Thursday, 4 August 2016

Review of Mainstage and That Worship Sound's 'Worship Guitar Essentials' by Andy Hood

Keys players have for some time known that Mainstage is a top piece of software to use. When you see a keys player on stage with a Macbook sat on the top, it’s because they are using Mainstage to control their sounds (at least this is the most likely scenario).

Mainstage is a piece of software made by Apple. It creates a much more useable interface to the sounds of Logic Studio and Garageband for the live musician, allowing multiple presets or patches to be saved into specific concerts, so all your sounds for that set are in one place and you just select the one you want for each song.

Guitarists have rarely fully embraced an all digital sound. Rightly or wrongly insisting that analogue amps are going to be better. The fact is though, that a few years ago, yes, digital modelling of guitar amps sucked! It sucked big time! But now, digital modelling has caught up (with products from brands like Line 6, Digitech, Zoom etc all having good offerings), and to the ears of the vast majority of people, there is little to no difference.

If you already own a Mac, then Mainstage (which currently costs £22.99 in the App Store on your mac) is a great way to try out digital modelling and to use live. All you need is an audio interface (some thing like this is fine  http://www.dv247.com/computer-hardware/behringer-u-phoria-um2--207603) plus a reasonable set of speakers / headphones  and you’re good to go.

Mainstage gives you access to a huge number of amps and cabinets all modelled from some great amps. They don’t tell you which amps they are modelling but from looking at the images of the amps there are clearly some great amps from Vox, Marshall, Fender and more. There are also a host of effects pedals you can build a pedalboard with, as well as access to all ofthe studio effects built into either garageband or logic (depending on which you have installed on your mac). Which can lead to some great sounds. However as with all of these things you have to learn how to use it and it can take a while to get the sounds you want. I spent some time doing this and found a few sounds I like, however I haven’t got hours to spend tweaking sounds for it, so I set about looking for some patches I could download that would at least have me most of the way there. Enter, thatworshipsound.com - here I found their Worship Guitar Essentials Package (https://thatworshipsound.com/patches/bundles/worship-guitar-essentials/) which for $20 gives you 6 mono and 6 stereo presets which sound amazing and are fully customisable to try out yourself. Check out the sounds on their youtube video below:


I have found some great uses for these sounds - especially the ‘Frozen Verv’ sound - I used this leading worship on electric on the song ‘One thing remains’ from Bethel. This sound was really atmospheric, gave a kind of pad sound and filled the sound out amazingly.

The possibilities are really endless with mainstage for guitarists. I’ve now started running my acoustic through it as well and adding a studio compressor and some great reverb to fill out the sound.

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This content was written by Andy Hood. A worship leader and guitar teacher in Exeter. Check out his website http://www.exeterguitarlessons.co.uk

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

EHX (Electro Harmonix) Glove Overdrive Pedal Review

The EHX Glove is a pretty unique overdrive/distortion pedal. With MOFSET semiconductors, the pedal aims (and manages) to bring a wide range of overdriven sounds that are very tube-like, without being too harsh. Modelled perhaps after the Fulltone OCD, this pedal manages to bring a rich tonal sound for around £50.

EHX Glove


Here's how EHX describes it on their website: http://www.ehx.com/products/od-glove 

Rich, overtone laden sound that doesn’t get muddy. Responsive controls that take you from sparkling, clean boost through brown crunch and all the way to thick, saturated hi-gain. Advanced features like Tone Shift and selectable 9 or 18V internal voltage for surgical sound sculpting. The new OD Glove delivers overdrive and distortion with impact, and the modern player in mind.

So how does it play in practice?

Well, I absolutely love it. I listened to clips of this and the Crayon and am so pleased to have chosen the Glove. I play it through a Fender Blues Junior (with upgraded tubes and a Greenback speaker) and they work together beautifully. Said to be able to get that classic British rock crunch sound, I found this was a pretty accurate description but probably does a slight disservice to the range of the Glove.

It fits perfectly with my (now very sadly discontinued) Visual Sound Open Road and has a similar kind of tone. Howeever, the Open Road sits much more as a tube-like transparent sound. While the Glove aims for this to some extent, it does bring its own character. It is not a harsh, fizzy, or too fuzzy pedal but doesn't go as 'clean' or as 'transparent' as some may want it to, especially if you want to simply use it as a boost.



