Our Spring Student Performance was a huge success! The amount of performers went from 11 in February to almost 60 in May! To save the audience from having to sit through such a long concert, we decided to break the performance up into 3 segments; but even those were packed! Thank you to all who performed and supported our students by attending. For those who missed the show, be sure to enroll now to be ready for the next Student Performance on August 10th!
Hello everyone! Today we’re going to discuss cables used in professional audio and electric instruments, like guitar and keyboard. The terminology can be confusing sometimes, so we’re hoping to clear that up and give everyone a basic understanding of what audio cables to use for what application. The audio cable is the basic building block of a sound system and there are three primary types used in any sound system, guitar setup, or stage.
The line level (or instrument) cable is probably the most common. This is the cable used to plug a guitar or bass into an amplifier or a keyboard into a sound system. An instrument cable is made up of a single copper conductor at its core that is insulated and then wrapped with a copper shield wire. The shield can be wound around the center conductor or braided; both are very common. The center conductor carries the audio signal from one place to another and the shield is there to keep noise out of the signal. Instrument cables are susceptible to signal degradation when using cables over 20 feet long.
Microphone or balanced line cables are a better solution to noise cancellation than a standard line cable. A microphone cable has two internal conductors (+ and -) with a shield around both. This was designed for a “balanced” signal to reduce noise. The signal is split into two equal but out of phase parts (the – part is “flipped” over) and sent down each conductor. As the signals travel down the cable they pick up the same amount of noise. Once the signal reaches its destination, the balanced input of the mixer or whatever is receiving the signal, “flips” the – signal back in phase with the + signal and recombines them. This puts any noise picked up along the – conductor out of phase with noise picked up on the + conductor, cancelling it out. An important thing to remember about balanced cable is that if the equipment on either end of the cable does not have balanced ins and outs, the cable makes no difference at all, as the signal splitting and phase shifting is not done by the cable itself.
Speaker cables are perhaps the most misused cable in the audio industry. Unlike an instrument or microphone cable, a speaker cable does not have a shield that wraps the internal conductors. Speaker cables are designed to carry higher current signal than audio cables and as such are usually larger in diameter. A speaker cable is only designed to carry a “powered” signal such as between an amplifier and a speaker (thus the name). While they can be used as an instrument cable in a pinch, it has no noise cancellation properties and will probably pick up any interference that may be around.
While there are many other types of cables used in the audio industry, these are the basic building blocks of any sound system. Some things to remember about them:
• Guitars, basses, and keyboards use the same cables (unbalanced line) but have different level outputs. Make sure the appropriate amplifier is used.
• Balanced line level is used for many applications, not just microphones. Microphones have a lower output level than balanced line and so need a mic preamp to plug into (these are built into any mixer out there).
• NEVER use an instrument or line level cable to connect a speaker to a power amp. ONLY powered speakers use line or balanced line inputs. Also, avoid using speaker cables on powered speakers, this will just induce noise.
• Just because a unit has an input or output that looks like a microphone cable (three prong or XLR), doesn’t mean it has to be a microphone plugged into it. It does however usually mean that input or output is balanced.
So there’s a little background into common cables and their uses. If you find yourself wondering about what cable to use or how an output or input works on a piece of gear, check the manual they will usually tell you what level input or output the gear needs to operate correctly. There is also a wealth of information online about balanced vs. unbalanced and different types of cables if you feel like researching this further. Thanks for reading!
While other musicians generally only consider pitch as they are tuning, we drummers are primarily concerned with creating tones and textures to fit the requirements of the music. Tuning drums is therefore a very subjective process that adheres to personal taste and musical considerations rather than any particular standard. Finding the drum sound that you are after often requires lots of experimentation, but here are a few basic guidelines to consider.
Every drum has a general range in which it can be tuned, and a specific tension in the middle where the drumhead will resonate the most freely. As you tune the drum higher, the drum will have greater stick articulation and projection. Lower tuning results in longer sustain and warmth. At the upper extreme, the drum will begin to sound choked. At the lower extreme, the drumhead will create an undesirable buzzing sound. Regardless of what tension you tune the head to, it is very important to maintain even tension between each lug.
Many jazz drummers favor higher tuning, especially styles that are rooted in bebop. Drummers like Max Roach, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams were known for playing fast melodic figures around the kit and required a dry stick articulation. The drum sounds often heard on modern rock albums tend to feature deep, punchy drum sounds with lots of low end. The thick tone from lower tuning gives weight to the drum sound.
While drummers in particular styles tend to favor a particular sound, there are many notable exceptions. John Bonham played large diameter drums and tuned them very high, much like a big band drummer from the 30’s and 40’s would have done. This was a major aspect of the distinct drum sound he had playing with Led Zeppelin. There are no hard and fast rules for where you should tune your drums.
