Show 210 – Killing the guitar chain noise and more!

This week we chat with listener Mike Falcone about the improvements he’s made to his guitars, pedalboard and amp to eliminate noise. Lots of info about tubes, caps, pickups, pots, cabling, transformers and more in this segment.

In the comments section we talk about vintage synth repair; Pro Tools 11; BYOC pedals; AVID Artist Series controllers in REAPER; Behringer ADA8000; used UA LA610 or alternatives; drum kit miked with all sm57s; are monitors and acoustic treatment necessary if you’re just tracking?; OMG TEH tubescreamers and other overdrives; connecting preamps to AVID MBOX Mini; reverb for tracking singers; Klanghelm VUMT; and more

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LINKS
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BOI Audioworks is a place to buy tubes http://www.boiaudioworks.com/
Switchcraft #228 Right-Angle flat Plugs Buy at Amazon
Bradshaw pedalboard layout tips http://www.customaudioelectronics.com/custom_shop?view=article&id=4
and some more http://www.customaudioelectronics.com/custom_shop?view=article&id=3

20 thoughts on “Show 210 – Killing the guitar chain noise and more!

  1. While transformers and tubes do make a difference in a guitar amp, I’d argue that speakers make a much more significant impact on your tone. I’d say that the average listener might not always be able to point out the differences imparted by upgrading tubes – but would be able to quickly hear speaker differences – especially in the typical amp you’d pick up in Guitar Center. However, I think boutique amps are more likely to magnify the changes imparted by great tubes. The NOS Mullard EF86 in my Bad Cat Black Cat 30 was proof enough for me, whereas upgrading to JJs in my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe was a little better, but nothing too wild.

    RE: reducing noise in pedalboards – I just rerouted some of the lines in my pedalboard. Mine is wired completely with George L’s which sound great and are really easy to customize for length. I use a Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2+ to provide the juice to all of my pedals. Recently there was some noticeable hum coming from my Pigtronix Disnortion pedal (Octave/Fuzz/OD). Initially I thought it was an audio cable issue, but after some troubleshooting I discovered it was related to the power cables. More specifically I had the power lines zip-tied to the audio lines to keep everything looking clean. It turns out that the power lines were interfering with the audio cables and after separating them from the audio lines my board was back to being nice and quiet.

    I also just took the pickguard/pickups off of my ’72 Tele Deluxe and covered the inside cavity with normal household tinfoil. Screwed everything back together and the annoying hum that was happening whenever my hands weren’t touching the strings was gone! Took 10 minutes and made a world of difference. Give that a try if your guitars are noisy or seem to have grounding issues.

  2. My drummer and I play very close together thanks to some cramped stages and our weekly broadcast from The Coffee Bunker ( matthewebel.com/live every Wednesday night. Boom, plug! )

    We both wear headset mics since we’re using both hands, hate mic stands, and move around a lot behind our respective pieces of furniture. The problem is that these mics don’t isolate well at all and his cymbals ruin any chance we have of getting a good vocal sound.

    Can you guys do a headworn mic shootout or at least recommend some good mics that have AMAZING off-axis rejection? There doesn’t seem to be anything like that online and you guys are my #1 trusted source for this sort of thing.

    Also, osprey can bet the shit out of chickens. But you already knew that.

    Pax,
    Matthew Ebel

    (FYI, I’m using a Sennheiser ME-3ew wireless and Runtt wears an AKG C-420 wired.)

  3. Hi guys

    GSAA!

    Now that you mentioned that tube shootout you did way back when… I recently did my own shootout, doing three different brands of tubes in my amp. I did the whole thing using a Line2Amp (diyrecordingequipment.com what up!).

    Anyway, Loren from theguitarpodcast.net put it up on his great podcast, if anybody’s interested. Direct link: http://theguitarpodcast.net/blog/2013/04/17/episode-94-the-tube-shootout/ .

    But don’t expect the same impeccable audio and production quality of the home recording show – I don’t have the talen… Er, the gear to do that. And I couldn’t really be bothered 😉

    Michael

    • Since I plugged theguitarpodcast.net here, I thought I’d plug your show over on his facebook page too. But now I’m stumped. Would that be called a boomerang plug, a double reacharound or an advertising sandwich?

