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    Electric Trumpet pedalboard snapshot: 5/22/15


    2015 - 05.31

    Here’s a few more photos to document the transitory pedalboard setup of the month. I’ve continued borrowing pedals from the fantastic service PedalGenie.com and this month I’m enjoying three new ones: 1. The SolidGold FX Apollo Phaser 2. The SolidGold FX Funkzilla envelope filter and 3. The Electro Harmonix Pulsar Tremolo. Here’s an overall shot of the board as she appeared for the 5/15/15 and 5/22/15 sessions:

    The board: 5-22-15 edition
    A few observations about each:

    1. The SolidGold FX Apollo Phaser is a decent-to-good phaser packed with some totally amazing features. What I mean by that is, purely as a phaser, I still prefer the 1970s Maestro Phaser also seen in the overall photo, BUT the Apollo has some super creative ways of applying the phase that I’ve never seen on another phaser. First off, you can connect an expression pedal and use it to control the position of the phase combination. They describe it as an interesting take on the wah, but since a phaser is totally different than an envelope I’m going to say that the similarity ends with the fact that both are controlled by your foot. This was the feature that drew me to the pedal and I will say that it delivered, conceptually, on what I envisioned when I read the description. In use, the expression control seems to be subtle in the context of a full band. Turning up the resonance of the filter makes it cut a bit harder, and it is quite captivating to mess around with. Matter of fact I have held onto this one from PedalGenie for two months to give myself more time to see what plays out with this expression pedal control.

    SolidGoldFX Apollo Phaser

    It took me a while to figure it out, but the expression pedal control is best used slowly, to create a textural metamorphosis rather than quickly, like you’d “waka-chicka” on a wah.  With that approach a ‘bigger’ sound is yielded, one which allows more subtlety to come out.  Surprisingly, in the context of improvisation the feature I find myself reaching for more than the expression pedal control is the randomizer function, which bounces the phase position all over whimsically. This, combined with the tap tempo control allows you to create a rhythmic texture that sounds similar to a step filter. I really like that effect.  The randomizer and the expression control both do a lot to make this pedal something special. I know I am going to miss this one a lot when it’s gone.

    2. The SolidGold FX Funkzilla Envelope Filter–with a name like that, how could it be bad?! It might be the coolest looking pedal I’ve ever seen with the Godzilla graphic and the sparkly purple paint job. It also has expression pedal input although I couldn’t seem to make it do much that felt interesting. Last month I had tried the Voodoo Labs Wahzoo pedal which is a wah, step filter, and autowah all in one. Regretfully the attack range of the autowah on that pedal was simply out of range for what my trumpet produces, and it literally did nothing. So the Funkzilla is the autowah sound I was wishing for! When you play a very fast phrase you can feel it getting slightly behind on its attack but for the most part it keeps up well even through brisk phrases. This sound is a lot of fun.

    The first session I Funkzilla’d (YES!) I had the ‘Zil after the wah pedal which I think was a mistake. On the second one I used it before the wah, which allows me to slowly sculpt the tone without losing the Funkzilla filter attack. So this guy belongs early in the signal chain I think.

    The SolidGoldFX FUNKZILLA.

    One thing I despise about both of these SolidGold FX pedals is the footswitches they use are hard as a rock and click very loudly when you engage them. Even if I was a guitarist and these were on the floor, I think I’d still dislike that. In our recordings you can hear them click on and off loud and clear. Why anyone would prefer this type of a switch, I do not understand. I’m very biased since most of my pedals reside at waist height and I actuate them with my hands, but were I to buy either of these pedals, I think I would open them up and rip out these awful switches to replace them with soft ones.

    3. The Electro Harmonix Pulsar Tremolo is the most complicated tremolo I’ve ever seen. Complexity is a double edged sword of course, and I feel like I’m stumbling through hallways in the vast mansion of what it can truly do. Right away the coolest feature seems to be the fact that this tremolo offers a few rhythmic patterns besides a constant on/off cycle. Those patterns can also be adjusted to have a different attack with the waveform style knob, swapping from a hard-edged square wave to a smoother triangle wave, to the smoothest sine wave setting. There is a ton of variety in here. I’m blown away by the possibilities that it offers but I’m also left wondering how many people ever touch the bottom on this thing. One dangerous aspect of a very complicated pedal is when you’re in the heat of a cool moment and you reach for it, expecting, you know, a tremolo–but instead it’s still set to that weird-ass setting from earlier in the jam that you were playing around with and was cool at the time but is totally out of place now. The Eventide Pitch Factor has burned me a few times in the same way. Awesome pedals, and they do so much, but they demand your attention to really control them.

    The Electro-Harmonix Pulsar Tremolo

    4. The TC Electronic Flashback Delay–I got this pedal as a loaner from PedalGenie and I liked it so much that I had to actually buy one to keep full time. This now makes 3 (yes, three) delay pedals on the board, which is getting a little bit ridiculous, but wow, it has such a tremendously big soundstage when used in stereo that I was instantly hooked to it. Vince (our guitarist) commented on a portion of our jam “that’s quite a trumpetscape”… any pedal that can coin a new word deserves consideration as a permanent member, I think.  Besides it’s giant stereo field which immediately makes it presence known, the Flashback also has a host of varied sounds which each have their own appeal.  I’ve been digging the LoFi mode and the Ping Pong most of all, but the mod has quite a pleasing modulation sound as well.  And the Tone Print setting lets you add in pretty much anything else you can think of using the very comprehensive editor which runs on your PC and transfers new settings over via USB.  That’s a brilliant idea.

    So full-time TrumpetScape™ Technology is now on hand and life is good. Having these extra pedals around is a lot of fun and stimulating.

    TC Electronic Flashback stereo delay modeler.  With my gaffer tape snake proudly carrying all signals in the background.

    Hurrah for New Speakers!


    2015 - 05.02

    The culmination of my most recent loudspeaker construction project is finally here! The JB mk.IV’s are now complete. I spent a good amount of time listening and I’m feeling great about how they turned out. Some digression:

    On the enclosure: I would use Red Oak again, for sure. My nervousness for working with hardwood for the first time was totally misplaced. When cut with my circular saw, it was essentially the same as pine or any other softwood. Only with the router did I get burning of the surface and it was fairly easy to simply sand that away. If I did another pair like this, I’d probably pay extra to go to a lumberyard instead of Lowes though, since I suspect that some of the porosity I saw on the inside of my cuts wouldn’t be there with a higher quality of board. You can only expect so much from a big box store.

    2-in-1 polyurethane/stain; I would use that again. Wipe-on polyurethane was simply too thin though. That’s good for a final finish only but any sanding is going to take it straight back off again. As my final step I used a triple-thick polyurethane that worked well, although I notice that it did irritate my eyes for about 24 hours afterward, and that’s even with a fan blowing the vapors away from me in the garage. Maybe that stuff has to be used strictly outdoors. The end finish came out quite glossy as you can see in the pictures although it’s not a mirror finish since I did eventually reach the point of no longer caring about how perfect they looked, especially with the flaws already noted in my carpentry. I was too anxious to get to the listening!

    On the design: It’s a minimalist design, really. Two driver system with the simplest crossover possible: the -6dB/octave Butterworth filter, which uses only a single capacitor and a single inductor. That’s somewhat of a major feature on these speakers since nearly all popular designs opt for a Linkwitz-Riley filter with the steeper -12dB/octave rolloff that allows the tweeter to be crossed off lower and/or play louder. The values I selected for the components do leave a slight gap: the cap rolls off at 2.65kHz while the inductor rolls off at 2.55kHz.

    crossover components

    With my mastering and EQing experience, I figured a slight dip at 2.6kHz would actually be pleasing to the ear anyway. The major advantage to the Butterworth filter is a linear phase response to the rolloff region–that is to say there will be no phase cancellation or comb filter effects around the crossover frequency, which all of the other crossover designs suffer from in varying severity. Judging by online reviews of the tweeter and its response curve, I should be able to get away with loud volumes at this crossover point since the resonance frequency of the tweeter is 1.1kHz. Both the tweeter and the woofer had very smooth response curves, so the expected character of the system should be quite neutral. As with my brothers speakers I knew right away I wanted to use an L-pad to compensate for the impedance and sensitivity mismatch between the woofer and the tweeter. The L-pad is a fun way to get a lot of different sonic flavors from a single system as well, since it’s essentially an extra tone control for your stereo system. Never again would I build a speaker without one.

    L fully assembled, R in progress

    For the crossover components, I did go a bit higher end since there’s only 4 total parts. German copper foil inductor for that precision midrange and a French polypropylene film cap for that snooty, refined treble. I did not even both mounting these to a PCB, instead screwing in a spare piece of wood to clamp down the heavy inductor, and a glob of silicone to secure the cap. Both are soldered directly to the inside lug of the + binding post to eliminate an extra set of connection points. The opposite end of the copper foil inductor was also attached directly to the woofer binding post, so it actually has no extra internal wiring on the + connection. For the rest of the wires I used 14 AWG solid copper wire that I also employ as the main bus wire on my railroad. It’s the same type of wire an electrician would use to wire light switches and outlets in a house, so very heavy duty. Totally overkill considering the stranded speaker wire which will probably be connecting these to any amp. It is somewhat difficult to work with though, since it’s stiff and fights against every bend. I’m 50/50 on whether I’d use it in another design.

    Philosophically, these units are quite different than the large speakers I built back in high school that are serving in my living room: those are 3-way with a dome mid, powerful low-reachingwoofer, and a complex computer-designed crossover that has like 40 elements in it. Since there are so many possible choices to make with speaker design it’s almost stupid to do the same thing twice but what can I say, I loved the tweeters from my brother’s green speakers so much that I had to use the same model again on these units since I missed their sound. Every speaker I’ve ever done has used cloth dome tweeters since I prefer their gentle timbre over a metal dome or a horn.

    crossover and foam installed, L-pad visible on the inside

    On the sound: I already knew that these tweeters were fantastic so they have been a joy to have back in my life again, so the ScanSpeak midwoofer is really the new player of intrigue for me here. Prior to building my brothers green speakers I had always wondered about the revered ScanSpeak brand and having been blown away by how good their tweets sounded I resolved to use a woofer of theirs as well on my own design.

    Initially my impression was neutral. The effect that a quality midwoofer has on the overall sound is more subtle, compared to the airy, delicate treble of fine tweeters.  Woofers typically do need a break-in period to loosen up and these seem like they needed that more than other drivers I have known… In my initial listening I did listen to “Spotlight” by SPC ECO and while experimenting with the tone controls on my Kenwood, I flipped on the 800Hz presence boost and immediately exclaimed “Oooh! Oh yeah!” after just a few moments of taking in the sound. Since the midwoofer is taking charge of everything from 2.55kHz and below, that’s definitely all his doing. I’ll need to spend some time breaking these in first, then listening to familiar material to give a true appraisal….

    As for the bass, it does not extend very low, but that was an intentional feature of the overall design. These speakers are intended to be paired with a subwoofer, not yet built. Knowing that, I purposely chose a midwoofer that had a high roll off and a good high end. Ideally I would have preferred a closed box but without making it a three-way design I could not find a driver that satisfied me. Everything that would go low enough in a closed box had a poor top-end response, either not reaching far enough or having too rough of a curve for my taste. Perhaps in the future I may experiment with drivers that do have coarse resonances and choppy curves. Like I did mention before, some dips in the response curve can sound pleasing in the right spots.

    response plots JB mk4 both drivers black

    I have superimposed the response/impedance plots of both drivers here; the plot is remarkably smooth for both drivers and with a 1.5×4″ port, an F3 of 80Hz is achievable with this woofer according to the Madisound website. Final enclosure volume is 4.5 liters or 0.16 cubic feet which is fairly small. The intended volume was 4 liters for the port design, but it’s good to go slightly over for internal bracing, components and stuffing; factoring those variables in, we’re probably beneath 4 liters again, but I have read that stuffing makes a box “look” bigger to a woofer. Another point of compromise was the ratio of sizes between front/top/sides. Ideally I would use 1.618, the fabled golden ratio. However the size of the driver faceplates dictated that wasn’t going to be possible, so I ended up with 1.3 and 1.9 instead.

    One other thing I did was to router off a smooth rounded edge on all sides of the front to reduce diffraction of the high end. The tweeter faceplace comes right up to the edge of the front panel though, so a harsh edge was unavoidable there. Curiously, I like the way the treble sounds when standing slightly above the axis of the tweeter so maybe a certain amount of diffraction is good sometimes? Or that could just be the overall directional response of both drivers that I’m hearing or something else entirely, who knows.

    More for my own later reference down the line than anything else, here is a breakdown of the parts:

    10uF Solen PB10 mfd Metalized Polypropylene film fast cap
    0.50mH Goertz CF.5 (16AWG) copper foil inductor
    ScanSpeak discovery D2606/9200 1″ textile dome tweeter
    ScanSpeak discovery 15W/8434G00 5.25″ midwoofer
    Yung 100W 8ohm L-pad
    Goldwood 1.5×4″ flared port
    Lowes Red Oak panel x2, 7.25″ wide
    Generic gold binding posts

    And some further reports as my listening extends into the weeks:

     Moving these speakers from my Kenwood receiver over to my Marantz PM750DC yielded a major difference in the sound.  Maybe it’s a combination of the room and the speaker placement but they have a new life to them near the railroad now.

     Basslines on Donny Hathaway’s rendition of “What’s Going On” come out clear and defined from my Marantz 6100 turntable.  I underestimated the capabilities of these midwoofers on their low end.  Happily thus far I haven’t heard a tune that exposes any bloated notes on basslines.  That’s always a pet peeve for me.  These speakers will really shine with a sub, afterall that’s how they are meant to be paired.  But until that’s built I can be content with what’s here.

     A whole new amount of depth and life appeared on Royksopp’s “Senior” album, one I have not listened to on a great set of speakers intently.

     Found a few new details in familiar recordings: you can hear the snare rattle as the toms are played at the beginning of Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle”.  And there is some kind of percussion instrument I never noticed before despite listening to Seal’s “Dreaming in Metaphors” hundreds of times–a song I used to be all about in high school.

     Something totally unexpected: I often listen with an extra compressor plugin “juicing up” anything being played over the PC, but who knew–with these new speakers I find myself turning the compressor off more and more, just listening to the original audio exactly as it was.  Compressors can often bring out extra details but jeez, these speakers are exposing how a wide dynamic range actually sounds better than a totally squashed signal that has all information crunched into a narrow volume range.  That’s a beautiful realization I did not anticipate.

     Getting a new pair of speakers sure is a great excuse to go back and listen to familiar music you may have listened to over and over at one point in your life…. which takes it all back to what this whole pursuit is really about

    Legit 70’s Firepower: The Marantz HD-770s


    2015 - 04.17

    Marantz HD-770 top-end drivers and L-pad array

    As posted about previously, I had encouraged my drummer to get the Marantz HD-440 speakers, since I have very much enjoyed owning a pair of their big brothers, the HD-770s. The “High Definition Series” speakers have walnut veneer cabinets and were built sometime in the 70s. In the Marantz 25th anniversary catalog (dated 1978) they are for sale as the medium tier product underneath the “Design Series”. For a mid-tier product though, these are extremely nice. And as an aside, that 25th anniversary catalog is a feast for the eyes if you’re into this kind of thing… here is a link to it at HiFiEngine.  You’ll need an account to view it but it is easy to create one… it’s worth the effort to check out that super sweet catalog.

    It’s clear they put some thought into the design of these units. The most attention-grabbing feature for me was the 1″ dome driver, which is labeled as a tweeter. I’d call that a misnomer though, since the overall frequency response is given as 33-22kHz +/- 3dB @ 125W of “program material”. Crossover Frequencies are 750, 2300, 5000Hz so that 1-inch “tweeter” is handling 2.3k-5kHz.  I have always been a big fan of dome midranges for their lifelike sound, especially on anything of an earthy, organic variety like acoustic guitar, piano, or exposed vocals. Dome mids do a great job of putting those things “in the room” with you. Interestingly the HD-770 has a stated efficiency of 90dB which is very high for a speaker depending on a 12″ woofer to handle the low end, since the woofer is almost always the limiting factor on efficiency and high efficiency woofers are relatively rare in larger sizes.

    marantz HD series lineup... HD-770s are 2nd from the left

    From the factory HD series units were supplied with a “Vari-Q damping acoustical plug” which you could insert to tune the port if you wanted to change the bass response. The trade-off was more definition in the 50-75Hz range, at the expense of anything below. My speakers were bought secondhand off Craigslist and did not come with this accessory. I see some on ebay with the mention that the original foam is long gone… a running theme. Like the HD-440s, the woofer foam on the HD-770s also crumbles away with time. In my case the previous owner swapped out the original woofer for a replacement driver instead of re-foaming it. This can easily be spotted by the convex woofer dustcap; the original was concave. Given the apparent attention that the Marantz engineers paid to driver selection, I wish he had re-foamed the original. If an opportunity ever presents itself, I would like to acquire the original driver and restore these to their intended stock configuration, although the replacement is doing just fine for the time being.  After searching a while on eBay that seems like a pipe dream though, since a pair in need of re-foaming recently sold for $227.50.  That says something though–one, the original drivers were good and two, the market of people out there enthusiastic about keeping theirs in prime condition remains hot.  My set is also missing the metal ring which mounts around the largest woofer, which is too bad because it does look cool.

    The HD-770s have a three-section resistor (aka L-pad) control panel on the front which allows you to individually adjust the volume of the super tweeter, dome midrange and cone mid-bass drivers. When I built the green speakers for my brother I definitely learned that L-pads are a tremendous asset to any speaker design. They really allow you to tweak the “voicing” of the sound to whatever suits your liking. It can’t be over-emphasized just how much of an impact this has on the sound. Put it this way: never again would I built another set of speakers without L-pads.

    These units have a really funky grille, which has brown fabric which comes outward at the center. I can’t decide if they look cooler with out without the grille on, so I keep the one closer to the door equipped with the grille to protect it from passing foot traffic and the one near the window exposed so I can enjoy the neat appearance of the drivers. Hopefully these units will last me a long time. They are certainly ready to pump out some serious dB’s but still have a soft touch for nuance at the same time. That’s a real nice combination.

    no grille... ... or yes grille?

    A Relic of their Apogee: The Kenwood KA-8300


    2015 - 04.06

    The Kenwood KA-8300

    Probably the coolest piece of audio gear I have is this 1975 Kenwood integrated amplifer, the KA-8300. Kenwood’s not typically a brand associated with hi-fi now, but back in the day they built some real beasts. And beastly the ‘8300 is, weighing in at 35 pounds. It looks and feels like Kenwood had something to prove with this unit. Power is 80W RMS per channel into 8Ω with 0.1% THD rated from 20Hz to 40kHz. That power rating, being from ’75, is surely conservative. It can also handle 4Ω or 16Ω speakers too, which is somewhat unusual for this time period. The most obvious distinguishing features of the amp are those sweet-looking meters on the front. Watching these is a pleasurable novelty and has actually taught me a bit about the amount of wattage required for typical listening levels…not much! There is a toggle button which swaps the meter range between 3W and 100W. This switch is almost always left on 3W if you want to see the needles bump at all. That surprised me, just how little power is actually used for most listening.

    The KA-8300 has pre-amp outputs which can be used simultaneously with the speaker outputs if you want. When I bought a power amp off Craigslist those came in handy for testing it out. But maybe the most useful feature on this unit are the turnover controls, which are 3-position levers that affect the frequency of the “bass” and “treble” tone knobs. Having the option to move those frequencies around actually makes quite a difference in the usefulness of the bass/treble knobs since it allows the user to tailor the controls to match the speakers being driven. Similarly, the “Loudness” EQ adjustment (which boosts highs/lows for better listening at quiet volumes) has two settings. When listening on the Marantz HD-770s which have a 12″ woofer, setting #2 definitely sounds better whereas on their little brothers, the Marantz HD-440s, switching to setting #1 gave a better bass sound. Loudness is a nifty little circuit which I do prefer to use when the volume is at a low/normal level.

    Although this model was not Kenwood’s top-of-the-line unit, I believe it was only a rung or two below that. For the extreme collector, there is a rare copper-colored faceplace and a slightly higher wattage unit that was otherwise virtually identical in feature-set to this one. Those amps command a much higher asking price but I felt this one hit the sweet spot of equalization features and power for the dollar.

    The KA-8300 is totally built like a tank. The proof is in the pudding too, since when I bought this unit on eBay from a vintage-electronics restoration shop, the faceplate was in perfect condition. As you can imagine, I was quite disappointed to see that it arrived with a bend on the upper right corner despite the fact that the unit was very well pacakged by being wrapped up with bubble wrap and styrofoam around that. 1/4″ aluminum plate doesn’t bend easily and after attempting with a large pliers and channel locks, I gave up and decided to call it character. What I learned in the process is that it would take a lot of force to bend that faceplate, meaning the unit sustained a pretty good impact and has kept right on ticking, functionally. All the knobs and switches work good and I hope this one should be a centerpiece of my audio collection for the rest of my life. Here’s to many late nights of musical enjoyment…

    IMG_5317 v3

    Hot Jams from Recently


    2015 - 03.29

    So it looks like I have the ability to embed audio files, which is sweet!  I should post more jams on here.

    Here is a recent one (1/25/15) that’s a pleasurable odyssey based on the Steve Miller Band classic “Fly Like an Eagle”.  The recording from this session had several issues, so this mastering leans heavily on the room mics.  Don’t judge my audio quality here.  But the playing is pretty awesome I think.  I’ll call out my highlights to make it a more interesting listen:

    start-2:45 guitar driven intro opens it up

    3:50 some cool delay time changes while playing, culminating at 4:02 (these knob turns produce a high pitch sound that’s like lasers or record scratches)

    4:45 nice buildup into the guitar solo handoff

    5:37 interesting scale/tonal guitar soloing

    6:28+ bitrate distortion on the horn, most obvious at

    7:20+ trumpet/bass/guitar all sync up on unison line, sweet descending bass chords at 8:13 while the guitar is pitched shifted up

    10:07 intense bitrate dips on the horn, leading into huge guitar delay section

    11:22 dynamics come way down for a nice chill section.  Singing bowl taps come in at 11:33+

    12:54+ slow guitar swells of new chords build into the next section, neat bass vibes

    15:00 snare drum comes back, ending the slow buildup, 1/4 chord switch begins

    16:21+ pretty happy with this soloing

    17:11 phrase that jumps up/down, then 17:31 descending phrase that jumps down for final note: both these are “outside my box” figures that were gratifying to hear.  New vocab.

    18:34 meaty guitar punctuation that’s cool

    19:28 first identifiable “into the future” riff from Fly Like An Eagle… I can trace tiny moments of the rhythm for a couple minutes prior but they are quite camouflaged

    19:39 incredibly triumphant “Time keeps on slippin / into the future” this moment,oh yeah.  And the switch to the 4 chord halfway through seals the deal.

    21:06 very mysterious, reverbed-out “into the future”

    21:34 new feel on the drums opens up another chapter of the jam

    21:52 cool descending guitar riffs with the Steve Miller “doot-doos” from the intro the to tune, using the harmonizer although faint

    22:49 “Time keeps on slippin” with a totally unreasonable amount of delay

    24:23 “most people think that / great god will come from the sky / take away everything / and make everybody feel high” Bob Marley quote, played with ascending notes instead of the way he actually sings it.  Hard to hear this but I really enjoy it when listening

    24:42+ cool repeating line on the guitar and varied staccato trumpet trickery; I really dig the complexity and the bounce through this section

    25:48 drums switch over to hip-hop style rimshot feel.  I’m a sucker for this type of groove.  Open 5ths on the trumpet harmonizer

    29:29 self-proclaimed “scale-wankery” on the guitar closes out the final section.

