Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Elemental Analysis Part I: Fire and Water

Well, now that I've reeled you in with my scientific title, I'm going to bore you with another article. This is a 2 part-er where I'm going to analyze the production techniques and the equipment that went into recording (and the subsequent live playing of) the songs.

The "Fire Sound" you hear on the album is mostly edge-of-chaos-and-bursting-into-feedback Marshall JCM800s being played through with Teppei's baritone Jaguar, Dustin's old Variax Tele tuned low and Eddie's 5 string basses. Yes, even the bass was given the cranked Marshall overdrive treatment. There's a picture from Thrice's blog from the Fire jam sessions below that shows Eddie playing a Fender 5-string with humbuckers that I've never seen before.

Effects-wise, this EP is the most stripped down except for the Earth disc. The sound you hear is mostly just cranked amps, sometimes with reverb added in the production. Backdraft's verses are an exception. They feature low tuned, slightly dissonant acoustic guitar. Clearly though, they were produced to be fiery. The guitars are distinctly less pure, and this can be achieved by overloading the microphone during recording. This may have been what Thrice did, or the guitar may have been tinkered with by adding overdrive/boost in production. Either way, it's been EQ'd to Hell and back, boosting the mids for less clarity and more of a "guitar cutting through the flames" sound.

If you want this sound for yourself, but don't have the cash for a Marshall JCM800 there is a pedal that comes close to the fiery goodness: the Crunch Box by M.I. Audio. A guitar that isn't voiced too modern will give you a definitely fiery tone when combined with a cranked Crunch Box.

The Water sound is a bit harder to obtain, as each song uses various modulation effects to add ambiance and make the recording, well, wet. Even the vocals contain effects, like the vocoder in Digital Sea. Each instrument is filled with delay, and reverb was added to everything later on. The delay adds an open, spacy feel. It takes your guitar from the land to the seashore where the waves are crashing. This almost gets you the water sound, but your tone doesn't really dive in until it's drenched in flanger/phaser.

The flanging can be heard in the background in Night Diving, and that ambience would be pretty impossible to recreate live. The clean guitar tone can be though. There's definitely a bit of chorus on top of the delay and reverb. Phasing or flanging (depending on the song) add the wet "warble" to the tone, and can be picked out through listening pretty easily. Teppei may have used his Line 6 Filter Modeler on the recording, too. The "drowning" sounds (listen to the end of Night Diving) are another production technique where the EQ is tinkered with, pretty much just leaving the mid-frequencies. This is another thing that can't really be duplicated live.

The overdriven tones (Night Diving's main riff) can be achieved most easily through a single-coil equipped guitar with a bit of delay added. The tones aren't nearly as close-to-the-edge as on the fire album, and can be achieved with something rich in mids, like a Tube Screamer (or a Digitech Bad Monkey for a really good, wallet friendly alternative). The guitars on the recording are drenched in reverb, but generally using reverb in a live situation is a no-no. The delay will help get you that ambience. If there's one pedal essential to the Thrice tone from Vheissu onward besides gain pedals, it's delay.

For the modulation tones, I recommend an Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress (avoid the Stereo model) for flange and an Electro-Harmonix Nano Small Stone (avoid the non-Nano models, as they have a volume drop) or an MXR '74 Script Phase 90 reissue (avoid the block logo models) for phasing. You'll also need an amp with strong clean tones and pickups that aren't too thick and high-output.

Part 2 is coming soon!

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Acoustic Guitars

Thrice are mostly known for their electric guitars, but in the last few years especially, acoustic guitars have really made their mark in the Thrice sound.

The most notable example of acoustic playing with Thrice is Dustin's solo album, "Please Come Home". This album was assumedly recorded mostly with Dustin's Taylor GS acoustic guitar. This guitar was sold last summer, when Dustin decided it was time for a change. This is a $2100 acoustic guitar, and the Taylor name alone guarantees quality. This guitar was used for Dustin's solo shows (pre-summer '07) under the name Ursus Veritas, and as Dustin Kensrue. It's hard to tell whether this guitar is the model with a maple back and sides and a sitka spruce top or if it has a red cedar top and Indian rosewood back and sides. I can't be certain, but judging by the tone of the guitar pictures I've seen, I believe it's the maple/spruce version. The picture above shows Dustin playing a solo show with this guitar.

Dustin currently has switched to a Gibson Southern Jumbo True Vintage acoustic guitar. This was seen on the last Thrice tour (a switch from the Say Anything tour where he used Variax modeling to simulate acoustic sounds on songs like Come All You Weary). This guitar has a great sunburst finish and runs for nearly $3000 new. It has a sitka spruce top, mahogany neck, back and sides and a Madagascar rosewood fingerboard.

He's also been seen (most notably in the photo session for Please Come Home) with another Taylor guitar. It is easily distinguishable from the Taylor GS because it has a tortoiseshell pickguard. I have very little information on this guitar as nearly all Taylor's look very similar and with the pictures available it's hard to see anything "special" that would make it easy to tell what the model is.

Dustin is also seen in pictures (see below) playing a harmonica. I'm pretty sure it's a Lee Oskar harp in the pic, and I'd assume that's what he uses mainly. Lee Oskar have a lot of interesting tunings for their harps, but I'd say it's most likely just a standard diatonic harmonica. He's also wearing a Lee Oskar harp holder (I feel like I'm reporting for a fashion magazine now...). I use a Lee Oskar holder too, and let me tell you, it's a demon when it comes to putting a harp in it! There are ways to make it a tad easier, but it's almost weightlifting trying to fit the harp in. The picture below shows Dusin with his harmonica and old Taylor GS.

Teppei also has a Taylor acoustic that was used most notably in Thrice's acoustic shows promoting The Alchemy Index. Like the last guitar I mentioned of Dustin's, little is known about it. This guitar has a tortoiseshell pickguard like Dustin's "other" Taylor, but is different in that it has a cutaway body for high fret access. Maybe someone (and I'm looking at you, Russell, you guitar guru!! Hahaha.) has more information on these 2 guitars? There's a picture of Teppei's Taylor below.

Oh, and a happy 4th to the American visitors! Happy Friday to everyone else!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hey Everyone

I just wanted to thank everyone that's come here so far. I've been really pleased to hear that there are people besides myself that are interested in this stuff and are glad that there's a place for it.

Thanks to everyone that's commented with a suggestion so far. I've made a few mistakes, but thankfully they've been fixed (I hope!). If you see anything that's wrong, that confuses you (I'm known to lose all sense sometimes, sorry about that) or if you just have a general gear question don't hesitate to leave a comment. I always do my best to answer questions (usually followed by lots of blabbering), and if you see something that might be wrong- you're probably right! I'll definitely look further and make corrections (giving you credit of course). I just reupdated the article about Dustin's pedalboard because I was initially totally wrong in what he's using now!

But mostly, thanks for reading. As always, I hope I've helped you a tiny little bit!

I think an article about Dustin and Teppei's acoustic guitars is next on the bill now that we've tackled electric guitars/basses, amps and pedalboards. I'll get working on that ASAP, I promise. I've got some info on them saved on my computer already, so it shouldn't take too long.