However, the overdrive is pretty smooth at lower levels. Some people have bought this looking towards that kind of Marshall distortion sound and certainly the pedal does nod in that direction more than a traditional overdrive pedal but without fully nailing the sound. Without a doubt this brings a thick and sustained sound that you'd hope for and doesn't lose character at high gain, certainly in comparison with some other EHX pedals. There's also a selectable 9v or 18v setting inside the pedal.

As you'd expect, this doesn't have the midrange cut through that you'd find on the Fulldrive or other tubescreamer type pedals. Nor does it act as a heavy driven metal distortion pedal as you'd equally expect. But it does what it does very nicely and with an excellent build quality. This thing is solid as a rock and won't get damaged anytime soon - as with all EHX pedals.



This is the kind of settings I use with the Glove pedal (often having the gain up a touch as well). I also leave the Tone Shift setting to 'On'. I have also managed to use the guitar volume to clean up very well with the pedal - another brilliant bonus. I haven't done a demo video as to be honest my playing can't compare with some of the videos online - listen to them and see if it's for you.

Overall, for £50, this absolutely blows the cheaper pedals out of the water sonically. It's rich, musical, retains a smooth tone and gives you that British tube amp classic crunch sound. Absolutely stunning.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Multi-Effects Pedals? Zoom G3X. And thoughts on Zoom G5N XLR failure

Back in the day I had a Boss ME-50 multi-effects pedal. It was fairly small, had a cool blue colour but the effects were absolutely horrible and difficult to tweak. Yes it was early days and yes the Boss individual pedals are absolutely amazing!!



I quickly moved to using individual stomp pedals!

The one day I stumbled across the Zoom G3X and this has been the mainstay on my small venue electric guitar playing - and always my acoustic guitar playing. It's small, its (non-overdrive) effects are brilliant, the volume pedal works (although admittedly sometimes I have to rock it back and forth a couple of times). You can also record and play with some of the effects via the USB!

Front of Zoom G3


But more than anything else, its advantage is the XLR / DI output on the back. This means I can use it easily at church and elsewhere and play electric without an amp. Priceless. Literally.

Rear of Zoom G3X with XLR balanced output


Now I've been meaning to upgrade for a bit and it's tiring hauling round a pedalboard in a beasty case to be honest! Sometimes you just want to go simple. I've looked at the Line 6 HD500X but the level of options and messing around via the tiny LCD screen (or even spending hours on my computer) is a bit of a deal breaker for me. I love my Mac but I spend much of my work using it, plus recording, doing videos etc. Yes, the sounds from the HD500X are perfectly good and useable but the very small LCD is a strange decision.

So ideally I'd kind of like something more easily tweak able! So I've looked for something else.

Computer software for Line6 HD500x


So when Zoom released their massively upgraded model, the G5N (upgraded from the G5), I thought to myself, "Aha! This is what I need." It has fewer sounds, yes, but is pretty simple and has a slightly better layout on the unit - plus improved sounds and tones with upgraded processing power. The opportunity to edit and add sounds is also there for those that like it.

Except no it isn't because Zoom have decided quite unbelievably, not to have a DI out at the back of the G5N. Who is this pedalboard being aimed at? People at home in their bedroom? It even has 10 of their best used amp models on there - presumably so you don't have to output to an amp on stage. Great. So where is the balanced XLR out / DI on the back?!

Zoom G5
Rear of Zoom G5 with XLR balanced output
New Zoom G5N
Rear of Zoom G5N and no XLR output. Why?


Huge oversight and huge fail from Zoom in a moment when they could have delivered a killer pedal. Yes, you can use a DI box and a patch cable etc and that's not a hassle. But what was the thinking from Zoom behind this decision, effectively downgrading the pedal from the Zoom G5. I truly believe they will lose customers because of this which is very unfortunate.

Maybe I will get that HD500X instead!

Any thoughts out there?

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Worship Influences and choosing new songs

Chatting to someone recently, they asked where I go for influences for new songs. This got me thinking (dangerous, I know...)

At my previous church, there was what appeared to be a real resistance to new songs and seeing what others were doing and writing. The worry was that we would become 'copyists' and not follow the leading of the Holy Spirit ourselves. This may be an issue in some churches occasionally but certainly wasn't the case for us.

There is a complicated process that goes on when thinking about new songs. First of all, what might be an old song to some will be a new song to others!

