Electric Guitar Research
A significant part of the L1 research project was devoted to the electric guitar. Of all the musical instruments, Cliff and Ken felt that electric guitar was the locomotive of amplified music. It was an unspoken imperative to learn what was necessary to make what became known as the L1 system suitable for this class of instruments.
Soon after the first round of testing of the 2nd generation prototypes, time was scheduled for about a week of intensive work with professional players to determine definitively if the technology could be made to work in a comprehensive way with electric guitar.
The thinking was simple: the speaker was a new kind of sound delivery system, capable of delivering sound more evenly from the backline to all parts of the stage and room than conventional speakers. If electric guitar tone could be generated upstream of the speaker a new kind of live electric guitar amplifier could emerge. This separation between tone generation and tone delivery had in a sense been made in the recording studio, but not in a live setting except in experimental situations or with a few individual players.
There's more detail on the subject of separating tone from tone delivery in a paper written by Marcus Ryle of Line 6 and Ken Jacob of Bose: White Papers.
The Guitar Summit, June 2002
The week-long guitar project became known as the "Guitar Summit"
The goal was to use our prototype L1 system as a sound delivery system that overcame the problems caused by the extreme directionality of guitar amplifiers. Read more about this: Catalog of Live Music Research Problems
Cliff contacted a sterling electric guitarist named Tony Sarno to help with our testing. Tony used traditional tube amps and a vintage Fender Telecaster that together literally seemed part of his physical body. He was and is a living and breathing part of electric guitar culture and was extremely knowledgeable about the subject. It was felt that if an L1-based system worked for him, it would work for most.
Two other professional electric guitarists were invited to participate in the summit. Each had their own unique brand of "pure guitar-player" DNA. As Cliff says, "Talk to any of them and you'll get all the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls of Electric Guitar, from the strings to the special cables to the miracle of passing electricity invisibly through a vacuum tube."
The goal of this event was to answer the question, definitively, if the L1 could in fact be used successfully and happily by hard-to-please electric guitarists.
Here is an excerpted copy of the invitation Ken and Cliff wrote to the participants. Note that the prototypes were called “Muzo” at the time.
From: Henricksen, Clifford
Sent: Thursday, May 16, 2002 1:04 PM
To: Dave Cournoyer (E-mail); Tony Sarno (E-mail); Lituri, Bob
Cc: Jacob, Ken
Subject: Guitar Summit
We believe you each understand the potential of Muzo as the sound-delivery part of a new, "redefined" electric guitar. Bobby, you wrote elequently about this after the <executive> demo. Dave, you seemed to get the tone you wanted at the Village Hall gig and Tony, you've started researching the options for what kind of "direct-to tape" guitar signal processors might work with Muzo. So, we're already a good bit of the way there.
The potential here is monumental and of historical importance. Namely, the idea that EVERY NOTE FROM EVERY GUITAR FROM NOW ON WILL BE HEARD BY GUITARISTS, THEIR BANDMATES, AND THEIR AUDIENCES WITH A CLARITY UNLIKE ANYTHING EXPERIENCED BEFORE. Guitar players will play better. Bandmates will hear the guitar part better and be able to react musically as never before. Audiences will hear the guitar without getting their heads blown off or losing the guitar sound in the fog of triple-system amplification.
This is not a small thing, gentlemen. Rather, it is the beginning of a new era in the electric guitar.
We (Cliff and Ken) are not guitarists, and we can't hear what you hear. We don't know what remains to finalize the marriage between the guitar, the signal processing, and the sound delivery system. We sincerely believe that you do know, individually, and collectively. Closing that gap so that the marriage is consummated, and so that each of you can demonstrate the marriage rather than imagine it, is the task we humbly ask you to undertake. In our minds, success means your ownership of an invention that will forever change, and dramatically improve, the sound of the electric guitar. No change to the electric guitar has ever taken place of this magnitude, in our view.
To do this, we propose a two-day "Guitar Summit". In the afternoons, we propose you work together to get the best tone on MUZO, using anything/everything. We think this should include comparisons to the tone you hear in your "sweet spot" using your favorite amp, processor and speaker combinations. Flipping back and forth between the two systems is an obvious no-brainer. All other methods as of yet unseen are also possible. In the evening, we will play concerts where you can confirm in a real performance environment that you have in fact closed the "tone gap". A backup band (Pete, Jeff and Cliff) will accompany you. The work will be yours, not ours. We will try to be like good servants -- there when you need something (gear, advice, etc), but invisible otherwise.
The first goal of this work is to match the "magic tone" you all hear on your favorite setup, on MUZO. If we/you can establish this tone quality out of MUZO (by using anything/everything), it means you are getting "magic tone everywhere" because of how MUZO delivers sound, instead of magic tone in one spot only (which is what you/not your audiences get from a conventional guitar speaker). This will be a mighty achievement. We can then (all) use this information and methodology to teach the guitarists of the world how to do the same thing with their guitars.
However, there is yet a potentially greater opportunity here. MUZO, after all, is a high-fidelity sound system whose radiation pattern covers musicians and audiences with equal sound. It's like a perfectly clear piece of audio glass. Anything you put behind the glass (the desired sound) is what you will hear. In contrast, a conventional guitar amplifier is analogous to a piece of specially-tinted and textured glass. You can only get a small range of sounds from it because it colors and distorts whatever you put behind it. The recording industry is already on to this opportunity, in a very big way. They are closing in on producing "guitar-to-tape" methods that work convincingly to produce not only traditional guitar tone but as-of-yet unheard, new guitar tones. What do you get when you try to reproduce these recorded creations thru your traditional amp? I don't know, but it's not what you hear on the recording. It's heard thru the filtered glass. As Tony pointed out, if these recording methods work well, they will work well on MUZO. And, as new tone and effects get used and produced by modern guitarists, MUZO becomes the ideal (and only!) means of producing these for a live audience, who came to the show to hear live what they hear at home.
We've already experienced this difference: Bobby and Cliff heard a "clean tone" from Bob's PRS guitar that was way past anything they had ever heard from any conventional guitar amplifier (remember this, Bobby, in the Pro demo room?). Thus, the second goal of this work is to experiment with and begin to catalog a series of "new" guitar sounds which can't be produced on conventional amplifiers due to their "filtering" characteristics that can't be removed. This will be "ground zero" for the new, untraditional electric guitar.
Exciting? We think so. So, let's get to work. By means of email, let's choose a 3-day window to work together in Framingham. Ken and Cliff will make all arrangements, including where to work.
Notes from the Daytime Workshop Part of Summit
Here are excerpts of Cliff's notes, sent afterwards to all the participants:
A description of the setups used (traditional and L1) by the three guitarists follows.
- Traditional setup: Fender 1955 Telecaster with George El signal cable, Naylor 112 35w tube amp driving a 4x12 Marshall speaker system with 35w “Greenback” Celestion Speakers
- L1 setup: Roland VG88 “Virtual Guitar” guitar-to-tape processor and direct box
Procedure: We all listened to Tony’s tone in his “special spot” onstage and then walked the room out front, noting the “alley of doom and distruction” directly in front of the 4x12 and the “far away” sound off to the side. Then we plugged in the Roland VG88 which Tony had been programming the previous week. He tweaked it a bit, we fooled with a 1/3 octave EQ (Dave took over this) and flipped the in/out on the EQ. It took very little time for Tony to say “turn off the EQ, I’m done, this is great, let’s play”. I mean, for the wire and tubes and papercone guy I know, after all these years of electric guitar esoterica, to say this and, yea, completely flip into the new millennium of electric guitar, I for one was floored. I’m looking Tony in the eye, with his Tele strapped on and loving the bath he was getting in sound and I knew it was true.
- Traditional setup: PRS Custom 22 (22 fret) solid electric w/Dragon pickups, Gibson 445 semi-hollow guitar, Peavey Ultra 120 head, lots of pedalboard toys, Marshall 1x12 cabinets with Celestion GM70 12” cone speakers
- L1 setup: Initially, a Digitec then Fender CyberTwin amp, muted via headphone jack, using line out then using direct out of the Peavey into an equalizer and then into the L1.
Procedure: We tried the Digitec first. It sounded really poor and lifeless and dull, so we discarded this instantly. Then we tried the CyberTwin, which Bobby has had experience but not happy success with. He never liked it much, even with Dave lending help with EQ. Last, we tried Bobby’s “line out” from the Peavey head and he was back on the page. Some more EQ (rolling off the high end and some mid bump/cut, recorded on Buz’s camera and done by Dave) and other EQ made him happy. This did it all. Bobby was ready to play. This actually took some doing and Bob ended up being our toughest customer. The Peavey-direct setup got his system to “talk to the guitar”, which meant some feedback in the right frequency range, so he could get the right or familiar sustain afforded by the feeback.
- Traditional setup: Reverend Avenger, 1996 Fender Stratocaster/Barden pickups, PRS Standard 24 with Barden pickups, Paul Rivera TBR1M head, Lexicon MPXG2 processor and 2x12 vertical “ADA Split-stack” cabinet with 2: Celestion/Rivera oem GT80 speakers.
- L1 setup: output of Lexicon directly into the MUZO via equalizer, using the Lex’s internal “speaker simulator”.
Procedure: Dave was already onboard, having used the MUZO a number of other times, so his setup was almost done before we started. He seems able to work with anything he is given (but I think he is thus far most comfortable with his 2x12 setup). Frankly, we spent very little time on Dave’s setup because of this, and also, I think, because we were all very ear-weary having listened to guitar for many hours on end, in steady concentration. I for one had to leave the building for a while because of this. Also, Dave ended up mostly helping Tony and Bob with their tone and was a very valuable guitar tech and tonemeister for them and for the entire workshop. (Ken and I really appreciate your work on this, Dave. Thanks again). Dave and I worked together on an audible lowmid bump in his system, which he illustrated by showing me how certain notes stuck out on this guitar, thus using the guitar as a realtime analyzer. Soundmen take note. We ended up cutting 250 a bit (3 or 4 dB) and Dave was happy.
General Remarks from Daytime Workshops
From Cliff's notes at the time:
- I have known Tony for many years and have had endless conversations with him about guitar tone and the “necessity” of tubes, certain cone speakers and the whole electric-guitar-culture “thing”. Of course, virtually every guitarist worth playing with that I have ever known has had a very similar experience and has followed a similar path. So, it’s not a myth. This is a real thing and I know it. Tony is a real traditional simple-is-best, no-frills rock and blues player. He sees and knows this instrument as a very simple, organic acoustical instrument. Probably the biggest result for me of the entire event is that Tony unconditionally pronounced that “this (VG88/MUZZO) is an amp”. This means not a processor or a guitar-to-tape converter but a real guitar amplifier in the truest sense. He made the leap almost instantly purely on the sound of it, but he also is totally and completely aware of how it puts him as an artist in total contact with his audience.
Cliff's Notes from Evening Concert Part of Summit
After the second day of daytime workshops, we were ready to play our evening’s concert. We cleared the stage of all the other gear and got ready. The second evening, we were fully prepared to strike all the guitar gear as both Bob and Dave were convinced they could do it with VG88’s. Unfortunately, the units promised arrived far too close to showtime for anyone’s comfort, and we reverted to the previous evening’s setup, Tony with VG88 and Dave/Bob with their stack ‘o stuff. These were off to the side and everyone paused to admire the very clean and fresh look of the stage: Just musicians and musical instruments; what a concept.
The 3 June concerts were a bit loud for portions of the program, especially for guitar leads (if you can imagine) and vocal leads. Part of this (I think) had to do with the use of a standard “acoustic” drum kit. Plus, we were all in the process of learning how to play through the system together, all having never played together as a group. Ken was in the audience and helped to direct us re: level and so forth. Rehearsal/sound check to run over intro/end of tunes and various details were disconcerting as everyone was still getting used to the whole setup and each other as players. At one point, Tony pointed out that we were all fighting each other and that we should all listen more and play to the vocal or solo. This helped. Also, the whole idea of having 3 electric guitar players on stage at once could have easily been construed as “impossible”, given the (well-earned) reputation these “notoriously-loud” musicians have in general. In this case, we had 3 guitarists with totally different playing styles who quickly recognized each other as an expert in their genre. A tone of mutual respect and appreciation was quickly and organically established and the “nuclear meltdown” some would predict turned into an electric atmosphere of the best electric guitar tone and playing I can ever remember, from either a listener or a bandmate. For me, it was a thing of beauty.
After the first show, Tony commented on how this system “makes you dig deep”. Amen, brother. The whole experience of hearing and knowing that every note and detail of your playing that you hear on stage is what everyone else in the room hears is profound. When showtime comes around, there is no where to hide. This situation leaves you naked and open with only your music to wear as clothing. We know that MUZO can get very loud. However, hiding behind sound level will only succeed in driving your audience away. Saying this and realizing how MUZO gives control to the musicians, it really comes down to being a matter of respect and consideration for your audience. Do they want to get hammered? My guess is “no”. So, you either leave the bandstand or you can dig down and pull out your best. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground here. I believe that the MUZO system will truly make better players out of all of us, and it will (I predict) make those who won’t or can’t respect their audience either go home or, more probably, be vehement dismissers of the system.
And so, anyway, it came to pass that when showtime did come around, we all did our best and played as a real band. (My conversation with Dave: “Sounds like real music to me, Dave”. “Sounds like a real band to me”) The second (Wednesday, 4 June) concert was second to none, all of us having discussed dynamics and the act of supporting the soloist (vocal/instrument) and generally playing softer. We also used the Roland VDrums exclusively (instead of Peter switching back and forth as in the first night’s concerts) and I think this helped a lot, as the drums always seem to drive any band’s sound level. Wednesday’s second set was a fabulous moonshot. Those who were there know and those who weren’t missed a rare musical moment. I know all musicians live for these rare moments and many keep playing (in spite of all the adversity) so that they are around when the moments do come. “Magic music performances” are not a common experience thus far. Much of it is an annoying and grimy one. However, I don’t think it is a coincidence that this all happened during out guitar workshop concerts. I think that all our instruments, for the most part, sounded fabulous to all of us and the naked, intimate connection with the audience inspired us and made it all possible. Of course, the fact that every musician on stage was an exceptional “team player” helped a lot. Personally, I think this is a prime ingredient of “playing” anyway. But the system, the sound and the situation brought us (and the audience) all together into the same “bubble”. For me it was one of my happiest moments as a musician and I heard some of the best playing and juiciest, most soulful electric guitar playing and tone ever. I felt very fortunate to be there.
Ken and Cliff were ecstatic with the results. To them, the L1 had passed the test of a new kind of electric guitar, using the emerging technologies of nonlinear electric guitar modeling and simple good old sound engineering. They got authentic electric guitar tone, but none of the "different sound for everyone" qualities of a typical guitar amp. They knew it would be an uphill battle, seeing as electric guitarists are a very conservative bunch and hard to please.