Posts by Chris Duncan

    Conversely not all amps sound good at their extremes.

    Unless it's a Marshall, of course.

    I had a JCM 900 playing with a rock band, and since it was dialed up for a fairly high gain sound I had a noise gate at the end of the chain. One day in rehearsal the threshold wasn't set quite right, and I was getting random spurts of noise while we talked between songs. The bass player asked what the heck that was and I said, "That's the sound of a Marshall on 20." He rolled his eyes and said, "Marshalls don't go to 20," so I stepped to one side and pointed to the volume knob.

    I can only assume the folks at Marshall have a sense of humor but figured it would be too on the nose if it simply went to 11. :)

    In some cultures they would just assume you were possessed and call an exorcist. :)

    Enjoyed brainstorming on the whole dropped tuning versus happy thing. This one definitely falls on the happy side, another great tune.


    Funnily enough, i got a 7 string Ibanez guitar about 8 years and i played that constantly for at least 4-5 years whilst i still played in a band. I wrote some of my most melodic, happy tunes on that guitar and not a lot of minor key tunes AT all. I find the difference in playing a 7 string turned to B (E standard with a low B) a completely difference sonic and feeling experience than playing a 6 string tuned down to Drop C. Who knows what this says but this is definitely my experience.

    That makes sense given that you were in E but just had the extra heft of the bottom string. Something about E feels happy, and lower tunings don't. You'd think it would be no different than a key change in a song, but there's something sonic going on that's beyond my understanding.

    Those are some cool tricks I’ll have to try out as soon as I get a grip on what’s meant to be the hero for each section.

    Yeah, if you ever get that sort of thing figured out then I'll buy you a beer and you can show me. I still struggle with it.

    Let me explain. When i play my Ibanez PGM which, i keep in drop C, the music that comes out is usually in Cm as when i strike that low C and drive it through the Cm chord it just sounds and feels fantastic. So, this is where the inspiration comes and the tune starts. When i play my tele it's always usually in Gmajor for the exact same reason, striking the Gmajor chord just sounds brilliant and the rest of the tune follows.

    Yeah, I know what you mean as my guitars write most of my songs. I once had a song pop into my head complete with full band arrangement while I was in the shower (what, you couldn't wait until I was dry?), but that's an anomaly. Usually I noodle around on electric or acoustic and when something feels good, I chase it. I once actually ripped off one of my own songs without realizing it until a friend pointed it out. I guess it must have felt good enough to do twice.

    The PGM in drop C wanting to speak in Cm is really kinda the heart of my curiosity, because it seems to me that in general the low tuned guitars want to speak minor. Being an old classic rocker, I came up on standard E tuning. It feels happy, and I write bluesy / happy songs. However, when I hear a guitar that's low tuned, even without the dropped E, it doesn't feel happy. It feels dark, moody and negative.

    Then I thought maybe it's the dropped E that takes it into minor territory (even though it's not a minor 3rd), but Queen's Fat Bottomed Girls is in E with a dropped D and it's happy, feel good, foot stomping music. So, that theory doesn't seem to hold water.

    Logically, if a guitar is in standard tuning but just lowered to D or below, you should be able to play the same kind of music and just get the ballsiness of the low tuning. So, theoretically at least, you should be able to play feel good stuff on low tuned guitars. But for some reason, I think most people have your experience. They pick up the guitar and it wants to speak minor, not major. And that's the part that puzzles me intellectually.

    I've tried experimenting with lower tunings, but I just can't bond with it. I think part of it may be that I need to bump up the string gauge from my normal 10s to 11s in order to offset the loosey-goosey feeling of the lowered tension. Mostly, however, it just doesn't feel right sonically. I don't know if my brain is just conditioned to hear standard E or if it's something else, but lowering the pitch of the guitar makes me want to blow my head off with a shotgun, so to speak. And yet, it's standard tuning, so it shouldn't make a difference.

