Keys to Buying an Acoustic Guitar

Keys to Buying an Acoustic Guitar

Keys to Buying an Acoustic Guitar
By: Katie Murray

JANUARY 19th, 2018

AUDIO HOW-TO

Where to start and what to keep in mind when guitar shopping

Buying the right acoustic guitar is an important investment that can make or break how you utilize your playing potential. Keep these tips in mind during your search for the perfect instrument.

1) Make a budget, and try to stay within it.

Start off by making a comfortable budget for yourself. If you’re working with one that is relatively low, make sure to do plenty of research on the instrument you have your eye on to ensure that it meets up with your ideal quality. GuitarPlayer.com mentions that, if this is the case, you need to pay more attention to small details such as how well the woods were conditioned.

“Having a sense of what you’re looking for will be very helpful in the narrowing down process of selecting the right guitar for your tastes and needs.”
—Reyes Gonzales of Guitar Salon

2) Be aware of the sound that you’re looking for.

Guitars are manufactured in a variety of different materials, shapes, and sizes. These are all important factors that affect the sound of the instrument. If you’re inspired by a certain artist’s sound, try doing some research on their instrument. Guitar Salon mentions some specific tone options to keep in mind, such as “bright versus dark” and “clear versus full.”

“It pays to have a second set of ears there to give you that uncut, personal opinion that a salesperson may not offer.”
MusicRadar.com

3) Bring a friend along.

Consider bringing along a trusted friend who may be musically inclined. It never hurts to have a second opinion, especially with important investments. MusicRadar.com mentions that, by doing this, you can have your friend play the instrument before you purchase it, so that you can hear what it sounds like from an audience perspective.

Two guitars
Have an old guitar you can trade in?

Photo by William Baeck

“Most dealers will offer to match a lower price you’ve found elsewhere.”
MusicRadar.com

Check out our Your Heaven Audio CloseUp System on the Products page.

4) Look to lower your price any way you can.

Keep in mind that you can always trade in your old guitar for a discount on the new one. MusicRadar.com also notes that some dealers will match a lower price from a different dealer or add accessories to your purchase in order to match the difference.

“If it feels awkward in your mitts it’s going to affect your playing.”
—Art Thompson of GuitarPlayer.com

5) Make sure the guitar feels comfortable.

When buying your guitar, you want to make sure that the instrument is in good condition and the strings are not too far from the fretboard. GuitarWorld suggests that you try playing single notes and chords at different spots on the neck to check for fret buzz. They also recommend looking for light strings and a low action if you’re a beginner.

“Read reviews, try out as many guitars as possible, and ultimately let your ears and hands determine what to take home.”
—Art Thompson of GuitarPlayer.com

6) Trust your musician’s intuition!

You are the artist behind the instrument, so trust what feels right!

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, some of our favorite guitar blogs have great recommendations, such as the ones below.

Daisy Rock Guitars’ “Sophomore Butterfly”

Price: $279

Cordoba’s “GK Studio”

Price: $975

Greg Brandt’s Standard Concert Model, reviewed here

Price: $7,000

Martin Guitar’s D-28 Authentic 1937, reviewed here

Price: $8,599

For more options for buying the perfect guitar on a budget check out the GuitarPlayer.com article here. If you’re looking to learn more about higher end guitar options, scroll through GuitarAficionados Reviews for plenty of reliable insight.

Guitar Advice to Beginners from Virtuosos

Guitar Advice to Beginners from Virtuosos

Advice to Beginners from Virtuosos

By: Katie Murray

DECEMBER 22nd, 2017

AUDIO HOW-TO

Pro tips from pro guitar players

Gene Bertoncini, Gabriela Quintero, and Charles Mokotoff, share their advice for less experienced guitarists with the ambition to succeed.

“You can’t take it anywhere unless you start with the truth.”

Gene Bertoncini

Gene Bertoncini

Image via Guitarkadia.com

Gene Bertoncini is a long time jazz musician who has been playing the acoustic guitar for a lengthy six decades. A clear lover of all things musical, Gene finds the art both abstract and beautiful. He emphasizes the importance of learning through small jam sessions with other performers, but above all feels that the simple desire to play is a gift in itself. Once you possess this desire, you have to “run with it,” he says. He feels that success in the industry is dependent on having this drive to play.

