EZdrummer2 – My New Best Friend

EZdrummer2 Review – On A Guitar Website??

Ezdrummer2 You might think a review of drumming software is a strange thing to find on a guitar website but there is good reason for it. If you have wrestled with the problem of creating drum tracks for your songs you will love this. I’m a guitarist and songwriter myself and as you’ll see from my journey below drums have been a real bugbear over the years. All that changed recently when I discovered Toontrack’s Ezdrummer 2 software.

Back in the day when I played in a succession of bands, drums were not my problem. The drummer did that. I wrote or co-wrote the songs and played guitar. End of. But things change. As we got better at our craft I got interested in recording. Basically we got fed up paying to record demo’s that a month later we weren’t happy with. Myself and my partner both owned little 4 track recorders and we started recording our bands with those.

EZ Drummer2 – Why You Want It

We would set up the few mics we owned in the barn where we practised. The guitar got one mic, the drums and bass amp shared a PZM – you know those little square plates that the police use to record interviews. Vocals got another. That left one track to use for overdubs. There was very little separation so a lot of the room sound got onto tape. Bizarrely this terrible set up almost got us signed by Creation records but that was down to an enthusiastic performance rather than quality sound.

In the quest for a better sound we then began a long, distracting journey during which drums became something of an obsession for me. We had a great drummer but capturing the sound of his drums perfectly as we progressed from a digital 8 track recorder to it’s 24 track big brother became a real headache. Through this journey I amassed a room full of mics, gates, compressors, samplers and god knows what else. The sound improved hugely from our early efforts but was still not perfect – no matter how many Jon Bonham samples I painstakingly layered over kick drums.

Getting It Done Fast With EZdrummer2

Finally, now working as a two-piece, I got into drum programming using an ancient but fabulous Atari sequencer. We also invested in an electronic drum kit. Neither of us were drummers but it seemed more natural to be hitting actual drums than typing beats into a midi keyboard or drawing them into Cubase. Plus we could just invite our drummer friends round to play on our projects. This got us by for a while but not until recently have I come close replicating the sound and feel of a drummer without one.

Lets face it, us non-drummers don’t really have a clue what these guys do! If you want to imitate them you really need to know what they can and can’t do with those four limbs. Short of taking drum lessons – which holds no interest for me whatsoever – how do you get round it?

Since selling our 24 track digital recorder to a local band I finally started giving serious attention to computer recording. About a year ago I opened the Garageband programme that came with my Macbook Pro. I’d had a brief look at it but nothing more. Somewhere I later heard that the latest version now included a virtual drummer. That got me really interested.

From Programming To Simplicity

EZdrummer2

It seemed that at the touch of a few keys this would create “real” drum parts for your songs. It does! Not only that but you can audition several “drummers” with different styles to suit different genres of songs. Then you can tweak those parts. You can get them to play more or less fills, with more or less swing and add percussion. If you really want to you can even deep edit the parts and change the drum kits they play. Awesome.

It turns out that Garageband drummer is very good indeed. But recently things got even better in our little studio. Again, after some research I discovered EZdrummer2 by Toontracks. I took their free 10-day trial and then bought the full version at a little over £100. Its very, very good. In fact it’s very, very, very good. I’ll leave you to visit Toontrack’s website for the full details but here’s a quick sum up.

Ezdrummer2 is an upgraded version of their immensely successful (who knew) Ezdrummer. Apparently many music producers have used this for some years. It’s a standalone drum sequencer but can also be used with most software recording programmes (DAWs) as a plugin instrument. It’s like Grageband’s drummer in that it comes with a raft of ready to use drum parts in various styles but there is much, much more to it than that.

Garageband Drummer V EZdrummer2

Unlike “Drummer”, the pre-recorded parts include fills, and parts designed for intro’s, pre-chorus builds, choruses, bridges and endings. You have infinite and very simple control of those parts. You also get full control over the impressive range of drums kits, individual drums and percussion pieces they are played on. One of the things I loved about it is that you can type a basic beat in to the programme with a midi keyboard and it will search its library for a matching part. You get a list of parts based on their percentage match to your idea– neat.

When you find the parts you want Ezdrummer2 will even arrange them into a song structure for you. You can cut and paste to your heart’s content and quickly assemble a complete drum track for your song. When you’re happy with the track you can export it as a wave or midi file ready to import into whatever DAW you use. Alternatively you can just select it as a plugin instrument and have it follow your project. But lets get to the really amazing thing about EZdrummer2: The drums!

The actual drum sounds in Ezdrummer2 have been recorded in Mark Knopfler’s state of the art studio. They’ve been played by top session drummers and recorded by world-class engineers using the best microphones money can buy. Visit Toontrack’s website for the full details. The sounds are divided into modern and vintage. In each section the actual drums used are listed and arranged in categories according to how they have been processed. That’s enough for me but if you want to go mad you can fool around with everything from mic placement to the overall mix of the kits. This is nothing short of wizardry.

Conclusion.

Nothing IMHO can fully compare to playing with a band and a real drummer. But for those of us who don’t this really comes as close as you’ll get. No-one including most drummers will never know the difference. Years ago we worked with a drummer who could programme drums on an Alesis SR16 perfectly. NO-ONE we played the songs to spotted that it was a drum machine. EZdrummer2 makes that sound like the drum demo on a 70’s Bontempi organ.

EZdrummer2If, like me you just want a user friendly way to put together a brilliant sounding “real” drum track quickly with minimal tweaking, this is for you. I no longer want to get bogged down in deep editing midi. If you do then you can go ultra deep with this software but I bought it to get away from all that. Now I can just put a great sounding drum track together quickly. It’s even a great compositional tool. Toontrack also sells a wide range of additional sound libraries. They are comprised of grooves, beats and sounds covering every musical genre. Buy it.

 

Boss GT100 Review

The Boss GT100 – Problem Solved!

Over the years I’ve had a love hate relationship with multi-effects pedals for guitars. Recently however I dived back in and came out with a shiny new Boss GT100 and I love it. Here’s the story and a review of said unit. This is not a full tech review by the way you can find loads of those elsewhere. I really want to come at this from a creative angle.

The trouble I always had with multi fx units is the amount of tweaking they needed to move smoothly from one patch to another. That and the badly translated 400 page user manuals! You’d either get an undesirable drop or surge in volume or a nasty sounding, jarring change in sound. My favourite was an old Korg A4. It married well to the Hiwatt amp and Washburn Chicago guitar set up I had at the time (All of which were stolen from my car one night after a gig) I’ve also used products by Yamaha, Zoom, Alesis, Roland and Line6.

In the end I went back to a variety of single pedals in front of my Marshall TSL 122. That served me well both live and in the studio for years. After “The band broke up woo hoo – and it looks like – woo hoo – we will never play again” (RIP Frank) Those pedals languished in a drawer for a couple of years. They were replaced for home use and recording by my Line6 pod and Roland cube. A few months ago I decided maybe it was time to see if anything had changed in multi-fx land. There’s something to be said for an all in one unit after all.

No More Pedal Dancing

Internet research revealed that things had indeed changed a lot and that the Boss GT100 was a likely looking candidate. Selling all my old pedals netted enough cash for the asking price so I bought one. Maybe you’ve already discovered this gem but f not here’s my review.

The GT100, like many of its kind has 200 preset sounds and space for 200 more of your own creation. Like the Line6 pod and many modern amplifiers and FX units, its also an amp simulator. It contains COSM versions of all the old favourites and some newer amp exotica . They sound pretty good as do some of the preset sounds.

Actually you could do without an amp all together. With a decent PA and monitoring set up you could rock up to a gig with just a GT100. Similarly it replaces amps and mics in a recording studio. What sold it to me however was that it can also be used like a set of stomp boxes – without 200 cables and power packs needed to join them together and power them. Furthermore the pedals in question are from Boss’s renowned stable of stand-alone effects.

The Boss GT100 Main Features

Better still, everything is tweaked via two big, well-lit windows and a series of knobs. There’s an expression pedal, a tuner and 8 footswitches which are well spaced. There’s also a looping function. It’s a quick learn and a nice solid dance floor to work on. Boss have even provided a quick way to get a genre specific sound. You just pick from a menu of musical styles and off you go. So far then, not too different from multi-fx pedals of old you might think. Think again though as we get under the skin of the Boss GT100…

Like many of us I’ve transitioned from digital workstations to recording music on my Macbook (see my Toontrack EZdrummer2 review to follow that journey) That is where the GT100 really comes into it’s own. Since as mentioned, the unit is designed for both live and studio use, it has a Usb output alongside the standard cable sockets. This has several functions. When recording into a DAW the GT100’s usb port can direct inject its output to a computer. Depending on what inputs your interface has the unit sends a clean signal as well as whatever patch you choose. If the patch isn’t quite what you hoped for you can audition others with the clean version using the GT100 as an AU instrument.

Full Control – Awesome Possibilities

The USB connection also allows you to control the GT100’s parameters on your computer via BOSS’s downloadable Tone Studio software: You can move the effects around in the chain, adjust the individual effects parameters and save patches. Although the devices’s two main windows are excellent, having a big screen editor is fabulous.

Tone Studio also lets you build and store sound libraries of your own patches. This gives you the opportunity to store far more than the 200 user patches in the pedal board itself. You can also buy banks of preset patches created by big name guitarists and load them into your own banks. Rather than spending hours trying to recreate Dave Gilmour’s sound on Comfortably Numb for example, just buy it from someone who has already done it for you.

There’s one more possibility well worth covering here and that is the 4 cable method. Usually guitarists either plug effects or chains of effects straight into their amp’s input or if they have one, into its effects loop. If you have an amp with an FX loop the Boss GT100 lets you do both. Maybe like me you like the sound of your valve amp and would prefer not to use preamp modelling. No problem.

Using The Boss GT100 4 -Cable Method

 

With the 4 cable method and the GT100’s moveable effect chain you can choose to keep your own amp’s unique preamp sound. You simply bypass the unit’s COSM preamp by placing it’s effects in the send/return loop. Of course you can also use those preamps if you want to and still use your amp’s power amp. All this offers a broad range of tonal possibilities you’d be crazy not to mess around with.

An extra bonus for me on top is that the Boss GT100 has made me friends once more with my old 60’s re-issue Stratocaster. It’s a beautiful guitar but I just haven’t been able to get the sound I like from it (until now!) For years I’ve favoured my Les Paul studio, only taking the Strat on tour as a back up. Since getting the Boss I’ve been able to make that baby sing for me like never before.

It’s been around for a while now so you’ll find loads of GT100 tutorials, tips and tricks on Youtube and elsewhere. In summary it offers a ton of sound possibilities and is easy to get the hang of. The result is that you spend more time playing than reading manuals and tweaking knobs. That’s a perfect for the Creative Guitar Lounge ethos.