls the number of repeats
Mod/Tap switch: controls whether the button in the bottom right taps a tempo or turns the mod on and off.
Depth: Controls the depth of modulation which is a vibrato - bending the pitch (of the delay) sharp and flat to give it the feel of a tape wabble.
Speed: Speed of the modulation
Mix: How loud the delays are compared to the original signal
Expression Pedal: which is on the right side and butted up against my DL4 so I'm obviously not using it. This is basically an effects loop so you can put other effects on the delays or hook up a volume pedal to control the level (number of delays). I may hook up a vol pedal eventually but for now I'm ok.
Stereo output: One for just delay and one for just original signal/mix of the two. If nothing is plugged into the delay only plug the other switch will be a mix. I only have one amp live so I'm using the mix but in the studio I plan to go stereo.

-Absolutely beautiful analog delay
-Tap tempo
-Behaves as I would expect and I'm instantly able to get the sounds I want
-I can easily control oscillation and start/stop oscillation consistently
-Great craftsmanship and quality parts

-Only 550ms (half a second) of delay. The DM-2 only has 330 and the EH Memory Man only has 550 so it's on par. I assume this is a limitation of bucket brigade delay.
-Center positive 15V power supply. It comes with a 24V power supply but to use my VooDoo Labs Pedal Power 2 I had to get a cable from voodoo that combines 2 outputs to make a 18V cable AND get a crossover cable from center negative to center positive (almost every pedal is center negative). At least the Memory Lane is internally regulated to 15V so sending it 18V works, otherwise I'd have to use their wall wart power.

-When I'm in tap mode I have to leave the delay knob fully left. If I have it anywhere else it makes a noise in time with what the knob is set to. This might be unique to mine but it really doesn't bother me since I always use the tap.
-Tap only works in pairs. It's like there's an on/off switch in it. This is going to be hard to explain... say you tap on, off. It works and figured out how long it was on for and sets the tempo. If the switch is already in the on position though, you tap off,on it thinks you set a tempo from whenever you hit on last (maybe 5 minutes ago) and automatically sets itself to 550ms since that's the max it can do. I just noticed this and haven't had a chance to experiment. The solution is to always tap in pairs so it never gets off, or always tap in 3's so at least two of the taps are good.
-I read that some people think it oscillated too easily. I'm not sure what they're talking about, it's been exactly as I would expect. Maybe because I actually want oscillation if I set the level high enough.

Thoughts on the Memory Lane 2: Diamond has stopped making the Memory Lane 1 and will be shipping the ML2 shortly. It comes with dotted eight delays as well as the ability to set two temps - one tap and one by knob. It also costs about $150 more from what I've seen. I like digital dotted eighths and I don't care about the extra tempo so I definitely don't want to pay for the extra features I wouldn't use. I literally scoured the earth for a shop that had the ML1 still for sale and found two. In the world. There were no used ones on ebay and about 3 on craigslist from other cities. There might be an influx of used ML1 on the market soon - which will be good for people who want the function without the price tag.

Conclusion: While there are a few quarks and oddities I'm overall thrilled with this pedal. The circuits are all top quality and the sound is simply amazing. To get this kind of sound and be able to control it with a tap is very much worth the price in my opinion. This is THE best analog delay available.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The over-haul is almost done!

As I mentioned in a previous post I've been trading up and changing out a lot of gear lately. A lot of it depended on the attenuator (Weber Mass Lite 100) being made and shipped. It finally came and I was able to put everything together. The Diamond Pedals' Memory Lane happened to get here at the same time (grown up Christmas!) so I had lots to work on. The Memory Man didn't fit on my pedal board so I had to rip up almost every pedal to reorganize. The industrial strength Velcro you can get at home improvement stores is AMAZING! I had to cut the Velcro apart on my volume pedal and each time I pulled the bottom piece of Velcro off the board it ripped the paint up with it. So I got to repaint almost everything too...

Here's a picture of my newly created rack (sorry for the blurry and poorly lit pics. I was packing everything up when I hastily decided to snap some pictures):

The new Weber Mass attenuator is in the bottom right. I also made custom length Mogami cables and some connectors on the back so I can just plug everything in on the bottom instead of fishing around for inputs inside the rack.

Here's the pedal board with the memory Lane on it (bottom left). I also added the Fender foot switch right above it to work as an expression pedal for the Line6 DL4. I was able to get ride of the Electro Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb (which I never liked) and the Boss EQ pedal since I have EQ and reverb in the rack now.

