Posts from the “Equipment” Category

Yamaha Reface CP

Posted on 02/03/2018

Really enjoying the Reface series! The CP model packs a Wurlitzer, two Rhodes, a Clavinet, a CP80 and a Toy Piano in a tiny yet enjoyable, and most importantly playable unit. Included are also various effects, and presets can be stored on an iPhone. It even runs on battery and has built-in speakers. Very inspiring and handy, you can work out ideas anywhere, including when work is being done on something else in the studio. Below is a video where I play around with the unit in my studio.


Oberheim OB-X

Posted on 07/12/2016

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I have an old Oberheim OB-X that I love madly. I have used it on many recordings, and it always sounds unbelievably well. Crazy old machine, it’s wild and unpredictable, one of the very first Oberheim polysynths, from before the production was tidied up with the subsequent OB-Xa and OB-8 synths.

It’s getting to be too old, big and precious to carry around to studios these days, let alone taking it on stage, so this week I’ve been painstakingly sampling and looping every note on the keyboard. Dual-oscillator sawtooth waves with the filter wide open, to be used inside my Nord Stage 2.

At first I was tempted to keep these samples to myself, but actually the right thing to do is the exact opposite: http://tinyurl.com/jyb64jb

Any Nord Stage users wanting to use these, feel free. Only 8mb and an enormous sound reminiscent of the Bladerunner soundtrack and early Prince recordings.

Nord Keyboards “Artist of the month”

Posted on 15/02/2016

I’m very proud to have been associated with a brand as cool as Nord for many years now. I strongly believe they are the best keyboard instrument makers around. That is why it is such an exceptional honor to have been picked for artist of the month on their website. I am indeed in very good company with these guys and their amazing roster of artists.


Project Studio 2015

Posted on 02/02/2015

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Some new members in the gear family recently, including an MS-20 mini, a Clavinet and a Hohner Atlantic IV accordion. My RE-201 Space Echo and Leslie 760 are back from a long coma, too, thanks to Stephane Archambault. And my friend Marc Chouarain’s Therevox 4 is temporarily visiting the studio.

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NORD

Posted on 18/12/2014

I’ve been privileged to be associated with Clavia, the makers of the various, red Nord Keyboards, since 2006. But I’ve been using their gear since long before that, and would be today even if I weren’t associated with them. Many things are more complicated in the music business today compared to the heyday of the CD and Vinyl ages, when people actually bought music and the industry generated enormous amounts of money. Not so much anymore. Alternatives ways of generating income for artists and the business are emerging, but as the latest debate about Spotify and other streaming sites demonstrates, we’re still far off target.

However, one of the real privileges of being an active musician today is that we have accessible, light-weight, reliable, amazing sounding gear. Being a keyboard player up until very recently was probably the worst seat on the bandstand. Heavy, unreliable, expensive, complicated gear, with Kafkaesque user interfaces. I asked my friend, the extraordinary keyboardist Brad Cole, who’s been in the business since the 70’s, about working with gear in the 70’s and 80’s:

“Ah, cassette backups. How could I ever forget those palpitations I used to get backing up the Prophet 5 and hoping that the data would be usable when I needed it. Other warm and fuzzy memories: Sequencers that did not have random access (if you made a mistake, you had to start over), FSK sync tones (before there was SMPTE sync for the prosumer), Akai’s first sampler (had an astounding 512kb memory), Eprom burners for drum machines…”

And that’s not counting the weight of the Hammond, the Rhodes, the Leslie, the CP-70 etc. When you think about what you can do today with a Nord Stage 2, that weighs just 16 kg, it’s pretty difficult to be nostalgic about the good old days. This trend is true for many other instrument groups, but I think keyboard players are particularly blessed. And in my mind Clavia is really the company that stands out, and leads the way. It’s an honour to be associated with the best, and starting today I even have a small space on their website: click here.


Fender Rhodes Piano Bass

Posted on 16/06/2014

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Obviously, the Fender Rhodes electric piano is by now a legendary instrument, among the most remarkable instruments invented in the 20th century, and used on so many landmark recordings that everybody knows the sound, even if they don’t know the name of the instrument. The piano solo on “Get Back” by the Beatles, or the raindrop-like sound on the intro of “Riders on the storm” by the Doors, just about any Stevie Wonder song from the ’70s, and so many other tracks in just about any style: Pop, Rock, Soul, Jazz, Latin etc.

