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Dec 14, 2012

I'm a total gearhead...

Can't be helped it's just how I'm built...

And if you check around the Internet enough you will find I'm not alone and I'm guessing most of them share the same history which goes like this:

As a kid you have your first encounter with audio equipment. It can be your parent's stereo, your first guitar amp, a mike or synth. And you're fascinated. You spend untold hours with this thing in a quiet room digging deeper into what it does and how these tools interact with each other.

So much so that at some point your folks are popping in to make sure you're still breathing.

From here we normally take one of two paths. Either we just continue to play and experiment (as I did). Or you are a complete tech head and you are actually opening things up and eventually improving upon what's there (mods).

Since I've been writing and producing music for so long I thought I'd share the gear I have accumulated thru the years, what I still use to this day and why.

I don't profess my setup to be the right way necessarily but it's worked for me so far and has proven to be the least frustrating way to get my ideas coming out of the speakers.

First off my music software is Reason. I came upon the Propellerheads after finally weening myself off the ancient Voyetra (DOS based) Sequencer Program which was synched up to my almost equally ancient Spectral Synthesis 8 track digital audio recorder. In the late 80s and early 90s this stuff was cutting edge (and expensive), but alas by 2002 no longer.

To have a tool which started as the equivalent of having someone wheel in racks of gear (including drum machines, samplers, analog synths, effects, etc.) into your home was mind boggling. Later with the introduction of audio recording and the SSL modeled mixing console I was sold so far as making this the main platform for my projects. To me, the developers did a great job of recreating the traditional studio experience in the box (which is all I've ever been interested in).

To control this and minimize excess use of the mouse I have been using the Novation Remote Zero SL. It's not perfect by any means, but the controls are where I need them. The more I think on it the more I believe that a larger touchscreen (iPad) with Touch OSC will be the way to go. That is unless some manufacturer comes up with a mid market control surface with moving faders that is both customizable and works seemlessly across your DAW of choice. Honestly, no one has really knocked this out of the park yet. The Mackie design is not ideal to me (big and square). I am hoping for something more streamlined with less width, more length and fits neatly underneath your flat screen.

Basically an adult version of the Novation Remote Zero on steroids...

Still there are a few tools that have recently come along not accessible to Reason as the platform currently has only its proprietary plug in format (Rack Extensions).

These new groundbreaking plugs have recently allowed me to get a few steps closer to both that bigger sound and that more natural (analog) sound.

Slate Digital offers a plugin called the Virtual Console Collection (VCC) which emulates the nonlinearities that exist from one channel to another across a range of high end mixing consoles. I had my doubts about this product until I actually tried it across a number of tracks in Ableton Live.

It added something that I always felt was missing. A certain depth and dimension that was lost upon my movement away from mixing on my old Soundcraft 6000 to now entirely in the box.

Then came Slates' Virtual Tape Machine (VTM). This tool recreates the effect of running your tracks to two different types of high end Studer analog tape machines (one 16 channel for tracking, the other 2 channel for your stereo mix). While these two products seriously tax the CPU on my machine I have been dumbfounded by the results.

The richness is back and that sterility that I heard in earlier mixes of my songs has gone away. For me this has been key for my more rock oriented material where I use traditional drums, bass, guitar and vocal harmonies. These tools soften everything and give them depth.

Then a company called Waves partnered with Abbey Road Studios to create the Redd Desk Plugins. Of course these were modeled after the old tube desks made by EMI for Abbey Road back in the 60s.

There was no way I was not going to have and use these..

Moving on to my hardware setup... As mentioned earlier I still have my Soundcraft 6000. I love this board. I had it since it was new. Bought it back in LA from Westlake Audio shortloaded to 20 channels (from 28) so that I could actually afford the thing. It has 24 busses and the patchbay. At the time this was considered the entry level pro board that you could actually do real records on due to its very low noise. David Gray did his White Ladders album on a board like this..

Still want to eventually incorporate it back into my setup but am waiting for the right multichannel audio converter to integrate into it (currently looking at the Echo Audiofire 12).

My microphone is an AKG C414-ULS which seems to have always worked well for my voice. That said with all the incredible new mikes out there I want to add a few more to my collection.

My preamp is a Focusrite Voicemaster Pro. Yes, I know I need to do better, but at least it has a Class A preamp and in some cases I like the vintage harmonic processor on it. Planning to add a few more pres to my collection as well!

And then there are my guitars.. My acoustics are an old Takamine from the late 70s (copied off of the Martins) and a Martin 00-18 acoustic from 68 (my favorite). For electrics I have my old Rickenbacker 12 string and my Fender Strat which are in the closet. Perhaps one day I'll get back to them.

But for now my passion has really been with the Gretsch Guitars.

I have a hollowbody G5120 with Bixby and a cheapy Electromatic Double Jet which oddly enough has turned out to be the best sounding of the bunch so far as really filling out a track for rhythm and for creating some beautiful solo lines. Who would have guessed?

For bass I took the advise of some actual pro bass players who commented that while there are all types of expensive options out there one of the favorites is the Squier. After picking one up and getting up to speed so far as learning how to play, I have to say I agree with them. It does what it needs to do!

And there you have it; the stuff that fills the room I call my studio. Put a couch and a mini fridge in the corner and I'd probably never leave!

Tags Propellerhead Reason 6 Slate VCC Slate VTM Waves REDD Gretch Guitars Fender Squier Bass Soundcraft 6000