The Martin Anniversary Guitar – Gettin’ Spacey With My OWN Oumuamua!

Several billion years ago… a massive, powerful explosion in space occurred.

It scattered hot cosmic shrapnel in all directions…

Cold, primordial shards hurtling towards staggeringly distant star systems…

Carina Nebula

… and it tumbled its way… TO US!!

What does this celestial body’s immense trek have to do with a Martin Anniversary Guitar??

Read on, ye music-making Earthling… !

Stage 1: The Mission Plan

I had a big concert of my own material coming up this past summer, at a sweet venue, and I decided I needed…

My (formerly!) two best acoustics!

… what else??! A new GUITAR!!!

(Big, important concerts seem to ALWAYS provoke a bout of serious Gear Acquisition Syndrome!!! LoL)

Because this concert would be filmed AND digitally recorded, I knew that I needed to play guitars that sounded better than any I’ve ever played.

The only question was: how could I accomplish this??

The first thing I did was to play the same couple tunes upon every acoustic guitar that I owned (around ten of ’em).

After that, it was pretty evident that my Mike Franks acoustic (examined HERE) and my Ibanez Exotic Wood guitar (see my article on it HERE) had the best overall sound and responsiveness. That was no surprise, really, since they are the ones I usually grab whenever I want to play!

Joe Walsh playing an Ibanez EW
Joe Walsh playing an Ibanez EW (Courtesy)

The Franks guitar I had hand-crafted towards my own specifications though, and it was made to be a “recording guitar”, and not one that had the stronger, more bass-enriched tone I need for LIVE playing.

So, the choice was clear – Joe Walsh & I have the Ibanez for a reason… it’s a great-sounding, and killer-looking, acoustic!!

Stage 2: Comparison

Just a SpaceX has been testing, comparing and vetting rocket parts and technology for the last decade or more, so I needed to also compare my best “audio ship” with all the rest out there.

It was the only way I could truly step up my audio game. ‘Cuz, you know… it’s about that SOUND, baby!

So, with my Ibanez EW in hand, I headed out to Guitar Center. My main man Scott, in the Guitars Department, did me a solid by unlocking quite a few of the more expensive guitars that were cordoned off in a separate room.

“Only the brave of wallet may enter here! Penny-pinchers, BEWARE!!!” 😉

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it took me well over an hour to finally find a guitar that sounded better than the one I had.

(Photo: Alessio Bragadini)

I must’ve played at least 30 guitars. Probably upwards of 50. I’d play my Ibanez first, then play the same thing on another axe.

Time after time… I was disappointed.

Stage 3: the Discovery!

Full Frontal!!

But then, it happened! It was a sudden, immediate, insanely-surprising departure from all the other “ho-hum” guitars I had put through their paces. I picked up a Martin “Grand Performance” 20th Anniversary guitar and began to play.

And the difference? It was slap-my-face incredible!!

As soon as I coaxed the first notes and chords out of this Martin acoustic, it was immediately apparent that it was blowing away everything else I had played that day.

This is one impressive guitar. So much more the surprise too since… it was NOT among the most expensive. I played acoustics in there that were upwards of two GRAND and they didn’t sound as good.

But wait – I realized that I had only played it acoustically. What about the electronics?? I thought to myself, “Yea, that’s probably where it’ll suck.”

So I plugged the high-quality 1/4″ Monster cable I had brought with me into the little mixer there, plugged in my Ibanez, and played a couple riffs and chord sequences from my tunes.

Then, expecting a let-down, I plugged in the Martin instead, and strummed.

Stage 4: the SOUND!

“DUDE!!! YEEEEESSSSSS!!!!”

The way this Martin spoke through the sound system was, headstock-to-strap-pin, superior in every sense. It was captivating. Nuance-enhancing. Even. Perfectly balanced EQ-wise. Rich and attractive-sounding.

I noticed that it sang technique subtleties like it was speaking and understanding my own personal musical language. It made all my other acoustic purchases before that sound like stuttering, stumbling newbs!!

In short, I was blown away.

All the acoustics I then A/B’d with it… sounded pathetic in comparison. Even my Ibanez EW suddenly was missing a presence, and large swaths of frequencies, by comparison.

Remember too, that this was on a tiny, little acoustic amp that Guitar Center had in that room. I could only imagine how amazing it was gonna sound zippin’ through the Bose system, worth thousands, the night of my concert!!

I’d done it. I’d improved my tone immensely. I’d found… my new best stage friend!

The GPCX1AE – an Acoustic ROCKET!

Here’s the specs rundown of this remarkable instrument:

That’s one beautiful backside!

Body

  • Name: Martin X-Series “Grand Performance” 20th Anniversary GPCX1AE Acoustic Guitar
  • Body type: Grand Performance
  • Cutaway: Yes, at 14th fret
  • Top wood: Solid Sitka Spruce
  • Back & sides: Macassar Ebony wood HPLs (high-pressure laminates)
  • Bracing pattern: Sitka
    5/16″ Scalloped, with 1/4″ Tone Bars, X-braced
  • Body finish: Hand-Rubbed Top
  • Pickguard: Black
  • Rosette: Mother-of-pearl pattern w/ Multi-Stripe

Neck

  • Neck shape: Performing Artist with High Performance Taper
  • Nut width: 1-3/4″
  • Fingerboard: Morado (Bolivian Rosewood)
  • Neck wood: Select Hardwood
  • Scale length: 25.4″
  • Number of frets: 14 clear of the body, 20 total
  • Neck finish: Hand-rubbed Satin
  • Neck width @ 1st fret: 1 3/4”
  • Neck width @ 12th fret: 2 1/8”
  • Neck circumference @ 1st fret: 4.5”
  • Neck circumference @ 3rd fret: 4 5/8”
  • Neck circumference @ 12th fret: 5”

Electronics

  • Pickup/preamp: Yes
  • Brand: Fishman Sonitone Electronics
  • Configuration: Soundhole-mounted preamp
  • Preamp EQ: 1-band
  • Feedback filter: No
  • Tuner: No

Other

  • Headstock overlay: Not specified
  • Tuning machines: Chrome Enclosed Gold Gear
  • Bridge: Morado
  • Saddle & nut: Compensated White Tusq, White Corian
  • Number of strings: 6
  • Special features:
  • Accessories: None
  • Case: Sold separately
  • Country of origin: Mexico

Stage 5: String Theory

As soon as I got my new Martin Guitar home, I took the strings off that Guitar Center had on her.

I then oiled the guitar neck with my favorite orange oil, polished her up well, and put on my choice of new strings: the Ernie Ball “Paradigm” phosphor bronze acoustic strings.

I had found in playing electric guitar that the Ernie Ball “Paradigm” strings had monster tone, and a powerful low-end that always stayed present, but never got muddy.

They became, through my test (which you can read about AND hear by going HERE) my go-to strings for playing electric guitar LIVE) my go-to strings for playing electric guitar LIVE.

So I figured I go the same route for acoustic. In the past, I’d always used Elixir “Nanoweb” strings for my acoustics, but I felt like they just weren’t giving me the “oomph” I needed, tho’ they did keep good time for a loooooong time, which is nothing to sneeze at. 😉

Once the Paradigm strings were put on this Martin, it sounded even better. And that’s saying something!

Stage 6: Mission Parameters

After letting it sit for a whole day to let the strings sink into their tuning, I returned and started testing it for the gig.

Martin inner badge

Would it stand up to the rigors of audio and technique I’d put it through??

The way I did this was to actually perform every song through my sound system, with each guitar I’d use, and singing through the exact mic I’d use that night (the Shure GLX-D Wireless Headset mic).

Every time I played the Martin for a song (as my ‘standard tuning’ guitar) I sounded the best I’d ever heard. I couldn’t believe the EQ and responsiveness of this guitar for the price I paid, which was less than $700!!

Tho’ non-musicians won’t “get” this, you and I both know how much having “the right tool for the job” can make the difference. If we, as the players, are inspired by how our instruments sound… how much more will the audience be??

Stage 7: We Have Lift-off!!

Finally the night of my concert came and my Martin acoustic did indeed give a “grand performance”.

Every song sounded great. The Bose sound system at 20 Front Street, the venue for the concert, really brought my guitar & I to life.

Teaj in concert

With just a skosh of reverb that the sound guy put on my voice and the Martin, the overall sound performance was my best yet; I don’t think my voice/instrument combination has ever sounded so balanced, so complementary… so good!!

(I know this, by the way, ‘cuz I have the recordings. Can’t wait to share those with you soon!)

There are a couple other things I really liked about this guitar playing live that I need to mention:

1) All the seams on the guitar are ROUNDED, instead of being 90° sharp. I really like this. The guitar didn’t dig into my front or side as acoustics can do. It just felt more comfortable.

2) This is the first guitar that I’ve ever bought that doesn’t have a gloss finish. I have to say, I think I’m I’ve come to prefer the more natural feel of real wood, without all the gloss on top of it.

It doesn’t feel slippery. Instead, it feels, well… like real wood. It’s been sanded… but not too much. You can still feel a “wood-y” texture on it that I really like.

3) Also, the electronics of the instrument were clean, easy to reach during performance, and interpreted all the frequencies the guitar was putting out quite transparently, even when I got to heavy strumming.

4) The “High Performance Taper” neck on this beauty is helpful for playing up and down the neck, as I do. The fingerboard width starts at 1-3/4” width at the nut, then expands to 2-1/8” width at the 12th fret. Great for upper soloing or high chord shapes.

But the BIG difference I had to get used to immediately is the back-of-the-neck shoulders – they’re MUCH beefier than any acoustic I own, or have played.

What that means is you notice a lot more wood in your palm down near the nut. Like how a Tele feels bulkier than a Strat, to use an electric simile.

As you go UP the neck, however, these ‘full flanks’ dissipate, and are much more scalloped down to, what I’d call, and electric guitar neck, like a Strat at the 12th. Martin calls this their “Performing Artist Neck Profile“.

I’ve come to really get used to this feel, and live in concert it just felt more SOLID through all my chord progressions. If you like really THIN necks though… this is not the Droid you’re looking for! LoL

5) The best is for last: the overall tone of this guitar is beautiful. Right after I first got it, I tested it against ALL my guitars back home, and found that I still preferred the Martin’s sound over all my others for playing live. My Franks guitar still is the best acoustic for recorded acoustic sound, but that’s to be expected, since that’s what I had it built for!

Taped wires for quieter performance
Taped wires for quieter performance

Oh, and lest you think I found PERFECTION, well… I did have to tape the inside electronics wires down to one of the braces because you could hear them occasionally bouncing around inside. I move a lot when I play, so those wires were causing all kinds of unwanted sonic artifacts.

But, hey, a quick slice of gaffer’s tape and… all was well. If that’s the only negative to be found, I think you’ll agree – that’s nuthin’!

My summer concert was a victory on many levels, but one of the best reasons I feel like I “conquered” that night is because this Martin X-Series acoustic brought out the best in my material…and in me!

