3 Categories of Guitar Pedals for Sessions

3 Categories of Guitar Pedals for Sessions

1. Overdrive

Guitarists can be really picky about which overdrive pedal is their main squeeze. Everyone has a different preference.

Even though you may have your go-to, it’s a good idea to have several options on a session. If you’re going to be recording layers of guitar tracks it really helps to have variables.

Guitars with duplicate sounds are going to stack up the same frequencies. This can make it harder to mix. If each part has a slightly different DNA it will ease your plugin count.

When I go to a session, I take 3-4 overdrive pedals and a fuzz. You can pick your own Overdrive Cocktail.

I break them down into five categories: Bottom, Mid, Top, Flava, and Trippy.

Here is what my regular choices are in these categories:

Bottom

Effectrode TubeDrive — this pedal really does sound like a real tube amp when it starts to break up. The low end isn’t chopped off and there isn’t a mid boost. It’s also less compressed like a lot of other overdrive pedals.

Mid

Klon KTR — this is a very mid-heavy pedal. The low end is attenuated and there is some compression happening. It’s a slightly different mid-boost than a Tube Screamer.

High

Creation Audio Holy Fire — this doubles as an overdrive/distortion and is very transparent. If I wanted some sparkle and drive without messing with my core tone, this is the one.

Flava

Fulltone OCD — this pedal definitely falls into the colored overdrive pedal family. It’s a little more in the Marshall family. More gain than the KTR with more low-mid accents.

It’s always good to have one or two overdrive pedals that aren’t transparent. Especially if you have to track all the parts with one amp.

Even if I use the same guitar, the difference between these sounds will be noticeable.

Trippy

I find that I can get away with one fuzz pedal per session. I have a collection of them, but for an all purpose fuzz, I use a Tonebender MKII. It’s pretty much the classic Jimmy Page tone. It’s more versatile than most fuzz pedals.

It’s rare that I have to get super weird on a session. I generally only swap out the fuzz if I need to go far out.

2. Delay

I often take more than one delay to a session. I have three that are my main homies.

Fulltone Tube Tape Echo — I love this thing not only for its tape delay, but as a tube preamp. I usually only bring this one on songwriter records because of it’s size. On the cork sniffer sessions you can really hear the difference of a real tape echo.

Strymon El Capistan (tape delay emulation that does some cool things that a real tape echo can’t do with real-time tape manipulation).

MIDI Sync

Commercial sessions move fast. The more you can commit to a sound, the faster mixing gets done. This is partly due to the fast turnaround.

Guitarists know their sounds. What could take an engineer 15 minutes to set up, a guitarist can nail in 1 minute.

This is especially the case with delays. The only complaint from engineers about using guitar pedals is tempo sync. Some engineers like to have delays locked down with the song.

Sure you can use tap tempo, but it’s not the same. For this reason I always take aPigtronix Echolution Ultra Pro 2.

The Echolution accepts MIDI Beat Clock. That means it reads the tempo from Pro Tools! It’s like using a plugin at your feet. Tempo and delay perfectly synced!

The advantages to using a pedal versus a plugin? The guitarist can manipulate the delay real time. Also, the pedal sounds better in my opinion.

I’m still not in love with any delay plugins for guitar delay manipulation.

There are a lot of sounds I know how to pull out of the Echolution quickly with high quality results. Time is a premium in commercial sessions.

Note: always remember to take a long MIDI cable with you. Not a bad idea to take a small USB midi interface as well.

There are a lot of delays out there to choose from. I’m still collecting. Not all accept MIDI Beat Clock.

3. Modulation

I think of modulation in 4 ways: Tremolo, Chorus, Uni-Vibe, and Leslie.

Leslie

In a pinch, you can fake a Leslie sound from a chorus pedal. But, for a serious session I may want something more authentic. There are a couple of companies such as Strymon making nice sounding Leslie pedals. Personally, I use the Hughes and Kettner Tube Rotosphere.

Tremolo

A lot of vintage amps have tremolo. But, you never know what the studio is going to have upon your arrival unless you chat with the engineer first (always do this when you can).

When in doubt, I always bring my Fulltone Supa Trem as a backup. Tremolo has been a touchy thing with me; more so than a lot of other pedals. Some sound very generic and dull to my ears. The Supa Trem and the Diaz Tremodillo sounds very authentic to me. Different folks, different strokes. You may have your own preferences. I encourage you to experiment.

Uni-Vibe

A Uni-vibe isn’t the same as a Leslie, although its invention was meant to be a substitute. If I have space to bring more pedals on a gig, I’ll pack my Fulltone mini Deja Vibe. I like it because it doesn’t sound dead like some others.

Chorus 

It doesn’t get called out very often, but when it does it’s absolutely perfect because it’s such a specific sound.

A dab of chorus can be a really nice thing. In a pinch, I can use my El Capistan to create a chorus set on a short delay with no feedback.

I always ask what the vibe of a session is before I pack. If there is any hint of 80s vibe, myTC Corona Chorus goes in the bag. The old Boss Chorus pedals are a classic sound as well.

There are quite a few good options with chorus pedals.

Conclusion

I’m out of words and I haven’t even covered reverb. I don’t bring a lot of reverbs to sessions as I find it’s often best left to the mix engineer.

 

Originally posted here: http://theproaudiofiles.com/3-categories-of-guitar-pedals-i-take-to-sessions/

CHRISTMAS PRESENT! Free Audio Plug-Ins For Your Mix

Plug-in signal processing is the mother’s milk of creative in-the-box production. Unfortunately, it can cost big bucks to fill your glass. Thankfully, many manufacturers offer one or more plug-ins for free. I’m not talking about demo-mode free. I mean forever free, with absolutely no time limit or restrictions on use.

This article is your handy guide to some of the best free plug-ins available for mixing and mastering. And while “no cost” usually implies low quality, that’s simply not the case here. True, some of the free plug-ins detailed in this guide are lesser-featured versions of paid plug-ins offered by the same manufacturer. But while the freebies’ capabilities may be somewhat limited compared to those offered by their cutting-edge, commercial counterparts, their sound quality is just as high.

This guide by no means covers all the gratis plug-ins available on the Internet. You’ll find an incredible bounty of freebies online once you start digging. (Better bring a backhoe!) Rather than fill this article front to back with a laundry list of all the software you can possibly hoard, I’ll focus on a core group of products and tell you what you can actually do with them in the studio. Happy shopping!

BLUE CAT’S BOUNTIFUL BUNDLE

Fig. 1. The Blue Cat’s Freeware Plug-ins Pack II comprises a lavish offering of free plug-ins, including a flanger, phaser, chorus, 3-band semi-parametric equalizer, real-time spectrum analyzer, and master gain controller.

Blue Cat’s Freeware Plug-ins Pack II (bluecataudio.com) includes six free plug-ins in AAX, AU, RTAS, VST, and DirectX formats and mono, stereo, and (for some of the plug-ins) dual-mono configurations (see Figure 1).

Blue Cat’s Chorus includes all the controls you need to create lush chorus effects: delay time, depth, rate, LFO waveshape (sine or triangle), separate level controls for dry and wet signals, and (in the stereo version) a spread control that adjusts the stereo image. But you can also mangle sounds in really cool ways that go way beyond chorusing. For example, by switching the waveshape to triangle, cranking the depth control fully clockwise (to 100 percent), plunging the spread control all the way to mono and killing all dry signal, you can make a stereo synth pad pulse with a rounded at- tack to sound more like an electronic piano than a pad; adjust the rate control to determine how quickly the pulses repeat, making them synch with your song’s tempo.

Blue Cat’s Flanger provides two key controls for adjusting the depth and tonality of its flanging effect: Feedfwd (feedforward) and Feedback. Feedfwd sets the level of the effect’s delayed-signal component. (The Delay control sets the component’s delay time, which is modulated using the Depth and Rate controls.) When combined with the dry signal, the feedforward signal creates a comb filter.

The Feedback control sets the amount of effect signal that’s regenerated (using a feedback loop), adding resonance to the comb filter’s peaks and troughs, and intensifying their effect further. With each control, a setting clockwise from the noon position adds effect signal that’s in phase with the dry signal, while counterclockwise-from-noon settings flip the phase of the effect. Try adjusting either Feedfwd or Feedback—or both—to flipped phase settings to keep resonant bass-frequency peaks under control. To create warbling or downright bubbly, synth-like effects, use very high Rate settings.

The control set for Blue Cat’s Phaser is similar to that for the company’s freebie Flanger but uses a Stages control in lieu of a delay-time control. As you raise the Stages control, you increase the number of phase-shifting all-pass filters used, creating more notches and peaks in the resulting comb filter and intensifying the plug-in’s phaser effect. The Wet control adjusts the amount of directly phased (that is, not fed back) signal.

The Feedback control performs essentially the same level and phase functions as the control by the same name in Blue Cat’s Flanger. To make your guitar gently weep, crank the Stages control to its maximum value, set the Rate knob to around 3.64 Hz, turn off Feedback, and dial in roughly equal settings for the Dry and Wet controls.

Considering it’s a gratis offering, Blue Cat’s Triple EQ is a surprisingly flexible and potent 3-band semi-parametric equalizer. In addition to mono and stereo configurations—and a midside mode for the latter—a powerful Dual Channels configuration is also included on the house. With linking defeated between its two channels, the Dual Channels version can apply equalization independently to each channel. For example, you can boost the low end for the bass and kick (and other elements) in the mid channel of a stereo mix without blurring hard-panned electric guitars. And if one of those guitars is making the left channel sound muddy, you can cut low-midrange frequencies in that channel without affecting the clear-sounding right channel.

A Relative mode lets you link channels while preserving any pre-existing control offsets between them. These are advanced capabilities usually only found in the best equalizers on the market—and they’re yours for free! And when your tired ears can no longer decipher what you’re hearing, reach for the free Blue Cat’s FreqAnalyst. This real-time spectrum analyzer can display instantaneous and peak levels in turn or simultaneously for the left, right, or both channels.

Blue Cat’s Gain offers mono, stereo, and dual-channel configurations. Using its dual-channel form, you can separately control the gain of mid and side channels, for example, to widen or narrow the stereo image of a keyboard track or full mix. Multiple instances of the plug-in (having the same configuration) can be linked and controlled from one GUI. Imagine, for example, linking instantiations of Blue Cat’s Gain placed on all your synth tracks and ballooning the stereo widths of all the tracks at once using one side-channel gain knob!

BARK OF DOG

Fig. 2. Boz Digital Labs’ Bark of Dog is a resonant highpass filter that gives bass instruments like kick drum extra punch.

Bark of Dog (AAX, AU, RTAS, VST, VST3), a resonant highpass filter (HPF) from Boz Digital Labs (bozdigitallabs.com), gives bass instruments such as kick drum extra punch. Dial in the corner frequency you wish to hype on your track, and adjust the plug-in’s Amplitude control to boost your selected frequency to taste (see Figure 2). All other frequencies below the corner frequency will conditionally be rolled off; if you want to more or less preserve those frequencies, lower the plug-in’s Mix control to add back some dry signal. Use the Trim slider to adjust the plug-in’s output level.

IK MULTIMEDIA T-RACKS CUSTOM SHOP

IK Multimedia (ikmultimedia.com) is famous for its Custom Shops, online stores that allow you to buy add-ons to expandable pro-audio and musical- instrument software à la carte. The company’s T-RackS Custom Shop offers dozens of mixing and mastering processors, including compressors, equalizers, reverbs, and de-essers.

A free basic version of T-RackS Custom Shop comes both as standalone software and a shell for loading up to twelve processors at once—on a track’s insert—in your DAW (see Figure 3). The first eight slots for the processors are arranged in parallel configuration, four slots to each audio path; after submixing the two paths, four more slots follow in series. Along with the T-RackS shell, you get the Classic Equalizer and Metering Suite processors gratis. Around 30 other processors also come pre-loaded and operate in demo mode. All processors can also be instantiated as single plug-ins (AAX, AU, RTAS, VST).

Classic Equalizer is a dual-channel affair offering six bands: two of the bands use parametric peaking filters, while the other four bands feature respective low and high shelving and highpass and lowpass filters. You can EQ the left and right (or mid and side channels, in M/S mode) independently or link the two channels to apply the same EQ to both at once.

The T-RackS Metering Suite includes facilities for viewing peak and RMS levels, perceived loudness, phase and spectrum analysis. The perceived loudness meter combines averaging and frequency weighting to arrive at its combined volume display for both channels. Select a music genre (such as Funk Rock) from a pop-up menu to adjust the placement of colored bars underlying the meter; the bars suggest a range of target levels you should aim to achieve in your mastering for the selected genre.

PLUGIN ALLIANCE FREEBIES

Fig. 4. Plugin Alliance, a consortium of pro audio companies, offers the Brainworx bx_solo and bx_cleansweep V2 (monitoring facilities and sweepable filters), SPL Free Ranger (a modeled passive equalizer), and elysia niveau filter (a tilt equalizer) on the house.

Four complimentary plug-ins—collectively from three manufacturers—are currently available from Plugin Alliance (plugin-alliance.com; see Figure 4). The Brainworx bx_cleansweep V2 (AAX Native, AU, AudioSuite, RTAS, TDM, Venue 32-bit, VST2, VST3) offers continuously variable highpass and lowpass filters, each with their own bypass. Use both filters at once to discard boomy lows and brittle highs from electric guitar tracks, sitting them perfectly in the midrange pocket. Feeling more adventurous? Mouse-drag the GUI’s automatable joystick to simultaneously lower both filters’ corner frequencies from their maximum to minimum values and back again; this creates a bandpass-filter sweep that sounds great on full-bandwidth synth tracks and drum subgroups.

Every engineer should own Brainworx bx_solo (AAX Native, AU, AudioSuite, RTAS, TDM, Venue 32-bit, VST2, VST3), baby brother to the company’s outstanding bx_control V2 (which, incidentally, I use on every mastering session I do). The free bx_solo lets you solo in turn the left, right, mid, and side channels of your mix to hunt down distortion, clicks, and phase problems. (Hint: If you can hear your sampled kick-drum in the side channel, it’s out-of-phase and robbing your mix of low end.) Swap the left and right channels with one mouse click. Use the Stereo-Width control to widen or narrow full mixes, keyboard tracks, guitar subgroups, and tracks for drum-room mics.

The elysia niveau filter (AAX DSP, AAX Native, AU, AudioSuite, RTAS, VST2, VST3) uses tilt equalization to quickly adjust the timbre of your tracks. First, use the EQ Freq control to select the frequency above and below which you want the equalizer to act. Rotating the EQ Gain knob clockwise past its noon position progressively boosts frequencies above the EQ Freq setting while attenuating those frequencies below a commensurate amount.

Rotating the EQ Gain knob counterclockwise from its noon position has the opposite effect, boosting lower frequencies and attenuating higher ones with respect to the EQ Gain setting. For big, pillowy tone on electric bass guitar, set the EQ Freq knob to roughly 100 Hz, and turn the EQ Gain knob counterclockwise from noon.

The SPL Free Ranger graphic equalizer (AAX DSP, AAX Native, AU, AudioSuite, RTAS, VST2, VST3) features four fixed bands respectively centered at 40, 150, 1,800 and 16,000 Hz. Modeling the sound of passive equalizers, Free Ranger sounds particularly flattering on acoustic instruments and full mixes where silvery sweet and round tones are your port of call. Try boosting 40 and 1,600 Hz to add luxuriant weight and open air to the full mix for your ballad, then sign in immediately for EQ-addiction therapy at the nearest clinic.

PSP PIANOVERB

Fig. 5. PSP’s PianoVerb, a stripped-down version of PianoVerb2, produces unique reverberation using twelve string operators tuned to different notes.

When I was a kid, I used to love sticking my head inside an open piano while hammering the keys with the sustain pedal depressed. Now this fascinating sound—absent the childish noodling—is yours for the taking! PSP’s (pspaudioware.com) PianoVerb (a stripped-down version of the company’s PianoVerb2, available in AAX, AU, VST, and RTAS formats; see Figure 5) produces unique reverberation using twelve string operators tuned to different notes.

Controls let you retune, transpose, and detune the string operators and adjust their damping and decay time. For a bright-sounding ’verb, raise the Transpose control moderately and turn the Damping control counter-clockwise to 0%. Discrete discordant tones become audible at very high Transpose settings, transforming acoustic snare and tom tracks into jarring electronic-percussion instruments. Cool!

SLATE DIGITAL REVIVAL AND VMR

Fig. 6. Slate Digital’s Virtual Mix Rack (VMR) is yours for the taking at no charge. The virtual effects rack comes pre-loaded with the free Revival Sonic Enhancement Processor and demos of Slate’s compressors, equalizers, and Virtual Console Collection (VCC).

The Revival Sonic Enhancement Processor is a module for the Slate Digital Virtual Mix Rack (VMR; slatedigital.com), a closed-architecture effects- rack plug-in (AAX, AU, RTAS, VST2, VST3) into which you can load up to eight compatible Slate processing modules (see Figure 6). Revival and the empty VMR rack are both free, while the other modules compatible with the rack—currently including compressors, equalizers, and the company’s Virtual Console Collection (VCC)—must be paid for if you wish to continue to use them beyond their 15-day trial period.

Revival has just two controls: Shimmer adds air and brightness to the high-frequency band, while Thickness adds girth to the low end. Goose the Thickness control on kick and bass guitar tracks to fatten them up. Thickness and shimmer both sound terrific on full mixes, but be careful: A little goes an awfully long way in mastering applications.

SOFTUBE SATURATION KNOB

Fig. 7. Softube’s free Saturation Knob modeled- distortion effect features a three-way switch, labeled Saturation Type, that lets you apply distortion to mostly the lows or highs, or to the entire frequency spectrum.

Saturation Knob (AAX, AU, VST) from Softube (softube.com) is a modeled-distortion effect that sounds great on a wide variety of tracks, from electric guitars to vocals to trap drums (See Figure 7). A three-way switch, labeled Saturation Type, lets you apply distortion to mostly the lows or highs, or to the entire frequency spectrum. On electric bass, select the Keep High switch setting to preclude adding fizzy high-frequency distortion to the track while enhancing girth in the low end. Conversely, the Keep Low switch setting is your ticket for adding sparkly highs to vocals without inflating bass frequencies. Try using the Neutral setting to add wideband distortion to full-range synth tracks. A solitary knob adjusts how much distortion is added to your track.

SONALKSIS FREEG

If you’ve ever been frustrated by overshooting your mark when mouse-dragging your DAW’s teensy-weensy faders, you’ll love the Sonalksis (sonalksis.com) FreeG (AU, VST).

Fig. 8. Sonalksis FreeG provides a long-throw fader, peak and RMS meters, pan and trim controls, and switches to invert polarity, mute signal, and bypass.

This fantastic plug-in provides a long-throw fader the length of a bowling alley! Joining the fader are peak and RMS meters, pan and trim controls, and switches to invert polarity, mute signal, and bypass the plug-in (see Figure 8). Activate the Pre switch to view signal levels at the plug-in’s input for comparison purposes. When you want to make small, ultra-precise fader adjustments, turn on the Fine function to shrink the fader’s decibel range while preserving the length of its throw. Essential for both mixing individual tracks and use as a master fader, every engineer should own FreeG.

 

Originally published here: http://www.emusician.com/how-to/1334/master-class-pump-up-your-mix-with-free-audio-plug-ins/55305

How To Make Your Own DIY MIDI Controller

Short on cash, got lots of time, and want/need a new piece of DJ gear custom to your needs? It’s time to go DIY! For about $100 you can build your own MIDI controller. Watch the full how to video from guest contributor Kyle Mohr and read the full construction guide inside.

DIY MIDI Controller Shopping List

First you’ll need to purchase all of your tools and materials. I’ve found the best prices and parts are usually sold on eBay from retailers based in China, but they tend to sellout fast and shipping to the States takes 2-3 weeks (this will, however, give you plenty of time to get your enclosure ready and board programmed). But, to make things easier I’ve provided many links for Amazon and US retailers.

Click the below sections to expand the lists:

Parts Enclosure Tools

DESIGN

original-design-diy-midi-fighter

This is my awful drawing on a post-it note, but it suffices as an ideal layout and sketch. I followed it up using Adobe Illustrator to make a to-scale blueprint. Download the PDF and EPS files here. This was designed for 4 potentiometers, 4 faders and 4 arcade buttons, but you can certainly swap them out for other components.

