Thursday, April 16, 2009

Achieving a consistently good and accurate sound

I was involved in an interesting discussion with another guitarist on Twitter, and it lead me to realize that this might be an interesting topic for a blog post. Here on the blog, I have mentioned from time to time about the characteristic tone of different guitars and different amps. Some players have developed a guitar tone that is highly recognizable, and it is due to the particular guitar and amp combination that they use.

There are times in a musician's career where just the opposite theory might need to be applied. Sometimes when you travel a lot and do many shows, it is impossible to carry your own equipment to every show. Unless you are the Rolling Stones and can load all the equipment into your own private jets, sometimes you can't cover the route as quickly as you need to if you have to rely on a bus of truck to move the equipment. You might have to do a guest appearance in the afternoon and then fly to a concert at night, so the equipment is being set up at the concert while you are at the afternoon show. The answer is, of course, to rent equipment as needed. I have a friend that used to own a musical instrument rental company, and I remember all the stories he told about musicians complaining about the gear they rented. He also told me some nice stories about the musicians that were easy to please.

If your choice of guitars and amps is common, you just might be able to get something from a rental company that compares to what you are used to playing. If your choice of gear is a bit more exotic, then you will have to settle for something different from what you would have preferred.

The secret to success is to plan ahead and develop a system of easily achieving your tones from a system that in independent of the guitar and amplifier. As much as I admire the sweet sound that comes from a fine vintage guitar and amp, I have to admit that I admire even more the performer that can sound good no matter what they are playing. Some guitarists are so fussy that they get upset if they cannot have things go completely their way. I would rather be the guy that you hand a guitar to, any guitar, and he makes magic with it.

I learned this lesson long ago at a young age through a very interesting experience. I believe it was in 1967. The band I was working with was booked into a night club dance in a small town called Barnesboro, Pennsylvania. I think it was a Saturday night. When we arrived to set up for the show, we were met by the road manager from "Tommy James and the Shondells," a group that was extremely popular at that time, with chart topping hits such as "Hanky Panky," "Say I Am," and "I Think We're Alone Now." We were told that the band was in town to do a concert, and their equipment had not arrived due to a vehicle breakdown or some other delay. The band's road manager had already arranged with the manager of the club I was working to allow us to start late if we would loan our equipment to the Shondells for their show. We were given a police escort to the recreation hall where the Tommy James and the Shondells concert was, and worked with their band to get the equipment set up quickly. Now the interesting part about this was that, at the time, we were a relatively unknown "local" band. I had only been playing guitar for 3 years at the time, and most of our equipment was still in the "garage band" category. We didn't even have a PA system - we plugged our high impedance microphones into guitar amplifiers. And the microphones themselves were not concert quality. When "Tommy James & the Shondells" played their set, my jaw dropped clear down to the ground! They sounded just like their records! How did they get such a great sound out of this cheap equipment? My band certainly didn't sound like that when we used the same equipment!

It was then that I learned that true music comes not from the equipment, but from the skill of the performer. One cannot rely on a guitar or an amp to sound good, but must rely on their own experience. This lesson was reinforced many years later through a different experience I would like to share. I was sitting in a recording studio in Hollywood. I think it was Britannia Studios (owned by Tom Jones), and I think the year was around 1983. Some friends of mine were recording an album after their demo effort was picked up by a backer. Some of the musicians were seasoned professionals, such as Tony, former bass player from the "Cascades" ("Rhythm of the Rain"). The producer for this recording session was Kim Fowley, an eccentric Hollywood icon who is best known either for his song "Alley Oop" by the Hollywood Argyles, or as the person who discovered and promoted one of the first popular "girl groups," "The Runaways" (featuring Lita Ford and Joan Jett). As a producer, Kim was usually hard to please. He made a comment while I was there that stuck with me all these years; he said "you can always tell the difference when you are working with professionals." That led me to realize that there are three types of musicians - those who are not professional musicians, those that are professional musicians, and those that are not professional musicians, but think they are! The musicians that fall into the last category are the ones that are impossible to deal with. It is possible that every one of use goes through this stage. Some of us move past it and become professional "for real," and some never get past this stage. I know a lot of famous musicians with great talent that fit into this category!