An interesting historic fact about the Rhodes piano is that in 1959, when Leo Fender, the highly successful guitar builder, teamed up with Harold Rhodes, the at the time struggling inventor of the Rhodes piano, Leo Fender actually hated the now ubiquitous mid- and top-range of the instrument. He thought that only the bass register could make a marketable instrument. The Fender company released the Fender Rhodes Piano Bass that same year, and until 1965 the Piano Bass was the only Rhodes piano around. Harold Rhodes was assigned to developing other instruments, more in the line of the Hohner Clavinet, while he continued to develop a full-range Rhodes piano in his sparetime. In 1965, CBS bought the Fender company, and this paved the way for a Fender Rhodes full-range 73-note piano with built-in speaker. The rest is history. The Fender name was eventually dropped from the instrument in 1974.

It’s interesting how the in so many other ways visionary Leo Fender missed realising the full potential of the instrument. However, the Piano Bass is a fantastic instrument in its own right; and many of the features later found on the full-range Rhodes pianos were inherited from the Piano Bass – the tolex, the fiberglass top, and the basic structure of the instrument. And the Piano Bass made its own mark on music history, mainly as a fundamental part of the Doors’ innovative sound; the band had no bass player (except on a few studio recordings) – it was keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s left hand that played the band’s bass parts on the Piano Bass.

I’ve had a silvertop Piano Bass for a while now, and while I rarely get to use it (bands almost always have a bass player), it’s always a treat when I have the chance. Below is a video from Nyon in 2008 with Keren Ann. I joined on the last part of her tour, and the musicians were already starting to get other engagements. Consequently the line-up changed a lot depending on who was available on any given date.. Fortunately, this approach works really well with Keren’s repertoire, as everything is based around her songs, guitar and voice. The core material is so strong than it doesn’t really matter whether she’s playing with a full band or just a trumpet player, and the shows stay fresh that way, to say the least. On a few gigs, including the one in Nyon, we had no bass player, so I jumped on the opportunity to break out the Piano Bass.


SSL X-Desk

Posted on 27/02/2014

Exciting new addition to my live setup today. Keyboard players usually rely on a small mixing desk to submix their various keyboards when playing live, so that they don’t take up more than a few channel strips on the front-of-house and monitor mixing desks. I’ve had a Mackie 1404 for this purpose for almost 20 years now, from since I was starting out in cover bands in Denmark in my teens. Transistor-based equipment like the Mackie isn’t really supposed to last that long, but it did the job and I might have clung on to it a little too long for nostalgic reasons. Anyway, the stereo imaging and top end frequencies of my keyboard stereo mix really started to show weaknesses, and it was time to replace it.

Since I don’t make this kind of change very often, I was looking for something serious that could last for years to come. Quite a few manufacturers put out products to suit my needs, but there are few high-end options. It always seemed a little strange to me to have 15.000€ of equipment run through a 400€ mixing desk. It made sense to look into the very best products available. After a bit of investigation, the SSL X-desk seemed to be the best option.

We tried it out at soundcheck yesterday and compared it to my old Mackie. The difference blew everyone away, even the drummer (!). It was not a matter of subtle variations, but really two worlds apart. The depth, stereo image, transparency, clarity of the sound of the SSL was every bit as striking as you’d imagine from this kind of top-end brand. It’s five times the price of my old Mackie, but the sound is beyond comparison. Since every note of every concert I’ll play for the next many years will be running through this board, I didn’t hesitate to make the investment.


Notion for iPad

Posted on 17/02/2014

Very cool new discovery, “Notion”, a music notation app for the iPad. I rely on making simple charts for learning new repertoires quite often, and until now I have been using Logic Audio on Mac OS for this purpose. Serious notation software like Sibelius always seemed a little too vast (and expensive) for my needs. Fortunately a lot of talented programmers and developers are putting their time and energy into the iPad and iOS these days, and thousands of great apps are showing up on the App Store, including this intelligent and powerful sheet music editor. It has the kind of flexibility I need for making charts that sometimes only have the chord changes and the structure of the song, and sometimes includes all kinds of arrangements, melodies, random notes about what the rest of the band is doing at a certain point in the song etc. This little piece of software does all that and much more in a much simpler and straight-forward way than what I’ve been used to in Logic Audio, while still offering powerful tools in terms of notation and page layout. Very cool indeed, and a real bargain at 13€99.

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Because

Posted on 27/04/2013

Did you ever wonder what the keyboard on the Beatles track “Because” looks like? I certainly did. It is such a particular sound, so haunting, that the song needed nothing more than this keyboard part and the not-that-bad vocal trio of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. The extraordinary music instrument shop Antiquity Music in Los Angeles recently did this video about the instrument that George Martin played on the song, the rare and unusual Baldwin Solid Body Harpsichord.