I can also finally use the 2x12 I've had sitting unused with two Celestian AlNiCo Blues. The cab only handles 30 watts and my head is 100. The attenuator lowers the watts to a usable level. The math works out that for every 3db of attenuation the wattage is cut in half. -6 db of attenuator makes my amp 25W and ready for the cab!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Multiple delays in their own effects loop

I haven't put together a "my gear" area yet, partially because I'm in the middle of a pretty big overhaul. I sold a lot of gear and bought some new and used stuff. Everything is ready to go except some custom cables I still need to solder and the dilemma of the night: how to make two delays sound good together.

I've had my DL4 for a while now and I really like the rhythm delays and lo-res but I've never been happy with the analog mods. Maybe because the ones I like are just digital delays and easier to copy with a digital pedal. I went on a quest for the perfect analog delay and found it in the Memory Lane by Diamond Pedals. After a 6 month debate over whether or not to get it, I finally did. I have no remorse as it sounds absolutely beautiful but I'll save the review for later.

Now that I have two delays I want to come up with a way to make creative use from them. I don't really want to put one after the other (so the second delays of the first's delays) so I looked at getting an effects loop pedal. The first one I got was the Radial ToneBone EFX. I thought I could use it to get parallel effects loops, meaning each loop would be independent of each other and let me use two delays that wouldn't affect each other. Their marketing images make it look like they're parallel but once I hooked it up I found out it's series... just like hooking one delay up after the other. Boooo. I checked the manual and sure enough, it only works in series.

I sent the EFX back and tried a Boss LS-2 line selector. I wish I would have tried this one in the first place. The only reason I didn't was because I was out of 9V adaptors on my Pedal Power (EFX didn't need power) but I didn't realize the LS-2 has a 9V out so it can power another pedal. perfect. The LS-2 is super functional, I can run it so it only plays the DL4 or Memory Lane, so it runs them in series, or so it runs them in parallel. In theory at least. I ran into all sorts of problems where the tone would change massively if one effect was on or off, volume would cut out, and things were just generally screwy. I don't think it's the LS-2's fault. I think it was a weird combination of using the delays "delay only" outputs and their mix outputs. It's like things freaked out because the original signal was or was not sent back into the loop. I eventually decided it wasn't worth $80 to have a headache.

After all that, I concluded that using two delays in parallel isn't that useful. I was doing dotted eighths in one delay and quarter-notes in the other and it sounded really jumbled. The most practical use for two delays I found was using one long delay and a second short delay and running them in series (long first, short delaying off the long delays). For now I'm just going to run the output of the DL4 into the input of the Memory Lane, then carry on as normal.

Has anyone else had experience with two delays and making useful sounds from it? Let me know!

Getting the most out of your Line6 DL-4

The Line6 DL-4 Delay Modeler is a great tool for delay. It doesn't take long to figure out the basics of it but there are a couple tricks and tips I've picked up along the way that make this pedal way more powerful.

1) The pesky dotted eight notes - Dotted eights sound so sweet but for some reason Line6 skipped over them in favor of triplet eight notes. On their support site they say you should use the Stereo Delays to get "The Edge" dotted eighth sound. I don't know if you've had luck with this but I can't get stereo delay to sound like anything musical or Edge-like. I'm pretty sure you can't tap a tempo into stereo delay since there are two delay times and I've never had it line up as dotted eights. If you know how to set this up let me know!! When I wanted dotted eights, which is a lot actually, I set mod to Rhythm Delay and set the rhythm to sixteenth notes. For the tempo I tap on beats 1 & 4 of the song and there you go, dotted eights. This works because dotted eights are the same 3 sixteenth notes so tapping on 1 & 4 (3 beats) makes a dotted eight. This won't work if you start the song unless you save the tempo in a preset. The problem is when the drummer clicks off the song it takes your brain two clicks to get any sort of tempo so it will take a minimum of 6 beats to set your delay (tapping on beat 3 - the first beat you can predict - and 6). The way around this is to set your rhythm to eight-notes and tap out a dotted-quarter. Have I completely confused you yet?! If you think of a 4/4 measure as "1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +" you would tap on 1 and the "+" after 2. It takes some practice to get your brain to do that, but once you get it down it's really useful. Think "Clocks" by Coldplay, the drum beat is a dotted-quarter, dotted-quarter, quarter (1, + after 2, 4). Using a dotted quarter on other delays can be a nice effect too. Add it to your arsenal!