Now, let's talk about the solution to coming up with a sound that is consistently pleasing. One step along the way is to play several different guitars and amplifiers and notice that there is definitely a difference in the tone. Notice also some of the big differences, such as the difference between single coil guitar pickups and double-coil humbucking pickups, and the difference between a tube amp and a solid-state (transistor) amp. Hopefully you can find a distinguishing sound for your songs and your style that does not lean too far in any one direction. Now there are the different tonal "flavors" you might desire to use - reverb, echo, tremolo, or distortion. Tremolo, for example, is not available on all guitar amplifiers. It was a popular amplifier feature in the 1960's, but then it went away in the 1980's and is starting to reappear again on the "reissue" amplifiers being sold currently. If you have to rent an amp for a show, you might get one without tremolo, so if you play a lot of "Duane Eddy" type songs, you will need to carry a tremolo pedal effect with you.

Another popular tone guitarists use is to either take a low wattage amp and turn the volume all the way up to distort the tone by overdriving it beyond it's "headroom;" or to use an amp with two or more volume controls and set the input gain high and the master volume low. This give a nice distortion of the input stage of the amp, but can be done conservatively by keeping the master volume lower. Some musicians have also achieved this "wide open" sound at lower volumes by putting a control called a "power attenuator" between the power amplifier and the speaker which "soaks up" the output power before it reaches the speaker. Perhaps a better way to achieve this desired distortion is to experiment with distortion and overdrive pedal effects. Those that have three or more controls usually allow the user to make adjustments to get everything from a highly distorted "crunch" sound to the warm sound of a slightly overdriven tub amplifier.

One device that is a popular seller these days is called an "amp modeler." It uses digitally stored recordings of the characteristic sounds of several popular guitar amplifiers, and then allows you to achieve that sound no matter what kind of amp you are plugged into by using this digital modeling technique. You could even plug directly into the mixing board and not even need to run through a guitar amp. The tone that comes out of the mixer will sound like you are wailing away on your favorite vintage amp! Of course, the only thing that sounds like a 1958 Fender Deluxe is a 1958 Fender Deluxe, and you would want to use your preferred amp whenever possible, but this method might help you get by whenever this is not possible. (I remember one time I was experimenting with one of these amp modelers, trying to get it to sound like a `65 Fender Twin Reverb amp. My guitar playing friend who was with me said "Why don't you just buy as `65 Twin Reverb?" That made sense to me!)

Some of the amp modeling devices that are available to purchase also have some of the other effects we've mentioned built in to them, such as reverb, tremolo, and overdrive or distortion. If you get a unit that works for you, you might be able to get by just carrying the one pedal with you and it will help you to consistently achieve "your sound." Personally, I have taken a small piece of plywood about the size of a small suitcase, and mounted on it a pedal volume ("hands free!") control, a Pro-Co Rat distortion effect, a Danelectro tremolo pedal, a digital delay effect (although I think I prefer the sound of an analog delay pedal), and a "chorus" effect for that "swirling" sound. In the past, I have also used octave splitters, phase shifters, talk boxes, fuzztones, flangers, ring modulators, tape echo devices such as Roland or Echoplex, graphic and parametric equalizers, band filters, synthesizers, phase modulators, Leslie speakers and simulators, and perhaps a few others. The name of the game is that if you are playing "cover tunes" that has a particular guitar sound in it, you have to be able to recreate that sound, so you need to buy whatever piece of equipment the artist used. I remember playing in a band in 1966 and we were learning the Rolling Stones song "Satisfaction," which used a "fuzz tone" effect on the guitar. These were so new at the time that you couldn't even buy them. Fortunately, our keyboard player knew a little about electronics and he had one built from scratch for me to use. I also remember that when Peter Frampton used the "talking guitar" effect on some of his songs, many guitarists were epoxying hoses onto a horn speaker driver to create a "talk box" because these weren't readily available in the music stores yet.

