Maximising your signal chain
Signal chains have become a big part of modern guitar talk. Essentially a map of all the gear used to get the end tone.
But of course, there is more to it than that, so we followed up our How to build the ultimate fly rig Q&A and once again spoke to our man at Two notes. This time it’s all about tone!
Over to you, Ross Davies!
What do you mean by signal chain?
When you’re building your rig, the signal chain refers to every component used to produce the resultant guitar or bass tone.
Whether it’s an amp/preamp, a drive pedal, a reverb unit or a digital cabinet simulator, the components included - and their order - create your rig’s signal chain.
What are the principal differences between analogue and digital components?
Ultimately, it all comes down to how your audio signal is processed. In analogue tech, information is translated into electric pulses of varying amplitude. In contrast, digital technology uses bits coded in binary format (zero or one) meaning each bit is representative of two distinct amplitudes.
The differences between these technology platforms mean that it’s good to have an understanding of where you want analogue and digital components in your chain.
For example, when it comes to preamps and amplifiers, there is a trend towards analogue technology for the feel, response and the all-important foundation tone. Units like the Two notes’ ReVolt Series offer a great 200V tube-powered amp sim solution that’s ripe for anything from a sublime clean to a full-throttle onslaught; when paired with digital spacial FX (for example the iconic Strymon BlueSky Reverb) inserted in the effects loop, you have the power and unmatched scope of a digital verb to supplement the organic foundation tone from the all-analogue amp sim.
Add a digital cabinet emulator (like the C.A.B. M+) to this hypothetical rig, and the tonal possibilities are virtually unlimited.
When comparing this system to its physical world counterpart, you would need a large space to play/record in as well as an immense cabinet and mic collection to achieve a similar sound.
How do you build a signal chain?
Well, the first question you should ask yourself is “What do you want in your signal chain”?
Do you want to use a traditional amp and cab setup? If so, these will need to form the central component of your signal chain! You may want to consider front-loading your amp with drive and distortion pedals (like a Tube Screamer) to push your amp’s preamps with some raunchy saturation.
If your amp has an FX loop, you might want to consider adding some reverb, modulation and delay effects to further refine your preamp’s tone. Amps tend to be quite loud so if you’re playing at home - or if you’re playing live and need a silent stage - you may want to consider a load box/attenuator. Two notes’ Captor and Captor X Series are great solutions offering a reactive load and built attenuation so you can drive your amp to its sweet spot with complete control over the cabinets' volume levels.
Better yet, if you’re seeking a headphone monitoring solution with next-generation cabinet emulation, you can pair a C.A.B. M+ with a Captor - or just use a Captor X - to play your amplifier in a completely silent setting!
How about pedalboard rigs?
For players seeking a pedalboard rig, the signal chain can be as complex as you need it to be. You will certainly need a preamp and cab simulator and for expansion opportunities, you can supplement these with any number of drive, distortion and mod effects.
With the use of switchers, you can even configure series and parallel routing options to either switch up your sound on the fly or create some truly complex tones that wouldn't be amiss in a post-rock soundscape. The key here is to understand your rig’s end-to-end signal flow and ensure the best placement of your effects, preamps/amps and cabinet emulation.
Is it better to keep the chain simple or go to town?
Well, this all depends on the sound you want to create and the genre you intend to perform. For example, a traditional rock setup is comparatively simple with an amp, cab and some select special FX; in contrast, players traversing prog or more soundscape-centric genres may lean towards a more complex setup consisting of varying signal chains enacted via signal splitters.
Should you put the digital stuff first or does it matter?
In short, it all depends on the type of component you are dealing with. For example, a drive pedal can be digital but you would ultimately want this at the front end of your signal chain to push your preamp into varying degrees of saturation. On the other hand, you might have an analogue delay that would be best suited to being placed in your amplifier’s/preamp’s FX loop or after your cabinet emulation.
As a rule of thumb, we suggest adding drive and distortion pedals before your amplifier, reverb/mod/delay FX in your Amplifier’s/preamp’s FX loop and cabinet emulation as the last stage in your signal chain. This will not only get the best out of all your signal chain’s components but will give you ultimate flexibility in getting a wide range of tones out of your amplifier or preamp.
