Well 2016 is drawing to a close at last and I think I can speak for many people in saying it was a downright lousy year, to put it nicely. There’s a lot I could complain about but I’m trying to stay focused on the positive. I’ve been playing a bunch of music and that’s been one of the best things going on in my life this year. For my own clarity/later reference I compiled a list of the effects pedals I’ve been renting from Pedal Genie and I figured why not post it here. The list is organized by the date of the shipment of the rental pedals, and includes the list of recording sessions I held during the time I was using those pedals. I had 21 multi-track recording sessions in 2016 with the last 4 of those recorded in 24bit/96kHz which is something I’ve always wanted to do, recently enabled by a PC upgrade to the recording rig. We also had 1 live show and 1 video shoot with a live cameraman. From that video shoot came my personal favorite cornet performance of the year (in terms of expressiveness and execution), on “I Thought It Was You” by Herbie Hancock. Check it out:
List of effects pedals on rental and associated recording sessions:
A rousing bout of discussion among friends prompted me to search out a drawing I’d seen on the web sometime back concerning the “sad state of modern recording”. Basically it’s mocking the signal chain of recording artist to listener and I’ve created (ironically?) a more high fidelity version of this graphic for your enjoyment here:
What is this saying from a musician’s perspective? I guess that ultimately it’s up to the listener to decide what time/research/money they want to invest into music. If a listener wants to be low-effort, they are free to do that although it really doesn’t demand that much money to get decently-good sound. The image is mostly just for laughs but it does implicitly say something philosophical about the effort that recording engineers put into their craft of capturing something in exquisite quality. I mean people don’t go tremendously out of their way to acquire just the right tools without knowing they’ll be rewarded for using them. There is absolutely a major implication in the ingredients you choose when making food. And a colossal difference between a carefully grilled steak versus McDonald’s.
What touched all this off was the recent news that the iPhone 7 will have no headphone jack. I reacted to this news with laughter because it seemed so farcical, like a running joke that never stopped being funny for so long that it actually took wind and became a twisted reality. There was a time not long ago when I was interested enough in gadgets that I might have weighed in on this development with vociferous indignation but maybe I’ve stopped caring that much? It still does fascinate me that people will bend over backwards to rationalize this brazenly anti-user, anti-battery-life, anti-fidelity design choice. I mean I’ve got a few different sets of headphones which are each valuable listening tools for my own mixing/mastering projects and all of them would be incompatible with this “fancy” new phone without the use of a dongle. That’s just… bizarre.
Apple’s had a long, rich history of incomprehensible design choices like the hockey-puck mouse, the elimination of optical drives, the elimination of USB ports, and the recessed headphone jack on the iPhone 1 which now seems like a strange foreshadowing. My friends were riffing that Apple had also done away with Bluetooth and replaced it with their own proprietary wireless format called “Courage” and it wasn’t until I searched the web that I could figure out if they were serious or joking. Turns out they were making a clever joke but I think Apple should do it. How far can they go? For the iPhone 8 they should eliminate the screen I think. Too many clashing colors and confusing aesthetics for the modern consumer. The next phone will be a chrome-plated egg shape to literally mirror the skeuomorphic designs of nature. It’ll have a single LED that communicates to the user via a system of colors and flashing patterns about Donald Drumpf’s latest assertion that kale is part of Obamacare and needs to be banished. Accessories will include a $37.95 polish iCloth to keep the chrome egg plating fingerprint-free (please stop touching it), and an optional dongle which connects the egg to an external iScreen, if you really are that old fashioned that you still need a screen, you curmudgeonly technophobe. People would be just frothing at the opportunity to defend those choices, I know it! I also do genuinely wonder if Apple has actually made their billions by trading the stocks of accessory manufacturers and releasing strings of products to manipulate the stock prices in their favor up or down.
So that’s all pretty amusing but why do I care? I guess I don’t really. I’ve been content with Android for long enough now that whatever Apple does or doesn’t do has no effect on me so this rambling is all just for fun. And possibly part of my internal debate to answer the question, which is more stupid: continually voicing your unsolicited opinions on inane matters like what you’re cooking for supper, or continually saying nothing and maybe because of that having nothing to say? Of course the right place to land is somewhere in-between those two extremes but I feel I’ve been erring on the latter side too long so here’s a dishing in favor of the former:
As the above graphic implies, there is a difference made with hardware choice. And everything matters. In my own music that I’ve been recording and mastering, I’ve been continually changing, tweaking, and improving my artistry, small step by small step. From stylistic choices about the philosophy of mixing (should all instruments be clearly audible or should a single instrument be firmly holding the “lead”), to technical choices about the mastering (how much compression on the overheads is too much on the mid-band) to hardware decisions (which mic should I use on trumpet or snare, what placement is best for upper Leslie horn), to the musical choices which happen during the moment itself—all of that plays a role in what comes out at the end.
When I create music I am trying to get better at that for my own inner critic and my own inner enjoyment-listener. I do it to my own standard, or maybe more accurately I do it for the inherent accomplishment of having done it well. Never once does the sentiment “no one will ever notice” enter into my mind in this process because let’s be brutally honest here: hardly ever does anyone else even listen to begin with!! Besides my fellow musicians and maybe a random YouTuber now and then. And that’s ok. If I was creating music to please some hypothetical judge I’d be doing it for the wrong reason anyway. But my point here is that if the Sennheiser e609 sounds better than the Shure SM57 microphone when it comes to recording my friend Vince’s guitar, then I’m going to pick the better one because that’s what artistry is about: getting better at making your thing. A million different musicians all make choices like that every day and it all matters to them as individuals and to the overall quality level of the medium as a whole. If everyone gave up and said right we’re all using Fisher Price microphones going forward because why bother since the new iPhone wireless audio restricts the bitrate to 2800 baud or whatever, that’d be dumb as hell. And so it IS dumb as hell that Apple wants to get rid of cables which is indisputably a step backwards in terms of signal integrity, interference, and so on. Quality matters, end of story.
I hope people vote with their wallets on this one because love em or hate em, Apple is a trendsetter. Maybe at worst this is the beginning of the end for the cult of Jobs, or at the least maybe a few die-hard loyalists might blink and realize that the world’s 2nd most valuable corporation isn’t a hip buddy who just wants to jam out with them over some cool tunes, they’re more of a malicious middle-man of sorts, who wants to water-down what’s great about music and take your money in exchange for the illusion of coolness that comes with this club that really just takes anyone’s $700 who’s dumb enough to hand it over. That’s right, iSaid it. Audio cables for life, people. Because music’s richness is in the fine details and as we firmly established, everything matters when it comes to that.
There’s been a few awesome milestones lately in my world of recording. Let’s rattle em off:
1. I’ve got “www.YouTube.com/ElectricTrumpet”!
My YouTube channel now has enough subscribers that I could acquire a custom URL. Now all of my Electric Trumpet exploits can now be seen at the easy-to-remember address of www.YouTube.com/ElectricTrumpet which is pretty nifty indeed (although the embedded link here takes you right to the full videos page). I have continued to upload more content there and there shall be a steady stream to come as well so check it out both now and later.
2. The size of my musical exploits is now crossing one Terrabyte in size!!
As you can see by the hard drive properties in the screenshot at left, my recording hard drive is soon to be full. The only thing on this hard drive is audio recordings I have made! There is maybe a small bit of filler in there in terms of mp3s of songs I need to practice or other bloat like zip files of sessions to be uploaded and shared but it’s mostly jams, wavs, and things happenin. It feels so great to see this. It’s one thing to stack up a big pile of gear and spend a bunch of cash on the tools of the trade, but it feels a lot better to see the proof in the pudding so to speak, the walking of the walk in actually creating stuff. There’s a ton of people out there who spend boatloads of money on expensive hardware, be it photography or music or whatever, but I always find myself internally asking the question, “Yeah, but what have you MADE?” Here I am, earning the right to talk that trash. Hell yeah.
3. The input capacity of my setup has expanded to THIRTY!!!
I’m pretty psyched up about the fact that I’ve now acquired enough gear to extend my recording setup from 16 channels up to 30! I’m adding a sweet “The Moment Of Genesis” tag to this post for this milestone. On the face of it, it seems like 16 channels should be plenty, right? But as time has gone on I have expanded and expanded my methods of recording, and we’re now at the point that I’ve used the max of 16 channels for many consecutive sessions now, wishing that I had the capability to go higher. If that seems unlikely, let me rattle them off: 1.overhead high-hat 2. overhead ride 3. snare 4. kick 5. electric bass 6. electric guitar 7. Leslie organ horn left 8. Leslie organ horn right 9. trumpet stand mic 10. Leslie bottom (15″) 11. trumpet pedalboard left 12. trumpet pedalboard right 13. trumpet clip-on mic (blended with stand for tone) 14. lower snare mic 15. room mic left 16. room mic right… And there’s 16! First thing I’m going to add over that will be 3 tom mics so that I can high pass the overheads, cutting the bass and the snare out of my overhead track without killing the life of the toms. I have also been dreaming of adding an auxiliary percussion/conguero now and then, or having the ability to add other horn players, or a doubling of guitar or keys maybe. So this unlocks all that capability although the main thing immediately is the addition of tom mics which I hope will clean up the low and high end overall. Behold the glorious rack which will bring all that to life:
Today is the ten-year anniversary of a very memorable jam session for me, “The Electro-Acoustic Workshop” at Muse Cafe in Chicago IL on 7-6-6. This session was the brainchild of one Mr Dave Marsalek who was part owner of the coffeeshop Muse Cafe and a talented drummer in his own right. The Muse was his shot at opening a business that combined his love of coffee and experimental music. Of course running a cafe is damn hard and eventually due to various factors it had to close, but for a period from 2006 to 2007 (?) I joined him and a host of other friends to create some original and innovative music that ten years later still stands worthy of those adjectives. There were a few reoccuring music series hosted at Muse Cafe worthy of note and one of these was the Electro-Acoustic Workshop.
The theme of this particular session was, as the name implies, combining electronic sounds (effects pedals/electrified instruments/samplers/etc) with traditional acoustic jazz instrumentation. This particular session was a standout among my recordings from that era for two main reasons: one, Dave had some excellent musicial friends amassed for this evening. Kris Myers (Umphrey’s McGee) on drums and Chris Clemente (Kick the Cat) on electric bass were the heaviest hitters in attendance but the whole supporting cast and crew were all creative and energetic in their own rights. Alas, many of these people I never did stay in touch with and their names elude me through the fog of memory. But the playing still speaks for itself.
Behind the excellent musicianship, the second main reason why this session is a standout to me is because of where I personally happened to be in my musical development. I had started experimenting with effects pedals near the beginning of 2006 and by mid-year I had either borrowed or accumulated enough gear to do something interesting, and had also spent just enough time with it to somewhat know what I was doing or at least trying to do. Thanks to the excellent cast assembled for this evening the grooves were guaranteed to be good and I was setup to do ‘my thing’ on the highest level that I could.
In hindsight I sort of view this session as a fork in the road with my musical development. I had always been fascinated with effects and combining them with the instrument I had been practicing my whole life was an intriguing new twist to put it lightly. But was this a gimmick–a transitory phase on the way to something else–or was there real substance worth developing with the use of effects on my horn? It would take a few magic moments to cement the idea. Instants where something special happened thanks to effects pedals, instants which would not have had the same impact without them. And that’s exactly what this session had in spades.
I’ve always been a dedicated taper and archivalist of my own craft on the horn. Most of the time these recordings have a short shelf life. I try to listen to myself and identify what worked well and needs to be repeated, refined, and reiterated. Most of the time it’s incremental improvements, maybe an unusually creative phrase, or a handful of spots where synchronicity of the group yielded a neat moment–this is what we’re usually hoping for when we play music. Very seldom does an evening come along with a replay value measured in years, one where you say to yourself, “This is it. This is what I’m working toward and what I’m trying to do. I want to internalize this, be able to recreate this energy again.” July 7th on 2006 was that moment for me, and it inspired me to double-down on playing with effects and commit to that as a core-element of ‘my thing’. Of course there were many moments before and after that taught me how rewarding it is to play with effects, but this night and the many times I relistened to this night were probably the largest single motivational event that shaped my musical path foward.
So for that reason it’s a very special recording to me on a personal/developmental level. All that said, I also think it’s a fantastic listen even without that story surrounding it. Several months back I uploaded it to YouTube. This isn’t the entire evening, since the whole thing is quite long, but what we have below is the middle and ending sections which gel together with a cohesive flow and make, to me, a thought-provoking, smile-inducing, and at times eyebrow-raising musical journey, a pivotal moment catapulting me toward where I am today. I invite you to join in and listen to that journey:
I thought this photo ought to be captured here to document the state of my configuration on 5/21/16:
Since there was no organ on this session, the horn is setup to run through the Leslie… Yo dawg I heard you like horns… so we put your horn though a horn! As you might guess, the trumpet throught a Leslie horn can be exceptionally piercing. Devoted readers may notice that my Leslie model 205 did not originally include the horn, which I have just recently added. Horn through the Leslie is pretty neat although after trying it a few times I have concluded that organ (as one might expect) is still what makes it truly shine.
Also new in this image are 3 rental pedals from PedalGenie.com, the Dr Scientist Tremoloescence, the Moog Minifooger flanger, and the Pigtronix Envelope Phaser. Those three pedals aRe listed in order of increasing coolness for their effect on the horn. I’ve had fun with all three although by this stage the bar is set very high for a pedal to be a “keeper”. A new round should be arriving soon.
Recently I decided to take some glamour shots of my stereo setup in “The Lab” and post them to a vintage audio usergroup for others to oogle and discuss. Some of the elements shown here have already been written about individually so I won’t recap that (get it?) in detail here. Clicking on any image will enlarge it, then right click again on the enlarged image if you want to see if in 100% resolution. Below is a list of the components and links to more descriptive posts on these where available:
This month I acquired something of supreme importance in my own little world: a new (to-me) Trumpet.
