Archive for February, 2012


Funking Funkbox

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Funkbox + iPad + Marshall = F.U.N.K.Y.

I’ve been watching eBay for years, looking for a Gibson Maestro MRK-2 drum machine that’s in good shape and is affordable. I totally got to digging it while listening to Sly and the Family Stone and Graham Central Station. In some of their recordings you can hear the MRK-2 cranking through an amp somewhere in the room, and I’m guessing they just played along and kept tempo with it.

I got a set of sampled patterns from the Maestro, and I used them on a couple tunes (like “U Got 2 Funk It” below). I was able to customize the beats a little bit by slicing and dicing them, which was an arduous process, so for the most part I was in a position that I’d be in if I had the actual drum machine: using the stock loops.

Even though I’ve developed this desire to get analog gear, I’m still trying to find other cool instruments and ways of working. I was browsing the Apple App Store for music apps and came across one called Funkbox. It sells for $3.99, which is less than the cost of one crunchy beer. For that investment you get a nice variety of sampled sounds from nine analog drum machines. The sampled gear includes the TR-808, TR-909, TR-606, Linn, and CR-78 among others.

One of the others is the MRK-2. When I discovered that Synthetic Bits (the company behind the Funkbox app) had included the MRK-2 sounds, and that I could program whatever patterns I wanted, I immediately ponied up for the app. I am not disappointed.

I’ve taken to using an 1/8″ adapter and an instrument cable to run the output of Funkbox from my iPad phone jack into an amplifier. I’ve actually used the app through the Marshall’s high-gain input to get a live (and loud) amped sound. It’s adding some really cool funky textures to some of the songs for the upcoming project, and I’ve also employed this app on some tunes for an upcoming Foonspeeders project. In a case like this, it has to be one of the best values in gear that I’ve found. I’m definitely getting my four-dollar’s-worth and more.

Thank you Synthetic Bits for saving me a whole bunch of money while giving me a tool that is so flexible.


So Koool

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

I feel so Kaotic

I asked old Santy Claus for a little bit of music gear this past Christmas. Shocker, right? But this year it wasn’t a request for some gazillion dollar guitar or synth or the like.

I asked for a Korg Kaossilator. It goes for a little over a hundred bucks, fits in the palm of your hand, and is pretty simple. And very cool. And how did I decide I would dig one of these things?

In summer 2011 I caught Keller Williams at a show in the Outer Banks – pretty much by accident. He played a song called “B.I.T.C.H.”:

(If you haven’t seen Keller play, it’s worth noting that he plays an entire show by himself, looping drum parts and layering bass and guitar and vocals. I’m not a huge fan of hippie music, despite the best efforts of @unclecrappy, but from a musician and performer standpoint I was totally digging the show. Enough to see him again back here in Cleveland at the Beachland Ballroom late last year.)

So in the midst of this show he pulls out this little square touchpad-looking thing and starts swiping his finger around and dropping just sick, sick leads. You can hear what I’m talking about in the middle of the tune.

I spent a few months on and off searching the inter nets trying to figure out what that instrument was. That’s how I found out he was playing in CLE, and I tried to be very observant when I saw him again. But I was still a little too far away to get a good look at it.

I finally found an interview with him in which he mentioned that his favorite new instrument was the Kaossilator. Bingo. And then I knew it would make a great little addition to the songs I work on – and maybe for live performances with Skinny Moo, who knows?

Santa delivered. It is as awesome as I had hoped it would be, and I’ve already started incorporating into tracks that we’re working on now.

The V-drum experiment (part 2)

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

V-Jim on the V-drums

In part 1 I explained the circumstances behind the way we wound up deciding to use a Roland V-drum kit for some drum sessions for the first time.  So, with the electronic kit set up and somewhat (I thought) dialed in, Jim Evans arrived for the session and we got down to work.

Jim seemed to feel comfortable with the feel of the mesh heads, which generally get high marks in reviews.  They’re certainly better than the 20+ year old MPC pads I borrowed from my friend Tom a while back, which are akin to hitting a small wooden table top.  Adjusting the physical placement of the cymbals and drum pads was very simple with the rack setup and the clamps that hold the kit pieces in place.  There was a lot of flexibility as far as positioning and angling the kit pieces, and Jim had his preferred setup happening very quickly.

I opened a Pro Tools session of one of the songs we would be working on called “Good Times”. I already had an instance of the BFD2 plug-in on the track, and the MIDI out of the V-drum brain was routed through my (ancient) MX-8 MIDI patch bay through the Digi-003 interface to PT.  It was pretty seamless as far as the mechanics of communicating between the drum kit and the plug-in went, so we ended up spending an hour or so auditioning BFD drum kit samples for the various kit pieces.

I learned a few things about BFD2:

  • It has three different kit sizes: 10, 18, and 32 piece kits. Since we had four toms we wound up having to use a stripped down version of the 18-piece kit.
  • There are default mixer presets that are dry and/or flat. That made a big difference when we were listening to sounds.
  • It is a very complex plug-in with a steep learning curve.

I was trying very hard to avoid the “technology limits music making” phenomenon. You know, the thing that happens when you sit down to write some music and wind up spending so much time twiddling knobs, checking the manual to figure out how to do a particular thing, and then trying to undo the shit that you just did, that you forget what your creative idea was in the first place.

We almost made it.

Not a V-hat anymore

The big stumbling block was the hi hat. The V-drum TD-20 hi hat is physically an analog of a real hi hat, except in virtual drum rubber format. So to speak. It’s got a top and bottom, and the brain can trigger MIDI continuous control info as well as capturing hits on the edge or body of the hat.  When you set up the virtual hat, the first thing you do (as J had patiently explained to me) is to calibrate the hi hat offset. As I understand it, that gives the brain a baseline for the entire kit (maybe) and lets you adjust the hat to the player’s preferred physical setup (allegedly).

Well, we spent another couple of hours (like two monkeys trying to f#ck a football) navigating through menus in the V-drum brain, and then through BFD’s customizable hi hat trigger settings, looking through multiple manuals and scouring several websites in an effort to get the hat to respond the way Jim wanted it to. I don’t think the equipment was the problem – it was our unfamiliarity with all of the settings and configurations that was most likely our undoing.

After all that time spent trying to make the virtual drum work, we pragmatically decided that it would be easier, faster, and better-sounding if we just set up Jim’s actual hi hat and threw a microphone on it. So we did.

Finally, we were off to the races.

It was strange to hear the tracking in the room at that point. The pads are very quiet, making the real hi hat sound insanely loud in comparison. KB came by during tracking and had a kind of incredulous look on his face until I threw him a set of headphones and he could hear the rest of the kit.

I was a little concerned that it would sound unnatural – and there is a slight element of that going on as I mix the drums because the hat doesn’t fall into the same realm as the rest of the BFD drums. The BFD kit occupies its own virtual room, with overhead, room and ambient “mics”, so I need to find some way to pipe in a little bit of send from the real hat track. Or I might just drop the whole drum buss into another reverb. In any case, it’s not likely to be highly noticeable in a full mix. And with the hat blended in nicely it’s hard to tell real from virtual.

We managed five songs that day, and don’t let the “virtual” drum thing fool you: Jim was just as tired from playing the V-drums as he would have been from playing acoustic drums for 6-8 hours. The cleanup was just a lot easier.

I’m looking forward to finishing these mixes for our upcoming untitled album (fourth one already, far out man) which we are planning to release on June 9, 2012.

Epiphone versus Gibson

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Yes, it is a Gibson.

Recently I was talking with a friend about guitars, which isn’t unusual. I’ve got a few electric guitars, all with tremolos, and I was talking about how much I want a fixed bridge guitar because the floating bridges seem to make keeping in tune some kind of Sisyphean task.

