Stop Comparing Yourself To Others! – You + Gear = YOU-niqueness!

We do a ton of music equipment research here at Serious G.A.S.

And we LOVE IT! Not only because of YOU, our super song-forgin’ friends, but also because we genuinely dig music and the gear that makes it.

Throughout all this research, we often find ourselves watching live, or virtually online, some uber-skilled, insanely-impressive musical artists. Stars. Legends.

concert screen show

After being sonically washed in the flood of their musical excellence, it sometimes makes us feel…

“Less than”.

Inferior.

UN-impressive.

A wanna-be.

Been there??

Today we’d like to float up a much-needed reminder: stop comparing yourself to others!

Why? Oh… that’s easy. ‘Cause…

… you’re awesome. 😉

Worth vs. Skill

There’s a distinct difference between skill and worth.

Many of us have worked for decades to hone our skill at various instruments, and yet, if we’re honest, we would say we’ve still got a long way to go to say that we’ve mastered the instrument.

But none of that speaks to the worth of our person. Or the worth of pursuing those instruments and the passion for music.

Parents seem to know this intrinsically. Those of us with kids have all experienced babies playing instruments… badly.

Very badly!

Yet, we laughed and hugged and encouraged them, because it was the broadening of their inner horizons that mattered.

As we get older in life, more is expected of us. Unfortunately, that often means that as we try something new we are not supported as much as we were in our youth. Or we’re afraid to try anything new, lest we be seen as “being lame at something”.

If you’re new to an instrument, yet really feel the call to share your music with others… do it! Don’t let anyone else tell you “you’re not ready”, or “you’re not good enough.”

Sure, maybe your sixteenth notes are little uneven. Maybe your barre chords have the wrong fingering occasionally. Maybe you don’t always sing the note perfectly in pitch.

That doesn’t matter right now. What does matter is: do you feel called to do this?

Is this something you think about all the time and can’t get your mind off??

Do you feel most alive when you’re playing music??!

If so, play on, comrade!! Haters gonna hate. Let ’em. They have to live with the stress of their own disparaging spirit, not you.

Now, when your technique needs some work, definitely put in the effort to improve. It’ll show that you’re serious about the craft. And you’ll feel the satisfaction of a hurdle that’s overcome.

And don’t be afraid to study the greats. EXPECT that you’re gonna feel inept compared to the legends of music. That’s okay. Just learn from them, little by little, and know that you don’t HAVE to do what they do. Just learn what works for YOU from them, and keep moving.

This month, for example, I’ve taken in performances and lessons from:

  • Steve Vai performing a piece at N.A.M.M. last month.
  • Allan Holdsworth and Vinnie Colaiuta playing on Allan’s album “Secrets“.
  • Tori Amos playing her compositions with piano parts that only she could think up.
  • Jaco Pastorius playing bass for Joni Mitchell in film footage to celebrate her 75th birthday recently.
  • Eddie Van Halen‘s guitar parts for “Take Me Back”

With all of these I was again floored by their technique and creativity.

But at the same time, I didn’t let the fact that I still have things I can learn keep me from spending all week recording a new tune I wrote recently.

fortune cookie

Express your inner music. Work hard to bring it to life. Practice, practice, practice, knowing that it’s FUN.

And remember… it’s totally WORTH it.

An Audience For All

Here’s another reason why comparing yourself to others doesn’t make any sense: everybody likes different things.

An audience listening to one artist might hate another. Yet that other artist might be a better musician than the first!

Where’s the logic in that?? Well there IS no logic in that. It’s not about logic. It’s about preference, penchants and predilections – in other words, we all just like… what we like.

Thus, it’s important to recognize no matter how good your music is, there will be an audience that will hate it.

But the flip side of that is also true: no matter how bad your music is, there will be an audience who loves it.

Therefore, what’s the most important thing for us to do?

Get our music out there!!!

You can play it safe and never release anything, and never play live. Do that, and you will be safe; that’s true. You’ll never hear a word of disdain from anyone.

But neither will your songs earn you any words of praise, or understanding, or empathy or any whisper of applause. You’ll never have the chance to read a critic’s review of your album that says it’s the most moving he or she has heard in years.

And most importantly, you’ll never develop important, lasting relationships with really loyal fans if you never take the chance to put your sonic creations out there for the world to see, and hear.

Could your recording be better?? Probably! Billy Joel has stated that he always thought his recordings could be better. Every single one!

But there comes a time when they’re good enough, and that’s when we must let them go, like children sent into the world, and see what kind of bonds they can create with others.

So let the words of those who believe in you guide your path.

And the voices of those who don’t like what you do??

Put studio headphones on and let your newest song drown out their sophomoric scoffing.

The eventual applause from your fans will teach ’em!!

Learn, Diverge. Learn, Diverge…

mic & guitar

Becoming a master craftsman, or even just becoming “good enough” in audio engineering, music writing and production, means studying the craft.

We can’t do that without listening to the techniques, tips and tricks of the best audio gurus out there and applying them to our own content creations.

That means that there actually is a time when we SHOULD compare. But not OURSELVES! Making it personal is the big mistake. It’s not about YOU. It’s about skills and choices.

So go ahead – go wild at comparing:

mix desk
  • EQ
  • Volume levels
  • Lyrical content
  • Rhythm section instrumentation
  • Compression levels
  • Instrument choices
  • Melody shapes
  • Vocal interpretations
  • Soloing chops
  • Song Form
  • Reverb selections
  • Effects usage

We definitely need to set our decisions in these areas next to the choices of the greats, and see how we sound. This is how we learn what the goal is – sonic excellence.

This is also why, as I go over in THIS REFERENCE TRACKS POST, we listen often to the best albums ever made, to set up a well-defined target to shoot for, every time we track, mix or master anything.

Kim Carroll bowing the electric. (Photo: Maryg1975)

BUT… (and this is, as Shrek’s friend Donkey would say, a BIG BUT) after comparing what you have done with the best that’s out there, recognize that YOU could be the one to come up with a NEW way of playing, producing or recording that one day everyone will want to copy. So don’t forget…

… BE DIFFERENT! Don’t feel like you have to do everything in the ways that you’ve learned from the masters. Instead, diverge. Veer away from “standard protocol”. If you have an idea that you think will work., try it.

If it doesn’t work, no harm, no foul. You still learned how to use your equipment in new ways, and that is really worth something.

Pablo Picasso

Work with the gear you have, incessantly, and learn how to use it in ways that work for YOU. That will be different than how anyone else does it.

What was it Picasso said? ” “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Truer words not often spoken!

Du Bist Du

Each of us has a special spark of life, and a temple of understanding, a manner, and a style, that no one else on the planet has.

In fact, not one on this Earth has EVER had exactly what goes into making you the singular creation that you are.

It’s true.

And because of that, everything you do will come out in a unique way. You won’t have to TRY. It just will. And that is a reflection of the distinct identity that only you possess.

No one else can do you like YOU!

Ever notice that the same song can be performed by countless people, and yet every time it’ll sound different??

That’s the distinctiveness of each human mind, body and soul coming through.

Is one better than the others?? You could argue that one performance is more technically sound, or proficient, than another.

But is their worth better??

I believe the universe has plenty of room for ALL of our personal expressions. And even more, it WANTS to hear them. See them. Feel them. Unlike the opinions of other humans at times, creation smiles, not derides or questions, when you try anything.

That what being alive is for! And, like all things, we get better as we go.

I can really put this in no better way than German artist Jürgen Werth did in his song called, “Du Bist Du“.

This song was sung to me, as a gift, by my good friends in Germany, Irene and Manuela, decades ago.

I recorded it then on cassette tape, and I’ve had it ever since. The quality is what you’d expect from simply pushing the record button on a boombox.

But you know what? I take this recording over most of my CDs any day. If you’ve ever been gifted with a song then you know what I mean.

Here are the original lyrics, in German, as Jurgen wrote them:

Vergiss es nie: Dass du lebst, war keine eigene Idee,

und daß du atmest, kein Entschluss von dir.

Vergiss es nie: Dass du lebst, war eines anderen Idee,

und daß du atmest, sein Geschenk an dich.

Vergiss es nie: Niemand denkt und fühlt und handelt so wie du,

und niemand lächelt, so wie du’s grad tust.

Vergiss es nie: Niemand sieht den Himmel ganz genau wie du,

und niemand hat je, was du weißt, gewusst.

Vergiss es nie: Dein Gesicht hat niemand sonst auf dieser Welt,

und solche Augen hast alleine Du.

Vergiss es nie: Du bist reich, egal ob mit, ob ohne Geld;

denn du kannst leben! Niemand lebt wie du.

Du bist gewollt, kein Kind des Zufalls, keine Laune der Natur,

ganz egal, ob du dein Lebenslied in Moll singst oder Dur.

Du bist ein Gedanke Gottes, ein genialer noch dazu!

Du bist du, das ist der Clou,

Ja, der Clou. Ja, du bist du!

Now, my own English translation of his lyrics:

Never forget: the fact that you’re living wasn’t your own idea,

and that you’re breathing isn’t a decision you’re making.

Never forget: the fact that you’re living is the idea of another,

and that you’re breathing, its present to you.

Never forget: Nobody thinks, and feels, and acts just like you,

and nobody smiles in that exact, special way you do.

“Never forget: No one observes the sky quite exactly like you,

and no one has ever known… what
you know.

Never forget: no one else in the world has your face,

and those eyes? Those are yours alone.

Never forget: You are rich, identical whether, whether without money;

because you can live! Nobody lives like you!

Chorus:

You are wanted. You’re no child of chance, or mood of nature,

It doesn’t matter whether you sing your life-song

in a minor key or a major one.

You are a thought of God. And a genius one at that!

You are you. That’s the whole point,

Yep, the whole point:

Yes, you… are YOU.”

Can you believe that? Can you really take in the statement that you are a genius thought in this universe??

If not, copy these lyrics, print them out, and hang them where they can be seen every day.

