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The DIY iOS Musician:  Updating a P-Bass Guitar

I think that musical instruments are like a lot of things such as cars, boats or even homes.  They may work great initially and totally make you happy, but over time they may not be as fun, as shiny or your tastes have changed and you want something different.  

My old Archer bass guitar is like that.  I bought it new from a local music shop, Cascio Interstate Music, maybe 11-12 years ago for $100.  It was not exceptionally fancy or innovative,  It had the basic styling of a Fender Precision P bass but was a fraction of the cost.  I like how it felt, liked the action and I liked how it sounded.  

Over the years, it got more and more difficult to record with it because I could never find the base sound or tone that was just right.  Once I started using JamUp Pro by Positive Grid that all changed, but I had felt that the bass guitar needed a little more kick.  When I started playing bass in the band Ignition89 I decided it was time for an upgrade.

The decision to buy a new instrument over revamping an older one is sometimes a tough one.  In this case, I had read a review for a Seymour Duncan SPB-3 Quarter Pound pickup and instantly my choice was made.  After a purchase from the Sweetwater Music Store, I had the pick up in hand and was ready to install.

This Blog will walk you through how I installed a new P style bass pick up into an existing bass guitar reusing the wiring, pots and jacks.  

So here is my lovely blue bass in all of its glory with the new pickup to be installed.


The next step was to remove the pick guard and access the internal wiring.  


From there I needed to remove the original pickups and get the new pickups ready to be wired in.  The first thing I did was to tin the wires by applying flux and solder to the stripped ends.  Tinning the wires makes them easier to install.  It helps insure a secure clean connection. 


If you are not sure how to wire up the new pickup and make the connections, Seymour Duncan includes a nice wiring diagram.  If you do not have a diagram you can easily search for a wiring schematic online that shows where the connections need to be made.  Here is the diagram from Seymour Duncan.


On this install, I felt like being cheap and not replacing the volume & tone pots, jack, and wiring.  I was really happy to see that when this was initially made, the manufacturer had used Alpha pots.  When I rebuilt my 2 Fernandes Vertigo’s I used all Alpha pots and was very happy with their performance and ease of use.  


So the next step after removing the existing pickups and tinning the wires was to install the new pick ups.  I fluxed the 2 areas to be soldered and made the connections.  It was a quick and painless process.


The next step was to reinstall the pick guard and set the height for the pickups.  The pickups have foam that is adhered to the bottom to allow the height to be adjusted.  Electric guitars usually have springs to do this.  The included foam did not allow enough adjustment for this bass model so I wound up cutting some of the foam packaging into little rectangles and sliding them under the pickups to give me the ability to get them just right. Seymour Duncan recommended that the pickups be set at 1/8″ below the string when pressed down at the highest fret.


From there I tuned my bass, plugged it in and was amazed at the new sounds coming out of my speakers.  I noticed more punch, better mids and in general a warmer sound with some grit.  My favorite part is that the E string is more clear and when playing in drop-D the sound is tight.  The old stock pickups were not bad, but they were nothing like these. 

So, here is the bass all finished.  


So what do you think?  Pretty easy or maybe scary thinking about taking apart your bass?

I would love your comments or stories of your own!  Please leave them below and feel free to ask questions on my contact page if you would like more info.

Thanks for reading my blog!

The DIY iOS Musician: Making a 6 String Beast

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My love of the Fernandes Vertigo started with giving my brother-in-law guitar lessons for a short period of time.  We picked up a cheap Vertigo X at Music-Go-Round and the lessons started.  Shortly there after the lessons stopped.  Out of the blue I asked him if I could borrow his guitar because I was bored with mine…  Long story short, I loved the guitar more than my semi expensive Ibanez SA150 and decided to upgrade all of the electronics to make it my main guitar.  Years later I found myself in a band, Magadore, where I would need 2 guitars to play out.  I decided to hunt down and build a 2nd Vertigo like the first.  Only this time I actually took pictures of my mods 🙂

