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Tom Scholz: Sound Machine

Discussion in 'Studio Lounge' started by JohnTodd, May 29, 2014.

  1. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    A nice short documentary about Scholz and his music/engineering life. About 10 minutes.

    View: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYXgfzVjrTw

    Apologies if already posted.

  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Thanks John... a very cool video to watch.
    Scholz was - and still is - one amazing cat.

    His guitar tones became a signature sound for the 70's.

    I still have a Rockman Sustainor and Chorus/Delay... those little half-rack units that you could attach together to make one full-length rack space.

    They still sound incredible if that's the sound I'm after. ;)
    JohnTodd likes this.
  3. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Likes me some Boston. Love the innovation(s) for live concert sound, too.
  4. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    LOL.... this post was timely. I was organizing some boxes in an upstairs bedroom that's been relegated to a kind of hold-all storage space, and I came across this:


    switches and faders were a bit scratchy, but a good shot of circuit cleaner did the trick.. it still works fine. (y)

    I bought this new in 1986. I was working part time in music retail and these were always back ordered.... lots of guitar players wanted this combo during that time - along with the Power Soak.

    I think I paid $189 for it, new.

    It's pretty much a one-trick pony, but if that's the sound you're after, then this was the pony you wanted. ;)


  5. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

  6. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    The Sustainor and the Stereo Chorus /Delay. These were two models in the "Rock-Module" series. There were several different Rock-Modules to choose from, including Reverb, Graphic EQ, Compressor, Distortion Generator, Smart Gate, etc.

    Because these modules were all made to work together using a simple 1/4" I/O gain-chain, you could add any module you wanted at any time, and they fit together seamlessly. All the modules also had standard 120v household outlet style plugs, so there weren't any "wall warts" with different designated voltages to have to deal with. (Ever work with any Alesis gear from that same time period? Good luck getting any two FX models to share the same transformer voltage :mad: LOL ) so, the Rock-Modules were great in that regard. They only drew around 4 watts each, so you could simply plug them all into a standard power strip, and you were good to go.

    The combo that I bought, The Sustainor/Chorus Delay - shown in my previous post - was the most popular choice for guitar players at that time, as the Sustainor also had a compressor/gate built in. The Stereo Chorus/Delay was able to deliver 20ms - 200 ms delay, with all the typical delay parameters - like Feedback (regeneration) and Output Mix modes, from mono to wide stereo.

    The other popular Scholz model around that same time was The Power Soak. It was a stand alone model, not a part of the Rock-Module Series. It was designed to be used with a guitar amp that had no preamp/input gain settings; older amps like Fender Twins, Princeton's, Hi Watts, etc, which relied on the master volume to deliver the tube distortion. Unfortunately this also resulted in un-Godly volume levels, LOL. The Power Soak was designed to act as a preamp/drive input so you didn't have to crank your amp's output through the roof to get the tone you wanted. Unfortunately, it also did its fair share of damage, too...

    It's basic function was to absorb a portion of the power (placed in-circuit between the output transformer and the guitar speaker), while the remaining portion of the output power was directed to the speaker.
    The problem was that this reduced voltage to the tubes could mess them up over time, because the tubes weren't seeing the input levels that they were designed to see... so, the input level to the tubes was decreased, while the output voltage was increased - and the tubes were left starved for input power and saturated on its output. This type of starvation could sound very good, BUT, it could also be very stressing to the tubes, and over time, would eventually damage the filament / cathode of the tube. Every guitar player I knew at that time who used a PS on their tube amp also carried with them a box loaded with spare tubes. LOL

    The other problem was that, in many cases, it changed the tone of the amp. Even though The Power Soak claimed to keep the sound of the amp "honest", it never really did.

    A little lesson in Rockman History. :)

  7. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    I remember those units now. I had a couple of them Never had the Soak though, but I wanted one.
  8. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    LOL... cleaning up the room and finding something from 1986 LMAO. That is precious! Now I don't feel so bad LOL. Thanks for that Donny!

    Those are beautiful pieces. Glad they're still alive. Nice to see ya putting them back into service! Cool! I think the mid-1980s was the absolute pinnacle of professional audio equipment. Everything was built like a tank. It had to be because of all the heavy iron core transformers. But that all changed starting in the middle late 1970s when everybody wanted to tell you how bad transformers were just so they could build their stuff cheaper. I always pooh-poohed that. I'm a transformer lover. So is Rupert. I'm not alone.