It’s been amusing to share this news with my musical cohorts and hear their reactions. Several of them commented “new toy!” or “playing with new toys is always fun!” which is true… however I think that players on non-wind instruments don’t grasp what a leap this is for the core of my musicianship. Unlike pedals or other musical accouterments, to a horn player a new axe is the foundation of the sound, the origin of everything. And build quality changes a lot. Sitting in front of a new keyboard or a different drumset will certainly inspire a different result, but a better brass instrument is something even more powerful. Many instruments won’t affect the actual technical facility of the player… but this, this does.
Trumpet playing has been a constant in my life for close to three decades now. I’d say it’s maybe not the “main” quest in my life, but it’s the top side-quest. One with a sprawling cast of characters and a gigantic outlay of time invested. A lot of the time when you practice you’re working to improve some aspect of your capabilities; range, speed, clean attacks, tone, accuracy when doing lip slurs, etc. Well my level in all of those little skill-tree branches just jumped up, some of them significantly. That, and it all “feels” more natural and nimble as well. It’s super incredible!!
For twenty years I’ve been playing on a Bach Stradivarius model 37 ML bore. This is the “gold-standard” trumpet, the one that can be found in any bandroom almost without a doubt. And for good reason. Bach horns are respected for quality. Since they are hand-built in relatively large numbers, when you buy one of these you need to try several out and find the one that feels best to you. I tried probably close to a dozen before selecting mine as a teenager. I believe I chose wisely and the instrument has served me excellently for a long, long time. We went on some real odysseys together. Then two years ago a cornet showed up and changed the way I saw things.
My 1960s King Master Series Cornet built in Cleveland Ohio was bought for $120 by my mom at a farm auction. It had presumably sat in a closet for a very long time before being auctioned off. When I got it, for some reason it refused to play in tune. So it sat for a while longer before I took it to a professional for full chemical flush, and a complete servicing. After that was done, wow, it opened up my eyes to how a good horn could feel. My range instantly went up several steps, my sound seemed clearer, more focused. Everything felt just… better and easier. Suddenly the strad was second fiddle in terms of pure fun.
But a cornet is still a cornet. I’ve had a killer time playing on the King and I will still keep playing it. But the intonation on a cornet is never going to be as good as a trumpet, something which has become painfully clear to me when I tried to use it to overdub more parts on recent recordings. When I begun listening for it, I found lots of intonation problems. In the crazy melange of sounds I’m shooting for with all these electronics, the basic fundamentals of musicality still apply. The cornet, as bright as it may be, also doesn’t project and ‘zing’ the same way a trumpet can. And in the end I want to be a trumpeter, not a cornetist. It’s time to get back to home base.
Looking into an upgrade for the Strad seemed hopeless at first. One, the Strad is a venerable horn and the list of horns that would play better than a strad (on paper) is far smaller than the list that plays worse. What’s “better” is often times wholly subjective so researching this in text format is somewhat of a fools errand. Really if want to upgrade you should travel to someplace like Woodwind Brasswind in Indiana and spend a whole day (or three) trying different models and comparing them back to back. Then you’d probably spend about 2 grand at a bare minimum buying whatever you liked better. This all sounded prohibitively expensive and would involve a trip and a hotel on top of it.
So I started reading around on the web and slowly looking older horns, thinking that certainly there have to be hidden gems out there like my King cornet. You just need to know what model to look for, what serial numbers and what years. That’s somewhat guarded knowledge among those who do know, but you can find out a bit by asking around. In the end though it still does comes down to luck finding a horn that somehow miraculously plays well among lesser instruments of the same make/model. And rarely do people ever get rid of something that’s excellent.
A name that kept coming up over and over though was Zig Kanstul. I won’t rehash his impressive biography here, but suffice it to say he has been a lifelong master craftsman at building trumpets. You can trace his career path by noting the models of older horns that are still well-revered despite their age: The Olds Ambassador & the Besson 609 are two, both designed or built by Kanstul in his younger days while he worked for those companies. In the 80s he founded his own company and they’ve been steadily producing small numbers of superb instruments. If I were to buy a horn without being able to try multiple copies of the same instrument to select the best one, I’d want it to be from a manufacturer who had the highest level of consistent quality. Which sounds like Kanstul from what I know.
As far as my own personal needs, I’m a jazz player, roughly speaking. Mostly small group fusion jazz, solos and melodies within the staff, but I do tear off on some high note overdubs now and then. Listening back to my own playing I hear two main technical flaws that stand out. One, loose intonation as a whole, and two, too many chipped notes or “fracked” pitches upon the initial attack. Ideally whatever I get should help me with those shortcomings.