From Space… to Brace!

So, again… what does all this have to do with space debris???

Well, on 19 October 19th, 2017, astronomers at a Hawaiian telescope discovered the first confirmed object from another star system to visit our solar system. It was named “Oumuamua“, which in Hawaiian means “a messenger that reaches out from the distant past.”

Some thought it’s an alien ship. Some say it’s just an asteroid. Others think it’s a comet that’s lost its shimmery mojo!

Here’s a quick TED Talk on it, in case you missed the galactic hubbub:

Regardless of what it is, it’s the first discovery of its kind, and that’s’s pretty cool. Now that it’s off, heading away from our Sun, we can only wave it goodbye and continue the wide-eyed speculation.

Well, we can do a little more, actually. I named my guitar after it!!

I noticed right away when I picked up my particular Martin guitar that on its back, near the middle, was a very cigar-shaped circle of wood grain.

My Oumuamua grain guitar!

Since I had just seen Oumuamua in the news, it immediately sprung to mind: “Hey! It’s that alien ship thing!!”

So, yea, my Martin is affectionately named “Oumuamua”. Whenever I play it, I know that it ALSO is a ‘messenger that reaches out from the distant past’… from when I first wrote the song I’m playing!

That’s one of the magical things about songwriting – whenever you play something you’ve written, even decades later, you are taken right back to that place & time in which you composed it.

So take us, Martin… take us back! Across light years of sound, cosmic chord clusters, through the dark and light matter… to where songs find a home within us… and without us!

A New Benchmark!

This particular Martin Anniversary guitar has made such a difference in my sound, I’ll never get rid of it. It’s just that good. To investigate, follow this link:

As I go forward, I’m sure to be testing every acoustic that stirs my interest against this unique beauty.

I already have a trip planned to a little town in Coshocton, Ohio which, unbelievably, has a store that’s sold the most preeminent acoustics in the WORLD.

I’m specifically heading there to test this Martin against some of the world’s best.

And you KNOW I’ll be sharing THOSE results with you!! 😉

In the meantime, I hope YOU have an instrument that inspires you on to bigger and better creations. If not, hitch your wagon to the stars and blast off on a focused star TREK!

You may find your songs, and your sound, going where you’ve never gone before. 😉

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm-fields!

The Songless Studio – What Months Away From Recording Will Teach You!

“I’m baaaaaaack… !”

Just HAD to start today’s post with that, since I just saw the latest installment of the “Terminator” film franchise. I think it’s gonna take decades before the “I’ll be back” jokes disappear from our common vernacular.

If EVER!

Did any of you see it?? It was great to see Linda & “AHHH-nuld” back in the saddle again. After a long absence, I noticed they took up their roles as professionally as ever.

Maybe better?!

It’s like riding a bike, or… beating Mario Cart, or…

… writing a Blog.

Yes, I’ve been away for a while now. 5 MONTHS, to be exact. Missed you all, for sure.

I had much to do, but all that I set out to accomplish is now in the history books, and at last I can finally return to you, my fellow GEAR-heads, and continue our merry trek down “Music Gear Road”!

But first – a quick look back…

Where the heck WERE ya, Teaj???!

Teaj, twangin’ & croonin’!

So, I had three MAJOR goals that I had to meet this summer:

FIRST, I had to play my first ever LIVE, full concert of my own material!

This was (as any of you who’ve done it know) a daunting task. We’re talking months of focused prep, long rehearsals, hours of fine-tuning and tweaking chords, lyrics and licks to pull it off.

I even filmed myself doing the concert… BEFORE THE CONCERT, just so I could watch and see if there were any weak spots!

It’s hard enough playing OTHER people’s music for a couple hours; hits, covers, etc. But when you’re playing ONLY your own material (and most of the audience, in my case, hasn’t ever heard it)… WHOO! That’s a much bigger challenge.

Add to that the fact that it was being filmed by a 2-camera professional set-up, in an astoundingly beautiful venue called “20 Front Street” (look it up!) and I think you’ll understand why I took time off from SeriousGas.

I had to make @#$$% sure that it was going to be a flawless performance.

And guess what?! It pretty much was! Only on the very FIRST song did I accidentally skip the BRIDGE (an upbeat Pop/Rock-er called “All About You”).

Of course, if anyone asks, I was using “creative license” to alter the song, and being “led by a sudden, primal instinctive muse” that “shaped the song for a pregnant moment of artistic revolution”!! LoL

But if only one out of 16 or so tunes had an issue, that’s an AWESOME outcome! I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better night. The audience interaction, performance quality, my energy levels… even my voice, was in tip-top form!

I’m now in the process of editing the whole concert’s film footage. Then it’s up on YouTube we go. I’ll keep ya apprised…

SECOND, I took on a Management job full-time at a local fitness club here in my neighborhood. Big change, for sure. Why?

For years, I’ve made a living as a musician AND a film actor, but the economic downturn of 2009 really put the kabash on our Industry here in the state of Michigan, and in the last 5 years it dwindled finally to absolutely NO FILMS coming to our fair state at all. No films = no work.

I’d tell you how state politics was to blame, but I’m having a good day and don’t want to ruin it. LOL

Detroit-Freep-race-jersey

THIRD, and last, I had a couple half-marathons I had to run in the fall, and I really wanted to crush last year’s final pace scores. That meant many miles of running and prep as well.

Did I do it?? Ohhhhh, yes I did!! Shaved almost a full MINUTE off my average Mile pace in the Detroit Freep!! Those of you who are runners know how exhilarating that is… and also how hard to DO.

So, in a nutshell…

MAN, I was busy!! 😉

Live Music is a Whole Different Animal

So, what did my months off teach me?

Well, first up, I was reminded that pulling off a good live concert takes a set of skills that are similar, but in several ways different, than the typical day in the recording studio.

The biggest change obviously is that you’ve got just ONE SHOT to get it right!

It’s like The Beatles back in their first Abbey Road days – they couldn’t punch in a little part on the vocal. They couldn’t fix just one instrument in one section of a song. If they made a mistake, they had to do the whole thing over again!

In a concert setting, the set lists are stacked even more against you: make a mistake, and you don’t get the chance to do it again! That’s it.

To quote Alien 2: “Game over, man! Game over!!” lol

I’ve only recorded live in the studio with a band once in life thus far. It was a fantastic experience, and I’d love to do it again.

To do so, however, takes extreme commitment from people in addition to yourself. That’s where I’ve always found the hardship to be – no one wants to put in as much rehearsal as I do.

Because of that, I’ve always found that I have better results just doing it myself. Yeah it takes a ton of rehearsing, but you also have no doubts about when you’re ready.

Of course, there’s always the option of HIRING professional musicians to play on your material, but then we’re getting into so much money that, to me at least, it’s cost-prohibitive.

(Especially when, in most cases, I can just play it myself and get great results.)

I also noticed that I had to use a much wider range of Dynamics in my songs when playing solo and in a live setting.

In a fully-produced, recorded song, all the other riffs, licks and instruments help keep your attention.

But when it’s just you and a guitar, or just you and a piano, I’ve found that it’s the ebb and flow of Dynamics that really helps keep people on the edge of their seats.

Ahhhh…. Dynamics!!

Many times during my recent concert, I’d sing one part of a song with full voice and gusto, only to drop to almost a whisper over light finger-picking in a later section.

You can almost feel the audience leaning in to your song and performance when you do this. It’s so magical… and so addicting!!

Lastly, you really have to know the intricacies of your instruments much more live than you do in the studio.

No audience wants to sit there and wait while you fiddle with your instrument, trying to get it ready for the song. You have to have it ready, well-tuned, and, in my case, you must know WHICH guitar is in WHAT alternate tuning for which specific song.

I learned long ago to compose in alternate tunings, mostly from my acoustic hero Bruce Cockburn (read about him HERE!). It’s wonderful, the voices you can create… but it sure does make a live concert more, uh… let’s just say “challenging”. LoL

I used 5 guitars that night, each handpicked and selected for certain songs. Only lots of rehearsal prepped me for that kind of quick, specific switching. In the end, it was totally worth it.

“Know Thy gear, and to Thine own gear be true!”

Amen, brother!!

The Things we Do for… Music

For over three decades now I’ve been a musician. Some would think after so long I’d want to slow down. Coast on what I’ve learned. Maybe even leave it behind, since I’ve probably earned less than $10,000 off of music since I began.

Those that would say that… don’t know real musicians.

With this recent regional drought in the film industry, I needed to look elsewhere for income.

Why? To pay bills??

Sure. That’s always needful. But my own personal “Prime Directive” is a little different from Star Trek’s…

… I want more gear!!!

Big surprise there, since we’re on Seriousgas.com, right?! LoL

Really though, the gear is secondary. It’s always about the music. Not only do I want to put out an album THIS year, I’m prepping for one NEXT year too. And that means I need to upgrade and buy a few things to modernize the sound.

So, the months I took off, away from you all, have led me to today, where I have a higher income than ever to put towards expanding my repertoire and my tool set.

In the final analysis, why… that’s not a bad trade at all, don’tcha think? 😉

If you ever have to give up a JOB so your CAREER can be better, that’s a wise choice; don’t regret it. Soon enough, you’ll be right back where you wanna be. Stay determined, and keep your eyes on the ultimate prize.

Dead Poets Write Good Lyrics

Sometimes we need to get off the beaten path a bit, in order to later come back and forge a new, better path.

That doesn’t mean we’re not giving our best; it just means we’re shifting our focus to serve a greater goal we have in mind.

One of my favorite films is the “Dead Poets Society“. Robin Williams really knocked it outta the park in that one. For me, it’s his best film roll.

He, and the other excellent cast members, really make a lasting impression through that script.

One of the biggest takeaways of the film is the use of the phrase, ” Carpe Diem”, which means “seize the day”. If you’ve never seen this film, take a moment to at least watch this extraordinary scene where Williams introduces this phrase… in a most unforgettable way:

Brilliant, right?! So impactful; so profound.

And so true.

I can actually say that I’ve striven to live by that phrase ever since being schooled about it by Robin in that film.

That means being constantly vigilant about prioritizing my actions. There will always be a hundred things that CAN be done in a day. But which ones truly NEED to be done, keeping our ultimate goals in mind? Each day is different, as is the thing you’ll need to seize.

Similarly, I have this motto hanging just to the right of my studio work desk:

That, together with “carpe diem”, pretty much sums up my life philosophy.

So in these last few months, have I been able to do any studio recording?

Nope. Did I write a single post for my blog??

Not a one. Did I at least compose any new songs for next year’s album??

Nada.

But did I live a “carpe diem”, “be better than I’ve been” summer??

Absolutely.

Though I’ve not accomplished anything here in the studio, out in the world I accomplished a LOT, including a full concert of my own material that, at the end of the night, might have been my best performance ever.

