Guitar Musician e-zine     09/27/2006

In This Issue:


"Approach your guitar intelligently, and if there are limits, don't deny them. Work within your restrictions. Somethings you can do better than others, some things you can't do as well. So accentuate the positive."

- Chet Atkins


Some Humor


Dear Tide,

I am writing to say what an excellent product you have! I've used it all of my married life, as my Mom always told me it was the best. Now that I am in my fifties I find it even better! In fact, about a month ago, I spilled some red wine on my new white blouse. My inconsiderate and uncaring husband started to belittle me about how clumsy I was, and generally started becoming a pain in the neck. One thing led to another and somehow I ended up with his blood on my new white blouse!

I grabbed my bottle of Tide with bleach alternative, and to my surprise and satisfaction, all of the stains came out! In fact, the stains came out so well the detectives who came by yesterday told me that the DNA tests on my blouse were negative and then my attorney called and said that I was no longer considered a suspect in the disappearance of my husband.

What a relief! Going through menopause is bad enough without being a murder suspect! I thank you, once again, for having a great product!

Well, gotta go, have to write to the Hefty bag people.

A Lesson For The Learning

Interested in guitar lessons? - Be sure and check out the guitar lessons offered by Andrew Koblick at Amazing Guitar


Mackie Onyx 400F FireWire Interface

Premium computer-based recording

By Oscar Sommers
Mackie Onyx 400F FireWire Interface Premium computer recording

Over the past few years FireWire recording interfaces have proliferated like dandelions on a summer lawn. If you hang out at Harmony Central, read any recording mags, or browse the recording section of Musician’s Friend, you’ve likely noticed what I’m talking about. Computer recording with a FireWire interface works for a lot of reasons. FireWire gets audio in and out of your computer fast, is easily portable, works reliably, and has a big bandwidth that gives you lots of headroom and audio channels.

Onyx 400F

While it may be easy to find a FireWire computer audio interface these days, it becomes a lot harder if you want a truly professional all-in-one unit—one that is rugged enough to go on the road and has the audio quality you need for critical studio recordings. Lots of FireWire interfaces do one or the other, but the Mackie Onyx 400F does both extremely well. It delivers all the benefits of FireWire as well as the pristine circuitry and premium analog preamps you need for serious recording too. It is capable of the highest resolution available (192kHz), has four of Mackie’s stunning Onyx microphone preamps, boasts Mackie’s legendary build excellence, and comes with a full version of Tracktion 2 recording software.

With its first-rate sound, the Onyx 400F competes with interfaces that retail for twice as much. And while the 400F costs more than an entry-level FireWire interface, its features blow them out of the water. This 24-bit/192kHz computer recording interface boasts 10 channels of I/O including S/PDIF on channels 9 and 10, 1x1 MIDI interface, 10x10 DSP mixer, and 64-bit floating-point processing. Combined with the Onyx preamps, that means you don’t have to shell out big bucks for a studio-quality microphone preamp or mixer when you get a 400F.

Mackie Onyx 400F FireWire Computer Recording Interface

Precious gem

The 400F is billed by Mackie as a "Superior recording preamp and FireWire interface in a single box." I put it through a variety of recording applications and at the end of the day I have to agree with their assessment. I liked the Onyx preamps as well as any preamp I’ve ever used on a computer interface, mixer, or outboard preamp. I think you’d have to spend twice as much money on an outboard preamp to get a performance equal to the 400F. The Onyx pres have a warm high-fidelity sound that’s spacious, deep, and clean. Everything I recorded with the 400F had more detail with a big 3-D soundstage; a sonic characteristic I’ve previously only heard from mega-buck studio consoles.

Mackie designed the circuitry in the rest of the 400F to be just as hi-fi as the preamps. It has superior analog circuitry, extremely high-quality converters, and an advanced DSP chip to handle the 400F’s 64-bit processing. The analog-to-digital converter chipset comes from the Digital X Bus and boasts a 192kHz sampling rate. These converters process the audio from the analog circuitry fully intact, without missing a single harmonic or transient in your music. The DSP duties are handled by a custom-designed, 64-bit Texas Instruments chip that trumps any other DSP chip currently available.

Valuable versatility

The 400F also has an impressive level of flexibility. Using the DSP mixing software that ships with the 400F, you can set up a mix on your computer, save it, then unplug the 400F and take it with you to use as a 10x10 rackmount mixer or patchbay. Another super-cool feature lets you daisy-chain multiple 400Fs through the extra FireWire port on the primary 400F to create one monstrous audio interface. It also has dual independent headphone jacks, monitor level control, TRS inserts on the four Onyx preamp channels, and a generous plug-in bundle aimed at professional productions.

The Tracktion 2 recording and sequencing software that comes with the 400F is extremely versatile too. Designed from the ground up to be fast, intuitive, and powerful, Tracktion doesn’t get in your way. It’s a fresh approach to DAW software that simplifies everything and gives you a single uncluttered window with all the things you need and nothing you don’t. Tracktion also only takes up about 35MB of space on your hard drive and uses up the least processing power of any recording software I’ve seen.

When you buy the 400F you get the whole enchilada: first-class analog preamps and advanced digital circuitry combined with intuitive software that make recording easy. When it comes to single-box recording solutions, the 400F is it.

Features & Specs:

Onyx 400F features:

  • FireWire-based recording preamp/audio interface
  • 4 Onyx mic preamps with 48V phantom power
  • 4 balanced line inputs
  • 2 channels of S/PDIF I/O
  • 1x1 MIDI interface
  • 8 balanced line outputs
  • 24-bit/192kHz A/D/A converters
  • 10x10 DSP mixer
  • TRS inserts inputs on mic channels
  • Control room and dual headphone outputs with independent level controls
  • Dual FireWire ports
  • Tracktion 2 production software
  • Professional plug-in bundle



Advice for New Guitarists

Robyn Adams; San Antonio, TX

Q: I am brand new to playing the Guitar. I know and understand the parts of the Guitar and I can read music so I am confident that I will be able to figure out reading tablature. I get frustrated when I watch the DVD and try to play along because I try to play the chords with the video and I don't know if I am holding too tight or what, but the beautiful sound of a guitar is not the sound that comes out. It sounds like I am holding the strings too tight and cutting out the sound.

Do you have any idea what I am doing wrong and/or any advise on how to correct this? I would definitely appreciate any help you can offer.

A: The first few months of learning guitar is the most difficult. You are building calluses on your finger tips and developing coordination with your fingers. Proper posture is key and this is when all the good habits have to be built. Be patient with consistent practice and you will see improvements soon.

A few tips that may help you are:

  • Make sure that your guitar is held properly, tilt the guitar neck up at about a 30% angle and make sure that your wrist is straight not bent. Try to stand up to play, this may sound like a more difficult method but when you stand up the guitar falls naturally to your body and you will be able to get a good idea of how to hold it sitting down this way.
  • Keep your arm and shoulder relaxed. If you tighten up you wrist and arm you will start to press too hard and this causes the sound to mute.
  • Use your finger tips to fret the notes. Keep an arch on your fingers and make sure not to deaden strings with the back of each finger.

Hope this helps!

Yours in Music
John McCarthy
Rock House


Tech Tip - Unsung Studio Accessories
By Dennis Kambury

Everybody knows the basic components of the project studio: mics, recorders, mixers, monitors, compression, and effects. This week, we'll take a look at a couple of unsung heroes of the studio that belong on every engineer's must-have list—DI boxes and cables.

Direct Boxes
Without the flashing LEDs or plethora of knobs common to most studio processors, the humble and unassuming DI (Direct Injection) box just sits on the floor doing its job. And that job is to match impedances and change unbalanced inputs to mixer-friendly balanced outputs.

One of the most common uses of the DI box is to record bass guitars without mics or amps, though it can also be useful for synths, guitars, and other unbalanced, hi-impedance sources. They range from simple, unpowered lo-Z in/hi-Z out to powered DIs with effects and multichannel. I keep a couple of super-inexpensive Whirlwind IMPs around for general purposes and an Aguilar D900 tube DI for the good stuff.

Unless you're into recording the sound of nothingness, there is nothing more critical to studio operations than the ubiquitous cable. Yet it's often the last piece of gear added to the list and usually given short shrift in the budget. You may have noticed the wide range of prices and wondered what makes a $50 cable better than a $5 cable, and if there's an improvement in the sound that's worth the difference in price?

I could write an entire article on cables alone, but the differences generally come down to a matter of materials, construction, and connectors. And yes, expensive cables do sound better than cheap ones—perhaps because they are better shielded, use premium conductors, or use all-metal connectors instead of metalized plastic. However, there's no need to go overboard. If you're buying a $99 four-track recorder, you don't need to use a $500 cable. On the other hand, hooking up $5,000 studio monitors with a 22-gauge lamp cord... well, there oughta be a law against it!

My own rule of thumb is to buy the best cable I can afford. That usually hovers around 25% of my overall gear budget. I often use Hosa for line-level gear because it offers a lot of bang for the buck. For balanced-output gear I'll go with Pro Co cables and snakes, and use Monster Cables for my high-end stuff.

Recommended Listening - A Must For Your Collection!

Various Artists, Masters of the Irish Guitar
album cover

By Sue Thompson


Forty years ago, the guitar was virtually unheard of as a lead or solo instrument in Irish music. Today, dozens of marvelously skilled and talented players are enriching Irish tradition with fingerstyle and flatpicked arrangements of jigs, reels, hornpipes, set dances, and airs. Showcasing nine top Irish guitarists, this collection is distinguished by simple arrangements that allow the beautiful melodies to shine and let us appreciate the players’ varied yet consistently superb techniques. Flatpickers will admire Arty McGlynn’s deft playing on the medley “The Humors of Kilclogher”/“Strop the Razor” and Donal Clancy’s sweet, lilting rendition of “The Boy in the Boat.” Garry O’Briain pulls a strikingly harp-like sound out of his guitar on “Mrs. Waller,” a lovely and very complex melody from the great 17th-century harpist and composer Turloch O’Carolan. Daithi Sproule and Randal Bays contribute elegant fingerstyle arrangements of gorgeous slow airs and waltzes. The range of material and impeccable playing make this is a must-have recording for a vast range of listeners, from fans of Irish and classical music, in particular, to acoustic guitar aficionados, in general. (Shanachie,


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