I'm not a particularly big fan of effect pedals, and prefer to plug directly into the mixer whenever possible, or at least plug directly into a guitar amp, but I realized that effect pedals were a useful tool when I found out that Jimi Hendrix got his characteristic tone from pedal effects, not from guitars and amps!

So, to wrap this all up, let me just ask: If I were to hand you any guitar and any amplifier of my choosing, and asked you to play, would you be able to sound like you are used to sounding? If not, try some of my suggestions, and worry less about the equipment and instead, worry more about playing some good notes into it!

Equipment Notes - Part 9

My nylon string classical guitar is a Garcia Grade #3. It was hand made in Japan in 1974. I used to play classical guitar in my first year of college, and then I haven't played that style at all for a long time. I recently had the desire to relearn some of the pieces and techniques form my classical guitar experience. I once owned a Garcia guitar, and I remembered what a great guitar it was, so when I saw one for sale on Craig's List, I knew I would be happy with it.

The Garcia guitars used to be made in Spain, and then production was moved to Japan in 1969. The last year Garcia guitars were manufactured was 1974. I have no problem with the fact that the guitar was made in Japan because it comes from an era where guitars from Japan were so excellent that Japanese manufacturers were being sued by American companies such as Gibson and Fender. It seems that they were copying American guitar designs and many people felt that the Japanese guitars were actually better. They certainly were cheaper!

This guitar better sounding than most guitars in the intermediate price range, such as Yamaha, Guild, Fender and Aria guitars. The range of tone, the depth of the bass, and the sparkling crispness of the high notes on the Garcia was far better the other makes. The intonation was accurate. I did encounter a high fret, but that probably due to age and was easily fixed with some glue and a hammer. The guitar has a solid pine top, and mahogany back and sides. I would have preferred Brazilian rosewood, but that would have cost me a lot more money!

Garcia guitars were distributed by the Antigua Casa Sherry-Brener company of Madrid, Spain, which also distributed Ramirez and Hernandez guitars. They have (or had) an American branch in Chicago. I have read articles that stated that the guitars were still being hand made, even after production moved to Japan. I feel fortunate to have found this guitar since they haven't been made for 35 years! I've listened to some classical guitar recordings, and I feel that the tone of this guitar is as good as anything I have heard. If you are looking for a good nylon string guitar, keep looking - there might still be a few more of these out there!

Here is a photo of the Garcia Grade #3 guitar:

Equipment Notes - Part 8

One more amp I would like to comment on is my Jay Turser Classic 25RC. I saw it in a music store and bought it because it was so darn cute. It had a certain "vibe" that was a cross between a retro-reissue and a boutique amp. After I bought it, I found out it had a great sound, and at 25 watts (solid state), it even had enough power for small gigs. The thing sounded so good, I even used it on large outdoor shows and stuck an SM57 in front of it. And it is sooo light!

The Jay Turser Classic 25RC guitar amp is a solid state (transistor) 25 Watt combo amp with a 10" Celestion speaker, reverb and chorus, and an attractive retro cabinet with a wood front and cream tweed back and sides. The hardware is gold plated, not chrome! It has two channels (clean and drive) switchable with a push button on the amp control panel. Controls include overdrive and master, volume, treble, middle, bass as well as reverb level and chorus speed and depth with bypass. There is also a line out for recording and a headphone jack for private practice.

Here are two photos of the amp:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Equipment Notes - Part 7

While I was waiting for a blackface Fender amp to become available (at a reasonable price), I needed something to use on gigs. My friend, Sonny, had this Music Man RD-50 112 amplifier that I had heard him use before. I recalled that it was a good amp, so I bought it from him. I immediately blew out the speaker, so I had an ElectroVoice EVM12L 12" speaker installed. I now had an awesome guitar amplifier to use.

Leo Fender sold the Fender Musical Instrument Company to CBS in 1965. In 1971, Leo Fender, Forrest White and Tom Walker formed a new musical instrument company that became "Music Man" in 1974. All during this time, Leo Fender was being cautious not to take an active role in the company because his 10-year "non-compete" clause with CBS (due to the sale of Fender Musical Instrument Company to CBS in 1965) hadn't yet legally expired. In 1975 Leo came out from behind the curtain and announced he had been elected president of Music Man, Inc.

While CBS was making changes to the Fender Amplifiers that were not being well received by working musicians, Leo Fender and his new company seemed to be taking care of "business as usual" and were building some great hand-wired tube amplifiers, similar to the "blackface" Fender amps that were being produced when Fender was sold to CBS.

My amp has plenty of volume, headroom, and is reasonably portable, considering the excess weight of that massive EVM speaker. 50 Watts, more than enough volume for most gigs, point-to-point wiring, reliable, and all running from two 6L6GC power tubes.

The amp has a single input which is switchable between two channels, a drive channel and a clean channel. What is interesting about the design is that the amp circuit is a "hybrid." The pre-amp of the clean channel is solid-state, while the drive channel uses a preamp tube. The power section is all tube. The solid-state front end really tightens up the sound. You get a really crisp, clear tone that is a bit unique to Music Man amps. The built in reverb works on both channels. Somewhere along the line, the white grille cloth got replaced with black grille cloth. The footswitch controls channel switching and reverb.

As much as I like Fender blackface amps, I do not mind using this amp at all It really does a nice job!

Here is a photo of the amp:

Equipment Notes - Part 6

My favorite amp is a 1967 Fender Twin Reverb. This amplifier is from the magic "blackface" era, and any mystique about these amps is well deserved. I've used blackface Fender amps for most of my career. I lost a beautiful 1966 Fender Pro Reverb in the fire in 2007. There is a certain tone about tube amplifiers that suits my playing style, and the old Fenders seem to always have the sound I like. The Twin Reverb is one of the most desirable amps of all time. It has the right combination of volume, tone, class and mojo. You see these amps everywhere, from jazz shows to rock bands to country acts. They are a consistently good performer. The "blackface" era runs from late 1964 to 1967. During that time (1965), the Fender company was sold to the CBS corporation. CBS made some changes to the amplifier design, and these changes began to show up in 1968. To distinguish the newer series of amps, the color of the control panel background was changed from black to a bluish silver color, and these amps are referred to as the "silverface" series. Although the changes were minor, "purists" shun the silverface amps in favor of the older blackface series. Most amp repair shops will change the components in a silverface amp for you to have it perform more like a blackface model.

I had the amp shipped to me from Oregon, then I took it to Tim Pinnell at Top Guitar Guitar Pro Shop in La Mesa, California. Tim has a magic touch for servicing these old amps and getting them to operate and sound the way they should. He knows exactly which parts to change and which parts to leave alone. As usual, I was not disappointed with his efforts.

I had heard about a Modification called a "soul control" that was being done at the Bluetron amplifier shop in Nashville. It allows you to increase or decrease the negative feedback to the tubes. The results vary from a super clean tone in the low setting to a fat, rich harmonic sound when turned up. It also gives the amp a little more volume. Tim researched the mod and installed this control on the back panel of my amp. This type of modification should not decrease the collector value of the amp because it is such a useful modification, and a minor change.

The amp is fairly clean and in good condition for being over 42 years old. It is a lot heavier than I would like, but it has enough volume and headroom to handle any type of gig. I wouldn't mind having a smaller Fender tube amp, perhaps a Deluxe Reverb, for the smaller gigs so that I wouldn't have to lug the heavy Twin. Notice in the photo that the previous owner added removable casters. I'm happy for that!

Here is a photo of the amp:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Equipment Notes - Part 5

My "jazz" guitar (deep-body f-hole arched-top acoustic-electric guitar) is a Heritage Golden Eagle. I have owned several nice jazz guitars in the past - a 1958 Gibson L-5CES, a 1961 Gibson L-7, a Hofner New President, an Ibanez 2355M and a Epiphone Emperor II). The Heritage is the prettiest, the best constructed, and the best sounding of all of these!