Seizing the day doesn’t mean always doing the same thing as before. Sometimes, there must be detours. But defining your goal and destination? That’ll always keep you on track.

So follow your Muse in your music. Don’t let setbacks take your eyes off the prize. And whatever you do, don’t forget…

… if you believe it, you’re destined for great things!!

Your Passion Never Leaves You

Another thing that became clear during my “studio vacation” is that, no matter where I go or what I do, the musician in me is always present, and will find a way to bring life to others.

To remind me of why I’m there working, I have in my Life Time office 3 personal items:

a picture of my family

the “being better” motto, hanging on my wall, and

my most expensive ukulele

It didn’t take long for people to recognize the significance of all three. It also didn’t take them long to ask me to play for everybody.

Before even one week had passed, I became the go-to guy for every “Happy Birthday” sing-along.

On top of that, I’m asked frequently to come to the front of the club to play & sing famous songs, on holidays and what not. I have no doubt that near Christmas I’ll be a “regular act” at the front desk with my voice and ukulele.

Did I seek this out? Not at all. But once people discover a musician and entertainer… buddy, they wanna be entertained!!

And so a new outlet for my love of songwriting and musicianship appeared.

Have no fears that, if you have to go away from music for a bit, it’ll somehow leave you. It will definitely still be there, and in fact… you’ll probably discover a freshness in it because you stepped away.

The musical muse is understanding.

Patient.

Ready when you are.

What you gained never disappears. It might need coaxing out, and it might look & sound a little different, but it’s still just as YOU and interesting, and fascinating, as before.

As I walked through my studio at times in the last 5 months, it almost felt like everything was sleeping.

Well, maybe not sleeping really… just more like… everything had its eyes closed, waiting. Waiting for me. Like they didn’t want to have to see me just walk by them and not play, even if it were for just a minute.

They’re so needy. 😉

Today, I started picking things up and playing them again, and, I tell you… it was just like getting together to hang with a good, old friend. It’s all there, and it’s all GOOD.

“Jurassic Park” stated that “Life will find a way”. For us tone-twangerz and bangers, it’s “Music will find a way!”

It always does.

It’s Good to HIT Things!!

Isn’t it funny how very different instruments are from one another? Until they’ve played a variety of instruments, people don’t realize the subtleties in technique, approach, and even mind & body chemistry that different instruments demand and provoke.

Take DRUMS. The aggression that I approach my kits with is very different from how I pick up my acoustic guitars. If I’m on the throne, sticks in hand… I’m BANGIN’, dude!!

There’s no other instrument that I play that produces and demands from me so much intensity, power, focus and, frankly… SWEAT!!! I can get behind my Pearl Export exanded kit and play for hours. LOVE… IT!!!

Teaj's studio multi-genre kit, "record-ready"
Teaj’s Pearl studio multi-genre kit

Want a workout – if you want to burn a thousand calories or so, just play a Rock/Pop set on a drum kit for an hour or more.

It’s no wonder fat drummer are rare!!  LOL

So, yeah, one of the things I couldn’t wait to get back to is hitting those skins. And after this blog is uploaded, one guess where you’ll find me.

I won’t be watching Netflix.

Cue the Toto “Rosanna” track!!!

And in the End…

… it’s not the STUDIO that matters.

It’s the love of music that you express IN it, and to it, and through it, that matters most.

To re-phrase the Beatles: “And, in the end, the Music you make is equal to the Music you take.”

In other words, our study of gear, our instruments, the songs of the Masters… it’s given us so much (and we’ve taken MUCH from them!).

When we share that with others, it WILL inspire them, motivate them, lift their spirits, and prove that, no matter who or where you are, you can make this world a better place.

With music.

Thanks for all of you who’ve followed this Blog and sent messages and well-wished during my sabbatical. YOU are why I love being here, and your appreciation for all things musical make all this… always worthwhile.

Oh, and… don’t worry – in just a few more days… with yet another gear-lovin’ post…

… “I’ll be baaaaack.” 😉

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!

The Ludwig Supraphonic – A Super Snare Beyond Compare!

Hal Blaine on Ludwig drums
The one & only Hal Blaine!! (Photo: Howard Thompson)

Hal Blaine.

If you’re a drummer, chances are you know that name very well. There’s not many people on the planet that have played drums on 150 number one hits… but Hal did!

And the snare drum he used on more of them than any other??

The Ludwig Supraphonic!

Hal was specifically a
model 400 chrome-on-brass snare guy, which had the 5″ depth and was generally tuned pretty low, and with Remo heads.

For more info on just how incredible Hal was, and the absurd amount of artists he played sessions for, check out his history HERE.

And Hal wasn’t the only one! Other legendary beat-makers that took to the Supra like Elvis to rhinestones were:

  • Charlie Watts (Stones)
  • Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix)
  • Dino Danelli (Young Rascals)
  • John Densmore (Doors)

And the list goes on (we’ve left one extraordinary name out that we’ll mention soon enough!).

So what makes this beast so special and desirable all these decades later?? Let’s find out… !

A Construction Glimpse!

To see how a drum LIKE the Supraphonic is made (it’s probable that Ludwig uses an approach just like this), check out this factory tour of a Sonar snare… the end product looking suspiciously like a Supra!

Two Flavors!

As it began back in the 60s, so up to today the famed Supraphonic snare comes in two delicious varieties:

  • The 400 (5 x 14)
  • The 402 (6 1/2 x 14)

Both have the same crisp, lively metallic SMACK that has graced thousands of recordings over the decades.

The 400 is the smaller version, and was Hal Blaine’s weapon of choice. It’s the perfect snare if you’re recording Rock/Pop tunes.

The Supraphonic 400!
The Supraphonic 400!

For the past decades, most of the drum kits in the Ludwig catalogs show a 400 model snare as the accompanying standard. That also shows just how big a craving there is for this tasty tone-tapper.

The 402?? Well, that’s a Supra on steroids. It’s rumored to be what Joshua used to make the walls of Jericho fall. Seismologists also think L.A. studio use of this snare is what keeps triggering earthquakes in the region.

But I digress… 😉

The Ludwig 402 snare!!

The overall tone and attack of both models is versatile and dynamic, allowing you to coax delicate ghost notes and whomping in-your-face hits out from this same shiny cylinder of percussive joyriding.

Ludwig still produces both of these today. You’ll find additional options and hardware upgrades here and there, but for the most part its construction has remained pretty much unchanged, which is a testament to its brilliance and flexibility over the changing face of music.

But wait! There’s one name that flung the Supraphonic to the forefront of drumming history probably more than any other. It’s… it’s…

A Match Made in (Stairway to) Heaven!

John hittin’ his Supra! (Photo:
Dina Regine)

John Bonham!!

It’s pretty obvious that the huge, lasting popularity of the 402 snare can mostly be attributed to the influence of this mighty icon of Rock drumming thunder.

He used the 402 extensively with Led Zeppelin. He loved it. It was a large part of his sound.

And when you consider how many divergent styles John played using that snare, it’s proof positive that this one deep beat machine can be anything you want it to be.

Blues, funky Rock, Heavy Rock, Folk Rock… John played it all, and the 402 never sounded out of place in any of those genres. Pretty impressive.

John’s kit in the Hard Rock Cafe, London

I mean, come on… just go listen to some Zeppelin. It’ll speak for itself.

If you don’t have a Led Zeppelin album, and are without a streaming site online, no problem… just turn the radio on. If it’s a classic rock station, I guarantee you’ll hear John and his 402 within minutes!! LoL

Because of Bonham’s preference, legions of rock drummers are still wooed by the “Halls of Valhalla” pounding, demanding presence that this snare provides. If you haven’t tried it, well…

… you simply must! 😉

Supraphonic-snare-M.F.-BUYcon

Getting Down To Brass Smacks!

Some don’t know this, but the drum was initially put out with brass being the main metal. That was when they called it the “Super Ludwig”, around 1958.

If you find a vintage Supra from that era, it’ll be hard to tell exactly what kind you have, as the brass drums and the aluminum drums look
almost identical.

But the vast majority of vintage Supras you’ll find these days are made from their “LudAlloy”, which is aluminum mixed with some other metals.

Those “other metals” are a trade secret, but something tells me they’ve changed a bunch of times through the years, and might even be whatever Ludwig had lying around! Lol

If you have an old Supra and suspect that you might indeed have a BRASS model, the only thing you can do is remove a bit of chrome and look at the color underneath. If it’s a dark grey color, then you’ve got what most of us have: Chrome over Aluminum.

But if you DO find a brassy tone underneath, congratulations! You just won the Ludwig lottery. The brass Supraphonic is a rare drum of superior tone (most would say, but not all).

If you’re gonna do that scraping investigation though, do yourself a favor and rub the Chrome off UNDER one of the lugs or the strainer. That way no one will see the DESTRUCTIVE, SACRILIGIOUS VANDALISM that you’re forcing onto that sacred drum!! lol

Here’s another less invasive way of differentiating brass from aluminum: if the chrome is flaking off of your drum, it’s almost certain that it’s an aluminum shell. Aluminum and Chrome don’t have a loving relationship together. They tend to want to leave each other.

Like bass players and girlfriends. LOL

Anyway, Ludwig has offered brass shells again here or there, especially in the mid 90s. But, by and large, aluminum is what you’ll find in a Supra. And that’s okay.

Thousands of satisfied radio hits can’t be wrong, right?!

If you reeeeeeeeally want a looooooooot more info on this particular Supra tangent, I guarantee you won’t find anything more in-depth than the following video by Terry Keating.

He’s a madman. lol

What Makes it… a Supra?!

Basically, if you see a Ludwig metal snare and it has a seamless “Ludalloy” shell, with a P-83, P-85 or P-86 throw-off, then it’s a Supraphonic.

It was introduced in 1963, and from the get-go had the same model numbers that we know today:

  • The 400, which was the 5 1/2” x 14″
  • The 402, which was the 6 1/2” x 14″

The Supraphonics from that time came standard with triple-flanged hoops, but if you wanted to, you could have special ordered your Supra with die-cast hoops instead, by simply adding the letter Y to the catalog number (e.g. “402 K Y”).

The standard Supras from that time we’re made of a spun metal “ludalloy’ material, which was simply Ludwig’s name for their specific aluminum alloy.

Although its ingredients are technically a trade secret, it’s whisper behind control room doors that it’s comprised of aluminum mostly, with trace elements of magnesium and zinc thrown in to make it…

… well, you’d think to make it sound better. But one drummer (who’s also a metallurgist) told me that they use the alloy mostly because it’s more flexible and stronger than straight aluminum. And cheaper.

So, the alloy probably affects the sound to a small degree, but the choice to use “ludalloy” for the hoops on Ludwig Drums was more an economic decision than anything else.

Gee… big surprise there! lol

The other thing that truly defines a Supraphonic snare is that they use a one-piece ludalloy strip of metal and put a center bead around it to increase rigidity. In other words, a Supraphonic has not been welded together anywhere.