    You're definitely 95% happy, but you occasionally go into minor territory and get some great heavy guitar tones. That made me wonder if it's even possible to write something that's hugs and bunnies on a low tuned guitar, because if the Ibanez speaks minor to you of all people, then maybe that's just the way it is. Nonetheless, I just don't understand why dropping the tuning on an electric guitar immediately makes it sound minor / dark / evil. It's a real head scratcher.

    I wanted that sort of complex multi-part clarity and sound going on that you get with some of those Tom Petty arrangements

    I love Tom Petty and really admire the arrangements. Honestly, I think you're well into that territory. All you need is some tweaking on levels and maybe some EQ carving so that everyone has their own turf, at which point I think your arrangement is going to shine through.

    Once you have the levels a bit more balanced out, you might look at each guitar and keyboard part and give some thought to which chunk of the frequency spectrum it should "own." For example, if the signature sound of one guitar part really lives between 700 - 800, then maybe you set your Q wide enough to highlight it and give it a little 1 - 3 db bump. Then take that same range and do a corresponding 1 - 3 db cut on the other guys in that sonic real estate (other guitars & keys). Then go to the next instrument and figure out where that one lives, rinse and repeat. That will cut out some mud and give clarity to each part without castrating them.

    “hey listen to this bassline! But also to this guitar and this guitar and this keyboard and these drums!” when really you need to find a focus.

    Yeah, I grapple with that sometimes as well when there are several instruments / parts in a song that I fall in love with. The analogy I use is a spotlight. Focus goes to where it's shining, and it can only shine on one thing at a time. On the hook it might be the guitar part, on the verse maybe it's the vocal, the bridge might be a rhythm section build up, etc.

    Of course, I want everything to be cool, but it's like that line from the bad guy in The Incredibles - "When everyone's special, then no one is special."

    As a rocker I couldn't agree more that the single most important thing in the song is the rhythm section (conventional wisdom about the vocal be damned). If the bass and drums are cooking, you can train chimpanzees to stand in from of them and it'll still be a great band. If they're lame, even Eddie couldn't help you. One of the reasons Van Halen was such a great band is the fact that, like the Who or Rush, the power plant was insanely good. And all this coming from the guy who's both the lead singer and guitarist, the two biggest prima donnas in any band. :)

    I gave this another listen and I think at least for this song it's not so much the bass or low frequencies stomping on the kick as it is the rhythm section overall being overpowered by guitars and keys. They're panned out of the way but both are very hot compared to the levels of the bass and drums, so that's most of what I'm hearing.

    There's also a lot of reverb (which sounds good), so it might be the levels of the instruments or it might be the reverb return level. Either way, I think if the instruments came down or the bass and drums came up, you'd hear punch in the drums because they would be at a peer level to the rest of the instruments. At that point you could fine tune more within the rhythm section itself.

    Don't know if any of this is actually useful, it's just what I'm hearing.

    in the pursuit of trying to make something actually worth listening to, or at least that sounds well produced.

    Don't you win, like, Grammys or some other kind of awards for your work? This is just back seat driving from an out of work musician. :)

    That was fun. And certainly has that south of the border vibe to it. I had to GoogleCheat to find that it meant Howling Wolves (growing up in Texas as I did, the only Spanish I know is the kind that would get me kicked out of a Mexican bar). Reminds me a little of some of the songs in Desperado (Antonio Bandares), which had a great sound track.

    If your intent is to clear some of the low end out to allow the kick to poke through and you don't want to just high pass it, then side chaining seems like a reasonable approach. Compression is a natural go to, but there are a lot of cool dynamic EQs out these days that would lend themselves well to side chaining so that's another good thought. And of course, there's no reason you couldn't use a touch of both.

    There's a lot of information in the low end, perhaps with more contributors than just the bass. If you don't feel like you're getting the bang for the buck you're looking for putting the effects on the bass, another idea might be to take the bass, the low guitar parts, maybe lower keyboards and run them through a bus, then side chain the bus. Of course, that could then get weird with those disparate characters all sharing a bus, so I guess you could also copy / paste your side chain effects onto each of the channels. Just thinking out loud, really...

    I don't mean it that way. I mean "heavy" like how Marty McFly uses it towards Doc Brown, and Doc relates it to strong gravitational forces which is not necessarily evil or dark. You see, dark can mean "dark matter" which is something Doc did not know about at the time, but since he had a time machine, I'm sure he could travel to the future and find out for himself if I am going to be a rock star. Unless the "evil" Biff Tannen steals the time machine like he did in Episode II. In which case, we are all screwed.

    Man, I haven't seen pretzel logic like that since Happy Hour at Joe's Bar and Grille. :)

    "Windows key + Shift + S".

    Wow. That's probably been in Windows since the beginning of time, and I've never known about it.

    I've always just used print screen or alt print screen, but then I have to paste into mspaint to trim the screen shot. I gave this a try and got a UI that let me select the region of the screen, so now I feel like a total computer noob.

    This is what happens when all your muscle memory comes from DOS 3.1.

    Thanks, man!

    With the obvious caveat that I enjoy pretty much all of your stuff, I find it interesting that when most people say "heavy" what they really mean is "minor / dissonance / dark / evil."

    To be sure, the dropped pitch of a low tuned guitar coupled with some great sounding amp distortion can make the tone itself sound "heavy," and that's a rockin' guitar sound. However, you almost never hear this kind of tone emphasized on a track that's all hugs and bunnies. Honestly, your stuff is the closest I've heard to that, but any time you intentionally go heavy it's consistently mated with a conspicuously minor / dissonance oriented vibe.

    So, here's a songwriting challenge for you (i.e. your mission, should you choose to accept it). Take the most drop tuned, slamming amp distortion tone you can find, and then write a happy song that's all hugs and bunnies instead of dark and evil sounding. Major thirds instead of flat seconds. Harmony instead of dissonance purely for the sake of dissonance. Feel good instead of bloody skulls with daggers through the eyeballs.

    Of course, I realize that this won't please the masses as for whatever bizarre reason people are very anti-happy these days, but it would still be interesting to hear a "heavy" guitar tone in a song that actually had a positive vibe instead of a negative one. And you seem uniquely qualified for this kind of thought exercise.

    @ChrisDuncan Yeah good call I hadn't thought of but I do love some early humble pie, As Safe as Yesterday Is is a great record. Lots of Small Faces, Animals, Big Brother and Jethro Tull influence, though I was inspired more by Chocolate Watch Band of course (and their Stones influence). I love the rawness and energy of rock back then as well as the creativity.

    hafi19 - Thanks!

    Haven't spent much time on the left coast so I didn't know about Chocolate Watch Band, but certainly influenced by all the rest. Great era for music.

    I could feel the 60s vibe in the first few chords before I even had a chance to read that it was meant to have that vibe. Brought back memories of the early Humble Pie stuff that most people don't know about (i.e. before Live at the Fillmore) , when they were doing lighter stuff in that early 60s / happy vein.

    Cool stuff, man.

    Chris Duncan it's a Country song so that means I just play it in whatever time I want as long as it starts at the Grand Old Opry. :D

    No, no... you want to end at the Grand Ole Opry!

    A tourist carrying a guitar case was sightseeing and walking the streets of New York. He stopped someone and asked, "Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?"

    The guy looked at him, looked at the guitar case, and said, "Yeah. Practice, man. Practice." :)

    One thing to keep in mind is the context and expectations of a genre. Modern music of all kinds has become very grid obsessed. Vocals must be tuned to within an inch of their lives, and drums are not only commonly locked to a computer-like grid but also frequently sound like a cheap computer by intent (e.g. 808 beats, etc.). If you want your song to "fit in" with a given genre, then it helps to know the expectations and cater to them.

    If you put old Motown hits on a Pro Tools track you'd probably see the tempo vary all through the song, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly. But no one was interested in putting Aretha Franklin under a microscope. They just enjoyed the groove. However, that's also what everyone was doing at the time so none of it felt out of place. If you tried to have that flexibility in a modern pop song, some OCD producer would promptly quantize the whole thing. And for the genre, he'd be right.

    I think it helps to know the rules so you know when you're breaking them, but all progress has come from those who said rules be damned and did it anyway.