The Incredible Fender Rumble 40 v3 Bass Amp

I am not set up to do proper hardware reviews but since I wanted a small bass practice amp I researched them carefully and finally found an excellent comparison by bassbuzz.com on their YouTube channel. I urge you to watch and listen to this comparison of 5 top contenders your small bass amp dollar. I will tell you what I can about the amp — in fact, I bought one! — but to make up your own mind, you must hear it against several others. (Actually, I was leaning toward Ampeg before watching the video.) And if anything, the actual amp sounds better live than it does on the video. So thank you BassBuzz!

For some reason I have always avoided Fender amps. I used one in Godspell and found that a friend’s Peavey sounded even better at a much lower price. And I prefer my Mesa Boogie over any Fender Guitar amp. For bass I started off using a Roland keyboard amp that has a great low end, and then stepped up to a SansAmp for gigs that had good PA systems. So when it came time to look for a small practice bass Amp, Fender was low on the list. I pulled a big 180 on that idea!

I first started looking at the Rumble series when I saw them getting great reviews, especially the little Rumble 40 v3. Virtually every one I saw was FIVE STARS! Then I was finally hooked with this terrific comparison on YouTube that convinced me that the Fender at least deserved a close listen. Two problems: there is a pandemic on, and everywhere I looked they had sold out. Just the Rumble 40; it seems that every other size in the Rumble Series is available in most places. That was pretty impressive.

You can find the specs at Fender here. Just a quick summary: the amp is amazingly light, it has terrific tones, my 5-string Ibanez’s low B  sounds just as present and clear as the high G string, and the separate overdrive controls let you play as overdriven as you want without knocking out the windows and without having to use  earphones. I was most concerned about getting a good 5th-string sound out of a single 10″ speaker, and Fender’s “Special Design” speaker is amazing to hear. The other terrific feature is the separate overdrive section that let’s you get full overdrive sound at a low volume. (While I love the way my Mesa sings when lightly overdriven, it needs a level of volume that is just too loud for a family home at night.)

OK, on to the specs:

When I first saw the panel there were three little switches that I thought I’d never use: bright, contour, and vintage. Wrong again! BRIGHT really brings out the upper harmonics with a nice treble boost. CONTOUR scoops out the mids giving a rich tone that works great with overdrive as well as slapping. VINTAGE gives a darker, 60’s-like tone with some compression added. The way these switches revoice the amp is truly impressive.

I’ve skipped over GAIN, which controls the level of the incoming signal. This lets you adjust the preamp signal for most basses and also affects both distortion and overdrive. More on overdrive later.

First, the basic controls. MASTER is the overall volume control. A very cool feature is Fender’s built-in “Delt-Comp” limiter: turning the MASTER up high, or playing “more aggressively” triggers more compression and sustain, and it sounds great! The “tone controls” are more of a 4-band equalizer, with BASS, LOW MID, HIGH MID, and TREBLE. The extra control of the mid-range really makes a difference when you want a particular sound.

The OVERDRIVE button engages the overdrive circuit. DRIVE controls “the amount of harmonically rich preamp distortion” in the sound, while LEVEL controls the overdrive volume, as well as letting you set the overdrive distortion separately from the clean sound. A red LED shows that the overdrive is engaged.

The back panel has 1/8″ inputs for AUX IN (such as an MP3 player) and PHONES. There is a 1/4″ input for FTSW (footswitch), which allows you to turn on the OVERDRIVE remotely. The XLR LINE OUT lets you connect to an external PA or recording console, while finally a GROUND LIFT button helps with problems from improperly grounded equipment.

For those who don’t like the look of the Fender mesh speaker cover, it can be removed and put back easily via its velcro backing.

Of course none of this comes close to actually hearing the incredible breadth of sounds this amp can create, from the sweetest clean sounds to massively overdriven mania, the controls are very efficient at producing the full range of their functions. I wouldn’t hesitate taking this amp to the most important gig (of appropriate size), and at just 18 pounds, I could handle it and two basses easily.

SUMMARY: If you can find one, BUY IT.

 

 

 

 

Drumming Healing Circle Songs

What better way to start a new year than with music to help us heal?

I was sent the first song by a dear friend, a drummer herself. The group is Sweet Water Women, and they sing and play Gratitude to the Ancestors. If you are not familiar with the music of Indigenous people of North America this is a beautiful introduction.

You can buy their music on Apple Music here: https://music.apple.com/us/artist/sweet-water-women/291072261

The next is titled simply The New Cherokee Morning Song, and the video has both lyrics and English translation:

The last one for this post is by The Red Shadow Singers, from their album GHOST DANCE SONGS, and is titled Northern Lights. (No video is provided.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XL7JqbsIP8&list=PLd9hPwM7W2N8WJcLv9VnHlqhKQ0JLCHHJ&index=2

All of these songs come from a YouTube playlist of Conni Ma’iingan 

You can find more and subscribe to the playlist here:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLd9hPwM7W2N8WJcLv9VnHlqhKQ0JLCHHJ

Enjoy. I personally find that opening my ears helps to open my heart. I wish the same for you.

The Best of 2020 (starting and ending with Emily Remler!)

2020 was an awful year for most of us, horrific for many. But I want to begin 2021 by looking back at some of the BEST musical resources made available to us. I’ll go by company to cut down on repetition as much as possible.

