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a newbster of a different color

randyman

Experienced
Hey there, Ultra mavens –

I’ve been debating for a while whether or not to go ahead and write in, as I’m jumping the gun a little… you see, I’m waiting a check to arrive, and as soon as it clears the bank later this week, I’ll be placing an order for the magic box. Yes, you know the one I mean.

I wanted to say “hello”, as I’ve been getting a ton of valuable info from the forums for a while now. I’m hoping the time will come when I’ll be able to give something back, and I’m thinking the best chance of that happening stems from the fact that I’m coming from a completely different background than most of the musicians I’ve been reading about here; the fact is, I’m pretty much a babe-in-the-woods when it comes to all things guitar-related.

I’m basically a keyboard player. I’ve been playing synths for a long time, starting with a classic Arp 2600 in ‘73, going polyphonic with one of the first modular Oberheims in ‘77, and – well, you know how it is. Things just tend to snowball.

Along the way, I’ve picked up an affection for exotic instruments like the sitar and the guqin (goo-CHIN, sort of a 4-foot-long Chinese zither) and have spent a fair amount of time strumming acoustic 6- and 12-string guitars, without any particular level of accomplishment. No picking or melodic work, really - just the kind of simple rhythm chords that fit well into backing tracks.

Still, a lot of fun. Recently, I replaced my 15-year-old 12-string Yamaha cheese-grater (it was pulling itself apart) with a bargain Breedlove 12-string I found on Craigslist. As a bonus, it has a Fishman pickup built in, and I started looking around for an inexpensive effects box I could use for practicing in the living room, without having to fire up all the gear in the studio. Since it seemed to have a good range of capabilities, I picked up one of Roger Linn’s AdrenaLinn III boxes. It’s got a range of effects, a handy bank of drum patterns to play along with, and – something that was pretty much off my radar – a collection of amp and cabinet models.

I should apologize for how long I’m babbling on, but I’m trying to bring you to the point where you see the searchlight-grade lightbulb blazing over my head as I plug my humble acoustic 12-string into a “Marshall Plexi” simulation, and strum for the first time.

As a life-long solo studio keyboardist, used to seeking the flattest and cleanest amplification possible, I was suddenly hearing things that at least evoked a whole class of sounds I’d heard all my life, but never had the chance to produce myself. (I’m not counting the borrowed Sunn Coliseum amp I used with my first band back in the summer of ‘73, which made my Arp a lot louder, but didn’t seem to do much for its tone at all.)

Well, this was definitely something I wanted to pursue further. I picked up an instrument better suited to the box ­– a Steinberger with the built-in sliding capo, for greater compatibility with the keys native to those exotic instruments I mentioned earlier – and I’ve spent the last 4 or 5 months exploring the joys and wonders you electric guitarists have known all along.

It’s been great, but the little Linn box is kind of a stop gap, a temporary measure that has become less inspiring the more I’ve read and heard from the Ultra. There are some great demos on the Fractal site, but fremen’s recent series of videos just blew me away. I’ve spent a lot of time over the decades learning instruments, and I know at least one thing for a fact: the progress you make on a given instrument is directly proportional to the amount of pleasure the sound of that instrument gives you while you’re playing.

So while it may seem appalling to the accomplished guitarists out there, and those who would give their left nut (sorry, ladies) to have this box to gig with, my first and primary use for the Ultra is as a learning tool – one that will give me the positive feedback to encourage to me stand there and put in the hundreds upon hundreds of hours of practice and exploration required for progress. From what I’ve heard, I can’t wait.

I’m not daunted by the tech side of things; I’ve got a few decades of programming gizmos down, and 25 years of MIDI routing, though some of the Ultra’s parameters - especially the amp and cabinet models - I have absolutely no touchstone for. What does a Fender amp bring to the sound? Damned if I know, but it will be great fun to explore.

That’s the second application I have in mind – the chance to process my synths through amps and cabinets I’ve never had the chance to try. Don’t get me wrong; I love the electronic sound of my primary synths, and it’s something I’ve cultivated through the years, but I’m excited at the thought of putting pianos and organs and leads through the Ultra’s library of amps; it’s a tone modification option I’ve never had available. It’s a completely unexplored world for me.

The third application I’ve got in mind for the Ultra involves those exotic instruments I’ve mentioned. Let’s face it; here in the West (and by “west”, I mean in the global sense) there really aren’t many guqin players running around. I’m hoping that if I can get some kind of East/West thang happening with these instruments, and out there onto the InterTubes, maybe I can introduce some new listeners to musics they wouldn’t have heard otherwise. At the very least, there’s a damn good chance I can be the first to post processed guqin samples here on the Fractal forum!

(I just remembered - if you’ve seen the Jet Li movie “Hero”, there’s a scene where a guqin is being played in a rainy courtyard. It’s a cool movie, if you haven’t. There are also instruments in “Kung Fu Hustle” that are a strange, imaginary mix of the guqin and the koto.)

Well, if I haven’t worn out my welcome with this protracted introduction, I’ll look forward to posting when the Ultra arrives, and in the months to come. It’s clearly a great community, and I can’t wait to get my hands on one of these babies, and work towards the day when I’ll no longer be the least capable guitarist to ever plug into an Ultra. It can happen! :)

Randy Walters
?Bristol, RI USA
http://haikutweeter.com
 

mortega76

Fractal Fanatic
Hey there Randy,

Welcome!!! And I hope you get your Ultra soon!!! I'm very glad to know that you have extensive experience with synths... my last amp was a Vetta II HD and that sucker had synth's galore! I'm sure we can get all of those sounds in the Axe-fx and have them sound 100x better... it's just that I don't know where to start on some of that stuff...

Nathan Shane from Vettaville has two excellent videos demoing his synth patches...

Nathan Shane's Vetta II Synth Patches 1

Nathan Shane's Vetta II Synth Patches 2

Looking forward to your input... and again welcome aboard!!! :D
 
Hello Randy. Good luck with your tone quest.
I see you are in Bristol. I grew up in Cranston/Providence. I lived there for 20 years until I joined the military. We always went to Bristol on the 4th to watch the fireworks over the water. Good memories. :D
 

godprobe

Power User
Hi Randy! Great to have you here!

Everything you've written sounds "right" as far as I'm concerned regarding your reasons to get an Axe-Fx. :)
Like mo, I'm also totally interested in what your impressions will be of the sounds the Axe can get, coming from a synth background. But it's also cool to hear that you're completely new to the traditional amp tone chasing fun; much of it has been a learning experience for me as well, and imho, there's no better hardware tool to use than an Axe for learning this stuff -- not just the amps, but all of the sound-shaping tools it includes.

Definitely looking forward to your own contributions, and I hope we're able to answer any questions you have in the meantime!

And a slightly-preemptive congrats on the Ultra! :)
 

randyman

Experienced
Woohoo!

That check I was waiting for arrived today... as luck would have it, I have the day off, and wonder of wonders, the check was drawn on the same bank I use, so...

Voila! I've placed the order for my Ultra! I asked for next-day delivery, so it should arrive by mid-week, or - dare I hope - tomorrow? The mind boggles.

[edit - looks like today's the day promised for the beta editor release... the powers-that-be may be just a little too busy to get things prepped for UPS... I can handle it... :) ]

Based on the posts I've read here, I've already placed an order for a quieter fan, and I'm also fixed up for headphone monitoring, so I'm all ready to go. I'll be restricted to the evenings for the rest of the week, but there's a three-day weekend coming up - great timing!

I'll let you all know what version of the firmware it comes with as soon as it arrives... but after that, you might not hear from me until I come up for air. :)

Thanks to those of you who took time to say hello; I appreciate it. Looks like I didn't jump the gun by much, after all. Can't wait!!
 

chase

Inspired
Welcome Randy! I have a synthesis background too (messed around with MIDI for years before picking up guitar), and it will be good to have another person here with that perspective - I bet you'll have a lot to contribute. I think you'll find the interface of the Axe pretty familiar if you worked with rackmount synths or effects in the past.

While the Axe was designed as the ultimate guitar processor, it's a superb, very versatile multi-effects unit somewhat reminiscent of the old Ensoniq DP/4, so I've recommended it to electronic musicians as well.
 

randyman

Experienced
Well, hi again... I have tales of a somewhat unexpected adventure some of you might find interesting.

My Ultra arrived yesterday, as reported. When I got home, set it up and powered on, however, all was not well with the world. Apparently, it had been subjected to shock during shipping, and the "Bypass" button was stuck on.

You can simulate the effect this had by holding down your button - a rapid pulsing of the audio, not unlike the opening of "Won't get Fooled Again" without the nice filter sweep. No other buttons had any effect at all. Total lockup.

Sigh. Weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Email to Fractal support.

Marty *immediately* was in touch - within 5 minutes - and arranged to ship me a new unit the next day, before they even received the bad one. Nice. I slept the untroubled sleep of the just.

This morning, I was trading emails with Marty, and he mentioned they had considered actually having someone drive the new unit directly to me, since I live about 2 hours away in Rhode Island. "Hmmm..." I thought, "now, wait a minute here... a man doesn't get an opportunity like this every day..."

So I asked if I could just drive up with the funky unit and pay them a visit myself. (I wasn't particularly eager to let UPS kick my baby around again.) Marty said yep! no problem! and about 2:00 this afternoon, on the hottest day of the year, I set the controls for due North and floored it.

I arrived about 4:00, knocked, walked in with my box and was greeted by the man himself, Cliff. Nice!

A friendly guy, a little apologetic for the tech trouble, Cliff immediately set up the unit and observed the problem. "Yep - your bypass button is stuck on." This was old news to me at this point, and I was looking around. I asked Cliff's permission to share this with you...

(see below)

...and this isn't the only stack of Axes that was there! Cliff plugged a guitar in to a working unit, and peeled off some tasty licks... I could tell he was proud of his baby.

He showed me the top plate for the upcoming foot controller (thick, heavy, lots of holes!), held up the electronics for the Axe-FX PC unit (about 7x8x1, he said "of course, it will go in a box"), and that's about all I remember. Oh, yes, I saw a rack of about six units with their tops off undergoing burn-in testing, I presume. There was a hand-lettered sign that said "Blinky is Happy" or something close. :)

He gave me a freshly-boxed unit he said he had personally checked out himself, to make sure this was my last visit. :) I was glad to have met him, and want to thank Cliff and Marty for all their help, and remember - I only visited because I had the chance, not because I had to.

O.K. - your intrepid reporter has done his duty; now it's off the the living room to unbox, plug in and check this puppy out. Woohoo! (whew - long day)

And to amend a previous post from another thread, I believe you all really *do* know how much I'm looking forward to this 3-day weekend.

Randy
 

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randyman

Experienced
(Looks at clock, removes headphones, unplugs guitar, powers down Ultra)

OMFG.



Maybe I should just call in sick tomorrow...
 

mortega76

Fractal Fanatic
A great testament to FAS and Cliff... (let's not forget Tom, Danielle and Marty... wasn't he the tech that almost got fired?!?! :cool: ) (I kid, I kid!!!) This is a great reminder that this is not (yet) a big corporate monster... instead, this is a great business run by great folks who want to do right by their customers... Bravo to FAS....

Standing "O"...

tblair_standingovation_27june07.jpg
 

MikeyB59

Power User
I look forward to hearing how your explorations go. I've had an Ultra for about 3 months now and just love it. I've just begun to scratch the surface of it as a guitar box, but I'm very happy. I've enough gear as a result of getting the Axe to more than pay for it. In a band I'm in I'm about to start using my laptop as a keyboard rig in addition to playing guitar with the Ultra. I've started to get very excited about the prospect of combining the world of electromechanical keyboards emulations (B4, Rhodes, Wulitzer, Clavinet) with the Axe.

One of my favorite keyboard players, particularly for the variety of tone colors he gets, is John Medeski from MMW. Last time I saw the he had onstage a set of guitar amps that would make any guitar player jealous. I think he had 7 or 8 different tube amps. He's mostly playing the electromechanical keyboards we know and love plus a couple of synths. I don't know if each keyboard has its' own amp (that's what I'm guessing) or if he has a matrix that he can pick from, but I do know he gets some of the funkiest, most organic, dripping with vibe tones of any electric keyboard player I know. All of his stuff is going into tube amps including a Leslie, Twin Reverb, a Bassman and a bunch of what look like 20ish watt single 12 amps. I've never seen a guitar player onstage with that many different amps, even Eric Johnson, much less a keyboard player.

Anyhow, it excites me realize that with the Axe and my laptop I can probably tap into a good bit of that sonic gooeyness. Once I get it going, I'll let folks know how it's working. It'll probably take a while, but speed up greatly once the editor is Mac-ready and good to go. All these great possiblities on the Axe are there, but the programming takes a bit more time my tube amps.

Actually something I just started to try last night was using clips within Ableton Live to control Axe parameters. I assigned drive and amp controls to external modifiers attached to CCs 12-16. I then created a clip and drew in values for each of those numbers. It worked totally like a charm and I could do things like draw my own tremolo curve or crank the distortion in a rhythm fashion. Obviously there's a ridiculous world of possibilities there. It was fun to see it work so well immediately. I could then copy the first clip and change whatever parameters and/or curves I wanted so that each different clip is a different variation within a preset. I'm now realizing that I can send values to on/off switches, too, so that each clip really can be a totally different preset.

It kind of reminds me of the guy here (can't remember name) who's doing a one man band thing where his backing tracks are in a sequencer that calls up his program changes automatically based on where he is in a song. This method could be used that way, but it could also be used to allow for an infinite set of variations of the effects within one preset (within the limitations of the number of parameters you can control at one time on the Axe) and for parameter manipulation and sequencing that you'd be really hard pressed to do on the Axe if you could do it at all.