    All in all, it’s a pretty killer jam with a lot of creative quoting and unusual choices in terms of the soloing phrases.   And just because, here’s this awesome album cover with the “Fly Like An Eagle” theme to it, from an earlier session…

    100% Juice

    Electric Trumpet DIY pedalboard, phase 2


    2015 - 03.14

    An update on the pedalboard I’ve been building:

    aluminum ground plane beneath main board

    As you can see in the image above, I’ve installed an aluminum sheet beneath the main board to act as a ground plane, hopefully to dampen any noise and RF interference from the power supply platform mounted below it.  I’ve also rounded off the corners using my router and belt sander, then applied three coats of 2-in-1 stain+polyurethane, with two coats of a wipe-on poly after that.  I liked the 2-in-1 but I’m not so sure that the wipe-on poly really added much.  I didn’t really shoot for a mirror finish though.

    The second image, below, shows the pedal setup for our session on 3-7-15.  There are three new pedals here which I’m renting from  PedalGenie.com, which is a brilliant service that loans out pedals for people who might want to experiment with different effects setups like myself.

    Pedal setup for 3-7-15 session

    The signal chain is:

    Trumpet >

    Eventide Pitchfactor >

    Boss OC-2 Octave >

    Morley Power Wah >

    Fulltone Cylde Deluxe Wah (loaner) >

    Caroline Icarus Clean Boost (loaner) >

    Malekko Bit sample rate reducer >

    A-B splitter forms two paths >

    A: Damage Control Glass Nexus > Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler > Maestro Phaser > Damage Control Liquid Blues drive > Line 6 MM4 Modulation Modeler > Moog Bass MuRF >

    B: TC Electronic Flashback delay (loaner, on its own signal path for evaluation) >

    stereo summing pedal >

    DI Box

    (Also seen on the floor are an Ernie Ball expression pedal to control the Pitchfactor, and a generic Korg tap tempo to control the MuRF)

    Tycho Monitors, phase two


    2015 - 03.08

    So I’ve been slowly progressing on the small bookshelf speakers that I’ve been building.  Here are a few progress pictures 1. after the front/back panels were routed and glued on and 2. after staining.

    Tycho Mons assembled

    Tycho Mons stained

    Electric Trumpet DIY pedalboard, phase 1


    2015 - 02.15

    In tandem with the ongoing speakerbuilding project keeping my garage dusty, I’ve also been working on a custom pedalboard for my electrified trumpet setup. This was born out of necessity since I’ve outgrown the footprint of my hardshell Rockcase board, which itself is getting worn out from years of schlepping. I make take some time to recondition it for any music that happens outside my living room. But since I’m a lucky dude who mostly gets to jam at home, I’ve started working on this:

    electric trumpet pedalboard

    Yep, it’s a jungle of wires and nothing is securely attached at this point, it’s true. Consider this a “version 1.0” photo. My goals here are 1. to accomodate more pedals at waist height for easy manipulation 2. to achieve a cleaner signal by isolating the audio cables away from any power supplies and power cables and 3. to hopefully make it look nice?

    As far as goal #1 (capacity), adding a second level was a slam dunk for me, which allows interactive pedals to be accessible on top and neccessary but non-interactive components to be stashed underneath. I’ve got a signal combiner and a DI box, both of which are key parts of my setup but neither of which need to be touched during an entire session, so these can be hidden away without taking up valuable real estate.

    To achieve goal #2 (a cleaner signal), I have relocated the power bricks, 9v power supply, and the power strip all to beneath the pedalboard, on their own little board. Moving all that away from the pedals was the most important step. To go further, I have bought a thin sheet of aluminum, which will cover the bottom of the board and then be electrically connected to the ground pin of the power strip so that it can serve as a ground plane to shield against any residual noise from the power supplies beneath it and maybe dampen any local RF. That has not been installed yet. Finally, wiring is obviously a jungle at the moment, but ultimately I want to route all power cables thrugh holes in the board so they come in contact with the audio cables as little as possible.   Interestingly, when I initially built the board, I had the elevated section on the right side, which I immediately realized was a terrible idea when I started to play in front of it for the first time–my LEFT hand is free to move knobs, not the right.  So I’m not in a tremendous rush to make things permanent, since I want to try some experimentation to find the best physical location for as many of these pedals as I can.  I’ll make a detailed breakdown of what I use at some point in the future.  Haven’t gotten to that yet.

    Making the board look good will be accomplished with wood stain and some stainless steel accents. And cleaning up that mess of cables! I’ll post another shot when she’s further along.  For now, here’s my perspective when playing on it:

    electric trumpet pedalboard - pilot's perspective

    Tycho Monitors, phase one


    2015 - 02.05

    As alluded to long ago in 2014, I bought some Scan-Speak drivers and associated hardware needed create a pair of hi-fi bookshelf speakers. I am just now finally getting around to building the enclosures for these guys. A few build photos are probably in order.

    Tycho Monitors in progress

    craftsmanship level = MEH.Everytime I build a new set of speakers (which doesn’t happen too often) I try out some new philosophies and these are no exception. Instead of solid MDF, this time I went with Red Oak. I’m not sure this wood is as great as it could be in terms of quality–I got it at Home Depot and if I were to do it again, I think I’d spend the extra to go get it from a legit lumberyard.

    This time I’ve also attempted to join each side with a 45 degree joint, which I don’t think I’d try again.  As you can see in the photo above, I used the 45 cuts as joiners on the inside as well.  Maybe I’m lacking the right tools to really pull this off. I did take probably a half hour or so playing around and dialing in my tracksaw to cut what I thought was a perfect 45 degree angle. I measured it with a level, protractor, and used two pieces pressed together with a carpenter’s square to verify they joined perfectly. Which they did, and yet, when I put the boxes together there is a thin line of open space around almost all sides, which I found equal parts surprising and disappointing. Somewhere in the process there was some looseness that prevented everything from lining up perfectly despite the fact that I took great care and worked slowly. Like I said, maybe a circular saw and track just can’t achieve perfection here.

    In any event, I’m forging onward and going to router out holes for the drivers next. Then there will be some variety of staining and/or lacquering before they’re ready to be used for real. Delayed gratification……

    Hitting the High Notes: Bear Creek 2014


    2014 - 12.17

    Nicholas Payton blows it up on Trumpet & Rhodes at once

    IMG_6994 Dip Dat Shit In GOLDAs we’ve done for the last 5 years, my buddy Bill and I made the pilgrimage to Bear Creek music festival in Florida. Every year this fest is dynamite, dipped in gold. That might be selling it short. Bear Creek is really the only place on planet Earth where you can get this concentrated of a dose of funky music in the span of 3 days. Not even Jazzfest in New Orleans can match the density of pure funk-per-minute that goes on here. There is no peer. From my standpoint, 2014 may be my favorite yet. Let’s rap about it:

    Right off the bat I’ll mention a few groups whom I’d never even heard of prior to BC14 that took me there. First thing we saw when we arrived was a band called Turquaz who came in with something to prove. Their punchy horns and funky vibes immediately set the tone for the rest of the fest. It was a positively ideal first act to catch. Their street team was walking through the crowd handing out slap-koozies–which are exactly what you think they are. This idea is so brilliant that it is somewhat baffling that I have never heard of it until now. Well played Turquaz.  They had a peppy sound and ooh, their trumpet player also had some effects going on, which was a running theme to my delight.

    Turquaz

    The singer from the Fritz; kinda reminded me a little bit of Living ColourAnother band which made an instant fan out of me was The Fritz from Asheville NC. They mixed 80% funky dance grooves with 20% tricky synchonized unison lines, which was totally a formula for success in my book. Centerstage was their keyboard player who also did main vocals and brought a lot of showmanship to the spectacle. Although they were young guys, they really knew how to play. I’d love to see them again. They were almost prog-rock at times, which I generally shy away from, but their funkyness always brought me back.

    Completing the trifecta of winning first introductions was a band called Tauk. Bill bought their CD which we listened to on the way back to the airport–it was very Jan Hammer and Jeff Beck inspired, which is cool and all, but not really my thing. However their live performance was great. Most notably they played a double-length version of “I Want You/She’s So Heavy” by the Beatles that slammed absurdly hard. Bill commented that as hard as Soulive has rocked that tune in the past, these guys dialed it up a notch further, which was an accomplishment.

    The Nth Power was fun to watch, bringing their vocal driven comtemporary soul to life on the Purple Hat stage which was the best-sounding stage of the fest this year. At the climax of their tune “Only Love” maybe ten people suddenly appeared in the crowd holding up big placards with the word “LOVE” on them, which was a synergistic moment for sure.

    BC’14 was one of my favorite Creeks in a long time–possibly ever–because of the TRUMPETS! Me, being a trumpet player myself, I’m obviously very biased by this aspect of the music and 2014 was the year those brass players collectively decided to get the hell up in there and deliver. In terms of both veterans and newcomers alike, the trumpets of Bear Creek delivered a delicious, heaping platter of excellence, which warrants a through digression:

    The Heard Horns w/ extras!

    The best awesome new thing (which I knew beforehand was going to be awesome) was The Heard, a horn-section driven band from my old stomping grounds in Chicago. Those three horns (tenor sax, trombone, trumpet) brought a lot of rambunctious energy and very tight section playing. They had a polished, rehearsed-sounding feel to their hits, with a pleasing length to their punches. A section like the one in Lettuce tends to clip their hits super short, which is great for their style, but it was nice to hear the Heard Horns deliver some fatter punches by comparison, a choice that seemed deliberate. Anyone could have predicted their set was gonna be hot simply by the oh-so-enviable late night Saturday timeslot they were given, and indeed that contract went filled. The horns also sat in with the New Mastersounds on both their sets and lended some very well-executed performances of familiar lines. In particular, the nimble melodies of “Fast Man” sounded right on the money: notes were clean, articulations were tight, and the three players were together in their timing. It was a real treat.

    Orchestra at Large: Bernard Purdie, Roosevelt Collier, Taz, Grant Green, Jen Hartswick, and some other badasses too!

    Jen Hartswick w The HeardJen Hartswick is a perennial representive of the trumpet community at Bear Creek and this year she too delivered bigger and better than before. In previous years I felt underwhelmed by her playing; the power/chops were adequate but not strong, and her phrases were unfocused, trailing off–like a speechgiver who was obviously winging it, unsure of what she was going to say next and clumsily tripping over sentences. Not this year. Her tone was brighter and clearer, with more strength. And her phrases were well-spoken musical ideas which connected between the pauses. Musically there was just a lot more substance in her thoughts… I’m sure my listening has probably improved as the years have passed but it certainly wasn’t just that.

    In prior Bear Creeks I watched the trumpet players and thought to myself “man, I could be up there. I can do those things these guys are doing and I can hang with the level of improv that’s being put forth.” Not this year. One man who firmly put his foot down and said “here’s the bar” was Nicholas Payton. His group was introduced as being “at the forefront of modern American music” and correspondingly he blew me away with his talent, playing keyboards and trumpet at the same time–and doing it WELL. Payton understands how to handle the Rhodes in particular, and his trumpet is customized with a short metal stand coming off the bottom of his valve casings, so that he can rest the weight of the horn on the keyboard edge, and play both instruments without the weight of the trumpet fatiguing his right hand. His tone was loud and powerful, with clear, searing highs which he used as violent punctuation against the tones of his well-seasoned jazz trio who had put on their funky caps to tackle this festival. After a long stint on keys, mainly between Rhodes and B3, he’d re-enter on the horn with a piercing high note, like a burst of lightning from the sky, out of the blue. His solos were those of a jazz player who knew the real book, knew how to play changes.

    Nicholas got up centerstage with Lettuce during the last set of the festival and proceeded to play the most “out” solo of the weekend. Watching the facial expressions of the string instrument players was almost comedy: Jesus on the bass and Schmeens on the guitar looked at each other with some alarm, their expressions seeming to say “Does he know what key we’re in? Should we… should we change the key? Wait… wait, no? Okay there he’s in. No. Now he’s off again. Okay. Ummm. There, he found it. No, he’s out….. Alright, well he’s obviously doing his own thing here, just let him go.” Personally I always enjoy a mostly “in” solo more than I enjoy a mostly “out” solo but heady jazz cats always love the out. Watching Nicholas’ jazz-rooted trio take things in-and-funky was a treat for me, someone who lives on the funk side of the fence, but seeing him solo with Lettuce was the inverse! I imagine that would have been a treat for someone who really loves an outside soloist; if Skerik was around and listening, I bet he ate that moment up.