Look, Ma… no seam!!

As with any material, the sustain and tone is improved when there are no cuts, welds or glued portions. That famed characteristic “crack” of the Supraphonic is, in part, due to its one-piece aluminum construction.

The Metal vs. Throw-off Debate

Okay, now we come to the part of our review where… we just have to chuckle. There are some people that get so worked up about this debate, I just had to laugh reading some of the posts online.

It’s like telling those screaming girls that chased the Beatles that you think Paul’s dead – you’re taking your life in your own hands there, buddy!! Lol

Here’s the crux of the argument:

“Does ‘Supraphonic’ refer to the DRUM? Or to the strainer/throw-off??”

My Supra’s P-85 throw-off.

Based on historical evidence, I side with the DRUM being labeled as “Supraphonic”, and I’ll explain why soon enough. But I see the other side’s point of view, and I don’t think they’re out to lunch either.

Here’s what we know: the Supras originally came with the P-83 strainer with a P-32 butt.

In the late 60s the P-83 was swapped out for the P-85 though, then the latest upgrade, the P-86.

Now, some people state that if a metal Ludwig snare has any of those three strainers, then it’s a Supraphonic.

My hammered Supra P-85.

This is not historically accurate. MOST of Ludwigs early drums used the P-83, with just a few exceptions, so that doesn’t make sense.

Also, the first time a Ludwig drum was labeled a “Supra-Phonic” in their literature was when they switched from “chrome over brass” to “chrome over aluminum”. The throw-off hadn’t changed, so that indicates, according to Ludwig catalogs, that it’s the drum carrying the name, not the strainer.

At least back THEN. Ludwig’s marketing has tended towards referring to the drums as “the 400 or the 402” in recent history, instead of calling the drum itself a “Supraphonic”. That, I think, is the center of all the confusion.

I’ve got a call in to Ludwig. If they call me back with a final word… you’ll be the first to hear!!! 😉

My Supra… that IS!!

Anytime I want that Bonham ‘shake the foundations’ THWACK for a snare drum sound, I’ve got just the ticket: my 402!

This snare belonged to a dear friend of mine who’s no longer with us. In fact, the whole kit was his and I bought it to keep his memory, and music, alive in my studio.

Check out the full story of that whole kit IN THIS ARTICLE.

He was such a Led Zeppelin fan and, of course… what ELSE would he have for a snare, right?!

So, yea, whenever I get my full Rock swagger on… we break out the big guns. And you always know the real thing when ya hear it. 😉

My kit for rockin’ out… complete with the 6.5×14 Supra!

I have a real penchant for Van Halen-type electric guitar riffing, since Eddie was a hero as I started to learn guitar.

Whenever I get in that mood, I have my son get on this rock kit and, while I’m scattering two-hand tapping sound bullets off the walls, he’s just WAILIN’ on that big, beautiful baby known as the 402.

After all… I’ll give ya ONE guess what snare Alex uses! 😉

My Supra… that ISN’T!!

In prepping this article for you I did a lot of research on the Supras and their history. One of the things I discovered is…

… one of my two Supraphonics… ISN’T!! LoL

At least not technically speaking, tho’ plenty of drummers online still refer to the one I have as a Supra. Let’s investigate why…

Full Kit with Supraphonic snare
My Pop/Rock Kit with Supraphonic snare!

Above you see the Pearl kit I usually use for Pop/Rock or AOR tunes. My 5×14 Supra is always there, at least near, since it’s a great choice for many of those types of songs.

I mean, Hal Blaine… ’nuff said, right?! 😉

My 5×14 Ludwig snare looks just like a Supra, except that it’s hammered, not smooth. Everything about it looks like a Supra to me… and it’s always given me that sound too, so I just never questioned that it might NOT be a Supra.

I bought it used so I didn’t have any sales person to tell me different!

Turns out, my snare is listed in an early 80s Ludwig catalog as the “400 K” model from the “Hammered Chrome series“, not the “Supra-Phonic series”, as they called it back then.

It’s from 1982 or ’83, has a Blue/Olive badge, and bears the Serial Number 3120657.

If you notice in the catalog above, the Supraphonic 5×14 model number is just like my drum: the “400”. It just doesn’t have the “K” after it.

So are the differences pronounced? Do I really have a NON-Supraphonic??

Not really. If we look at the actual differences… I can find only ONE:

  • It’s hammered, not smooth!

So, okay, mine is technically NOT a Supraphonic, but, big whoop – for all intents & purposes, it IS a Supraphonic!

Here’s what IS THE SAME between mine and an early 80s Supra:

Hammered Supra with mic
My Pseudo-Supra, mic’d & ready!
  • The size (14” wide x 5” deep)
  • The strainer (P-85)
  • The hoops (triple-flanged)
  • The snares (20 wire)
  • The lugs (10 Imperials)
  • The metal (Chrome over LudAlloy)
  • The model # (400)

So, there ya go… I was schooled today!! LoL

None the worse for wear though, ‘cuz this snare sounds great for certain songs. Hammering the metal on a drum tends to attenuate its harmonics more, so this snare is actually better for me, since most of what I do is studio session work, not live work. Not having that snare ring a lot is, most of the time, just the ticket!

Anyways… it still gives me “that sound” when I need it, and that’s what’s important, right?

I’ll just call it… “Supra’s Sister” from now on!! LoL

It’s a Hit!!

So… the “Supra”. The most recorded snare in history?? Many say so, though there’s no way to prove it unequivocally.

But one thing’s for certain – if you need a snare that is uber-versatile, professional-sounding and has a long, rich history on countless number one hits? Your search has ended. It’s time you got the Supraphonic.

And see what all the fuss is about! 😉

Already have a Supra?? Played on one and fallen in love with its power and versatility?? Or just one of the thousands who dream G.A.S.-y dreams of owning your own one day like some of us already do?! Whatever the case, leave us a Comment and let us know.

I’m sure it would bring a smile to Bonham’s face to hear you weep and wail for his favorite! Lol

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!

How To Solo On Guitar, Part 1 – Speaking Lessons… For Your Fingers!!

Ever heard a Best Man or Maid of Honor give a speech wedding reception and think, “Wow – they’re really eloquent!”?

Or maybe you’ve visited the other side of the tracks, where somebody got up to speak and it was little more than an embarrassment or a parody of what a speech should be!

Either way, it shows you something: being able to communicate effectively is memorable, riveting and emotionally impactful in some, or all, ways.

To learn how to solo on guitar, you must first acknowledge that there are specific things that contribute to a guitar player being “good” at what they do.

And they aren’t guarded voodoo secrets either – it’s pretty easy to find out what things you need to do to be a superstar shredder.

The hard part is… DOING THEM!!

Down the guitar neck!

In this :Part One” of soloing techniques, I’m going to showcase and explain five different techniques that are always present in any memorable axe-slinger.

In subsequent articles, I’ll also write about many more, until I’ve shared with you the whole list that I’ve compiled over my 27+ years of teaching music.

For now, though… grab your axe, a pick, and let’s get playin’!

1) It’s Golden

So, ya ever notice how some people… just never shut up?!

It’s annoying, right?

We HEAR ya, already!!

In the same way, if you play and play and play… and keep playing, without a break, a pause, or a rest…

… THAT’S ALSO ANNOYING!

It’ll probably will be cool at first, but after a few minutes of your nonstop barrage of sound (some might even say ‘noise’!), people are going to tune out. We quickly get our fill of the same thing over and over again.

Just like Brian Regan’s “Me Monster”.

“What’s that?”, you ask? Well, lemme show you….

See what I mean? Who needs that kind of monotony!

Hope you enjoyed that Brian Regan clip as much as I always do. That guy always leaves me breathless – I can’t even pick my guitar up, I’m laughing so hard!

I showed you that to remind you of what NOT to do as you approach guitar soloing. It IS a lot like talking… just with your FINGERS, not your lips!

So don’t play like a machine gun. Don’t shoot with endless rounds – take breaks. Deliberately insert pauses. Let’s silence also speak.

I’ve done a lot of acting in my life too, and I can tell you… what makes a speech sound dramatic and impactful is where you put pauses.

2) Sloth or Cheetah??

The next thing to monitor your soloing for is whether or not you are varying the LENGTH of your notes, or their SPEED.

Just like when someone never shuts up, if you are always using the same kinds of notes, say, 16th notes, your music will quickly become, well… boring. You’ve GOT to mix it up a bit.

Consider these classic guitar solos:

  • “All Along the Watchtower” – Jimi Hendrix
  • “More Than A Feeling” – Boston
  • “Overkill” – Men at Work
  • “Comfortably Numb” – Pink Floyd


In each of these masterpieces, you not only find killer chops and tonal choices – you’ll also notice a great variety of note lengths. Sometimes they’re playing fast notes; sometimes slow ones.

Imagine the parade of yawns you’d create if you only used whole notes in your solos. Ugh. Awful.

Or, taking the opposite tack, consider how lost and uninterested your audience might become if you constantly barraged us with 32nd notes all the time with no consideration for a little sustain.

Now, certain genres call for more or less of each. If you play in a speed metal band, then, yeah… you’re going to have to play fast. A LOT!

But for the majority of music genres, the more variety you put in your note lengths, the more interesting and attractive your playing will be.

My good friend Sean Barrett, who sometimes writes for us here at Seriousgas.com, has a favorite guitarist (who shall remain nameless) that tends to play fast notes all the time.

I told Sean how I never wanted to listen to this artist because all I ever heard was machine gun delivery of notes over and over again. For me at least, that kind of approach is melodically uninteresting and unsatisfying.

Sean referred me to a couple songs where this artist finally slowed things down a bit here and there, and I actually found I could appreciate his playing and his style a lot more.

So cast a casual critical eye to your solo playing, and ask this question:

Am I mixing it up with slow and fast notes to express myself musically? Or am I the jerk in the fast lane he wants to tailgate everybody?! LoL

Yin and yang, people! Light and dark. Fear and calm. Love and hate.

Slow, and fast.

It’s what will make your playing, and thus YOU, mesmerizing and captivating in the long run.

3) How Was That Again??

“You’re gonna be a great guitarist!”

“You’re gonna be a great guitarist!”

Did you notice how much more meaningful and cool that felt, when I repeated that statement?!

Joe Walsh - the guitar MAN!!
Joe Walsh – the guitar MAN!!(Photo: Joe Walsh)

If something’s important, or exceptional, it deserves to be heard again. A second time!

Ever heard a song once on the radio and afterwards we’re able to sing it nonetheless? I guarantee you that song had a healthy dose of repetition in it!!

Here’s a few great songs that spring to mind that have obvious repetition in the guitar rhythm and/or solo sections:

  • “Separate Ways” – Journey
  • “Boys of Summer” – Don Henley
  • “Sweet Child of Mine” – Guns ‘N’ Roses
  • “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – NIrvana

If you don’t know any of those songs well enough to hear the guitar parts in your head, go listen to ’em. You’ll find LOTS of repetition, and that’s partly why the song stick in your head so much.