    In fact I think would be really cool to make a completely passive microphone preamp with about one half dozen transformers, only? Transformers that we use on microphones and other pieces of equipment are actually created to be passive amplifiers. This is no joke. I'm not kidding. And since most microphone transformers would provide a boost for the microphone of from 10-15 DB, you could theoretically make it happen with about four transformers. Of course this would not be a perfect microphone preamp. They would only be used to show what transformers are capable of doing without the need for active circuitry. And it's the active circuitry that actually adds most of the distortion components that we don't want. With the ones that the transformers create considerably different. Though this particular project, I've never bothered to actually attempt making myself. But in theory it would work to a certain extent without any active circuitry.

    No I'm not an electrical engineer. I was a high school dropout. Though I did believe in getting my GED (Getting Enough Drugs) weeks after leaving stupid people behind. Educating myself through every book I could get my hands on. Building kits. This assembling and reassembling analog recorders. Becoming a ham radio operator. Getting my third and first class FCC broadcast licenses. Working for numerous studios of the top shelf nature, in major markets. Working for radio and TV stations, and television network, in major markets. And then saving up enough money of my own... by not going to the nightclubs, by not going to rock 'n roll concerts, by not having many hobbies, my not having children, by not having children, by not having children. Though divorce certainly screwed me up. But I didn't let that stop me. I pushed even harder. Pushed myself to the brink! To the extent that I was working three days at NBC in Washington DC and four days per week working for an advertising agency in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. And going after my personal jobs on the weekends. Nonstop for years.

    Most everybody here knows this about me. I wrote this for those of you that don't. Of which I know there are many enthusiastic folks with a lot of passion that wants to make recordings that they can be proud of themselves to have made. I've been lucky for a long time. I haven't been lucky of late. Sometimes it comes down to just one thing... Location Location Location. Not all locations are viable for this business. Though sometimes being the only fish in a little pond can be a good thing. I've only strived to be one of the fish in the Great Lakes, from whence I came. Then I moved up to the Atlantic Ocean. And I've been coastal since 1971. Now I'm heading for a smaller lake and I've grown, considerably. We'll see how that works? I've never really lived in anything but big major market cities. Because that's where the money really is. However, it takes a lot of money to make money in those places. It comes down to everything being on something of a sliding scale. This is where the discussion of rates always comes up.

    I personally hate watching clocks. I feel it also distracts the clientele, excessively. So I generally charge for my services, by the project or by the day, week, month. And for those that want hourly? I'll give them hourly. But package deals sell. And you can throw in nice extra things for the client that will generally make them come back for more. That's what we call a value added sale. Such as recording the singer with my Neumann U-87. Which of course is a beautiful sounding microphone and top shelf. But then you could say... "I only pull this microphone out for special occasions and for very special people, only. It's my U-67 with the original Telefunken tube." That not only makes your clients feel more special, they're going to deliver an even better performance. This is why I have the tools that I have. Not just because they sound good and I know how to use them. No. It's just what ya do. It's 20% equipment and 80% psychology. So it's really not just the equipment. It's more about you.

    Everyone here knows that I love to pontificate LOL.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  9. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I was relieved to find that the RockModules used a standard household outlet plug, (I had forgotten) as opposed to having to deal with also locating an accompanying proprietary wall wart, or matching the voltage (and relative connector pin) of a generic transformer.

    For example, I have several old Alesis models - D4, MultiFX, microverb, microcue - and they all take different voltage wall-wart plugs and different sized connector pins. You'd think that each series would at least share the same voltage spec, but noooooooo. The MicroCue ( 2 ch headphone amp) takes a 9.5 and the MicroVerb uses a 10.5. And the connector pins are completely different in size.

    Not that they are totally worthless, they do what they do, and I'm sure I could go to Radio Hack and pick up adjustable voltage adapters, but it's still a PITA, as I would need an adjustable transformer for each model, and with the exception of the D4 - which perhaps someday might be considered "vintage", much like an old 808 - I'm not sure that the other units are really worth resurrecting. They were pretty cheap even when they were new.

    Whereas the Rockman stuff was hard-wired to a standard outlet type plug. Simple... plug it in, turn it on.

    Some of the faders were a bit noisy - which was expected, considering these had been in storage since probably around 1989 or so - but a quick shot of circuit cleaner fixed it right away.

    I certainly don't see using this particular signature sound on everything, it is pretty dated sounding, but... I can see using it as a texture once in awhile, should the need for that particular processed-sounding guitar arise.

    In any case, I might as well keep them. They work fine, and I wouldn't see much more than probably $50 or so for them on ebay, anyway. They are what they are, and I'm glad I was able to bring them back to life.
    But let's face it, it's not like I came across a long lost U47. ;)


  10. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Ooof, that first chord. Bbbbrrrraaaaawwwwww!!!!!!!! Man that's rock n roll! Awesome post john. Lol were those Mackie mixers he was using? I couldn't tell, but they sure looked like some. Cool stuff.
  11. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Bbbbrrrraaaaawwwwww!!! LOL! I have never seen that, or any sound, written out so accurately!
    kmetal likes this.
  12. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Okay, I couldn't resist. Yesterday, I hooked up my RockMods, and added a guitar track to a song I've been working on. Truthfully? I think it sounds great.

    Now, to complete my journey into the past, I'm gonna dig out my Swatch, put on my Spandex pants, get my hair (or what's left of it) styled into a Mullet, continue to try and solve the Rubik's Cube, and then watch the entire run of Miami Vice ...on Beta Tape, of course.. :)

    I'm wondering if I should be mixing this song so that it sounds good on a Walkman.


    I'll post the song as soon as I'm done mixing - in gloriously compressed MP3 format. ;)
    kmetal likes this.
  13. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    It may be time to reintroduce that sound again. Like classic jeans, it comes and goes.
  14. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I didn't go full out with it, John. I ended up at about half the gain that one would "normally" reach for on this module. I used my Tele - bridge pickup - for edge and bite.

    So, it's not like I've got the " full bore "compressed classic Rockman distortion happening that you'd hear on tracks like Don't Look Back... It's nowhere near that distorted.

    Anyone who has ever used The Sustainor knows that there comes a point in gain where you can distort and compress the sound to where detail and definition is pretty much destroyed. This uber-gain and resulting sustain can work great for leads, but if you're playing mostly chords, or trying to pick here and there, it's not gonna be your best choice for guitar tone.

    Maybe that's the real source of the issues I ended up having with Rockman models - it wasn't so much the model itself, as it was the player, with so many feeling as if they had to use it in "full out" mode, with everything cranked. If instead, you approach and use it as a sense of added texture, it tends to work out much nicer.

    It worked out well at the distortion level I used, just enough edge to compliment the song. I'm toying with double tracking the part (not re-amping but actually playing it again) with slightly more crunch, to see how the two tracks might work together, not only in context with each other, but more importantly, within the entire mix.

    I've learned all too well over the years, that just because you have a tone you dig - be it guitar, bass, keys - doesn't necessarily mean that the tone you like will work well once it's placed into a mix.


  15. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Best trick I ever learned for recording rhythm guitars was for me to back my distortion off to the 75% mark and tweak from there. Actually makes it sound bigger that way!
  16. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Absolutely agreed. Regardless of whether you're using a Rockman - which can so very easily turn to compressed mush - or using any other type of amp or processor, you should always pick your tone based on what it sounds like within the tonal and balance characteristics of the song on the whole - unless it's a guitar composition like a la' Satriani or Jeff Beck, where the guitar is the focal point.

    Most of the time, I'm able to accomplish this by setting tone on the amp or processor, and then backing the gain (distortion) off by at least 25% of where I think it sounds good on it's own.

    I've encountered this countless times with clients - and I've been guilty of it more than a few times myself - getting a tone on an amp or processor that I thought was great, only to find that it didn't work out well at all, once it was dropped in with the other tracks... and it's not always just a balance thing - loud or soft - I think it's absolutely tonal.

    In the past few years, I've been using a splitter to record two separate tracks of the same take; track 1 is whatever tone I choose, in terms of distortion or color, and track 2 is the same take, but tracked completely clean and unprocessed. This gives me the option to re-amp at any time I choose, whether I choose to do so through the use of VSTi's, or actually busing it out through an auggie to an external processor, or to a real amp with a mic.

    Having that clean, unprocessed track allows me tonal options that are virtually limitless.

    To be honest, tracking with this method has saved my Yankee a-s-s more than just a few times. ;)


  17. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    I always track'em clean ... but then again, I rely on Amplitube and Guitar Rig to deliver my Mad Ballz Bustin' Face Meltin' Tone. ;)
    DonnyAir likes this.
  18. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    You really should file for a trademark on that before a vst or pedal manufacturer steals that name. ;)
  19. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

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