Gene Bertoncini plays guitar

Gene also describes how intuitive playing is a big part of being a successful musician. He mentioned in an interview with Guitarkadia—a blog dedicated to great stories about guitars, told through text, video, multimedia, and photos—that you don’t always have to be entirely conscious of what you’re playing in an effort to play well. He says in reference to this, “It sounds funny, but that’s okay.”

“The important part is that it has spirit.”

Gabriela Quintero of Rodrigo y Gabriela

Photo by Michael Loccisano

Check out our Your Heaven Audio CloseUp System on the Products page.

Gabriella Quintero, who combines percussive rhythms with metal techniques says in an interview with the world’s most popular music gear website Reverb, “If you think about it, all kinds of music can be played on the guitar.” This is something, which at first note, she failed to realize. The artistic freedom which the guitar offers is not necessarily available on all other instruments, which is an important thought to note when learning to play and testing out different styles.

Gabriela Quintero holds her guitar

Gabriela Quintero with her guitar

Photo by Michael Loccisano

“The important part is that it has spirit,” she goes on to say. “Music, like all expressions of art, is about filling it with spirit. Every night we play pieces that we have been playing for 10 years. They’re like your children, they grow with you, it has to have lots of spirit.”

“You have to love practicing.”

Charles Mokotoff’s career as a musician flourished throughout the 1980s. After taking a long break from music to focus on other obligations, he decided to pick it back up. “I also had an enormous capacity for practice,” says the classical guitarist in an interview with Classical Guitar, a site which includes wonderful articles on performing, practicing, interpretation and techniques related to the guitar.

Charles Mokotoff plays guitar

Charles Mokotoff

Photo by Cindy Dyer

Mokotoff is a firm believer in the necessity of deliberate practice when aiming for success. “I would spend at least an hour with the guitar. I wrote out a schedule of pieces to review, new music to learn, and at least 15 minutes or so of technical exercises.You have to love practicing, I really look forward to my time with the guitar, I never feel like it is a chore.”

Charles Mokotof plays guitar in a church

Charles Mokotoff playing guitar

Photo by Cindy Dyer

One important piece of advice which all of the above artists agree on, is that it’s crucial you learn from watching and connecting with other more knowledgeable artists as often as possible. These musicians value their own encounters with mentor type figures in their lives. So get networking and get practicing because one day, you could be someone else’s inspiration.

Symphony of Horrors: The Sound of Scary Movies

Symphony of Horrors: The Sound of Scary Movies

Symphony of Horrors: The Sound of Scary Movies

By: Nico DeLong

October 27th, 2017

AUDIO HOW-TO

The role of music and sound in making horror scary

Sound is incredibly evocative. It can soothe us or set our teeth on edge. It can transport us back into memories of the past or deposit us in a totally unfamiliar world. Sound adds sensory intensity and emotional resonance to our experiences. Film, even though it is considered a visual medium, has a longstanding codependent relationship with sound. Today, in honor of Halloween, we’ll be exploring the role of sound in scary movies (defined broadly).

A single railroad track curves to the right through a forest of barren trees.

What sounds do you think might accompany this spooky setting?

Image via Visualhunt

“Any good soundtrack must complement and enhance the sensory world of the film. So, soundtracks for scary films must be some combination of unnerving, unsettling, and uncomfortable.”

Soundtracks

Music has accompanied film from the very beginning. Early films were themselves silent, but audiences often experienced them accompanied by live music, which was usually provided by a pianist working for the theater. The first commercially distributed “talkie,” The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson, came out in 1927, and the landscape of motion pictures was never the same again. The first Academy Award for Best Original Score was presented in 1935 to Victor Schertzinger and Gus Kahn for their work on One Night of Love, a musical romance set in the world of opera singers.

Any good soundtrack must complement and enhance the sensory world of the film. So, soundtracks for scary films must be some combination of unnerving, unsettling, and uncomfortable. Every composer will do this in their own way, but there are undeniably some tried and tested techniques.

“Scary movies can be quite extreme—extremely suspenseful, extremely gory, extremely upsetting—and the music must keep up. Many composers accomplish this by going to extremes with elements of their musical language.”

