I was never really into horror movies as a kid. Just didn’t interest me. It wasn’t that I was a little pussy – okay, maybe a little – but I preferred to get my scares from music. I went to a Catholic school and Black Sabbath seemed like the ultimate rebellion to me. I used to hold my breath every time I heard Ozzy sing “Satan sitting there, he’s smiling” because I was sure that the horned one was going to spring forth from the floor and feast upon my innards. It probably will some day, and if not to “Black Sabbath” then probably to one of these:
Black Sabbath – Dehumanizer
There are many evil Sabbath albums (cf: the line “For I believe Satan lives in the souls of the dying” from Headless Cross – I think my heebies just got jeebied), but notwithstanding the unmitigated evil of the Ozzy and Tony Martin albums, the demonic power of Tony Iommi was never spookier than on this 1992 release, in alliance with the late great Ronnie James Dio. The production is swimming in natural reverb, making it sound like you’ve stumbled across the band playing in a crypt or something, and you can almost hear Dio throwing the devil horn hand gesture as he sings. I’m sure you can hear his wrist jewelry jangling if you have a good enough hi fi. Try to get through the opening riff of “After All (The Dead)” without getting the creeps. You can’t do it.
Slayer – Reign in Blood
Thirty minutes and 20-something seconds of thrash carnage. Topics include death, dying, mortality, killing, and being killed. Aside from a whole bunch of songs with running times less than two and a half minutes, there’s also “Raining Blood” and “Angel of Death,” each at almost five minutes, for those who like their evil to be bigger than snack size. The track “Altar Of Sacrifice” includes another of those lyrics I used to hold my breath for as I awaited the firey arrival of the dark lord: “Learn the sacred words of praise, hail Satan!” AARGH!
Paul Gilbert – Burning Organ
This album as a whole isn’t evil, but it includes the track ‘I Am Satan’ which begins with the count-off “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6, 6!!!” and goes on to tell the tale of Satan falling in love with a chick, but freaking out about what she’ll do when she finds out who he is. Will she stay or will she go? Burning Organ also includes the track “Suicide Lover,” which features the classic line “She’s a suicide lover. You could say her love’s the bomb.”
Megadeth – United Abominations
Any album loaded with as many puns as this one has got to be evil. Puns are the most evil form of humour there is. This one also gets bonus spooky points for lines like “The Angel of Death is pissed off with me again, just because I got to put you out of my misery.” I like to imagine the Angel of Death as Mustaine’s passive-aggressive flatmate, leaving notes magnetted to the fridge: “Dear housemates. Someone has been putting people out of their misery who clearly have my name written on them. First my a2 milk and now this. I’m sure we would all like to maintain a harmonious household and things would run a lot smoother if we all respected each others’ property. I’d hate to have to consider one of those fridges with separate lockable sections for our individual milks and people to put out of their misery. If it comes to that I will buy it with my own money and then invoice you all for your equal share. Sincerely, Angel of Death.”
Devin Townsend – Ziltoid The Omniscient
What could be more evil than a demented alien who shreds like a demon and attacks the Earth because he needs a caffeine hit? Nothing, that’s what. Dude, I know from personal experience the awesome destructive power of a caffeine-deprived shredder because I’ve lived it. Devin recorded and performed all of this monster album single-handedly, and it features some of his best melodic songwriting since Ocean Machine, as well as lots of brutal Strapping Young Lad-style metal.
Even if you’ve dedicated your life to the rock, chances are that most of us still need a day job. For some that means guitar teaching. For others it’s working in a studio, or as a luthier, or in a guitar store. But while most of us clock on, sit at a computer and zone out for eight hours while we daydreaming of riffs and picks, a select few musos clock on in the wonderful world of animation. As a kid who obsessed over both guitars and cartoons, I can think of no cooler double life than that. And here are six fortunate folks who have lived that double life.
Some of us know Billy West as the voice of Phillip J Fry and Zap Brannigan on Futurama. Others know him as Ren (and occasionally Stimpy). Others still know him as the red M&M. And my four-year-old knows him as the voice of Ellyvan, the blue elephant with wheels on Jungle Junction. West is also an accomplished guitarist, leading a band called Billy West and The Grief Counselors, and if you listen to the commentary tracks on the Futurama DVDs, you might catch him sneaking in some guitar-related trivia (including complimenting the animators on the hand-sync of a scene involving psychedelic folk troubadour Donovan). Check out this video of West talking about his various voices – Fry, Hubert Farnsworth, Dr Zoidberg – and groove on one of my personal favourite Fry moments here.
It’s hard enough to write an original song. Even if you think you’ve hit upon the most unique idea ever, chances are it’s something the Beatles already wrote. Or Frank Zappa. But titling your song is different, because they’re easily searchable and easily changable. You can’t really play your entire song into an iPhone app and have it tell you your song sounds a little too much like “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” or “Hey Bulldog,” but you can certainly do a quick Google or iTunes search to see whether someone’s already recorded a song called “My Uncle Used to Love Me, but She Died” or “You Stuck My Heart in an Old Tin Can and Shot It off a Log” (I’ll save you the trouble: they have). Some titles though are really, really overused. Here are the five that, well, bug me the most.
5. Sacred Ground
Richie Kotzen, Queensryche, Living Colour, Craig Chaquico,
4. Judgement Day
Van Halen, Whitesnake, Jorn Lande/Russell Allen, Eric Clapton, Hoodoo Gurus, Dokken, Dying Fetus, Snowy White
3. Promised Land
Queensryche, Robert Plant, Chuck Berry, W.A.S.P, Samael, The Band, Big Country, Bruce Springsteen
Dream Theater, Joe Satriani, Warrant, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Sevendust, Foo Fighters, Daughtry, Jack Johnson, Ben Lee, Xavier Rudd, David Byrne, She & Him, Goo Goo Dools, Roger Waters
Bumblefoot, David Bowie, Joe Satriani, Ozzy Osbourne, Pink Floyd, Vernon Reid, Gyroscope, Creed, Hootie & The Bow Fish, Supergrass, The Alan Parsons Project, Blink 182, Blind Melon, Chris Cornell, Anthrax/Joe Jackson, Cat Stevens
Velvet Revolver for having the balls to write a song called “Loving The Alien” even though David Bowie beat them to it 19 years earlier.
We guitarists are an enterprising bunch. We think nothing of tweaking our guitars with a replacement pickup here, an upgraded tuner there, maybe even a new bridge. Sometimes the results are subtle. Sometimes they’re really out there. Sometimes they’re really really out there, like these celebrity-butchered axes.
Eddie Van Halen’s Ibanez Destroyer
The Ibanez Destroyer is an Explorer-based guitar which, in its 1970s incarnation, was prized for its Korina wood and very close resemblance to the real deal from the 1950s. Eddie Van Halen was well aware of the tonal benefits of Korina but I guess he felt his Destroyer didn’t feel ‘Eddie enough.’ So what did he do? He chopped the living f^#% out of it.
So now that Guitar Hero has been cancelled as an active franchise, what is Activision going to do next? Reports say they’re going to shut down their video game division, but wait, not so fast! I Heart Guitar to the rescue! Here are some game ideas to keep the division alive.
The logical spin-off of Guitar Hero, players must try to restring a virtual Floyd Rose while fans spit beer at them. They must also use gaffer tape to hold a vintage Marshall together that the artist insists on using live even though it smells like cat pee and instantly cooks anything placed on top of it.
The ‘We Might As Well Start Now’ Start
Nothing rocks more than being drawn into a set from the very beginning by a well-conceived opening. Whether it’s some kind of well-done intro tape (like Metallica using ‘The Ecstasy Of Gold’); an atmospheric, moodily-lit stage beginning to swell with sound; or a curtain drop to a harsh white light as the band leaps into a high-energy punkfest, the way you begin your gig has to make an impact. So why do so many bands at the club level think it’s okay to walk out onto the stage, start to tune their instruments and maybe mess around with their pedals a bit until the singer says ‘Um, we might as well start now… uh… okay. 1… 2… 3… oh wait, what’s our first song? Oh yeah. 1… 2… 3… 4…”? It doesn’t matter if you’re just playing at the local watering hole or if you’re filling Madison Square Garden. Establish a definite beginning to your set.
Making A Big Deal About Tuning Down To Drop D
“Okay, that song was called ‘Promised Land.’ Next up we’re gonna play a song called ‘Silent Scream.’ It’s in Drop D. So uh, we’re just gonna, y’know, tune to Drop D.” What follows is about 90 seconds of incrementally descending low notes and out-of-tune power chord strums while everyone zeroes in on that elusive whole-tone drop. Guys, this is what the mute button on your tuner is for. Don’t subject your audience to this crap. Bring along an extra guitar or retune discretely.
The Bit Where You Get On Your Knees And Make Science Fiction Noises With Your Delay Pedal
Did you know that when you turn up the feedback knob on a delay pedal and then move the time control up and down, you get spacey, oscillatey, science-fictony sounds? Yes, of course you did, because every person who ever got their hands on a delay pedal discovered this within about 20 seconds of plugging in. Doesn’t mean you have to torture your audience with it. This is always done with such an air of pretension: “Oh look at me – I’m so awesome that I transcend the mantle of mere guitar player and am in fact a Sound Sorcerer. Listen as I kneel before my pedalboard conjure squealing Theremin-like notes from thin air.” For extra pretension points, throw in a few other pedals at the same time (wah and fuzz are especially cliche) or if you’re really ninja, hit a few delay pedals at once. Show you are a true douche by concluding your noise solo by kneeling with your head down for a few minutes, as if you need some time to come back to the real world after the blissful few minutes spent in your internal Technicolor wonderland.
The Ironic Cover.
‘Dude, we should totally cover, like, Lady Gaga, or um, Britney Spears or something.’ ‘Dude, Britney Spears was like ten years ago.’ ‘Oh. Well what about Hanson?’ *facepalm*
The End-Of-Gig Feedback Thing
Last song’s done. Let’s lean our guitars against the amps and walk off while they feed back. Nah, it’ll be awesome. Then some poor roadie’s gonna have to come out and unceremoniously switch the amps off. Or we’ll have to walk back out onto the stage and turn them off ourselves and then strike our own gear, which really shatters the ‘don’t give a fuck’ image that the End-Of-Gig Feedback Thing is supposed to portray.
Can you think of any others? Comment below!
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.
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 Superior Drummer 2.0
Toontrack Drumkit from Hell EZX Sample Library Standard
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
Picture it: You surf eBay for months looking for the Gibson Les Paul of your dreams. Finally one comes up in just the right colour, and it’s cheap – almost too cheap. You win the auction, and a little while later your guitar arrives. But it’s not quite right. It sounds a bit hollow. The pickups are thin and noisy. The tuning machines creak. The toggle switch feels loose. You’ve been stooged.
The problem of unauthorised copies of guitars has been around for decades, with many big companies sued by bigger companies for infringing on copyrights. In the 70s Ibanez copies of Gibson and Fender designs were so close to the real thing that the lawyers pounced, prompting Ibanez to change its designs and begin to focus on more original shapes and features. Today those copy guitars are nicknamed “lawsuit models” and are collectible in their own right.
But going after a company like Ibanez is easy compared to tackling the issue of counterfeit guitars. The rise of eBay seems to have triggered a flood of new copies which claim to be the real thing. Relaxed intellectual property laws in parts of Asia have long been credited for the illegal trade of bootleg DVDs, CDs, shoes, perfumes and sporting goods. As a result, it’s hard for companies to track down the manufacturers stamping out these poor quality imitations.
Recently I saw what purported to be a Gibson Custom Shop Zakk Wylde Les Paul signature model with Zakk’s distinctive camouflage bullseye graphic. It only took a passing familiarity with Gibson to know this guitar wasn’t right, even though it seemed to have an authentic serial number and Zakk’s signature. The tuners, which on the real model are supposed to be gold, had a kind of bubbly matte texture which certainly didn’t look or feel like the real thing. The pickup selector switch was flimsy, the binding was messy, and the pickups were labelled as passive EMG-HZs, not the active EMGs Zakk is so identified with. Popping open the electronics cavity I realised the EMGs were not only the wrong model, they were also fake. The owner didn’t pay anywhere near what a real Zakk axe would cost, and they had a sneaking suspicion they had been sold a forgery, but for the money they could have bought an official Epiphone version of the same guitar and it would have been much higher quality – with real pickups too.
Another example is the Ibanez Jem. This Steve Vai signature model has been in production for nearly 20 years now and there are collectors the world over who lust after particular rare variations, or just the standard white 7VWH model most identified with Vai. Asian Jem fakes are so prevalent on eBay they’ve begun to be referred to in the industry as “Chibanez” guitars. From a distance they may look authentic – they say Ibanez on the headstock, they have the characteristic handle cut into the body, and the creeping vine inlay on the fretboard, but on closer inspection these guitars never hold up. Some are more accurate than others in copying the design, but there are several giveaways. One is the handle – it’s usually just a little bit off in the copies. Spend some time at the picture galleries of Jemsite.com to see what the real deal should look like.
Another area is the bridge. Ibanez use their own brand of bridge in their guitars – an Edge model in early Jems, a Lo Pro Edge from the early 90s onward, then the Edge Pro from 2004 to the present, while the budget Jem Jr 555 model should have a Lo TRS II or, after 2004, an Edge Pro II. If you find a Jem that has a Floyd Rose brand tremolo, not only is the guitar a fake, but the trem probably is too. Once again, compare the bridge to the original, because it’s a hard part to fake.