For the buttons, you’ll need a 1 inch or 24mm spade bit and you should aim for using a 5/16 bit for the potentiometers. Make sure to leave plenty of space between your components and do not overcrowd the layout. This will result in broken enclosures and tight areas for soldering. You don’t always have to be this exact, you can always just take a marker and ruler, measure distance between components and make sure to keep the distance the same, and mark up the back or inside of your enclosure with drill/cut spots.

Case Building

Once you’ve finalized your layout its time to “build” or make room for your components. You can use anything for an enclosure: an old VHS tape; plastic lunchbox; retro video game cartridge; a wooden box; or even 3D print your own. The main point of DIY besides saving some money and learning what is really inside your gear, is to customize it to be truly original.

Before you start drilling holes be sure to measure all components and their clearance! 

When drilling holes for components in the enclosure, especially with thin wood and plastic, to keep it from cracking when drilling, make sure to choose about 6-7 drill bits from very small to your final size.

For LEDs I always use this guide (look under “Making holes if needed”). This will help you slowly get to your desired size without putting too much tension on the material causing it to crack, chip or break. The key is to drill at slow speeds, and gradually go up to the size you need. If something starts to crack or chip, quickly stop and put your drill direction in reverse. Try using it in reverse for a bit to clean up the cut.

building-case

Once you’ve drilled, cut and punched your way through the enclosure its time to clean it up. Don’t worry, it always looks like a hack job. The key is to take your time. Try to drill and mark up the inside (spots people won’t see) and even place a spare board under your enclosure that you can drill into. This also helps to reduce tension on the enclosure.

Now if you used plastic, you’re in luck! You’ve just saved yourself days, seriously! For plastic you can simply use the hobby files to file off any jagged edges, or frayed pieces of plastic, which are blocking the holes.

stained

Want to make an awesome wood enclosure?

If you used wood, get ready to go all Ron Swanson on your project. Most cheap wood like we’re using here looks, well, cheap! So how do we class up that piece of junk to look like a custom cut piece of expensive furniture?…Stain!

  • I highly recommend pre-stain. It will help the stain spread evenly, especially on cheap/thin wood and prevents spots.
  • After 5-15 minutes it’s time to add that stain. Just take a rag, dip in stain and apply to your enclosure. I like to use Dark Walnut. Apply and then immediately remove, and repeat this process a few times. This will give it a more rustic/steampunk look, but if you want something more solid, don’t wipe the stain away, just apply a lot and leave it to dry.
  • After a day of drying, apply polyurethane with a brush. Fully coat all sides to protect your enclosure from scratches, and protect, and even strengthen the wood. I suggest brushing it in the direction of the wood grain.
  • Let dry for 24hrs, then repeat to your liking. I recommend 3 coats, 24hrs between each coat.
  • After the final coat, let dry for 72hrs before adding component parts! This avoids putting my components into a sticky polyurethane mess.

COMPONENTS

Now that you’ve finished your DIY MIDI controller layout and enclosure, it’s time to add your components to the faceplate. Buttons usually just pop in, but some will require a fastener or nut to be placed on the back to secure it (if there is a little resistance, don’t force it, just take your hobby files to it a few times then try again).

IMG_1232

Potentiometer knobs will then be placed in with washers and nuts. These should cover any jagged edges you may have from drilling. Tighten with pliers. For linear potentiometers (aka faders) make sure you have the number 1 (power) on the top. This may vary depending on make and model (feel free to test using a breadboard). 2 is usually your signal, and 3 should be ground. Then secure to the faceplate with your M2 screws.

To protect the components, add your Chroma Caps to faders and pots now (or any off-the-shelf caps as well, we just like those the best).

To add the LED, flip over the faceplate or top of enclosure and put your LED into the hole(s) you drilled for it. You may need to use your hobby file again for this to make sure the LED fits just right. Afterwards, push it through just enough to see the tip on the other side. Using a toothpick as an applicator line the circumference of the LED with Gorilla Glue. Once hardened it will ensure your LED doesn’t fall back into the enclosure. Don’t use hot glue, it may melt the LED’s plastic.

Soldering Your Components

Once the glue on the LED is dry, start the soldering process. This make all of the connections from your components to the circuit board, which will then relay the message to your computer or iOS device (oh yeah, this will also work with your iPhone/iPad)!

First you’ll need your Rosin-core solder (way safer than lead-based solder) – I use and recommend .050”-Diameter 63/37 Rosin-Core Solder.

If you haven’t soldered before there is a wealth of tutorials on YouTube. Here are a few of my favorites. Trust me, its not complicated at all, anyone can do it. Just take your time and pay close attention to what you’re doing.

soldering-components

Turn on your soldering iron and let it heat up for a few minutes. Grab your jumper wires. I use these instead of your average spools of wire because they have a single pin at the end instead of braided wire that is quite difficult to push through a hole. They are much more efficient since with normal wire you have to cut, strip, and heat shrink it every time. I also tend to pre-bend them all at 90 degree angles and trim about ¼ off of them to make sure they fit in any enclosure and the Teensy board.