EARWORM ALERT!! LoL

Now if you’re playing jazz, especially Free Jazz, then you get a pass card. We know what you like: melodic and harmonic exploration… non-stop! I get it. That’s part of what makes jazz… jazz.

(That’s also the reason, by the way, that the majority of people do NOT listen to Jazz. My wife is among them. She can’t stand it. She says it just sounds like musical chaos!)

Despite my wife’s inability to appreciate the nuances of some of the finest musicians alive today (sorry, honey!) even in jazz we find that at least the main melody of the tune, or the head phrase, will usually have a modicum of repetition. A note or two. Or three.

It all comes down to this: if you want your music to be accessible to the majority of people out there, you MUST put repetition in your phrasing.

It’s not hard to do either. Just make this little personal rule for yourself whenever you’re soloing: be looking and listening for exceptional phrases to repeat.

When you play something and think, “Wow! That sounds killer!”…

… PLAY IT A SECOND TIME!! Your audiences, and even your fellow musicians, will love it.

Now, I’m not saying run a phrase or lick into the ground, over and over and over and over and…

Just repeat it once. That’s all. Just once.

Chances are that little bit will do the trick.

And YOU’ll be fielding calls from people who want to hire you how to play guitar – for THEM! 😉

4) One of These Things… is Not Like the Other…

Teaching music students over three decades now, I’ve learned a thing or two.

One of those things is how to recognize when a student still doesn’t “get it”, and how to come up with a new and different way to say the same thing to help them understand.

This is a great technique to use in your soloing also. Whenever you play a tasty lick, or riff, or phrase… repeat it again, but with a slight variation.

Maybe it’s the last note you change. Or maybe you swap out the first one.

Instead of sliding into the note, like you just did, you can bend into it instead.

Did you trill two notes together quickly? Then choose two different notes to trill, but keep the length the same.

Brian May on guitar
Brian May of Queen (Photo: Carl Lender at https://www.flickr.com/photos/clender)

Or perhaps you play the exact same melody, but use the whammy bar to sprinkle in some quick bends, to bend up at the beginning of some notes, like Mike Rutherford from Genesis does a lot.

There are myriad ways to play any given phrase a little different. No choice you make will be wrong, so just go for it!

Here’s a few fantastic guitar solos that do just that!:

  • “Something” – The Beatles
  • “Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen
  • “Layla” – Eric Clapton

Just add a new little, subtle spice to your best phrases, and voila… people will eat it up, I’m telling ya.

If you think of soloing like talking to your audience, it’s like saying the same thing, but with a twist… So they finally get it.

See? There’s a music teacher in you too! 😉

5) Finger Singers

Okay, now we come to my favorite way of guitar soloing.

Playing melodically!!

I even think that a guitar solo would always be melodic, but I’ve heard enough of them to tell you that, no, some solos are hardly melodic at all.

I come across this very “unsingable” approach to soloing on guitar mostly in music that’s all about “showing off”. You know what I’m talking about:

“How fast can I play?!”

“How many notes can I fit in 8 measures?!!”

“How many old, road-worn guitar licks can I throw into one solo section?!!”

If those are the questions you’re asking to try to create a good guitar solo, you’ll probably end up with something that sounds closer to a parody, rather than a masterpiece.

This is why most of the time, when I’m recording guitar solos in the studio, I rarely keep the first thing I play. Or the second. Or even the third!!

Instead, I play through the solo section 5 to 10… sometimes up to 20 times. Then I go back and listen to them all, looking for whatever passages just sound perfect within the vibe of the song.

Notice I didn’t say that I look for what “impresses” me the most. The most impressive players of any instrument (to me at least) are those that serve THE SONG, and most of the time songs don’t need 32nd notes to appropriately bring them to life.

Here’s the best way I can describe making this technique work for you: after you come up with any guitar solo…

… try to SING it.

Yep, you read that right. Even if you’re not a vocalist in any way, still try to sing what you just played.

Then ask yourself: was that easy to sing? Or difficult?

And here’s an even better test: put your instrument down, walk away, and 5 minutes later see if you can hear the melody in

If, in either of those two cases, you find it difficult to resurrect that solo in your head, or on your lips, then you might need to think a bit more melodically.

Here are some of my absolute favorite guitar solos of all time that are SO melodic I can sing them from beginning to end. We’re talkin classic awesomeness here!:

  • “Panama” – Van Halen
  • “Hotel California” – Eagles
  • “Magic Man” – Heart
  • “Goodbye Stranger” – Supertramp
  • “Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin
  • Pretty much any Tom Scholz solo from any “Boston” record!!
Tom Scholz playing a guitar solo
Tom freakin’ Scholz, man!!! (Photo: Weatherman90)


If you listened to all six of those bands, as I just did writing this article, you can indeed say that you have been schooled, baby, in the art of melodic guitar soloing. No doubt about it.

So don’t just think scales. Or positions. Or remembering riffs.

Instead, try singing with your fingers. Strive for memorable, catchy MELODIES. Approach those strings like Paul McCartney approaches his vocals.

You do that? Your chances of playing a “guitar-hero-worthy” solo just skyrocketed into “very, very likely” territory.

Meetcha there!! 😉

Bring the Spice!!

So those are the first five techniques that I teach my students regularly here in my recording studio when they want to know how to solo on guitar.

There are many others, and I’ll be writing about them soon enough, so keep checking in here at seriousgas.com for the next bodacious batches of solo bad-ass-ery!

But in the meantime how about sharing some of the soloing techniques that you like to use? Are they among the ones we went over today? Or were your favorites missing?? Let us know in the Comments section and strut your technique stuff!

Show ’em your CHOPS, Gordo!

As always, the more time you spend with something, the more familiar you become with it. So take these suggestions into your wood shed, see how they influence your playing, and deliberately start singing your spontaneous string songs with their scintillating spices!

The specific combination of techniques that YOU use is what will, over time, create your own personal style and approach to playing.

I mean, come on… if Gordo the Gorilla can do it, then… LoL

Which reminds me… I gotta practice that mixolydian scale now! 😉

If you’d like even more general info on how to play guitar well, start with THIS FIRST GUITAR LESSON POST and continue on in the series we’ve written for you. Otherwise…

… see you soon for Part 2!!!

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!

The 7 Best Bass Guitars For Beginners In 2019 – Top Picks For A Big Bottom!!

Q: What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians?
A: A bass player

Q: What’s the difference between a vacuum cleaner and a bassist?
A: The vacuum cleaner has to be plugged in to suck.

A young kid told his mother “Mommie, when I grow up I want to play the bass guitar.” His mother smiled, then said,”Now, honey, you know you can’t do both.”

Aaaah, bass players. So easy to make fun of. But so absolutely crucial to a professional-sounding band.

If you’re here to find out the 7 best bass guitars for beginners in 2019, there’re two potential reasons why:

1) You’ve decided that bass is the instrument for you, so you’re ready to purchase, but want to save money.

2) You’re the parent of a child that wants to try bass guitar, and you want a quick, easy and inexpensive way to get them what they want.

Whichever of these two you are, I’ve got good news for you… you’ve come to the right place!!

Bass Guitar CARTOONED

I’ve been a recording & performing songwriter, and a bass player, for decades. I also worked, for years, selling music instruments and equipment.

These two things have honed in me very informed, practical judgment and skill when’s itself to recommending to you just what you need, at the right price, for the right skill level.

A quick click of any links below will take you straight to the instrument of your choice for checkout. It couldn’t be easier.

But first, let’s educate you on HOW to choose the perfect bass!

That Amp Thing

In a few cases below, you’ll notice that the bass guitars I listed also come with a bass amp.

I did this deliberately for one main reason: it’s extremely hard to hear an electric bass guitar without an amp.

The high notes are okay, but as you play lower and lower on a bass, it gets harder and harder to hear.

Most people don’t want to invest in an instrument that will just be stuck in a corner soon. The reality is, a beginner that plays on a bass without an amp, is much more likely to lose interest in playing.

Why? Because there’s no punch. No power! No electricity that’s needed to drive those big, low frequencies.

Here’s an example of what I mean: if you could see the waveform that is produced when you play the lowest note on a bass guitar (the low “E”), you’d probably be surprised to see that it’s over 27 feet long!!

It takes a lot of juice to get something that massive amplified, just as it takes a lot of might to pick up a boulder, as opposed to a stone.

BASS FREQUENCIES on a shirt!
The 4 frequencies of the bass open strings!

Human hearing is also not very good with low frequencies. We tend to hear best where human voices speak. That’s mostly above 100 Hertz.

All the open strings of the bass, however, are below 100 Hertz.

All that just means what I said earlier: the electric bass is hard to hear without an amp.

Keep this in mind as you look through the options. I’d much rather you get something that you will keep and play for years, than something that’s given up as “boring” after a short time.

Finally, perhaps the biggest reason to make sure you have an amp as well it’s so you can play with others. An electric bass is typically played alongside a drummer and at least one other rhythm instrument, like a guitar or keyboard.

Those instruments can be quite loud. So a bass played without an amp in that setting?? It just won’t be heard. Not at all.

And since much of the fun of music is playing with friends, you definitely don’t want you, or your child, to miss out on those good times!

So if you don’t already have a bass amp, I highly suggest you include that with a bass guitar.

You’ll be smiling at the excitement it will generate!

The 5-String Question

Teaj’s 5-string bass!

Another consideration that’s less important, but still comes up occasionally with my students, is whether or not to buy a 5-string bass.

A standard bass guitar has 4 strings. This is what you’ll almost always see someone playing in concert, Plus, practically every bass line you hear on the radio was played on a standard 4-string bass.

For that reason, as a music instructor, I always suggest that a student start with a normal 4-string model.

If a student can learn all those bass lines the way they were performed to begin with, on a 4-string, they’ll be well on their way to playing like a pro.

The “normal” 4-string

There is one situation where I DO recommend a 5-string, however: if you, or your child, listens to a favorite group or artist that DOES often, or always, use a 5-string bass, then chances are they’re going to want to play what their hero plays.

In that case, go for it.

If you’re not sure, just watch a video for free on YouTube of your (or their) favorite bass player and look for how many strings are on the bass.

Nine times out of ten… you’ll see four. 😉

I own THIS 5-STRING and love to play it, but, honestly, I’ve never had a gig where 5 strings were needed. Learn to get around the fretboard with 4 strings. Then you can get adventurous with more!

Alright… now that those caveats are out of the way… let’s explore your best options!

1) The Davison Bass “Beginner Pack”

First up on our list today is this bass guitar AND amp from “Davison Guitars“.

It gets great reviews (averaging 4 out of 5 stars), and comes with a starter amp, all for just over $100!

That’s rare at that price. In fact, it’s the only one I found that didn’t have poor reviews.