    Nicholas Payton & George Porter BLOGSIZE

    the mascot of bear creek, seen here without sunglassesSpeaking of Skerik, he got up with The New Mastersounds and played a pretty “in” solo for his usual tastes. Although he’s a brilliant tenor player, his tendency is to get up and go nuts, squawking and squealing like a madman–which he pulls off well, ratcheting up the overall intensity of what’s happening onstage. But it was cool to hear him get inside the groove and do something a bit more thoughtful. My comment at the time was, ‘okay, I guess you can play like that too, you just always choose not to.’

    So as an aside, last year I didn’t write about Bear Creek, mostly because it was a bit of a “down” year. The weather was rainy and the mixing on the main amphitheater soundboard was… regrettable, leaving many potentially great moments seemingly unamplified. This year we did do a fair amount of moving around during the shows, and as Bill discovered about the main amphitheater, “something is off about that bowl”. Indeed. You actually don’t want to be close to the stage for the best sound. There are some definite “dead zones” where a soloist seems to disappear into the back of the mix. Walk back toward the soundboard another 20 feet and surpise, you can hear everything again! Maybe it’s the wide distance between the left and right speaker arrays, maybe it’s the absorbtion of the crowd when it gets densely populated? In any event, the takeaway is that location is pivotal for getting the most out of those shows. They also keep changing their other stages around every year and bafflingly they did away with Uncle Charlie’s Porch Stage this year which was unfortunate since that one clearly had the best sound quality every year. I’d be willing to bet money they just walked that sound system down the hill over to the Purple Hat stage, since it sounded better than it ever has. That stage was the hot place to be this year.

    And about that Purple Hat Stage: probably my 3 favorite acts of the fest all tore it apart there. Predictably: The New Mastersounds, Lettuce, and Soulive. The Mastersounds were their usual selves, serving up tasty versions of their classics with a few new treats from their bag of endlessly refilling compositions. Simon declared “as is customary, we will fill the stage with incredible guest appearances” and so they did. Highlights were the aforementioned “The Heard” horns, and Bernard Perdy. Two years ago their Keyboard player Joe Tatton couldn’t make the journey due to passport issues so B3 wrangler-extraordinare Robert Walter filled his seat for the duration, which was a special treat. Those kind of special permutations of your favorite acts are a hallmark of BC. Having seen NMS live shows too many times to count anymore, I was greatly pleased with their sets although I wouldn’t say they did much to catch me off-guard. But that’s alright. Sometimes a great show is exactly what you expect it to be, and NMS fell into that category this year. I bought a zip up sweatshirt with their logo on it at the merchandise booth but barely got a chance to brandish it. Friday was long-underwear weather, Saturday was jeans, and Sunday was shorts-all-night weather, which was splendid.

    NMS @ main amphitheater w/ George Porter & The Heard Horns

    Try as you might....A familiar act who did catch me off guard was Lettuce, with a half-dozen or so forays into dub territory–something I’ve never heard them do as prominently or repeatedly as in their two sets at BC14. I completely endorse this new playing field for their repertoire. Dubbing out with some trippy delays and free spaces gives some nice breathing room to contrast against their dense, in-your-face slam tracks. The horns each had little effects units they were tweaking during these moments, which was straight up my alley. Returning again to the excellent trumpet playing this year, Eric Bloom has taken over Rashawn Ross’ old shoes, which are some mighty big shoes to fill. Rashawn has a searing, cutting high range that slices authoratively through any sound known to man so he can’t really be outgunned in that regard, but Eric sounded better than ever this year with clear, clean chops and better solo ideas for sure. Where Rashawn always seemed to build up to some high note climax in his solos but then didn’t really have anywhere to go, Bloom had lots of ideas, lots of places to go. Which is maybe not as dramatic, but more intellectually stimualting as a player. Lettuce was maybe at their peak shortly after the release of “Rage!” and two years back they owned the festival with their explosive, razor-sharp funk. Indeed at the time the comment was made “If god himself had a funk band, I don’t think it could be any harder-hitting, or bigger, or nastier than Lettuce.” A sentiment I still stand by–they still gots it.

    My one complaint–and complaning about anything that happens at Bear Creek is like saying the bread that came with your flawless surf’n’turf dinner was maybe too doughy–was that we didn’t get enough Eric Krasno. He was “Space Krasno” this year with Lettuce, standing literally in the back and fiddling with some weird noise-making keyboard that was only sometimes audible when he wasn’t neck-deep in some oddball effects setting on his guitar that turned it into a dubbed-out sound machine. And yeah, that’s awesome and all. I enjoyed this strange-flavored, alternate reality Lettuce from outer space. Outer space is definitely a part of the big bad funk sound for sure. But it’s just that, c’mon, this is the guy–in my eyes more than anyone else here–who can deliver that throat-grabbing, oh-my-god, face-melting solo freakout that gives you that feeling. You know the one. That feeling that takes you to another place. So Krasno was around, but he was more of a wheel on the train rather than wearing the engineer hat. Only twice did he step up for a “big” solo and having seen what he is capable of in the past, I think he only took it to like 65%. On this note I miss his Chapter 2 project with Nigel Hall on vocals. That was some real take-me-to-church get-down action which needs to come back again.

    Lettuce @ Purple Hat

    And all this finally brings me to the Soulive set.

    I’ve seen Soulive many times, again too many times to count anymore. Maybe my all time favorite was at the House of Blues in Chicago circa 2006 when the Shady Horns were backing them up with Rashawn on trumpet. And then their Bear Creek set shortly after the release of “Rubber Soulive” where they played all the great Beatles tunes, that was something special. But this set, this set… knocked me out. Like I said already sometimes a great set is where you get just what you expected like NMS this year, or when a familiar act goes a new direction like Lettuce with the dub. But for a very familiar act to blow you away again like you’re seeing them fresh, for the first time, they’ve got to really come out of left field with something unexpected and that’s what Soulive did. Out of all the sets I saw this year, theirs covered the widest stylistic range. They came out swinging with three well-chosen originals including Aladdin, a personal favorite of mine. Bill commented that he wished they had horns up there, and yeah, there were the unlimited resources of Bear Creek horns probably standing around backstage so that was maybe a questionable choice to keep it just the trio for that moment but even so, they brought the energy. Between tracks the comment was made, “Fire. Breathing. Monsters… and there’s only 3 of them!” Which sums it up. And I’m guessing that’s the point they were trying to make.

