Saturday, April 30, 2011

BBF's Saturday Morning Music Video: The Sword

I love this video. The Sword has a great retro sound that reminds me of Ozzy era Black Sabbath.  It's nice being able to see a drummer that isn't hidden behind a wall of cymbals and toms.  Very meat and potatoes, very awesome.  Enjoy.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

SKB PS-45 Powered Pedal Board

When the weather starts getting nice, I find myself spending a lot less time in front of my computer.  Today it rained.  So given the opportunity to work on my little pet project here, I'm taking a step away from the strictly for bass hardware.

When I first decided to get involved with effects and assemble a pedal board, I didn't really know how I intended to put them all together.  Batteries are a pain in the ass, so I knew I wanted them to all run off of AC power.  I looked into stand alone power supplies, building my own board and all that mess.  Thats when I settled on the idea of a prefab powered pedal board, and the SKB PS-45 specifically.  It may seem contrary to the concept of "bottom feeding" off of cheap gear to go for an expensive pedal board.  My feeling was that in this case time and hassle definitely equals money.  By the time I assembled all the components and spent hours building a board, I don't think I would have really saved myself any money.

So here it is, along with a few pedals I haven't talked about yet. Kind of a sneak preview.  The SKB PS-45 is a hard shell case and pedal board.  Its built like a tank - or at least a plastic tank. It has eight sockets that provide 9v power, and comes with enough wires to plug in and power pedals from all eight sockets.  It also has three standard AC sockets incase you have pedals that run off of something besides 9v or if you want to plug in an LED lamp to illuminate your board for playing in a darkened room.  It comes with a strip of heavy duty adhesive velcro for you to cut up and stick to your pedals.  I picked up a roll of two-sided velcro "tape" at the hardware store that I use to fasten down all of the cables and cords that are going all over the place.  If you want more technical info, you can check out SKB's product page here.

If you are morally opposed to velcro for some reason, then this (or really most) prefab pedal boards aren't for you.  Even without pedals, this thing is heavy, but I consider that a plus.  And though I haven't had occasion to check it out, the propaganda that shipped with the pedal board says that "every SKB hardshell case is unconditionally guaranteed forever."  Repaired or replaced at no cost.  I'm not intentionally rough with my stuff, but its good to know that they stand behind their gear.  In my opinion, this board was money well spent.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

BBF's Saturday Morning Music Video: The Beastie Boys

I have always like the Beastie Boys.  They must have a lab somewhere with Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan's head in a jar where they figure out the exact sonic frequencies that make insidiously catchy tunes. This new song made me dig out my old CD's and remember why they are so great.  My iPod is full.  Now something is going to have to go to make room...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

If money was no object...

I spend a fair amount of time trolling YouTube for videos when I am thinking about picking up some new piece of equipment.  There's a lot of decent information ranging from professional to some dude in his basement hacking out tunes.  At any rate, after wasting too many hours clicking through pedal demos I came across this thing:

Its almost like a multi-effect pedal with the immediate adjustability of a conventional stomp box.  I'm sure 90% of what it can do is totally inappropriate for "normal music," but what a great toy!  I'm not sure how it interacts with bass, but since it's a digital effect generator/computer, it probably doesn't really care what creates the incoming signal.  Check it out in action:

I had never heard of WMD before bumping into this video, and I wish I hadn't.  They have a bunch of really cool, really expensive effects.  So much for bottom feeding...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Crate BX80 80W Bass Amp

This was my primary amp for a long time.  It's pushing 20 years old and it still works fine.  I used to lug this around to practice until I decided that buying another amp was worth the reduction in hassle.  It is now a practice amp for me.  Its got a pretty decent array of controls.  With the pre-shape, low and high boost and graphic equalizer you can dial in a good variety of tones.  The single 15" speaker has good low end boom, and is plenty loud enough for a garage band type of setup.  And if your neighbors and/or family complains, it has a headphone jack for practicing in the wee hours.

The BX80 is now out of production, but Crate has the manual available here.  I saw one on Craigslist for $100, and compared to what you can get new for that price, I think I'd go for another one of these if mine ever crapped out.  I know Crate isn't exactly considered the upper tier when it comes to brands, but it sounds good for what it is: cheap and reliable.  I'm still working on a live recording setup that doesn't suck, but I hope to record a respectable sample featuring the Cat Bass and Zoom 506B through this amp.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

BBF's Saturday Morning Music Video: Primus vs. Metallica

Here is a cool little tidbit featuring two things I like: Primus and old Metallica.  I guess this was recorded back when there were VHS players, whatever they are, but the sound quality is pretty good.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 15, 2011

DigiTech BP80 Multi-Effect Pedal

So I thought I would get both of my multi-effect pedals out of the way.  Everything generic I said about the Zoom applies to this pedal as well.  Like the Zoom, the BP80 is made of plastic, so I wouldn't use it as a door stop or close combat weapon.  The "expression pedal" portion (their term, not mine) is about the size of my 5-year-old daughter's foot, so you need to allow yourself space around it if you tend to use it and don't have freakishly small feet.  It is about as easy as the Zoom to program, but they cram almost 100 options under some channels, and the only way to scroll through them is one at a time.  That can get annoying and tedious.   It has your standard tuner/bypass feature and runs on a 9v or AC adapter.  It also has a headphone jack, which is kind of cool if you are looking for a way to practice quietly and don't have a headphone jack in your amp.  New ones run about $65 shipped from eBay, but used ones are considerably less.

The BP80 has 80 program slots.  The first 40 have factory defaults but can be erased/altered by the user.  Program slots 41-80 have the same factory defaults as the first 40, but can't be messed with.  It also has cabinet modeling and a built in drum machine, neither of which I have ever used.

I currently have program 1 set up as nothing but a volume pedal, and program 2 set up as a Crybaby type wah-wah pedal so its easy to swap between them.  What really makes this pedal unique among all my other pedals is that you can assign the expression pedal to control the parameters of just about any effect that the BP80 can generate.  Here's the whole list:

Amp Gain
Chorus (speed or output level)
Flanger (speed or output level)
Phaser (speed or output level)
Vibrato (speed or depth)
Synth Talk (sensitivity)
Octaver (level)
Envelope (sensitivity)
Detune (level)
Pitch Shift (level)
Whammy (shift)
Delay (level or feedback)
Reverb (level)

If you like making freaky sounds with your bass, there is a lot of potential here, especially for things like chorus, flanger and phaser where you can actually manipulate the effect and not just the output level.  I'm sure there are other more expensive multi-effects for bass that can serve this type of purpose, but I don't have those.  I like both of my multi-effects for different reasons, and I'll probably keep them on my pedalboard as long as I have space.

Edit - Here are some videos I made for the Digitech BP80:
Video 1 (Whammy)
Video 2 (Output Level Control)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

ZOOM 506 Bass Multi-Effect Pedal

This was my first pedal.  When I bought it, its job was being more convenient than unplugging my bass to tune with my little hand held tuner.  Eventually I tinkered around with it, using its EQ and some other settings to add some beef to my sound.

The one I have is an older version (there is a newer Zoom 506II Bass pedal), and it seems like they are perpetually available on eBay for around $20 shipped.  It runs on a 9v battery or power supply, just like every other pedal in the universe.  It's not a great pedal, but it's definitely a good pedal, especially for what it costs.  Like most dual button multi-effects, it can be a little fussy switching into bypass/tuning mode because you have to hit both switches at the same time.  It can't really tune a low B, which I found out after I bought a 5-string.  It is fairly simple to program, but you will need the manual to know what you are doing.  You can come up with several settings you like and put them next to each other in the program que so its just one or two steps between the ones you use most often.  It has 24 programmable slots, and a lot of the factory defaults are fun but not very useful.

Now that I have a bunch of other pedals, I still have this one on board for the low-mid EQ boost.  I'm not sure exactly what it does, but it adds some fat I just can't replicate any other way at the moment.  Since its a multi-effect pedal, trying to do audio samples would be kind of pointless since it can do everything.  I know people are down on the cheap multi-effects, but I think they are a good way to fill gaps in your pedal board as you gradually acquire more "respectable" effects.  Don't have a flanger and you want one for an ambient section of a song?  Multi-effect a flanger.  I have both the Zoom and Digitech BP80 in service at the moment.  The BP80 I got as a gift, and since it has a rocker pedal, I have it set up as a Crybaby-type wah.  I'll review that one at some point, too.

So if you already have a bunch of effects for your bass, you can probably skip the Zoom.  But if you are just getting in to the idea of effects and want to sample a bunch for cheap, or want to have some flexible electronic spackle for your pedal board, its hard to beat a cheap multi-effect pedal like the Zoom.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

TuxGuitar = best free program ever.

I'm not a theory hound or a bassist's bassist.  I like playing songs and writing songs.  If I had to peg one thing as the greatest asset to my personal musical hobby, it would probably have to be TuxGuitar.  It's an opensource multitrack tab editor that will also read guitarpro type files.  If you've never heard of it before, then I would encourage you to go here and download it.  These are some of the things that I use it for:

- Listening to guitarpro files (which you can get here)
- Slowing down guitarpro files for practicing
- Transposing non-standard tunings (with the offset feature)
- Writing songs
- Converting songs to midi files to drop into Garageband
- Converting drum parts to midi to run through EZDrummer

Its very versatile, especially when combined with other programs. The learning curve isn't especially steep, you can definitely jump right in and start using it.  But to take full advantage of everything it can do definitely takes some time.  In conclusion: great free program.  Check it out.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Effects are fun.

For a long time, my setup consisted of the Cat bass I introduced earlier, an 80w Crate bass combo amp (gift) and a twenty foot instrument cable.  I had a Korg hand held tuner (also a gift) and that was it.  It worked.  Bass sounded good but not fancy, and my gear was on par with everyone else I was playing with.  We never really got into an arms race as far as instruments or amps were concerned.  My first pedal which I got for $20 (included shipping) off of eBay was Zoom 506 Bass multi-effect pedal.  I'll probably review it next.  I used it mostly for the integral tuner, and didn't really do anything too crazy with effects.  Pedals and effects in general seemed like something for guitarists, and were a layer of complexity I didn't really want to get involved with.

Then last October I read a piece in Bass Player magazine by Bryan Beller.  Apparently when he's not writing for BP he's the touring bassist for Dethklok, which is awesome.  He wrote a great article about putting together a pedal board and the general use of effects for bass.  I've been using it as my own personal jumping off point for putting together my own pedal board. Hopefully I'll be able to pass on some of the stuff I've learned though this blog.  As of right now, my goal with effects is to improve my live sound.  That and be able to play around and make weird noises...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

...and speaking of Steve Harris...

I was trying to find a nice bass feature from Iron Maiden, and came across this.  This is why I love the internet.

To Pick or Not To Pick...

I used to have a borderline complex about not really being proficient playing with my hands.  There are militant bass types that insist that pickless is the only way to go.  I finally came to realize that I just don't care what those people think.  I like the way picks sound.  They have an attack that you really can't replicate by hand, at least not for long durations.  And I personally dont have the time or interest in trying to make myself into a Les Claypool or Steve Harris, no matter how much I like their playing.  Thats their thing, and that's good.  I have my thing, and that's good too.  Or at least good enough.

On the other hand, I haven't really found the "perfect" pick yet...

And I do still try to play without one every now and again...

Friday, April 1, 2011

Ibanez TS9B Bass Tube Screamer

So this was my first dedicated brand new specifically for bass pedal purchase.  I spent the last week trying to come up with some way to do an audio file or YouTube demo myself that did justice to the live sound of this pedal and had no success.  So I gave up and decided you could just check out the much snappier Ibanez product video here.

I decided to go for the TS9B for a couple reasons.  I was plowing around the internets trying to figure out what effects (if any) Jo Bench of Bolt Thrower used to get her sound.  I always liked how Bolt Thrower's bass had this low gravelly presence, but every once in a while this kind of metallic reverb would of break through. They were my introduction to full bore death metal, and were one of the few bands that got me through the metal wasteland of the 90's. Well, I came across this page which happened to mention her gear. I couldn't run out and get her cabinets and bass, but an Ibanez Tube Screamer I could manage.  She probably used one of the "for guitar" varieties since the TS9B is new this year, but I decided to give the new "for bass" model a try.

I think its great.

There is all kind of subtle tone shaping you can do with knobs to control bass and treble.  There is another knob to crank up the overdrive, and another knob that lets you mix the dry bass signal with the overdrive depending on how much growl you want.  This thing does growl.  It also has a level knob which equals my bass volume when its set around 9 o'clock.  Up around noon the volume starts getting insane, and there's still five hours to go.

I've been running with the bass, drive and mix around 3 o'clock and the treble straight up, but it sounds good with everything cranked as well.  It just has a great overdrive sound while simultaneously keeping the musicality of the notes.  I had an el cheapo Danelectro FAB Overdrive (to be reviewed at some point) on overdrive duty for a while, but it definitely started to get mushy and indistinct when pushed compared to the Tube Screamer.  On the other hand, the Screamer is my most expensive pedal to date.  But, in the interest of bottom feeding, it is definitely not on the high end as pedals go.

Until next time, have some Bolt Thrower.  Check out the bass.