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February 2011
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April 2011

RiffWorks Makes You a Better Guitar Player

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I've written briefly about RiffWorks before but I thought I'd provide a bit more detail in this review.  What is RiffWorks?  In a nutshell, it's the world's simplest guitar recording software.  You can select from standard drum tracks, set a tempo and then record multi-track guitar parts with different stomp pedal effects visually dragging and dropping sections to make up a song.  It's so easy that you can download it and be up and recording in 15 minutes. 

Here's a version of the Stranglers song "Hanging Around" that I recorded. RiffWorks provided the drums, and I played the bass, rhythm and lead parts.  While I don't think my playing is particularly good, it shows that you can create some fairly sophsticated arrangements easily.

Hanging around 2011-03-17

Line 6 sells a version of RiffWorks called  RiffTracker for use with their GuitarPort package and you can also buy it directly from Sonoma Wireworks.  The standalone version of RiffWorks works equally well with GuitarPort or any other input device whether from Line 6, M-Audio, Digidesign, Presonus, Tascam or most others

Sure, there are other more complicated recording packages, but if you want to focus on your playing as opposed to futzing around, RiffWorks is a great way to get started.   If you don't have the opportunity to play with a band, there are plenty of advantages to having the RiffWorks Instant Drummer lay down a track. 

Instant_drummer_4 Playing in time is one of the most important skills a guitar player can learn and it only comes from hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours of practice with a drummer.  Of course there are advantages to having a real drummer, but you can also be sure that RiffWorks Instant Drummer won't drink all your beer.  With Instant Drummer, you just pick the tempo, set the drum style you want (Basic, Chorus, Verse, Latin, etc.) dial up or down the intensity and variation and you're ready to go.  The controls work in real time, so it's easy to experiment; just turn the nobs and decide what fits your mood.   Sonoma WireWorks also offers additional drum packs for $9.99, so if you want to add specialized sounds, you can do that. 

Once you've put down the drum track, you can record a riff.  I usually record a rhythm guitar track and then double track with slightly different effects or pickup settings to get a richer sound.  You can record multiple layers with different effects, pan to the left or right speakers and so on.  Just press the big red record button.  If you don't like it, delete it and try again.  Once you've got a few riffs recorded, you can drag and drop them to arrange a sequence that makes up a song.  It's dead easy.  Assuming you've got a microphone input into your PC, you can add vocals.

I find myself using RiffWorks just about every day.  I'll put down some basic drums and rhythm guitar and then loop them for hours trying out different solos as a way to experiment.  Believe me, this is much fun than practicing scales. 

Riffworks_effects_1 RiffWorks also has its own built-in effects.  These include distortion, modulator, delay, reverb as well as a pretty cool auto-wah and compressor for getting great sustain.  I usually use the effects in my Line 6 GuitarPort, which sound a bit better to me, but for those who don't use the Line 6 gear, it's nice that RiffTracker has the basics built-in.  You can also use the the built-in effects to tweak the sound after it's recorded which is a nice bit of added flexibility.

Once you've recorded your masterpiece, you can save it as a WAV or OGG Vorbis file and, if you like, post it to RiffWorld, Sonoma Wireworks' community site.  (You'll need to use iTunes or another program if you want to convert it to MP3 format.)  RiffWorld lets you collaborate online to create songs and share them on the web. It's pretty amazing to hear original songs as well as tributes to classic rock songs with all the parts.  This is the best testament to the power of RiffTracker.  You can find rock, metal, pop, ska, funk --you name it.   And if it's good enough for Todd Rundgren on his latest CD Arena, it's probably going to to work for you.

If you're still not sure about RiffWorks, get the Free Download of T4, a slightly cut down version of RiffWorks, from the Sonoma Wireworks web site.  It doesn't have all the features of the full version, but it has enough to get you going and make sure everything's working.   RiffWorks is available on both Windows and Mac and costs $129.  For that modest investment, you get some great tools that will not only make you a better player, you'll have a lot of fun to boot!  There's also a RiffWorks purchase promotion going on right now.  You can save $30 with their online promo code, getting the whole thing for just $99.  Considering the hours you'll get out of it RiffWorks, this is truly a bargain.  Take a look  at their latest newsletter for more information. 

Finally, here's a quick overview video showing RiffWorks working with Line 6 GuitarPort.  You can also find quite a few videos on Sonoma Wireworks site and on YouTube


Hugh Cornwell - Live from San Jose

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Hugh Cornwell, former Stranglers front man, played a gig in San Jose this evening on the current leg of his North American tour.  If you're a Stranglers fan, this show is not to be missed.  Cornwell's vocals are as strong as they were in 1977.  For me, the show was incredible.  I felt like I'd waited 20 years to see this gig.  The set started with "Nice n Sleazy" and went on to include songs from Cornwell's recent solo albums ("Going to the City," "Black Hair, Black Eyes, Black Suit") as well as a tremendous selection of Stranglers hits such as "Golden Brown," "Always the Sun," "No Mercy," "No More Heroes."  The second set was the entire Stranglers first album Rattus Norvegicus including my favorite song "Hanging Around."

I've uploaded a few of the videos from my Canon G9 to YouTube..  Unfortunately, the batteries ran out about 3 songs into the first set.  The rest I managed to shoot with the iPhone 4.  While the iPhone video quality is not perfect, it does a pretty decent job with the audio.  

I'll provide a more detailed write up in the next few days.  Note you can download Hugh's latest album Hoover Dam completely free of charge.  Or check out Cornwell's live CD Dirty Dozen.

Meanwhile the tour continues through Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Calgary, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Austin and beyond.

Update: I've added the rest of the videos and they came out decent, all things considered.  Vocals got a bit drowned out on occasion and the bass doesn't come through as loud as I would like on the iPhone songs, but I think you can get a pretty good feel for the show.


Tommy Shaw Goes Bluegrass

Here's something that doesn't cross my inbox too often.  Classic 70's rocker Tommy Shaw (Styx, Damn Yankees) has recorded a bluegrass album called The Great Divide.  Shaw, who hails from Montgomery Alabama has always loved the bluegrass sound.  Shaw wrote all of the songs, played guitar, dobro and resonator and also invited such celebrated Bluegrass musicians as Alison Krauss and Dwight Yoakam.

I have great respect for Bluegrass players and if this is your cup of tea, be sure to pick up a copy when it becomes available March 22.  As for me, I'll be loading up the 8-track with Pieces of Eight and driving to The Paradise Theater in Chicago for that great classic rock road trip.

In tribute to Shaw's awesome guitar chops, here's a video of a slightly over-the-top solo.  Domo arrigoto, Mr Roboto.