2) The Expression Pedal - This will very much open up your DL4. You can plug in an expression pedal and make two settings for each preset as long as they're the same mod (lo-res, rhythm, analog, etc). You can have two separate delay times, repeats, tweak, tweez, and mix - one saved as the "heel" position, the other saved as the "toe." If you move the expression pedal from heel to toe it will blend your two settings to all the in between sounds. Pretty crazy! I've had fun using all the same settings for toe and heel EXCEPT delay time. I set the heel to a few repeats (maybe 4) and the toe to the max repeats. Use this with the lo-res or analog and you can get some great oscillation (when the delay repeats over itself) and then slide back to the heel to make it go away.

You can also use the expression to double your number of presets (as long as you only need 3 different models). I often set different tempo for the heel and toe with no intention of ever using the in between sounds, I just keep them as two tempos so I don't have to tap since the drummer usually has a metronome and will start at the same tempo as rehearsal.

If an expression pedal will take up too much pedal board real estate, check this link out: He doesn't do the mod for you anymore but he'll sell you in-depth instructions for $10. The mod also takes about $10 worth of parts. The idea behind this is that when the button is IN it will send the same signal as the toe of an expression pedal. When the switch is OUT it will send the heal signal. If you mostly go from just heel to toe like I do, a switch is a good idea and a good way to save room on your board. If you don't care if the button is right on your DL4 you can buy a switch like the Fender one-channel to do the same thing. The LED even lights up, just not as bright as the mod from Scott Campbell since his uses power from the DL4.

Hope that helps! If you know of any other tricks or secrets put them in the comments!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

fitting into the band - part 4 - Moving as a band

So far I've talked about making sure you're playing something that adds to the songs and making sure you're playing in your own space so the band sounds like one band. The final step to making music that's bigger than the individuals is to move as a band. What I mean by that is when the song starts building dynamically, everyone needs to build together, there can't be one person trying to force it or one person lagging behind.

If you've been playing with the same people on worship team for a while, consider yourself lucky! Cohesiveness will naturally come with time and you won't have to worry about it. I attend a Sunday night church which frees up my Sunday mornings to play around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. It's fun getting to meet new musicians all the time, but playing with new people and having rehearsals that are little more than a quick run-through before the service means cohesion is something I have to be purposeful about.

There are some tricks to playing together that will be helpful if you're playing with new people a lot, and hopefully still be helpful to make an already cohesive band even tighter:

1) Memorize your music - I recommend that for a number of reasons but especially when you're trying to gel. I find when I'm reading a chord chart or really thinking about what I have to play I end up in my own little bubble. If I know what I'm playing I can get into it musically but also spend more time listening to the other musicians - which is key for moving together.

2) Close your eyes - Some producers will have bands practice in the dark to help them tighten up. When you lose a sense (like sight) your brain heightens your other senses and it makes it easier to listen. Turning off the lights in the sanctuary might be a little extreme but you can always close your eyes during parts of rehearsal to practice really listening. Drums are probably the most important thing we electric players will need to listen to. If you're playing something fast listen for the high-hat or ryde cymbal to get the eighth note rhythm. If the song is going to build form the drums, listen for it!

3) Make eye contact with the other musicians - Especially during rehearsal when you're putting the songs together (when you're eyes aren't closed from #2). It might feel uncomfortable if you're not used to it (or if the other person doesn't know why you're staring at them!!) but it will really help you lock in.

4) Watch the worship leader - Close your eyes or look at the other musicians through out the song but keep an eye on the worship leader, especially at a point where they could change something. It's the worship leaders job to feel the spirit and read the congregation, they need to be confident that they can add a chorus, go back to the bridge, etc and everyone will be with them. Sometimes they'll just call out what they're going to do, but often it's a non-verbal. Pay attention to what your particular worship leader's non-verbals are or if they don't seem to have any ask them what they are or ask them to make some up! When I led worship I had different ways of stomping or hand motions. Some leaders give "a look," whatever it is, make sure you're on the same page and watching.

There you have it, that's all I know :) I know there are others out there with more to add, so feel free to comment! The good news is figuring out when to play and what to play can be done from home. It's best to figure all that out before you get to rehearsal so you can concentrate on playing tightly or tweaking your part when you get there - not figuring the whole thing out at rehearsal. It might seem like a lot of information if you're not used to thinking about all this. Don't worry, after a while it will feel natural and you'll be able to adapt on the fly to make the band sound the best in can. The most important thing is that you keep making music and keep thinking about how you're fitting into each song.

