First page of the Fractal Audio archive.

Makin’ a little noise

Posted by is9582 on December 14, 2015 with No Commentsas , , , , , , ,

Most will know that I’ve made a Les Paul styled guitar and an electric bass guitar, both from scratch (minus the fretboard on the Les Paul). I’ve been playing for a long time (not that it necessarily shows in my chops) and if anyone out there has ever wanted to play an instrument, I have a sort of running shoe style response in Just do it! It can be such a great relaxing tool, and if the instrument you choose is similar to a guitar or smaller, you can take it with you.

If your child(ren) talks about learning to play music, encourage it, as it can also help with their math skills and reasoning, beyond helping round out their person.

Quite a while ago, I posted a little snippet of me playing the electric guitar, which was some pretty hard rock, which I’ve always loved. I recently had some time available and wanted to see if I might put together some background stuff, that I could play over, hitting a different part of my musical thinking. In advance, I played these licks on the first pass over the backing music, so there are at least a few places I’d do over, if the recording was important. This was really more of an idea, and by recording it, I can come back anytime and see if they are useful at that time.

I’ve had hours of playing where I wished I’d recorded in some manner, as the feel of what I’d played never totally returned. This is where the recording studio in many computers, is such a valuable tool. I use Mac computers, and they come with Garage Band, which is really decent. I also purchased Logic Pro X, which is a much stronger recording studio type software, and it comes with a ton of pre-recorded snippets of different instruments, different genres, different beats… There are also modules that allow you to completely control the “voice” of midi instruments, along with loads of readily known keyboards, synths, and on and on.

I’ve been using a Fractal Audio AxeFXII for a number of years, and if you’ve not ever seen or heard of this unit, it will completely blow your socks off! I was a die-hard tube amp guy for most of my life, and tried a number of modeling units that honestly, never sounded like what they were trying to emulate. The AxeFXII is THE REAL DEAL! I know, you’re probably thinking that my ears must suck, as there isn’t any way to have a solid state unit actually sound, play and feel like a tube amp. Before I heard the AxeFX, I was right there with you. This is amazing stuff.

There are more and more professional acts that are seeing the light, and shifting over to the AxeFX. In tube amps, the tubes are always changing, from the day they are made until they ultimately fail. This slight change can be enough to have THAT vibe one day, and you play the lead of your life, to only just not quite have the same feel the next. The AxeFX has the consistency that instills confidence and with that, you can play your best.

Ok, enough about the AxeFX. Here is a link to one of the quick little things I’ve put together. All of the background stuff, from keys to drums, are sounds from the Logic Pro X library, with the drums the only part I didn’t actually play. The guitar is straight into my AxeFXII, going into the computer on USB, and into Logic. I added nothing to the guitar sounds, in Logic, just in case anyone is interested.

Remember, there are some flubs, but it’s the whole of the feel I was after.

Thanks for checking in and let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Lee Laird

Guitar Build – How critical is the nut?

Posted by is9582 on March 8, 2013 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , ,

Now that my Les Paul (LP) build is mostly finished, I’ve been playing it more and more. Most of the time I have it plugged into my Fractal Audio AxeFX-II, and I lean towards a thick/smooth distortion, not unlike what I get out of my Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+. While this type of sound never fails to sooth my soul, it can also provide a sonic barrier of sorts. What I’m talking about is the lessened ability to pick up on the smallest nuances, which can be .

The first thing I’ll usually do, when I’m preparing to play my guitar, is to plug into my Strobe tuner (a highly accurate tuner). With all of the vibrato and bends I use when playing, it’s not unusual for the guitar to be slightly out of tune from the last session. The AxeFX-II has a built-in tuner of it’s own, which is both decent and extremely handy, since you just need to push a button to activate the tuner. During my longer playing sessions, I’ll usually notice a hint of warble, letting me know at least one string has shifted its tuning a bit. At that point, I’ll just engage the internal tuner, which gets me dang close to perfectly tuned.

With my LP, I’d tune it up, and very quickly notice the tuning seemed “off”, especially when playing through a fairly clean setting on the AxeFX-II. When I’d re-visit the tuner, it’d show the strings were still in tune. So what the heck was going on? I started noticing the tuning issue was primarily when I’d play chords with open strings (for non-guitarists, those are strings that have nothing touching them from the nut all the way up to the bridge) involved. So, I was laying in bed a couple of nights ago, thinking about this tuning issue, and had one of those “AHA” moments! The next morning I got up and plugged my LP into the strobe tuner, since it’s accuracy allows for comparisons that would likely evade other types of tuners. So, what was I looking for? When in bed, I’d thought that the nut might be the issue, either being slightly out of position or there might be a small hump in the slots, moving the point of contact back from the intended leading edge of the nut.

With the strobe, it was simple to verify my theory. I played an open string, while not touching the fretboard, and tuned it up so the string was perfectly in tune. Next I fretted the string (pushed on the string, but just hard enough to get clear tone, as more pressure can cause the pitch to go sharp) at the first fret, and checked to see if the tuner showed I had moved up a perfect half-step (showing the same relative tuning for that note). As I’d expected, each note I played up the neck, was sharp, relative to the pitch of the open string. Ok, ok, I know an F (first fret on the E string) is sharp, relative to the open E, but when I’m talking about these notes being sharp, it’s relative to the pitch each position SHOULD have. So each fretted note up the fretboard is just slightly sharp, relative to their intended pure pitch. Since the nut is somewhat like a fret, as in it contacts the string at a certain point, and the length of string between it and the bridge determines the pitch, its placement is just as important as the frets. Since I saw the same scenario on each string, I knew the nut was the problem. Interestingly enough, while I was focusing on the nut/string interaction, I thought I’d also check to make sure the face of the nut (towards the bridge) was perpendicular to the plane of the fingerboard (e.g. not tilted towards or away from the bridge). I used the blade of my square, placing the end of the blade flat onto the fingerboard, with one of the corners up against the fingerboard/nut junction. (see photo below)

The green arrow is pointing towards the small gap
between the square’s blade and the top of the nut.

As expected, the nut was slightly leaning away from the square’s blade, which placed the string contact point back from its intended position. This would increase the string’s length, when the open string was played, causing it to be slightly flat relative to the intended pitch.

The first thing I needed to do, for this fix, was to remove the nut from the guitar’s neck. Depending on how much and what type of glue was used, this could be easy or very difficult. I hadn’t anticipated needing to remove the nut, when building the guitar, so I’d gone a bit overboard with the amount of glue I used. I started the removal process by scoring around the edges of the nut, with a sharp small utility knife. This will help limit any of the surrounding wood (or finish, if you’ve already lacquered your guitar) from damage, when coaxing the nut free. It was time to apply some force to the nut, to break the glue bonds. I grabbed my heaviest Japanese hammer. You might be wondering why I wouldn’t use a small, lightweight hammer, so I wouldn’t accidentally damage anything. Actually, using the heavy hammer helped me do just that. Since it has so much mass, it required very small taps, to impart it’s will. I lightly tapped the nut from each side, as well as from the front and back. After a few taps on each side, I increased the tapping force very slightly. In about as much time as it took me to write the last couple of lines, the nut made a sound that might freak out the first timer. Something like a “SNAP” (yeah, I quickly checked it out to make sure I hadn’t broken something). The nut was free! (see photo below) Whew (visualize me wiping my brow).

The green arrow points towards the black nut, that is
now loose in the slot. Japanese hammer in lower left.

The nut slot and the bottom of the nut, both needed some attention, as the leftover glue covered each. I found my small chisel from Czeck Edge Hand Tool was just ticket for cleaning up the slot. It has a dovetailed cross-section and this allowed me to get into the tight spaces much easier than a standard shaped chisel. As luck would have it, it was also very close to the exact width of the slot. (see photo below)

Small Czech Tools chisel shown removing shaving of glue.

