Tern – Downtempo track

Tern300

Tern – Downtempo – 12-16-2013 <- Right Click to Save or Play

Been on a bit of a roll lately with my current way of writing music, having a good time and just seeing where it takes me.  Here’s another slightly happy one (for me at least), done once again with the iPad and my new acoustic guitar.

Speaking of the guitar, it’s been a real joy to play since I got it, no regrets at all.  Over the last few weeks I’ve been slowly customizing it, to make it a little more my style and a bit more unique.  Swapped the tuners, strap button, and truss rod cover screws from gold to cosmo black from Gotoh.  Less blingy, looks pretty sharp if I do say so.

I also took off the pick guard that came on it, though I debated that one for a bit.  I originally hadn’t wanted one when I was shopping for a guitar, but I had no choice unless I wanted to pay big bucks for a custom guitar.  It looked nice enough for a pick guard I guess, but in the end was just a little too red for my taste.

Easy enough to remove it turns out, and it looks much nicer without it I think.  I’ll post some pics once we get some decent light here in Seattle.  Until then, enjoy the new track!

Play It Right The First Time

Hanon

It’s been a long time since I actively had to study intensely for something, so it’s been a pretty interesting experience as I set out to do just that in order to improve my guitar playing. I’ve always been someone on the look out for new ideas and tricks to try in audio production, but there’s a big difference between reading about new techniques to learn them, and actively practicing something over and over again. Kind of makes me feel like I’m in school to be honest, boo hiss! 🙂

On the plus side, since it has been so long since I set myself a task like this, it’s been a really pleasant surprise to see just how many options are out there for people wanting to learn an instrument (or a DAW, softsynth, etc). Not just the sheer number of people offering things like tutorial videos, the overall quality of them is actually pretty good too. Indeed, it seems like a lot more people these days are trying to make a career out of teaching other people how to play, versus playing themselves! I see a lot of parallels with the electronic music world on this front, there’s probably almost as many “how to use Ableton” videos on YouTube as there are how to play guitar (or bass, drums, etc).

Interesting the way people adapt to find the niche that works best for them when it comes to making a career in music. And that there’s such a market for it as well. But I digress…

One of the more interesting ideas I see over and over again in guitar instruction these days, is the idea of “play it right the first time”. The whole point of any activity in which you repeat something over and over to learn it, is to train your muscles to perform the action as easily as possible, with as little thought as possible. Thus it makes sense to make sure you only ever do that action correctly, so your fingers (in the case of the guitar) aren’t wasting time learning poor fingering techniques or getting used to playing the wrong notes all the time.

Usually this means SLOWING DOWN more than anything, really taking your time to play each and every note right the first time. But it also involves a lot of pre-planning before you even play a single note. Taking the time to look over a music passage and identify the areas that you think will cause you a problem, then mentally figuring out how to make that easier before you do anything else.

Or maybe it means learning shorter passages, to make sure you can remember all the notes. Maybe planning in advance where in a chord progression you might need to adjust your hand position to hit all the notes cleanly. In short, taking the time to plan out HOW you’re going to play something before you actually try and do it.

It’s a simple concept, but it’s something I think a lot of producers can benefit from as well.

If there’s areas in audio production you feel you’re lacking in, it’s tempting to just fire up your DAW and start messing around. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (all practice is good I suppose), it doesn’t always set you up to succeed either. At the very least it might just be inefficient and slow.

Sometimes the problems you’re trying to tackle are multi-faceted, and attempting to understand all of those issues at once leads to more confusion. Or worse, lack of proper understanding of what all those facets are actually doing to the sound. Yes you might have made something sound better, but do you understand WHY enough to actually apply that knowledge to future projects?

When you know you have skills that are not your weak point, take the time to sit down and think about everything involved. Try to come up with a plan that works to maximize what exactly you learn about it. Break down your learning goals, understand what you need to achieve these, and make sure you set yourself up with the right tools to do that before you even start.

Some examples:

– You’ve heard a lot about multi-band compression and want to learn to use it in your songs. But do you REALLY know how a single band compressor works first? Does it make more sense to try it on the master buss in your DAW, or on a simpler sound source like drums? Does the source audio you’re using in either case have enough dynamics to make the exercise useful in the first place?

– Your mixes always sound flat and one-dimensional, and you want to learn how to add more space and depth to them. It doesn’t make sense to start throwing all the options into the equation at the same time, like panning, reverb, wideners, etc. Focus on only one of these at a time, and use a project with fewer tracks so you can really hear what you are doing, and how it affects the sound stage. Take the time to listen to how each of these affects the way instruments sound and are placed, not just in your studio, but elsewhere too.

– After years of DJing club music, you want to learn to learn to scratch records. It doesn’t make sense to start trying to mimic a Q-bert routine you find on YouTube. Start with a basic scratch, and study the techniques ahead of time for just that one scratch. Think about where your hands and the faders need to be at each step of the way, visualize it in slow motion, and then do it exactly like that in slow motion until each motion takes place in the right order. Then work on getting faster, and combining it with other scratches you focused on the same way.

Nobody likes practicing. Well, almost nobody. 🙂 So it makes sense to maximize the time you spend actually focusing on learning something new. By having a simple and very clear plan in place ahead of time, you lessen the chance of distractions and getting side-track. Or learning bad techniques because you’re in a hurry and trying to do too much at once. It also makes it easy (and rewarding) to track your progress, because each practice activity is both achievable, and measurable because it’s so specific.

Slow down, visualize each step ahead of time, plan for the aspects will be difficult or easy, then execute what you’re trying to do accordingly.

Being a little more focused in how I approach learning something new (like the guitar) really has helped me a lot in making the most of my practice sessions. I get distracted easily, so frequent shorter sessions work better than all day marathons for me. Having a real plan in place for each practice session just makes it count for so much more. I figure if I’m going to actually spend some of my time solely to work on getting better at something, it makes sense to use that time as best I can. Life’s too short to be wasting any of it 🙂

Hopefully some of these ideas help you too! If you have other examples of how you do something similar, please post them in the comments for others to read. Reminder that all first time posts have to be approved by me (only way to accurately stop the spam), but I’m pretty quick about it.

Thanks!

In Splits & Starts – New Downtempo Track

In Splits & Starts <- Click to download

This is the first track I’ve written since selling my Elektron gear and buying a nice acoustic guitar. Don’t worry though, this is definitely not country music! A bit happier and more playful than my usual downtempo tracks, still lots of interesting twists to keep your ears on their toes. Err… something like that.

Recorded in Auria on an iPad Air, drums are a combination of Beatmaker2 and Alchemy Mobile, the few synth sounds in this track are from Alchemy or Nave. Most of the instrumental sounds are actually my Taylor 814ce acoustic guitar processed with a Boss TeraEcho pedal, or the effects and time-stretching in Auria.

Hopefully this marks a new direction for my music making, looking forward to seeing where this takes me next!

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

Never one to wait…

TaylorLook what I did.  🙂

In a moment of put up or shut up, I decided the heck with it and started posting some of the stuff I’ve been contemplating selling on Craigslist.   At the same time I contacted someone I knew who worked at Guitar Center, and asked him when was the best time to buy the acoustic guitar I had been eyeing.  He offered to help me out, and within a couple days I had sold the Octatrack and Machinedrum, with my HR824’s and older acoustic lined up to sell later this week.

On top of that, I got the news that I’m going to have to have surgery on my left shoulder, after dislocating it on a mountain bike trip last month in BC.  It’s an old snowboard injury that crops up every few years, but this time it’s not healing right.   So, no biking or snowboarding for 6-7 months it looks like.  The surgery will only take a couple weeks to heal, but I can’t stress it at all with sports until the ligaments are fully attached on their own.

I figured if I can’t do any biking or boarding (Grrrr!), now is as good a time as any to sit down and really relearn how to play the guitar.  With the decision made to sell the Elektrons and move on to something else, it seemed like I wouldn’t get a better chance to take a leap.

So yesterday I went and picked up a Taylor 814ce, and boy am I glad I did.

As a guitar player I’ve alwys wanted a really nice acoustic, even though historically I’ve been more into electric guitar.  It’s hard not to admire the craftsmanship and the sound of beautiful wood made into a true instrument.  The Taylor lives up to that and then some, it sounds and plays better than I would have ever expected.

TeraEcho

Didn’t take long to get comfortable playing it, so I decided to hook up my TeraEcho pedal and record my new guitar into Auria for a track I had been working on (the 814ce has an onboard preamp designed by Rupert Neve).  Of course I couldn’t get any signal in Auria for some reason, and it took an hour or so of troubleshooting to figure out that the new batteries I had just bought were in fact dead.

Hard not to laugh, here was my first night playing an acoustic guitar meant to get me away from electronic stuff for awhile.  And I’m spending it all testing cables, looking at set-up screens in my D/A, watching troubleshooting videos on YouTube, and swapping out batteries.  Sigh, I’ll learn my lesson one day, I really will…

Once I swapped out the battery for a good one, it was a great night.  Lots of fun stuff recorded, and I’m enjoying playing guitar more than I have in a long time.  Today was more of the same, though this time I just left it unplugged and enjoyed playing it acoustic.

I know a lot of people have joked than I’m going to start playing country music or something, but for me it’s no different than buying a MIDI controller or synth.  Just a different way of playing and recording notes, especially if I include something like the MIDI Guitar software to play VSTs in real time.

Rest assured, I still plan on writing trippy downtempo, I just want to get better at playing it!

Time For Change

Whew, to say things have been in a little state of flux here lately would be an understatement I suppose. And if I keep having the thoughts I am, this is only the start of things.

Huh?

Ok, I guess that’s a little cryptic, so maybe I should back up a little bit.

If you follow the blog, then you know that lately I’ve been spending more and more time writing music on the iPad. Some try to call me out on it, claiming I’m just Apple fan boi looking to jump on the latest fad. Other people have said I only do it to prove a point.  No, it’s just fun for me.

WorkWithLess

Whatever the reason, at a time when I’ve frankly been fighting burnout when it comes to producing my own music, working on the iPad has been a breath of fresh air. Portability, the fact I can DJ AND write music on it, long battery life, the minimalist nature of it, cheap apps, and most important… tools that are generally trying to do new and innovative things when it comes to music creation. It resonates much more with me than I ever expected it was going to, especially when I pair it with something like the QuNexus (another innovation IMVHO).

At the same time as I have been exploring what I could do with an iPad, I’ve also been working on putting together a new live set and album with the Elektron Octatrack (OT). Things were going pretty well, I had spent a lot of time collecting and making sample chains, and working out a new method for using the OT to perform with. Then my card reader broke in the OT, and it had to be sent in for warranty work.

After about a month the Octatrack was fixed and on it’s way back to me, but the process had left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m not going into specifics (don’t ask), but for reasons between me and Elektron I wasn’t pleased with the way everything was handled. And because the OT was gone for so long, it gave me a lot of time to consider if it was really something I wanted to spend more time on.

I knew the power of that little box, and it had worked well for me for two years of gigs and studio use. But I had been questioning if I was having as much fun using it as I should be, especially given the amount of time I had put into the new set. I had my doubts, and the recent warranty episode just sealed the deal that perhaps it is time to move on to something new.

Genuinely new.  So the Octatrack is getting sold, in fact someone is on their way over to look at it right now as I type this.  So it could be gone already by the time you read this.

As I started looking around at other options like the DSI Tempest, OP-1, or maybe even the forthcoming Prophet 12 Rack, I realized I’m just not that excited by some of the hardware coming out these days. Which is odd, because by all accounts this is an exciting time for hardware! (especially if you want a cheap analog monosynth)

No, for some reason these days I’ve been feeling the irresistible draw of…

… a new acoustic guitar.

I know, no one is surprised more than me. But for a long time now I’ve been wanting to go back to my first instrument, and really put in the time to improve my playing. I have a nice electric (Parker Dragonfly 824), and I already have an ok Ovation acoustic/electric. But as I get older the allure of a really nice, hand-made acoustic guitar grows stronger. Something that will let me make music away from computers and even iPads, and really get back to what it was that drew me to music in the first place.

Nothing is set in stone yet, but for right now this is the path I’m starting to lean towards. It doesn’t mean that I’m giving up electronic music, like I said I still have the iPad which I enjoy for that, and of course there’s always Ableton and a Push sitting right here too. And I think it could be interesting processing acoustic guitar recordings with a bunch of effects too, instead of using my electric like normal.

Needless to say, there’s a lot on my mind at the moment, but it feels good to have a new direction to consider. I’ll definitely keep people updated as I get further along in this process, who knows what I’ll end up with! (A Taylor 814ce is the current front runner for those that are curious).

814ce

Until then, back to working on my new Auria track….

Boss Tera Echo TE-2 Review

TeraEcho

At Winter NAMM this year, one of the things that really caught my eye was a brand new effect pedal from Boss, called the Tera Echo TE-2.  Aside from being the 100th pedal that Boss has created, it was also one of 3 new designs Boss made to alter the effects based on how dynamically you’re playing.  Billed as neither a reverb or delay pedal, it sounded perfect for the trippy sort of music I like to make.

It’s no surprise I’m a huge delay fan, I use it readily in pretty much all of my songs.  But what might surprise some people is that this is the first dedicated hardware delay unit I’ve ever owned.  Heck, it’s the first single use guitar pedal I’ve ever bought, and I’ve been playing over 23 years (my past pedals were all multi-effect units like the Pod).  So I was pretty excited a couple days ago when I learned they were finally arriving in stores, and I went to get one ASAP.

Physically it’s incredibly sturdy, like any Boss pedal it feels like it could be dropped a few times without really damaging it.  The colors look better in person than the online pictures I had seen before buying it, sort of a pearl white with metallic teal letters.  The top 4 knobs and the backplate below them are gold, which looks better with the other colors than you might think.  Heavy duty rubber is on the top of the foot switch, and on the bottom of the entire unit to make sure it stays in place.

Controls and IO are simple, aside from the foot switch and the 4 knobs, there’s a small indicator LED, and you have stereo ins and outs for 1/4″ jacks.  The IO is not balanced (the indicator light blinks and no sound is passed if you try using a balanced cable), but at least there’s a stereo input unlike a lot of guitar pedals.

The 4 controls you have to adjust are:

Level – Functions as both a wet dry knob and volume boost, at 12 o’clock the wet to dry split is 50/50 like you’d expect.  Past halfway though, the overall volume increases with the wet mix increasing.  Can take some finessing to get a clean signal to the rest of your device chain depending on how much of the effect you want.

Tone – Controls the brightness of the effected signal.  Turn it way up and you get just a sparkling shimmer that fades away into the distance.  Turn it down to the minimum setting and you get a deep cavernous tone that still presents a lot of spaciousness.

Feedback – Basically gives you control over how long the effect tail is.  At shorter feedback settings, you can hear the individual delays cascading around each other.  With longer feedback, you can create whole new atmospheres and sustained textures.

S-Time – I think this means spread time.  With really low settings, the effect sounds more like a reverb, with high settings you get more and more time between delays and repeats.  There’s no way to dial in precise tempos, nor is there a tap tempo function.  This is one of my few complaints about it.

So, how does it sound in use?   At first I went right for the most over the top effects I could, almost no dry signal just all sorts of delayed weirdness. It was fun for a bit, but quickly I started noticing how ‘samey’ the tone was, almost a sort of dull wooden sound.  Also, with really short Feedback settings, you get this weird filtered modulation happening with each note.  It wasn’t bad sounding, but it is so distinct that it started making me think this pedal was a one trick pony

After a bit of a break however, I decided to see how it sounded when used a little more subtly.  Here’s where my perceptions about things totally changed too!  When used to accent and compliment my guitar’s real tone, all sorts of new sounds seemed to come from the TE-2.  The dynamic changes are subtle at times, but there’s definitely a change in how everything responds depending on how hard you play.

What really surprised me though was how well it worked when I ran an already heavily effected or delayed signal into it.  I figured it would wash everything out and just turn it all into mush, but the previous effects could still be heard and the new delays interacted with them in interesting ways.

It’s not a magic pedal mind you, there’s still a similarity to the types of effects it produces.  But when you factor in the different input signals you can feed it, I think there’s still a lot of variety you can get out of the effects.  Being able to morph from short reverbs to long delay washes is pretty cool sounding, and the feedback goes up high enough that it can get out of control if you’re not careful.

Another neat trick is that you can step and pedal switch and hold it down to freeze the current effect trails into a repeating loop.  So you could, for instance, strum a chord and let the delays build, then press and hold the toe switch down to freeze those echoes while you play over them.  The echoes are typically a little on the quiet side, but it does give you plenty of room to play over without everything fighting for space too.

Overall I’m really happy with the Tera Echo though.  It’s by no means the perfect or most flexible delay pedal out there, it does one thing and one thing very well.  There’s a lot of room for fine-tuning exactly the type of ambience you want to create though, so I think it will still get a lot of use here.  Definitely not the kind of thing I’d want to use in every song though.

Here’s a quick video I made of it processing a song I’m working on in my Elektron Octatrack.

Mainly just tweaking the parameters in real-time to give you a feel for the range of sounds it can make.  There’s already a few videos on YouTube showing people using it on guitar, so I thought I would do something a little different.  If you have any questions, post them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them asap.  Thanks!

A New Friend

Recently I decided to get a new guitar to replace the Ibanez S540FMTT I’ve been using for almost twenty years.  Honestly, the S540 is my baby, it’s been through thick and thin with me, but I was just feeling the urge to get something new.  Been taking a break from strictly electronic-based music, and I really wanted to focus on the guitar again for awhile.  Figured now was the perfect time for a new guitar then.  I’ve always been drawn to Parker guitars, but they’ve also been way out of my price range too.  So I had more or less decided to trade up the S540 to a newer Ibanez S5470 Prestige.  Same thing just newer electronics and bridge.

On a whim however (and partly out of boredom one day), I decided to visit the Parker forums to see kind of guitars they were putting out these days.  Out of pure luck I ran into an ad for someone selling a 4 month old, one of a kind Dragonfly DF724 (they don’t make them in blue flamed maple usually).  And it was in my price range, though just barely.  Taking a chance I bought it from the seller (who was a super nice guy and pleasure to do business with), and roughly a week later I had my new dream guitar.

 

And then things got interesting.

When the guitar arrived, I was ecstatic.  It was beautiful, light, and everything I could have wished for in terms of fit and feel.  I like thin and light guitars, and this was perfect, it just felt right.  The neck is just about as thin as the Wizard neck on the Ibanez, and the stainless steel frets (as opposed to the usual nickel ones companies use) feel amazing.  A little thinner than the jumbo frets I’m used to, but so easy to bend on.  The action was a touch higher than I was used to, but that was simple enough to adjust, and is now lower than my S540’s with no buzzing at all.  In short, this is the best guitar I’ve ever played, it truly feels like a high end hand-crafted instrument.  All of my expectations were met or exceeded.

I rushed to the studio, and plugged it into my Line6 Pod X3 to check out how it sounded.  I’ve never used a guitar with Seymour Duncan pickups, always been a DiMarzio fan.  My other concern had been the pick up layout on the Parker, which was a Single Single Humbucker configuration, where as the neck Humbucker on my Ibanez (H S H configuration) was the pick up I used the most.  Luckily the pickups sounded really good.

At least, they did for about 90 seconds.

About that time, the Pod X3 emitted a tiny pop sound, released a thin puff of smoke, and proceeded to reboot itself.  When it came back on, the display was blank (but lit), and it was not making any sound.  If there was any doubt that this was not going to end well, the faint aroma of burnt silicon quickly squashed that.  Sigh….

So there I was, less that two minutes into the first session with my brand new dream guitar, and I have no way to hear it.  Sure, I messed with the amps and pedals in Garageband for a bit, but it’s not the same.  They’re ok, pretty good, but not as good as the Pod X3 was.  Thus began the fun process of trying to determine if it was going to even be worth it to fix the Pod X3, or just get a new one.  After some research and calls to the local Line 6 service center, it turns out that I was only going to save about $40 getting it fixed, versus buying a new one (with the full warranty since it was new).   Some might think I’m crazy going back to a company after something like this, but I’ve owned all the Pods over the years, and this is the first issue I’ve ever had with one.

So, I started looking at what Line 6 was offering and quickly realized that the HD500 was probably more up my alley than another Pod X3 (combined with my MKI Shortboard).  Went to Guitar Center to pick one up, and I’m back in business again and couldn’t be happier.  I’ve posted about my recent guitar exploits on a few forums, and a lot of people have asked for a review of the HD500, so I figured why not.  Read on for the review….

Line6 HD500 Review

A lot of people who asked for this review are current Line 6 owners, who are debating upgrading what they have to the newer Line 6 HD line up.  So to some extent I’ll tailor my review to those with experience with Line 6 Pod products.  As I mentioned, I’ve owned all the Pods over the years, and always been happy with how they sounded for my needs.  I’ve also owned Digitech and Korg all in one offerings, as well as real tube amps from Marshall (a JCM), Fender (silver face Bassman was my first amp), and Vox (AC30).

I’ll be upfront in stating that I could care less how “realistic” a digital emulator sounds compared to a real tube amp, I’m not a purist by any means.  All I care about is does it sound good, and how flexible and easy to use is it.  In my experience, once you record the guitar and put it in the context of a song, the differences between real tube amps and todays higher end emulations are all but gone.  How they “feel” and play is a different matter of course, so I can certainly understand why some people care about this.

For me, each new revision of the Pods has meant a noticeable increase in sound quality, especially when I went from the Pod XT to the Pod X3.  The reverbs sounded smoother, it was more responsive to volume controls, and overall it was just a very noticeable increase in the sense of space and depth the unit provided. Unfortunately, it was a slightly more complicated unit to use, not as dead simple as the XT was.  Line 6 stuff has always been pretty easy to figure out, and the X3 was no exception, it just wasn’t as simple as the XT was.  Also, I didn’t really find the dual channel processing it offered all that useful either.  It gave you a lot of flexibility, but you had to be really careful things didn’t get too busy and muddy sounding too.  Using just one channel though, it offered a ton of ways to shape your sound.

Enter the HD500.  The biggest difference according to Line 6 is that they scaled back the amps they modeled, and focused on making them more accurate.  At wide open volumes (i.e., via the volume pot on your guitar), the amps aren’t hugely different to my ears.  Start to roll back the volume though, and they definitely are a lot more playable over a greater range than the previous Pods.  It’s a lot simpler to tone down a distorted amp with your volume pot now, and not feel like it’s just sort of turning down the distortion in the process.  Much more playable, and as a result makes the way you interact with the amps that much better.  But again, to me the sound difference when the volume is wide open is not huge.  Noticeable over the X3 sure, but not a gigantic improvement.  Since I thought the X3 amps sounded great already, this is fine by me.

Some people might lament the fact that the HD500 has less amps than the X3 did over all, but I think Line 6 did a great job of picking the right amps to include.  Creating a new guitar tone from scratch is much faster now, so in many ways I actually like the limited options.

And while they limited the amp models, there’s still over 100 different effects you can choose from, and these all sound fantastic.  The two biggest differences with the HD effects compared to the Pod X3, is that on the HD you have up to 8 different effects slots to insert whatever effects you want, and that the effects can be in any order that you want (as well as serial and parallel routing). Some of the reverbs and pitch shifters use a lot of computing power, so there are some rare times you might only be able to use 5-6 effects before you get a warning message about lack of processing available.  Also, keep in mind that things like the volume and wah pedals, EQs, and noise gates use up 1 of your 8 slots as well.  Hasn’t been an issue for me personally, it’s still way more flexible than the X3 was.  Effects now only have 5 editable parameters, but I don’t find this a limitation at all so far.  On the plus side, you can also assign more than one effect parameter to a toggle switch now, so one button press can do multiple things.  Handy.

In terms of hardware, the IO options on the HD500 are very plentiful, more so than the X3 was.  Rather than list the connections available, I’ll just say check out the list at Line6.com.  The pedal board itself is very sturdy, pretty heavy too, definitely built for use live.  I really like the new toggle switches on the HD compared to my Shortboard MKI, much easier to toggle effects and select presets now.  The volume/wah pedal feels solid, as do the basic tone controls, though I did feel these were spaced rather close together.

The HD500 also has a dedicated looper now, with up to 48 seconds sampling time.  The looper is simple to use, the display changes to show you what each toggle does when you enter this mode, so I didn’t even need to open the manual to figure out the operation of this. In fact, the overall operation of the whole unit has been greatly improved compared to the X3 and earlier Pods.  Instead of scrolling through a long list of all your effects modules in a patch (some with pages of parameters each),  you use a visual grid of the effects to select which to edit, and the 4 soft knobs below the display to select and tweak each one.  It makes perfect sense once you’re in front of the unit, and I think it’s biggest change to how you edit patches on Line 6 gear since the Pod was introduced.  Very hard to explain in words, so I’ll just say once you ‘get it’, it’s far easier and faster than the previous Pods were.

If you don’t want to edit from the front panel (and who could blame you since it’s a floor-based unit), the HD series comes with some free editing software for your computer.  While not quite as simple as Line6’s Gearbox software, I was able to figure it out in a couple of minutes without the manual.  The software lets you view all the effect parameters at once, as well as functioning as a librarian program as well.  Great for moving patches around in set lists.

Ah set lists, I almost forgot about them.  New to the HD range is a concept known as set lists, which are basically a collection of 128 patches each.  You have room for 8 set lists onboard, 4 are factory patches you can over-write if you want, and 4 are blank User locations ready for you to store your favorites too.  Like previous Line 6 gear, patches (Tones) are stored in 16 banks with 4 patches each.  So a set list is collection of these 16 banks.  These are easy to switch between, you just press the selection encoder on the hardware to open the set list selection screen, and you just turn the encoder to select the set list you want.

A quick bit of math and you’ll realize this means there are 512 locations for patches built into the HD series, 4 times the amount available on the X3 and earlier ranges.  In a somewhat misleading way, Line 6 states that the HD500 comes with 256 patches preprogrammed onboard.  In use though, a lot of the patches are duplicated among the different set lists, so you don’t get that many unique Tones.  I read a lot of complaints about the factory sounds when researching the HD500, but to be honest, I like them a lot.  They definitely tend towards the weird and wild many times versus being straight up simple amp emulations, but they’re very well done IMO.  Some of them turn your guitar into otherworldly sounds that you’d be hard pressed to identify as coming from a guitar, so this is great for a musician like myself.  Most make great use of the expression pedal, though because many of the effect parameters can be assigned to the same toggle switches, sometimes turning these on and off leads to unexpected results.  Hard to know what you’re turning on and off if you didn’t create the patch.  The display will show you which effects are assigned to each toggle, but only for the first effect assigned.  Minor complaint though.

Ok, this is getting stupid long now, so I’ll try and wrap it up and summarize my overall thoughts.  Line 6 state that the main goal with the HD series was to make the amps more playable, and on that front I think they did as intended.  Especially if you use the volume and tone controls on your guitar to help shape the tone you’re after.  In terms of pure sound quality, I don’t think the HD500 is a huge step up from the X3, though there is a small but noticeable difference.

I really like the new effects models the HD500 has over the X3, especially the pitch-shifting effects and the pattern tremolo, which lets you create some complex gating patterns.  The looper is a real blast to use as well, and it’s simple to operate.  Navigating and creating patches is so different from previous Pod’s, that at first it was slightly confusing.  Once you get it though, it’s definitely an improvement over earlier models, and I really like the way Line 6 did it.  Even if most effects have less parameters to control as a result.  The hardware itself is very robust in most cases, and has enough IO options to please just about anyone. The global menu has also been revamped, and now has a lot more options to control and tailor the HD500 to perform exactly as you want.

Other than losing some of the bass and vocal processing functions of the X3 (which I never really used anyway), I can’t think of any other area where the HD500 is step back from the earlier Pods.  At least for my uses.  It sounds great and is easy to use, and those have always been my primary criteria.  If you have any questions or need a clarification on something, please post it in the comments.  Likewise, if there’s anything you’d like to know about the Parker guitar, let me know and I’ll be happy to answer it if I can.  Hope you found this useful!