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Maximising your signal chain

Thursday 20th April 2023 Guest Articles

two notes signal chain pedal board

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

Wednesday 12th April 2023 Guest Articles

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…

JOTM Jan '23 - Freespin Returns!

Wednesday 21st December 2022 News

Welcome to the January ‘23 Jam of the Month! Pick your track, share your solo, and be in with a chance to win a SIX-MONTH MEMBERSHIP at JTC Guitar!

Just like last year, we’re letting YOU pick the backing and the winner will be chosen completely at random. Just head over to our jamtracks page and use the code JUKEBOX to get your free backing.

Here’s how it’s going to work.

What is Jam of the Month?

Every month we give away a free download with a backing track and invite players from all around the world to solo over it. This month, you choose the backing.

JOTM is your chance to join a community of like-minded jammers. In doing so you put your name in the hat to win a six-month Premium Membership at JTC Guitar and a set of Elixir Strings.

Two runners-up will also get a set of Elixir Strings.

How do I enter?

  • Use the code JUKEBOX to download a track on us! We have well over 1000 to choose from in our guitar jamtrack store.
  • Your track will then show in the jamtracks part of your library.
  • Film yourself jamming over at least 30 seconds of the track. But if you want to go longer, feel free!
  • Share your video on the JTC Jam of the Month Facebook Group.
  • Or use #JTCJamOfTheMonth and tag @jtc_guitar on Instagram, TikTok or YouTube.

At the end of January 2023, we will pick a winner at random. For every take you share, you get another entry. The randomly picked winner will receive a six-month Premium Membership. Two runners-up will get strings from Elixir Strings.

What are the rules?

  • Your entry has to be a NEW take recorded for JOTM Jan 23
  • It has to be with a backing published by JTC Guitar either as a jam track or as part of a JTC Guitar release (e.g. Masterclasses, 20 Licks etc).
  • Everyone gets ONE free jam track from the JTC Guitar jam track store, but you can enter as many times as you like with as many JTC tracks as you like.
  • You MUST state what backing you are using
  • Each take that you share is an entry into the prize draw. 1 take = 1 entry.
  • ANYONE can give it a go. Any skill level, and it doesn’t even have to be on a guitar.
  • You must play over at least 30 seconds of your track.
  • The winner will be chosen at random in early February 2023
  • The deadline for entries is 23:59 GMT on Jan 31st 2023.

Before you go…

At the end of the month we will also highlight our favourite takes on JTC’s social media channels! So even if you don’t win the prize draw, it’s a great opportunity to show off your playing.

Jam of the Month is all about community! So please get involved and remember to comment, share, like and support one another. We hope you enjoy this freebie and we can’t wait to see all your jams!

Why you should try...prog-metal

Monday 21st November 2022 News

prog metal

The final week of the Toontrack Metal Meltdown is here! And we dip into the world of prog.

Say the word “prog” and you could mean Can, Pink Floyd, Mars Volta, Plini, Periphery, Opeth, Haken, Mastodon, Yes, Dream Theater, Gojira and many more. It means a lot of things to a lot of people, even when you zone in on metal.

Damir Puh made a track with his interpretation, and Nili Brosh laid down a solo.

So this is our take on prog-metal.

What is prog-metal?

Prog metal, like a lot of things, arguably started with the Beatles. They may have begun as a pop group, but as they got further into the sixties and substances, the weirdness came out. Bands like Yes and Pink Floyd then took this mantra and made it their own.

The metal variant comes in many shapes and sizes, but essentially is still that concept of taking the unusual and making it work. Odd metres, long conceptual songs and non-standard song structures.

Whether it comes in the shape of the more psychedelic Mastodon, or the ultra-modern highly-polished and technically astounding Animals as Leaders, prog-metal is all about pushing the boundaries. Things don’t have to be complex, but it sure seems to help.

Why will I like it?

It’s a challenge! Technical riffs, huge solos and some of the best players that have walked the planet.

Are there any JTC releases to help me with the style?

Connor Kaminski’s Prog Composition Masterclass gives you the ins and outs of how to write your own prog anthem. Not a bad thing to learn.

Al Joseph’s Prog Workout breaks down every aspect of the technical side of soloing within the prog context. It’s also a fantastic resource for staying in shape no matter what style of player you are.

And as featured in our playlist below, Learn to Play: Open by Olly Steele is just an absolute tune full of prog takeaways. Think djent Everlong.

Which guitarists should I check out?

Rich Henshall
One half of Haken’s incredible guitar duo, Rich is a player who can tap the night away. Whether with the band or on his own, his use of open strings is to die for and his penchant for fusion sounds gives him a unique sound.

John Petrucci
Being the guitarist of the prog metal giant, Dream Theater, John Petrucci took the early workings of James Hetfield, Steve Morse, and Alex Lifeson, and completely flipped them on their head. Becoming known for ridiculously tight alternate picking, and his songwriting chops, John is one of the GOATs.

Tosin Abasi
A player out on his own. His selective picking, thumping, and mind-boggling grasp of odd time has helped him cement a place in the halls of guitar legends. As the founder of Animals as Leaders, he has pushed the boundaries of prog-metal, and what is possible on a guitar.

Can I get a playlist?

Yep! We have tried to cover a swathe of prog-metal but do your best to find more!

Before you go…

Check out Nili Brosh’s take on the Toontrack Metal Meltdown Prog-Metal track

Why you should try...extreme-metal

Monday 14th November 2022 News

why try extereme metal

First we brought you some brooding post-metal then some good old thrash. But now it’s time to get extreme.