Any common misconceptions about signal chains?
Misconceptions, no. But pitfalls, plenty! When devising your signal chain it is important to understand what levels your components output and what they are specified to receive. For example, some pedals are engineered to accept both an instrument and line-level signal, while some are only specified to accept the former - as such it is important to ensure you understand and cater for your components' input/output specifications and connect these accordingly to avoid any damage to your gear.
Similarly, running effects from your amp’s speaker output is a definitive no-no; this will not only damage your FX but can damage your amplifier too.
A closing thought!
One thing we will say is experimentation is key! Providing you account for any signal requirements and build your rig around your amp/preamp and cabinet/cab sim as described above, try switching the position of your FX components within your signal chain to see how this alters your tone - you never know, you might strike sonic gold when it comes to finding your unique tonal signature!
Before you go!
Remember, we’re giving you the chance to win a Two Notes ReVolt Guitar pedal. And all you have to do is play the guitar…
How to build the ultimate fly rig
You’ve been booked for a gig where a backline is a no-go. Or maybe you just don’t fancy lugging two great big cabs and a bulky head. So what do you do?
You get a “fly rig.” What’s one of those? Well, we spoke to Ross Davies at Two notes Audio Engineering to explain just that.
Over to you, Ross!
What is a fly rig?
In short, a fly rig is a go-anywhere, easy-to-transport solution empowering you with the freedom to pack the prowess of a monstrous rig, into a pint-sized package. Most importantly, it’s a solution that can be easily stowed in a plane’s overhead luggage compartment!
You’ve probably seen a lot of solutions hit the market offering premier amp simulation in a pedalboard-friendly footprint, just like our ReVolt Series. Engineered specifically for the space-conscious player seeking a super-versatile fly rig.
What features are must-haves?
Looking at fundamentals for a fly rig, two components stand out as essentials: a preamp solution and cabinet emulation. These form the central command of your tone and need to offer enough connectivity, not only between one another but to add additional tools to your mobile arsenal.
Two notes’ ReVolt Series offer a 3-channel all-analogue tube-powered preamp, complete with all the warmth and response you demand from a traditional amplifier. With an FX loop and multiple outputs, it’s primed to serve as the core of your fly rig, ready to be supplemented with a cabinet emulator and your pedal collection.
Hooking up ReVolt to Two notes’ C.A.B. M+ is a match made in heaven - fusing next-generation DynIR cab emulation, customisable power amps and a suite of post-FX. They’re engineered to fit on even a small PedalTrain and offer the perfect solution for a silent stage courtesy of XLR DI outs which can be fed to front-of-house - all that’s left is to get that signal back to your in-ear monitors (IEMs) and your set!
What makes a GOOD fly rig?
That’s entirely dependent on the tone you are seeking! If you’re set on playing at home and integrating your pedal collection, a good pedal-platform preamp is paramount - Two notes’ C.A.B. M+ features a BMAN-inspired preamp that has been expertly tuned to integrate with your pedals like a dream.
If you’re a session musician who plays live frequently, versatility is likely to be the most important deciding factor. Having multiple preamps will certainly help in this respect and ReVolt is a killer solution. When combined with the C.A.B. M+, practically any tone imaginable is available thanks to access to over 600 DynIRs in Two notes’ library!
In terms of monitoring your fly rig, we would recommend either a “full range flat response” (FRFR) monitor like the HeadRush FRFR Series or headphones/IEMs which can be fed via the terminus in your signal chain or front-of-house.
One of the key factors in a supreme fly rig is portability. When configuring your fly rig components, make sizing up your pedalboard and the associated components a priority investigation! Most pedal manufacturers create small variants of their stompboxes now for this very purpose.
Can I do everything I can with a full set-up?
Providing you configure your setup with the inclusion of a multi-channel preamp, monitoring solution and cabinet emulation, you certainly can! Whether it’s the amp, the mics used to mic your cabinet or the cabinet itself, everything in your standard backline can be replaced with solutions available on the market!
So go on, how do you make a perfect fly rig?
Step 1: Scope out what size board you need
Whether it’s super-portable for fly dates or simply a board to expand on for home use, specifying the board for your needs is imperative.
Step 2: Select your Amp Sim
For the most flexibility, we would suggest finding an amp sim or preamp with multiple outputs, an FX return and multiple channels.
Step 3: Find your Cab Sim!
Next, find a device that can model a power amp and cabinet in a compact footprint, to sculpt your final tone.
Step 4: StompBoxes Assemble!
Finally, start collecting the pedals that will be used to supplement your rig. A great starting point would be an overdrive pedal to front-load your amp sim and a reverb and/or delay pedal to sit in your FX loop.
Step 5: Power it Up
Rather than dealing with multiple power adapters, research a power brick to sit under your fly rig that will power all of your units! Cleaner and simpler.
Before you go!
Remember, we’re giving you the chance to win a Two Notes ReVolt Guitar pedal. And all you have to do is play the guitar…
5 Reasons You Should Learn to Play Guitar
From Jimmy Page to Alex Hutchings, Larry Carlton to Andy James music history has seen a lot of great guitarists. However, you don’t have to play the guitar on the world’s stage to enjoy or benefit from it.
There’s no shortage of benefits when it comes to learning to play the guitar. From bettered brain activity to bragging rights, starting the guitar will be the best thing you’ve done in a long time. Here are six reasons to put aside your apprehensions and kick off those lessons!
1. Stimulates the brain
Learning the guitar can seriously stimulate the brain. Not only can guitar-playing improve your memory and concentration, but it will also enhance your spatial reasoning and make you better at multitasking. What with reading music or tab, developing a musical ear, and remembering those new patterns and chord shapes, your mind will love the challenge you’ve set.
2. Improves health
For those of you that may have anxiety and other stress related illnesses, research has indicated that playing an instrument can actually lower blood pressure.
Many first-time guitar players compare playing music to a form of therapy and consider it a way to “reset” mentally. Playing the guitar allows you to forget about “real life” for a while. You’re able to focus fully on learning your chords and arranging them into music. Before you know it, you’ll be the most chilled out you’ve been in weeks, months, maybe even years.
3. Boosts creativity
Get out of robot-worker mode and exercise your creativity through playing the guitar. Even if you don’t consider yourself a typically creative person, music may be precisely the outlet that suits your kind of imagination. Whether you’re writing a new song, mastering an old classic or taking on a Masterclass, there’s space for innovation at every turn.
4. Another source of income
If you work hard and have a natural knack for the guitar, then you could reach a stage at which you’re able to actually sell your talent.
A great way to get started as a professional musician is to play at events such as weddings, school proms, and birthday celebrations. The first gig is always the trickiest to land, but getting booked once can have a domino effect. At the same time as you’re doing the event circuit, you might think about joining groups in your local neighbourhood. Often, these gigs don’t pay quite as well, but they’re great exposure and will give you a heap of great contacts.
5. Make yourself more interesting
Having the ability to just pick up and play a guitar when you’re socialising makes you look more interesting to the people around you. Picking up this hobby can give you a real edge when it comes to social events and interactions. Use your new talent to entertain family, friends, or work colleagues. You’ll radiate self-confidence and a passion for music. People love well-rounded, surprising people, and taking up the guitar will make you just that.
Harper is an avid freelance writer residing in Auckland, New Zealand. In between writing and editing articles for blogs and sites such as About Giving, you’ll find her singing along to her favourite songs or learning to play the guitar. To discover more of her work, visit her personal blog: Harper Reid.
Tips For Learning Chord Progressions
Tips to Learn Chord Progressions - Marc-Andre Seguin
There are so many platforms these days with so much media and information that it is almost too much to handle. If you go on YouTube and you are looking at guitar videos, you will probably see any number of ads for apps or instructionals that claim to have the quintessential guitar method. These programs always target beginners, and while some of these might be really good, it can definitely get exhausting. I will not be making any claims like this, but I will share with you the way that I learned to play chord progressions and what worked - or did not work - for me. I will not be discussing much of the theory aspect of chords here, but I would suggest getting into that early in your playing career or you will be left trying to catch up and many things will seem confusing.
Before moving on, this article requires that you are able to read chord charts. It’s fairly simple. Basically, the diagram is read as if you are holding a guitar up with the fretboard facing you. Any markings are frets that you would play. A “0” above the string, means that string is played open. An “X” above the string means you do not play that string. Lastly, an arc or a thick black line over a set of strings means that you bar that set of strings by placing your finger across multiple strings.
Here’s an example with everything we just mentioned for reference:
Now that we understand how to read chord charts, let’s go ahead and discuss how we can approach chord progressions. In this article, I will mostly address chords belonging to the keys of G and C major. The shapes I will share with you today are open position chords, meaning they use open strings as well as the first few frets. To move these around to different keys, you will need what’s called a capo, which basically serves to move the nut around, so to speak. The good thing is that the shapes themselves don’t change!
First, let’s give you some chords to work with.
Before moving on to playing actual progressions, the most important thing is that you are able to get a good sound out of each chord. Make sure every note is audible as this is often the most difficult thing for beginners. At first, you will certainly be muting certain notes. This is just something you will have to work through in the beginning.
These are a few considerations with regard to getting a clear sound out of each note:
-POSTURE. Yes, like in school. Sit up straight. This will ensure that your hands don’t land in undesirable positions.
-Your grip should look like you are gripping a tennis ball. Try to avoid bending your DIP or fingertip joints and try to avoid pressing your palm up against the neck.
-You should be using the actual tips of your fingers to fret.
Once you feel like you’ve got a good sound out of each chord, it’s time to start trying to play them in succession. The best approach, in my opinion, is to take these in pairs then try to link them all together. Take the metronome, take the first two chords, and play them each four times to a metronome alternating between the two. Remember, take it SLOWLY. It’s important that you get a nice clean sound out of each note than it is to play it fast. I cannot stress enough how important this is. Lots of students come to me with bad habits and it is much more difficult to retrain than it is to learn correctly in the first place. Use the metronome and take it slowly. Additionally, a little bit each day goes a much longer way than trying to cram things into one session and not touching it for another week.
Assuming we play the chords in the order displayed above, your practice should look something like this:
G > C > G > C > G > C and so on…
C > Em > C > Em > C > Em
Em > Am > Em > Am > Em > Am
Then, you would link the first one back to the last one to begin the progression.
Am > G > Am > G and so on…
Once you feel comfortable making each of these transitions, you can go ahead and try the whole progression.
Play each chord four times with a metronome before moving on and then loop the progression.
G > C > Em > Am > G > C > Em > Am etc.
Now let’s add a few more chords in open position.
The F major, while it does not use any open strings, it is close enough to that part of the fretboard that we will group it with the rest of them.
Before moving on, I strongly recommend going over the theory that comes with chord construction and functional harmony. This will give you a better understanding of why chords move the way they do and how to create desired effects with specific progressions.
Now that we have got some more chords available to us, let’s come up with a few more progressions to give you some practice material.
G - Em - Am - D
C - Am - Dm - G
Em - C - G - D
Am - F - C - G
These progressions might sound very familiar. They have all been used to write thousands of songs - literally. As you practice them, take the same approach we discussed earlier. Take two chords at a time, slowly, and link them all together in the end. Doing things slowly and correctly is the key here. Not long after getting this stuff under your belt, you should go ahead and learn a bunch of songs. This is the best way, in my opinion, to see how songs and chord progressions are used to create different effects. The best way to advance in any trade or craft is to build upon what others have already done before you. This way, you will learn new shapes and new approaches as well as gain a better understanding of how certain concepts work.
Lastly, I encourage you to begin writing your own songs. The exploration involved with composing is far and away the most intrinsically rewarding part of playing music. The whole point of becoming proficient with progressions and really getting to know your instrument is so that you are able express yourself as fully and as honestly as possible.
About the Author
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.