It can be very worthwhile to spend time trying to emulate the sounds of drummers that you really like. Drum sizes, head choices, and muffling are also important factors in getting the right sound. While you may not have the same gear available, you can often achieve similar results through minor adjustments in tuning. Don’t be afraid to pull out your tuning key and experiment.
Hi and welcome to Guitarfish Music’s first installment of Ask an Expert. This is our interactive, online information center for any questions you might have regarding music and/or musical instruments and gear. We’re tackling a tough issue right out of the gates, radio interference.
What is a cause of radio station noise through P.A. & monitors? What things should we look into? We have a mackie 16 channel board. Monitors are passive. Please help!
Radio interference can be a pesky problem to have. Not only is it annoying and distracting but it’s also usually not easy to get rid of. How and why this happens is a complex subject so we’ll just concentrate on the fact that it does and talk about how to avoid it.
First thing is first, to isolate the problem. Start out by turning on the sound system and getting the RFI audible over the speakers. Then go down each channel of the mixer, one at a time, and mute it. If the RFI stops, you’ve probably found your problem channel. If it doesn’t’ and you’ve muted all the channels, sytematically unplug each channel input in the same order you muted them. Again, if the noise stops, you’ve found your problem.
If you found a problem channel, take a look at the connection and the cable. Is it an old, beat up cable? If so, replacing it might solve the problem. If not, have a look at th connection, is it an instrument or a microphone? Try plugging it in to another channel and see if the noise stops. Check the cable, are all the solder joints good on the connectors? Is it balanced? A balanced connection is the preferred way to run a microphone. Basically, if the cable is balanced, it will have two conductor (signal wires) and a braided sheild. This can be easily determined by opening the connector and seeing how many wires are soldered to the cable plug. 2-unbalanced, 3-balanced. Any guitar or instrument will more than likely be unbalanced, microphones should always be balanced.
If the channel muting and unplugging doesn’t work, there could be a problem with a ground loop in the system. These are tricky but can be avoided usually by just making sure that the entire PA system is plugged into the same AC circuit. By having a master power conditioner, this is easy to achieve. Just plug everything into that power conditioner and use that single plug for all the power to your system.
Another cause of RFI is noisy power lines in the building. All AC plugs being used should be of the 3-prong variety, this provides what’s called an “earth ground” or a true ground connection. Older builings with just 2-prong plugs tend to be noisier and less safe to use, both for you and the equipment. If the power is not 3-prong in the building you’re playing or practicing in, an electrician will need to come in and convert the power. If the power is 3-prong and still noisy, an electrician will be necessary also. A power conditioner as mentioned above is a good tool to help with bad power in older nightclubs and practice spaces.
If you’ve checked all these things and nothing seems amiss or you still haven’t isolated the problem, it’s probably time to call in a professional technician that can troubleshoot the system for you.
We hope this helped answer your question. Thanks for Asking an Expert and please keep the questions coming. Just post on our Facebook wall any question you like and we’ll do our best to answer it.
Often in the music industry terminology is thrown around carelessly and sometimes misunderstood. Keyboards often suffer from this syndrome as the words synthesizer, keyboard, and digital piano are often inter-mixed and can be confusing to someone just starting out. So today we’ll talk about the difference between a digital piano and a synthesizer or keyboard.
Probably the most obvious difference is size. Digital pianos are normally a large instrument with a full 88-key keyboard and often include a nice looking wooden or faux wood stand. Synthesizers on the other hand usually forgo the stand and are normally 61-76 keys. They are usually lighter in weight as well being designed to sit on smaller stands or studio tabletops.
Second difference is the “action” or what is called the weight of the keys. Digital pianos have weighted keys, this means they are specially designed to feel heavier and emulate the action of a real piano. Synthesizers often have spring-action keys that are lighter to the touch and easier to press down. These also dramatically decrease the weight of the instrument.
Internally the difference is harder to realize. Almost all keyboards and digital pianos these days use sampled sounds that are digitally processed and reproduced. Sampling refers to recording a sound and using it to generate that sound again when a key is pressed. A simple example is recording a middle C on a piano. That sound is then “assigned” to the keys of a digital piano and the digital piano is then able to reproduce the sound of an acoustic piano across all keys. That’s a simple explanation of a process that’s actually quite complex. The word synthesizer was used to name instruments that generated their own sounds with analog components. Synthesizers were originally not digital and they used a complex network of oscillators and filters to produce sounds instead of a sampled tone like modern digital instruments.
We realize that the last part of this has some terminology that may be unfamiliar. If you’re tech-inclined, synthesis and sampling are very interesting topics and there is a wealth of information on the Internet about them both. We hope that the article helped clear up some questions without bringing up too many more. If you do have questions about anything in any of our Tech Tuesday articles, feel free to submit them to our “Ask an Expert” column on Facebook and we’ll do our best to answer them. Thanks for reading! Go forth and be brilliant!