    But from there-on-out the pendulum started to swing wildly; a slow bluesy gospel section, followed by Eleanor Rigby with a ripping guitar solo. When the music paused at last I leaned over to Bill and said, “submitted for your consideration by Eric Krasno; his entry for best guitar solo of the fest.” And maybe it was, for my tastes. Out of all the many possible things a guitarist can possibly do–everyone is looking for a certain blend of stylistic rootings and phrasing sensiblities–Krasno barks right up my tree with his pentatonic/blues roots and thick application of bended notes, so I am inherently biased toward his playing. This year he was awash with phaser, even over sections he typically play clean. As previously mentioned he didn’t really step out front and *grab it* with Lettuce this year, so Soulive was his best moment. When I interviewed him a few years back, he commented a bit on what factors will push him to “take it there”. To paraphrase I’d say there has to be three things: A. the internal motivation to rock it B. the available sonic space to fit (the sound can’t be too loud or crowded) and C. the band behind him pushing it.

    When Eleanor Rigby had seemingly run its course with solo section completed, out comes rap artist Talib Kweli. He did some freestyle on the verse sections and then made the crowd sing along for the chorus of the tune, which brought a whole new energy. It was like this build up/intensify thing with the rhymes then when the choruses dropped it felt even more anthemic. Pretty rad, and unexpected. When that was done, they did a rendition of Talib’s tune “Get By” and one other jam I didn’t recognize. A decent foray into hip hop territory. After that, the trio dove deep underwater into some dubbed-out seas which resonated big time with this guy since my own musical project has been messing around with dub too. This was before either of the Lettuce sets so it had the impact of surprise. But the biggest surprise of the whole fest was immediately after the first dub moment.

    Soulive, droppin that dub science

    For a rendition of Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” the trio brought out… an 11 year old guitar-playing boy with the stage name Taz. Who then proceeded to genuinely blow everyone’s mind. “How old is this person?!” exclaimed Bill. From where we stood in the crowd it was hard to tell if this was a kid or a young looking midget, or even a male or a female with a pretty rocking afro who was mostly facing Krasno. After struggling to discern who or what I was looking at, one thing became clear: this little boy could rock. Like no other kid you’ve seen, ever, anywhere. On TV or the internet or anything. He new how to play tunes, he knew how to solo with fast notes or with bends and tension, he knew what facial expressions to make, he knew how to pay attention and respond musically. He just… had it all. I even found out later that he had his own shirt in the merchandise booth! Disbelief would be the best word to describe the collective reaction to this kid. I’ve seen child prodigies before but this kid, this is something else. And as a piece of the Soulive performance, this clinched it as the set that just defied all predictions. They played their classics, they played the Beatles, they featured a hip-hop star, they dubbed it out, and then they brought out a little child who proceeded to deliever a blistering guitar solo you never thought was even possible from someone that age. Mind = blown.

    Soulive w/ Taz

    Walking away from the show to go see the New Mastersounds at the amphitheater I was shouting to Bill, “What did we just watch!? No, really, what was that? Did I imagine it?” But no, I did not, and over the rest of the weekend Taz went on to be the toast of the fest this year, making brief appearances with all the major acts on classic rock hits with screaming solos like you’ve never heard from a kid. A humorous moment happened during the Orchestra at Large set when a bee flew up to him and he got scared. Taz stopped playing and his eyes widened as he backed up slowly until it flew away. “A BEE!” he mouthed to the crowd as he started up again, rocking the wah on his Pedaltrain Jr. “From the mouthes of babes!” exclaimed Ivan Neville from Dumpstaphunk, shaking his head. Eddie Roberts chuckled that “I had just STARTED playing guitar when I was 11.” Every year you bump into some memorable faces at the fest and there is a guy who always wears a peanut shell as an earring whom we’ve made friends with. Mr. Peanut-Earring commented “Look at the other musicians on stage. Half of them are looking at him so proud like he’s their own son, and the other half are just mad! Like, what the hell!? I had to WORK for this!?” I burst out laughing because he was so right.

    Mr. Peanut-Earring has been a fixture of the fest every year and this year when we bumped into him in the crowd he seemed very excited to see us. He gave both Bill and I a big hug and we talked music for a while. You meet all kinds of funny characters at fests like this so I shrugged it off when he seemed strangely emotional that we remembered him and was loving the conversation. It wasn’t until after he walked away that Bill told me Mr. Peanut-Earring had informed him he was diagnosed with cancer. Here I thought maybe he was on something but no, the emotion was genuine. It was a sobering moment, and I felt sad for him. But maybe also happy too. After all, he was here, and he had been here many times now. This place, for people who love this kind of music, is a spiritual gathering, a religious experience. I don’t think that’s exaggerating it. Sure it’s a meeting of the minds, where like minded travelers from parts far-flung unite under a groove but it’s more than that. It’s a chance to dance like you mean it, it’s a cathartic escape into some other dimension with the hippest soundtrack imaginable, flooding into your ears and mind, controlling your legs. It’s a place where you forget everything that’s wrong and let the sound take you away. Where all the musicians push it to their top level and that does something to you too, watching that magic when the performers themselves seem to become infected with this viral euphoria that feeds back and forth between everyone in the whole forest. I said to Bill, “you know some day they’re going to stop doing this fest for one reason or another. And we’ll look back on this like it was some kind of golden age or utopia where everyone who was anyone all just had to be.” I know Mr. Peanut-Earring knows exactly what I’m talking about here and damn, if you gotta go out, one last dose of that sweet Bear Creek gospel sure would be comforting. I know I’d want it. We’ll be looking for you there next year buddy.