Stelios Panos

The year ended before I could tell you about Stelios Panos’ latest collection: Emily Remler & Jimmy Raney.  This great collection includes 28 songs / solos by Emily Remler and 38 by Jimmy Raney. I’m a huge fan of Emily Remler and and personally grateful to Stelios for this wonderful collection.

Steinberg

In 2020 Steinberg upgraded virtually the entire music software industry. Their outstanding software includes:

  • Cubase 11
  • WaveLab 10
  • Dorico 3.5 & 3.5.10 (especially for their guitar enhancements)

Hal Leonard

On the publishing side, Hal Leonard hit two home runs, first with their updated and improved Hot Licks Series of books with online audio, especially the amazing master class by Emily Remler. (I’m hoping for her second part of the series to come out soon!) The second terrific achievement was Flying Fingers, an enormous anthology of fingerstyle guitar covering all styles and most of the great fingerstyle players of the last 200 years. An invaluable resource for students of all types of guitar, this project was obviously a huge undertaking and a brilliant success.

“Honorable Mention” should include Dan Erlewine’s “Guitar Player Repair Guide (3rd Edition)” and “Guitar Setup & Maintenance” by Chad Johnson, which although they were not released this year won our “readers’ poll” for which books to follow up Doug Redler’s “Guitarist’s Guide to Maintenance & Repair”.

PG Music

Band-in-a-Box 202 for Mac is in a category of its own, and while it is upgraded pretty much every year, 2020 gave us a version that was a tour-de-force of creativity and musical prowess. Every guitarist and bassist should own this.

Wallander Instruments

NotePerformer 3.3.2 was a highlight of 2020 for many of us, and yes it was another free upgrade. While the version number 3.3.2 would ordinarily denote an update, there are enough new features and instruments for me to consider it an upgrade.

2021 – ?

With all of this truly remarkable creativity in music resources, what can we expect in 2021? I have high hopes for every one of these providers this year. And who knows what stars may yet rise to join these illustrious ranks? That’s a more worthwhile question to contemplate than several others making news so far. I hope to survive to tell you about these new music resources as they occur.

Best wishes to you all for a happy and healthy 2021.

Cubase 11 – An Outstanding Upgrade

With the upgrade to Cubase 11, Steinberg has made some major improvements to an already excellent product. If you have followed my JJG columns or this blog (or my previous blogs) you may remember that I have been a long-time Logic user (since the Atari ST days, with Notator being the reason that I bought an ST). So I admit right up front that I am looking at Cubase with a background in Logic, but for this post I will stick to Cubase. I’ll do a comparison of the two in my next post on Cubase.

In a hurry? Want the short version? It’s great! Buy it!

So first, what are the standout features of Cubase, and how does Cubase 11 affect them?

The easiest one is that Cubase 11 is still multi-platform, running on PC and Mac. As of this writing, Cubase 11 will not run on any tablet that I am aware of but you can check the system requirements by clicking here.

Cubase has had outstanding MIDI capabilities pretty much from version 1.0, but these have been expanded to truly amazing heights. With the exceptional plug-ins alone you can make powerful tracks to back up vocals, stand on their own, or make stems for all sorts of projects.

Drum tracks are insanely easy to create, with studio-ready sounds from single hits to complex beat patterns that are simple to edit. While Cubase has a reputation for its steep learning curve, this new iteration of Groove Agent is as intuitive as any drum program I’ve used. You will recognize the presets from many of your favourite songs, no matter what genre you are into. It has its own mixer so that your drum kit sounds like you want before even adding it to the full song mix, and yes it has its own FX.

The editing features have been expanded across the board, and this is especially evident when working with MIDI. The Key Editor lets you start with a partial melody or even just a few chords, and build it up to a full arrangement all in an intuitive environment. Traditional songwriters will spend a lot of time here. The Chord Editor lets you tweak your harmonies and load the chords back to the Key Editor. Chord Assistant and Scale Assistant help you out if you are in need of some help with theory, or if you want to take that theory into a different dimension — there are no barriers to your creativity here.

The Arranger Track gives you a terrific way to design your arrangements in a non-linear fashion, eliminating the need for constant cut-and-paste to get the music flowing. Many of the usual additions to recording are given new lives, such as using lyrics as Markers when working with any MIDI Editor tracks to keep your place in the song.

Global support is provided for some great new features, my favourites including the two LFOs that will give underlying motion to any track and keep them in sync using time or musical note values. The Frequency EQ plug-in has been expanded to 8 dynamic bands, each with its own side-chain. That’s right, 8 side-chains! These come out of the expanded Sampler Track 2, which lets you make virtually any sound or chunk into a “sample” and use them as you would with any sample, enhanced with the new Frequency EQ and LFO effects. Note that Frequency EQ is only available in the Pro version, one of the few new features that are exclusive to Pro. Another is the use of fonts from Dorico in the Score Editor, which also adds Properties that let you instantly access options and notation settings as easily as the Key Editor.

If this so far all sounds like things can get lost with overuse of EQ and other FX, the new Squasher comes to the rescue! Another of my favourite additions, this is “a tool that combines upward and downward audio compression for up to three bands, making it extremely flexible for adjusting the dynamic range.” So in case you get carried away with Frequency EQ, or just want to compress a section or an instrument, you have the most innovative compression unit yet.