This as a true beginner bass package, for those who’ve never played before and who are probably under 13 years of age.

The amp that it comes with averages only 15 watts of power, so we’re not talking a very loud amp here, but it will at least be amplified enough to hear all the notes on the bass.

The bass comes in three different colors, so if black isn’t your, or your child’s, thing, no problemo. Blue or Sunburst will come to the rescue. 😉

This pack also comes with a strap and a carrying bag. These will be on the cheaper end, but since no grand stage is expecting a beginner student, that’s just fine at this point. So, this is truly a one-shot deal where you probably won’t have to buy anything else for quite a while.

If, one day, the student wants to play with other musicians, then you’ll have to get a stronger amp. But in light of how I’ve seen students progress, that probably won’t be for a year, or two, down the road.

In the meantime though, they’ll be having a blast sounding like the real deal, which will give them the impetus to study those classic bass lines and become… a real musician!

2) The SafePlus “Starters” Bass

Next up, we have this great little SafePlusbass that is designed to look and feel like a very famous instrument made by the company Fender… the legendary “Precision Bass“.

The “P-Bass“, as players call it, has been renowned for decades. This beginner’s model obviously is paying homage to it, because the shape, parts and features all resemble the mighty Precision Bass!

But Fender Precision basses start at $600 and go WAY up from there (into the thousands!).

This one? Clocks in at UNDER $100!!

I think it’s safe to say that price tag won’t be curling your hair anytime soon! Lol

This package will be coming with a strap, a cable, a pic, and some allen wrenches for adjusting the action of the guitar.

Notice, however, it does NOT come with any amp.

So if Dad, a brother or sister, or some other relative has an extra amp lying around not being used, perfect beginner bass to pair with it!

There’s no choice of colors for this particular bass, but the one style that is available (deep blue) looks really good. Again, it’s so resembles a professional P-Bass but even I myself would not be ashamed to pick this baby up and play it live.

It comes in really strong from the perspective of reviews also: 84% of the people who bought it said that they would recommend it and gave it five stars.

Now that’s a strong endorsement!

You also get a gig bag, strap, pick, cable and adjustment wrenches included, so any beginner will have everything they need to get groovin’.

And if they actually know a little about bass guitars, even if they haven’t played… with the thousands of P-basses in the world today, they’ll probably recognize these contours as a bass to die for and be as happy as a drop D tuning in a metal band!

The whole package gives you extra piece of mind by providing a 6-month warranty and a 30-day Return Policy.

3) Squier Jaguar Beginner “Short Scale” Bass

Squier Jaguar small scale bass

Got a future bass guitar master who’s a little on the smaller side??

No problem; Fender has you covered!

Whether it’s because of young age, or a DNA-induced smaller stature, this Squier Jaguar Short-Scale Bass was designed with smaller hands, and reach, in mind.

A “short scale bass” only measures 30″ from the bridge to the nut.

Compare that to the standard scale which is out there today, which measures 34″, and you can see why this would be easier to play for those… who aren’t Michael Phelps! 😉

The body style of this bass guitar is modeled after the Fender “Jaguar“, another very famous line of guitars that Fender has made for decades. Notice how the cut is a little more “curvy” than the others we’ve seen so far.

You have three choices of color for this bass also: silver, black or red.

This bass will be a lot more versatile than the two we talked about previously. This is mostly because of the two pickups it has: one from a P-bass, and the other from a “Jazz Bass”.

What’s a jazz bass?? Well, you probably can guess… it’s yet ANOTHER famous Fender bass style (they know how to make winners, don’t they?!).

The jazz bass is one of my favorite basses… Check out my article on them RIGHT HERE to learn more about why!

Because you’re paying a bit more for this Squier bass, you’re backed a lot more by the manufacturer – Fender covers this bass to be free from defects in materials and workmanship for two (2) years from the date of original purchase! That’s the longest warranty on this list, and possibly in the whole industry!!

So if you want a good price AND a bass neck that’s easily within reach, with a company like Fender, you can’t go wrong.

Click this link to learn more!:

4) Yamaha TRBX174 Bass

Another company that has long-standing reputation for dependability and excellence in the music field is Yamaha. They are especially well-known for making great beginner instruments.

You can tell from the design of this Yamaha TRBX174 Bass that they are trying to go head-to-head with the Fender products. They are extremely similar: the shape; the pickups; the control knobs… the price! We just saw much the same on the Fender Jaguar.

The plus side on the Yamaha is that you get more color variationsseven to choose from, instead of three the Jaguar has. They are:

  • “Root Beer”
  • “Red Metallic”
  • “Translucent Black”
  • “Dark Blue Metallic”
  • “Black”
  • “Old Violin Sunburst”
  • “Tobacco Brown Sunburst”

Also, this is the first guitar which you plug the cable into on the bottom SIDE of the guitar, not in a port on the front. I much prefer this design myself, since I don’t like the look of a cable popping out from the face of my guitar. It looks messy and gets in the way, I think, so this Yamaha is my favorite in our list thus far.

You’ll be pleased to know that Yamaha stands behind their products: they give their guitars a limited lifetime warranty on the Top, Back, Sides and Neck.

They also offer a 1-year warranty on the electronics/wiring & hardware (which include the tuners, bridge, nut, and saddle pins).

So there you go – another “can’t-go-wrong-for-the-price” option for your bouncing bass beginner!

5) Ibanez TMB100 Bass

I played for years in a band the guy who had one bass, and one bass only – an Ibanez!

They have made good products for decades also, and they offer dependable quality for all levels of players… including beginners.

The Ibanez TMB100 Bass is a good example of their beginners line of guitars. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but, like the ones we’ve covered so far, it gives you all the basics you need to sound good in a live band context.

I especially like the “Mint Green” color of this model. There are four other colors too, but if I were buying it… I’d be getting this minty freshness in a heartbeat! Lol

We’re back to plugging the cable into the front of the guitar for this bass. Not my favorite look, as I said, but for how cool this overall design is, and for how well it plays (based on all the reviews), I’d probably still buy it.

As Shakespeare said ( or should have): “Beauty maketh our heads to turn!” 😉

Ibanez has also adorned this bass guitar with a similar Jazz and P-bass pickup combination that we saw earlier on the Squire. You’ll see more of this combination. Fender has a huge following… even other manufacturers tip their hat to them!

One benefit Ibanez has over the others, though, is their custom control knobs. Each knob has a top and a bottom that work independently.

The top knob gives you a volume control for each of the two pickups.

The bottom knob allows for 2-band EQ control: the top of the knob boosts or cuts the treble frequencies, and the bottom of the knob boosts or cuts the bass frequency spectrum.

So, for all practical purposes, you actually have four knobs – two for volume, and two for EQ control.

Cool, huh?! That’s better than any bass we’ve seen this far, and it’s because of this richer tonal variety that we can dial in did I would choose this bass as my favorite in the under $200 category.

Here’s a video so you can hear it in action:

Whadja think?? Pretty impressive, right?

It’s amazing how good of an instrument we can get these days for such little money. Whether it’s because of capitalism, advancing factory robotics or some other unknown… who cares?! We just like getting great stuff for less, right?! LoL

Obviously, as we go up in price you start to see little tweaks upward in quality as well. This Ibanez is not the cheapest in our list, but may be the first one yet to offer a pretty professional feel and sound for a lot less than you’d normally pay for a “famous bass”.

If you like the look and sound as much as I do, follow these links to get one into your or your child’s hands in a jiffy. You’ll be glad you did!

6) Squier Affinity Series “PJ” Beginner Pack

Now we come to our second combination deal – a Fender- made bass guitar and bass amp specifically designed and constructed with beginners in mind.

For the third time on our list, we see the P-bass and Jazz bass pickup combination, which is why this bass is called the Squier “PJ” Bass.

Since Fender was the company that designed both of these pickups originally, and since both basses have been hugely popular for decades, well… they’re no dummies. You’ve got to give the people what they want!

The amp, just like we saw before, delivers 15 watts of power. This is just right for a beginner. Unless you or your child starts playing out on live gigs,
no worries.

If and when the time comes when an audience will need to hear this bass, you can simply upgrade to get something with a little more “oomph”.

To get both an instrument AND an amp bearing the legendary Fender name for under $300 is quite a feat. But the company knows that if they put good tools within reach of progressing student musicians, they’ll probably have returning customers for life.

They take the gamble – you reap the benefits!

The reviews for this ensemble were, as is expected for this list, all above 4 stars (4.6 average). Quite a few actually said they gigged with this setup right after it was shipped to them and that it worked great.

As before with the other Fender Squier bass above, you again get that same, awesome “two (2) years from date of original purchase” warranty. Ooooo, the tinglies ya get from just sayin’ that! TWO YEARS!!! Ooooo…. !! LoL

Another hard-to-beat setup for the starting student musician – with a bass, amp, bag, cable and strap all included, once again, you’ll have no reason to buy anything else for a long time.

Do it right the first time and you’ll be helping them be the best they can be right outta the gate.

Here’s your link to for all the pertinent info!

7) Rogue LX200B Bass & Fender Rumble 25 Bass Amp

Okay, so now we come to my last recommendation… and it’s a bit different.

This is the best bass guitar and amp combination on today’s list, so I see this option as more for the experienced musician who is nonetheless starting to learn bass.

This is a fantastic “package deal” for someone who is probably going to be playing out fairly soon, either because they already play other instruments, or perhaps because they have already committed to a group and to playing out live.

That would be brave indeed, but I’ve done it myself and I know I wasn’t the first. It’s always easier to learn other musical instruments once you already can play one.

So if you’re taking up bass, but plan on playing in front of people with it sometime soon, I would get this package.

The bass and the amp are from two different companies. What I did here was put together the best quality bass and amp, at the lowest price I could find. For what’s available on the market right now, I don’t see anything better at the same price, or lower.

The Rogue LX200B Series III Bass Guitar is the first half of this equation. It has really good review ratings (4.6 average stars!), but to make it even better… it’s on sale right now at Guitar Center at just over $100!! Steal of a deal.

This bass sports two pickups, just like the previous four on the list. That versatility, combined with the many ways you’ll be able to change your tone with the EQ on the Rumble amp, gives you wide tonal dexterity, so you’ll be able to play any small venue with other musicians and not get drowned out.

The Fender Rumble 25!

The value in this combination is pretty unbeatable. Another big reason is the Fender Rumble 25 amp – instead of 10 or 15, this amp kicks out 25 watts of power, which is a considerable step up from anything else on this list! It’s the most power I could find at the lowest price from any online merchant.

If you ever want to play for an audience of more than a 100 one day, then you may have to upgrade to a higher wattage amp.

Then again, most sound people prefer that you not get too loud; they like to mic an amp just like this so they have control over its volume, but you still have a monitor to hear yourself play. So this could be the first, and last, amp you’ll ever need!

