Live and Learn

January 15, 2013 11:32 AM

Final version of the song I posted a few days ago. Also my New Year's challenge entry. The usual 70s-tinged nonsense.

Well, I made a few changes based on the comments in that thread and also some feedback from the friend who hated the B...

-- upped the tempo
-- brought in an acoustic guitar
-- changed the chordage a bit -- kept the B but put a honkin' D# in the bass (well, an F actually, as I'm capoed)
-- backing vocals
-- redid pretty much everything
-- took out the cliches in the chorus

I think it's much better now. The lyric no longer has that folksy feel-good bullshit feel, hopefully more of a weary regret that matches the tone of the verses.

I think two choruses at the end might be excessive and just go straight to the extended one.

Some tech blabla: I did all the vocals with a $70 ribbon mic (it says $129 but they do stupid deals on them regularly) which I modded with a new ($20) transformer that, well, completely transformed it. Details here. Took me about ten minutes and four solder joints. I also took out the internal windshield.

All the guitars are my old mex tele which I put a Bigsby on. I recently took it to bits, stripped it, and refinished it to a honey blonde and in the process swapped out the pickups from some used Custom Shop Nocaster ones. Holy hell, those things are awesome. It's now my favourite guitar bar none. I haven't played anything else in weeks.

Apropos of recent MeTa discussion, here it is on Soundcloud too.

posted by unSane (6 comments total)

I liked the first inversion chords in the chorus! Very nice.
posted by MattMangels at 1:18 AM on January 16, 2013

Those guitars are lovely, and I really dig the lift heading into the chorus with the piano and BG vox swelling. It's a great sound.

I do always wish for a little more force behind your vocals--you seem tentative, and I think a bit of perceived-"confidence" in the recording would really help.

As an aside, how low was the output of the R-40 before you did the transformer swap? I just picked up an R-144 (which is, I understand, the same mic with a different paint job), and the output is too low to use on anything except a guitar amp (on which it sounds great). The mic itself seems to be okay: I don't hear any "clanging" evidence of ribbon sag, although one side is noticeably hotter and fuller.

I'm not at all EE-minded, so I don't know what's going on, but the other day I plugged in the R-144 and turned the gain up high enough to use on (loud) vocals, which produced an awful lot of background hiss. I unplugged the mic (still plenty of hiss from the bare cable) and plugged in an SM-58... and the hiss was attenuated (somewhat). Weird impedance thing? Bum cable? I have no idea.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:28 AM on January 17, 2013

Thanks, Ozzy. My singing is very much a work in progress. It can get ugly when I try to put more force behind it... I really have to work on singing from the core and not my throat. But then when I think about it too much it sounds really 'singing'. It's getting better though.

What you say about the R144 is exactly how the R40 sounded before the swap: great on guitars and unusably quiet on vocals, and very hissy when you turned the gain up. I tried using a tube preamp with it and it was just horrible.

I solved this in two steps. The first was to get a Fethead preamp. I got the filter version, which has a 6dB low pass filter built in, which seems to clean up the ribbon a bit. It just sits in the XLR line, powered by phantom power, and it gives you 22 dB of absolutely clean gain. It's a fantastic little device for all sorts of things, like quiet fingerpicked guitar and so on, where you are fighting self-noise in the signal chain.

This basically solved the hiss problem but the mic was still really muddy. The transformer swap gave buckets more gain and opened up the top end enormously. I still use the Fethead with it on vocals because it allows me to be really quiet (which is what you are complaining about!).
posted by unSane at 7:16 AM on January 17, 2013

(The other thing that's nice about the Fethead is you can stop worrying about blowing the mic up with phantom power, since it sucks all that out).

If you open up the R144, which takes 2 seconds, you'll see that the ribbon is 'protected' by a mesh pop shield which is taped both sides of the motor. I just ripped that off... it can't possibly be good for the sound. You have to take a bit more care with the mic if you do that. I put mine in a ziplock when I'm moving it around, or not using it, just so some gust of air doesn't destroy the ribbon.
posted by unSane at 7:18 AM on January 17, 2013

You know what, I actually picked up a Cloudlifter to stick inline, basically for both reasons you suggested. There's loads more clean gain, and it's definitely more usable, but roughly the same amount of hiss with the output matched--the hiss is obviously coming from the cable, not the preamp.

I just don't know if replacing the cable with a star-quad would really matter much over such a short run (I think all my cables are 15-20ft) or if it's a strange impedance issue (since the SM-58 cleans up the signal somewhat).

I do love the sound of this mic, though. I matched it with an SM-57 on a cab as best I could, and while the recordings were very similar (as they should be), the ribbon sounds more "real," even without EQ (aside from a high-pass). I will think about the transformer swap, though, although my soldering skills are poor at best.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:38 AM on January 17, 2013

The swap really does transform it into a different mic. I'm the world's worst solderer and it was OK.

I love the sound of it on guitar cabs. No fiddling, it just sounds right.

Once you have the transformer swapped, it's great on vocals and acoustic guitar because it's so EQ-able and smooth.
posted by unSane at 7:52 AM on January 17, 2013

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