Whether we’re talking art, relationships, education, career, life skills… whatever the pursuit, the truth remains: your existence is a gift to the world. Your song is a needed harmony.

You are you. That’s the whole point. 🙂

Be Reasonable

Here’s yet another reason to not compare yourself with others: their sound, or their products, are not the reason you put forth the effort you do.

Be the standout!

Nobody spends weeks, or even months, on a song hoping to be told that they sound like somebody else. We want our own thing! We’re seeking to find our own voice. Our own way. To stand OUT in the crowd, not blend in.

Some music sounds more derivative than others. But you know what? If the song you wrote sounds a little like another artist, IT’S OKAY!!

As long as you haven’t directly copied or plagiarized another artist, there’s nothing wrong with letting your song have a little tip of the hat towards your favorite artist.

I mean, did ANY of you hear the song “Uptown Funk” and not think of James Brown??!! It’s a fantastic homage to Brown’s classic sound. But so what?!! It’s awesome!!

At the same time, it also sounded like Bruno Mars, “cause (Duh!) he sang the tune.

Should we disparage Bruno, and call him “unoriginal”, “inventive” and a “copycat” cuz we’ve “heard that funk before”??

Bolony!! Not at all. He’s a fine artist, a masterful singer and a songwriter who’s not afraid to use hooks of the past to dress up the present.

If you’re going to compare anything, compare yourself to yourself. Start an inner revolution that takes no prisoners, but is totally committed to working hard to bring the dream to life. As I heard someone say recently, “Originality is the best form of rebellion!

Ask these questions of yourself:

Am I striving to be a better writer? Am I striving to be a better performer?

Do I play my instruments better now than I did?

Am I improving my vocals through ongoing study and practice?

Does my music sound like it’s on the journey of discovery, we’re stuck in a slough of sameness??

To put all that in a nutshell, I’ll share with you the most important sign in my studio. It hangs just to the right of my console table, in easy line of sight as I’m working. It underscores everything I do:

Can you say that about your own pursuits? Are you striving to be “the best”? If so, you’ve got at least a thousand people in front of you, who are all probably better than you.

Good luck. :-/

Perhaps a better tactic is to follow my sign’s advice, compare your work to yesterday’s efforts, and see if you’ve improved.

If you do this every day, committing to your own advancement and enhancement, your progress will so SKYROCKET that it will awe the world.

And probably you too. 😉

I Robot

This website is all about music gear. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how we can have the same machinery in our studios, even the same instruments, and yet the products we churn out sound totally different from each other?

Too many recording musicians get caught up in the mantra of “I don’t have cool equipment like so-and-so”, or ” I need more expensive gadgets to sound good.” It’s like a musician from the year 2112 whining because their robot instrumentalist doesn’t have the latest “Beatles” upgrade.

I totally believe that’ll be a thing. 😉

That’s only true to a very small margin. Especially these days, when pretty good digital effects and recording are available to everyone… FOR FREE!

Again, compare yourself to yourself. As you keep working with specific instruments, and specific pro audio components, and even the A.I. systems that are coming into the market now, how you integrate with them will be unique.

The combination of effects, Dynamics processing, and EQ decisions that you make, for example, will make your music singular and unmistakably you.

You + A.I. = musical progress!

And the more you work with your outboard gear, and software plugins, the more you will start to merge with that technology to the point of developing your own sound.

That’s why we here at serious gas say to work with your audio equipment as much as you possibly can. Play with it. Try things with it. Do recordings for no other reason than to learn. Have friends over and record silly songs for fun.

All these are ways we uncover new ways to express ourselves. And as our choices coalesce with the possibilities inherent in today’s technology, a new A.I.-human partnership is formed that will ongoingly be honed into a feel, a style, even a genre all your own.

One day this will really be taken to the pinnacle when our brains are hooked up synaptically to our computers. I have no doubt that’s coming… and sooner than we might think.

But for right now, we’ll just keep using our mouse, and let our hardware, our software and our brains wetware take us onward…

… to all our destiny is capable of!

Be A Never-Relent-er!!

There’s something to be said for pursuing work that you never grow tired of, because you’re so into the products, services or results that at the end of the day… you can’t wait to do it again!

Whatever you’re pursuing, pursue it with discipline, courage, consistency and relentless focus.

And though it’s harder to do than ever, with all those ubiquitous social media posts, commit to comparing yourself and your work to what you’ve done and been in the past, not to others who have completely different skill sets, goals, habits, and even DNA than you!

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!
Let's Syndrome Socialize!!

Event Monitor Speakers – The Case for Clarity!

glasses with Event monitors CARTOONED

Who’s got perfect vision?!!

I don’t know about “perfect”, but I’ve had 18/20 vision & never needed glasses for most of my life.

In the last couple years though, things have started to get blurry. If I take my beautiful wife out for a romantic dinner in a dimly-lit restaurant, for example, it’s difficult to read the menu. Weird!!

We all want clarity in our lives, right? Sight. Knowledge. Direction.

Sound!

Which is why today we’re looking with clear lenses at Event monitor speakers, pro audio godsends that revolutionized the market when they were released, and continue to impact our studio environments positively to this day. Think “20/20 vision” for your recorded audio.

Heard of Event’s monitors before?? New to their impact?? Either way, let’s dig in and see what we can learn from their facility…

Ayyyy! DAT’s a Great Company!

Event Electronics” is a company that has been helping us keep our pro audio sound in focus for over two decades now.

Event Electronics LOGO

The various lines of Event monitor speakers we’ve witnessed over the years since they launched in 1995 have testified to engineering expertise, durable craftsmanship and their company-wide desire to bring the pinnacles of audio excellence to all levels of consumers – even, and especially, to the home studio aficionado!

The company was founded by a man whose skills were behind a recording system VERY familiar to anyone recording in the 90s.

Ever heard of the ADAT machines?!

ADAT machine
When ADATs ruled the world… !!

Russell Palmer was a former executive at Alesis, the company that brought that incredible leap forward to those of us wanting to record at home.

He left Alesis to put his own stake in the ground with “Event“. He wanted to continue the trend of introducing high-performance pro audio systems to the market that didn’t cost an arm, a leg, and our rent for the next ten years. Gear that the “average joe” could afford, instead of prices so astronomical that only Grammy-winners could even consider them.

Their very first product, the one designed to take the industry by storm with a BIG SPLASH, was the 20/20 line of studio nearfield monitors. I was working at Sweetwater Sound, a music technology and instrument retailer, when the guys from Event stopped by in 1996 to show off these brand new, awesome-sounding speakers.

Oh, and they also offered a generous, and I mean GENEROUS discount to those of us there so we could put a pair in our own studios.

I, um… well, … I think you can guess the rest of the story. Lol

It wasn’t long before these monitors made Event a household name in the business. I’m sure my recommending them to hundreds of customers I served didn’t hurt their bottom line either.

Heck, I even discovered, for the 1st TIME this week, that my hero Alan Parsons has been using the same speakers as I do, the 20/20 BAS models, for years! Wow, do I feel validated!!

Mr. Parsons with his Event monitors!

In the ensuing years Event continued to put out exemplary studio monitors: the TR5; ALP5; the Tria system; 20/20 vsII; the 2030s. And in recent years, they’ve once again won awards and gained fresh acclaim with the introduction of their new speaker line, the OPAL series.

Event Opal speakers

Event is obviously around for the long haul, not just to hit the
piñata and leave with the best candy. They have maintained their reputation for great gear at reasonable prices quite well. If you haven’t looked into them yet, you should.

And if you are in the market for studio monitors?? I can tell you a good place to start. 😉

Take an in-depth look at THIS EVENT HISTORY PAGE for a lot more info and an inspiring chance to window-shop as only an audio gearhead can!!

The Proof’s in the… Albums!

So, what’s my own experience with Event speakers like??

Gold!

My Event 20/20 BAS active monitors have been exemplary in their ability to transmit clear representations of my recorded audio. Every nuance of EQ boost and cut is instantly evident. Dynamic range is unequivocal and obvious. And distortion?? I’ve never heard any.

Granted, I protect my hearing and never have my volumes up above around 110 dB typically, and that not for long.

Another reason I can vouch for the quality of these speakers is that I have used them many times to start and finish fully-produced albums, including two of my own.

The latest project I tracked and mixed on these monitors is called “Tempus“, by the artist Sweda. If you listen to music on any of the major streaming platforms you can find it there.

As always, when it came time to master that album, the mastering engineer liked my mixes. We made a couple tweaks based on genre, and that was it.

To hear samples of our work, and the great songs of Sweda, FOLLOW THIS LINK!

And that, my friends, is the greatest reason to be devoted to a particular set of studio monitors: because they deliver a great final product. If it’s hard to get an album sounding good for mastering on the speakers you have, try another pair.

Of course, no speaker set can compensate for lack of mixing skill, so… always make sure that’s up to snuff first. 😉

It would be hard for me to part with the Events at this point, since I now have decades working with them behind me.

Still, I’m open. One of these days, when I’m not blogging, researching, writing, producing, recording, mixing, graphic designing or playing gigs, I’d like to try out those new Opal monitors & see how they compare to my old stand-bys.

But, something tells me it’s gonna be a while. Lol

The Picture’s Worth…

Since I know a lot of people are into this, I’ve photographed each page of the 20/20 BAS reference manual for your perusal.

These first couple pages were useful and knowing how to properly align the monitors for optimal frequency and stereo spread reproduction.

The middle pages of the manual went into all the tweaky explanations of the back panel controls and diagrams.

I went through all these when I first got the speakers, and set the trim controls exactly where I thought the fidelity was best.

Haven’t touched ’em since!

Finally, you can see here all the various specs inherent in the speaker design.

None of these are as important to me that’s how the speaker translates the sound. When I first played “Dark Side of the Moon” through my 2020s, I knew… these things ROCKED!!!

Oh, and yes the monitors did come with a one-year warranty.