The Vertigo X is an entry level guitar, but the neck and body feel really comfortable playing on.  As far as I know, I bought the last single pick-up model around from a Music-Go-Round in Pennsylvania and had it shipped here.  In doing searches, I have yet to find another…  If I had the money, I would have a few custom ones make up for me by Fernandes, but that ship has not come it yet…

To make it match my other Vertigo, I needed to replace the pick-up, pots, capacitor, jack, knobs, tuning keys and add a kill switch.  Here they are laid out…

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So, here is the base Fernandes Vertigo in all of its glory.  Everything is so-so on it except the body…  the stock pick-up really lacks any bite or tone and the only control is a single volume knob.

here it is opened up… love the shielding and simple wiring…

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The first thing I needed to do was to open up the cavity and see if everything would fit.  As luck would have it yes, but when guitar was made the factory decided not to route out the cavity to the same level as my other guitar but to only make a recess for one pot…  I would have to remove wood to allow the switches and pots to stick out the other side to be securely fastened.  I laid out where I wanted my controls and I had my first drink and proceeded to grab my drill and wood chisels.  I don’t own a router so I had to do it the old fashion way…

 

So I grabbed my tools and proceed to open up the cavity and drill holes for the new pots.  I have found that I like to use masking tape when drilling into new surfaces to reduce chipping the finish.  It also makes it easier to mark glossy surfaces.  After that I took a spade bit marked with a depth level (more tape) and opened up where the new pots would go.  From there I chiseled out the cavity and sanded it smooth so it looked nice.

 

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So now it was time for the wiring and soldering.  I like to buy my parts from Stewart MacDonald because they have good prices and the quality has been great.  (not getting paid for the plug)  So I picked up a Seymour Duncan Invader Bridge Pick up, a 500k Alpha Pot (volume), a 250k Alpha Pot (tone), a .47 capacitor, jack, wiring and an on-on kill switch.

Here are the wiring diagrams I followed on this and my previous guitar.  There might have been a few modifications, but for the most part this is how I wired everything.  (funny story, I initially forgot to connect the 2 lower ground terminals on the kill switch and it took me about 2 hours to figure out what I had done wrong and why things were not playing right (I had a another drink or two at that point))

So when soldering, I like to flux the surfaces and wire to ensure a nice connection.  One thing I also do is tinning the wire where you cover the end to be attached with solder prior to making the connection.  Here are some photos of the work in progress.  (if you look carefully at the photo on the left, you can see on the red rectangle where the 2 white wires are not connected.  That is where I forgot to connect my grounds.  OOPS!)

Once everything was soldered, the easy parts were left, screw the plates back on, re-string the guitar (I personally love using Ernie Ball Slinky Top and Heavy Bottoms), pop on the knobs and set up the guitar to be played (intonation, action, pick up height and kill switch positioning).  At that point, I had 2 guitars that were nearly identical twins and if blindfolded playing them, I probably could not tell them apart…

So a few finishing thoughts, sometimes the only way to learn how to do something is to stumble through it and not give up until it works or you ask for help and have someone bail you out.  The biggest thing is to take that chance…

2016-08-07 16.12.40Why a Seymour Duncan Invader pick-up?  Well, they are one of the highest output passive pick-ups on the market and have really great tone characteristics when playing.  I normally have the volume and tone all the way up on my guitar.  My distortions are full and meaty.  Palm mutes have a lot of hard crunch and can really give a lot of depth.  Cleans are a little warmer and the tone is very full.  Lastly they have really big screws which looks pretty cool.  Not that looks have anything to do with the selection of an instrument…

So that is how I modified my guitar to make it play and sound the way I liked.  I am planing  phase 2 which is redoing the finish and potentially turning one into a steampunk aesthetic and the other into a futuristic guitar that looks as if it was part of a space station…  I will blog about that when I get to that point.

If you have questions or feedback on anything here I would love to hear it.

Thanks for reading my blog!

The DIY iOS Musician: Operation Neptune Spear

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Replicant Theory (RT):  I would like to thank Operation Neptune Spear from across the Atlantic to talk about his latest recordings from an iPad. For those that are not familiar with you or what your music is all about can you tell us a little more about your project / music?

Operation Neptune Spear (ONS):  Don’t Start with the hard ones 😲 lol

RT:  I could have asked what your favorite guitar picks were?  And how the color was important.

ONS:  Operation Neptune Spear are a one man sonic assault our mission to give light to the pressing issues of the day via the medium of face melting riffs and ear drum bursting vocals

Umm Jim Dunlop ones combat colours lol 😁

IMG_0628RT:  Nice, Dunlop makes a mighty fine pick. I like the gator grips personally. So when you embarked on Neptune Spear, how did you come up with the decision to use an iPad instead of a computer or physical multi-track?

ONS:  Budget constraints mainly, I didn’t have a computer or a multi track and some guy at work was selling a second generation iPad and I thought GarageBand looked interesting so I bought it

RT:  Did you immediately have a plan on what you were going to do or did you spend a ton of time sorting things out and experimenting?

ONS:  Not a plan as such I had some songs and riffs in my head so I plugged in via my first gen iRig and found a basic drum loop and recorded the first guitar track for the track opening salvo had really played with the app at that point and didn’t realize you could pan tracks so recorded the bass using a guitar amp as there were no bass amps in GarageBand at that point, so yeah uploaded it to Soundcloud with everything going down the middle channel 😂 I did that for a further three tracks then I read online that you could pan tracks at that point I kicked myself and thought maybe I should have experimented first

*hadn’t really played with the app not had really 😂

RT:  I am laughing right now because initially I did the same things… What were your initial thoughts on the iRig interface?

ONS:  I thought it was amazing, I could play and record my guitar with just a lead and a set of headphones instead of having to go to a studio and pay a fortune

RT:  So did you use the build in virtual amps in Garageband or did you try out any 3rd party audio apps?

ONS:  Just the basic built in amps didn’t even bother with the pedals to be honest

RT:  You pulled off a mean guitar tone on all of your songs, that is something to be proud of!  So you ran guitar and bass through the iRig using Garagebands virtual amps and you used the built in drums.  How did you lay down your vocal tracks?

ONS:  I did indeed, now don’t laugh but I put the audio recorder on and shouted at the IPad can you tell?

I still do that

RT:  Dude that is crazy! So by shouting into the built in speaker you get your vocal recordings?!?  You sound like Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead!

ONS:  High praise indeed you are too kind, yes the vocals are done entirely by the built in speaker, I prop the iPad up, point the top at me and let rip

RT:  Ok, so one iPad, one iRig, a guitar, a bass, miscellaneous cables and a speaker or headphones and that is your entire studio?

ONS:  iPad, iRig, Guitar, Bass, set of headphones and a guitar lead yeah that’s it

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RT:  So you could go anywhere and work on material, eh?

ONS:  In theory yes as long as there is a power supply to charge the iPad

RT:  When you first started out with this set up, did you think you would pull off professional sounding recordings that sound as polished as they do?

ONS:  Ha hell no and that’s the intriguing thing people have said things like “Killer track, great production” and I kinda think no it’s not I did it on my old iPad but I am my own worst critic

RT:  Same here. I find it absolutely hilarious! So for other musicians looking to get started or pick up where they left off going this route, would you have any advice for them?

ONS:  Get stuck in! GarageBand has a ton of cool features and third party apps and you need minimal space for the setup no excuses really and if I can do it with my ham hands anyone can

RT:  Well said! So if anyone reads this blog, where can they hear Operation Neptune Spear?

ONS:  We are on soundcloud, reverb nation, band camp, youtube, atom collector records, Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer all the usual suspects and if you fancy a bit of banter come find us on Twitter!