Ebay seemed impossible. Too many people watching, too hot demand. So it was Craigslist to the rescue. In Dallas Texas a band teacher had listed a used Kanstul WB for around a third of the retail price for a brand new one. Here we go!! I began researching on this particular model and instantly loved what I was hearing about it. Perhaps most exciting was the fact that this model is a custom “artist” horn. That is to say Kanstul designed it for trumpeter Wayne Bergeron and when it was complete they decided it was appealing enough that it should be a production model, not just a one-off. Below are a few snippets from reviews and comments from players who talked about using it which I’m compiling here for my own easy future reference:
“I have played for 35 years including Bach, Benge, Holton and Schilke (4 of them) … this is the absolute best horn I have ever played. The tone and intonation are superior as is the slotting (particularly in the upper register). The valves are fantastic. The slotting is phenomenal. The horn has a heavier feel to it (than the Schilkes & Yamahas); however, has a laser beam tone in the high end along with a rich beautiful tone in the low end. This horn has a very unique brushed lacquer finish with some nickel as well. I traded a custom gold plated Schilke in for mine and am very very happy with the Bergeron Kanstul”
“Picked up this horn about 2 weeks ago and I couldn’t be happier. The slotting is amazing, a joy to play. I can play anything I want on it, jazz, lead, classical you name it. EXTREMELY versatile horn. Sounds very mellow playing a 3c and can light the room on fire with my Monette b5L.”
“I drove up to WWBW not intending to buy a new horn and absolutely fell in love with this trumpet. It is absolutely beautiful; the craftsmanship is superior and the sound is fantastic. It plays very open and the slotting is magnificent in the high register. The appearance (finish) is very unique. I’ve played Bach, Holton, Benge and Schilkes, and this is the best all around horn I have ever played.”
“It’s great to hear all you trumpet players have discovered this great horn. I have sold more 1600WB trumpets to more elated great trumpet players than any other. It is truly multidimensional in the hands of an experienced player. It’s the trumpet to audition if you are looking for one that has the potential to do everything including lead work above high C.”
“slotting is very good for me. not to tight/not too loose. More core to my sound than on my 75 LA Benge and slots much better for me above high G.”
“One of the things I like about it is that it sounds nice and fat in the staff but when you go up above the staff it brightens up nicely (not too edgy though). What’s really cool about is if you give it some push you can actually feel this baby reverberate in your hands.”
“Oh yeh, don’t push your blow too much through either. Lay back and let the horn do the work. You follow that advice and you’ll catch on real fast on how to control this axe. One last thing, you’ll love take’n it above the staff and listening to the after burner kick in! I always wondered how Kanstul could put an after burner in one of those 1600 “WB” and keep it so light????”
“If you are looking for the best projecting horn out there… Call it Superchops. Great lead horn!”
“Kanstul just makes an overall higher quality product than most other brands I’ve played, including Yamaha. I’ve auditioned the 1600 and love it. I can play literally any style of music I want to on it. The versatility is unmatched by any other horn I’ve played (including Bach, but they’re always in the game)… absolutely incredible horn.”
“I was flippin’ Amazed how much improved Larry’s live sound was! Lots of color, and nuance, and a much improved presence all over the horn. I heard Larry a few days after he got it- he’s always been a masterful jazz player to be sure, but on the 1600 it was as if somebody from above had said “Hey, this guy’s playing some serious stuff here, let’s give him The Sound to go with it”.”
“But without a doubt the Kanstul WB was one of the finest trumpets that I ever played. In my opinion for Big Band, and especially jazz combo, it’s awesome. One way I would describe what I thought was that it had a very “CLEAN” sound… And this is coming from a guy that normally doesn’t play or like any horns made past 1964. The Kanstul was an exception. A great made trumpet.”
Wayne Bergeron is perhaps best known for being the lead trumpet player in Maynard Ferguson’s band, although his full biography is far more wide in scope than just that. This horn was designed to his needs as a lead player and soloist. It has a reverse lead pipe and a lightweight bell which is supposedly modeled after that of a Bach model 72, a very bright trumpet. As some trumpet-savvy readers may know, Wayne Bergeron switched endorsement to Yamaha a while back, although some say it was purely because they’re a huge company with deep pockets that can give free promotion to their artists. For that reason, the WB is currently sold as the “model 1600.” However TrumpetHerald users also dropped this information:
“I was with Wayne yesterday and got to play his Yamaha with his new GR mouthpiece. I like the mouthpiece but I prefer his/my 1600. I got Charles to make me a rounded tuning slide for mine, it made a big difference with the resistance for me. I love it! The best horn I’ve ever played for every style in every situation.”
“The old “WB” horn had a heavy bottom cap on 3rd valve. “1600” has all normal caps. Wayne used heavy caps on 1st and 3rd valve when I met him(few years ago). He said 1st valve heavy cap has a better slot for D.”