The history of Heritage guitars is very interesting. When the Gibson Guitar Corporation closed its Kalamazoo, Michigan factory in September of 1984 it moved all production to its other plant in Nashville, Tennessee (in operation since 1975). When this took place, some of the employees were asked to move to Nashville. However, since their families had spent many years in Kalamazoo, it made it difficult to uproot and move. Therefore 3 men, Jim Deurloo, Marvin Lamb, and JP Moats, decided to start a guitar manufacturing business. In 1985 when the company was incorporated, 2 other former Gibson Guitar Corporation employees, Bill Paige and Mike Korpak, joined as owners. Mike left the company in 1985.

The founders' biggest resource is and was the group of craftsmen they could draw from to begin operations. The owners themselves each had in excess of 25 years of hands on experience in making guitars. To this day each of the owners is directly involved in the manufacturing of each instrument.

Heritage started operations in the oldest of five buildings formerly owned and operated by Gibson Guitar Corporation. That building was completed in 1917 and has been a center for guitar manufacturing ever since. Much of the machinery that Heritage uses today was purchased from Gibson Guitar Corporation.

So essentially, the Heritage guitar is now what the Gibson guitar used to be during it's "glory days."

Here is a list of features from the Heritage catalog:
- 5 piece curly maple neck
- Multiple white bound head veneer inlaid with mother of pearl "The Heritage" and "Eagle & branch" designs.
- Back veneer inlaid with mother of pearl eagle and registration number (which was only used on the first 1000 guitars)
- 25 1/2 inch scale multiple white bound fingerboard with mother of pearl cloud inlays.
- 20 frets
- Single round Venetian cutaway
- Solid carved spruce top
- Solid carved curly maple back and rim
- Multiple white bound top and back
- Multiple white bound curly maple pickguard
- Single bound f-holes
- 17" body - 3" thick
- One Heritage humbucking jazz pickup mounted on pickguard
- One volume control
- Individual gold plated Grover Imperial machine heads
- Gold plated Heritage bail tailpiece
- Adjustable ebony bridge with mother of pearl inlays
- Mother of pearl truss rod cover

I found the electric tone of the guitar to be a little bright, so I added a tone control and mounted it on the pickguard next to the volume control (the tone control was added after the photo was taken).

What I liked best about this guitar (aside from the striking appearance) was the acoustic sound of the instrument. This guitar doesn't need to be plugged in to sound good - acoustically, it sounds as loud and as full as a flat-top guitar. The top and back of the instrument was hand carved like a fine violin. This is a very "live" sounding guitar, so I have to be careful about amp placement and volume or else it will feed back. I haven't recorded with this instrument yet, but I am anxiously awaiting the opportunity to do so because I believe the tone will be awesome!

Here is a photo:

Equipment Notes - Part 4

The AE185's unique semi-hollow f-hole acoustic/electric configuration allows you to jump from electric lead riffs to acoustic tone with ease, giving you essentially two instruments in one. There are two humbucking (switchable to single coil) pickups and also a piezo ribbon pickup under the ebony acoustic bridge saddle. The Carvin Custom Shop allows you to order your guitar in any configuration that you like. Mine has a solid AAA Engleman spruce top because I wanted it to double as an acoustic guitar, and I know that most good acoustic guitars have spruce tops. Also, the top should mellow with age and turn a nice amber shade. The top is set of from the sides with tortoise style binding. The back and sides are a beautifully flamed koa wood from Hawaii. The neck is mahogany and the 25" scale ebony fingerboard has white dot inlays and 24 medium-jumbo frets. The tuning keys are Sperzel locking tuners.

The active electronics consists of a master volume, 3-way pickup selector & active tone control for the electric pickups, a separate active tone control for the F60 acoustic pickup, and a pan control to blend between electric & acoustic pickups. Dual output jacks allow you to separate the electric and acoustic signals to different amps, or combine them into one.