RT:  Awesome! Thank you for taking the time to talk to the DIY iOS Musician Blog about the inner workings of Operation Neptune Spear! If any readers have questions or comments please let either of us know!

Have a great day!

The DIY iOS Musician: Playing Live

IMG_0559Listening to several podcasts about how electronic studio musicians transition their setups to play live can be fascinating.  Many of their stories talk about bringing their computers on stage and determining what they can pull off live and what becomes a backing track.  For many electronic musicians, it is easy playing a synth or two, but when you have many layers it becomes improbable to play them all live because one can’t have 5 people armed with keyboards to make it happen.  Many tracks will get sequenced or triggered.

What does the above have to do with using an iPhone to play music live?  Quite a bit when it comes to the focus of what one plays.  If you only play a single instrument, it is not that bad.  If you play multiple instruments things get fun quickly…  so here we go…

So, I record everything into Garageband as my DAW software.  Garageband includes a img_0611crazy amount of virtual and plug in instruments.  I typically only use the drum pads for making drum beats.  All of my other instruments come from separate Apps.  There are a few concepts I have to throw out to make all of this make sense…  iOS software allows for inter-app audio (IAA) which means that apps can communicate with each other like you were plugging the cable from your keyboard into your guitar processor and then running it out to a power amp.  The other concept that is important is background audio mode which means that you can have one app running in the background while you have a 2nd one open on your screen.

So what does the above jargon mean?!?  For me it has meant that I can switch hit playing multiple instruments live at the same time through 1 iPhone…  Cool, EH?  So on stage, I can have my guitar app (Positive Grid’s Jam Up PRO) running in the back ground while I am playing a synth (Ice Gear’s Cassini Synth or RedShrike) at the same time.  I can literally be playing with both apps running at the same time.  It is super awesome and I have no idea how I figured out how to do it…

My live set up is nearly the same as my studio set up.  First of all, when I need to play keys and guitar at the same time or alternating with in a song, I needed a stand to hold my gear and protect it.  I literately made my stand from a cheap saw horse table and some scrap2016-11-26 08.22.32 wood I had laying around in the basement.  I put in tons of holes to route cables in, out and around.  I power my phone and iRig PRO interface with the IK Multimedia Power Bridge.  My M-Audio Controller plugs into the iRig Pro and my guitar plugs into the iRig Pro as well.  The iRig plugs into the phone and I line out into my PA.  I will generally have the guitar app running in the background and have the synth app running in the foreground so I can change parameters as I go. 

So the next question arises, if you are playing guitar through an app, how do you change your presets?  Unless you play only clean or distorted, how do you switch back and forth with out opening the app while playing and hitting the virtual button to do it?  Simple, there are several Bluetooth MIDI foot-switches on the market that allow you to change parameters…  img_0615I personally use the IK Multimedia BlueBoard and an M-Audio expression pedal.  The Blueboard has an iOS app that allows it to assign MIDI values to your apps.  Most music apps then have the option to be controlled via MIDI so you can set the parameters of each foot pedal to either switch banks, turn on or off and effect or control a wah-wah pedal.  The most important thing is to decide which apps you want to have MIDI controlled.  If you don’t, you could be affecting both the guitars or synths at the same time which would cause serious problems.  To prevent this, go into the settings and either turn on or off MIDI control and the problem is solved.  

So what do you think?  Cool, crazy or way to elaborate?  I can tell you that the set up itself is cheaper than buying 1 decent synthesizer or mid to high end effects pedal…  

Let me know if you have any questions or if you have any of your own stories in the comments below.  I would love to hear how others are making it happen out there!

Thanks!

The DIY iOS Musician: Studio Setup

So before I delve into my recording setup using an iPhone, one question I need to answer is “why”? 

