Sunday, February 28, 2010

On the Passing of GAS

Gear Acquisition Syndrome seems to be the bane of many guitarists. Go to any guitar forum and the majority of the attention seems to be focused upon what gear people own and, more often, what gear those people wish they owned to go with what they already have -- what they would buy or replace if they had the money to do so and whatnot.

Five months ago I was listening to a lot of Jeff Beck and Dada and got the jonez for a strat -- or at least for something with a trem and a chunkier neck than my Hag. Two months later I was playing acoustic and looking at OMs with envy. Had I given into my urges I would probably have picked up one of each. Neither one would have made me a better player, though.

Not sure why, but even though I never stop looking at new guitars, I'm really not all that interested in actually getting one right now. I've got my Hag and my Fender acoustic, my Toneport GX and my Vox DA5 and I really don't care if I get anything more in the near future. I've decided to stick with what I have and see what I can do with it, which, in these days of modeling technology, is actually a whole lot. I've got more sounds at my disposal than Pink Floyd had in its heyday. Seriously. Getting another guitar would not add much in the way of variety. It would not transform what I was playing into something wholly new. Only I can do that by becoming a different sort of player, and the biggest changes in my playing come as a response to playing with filters and delays and other effects that change the characteristics of the waveforms that my guitar generates. Throw a couple really wacked out filter effects on and play the same notes you already know from something and try to work with the time and feel constraints and before you know it you are playing something that sounds entirely new and different.

I'm not chasing a sound in my head. I'm discovering the music that's in the sounds I already have. And I don't need anything new to discover those at the moment.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Re-Revisiting: Head-to-Head

Not trusting my impressions of GR4 compared to Pod Farm I went back today and pulled up a fairly basic go-to tone on my Pod Farm that I call 'A Bit Beckish' that has a chain of noise reduction into a Tube Screamer clone dialed just behind 5 with the tone rolled back into a JCM 800 clone with the gain at 6 and bass 4 mid 6 treble 7 running through a matched 4X12 miked dead on using a SM 57 with a bit of air and with the signal going through a reverb set to model a medium room. Pretty much any sim software you buy is going to have these units modeled.

I dialed in identical settings on the Pod Farm, the Guitar Rig 4 and the ReValver Mk II. Not that I was expecting them to sound the same with identical settings. Even real amps and stomp boxes sound different from each other with the same settings. Nor does the comparison imply that I could not get each piece of software to create nearly the same sounds by tweaking each a bit and comparing the range of tweakability present in each model. Mostly I just wanted to compare my impressions of all three as a baseline for what characteristics they present.

I played the Pod Farm first, then dialed in the Guitar Rig and played it, went back to the Pod Farm, turned on the ReValver and dialed it in and played it, then went back to the Pod Farm.

Impressions...the Pod Farm is the buzziest of the three both in terms of hum from gain and in general tone. Compared to the other two it sounds like the Pod Farm has a fuzz unit in the mix as well. I know that the Pod can do nice, sparkly cleans so it's either the Screamer or the JCM model that kicks up the fuzz factor. I found myself looking for a bit more articulation and midrange roundness to give the guitar some character. The ReValver, meanwhile, was very round, but also flatter and less cutting than the other two. It sounded like a cab going into a single mic with little or no air and the reverb never really felt like it added much depth, just a little wetness to the mix. It picked up the least variation in string response as well. The Guitar Rig was very present and deep and articulate with very little background noise or fuzz. The guitar sounded very alive and I could hear the difference in response based on my picking, which, if I were trying to dial something in rather than just comparing would mean a lot less tweaking and a lot more playing.

I'm really impressed with Native Instruments modeling. It's just such a solid overall package. If you have the money and plan on using it for recording or playing out it would definitely be worth the extra. I'm sure that a tech could get them all to sound great in a mix, but the GR4 sounds great even without a tech in sight.

****ETA 10Jun2010****

One thing I discovered a couple months back that I hadn't noticed before is that the ReValver gives you the option of outputting through your computer's soundcard rather than resending it to the USB interface output. This lets you play through your computer speakers like it's an amp. In Pod Farm you have to run it all through Garage Band or another DAW which is doable, but adds another layer of latency issues and memory suck into the equation.

Being able to output to your speakers is handy for sharing ideas or just playing for a friend/spouse.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Revisiting Virtual Amps

Since last time I reviewed a bunch of virtual amps and virutal amp demos (back in Oct/Nov 2009) I've purchased add-ons for my Line 6 Pod Farm and have downloaded the demo for Guitar Rig 4 to compare to the GR3 demo I already have. I picked up the Metal Shop, Collector Classics, and FX Junkie Model packs in mid-December sometime and just downloaded the new Guitar Rig demo this week, so my opinion of the model packs is much more developed than my impression of the new Guitar Rig.

The Model packs are a complete blast. The Metal Shop and Collector Classics add a bunch of new amp models into your virtual studio that add all manner of options and nuance to your sound. Between them there aren't many sounds I couldn't go for within the limits of what one can pull out of a stop tail, dual humbucker guitar. As far as bread-and-butter additions go, though, I most appreciated the addition of the Killer Z distortion box into the mix. The Cat stompbox in the original software was good, but it was a little bright and thin for a modern metal sound. The Killer Z is more modern sounding -- thicker and warmer with some contour control to shape your mids for the right amount of cut. The FX Junkie pack adds in a lot of fun effects that range from classic and subtle to outrageous. They would be awesome for any time one wanted to step away from your guitar god pose and do some postrock experimentation or write some soundtrack stuff for a video game. It extends your tonality into decidedly unguitarlike places and gets you playing things you normally would not. I don't know that I would pay full price for these packs unless I needed them for some project and could not do it with the standard set of sounds that comes with the Pod Farm setup, but they were well worth the package special price that put them all in the same price range as a budget stompbox.

Switching from the Pod Farm to the Guitar Rig 4 demo, the first thing I noticed was how clean and spatial the sound was. The Line 6 sims are good, but they always sound just a little less articulate and more compressed than the Native Instruments sims. This does not imply that the Line 6 sounds aren't as good or as accurate. I'm always surprised when I plug into a normal amp to hear how muddy they sound and how much more string noise they pick up from the guitar, and I'm always a little disappointed that I can't tweak the size of the room in which I am playing it without dropping a lot of money on a good quality reverb unit. The Line 6 may actually be more accurate than the Native Instruments in this regard (much as the ReValver was more like an RL amp in its output than the rest), I just really appreciate the way that the NI software sounds when almost everything I play is just my guitar through headphones. It gives my playing added musicality and dimension and really pulls out the expressiveness of fingers on strings while cutting all the odd, non-musical artifacts down to a minimum.

There's no buyer's remorse here. I saw that the online retailers have been clearancing out the GR3 hardware and while I was tempted to pick it up I really can't justify the cost when I'm not doing anything with my music other than entertaining myself and annoying the cats. I will say, however, that if I had no sunk cost in the Line 6 hardware and were looking at either a full price Line 6 Pod Studio vs. a clearance GR3 package with the direct box hardware and had a chance to play with both ahead of time I would definitely go with the NI over the Line 6. At full price, however, I still think the Line 6 is still the best value of all the virtual guitar studio packages and good enough for most applications.