The Metal Meltdown sees us give away a new track each week, and this one's for the headbangers. Thanks to Toontrack’s metal library, Damir Puh was able to make a pummelling track befitting the term “extreme”. Richard Henshall then made it his own and the result is wonderful. You can watch it below.

But first, let’s answer that burning question…

What is extreme-metal?

The very idea of genres does sometimes get people’s knickers in a twist. You know, “stop defining music as one thing” and all that. Luckily for them, this week’s genre throws a net over many different styles.

Within all those styles expect music that is rarely fit for radio. It’s aggressive, dark, and sometimes dissonant. Melody? Not all that important. This is very much an umbrella term for all those Marmite metal genres. It’s a love or hate thing.

When looking for inspiration for the track, we mainly touched on industrial, death, tech and black metal. (There’s a playlist below for more digging)

Why will I like it?

It’s a bit mad! Everything is turned up to 11 and if you’re in a bad mood, it’s normally a great outlet.

Are there any JTC releases to help me with the style?

Morgan Reid’s JTC debut is without a doubt the heaviest we have gone to date. The drums are straight from the Cattle Decapitation playbook and really we had no other choice but to call it Relentless Shred. Pure metal madness.

Next, we have Paul Wardingham’s 20 Epic Metal Licks. The backings are intense, the playing is full throttle and there are a ton of technical lessons to dig into.

Finally, James Norbert Ivanyi adds a dash of prog to proceedings with Dark Progressive Riffs. Not extreme in style, but in note choice, this will give you plenty to play with.

Which guitarists should I check out?

Devin Townsend
An icon of the alternative. As a founding member of Strapping Young Lad, he created cacophonous tracks built around a huge “wall of sound” production. His style isn’t overly shreddy, but he can shred. There are moments of brutality and vocals to match surprising melodies. The whole extreme nine yards.

Wacław “Vogg” Kiełtyka is the main songwriter behind death-metal icons Decapitated. His playing features a honed and perfected blend of technicality, brutality and accuracy. The riffs are enormous, catchy, and powerful, and the lead work is blindingly fast. His fans come in the shape of Olly Steele, Ola Englund and to quote Misha Mansoor “Goddamn Vogg is just a force of nature!”

Frederick Thordenal
There are few bands that can be credited with inventing a genre. Meshuggah were part of the birth of djent, but they go beyond just that. One driving force of that band is Frederick Thordenal. A scientist of odd rhythms and for anyone who really likes the “wild” side of music, his solo album/side project “Sol Niger Within” really is a worthwhile exploration.

Can I get a playlist?

You can! As we said from the outset, there is a lot of ground to cover with extreme metal, so see this as a springboard!

Before you go…

Check out Richard Henshall’s take on the Toontrack Metal Meltdown Extreme-Metal track

Why you should try...thrash-metal

Tuesday 8th November 2022 Blogroll

why try thrash metal

It’s week two of the Metal Meltdown. Four weeks of free metal tracks, all produced with the help of Toontrack. Each week sees us tap into a different style of metal, and now it’s time for thrash.

It’s a genre that has seen some of the best songwriters and players call it their home and arguably paved the way for the majority of modern metal bands.

But while it may have a dedicated following, for some it may all be new, so let’s dig into the what’s what of thrash metal.

What is thrash?

Fast tempos, metal grooves and lead guitar where pretty much anything goes.

In the early underground days of thrash metal, bands such as Metallica, Exodus and Slayer looked to the UK and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) and combined it with their more American styles. Speed metal met Queen, punk met Sabbath and the rest is history.

As the ‘big four’ of Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth started selling out huge tours and releasing best-selling albums, thrash was out in the open and here to stay.

Why will I like it?

It's super fast, and fun to play, and when soloing, there are hardly any rules to follow, never mind ones to break. Chromatics are the name of the game and wah and whammy is pretty much mandatory.

Are there any JTC releases to help me with the style?

Speed is the name of the game so Igor Paspalj’s Speed Picking Masterclass is a must.

Though based in a world of prog and with a more melodic bent, Connor Kaminski’s Whammy Masterclass is a great starting point before you go big on the dive bombs.

The guitarist of Megadeth is a pretty good place to look too. Kiko Loureiro's Supersonic Sessions might not be all out thrash, but it’s unsurprisingly fast and that’s exactly what we're after.

Which guitarists should I check out?

James Hetfield
Papa Het! If you’ve written ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘One’, ‘Enter Sandman’, ‘Dyers Eve’ and [insert another Metallica banger from the endless list of bangers here] you probably know a thing or two about songwriting. His down-picking abilities are also revered and he can also play a solo or two from time to time as well. The old round thrash mega-package.

Dave Mustaine
Replaced by the equally mighty Kirk Hammet as lead guitarist in Metallica, way back in 1983. He then went on to form Megadeth and forged a name for himself as a player of incredible technical skill and flair.

Jeff Hanneman
The founding member of Slayer and the writer behind ‘Raining Blood’, a classic of any style of metal, let alone thrash. Going toe to toe with the menacing Kerry King, and with an ability to play at blistering tempos, he was just a pillar of thrash that all players should know about.

Can I get a playlist?

YES! Here’s some thrash, new and old. As always, make sure you do your own research.

Before you go…

Check out Igor Paspalj’s take on the Toontrack Metal Meltdown Thrash track

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