Other areas to inspect for hints of a fake Jem are the pickups (they should be Dimarzios), the vine inlay, the cut of the neck pocket, and the body shape itself. Some fake guitar manufacturers can’t seem to 100% nail the outline of the Jem and its sister model, the RG. If you’re a serious buyer you owe it to yourself to do some serious research and know exactly what it is you’re shopping for, so a few quick clicks at Ibanez.com will help you figure out if you’re about to buy a premium guitar or a forgery. Ibanez even has all of their old catalogs online, so you can check a guitar’s authenticity even if it’s a discontinued model. If you have access to the guitar in person, take off the neck to see if the neck and the pocket it fits into on the body are stamped with the model name. Taking off the neck to check authenticity or to verify a model number is a reasonable request when looking to invest in a premium guitar.
Some builders of fake guitars drop little hints that you’re not getting the real deal. A lot of Ibanez Jem rip offs are labelled “Jem Jr,” a name stamped on the real 555 model but definitely not on the 7VWH. I’ve seen fake Gibson guitars where the opening at the top of the “O” in the brand name was widened just enough to read “Gibsun” from close up while still looking like Gibson from across the room.
Musical instrument building is a fine art, reflecting passion, research and craftsmanship. The old adage “You get what you pay for” is definitely true when it comes to guitar buying. If it sounds too cheap, it probably is. Nobody’s really going to sell you a guitar for $300 if it retails for $4,899. Don’t let the thrill of a bargain blind you to the sting of the rip off – you owe it to yourself and the companies whose designs you love to buy the real thing, not an imitation that may look the part but feel and sound nothing like the actual instrument.
Last week we looked at some gear-related tips for young rock gods playing in a band for the first time – things like making your sound fit in with the rest of the band, and coping with the kind of volume levels you might encounter in a proper band situation, instead of jamming along to your iPod in your lounge room.
Writing last week’s article got me thinking about my early days playing with other musicians. The first time I played with a drummer was when I was in Year 7. I dragged along my 3-watt practice amp and $50 distortion pedal, cranked the amp to what was probably only a little louder than speaking volume, and was blessed with a horrendous, buzzy, scratchy little tone that did nothing for my early confidence as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Guitarist. Flash forward to 10th Grade and I auditioned for a covers band featuring local guitar hero Jamie Payet. The rest of the guys were a bit older than me, and since he was already a seasoned pro, I learned some very valuable things from Jamie about adjusting my playing to fit a band context. I didn’t end up sticking with the band – study pressures ate away at my ability to be anything but a miseryguts that year so I jumped ship, and it wasn’t until later that I got to put into practice all the great stuff I learned in rehearsal.
These days, Jamie is a recording and live audio engineer and a guitarist, who works for the European speaker company KV2 Audio and still plays gigs regularly. I asked him to revisit some of the advice he gave me back then.
“Do not play overly loud! This allows you to actually hear what the others in the band are doing,” Jamie says. “Play as loud as the drums, no louder! You need to also consider the singer may not have good monitors and even if they had, they usually have to turn up and compete with everything on stage or in a rehearsal room. I have found in the years of playing, if you want loud, face the amp away from the rest of the band. Sure it may not be cool in terms of showing off your cool quad box set up, but you will make much more friends on and off stage.”
Jamie advises that unless you are going to play on big stages or you are a touring act go with a 30 to 50 watt amp. “I use a 40 watt valve amp and still get told to turn down,” he says. “Look for tone and not volume. In order to get good tone you often need lots of volume, hence a lower wattage amp is the key. Volume can turn to mush at crazy loud levels.”
Jamie learned a lot of these tricks in his days playing in bands as a teenager. “My early gigs were pretty simple in terms of production, musicianship and experience. I was 14 at the time and for a bunch of kids who were in an era where pub rock was at its best, it was a great learning curve. We suffered the same as all young bands go through, we overplayed a lot, had little concept of locking in as a group, we played way too loud and we didn’t listen; everything most teenage musicians still do! I was fortunate to then play in a band with older guys when I was 18 years old which was such a great learning curve for me in terms of making music a career.”
Jamie’s advice for young guitarists is: “Be yourself! If you follow a trend you end up being like everyone else. Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Angus Young, Tommy Emmanuel are examples of guitarists who bring attitude to the stage. One of my favorite quotes is from Alex Van Halen (yep a drummer!) ‘When you go out on the stage you go and play like it will be your last.’ I guess like anything in life if you do not have passion it aint worth doing.”
Jamie’s last word of advice is: “Learn to be a musician before you become a superstar. There are to many superstars who haven’t become musicians yet.”