Let’s start from the top and work our way down. First make sure each of your jumper wires will reach from each component to the next, and matching colors is always helpful. I like to use dark colors (black or blue) for the ground line and bright colors (red, orange, yellow) for power while using mild colors (green or white) for the signal line. For D-Shaft potentiometers you want to be certain your pins are on the bottom, this will ensure your knobs fit and that once wired they will be going in the proper direction.

Potentiometer-Guide

For potentiometers you have 3 lines, ground, active (your analog signal which identifies where the position of your potentiometer is) and your power. They also usually go in that order when looking at the pins, a 4th pin is usually just a dummy pin and will not be used for our project.

Since we only have 1 power and 1 ground point to solder on the Teensy board we need to chain all of our grounds together then all of our power together. Once complete, we need to run that power and ground from the last pot to the first fader, which is soldered and treated as if it was a potentiometer. Follow the guide below.

Fader-Guide

Once that is complete, run the ground only from your last fader to your buttons. The other point on buttons is your active/signal line.

Buttons-Guide

Solder the active line from each component, 1 single wire from each button, knob, and fader. The Teensy board has built in pull-up resistors that we will access using the Sketch we upload when programming the board so we do not need resistors soldered to the buttons active line.

Next, solder a 220 ohm resistor to the (+) powered pin of the LED, this is to ensure it doesn’t blow out from too much power. Then connect the other side of the resistor to a positive pin on the closest pot. We will then solder the short LED pin (ground) to the closest pots ground pin.

LED-Guide

For the last bit of soldering, run the active line from every pot and slider to Analog pins A0 – A7. Where as the active line of each button will be soldered to the Digital pins on the other side of the board B0-B3.

grounds

Programming Your DIY MIDI Controller

Setting Up Teensyduino (Arduino + Teensy)

Teensyduino is an add-on for Arduino Uploading Software that enables the Teensy board to be used in the Arduino programming environment. Before we get started you will need to:

  • Download Arduino Software *Certain versions of Teensyduino are only compatible with certain versions of the Arduino Software. On the Teensyduino download page this is specified. As of August 2015, “Teensyduino 1.24 supports only Arduino version 1.0.6 and 1.6.1 and 1.6.3 and 1.6.4 and 1.6.5”.
  • Download Teensyduino + follow the install instructions on this page (be sure to install all the libraries!)

teensyduino-installer

STEP 1: Plug your Teensy board into the USB port on your computer. After plugged in an orange light on the Teensy should be flashing on and off every second. This is called the ‘blink’ sketch – The Teensy board comes pre-loaded with it.

STEP 2: In the menubar, select Tools->Board->Teensy 2.0.

STEP 3: Also in the menubar, Tools->USB Type->MIDI

STEP 4: Open a sketch file (download mine here). This sketch is set to 8 analog pots (the faders are treated as a knob/pot when it comes to the code) and 4 digital buttons. If you have more knobs or faders, simply change the number here:

change-analog-inputs

If you wish to add more buttons, there is a little more work, but it isn’t too complicated to fix.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at Aug 25.26.18 PM

STEP 5: Click the upload button (right arrow) to upload the new code to the Teensy. Since this is the first sketch you uploaded, Arduino will ask you to click the reset button on the Teensy. Click it (see image). After clicked, the sketch should immediately upload.

upload-teensy

This code is based off a sketch I was given from fellow DIY MIDI engineer/Musician Otem Rellik. Click the button below to expand the code – it’s long!

The Code

FINISHING TOUCHES

Before we test our creation, we first need to clean up flux residue with a paper towel and/or Q-tip (for hard to reach areas) and rubbing alcohol. This will remove any materials which could overtime corrode your board and connections.

After that dries it’s time to cover your connections that could potentially touch another and cause a short. You have a few options here: simply tape up any loose connections of bare wire that could touch another or even a metal component part; cover them with hot glue so nothing moves or touches at all; use heat shrink tubing (which doesn’t always fit perfectly); or try liquid electrical tape which comes in a rubber cement style bottle and brush on (which makes covering tight areas a little easier). *If using liquid tape please do so in a well ventilated area.

When the bare wires are covered, plug in your fully-soldered and connected circuit board. The LED should light up and not burn out! Boot up your DAW of choice and make sure you see the Teensy recognized as a MIDI device. Try mapping each component to your DAW and see if a MIDI signal is sent, once you’ve verified, you know you have achieved success!

rear-of-midi-diy-controller

Lastly, it’s time to close up your MIDI controller so it looks less like Frankenstein’s monster. You can use many things to mount the board in your enclosure but I recommend a generous glob of hot glue on the bottom. After it is mounted, plug in your adapter which is mounted to the enclosure, close the lid and seal it up.

Final Product

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at Aug 25.29.55 PM

You are now the proud creator of your very first DIY MIDI Controller.

Originally posted here: http://djtechtools.com/2015/08/25/how-to-make-your-own-diy-midi-controller/

Desktop PC PROS

It’s flexible, easy to upgrade and can be adapted to your changing requirements — all hail the desktop PC!