So far I’ve had two sessions with the horn and I’d say I agree with the majority of what the reviewers had to say. My immediate reaction was one of joy, freedom. This Kanstul just feels so easy and fun. I think of a phrase and I play it with no fighting, and it sings out however intensely I choose. If I want smokey and dark, I can get airy and contemplative. If I want bold and melodic, this horn can be positively searing when you push it. The versatility is real. The horn is exciting, the same way it is to drive a car with a ton of horsepower. You just push it and it goes. It’s very cool the way you can feel the sound vibrate the instrument, more than any other brass instrument I’ve played. This is probably due to the fact that the WB is designed with an unusually thin bell which keeps it light in terms of weight and allows the bright, brassy sound the WB can have. This has the awesome effect of making it feel alive in your hands when you ‘push the accelerator’ and make the horn light up… Man. Super fun to play.
This Kanstul really is a phenomenal axe. I can’t get over it. Maybe my Strad is in need of a valve alignment or something? When I went to try it out (a five hour drive each way) I was hoping it would be a clear, obvious difference over the Strad and indeed; the jump to this instrument is quite significant. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I do all my practicing on a mega open-blowing Holton Cornet from 1911 with a large 1X mouthpiece, but I don’t feel like the WB is a dauntingly open horn the way some people have characterized it. Stacked up against my Holton, the WB does offer some resistance. Perhaps the best feeling about this horn, to me, is that I feel like I’ve truly “leveled up” to it. I put in the years, I invested the time to where I knew the difference right away and had built up enough skill that this upgrade felt earned not just bought.
On all sessions from 7/11/14 until 3/13/16 I played almost entirely cornet, and it’s been a year and a half of great sessions for sure. That first session on 7/11/14 yielded some glorious cornet “moments” that I still look back upon fondly. Similarly, the session on 4/10/16 was one for the books. That excitement and “freshness” is back, even more with the Kanstul. The King added range and zip, but the Kanstul, properly piloted, adds accuracy and speed, which is even more electrifying. That, and the vibration of the horn itself is a real treat. My 1960s King Master cornet is a surprisingly responsive instrument and a pleasure to play. It’s easy to jump between dynamics/timbres/ranges on the King but I always felt dissatisfied with the intonation and the overall tone. Over the past year and a half on cornet I have been struggling with the acoustic sound, not liking what I’m getting (and for that reason favoring the wet signal more). However this Kanstul is giving me a beautiful brassy tone straight out of the gate, and sounds full even when I lean heavy on the stand-mounted Sennheiser e609 which always felt thin and abrasive with the King. In terms of the “dry” trumpet mics I am feeling positively thrilled with what the Kanstul has given me, which is why in this latest session from 4/10 I leaned heavier than I think I ever have on the acoustic signal. I see that trend continuing.
Below is a video of a brand new tune, first time I’ve ever played “Red Baron” by Billy Cobham, and my first new posting with this magnificent instrument:
So one, the tone, and two the speed of the Kanstul is really popping out to me on the recordings. The King is not that far off from the Kanstul in terms of ease and upper range openness, but where the Kanstul pulls away from it is in the dexterity. Sure the valves are very quick but when you combine that fact with how strongly it slots, even within the staff, the Kanstul is really lightning fast. The real limiting factor on speed is mental clarity. You can hear what I’m talking about in the phrases at 5:33-5:42 in the video. I knew what I wanted to play right there and it comes off clean and crisp. Shortly after that I biff a few notes and that’s because I wasn’t mentally committed to the phrase as it was happening. So if I can keep up, mentally, in the moment as the improv is happening, I see a lot of really ambitious and intricate phrases being within my reach which is very exciting for me.
All this isn’t to say that the Kanstul won’t be limited by the shortcomings of the performer. It can still frack and play out of tune if I drive it poorly, a fact I’ve already proven to myself. I still need improve my skills in all 12 keys and always focus on the fundamentals of intonation, attack, phrasing, mental clarity, and timbre. All the rules still apply. But. The ceiling of what’s possible just jumped up and I can feel that. If I can play up to the ability of the instrument, there are a series of new magical things awaiting me that weren’t unlocked until just now.
It occurred to me that it’s been a long time since I’ve done an update on the electric trumpet pedalboard and posted about it on here, although I’ve been busy using it. A few aspects of the setup have evolved since I posted the last signal chain and there’s been many rental pedals in the interim as well.
Here’s the chain, as of March 2016:
Boss OC-2 octave
Source Audio SA143 bass envelope
Morley Power Wah
Damage Control Liquid Blues
Malekko BIT sample rate reducer
Keeley 6-stage Phaser (rental)
Moog Minifooger Ring Modulator (rental)
Line 6 DL4 delay modeler/looper
Maestro PH-1 Phaser
Moog Bass MuRF
TC Electronic Flashback delay
Line 6 MM4 modulation modeler
Boss TE-2 Tera Echo (rental)
Damage Control Glass Nexus
I moved the OC-2 back to first in the chain because it needs a raw signal to track well. The Pitchfactor can still track the output while the OC-2’s active just fine, although the inverse is not true. The purple envelope is new and it rocks. More on that…
The Source Audio SA143 Pro Bass Envelope:
At last, this is the envelope that I’ve been searching for. It’s got a fast, responsive filter, a ton of variability thanks to the knobs, and I can save six presets. These presets are valuable because like the SolidGoldFX Funkzilla, this pedal includes an LFO (oscillator) which can control the filter. That makes for a lot of possibilities.
