Oh no, it's the eighties again

During the recent studio reorganisation I was left temporarily unable to run all the analogue synths from my Novation controller keyboard so I found myself investigating my long-neglected VST instruments, most notably the FM8 plugin from Native Instruments. Having used a DX9 (no, really) in the past I had a low opinion of FM synthesis in general but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the FM8. Big dramatic clangy FM sounds abound and the programmable arpeggiator is a thing of wonder. So here's a quick little four-chord thing I recorded using the FM8 arps and bass and some strings from Absynth 5.

I'll probably be thrown out of the analogue synth club for that. Never mind, studio shifting is almost finished and we'll be back to old school subtractive synthesis very soon.

Fender GC-1 Stratocaster - Powered by Roland

This is an interesting Fender oddity, a Mexican Stratocaster body with a USA made neck and incorporating Roland's GK hex pickup to drive guitar synths and processors like the GP-10 or the VG-99.

The GC-1 had a fairly short production run in the early 2000s and is out of production now, probably due to the apparent reluctance of guitar players to fully embrace hex pickup technology. This is a pity as it is capable of stunning effects that can't be achieved on any other guitar such as baritone guitar, 12-string simulation and programmable pitch shift per string which allows for alternate tunings at the press of a button. The GP-10 also lets you do string bends from a footpedal, creating impossible multi-string bends and pedal steel effects.

Here's the GP-10 and GC-1 doing some of that stuff. First off, the GP-10 is set to play an open E minor chord and the expression pedal bends strings up and down to make an open A minor chord. Hit a few harmonics and the thing warbles into a sound vaguely reminiscent of a pedal steel but with a far more modern edge to it.

It does straight tuning transpose too, here's a baritone guitar effect.

And it's handy for recording demos if you can't be bothered to pull more than one guitar off the stand. This is the GC-1 standard magnetic pickups mixed with the modelled sounds to provide electric, acoustic and 12-string sounds as well as an open G slide part.

Bomes MIDI Translator

I discovered this late last night, a very highly configurable MIDI routing engine that lets you filter and route between any number of hardware synths and controllers.

http://www.bome.com/products/miditranslator#

I installed the trial version, used it for about five minutes then pulled out my credit card and bought the full version. Now I can launch into my keyboard rig without waiting for Cubase to start up, creating a new project, setting the tempo, creating all the tracks, I just hit my controller keyboard and everything works. Note on/off, controller data from a Novation master keyboard plus clock from the JD-XA gets routed to all my synths and effects and it took me about ten minutes to learn. Highly recommended - I'm not ion any way associated with the company, just really pleased to have found a great product.

I should add that there's a less feature-laden version which appears to be effectively free to non-commercial users, the author only requests you send him a postcard ...

http://www.bome.com/products/mtclassic

If you use hardware synths and want to do some poking under the hood with MIDI data then it's the best I've found. And I've done a lot of searching for something like this.

The synths just keep on coming

Well, I thought the JD-XA would be the last synth I ever needed but I just could not resist the Roland System-8 to go with it. Huge sounds from the internal sound engline plus the Jupiter 8 and Juno 106 modelled plugouts make this one incredible piece of kit. The gear mountain is getting rearranged when the keyboard stand extension arrives but for the moment there's gear spread right across the lounge. And it sounds incredible. Demos to follow soon!

Routemaster Number five

Having made a complete fuckup of two previous boards by putting the voltage regulators in the wrong way round, I've rattled through building this new version. One more board to build then the modular cases will finally be ready for me to transfer the synth modules into.

Waldorf Salad

An early birthday present has arrived in the shape of the rather fantastic Waldorf Streichfett string synthesiser. Perfect for those Jean Michel Jarre moments.

The Creamcaster

The latest (and probably last) guitar arrival is ... yet another Stratocaster. This is another partscaster, made from a Jeff Beck Strat body with a US Standard neck. Pickups are by The Creamery - a Baby 71 humbucker in the bridge and Alt 64s in the neck and middle positions.

The Baby 71 is the reason I wanted to build this guitar. It's a reproduction of the old Fender Wide Range Humbucker, a really great-sounding low output humbucker with extended highs. Works beautifully with single coil pickups, something like the Fender Shawbucker but with a chiming character all of its own.

This video was shot as soon as I'd thrown the guitar together so the intonation wasn't right and the strings were choking on a few of the bends but you get an idea of how good that bridge and middle sound is.

The Baby 71 and Alt 64s are available from Jaime at The Creamery and highly recommended.

Tempo sync madness

I still haven't finished putting the pedalboard together, I keep having ideas about an Arduino-based switch unit to select MIDI clock signals either from the Master Control unit or from external MIDI. I'm probably going to have to go ahead with it because the Eventides sound great on guitar but even better on the analogue synths.

The reverb ruins it though, I had way too much wet mix on that preset and Eventide's Blackhole isn't ideal on that setting. Maybe I'll do another pedals video with the Roland synths sometime. I'll add that to my ever-expanding to-do list.

From the dawn of time

Only about half a dozen people will know where this riff comes from. Recycled from my old indie pop band of the 1990s, embellished now with analogue synths, baritone guitars and drums that stay in time.

Oh yes, and a quote from Wagner's Gotterdammerung at the start because I'd been watching Excalibur that day.