That was up in 1997 though, so, uh… I’m glad I haven’t had any issues. 😮

20/20 Vision

When it comes to studio monitors, I don’t believe there is a perfect speaker. Nor do I believe there needs to be.

My active monitors don’t have a perfectly flat frequency response, for example. But then, I’ve never seen a monitor that DID. Have you??!

What is crucial for those of us working with recorded audio is a set of monitors that have a fairly flat frequency response, low distortion and the ability to handle a wide spectrum of SPLs.

If you have those things, then it’s just a matter of getting used to your speakers and how they will reflect your audio, such that you can produce a final mix that is ready for mastering in every way.

My Event monitor speakers have consistently given me all I need to do this… over and over again. I highly recommend their approach & their design to anyone wanting a dependable, transparent set of studio monitors. The price is certainly right for what you get.

At least in one area of my life, audio reproduction, I know I’ll never need glasses. Our cat, on the other hand…

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!
Let's Syndrome Socialize!!

Computer Audio Troubleshooting, Ep.1 – It’s Never Too Late To Learn!

Smooth sailing.

Isn’t that what we all wish for?? No problems; no trip-ups. No sudden interruptions to our progress, only the sea of tranquility leading us to our desired ends.

Too bad that we all know… that ain’t how the ocean rolls, baby! Sometimes we feel like chucking the whole thing into the ocean ‘cuz nothingis… WORKING!!

We all come across obstacles and those mocking wrenches of monkeys occasionally. Learning how to handle them with patience, informed direction and (with our clients) tact and ameliorating confidence will win the day every time.

But that only comes with persistent study, practice and serving ‘in the trenches’ of audio long enough to know a thing or two.

That’s why, in this post, we’re going to start sharing some of the little hiccups we find happening in the studio occasionally. We hope they’ll help YOU should the same audio gremlins sneak up into your creative space and become a nuisance.

I’ll even share an audio problem I encountered just this week that I NEVER have before that took several hours to rectify. As always, perseverance paid off.

Let’s embark!!

Not Tray Cool

The NT1 mic shootout session

I first got Pro Tools a few years back when version 11 was up and running.

Until that point I had worked on the Roland 2480 Hardware system. I knew that thing backwards and forwards… Every little menu, every little command.

Ever switched DAW recording platforms? To say it’s a DAW-nting task would be an understatement, especially if you’re moving from a hardware-based system to software.

It took probably five months before I really felt like I knew what I was doing in Pro Tools. It’s a very powerful program; menus and sub-menus abound. Only with time and effort was I able to get back to swift and deft control of this platform.

Avid Customer Care was also masterful in their assistance. No matter what issue I had, day or night, someone would always answer my phone call, and most of the time the issue was resolved immediately.

One example of this was a P.T. problem I had that was very weird. It wasn’t a big thing, but it was aggravating. I put up with it for about 2 weeks, but then couldn’t take it anymore and called Customer Care.

Here was the issue: if I was working in Pro Tools, and decided I wanted to do some work in another program, say, Gmail, I would minimize Pro Tools to get it off my desktop, and then open up the other program.

Pro Tools minimized

Once I was done in that other program, I would close it down and click the Pro Tools icon in my toolbar to bring it up so I could get back to work.

The annoyance?? Every time I did this, Pro Tools would not open back up. It was still running… I hadn’t lost my session or anything. I just couldn’t get it to maximize back onto my desktop!

The only work-around I found on my own was this:

* push Alt-Ctrl-delete

* call up “Task Manager”

* right click on Pro Tools

* click “bring to front”

This was obviously a royal pain in the %@#!

Don’tcha hate it when something that should take one second takes a lot more?? Grrrr… it’s one of my pet peeves.

I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for ways to maximize my work efficiency. If I can get MORE done in LESS time, that’s a win for everybody.

Anyway, I’d finally had enough and called Avid Customer Care. The first assistant I talked to had not come across this problem before.

He assured me though that he would pass on this issue to someone more knowledgeable and that I would receive a call soon.

A couple hours later a second representative called me. The conversation went like this:

“So, you’re not able to maximize the Pro Tools window after you’ve minimized it, is that correct, Teaj?”

“Exactly.”

“Okay, do you have Pro Tools open right now?”

“Yes.”

“Alright, go ahead and minimize the window.”

“Done.”

“Now try to bring it up again.”

“Nope. Not working.”

CD in tray

“Okay. Does your computer have a CD tray?”

“Yes.”

“Is there a DVD or CD in it currently?”

“Uhhh… I have no idea. Why would that matter??”

“It might have something to do with it. Could you check and see please?”

“Sure. Hold on.”

At this point I went behind my control desk to my desktop Mainframe and clicked the CD tray button.

Sure enough, there WAS a CD in the tray. If I remember rightly, it was Don Henley’s latest album that I had been listening to through my studio monitors.

(An incredible album, by the way, if you haven’t heard it yet!)

Back to the phone I went:

“Yeah, it was a CD in it.”

“Did you take it out?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, Teaj. Now try to maximize Pro Tools.”

“It worked!”

“Good! Problem solved.”

“So, you mean to tell me that simply having a disc in the tray created this problem?? What does one have to do with the other??!!”

“It has something to do with the coding, I’m not sure. As long as your tray is empty, you shouldn’t have the problem again.”

“How bizarre. Alright, well… thanks.”

“Thank you for contacting Avid Customer Care.”

Talk about coming out of left field! I’m still incredulous that having a disc in a tray can make software malfunction, but, hey… you can’t argue with results.

And, long before the end of the day, it was back to smooth sailing in the studio again.

Ever happened to you?? Now you know what to do. 😉

Special thanks to Nolan and Nestor from Avid C.C. for their patience, professionalism and ability to fix our Pro Tools issues lickety-split. You guys rock!!!

Hello?? Is this Mic On???

The next audio troll we’re going to push from the fjord cliff is one that I faced many times when first starting out.

Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know. If you’re trying to track down the source of an audio problem without having an informed grasp of all the individual components, you might just glide by the answer without even knowing.

mic closet

The issue? Microphones not working.

Have you ever hooked up microphones to cables, plugged those cables into your interface, and routed your interface correctly to your DAW, only to find that you’re still not getting any sound from the mics??

When you’re ready to record, the more time passes with something preventing the signal from getting through, the more exasperating it becomes.

I’ve been there; I feel your pain. But it’s all part of the process. The more you deal with these recording headaches, you become that much more of a professional, able to bat out of the park whatever is thrown at you.

Here’s the number one reason why you might find no signal coming from your mic:

The PHANTOM POWER isn’t on!

mic with battery

In case you don’t know, condenser microphones need to be powered. Some you can put batteries in.

Most, however, are made such that they draw power through the microphone cable from a source of electricity labeled “phantom power”.

Now, even if you know this, you can forget. It happens. If, on your last session, you used a lot of dynamic mics, and your phantom power button is off, then the next time you plug in condensers for another session you’ll have “dead” mics.

Unless you remember to flip the switch.

To the right you can see the phantom power switch on my Tascam interface, which I use primarily when I’m tracking live drums.

It’s a great interface. I’ve had ZERO problems with it, so if you need one with quite a few XLR inputs, check it out by reading THIS POST.

If I forget to turn this on when my condensers are set up, I’ll be scratching my head in wonder… until I remember.

As usual, the big takeaway here is: know your gear. Know which mics need phantom power, and which ones don’t. Know where the phantom power switch is on your interface or mixer.

If you want to explore and research phantom power further, click over to THIS WIKI PAGE.

Or, as always, just throw us your questions and we’ll be happy to answer them. 🙂

The Panning Troll!

Okay, now the biggie…

Just this week a major source of audio aggravation hit my studio.

I finally finished writing my latest tune, and I had spent hours setting everything up for my acoustic guitar and vocal recording session.

Ready for Downbeat in the Studio!

The mics were perfectly placed.

My guitar had fresh strings and was perfectly in tune.

My Pro Tools session had every track, effect and routing optimized for success.

I was ready!!

I laid down my first pass on acoustic guitar, then came back to my control desk to listen to playback.

Something was wrong. Something I had never faced before. A dilemma so odd, I was stupefied.

I like to record my acoustic guitar with five different microphones, plus a D.I. This allows me a lot of options during the mix stage.

It’s rare that I use more than three in the final product, but having six to choose from to get to that final masterpiece… I wouldn’t have it any other way!

This week though, when I started to listen back to the acoustic tracks through my headphones, it was clear that every single track was suffering from some kind of phase issue. Every one!

The details help explain: if the panning on any track was dead center, the signal would be very low and thin. I recognized it immediately as what phase cancellation sounds like.

Pan problems!!

But get this: if I panned any of the tracks, left or right, the signal would start to get clearer, and louder.

Any track that I then panned fully left or fully right, would sound totally normal and full, like there was no problem at all!

But wait – there’s more! Those signals I had hard-panned? They didn’t sound panned AT ALL!! Yeah, that’s right; even though I had every single track panned to the extreme left or right, what I HEARD through the headphones was all tracks dead center.

Can you believe this??! I was dumbfounded. Flabbergasted. A back and completely bewildered. Never before had I experienced anything like this.

In a way, it was totally cool! I mean, how often do we get to experience something totally new that we’ve never encountered in the recording studio? Not that often.

Still, my musical momentum had totally crashed in the face of this obstacle, and I was so itching to get this song recorded that this latest hindrance was really getting on my nerves.

I Googled for an hour. No whisper of anything like this.

I searched YouTube. Nada.

So I started to troubleshoot. What do we do when faced with audio anomalies?? Start at the source and trace it forward.

I knew that I had placed my mics in such a way that there should be no phase issues. So I thought, “Let’s do a single mic test recording and see what happens.”

Amazingly, the same issue occurred when recording with only ONE MIC!!

Clearly then, this was not related to phase issues. There was only one waveform! Only one or more other waveforms could cancel cycles out!

Out of phase waves
Out of phase waves

Being at my wit’s end, I decided to call a good friend of mine who is an informed, professional audio engineer and prolific artist: Sidney Howard.

Sidney Howard
Sidney Howard of lakegennesaret.com

When I told Sid the problem, he offered a few suggestions, but since he had never come across the issue himself, and since I’d already performed his suggestions, we ended up just grasping at sound straws with no clear remedy

Back to Google I went. Another hour. Still no solution.

I decided to totally close down my Pro Tools session, start a brand new THIRD session, and try it with only one mic again.

After setting up my tracks and routings, I recorded one more pass.

Same problem.

Aw. I was so frustrated. What in the $@!$% was going on???!

Then it happened: I had decided to get up and go double-check the electronics on my acoustic, just in case there was some switch or button that I had missed there it might be causing this weirdness.

As I got up out of my chair, I heard some sort of a pop or click in my headphones. I sat back down to see if it was something coming from the software. I pushed play…

… and the problem was gone.

WHAT???? Now I was more perplexed than ever! I hadn’t done anything. Nothing had changed!! I had simply got up out of my chair.

“Okay,” I thought, “Do it again. See if I can replicate it.”

Sure enough, when I stood up I heard the pop again. That’s when I realized…

headphone hookup problem

… it was coming from my headphones connection.

I picked up the end of my headphones cord, where it was plugged into an adapter, and then into a headphones extension cable.

I discovered that the adapter was not totally screwed on to the headphones plug. It had come a little loose. We’re talking only, maybe, an EIGHTH of a turn! But that was it enough to cause this problem.

The lesson I only just now learned after decades in the business?? A simple headphone adapter maladjustment can trigger what APPEARS to be phase cancellation… but isn’t!

So there you have it – technological proof that no matter how much experience you have, you can always learn something new.

And I definitely have!!

Rectify that Vexing “Why??!”

We’re bound to run into problems and conundrums occasionally in the recording studio environment.

The best thing we can do is keep working our gear hard, actually record as much as we can, and try to head these issues off at the pass before they can rear their ugly head during a session where we actually have other clients present! That’s when it gets really tormenting.

Keep up the good music and you’ll bound to serenely sail past those choppy waters in no time.

But keep your life vest on… just in case. Lol

Have you come across any outrageous DAW anomalies? Have any hardware issues stopped you while tracking??

Let us know in the Comments section. When we share what we know, we all learn and grow.

Sounds like a new song coming out, doesn’t it? 😉

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!
Let's Syndrome Socialize!!

The 7 Best Keyboard Stands of 2019 – Be A Solid Synth-er!!

Todd Waites putting his stands to the test! (Photo:
Stuartdigital)

Stability.

It’s what you want when you’re flying.

It’s what you want people’s mental faculties to have.

And according to all my friends when I was still dating, it’s what girls want in a guy’s financial plan.

Well, that wasn’t always the case for me as a traveling musician (understatement?), but there was one area in which I was always secure and steady…

My keyboard stands!!

So today, let me share with you what’s worked for me through the decades. Then we’ll show the best specific models out there right now for you to pick up.

Sounds like a plan!!

Questioning the Crucials

There’s certain things I always ask when I’m getting ready to buy a keyboard stand.

If you were doing the same, I think you’ll benefit from thinking through these issues:

  1. Will this stand fit my keyboards size?
  2. Will this stand handle my keyboards weight?
  3. Can my keyboard be easily knocked off this stand by an oblivious, frenzied guitar player (a question that should be asked much more frequently!)??
  4. Will this stand give me the legroom I need??
  5. Does this stand provide enough for all the foot pedals I use??
  6. How easy is this stand to transport??
  7. How quick can I set this stand up??
  8. Is the stand expandable at all??
  9. And finally: What do the players who review this stand have to say about it??

If you can answer all these questions according to your own needs, you’ll be well-prepared for making an informed and gratifying purchase.

Based on those questions, the following options are ones that I would buy, or already have bought, myself and feel very confident that they will serve you well.

Time to brace yourself!! 😉

1) Musician’s Gear KBX1 Single-Braced Stand

Okay, first up we have the cheapest stand I could find that still got good reviews – the KBX1.

I didn’t find any single-braced “X”-type stand that got five stars, but honestly that’s what I would expect.

I say that because it’s really easy to knock over an X stand. Unless it has really long feet, which none of them do that I can find.

Still, I have seen this used in live concerts and it does work well if you keep its design shortcomings in mind.

The “X” shape you can make taller, or more squat, by using the spring-loaded handle. It’s easy to do, but don’t try to change it with the keyboard sitting on it. That would be asking for trouble.

Basically, if you have very little money, buy this stand.

If you have a keyboard that doesn’t get moved at all, like, say, in your house, and you don’t have kids or pets running around knock it over, then this is also a good option.

If you play a church gig, where the guitar players don’t do Chuck Berry struts, jump over speakers or do 360s every tenth lick, then you’re probably safe with this stand too.

If you play a church gig where the guitarists DO do those things, then

1) Don’t buy this stand, and

2) Please invite me. Please. LOL

For transport keep in mind that, when folded, it’s still pretty long. If you’re looking for a stand with a small footprint on tour, for example, this isn’t it.

Also, here’s my main beef with X stands: if you have long legs, as I do, your knees will take a beating because they’ll keep hitting the stand legs.

Hate that!!

But again, for the money, with those things in mind, this stand got the best reviews under twenty bucks.

Here are its simple specs:

Item Weight: 5.44 pounds

Item Dimensions: 36 x 4.4 x 3.2″

Shipping Weight: 5.85 pounds

Adjustment settings: 6

If this is your cup of synthy tea, you can get one from MUSICIAN’S FRIEND HERE.

Or, if you have Prime like I do, pick one up from AMAZON HERE, and save the shipping price!

2) Musician’s Gear KBX2 Double-Braced Stand

KBX2 stand

The KBX2 is the big brother to the kbx1. It’s double-braced instead of single-braced and that makes it a lot more stable.

Personally, I would never buy a single-braced stand. My keyboards are too expensive and I too much to trust singles. I’ve seen keyboards get bumped into too frequently!

So this double-braced stand is a much better option just a little more money.

Now, if the players you gig with really move around a lot, I still would avoid an X stand. But if they’re pretty sedentary, go for it – this will do the job.

Amazon doesn’t carry this double-braced model, but our good pals at THIS MUSICIAN’S FRIEND LINK certainly do, so if X marks your spot, get it there!

3) Yamaha PKBZ1 Z-Style Stand

Teaj’s Z stand from 1990

I am a fan of Z-style stands. I have used one for over two decades. I’ve even seen other musicians bump into my keyboard while on my Z stand.

It didn’t fall. It didn’t wobble. That’s the kind of stability we’re looking for when playing out.

This particular Yamaha stand is the closest thing I can find to what I have.

Notice that with this stand you have with and height adjustments. That’s good versatility, and will enable you to use a variety of keyboards on it.

Yamaha PKBZ1 stand

Another big reason I prefer to use a Z stand when I play live is that I always have two pedals, at least, at my feet. My Z stand always gives me plenty of room to place my pedals where I want them, without my legs bumping into anything either.

Winning!

The only caveat I have about this stand type is that it’s still not the best bet if you have an 88-key weighted keyboard, or some other board that’s really quite heavy. I wouldn’t trust this for that.

Also, if you are really an energized player who aggressively pounds when you play… It’s probably best to move on to our next choices.

Chillax, dude! 😮

There ARE holes in the arms of this stand for screwing in keyboards so that they remain more stable. The trouble is you have to have holes in your keyboard that will match where the holes are in the stand. Not all will fit correctly.

If your keyboard’s a Yamaha though, there’s a good chance it will fit. It’s recommended to fit keyboards in the PSR, PSR-E, DJX, and EZ Series.

  • Dimensions: 29″H x 13.25″D
  • Width adjustment: 19.75″ to 35″

Get to the AMAZON LINK HERE.

Or snag your Yamaha stand through THIS MUSICIAN’S FRIEND LINK.

4) On-Stage WS8550 Heavy-Duty T-Stand

This On-Stage stand is really rugged and versatile. This is the first one I would give thumbs up on for a really heavy keyboard, or one that takes up a lot of real estate.

It folds into a “T” shape and actually becomes quite compact. Pretty amazing for as sturdy as it is!

Great for gigging, but also really good for at-home use if you want stability in the face of pets or kids that like to emulate Mario Kart. 😉

Notice too that we have three dimensions to adjust with this stand: height, width AND depth. You want options?? You got ’em!

This stand is a great choice for those that SIT and play most, or all, of the time. In fact, I’m writing this post specifically for a young lady I know who needs one for her move to Boston where she just landed a swanky new job at Staples’ headquarters. You GO, BECKY!! 😉

She needed the whole shebang, including a bench to sit on (I told her get THIS ONE!) so that she doesn’t lose all the musical progress she’s gained because she doesn’t have the simple accessories.

Also, people that have heavy keyboards, as well as players that really strike their keyboards hard and play aggressively, have said that this stand provided the most sturdy option they’ve ever comes across for the money. By the looks, size & construction of this thing, I believe ’em.

Specs, anyone?!

  • Weight Capacity: 250 lb.
  • Height Adj: 25″-33″
  • Width Adj: 26.5″-45″
  • Depth Adj: 17″-27″
  • Tubing: 30mm
  • Construction: Welded and bolted
  • Color: Black Powder Coat Finish

“Prime” your On-Stage deal with free shipping with THIS AMAZON LINK.

THIS MUSICIAN’S FRIEND LINK will serve you well though, if you’re not a Prime member at Amazon.

5) Proline PL402 2-Tier Double X-Braced

Everything we’ve looked at up to this point has been for a single keyboard.

The Proline PL402 is made, out of the box, for TWO keyboards.

This was the cheapest stand, designed for 2 keyboards, that I could find that had good reviews. All four stars and above for this one.

Yes, it is an X Stand, but it’s double-braced, so you should be fine unless you face the dangers I’ve listed earlier. You know… the frenetically thrashing solo guitar player we talked about?! 😉

This is your last option if you want to keep things under a hundred bucks. The next two options will break that ceiling.

I’ve used this particular stand before and I like the flexibility gives for angling the upper keyboard. Sure, you can’t raise or lower the upper arms, only change their angle. But I found how they are positioned to be pleasing.

If you have a real beefy keyboard that stands quite high, then it might be a little tough to see the upper buttons on it when the second keyboard is there. If it’s normal-sized though, you should be fine.

  • Double x-brace design
  • Locking height and width
  • Quick release lever
  • Fully-welded contact points
  • 2 tiers
  • Supports medium to full-size keyboards

Stop your double tiers from flowin’ by using Amazon at THIS PROLINE LINK.

Or make our M.F. comrades happy if you’re not into the free shipping thing by clicking THIS PL402 LINK.

6) Quik-Lok M-91 Monolith Single-Tier

Next up is the only keyboard stand in this list I have NOT used. But I really want to! It looks fantastic!!

It’s the first time I’ve seen this newer, more practical design in a stand. The M-91 folds, and locks, and transports compactly like others we’ve looked at, but when assembled it looks substantially more robust than most stands out there.

And talk about legroom! WOW!!! Get Happy Feet all you want – this stand can take it! And plenty of room for pedals! MANY of ’em!!

If, one day, you want a second-tier installed, that option is available with the M-91.

Not to mention that there’s NO WAY you’ll ever watch your keyboard get knocked to the floor by a wanton, frenetically thrashing “in-the-moment” soloing guitar player.

I’ve been that. I should know. Lol

Add the limited lifetime warranty to the mix, and we’ve got a stand that I would order immediately… if I didn’t already have three! Lol

  • Lotsa leg room!
  • Adjustable tier height
  • Computer-welded, lightweight steel
  • Folds and locks in seconds
  • Compact & transportable
  • Optional second tier set
  • Limited lifetime warranty

Carrying this stand is quite different than I’ve done with any other stand I’ve owned.

It also takes up more room in your transport vehicle than others on this list, but if stability is important to you and you’re NOT tight for space, this product rocks!

To get one for yourself, take your pick of THIS MUSICIAN’S FRIEND LINK, or…

THIS AMAZON LINK.

7) Standtastic 103KSB 60″ Triple-Tier Keyboard Stand

Alright, here it is: the last pick on my list.

Did I save the best for last? OOOoooh, yea, baby!!

Standtastic 103KSB stand

I have had this 103KSB 60″ since 1990! It’s my favorite stand if I’m going to play with more than one keyboard.

This thing is so stable you could throw it in with Optimus Prime, Megatron and Bumblebee and it would still remain UN-transformed!!

Rock solid, man. Totally.

It takes up a little more real estate than your average keyboard stand, but I, for one, have never minded. Its tough, anchored, reliable design has always left me carefree about my keyboards, and that’s what counts.

Not to mention that it looks SO incredibly cool and boss when all my keys are up on this monster and we’re cookin’ live! Oooooo, can’t you just feel its eminence?!!

One way that I’ve also used this stand is to have two keyboards on it, but on the top arms put a long strip of wood on which I can place any sound modules, rack units or midi routers that I might want to use for the show.

Not to mention that stuffed caricature doll of Keith Emerson that sits staring at the audience! 😉

For as strong as this stand is, it’s really cool that folds down to a bit more than a javelin. Yeah, it’s 60 inches long, but folded up its width is only 4 inches and depth only three. Basically, if you can fit a long plank of wood in your car, you can fit this.

In a nutshell, this beast is rock solid, even for pounding keyboardist GORILLAS!

It comes with a padded carrying bag too which I’m very jealous about – when I BOUGHT it, in 1990, it did NOT come with a case. Not fair! Lol

The angle adjustments really help. Not a flick of flimsiness here, folks. Just brawny, able-bodied stability and versatility, all in one unit. Without question, my best pick of the bunch! It’s anything and everything I’ve ever wanted in a stand.

Looks like Amazon is missing out on the best keyboard stand I’ve ever used, but have no fear… M.F. is here! Get your own epic stand at THIS STANDTASTIC LINK!

Take A Stand!!

So there you go – seven awesome options if you’re in the market for a stand that will not only help you play your keyboard well, but also keep it safe from musical marauders, to varying degrees.

What do you think? Itching to get one of these? Already have one or more?? Got a favorite that I didn’t list??? Let us know in the Comments section. We always like to hear from real players like you, and like ourselves, about real world gear experience!

Oh, and if you’re new to the whole “buying online” thing, check out THIS ARTICLE I did which should help you find great deals on what you’re just aching for!

Until our next post, hope you’re havin’ a slammin’ great day creating some jammin’ new music. That’s what this gear is all about anyway, right?!

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!
Let's Syndrome Socialize!!

What Is A Partscaster? – An Axe That’s Truly… YOU!!

I love the Internet, don’t you?!

Not only can you find INSTANTLY information on whatever your muse is wooing you towards, you can truly, if you want, get educated on a myriad of interests, no matter how offbeat or eccentric.

Take today’s post, for example: “What is a Partscaster??” is a question I had never asked until just a couple years ago.

But after some rampant Googling, a little G.A.S.-y drooling, and ramping up the ol’ studio budget, I was led to where I am today – being the proud owner of a one-of-a-kind Strat guitar that I really dig.

If you’ve never heard the term “Partscaster” before, or you’ve stumbled upon the term but want more info on it… cool. You’re in the right place to expand your brain AND your tonal palette!

Frankenstein LIVES!!

In a nutshell, a Partscaster is any guitar put together with parts, rather than one that came stock, all in one piece, from a guitar manufacturer.

The majority of players, when they want a new guitar, just go to a nearby music store and play what’s on the wall, questing for that “Holy Grail” of tone that is unique to their ears alone.

But those guitars have one sound, predetermined by the company that makes them. All models tend to sound the same. That’s what the company, and usually the consumer too, wants. It’s dependability. It’s quality control. It’s consistency.

But, if you’re like me, the sound of stock guitars is a little constricting after a while. There comes a time when you want a sound that’s unique – one that you can’t pick off the wall at Guitar Center.

It’s like Frankenstein’s monster: a creature consisting of disparate parts, from varied corpses and lab-harvested organs.

Unforgettable, right?? A lot of Partscaster are just as striking and attention-getting.

When you want your OWN brand of electric lightning, throw the switch on a Partscaster!

“LIFE! DO YOU HEAR ME? GIVE MY CREATION… LIFE!!”

She’s Got the Look!

One of the best reasons to build your own guitar creation is that you can put together combinations of wood, electronics and hardware that, to YOU, look the best you’ve ever seen.

Heck, some build one without even caring how it sounds – they just know it’s going to be sweet eye candy for their adoring audiences everywhere they go!

Want a Telecaster that has creme binding on the front AND the back?? No problemo.

Like your Strat Alder wood body, but wish it had gold pickups instead of chrome?? A simple swap and Bob’s your uncle.

Happen to play on a Pau Ferro wood fretboard and now want all your guitars to have that kind of neck??! Let the postman deliver your dream to your door!

We all have different ideas of what a “gorgeous guitar” looks like… and that’s okay. To each our own, right?!

Crafting your own Partscaster go to be particular about every detail, such that, to you, it looks absolutely… fantastic!!

Mod vs. Caster

So what’s the difference between “mod”-ing your guitar and building a Partscaster??

Well, it kinda depends on who you ask. There are divergent opinions all over the internet.

There does seem to be a slight consensus though, and that is if you’re changing any of the WOOD elements on your guitar, then it’s becoming a Partscaster.

MOD-ing it. (photo: TT Zop Parts)

If you’re only swapping out electronics or hardware, most consider that a simple “mod“. This kind of change-up won’t alter how your guitar feels, or resonates, much at all. It’ll just affect tone.

If you alter the wood in your guitar though, especially the body, you’ll notice a BIG difference in feel, and sustain.

Nomenclature aside, what really matters is do you want to make your guitar distinctly your own or not? If so, changing it up with parts from another company might just rev up your ride, yo!

Why “-caster”??

If constructing guitars were easy, then everybody would do it. But it does rather take some skill and precision to get it right…

… if you want the intonation not to suck!

Most home-grown guitars tend to be Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster styles. Is there a reason??

The Stratocaster

Yes, and it comes down to the fact that not everybody is a carpenter or luthier! Some guitars are easier to assemble than others.

Best example? Strats and Teles. They’re the easiest guitars to change necks on since they’re bolted on. It’s much harder to swap out a “set neck” that you find on a Gibson SG or LP style guitar.

The Telecaster (photo: Matt Easonderivati)

The Fender styles cut you more slack; they’re not so finicky, like some other guitars with complex engineering and fitting that demand you go to Guitar Design school just to know how to set the neck properly.

Not that there even IS something called “Guitar Design School”. But there SHOULD be. Lol

Regardless, Fender has got to love it that they get free advertising whenever somebody puts their own guitar together. We don’t think of Gibson, after all, when we hear the term “Partscaster”.

And I’ve never heard anyone yet say they want to build a “PartsPaul”. 😉

But is it CHEAPER??

Yes!!

And no!

Here’s why: because the choosing of supplies for your Partscaster is totally up to you, the budget can from “very cheap” to “vastly expensive”! It’s your call.

Want to swap out your pickups? Well then, you could buy THIS HUMBUCKER for around fifty bucks.

Or, instead, invest in THIS HUMBUCKER, which is, uh… a bit more, shall we say. 😮

Or what about guitar necks?? There’s THIS NECK, which won’t drain your funds much at all.

But there’s also THIS NECK, which most certainly will!!

So you can see, the budget for a Partscaster can be pretty much anywhere you want it to be. Choose the total based on your own budget, and order away.

If it’s your first time trying this though, you might want to keep the cost down.

Ya know… in case you screw it up ROYALLY!! Lol

Warranty?? We Don’t Need no Stinkin’ Warranty!

It might go without saying, but I do have to mention that if you put your own guitar together, there’s no warranty, no back-up plan, no service department it’s going to have your back if you botch the Construction.

The coolest thing about a Partscaster is also its greatest drawback: YOU’RE putting it together! How it turns out is totally on you, bud.

Still, if you’ve got the time and a little money… maybe you’ve even got some old guitar parts lying around that are doing absolutely nothing except gathering dust…

… then you might as well go for it! Even if you mess up, who cares?! It won’t be a big loss if you haven’t spent much.

And you’ve learned something along the way about guitar construction. It’s always good to know more about your axe, and one day, who knows… you can always try again.

Stick Your Neck Out!

One of the simplest ways to create a Partscaster is to swap the neck out on one of your guitars.

I played a brand new Telecaster this past year, and did a review on it in THIS ARTICLE. I absolutely hated the neck. It was HUUUGE! Like a baseball bat.

baseball  bat guitar

But it sounded good. So, if I had kept that guitar (I didn’t), one thing was certain: I would have swapped the neck out on it as soon as possible.

I’m partial to Stratocaster necks, since I’ve played them for years. A friend of mine here in town, for example, has a beautiful Pau Ferro Strat neck for sale that would be just the ticket.

Pau Ferro guitar neck

If you do this though, just make sure you check the neck measurements to make sure you’re getting the right size for your guitar body. There are different styles, and they won’t all fit together.

Research first. Then pull the trigger. You’ll be a much happier shredder. 😉

You Gotta Be KIT-in’ Me?!

If you’ve got a little time on your hands, but you still have zero carpentry skills, you might want to consider buying a guitar kit.

With this approach, you are sent all the pieces of a guitar but none are put together. Usually, none of them have been painted or glossed at all either.

So, it’ll take a lot of work on your part before that finished axe is ready to be played. But, if you’re up for the challenge, “rolling your own” can bring a lot of satisfaction. Every time you strap that “job well done” on it’ll bring quite a smile to your face.

And if you do it right… to the faces of OTHERS too. 😉

One added benefit of putting the whole shebang together is that it teaches you about guitar construction in a way no Internet post ever could. But it’s beneficial not only from the standpoint of education…

Just think how, in the future, should you ever want to add, subtract, repair or swap out anything on your axe, how much more well-informed you’ll be on how to do it?!

And if you’re well-informed, you’ll have more confidence. And with more knowledge and confidence… comes great skill!

So, chances are, your final product will not only work, it’ll be bangin’! That’s worth it’s weight in amps, right there!! 😉

The Ultimate Itch Solution

If you’re really itching to build your own guitar, and want to go the WHOLE way…

… well, you’re a lot braver than me! But it can be done; you can build a whole guitar from scratch. And from any wood you want. Dining room table?? Why not?! Just clear it with the REST of your family first. 😉

This will necessitate you having some serious carpentry skills, not to mention some serious carpentry tools!

Shaping the contours of the guitar body, for example, is a mean feat, and extremely difficult to pull off for the inexperienced hand.

Still, if that dream is rousing up inside you and you believe you have the wherewithal to accomplish it, GO for it!

Brian May’s handmade “Red Special”

Don’t think you have to do it alone either. Take a construction cue from Brian May, rockin’ axe genius for Queen: he built his legendary Red Special guitar with his Dad!

Brian was only 16 when they started the build together. It’s not hard to imagine him thinking “Gee, I could probably use a little help with this.”

Because of that, for the last four decades Brian has been able to play a completely “personalized to his own tastes” guitar which has burned its tone into our collective psyche via Queen’s soundtrack to our lives.

“Bohemian Rhapsody”, anyone?!

Probably best of all, the memory of him and his late father building it together must be precious to him. Every time he plays it he must think, “Miss you, Dad.”

That rocks. 🙂

Write on Your Head!!

One of the most fun parts of building your own guitar is applying your own custom headstock insignia to the finished product.

There are some who just slap an authentic Fender logo on the headstock when they finish a build. To me, that’s missing out on a great opportunity for personal expression, not to mention creating possible confusion in the future about whether the guitar is truly a factory Fender instrument or not.

So get creative! It’s an awesome confidence booster to get on stage and rock with a guitar that has your name on it, or your signature, or your favorite catch-phrase.

You can use your favorite font. Draw up your own personalized graphic. Heck, draw a CARTOON of yourself and slap it on the darn thing! Your brain-sky’s the limit. And your fans?? They LOVE that kind of personal touch!

It’s pretty simple to do: just get decal paper at a hobby store, or online. Then draw something up on the decal paper, and print it out on an ink jet printer.

It’ll have to have a little finishing surface spray on top too, but you’ll learn all about what you coat guitars with when you do your build.

If you’re not a graphics kind of person, let’s make it even simpler for you: check out THIS PARTSCASTER DECAL FORUM for great type & print ideas. Or order some ready-to-go decals at THIS SITE by just telling ’em what you want your ‘stock to say!

Easy-peasy, trem’ bar squeezy!!

Parts to Play

Okay, so… where do ya go to GET all this stuff you need to build your own Partscaster??

Here are the best places I’ve found for lining up all the “right stuff”. Just click the names to link to their websites. Many online reviewers who have built some cool-looking electrics give these providers a big thumbs-up, so… get exploring!!

Warmoth

BYOGuitar

StewMac

Best Guitar Parts

GuitarFetish

Rosser Guitars

AllParts

Ebay

Saga

Also, for some great pictures of players who’ve completed a Partscaster using these stores, and are showing off the results, GO HERE. It’ll give you better direction as to what body types you want to pursue if nothing else.

Parting with Your Parts

Time to get real for a moment about a sad-but-true fact concerning the guitar you will spend days, weeks… perhaps even months constructing: if you wanna sell it later, prepare yourself… you’re not gonna get much.

Resale on a Partscaster is much harder than a typical instrument. you’ve gotta know going into your great guitar adventure that you might not get back all the money you put into it. In fact, you might find yourself stuck in “Lowballers Alley” for quite some time.

Will you take 50 cents for it??

It makes sense in a way though. People are going to be quite skeptical about your luthier expertise if that’s not what you do for a living. In the back of their minds they’ll be thinking, “But what if he got something wrong??”

Why? Simple human suspicion. Their doubts aren’t that far-fetched either. There are a LOT of really poorly-made Partscasters out there!

But if you build a “self-expressin’ Strat” simply because you want to learn a lot about guitar construction, have the time & money to do it without needing recompense, and are eager to jam on an instrument that’s uniquely YOU, then the fact that you won’t get much for resale isn’t an issue, right?

It’s about the journey, not the destination. 😉

How do They Stack Up??

Our fellow shredder Darrell Braun did a GREAT stock guitar vs. Partscaster guitar shootout that I just love. Check out this video he did and then come back and tell us which one YOU thought wins the day.

To me, it was obvious…

Why I’m a Fan!

Finally, I’d like to introduce you to a wonderful Partscaster that my friend John Alexander made, and that I purchased from him. Meet… “Verbrannt“!!

This beautiful guitar has a body made of “burned Ash wood“. It’s the product of a technique where you put the wood in a fire for a short time, then finish it with Tru-oil and a bit of sanding.

The fire causes the grain to darken, bringing out a kind of “Tiger Stripe” look. Cool look, right?!

Here’s what the body looked like when John first got it new from Rosser Guitars (linked above):

The Un-burned Ash look.

Not nearly as dramatic without the Tiger striping!

The neck, bridge & neck plate John bought new off EBay.

John put EMG pickups that he already had in this guitar, and coil tapped the bridge & neck pickups to give me a lot more diversity of tone. I can get so many sounds out of this thing, it’s truly inspiring.

It’s also an “active pickup” configuration, which is what I prefer at times for certain types of playing.

I had a Strat very similiar to this that I played for years. It was stolen in 1995. Yea. Totally sucks. Read my tribute to it in THIS POST.

That sting of stolen loss is lessened now that I have a guitar that’s so similiar, though. Feels good to be back in the EMG Strat saddle again!

I named this axe “Verbrannt” because that’s the German word for “burned”. I was so impressed by how simply putting wood into fire and then oiling it could produce such a lovely finish. It really stands out among my other guitars!

Now you can see why I’m a fan of Partscasters. Brian May’s story already had me interested, but now that I see how a guitar can be made to one’s exact specifications and turn out so well…

… I’m a believer!! Lol

Greater Than

A patiently-constructed Partscaster truly is greater than the sum of its parts. The sounds, looks and feel you can get when you “go your own way”, to quote Fleetwood Mac, is quite exceptional and can run the gamut from outlandish to pro quality “wowism”!

Ready to do it? Already have?? Gonna research a little more to get perfectly focused on your ‘dream axe’??? Drop us a line in the Comments and tell us. Let us know too if you need any further help in this area, or how our look today furthered your quest for tone.

We can never know too much about the instruments we play. It gives us just that much more intuition about how to eke the most out of our beloved music-makers. So building one ourselves?? That’s like a guitar Ph.D., my friends.

My graduation hat’s off to you. 😉

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

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What Is A Kalimba? – Hypnotic Tones, Tines & Tines Again!

Above my Pearl drum kit in my studio hangs a massive poster of Earth, Wind & Fire.

It came folded up inside the LP record “All ‘N’ All” when you bought it in the 70s.

Around the sides of the poster also hang my favorite EWF records – the ones that I’ve listened to countless times and still inspire me to this day.

And on almost every one of those records… you’ll hear a Kalimba.

“What is a Kalimba?” you ask. GREAT question. In a nutshell, it’s a fantastic and fun percussion musical instrument played with the thumbs.

Treble Kalimba

Beyond that, It’s an instrument near and dear to my heart, with many cool attributes.

Let’s talk about what they are!

Vid’! A Vid! What the Kalimba Did!

First things first: talking about an instrument is useless unless we hear
it. That’s how we really know what it’s about.

To facilitate that, I’ve made a short video to introduce you to its unique
voice. Take a listen…

My Cousin, Mbira… !

The Kalimba (just like the Udu drum which I wrote about HERE) is a thoroughly African instrument.

Today it is still ubiquitously used in diverse ceremonies throughout Nigeria, the Congo, Zimbabwe and other African nations.

But, interestingly, if you look for the instrument on that continent, it will be called an “Mbira“, not a Kalimba.

Kalimba played by Suri Tribe member
Kalimba being played by a Suri Tribe member

So why don’t we call it an Mbira?? Well, it all has to do with marketing, and particularly the first person to market them to the United States and other Western countries.

His name was Hugh Tracey, and he had been an ethnomusicologist in Africa since the 20s. In the 50s, he finally founded his company called “African Musical Instruments“, or AMI. Through it he introduced the Kalimba to the world.

Hugh Tracey
Hugh Tracey recording an African musician.

Did Hugh know of the Mbira variation of the instrument called a “Karimba”, and accidentally change a consonant?? Or did he hear members of the Bantu tribe talk about “Kalimba”, which to them means “”little music”, and confuse it with the instrument itself??

Nobody seems to know at this point. What we DO know is that he respected African music highly, and eventually successfully marketed his “Kalimba” to Western countries by tuning the notes diatonically, according to the Western major scale. This was something the African cultures did not do.

Kalimba badge

What this meant was that, instead of the hundreds of regional tunings one could find in the sub-Saharan countries, Tracey’s instrument was tuned in a way familiar to almost everyone in the States and across Europe.

This was a smart move, since it made it approachable not only to Western musicians, but to children interested in music as well. In fact, Tracey’s first big import of Kalimbas to America was through a toy company!

Decades have passed since his successful product launch, and today the instrument is no longer considered a toy. Instead, there are serious, high-quality Kalimba makers all over the world now vying for a piece of this once-African pie.

Why? Well, because its sound is so… delicious!

Parts is Parts

The Kalimba is very basic in its design. Needfully so, since most of the time in Africa these are built from nearby trees and whatever scrap metal can be scrounged.

First, there’s a piece of wood. This can be flat, or it can be a number of wood slats put together to form a little box. If a box is made, the last step is to punch a round circle into the box so that the sound can resonate inside and increase the volume of the sound produced.

Next, there are two long strips of metal (the Saddle and the Z-bracket) and a half-round made of wood typically (the Backstop) that, as a collective unit, are called our “bridge” assembly.

Kalimba parts nomenclature

Finally, you take a specific number of “tines” that are different lengths and slide them into the bridge assembly. These will stretch out towards the sound hole and be plucked to make music.

The shorter the tine, the higher the pitch. Thus, with different lengths you get different notes, and can accomplish many diverse melodic compositions with just a pluck of your thumbs!

You can probably see that a Kalimba is a simple construction design. If you can round up the raw materials, you could make one yourself pretty easily.

Or, if you want to make one yourself, but prefer the parts to be all pre-cut and selected for you, there are kits available, like THIS ONE.

The Key to it All

It’s important to realize that the Kalimba is not a fully chromatic instrument. In other words, you won’t get EVERY note available in Western music typically.

Instead, Kalimbas are mostly made to include notes within only ONE musical key, giving you 7 different notes to work with instead of the full 12.

But the notes are not laid out in a way you’d expect: basically, instead of the notes being laid out in a linear fashion, they ping-pong, back and forth, from right to left above the wood and resonance hole.

Kalimba G tuning

So to play the G major scale in sequence, you alternate between your left and right thumb.

Because of this you can end up playing pretty fast, IF you get used to the layout.

It’s a bit odd and weird at first, but you quickly get used to it if you keep playing.

Thumbin’ It

The Kalimba is supposed to be played with the thumbs. It’s the only instrument I know of that is set up this way.

It might seem a little limiting, since the rest of your fingers are only used to hold the instrument, but once you get the hang of it you’ll find endless ways to express yourself.

If you want to go off the beaten path a bit though, you can lay the Kalimba down and, resting your palms on the wood, play it with most of your fingers. It’s a totally different sound and you’ll have to develop your own playing technique this way, but it is possible.

finger playing the Kalimba
Finger playing the Kalimba

So if chordal playing is more your thing, definitely set that box down and start playing in this UNorthodox manner. Might work better for ya.

Tune That Thing!

Tuning the Kalimba is a fairly easy and straightforward thing, although a subtle hand and patience is needed.

Here’s the simple rule to remember:

* MORE tine = Lower pitch

* LESS tine = Higher pitch

In other words, if you play your Kalimba into a tuner and find a certain tine sharp or flat, you can adjust it back into pitch by pushing it back into, or pulling it out of, the bridge.

Use a free tuning app on your phone to check make sure each tine is on pitch.

If not, you’ll need a small hammer to tap the tine up or down to adjust the pitch. Some Columbus actually come with a tuning hammer. Most do not.

Yes, you can use alternate tunings, but then the playing technique is out the window. You’ll have to figure out your own new playing style, but if you’re up for adventure… GO for it!!

A Man of My Tines

The Kalimba that I’ve used for almost a couple decades now is a “Treble Kalimba” made by the company that started it all, AMI.

Kalimba front
Teaj’s AMI Kalimba

It’s in the key of G, which is the default tuning when you buy a Treble Kalimba.

I’ve used it live and in the studio to great satisfaction.

In fact, on my next album I already have recorded a two-minute little interlude that features this instrument, along with heavily layered vocals and a little synth. It came out great!!

Size ’em Up

Today you can find different sizes, different configurations of wood, and different numbers of tines available on Kalimbas.

THIS WIKI ARTICLE will show you quite a few of the variations.

The common variable among all of them is that tuned, metal tines are held in place by wood. Besides that, the possibilities are endless.

The biggest one I’ve ever seen they call an “Array mbira“. (See picture below.)

array Mbira
The Array Mbira

In many ways, it’s just like playing a piano, only instead of keys, you’ve got tines there. Pretty cool.

Whenever I travel down to Florida or the Caribbean, I find a ton of little, dinky Kalimbas. Most of dubious quality. Even at Disney they sell these kinds of things for the kids.

Land on a Brand

No matter what size you want to end up with, buying from a reputable music instrument dealer is the way to go. At the very least, because of the warranty you’ll get.

I suggest getting at least the 17-tine Kalimbas. It gives you faaaaar more flexibility for fitting in a mix, as well as creating melodies appropriately within the context of other instruments.

For example, Guitar Center offers THIS KALIMBA from Stagg, which not only gives you a wide tonal spectrum, with 17 tines, but is also equipped with a 1/4″ jack so you don’t have to mic it. VERY cool if you want to play live.

Stagg Kalimba
The Stagg Kalimba

Or, if you want to spend less but snag a great deal, check this out from Amazon: the “Tanke” Kalimba is available in the key of A, B, C, D or E, and each comes in a different color to help you tell them apart.

This is excellent for the multi-faceted Kalimba player. See those OPTIONS HERE.

Tanke Kalimba
The Tanke Kalimba

Finally, if you don’t mind a longer shipping time… you can still order from Hugh Tracey’s South African company, AMI – the one that started the Kalimba ball rollin’.

The company is now run by his children since Mr. Tracey passed in 1977. They not only continue selling Kalimbas but they also stock many other African instruments that might, uh, strike a chord with you, so to speak. 😉

Navigate to their website easily by clicking HERE.

Wah Not?!

If you buy a Kalimba in the United States, most of them will come with a feature that is not always present in overseas models: the tremolo holes!

Some people just call them the “back sound holes”, but I think that’s missing the bigger point.

When you engage and disengage the pads of your fingertips on these two small holes, you can create the tremolo effect that I showed you in the video. It’s quite pleasant, and adds to the hypnotic, fantasy-sounding air of the instrument.

The Tremelo holes!

Though you may see it online frequently, it is an error to call this effect “Wah”. A wah effect is one that sweeps through different frequencies.

This is NOT what’s happening in the Kalimba. To prove that, I just tested my own with a strobe tuner, engaging the tremolo effect. It proved that there was NO change in frequency. Therefore,… no “wah”.

What you are hearing is a volume differential. When the fingers are placed over the tremolo holes the volume is louder. When you take them off, the volume is reduced. If you do this fast, it produces a sound wobble that is properly called “tremolo”.

As a side note to that, I saw one other online article call this “vibrato“. That too is a misnomer. Vibrato is defined, the same as wah, as a change in “frequency”, not volume. It’s tremolo, people. Just tremolo.

Regardless of what you call it though, this effect is fun to do, and beautiful to hear. It even works if you plunge your thumbs into the big soundhole in the front!

Oh, and the louder you play, the more pronounced the tremolo will be. Try it – you’ll see what I mean. 😉

A Pluckin’ Master!

I really couldn’t end this post any other way than to let you watch the man most responsible for not only MY interest in the Kalimba, the brotherhood of man, and grooves that make it absolutely impossible to NOT wanna dance…

… but also the one responsible for gettin’ the whole world to shake their booty and be all smiles, perhaps more any other…

Kalimba EWF album CARTOONED

… the trailblazer, the mastermind behind Earth, Wind & Fire, the soul that we truly miss since he left us in 2016, the immortal…

… Maurice White.

We’ll keep these tines a- tappin’ in your honor, Maurice. Rest in peace.

Tappin’ Into a World Beat

So are you as thoroughly stoked to get a Kalimba as I was back in the day??

Kalimba EWF poster

Maybe you already have a Kalimba, and know the magic of striking’ those tines and letting the hypnotic ocean of song wash over you?!

Let us know YOUR own Kalimba story by leaving a comment. Even share a link to your music. It’s a way to ensure that every instrument’s legacy, and men and women who loved them, never disappears.

Now, go… make… sounds!!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!
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What is an Udu Drum? – Trippin’ On A Slippery World Beat!

(Photo: Eliot Elisofon)

This past October I ran a half-marathon to Canada and back.

Why? Well, because I like to run, of course, but also because I wanted to raise support for people in Africa who don’t have any water. 

The Pokot tribe, numbering in the thousands, walk up to ten miles a day just to get a drink of water.

Teaj’s LP Udu drum

That sucks.  :-/

For centuries they’ve used clay pots, typically handmade by women in the village.

But somewhere in history, someone discovered that a jug with TWO HOLES could make… really cool sounds.

Voila… the Udu drum was born!

If you’re hearing the sloshing call of this instrument’s potential for your own music, today you’re in luck. In this article, it’s all about that Udu voodoo, so…

Let’s get wet!

Video Ud’- eo!

So let’s give you a taste of what the Udu can do for you… 

(Hmmm… sounds like a song there…! ) 

In this video, you’ll hear some tones from my own personal Udu drum and how I tend to play it. Enjoy!

It Rises From the Clay!

From the little documentation we have, it appears that the Udu drum originated in Nigeria.

The word “Udu” comes from the Nigerian tribe known as Igbo. In their language, it means “vessel”, or “container”. 

Even today, if you travel throughout Nigeria, you’re sure to find these clay pots everywhere you look. 

They’re used to store grain & field produce… by placing them in the shade, they’re the closest thing villagers have to a refrigerator… 

And of course, they are often used to collect a family’s portion of water for the day. 

They are all so interestingly put up into trees where bees begin a nest and produce honey for them. 

For hundreds of years this interesting take on a drum has been used during ceremonial rites, usually by the women. 

This is not only because they were the ones who gather the clay, mold it, fire it and carry it all the time. The location where the women collect the clay is considered sacred. The women even supplicate and make offerings to a female pottery deity there! 

To women who have served their craft faithfully, the Igbo people bestow upon them a “Potter’s anklet”, immediately confers upon them status and seniority. 

It’s good to know that, even in Nigeria, exceptional artisanship in the musical instrument field is admired and well-respected!

But beyond all the everyday, practical uses of the Udu, how cool that it’s now also revered as a tribal musical instrument. And WE get the benefits!

For a glimpse of Udus being made in Nigeria, WATCH THIS.

Or GO HERE to read what Wikipedia has to say about it. 

The Four Sounds

There are four ways to produce music on the Udu drum, which bring out very different sounds. 

First, there’s the SLAPPING the outer clay with the fingers. This produces high-pitched “CHICK”-s that grow sharper the harder you hit the surface. 

Next, there’s the BASS port. This is the whole that’s in the side of the pot, somewhere near the top or the middle. 

When you quickly cover the bass port with the palm of your hand, you get a very deep, sustaining bass note that’s almost like a low hum. 

Udu lizard!
There’s a LIZARD on my UDU!!

The moment you then LIFT your palm from the bass port, you get a more subtle, ascending tone it’s almost like a “whoop”. I think the sound is also very akin to the open-mouthed that a gorilla makes. 

Regardless, it’s a unique voicing that is usually the main thing that attracts attention on an Udu drum. 

The third timbre we can eke out of the Udu is made by using any RING you might be wearing to hit the surface. This will give a much louder, sharper hit that can drive your 2 and 4 like a snare would. The sound is noticeably different from simply tapping with fingers only.

Lastly, you can play the TOP SPOUT of the gourd, where the contents would usually be poured. If the bass port is open when you do this, the sound will be similar to the bass port, a sharp upper frequency added.

If your palm is over the bass port as you hit the top though, you’ll get a fun, mid-frequency “boink” that, used judiciously, always brings smiles out of the crowd. Especially kids. They’ll always be the first to tell you something sounds, looks or smells funny, right?! Lol 

You can actually get a kind of 4th timbre out of the Udu drum by simply RUBBING the outer surface of the clay. This produces an airy, subtle, almost rain-like sound.

It can be appropriate for softer songs, but honestly this method isn’t used often enough for me to do more than just mention it to you.

Combining these disparate timbres into flowing rhythmic patterns can produce a very hypnotic, organic, tribal kind of sound. It’s perfect for “World Music” but it can also complement Western music if used appropriately in the right kind of song. 

I find that the bass frequencies in most YouTube videos online are pretty hard to hear. I did find this one, however, by Fahad Zuberi that not only allows you to hear clearly all three voices on the Udu, but also showcases Fahad’s fine playing. 

Open to New Positions…

The Udu can be played with a few different positionings. Choose your favorite and slap away…

Traditionally, you see the drum sitting in the LAP of players with crossed legs. This is fantastic if you’re gonna go old school and sit on the ground as you play. 

If that’s uncomfortable for you, most Udu drums come with a foam, wicker or cloth RING to set it on. Using this, you can set it out in front of you which tends to set your arms free a little more. 

I find, however, that the leaning forward inherent in this position gets old pretty quick. For that reason it’s my least favorite way. 

The final method is a great one, but it hinges on you making a separate purchase. World Percussion Stands are made by several manufacturers (for example, THIS ONE) you to play Euro to drum up high, standing. 

This is the preferred way to go if you’re playing with more than one other person. It helps you not only play freely, but also lets you be seen more easily, as you mesmerized the audience with your ethno-savage rhythms!! 

Even if I’m on a stripped-down gig with a songwriter or instrumentalist, I tend to play the Udu on a stand, while standing. The reason is simple… 

… I’ve yet to find a guitar-playing songwriter that would sit on the ground with me!! Lol 

Slap Capturin’!

I’ve played the Udu drum both in the studio and live. I’ve used a variety of mic methods, and over the years of doing so I’ve landed on one technique that is my favorite. 

The reason? It catches the various sounds of the drum better than any other method. To my ears at least. 

If you tape a flat-headed, omni-directional lavalier mic INTO the top spout of the drum, and tape it close to the bass port, you’ll get a very full, rich representation of what the Udu can do. 

The only drawback to this method is the wire the way of you playing the top spout. I find you can still get the sound out of it, but I tend to avoid the spout mostly when doing this because, frankly, I don’t want to break my mic cable! 

I personally use the top spout hit least, so for me it’s not that big a deal. YMMV. 

THIS MIC by Countryman works great for this technique, though it’s not cheap. A little duct tape and this baby will get you rocking in no time flat!

Any mic that is small and flat, like the Countryman though, will work fine. Just remember that if you use a lav mic you’ll need a lav transmitter & receiver too. I have a whole package that I use live with everything.

The second best method I’ve found is to tape a flat-headed cardioid lavalier mic on the outside of the drum, near the bass port. 

If you use this method, just make sure that the microphone is out of the way of your playing. It’ll still pick up the nuances of the drum quite well. The bass frequency response will not be quite as full, however. 

If you don’t have any lav mics, then you can use the method I see all the time on YouTube. That is, just point a microphone on a stand near to the bass port about two feet away. 

A full-spectrum condenser mic is your best option here, though if you’re playing live and wanting to avoid feedback, you may have to stick with a simple dynamic mic and boost the bass on your mixer EQ. 

Whichever way you choose, the first time you hear your Udu drum through a sound system, you’re going to be transported to whole new worlds of inspiration. 

Go for it – you’ll have a slammin’ good time! 

Size ’em Up

Udu drums come in small to medium sizes. I have yet to see a really large one. 

The one I own is 15 in high, which is about the size of most that I see in stores. 

They make ones that are much tinier, but their bass response is diminished so I’m not that interested. The bass port tones are what make the drum the most compelling to me, so I wouldn’t want to do without them. 

I also find that the larger they are, the easier they are to play from a lap position. This is typically the route I choose when recording in the studio, so I’m usually sitting in my mixing desk chair. Works for me! 😉 

Land on a Brand

I can only speak for the LP brand of Udus, since that’s what I have. Mine has served me well for over a decade now, with nary a break, crack or change in timbre.

I know that Meinl also sells quite a few of these drums, and they also have a very good reputation. I’ve purchased many Meinl products in my day, to complete satisfaction. 

For example, if you missed our post on Cajon drums, where I talk about my Meinl Cajon, READ IT HERE.

In any case, a quick Google search of “Udu drum” will have you G.A.S.-ing for hours over the limitless options. 

Just don’t forget to eat. Like I did writing this article. 😮 

Other Variations

Various musical instrument developers and inventors have put their own spin on the drum over the past few decades. Here are the most popular reimaginings that I found: 

One drum not enough for you? Try three! The triple Udu drum, which you can SEE HERE, is bound to keep you busy… for a few sessions at least.

You’ll get slightly different tones and frequencies out of each pot, so it does make for good variety the more Udus you have.

The Utar is basically an Udu drum that’s been squished! Some find it easier to play, based on their hand size and shape. I don’t personally, but to each their own.

See MORE INFO HERE if that shape interests you.

The Hadjini is a fairly recent addition to the lineup. It’s like taking two Udus and joining them at the spouts. 

One additional plus in the Hadjini is that it comes with two small holes to fit in lav’ mics. That’s awesome for those of us that prefer this method of mic’ing. 

Here’s a very entertaining and insightful look into Udo expression during a live concert in Paris: 

These option are only just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of variations on this clay drum. Some more bizarre than others. 

My take is go with the tried-and-true traditional Udu first. Then, once you’ve established a groove… you can go crazy!! 😉 

A Pro Class in Clay!

Before we leave, I thought I’d turn you on to a masterful percussionist who gives us a great glimpse into Udu potential. 

Bashiri Johnson is a New York City professional who’s played with the best (Sting, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie, etc.).

In the following video he provides the perfect rhythmic complement, on an Udu drum, to some soulful original music. Check him out!! 

Tappin’ into a World Beat

The world is full of all kinds of music. Tonal, atonal. Organic, electronic. Ambient and percussive. The certain instruments may not be everybody’s cup of joe, but one thing’s for sure… 

It’s all good! Ain’t nothin’ but a groove thang, yo! 

So next time you’re in the mood to get all SLAP-happy… pick up an Udu drum.

It’s sure to be an instant HIT. 😉

Now, go… make… sounds!! 

Teaj

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