After cleaning up the slot and the bottom of the nut, I wanted to test the current status, before making modifications. I put the nut back into the slot and while holding the nut, again tested with the square’s blade. Nothing had changed. So I needed to adjust the bottom of the nut, so it would bring the leading edge forward enough to be square with the fingerboard. Initially, I thought about setting up one of my hand planes for an extremely fine shaving, so I could gradually adjust the angle on the bottom of the nut. I ultimately decided against this option, and placed some 220 grit sandpaper onto a flat granite plate. While holding the nut flat on the sandpaper, I applied a little extra pressure to the side under nut’s leading edge, and took some careful back-and-forth strokes. I wanted to make sure the only changes I made to the nut, was to adjust the angle of the base. If I was careless, I could end up with some curvature on the bottom, or a more pronounced angle on one side than the other. After the first set of strokes, I took it to the guitar and tested it again. I noticed the angle, relative to the fingerboard, hadn’t changed! I could also tell the now-angled base of the nut was only touching on the side away from the fingerboard. The space between the headstock maple cap, and the fretboard, was so tight, there was no way the nut could sit on the new angle. I grabbed my best paring chisel, and turning the chisel onto it’s side, pared off a very small section of the maple cap (the cap is seen in the photo above, just below the edge of the chisel). I tested the nut again, and it’s base made full contact, but was still shy of perpendicular. After a second pass at the sandpaper, and another paring session on the maple cap, it was looking pretty good. For some reason, the leading edge of the nut had some extra material at about the mid-way up it’s height, and that little bulge would very slightly hold the leading edge back from the fingerboard. I revisited the sandpaper for the last time, and removed the unwanted excess from the nut’s face. 

Before gluing the nut in place, I tuned up the guitar, with the the nut loose in it’s slot, so I could validate that portion of the repair. I tested the open strings and fretted positions, and it was right on target. I then decided to play the guitar lightly, and was surprised by an ancillary change. Before I started the repair, I’d also measured the distance between the string and the first fret, when I held the string at the second fret. The high E string was originally .011″ above the first fret, but after the alterations to the nut’s base, was now measuring at .004″ above the first fret. I’d planned to wait until I finished the nut’s orientation, and verify the status, before moving on to adjust for string height. With the new measurements, and the way the guitar felt, there was no need for further modifications.
Now it was glue time. As you might expect, I decided to use the glue sparingly, since it really doesn’t take much to keep the nut in place. I used a couple of drops of the original-viscosity super glue, and after placing the nut correctly, re-engaged (I left the strings attached earlier, but just took enough tension off, so I could remove the strings from the nut) the strings in the nut. After tuning the guitar, the tension of the strings will act as a clamp on the nut until it dries.  Before walking away, I checked the nut for perpendicular one last time, and it was rock solid. Done!
(photo of installed nut below)
Nut adjusted, reinstalled and string tension applied.

Thanks for checking out my blog. Let me know if you have any questions of comments.

Lee

Guitar Build – Audio now embedded via Youtube (updated)

Posted by is9582 on January 14, 2013 with No Commentsas , , ,

Well, it took some learning and searching on my part, but I think I finally have it working properly. This is my first attempt to utilize YouTube in this manner, and don’t think there is any problem with the “video”. There is no actual video, but instead a picture of my Les Paul as it […]

Guitar build – testing the sound (updated)

Posted by is9582 on January 12, 2013 with No Commentsas , , , ,

Well, the Les Paul still has some work necessary to finalize it, but I wanted to test it out a bit last night. I plugged it into my AxeFX II which is, just as info, running version 9.02 of it’s software, and out into two smallish powered speakers. I was just noodling a bit and […]

Axe-FX II: the best guitar processing ever!!

Posted by is9582 on September 5, 2012 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , ,

I know this is slightly off the woodworking topic, but hope those reading will see the connection it has to my (still going) Les Paul copy build. The Axe-FX line or processors, made by Fractal Audio, have been around for a number of years. As a guitarist, I truly can’t imagine any other product that […]