One key concept: extremes. Scary movies can be quite extreme—extremely suspenseful, extremely gory, extremely upsetting—and the music must keep up. Many composers accomplish this by going to extremes with elements of their musical language. Take for example, texture. An extremely full, thickly orchestrated texture can overwhelm the senses and intensify whatever emotions viewers are experiencing (think Danny Elfman’s score to Sleepy Hollow (1999), which makes use of a full palette of strings, brass, percussion, and chorus). On the other end of the spectrum, an extremely sparse, bare texture can put viewers on edge, in a state of nervous anticipation (think Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s score to The Shining (1980), with its plain cantus firmus melody and spans of near total silence).

Heads Will Roll

Image via Schmoeville

Check out our Your Heaven Audio CloseUp System on the Products page.

Extremes also play into which instruments that have a reputation for being particularly ~spooky.~  In this case, it’s extremes of pitch and tone. Instruments with extremely high registers, such as the violin or piccolo, or extremely low regsiters, such as the double bass, are often considered to be more eerie. Instruments with extremely pure tone (tubular bells, the theremin, and the soprano or countertenor voice) are also generally thought of as ethereal to the point of being unnerving. What horror film soundtrack doesn’t feature at least one violin tremolo or soprano descant?

Horror films often feature violence, injury, and death.
Image via Visualhunt

In the age of the “talkies,” music is only one component in the overall sonic landscape of a film. There are also all of the voices and sound effects that occur in the course of the story.

Two main sound categories needed for horror films are screams and gore sounds (bones breaking, dismemberment, etc.). A Sound Effect has a great horror sound design guide, which includes a whole section devoted to gore sound effects. Generally, the goal is to produce sounds that are not realistic but hyper-realistic. Viewers should not just hear but viscerally feel the physical trauma the onscreen bodies are undergoing. Common tools for making such sounds include humble fruits and vegetables: watermelons, carrots, tomatoes, etc.

A pale-faced man with hollow eyes and blood on his forehead and mouth walks through a crowd towards the camera.

Zombies invariably take a beating

Image via Visualhunt

When it comes to screams, again the goal is to convey through sound the type and intensity of emotion and sensation that the onscreen character is feeling. Is it the long drawn out scream of someone falling into an endless pit? Does it trail off into a gurgle as someone’s throat is cut? The job of screaming falls not so much to the character actors as to sound design professionals and voice actors. They may hold recording sessions entirely separate from the filming, just to capture a satisfactory palette of screams (and perhaps other exertions too).

So next time you watch a scary movie, take a moment to think about all the work that went into making it not just look but also sound scary.

Recording at Home

Recording at Home

Recording at Home

By: Nico DeLong

OCTOBER 22nd, 2017

AUDIO HOW-TO

Save money, take control

So you’ve been practicing a lot lately, and you sound really good. Maybe you’ve got some gigs coming up and you want to advertise yourself, or maybe you’re trying to break into the internet music scene. Either way, you need some tracks to put out there. But what if you can’t afford to pay for expensive studio recording time? What do you do then? You go DIY. In this post, we’ll discuss how to build a home studio that can save you money and give you full creative control of your music.

Broadly speaking, home recording advice can be divided into two general categories: equipment (what you use to record) and process (how you go about setting up and recording). We’ll focus mostly on equipment here, as that seems to be the area about which people tend to have the most questions, but we’ll also include a few process tips towards the end.

Recording studios are a great resource, but not everyone can afford them.

Image from Your Heaven Audio

Recording Equipment

There’s no exact consensus on how much equipment you need to set up a functional home studio, but most sources recommend between 5 and 10 different items. And of course, what choices you make for the various components will affect the overall amount of gear you need to acquire. Here we’ll be breaking things down by function.

“Different microphones have different frequency responses and thus may work better for some instruments than others, but most beginners will be well served by getting just one or two pretty good all-around mics.”

Behringer B-1 Large Diaphragm Condenser Mic, $99.99

Image from Sweetwater Sound, Inc.

1. You need something to capture the sound of your instrument (and yes, the human voice is an instrument too): that’s your microphone. Pickups and MIDI interfaces can also be used, but microphones are the most flexible in that they are compatible with the largest number of instruments. Different microphones have different frequency responses and thus may work better for some instruments than others, but most beginners will be well served by getting just one or two pretty good all-around mics. Gearank has a guide to mics under $100 that can help you pick an affordable option than suits you.

The unique CloseUp® mic system

Image from Your Heaven Audio

Check out our Your Heaven Audio CloseUp System on the Products page.

2. You need something to get your sound from your microphone to your computer (yes, I am assuming you are using a computer to record): that’s your audio interface. There are your traditional standalone box audio interfaces, such as the PreSonus Audio Box. There are also some USB mics that can connect directly to a computer and record without a separate audio interface. These are great if you want to hit the ground running and get right to recording with minimal setup. However, their sound quality isn’t always as good as a traditional XLR mic connected to an audio interface. You can also save money by buying a microphone and audio interface sold as a bundle. For guitars and violin-family instruments, our CloseUp® system is a great example.

3. You need something to edit your sound once it’s on your computer: that’s your DAW (digital audio workstation). If you just want some basic track alignment, cut-and-paste, and fade-in/fade-out capabilities, you can probably get by with an freeware audio editor like Audacity (open source). Audacity isn’t a fully featured DAW, but it can get the job done in a pinch. If you want more sophisticated controls, such as a larger palette of post-production effects, graphical EQ, and maybe some virtual instruments, then you’ll need to pay for some software. ProTools (Avid) is the “industry standard,” but you can also make perfectly good music with something a little cheaper like Audition (Adobe) or Reason (Propellerhead). If you make sample-based music, you’ll want to check out Live (Ableton) and FL Studio (Image Line).

A digital audio workstation (DAW) is a key component of home recording in the 21st century

Image from Your Heaven Audio

“There’s nothing wrong with technological limitations. You don’t need all of the latest gadgets to make really cool music. In fact, limitations can drive creativity rather than stifle it.”

Recording Process

Now that you’ve got all your basics, what will you do with them? How will you make the music you want that sounds the way you want? Possibly the best advice we can give is to work with your recording set up. There’s nothing wrong with technological limitations. You don’t need all of the latest gadgets to make really cool music. In fact, limitations can drive creativity rather than stifle it. CHVRCHES made their debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, with very few synths at the home of one the bandmembers, and yet it’s one of the lushest, fullest albums made in recent years. The shaker in Tegan and Sara’s “Back in Your Head,” off their iconic album The Con, is actually a jar of chocolate covered sunflower seeds. The best percussion sound I ever made was achieved by rubbing crumpled paper sandwich bags on the floor. You never know what’s going to work until you try it. So get experimenting.

Choosing a Violin Mic: Stand-alone vs. Mounted

Choosing a Violin Mic: Stand-alone vs. Mounted

Choosing a Violin Mic: Stand-alone vs. Mounted
By: Rebecca Lister

OCTOBER 13th, 2017

AUDIO HOW-TO

Choosing between the many options for amplifying a violin can be daunting. Here is a short primer.

The plus side of using an acoustic violin mic to amplify your violin is that a microphone is the most natural sounding compared to other methods of amplification, such as pickups. If you love the sound of your instrument and want its true sound to come through, this is a good option.

The downside is that microphones bleed, picking up sound from all over the place, not just the intended source of amplification. Have you ever watched a comedian on stage and heard some heckler in the audience slurring and thinking he’s so clever? This is a prime example of microphone bleed—and when your sound is the one being interrupted, it’s much more frustrating than funny.

Picture this: you’re playing close to a loud drum kit and the crash cymbal is bleeding through. Thus, if you turn up, the crash cymbal is turned up along with your violin. If you are playing in the usual live environment, there’s a different and better way.

Jesús Florido, violin, live at the Piazzolla in Bruxelles

Image from Your Heaven Audio

“Microphones bleed, picking up sound from all of the place, not just the intended source of amplification.”

Using a microphone to amplify a violin is as simple as speaking into a microphone. You place the microphone close to the sound source. It then picks up that sound and generates an electrical signal that gets amplified and projected by the speakers. There are two primary ways to do this.

First, you can use a standard mic on a boom stand and aim the mic toward your instrument. This method is effective in the studio; however, as it is largely imprecise, it is far less ideal in live performance settings.

A live violin concert being recorded with an overhead mic.
Image from Your Heaven Audio
The second way is through a mounted violin microphone or mic system. Typically a small mic is mounted to the side of the instrument or placed in the f hole. Some are positioned over the bridge area to directly pick up the sound, but feedback and bleed can still be a stubborn nemesis.
Violin and CloseUp® Mic
Image from Your Heaven Audio
Check out our Your Heaven Audio CloseUp System on the Products page.
Since this is our website, we must shamelessly mention the CloseUp© System, which attaches lightly to your violin and is a closed system—including preamp, DI, and EQ tech all in one—that preserves natural sound with minimal feedback and bleed.