Column: Martin Walker

Well the computing marketplace is once again being shaken up and thoroughly stirred, with Apple iPad sales expected to drop by 20% in 2015 as jumbo smartphones take over. New models are skinnier than your average ‘haughty couture’ stick figure, with PC maker Lenovo releasing its LaVie Z laptops, claimed to be ‘the world’s lightest 13.3-inch notebook PCs’. They have more computing power than Apple’s new Intel Core M MacBook — as well as two USB 3.0 ports, a HDMI video output and integrated SD card reader compared with the single USB-C port connectivity of the MacBook — yet match or undercut its price. However, as I discussed in Issue 108, choosing a PC notebook suitable for extensive audio use can be a minefield for the musician.

Old fashioned they may be, but the good old desktop PC is still the best bet for guaranteed high audio performance and longevity under fire. You can upgrade the majority of their internal parts as and when the need arises (no soldered-in RAM like the latest Mac Mini range that prevents their memory being increased after purchase). Desktop PCs also offer plenty of ports to plug in a wide range of peripherals simultaneously; including USB and Firewire audio interfaces, external drives for backing up your precious audio material, and even smaller noteboooks/tablets for use as touch-based MIDI controllers, MIDI synth editors/librarians, and the like. All these can be connected via low-cost generic cables that cost a few dollars, rather than the expensive custom white extras offered by Apple.

For more elderly card-based audio interfaces, desktop PC motherboards are still available with PCIe and even ancient PCI expansion slots, and if you favour one of the latest Thunderbolt-based audio interfaces, these can be plugged in via a PCIe expansion card as well. Flexibility has always been the strength of the humble desktop PC, which can adapt via upgrades to suit changing requirements. You’ll never get that sinking feeling if you find you need more ports, since cheap expansion cards are available to add a clutch more of whatever variety you need. And in the unlikely event that a component (graphics card, power supply, hard drive…) fails, you can nearly always replace it too.

PICTURE THIS: SCREEN REFLECTIONS

Enough already I hear you cry — we get the picture! Ironically though, the picture is one area that can cause a few problems for the desktop musician. Ideally your loudspeakers should be perhaps four or five feet apart, and your ears a similar distance away from them. Even when you ditch the dinky notebook format, with its closeup screen, in favour of a larger screen placed a bit further away. It can still end up sitting in front of your loudspeakers, resulting in lots of acoustic early reflections that compromise your stereo image. In this scenario, you’ll notice a significant improvement in the acoustic detail of your mixes if you invest in an even larger graphic monitor that can be placed further back in between your loudspeakers rather than in front of them.

I faced this scenario myself a few months back — the last couple of years I’ve had a 23-inch widescreen monitor mounted on a heavy duty tilt/swivel stand that allowed me to pull it to about two feet away for detailed editing, and then push it back to just in front of my monitor speakers when mixing, but I knew I could do better. So I replaced it with a very affordable 27-inch widescreen monitor in a fixed position right back between my loudspeakers, and the difference was remarkable. When a client next visited my small studio he was convinced I’d done a lot of extra work on his mix, but it had always sounded that good — we just hadn’t been able to hear its unadulterated excellence while the monitor screen added its dose of sonic confusion.

STORAGE: SINGLE CASE OPTIONS

The desktop PC is also very flexible when it comes to storage requirements. It pays to adopt at least one SSD for speedy booting and application launch times, and for those that can afford it, several larger SSDs if you want a totally silent computer. However, for those with smaller pockets, modern mechanical hard drives in conjunction with a decent acoustically-lined case are well nigh silent too, and there’s usually plenty of space inside the typical desktop case for at least four such drives. Many of us still rely on CD/DVD drives for audio CD burning and video duties, but Blu-Ray drives are also easily fitted for those with more expansive storage requirements. Once again, you can change your mind as you please, and still end up with a single case containing all the storage you need rather than a slimline notebook with a rat’s nest of cables emerging from it to cope with your peripheral requirements.

The one thing that undermines the ultimate longevity of the desktop PC in my opinion is Intel’s insistence that each new CPU family it releases must be accompanied by a fresh motherboard with a revised CPU socket. Although an experienced user can change the motherboard, it’s a major undertaking, and only really worth doing if you get at least an additional 50% of processing power in the bargain. Yet even here the PC musician is in a much better position nowadays than a few years ago, since the amount of computing power available in a modern machine is more than sufficient to run huge audio projects. Since it’s likely to be the single most expensive component in any PC by a margin of three or four, just make sure you choose your desktop CPU wisely within your available budget, and it ought to last you for at least several years (mine is coming up to three years old now with little or no sign of running out of steam).

DESKTOP: STILL THE ONE

So there we are. The humble desktop PC may seem a little passé to some, but for the musician it still does its job well, is incredibly versatile, adaptable, repairable, and can be upgraded in a host of ways at relatively low cost. I do feel sorry for those who end up having to buy a new computer to gain more processing power, only to find their perfectly good audio interface has to be abandoned in the process. There’s quite enough built-in obsolescence in the world today without discarding audio gear simply because this new machine lacks the relevant socket to plug it in. So stick with the desktop format, and carry on using what you already have!

Originally published: http://www.audiotechnology.com.au/wp/index.php/pc-audio-109/

PC Laptop Investment

PC laptops and notebooks can be great for music making, but ensure you make a wise investment!