Source Audio found ways to bury a ton of functionality inside this pedal. The center display shows an EQ which can be used to tweak the timbre of the filter but more interestingly, if you press the two black buttons to the right of it, the function of that display changes, allowing you to access the “backpage” parameters. Most of these simply control expression input but two of them are very juicy: one, the Q of the filter which changes it from mellow to insane and two, the shape of the waveform used by the LFO. There’s a good selection of waves to choose from. I created a laserbeam sound by using a high Q and an upward sawtooth wave, a step filter (at last I have one!) by using the random waveform with a medium Q, and a third, crazy setting that sounds like beeping robots and computers by using the random waveform and a high Q. This pedal is rife with creative potential if you take the time to play with it.
Digging deeper into the Eventide Pitchfactor:
If there is one pedal that’s truly bottomless on my board, it’s definitely the Eventide Pitchfactor. The Pitchfactor does need some one on one time with the player before trying to use it in context if you want to milk the most interesting effects out of it though. I have taken 3 sessions now sitting down with it and creating some custom presets for myself which is really where the magic happens. Initially I covered the basics with a 5ths harmonizer, a pitchflex mode that allows for +2 octave bends with the expression pedal (which I have surprisingly used a ton), and a four part harmonizer. Second time around I added a few more basic modes and dual-delay with a long repeat time that ascends sub-chromatically in frequency each time the delays repeat, which is super unique.
Most recently I created a few new presets that take advantage of the other modes I have not been using on this pedal. I added a synth setting although for whatever reason the synth seems to have the worst lag of all the modes in this pedal so we’ll see how useful it turns out to be. Next up was an arppegiator which might be neat in the right moment, especially looped. Finally I added another ascending delay that climbs up the whole tone scale as it repeats, inspired by a video of the Earthquaker Devices “Rainbow Machine” pedal. This whole-tone ascending thing was what I had originally set out to create when I built the previous sub-chromatic ascending delay. What I had discovered by accident was just so cool that I forgot to complete what I was actually trying to do!
Do I like this or not? The Boss Tera Echo TE-2:
I can’t decide what to think about this guy. It has generated a lot of buzz for a Boss pedal since the aim here was to combine reverb and delay into one pedal which was a low-cost attempt to reach for a sound like you get with the Strymon BigSky (the descendant of my Glass Nexus reverb/delay). The Tera Echo does get a “big” sound through a mono amplifier when you’re in the room with it, but since I record in stereo, direct from the pedalboard into a mixer, I can listen to it on headphones and hear exactly what it really sounds like in comparison to all the other things in my arsenal.
Inside the headphones it’s surprisingly… small. It gives a long-trail reverb wash but in terms of stereo soundstage when you compare it to the TC electronics reverbs/delays it’s not anywhere close in grandeur. It also has some kind of bandpass bump in its frequency response that gets tiring to me after a while. You can clearly tell when the Tera Echo is in use, as opposed to the other delays/reverbs I also use. Which maybe pidgeonholes it–a distinctive sound that you can’t change all that much. I will say that it does have a killer knob twist squeal when you change the delay time knob. That was a lot of fun. But ultimately this pedal feels like too much of a one-trick pony, ‘there-it-is-again’ type of effect.
I am apparently lucky to be spoiled with exquisite phasing, since I have pitted several very high end phasers against the Maestro PH-1 and all of them fall short. The latest is the Keeley 6-stage phaser. Before that was the Electro-Harmonix Bad Stone reissue, and the SolidGoldFX Apollo. The Apollo did sound uniquely great with the random LFO driving it but again, the phasing itself clearly did not sound as good as the Maestro. In the last session I still had it, I did figure out that slow movement of the Apollo expression pedal input did yield some deep textural shifts that sounded excellent with reverb and delay giving it a wash. Idunno, I keep thinking there has to be a lusher, more Steve Miller-ish, more Tame Impala-esque phaser out there for me, but I keep trying and failing to find it. Perhaps I should be looking for a flanger or something along those lines.
The TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb:
Since I had such an excellent experience with the TC Flashback delay, I decided I needed to check out his partner in ethereal crime, the HOF reverb. The Flashback blew my socks off in terms of the sheer size of it’s soundscape and I would say the HOF was almost right there with it. Maybe not quite as large, but not too far behind. This pedal presents an impressive array of reverb styles, which was very fun to scroll through and try on my own, but left me with the question, how many of these would actually be distinguishable if you were changing between modes during a jam session? I suppose you could ask the same question when it comes to the Flashback’s many delay types, but I do think the differences are even more subtle when it comes to ‘verb, in the midst of an actual song.