Violin Pickup vs. Violin Mic

Pickups are becoming a more popular method of amplifying violins, particularly as more violinists step into non-classical genres. Typically they are mounted on the instrument, near or under the bridge or tailpiece. This technology is relatively new compared to the violin itself. While it can be argued that the quality of these products has improved, the sound quality is far from natural or true to the instrument. If this is of low importance and higher volume is necessary, pickups can be a reasonable option for certain situations as they are relatively inexpensive and produce no bleed.

“For the most part, anyone who takes pride in the sound of their violin and/or is used to a mic or mic system find most pickups intolerable.”
Capturing the unique sound of each instrument is a challenge that pickups cannot always meet.
Image from iStock

One example for violins is the piezo pickup (pronounced pee-YAY-zoh). Piezos also are relatively inexpensive, starting at under $50. A piezo pickup can be mounted to a regular acoustic violin and then easily removed when you don’t need it, or want to use it on another instrument. In addition to piezo pickups, there also are magnetic and electrodynamic pickups, which are newer technologies for the violin and tend to be more expensive. Generally, they also are thought to sound warmer than piezos, which some consider to be harsh sounding. For the most part, however, anyone who takes pride in the sound of their violin and/or is used to a mic or mic system will find most pickups intolerable.

How Not to Amplify a Violin

How Not to Amplify a Violin

How Not to Amplify a Violin

By: Nico DeLong

SEPTEMBER 29th, 2017

AUDIO HOW-TOS

This is how you end up with violins that sound like synths set to “violin.”

On Sunday September 24, I was fortunate enough to be at Massey Hall, Toronto, to hear an act that has been on my must-see list for years: Feist. For anyone unfamiliar with her music, Feist is Leslie Feist (vocals and guitar) and the changing cast of musicians who back her on stage and in studio. Her first album, Monarch (Lay Your Jeweled Head Down), was released in 1999, and her most recent, Pleasure, dropped in April of this year.

Pleasure (Interscope, 2017) album art

Image from Feiststore.com

“Like the great rock and roll guitarists, Leslie Feist digs into the chords, the riffs, and the solos, cranks the volume, and rocks the fuck out.”

What a casual listener might not realize from her earlier releases—but what Pleasure and 2011’s Metals have made increasingly evident—is that when Feist plays live, she ROCKS. I don’t just mean that she’s good (she is). I mean that, like the great rock and roll guitarists, Leslie Feist digs into the chords, the riffs, and the solos, cranks the volume, and rocks the fuck out.

“Until I looked at him, I didn’t even know he was playing an acoustic instrument, because it sounded just like a synthesizer on a “strings” preset.”

The show was everything I could have hoped for and more, but this is not a review. It’s also not a complaint but rather a simple observation.

For some songs, the keyboard player switched to violin. The thing is, until I looked at him, I didn’t even know he was playing an acoustic instrument, because it sounded just like a synthesizer on a “strings” preset.

Feist at Massey Hall, Toronto, 9/24/17

Photo by Brendan Albert, Aesthetic Magazine

Check out our Your Heaven Audio CloseUp System on the Products page.

That’s not entirely surprising. It is difficult to amplify or record natural acoustic sound without losing some of its original tone quality. An acoustic mic usually gets the best sound, but the louder you amplify, the more prone the acoustic mic is to feedback. And Feist live is not quiet. She and her three-piece band easily filled the nearly 3,000-person hall: drums, bass, and keyboards, with Feist’s guitar and vocals front and center. To get the violin over the top of the mix, the sound engineer would have needed to amplify it a lot. For this reason (and judging by the cable connecting directly to the violin), I suspect they were using a violin pickup. While great at getting a clear sound without much feedback, even at very high levels of amplification, acoustic pickups do not capture an instrument’s true tone. This is how you end up with violins that sound like synths set to “violin.”

The full band on stage at Massey Hall Toronto 9/24/17

Photo by Brendan Albert, Aesthetic Magazine

Of course, the tonal quality of the violin did not ruin the concert for me—far from it. But it did make me wonder what the songs featuring violin would have sounded like in a smaller hall with a high-end acoustic mic, or right there in Massey with the violinist using an acoustic mic system free of feedback and capable of amplifying as much as necessary.

Violin with CloseUp® Mic tucked into the f hole

Photo by Your Heaven Audio

What depth and resonance might it have added? I guess I’ll never know.