      Ryan?

      …Anyone…?

  4. Someone once told me that singers are a largely egomaniacal bunch, so if you make them sound like they’re playing an arena, they tend to get along better with the band. I’ve always kept a reverb preset {usually, a medium decay plate} just for vocal tracking, but always print the vocal dry. With that bit of decay in the singers ears, they can hear pitch problems a little better, and they adjust much quicker. Yeah, it’s mostly a psychological thing, but it’s always worked. That’s what producers do: psych out musicians during the tracking stage. Ever notice that, when you’re tracking vocals, singers generally can tell when they are flat, but can go a half step on the sharp side and never really notice? It’s a mystery to me. C’mon Ryan, give those singers the ego boost they crave, It’s way more productive than letting them get stoned before a session. {I hate it when they do that.}

    GSAA, guys. Thanks for al the hard work.

    • I try to get the singer feeling as fantastic about themselves as possible. Compression, EQ, verb, a little slapback delay all find their way into the tracking session. I too make sure the track hits the DAW dry so I can make decisions later.

      What typically makes the biggest impact on them is getting a good headphone mix. Sometimes they don’t really know what they want/need so before the session I’ll cue everything up and try to track the vocals a bit myself. I’ll make adjustments and get it to where I like it and then tweak to their taste when they’re in.

      Sometimes folks have a tough time communicating what they want.

  5. Hi guys. I listen to your show weekly and learn at least a little bit every episode. Thank you.
    I sometimes record things in my living room, which is nice and spacious and has a good hall sound. The problem is that my studio is in the basement, at the other end of the house (my wife hasn’t come around to the idea of converting the entire house into a studio, but I’m working on it). I am wondering how I can overdub in my living room, while listening to the tracks playing in my computer in the basement. Are wireless headphones suitable in a studio environment? Is there another solution?

    My headphone cable isn’t long enough to run from the interface all the way to the living room, so here’s what I do: Hit record, run up to the living room, listen to a metronome that is at the same bpm’s as the song, play some music, then run downstairs and hit stop. Then I align what I played to the song. The problem with this method is that I can’t actually hear the song itself. I’m just playing to a metronome and a memorized arrangement. I have a long guitar and mic cable, so I can sit in the studio and play my electric in an amp in the living room. But I sometimes record acoustic guitar and other acoustic instruments. There’s got to be a better way…

    Thanks so much for a great podcast.

    • headphone extension possibly with an additional amp to push the longer distance.
      You can use XLR for headphones if that’s more readily available but you’ll need some adapters which might not be…

    • My studio is on the 2nd floor, we like to track in the great room downstairs. There’s a 150′ snake with 4 1/4″ sends on it. I connect those to my headphone amp channels. Super easy, plenty of volume.

      Since you’ve got to run your XLRs that long distance anyway might as well have a decent snake with some 1/4″ sends for headphones.

  6. Hi guys, great show as always.
    I just recently started listening to your show, there’s nothing that motivates me more to go do some exercise than the prospect of listening to a show of yours.
    Now, here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately:
    Especially with Reaper’s extensive methods of customizing, what do you think of using dedicated gaming hardware like those MMO-Mice with like 15 extra buttons in your DAW (The Logitech G600 would be an example of such a mouse)? You could place commands you use a lot on those buttons and speed up your workflow that way. Compared to proper DAW-Controllers, gaming periphery has a lower price/button-ratio, so that might be something cool to think about.

    Boris

  7. Hey, guys! FASAU (Freakin’ awesome show as usual).

    Great topic – noise elimination in the signal chain. It’s SO important and I’ve seen/heard it so overlooked.

