Custom SK and XK1c tonewheel sets

My custom tonewheel sets for the SK series and XK1c are available for free download over on the Hammond Organ USA site.

Look at the left-most column about one-third of the way down for Jim Alfredson’s Custom Tonewheel Settings.

Hammond USA site

Hammond USA site

The custom tonewheel sets are based on my beautiful 1954 Hammond C2 that graces my humble home studio. You can hear that organ on organissimo’s Dedicated CD. It’s one of my favorite Hammonds with a full, rich, thick tone especially in the upper end. You can read more about how I created the set and watch comparison videos between the SK2 and the Hammond C2 in this post.

1954 Hammond C2 vs 2012 Hammond SK2

When you download and install the set, please let me know what you think below!

I also have sets for the XK3 and XK3c. Email me or leave a comment below for more details.

Softube Bass Amp Room plug-in review

Most of the music I record does not involve a bassist. Either I am covering the bass with my left hand and/or left foot on the Hammond organ, or I’m using synthesizers. Two projects currently on my plate, however, do feature electric bass. The first is Greg Nagy‘s upcoming third release, tentatively titled I Won’t Give Up. For these sessions, Detroit bassist Joseph Veloz is handling the low-end. The second is my progressive rock project with Gary Davenport on bass duties.

My humble studio is small and I do not own a bass amp. In my studio, I track the bass direct into a Universal Audio LA610 MkII tube preamp with just a hint of compression added on the front end. Joseph uses a nice five-string bass with both passive and active pickups. Gary sends me most of his tracks, recorded at his home direct into his ProTools audio interface. Both methods sound good, but they lack the roundness and fullness that a nice bass amp provides.

Universal Audio LA-610 MkII

Universal Audio LA-610 MkII

I considered the option of re-amping the tracks into a bass amp at another studio, but this would cost both time and more importantly money. The budgets for both these projects are small. So I began looking for alternatives.

A lot of companies make guitar amp simulators. Many DAWs even ship with them, including Cubase, which is my DAW of choice. The VST Amp Rack plug-in within Cubase is quite good and I have used it on a variety of instruments like guitar, synthesizer, Wurlitzer electric piano, and even vocals. But like the majority of guitar amp plugs, it doesn’t have any options for bass.

Steinberg's VST Amp Rack plug-in

Steinberg’s VST Amp Rack plug-in

After searching and reading reviews and suggestions, I came across the Swedish company Softube. They offer a plug-in called Bass Amp Room that seemed perfect for my needs. I downloaded the fully functional 20-day demo (iLok required) and began testing.

Immediately upon loading the plug-in the bass guitar tracks improved. And it wasn’t just a small improvement. The plug-in does exactly what it advertises. It takes your direct bass signal and puts it through an amp in a room with a mic in front of it. The results really speak for themselves and the Softube website has plenty of audio examples.

Softube Bass Amp Room plug-in.

Softube Bass Amp Room plug-in.

The plug-in models three different cabinets; an 8 x 10″ cab, a 4 x 10″ cab, and finally a 1 x 12″ cab. The amp controls are very straight-ahead; normal volume, bass, mid, and treble tone controls, and a master volume along with a lo/hi input switch. They even included a direct inject section to mix some of the direct signal into the amp sound. The DI section includes more tone controls and a limiter.

You can bypass the amp simulation or the cabinet simulation. And you can position the virtual mic anywhere you want in front of the cabinets, backing it way off if you’d like or getting it up close and right on the cone.

I do like how the amp model breaks up when pushed. You can achieve some great fuzz bass tones out of the plug-in as well as some beautiful dark crunch.

I can only think of two areas which need improvement: It is odd that they did not model the classic 1 x 15″ cabinet made famous by the Ampeg B15 and James Jamerson. And I would like to see a cabinet with a horn. Perhaps those will be in a future update.

Despite these caveats, I bought the plug-in from Sweetwater Sound, which is just a bit cheaper than direct from Softube. Below is a mix I’ve been working on. This song was recorded in Los Angeles in October of last year. The bass was tracked direct into Nuendo through a Demeter tube bass DI. This is Gary Davenport on bass, myself on organ, Zach Zunis on guitar, and Matt Tecu on drums under the recording band name The Hollars. We hope to have an EP out this year.

I highly recommend Bass Amp Room to anyone needing a solid bass amp tone for their recordings. Check out the other amp models from Softube, too. It is worth demoing their Valley People Dyna-mite compressor plug-in. I had a real Dyna-mite at my studio for a week or so and compared the virtual with the real. They were very, very close (the plug-in had more high-end information). That’s on my shortlist as well.

Thanks for reading.

These Are The Simple Days – Excerpt

For the last three years or so I’ve been working steadily on a collection of songs that can best be described as progressive rock. As touched upon in an earlier post, I grew up listening to bands like Genesis, Yes, ELP, Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and others. When I was 16, I recorded an “album” of my own songs on a four-track reel-to-reel, with myself singing and doing all the parts on my trusty Yamaha SY77 (with a bit of acoustic piano thrown in). It was called Satori and included a 30 minute suite dedicated to the poet John Keats.

John Keats

John Keats

Yeah, I was that kid.

The only people that ever heard that “album” were very close friends, my siblings, and my mom and dad. And that’s probably the way it will always be. I don’t know if I can ever release what I’m sure are some real cringe-worthy moments.

I got into jazz a few years after that and spent the next 14 years or so honing my jazz chops with organissimo and others. I focused entirely on Hammond organ and left my synths in the corner, for the most part. When my father passed away in 2008, I was suddenly inspired to dust off the synths (including that same trusty Yamaha SY77!) and start making ambient / electronica music, which is a genre he loved. He made a lot of that kind of music himself. The result was my album ‘In Memorandom‘, which was dedicated to my late parents and random memories from childhood.

Diving back into synths inspired me to eventually re-visit progressive rock. I still love those classic Genesis and Yes albums. But I was disappointed with a lot of modern prog, which seemed to be almost all guitar driven and metal-based. I have nothing against metal and a lot of that stuff is really cool. But where are the keyboard players who can stand with the gods of yore? Who is the new Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman?

Actually, there are a handful of modern guys that could possibly fill those roles. My favorite prog keyboardist, however, is much more underrated and subtle: Tony Banks. His compositions, melodic sense, lyrics, textures, and orchestrations, are all beyond compare. His approach to keyboards has always been a huge influence on me.

Tony Banks of Genesis

Tony Banks of Genesis

So I decided to start writing some material inspired by such an approach; not so much about technicality and flashiness, but melody, textures, and atmospheres. Sure, I play with some fun time signatures, but I try to avoid making them sound trite and instead feel natural. I also focused heavily on melody, both for my vocals and for the supporting parts.

The album is coming along nicely. I hope to release it by the end of the year. Right now, two other fantastic musicians are involved; drummer Kevin DePree and bassist Gary Davenport. Kevin played with my good friend Greg Nagy for several years and is on Greg’s Fell Towards None record. He’s got chops galore but is tasteful and sensitive as well. Gary is the bassist in Janiva Magness’ band, the group I’ve been touring with for the last four years. Gary is a monster player, educated at Berkeley. His first band out of college was a prog band that covered Genesis extensively. In the clip below, listen to his beautiful fretless bass work.

The following clip is just an excerpt from one of the songs. It is called “These Are The Simple Days“. This is just half the solo section. This is the first through-composed solo I’ve ever written. I usually just improvise and that’s that. But I wanted to approach this like Tony Banks, who admitted repeatedly in interviews that he was not an improvisor, and actually compose a solo part.

The song itself is about childhood, specifically about my young daughters’ childhood. It is a plea to enjoy this innocence, which is gone too fast. The section in the clip is in 5/8, though the main tune itself is essentially in 11/8 (and a completely different key center). I’ll post more of the song later. I hope to make an actual music video for this song, as the lyrics are very narrative.

I’m very excited about this project. It is a wide departure for what I’m known for, but it’s just another natural side of me. It’s really a return to my roots in some sense.

Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll re-release that 30 minute epic ode to Keats. I’ve still got the 1/4″ masters.

Satori - on tape. State of the art, yo!

Satori – on tape. State of the art, yo!


UPDATE (March 16, 2015):
THEO – The Game Of Ouroboros was officially released on January 27, 2015 and I posted the finished mastered version of These Are The Simple Days on YouTube. Enjoy!

This album is available from iTunes, Amazon, the Big O Store, and Generation Prog Records.