Part 1 - making a song
Part 2 - knowing when and when not to play
Part 3 - knowing our role
Part 4 - Moving as a band

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

fitting into the band - part 3 - knowing our role

I was talking with a friend about this next post and he brought up a great point - there will be lots of exceptions to what I'm about to say. I agree, so know that my advice here is really general and specifically aimed at worship songs that are acoustic lead.

If a worship team is going to play as one, we need to each know what spaces we can take and where we need to leave space for the others.

Knowing your role in a song is something you never really think about until someone else over-steps their bounds. I played with a worship leader who was a really good guitarist but every time there was a break in the vocals he would slide up the neck and play a little solo lick. What he played was fine on it's own, but it was in the same register as I was playing and it clashed. I had to stop playing each time he came into my space so instead of adding something, he was neglecting the chords and losing the electric. The most common bounds-over-stepper seems to be a bass player who used to be a guitar player. His job is to lay down the foundation but he gets bored of that and starts adding more and more. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of moving the bass line around and playing within the chord, but sometimes it gets to the point where the root note isn't being played any more and we end up with a bass solo that lasts the entire song.

It's important to make sure we're not getting out of line too. The most common ways electric guitar players over do it are:

1) Playing when they shouldn't (see part 2)
2) Noodling the entire time. As in, playing within the key but never repeating anything, just soloing with no real structure.
3) Trying to be the rhythm of the song
4) Playing a part that's too low and makes the acoustic/vocals sound muddy.

In my experience, electric guitar is used mostly for texture and counter melody in a worship song. In a full mix, the drums and bass will be taking care of the rhythm and chord changes, the acoustic will be adding rhythm (when everyone's playing you mostly hear is the attack of the strings, not the actual chords so the acoustic becomes a rhythm instrument), the keyboard fills in the chords. That leaves room for the electric to fill in the upper register. It's important that we leave room for the other instruments to do their thing. All the warmth we squeeze out of our tube amps and smooth pick-ups make our guitars sound great but takes away the ability to get the hard attack needed for rhythm. That doesn't mean we don't play in rhythm, it just means we won't drive the rhythm the way an acoustic or drum set can (again this is generalize for acoustic-lead songs).

It's also important to make sure we stay out of other people's frequencies. When a sound guy mixes (live or studio) they talk about a stereo image - the 3D image of where sounds appear to be placed in a room. Then can move a sound left and right by panning the sound so it's louder in one speaker than the other, move the sound forward and backward with volume (louder is closer) or reverb/delay (dry is closer), or move sounds up and down with frequency. Low frequencies sound like they're coming from the ground and high frequencies sound like they're higher in the room. Here's a visual of what a blues mix might look like:

If two sounds are taking up the same space in this 3D image they will sound muddy or blurred, frequencies will interfere with each other and make parts louder or softer, and it will generally sound bad. The sound guy can move sounds left, right, forward, or back, but it's our jobs as musicians place our sound vertically by playing higher or lower notes.

Playing between the 7th and 14th fret on the G through high E strings is home. Most songs won't require you to wander more than 2 frets away from home - if they do you should be cautious. Playing a fat over-driven G power chord on the 3rd fret might sound great on your guitar but it's going to step on anything going on with vocals or acoustic guitar.

It's impossible for a band to be greater than the sum of it's parts if any instruments are in the same space or fighting for a piece of the song. If each instrument plays in their own frequency and doesn't fight for rhythm, melody, or business you should create a pretty solid sound! From there you'll be freed up to be creative in your own space and not have to worry about being stepped on or stepping on someone else. The band will sound big, clear, and like one entity.

Part 1 - making a song
Part 2 - knowing when and when not to play
Part 3 - knowing our role
Part 4 - Moving as a band

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

fitting into the band - part 2 - knowing when and when not to play

I play an instrument called a Euphonium. You may have heard it called a Baritone but if it's still not ringing a bell just imagine a Tuba that's half the size and sounds like a trombone. I played in band from 4th grade up til the middle of college and learned (sometimes beat over the head) a lot about music from the whole experience. One of the things I've been able to take from band to a worship team is knowing when and when not to play.

It's easier to know with band music, you follow along in the music and when there are rests you don't play, when there are notes you do play! Sometimes you get a "whole rest"which means you don't play the entire measure. Sometimes there's a number over that rest that tells you not to rest for just that measure but to rest for however many measures the number tells you. Sometimes the number is 4, some times it's 64, sometimes it's 384. No one wants to rest for 384 measures. It's like the coach telling you to "sit this half out." Does the composer hate the sound of my instrument? Does he think I can't play well enough? Did he forget I existed when he wrote it?