The great tone I get comes from special design Alan Holdsworth pickups with 22 pole pieces per pickup. The Holdsworth pickup incorporates some vintage design ideas along with some modern innovations to come up with the absolutely best pickup I have ever used in an electric guitar. Each pickup has a single/double coil selector switch, and there is an phase reversal switch for when both pickups are active.

One of my favorite features of this guitar is it's light weight - very comfortable on long gigs. Finishing off the special order features is a set of straplocks.

To sum it up simply, "I love this guitar!"

Here is a photo:

Equipment Notes - Part 3

1966 Epiphone Riviera

The Epiphone Riviera was introduced in 1962. Mine is from 1966. This was during the period when Epiphone was owned by the same company that owned Gibson, and the Epiphone guitar was made at the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Riviera is the same as the Gibson ES-335 in workmanship and design. The single-parallelogram fingerboard inlay pattern and the headstock shape are distinctly Epiphone.

The original mini-humbucking pickups have been replaced with Seymour Duncans; a SH-1 `59 model in the neck position for PAF tones and a JB model SH-4 in the bridge position for a great lead tone.

The trapeze tailpiece has been replaced with a Gibson stop tailpiece. The Epiphone pickguard has been replaced with one from a Gibson ES-335.

Because of the modifications, the guitar has lost some of it's value as a collector's item, but the changes put the guitar in the same league as the coveted 1959-1960 Gibson ES-335 as far as tone and playability. I would not consider spending $50,000 for a 1959 Gibson ES-335, but I feel that I have here essentially the same instrument. It has a warm tone for jazz, a
powerful sound for rock, and a singing B.B. King tone for blues.

The guitar came with the interesting gray vinyl Epiphone hardshell case.

Here is a photo:

Equipment Notes - Part 2

The next two guitars I will enter as a set because they were both built by the same luthier, and I purchased them together. They were both hand-made by Dan Altilio, who is also the owner of Top Gear Guitar Pro Shop in La Mesa and one of the founders of DiMarzio pickups. The guitars are both thinline acoustic-electrics. One is a steel string model and the other is a nylon string.
The bodies are made of alder wood from the Pacific northwest. The wood was hand-picked for tone and light weight. The tops of the guitars are Alaskan Sitka spruce, the most popular tonewood for acoustic guitars.

The neck of the steel stringed guitar is eastern rock maple with an ebony fingerboard. It has an adjustable steel truss rod. The neck of the nylon stringed model is made of 30-year-old seasoned California redwood. The fingerboard of that neck is made from pau-ferro, which is a type of rosewood known for its hardness. This neck also contains a pair of carbon-fiber stiffeners to prevent warpage.

Both guitars are fitted with L.R. Baggs bridge pickups connected to a single volume knob, which I requested.

The steel string model is finished in vintage sunburst and the nylon string guitar has a natural finish.

The wood in the guitars is carved and tuned so well that they have a lot of acoustic volume and tone for such a thin design, but when they are amplified, they are unmatched by anything else I have heard. Dan has only built a few instruments, and I have #3 and #4. I would recommend Dan's guitars to anyone that is looking for a lightweight, thin, easy to handle instrument with a full rich acoustic guitar tone without feedback.

Here are photos of the two guitars:

A few notes about the equipment I use

Since some of you have been asking about some of the guitars I have been using recently, I decided to write a few notes here on the blog to answer your questions and tell you a little about my current guitars. As a matter of record, I should start by mentioning that I had a large collection of guitars that were destroyed in the October 2007 "Harris" fire. I had some excellent guitars including a few vintage pieces. After the fire, it was time to replace some of the instruments so I could get back on with my life. I decided that this time around, I would go for "quality" rather than "quantity." As I selected guitars to purchase, I tried to make sure I was getting the absolute best instrument in each category, one that would suit my needs. Most of the guitars I have now are unique in this respect. I will begin with the acoustic guitar I use most often.

The guitar I use most often is a 2006 Martin D-42 K2, which is made from highly figured koa wood, top, back and sides. Koa is by far the most responsive, resonant and beautiful-sounding wood for guitar building, and it’s also the most expensive and rare. This particular model has been discontinued since 2006, and this is one of the last ones made. I've been told that the days of all (highly figured) koa guitars have passed, mainly because of the scarcity of top grade old growth koa wood, and the value of this instrument has already doubled since I purchased it.
The inlays and purfling are D45 style, and the fingerboard inlays are the vintage snowflake style, and there are also snowflake inlays on the solid ebony bridge. The tuners are Gotoh Gold with butterbean knobs.

The guitar has been fitted with a Fishman Ellipse Blend pickup system, which consists of a piezo bridge pickup and an internal microphone on a gooseneck which can be positioned through the soundhole for different tonal effects. There is a blend control to balance between the pickup and the microphone. This is the best system I have found so far for amplifying acoustic guitars, but unfortunately, it has been discontinued.

I use Elixir light phosphor bronze strings, .012 - .053. The tone of the guitar is bright but well balanced, full and loud. My previous guitar was a Martin 000-28EC, which was a more comfortable size, but it didn't have the big sound I get from the big dreadnaught body.
I often go to music stores and look at acoustic guitars to see if there is anything better, but I haven't found anything else I like. The only guitars that sound as good are a few of the models that are hand-made by Rob Ehlers, an American luthier living in Mexico.

Here are some photos:

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Home recording can be fun!

If you sing or play an instrument, you can enhance your learning while having some fun by using the freely available digital recording soft ware “Audacity.” Audacity® is free, open source software for recording and editing sounds. It is available for Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems. You can download and install it for free from You can use the program to record a performance, record accompaniment on one track and then solo on another track, record duets and quartets by yourself, or try your hand at multitrack recording. Audacity is also popular for recording voice, lectures and podcasts.

One of the things I like about the Audacity software is the availability of instructions and tutorials from the same web site. Click on “Other downloads” and then click on the “Help” tab, and you can access the FAQ, the user manual and quick reference, the Audacity Wiki, step-by-step guides on performing common tasks in Audacity, such as making ringtones, removing vocals, mixing, creating podcasts and transferring tapes and records to computer, tips, and even foreign language tutorials.

From the “Download” tab, after you select your operating system, you will have a link to download and install the software. You will also need to download and install the “LAME MP3 encoder” if you want to be able to save your recordings in the popular MP3 format.

Audacity is very easy to use. Just plug in a microphone or instrument, start the software, click the record button, and you’re in business. Click the stop button when you are finished recording the track. The next time you click the record button, it will open up a second track and you can record a second part while listening to the first part. You can continue to add as many parts as you need. I could not find anything in the documentation that explains how many tracks are available in total, but I imagine that the number of tracks would be limited by the amount of memory you have in your computer, the speed of the CPU, and the amount of available free space on your hard drive, not to mention common sense which dictates that the more tracks you have, the easier it is for something to go wrong! The tracks can be either mono or stereo.

You can plug microphones or instruments into the microphone input on your computer’s sound card, but the sound cards on computers tend to add a lot of hiss and noise to the mix. If this is something you are serious about or want to do on a frequent basis, you should invest in either a USB microphone which converts the signal to digital before it enters the computer, therefore, less noise, or even better, get a digital microphone mixer such as the Digidesign M-Box or the more capable (and more expensive) Presonus FireStudio.

Once you have recorded your tracks, you have many built in “filters” available, such as a noise removal tool, equalization, reverb, echo, and even pitch correction tools to fix bad vocals. You can change the volume of any track, or “normalize” all the tracks so that they are balanced with each other. You can save your project and add more tracks later. When you export your finished work as a WAV or MP3 file, it mixes it down to two-track stereo. You can control the placement of the tracks in the mix before you export.

Once again, there is a lot you can do with this program, and fortunately, there is good documentation and a lot of great tutorials to help you master the process.

I’d sure like to hear what you’ve done. When you finish your project, export it as an MP3 file and email it to or .