That said, if I didn’t already have the superb reverb of the Damage Control Glass Nexus, I’d be swayed by this pedal. Obviously many people are because I saw a recent list of the 10 top-selling pedals of 2015 and this was near the top. Deservedly so. I tell you, if TC Electronic ever made an all-in-one multi-effects unit that combined the HOF, Flashback, and a smattering of their many modulators, now that would be very difficult to resist. Multi-effects typically means an inferior version of 20 different things, but I gotta hand it to TC, they make excellent stuff.
Moog Ring Modulator:
Ok, now this thing rocks. I have a ring mod on my Line 6 MM-4, but like everything the MM-4 does, it’s not as rich as the real McCoy of whatever effect you’re talking about. On the most recent jam as of this writing, I threw this ring mod all over the place and it produced some crazy, impressive sounds. I keep coming back to the Billy Cobham album “Spectrum” which has a ton of ring modulator on it and this Moog version comes closer to that “get him away from the knobs, he’s out of control!” type of feeling than anything the MM-4 has given me. Although that’s not a surprise given that it’s a Moog pedal. I would enjoy having this guy around full time although with great power comes great responsibility. It’s hard to use this in moderation since it’s just so goofy and fun. Maybe I should not have this much power. I’m still not sure yet.
Walrus Audio Janus Fuzz/Tremolo:
This pedal was a letdown for me. Obviously, its ULTRA cool looking. It’s got graphics and two huge joysticks; you take one look at it and it screams ‘how could this not kickass?!’ Well at least on the trumpet, I don’t think it kicks ass. Two reasons why: one is that I have never been a big fan of distortion/overdrive/fuzz on the horn. Unlike guitar, I think trumpet should project its natural tone and I’ve never heard a distortion that took that tone into a differently-interesting direction. This was no different. And two, the tremolo joystick control was a wasted opportunity: vertical axis controlled wet/dry and horizontal axis controlled speed. Speed is great, but damn, couldn’t they have made the vertical axis waveform shape?! That would have made this thing like 20x more interesting. Opportunity missed. I have also used a lot of tremolos and I wasn’t blown away by the sound of the trem itself. I’ll chock this one up as another example of “here’s a pedal that guitar players seem to go nuts over, but I can’t make it do anything special on trumpet”. That seems to happen a lot. You can also include in this list the Chase Audio Warped Vinyl, The Red Panda Particle Delay, and others. I know, I know. Those pedals are practically worshiped. But for me, they didn’t deliver. These are the lessons that I’m learning through Pedal Genie.
I had also tried the Mad Professor Snow White Bass Auto Wah but found that it was both too slow in terms of speed and too tame in terms of the filter Q to give the proper tone that I wanted. Prior to that I had tried the Voodoo Labs Wahzoo which combines a wah, a step filter, and an autowah into a single package. Cool idea but again the frequency content of trumpet was not a match with what that pedal was trying to do. Although the lowest note on a conventionally tuned guitar is E2, 82.4Hz it seems that many pedals are voiced to have the ‘meat’ of their frequency content much higher than that. In my own setup I often favor the “bass” version of a pedal if the maker has two versions. Nowhere was this better illustrated to me than on the Voodoo Labs Wahzoo, which seemed like a very alluring treadle box on paper. However the autowah was not even able to trigger at all on the trumpet! No matter what setting I used, the autowah did literally nothing at all.
The Infanem Small Echo Array was a unique concept–it has four separate delays which are all based off the same speed. Dialing up each of the individual four delays produces different rhythmic patterns. That was pretty neat.
So there you have it. Tons of effects were tried, lots of things were learned and hopefully some sweet music got made along the way. I should post updates like this more often that summarize my findings (note to self). Another thing I want to do sometime soon is create a video about the macro-level philosophy of playing horn with effects and why my setup has evolved into what it is now. But that’s for another day…
Ever since seeing it live on a gig in college at this tiny bar in La Crosse Wisconsin called the MouseTrap, I’ve always been interested in learning how to create Liquid Light Shows. These are the psychedelic oil and water mixing of colors which often accompanied music for videos in the 60s and 70s for many rock and roll acts. So with a bit of internet searching and the aid of this incredibly helpful tutorial video I saw on youtube, I’ve created my first attempt at visual art in this medium. It’s nothing masterful but it’s a first step and sometimes that’s the hardest part. I hope to do a lot more of this. It’s pretty fun. The music that goes along with it is a recording from my most recent recording session as of this writing and has some excellent moments with improv, ring mod, Jungle Boogie, and the Mission Impossible Theme. Enjoy: