Dotted Eighth Delay Studies

Setting up the U2/Hillsong delay in a variety of situations.

The Sessionists

Esther Subra (vocals), Serena Chew (keys), Justin (guitars), Alphonsus (drums and percussion)

Thoughts on G.A.S.

Why you should save up for an expensive guitar.

Setting Up Disaster Area DPC-8EZ and DMC-8D MIDI Controllers

An easy-to-follow video tutorial to get those patches programmed!

An Overview of My YouTube Channel

Feel free to browse some of the playlists on my channel. Hopefully this leads to you liking and subscribing!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tech Talk: How to Disable Default Driver Search on Windows Update (Windows 7)

By default, Windows 7 will search for drivers on Windows Update first before searching any pre-configured drivers on your system. This becomes painfully slow at times, and it's especially frustrating if all you're doing is changing which USB port you'd like to plug your mouse in. Fortunately, there is a way to change the order in which Windows 7 attempts to find drivers:

1. Search for "advanced system settings" and select "hardware".

2. In the "hardware" sub-menu, select "device installation settings".

3. Select "no, let me choose what to do" and select "install driver software from Windows Update if it is not found on my computer".

This will ensure that Windows will search Windows Update last, and trust me, it's a lot faster to get things done!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gear Review and Tone Tips: Strymon El Capistan

Meet the Strymon El Capistan. I haven't come across a better sounding tape echo machine in a very long time. Its controls are simple and intuitive, it has an impressive sound-on-sound looper, and in my opinion, is completely worth the hefty price tag it commands.

I've had the good fortune of hearing a vintage Echoplex EP-1 (informed readers would know that the EP-1 wasn't actually designated until the later models came out), a really old, beat-up unit from the '60s, and it was tube-driven delay heaven. I remember just being in the room, immersed in this sonically-pleasant wash that had a warm decay, and wishing I could have had grandparents who played guitar too.

Fast-forward a great many years and a friend loaned me an El Capistan. Playing around with it transported me back to that room with the Echoplex!

Settings from the Owner's Manual

User Settings from TGP #1

User Settings from TGP #2

Friday, October 3, 2014

Rig Rundown (September 2014) - Back to a PT-Pro Board

Build report for PT-Pro rig designation Mark 1:

The weight is definitely an issue for me, but I guess I'll finally have a use for a trolley that came with my printer purchase. I've integrated the TimeLine and a BigSky with the Disaster Area DMC-3XL, having updated the firmware to support two MIDI devices.

Signal chain:
TC Electronic PolyTune Mini
Visual Sound Comp66
Visual Sound TrueTone Clean Boost
Budda Bud-wah

Boss Line Selector LS-2
Loop 2: Empty (so that I can control the volume of the clean signal)
Loop 1:
-Morningstar rehoused Xotic BB Preamp and Paul Cochrane Timmy v1
-JHS Superbolt
-Tech 21 SansAmp GT2 (in case I need distortion)
-Xotic EP booster v2

Out to Ernie Ball Volume Pedal Junior
Morningstar SDD-3000 preamp (as master volume for the rig)
ISP Decimator
Morningstar rehoused Boss DD-7 and PS-6
TC Electronic Nova Modulator
Strymon TimeLine (with Boss BF-3 Flanger in effects loop)
Strymon BigSky
Carl Martin Rockbug amp simulator

The Strymon pedals are controlled by a Disaster Area DMC-3XL
Matthews Effects 3-out tap tempo pedal to control TimeLine and DD-7

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Rant: How To Make a Great Night of Music a Complete Turn-off

I played at Blujaz cafe for an adhoc band put together to support Ivni, a blind drummer (Yes! Blind! He has trumped all other drummers I know) who's a drum student at Ben Lee's drum school.

It was meant to be a great night of music, where students showcase what they've learnt in school. Our band was meant to take stage at 8.45pm--as of writing, there's a band that's been playing since and it's now 9.21pm. I'm not one to complain, but I really felt cheesed off by these young punks. They misunderstood the intention of the gig and made the show about them. Seriously? A night dedicated to music students, giving them the opportunity to experience a live gig, and you pull off this stunt?

"Hi, we're _________ and we're here to play some music for you tonight. Thanks for coming down to support us!"

No. We're not here to support you. If you had any integrity, you would have said something more along the lines of:

"Hi, we're _______ and our drummer ________ is actually learning drums from the school, we're here to support her. Let's encourage ________ !"

I believe the appropriate Singlish term for what I witnessed with this band is buay pai sei. How shameless can a band of young punks get? Let's see:
  1. You certainly took your time setting up. Oh yeah, I was counting. You didn't need to bring your three electric guitars, massive pedalboards, your MIDI-controlled keyboard and sound module. Could you not have simplified the setup for this gig, especially since there were many students waiting their turn to perform? Can't you tweak the existing setup that's there?
  2. You were all fancy-smancy with working the crowd. I get it that you're a young band. I get it that gigging at legit places is hard to come by. But you didn't have to do the long introductions, regale us with the story of how your band met, and give special thanks to your parents/girlfriends/significant others/cats/dogs/hamsters for inspiring you.
  3. And when you finished your jaw-dropping performance (again, I don't normally bash bands or other musicians, but you guys were not as fancy as you made yourselves out to be), you took your time tearing down your equipment. Hurry up!
By the time we took the stage, it was nearly 9.40pm. This band played something like 5 long songs complete with dual-guitar solos and keyboard solos.

Wah lau. Sibei puay sai lei you all! Come back when you're old enough to see that performing isn't all about you all the time.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Distortion vs. Overdrive: A Renewed Discovery

Fads. They're everywhere. They're a temporary fascination with something until the novelty wears off, only to be replaced by another. And the funny thing about fads is that they come in cycles. In the guitar world, I have seen quite a few fads: the rack-race, where it seemed fashionable to build the largest, bulkiest rack system, the Swiss army knives of multi-effects, where everyone wanted everything in as small a package as possible, and perhaps notably now, the era of trying to get the guitar to sound like a keyboard with the use of delay and reverb (a company starting with "S" should immediately come to mind).

It's also fashionable to own boutique overdrives--the more obscure the name, the better. The wierder the tone, the better too. If you're into the worship scene, the Instagramverse is chock full of worship leaders, worship pastors and electric guitarists owning boards boasting 4 to 5 overdrive pedals, each one not being very heavy, but I suppose the idea is that when stacked, they'll be able to achieve a chunky, beefy tone for distorted tones. But does it adequately substitute for an actual distortion pedal? Will one distortion pedal sound better than four overdrive pedals?

I think there is a time and a place for distortion in a worship song. Consider the following video where I try to let you hear the audible difference between distortion and overdrive pedals: the mid-hump which can be fatiguing to the ear.

This is not to say that the stacked overdrive sound is unusable. I think there is a way to shape the sound of stacked overdrives such that it can be used pleasantly, and there general guidelines to ensure that your listener isn't bombarded with a wall of shrill noise:

1. Lower gain into higher gain
The first pedal takes on the characteristics of an amp on mild breakup, and the second pedal acts like an overdrive into a mildly broken-up amp. The resultant tone is thick and liquid-like, and can be a great way to empower single-coil pickups.

2. Higher gain into lower gain
The second pedal acts as a booster for the first. In this situation, the EQ controls will have a great effect on the overall sound. My experience is that the treble control will determine the overall "seariness" of the tone. Treble boosts will help you obtain a UK-like tone reminiscent of the JCM sound, while treble cuts will obtain a US-like tone, with the top-end roll-off like a Fender Twin.

3. High gain into high gain?
I'd say this is generally something to avoid. The tone becomes buzzy, you lose note definition, you'll end up with lots of noise...unless a noise-scape is something desirable for your type of music. The JHS Synth Drive is an example of a pedal that I'd generally avoid because it's uncontrollably noisy, where you'll never know when it starts to feedback or oscillate!

In short, overdrive and distortion are two different sounds which can be used to great effect depending on the musical context. Let the music and the song determine the tone you take, and not the other way around--you'll find the end result far more satisfying!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Budget/Expensive Volume Pedals

For the longest time, I was using a small plastic Boss FV-50H as my mainstay volume pedal. It was a no-frills volume pedal, with an even taper and the ability to choose a minimum volume (from 0 to 10, although why would anyone choose a minimum volume of 10 is beyond me, unless the pedal contributes to a desirable change in tone). It served its purpose very well, but I have had issues with it when used for extensive periods of time--every now and then, there would be a scratchy sound emanating from the pedal, which was indicative of a scratchy pot. It was also, well, plastic. There were shows where I'd land my foot pretty hard on the volume pedal because I was busy working the stage, and I forgot that I had to lower my volume for a quiet bridge.

Enter the Ernie Ball Volume Pedal Junior. This guy is built like a tank! You can see this volume pedal on most pedalboards on Instagram, and I think it's a very good investment. I would hear stories of fellow FV-50H users having their pedals break mid-gig, but such stories weren't circulating from EBVPJ users. But alas, like all Singaporeans, I couldn't justify spending so much on a volume pedal. I spent a long time prowling the forums waiting for someone to post a good deal.

The good deal came! In the words of Nigel Hendroff, "I can't tell you how much I got it for, 'cause you will hate me."

I felt the immediate difference when using this volume pedal. The pedal had a weightiness to it that helped make volume swells smoother and more even than with the FV-50H. I tested it out and pounced on it while on the pedalboard: it held up well. My only qualm with this is that it's significantly larger than the FV-50H. Was cutting back on one or two pedals for the sake of having a better volume pedal worth it? After experiencing the two, I'd say yes.

I think there are three primary uses for a volume pedal, which can help you determine your need for one:

1. Volume swells

It appears the trend for worship musicians is to deploy electric guitarists for "keyboard" sounds--most significantly, performing the volume swell to simulate a pad. This is achieved with the following setup:

Amp <-- Heavy Reverb <-- Heavy Delay <-- Volume <-- Light overdrive and comp

Notice the delay and reverb come after the volume pedal. This ensures that everything coming out of the volume pedal is effected by the delay and reverb pedals. By cranking the effect and feedback levels of the delay and reverb, you'll get very long trails of notes that bleed into one another, creating the "wash" of sound that will resemble a keyboard pad.

2. Changing the level of distortion by changing level of input signal

Some guitars don't come equipped with very good volume knob audio tapers, so to achieve a variation between a rhythm crunch tone and a lead tone, one way is to put a volume pedal in front of the distortion pedal, or in front of a distorted amp. This setup is as follows:

Amp <-- Other effects <-- Distortion <-- Volume

Or in the case of a distorted amp,

Amp input <-- Volume <-- Guitar

3. Master volume

For me, this is my personal favorite use of the volume pedal. The EBVPJR may have a bad reputation of having tone suck at lower volume levels, but I think it's inconsequential. I like to set my overdrives at a certain gain structure, and I don't want the amp to color the overdrive with its own distortion character. This may happen if I'm hitting the front of a low-wattage amp, so I'll roll back the volume pedal until the amp doesn't clip. The setup is as follows:

Amp <--(Other effects) <-- Volume <-- Overdrive

What is your favorite use of a volume pedal? Do you think the material of a volume pedal matters? Do you think the size of the volume pedal matters?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Wake, A Concert, A Dreamer

I conducted a wake service on Sunday evening and helped out at a funeral on the Hari Raya public holiday. It was such a humbling experience and I am truly honored to be granted the opportunity to minister to the bereaved and grieving.

But to be honest, there was much fear and trembling when I was given this responsibility. I had never conducted a wake before (and by that I mean leading the service in worship, preaching, and giving the instructions to pay respects), so of course, some measure of nervousness was to be expected.

Perhaps the moment of greatest anxiety came when I happened upon some Facebook updates of a worship concert that was taking place on Saturday night while I was preparing the sermon, and my friends were serving there. "They have it easy, I wish I was worshipping on the guitar."

God was quick to give His clear instruction, "I've given this to you to do. This is your ministry."

So I prayed continually for strength and courage, and boy, did the Holy Spirit supply in abundance. I felt the familiar sense of empowerment that was not of my own. And as the moments passed, I ended up enjoying the process of preparation. I loved crafting the sermon, digesting the wonderful words of Psalm 23 and listening to the Spirit. I was worshipping with the songs I had chosen for the time of worship. As much as I was to be a minister to people, I was being ministered to.

So the moment came when I had to conduct the service. I still felt nervous, but there was a strength and assurance that was unmistakably from God. Did I do a perfect job? Nope; I slipped up on a few words of my script, my personal ad-lib was far from eloquent, and as always, I sometimes let my mind race too fast for my words to catch up.

But there was a connection I had with God and with the "congregation" of people gathered at the wake. I can't describe it very well, but it felt like my actions and my words were a pair of spectacles to help people see God for who He is, our provider of comfort, strength and hope when it hurts the most. The emotional response as a result of understanding those words choked me to tears; I felt grieved at the loss, but I had a joy that our dear brother in the Lord is secure, and we shall be reunited when Christ comes again.

I may feel inadequate in many things and at many times. But I'm discovering and experiencing first-hand that it is precisely those moments that God chooses to empower me, so that I may not boast. Indeed, in my weakness is His strength complete.

Psalm 23:6
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
          all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

Saturday, July 26, 2014

OAC? Not Quite.

I found a cafe in HK that used the same stock graphic as my band. That's coincidence for you!

It was a bittersweet moment at this cafe as I started thinking about my musicianship. What do I do with these dreams and ambitions of playing professional music? It's amazing that 15 years have passed and I'm still a hopeful dreamer that someday, somehow, God will permit me the opportunity to use my musical gifts in the marketplace.

Many are quick to jump to the conclusion that I seek fame and fortune. I don't. I really don't! And don't take my word only, look at my life and try to arrive to that conclusion.

"Well, OAC was marketed fiercely."

Of course it had to be! I was managing a brand. As it is with any enterprise, you have to push selling points and can't expect clientele to "magically appear". Since no one was going to do it, I stepped up to the plate. Would anyone else have done it differently? I don't think so.

My observation is that so as long as the band isn't identified as Christian (and by that I mean a band made up of Christians who are active in their faith and unafraid of sharing it), it can pursue any material end by any means and it will still be deemed socially acceptable. "Oh yeah, that's what they have to do to survive. It's a tough market."

But alas, if the band is "Christian", all of a sudden, the same things that help promote the band, the publicity and marketing materials, the campaigns for gigs, any kind of merchandising--the band is seeking "fame and fortune" that is "against their beliefs" and are hence "hypocritical". Where is the hypocrisy? What beliefs am I going against? Does the Christian faith espouse a belief (or a set of beliefs) that deny a band from engaging in contemporary marketing strategies? I'm open to discussion on this, but by and large, I am tasked by the cultural commission to be hardworking, to be resourceful, and to be a responsible head of my household. If that means having to make a living with music, I'd better find a way of doing it responsibly!

Why the double standards? Don't "Christian" musicians need to provide for their families as much as "non-Christians" do? Don't we "Christian" bands need to make a living too? I don't mean to sound like I'm ranting (ah, Christians cannot complain either), but it cheeses me off to no end that there is such a divergent view on Christians attempting to live by their art. We're people too, with real needs and real families to take care of.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gear Shootout: Visual Sound OneSpot versus the Mooer 9V Power Supply

Do power supplies make a difference to your tone? I think so, but not in the sense that it enhances the tone, but it just doesn't get in the way with artifacts and excessive hum.

Which power supply do you prefer?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

New Pedal Day: JHS Superbolt

A prominent SOFTie was selling off an interesting pedal, one which he described was different from the market of tubescreamer clones. As a fan of Supro amps (who isn't after listening to Led Zeppelin and Switchfoot?), I thought it would be a good investment to expand my collection of "amp-in-a-box" style of pedals.

JHS goes for the minimalist approach to pedal graphics--so I have to keep a picture of the manual on my phone just in case I need to tweak and I forget which knob does what. Up until this day, I still get the volume and gain knobs mixed up--the gain knob makes a huge difference in volume, hence my confusion!

