Reaper Screenshot - Nasan Ka Kaya

Nasaan Ka Kaya? – the first product of the UPOU Soundtrack Project

By now, you’ve probably heard of Mix 3 for the song Nasan Ka Kaya. In case you’re still not familiar with it, this song was written by one of the BAMS students, Bem Favorito.

 

Now, Bem was kind enough to let us use his songs for what we’re currently dubbing as the UPOU Soundtrack Project.  Nasan Ka Kaya was chosen as the first guinea pig, so to speak. I grew up in the 1990s and it was probably the time when I listened to music the most. When I first listened to Bem’s demo, I was immediately reminded of the sensibilities, as well as recording qualities of rock and indie bands of that era. It was imperative that we capture some of that vibe for this song.

Three people have directly contributed to the production of this song. Bem is based in Metro Manila and recorded the vocal track. JM Agbayani played and recorded her bass guitar from the other side of the world in Dubai. I provided a basic backing track for them to follow and record with. And then they sent their recorded track to me online. I live near UPOU Headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna and I recorded the electric and acoustic guitar parts of this mix.

Reaper Screenshot - Nasan Ka Kaya

So, above is the main window of REAPER 5, the DAW software I used, or rather, am using for my audio production work. I am going to break this mix down, which I hope can give you a better understanding of how we went from Bem’s old demo to this mix.

As you can already see, the whole thing looks complicated for a relatively simple song that can be played by a three- or four-piece rock band with relative ease. It is complicated in the sense that the closer you get to the sound that you like, the difficulty in finally making it there increases. But you really don’t have to work that hard or have an extremely high level of proficiency to get something to sound decent. I would also like to say that I do not consider myself an expert in this line of work, nor do I believe that my way is the only way to get this mix to sound good. But I will say that I am happy with this whole learning experience and that while I believe there will always be room for improvement here, I can live with what I have here now.

 

Drums

Recording drums is one of those things that intimidate me in this project because I’ve never done it before. But I do look forward to learning how to do it. Unfortunately, as of this video clip, we still haven’t had the opportunity to do so. That is why we had to make do with a virtual instrument, at least for now.

I used a software plugin called EZDrummer 2. As the name implies, it is an easy-to-use virtual drum software, with a large library of MIDI-based loops and actual drum recordings. Creating a drum track for the entire song was largely just a drag and drop affair. I used stock loops, except in parts of the chorus where the snare, kick and cymbals are hit in unison with the guitars and bass.

 

This is very much usable. But I would like to point out that I look at EZDrummer more as a songwriting tool than an all-around replacement for a real drummer. I would still very much rather have live acoustic drums in the mix. Hopefully we’ll still have the opportunity to record that.

 

 

Bass Guitar

Just like the drums, I had a MIDI Bass Track prepared for this song. I was already resigned to the proposition that it will be as far as we will go for this song. That is why I was so happy that JM came forward and volunteered to play bass for us. She had an actual bass guitar and a USB interface. She even elected to use Reaper for the first time. All these were fortunate on my part. I asked her to send me a dry or effects-free recording. This is important because it makes thing more convenient for me while mixing. Applying effects would be easier and more predictable. And cleaning up any noise or unwanted artifacts would be less complicated.

 

While it needed some more work, the dry track sounded surprisingly good. It would probably be ok if I just left it as is. But I eventually decided that I wanted it to sound like it was being played through a bass guitar amplifier. I also wanted to reduce the faint noise that was audible when the bass track played alone. But I didn’t need to be too aggressive with the editing, because any noise in the bass track was adequately masked by the other tracks.

 

Acoustic Guitar

This is where things start to get a little fancier… well, despite outward appearances.

In a previous mix, I used an electric guitar with a synth pickup to simulate an acoustic guitar sound. It’s fine for live work, but I wasn’t particularly happy with how it sounded. So, I opted to just record this part again, but with a real acoustic guitar. This entailed a few matters that needed attending.

The reason why I first used a guitar synth was to not worry about acoustic considerations. Like everyone else in the project, I don’t have a professional grade audio studio at home. I can hear just about any noise outside or inside. I also don’t have a room with honest to goodness acoustic treatment. What I do have is some space in the middle of my house which I haven’t gotten to cleaning up. It worked out surprisingly well. In fact, I hadn’t noticed that it was lightly raining while I was recording until I took off my headphones. Luckily, the sound of the rain wasn’t picked up.

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My makeshift recording room

 

I had a cardioid condenser mic aimed at or near the 12th fret of my guitar at about 12 inches away. This was my intended main acoustic guitar sound. But since my guitar had a built-in pickup, I thought that I might as well, make use of it. So, I recorded the same performance with two sound sources. It turned out to be a good idea.

 

The sound from the microphone isn’t bad by itself, as you can hear. But to me, it sounded like it was a little short on bite.

As for the pickup sound, well… it sounds different. It’s also good, but is not as mellow as the mic’d sound.

I probably wouldn’t want to use it by itself for recording. But when you blend it with the microphone recording, you can get something different, and dare I say, better. They mutually make up for each other’s weaknesses.

 

Electric Guitars

These are probably the set of tracks which I put the most thought over. And yes, it does have something to do with these being my part. Most people will hear the electric guitars as if it were just one, or maybe two instruments. It’s not that simple, and I’ll show you why.

I plugged in my guitar directly through my interface and used the same software I used for the bass to simulate a guitar amplifier’s sound. I could have mic’ed a real guitar amplifier – I actually have a real version of the simulated amp that I used. But I decided against it. I didn’t want to deal with the acoustics of my work area. Of course, if it didn’t sound good to me, I would have opted to use a microphone like I did with the acoustic guitar. But BIAS FX, the software I used, made things so much easier for me. More importantly, given the circumstances, I doubt I could have gotten a better sound within the same time span.

 

The thing that helps keep the song together is the rhythm guitar track, which doubles the acoustic guitar, creating a thicker sound. But at the same time, I didn’t want it to dominate the mix, so it wasn’t really that much louder than the acoustic guitar here.

The lead guitar is also a straightforward affair. It’s nearly as loud as the vocals, and with a bit more distortion applied. The melodies themselves… well, they’re not what I would normally like to play, but they do work well for the sound and feel that Bem wanted for this song. He seemed to agree, so I kept them all.

 

I simply repeated the verse vocal melodies for the guitar solo spot, but to keep things from being too monotonous, I recorded a third guitar track to provide some harmonies. Then I added a fourth electric guitar track in the background to build up the song towards the climax at the final chorus. As far as keeping the 90s indie feel went, this was the part where I veered away from it the most. They didn’t do much ambient guitar stuff back then. But I still think it works well with the song. At the very least no one’s complaining about it, so it hasn’t been taken out.

 

Vocals

Whenever there is singing, it will almost always be the main focus of a song. That goes for just about any music genre out there and it is difficult to find exceptions. And no, this song is no exception either.

That is the point of working on mixing in the vocal track last. With the accompanying tracks close to being set, Bem sent me his recording. My job was to lay it down front and center and adjust the rest.

The dry vocal track itself needed work. But at the same time, I didn’t want to completely lose its rawness. So, I employed a technique I learned called parallel processing. It’s where I leave the dry vocal track pretty much as is, and then I send the same signal to a new track where I apply all the effects I wanted. And then like with the acoustic guitars, I had the option to easily blend the two tracks together until I get a sound that I want.

 

As far as effects were concerned, I used a plugin called IzoTope Nectar Elements. It’s a stripped down version of IzoTope’s more professional, and yes, more expensive line of effects plugins. But it has all the basic things I needed for the vocals. I started off with Nectar Elements’ Indie Warm and Dry preset. It essentially adds a little bit of reverb and then sets the EQ as a high pass filter. I further tweaked it by amplifying the signal and adding a bit more high end.

 

Panning

I kept panning simple for this mix. Since the bass guitar and vocals work on different areas of the frequency spectrum, it’s ok to keep them both at center. Lead guitars were also at center. It should also be fine because even if it lies relatively close to the vocals in terms of frequencies, they almost never play at the same time, anyway. Acoustic guitars are slightly panned to the left, while the electric rhythm guitar is equally panned to the right. The guitar fill heard at the final chorus actually doesn’t stay in place. I’ll explain that next.

 

Automation

Automation in DAWs is something you might not know about. I don’t know if it will ever be talked about in MMS 172, but I certainly don’t remember touching on it last time. But it is possible to tweak just about any parameter in the mix while the song is playing. And you can set the DAW to do it for you and by how much.

For this song, my automations made subtle changes, but I do think they make a big enough difference. The most obvious one is with the guitar fill where I played a bunch of natural harmonics in the last chorus. I laid down this track to add just a bit of ambience to the chorus and make it sound bigger. I certainly didn’t want it to muddy up the mix. So, rather than let it sit in one place along the stereo spectrum, I thought it would be cool for the harmonics to pan from left to center and then right to center.

 

Another part, or rather, the other parts where I do it are during the choruses where I temporarily raise the volume of the rhythm electric guitar track just before the vocals go nasan ka kaya…. and anong ginagawa to emphasize the downstrokes of all the guitars with respect to the rhythm.

 

Final Words

A great deal of my work here dealt with the faders to set the volumes for each track. It may have contributed to my seemingly endless series of tweaks, but I followed no definite rules for this. The important thing for me is that, in the end, all the tracks have to be audible in a manner that are good to my ears, and none of the volume meters should go red.

The 1990s indie vibe is definitely there. I started asking other people to listen to the song. Every time somebody mentions The Eraserheads, I know that the mix worked (though such a remark may have to do with Bem’s vocals more than anything else). Still, there are other influences and aspects that shine through the mix, which I’m particularly happy with, such as the 70s-ish guitar sound and harmonies, as well as a little bit of ambient effects – my personal little imprint on the song.

It is demanding part-time work. But I do enjoy doing creative projects with colleagues and students. I hope this song will only be the first of many to come.

 

 

 

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New guitar: to where the dreaming began…

I remember the time my parents took me to the mall to buy my first electric guitar. It was the old Park Square 1 in Makati around 1993. There were like four music stores there at the time. But it was in JB Music where my eyes got fixated to this guitar sitting on a shelf on its own. It was my first glimpse of a white American-made Fender Stratocaster. It’s difficult to recall what it was, exactly since I hardly knew anything about all the Fender models back then. I wasn’t able to look at it closely either, as it was off-limits to all but the most serious buyer — you couldn’t just test it (which, come to think of it now, was quite douchey of JB Music). But to the best of my recollection, it was either an American Standard or a Richie Sambora model. I don’t remember how much it was being sold for either, but it was definitely way out of reach as far as I was concerned. I was wowed and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. However, my feet were still firmly on the ground and understood full well that I, or more specifically, my parents, would not be able to afford something like that. If I recall correctly, I ended up not buying anything at the time and eventually got some bad Kramer copy from Raon. Still, as we went back home, my mom had the heart to tell me, anak, ang mahal, pero makakabili din tayo niyan (son, it’s expensive, but someday we’ll be able to buy one like that for you)…. She said that lots of times to me throughout her life. She didn’t always deliver, of course. But the promises never really got old and I love her for it.

While I have fond memories of those very first trips to the music stores with my parents, I never thought much about the Strat again. I mean, I did my best to avoid Strats at the beginning. I just thought it was ordinary and uncool. But when that phase was over, I realized that a Strat was exactly what I wanted and that holds true to this day. And so I went through a few of them over the years.

Last year, I thought my guitar purchasing days would be coming to a stop for a while. We were expecting a baby and I was worried by how much will my expenses pile up. I wasn’t doing too badly, but at the same time, the money wasn’t exactly pouring down on me like a waterfall. The luxuries had to be put on hold, and that included guitar gear. The abstinence was short-lived, though. A month before my son was born, Yupangco, the local Fender dealer, announced what would probably be one of their most awesome promos ever. Suddenly, it was going to be possible to buy two new American Standard Fender guitars for roughly 70,000 Pesos. That’s less than the regular price for one of these things — it was practically a buy-one-take-one deal. Even though I resisted at first, I eventually caved in and made the trip to their showroom. Of course, my financial status never ended up being in danger. My wife bore a healthy baby boy without complications. But I really had no way of knowing at the time.

I had already decided that I was going for a Strat with a rosewood board and a Tele with an all-maple neck. The Tele was going to be easy because there weren’t a lot of choices left as far as Teles went. The Strat, however, was going to be tougher. A far as colors went, I was still undecided. When I finally made it to the display cases, I found it — 2012 model Olympic white Stratocaster. It was the first one I tested and I did so for a while. I already wanted it, but I thought that since I was already there, I might as well go through some more of the guitars. There were the ones in black, sunburst, red and that cool Mystic Blue. I even tried another white Strat, but with a maple board (which I would find out was actually the one reserved for me). All in all, I went through at least eight copies. They all pretty much sounded the same. But there was something about the first one I tried. Maybe it was because it was the only one on display whose bridge wasn’t set to float or the one with the least fret buzz. Or maybe it was because of the fretboard which somehow looked different than everything else*. Whatever the reasons, I eventually went back to that white one I tested first.

It wasn’t until I unpacked the guitars at home when I suddenly recalled the childhood memory I wrote about at the beginning of this blog. I realized that my mom’s musing just came true. Perhaps not exactly as what either of us had in mind, but it was reminiscent enough as to make me remember. A white Fender American Standard Stratocaster finally made it to me. And a happy New Guitar(s) Day it was.

Fender guitars

Mom, wherever you are now, I’d like you to know… I finally got it!

 

* As it turned out, it really was different. Jun Castro confirmed that, instead of the usual Indian Rosewood, the board was actually made of Pau Ferro, which Fender only uses on some signature and custom shop models. Never had I seen it on a mass production model. This was definitely a special buy.

 

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Pau ferro fretboard

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Review: Korg Pitchclip PC-1

Last month, I thought I lost my clip-on guitar tuner. And of course, like the rational person that I am, instead of exerting a little more effort to find it, I thought it would be better to go to the mall and get myself a new one. So, I went to the nearest Audiophile store to look for the Pitchclip. These things sell REALLY fast. The first time I saw one in the store, there was a huge pile on display. That pile didn’t last long and took a while before the stocks got replenished. I felt lucky to find one when I actually needed. And it was green!

It’s not hard to understand why these little things are popular. Korg has always been a trusted brand when it comes to reasonably priced musical instrument tuners. But when reasonably priced turns to crazy cheap (relative to the competition, at least), you potentially have a winning formula.

So I took my new green Pitchclip home and wasted no time testing it in one of my guitars. The excitement gradually faded when the thing started struggling to track certain strings. I mean, it’s not that bad, really. But I started to think if it was a good idea for Korg to risk a bit of a dip in their reputation here.

Tracking can get erratic at times.

Maybe a week after I bought the Pitchclip, I was surprised to find my old tuner buried deep in one of my backpack’s pockets. In hindsight, spending an extra 5 minutes to search that bag in the first place would have saved me 600 Pesos. But that would have been no fun, no? And it wouldn’t have made the ensuing comparison test possible. I can now determine if the Pitchclip is actually any better (or worse) than my older tuner.

The other tuner is a Musedo T-40C, which I bought nearly two years ago from Lyric for somewhere between 700-800 Pesos. I know nothing about the brand and have to keep reading the tuner’s label to remember the model. But I bought it because my first choice at the time, which was, surprise surprise, the Pitchclip, was unavailable. So, I went to another store to look for my second choice, the Snark SN-1/SN-2. They didn’t have it on stock either. So I was resigned to browsing through their display shelf and hope I saw something decent. It was there that I found the Musedo.

The Musedo T-40C has a rather fancy colored LCD display and can be set for tuning various instruments. The tuning modes don’t interest me much as the tuner is always set to chromatic. What I want to test the accuracy and tracking of my tuners. In the end, these are all that matter, really.

A few things struck me in this particular test. It is no longer apparent in the video as the strings were already in tune (well, for the most part, at least). But while you’re actually tuning, the Pitchclip is the one which has the most difficulty in tracking pitch, especially with the wounded strings (you can see it somewhat when I plucked the 6th string). Of course, one can say that it’s expected. But having those LED’s doing a Cylon impression is something I rarely see from my previous Korg tuners. The next thing that I noticed was that after it settles down, the Pitchclip is fairly consistent with the Pitchblack’s own readings. I can’t gauge actual accuracy, but both tuners do allude to the same ballpark area of sharpness or flatness. You’re certainly getting that Korg accuracy with the Pitchclip.

The Musedo T-40C doesn’t seem to be as sensitive as both Korg units. The reading also seems to lock in a certain range of whatever note is being tuned. Obviously, this could compromise accuracy. But I wonder if that is such a bad thing. If you look at the video clip, the readings are really close to each other. A hyper accurate tuner, at first glance, will always seem to be the best thing to have. But when the reality of your practical needs sets in, you start to think twice about it. That fancy strobe tuner is great of setting up your guitar. But for most purposes, personally, I’d rather spend 15 seconds for adequate tuning rather than 5 minutes for perfect tuning. Why bother? Pitch is never going to be perfect as you play up and down the fretboard, anyway.

I still like the Musedo a bit more and it will remain my go-to tuner. But after this test, I realized that the Pitchclip is actually better than I first thought. It held its own against its bigger brother, the Pitchblack. It takes longer to stabilize, but it gets there. When the green LED in the middle lights up, I can always trust the Korg Pitchclip.

graphite

A pencil is for writing, not lubricating a guitar!

I admit it. I’d been peeved. One of the problems with a fairly large and high-traffic forum such as PhilMusic is that anything you write can easily get lost in the ocean of posts and topics found within. Sure, some people do have the sense to at least attempt a forum search before posting stuff. But one thing I have noticed is that sooner or later, just when you think that a certain topic has been beaten like a dead horse, someone is going to come along and ask the same question again… and again… and again. It gets more annoying when you actually pour your heart out in these particular discussions out of your desire to help. You suddenly have this unshakeable feeling that all your efforts mean nothing in the grand scheme of things.

So, instead of wallow in the misery of my perceived insignificance, I will instead take on guitar-related issues here in my own blogsite instead of doing it everyday in forums like I used to. At least here, whatever I write won’t get buried by nonsense. Well, with my nonsense, sure. But not that of other people. And I am not even ashamed to say that’s what ultimately counts.

(This is going to be a long one. So, if you have a short attention span, the important parts are highlighted in green.)

Take the case of the nut and keeping a guitar in tune. At some point, guitar players figure out that one of the main reasons why their guitar goes out of tune after a big bend or a whammy bar dive is because sometimes, the strings doesn’t totally revert to its original position. One of the critical areas is the nut, where it is not uncommon for strings to bind, even if it is properly slotted, and made of good material. That, ladies and gentlemen, is due to friction coming into play. The Floyd Rose system includes a locking nut so it wouldn’t have to deal with nut friction (I know, writing that phrase feels awkward, lol).

In reality, it is not possible to totally eliminate friction, but it can be reduced. For the guitar, an obvious solution is replacement, especially if you have some cheap plastic or a poorly prepped bone nut. There are the roller nuts, like the LSR and the Wilkinson, where you’ve got metal bearings that help the strings roll over the slots more smoothly as they move. Problem is, they’re a bit expensive and aren’t drop-in replacements. Some wood has to be shaved off the neck to fit a roller nut assembly. I’m sure some people wouldn’t be keen on that.

An alternative would be to have a standard-size nut, but made of material that’s more slippery than the old one, such as graphite and slipstone. In theory you’d still have more friction compared to a roller nut, but much less compared to plastic or bone. Another popular option would be the Graphtech TUSQ XL, an artificial material embedded with some proprietary lubricant. Graphtech, will of course claim superiority over other material. I can’t really confirm or deny that, but I do have them on two guitars.

graphtechGraphtech nut and string retainers on Spirit 3.

Now, for those who do not want to replacing anything in their guitars, there is the option of applying any of the number of lubricants available on the market. There’s the popular but ridiculously priced Big Bends Nut Sauce. I’ve also heard of people using stuff they get from the hardware store like WD-40 and lithium-based lubricants. I have personally settled with a small tub of Guitar Grease I got from Stewart-MacDonald some years ago.

All those are well and good, to varying degrees. But what has gotten me peeved enough to prompt me to write this blog is peoples’ insistence in using pencil lead. It’s bad enough to be a cheap ignorant bastard. I used to be one. But a cheap ignorant bastard spreading bad advice. That is horrible, no matter how well-meaning the intention.

But pencil is made of graphite, right?

Jeezus, I used to think so. But I started thinking that back in the mid 1990’s. My parents couldn’t afford the Encyclopedia Americana or Britannica that I always wanted when I was a kid. I didn’t even have a pirated copy of Microsoft Encarta. Worst of all, I didn’t have anyone to teach me the do’s and don’ts of maintaining a guitar. Nowadays, nearly everything you need to know is a Google search away. It is one of our greatest gifts in the 21st century so far, so for the love of God, make use of it!

The Wikipedia entry for pencil is that first result you will get from a typical Google search. Let’s check that out (good thing this is just a blog — I’d never get away with this in the academe). Let us consider the definition of graphite pencil contained therein.

These are the most common types of pencils, and are encased in wood. They are made of a mixture of clay and graphite and their darkness varies from light grey to black. Their composition allows for the smoothest strokes.

Yes, the common pencil has graphite, but the truth of the matter is that the core of your Mongols is mostly made of clay, which I am sure you will agree is not a lubricant. Sure, maybe there are still pencils out there using pure solid graphite. According to the same Wikipedia entry, such things are not encased in wood. How many people are using pencils like that?

Your pencil lead shavings do work for a time. The graphite does kick in. But it doesn’t take long before the lubrication wears off. By then you will find it necessary to put in more shavings between the nut slots and the strings. The lubrication wears off, but the clay (or charcoal) accumulates, leaving you with a nut full of gunk which is very difficult to clean up. And as long as all that gunk is there, not only will you have tuning issues worse than before, you lose a lot of sustain, as well.

It was unfortunate that it took me a long time before I stopped being a cheap ignorant bastard. My luthier, Jun Castro, is a close friend, almost like a brother to me. That is why this is not a scene you would witness between him and most of his other clients. But he took me by surprised when he suddenly snapped at me when he saw pencil residue on the bone nut on one of my guitars which he cut himself.

When I was 17, I thought I was so clever using a #1 Mongol (left) on my guitar. Stupid, stupid kid.
Nowadays, I use something more proper (right), if at all.

Wag na wag kang gagamit ng lapis! Eto pakinggan mo… (Don’t ever use pencil! Listen to this.)

Jun then proceeded to demonstrate how my guitar couldn’t stay in tune even with light whammy use and how the higher strings sounded dead. He had to file down the nut slots just to get the residue off. It wasn’t an ideal move as overdoing it by even just a bit could lead to enlarged slots. Worst case scenario was that he’d have to replace the nut. Luckily, that would eventually be unnecessary, at least for that day. I felt so stupid. Needless to say, it was the last time a pencil ever got near any of my guitar nuts. I promptly switched to Graphtechs and never looked back.

These days, there is simply no reason for guitar players to not do any background research on whatever they’re buying or doing for their instruments. Just because someone recommended you something he or she has been doing for years doesn’t make it good advice. If you want to remain a cheap bastard, that’s still ok (sort of). The least you can do is stop spreading ignorance and do more research. You’ll find that some people use lip gloss or similar substances. The important thing is for you to find a product that does not build residue and does not harm the guitar, particularly the fretboard, the strings and the nut itself. Then I’d say you’re good to go.

While I may sound condescending at times here, it is also still my goal to help whoever are willing to listen. And I hope I achieve that here, and in succeeding blog entries. So until then, thank you for reading, and I hope you learned something!

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Cleaning the fretboard

It was time for a string change on my custom strat. I hadn’t done much cleaning on the fretboard for like a year either, so I went ahead and did that, too. But instead of the usual lemon oil wiping, I wanted to try something. In one of his youtube videos, Scott Grove asserted how unnecessary it is to use oils when cleaning unfinished fretboards. A damp cloth would do. I wanted to test this.

After polishing the frets, I dampened some cotton balls and wiped. It did get gunk off the wood and the frets. But I expected that. My question was whether or not water can get all of it. So, I got my trusty bottle of oil out of the drawer and put just a little bit (much less than I ever did) on some cotton and buffed away. Even more dirt came off the board.

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Cotton balls by cutaway — with water on the left and lemon oil on the right

Water does not get it all off. Now, do you really need to? Not all the time, at least as far as I am concerned. But if I ever use water, I’d feel safer following it up a little bit of oil, anyway. I doubt it’ll ever be much of a problem for Scott Grove, as he lives in Nevada and actually needs to use humidifiers for his guitars. But keep wood damp even for a short while in a warm humid area, like the entire Philippines, and you’re bound to grow all sorts of fungus fairly quick.

At least this is something I only need to do once in a while. So, it’s not much of a bother having to be more thorough.

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Review: Lenar Gigbag

Review: Lenar Gigbag Made to Order Gig Bags
Price: Varies

Made to order services for musical instrument bags and cases are aplenty, if you know where to look. I’ve seen and owned a few. They’re not the best make ever, but the bags serve their purpose well. The people who make these bags make a killing in supplying cheap but fairly reliable merchandise. But there are also those who dare ask for an added premium for their work, in exchange for a significantly higher level of quality – something they claim can hold its own against well-known ready-made and imported brands.

It’s been a few years since Lenar (formerly Bumbum) Gigbags started building a reputation over at the PhilMusic Forums. They got regularly showered by compliments from clients who seemed very happy with what they got. I’d always thought about ordering a bag to see the workmanship for myself. But I’d just end up changing my mind and buy a Gator bag or something. Once again, I found myself in the same quandary after buying a Line 6 POD HD500. I was told at the store that they didn’t have a Gator bag available that would be a good fit for the effects unit. A few days later, I was told that it actually wasn’t the case and they had just the thing. But this was only after I sent an inquiry to Lenar about having a bag custom made. The Gator was more expensive (around PHP2,500), but I’d have to wait for the Lenar (PHP2,000 including shipping with a two week waiting period). I live outside Manila, and since at the time I had no planned trips within the next two weeks, I figured this was a good time to go custom!

Fast forward to the day the bag arrived…

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I wasn’t high on the available colors, so I stuck with the ever-popular black. I asked for his standard design following the dimensions of the HD500 – one main compartment and two side pockets. The bag itself is lined with a heavy duty nylon fabric that’s noticeably glossier than what I’m used to with Gators. I had never been particular with zippers. That was until I came into possession of two cheap semi-hard cases whose pull tabs broke off after only a handful of tugs. At least the sliders didn’t jam. Otherwise, I’d have been frantically ripping the case apart as this happened just before a very rare gig, but I digress. Needless to say, just seeing the sturdy-looking black zippers allayed any lingering concern of mine.

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Flipping the bag over reveals a compartment for the shoulder straps (in case one wants to carry it as a backpack). It’s a nice touch, but the obsessive-compulsive might have an issue with it as the bag will not be able to lie completely flat on a floor or table.

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What I am not a fan of, however, was the set of plastic boots. Of course, I probably should be happy that the bag has those (not all bag makers include them) whenever I lay it on the floor upright. But wide rubber skid pads would have provided a nicer touch.

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Opening the bag reveals an interior lined with a thinner and softer light grey fabric covering the padding. It won’t scratch all but the flimsiest plastic, so it serves its purpose well. But I wished the bag had a plush-type interior instead. One thing I really like about the inside, however, is the internal flap for added protection. I was a little disappointed because the side pockets cannot fit a folder where I usually put chords and lyric sheets (not Lenar’s fault – the size of the bag was dictated by the HD500, after all). But with the flap, aside from providing additional padding, it also acts as a divider which provides more than enough space for my folder).

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Another important thing to consider about this sort of bags is the fit. Bags not intended for any specific item, and even some custom made bags have varying degrees of allowances. For my order, I just specified what the bag was going to be for, and the HD500 fit snugly right in. Sometimes I do like more slack. But for this particular bag, a snug fit is ideal for me. The interior flap can also be fastened tightly in place for good measure. Very nice.

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Overall, the only other thing I could think about picking on are the stray strands of thread sticking out of the seams, some of which you will clearly see in the pictures here. It’s not a deal breaker and I know that the case is the same in many other bags. But still, attention to this tiny detail does mean something.

I’ve seen so many glowing feedback on Lenar bags. But my point in bothering to write this review is to provide an honest perspective. I’ve already patronized them with my money. I don’t need to patronize them with empty compliments. Come on people, Lenar bags aren’t the best. I’ve certainly seen better stuff out there.

But…

Even they realize that’s not what they’re about. Even though they’re no Mono, you are going to be hard-pressed to find anything better for the money that you would spend for a Lenar Gigbag. In case that is not enough, you also have customization options otherwise not available in ready-made counterparts (like, when was the last time you saw after-market bags for a Flying V or an Explorer readily available?). And, you will enjoy the benefit of dealing with a proprietor who always seem to go put in the effort to keep their lines of communication open to their clients. Thank you, Arnel!

I love bags. I can probably rival my wife in that regard. But by no means am I an authority. While I do not know if my word carries any weight if I say that I heartily recommend getting a bag from Lenar to all musicians looking for reasonably priced well-made and rugged gig bags, one thing is for sure – I know for sure I will do just that whenever the need arises.

Lenar Gigbags on Facebook

Mini-reviews: Wampler SLOstortion, Fender Mustang II, Joyo UD

I got to try out a few pieces of guitar gear this week and got some fairly interesting results.

1. Wampler SLOstortion

The worth of this distortion pedal is undeniable. Even though it looks pricey at first glance (around US$240 around the Web, and PHP10,700 from Jef at www.nelldenmusic.com), two things more than make up for it with its a) ridiculously wide range of tone and gain and b) independent clean boost circuit). I’ve actually had this pedal for more than four months now. But taming the mids has always been a challenge. It can sound messy, especially with the pedal in the Overdrive channel. I’ve always suspected that the inherent tone of my Vox AC30CC1 amplifier had a lot to do with it, but never bothered to investigate further, until now.

The first step was to test it intently with my small Roland MicroCube. With the amp model set to Brit Combo (the Vox emulation), it sounded pretty much the way it does with my bigger amp. Setting it to Black Panel (Fender Twin Reverb emulation) made a huge difference. Suddenly, the pedal sounded more focused even as you crank the gain.

Now, now… I know that some people might think that testing through an amp modeller for comparison is a horrible move. So, for the first time ever, I brought my guitar along with the SLOstortion to the Yupangco showroom to test it on an actual Fender tube amp (I was buying something anyway, so I wasn’t going to be shy about it, lol). Needless to say, the SLOstortion sounded awesome. It was actually difficult to make it sound bad (something I don’t say often). I wanted to take the amp home with me!

I suppose this is one of the reasons why some users at PhilMusic are starting to accuse the pedal of being full of hype with little substance, complaining about how dark and muddy it sounds. I’m guessing a lot of them are using British-voiced amps.

I’m not giving up on the SLOstortion+Vox combo just yet, but I’m definitely not going to let go of the pedal within the foreseeable future.

2. Fender Mustang II

I’ve been tempted to buy one (PHP12,950 at Yupangco/Perfect Pitch) for the past several months. I like the concept and its cost effectiveness. This week, I finally had the chance to test drive one. If I didn’t already have a Roland, I’d have bought it already. It sounds pretty good and there are more sounds you can work with than a Roland Cube. I wish I brought my laptop to test its USB connectivity (which isn’t available in competing brands and models). I seriously believe that the Mustang I and II are a great choice as a practice or jam amplifier. I just don’t know if the 40-watt II can convincingly keep up with a loud drummer. For that, one would probably need the Mustang III or IV.

3. Joyo California Sound and Ultimate Drive

Joyo has been making a name for itself all over the place. These things are pretty cheap. But they’re reportedly so good that a few so-called boutique builders have been caught rebadging them, rubbing off the Joyo markings from the circuit board and then selling them for like six times the original price.

I tried out the California Sound (PHP1,950 at Lazer Music) and thought it was pretty good — definitely built for high gain, but can be respectable even if you go to its lower registers. But the one I was really interested in was the Ultimate Drive (PHP1,800 at Lazer Music). It’s rumored to be a clone of the Fulltone OCD and the model that was reportedly rebadged by the boutique builders I mentioned about.

I used to own an OCD, so I already had certain presumptions regarding the sound. Those presumptions were seriously obliterated from the first strum with the pedal on. First of all, I thought it had a lot more gain than the OCD, or at least the sweep of the gain knob was very different. It also sounded brighter than I expected. Downside is that it gets a bit fizzy at higher gain settings. Yes, the Ultimate Drive is very much reminiscent of the OCD. But it should sound different enough to be its own pedal.

Good stuff across the board. It really is a great time to be a guitar gearhead now. Hopefully, I get the chance to try out some more of these from time to time.


Copyright 2018 Al Francis D. Librero © All Rights Reserved.

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