More and more musicians are abandoning desktop PCs in favour of more portable devices, both for live use and for a more compact setup at home or in the studio. Sadly though, while buying a desktop PC for audio purposes is a comparatively safe bet nowadays, buying a laptop/notebook is still a bit of a minefield. Modern PC laptops/notebooks can certainly provide more than enough processing power for most musicians, but the crucial measurement that will determine whether or not a particular model is suitable for a musician is DPC (Deferred Procedure Call) Latency.

ANSWERING THE CALL

Windows handles audio and video streams not in real time, but with periodic blocks of data, queued via an ‘interrupt call’. Whenever the next block of data is required to maintain a smooth stream, the appropriate device driver issues one of these DPC calls, which then gets placed by Windows in a queue, to be carried out when it’s finished dealing with whatever it’s currently doing. So far so good. However, as with most queues, calls are dealt with on a first come, first served basis, so if anything ahead of the audio request in the queue takes longer than expected, you’ll run into problems.

The raison d’être of any audio PC is to stream audio smoothly, without any dropouts that result in infuriating audio clicks, pops, and glitches. Any internal computer component whose driver hangs onto the processor for an excessive amount of time can cause these. It’s bad enough when they occur during playback, but if they happen during a recording you can be left with permanent interruptions in your audio that are very difficult to mask.

If you experience glitching audio on any PC you can try systematically disabling likely devices one at a time via Windows Device Manager to see if it cures the problem. Thankfully there are also a couple of free utilities that can help track down the most likely candidates. For a long time, DPC Latency Checker (www.thesycon.de) was the first port of call. It provides a graphic readout of DPC latency in real time — if all results remain in the green zone the machine is able to run audio streams without dropouts, but if any stray into the yellow area your machine might need its audio buffer size (and hence its latency) increased a little. Sadly, if results enter the red zone then you most definitely need to find and disable the culprit device. DPC Latency Checker is still useful if you have a Windows 7, Vista or XP-based PC, but it’s currently not suitable if you use Windows 8. A suitable utility that runs on both Windows 7 and 8 is LatencyMon from Resplendence Software (www.resplendence.com). The Home Edition is free, but there’s also a Pro version for business use. Their readouts are still fairly self-explanatory, and there’s also a mass of further stats on offer if you need to delve deeper into problem areas.

LAPTOP PROS & CONS

Now the fundamental difference between a desktop and laptop/notebook PC is that with the latter, you’re unlikely to be able to replace — and sometimes even disable — the drivers of various internal components that may cripple low latency audio performance. A few settings may be available to tweak, but even one ‘badly behaved’ device driver can bring a system to its knees audio-wise. It could be a cooling fan unexpectedly cutting in to stop your processor overheating, a Wi-Fi device being polled, network adaptors, an internal modem, or even an onboard soundchip. If you can buy a laptop/notebook on the high street, you can try taking in the above utilities on a USB stick and running them before you hand over any cash, but if you’re buying over the internet, your only option is to establish beforehand that if your chosen model isn’t well-behaved with low latency audio, you can return it for a full refund.

Sadly, a lot of people still think that specialist ‘pro audio notebooks/laptops’ are a con, but they can save you a lot of heartache. Laptops supplied by audio PC builders are simply models that have already been thoroughly tested across a wide range of audio hardware and software, and are guaranteed not to present the above problems. You also get informed support about high quality audio performance if and when you need it, rather than a blank look. Audio PC builders may discard many models before finding one that works well down to low audio latencies, while the larger audio suppliers may even have enough clout to ask the original manufacturer to provide a specially tweaked BIOS, offering options mainstream laptop equivalents don’t have. The specialists will charge you a little extra for all their time and effort, but I think it’s well worth this premium to save all the possible hassle.

If you want to go it alone, there are also a few good threads across several music forums where musicians detail specific mainstream laptop models that have been found to work well with audio. Although sometimes manufacturers end up changing one or more internal components and their drivers during a production run, perhaps because a particular part is no longer available, has been superseded, or the original spec gets ‘improved’. In such cases, audio performance may suffer, so no forum recommendation is foolproof. Sometimes even the specialists have to drop a previously good laptop from their range for the same reason.

Time after time I’ve seen musicians post on forums asking ‘Which is the best laptop to buy for audio from the following list?’ Rarely can people provide them with any specific advice, except on the odd occasion when someone has recently taken the gamble and bought that exact model, and therefore been able to test it out for themselves. Generally, model after model is suggested and discarded, before the poster either: buys a pro model and starts making music, gives up, or buys something blind in the hope that it will work well for them. The latter option is often the saddest thing of all because then the questions start. From the hopeful ‘What settings do I need to change to get acceptable performance?’ Through to, ‘Why doesn’t my BIOS have the settings you recommend altering?’ And the despair of, ‘I could never entirely eliminate clicks at any usable buffer size for playing VST instruments’. I’m still a firm supporter of desktop PCs for music, but when it comes to laptops and notebooks, all bets are off unless you stick with the professionals.

 

Originally published http://www.audiotechnology.com.au/wp/index.php/pc-audio-108/ Column: Martin Walker