The first comment I have about this pedal is that it's really loud! It sounds best through a live amplifier, and instantly turns any amp into a harmonically-complex, dirty-yet-clean, speaker-about-to-explode tone machine with all the goodness tube rectifier sag (No kidding! You have to try it to believe it!). I have played this through a Fender Blues Junior and the Superbolt drove the amp front-end so hard that the input began to distort--in a very musically-pleasing way.

These effects are lost when playing through a digital system (speaker emulation, amp emulation, etc.). When plugged into a speaker sim, the pedal becomes very tame, and at most becomes a clean boost. The tone that you hear from the official gear demos comes from the pedal interacting with a tube amp. So in short, if you're hoping to integrate this into your non-amp rig, you may be in a for a rude shock!

  • Turns any amp into a beast of a tone machine.
  • Internal charge pump from 9V to 18V makes this pedal very dynamic and responsive to your picking with lots of headroom.
  • Great first stage overdrive.

  • Not great for digital systems (no tube/speaker interaction, where the magic occurs).
  • It's very snarly in the EQ spectrum, so it's tweaked for a certain sound from a certain era. Think '60s rock.
  • Not a shredder's pedal. Don't use this if Malmsteen is a staple part of your repertoire.

My Superbolt demos:
Quick Test (recorded at 2am!)

Full demo of the Superbolt with a Cmatmods Signa Drive and through a SansAmp GT2:

For further viewing:

Official Superbolt videos

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Gear Review: Surprise Sound Lab Rock Block and SE-5 Speaker Emulator

When you hear the terms "1-watt head" attached to an amplifier, the immediate thoughts that come to mind are, "lack of headroom" and "too small-sounding". I was quite pleasantly surprised by two "pedals" offered by Surprise Sound Lab. Why the quotation marks? Well, I can't really classify them as pedals even though they can certainly fit very nicely on a pedalboard. The Rock Block is a true tube-driven, fully analog amp that's a direct competitor to the Zvex Nano Head and can run any cab of your choice, or as a stompbox integrated in your chain of effects. It has a really good clean tone that has surprisingly good headroom. Even when cranked, you can use the good 'ol combination of picking dynamics and pickup volume to clean up nicely.

Here's my video review with the SE-5 speaker emulator.

Understandably, the tone with a speaker simulator will not be the same with a cab played live. Running this into a Vox 2x12" cab really brings out more thumping low-end and definition (which I think will be even better with a 4x12").

As for speaker emulation, I quite like the tweakability offered by the SE-5. Other speaker sims only allow +/-20dB jumps in volume, but the SE-5 offers 8 notches of +4dB increments, allowing you a fair degree of fine-tuning when running this live into a sound console. The tone control is also very useable, and to my ears, going from 0 to 10 corresponds to a decrease in the virtual cab/speaker size. At 0, I think it sounds like the boomiest possible 4x12", and at 10, it reminds me of an 8" Fender Champ, with all the gnarl and snarl associated with those types of speakers.

In this video, I do a shoot-out between the SE-5 and a cheaper Mooer Micro-DI:

Friday, January 17, 2014

Gear Review: The Matthews Effects ICY Buffer

I have a lot of cable running between my guitar to the pedalboard and to the amp, and because my pedals are mostly "true bypass" and I don't use all of them at once, I end up having a giant hi-pass filter in the rig and I lose some high end. When I record, I always have to post-process and add the "sparkle" in by countering the effects of the hi-pass filter.

When I added the Matthews Effects ICY Buffer into my rig, there was a huge difference in the tone--not that it added tone, but it restored the highs in my signal. The result? More sparkle, more definition and clarity, and perhaps most importantly, it made my rig more fun to play. And when you're having fun with your tone, you can concentrate on what's important: the MUSIC.

The effect of long cables and how the buffer restores high end in the rig:

Full review with A/B comparison of clean, dirty, crunch, lead and wah tones:

I recorded all of this through my Mooer Micro-DI with cabinet simulation.

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