    I grew up recording on second hand cheapo open reel tape equipment and cassette multitrackers in poor conditions for recording. As a kid, (When I was a boy, they didn’t have digital – we had to record on rust!) I used to bounce tracks between 2 garbage ancient open reel recorders and a battery operated Radio Shack mixer. Talk about noise! You’d think that with such a wretched signal chain, any additional noise I introduced would be masked. But that wasn’t the case. Every step I took to make as clean a signal as I could resulted in a better final mix (though that isn’t saying much). So I became a very careful recordist, checking for proper gain, eliminating hum, doing anything I could to improve the quality of my signal, going in and out. It was picky, irritating and time-consuming to make all that garbage stuff work to it’s full potential, but I learned a boatload, and it’s aided my “What-the-eff-is-that-noise??!!!” problem-solving skills ever since.

    Though I have a very nice studio now, I’ve not forgotten those basic things I learned, and I still constantly use all those careful practices to good effect. I see and hear frequent issues stemming from overlooking some very basic practices, and I hear lots of less-than-stellar results. At it’s worst, modern equipment is so good, and playback systems are so mediocre, that many folks don’t even think to give this aspect much focus.

    I can’t say I miss having to deal with those problems which, by and large, aren’t big problems anymore. But I always still do 3 things for the quality of my signal chain. These, to me at least, are “Recording 101” steps to take or at least think about every time. These are “housekeeping” or painfully obvious things that everyone is probably aware of, which is one of the big reasons so many folks overlook doing this…

    1. LISTEN. Set up the track for recording, and stop and listen to the signal before you record a track, or record a short test and listen for noise, hum, poor fidelity, anything that degrades the signal from what you want it to be. Crank it in cans and listen. I know this sounds obvious and stupid, but I see lots of guys ignoring this, and assuming that they have a nice signal happening. Without putting it under a microscope to check it, you can’t be dead-nuts sure. And if you have 25 tracks with a little wee bit o’ hum, that adds up.
    2. Plug EVERYTHING into the same source. To avoid ground loops which cause insane hum issues, EVERYthing gets plugged into ONE circuit. EVERYTHNG.
    I plug everything into the same OUTLET, using a really good powerstrip. (The guys
    just talked about soldering up a powerstrip to make sure of maximum connectivity, so it’s a no-cost thing you can do, and it’s important).
    Make sure you don’t exceed the total power rating for your circuit, or you’ll blow breakers. Also make sure that circuit has NO motors or heaters running off the same line. Meaning NO A/C, furnace, fridge, garbage disposal, dishwasher, exhaust fan, stove, coffeemaker – you get the point.
    3. Keep all audio connections CLEAN. Hand oils can degrade connection quality, so if a connector is plugged in and left alone, like pedalboard, patchbay and recording interface connections, they can corrode or oxide pretty quickly and get squirreley. (I have 14 plug-in connections on my pedalboard alone – lotsa opportunity for signal degradation). Unplug all those audio connections, clean the plugs with rubbing alcohol, and hit them with DeOxit. (I have a little brush-on bottle of the stuff – it was like 20 bucks, but I’ve been using it for about 20 years (!!!), and still have more than half left. It works). Also, most studios have connections for interfaces or patchbays which are plugged in and forgotten. Those too will suffer and require a regular go-over. Pain in the ass, but this can yield a huge difference.

    The big thing to get out of these discussions about reducing noise and maximizing signal quality, is that everything you do is magnified. So anything you do to yield a tiny improvement, or even no noticeable improvement, has a cumulative effect.

  8. Hey guys, I was hoping for a little advice. I’ve been offered $800 to record an album. I’m getting the cash beforehand so I can buy equipment to use on the album and I’m wondering what to buy.

    My only preamp is the Saffire Saffire Pro 40. My best mics are an SM7B, an AT3035 condenser, a few SM57s, and a D112. (Oh wait, I said BEST mics, forget I mentioned the D112.) I also have a few Oktava mics I’m going to send off to Michael Jolly before the session, two SDCs for overheads and the MK-219 LDC that should sound close to a U67 when modded. (These mods are coming out of my pocket, not the advance money.)

    Should I blow my load on a really nice condenser, or buy a few nice small pieces of gear like a couple of Pre 73’s? How about Slate’s VCC or VTM? I’m mixing on NS10’s – should I get a sub to go with them?

    I think my studio sounds decent at the moment, but it looks like I need to take it to the next level. By the way, my DAW is Reaper and I’ve made my own acoustic panels, so that’s not an issue. Thanks guys!

    Trying to blow my load while the chicken isn’t looking,
    -Kris

    • I’d rent a stupid-nice condenser for vocal sessions. $800 isn’t gonna get you something “really” nice.

      NS10s are unflattering…which is probably good, but it can be hard to hear low end on those things. A decent sub wouldn’t be a bad idea.

      The Focusrite pres are pretty neutral so getting a colored pre and/or a decent compressor would be cool. It’d give you a nice palette to draw from.

      Consider looking at some ribbon mics from Cascade, specifically a pair of Fatheads. Those things sound great.

      • I hear what you’re saying about renting a nice condenser, but that would mean I’m using my earnings to rent a microphone for their session. I’d rather buy something I can keep. If they want to rent a nice microphone for their session, they need to do it on their dime, not with the money I’m making to record them.

  9. Regarding Frank Nitsch’s comment on show 209 (trying to get an upright bass sound without an upright bass), here’s a ridiculous-sounding tip: play your melody in a harmonica, and tune it down an octave on your DAW. It ends up sounding somewhat like a bowed upright bass (but more like a cello). I’ve been recording since I was 11, and this is the technique I would use WAY back in the day when my only instruments were an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. Back then, I would achieve this effect by playing the tape at a slower speed, but I imagine you could get it to work in a DAW. To most listeners, it sounds just like a stringed instrument, and you can laugh to yourself afterwards when people ask who was playing the upright bass in your song.

    For the record, I’d probably just use a VST instrument these days, but his comment brought me back to my first days of recording, when every object around the house was a potential source of sound for recording. Even when your equipment is limited, you can almost always find a way to get the sound you want.

  10. Hello Ryan and John,

    Side note: Batman is the straight man, it’s Robin who’s always making the wisecracks so that definitely makes Ryan Robin…sorry dude.

    My comments have nothing to do with the subject of the show…actually I will make a comment. I switched to the Fractal Audio Axe-FX II last year so I don’t have a problem with signal chain noise. I also don’t need a DI to track a direct take. Very convenient. Fractal just released firmware 10 which is another big leap in quality which has increased enormously since I bought the unit. I guess I’m officially a fan boy.

    I have a question about potential “downgrades”. The caveat here is that I don’t have any money.

    Mics – I have a Shure SM-57 and SM-58 and a Neumann TLM-103. I bought the Neumann several years back thinking this is a be-all end-all condenser mic (for a modest studio). But I haven’t been happy about the sound I’m getting when I record my voice (in a would be iso-booth in the corner of the living room made out of moving blankets with a piece of foam behind the mic about a foot). The signal chain is mic – Pre-73 – RNC – MOTU 838 mkIII via FW. I know you guys are big SM-7 fans and I’ve always wanted one. I’ve seen so many people use them (Michael Jackson, James Hetfield, Ozzy) and even though that isn’t really relevant I just have this feeling it will sound good on my voice. I’m thinking if I sold my TLM-103 I can buy one but I don’t want to give up having a high quality large diaphragm condenser so would also buy a KSM-32 (or equivalent). So the question is TLM-103 or SM-7 and KSM-32 (or other that you might suggest)?

    Monitors – I have two sets of Mackie monitors (HR824’s at the apartment where I work during the week and HR824 mkII’s in my home studio). My home studio is 11.5 feet wide and 12.5 feet deep. Unfortunately there is carpet in there which I wish I could pull out. There is also a giant desk and return in there which I hate but it is a multi-purpose room (it’s either that or a divorce). I have three 2×4 foot 2″ 703 panels on the ceiling above the desk, two on each sidewall and three on the front wall. I have 6″ of 703 straddling the two front corners and 4″ of 703 on the floor behind the desk straddling the corner. I’d like to add a pair of Yamaha HS-50’s. So my question is do you think I should sell my HR824 MkII’s for HS-50’s? Then the same question again but this time with the HS-50’s and an HS10W sub-woofer.

    Sorry for writing a book. Thanks for the advise and the great show. I really enjoy it.

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