Years ago I went from the exciting world of mini disc multi-tracks and terrible PC software (cakewalk)… it was awesome enough to nearly make me retire.  So… my wife convinced me that we needed to sink a crazy amount of money into a Power Mac G5 12 years ago because our PC was dying after 2 years… I sit down on a Mac for the first time and see an icon for a program called Garageband.  I open the app and everything changed…

So a decade later after taking a break (one of many “retirements”) I noticed that when I was recording guitars at high gain there was a slight hiss that no amount of noise gate or preset tinkering could take away.  It drove me crazy…  At that time we had just upgraded phones and I had picked up an iPhone 5c.  I noticed the iOS Garageband App and said “yeah right…”  The Power Mac (outmoded but working flawlessly like the day we bought it) now sits on its old desk in the basement collecting dust waiting for some one to need to use Photoshop.  Recording on iOS Garageband had won.

So I went through 2 studio variations.

Set up 1:

Not sure how things would work out I initially bought an IK Multimedia analog iRig.  Using the iRig with my phone was as simple as plugging it into the input jack and in Garagend select the mic line as an input.  The set up was not bad, using a noise gate from Amplitube FreeFullSizeRender 2 as an inter-app audio plug in to eliminate hiss in high gain playing I could use all of the presets in Garageband to write and record new songs.  What I found limiting was that my guitar cleans were always muddy and that it was a pain trying to play software synths using a small phone screen…  This set up lasted about half a year…

Set up 2: The current and evolving…

So it was clear that I could pull off a great recording using my phone.  Yes, Garageband 4 years ago was a little limited back then, but it was better than any stand alone multi-track and it had cleaner sound that my old Mac.  My biggest needs were to have better control over audio quality recorded into the phone and to be able to use a physical MIDI controller to play soft synths legitimately.  I upgraded my interface to an IK Multimedia iRig Pro and added some other things to the set up along the way 🙂

So here is the layout and an explanation will follow…IMG_0566.JPG

So, not everything is included  because I would have ran out of space (or I forgot until I was putting things away). 

Bottom left is an IK Multimedia Power Bridge, it charges my phone and powers the IK Multimedia iRig Pro Interface at the same time.  The iRig Pro acts as a hub.  My M-Audio keyboard controller is connected via a MIDI in cable, the mic and guitars are connected through a 1/4″ or xlr depending upon the application.  From there, the iRig Pro is connected to my iPhone through the Power Bridge.  My apps automatically recognize everything where drivers are non existent.  Lastly, through the headphone port of the iPhone, I run sound out to my KRK Rokit studio monitors.

So this is it, my rough set up laid out on the floor so one can visualize what is going on.  In later blogs I will be going over every piece of equipment and then some.  If you have any questions about what I have laid out please comment and let me know.  Thanks!

The DIY iOS Musician: Intro

Hey, I am Drew from Replicant Theory and thanks for taking the time to check out my first blog post!

This blog is about my adventures as a musician using iPhones for recording, Apps for sound and in general being very frugal and trying to do almost everything myself.  I will not only be talking about what I do, but reviewing products, explaining how things work, documenting my instrument rebuild projects and hopefully answering questions other people have. 

What I do is unique but not special.  I have noticed that other artists are shocked that I am not using Reaper, Pro Tools, Logic, Ableton, Reason, or any software that costs an arm and a leg.  I am a believer that it is not the equipment that defines the quality of a recording and ones sound but how you use what you have.  There is the old saying that you can have a $5000 guitar and have it sound like garbage yet play a $100 guitar and it sounds better that anything you have ever heard. 

I encourage anyone curious to what the hell I am up to to ask away and I can talk about it in future blog posts.  I am happy to share anything I have learned and hope to inspire others to maybe look outside the box of convention from time to time…

Soooo….  Here are some of the basics.

Here is my recording device, an Apple iPhone 6s Plus (love the background)2017-07-29 09.52.19

Here is my main studio screen shot (page 1) for the main apps I use…

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So this is where is starts…  My next post will go over all of my interfaces, devices, instruments and gadgets on how I make my recordings.  I will have photos of everything and links to all of the developers and manufacturers.  Stay Tuned!