Squier P Bass

Posted on 04/02/2013

I acquired this Sonic Blue Precision Bass from Laurent Cokelaere last week, and it’s a great instrument. It’s from 2008, when Fender had just set up a new Squier factory in China (Squier is Fender’s economy brand), and apparently Fender had to tell the Chinese to back off the quality control a bit: the instruments were simply too good for the market segment they were aimed for. Whether this rumor is true remains uncertain, but there is definitely a lot of talk going around the net about the disproportionate quality of certain generations of Squier instruments, compared to their often ten times more expensive American counterparts, sold under the Fender brand. Obviously, labor cost is the central issue here, and from a geo-economical point of view, it’s a problematic matter. But labor quality is not the problem, and to discard these Chinese instruments as second rate would be a mistake. I can certainly testify to the quality of them. Now, I just need to spend a few more years on the bass to avoid having to rely on the Pro Tools bag of tricks to put a decent bass track together…

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Autoharp

Posted on 21/12/2012

My newest instrument, got it yesterday. An Ashbury Autoharp. Great craftsmanship, a real quality instrument. I still have a way to go before I can play this in public, but the texture is highly atmospheric and sparkly, and I think I might end up using it a lot. It has been used in folk/country settings, famously by June Carter Cash, but works well in many other styles, like the New Weird America trend, Dream Pop, all kinds of Psychedelica, Ambient and what ever other strange names critics have come up with to describe music…

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VOX Continental

Posted on 01/10/2012

The trouble with making a portable version of the Hammond organ, that I talked about in my post about the Clavia C2D, is in no way a recent phenomenon. Way back in 1962, Pop and Rock & Roll bands were starting to use Hammond organs, particularly semi-portable versions like the M-3. Though lighter than a B3, they were still monstrous, heavy machines to carry around. At the time, the Hammond company was still attached to using tonewheels as sound generators, which is basically a set of spinning metallic wheels, one per note, spinning in front an electro-magnetic pickup. Without getting into the details, for one organ you need a lot of spinnings metallic wheels (typically 96), a motor to spin them, a lot of pickups, and the result is a very heavy instrument, no matter how you try to reduce the size and weight. So there was a huge market for an innovative company to come up with a new way to generate the sound, and create a light, portable organ.


The Vox Continental

That company was JMI from the UK, who by the early sixties were already having an enormous success with their VOX amplifiers. One of the owners of the company had a history in organ production, and came up with a transistor-based design that, while maintaining an interface fairly similar to that of a Hammond organ (including drawbars), was completely different from Hammond’s technology under the hood. This allowed for a much lighter instrument, suited to the many bands touring at the time.


John Lennon on stage with a Vox Continental

The VOX Continental organ was instantly a huge success, and became an integral part of the sound of the 60’s. One of the most famous users is Ray Manzarek of the Doors – it is impossible to imagine the sound of the Doors without the VOX Continental – and there is a long list of other users that have helped make this instrument a classic.


Ray Manzarek live with the Doors and the Vox Continental in 1966 at the Whisky A Go Go

I have had a VOX Continental for several years now, and while I don’t dare take it on the road (my trusted Nord Stage does a very good imitation for live uses), I use it on almost every session I do. It can create soft, flute-like textures, aggressive chords, psychedelic tones, cheesy vintage sounds.. Used with effects pedals, the applications are endless.


Recording Vox Continental for Piers Faccini’s album “Two Grains of Sand”
(photo credit: Jeremiah)

The model I own was built in Italy in the late sixties. JMI could barely keep up with demand in the UK, so to supply the booming American market, JMI licensed the design in 1964 to their North American distributor, the Thomas Organ Company, and the story of the VOX Continental took a strange twist. The Thomas Organ Company started building Continentals in America in 1965 using American labor, but they soon realized that it would more cost-effective to set up a factory in Italy, where workers from accordion manufacturing had the necessary skills, but were much cheaper than their American counterparts. JMI was strongly opposed to this move, but had no legal way of stopping the plan, and though JMI did manage to ban the Italian models from the UK market, by early 1967 the Thomas Organ Company were producing VOX Continentals in Italy in huge numbers. While I have never had a chance to try a UK or American model, I am very happy with the model I own which was built by the inexpensive Italian workers.

Needless to say, an instrument of this age requires maintenance from time to time, and just this week the incredible Stéphane Archambault fixed a dead note on my Continental in less than 2 minutes. This operation could have taken hours or days for somebody not familiar with the complicated wiring of the instrument, but Stéphane identified a dead soldering in a matter of seconds, and the instrument is almost as good as new.


Stéphane at work on my Continental

For further reading, I strongly recommend this site: Vox Showroom. They are a very good source of information on every piece of VOX gear ever built.


Some classic tracks featuring the VOX Continental: