Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The State of A&R Today

It's not just the recording studios that are feeling the crunch of the "record it yourself, sell it yourself" model the music business works on these days. I admire the DIY ethic, if not always the results, for recording, but certainly, record companies had too much power for too long. Here's a bit excerpted from an article at LA Weekly.

When, at the turn of the millennium, the record industry fumbled the digital-distribution opportunity presented by the budding Internet, its profits plummeted, as the public lost interest in the suddenly clumsy compact disc (U.S. album sales shrank from 785 million in 2000 to 428 million in 2008, according to Nielsen Soundscan). Drastic layoffs followed — more than 5,000 industrywide between 2000 and 2007 — as buyouts and mergers reduced the major labels to a "Big 4" and significant brands like Arista, V2 and DreamWorks vanished altogether. A&R ranks withered accordingly: 127 A&R executives were let go or chose to leave their jobs during 2007 alone, according to business-contact source The A&R Registry.

The whole article is here:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gibson Accused of Price Fixing

Gibson, who made the news a few months ago regarding a controversy about the source of their wood, and then more recently because if a layoff sparked by "slow sales", makes the headlines again, this time for price fixing. I can't say this would be a huge surprise if it's true. They have narrowed their retailer base quite a bit in recent years, and forced those that did remain to stop advertising prices on the internet, mostly to stop price wars. How is this much different/worse if it's true?

Gibson Guitar Corp., which laid off about 50 people a year ago, may be subjected to even more financial pain this year, but the blame can't be pinned all on the recession.

The Nashville-based manufacturer is being hammered in a number of class action lawsuits accusing Gibson and other groups of fixing the retail prices on guitars.

The litigation comes on the heels of Gibson being investigated by federal authorities on whether it uses wood protected under U.S. law at its manufacturing facility in Nashville.

Gibson has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Abby Road for Sale?

I'd buy it if I had the $$.

Apparently, it's not a profitable use of prime London real estate any more:

"It is an extensive piece of real estate and it must cost a lot to run," said Dave Robinson of Pro Sound News Europe magazine.

"There are easier ways to make records these days, with a laptop and a microphone. You don't need these big places."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

So much for Plan A

The plan for today was to head to Guitar Center and play around with the '65 Princeton Reverb Reissue. They had one all right, but the entire time I was there, it was in use. There was a woman there trying out what seemed like every single variant of Strat and Tele in the entire place - into that amp. To be fair, she played well, so it wasn't like some hack was feeding it with a Metal Zone and butchering Metallica riffs. She was playing cool sounding bluesy and jazzy riffs which sounded pretty good, confirming that the amp will do the "Fender Clean" sound. What I want to know is if it will replicate the sound I once got out of a borrowed silverface Princeton Reverb. This particular amp got nice and grindy about halfway up, and sounded great with my humbucker equipped Strat. A subsequent silverface PR I got in a trade, while it was minty clean, just didn't do that sound. It went from quiet, to too loud, to farty sounding.
I'm looking for a replacement for the '73 Twin Reverb I have now. Nothing wrong with the Twin - it's just bigger than I need right now, and I'm trying to save some space. I think I can be confident that it will do "clean". Question is, will it do that nice dirty sound I remember?
Guess I'll have to see if I can get back down there tomorrow (or maybe lunch time Monday or Tuesday) to find out.
Of course, it's all academic unless I can find a buyer for the Twin, or find someone who'll trade me a silverface Deluxe Reverb or Princeton Reverb.

So, I realized that I had some glaring omissions yesterday - more pedal comparos

So, I realized that I had some glaring omissions yesterday in my overdrive shootout. I forgot the Danelectro Transparent Overdrive and the BOSS SD-1. Since the Ibanez TS5 won yesterday's shootout, today I'm going to pit it against the Danelectro Transparent Overdrive and the BOSS SD-1 Super Overdrive. And I switched 2nd and 3rd places from yesterday's results. The Bad Monkey will get exactly the sound of the Sparkle if I tweak the highs a little, and it doesn't have the audible lag when switched on that the Sparkle does. Inexcusable for a boutique pedal.

Today's results:

Wow. What is the Transparent Overdrive supposed to be a clone of? Whatever it is, it's a hell of a pedal. Today's contest was the Ibanez TS-5 (yesterday's winner) against the TOD and the BOSS SD-1 Super Overdrive.

Third place - yesterday's winner, the TS5. This one sounded the dullest of the three I tested today, with the least harmonic detail, and less sparkle when cleaned up. Still an okay pedal, but not the best today.

Second Place - the SD-1. This pedal kept up very well with the TOD, but seemed to cut more bass off, and didn't have the same harmonic overtone that the TOD did. Cleaned up better than the TS5, but less individual string definition in chords.

The winner - the Danelectro Transparent Overdrive. This pedal has more gain on tap by about 10% than either of the others, and sounded best when cleaned up. It's also got more tone tailoring capability than the other two, with its 2-band EQ. What really pushed this one over the top, though, was how harmonically rich the sound was even with the volume at full. I could hear every note and harmonic right through the overdrive. The fact that it's $39 doesn't hurt any either, but I was judging solely on what sounded good to me.

Coming up next - small tube amp shootouts.

Overdrive Pedal Shootout

I've been finding myself liking the sound of my Strats lately, but they always end up sounding thin in a band context, so I end up falling back on my humbucker equipped guitars. They don't have as much colour or detail, but they fill out the sound. Single coils seem to need a little help, especially in one-guitar bands. In that spirit, I decided to try out some of my overdrive pedals - the TS-5, Sparkle, Bad Monkey, as well as the DOD YJM308 overdrive, to see which, if any of them, could make my Strats beefy enough to play live with.

A couple of notes: I am not a fan of the super muted lead sound. I like some brightness and cut to my tone, as I'm used to competing against a pretty aggressive bass player and drummer.
Also, these are all pedals that I own. Nobody has ever sent me anything for free - well, I got some free strings once for answering a survey.

I also generally do not believe in spending several hundred dollars each for pedals - especially dirt boxes. Part of that is philosophical - there's maybe $15 in parts in a dirt box. I don't see what would make one worth $300 new. No offense to guys who make boutique pedals. It's a rough business. I have a friend who makes his living that way, and I've told him his pedals are too expensive for me. Part of it is economical - as I said, I buy all my own pedals, and as many as I buy, I'd go broke at boutique prices. So, I tend to stick with stuff I can get for under $100 - well under $100 in most cases. Some of these pedals have been in my collection for more than 25 years, and some are newer. As my wife would tell you, I'm always buying pedals. I'm only able to test pedals I own though, so if you're wondering "what about the ___?", it means I don't own one, probably because it is too expensive for me.
All that said, on to the shootout.

I have to say, I'm a little surprised at the results, which were the same for both Strats, though they are electrically quite different.

One guitar is a bone stock Fender Yngwie signature Strat (DiMarzio YJM/YJM/HS3 in Neck/Middle/Bridge) - the other is a custom Strat with alder body, maple/maple neck, and combination of GFS vintage alnico pickups in the neck and bridge and a DiMarzio FS-1 in the bridge position. Amp was my typical gigging setup - my '78 Marshall 2203 head with the preamp volume at about 6 - a good spot for humbucker guitars, but it sounds thin and clean with a Strat - into my Avatar 2x12 with two Celestion Vintage 30's. I play 95% of the time guitar -> amp, unless I specifically need a delay or flanging effect or something. I also wire all my Strats to have a Tone attached to the bridge pickup, but I only use it if I really have to cut highs for some reason. Most of my testing was done in the bridge position, because that's where I spend most of my time. I'm a rock player for the most part, who likes pretty aggressive tones, though not "metal" by today's standards, by a long shot. To me, the perfect guitar tone is 70's era Thin Lizzy.
If you're a blues player who plays on the neck pickup all the time through clean amps, your mileage may vary.

First off, the YJM308 is right out, unless you're trying to ape the Yngwie tone. It does that in spades, but that's about it. Cuts way too much low and mid to be generally useful for my tastes.
So, it was down to the following:

In third place, the Bad Monkey. This pedal has a little more gain than the other two and sounded okay on single note stuff, but also sounded the most "diffuse" and "weakest" in terms of cut, which was especially noticeable on power chords and double stop stuff. It also got dull sounding when I turned down the guitar's volume to clean up a little.

Runner up, the Sparkle Tone. This was a close race, and the Sparkle did have the best harmonics, but still sounded a little more diffuse than I'd like. I want a Strat to slice like a hammer. It also has the clean add in thing, which I hate and never use. I could live with this pedal, but I'd sure hate to have paid full price for it.

And today's winner, the lowly Ibanez Sound Tank TS-5. Had the best cut of all, most focused sound, and stayed sparkly when cleaned up. When it came down to it, this is the pedal I was playing most when I realized I'd been playing for ten minutes, and was supposed to be switching around to compare pedals.

All the pedals above were set for unity volume with the gain cranked and tone knobs at neutral. I did eventually add a little low on the BM to embolden its sound a little.