That aside, new songs are a way for me of seeing what God is doing. God is always speaking to us and we should always be aware of his presence, what he is saying and what he's doing. God's always true to his Word but is always doing new things. So I want to be someone who catches hold of what God is doing and goes with it. Some songs come and go - but at times, certain songs will take off across the globe or maybe just in your church. The more we are open to influence from what God is doing generally, the more we can walk in step with him. And new songs plain inspire me!

Like anything, use the good 'meat' and 'spit out the bones'! I want to be open to what God is doing and what God is saying - even if I 'don't like' the band or the 'style'. We need to grow up and get beyond this (every song can be re-done in a way that works for you, or re-keyed etc). And I would hate to miss out on something God is doing just because of my agenda or personal preferences! God's Kingdom is too important and more important, although God gives us a personality and choices as well :)

So new songs and where I tend to look...

1. One thing I do is have a free account with Bethel TV.  I like to hear what they're doing and the new songs that are coming out. Which songs are they singing from other artists outside of Bethel? Is there any kind of theme emerging that God may be speaking to his church generally?

2. I listen to iHop KC and the live web stream. These guys have a huge range of younger worship leaders who bring all kinds of songs because the worship and prayer is 24/7. I listen to what songs they're doing, listen to which ones seem to 'take off' and speak. I also just like to have it one, soak in it or play along / learn new songs.

3. There are a number of 'artists' and 'bands' who it's good to keep a general eye on because the songs they have done have had many anointed songs in them. Examples (end of 2015) that I would suggest... (in no particular order...)

- Bethel Church, Redding, CA
- Hillsong (and Hillsong London)
- Matt Redman
- Tim Hughes and Worship Central UK, Worship Central Aus/NZ
- Rend Collective
- Chris Tomlin
- Passion (Passion Conference)
- Vineyard
- United Pursuit Band
- Phil Wickham
- IHOP KC and OneThing conference each Christmas in KC
- Chris McClarney
- Jesus Culture
- Martin Smith
- All Sons and Daughters
- Housefires
- New Wine and Soul Survivor
- Matt Gilman
- Cory Asbury

4. I also listen out for new bands and artists.  I just like to hear what people are singing and doing. This also includes local artists and people I know where appropriate!

5. I also whip my iPad out when I'm worshipping if a new song comes along. I have several songs that have just sprung out of the Holy Spirit in me. I also look for this to happen when leading. I'm very open to God bringing a new song although I'm cautious not to over-egg things as you can start to lose people - and you're a worship leader not a worship dictator !!

Ultimately, it's about God, building his kingdom and going with anointed God-songs!

What about you? What influences you, how and why?

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Comparison of the Strymon Bluesky and the Boss RV6 Reverb Pedals

Comparison of the Strymon Bluesky and the Boss RV6

Video Review

I started doing a short video overview / comparison of these two pedals and it just got more and more epic, ridiculously so.

So the video is linked to below...

Youtube Video - brief and simple comparison of the two pedals - 9 mins 51 secs




Longer (Unlisted) Video Review on Youtube - 32 mins!!



Short Comparison Review

However, for those who don't want to use (waste?!) 30 mins of their time, here's an overview...

Strymon Bluesky

This comes with three reverb types and three reverb modes. These can be mixed together. The reverb types are plate, room and spring. The three modes are normal, modulated and shimmer.



The Bluesky has controls for the decay time and the overall mix. There are additional controls for the pre-delay (amount of time before the reverb kicks in), a low damp knob (to control low-end in the reverb trail) and a high damp knob (controlling high-end in the reverb trail).

There is also a favourite setting, which you can set and click, then click again to recall. So effectively the pedal is like having 2 reverb pedals. The click buttons depress without those loud clicks from cheaper footswitches. Instead they're quiet and good quality to boot. Nice touch (no pun intended...)

The sheer amount of control on the pedal is awesome. You can also set the pedal to true bypass or analogue bypass (this means you can have reverb trails meaning the reverb persists when switching off the pedal). True bypass cuts the reverb when switched off. The pedal also offers stereo or mono.

The sound of this thing is incredible, going from very sensitive to absolutely epic with huge long reverb trails. The modulated sound (with plate) is very eerie and spacious, almost synth-like. The shimmer setting is lush and full of character - almost cathedral organ-esque. It's pretty unparalleled in the world of shimmer in this way.

The one thing I would say about the Bluesky  that many others have said is that it's almost a specialist pedal in the sense that it often doesn't quite fit into the mix. I find the sound not just bright, but slightly 'thin' generally. This stands in stark contrast to the Boss RV6.