We want to hear from you! Here at Guitarfish Music we’re all about education and music. We love music and we love teaching music, but we also want to be a resource for those just learning to play or sing or enjoy making music in any fashion. We want to be able to answer the questions that might seem “stupid” to ask in a big, intimidating music store where the employees throw around lingo that may or may not (mostly not) make sense to an up and coming player. That’s what we’re here for, not only to teach music, but also to guide our students and their families through the world of music and making music. From how to care for your instrument to how to get a gig, we want to be the resource you need.
This is why we are introducing, “Ask an Expert.” No question is too simple or too complex. Just post on our Facebook wall a question, “For the expert” and we’ll get right on it. Between our support staff, store staff, and instructors we can answer almost any question about almost any instrument, without the unfamiliar lingo and roll-the-eyes look. Even if you think the question is “stupid” ask it anyway. There are no stupid questions and chances are there are others out there wondering the same thing.
Our Ask an Expert articles will be posted in our blog at Guitarfishmusic.com once we start receiving some submissions so ask away!
Metronomes have come a long way since I first began studying music. While my first metronome was clunky, harsh sounding, and lacked even a volume control, smartphone and tablet apps now offer tons of advanced features, can travel with you everywhere you go, and are available for a fraction of the cost. For Android and iOS users, I highly recommend Frozen Ape’s Tempo Advance, which is available for $2.99. Using some of the features on these apps, there are many great exercises that can help any musician develop their time. Here are a few to get started with.
As you become more comfortable with the piece you are practicing, change the setting of the metronome to play half as many beats. Over time you will move from every beat to hearing half notes, then just once every bar. When that becomes comfortable, you can set the click to play just the downbeat of every two or four bars. Hearing the click less often will force you to use your inner clock to keep track of the time. It will also train you to remain consistently focused on the groove, a very important skill for playing along with other musicians.
Another great variation of this exercise is to practice hearing the click on other beats of the measure. Begin by setting the metronome to half notes. Instead of hearing the click on beats 1 & 3, let the click mark 2 & 4. It may be useful to clap quarter notes and count out loud as long as it takes for you to “feel” where the downbeat is. Gradually, you can go further by hearing the click on offbeats and more advanced subdivisions such as triplets and 16th notes. For example, the click could be set to whole notes, and sound on just the & of 4. Make a game out of it, and see how far you can take this idea.
Having a strong internal clock is important for every musician and every style of music. The jazz pianist Thelonious Monk is often quoted, “ Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.” One reason is that the rhythm section may not always be there to spell out the time for you. But more importantly, it is because every member of an ensemble is capable of influencing the time and the groove, and shares responsibility for making the music feel great.
In our second article about the electric guitar, we’re going to head on down the signal path, past the pickups (from last week’s article) to the amplifier. What is an amplifier exactly? Well today we’ll talk about it and find out.
Last week we talked about the pickup, the first component involved in getting the sound of the guitar from the instrument to the stage. From the pickup, the guitar signal goes to the output of the guitar and down a cable to the amplifier. Now, much like a pickup, the amplifier is aptly named as it amplifies the signal from the guitar and puts that signal through a speaker at a volume that you can hear. But the question is, how does that work?
An amplifier works in two stages, the preamp and the power amp. Each of these stages is separate but is integral to the functionality of the other stage. Without getting too technical, the descriptions are below.
First in an amplifier is what’s called a preamp. The preamp amplifies the signal before it goes to the power amplifier. The purpose of a preamp is to take the low voltage/low current electrical signal from the guitar’s pickup and bring that voltage up to a level that the power amplifier section can actually see. Usually in the preamp stage you will also find tone shaping, such as equalization that helps the user mold the sound to get what they want to hear.
The next stage is the power amplifier. This takes the signal from the preamp and/or tone section and just makes it louder. Usually the power amp section is very simply put together and made to either reproduce exactly what the preamp gives it or, in the case of tube amplifiers, take the signal from the preamp and not only amplify it but give it some unique character. The power amplifier stage is what is responsible for making all the loud noises we associate with electric guitar and bass.
Though guitar and bass amplifiers have many different brands and faces, they all do basically the same thing. They usually sound different depending on brand and the type of music they are made for but they all make the guitar louder and prouder.
After the amplifier comes the speaker. A speaker is basically the reverse of the pickup, instead of taking vibrations (sound) and turning it into voltage and current, it takes voltage and current and turns it into sound via an electromagnetic medium. So, the greatest thing about the sound coming from the pickup to the amplifier is the fact that it goes through a complete reversal from sound to electromagnet to amplifier to electromagnet to sound. This is the magic of the electric guitar.
Now is the time to buy that Strat you’ve been waiting for! Come into a Guitarfish Studiostore between March 15 – March 31 and get $100-$300 off! You can even get a discounted special order if placed by the 28th.
For more information, come into a Guitarfish Studiostore or call us at 503-213-1616.