When we come to features only available on Pro and Artist, a few stand out. Most impressive is SuperVision “a fully customizable, multi-meter audio analyzer, providing up to nine module slots for level, spectral, phase and waveform analysis.” This includes Imager, a multi-band plug-in to keep your mix clean, with four bands in which to place your tracks in the stereo image. Also included is SpectraLayers One, a compact version of SpectraLayers Pro 7 that lets you visualize and edit your audio in the spectral domain. You can find rogue frequencies easily, as well as dead spots in the spectrum that your ears, or speakers might miss.

Everything else mentioned, and much more, is included in all three versions of Cubase 11, Pro, Artist, and Elements. As a fully cross-platform program, Cubase 11 has to be a serious contender for every musical artist, pro or hobbyist. I already have several projects in mind just from exploring and discovering.

So is Cubase a problem-free, heaven-sent environment. What is? Let’s take a look at some of the issues with Cubase 11.

First and possibly foremost, the infamous dongle is still there. As a copy-protection scheme this is getting pretty long in the tooth, but at least Steinberg lets you keep all of their products requiring one on the same dongle. Still, if you lose it, there goes your software, and your work! And unfortunately one of its strengths is its greatest weakness: a dongle lets you have your software installed at different working areas, so that you just need to carry your dongle with you, but be careful not to lose it on your travels.

All of Cubase 11’s power requires a pretty powerful computer for best results (and I don’t include my dual-core Macbook Pro test machine in that league). It also requires a LOT of disk space, and I’ve finally been forced to do the housekeeping I’ve been putting off in deleting unused files and programs. A fast internet connection is a real help too, although you will probably still be downloading overnight at least once.

And yes, I admit that Cubase 11 lives up to its reputation for a steep learning curve. However, significant progress has been made on many of the plug-ins as well as many of the specific editors. Compensating for these is the addition of powerful new features such as SpectraLayers One.

Now, how do those “problems” stack up against the power of Cubase 11? They are minimal, at most. What powerful program doesn’t require a lot of space on a powerful machine? As for the dongle, be very careful!

Given the time I have had to work with a program that is new to me, I don’t feel that I have given Cubase 11 its full due, so I will give you a list of the new features from the Press Release so that you can see what Steinberg considers its important new features. I rarely quote a press document but I have found everything I was able to test from this one to be true, so I have no reason to suspect that these are in any way exaggerated.

New Features

•Advanced Audio Export: Save time with new export queues [Pro]

•Sampler Track 2: New creative features including slicing, LFOs and legato glide[Pro, Artist, Elements]

•Scale Assistant: Follow, quantize and play live to a set scale[Pro, Artist, Elements]

•Advanced Key Editor: Create perfect pitch bends and more[Pro, Artist, Elements]

•Global Tracks: Stay in sync more easily[Pro]•Frequency 2: Amazingly precise dynamic EQ for better mixing[Pro]

•Squasher: Improve leads, tame bass and enhance reverb for EDM[Pro, Artist, Elements]

•Score Editor: Workflow improvements and beautiful new fonts[Pro]

•New Samples: Six freshsound and loop sets[Pro, Artist, Elements]

•SuperVision: Super-flexible, customizable metering[Pro, Artist]

•Imager: Multiband stereo placement for perfect panning[Pro, Artist]

•MultiTap Delay Surround Support: Delay in up to 5.1 surround sound[Pro]

•Windows 10 Variable DPI: More scaling settings[Pro, Artist, Elements]

•Cubase Artists/Elements Upgrades: More bang for fewer bucks[Pro, Artist, Elements]

•Multiple Side-Chain: Improved input architecture[Pro, Artist, Elements]

•Eucon Support: Latest Avid console compatibility[Pro]

•VST Connect SE 5: Resizable HiDPI-ready interface for remote recording solutions[Pro]

•Workflow and UI Improvements: Refinements to make your working life easier[Pro, Artist]

•Apple Metal Acceleration: Enjoy maximum Mac performance[Pro, Artist, Elements]

•SpectraLayers One: Remarkable visual editing and audio source separation[Pro, Artist]

SUMMARY: Cubase 11 is the best music creation environment on the market today, in my opinion. I have barely scratched the surface of its new features, and remember that version 10.5 came out not long ago, so some it its features may be new to many users as well.

Duke Robillard Hot Licks Video

Hal Leonard keeps up their highest level of excellence in their expanding and improving Hot Licks series with a masterful presentation by Duke Robillard. Duke is “a guitarist’s guitarist”, an often-used phrase that is rarely explained. To me it means a guitarist who other guitarists listen to for two reasons: 1) to learn new licks and techniques, and 2) for the pure enjoyment of the music and hearing our instrument played so well. This is why Neil Peart (who we miss greatly) is a drummer’s drummer, and Geddy Lee is a bass player’s bassist. (Sorry Alex, but this is Duke’s review!)

Few instrumentalists have mastered as many genres as Duke Robillard, and his combinations of styles make him absolutely unique. The little I knew of him a while ago had me thinking of him as a rock and roll player influenced by R & B. Then an acquaintance, out of the blue, gave me a copy of Conversations in Swing Guitar (Stony Plain, 1999), a duo album that Duke did with Herb Ellis that has some of the finest swing guitar ever recorded! That album comes the closest I have ever heard to my swing hero, George Barnes.

Book cover

Duke Robillard is a most enthusiastic student of all styles of blues, early jazz and swing, and several other artists who combine multiple influences. He starts off with one such artist, T-Bone Walker (no relation, unfortunately) and the depth of his knowledge of T-Bone’s styles is staggering. If anyone has missed out on this fundamental guitarist, you will be amazed at the influence T-Bone Walker continues to have on all sorts of modern styles. This chapter leads naturally into Blues-Based Jazz Styles, which is full of licks and ideas that will fit into all sorts of genres. and is a real joy for swing players. Another artist who blended styles in surprising ways was Les Paul, who Duke obviously has great respect for. At this point it becomes obvious that the master class has been building forward, with Les’ style including swing, blues, and jazz with his own unique take on all of them.

Following the migration of the blues northward, Duke next demonstrates some killer Chicago Blues Style. By now you will see that Duke can barely keep from playing, often as he talks. We are at the start of Chapter 4 here and we are already at Example 43 — and what an example it is! There are so many techniques demonstrated that it will take you a while to work through them, but it is well worth the effort.Vibrato styles, double-stop slides, tremolo-picking (with palm mute), and slides are some of the techniques that make up this expansion of blues style. Double Stops, or as Duke prefers to call them “Chord Fragments“, make up a short but important chapter on using thirds (mostly) to build up complex chords melodically, incorporating different ways of using slides with them.

Another meaty chapter is Texas Influence & Rock ‘n’ Roll. This is one of those chapters where you will have to learn the examples slowly and then speed them up. This is clearly a style that Duke loves, as he flies through Example 58, climaxing in a Free time bar over a simple F major chord before returning to more “normal” time such as the 15/8 bar on page 51, ending in 12/8. Texas has produced its own sound with many great guitarists hailing from there, and Duke has studied many of them carefully to be able to demonstrate their several variations on that sound.

Duke makes a surprising confession that he had trouble with producing the finger-tremolo sounds of his early heroes, so he got the sound using his whammy-bar. His demonstrations show how he has mastered the use of the bar, and also that he now also has it in his fingers. Taking advantage of this “problem”, he came up with several unique uses for the bar in his playing. The final notated chapter is Jazz Chords in the Blues, and the title is an important distinction. This is not jazz blues, but how he slips some jazz chords into his blues playing. He points out the importance of knowing when to insert these chords, and not overdoing it.

The master class ends with two performances: Les Paul’s “I’m Confessin’ ” (a particular favourite of Duke’s) followed by his own version of Jay McShann’s “The Jumpin’ Blues“. Unfortunately, these are not transcribed, due to a combination of copyright law and running out of space. With 78 good-sized examples the book already is jammed full of information that you want, so there is no point in bemoaning this. In fact, this is a great opportunity to transcribe these great performances yourself. They are not too long — 2:25 and 3:39 respectively — and Duke explains what techniques he will be using as well as a couple of new ones. If you have worked on the techniques throughout the book, especially the jazzier ones, you should have no trouble figuring out what he is playing, especially since both hands are shown in close-up.

You can playback the videos from your MyLibrary page at Hal Leonard, but unfortunately their Playback+ does not support video files. If you feel you need help in transcribing these last two songs, you can download the files, especially the last chapter that contains these songs. Note that Duke also introduces a couple of new techniques that he uses in the songs, so there’s a bonus for watching this video! There are several ways to slow down the video, so I’ll just mention a few ideas. One is to use the VLC Player and its slowdown capability, but the pitch drops as you slow the video; maybe not the best solution. If you have QuickTime or QuickTime Player, you can use New Audio Recording (from the File menu) and record just the songs. You can then use another app to slow down the audio but keep the pitch the same. I like iRehearse for this or Hal Leonard’s own ASD (Amazing Slow Downer).

SUMMARY: This whole series is simply amazing and I unreservedly recommend ANY of the book/video combinations. This is an ongoing project at Hal Leonard so if your favourite Hot Licks video has not yet been done, give them some time! The Duke Robillard version is a brilliant addition to a superb series that includes some of the greatest players of all time, and Duke could measure up to any of them. So far I have concentrated on jazz and swing players, with more rock ‘n’ roll added from Duke Robillard, but there are several Nashville artists and country players, chicken pickin’, metal players, slide guitar as well as artists like Brian Setzer, Buddy Guy, Eric Johnson, and many more on the way. With great transcriptions that cover the finest nuances but remain easy to read in both notation and TAB, you can’t lose with these fantastic master classes. If you can’t get to your favourite music store, check them all out at https://www.halleonard.com/.

Cubase 11 – Introduction

Cubase 11 is a HUGE step up for “the other DAW”. While many of us have concentrated on either ProTools or Logic, home studios have increasingly turned to Cubase for several reasons. One that became obvious to me at the live introduction was how strong a user base they have, and how seriously the company takes their input. If you missed it (sorry for the last-minute warning, but I just got the info myself), the phrase that seemed to be repeated over and over was “another user request implemented in this version is …” This is likely due to the number of Cubase “clubs” that have sprung up all over North America and Europe (and probably elsewhere) as well as the bi-weekly “hangouts” on the Cubase YouTube channel.

Since we have so much to cover I’ll be breaking this review down into sections. Another reason is that I have had problems with some equipment in my lab, so Cubase 11 won’t be fully running for a little while. This gives me time to tell you about some amazing features of Cubase 11 and also a chance to pass on this warning: you should check out videos of Cubase 11 and its new features on their web site at https://www.youtube.com/cubase or at the very least ensure that the information you are getting is from the actual official release or reliable information after that. I am told that some early incorrect information got circulated so that there are still some unreliable sites with faulty “features” listed or missing altogether.

First, there are three versions of Cubase 11: Pro, Artist, and Elements. I will be dealing mostly with Pro, but every version seems to have benefitted from this major upgrade. I had planned to keep to an expanding feature set that includes Artist as well, and then finally ones that are available in all three, but I actually spend more time on features available in all three.

I don’t make as much use of stems as I should, but the are very easy to create in Cubase Pro, with information that has previously been lacking. In the official release demo I kept wondering why I had put off really going full out on them, they seem that easy now.

One feature that blew me away was the Frequency EQ -pug-in. It sports 8 dynamic bands, each of which can be controlled by a separate side-chain! Yeah, 8 side-chains. The possibilities are enormous for creating lots of motion and complexity without covering the score with noteheads. This multiple side-chain architecture is built into all three versions of Cubase 11, although not all features are available in some. Still, this is a major feature!

Another feature that stood out for me is the MIDI accessibility. I have always liked “getting under the hood” and working directly with MIDI for specific effects, and the Key Editor provides great features for all three versions. For instance, you can delete notes with a double-click. The Scale Assistant can analyze the scale being used, can snap notes to the scale you choose, can show just notes from your scale or all notes (i.e. including accidentals), even give you suggestions for scales based on the notes you have entered. Continuous Controllers can be entered with a start and end note (and back to start if required). You can also change the curve from a straight line by grabbing a point in the middle and pulling it into the desired shape; it’s that easy! Plus you can copy the CC modifications you have made into another track. One drawback to working with raw MIDI is losing your place, but Cubase 11 allows you to input lyrics into the marker track, to keep your place.

Since I’m still out of “order” by introducing features in all three versions, I will mention another favourite of mine: the Squasher. (Can you guess what it does?) It is an audio compressor that combines up and down compression for up to three bands, each of which can have its own side-chain! Another great tool for expanding dynamic range – dynamically!

Returning to under the hood stuff, the Sampler Track includes a new slicing mode for loop-based samples, a mono legato glide for those slick sliding bass lines, and my favourite: two LFOs that can modulate filters for retro sounds or completely up-to-date effects. I “cut my synth teeth” on VCOs, VCAs, and VCFs; the introduction of Low Frequency Oscillators (LFOs) to glide between notes or shift filters, and even volume, was crucial for making dynamic music. It is exciting to have this dynamic shifting ability with so many musical parameters.

OK, so now let me go backwards and introduce some features available ONLY in Pro and Artist. These are mainly audio analyzers. SuperVision is a 9-slot multi-meter audio analyzer of level, spectrum, phase, and waveform. Among many other additions and improvements, SpectraLayers One stands out: a compact version of the widely-acclaimed SpectraLayers Pro 7. This, along with Imager, allows you to place finely sculpted audio precisely in the stereo soundscape.

I’ll end this long introduction with one closest to my heart, the Score Editor. With support for the SMuFL font format, for the first time Dorico‘s Bravura and Petaluma fonts are available in Cubase. Let’s hope this is the start of more integration between these two terrific programs.

I have a project that has been delayed due to illness that I now plan to record in Cubase 11. The client has given me wide latitude for an “interesting” mix, so I plan to see just how interesting I can make it with Cubase 11 and the tools we’ve just glanced at. Given Steinberg‘s track record (no pun intended) I have complete trust that this will be a project to remember. I’ll keep you updated on how it goes with more reviews “as they happen”.

Dan Erlewine – Guitar Player Repair Guide (3rd Edition)

IN SHORT: This book is the Gold Standard of guitar repair and maintenance texts. It was both the most recommended AND the most requested book for review on this topic by far. It outdoes any other book I’ve seen, although our other two contenders still have great uses: Chad Johnson’s is compact and fits easily in a case or gig bag, while Doug Redler includes many real-world on-the-road emergency fixes, plus a very good section on amps. Still, when I sit down to do serious work on a guitar, this is THE book that I will have beside me. And should it inspire you to continue to a career in lutherie (as it inspired Doug Redler) it has a terrific list of resources including excellent schools. IF YOU CAN ONLY AFFORD ONE BOOK, GET THIS ONE.

book cover

Dan Erlewine’s Guitar Player Repair Guide (3rd Edition) is the third book in our series on guitar repair books, and with this one, you have reached the Big Leagues. With over 300 pages of the best instruction on guitar repair, plus a DVD that demonstrates the brilliance of the author, if you can master the information presented in this book you can confidently work on ANY guitar in this world. But by “master” I mean have practised every technique and used every tool mentioned on a variety of electric and acoustic guitars. That’s a tall order, but then guitar repair is a deep, often complex subject.

In my earlier reviews I emphasized how high-res colour pictures dramatically improve the description of repair techniques. The accompanying DVD with Guitar Player Repair Guide takes this to another level entirely, and I can guarantee you that if you have never examined the inside of an acoustic guitar you will never look at one the same again!

I won’t even try to cover every chapter of the book in detail. Its setup makes that unnecessary as it divides all of the material into 3 categories: basic, d.i.y. (Do It Yourself), and deep. Even an experienced guitar tech would be well advised to read ALL of the basic parts of every chapter first. Don’t be fooled by the term “basic”; this is where many guitar repair books end! Even if you have read both of the books I have previously recommended, you should start by reading all of the basic parts of every chapter. For example, in the chapter on Necks, basic is “what to expect from a fret job”. So even if you can’t do one (yet), you will be able to tell if one has been done correctly, if a guitar needs one, and if another repair person is competent to do them. One chapter entirely considered basic is Shipping a guitar or amp.

But first things first. The first two chapters are basic, covering supplies you need, cleaning different parts of the instruments, and changing strings. All of this is covered in greater detail than either of the other books, and the reasons for stringing a certain way are explained clearly. This is such an important topic that I will cover it exclusively in a future post.

The d.i.y. sections are where you start really working with guitars, and this covers a huge range of topics. Having covered Neck Evaluation in the basic part, d.i.y. moves on to truss rod adjustment, the need for serious tools, and what to expect. Once you have done several of these you are ready to consider the deep subject of Rescuing a broken truss rod. This is a good point at which to consider whether this is a career for you, or just great information to keep your own guitars in shape. You will not likely be able to perform all of the deep techniques when you get to them, but they are good points to pull back to think about the reality of performing these procedures on other people’s instruments.

The d.i.y. of setups has separate sections for electric and acoustic guitars, including sections on tremolo units and classical guitars. This is the first deep section I was drawn to for Low action and the blues as well as the setups of particular players (ever wonder how Jeff Beck has his guitars setup? Or B.B. King?)

I won’t go into as much detail on all of the chapters, but Intonation and compensation is a crucial one. Most of it is d.i.y. for good reason: this will separate out the real pros, dealing with adjustable electric bridges and then non-adjustable acoustic ones. For deep learning, Erlewine goes into great detail on the Buzz Feiten Tuning System, and if you don’t end up wanting it for all of your guitars, then you need to work on your ears. (I’m not saying that you should be able to afford it for all of your guitars, but if you are lucky enough to live near a certified installer you should consider it for at least one of your instruments, and prepare to be amazed.)

Tuning machines covers installation and repair of many kinds of tuners, including an invaluable special section on Steinberger tuners. Three separate chapters cover bridges: electric non-tremolo, electric tremolo, and acoustics. Tremolos covered in depth include Floyd Rose, Kahler, Strat (in great detail), The Trem-Setter and roller nuts. The deep section covers string benders, somewhat rare but crucial when faced with one! I was glad to see so much attention given to acoustics, especially to archtops (which might well be electric too). As with so many areas throughout the book, the many great photos and illustrations really clarify the text.

Acoustic body repairs is given more attention than any other book I’ve seen, and it is yet another area that will let a true pro stand out. Most books don’t cover the range of d.i.y. topics included here, such as gluing loose braces, which can go from creating annoying buzzes to ruining the tone of a fine instrument. Reattaching loose bridges and bridge pad problems are covered in the deep section, as are neck resets. This last one is not for the faint of heart, and I’d suggest looking for cheap or broken guitars to get some real-world practice in before working on a good instrument (preferably your own ones first).

More specific neck work is covered in Necks, from bolt-on neck installation to those annoying fret buzzes in the upper frets that seem impossible at first. Broken pegheads is a deep subject, and an example of how invaluable this book is as a shop reference to keep handy. This leads into Fretwork, from loose frets to fret files, all the way to various styles and techniques of refretting. You may wonder why compound radius fingerboards are in d.i.y, until you see that deep includes the neck jig, and the Plek machine (which I had to look up myself, and is an amazing invention!). Finally, in this group, Nut replacement is covered in depth in the d.i.y. section because it is vital and inevitable. Most kinds of nuts are included, except for the Buzz Feiten version, which is covered in the Buzz Feiten Tuning System section.

Bindings and pickguards leads into another unofficial section of the book. These are pretty much cosmetic fixes, which does NOT make them any less important, especially if a pickguard has a pickup attached to it. This moves us naturally into Guitar electronics which covers virtually everything that gets sound from the strings and sends it to some sort of amplifier or recorder. The diagrams here are exceptional, and cover many models and variations you are liable to run into. So much is covered that the deep section is reserved for winding your own pickups! NOTE: This is one of the few typos in the book, in the Table of Contents. Winding your own pickups is actually on page 74 (not 64 as printed). The reason for this 10-page error may be the huge number of wiring diagrams for most Gibson and Fender electrics (and their many copies) as well as the Danelectro. Also included are specialty switches such as the Kill Switch which Eddie van Halen and others used for the “stutter” effect. (Erlewine notes Pete Townshend’s use of the pickup selector with one pickup’s volume set to 0, but this stresses the switch which was never meant to take this much punishment!) The switches round off with several multi-selector ones from the familiar 5-position ones, to more capable “Super-Switches”. Erlewine is unique in his ability to cover the structure of the guitar as a (mostly) wooden instrument, and then get into the finest detail on the inner electronics. This book is as deep as it is wide, and even at well over 300 pages not a word is wasted or “filler”.

Winding your own pickups sounds very exotic, and in many ways it is. Still, with new machines that are relatively affordable for those who need one, or want one, it is within the reach of even a modest repair shop. You may not want to go “full Seymour Duncan”, creating your own line, but there are several reasons to get into rewinding such as rewinding dead pickups, modifying pickups for higher output or the ability to be “tapped”, making pickups for specialty instruments, etc. Erlewine goes into great detail here so it is a real possibility for those with the desire to get into it.

The last instructional chapter is for Finishing and finish repairs. Even though this is near the end of the book, it is liable to be a large part of your business if you do go into this business. Dings and scratches happen all too often and may people want their precious instruments to be repaired ASAP with no sign of being repaired. When asked, a lot these days it seems, the deep section shows you how to fake an “aged finish”.

I’ve already mentioned Shipping a guitar or amp, so we get to Tools, which are divided themselves into basic, d.i.y., and deep. Finally, Resources and schools are, of course, deep. This chapter begins with a discussion of Training for a career in lutherie. Although one of the few careers that still thrives through the apprenticeship model, there are some excellent schools that offer training, including one whose 5-day workshop was attended by Dan Erlewine himself, along with Seymour Duncan and several other first-rate luthiers.

The DVD

As you can tell from the length of this review, the whole book would not come close to fitting on a single DVD. It contains the topics that benefit most from video. These begin with “once-over” looks at both electric and acoustic guitars. They include the most important problems to search for, as well as how to fix them. Next is the most overlooked item for any guitar player looking for an instrument: the toolkit you must have when shopping for a guitar, especially when you are about to pay for one.

Intonation and compensation is well-explained in the book but there is no substitute from being able to see and hear it done properly. There is a big difference between good and “good enough” explained, and it will help you to understand why the Buzz Feiten Tuning System is such a big deal.

How to stop damaging your acoustic guitar when installing strings pretty much tells it all, but you have to see the damage done to believe it! We’ve all done it, especially when we’re in a hurry, but once you see up close how much damage you can do you will pay much more attention to your next string change. And if you are doing it for someone else, you want to be very sure that you are not damaging theirs. In fact, I suggest that if you are changing someone else’s strings that you check the peg holes for string damage and show the owner before you start. You don’t want to inherit problems caused by someone else’s sloppy work.

The Extras include PDF files for guitar inspection forms and also drawings. There are also links to Stewmac demos of the tools that they sell, the “why and how” to use them. StewMac also carries a series of DVDs by Dan Erlewine on specific topics that you may want to check out.

SUMMARY: If you can only afford one book on guitar repair and maintenance and you want to take care of your instruments, GET THIS BOOK.

NOTE: This item is temporarily out of stock in the Hal Leonard warehouse, but may be available from your favorite local music store or online retailer.

Cubase 11 Is Here!

If you are new to this blog, Welcome! If not, then you know that I have been using Logic since it was Notator on the Atari ST. However, from what I have seen of Cubase 11 and the consistent excellence of Steinberg software these past few years (see my review of Wave Lab 10 and my ongoing series of reviews and articles on Dorico) it is certainly time to take a close look at Cubase 11.

Rather than keeping you waiting, especially those of you who are already using Cubase 10, be sure to watch the video of Cubase 11’s new features tomorrow — Friday November 13, 2020.

There are many great videos on Steinberg’s Cubase YouTube channel, so you might want to watch them. They have been thoughtfully divided into topics so that you can check out your own special interests right away.

So I hope to see you tomorrow at the official video “launch”. Even if you are a dedicated user of Logic or ProTools, you won’t want to miss this one!

Stuck at Home? What to Do?

As I write this the world is encountering the “second wave” of COVID-19. Whether by law or out of precaution, many of us are staying at home and finding ourselves with time on our hands. Now is a good time to try something new, preferably something fun and exciting, so I suggest … songwriting!

book cover


Having written my book How To Write Your First Song, I will pass on some tips to get you started writing. You don’t need much equipment. In fact, if you are already a musician you only need your instrument and your imagination! (If you are a singer and don’t play any other instrument, Band-in-a-Box will create an entire backing track for you automatically!) And if you are not a musician, you can always write lyrics. You will be able to find songwriters looking for lyricists in your language, and on the internet they may be anywhere in the world.

Your first obstacle is confidence. You have to believe that you can write a song, and not just any song — you can write a song you really love. I spend a good part of my book explaining why you can write a song and how to find your own method of doing it. Since that took a whole book, I’ll just say here that you can do it, so get started.

The most successful songwriting team of the 20th century was Lennon-McCartney. Think about Paul’s song Blackbird. It’s just his voice and his guitar. The only other “instrument” is him tapping on the microphone. This was obviously not his first song, but it does show that you don’t need to get wrapped up in technology or music theory such as orchestration or counterpoint to write a beautiful song. So start off simply. Too many producers try to save a bad or unoriginal song with tons of instruments and backup singers as well as studio effects, but a good song stands on its own. One of The Beatles’ most inventive and innovative songs is Strawberry Fields Forever, which uses a mind-boggling array of studio production techniques and orchestral musicians. Yet, if you listen to John singing it with just his acoustic guitar you can hear its unadorned beauty, amazing in its own right.

You may already have an idea for a song, but if not don’t worry. Ideas are all around you, and you should get a small pocket-size notebook and pencil to carry around so that when an idea hits you, you can capture it. There are few things as frustrating as having a great idea for a song that you can’t remember when you get home. I was trying to think of an example for this post when I had one screamed to me. Well, not really to me, and definitely not at me, but a young woman was explaining to her “ex-friend” that “You’ve had your second chance!” There are so many ways you could use that idea. You can be the one saying it; or the one it’s said to; or a third person who knows them and feels happy or sad; or just a bystander who is reminded of something in their own past. Or many more ways of using it. And that was just a freebie while waiting in line.

There are some musical basics you need to know if you are going to write the whole thing; far fewer if you’re only doing the lyrics. Unless you are completely new to music theory you may already know most or all you need to know; perhaps you just need to tweak how to apply it. In my book I give you just the basics you need for songwriting, and how to use what you already know. Most music theory courses teach you how to write music from about 300 years ago, not modern songs.

For both lyrics and music, you need to have some basic form in mind. Blues is a great form to use, and never goes out of style. Simple verse & chorus songs are similarly timeless. A verse is a repeating melody where the words change in each verse (the melody will have small changes to fit the words in your new verse). The chorus is where both music and words repeat. You can think of the verses as where your story develops and the choruses as the main message of the song which may be made more powerful with each successive verse. Usually there is an instrumental break, which is played over the backing of the verses.

So what does all this tell us? You only need to write two different musical parts: the verse and the chorus. You only have two or three verses to tell your story, so you need to be concise, cutting out unnecessary words ruthlessly. This may take some time getting used to, but see if you can spot any line, or even any word, that does not advance your story or strengthen the impact of your chorus. Try to make the song sound inevitable,as if it had to happen.

Let’s go back to our example idea. Why did this person need a second chance? What happened to their first chance? What led to giving a second chance? Why did that one fail too? And what is your chorus idea? Is it how many chances a person should have? Was the second chance an unwise decision? Much of this will depend on who is talking. It can be great fun trying a situation from different perspectives and seeing which one works best. You may also have several songs that work, all of which you can write. Why not?

I strongly suggest that you buy my book. Of course I do! I spent years learning what to do and what not to do when writing a song. I spent another year condensing everything that you need to know into the fewest number of pages while leaving nothing out. MOST IMPORTANT: I did not set out to have you write “my way”. The whole point of the book was to lead you into discovering your own way of working. Yes, the first goal is to write your first song that you will truly love. But at the same time, you are developing your own approach that will allow you to write more songs that differ in content and style, but use your personal procedures. I write a song along with you in the book, but I’m teaching you to fish, not giving you a guppy. In many ways my song is ridiculous, and that’s the point: you can do better than that, and by the end of the book you know how to do it, your way. You will also end up with a song that proves it!

One of my greatest thrills is hearing back from someone who has used the book to say “I did it! I’m a songwriter!” That’s all I aim for in the book. I’m not promising to teach you how to write a Grammy winner. No one can do that. I have tried my hardest to show you that you can write a song that you love in your own way, and have fun doing it. The awards part is up to you: lots of work, talent, and a lot of luck.

NotePerformer 3.3.2 Now Available

Another FREE update to NotePerformer is now available for all registered users. If you don’t own it yet, you should. It is a great library of instruments and sounds that outdoes libraries that are much more expensive. And there has NEVER been a charge for an update or upgrade! How many programs can boast that?

I am planning to test its ability to play the jazz articulations in Dorico (which Dorico does not yet play back) but I ran into a snag — I don’t get any sound from it. This seems to be a fairly common problem with Dorico 3.5.10, but thanks to Arne of Wallander Instruments, the maker of NotePerformer, you can try to fix it yourself. He suggests clearing the VST2 instrument cache with

Dorico > Preferences > VST Plug-ins > Clear Audio Engine Cache

After this, restart Dorico and it just might work. If not, you may have the problem described in the Dorico forum here:

The email to support this problem is given at the start of that thread, and as Arne suggests you should add a Dorico Diagnostics Report to your email description. You generate the diagnostics report file from

Help > Create Diagnostics Report in Dorico.

I will post again when I get NotePerformer 3.3.2 working, but for now I wanted to be sure that you knew about the update, and hopefully to save Arne a few support emails.

UPDATE: It turns out that my problem was different from the problem described the forum, but Ulf was still able to solve it! I just had to re-apply the NotePerformer Playback Template (which somehow got “lost in the shuffle” of attempted fixes) and NotePerformer 3.3.2 now works fine. To do this fix, choose NotePerformer’s template here in Dorico:

Play > Playback Template

So I can tell you that the jazz articulations sound great! Now you can write them and hear them back immediately. I’m having a riot playing with jazz ensembles and going a bit crazy with the articulations, but what fun they are!

I suggest that you get the version history for NotePerformer because it has all of the changes and additions (as well as the occasional fix) for Dorico, Sibelius, and Finale.

And again, if you don’t already have NotePerformer, get it now. It will be the LAST time you have to pay for it.