Boss RV-6

The Boss RV6 is more like a reverb tank - your 'Honda engine' of reverb - doing many things well and very reliably. It doesn't have that epic edge like the Bluesky and its reverb trails don't come anywhere near as long but then again it is under half the price of the Bluesky!


The Boss has several modes - Modulate, Spring, Plate, Room, Hall, Dynamic (that adjusts the reverb to your playing, lighter you play the more the reverb stands out), shimmer and +Delay.

The controls are nice and simple and included the Effect Level, the Tone (adjusting the tone of the reverb) and the Time (decay).

The pedal is both mono and stereo and allows the addition of an expression pedal. The mono is very good but going stereo is where the RV6 excels.

OK, so the RV6 generally has a real Boss-sound to it. You know what you are getting and I doubt this will ever let you down. The sound is very full, almost a touch bass-heavy (certainly compared to the Bluesky). Where the Bluesky is epic, the RV6 is full of what I can only describe as 'presence'. It's a pedal that will more easily fit into a standard guitar rig in my view.

The Modulate is very nice but could do with longer trails for sure. The Shimmer is similar. The pre-delay of the shimmer on the RV6 is much shorter than on the Bluesky, meaning the shimmer kicks in much more quickly. It would be great to have a pre-delay button on this but hey, for £105 the RV6 is a bargain! (UK price on the Strymon is £249).

Conclusion

If you can bring yourself to sit through the long video (or sat least flick through), you'll hear the difference between the two pedals that really weren't made to compete with one another. They have different niches. The Bluesky is high quality, tweak able and completely epic. The RV6 is a killer pedal for a killer price and is your Swiss Army knife of reverb that supersedes the Hall Of Fame by some way in my view!

The choice is yours!


Using Tracks and Synth Pads in OnSong for Worship

Using Tracks and Synth Pads in OnSong for Worship


OnSong is an amazing tool that enables you to store music and songs on your iPad. Once converted to the OnSong format, you can change keys and more, adapt your music to fit your needs etc. You can share the music by beaming to other iPad users around you, sharing a song or your set etc. There are so many features it's not possible to list them all here. 

Needless to say it's a pretty essential app and as many others have said, the $19.99 purchase price (correct at 3 September 2015) is reason enough to get an iPad !!  The app is pretty stable, gives you hundreds of features, turn on auto update in the App store to upgrade automatically and keep adding songs. (One thing you need to note is that you do need to convert to the OnSong format in order to make use of some of the features).

This entry is about using synth pads in worship. You will find a few youtube and other online tutorials about how to do this, plus some links to people offering some excellent synth pads in various keys. I've created and use my own synths (put together in Logic Pro X).

Step One

The first thing is to get hold of some iPad synths and ideally set up a Dropbox account and folder within DropBox, saving the synth sounds to that folder on Dropbox. I would strongly suggest getting synth sounds in all the various keys you are likely to play. These strings should be mainly on the root note (the same note as the key the song is in), although you'll be able to add occasional notes within the synth pad from the key - preferably from the arpeggio the notes within a particular chord.

So obviously the triad (three) notes for E major would be the 1st, 3rd and 5th note and for E minor would be the 1st flat 3rd and 5th note. So in E major, the notes you could use would be: E, G#, B and in E minor would be: E, G, B.

It is also a good idea to make the synth sound at least 10mins long so you know you'll have enough time and not have the pad cut out half way through the song! 

You will definitely want to put the song in the mid-range of the keyboard or the higher range and not in the 'bass clef' region - something that would muddy the overall sound and make it very messy.

Once these are created, get them onto Dropbox to await import into OnSong!

Step Two

Navigate within onSong to a song you'd like to use. In my example I've chosen 'Anchor' which is a song from Bethel Church in Redding, California.

At the bottom of the page, you'll see a 'play' button (little triangle). What you'll need to is to double-click the icon. This will pop up another menu (Step Three).



Step Three

Having clicked the 'play' icon, you'll see a menu pop up. This gives you the option to add a track from your iTunes library (perhaps if you want to play along with a song), or



For use with synths, we need to choose the second option which is 'OnSong Media Library'.

Step Four

Having chosen the OnSong Media Library option, you're then presented with another pop-up window.



