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AxeTrak

The Most Evil Scale Ever

In celebration of Halloween I’ve written an article for the Seymour Duncan blog about an eeeevil-sounding scale I came up with. I like to use this to pretend I’m Black Sabbath. You can hear a demo track composed with this scale below, but be sure to read the full article to learn the scale for yourself and to take in the different elements it’s composed of.

I recorded this track using my Buddy Blaze Sevenator prototype with Seymour Duncan Full Shred and ’59 humbuckers through my Marshall DSL-50 and an AxeTrak isolated speaker cabinet.

SUMMER NAMM: AxeTrak upgraded with movable microphone

I love my JLH Products AxeTrak. I use it for recording and reamping all the time and it sounds amazing. It allows me to crank my Marshall up to boiling point and record the results without getting evicted. Well check out this new upgrade to the AxeTrak. I think I might have to get me aother one!

JLH Products AxeTrak® Isolation Cabinet Allows for Adjustment of Microphone
July 20, 2009

This new version has all the features of the previous model plus one huge improvement. This model lets you adjust the microphone placement. That’s right; by simply turning a simple thumbscrew located on the top of the unit the user can alter the position and angle of the internal microphone. This added feature gives the user unlimited sound options and total control as to how they wish to record or mic their setup. We took our users suggestions seriously!!! From nice clean sparkly tones (on axis), to darker (off axis) tones, this unit does it all. The AxeTrak® does not use digital signal processing or amp modeling to create its tone. The main components of this device are a special high-end driver designed exclusively for this application and a custom designed cardioid microphone. These components coupled with a few other proprietary analog components produce an incredibly warm tone and natural feel.

This small revolutionary device provides a simple solution for any guitarist wanting to quietly record or mic their live guitar setup. Simply connect the speaker jack of your guitar amplifier to the input of the unit and from there to your mixer or recorder. The AxeTrak® does not run on batteries or need a power adapter. It is powered by the output of the amplifier. The 8-ohm input of the AxeTrak® can handle up to 75 watts RMS of overdriven power. It is also capable of recording incredible sounding clean guitar tones but at slightly lower volume levels. The XLR output connects to the impedance matching transformer if needed, and then directly to a recording console, mixing board, or computer soundcard.

The audible sound radiating from AxeTrak® is that of a whisper, while the recorded sound coming from the low impedance balanced output is pure cranked tone. This device enables any guitarist to record thick rock rhythms and screaming leads anytime day or night. The neighbors will never hear a thing. The AxeTrak® has the potential to revolutionize the way overdriven and distorted guitar tracks are recorded.

Price: $419.00

For more information, visit their web site at http://www.axetrak.com/.

FEATURE: Home recording for the frugal guitarist

The purpose of this article is to give you a bit of an idea how someone who doesn’t really profess to be an audio engineering whiz goes about getting their ideas down in listenable form. There are other dudes far more qualified than I to tell you the ins and outs of inputs and outputs. And believe me, if I had the financial wherewithal to employ them and their fabulous studios instead of having to do it all myself in one corner of the house, I totally would. But until the economy turns around and someone gives me a big washtub full of hundred dollar bills, this is the way I record stuff. Hopefully it can give you ideas for your own projects.

First off, a disclaimer: this article isn’t about how to record as cheaply as possible, otherwise it’d be called ‘Home Recording For The Stingy Guitarist,’ or maybe ‘How I Recorded Stuff When I Was At Uni.’ If inexpensive recording is your goal, get your hands on a Mac and use Garageband and its inbuild sounds, effects and amp simulators. Rather, this article is about how to make the most of what you have. I’ve accumulated my gear over many, many years, one piece at a time. If you’re interested in buying any of the gear mentioned in this article, there are links to a lot of it at the end, and a lot of this stuff can be found pretty inexpensively in secondhand stores and on eBay.

At the moment I’m using a DigiDesign Mbox Pro Factory with Pro Tools 7.4LE. Yep, I haven’t even had the chance to upgrade to Pro Tools 8 yet. I’ll get there soon, don’t worry. Just pretend this article was written a year ago if that’s a problem for ya.

Though I’m a guitar geek, most of my songs start with drum ideas, which I enter either via the mouse in Pro Tools’ MIDI edit window, or by tapping out a rhythm on my inexpensive Edirol MIDI keyboard, then tightening up the performance later if I need to. For drum sounds I use Drumkit From Hell Superior by Toontrack. This program features all sorts of ninja drum kits recorded with a multi mic setup. You can turn on or off the bleed from each mic so, for instance, if you want your snare to also be heard through the overhead mics but not the kick and hat mics, it’s as easy as unchecking a box. You can send each mic/drum to a separate channel in Pro Tools and treat it accordingly with compressors, EQs, reverbs and the like. This works great for metal where you might need to really process your kick and snare, but if I’m doing rock stuff I find that I really like the completely un-effected stereo drum mix with all the room mics cranked up.