One day my band director sensed people were frustrated with the long periods of not playing. He decided to teach us that day that "silence is musical." Composers aim to get a certain timbre (meaning the over-all sound or tone, not so much loudness or pitch but harshness or softness) and certain timbres require instruments to not play. A band sounds different with trumpets playing than without. There's nothing a trumpet could play to get the timbre the band is trying to make so they play nothing, and by playing nothing they actually ADD to the sound of the band by changing the timbre.

If the whole band nerd stuff is too abstract, here's a pop-culture example from when Bo Bice sand "In a Dream" a capella at the American Idol Finals:

The emptiness, the way he controlled the phrases to the end, and how you can hear each note resonate through the theater made that song what it was. If any of the musicians had played it would have taken those elements away and made the song worse. By not playing they added to the song and made it powerful.

So am I telling to never play? No, definitely not. BUT, I think silence is very underrated in worship. I want to really hammer the point home that it's ok to play nothing and silence is musical. My mom used to say, "If you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all." I take the same mentality to the worship team with my guitar. If I don't have anything to add I won't play anything at all.

Now we can step back and look at the song as "thing" out there and decide what kind of timbre will make the song come alive. For songs like "No one like you" by crowder you'll play the entire time (except maybe the drum-only chorus when you're silently making music!) but maybe on a slower song like "How Deep the Father's Love" by Stewart Townend no one will play but the acoustic and vocalist to really bring out the finger picking and vocal nuances. Some songs you'll play part of the time but not others. Whatever the ratio it's important to think about whether or not you should even play. Making silence will also make your guitar more powerful when you DO play and give you a larger dynamic range.

Silence is music!

Part 1 - making a song
Part 2 - knowing when and when not to play
Part 3 - knowing our role
Part 4 - Moving as a band

Monday, April 21, 2008

fitting into the band - part 1 - making a song

I think it's easy to get wrapped up in effects, scales, and interesting chords and forget the most basic thing we, as electric guitar players, should be asking ourselves when we play: "What am I adding to this song?"

Call me new-agey but I like to think of a song as an intangible "thing" out there. It's an idea, an emotion, or a feeling, and our job as a band is to express that "thing" in a way people can get or feel. That might sound weird but it frees us up. Now we can think of a song as more than chords and melody, and more than just playing back the sounds we hear on a CD. Now we're making art and expression. Now we can try to find new ways to bring the song out.

The goal of any band is to be greater than the sum of it's parts. By that I mean if you take five people playing something musical and put them all together, the result would be something bigger than just adding up their individual music. It's like in Gladiator when they're fighting the chariots, Russell Crowe tells them to stay together and lock shields. The eight of them act as one and are stronger than they would be as eight individuals. In a band we need to become one musically and make something bigger than ourselves.

We can do this by knowing when to play and when not to play, knowing our instruments role in the song, not stepping on other instruments toes (frequency-wise), and moving as a band.

These idea is rarely talked about during rehearsal or in guitar lessons. It's something I learned from playing in concert bands (the kind with tubas and flutes) and from mixing and producing studio music. I'm sure a lot of people intuitively do a lot of the things I'll discuss but hopefully putting it into words will bring it new light. Check back for the next few posts and make lots of comments, I want to hear what you think!

Part 1 - making a song
Part 2 - knowing when and when not to play
Part 3 - knowing our role
Part 4 - Moving as a band

Sunday, April 20, 2008

allow myself to introduce... myself

Why is there so little information on playing lead electric in a worship setting? I miss the simplicity of being a worship leader - buy a Taylor 310ce (or a McPherson if you have the means), get yourself a cut capo, play the chords on the page and sing the melody just like the CD. I don't mean to over simplify... it's a hard job being a worship leader, but when it comes to playing electric there isn't a clear cut method. There are thousands of combinations of guitar/effects/amps, hardly any tabs telling you what to play, and very little direction. It's like the church gives you a little slap on the butt on your way to the stage and says, "Play something amazing" and that's about it.

That's why I'm starting this project. 1) Because I have a lot of information in my head that I'd love to share and hopefully help teach the things I learned the hard way, and 2) To hear what you have to say.

I'll write some ideas, you add yours in the comments, and hopefully we'll get a conversation going! I plan to write on the following topics: effects/tone, styles and techniques of playing, fitting into a band musically, faith in context of musical worship, and whatever else pops into my head. I hope you enjoy it and I hope we can learn from each other!