This window gives you the opportunity to either choose a custom track, or change the 'track settings' (the spanner icon next to the words 'Choose Track'. 

Step Five

If we click the spanner icon at this point, it pops up an option of how to play back the tracks you use and more. We've just put this bit in for your info! Once you've finished any changes, you'd click 'Done' or just click 'Cancel' to go back to the previous screen.



Step Six

Once you select 'Choose Custom Track' (Step Four), you will be given the option of clicking on any of the existing tracks in your OnSong library (choose the one in the right key for your song - in our case, Bb)



If you want to add a song from your Dropbox, you will click the "+" icon at the top right. You will then select Dropbox, select your fold, select the file and then click 'Import'.

(As a side note, you can swipe an individual song from the right if you want to remove a track from your OnSong library).

Step Seven

This gives you the option to add tracks like pads, from Dropbox etc. Select Dropbox and then click on the appropriate song if the song isn't in your OnSong database already.



Step Eight

At this point you'll go back to the song in OnSong and be given the option of fitting the song length to the length of the song. Unless you're setup to scroll down a song words to fit the length of a song, I wouldn't worry about this - click no.



Step Nine

At this point you're ready to play back the song. Clicking on the 'play' icon at the bottom will play back your synth track. The 'play' (triangle) now turns to the 'stop' (square) icon, ready to be pressed if you want 



Step Ten

The final thing is the control of the playback.

In my case, I purchased an iRig Blueboard MIDI controller.

This will necessitate paying a (£3.99 GBP) to buy the MIDI add-on module to OnSong. This is purchased by clicking the settings wheel (top right) of OnSong.

In the drop down menu that follows, click 'Add-Ons' and click to purchase the MIDI Integration.

This will enable you to assign a setting on a MIDI controller to start and stop your track (among many other options).

The iRig Blueboard also allows you to change songs (I also have an AirTurn ped for this).


Finally

Hope this helps you to set up your OnSong app with tracks to add some texture to your worship playing. It's really helped me!!

Here's a link to my synths - quite simple ones, each around 8 mins in length. Keys of A, B, Bb, C, D, E and G.

EHX Freeze Pedal Review

The EHX Freeze pedal is a pedal that literally freezes your sound in a given moment (the moment you click on the pedal). This sound then drones on, allowing you to play over the top or seamlessly move to another key via capo change etc... The possibilities are potentially as creative as you are!

The EHX Freeze 'Sound Retainer' - it does what it says on the tin...

I first looked at getting the freeze when I was exploring using synth sounds on my iPad via OnSong. (I will post about this in another blog entry).

But what happens if you're not able to take a direct feed out of the iPad to the desk in order to hear the synth sounds, or you haven't got a MIDI control surface to activate the sounds, or don't have a sound assigned etc...?

The Freeze fits into these scenarios perfectly. Yes it's a bit of a 'one trick pony' but it does what it does very well.

There are three modes - fast, slow and latch. The 'fats' and 'slow' modes are engaged with your foot on the pedal. As you release your foot, the sound releases very quickly (fast) or at three varying levels of time (slow). You can change the release speed while in 'slow' by following simple instructions - http://www.ehx.com/assets/instructions/freeze.pdf

The 'latch' mode means that one click will freeze the sound. If clicked once, the freeze will sustain the current input (at the time of clicking). A double-click will turn off the freeze.

So how do I use the pedal? Well, I mainly use the slow (set to the longest release) as a transition between songs (the 3 seconds or so allow me to move to a new tuning). Alternatively, the Latch mode is useful when I want an ambient sound in the background of a song, for example if playing alone or without a synth. For both, I use the root note for the freeze.

For example, if playing a song in E, I will freeze an E chord or E octave and then play over the top of the song. I mainly use this technique with synth sounds in OnSong on iPad. So this sounds good when used with songs like Cornerstone (Hillsong), even 10,000 Reasons or Unbroken Praise (Matt Redman) etc.

I use the pedal easily and seamlessly using both electric guitar and acoustic. I tend to only use it when there's just myself playing (occasionally alongside a looper, occasionally alongside OnSony synths) or if there's 2-3 of us. Very rarely any other time and have never used as part of a band, although am sure it's possible.

A great pedal for adding some texture to your sound or doing lots of epic reverb, shoe gazing type music. Or just for use with transitions.

I can't beat this link for an incredible review I found on Youtube (and the only really decent review to inspire me!) to help you make up your mind - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOabP5WZLMY