Psychobilly Freak Out!

July 18, 2008

Dear Dude,

First off HUGE fan!

I play in a Psychobilly band. We had to cancel the last 3 practices because our guitar player went out of town / anniversary / Lyle Lovett. Now he’s saying that he doesn’t like the band anymore and doesn’t feel like were going in the “direction” he wants. He claims, “were too hard to be a Psychobilly band.” When it’s he that writes most of the songs. He would rather play Honky Tonk Rockabilly and as of last month started drumming for a band that plays that style but only does covers. Anyways what do you think we should do, besides break his face?

Psychobilly Freak Out!

Dear Psychobilly Freak Out!

First of all breaking his face is not an option, physical violence against band members no matter how drunk, high, or angry the parties are should never be entered in the equation. With that out of the way, I can say there have been more then a few times I have wanted to “break some faces!” Music is personal, music is emotional, and music involves artists injecting part of themselves into the overall product. These three things can lead you to think emotional and irrationally about the predicament of your band. So lets try to tear away all the emotional garbage and take a look at this problem.

Ok, the main fact here is he is the main songwriter. This causes a huge problem for you and the other band members if he wants to leave. Its funny that he says its not going in the direction he wants it to while he is the main songwriter but thats not uncommon. I mean maybe he just doesn’t understand the style you really want to do, or maybe it just seems different to him when your band jams, or maybe its because he would rather play drums then guitar and not have the burden of songwriting on his hands. Whatever the reason (and I am sure I could list 10 or 15 more) his heart is not in it anymore and he is choosing to walk away from the band.

Now you are confronted with a choice. Let him leave and break up, or replace him and move on, The one thing that is clear is the current band climate is not working. So what’s The Dude’s advice? I say let him leave. Tell him you wish him luck and hope to play with his new band some day. There is no reason to fight his leaving. If he is not going to practice and doesn’t feel the music it will be a waste of time for to go forward with him. But this does not mean break up? Shit it’s just a minor bump in the road. You know how many band members I have had to replace? If I had a dollar for each time I could retire and just write advice for free all day! I have seen other bands go through major line up changes and still survive.

My advice is find another guitarist who understands the style you’re trying to rock. Shit replacing a guitarist is the next easiest thing to replacing an amp. Hopefully you will have no problem finding that dude who will fit in. I know it seems scary but move on, and most of all don’t give up. It’s a tough road but, you can and will survive, for those who try to rock, I salute you!

The Dude

Unsigned and in a Bind

July 16, 2008

Dear Dude,

My band just finished recording a full-length record and since it’s our first and we are unsigned, we have printed 300 copies of it independently. We have booked a big CD release show with bigger signed bands in a large local venue. We have enough CDs printed to last us a while, but we’re stuck with the hassle of having to get everything pressed and packaged at our expense. We’re attracted to the additional organization, promotion and “backbone” that a label can offer us, but the few deals we’ve been offered don’t seem proportionate to the amount of work/money we put into this record. What do you think the best approach to formally releasing a record in this day in age? Do you think it’s worth singing with an indie label that’ll “loan” us the CD printing, but take a lot of our profit and get us slightly better tour packages? Or do you think it’s better to keep it DIY until we find the “perfect” deal, without the hype factor and resources that a label has to offer?


Unsigned and in a Bind

Dear Unsigned and in a Bind,

This is a very interesting and complex question. In an effort to answer this in some kind of reasonably short fashion let me just preface what I am about to write by saying there is no one correct way to release a record (regardless of the era or state of the music industry). Different bands choose different paths and, just for the record, this Dude does not judge. That being said to DIY or not to DIY has always been a burning question. In 2008 a lot of the rules have changed and doing a record on your own can be both profitable and easily obtainable. So lets dig in!

I’m afraid there are really two questions: one – what do I think the best approach to formally releasing a record in this day in age is, and two – what do I think you should do in your current situation. Since the latter is more important, I’ll just get the first question out of the way. I believe that in the 2008 music industry climate current artists can have success releasing their own material or playing the music industry game. It’s almost an open market, I have seen bands have success both ways and both have their advantages. With the exception of Fugazi, I have yet to see a band self release material and sell more then their contemporaries who are signed to labels (sure bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead are self releasing records but these bands have already reaped the benefits of the label game). At the same time I can tell you for a fact that I would have made more money in the long run if I had not signed to a record label and rather self released all the material. So, in a sense you have to pay to play the game. Both have their distinct advantages but this brings me to my answer and more importantly my advice for you. My suggestion isn’t to pick a side but rather play both games. I think that the best way to grow a band in 2008 is to follow both routs and in turn use the strengths of both systems.

Look, you already have your record recorded, laid out, and pressed. You even already have a CD release show set up. At this point a record label can’t do much for you except promote the release. Honestly you could hire an outside promotions company to do the same thing and probably make more money. The real thing you don’t have that a record label can offer is distribution. You are not going to be able to get those CD’s in “real” stores and honestly it really shouldn’t matter that much at this point. To me the CD is a dead medium. You got to start thinking MP3’s if you want to move into the future and get your record up on the internet! Release it on iTunes, Music Exchange, or shit, even build a way to buy it right of your myspace page! You have to make that record available to as many people as possible, and with no record label involved you have to cover all the basses yourself. As a DIY artist the MP3 digital version of your record is way more cost effective. Think about it, no more pressing CDs, its all virtual and that means a bigger profit margin for your band.

I think your best bet is to continue playing shows and selling your self produced record while also pimping the music out over the web . The worst thing you could do right now is sign to a record label out of desperation. This has been the downfall of many a band. I say take your time, keep playing shows, sell your own product, and most importantly create that buzz! Because it’s that buzz that is going to attract a record label who will offer you a deal to do it right.

Don’t be afraid to do things for yourself in the beginning, you may just find the skills you learn are going to help make your band bigger but also keep you from getting taken advantage of later. There are many advantages to being a signed band and working within that world. You mentioned touring that is probably the one place that being signed is the most helpful. Not to mention the built in promotion that comes with record labels advertising your band along side of other established bands. But it’s by building your band, its fan base, and its integrity that you will be able to survive and take advantage of the things you will be exposed to and offered when you start playing the “signed band” game. The DIY skeleton you build is going to work as a base for everything forward and your going to need it to survive life under the iron fist of a record label.

The Dude

The Touring Gentleman

July 14, 2008

Dear Dude,

My band recently started touring more and although I love it to death it has really been taking a toll on my relationship with my girlfriend. At home we talk and hang out all the time, everything is cool. But as soon as I go on tour it gets ugly. We get into a lot of fights on the phone and I find myself even dreading calling her now. I was wondering how do you juggle your life at home (specifically calling your wife) while on tour? How do you make a long distance relationship work when your never in the same place and working all the time? Do you think I should break up with her or is this something that band members go through all the time? I know this are weird questions but I hope you can help.


The Touring Gentleman

Dear Touring Gentleman,

Keeping your relationship alive, healthy, and most of all positive, while on tour is one of the hardest things to do as a touring musician. I have watched many a rock star hide behind a trailer all night or lock themselves in a bathroom stall for that 5-hour long argument with their significant other. There is so much temptation on tour and even the idea of that temptation can drive your girlfriend/boyfriend to madness while they are at home. The most important ingredient is trust. Having that means communication is not the whole battle, its just one part. You have to make sure that your significant other trusts you and you trust them. It’s a big step in making a relationship work while on tour. This means you can’t cheat on her, you can’t fuck around, you have to be honest and stick to it. This also means that if you ruin this bond of trust you may just doom the relationship forever. The same is true for her. You must have defined and clear lines of what is ok in your relationship and what is not. Its going to be different for every couple but it is very important to take the time before you go on tour to define the parameters or your relationship. I can honestly guarantee if you address this issue before you go on tour your overall communication skills and overall relationship will be better.

I am going to admit that along with the following advice you’re going to need 3 big servings of understanding, patience, and most of all trust. These three attributes are a must to making any relationship survive life on the road and are crucial to the process. But lets get into specifics.

Designated Call Times: Born of the payphone, this is a technique that my wife and I used before the age of cell phones. That being said it’s still a nice technique and can even be applied to the cell phone/internet generation. Chances are the two of you will be on totally different schedules while you’re on tour, and it may be difficult to find a time when it’s good for both you of you to talk. Phone tag is something you definitely want to avoid. It can breed insecurity, and the last thing you want is for her to think you don’t have time for her. So, try setting designated talk time. Think about your next day in advance and pick a 20 to 30 min window that you know you wont be driving, loading in, sound checking, sitting at the merchandise table, setting up before the show, etc. I’m telling you, if you give her an idea of the next time you will talk then all that uneasiness or worry will slowly dissipate. Relationships work well when they work consistently well so try to make those calls consistent. Remember to call when you say you will, and make sure you have the time you promised available. It’s the consistency that will keep her at ease when your on the road. In this instance consistency shows you value her time and will build trust. Coincidently it works really well when your international and need to keep that phone bill to a minimum. So, Mr. Touring Gentleman start working out designated times you can talk and stick to them. I guarantee you will see things get better fast.

Embrace the Electronic Age: Personal communication is a booming field. The rock Gods have blessed us with Skype, the iphone, Black Berry, instant messenger, video chat, oh and my personal favorite, the international cell phone plan. All of the above (plus the three more techniques that just got invented as I write this) have become tools to help keep our ever globalized world expanding. It has brought personal communication to a new height and it us up to you to use these tools while on tour. Video chat is cool but usually involves needing both of you to be online in a quiet place at the same time. This is sometimes hard. Skype, ichat, and Internet phones are nice and cheap. I see many a touring musician using these more and more often. The Black Berry phone is in my personal arsenal. It allows you to do Black Berry to Black Berry messaging free anywhere in the world anytime. Instant messenger is a must, its great while your working in a loud areas or doing work on your computer while on tour. Anyway what’s my point? Well it’s to start embracing all these communication outlets in order to make sure your home your life doesn’t get neglected. The world becomes a smaller place every second, and as a touring musician you need to use this to your advantage every step of the way.

Make sure she has a life of her own: Now this may seem harsh, but this is actually a major problem I see in most unhealthy relationships on tour. You don’t want your significant other to be living vicariously through you. He or she needs to have his or her own goals, ambitions, and aspirations. Otherwise its just the YOU show and that can get old real quick. The most unattractive quality a girl can have to me is laziness. You can’t let her get so wrapped up in your life that she forgets about her own. You need to encourage her to have aspirations and goals, as well as a strong social network. I know one of the main things that helps my wife, when I’m away from home for long periods, is her friends and busy social life. Equally you have to make it clear to her what your goals and aspirations are. I mean, if she knows you’re out there slumming it so that one day you can do this or that professionally, then it’s clear you have a defined goal your working towards. Damn, in two minutes you can go from loser musician to dude who is following his dream, and hopefully it will be contagious. If she realizes you have a plan for the future she will want one for herself. This is going to take time and work but it is essential to having a healthy relationship on tour. In fact I can state that every healthy relationship I have observed on tour is between two individuals who both have clear goals and are striving for success together as a couple.

Should you break up with her? Dude that is a complicated question to answer in one email response. I can tell you that every good relationship goes through tough spots, and every good relationship involves work. But let me say this, a good first step would be to evaluate your relationship based on the above information and then take steps to try and work on those things. Ask yourself, do I do the best job in communicating regularly? Is trust an issue in my relationship? Do both members of the relationship have goals and direction that help both remain focused on the bigger picture of life? These are all hard questions but they must be asked. By forcing yourself to work on these components of your relationship you will find it will help your growth as a couple and as individuals, and it’s this growth that will make for a strong enough relationship to survive even the longest tour.

The Dude

Ask the Dude Back: July 14, 2008

July 9, 2008

Today is the opening day of Darkest Hour’s tour with legendary swedish thrash metal gods At the Gates. Needless to say my young jedi powers are needed this week in order to take care of all things rock related. Never fear, the thrash metal partying and stage diving will not stop the letters from a flow’n. I’ll be back Monday July 14, 2008 with some new advice to help all you dudes out there Get R’ Done!

Live Wire

July 7, 2008

Dear Dude,

I’m playing my first live show at the end of August. The one thing I’m worried about is live tone, mainly the low end. Now, I’ve come to learn first hand the size and material a room is made out of can affect your tone. I’m planning to take written diagrams of all my equipment’s settings to dial it all in once at the venue. So due to the dramatic space increase will the house PA help level the playing field or do I have to reset everything to compensate for a larger area?

Live Wire

Dear Live Wire,

Live sound can be a trip, especially dialing in that perfect guitar tone. I have been on a 15-year continuous trip to find that perfect live guitar sound and to be honest I’m real close. Over that course of time I have spent a lot of money on expensive gear, blown up a few amps, and of course embarrassed myself many times. What’s come of all these years of searching? Some funny stories and a little bit of knowledge.

Yes, you will have to adjust everything to compensate for that larger area. You may have it dialed in to sound sick in your basement but taking your rig to the stage is a whole new monster. Your guitar amp is going to have to be turned up (way louder then you proabaly normally play in your house) and when that volume gets loud the whole amps sound shifts.

There are several factors that are just out of your control when rocking a live concert. You already commented that the size, and material a room is made out off, will affect the sound. This is true, however the number of people in the room, the material and size of the stage your playing on, and the quality of the house PA will have have an equally heavy impact on your overall live sound. I like to call them the wicked seven: stage size, stage build, room size, room build, PA build, and PA set up. Have I missed anything, is there one more factor? Yes, there is. Is it something you can control? Well maybe, but you just have to watch how much Jack Daniels it has access to. What could I be talking about? A soundman.

Having a trained and competent soundman is must for any serious band. I see so many touring and nationally recognized bands who miss this detail. They just go on tour with their million dollar rigs and think, “fuck it, it has to sound good.” A soundman is the single best investment you can make in your band’s overall live sound. And a bad soundman can make your show a disaster no mater how stoked the crowd is or how great your band is playing. So, get a soundman. The best way to find one is to talk to the house soundman whenever you play a show that sounds good. Most of the touring soundmen I know started out by doing house sound for national bands and having that one band say, “dude, that shit was sick want to come on tour?” Maybe you can’t afford one now but dude, the minute you find that soundman who can make your band sound good, hire him or her! It will be like buying a million amps that never seem to get paid off, but it will sound better and that is worth the money.

Ok, so your band isn’t Metallica and you can’t afford a soundman (although come on if you can’t afford one either you’re too cheap or you just haven’t looked hard enough). So here are two stepts you might want to follow to get the best out of your live situation:

First, make an input list and introduce yourself to the house soundman. This is going to seem hard but dude just draw or write on a piece of paper what is going to be on the stage (its called a stage plot in the pro world) but you don’t have to do anything fancy. Take this info as well as the info about what exact monitor mix tweaks you will want (For me I always say: “Stage right guitar needs, kick, snare, vocals, and both guitars at equal volume.”) and give it to the house guy. Be nice and be friendly because this soundman holds your whole show in his measly little underpaid hands.

Try to be clear and friendly, if it was Darkest Hour and we were playing a local show without a soundman I would say:

“Hi, my name is Mike and I play guitar with the band Darkest Hour. I just want to let you know what we have on the stage tonight to make it easy on you. We have two guitars one on the left one on the right. Bass is placed stage left and has a DI and Amp signal. Our drummer has a kick, snare, rack tom, and floor tom. And lastly, our singer needs a straight stand and only one mic in the center of the stage.”

Make sure you end by saying thank you, again take it from a man with experience, don’t get into an argument with the house soundman before you play, its like pissing all over a judges robe before getting sentenced!

Second, keep your bands stage sound under control. After you have introduced yourself to the soundman I would just make sure the band all plays at a level and even volume (in other words don’t try to have a volume war with your band or the PA) you have to keep your sound and the entire band’s sound even and simple because the house soundman who doesn’t know your band or music is running the show. Make sure everyone’s tones are clear and that there is no buzz or noise coming from any of the gear.

A good place to start for that live tone is that sick tone you’ve already dialed in. The tone I start with live is always the same and its the tone that I can jam with at home. So start by using those settings you talked about but don’t worry about charting it out. Instead use your ears and hear what it needs. You may have to do this on the fly but the more you practice the better you will get. Just remember you probably only need to adjust your tone knobs a few degrees either way.

Live sound is tricky and it’s an art. It takes a lot of hard work, time, and most of all experience to really get those tones dialed in the way you’re used to hearing them at home. But don’t be discouraged I have played millions of live shows with soundmen I didn’t know and they were fine (were they as good as when I had engineers I have known run sound, no, but did we survive and have a good time, yes). In the end live sound or really playing guitar live is about the audience. So make sure you put on a good show and have a good time regardless. In the end its not really about whether your sound was as killer as the one time I saw Van Halen. It’s about whether or not you and the audience had a good time, so dial that guitar sound in, buy that soundman a shot, and have a good time because your first live show only leads to your next!


The Dude

Introducing Ask the Dude’s Gear Guru

July 1, 2008

Introducing our resident Gear Guru, Aaron Deal. Aaron is a close personal friend of The Dude, and long time rocker, with over 15 years band experience on bass, guitar, and drums. As assistant manager and sales associate at three different (MD and VA) Guitar Center locations over the last 7 years, he is no stranger to music gear and it’s applications. Aaron is also highly skilled in the arts of home recording, guitar/amp maintenance, repair and modification. He currently plays drums in Salome and holds down the bass in Nitro Tokyo. Aaron is not only a killer fellow dude, he also knows his shit and is someone that even The Dude seeks advice from.

Check out his first addition to the site here.

Quiet Riot

June 30, 2008

Dear Dude,

I want to build an Isolation Cabinet that fits a 4×12 cab. I was watching the Darkest Hour webisode #2 video a long time ago and you were showing one off at the studio you recorded in. That ISO Cab looks like one of the best ones I have seen. Is there anyway you can tell me how to build that one or get me some designs of that Isolation Cabinet? I have looked at a ton of how to guides on the web and all I can find are temporary ones or ones that only fit 2×14’s and it is very frustrating. I am trying to start a home studio and it would greatly help me and my neighborhood out.

Quiet Riot

Dear Quiet Riot,

We did record the Deliver Us guitars in an Isolation Cabinet, or Isolation Booth. It was because the studio was part of a bigger studio so many sessions used the rooms next to and below us. In other words it was like recording at home except everyone around you was also recording. My point is you wanted everything to be isolated. The Iso. Booth is basically a box inside a box. You build a big wooden box and then inside that box you build another box. You need to have air in between them because air is the best isolation material. A guitar cab is miked in the center box and then doors are closed so that the guitar is closed in and the sound is closed out. It looked pretty hard to build and to be honest the guitar was still pretty loud outside of the booth. Since dabbling in the world of home recording I have fought the Isolation Cabinet wars, and here are some methods I use that are less complicated, and keep the neighbors from killing me:

The Guitar Blanket: I mic a 4X12 speaker cab with a Sennheiser 609 and a shure 57. I put my guitar cab in a separate room (you can even have the guitar cab in the same room with you, as long as it’s not facing you because you don’t want the noise of you playing the guitar to bleed into the mics). After the cabinet is miked, I place 3 sleeping bags over the cab. You have to be careful to not displace the mics, I use Z-bars because they don’t fall all over the place like stands usually do. I’ve been able to run a marshal 800, Randall MTS, Peavey 5150 all at around the volume setting of 3 or so and get a loud sound to tape with out even coming close to waking up the neighbors. I have not heard any noise or tonal loss from this method. If you cant get your vintage head to distort up that quiet I suggest a power break as I have mentioned in other posts.

The POD: Dude, the purpose of a pod is to replace the need for miking and loud noise. To be honest part of the guitar tone on Deliver Us is from a line 6 Pod. The producer, Devin Townsend, blended it with 3 other sounds to make the overall sound of the guitars on that record. My point is they sound good and we didn’t even need the booth. You
can get tons of great sounding guitars from those pods with out any of this trouble. When I record I probably use the Pod for half and the Guitar Blanket Method for the other half.

Randall Isolation 12’ Speaker Cab: This is the professional proposed solution. I have seen some sick metal bands use this live to isolate the sound of their guitars and I have been lucky enough to use one a few times. They are cool and do work. I don’t always like the same speaker sound so I stick with my guitar blanket method but the Isolation speaker cab does work and is a good solution to check out.

The Old’ REAMP: The re-amp is all the rage with producers I talk to these days. Basically it means that every time a guitar is tracked there is an additional direct signal that is tracked at the same time. The guitars are grouped together so the DI and Amp track match perfectly. This means that later the DI track can be run into any amp or guitar sound and re-recorded. This is so you can lay down your tracks with whatever sound you have at the time be it POD or 5150 in your bedroom closet and later replay that DI signal through any sick guitar rig at any studio in the world. Whenever I do serious home recording I record a DI signal. I mean you never know a good DI can give you the tools to make that good recording sound amazing.

The more you experiment and the more you play around with home recording the more you will realize you can make most any guitar set up sound cool you just have to use your ears to tweak those knobs. Its like guerrilla sound warfare, use whatever gear you have as many ways possible. Its how you learn to adapt to using all types of musical/recording gear and give you the ability to make a recording in your home people will think you spent millions on.

The Dude

Ask the Dude Live at this Summers Thrash and Burn Tour

June 26, 2008

Hey Dudes!

In conjunction with the organizers of this summers inaugural Thrash and Burn tour, I am excited to announce that I will be inviting you backstage this summer to answer your Ask the Dude questions in person.

When the idea of doing Ask the Dude Live came up I was far beyond stoked (catch the Pantera reference?)! Meeting new people at shows and making new friends all over the world is probably the single most fulfilling thing about being a touring musician. It seems that the more hardcore, punk, and metal gets swallowed by the mainstream the more the true connection between artist and listener is lost. I hope to make some new friends, hold some killer parties, and hopefully maybe even help some dudes out this summer!

If you would like have your Ask the Dude question answered live, submit your question to Please include your city and date when Darkest Hour will be in your town this summer (tour dates listed below) in the SUBJECT LINE of the email. If your question is chosen you will receive two spots on the band’s guest list with instructions on how, when, and where to meet me the day of the show.

Remember you can still always submit your questions directly to me at: to be posted on the Ask the Dude website! Also, check out Ask the Dude in print in this August’s issue of Alternative Press (issue 241).

Thrash and Burn 2008 Featuring Darkest Hour, Parkway Drive, Misery Signals, Winds of Plague, Stick to Your Guns, Arsis, Arsonists Get All the Girls, Abigail Williams, and After the Burial. W/ Special guests Suicide Silence, As Blood Runs Black, Emmure, Veil of Maya, Brother Von Doom and more on select dates.

Thrash and Burn Tour dates:

7/29 – Albuquerque, NM @ Sunshine Theatre

7/30 – Oklahoma City, OK @ Diamond Ballroom

7/31 – Kansas City, KS @ Beaumont

8/01 – Dayton, OH @ The Attic

8/02 – Detroit, MI @ Dirtfest

8/03 – Milwaukee, WI @ Robot Moshfest

8/04 – Chicago, IL @ The Pearl Room

8/05 – Louisville, KY @ Headliners

8/06 – Cleveland, OH @ Peabody’s

8/07 – Rochester, NY @ Penny Arcade

8/08 – Albany, NY @ Northern Lights

8/09 – Hartford, CT @ Webster Theatre

8/11 – New York, NY @ Irving Plaza

8/12 – Huntington, WV @ The Monkey

8/14 – Long Island, NY @ The Crazy Donkey

8/15 – Worcester, MA @ The Palladium

8/16 – Baltimore, MD @ Sonar

8/17 – Virginia Beach, VA @ The Norva

8/18 – Raleigh, NC @ Lincoln Theatre

8/19 – Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade

8/20 – St. Petersburg, FL @ State Theatre

8/22 – San Antonio, TX @ White Rabbit

8/23 – Houston, TX @ Java Jazz Outdoors

8/24 – Dallas, TX @ House of Blues

8/25 – El Paso, TX @ Club 101

8/26 – Phoenix, AZ @ Marquee Theatre

8/27 – Los Angeles, CA @ House of Blues

8/28 – San Diego, CA @ Soma

8/29 – Bakersfield, CA @ The Dome

8/30 – San Bernadino, CA @ The Hudson Theatre

8/31 – San Francisco, CA @ The Grand

9/01 – Portland, OR @ The Hawthorne Theatre

9/02 – Spokane, WA @ The Big Easy

9/03 – Seattle, WA @ Studio Seven

See you guys there!
The Dude

Metal Head

June 25, 2008

Dear Dude,

I just bought a Marshall JCM 900 head and I am about to get the 1960 speaker cabinet. I also have a LINE 6 POD XT, a few analog pedals (Boss Metalzone, Marshall Jackhammer, Morley’s Bad Horsie, etc…) and have some questions that I’m sure you can answer.

Can the JCM900´s distortion be heavy or crunchy enough to play modern metal (IE Arch Enemy, Darkest Hour, ETC)? If not, is it better to play with my POD XT through the head’s clean channel? Would that result in a good sound? Or should I use my analog pedals instead?

When it comes to soloing, how would you boost the signal? Especially if it is the amp’s distortion that I’m using. What other equipment do u think I should get to improve my metal sound?

Metal Head

Dear Metal Head,

Whoa buddy, that’s a lot more then one question. But thankfully all these questions are intertwined in one man’s quest for the perfect metal tone. I will walk you though all these questions, but I got to warn ya, its not going to be pretty.

The JCM 900 is a tricky beast. There are many different types (IE the SLX model which is more gain, the duel channel model, the single channel model etc.) and let’s not forget they make 50 and 100-watt versions. I have used and abused JCM 900’s all over the world because it’s usually the amp that shows up when I request an 800 (most people don’t know there is a huge difference between the two). Even though there are many different types and styles of 900 my advice will always be the same: Dude, I’m sorry, but you should get a different head all together.

Whenever I’ve had to use a Marshall 900 for DH it’s always been nothing short of a disaster, and I have never seen a professional metal band of any type use one. Before answering this letter I wanted to try and give the 900’s the benefit of the doubt, so I called my main man, and uber producer, Paul Leavitt of Valencia Recording Studios (Senses Fail, Gwen Stacy, The All Time Low) for his advice. Paul is the only man on earth I have ever heard make a 900 sound good, but alas, after a few seconds on the phone with Paul I knew he was going to agree with me. Had he used a 900 on a good sounding metal recording? Yes, but only to layer over other guitar sounds. He was really happy with what adding this tone to the overall sound did for the recording, but both Paul and I both agreed the 900 sound just wasn’t great for metal in general. It sounds awesome for rock and punk but doesn’t have the nice low end, full gain, and overall drive that other modern gain amps have for metal.
If you are insistent on sticking with the 900 I would suggest playing around with a different tube set up. I have always found that installing 6505 or 6L6’s (which Paul suggests too) can actually add more low end, girth, and gain to the way most Marshall’s sound. As far as distortion pedals go I have always had good experiences with the Ibanez (and especially Maxon) tube screamers and have even used the Zakk Wylde MXR custom distortion pedal in their place. But neither of these pedals are going to make a 900 sound like a rectifier, 5150, Randall MTS, or even Marshall 800. I just haven’t stumbled across a pedal can do that!

Also, in my experience running a POD for distortion into an amp doesn’t ever sound good. Usually it is too muddy, too distorted, and kills most of the low end. In fact you would probably get a better over all metal sound if you just ran the POD directly into a PA (but lets not get into that because playing live with no amp might work for Mushuga but won’t for most people!).

Is there a possibility I am off my rocker and you have the best sounding JCM 900 in the world? Yes, absolutely. Don’t let my words discourage you from experimenting. And hey if you can make it sound cool then shit even email me back because I would love know what you were able to do. But, based on my extensive experience with many models of the 900 and the experiences of most of my peers, none of us think this is the right head for metal. What are good heads to start with? I believe you did ask what other equipment would improve your metal sound. Here are a few that are worth trying: Marshall JCM 800, Marshall JCM 2000, Peavey 5150, Peavey 5150 (2), Peavey 6505, Randall MTS, Krank Revolution, Mesa Duel, Single, and Triple Rectifier, Mesa Mark IV, and Mesa Stiletto.

I’m sure there were always people asking Dimebag why he didn’t use a Marshall amp and a Les Paul guitar. At the time Dean guitars and Randall Amps were not the cream of the crop, but he found something that was different and made it his own. So please experiment, that’s how you will eventually find your unique sound, but since you asked this dude, I’m going to serve up some rough justice and tell you the JCM 900 is not the best head for playing modern metal.

The Dude

Riff Writer

June 23, 2008

Dear Dude,

I’ve been playing guitar for almost two years now and have developed a very solid technique in the short time I have been playing. I practice at least 3 hours a day anywhere between 4 to 5 days a week and I’ve taught myself almost everything and have only had a few professional lessons. I’ve hit a road block where I want to be writing more technical songs with soloing, using different scales and modes to create riffs and solid lines. I’m good with working within the major and minor scales but my knowledge is limited to those and I feel like if I had a better knowledge of other scales and theory I could be writing really complex guitar. A good example would be the guitar work from some of the songs you wrote for darkest hour like Deliver Us, With a Thousand Words to Say But One, and This Will Outlive Us.

The problem, I suppose, is that I just don’t know enough theory, scales and modes and how they all work together. So, without taking lessons what do you suggest would be the best way for me to learn how to solo and write really unique riffs, and how did you learn these advanced concepts yourself?

Riff Writer

Dear Riff Writer,

There is a tendency amongst musicians, guitarists especially, to equate learning music to some sort of science. Since a lot about learning how to play the guitar can be attributed to muscle memory, there is often a push to look at all things associated with guitar in the same way. Shit, if you can learn to shred up the neck in a hundred different modes and chord progressions, and play Abduction by Steeler, or Eruption by Van Halen, then you should be able to grasp advanced song writing concepts and write a kick ass song, right? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Studying music theory may help you come up with some unique idea’s for riffs and chord changes but in my experience it is not really going to help you come up with kick ass songs, and that’s the real goal. So, the true question is, what is the best way to teach yourself the advanced concepts of songwriting and song structuring so you can write more technical and interesting music?

Look, there is no distinct path to teaching yourself how to write a song or complex riffs. You ask how long it took me to learn these advanced concepts? My answer is that I feel I’m forever in the process of learning, and that until a few years ago I never even really worked at getting better at writing. For me, songwriting came naturally and organically so I didn’t spend much time thinking about it the first 8 or 9 years I played guitar. Don’t be discouraged if this is not the case for you, just because it doesn’t come naturally that doesn’t mean you can’t write amazing songs.

First of all, you are thinking about songs in form of scales, keys, modes etc. I don’t think about songs, or riffs, in these ways. I think about songs in how the riffs form around each other, how they transition from one to another, and lastly how they work to form a skeleton of a song. On all the Darkest Hour songs you mention the mindset behind writing them was not based on what key or mode they were in. In fact if you listen to A Thousand Words to Say But One the chord progression is the same almost the whole song.

Whenever I walk into a room and work with a metal band for the first time I usually think of the songs first as riff libraries. To me, metal is mostly about the flow from riff to riff. Usually, any riff of a metal song can be the chorus or the verse, depending on the vocals. There are many times I write a Darkest Hour song only to have John put the chorus over my intended verse and the verse over my intended chorus, but it still works because with metal you can always bend the rules.

When Darkest Hour is writing a song we usually start with a few riffs, and then determine how many times each riff needs to repeat before we switch to the next riff. Then we count the number of times each riff is played in our heads so we all understand the skeleton of the song. I usually have to do this process the first few times we play a finished song all the way through in order to remember it. If you want to use this technique in writing your own music, a good exercise is to listen to songs you love and chart them out in this way. For instance here is the structure for Hot for Teacher by Van Halen, charted out the same way we chart Darkest Hour songs when we are writing them:

Drum Intro: X6
Guitar Intro: X 4
Riff A (intro/): x 1 1/2
Riff B (Quiet Pre Verse) X 4
Riff C (Loud Verse) X 6 (VOCAL IN AFTER 2)
Pre Chorus X 2
Tag X 1
Chorus X 4
Riff B (Quiet Pre Verse) X 4
Riff C (Loud Verse) X 6 (VOCAL IN AFTER 2)
Pre Chorus X 2
Tag X 1
Chorus X 4
Solo Break X 9 Times
Riff B (Quiet Pre Verse) X 4
Chorus X 4
Outro X 3
Rock End X 2

The above structure could be applied to any metal song and work well. Notice how and when the parts repeat, and notice how each parts changes a little when it is repeated. Now, please don’t think that I am suggesting you copy songs from other bands, I am only suggesting you take inspiration from artists you love. Look at how their songs are mapped out and translate that into something that is your own. Once you begin seeing your songs more like a string of riffs rather then a flow of chord progressions it will be easier for you to see the structure. I promise the more you work at this the better you will get. It’s like a creative muscle you always have to be flexing and working out in order for it to grow and thrive.