So, I obviously saved the best deal for last. This bass is currently on sale though, and I don’t know how long Guitar Center will keep it at this price. So if you like to save cash and you need a gig ready bass setup, click both of these links below, put them in your shopping cart, and get ’em delivered before they change the price.

Here’s to you bringing the Boom to the Room at a great gig soon! Don’t forget to invite us!!

Be A First-String Player!

As an addendum to our best of list, let me fill you in on a little industry secret: cheaper guitars always be shipped with very cheap strings.

Because of this, if you want to make any cheap guitar sound better within minutes, just order some good quality strings and put them on. The harmonic content, loudness and sustain will be improved immediately.

Most beginners probably won’t even care about this, but as they progress, and especially if they start playing with others, this is one quick, easy cheap way to sound better without buying more expensive equipment!

Who says girls can’t play bass?!!

Hope this helps you make someone (yourself??) VERY happy by providing them with the bass guitar they’ve been wanting for a while now. Did you find one that’s just right?!

The links above were well-researched, and we believe they really are the Best Bass Guitars For Beginners at the moment (especially that last one!).

So save money; save time; stop shopping and start the playing! These are the best values out there for the big, bad bass!

Let us know how it goes with you, or your student/child, and make sure to check out our bass lessons here at Seriousgas.com. Being a private music instructor myself, I’m all about making proficiency on an instrument as attainable and as easy as possible.

The best music is often made that way. 🙂

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!

How To Buy Music Gear – A Penny Saved Is A Preamp Earned!

a LOT of music money!!

Cha-CHING!

I love the sound of money comin’ my way. Don’t you?!

Every once in a while we really hit the jackpot and a big check comes in from some gig we’ve done in the past that blows most of the others away.

That happened to me this week, so naturally… a new piece of studio equipment is live on my mind! LoL

As I prepared for the purchase this week, I thought I’d share with those of you who don’t do this too often, exactly how to buy music gear.

It’s a fine art to some of us, and its techniques? They hold some real advantages.

Don the Right Superpower!

Ever listen to one of your favorite albums or artists and think, “Man! That sounds so good… they must have music superpowers or something!!”

Well, most of the time, that’s kind of true! It’s only after spending a good amount of time recording music again and again, and trying out gear time after time with myriad settings, that you take on demigod status behind the mixing console.

But it’s also true that the right, specific piece of professional gear WILL improve your sound if all you’ve had up to this point is semi-professional equipment.

I’ll never forget the first time I plugged my AT4050 mic into an Avalon preamp. DUDE!!! It was like I’d never really heard the mic before! At least not that good!!

Best question to ask yourself before any gear purchase is this:

“What is the weakest link in my music chain??”

The answer to that is what you should be spending your money on.

Got a great guitar, but your amp is second-rate?? You know what to do.

Using a top-notch microphone, but running it through a cheap interface?? Time to cut the fluff.

Bought a killer new DW drum kit, but have cymbals that sound like trash can lids? ALL of them??!

Uh, yea… I think you can guess what I’m going to say. Lol

Do a little studio self-introspection before you blow your wad. Then go for the superpower unit that will make you the hero of the airwaves!

Or don’t. I mean… it’s only your reputation on the line, right? 😉

That Sock Under the Mattress…

Whether you keep your money in a bank, Credit Union, old sock, or even under your undies in a drawer somewhere, what really matters when it comes to buying gear is SAVING for what you really NEED.

At any given time of your musical life, you’re going to be in the market for some piece of gear. But learning how to prioritize what to buy next is important.

Take my current situation as an example: I’ve got a lot of great, expensive gear that I record with currently.

I can’t really say I have any “weak spots”, but there ARE some areas where I can certainly improve equipment to an even higher professional level.

So, when those major funds dropped in my lap this past week, I knew exactly where I wanted to funnel some of it…

… a new mic OR a new mic preamp!!

The ones I have now all cost just under a thousand bucks. That means, turn improve my sound, I’m going to have to spend MORE than a thousand bucks.

Now, that’s not always the case; more expensive does not always mean better.

But for the units I’m looking at, it definitely DOES mean that.

To prepare for that purchase, I’ve stashed away $1,500 in one of my accounts that is used only for music gear.

Setting your upper limit of how much you’ll spend is important. At least, it is if you want to live a balanced, responsible lifestyle!

Yea, I’ve known other musicians who lost there apartment from buying a new instrument. I’d just rather not be that guy!! Lol

Remember too, but you don’t always have to have the best equipment. The gear in my studio has gradually gotten better over time. That’s because I’ve spent more only as I’ve earned more.

When I buy new gear, I also sell off old gear much of the time, since I know I won’t be needing it anymore. This is also a good way to keep costs down in the long run.

So yeah, Benjamin Franklin all those wise guys… they know what they’re talking about.

$100 for music gear!
Ben was a secret Pro Audio Gear G.A.S.-er!!

Take the time to SAVE money for the big expenditures, instead of spending it all as soon as you get it on gear that’s not as good.

You’ll thank yourself in the long run… and so will your clients, and employers!!

“Plays Nice With Others… “

There’s another crucial bit of analysis you should do whenever you’re thinking of adding to your Pro Audio arsenal, and that is…

… check for compatibility issues! In other words, will what you buy play nice, like superhero children, with what you already have.

Anyone that has ever dealt with computer DAW software probably has had some experience with other hardware pieces NOT working with it.

Sometimes this is based on how old the computer is.

Sometimes it’s based on how old the software is.

Sometimes it’s based on… God knows what! They just don’t like each other!!!

Few things are more disappointing than spending big bucks I’m gear that ends up not being compatible with what you already own.

I’ve been there. It SUCKS.

Apollo box & Dr Who
Bigger on the inside indeed!!

In fact, when I first bought my Apollo Twin interface (see pick to the left) I got it home only to find out that it would not work.

Why? Because, even though I had two USB 3 ports on my computer which UA said I needed ( I had checked), MY USB 3 ports…

… (are you ready for this?)…

… were the “old kind”. Now, there had been no mention of “types” of USB 3 ports on any website or forum, including UA. Everybody from my sales rep to the service techs thought this should work.

It was only when I sent the head service tech at UA a Belarc Advisor analysis of my computer that he was able to locate why I was having issues.

Guess what I had to do? I had to buy, and install, a brand new USB 3 port card into my computer.

After that, problem solved.

So, yeah, even if you do your due diligence and verify all compatibility issues, you STILL might get caught in the cross hairs of two gear thugs with mechanized vendettas!

But most of the time you won’t. Do yourself a favor: make sure anything you want to buy will play nice with what you have.

If not, hey… there’s lots of playgrounds in the world. 😉

Do Your Legwork

No, I’m not talking about squats and lifts (tho’ those are good for you). I mean put in the requisite research to know what the best piece of gear is for what you need.

Let’s face it: there’re enough variations of music equipment out there to make your drum head spin! So if you don’t do a little investigation up front, you may end up buying something you wish you hadn’t, either because it’s not the right fit, or because there was something better… for less!

Here are the references I consult before I buy every major piece of gear:

  • Online forums
  • Online reviews
  • Manufacturer websites
  • Pro Audio magazines
  • Online blogs
  • Personal sales reps

I use every single one of these just about every time I buy something substantial for the studio. No joke. I demand the very best bang for my buck, and so should you.

So already this week, next to each one of those references listed, concerning my new mic or preamp.

My conversation with Jeff Green, my consultant at Sweetwater sound, was the most enlightening. I keep up on the latest music gear pretty well for this website obviously, but Jeff gave me a couple ideas I had not heard of.

More options?? That’s always a good thing.

So thanks to his insightful recommendations, I now have even more machinery to research, that will all lead to me accomplishing even higher professional music goals.

Doing your homework has never brought better rewards!!

Stick to Your Price Guns… But Don’t Shoot!

This is something that’s not talked about often today in our evolving high-tech world: the role of the audio sales professional.

Waynes World guitar

I’ve worked in the market of pro audio retail (tho’ I never got filmed in “Wayne’s World”!), so I’ve been at the other end of what I’m about to say, and it’s this:

If you take up a ton of time with a sales professional, don’t go give your sale away to some other store or online site just to save a few bucks.

If you did all your research yourself, and didn’t hog anyone’s day to get the insights you needed, than fine – buy your gear anywhere.

But if you have long discussions with a sales professional at a music retailer, either over the phone or in person at their store, have a little respect for them and how hard they worked for you.

Remember, most of these people still work on a commission basis. They don’t get paid unless you buy from them. So if they’ve freely given their informed opinion to you, over a long period of time and/or several visits by you, and done most of the research FOR you…

… have a heart, will ya? Tell ’em the best price you found (that will take some diligence on your part), and give them the chance to match it or come near it.

For me personally, I usually say a difference of “less than fifty bucks” is acceptable if I’ve barraged the sales person with questions.

You’ll have to make your own determination of what’s acceptable to you. I’m just saying… play fair. If a representative has worked hard to earn your business, at least give them the chance.

I mean, they’re probably musicians too. Share the love, my brothers and sisters… SHARE the LOVE!!

Pull That Trigger… on GEAR!!

The free Apollo Plugins!
All the free Apollo Plugins!

After you’ve done all the things listed above, you’re in the perfect position to get a great deal on pro audio equipment that will really up your game, taking not only your music, but your CAREER up to another level.

I did this when I got my Apollo Twin… knowing it was going to come with a TON of truly usable, excellent FREE plugins. LOVED that!!

So, yea… prep for success when you buy for your music. It’s what I do every time. Even… right now, in fact! 😉

Any other things you can think of that could make buying music gear easier for G.A.S. sufferers and trembling players and engineers??

Let us know in the Comments, and if you’ve found any of these things helpful in a recent purchase you’ve made, tell us about that too.

We need more of these stories to tell around the campfire.

When we stop playing guitar, that is.

Then again… I don’t think we ever do, do we??!! LOL

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!

The FabFilter Pro-Q 3, Part 1 – My Favorite Frequency Fetcher!!

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been a dog guy.

Don’t get me wrong, I like cats too. But there’s just something about man’s best friend…

Like how they can fetch! Our pooch Pippin will chase and bring back any number of things. It’s adorable… and fun.

Now if I can only teach him to bring me the headphones! Lol

Whenever I’m tracking or mixing, I also get a lot of practice fetching – FREQUENCIES! More so than any other processing, I’m tweaking with EQs incessantly throughout the recording process.

Which is why it’s crucial to have a good one. A powerful one. One with lots of options, but breeze to use.

Pro-Q 3 to the rescue!!

Enter the FabFilter Pro-Q 3!!

This fabulous plug-in quickly became my favorite when I picked it up last year. It was like finding a restaurant that serves a dish you’ve never had, that’s vaguely familiar but clearly blows away any cuisine you’ve ever had!

Yeah. It’s that good.

Let’s investigate, shall we?!

Recording Wooden Shoes?

The FabFilter company hails from Amsterdam, Holland. Up ’til now there weren’t any Dutch companies that would never spring to mind when the words “pro audio” were uttered, but these bad boys have changed all that. Wooden shoes or not!