Now, here’s the key to getting sequenced drums to sound more realistic, especially if you are taking the ‘draw the notes in with the mouse’ option: the MIDI velocity data for each hit. If you leave everything at exactly the same velocity, the exact same sample will be triggered each time. Not exactly great for expressive music. I’ve found that for rock stuff Drumkit From Hell’s kick, snare and tom samples tend to sound best when you use harder velocity settings in the 95-120 range, while the hats sound better if you use softer ones. I arrived at this conclusion by using my MIDI keyboard to tap out various kick/snare and hat rhythms of different velocities, recording the results so I could zero in on the good bits with my ears. Only then did I turn on the option to view the velocity settings for each hit, so I could figure out exactly why I liked the bits I liked. Now, sometimes I tap out the kick/snare part separately to the hat part, and combine them later, so I don’t get all muddled and hit the snare too soft and the hat too hard.

Next up I lay down a guide rhythm guitar. The most important thing for me at this point is making sure I’m recording at just the right level: not too loud, not too quiet. If you’re in the thrall of a creative brainwave it can be easy to overlook this aspect, but DON’T! Nothing can ruin a perfect performance like a bad recording. While tracking I usually use either Amplitube 2 or Guitar Rig 3 for my amp sound. I’ve created some presets in each which give me a nice straightforward overdriven amp tone with a little bit of ambience just because it sometimes can feel a little confronting to hear your guitar totally dry through headphones or small studio monitors.

A similar recording process takes place for the lead guitar, but I try to make sure that I use different guitars for the rhythm and lead parts. I find that if you layer several different parts using the same pickup some of the frequencies can get a little clouded and you have to start deciding which part to attenuate. I use mostly DiMarzio pickups and my favourite combination is the Tone Zone for rhythm and the Evolution for lead. The other way around can sound pretty good too, while multiple Tone Zone takes seem to get a bit mushy-sounding. The Blaze bridge humbucker in my main 7-string, an Ibanez UV777BK, seems to be the only pickup that seems to ‘sit right’ when I use it for both rhythm and lead.

Now it’s time to add the bass. Since guitar is my main instrument I just feel I have a better idea of the state of the song if I have a rhythm guitar part down first, and since my bass idols are John Paul Jones and Geezer Butler I tend to listen to the lead guitar so I can improvise little fills around it. Most other dudes will record the bass before any rhythm guitar but that’s not how I roll. My most valuable secret for getting a good bass performance (and to make up for the chance of a sterile take caused by adding the bass after doing the guitars) is absolutely free: I stand up. I find that stomping my foot and maybe having a little bit of a boogie while playing really helps me make the rhythm more physical and impactful.

Now comes the really fun bit: I decide whether I want to keep the simulated amp models or replace them with my real amp, a Marshall DSL50. I wait for a time when the family is outta the house, then send an output from the Mbox to a Radial ProRMP reamp device, which converts the signal to the right level for a guitar amp, then into my pedalboard and Marshall. The Marshall is plugged into an AxeTrak isolated speaker cabinet, an ingenious little device which includes a small speaker and a microphone sealed inside a soundproof box. Even when the amp is cranked to where it really starts to sweat, the AxeTrak never moves beyond speaking volume. The AxeTrak’s internal mic plugs back into the Mbox and voila: instant real, miced up guitar amp recorded at my leisure. I’m always very careful to copy down the exact amp settings and include them as a note for each track in Pro Tools so I can either add more tracks with the same sound at a later date, or use that setting for a different song.

And there we have it: an entire track recorded from the ground up with real amps and ‘real’ drum performances – well, as real as they can get when you’re tapping them out on a velocity-sensitive keyboard and using samples of actual drum kits – but without the cost of having to rent out a studio, set up a drum room, or scare the heck out of the neighbours with cranked up Marshall power. As I said earlier, in an ideal world I’d record in a real studio with real drums, a human rhythm section and a room full of amps to record extremely loud guitars, but until that day comes, this method works for me.

DigiDesign Mbox units

Digidesign Mbox 2 Mini Recording Package Standard (pictured above)


Digidesign Mbox 2 USB Audio/MIDI Pro Tools LE Interface

Digidesign Mbox 2 Pro Factory Bundle Standard

Digidesign Mbox 2 Micro

Digidesign Mbox 2 Mini Standard


Toontrack

Toontrack Superior Drummer 2.0


Toontrack Drumkit from Hell EZX Sample Library Standard

DiMarzio

DiMarzio Tone Zone Guitar Pickup Black F-Space


DiMarzio Tone Zone Guitar Pickup Black Regular

DiMarzio DP159 Evolution Bridge Pickup Black Regular

DiMarzio DP159 Evolution Bridge Pickup Black F-Space

DiMarzio DP704 Evolution 7-String Pickup Black


DiMarzio Blaze 7-String Bridge Pickup Black

DiMarzio DP700 Blaze 7-String Neck Pickup Black

The rest of my gear

GEAR: About my rig on the Satch ‘how to’ video

I’ve had a few people ask me about the gear I used for the ‘How To Do Satch-Style Harmonic Squeals’ video I posted on the weekend. Here’s an edited version of a response I wrote to a user on Jemsite.

* Ibanez RG550 20th anniversary reissue with stock pickups.
* Marshall JCM2000 DSL50 amp
* AxeTrak isolated speaker cabinet
* MXR/CAE Boost/Overdrive pedal
* MXR Carbon Copy analog delay.

If you’re interested in buying any of this stuff, there are links at the bottom of the post.

About the guitar: A lot of people change these pickups straight away without even giving them a chance, but I think they’re great. There’s a little 30-second shred video on my YouTube channel www.youtube.com/iheartguitarblog which is the same exact amp and effect setup but using the neck pickup instead. The neck pickup reminds me of Andy Timmons.

I fully expected to change out the stock V2 pickups, but after playing them for a few days I decided they were fine (although the single coil is a bit microphonic so if I’m using that I turn the boost pedal off). I never really liked the V8s – too barky for the sound I’m going for. The V2s sit very nicely in the mix and they’re great for either alternate picking or legato. They seem to emphasize everything you do, so if you have your phrasing together it really shows.

About the amp: The guitar is recorded directly from the AxeTrak into my Digidesign M-Box with no processing. For the recording I used the amp’s lead channel (in normal mode, not ‘Ultra’). Gain at 5, master at 6, through an AxeTrak isolated speaker cabinet. All of the tone controls on the Marshall are turned up to 10, although when using a regular Marshall cabinet instead of the AxeTrak I reduce the treble and presence to 5 to get the same sound. The AxeTrak sounds great but you just have to learn to compensate for its natural tone a bit. Once you do it sounds very similar to a Marshall 1960A cabinet. In the interests of full disclosure, I bought my amp on endorsement terms by arrangement with the distributor. I shopped around and tried out a bunch of different amps by many different brands, but the DSL50 was the one for me. I bought the exact amp that I’d been using at World of Music to test guitars when I was working there.

I’ve found that the balance of a medium amp gain, combined with a cranked boost, seems to make all these cool harmonics come out which would otherwise be squashed with too much preamp gain. My theory is that when you increase the amp’s own gain, you increase the harmonics so much that they all start fighting for attention. Doing it the way I do seems to emphasize only the best ones. Think of it like increasing the contrast and brightness controls on your TV, where the boost pedal is the contrast and the amp gain is the brightness. If you turn them both all the way up, you’ll just get a white screen, whereas if you turn up the contrast and find the sweet spot with the brightness, you’ll get that glowing, David Lee Roth video kind of look. I also use the boost on the amp’s Rhythm channel. I set the channel’s gain at about 6, then use the pedal to increase it to around the same level as the lead channel’s halfway point. It sounds a bit Nuno Bettencourt like this, and gives me just the right individual gain levels for rhythm and lead, while allowing me to set different volume levels for each channel. The end result is that it pretty much sounds like I’m on the lead channel all the time, but increasing the gain and volume when switching channels. If I want a clean sound, I just turn off the boost when on the rhythm channel, and maybe roll the volume control on the guitar down a little if I’m using high output pickups.

About the boost: For the recording I had only the boost side engaged, turned up to full volume. This pedal is designed by Bob Bradshaw of Custom Audio Electronics, and his amps have been used by guys like Steve Lukather and Eddie Van Halen, who used a CAE preamp on ‘The Dream Is Over’ from Van Halen’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album back in 1991. The overdrive part of the pedal sounds cool too but I don’t use it very often.

About the delay: The Carbon Copy’s repeats are a little muffled, which seems to add a little bit of warmth to the overall tone, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s one of the key elements. I’d say the biggest contributing factors to the tone are the stock Ibanez bridge pickup and the effect of using a clean boost to increase the gain of the Marshall, instead of cranking the Marshall’s own gain.

For more how-to videos see I Heart Guitar site sponsor WonderHowTo



MXR Custom Audio Electronics MC-402 Boost/Overdrive Pedal from Guitar Center for $139.99.

CLICK HERE to buy the MXR M169 Carbon Copy Analog Delay from Guitar Center for $149.99.

NEW GEAR DAY: AxeTrak

This morning my 2-year-old and I climbed into the car to zoom across town to Billy Hyde Music in Blackburn to pick up my latest toy, a JLH AxeTrak. I bought the AxeTrak after reading about it on Harmony Central and posting about it here on my blog.

The AxeTrak is a speaker and microphone inside a soundproofed box, and with it I’ll finally be able to record my Marshall DSL50 amp in a controlled environment – which means I’ll now be able to record audio and video reviews of various products for I Heart Guitar. I’ve already planned the first few pedal reviews, which will be the Roger Mayer Spitfire X and Mongoose X, and the MXR EVH Phase 90. It might take me a couple of weeks to post them while I mess around with video editing programs (used to edit video for a living but I’m a bit out of practice now) and try to figure out the best way to do it. But at the very least I should have audio samples of the Roger Mayer pedals finished some time this week.

NEWS: Cool product alert – JLH AxeTrak

I’ve been doing a lot of home recording lately, but with an adorable 2-year-old running around, time and space are scarce, so I’ve been using IK Multimedia’s Amplitube 2 amp simulator into Pro Tools. I’m pretty happy with Amplitube (especially after taming its strange midrange spike using IK’s T-Racks, which seems to reduce the effect much better than using Amplitube’s internal parametric EQ), but there are times when I really wish I could just crank up my Marshall DSL50 and record the demonically loud results.

I’ve Googled a few products that could help me achieve this, but so far the coolest has got to be the AxeTrak 112 by JLH Products, which was released in February. The idea’s pretty simple: there’s a mic’d 6” speaker inside a soundproofed cabinet for silent recording (or for a perfectly isolated amp sound for live performance), as well as an external 12” speaker which you can choose turn on for monitoring. There’s also a version called the AxeTrak 312 with 3 external speakers to give the best of both worlds.

Here’s JLH’s press release.

JLH Products introduces the newest addition to their AxeTrak lineup of isolation / recording cabinets for electric guitar, the “AxeTrak 112″. This cabinet is handmade in the USA the old fashioned way, one unit at a time. The AxeTrak 112 has many features that set it apart from other speaker cabinets and isolation cabinets on the market today. It is loaded with one 12″ Eminence Governor speaker, and also has a self-contained AxeTrak isolation cabinet mounted inside its ivory covered Baltic birch enclosure.

The main feature that sets this cabinet apart from other speaker cabinets and isolation cabinets is the fact that it can operate in either of two modes. If you are playing a gig and you want stage monitoring just push the button on the rear of the cabinet and your sound will be fed to the 12″ speaker in addition to the internal isolation cabinet. This mode will still provide the sound engineer or recording engineer with a direct isolated feed of your mic’d sound. If you press the button again you will be in silent mode. In silent mode the sound is fed only to the internal isolation cabinet and your stage volume will be non-existent. The sound engineer or recording engineer will still have an isolated, direct feed of your mic’d sound.


The AxeTrak 112 features a dual input impedance toggle switch that allows the cabinet to be switched between 4 ohms and 16 ohms. It can handle 100-watts. The self-contained internal isolation cabinet has a 6″ high-power AxeTrak driver and custom cardioid dynamic microphone cartridge.

For more information and a detailed description of this product please visit the Axe Trak website or call 949-859-7293.

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Peter Hodgson Hi! I'm Peter Hodgson. I write for Gibson.com, Australian Guitar, Australian Musician, Mixdown Magazine (including my instructional column, 'Unleash Your Inner Rock God,' which has been running since 2007), BluntBeat (including their weekly hard rock/metal column Crunch) and The Brag. And I'm Assistant Social Coordinator with Seymour Duncan. I've been playing guitar since I was 8 years old, and I've been writing for magazines since I was 18. I've also worked as a guitar teacher (up to 50 students a week), a setup tech, a newspaper editor, and I've also dabbled in radio a little bit. I live in Melbourne, Australia, and my hobbies include drinking way too much coffee, and eating way too much Mexican food. You can check out my guitar playing at Bandcamp or on YouTube, and feel free to email me at iheartguitarblog@gmail.com If you'd like to support the site, feel free to kick in a couple o'bucks using this donation button.

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