Obviously you can do a lot of this stuff in almost any sequencer, but way you can fire indidual clips within Live triggered by midi notes and/or keystrokes makes Live a really cool tool for this.

Now, boss, about that paid month off I need ;-)

Mike
 

MikeyB59

Power User
I just found a list of Medeski's gear and amps.

Medeski's idea of making music better includes surrounding himself with an array of vintage electronic keyboards, effect pedals, and amplifiers. His main instruments are a Hammond B-3 organ, which goes through a Leslie 117; a Clavinet that goes through a wah-wah, a Roland Space Echo, and a 1953 Fender Bassman amp; a Wurlitzer that's sent through a 1957 Fender Tremolux; a Mellotron that goes through a 1968 Fender Pro Silverface; an ARP String Ensemble; a Yamaha CS80 synthesizer; a Melodica, which is another Wurlitzer-type keyboard (“I don't know what the exact name and model number are, but it's somewhere between a Farfisa and an ARP,” says Medeski); and a Steinway piano. His only concession to modern times is the Moog Voyager, which he puts through a 1950s Kay 703 guitar amplifier.

Interesting combinations of keys/amps.

http://emusician.com/mag/emusic_john_medeski/

This is the whole article...a cool read for anyone into great sounds. Medeski is super creative and has a great ear for tone.
 

Shaloha

Inspired
MikeyB59 said:
It kind of reminds me of the guy here (can't remember name) who's doing a one man band thing where his backing tracks are in a sequencer that calls up his program changes automatically based on where he is in a song...

Maybe Solo-Act...his modus operadi in his name?
 

randyman

Experienced
mortega76 said:
hey Randy, it's been over a week... Where are the synth patchs?

Actually, I *have* been lax in following up... my bad. My only posted reaction so far has been "OMFG", which is appropriate enough.

Well, the time I've spent with the Ultra so far has been overwhelming. The quality of the audio just knocks me out, and as I've been using ridiculously good headphones with a decent headphone amp, I have a pretty good idea of what the unit is actually putting through.

I'm very impressed with how sensitive the unit is to the articulation of fingers on strings, and the level of the volume knob on the guitar. Any given preset will respond with a wide range of tone, depending on the guitar's volume and one's playing technique.

So far, I haven't explored the unit beyond cycling through the presets. Remember, my prime motive to begin with is to get myself spending time just sitting/standing there and playing the guitar, which is still an alien instrument to me. Less and less so, though - my calluses are developing to a greater extent than they ever have, and that's a good sign. :) It will be a while before I can say the same thing about my technique, but that's coming along, too. Hey, this is only the second weekend!

The Ultra is ensconced for now in the living room, on a small shelved cabinet I picked up on sale at Ikea. I mounted hooks on the sides to hold cables and headphones, and there are six glass shelves for manuals, music, notes, etc. so it makes for a nice self-contained shedding station. I did bring the Ultra into the studio, and used my Mac (running Windows XP) to run the new editor to update the firmware to 7.13. The process went without a hitch, and the editor looks gorgeous, though I didn't use it yet. Great to know it's there and ready to go when I want it.

The presets have been a joy to play with, and I have no complaints. I understand that an experienced guitarist who's got a particular sound in mind will want to jump right in and get editing, but for my needs, the presets do a great job of showing off the Ultra's capabilities. When I get around to processing and recording keyboards, I'm sure I'll be tweaking away, but for now my attention is on playing the guitar.

I've got to say that the Ultra has exceeded my hopes in accomplishing what I set out to do: provide a playing environment that would encourage me to actually become a guitarist. I know I'll be exploring with it in the studio in the months to come, but for now, I just want to give myself the space to play with the guitar like a kindergartener would play with finger paints. I'm having a fantastic time, and making a mess, but man, I know that in a year or two, I'll be much, much farther along than I could have possibly been without the Ultra. It's worth every cent, and more.

I know I may seem a little myopic in what might strike some as an initially limited use of a very powerful tool, but hey - the other applications will come; there's nothing wrong with taking time out for a little sheer joy.
 

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chase

Inspired
Savor every moment, man.

That's a sometimes-overlooked feature of the Axe: it makes you want to play more, and the more you play, the better you get.
 

Ikarus

Member
Now thats a funny looking guitar....omg it's headless arrrggghhh.....hehe just joking what type is that?
 

randyman

Experienced
Ikarus said:
Now thats a funny looking guitar....omg it's headless arrrggghhh.....hehe just joking what type is that?

It's a Steinberger Synapse TranScale with a built-in sliding capo. The fretboard is one whole tone lower than a standard guitar; you slide the capo up two frets for standard E tuning. It's very stable, and a lot of fun to play!
 
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