I have had my current guitar recording setup for a number of years now and while it has worked great (It is how I recorded my first EP), it is starting to show its age and is missing some features I now realize I want.  What I want to do here is use a bit of my programming/analyst skills to create a requirements list to describe what I want in a replacement and see what current gear might fit the bill.  Hopefully, my research will help others too.  I am setting an arbitrary $300 budget because if I had the $1500 for a Mesa Boogie Mark 5:25, I would be buying that and running it into an interface! On to my requirements.

Keep in mind I am not looking to do a complete studio setup.  This does not factor in the cost for guitar(s), MIDI instruments, studio monitors, or DAW software (I am using Reaper).  I already have that and am not looking to replace for this exercise.  It boils down to these factors:

  • Can I quickly capture an idea?
  • Am I able to get the sound I hear in my head?
  • Can I get a dry track at the same time?
  • Can I get the dynamics I want?
  • Can I get back to previous settings quickly?
  • Does it limit noise from my home studio environment (computer, family, dogs)?
  • Can I record whenever I want (in other words do I need a mic to capture and wake people up at 2am)?
  • Can I use that tone away from my studio?
  • Does a device need to be attached to run the software?

I currently use a Line 6 Toneport UX1  with the “live” Gear Box software and then just record that wet sound directly, changing tones manually for each track I want.  Unfortunately, the interface has to be plugged in for either of those to authorize making it difficult to use other plug-ins for guitar tone.  The interface provides an instrument jack and a pre-amp for a dynamic mic (no phantom power).  It also has two line inputs so I can use a stand alone pre-amp, which is what I do when I do want to use a condenser mic.  Together this cost me about $200, $90 for the interface and another $99 to get the PODFarm plug-in which also got me a few more amp models. So how does my current setup fit with my requirements?  One and two are great.  The interface is my sound card so it is always plugged into the PC and my guitar is pretty much always plugged into the interface.  The Gear Box/POD Farm software is great and gets me a ton of different tones that I can do a fair amount of tweaking with, including a number of pedals.  It also ticks the boxes for five, six, and seven. But it does fall short on three, four, and eight.  It does features a USB 1.0 connection so for me that is something I would like to upgrade.

The question then becomes what would be some possible replacements, ideally staying around that price point?  Unfortunately, it seems that there is not a lot of choice. Either the hardware is expensive, or it is necessary to get many software add-ons.  But here is what I found to meet my requirements.

Eleven Rack – $250 used

With this setup I would use the Eleven Rack as my audio interface as well as the amp.  I’ve seen these used on Craigslist for between $200-$300 some coming with the expansion pack (a $100 value).  Connected to my PC this gets me everything on my list, including the ability to not have the interface connected since I am using Reaper as my DAW.  Though obviously I have to have it attached to record, it isn’t necessary during the mixing process.  I already have a Tech21 Power Engine 60 (which is a small cheat for being mobile) that would connect straight in for playing live.

Positive Grid BIAS FX with Interface $200/$40

Positive Grid has been making waves with their plug-ins and and BIAS FX looks promising.  At $200 (on sale at time of writing for $180) this would give me access to a bunch of amps and pedals.    I could then spring for a USB 2.0 interface like a Behringer  U-Phoria UMC22 which  would get me a mic pre-amp and instrument in for $40.  Roughly the same as the Eleven Rack.  This setup gets me almost everything on my list, with the one glaring exception of being able to use the tone away from my studio.  Based on my non-ability to find anyone to jam with, this may not be that big of a showstopper.  They are teasing BIAS Head, which appears to be some type of amp, but whether or not I would be able to use my tones with that remain to be seen.  If it wasn’t too expensive it could tick of that live mode.

I did find a several very cool items that did also meet the requirements, but bust the budget by a wide margin.  Again, at those prices I would just by a real amp!  But I will list them so I can keep an eye on them and you can check out the information.  At some point one would think the prices will be begin to come down.

Line6 Helix – $1,500

Fractal Audio Axe-FX -$ 2,250

Kemper Profiling Amp – $1,900

Let me know if I have missed anything that would be a good match.  I have a feeling many people would be interested in the information and the marketing materials do not help make this easy.

EP Retrospective

Posted: September 28, 2015 in music
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Now that there has been some time to look back on my first release, I wanted to put down some notes about what I think went well, and what did not.  Basically, do a post-mortem and look forward to my next project and try to avoid some of the pitfalls in the future.  From an overall perspective the main feeling is one of relief.  The thing really took me 4 years to complete, so it feels good to just be done.  I also am a bit in awe that I can see this on sites like Spotify and Google music.  When I first picked up a bass and got involved in a band some 20 years ago, it just wouldn’t even be possible.  Now that does not mean it will be a hit or anything, but that is amazing that it is possible to have my music, created in my own studio, available world wide.

What Did Not Go Well

I want to start with the bad and get it out of the way.  The first one that I hit on earlier is that it took way too long.  Between figuring out equipment, procrastinating for gear I might or might not buy, and questioning how good the songs were, I just never got around to seriously putting it down on “tape”.  I am not saying that the songs are earth shattering in any sense, but I liked them and three of them were done this year anyway.  I need to go with my gut instinct on what I want to add, or maybe figure out a way to find someone for an outside perspective or a producer.  I also did not do a good job of getting my initial levels when doing the initial tracking.  A couple of the mixes had to be pulled way down in order not to clip.  Lastly, was my inexperience in getting art work, attempting digital distribution and really how I can market it overall.  My brother was a big help with the cover and Routenote made it easy to get it to distribution, but I am still really not sure how to begin marketing my own work.  Again, I am not looking for this to be a hit, but after a month it has under 100 listens with the last track under 10.  So I will need to continue to figure that out for the future.  Kind of hard to scrape together some gear money if I cannot even find people to listen for free! :)

What Did Go Well

The best part is that I eventually got down what I heard in my head.  I put together five tracks that are reasonably coherent, show a moderate level of skill, and sound in the ballpark to those musicians who release music at a level that I can only dream.  I did it using an $80 interface, a $60 DAW, and a $400 guitar.  I did get to borrow a Mackie control surface and a bass guitar which made the finished product easier and sound better.  I used Routenote to sucessfully get digital distribution to a bunch of platforms.  Finally, I have to say finishing felt awesome!  In the end I am proud of what I created and I since I’ve worked one of the song from the beginning it is pretty crazy to hear how I first recorded and how I can do now.  Now I can say I’m not working on my EP, I have finished my EP!  It makes me want to find more amateurs releasing music.

Music to listen to: Echolapse.  Check them out on their Soundcloud account.   I do not know much about them yet, but I love the tracks they have posted.

I hope this sparks some inspiration for you!

Creating new music

Posted: September 11, 2015 in music
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Now that I have released my first EP, I’m looking to start working on new material again.  Ideally, I’m looking for guitar (me), bass, drums, keys, and a singer to create and play original tunes.   I’m looking for it to be more hard rock or progressive metal but I’d rather see what comes out of collaboration than set a specific genre.  Since I have not had much luck in the past trying to get responses, I think this time I will propose a new way to start the interaction.  If you are interested, let’s do just one song remotely.  It does not have to be a good song, but we can get it to a demo state by trading tracks through email.  If we think it works, great, let’s do another one.  If not we go our separate ways, no hard feelings.  There seems to be a fear of commitment to a “band” so I want to put those fears aside and get to the music.

This does mean though that you will need to have the necessary skills/equipment to record whatever it is you bring to the table in a reasonable fashion.  It doesn’t have to be studio quality but enough that it can be put into a mix.  Singing/playing into a phone should be good enough.  That is the only requirement.  I don’t really even care that much about the genre, but below are my influences, so you can get a feel for what I might bring with my guitar and/or bass playing.

My main influences are bands like Dream Theater, Rush, Kamelot, Megadeth, Coheed and Cambria and solo artists like Joe Satriani, Steve Morse and Marco Sfogli. But if you were to look at my Spotify or last.fm favorites you will see all kinds of stuff like Royal Hunt, Porcupine Tree, Andy James, Flying Colors, Tom Petty, The Vanden Plas and gasp Styx, Toto, and Firehouse.   I also enjoy harder instrumental stuff like Chimp Spanner and Scale the Summit so I’m open to something like that as well.

If none of that works out, I will apparently have time to work on my next solo EP. :)


EP Released

Posted: September 8, 2015 in music
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It has been many years, but I have finally finished a set of songs!  For better or worse my first EP, Echoes, is released today and it has five songs.  Of course, I’m trying to get this out on Spotify, etc. and since this is first time I have no idea how long it will actually take for that part to happen.  But you can find the songs on my SoundCloud account in the meantime.  So if you are interested you can start there.  This collection is basically impressions when thinking back on my teens/early twenties.  From “Taste Of Freedom” when I first was able to drive on my own, to remembering meeting my wife with “Song For Stacy”.  Throw in “Sanctuary” about having that place to relax and unwind and “Where Are My Sunglasses” for another driving memory about summer time in the Northwest.  The last one “Echoes”, is kind of a meta song with me realizing that for each of the songs I was drawing on the past for inspiration and looking to expand the dynamics in my songwriting.  Here is the cover art:


Overall, these are pretty straight forward guitar instrumental songs, but these are from my first “real” set of songs since I picked up the guitar again.  It has been a few years, but there definitely is difference when you go from playing the guitar to actually writing cohesive songs.  So this whole exercise helped me focus on that.  On this EP the drums were all programmed as I just couldn’t find the time to find a drummer and go through the process of getting those recorded.  Between the youngest kid graduating, my wife and I going to Costa Rica, and our third and fourth grandchildren being born I’m actually surprised I was able to find time at all.  In fact everything about this EP was basically done “in the box” to make it easier.  The only track recorded with a microphone was the radio voice stuff on “Where Are My Sunglasses”.  All the guitars and bass were recorded direct into my Line 6 Toneport UX1 and I used the PodFarm modeling software to get the tones I wanted.  I used Reaper as my DAW and just used the stock plug-ins to do EQ, compression, and delay/reverb effects.  A Mackie Universal Control control surface helped make mixing quite a bit easier.

I know normally an artist would tour after releasing new music, but obviously that isn’t going to happen.  Instead, I’ll continue to get better at the guitar and start my next EP soon.  Hopefully I’ll look back on this EP  as an amateur attempt because that means I’m continuing to grow in my skill both as a guitar player and songwriter.  I’m also going to see if I can find some collaborators to create music as well (hit me up if interested).  In the past I have not had luck, but I’m hoping this recording will help.  I will probably try to put out a video on what I used to record it and maybe some more details on how to use a Mackie Universal Control to help with the music making process.  I do already have one on how to connect it up to Reaper, but it can be setup to do a ton more so you don’t have to use a mouse and keyboard very much at all.  Anyway, let me know what you think.  If enough people like it maybe I can get my hands on a Mesa Boogie 5:25 and really take it to the next level.  If you want to keep up with my future music endeavors you can subscribe to my music newsletter (apologies for the weird link, I’m still getting used to MailChimp).

EP Update

Posted: August 22, 2015 in music
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It has been a while since I talked music, or really since I talked anything.  Regardless, I am almost done with my EP.  It will be 5 songs and be called Echoes.  I’m finishing up mixing and while I don’t have a solid date, I’m hoping to wrap that up in the next couple of weeks.  I’ve started into the artwork and am looking into how everything works to publish to digital media like Spotify and maybe iTunes.  Since I don’t anticipate many sales I’ll be balancing the cost of setting that up, so we’ll see where the final numbers fall out.  Especially since professional mastering is quite expensive!  But I do want the experience of finishing it out like a real album so that I can take that into my next project whatever it might be.

It seems like this has taken a long, long time so I appreciate guys like David Wallimann, Joe Gilder, and Graham Cochrane who have unknowingly pushed me to finish this project and not waiting until I have everything I “need”.  I look forward to adding more skills for my next project and hopefully I can figure out how to find people with which to collaborate.  You would think it would be easier now with all the digital tools at hand.

Anyway, you can hear the demos on my SoundCloud account until I release the EP.  The songs will be as follows:

Taste of Freedom


Where Are My Sunglasses

Song For Stacy


You’ve got to get to the airport in a few hours, but you don’t want to leave yet.  You’ve seen a ton of cool stuff, so go back to your favorite and take another look.   Go in depth with that gear.  Really get to know it.  You know the sales person is excited and they are trying to tell you everything even though their voice is shot.
So pull it off the shelf and download the manual.  Watch a video or two to get the most out of it.  Figure out what that dial does and try it out.  Hook up the mic and record different things so you know what sounds good (and bad).  Open your DAW and explore the options menus and move stuff around.  Go through your plug-ins directory and find out what each does.
You’re exhausted as you head home but hopefully you have been inspired to create music again.
Now this probably was not as fun as actually going, but I wanted to have fun around hearing about all the new gear and hopefully you get some ideas for setting up your space to make music easily and to be moderately entertained.
Ok, fatigue is starting to set in and you’re really just awake because this is your 4th Redbull in the last hour.  It sounds like a great time to just kick back in the rearranged space, pull out your favorite instrument, and just play.  You uncovered some great gear so hook it up and let it inspire you.  Spin the knobs, explore the option menus, and record.  It doesn’t have to be great, just let it take you back to the time when you first picked up the instrument with fascination.  Remember what that felt like and lose yourself for a bit.