As with most gear conversations, you get to talking about the value proposition, and this time was no exception. My friend and I were wondering what the real differences would be between, say, and Epiphone Les Paul compared to the Gibson Les Paul. Obviously price is different, with the Gibson clocking in at four to five times the cost (if not more) of the Epiphone version. But we weren’t really sure if the other differences in the guitars justified that wide of a price gap.

Undoubtedly this has been debated ad infinitum on Gearslutz, Harmony Central, and countless other forums. Did I look there? Of course not!

Instead I asked my pal Maurice of Adams Music Repair for his learned opinion.  He graciously provided the following:

“… As for your question EPI VS. GIBSON.  Here are my 3 cents worth based on my experience, repairs, and a few web links. Sorry for the book report but I did some research and even learned a few things. My conclusion is at the bottom of this longwinded email.

I think the main difference in price is a combo of all three things you mention below: materials, labor cost, and brand value.

Labor Cost/Build Quality: being built in the USA compared to China there is no way the Gibson LP can even come close to EPI LP pricing. Is the build quality better from USA mfg? That one tough is to say and debatable. I do know that the USA made guitars dont get thrown into a container by the thousands and shipped over here, all along absorbing that sea air for 6 weeks.

Brand Value: lets face it, its cooler to have a Gibson than an EPI, and everyone knows it. Plus its resale value holds much better short and long term. Otherwise if you don’t care about this, then maybe its not worth the 4-5 times price tag.

Materials: Here is where I think there is a discernable difference. I did a little research and found the following forum that had a really good paragraph from the Gibson CEO  on it.

You can read what he says. Gibsons will have better wood, truly mahogany body with maple top, the mohogany will be only two pieces max, the pickups and electronics are higher quality, and hopefully the truss rod is set in better. I think alot of things “under the hood” are better quality, not necesarily seen by the eye.

The lower priced EPIs are the wood mentioned in the article(nato?), the higher priced EPIs that say they are mahogany are multiple pieces laminated together, etc. You get the deal.
Also, on the EPIs that even have a maple top its basically a very thin veneer for look, not tone.

I have noticed that the import guitars all seem to use wood that hasnt even stopped drying and shrinking yet. I can tell because all the fret ends are sticking out, which means the wood is still shrinking. then again maybe its that nice salt, seat air from the trip over in some container on its way to Long Beach Harbor.

Tone: here is a (very) subjective article on a very subjective topic.

Repair Experience:  The EPI guitars just use cheaper pots and pickups, no way around it. I see it all the time. I think they work fine, but they crap out sooner, no question in my mind. I have run into some crappy Gibson guitars too, an SG in particular, but the Les Pauls are pretty solid.

Conclusion: I would save my money up and buy the real Gibson Les Paul myself, but then again I am a guitar snob. Or just keep a real eye out and find some dickweed who has to unload his recent Les Paul Standard purchase due to: divorce, drugs, unemployment, etc. Then abuse him with cash in his face for some low bid amount.

I did some digging and the Les Paul Studio line is pretty reasonable: $800-850 range with a gig bag on American Musical. These are the ones with the satin finish, not the gloss finish. It has chambered body, so a little lighter, maple top, and no frills(binding, fancy inlays).  If you like the real heavy weight it would not be good, but otherwise is a decent priced option. Saw them on and

Another option is to get the standard EPI and then hot rod it with new pickups at least, and maybe new pots and switch if you want to go all the way. Even at $250 for all the materials(if you get really good pickups at $100/each, there are some cheaper) you are still ahead of the game and probably have the best guitar/money balance of all the options.

Looks like the rest of the LP line is about $2k and up, so yea its steep. Wow.

Taking that into account, lets face it, an EPI in a good guitar players hands will sound better than a Gibson in a crappy guitar player’s hands.

Having said all that, I would still personally get a Gibson, not an EPI. Yea, I’m a snob.

Hope that helps.


Thanks for the insight Maury. Check out the Adams Music Repair site for other various and sundry guitar-related tidbits.