The company is fairly young – they first opened their doors in 2002. But their vision-casting, synergizing and trailblazing methods have assured them a top place in the pro audio halls of fame. Not to mention that their small team of around 20 now have an annual revenue of over $4 million!

The reason is clear: their products are amazing! They not only do the job with astounding prowess, but they also look and feel like a whole new world compared to their other old, dusty, “same ol’, same ol” competitor’s products.

I’m not alone in singing their praise either. Virtually every online post and magazine article I’ve read about the FabFilter company has lauded them for the quality, power, and the “WOW!” factor of their graphical user interfaces.

I totally concur with mastering engineer Jeff Sanders, who said this about their products:

“While (others) are busy trying to model hardware, FabFilter is leaving them in the dust by being visionaries.”

Couldn’t have said it better. But let’s not stop there… for an impressive look at just how many industry legends have embraced their innovation, check out this telling vid’ about their 10 year anniversary:

The Q3 Revolution!

FabFilter’s flagship EQ is now in its third iteration. The Q3 plug-in is every bit as revolutionary as it was when it first hit the market…only now with more cutting-edge additions than ever.

Time and again I’ve heard pro audio industry professionals say, “I thought they couldn’t make their stuff better – it was already awesome. But they did!!”

Again, I totally agree. There are so many features and benefits in their software that I don’t find anywhere else, in any of the other manufacturer’s products.

They obviously have some very cool patents up their sleeves!

Pro-Q 3 comparing two separate signals!

The first impression when you open up any of their software is extremely impressive. Their graphical user interface, or GUI, may just be the best in the field, and that goes for pretty much any other plug-ins. But the Q3? It’s especially cutting-edge. Here’s a quick pic to show you what I mean:

Sharp-looking, isn’t it? The shapes, the colors, the spread-out and well-placed menu options… It’s all put together SO well. An award-winning design for sure.

Vid’ me, Baby, One More Time!

As usual here on Seriousgas.com, we’ve produced a lengthy, detailed video for you about much of what the Q3 plug-in offers. It was a pleasure to make, since any time we can be playing with FabFilter plug-ins is a GOOD time!

It’s only “Part One” though. We’ll be doing a “Part Two” video later, to explore some less common options, and to kind of spread out the review a bit for the sake of time.

Britney Spears fan or not, let’s rock this thang!! 😉

Shape It Up!

In this first “Part One” article, we will be mostly covering the basics of the Q3, so to start with… you can’t get more basic than the various EQ curves and shapes that engineers use daily to carve out those perfect, balanced mixes.

Pro-Q 3 types of EQ curves

Here’s the options Q3 provides:

  • Bell
  • Low Shelf
  • Low Cut
  • High Shelf
  • High Cut
  • Notch
  • Band Pass
  • Tilt Shelf
  • Flat Tilt

Except for those last two, we see all that we would expect in a modern-day EQ processor. I can’t think of anything they missed there, can you?!

I find them all to work flawlessly and produce the expected results. The difference is that the Q3 does it style and panache that I’ve not seen on any other software platform.

All controls you’d expect on a completely parametric EQ are there. When you engage each cut or boost, however, they each are shaded a different color, such that when you finally interact completely EQ’d a track completely, it can end up quite resembling piece of modern art… and a piece that looks wicked sweet at that.

The main controls for each EQ point enabled.

In fact, that gives me an idea… I think I actually will print out a large color poster of my vocal track running through the Q3. I can hang it in my studio and sign it at the bottom. Cuz, ya know… It IS me! Lol

Tilting at Sound Mills

Let’s examine those bottom two EQ shapes that are NOT usually found on most EQs: the “Tilt” functions.

They’re interesting, new twists on cutting & boosting that I’m curious to use in the future and see if I can find some cases any of my mixes where this kind of processing would be appropriate.

Both the “Flat” and the “Shelf” functions share the same basic method – there’s a center frequency of your choice, and on either side of it, all the frequencies, up to the high and low boundaries of human hearing, are cut on one side and boosted on the other.

The FLAT Tilt option

So, because of how the tilt is shaped, the only time I see the appropriate for mixing would be when you’re middle frequencies are pretty dialed in, but you notice that the highs and lows need some adjustment, specifically, diametrically opposed directions. Because this function is broad, you’ll have to be careful though.

Still, I love it when a company innovates new options for us to have at our disposal. “Can’t hurt, might help”, right?!

There are two ways I plan on using it soon: first, I’ll use it whenever I record some percussion. This will necessarily need to occupy a small section of the EQ band, so the shelf tilt should be just the ticket.

The SHELF Tilt option

Second, when I have the right psychotropic song for it (LOL), I plan on automating it so it’ll sweep through frequencies like a wah pedal in real time. If my idea is correct, it should produce a pretty cool sound that I’ve never been able to try before with any EQ in this precise shape.

Creative effects – I love ’em!!

In a nutshell, if you need very BROAD tonal sculpting of the highs and lows, then the tilt function might provide just the uneven floor you’re looking for!

Collisions – Oh, How it Hertz!

The “Frequency Collisions” monitoring parameter that the Q3 provides. I find to be extremely useful and a real time saver.

Imagine you’ve recorded a clean electric guitar on one track, and a synth rhythm track on another (like I did video above). They’re both occupying the same general area of the midrange, so you know you’re going to have to tonally separate them a bit for the sake of clarity in your mix.

Areas of frequency collisions in RED.

Well, with the Q3, you won’t have to spend time finding where the two tracks overlap tonally – an obvious stripe of red in the waveforms will tell you exactly where you have coinciding fundamental frequencies.

I love this, ‘cuz within seconds I can cut and boost a bit on both tracks, in opposite frequency ranges, and voila… they’re instantly occupying their own little zone. No muss, no fuss. Quick and easy, it’s DONE.

Even while I’m tracking, I always leave this function on. Why? ‘Cause when I reach MIX time, all the instruments are pretty much already portioned off, ‘cuz I did it on the fly because it made the collisions so obvious.

This ends up saving a ton of time and helps get that next single that much quicker.

And isn’t that what we… always want?! 😉

Spotlight, Please!

Now here’s a feature that I didn’t find talked about much by anyone, but that I find a killer creativity boost – the “Solo” button that’s there every time you click a new EQ adjustment point!

The headphone icon points the way. Whenever you click on that, it will turn red, giving you a visual indication that you’re now in “solo mode”, but ONLY for that particular EQ band or frequency.

Way cool. It’s another way that the Q3 gives me something I’ve never had on another EQ plugin.

It’s quite a weird feature, but I really like it, and it’s in part why I’m using Q3 almost exclusively for EQ-ing now.

The reason comes from answering this question: on any instrument that we record that occupies the mid-range at all, don’t we, many times, want it to sound different from how it does naturally?

Of course! Sometimes, dramatically so, right?

Well, now, thanks to these “Solo buttons”, you can quickly and easily experiment with a bunch of options, and often… create a dramatic change that proudly occupies your final mix!

Here’s what you do:

  1. Bring forward your Q3 on any individual track.
  2. Click to create 3 or 4 different adjustment points, at different places.
  3. Start playing your full mix.
  4. Click the solo headphone button on each of the adjustment points to audition each one!


What you’ll end up hearing is that particular instrument reduced to 3 or 4 small slices, or “spotlights”, of the EQ Spectrum, with all the rest of its natural sound cut out.

El Gtr cuts on Q3

It’s like processing a vocal to make it sound like a telephone voice; you’re taking away a large portion of its natural sound to make it sound UNnatural, because sometimes… that’s just the thing to make your mix fresh!

As you “demo” that single instrument in those 3 or 4 (or more!) ways, you’ll know if any of those instant variations give the mix a standout surprise lift. If none of them do, no worries… just delete the adjustment points and you’re none the worse for taking less than a minute to try something off the beaten path.

‘Cause we all know… that’s sometimes where GOLD is buried!! 😉

It’s Freezin’ in Here!!

If you open the “Analyzer” menu, which is found just to the right of the middle bottom of the plugin, you’ll see a button all the way to the left that looks like a snowflake. Get on your AC/DC wool cap, baby, ‘cuz you just found…

… the “Analyzer Freeze” function!!

Engaging this button will cause the spectrum to stop falling as the signal plays. Instead, you will see it build up “frequency maximums” of measurements and freeze them into a floating “glacier of sound” over time.

“I’m Mr. FREEZE-Meister… !!”

If you happen to forget whether it’s on or not, just check the button: if it’s enabled, there’ll be a blue line on the left side of the button.

I find this is helpful if I want to find quickly where an annoying frequency is within a signal. The strongest, highest peaks will often reveal the culprit so, again, in just a few seconds of playback, another problem is solved.

Can this plugin get any better??!! I doubt it, but I’m sure they’ll prove us wrong again when Q4 comes out! Lol

Dan the Man!

I can’t describe my relationship with FabFilter products without including one of the major advantages the company has given to us, its happy consumers, and that is…

… the Dan Worrall videos!

A renowned sound engineer from Sheffield, England, Dan produces all the plug-in tutorials for FabFilter, and they are and the best I’ve ever seen. His calming, pleasant voice and informed yet easy demeanor makes every video produces a true pleasure to experience.

I’m not surprised though. When I saw on his “LinkedIn” profile HERE that he also produces content for “Sound On Sound” magazine… I was instantly hooked – that is my number one, top, favorite pro audio magazine in the industry!

Not only does he do a thorough job of explaining all the FabFilter plug-ins, he’s also quick to point out how he himself uses them in the studio, and on the latest music that he’s tracked or mixed.

Comparing a Wurlitzer with a PRS Electric!

He must also be one of the most private people I’ve ever come across in music, ‘cuz I can’t find a single picture of him online… anywhere.

These days? THAT’S a major feat!!

Even if you don’t have the FabFilter products yet, I bet you’ll still find his videos engaging, educational and subscribe-worthy. If you DO have any of their plug-ins though, you’re going to want to take his training. I mean, come on… It’s free for heaven’s sake! And better than most you’ll see!

So go lift some spaceships with the “Yoda” of pro audio (Just call him “Yodio”!),Dan the man! Find all his FabFilter tutorials HERE.

No Regrets!!

For those who still want to know more (“More… MORE, I tell you!”), feel free to take your quivering G.A.S. pangs over to THIS Q3 MANUAL to investigate further this exceptional bit of pro audio coding.

Or, to investigate their full line of amazing plug-ins (ALL of which I’ve purchased!), browse through the FabFilter Website Here.

Already own the FabFilter Pro-Q 3? Used it in your own music?? Share the processing love and drop us a line in the Comments. We especially like to hear creative ways fellow audio artisans have used different functions for outrageously sweet results!

If you don’t have Q3 yet, I’m just gonna say what hundreds already have…

… just buy it! In light of how so many of us love their products, if you wait you’ll just be kicking yourself later!

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!