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    Most people who like Mark Knopfler might know Chris Rea, who has been popular especially here in Europe since the 80ies. Due to health problems, he ended his active career some yeasr ago.

    I first heard of him in 1983 when a friend of mine who was also into Dire Straits at that time told me about a concert he was at with the then super-group SAGA. It seemed he did not like them that much, but he was enthusiastic abouth the support act that noone had heard of before, a guy who played a clean guitar sound similar to  Dire Straits on an old fiesta red Stratocaster: Chris Rea. It was the same week when Rockpalast broadcasted a Chris rea concert from a small club in Bochum (very near to the place I lived then here in Germany), so I did not miss this concert (and even taped it with  a cassette tape – this was before people had video recorders). I recently found a few clips from this and other concerts concerts on youtube and want to share them with you.

    The first track was the first one of the concert, so the first I ever heard. It is called “Nothing’s happening by the sea“. Chris plays his red Strat which is tuned to open E through a clean silver-face Fender Twin Reverb (and a brown Fender Bandmaster for distorted sounds).The bass is also cool: a fretless Steinberger, note how it interacts with the guitar licks. Unfortunately the uploader of this clip disabled embedding so I cannot show it directly here on this site, instead click here to open it in a new window on youtube.

    A second early track that never made it to a hit is Candles. This time Chris plays a Strat in standard tuning. This clip is from an open-air Rockpalast concert on the famous Lorelei Rock above  the river Rhine in Germany, a place where Dire Straits also played on a festival in 1979.

    And finally, one of my all-time favorites of Chris’ setlist, the song Steel River from the same concert as the one before. It is amazing how the song develops through different stages from a slow ballad to the rock outro. Also that break at 4:30 is pretty cool. Have fun!

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    loop-playerI recently surfed into a nice site called where you find a “jam machine” – an online loop player that plays backing tracks to jam with. Simply choose a key in the left sidebar, scroll down (the loop player appears at the very bottom of the page), select one of the styles (rock, cool, metal,…), and the player will play a loop of a certain length. The chords are displayed so you know what is being played. The sound of the recordings is alright and the styles are often tasteful and fresh. Have fun!

    If you ever need an online guitar tuner or a metronom, these can be found there as well.

    "Buy me a beer" - donate for the site via PayPal. Or buy a backing track in my online shop :)

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    Have a look at the following chords, these are all chords for the song True Love Will never Fade, the opener of  Mark Knopfler’s latest album Kill to get crimson. Each chord is played for one bar:

    C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm G F G  C C F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C Dm G C Am F G F G C F Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C Dm G C Am F G F G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm G F G  C C F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C Dm G C Am F G F G C F Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm  C C F F C C Dm G C Dm G C Am F G F G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G

    Theoretically it is no problem to play the song from this list of chords, you simply have to follow the list and try not to get lost 😉

    One way to avoid getting lost is  writing the chords next to the corresponding words of the lyrics, something that is common among  singers who accompany themselves. You surely have seen this approach, it might look like this:


    Unstructured chart with lyrics and chords

    Finding structure

    The solution above is common but not ideal because it does not reflect any structure.

    You might ask yourself  how you can play such a song without a paper, like professional musicians do on stage? How can you learn a list of 126 chords by heart?

    The answer is easy: you need to be aware of its structure, of the patterns and logic it is built up with. Without structure, understanding is not possible. Without understanding, learning and remembering is extremely difficult. It is similar to understanding a huge mixing desk: you might wonder how someone knows what to do with so many knobs and controls, there are actually hundreds of them. But when you have a closer look, you will see that there are several channel strips that all have an identical set of controls. And the controls of each channel strip are structered again in e.g. the EQ section, the aux controls for effect sends, the monitor section, and so on. As soon as you understand it, the number of controls is no problem anymore, and you can find the right knob for each job within short time.


    Structuring the chords into corresponding groups is essential (picture from the making-of DVD of Kill to Get Crimson)

    Let’s apply the same logic to this song now. First we arrange the chords in groups, or sections. The first group is the intro of the song, and it consists of the first 8 bars. In fact you will find that certain numbers – e.g. 2, 4, 8, 12, 16, 32, … – play an important role in music. These are very often  powers of two.  Indeed music and mathematics are more related than you might think. If you look at these 8 chords, you will see that there is a group of 4 bars (C F Dm G) that is repeated ( 2 x 4 = 8, be aware of the powers of two).


    C F Dm G C F Dm G

    Let’s go on and try to identify such groups. After the intro, someting like a chorus begins (“True love will never fade…”). First it is important to understand that the structure of the lyrics has normally to do with the structure of the music, but both are not the same in all details. From the lyrics you might think that the chorus starts when Knopfler sings the first word “True…”, from a musical point of view however, it actually starts with the last word of the line “…fade”). The other words are what is called an upbeat figure, or simply upbeat. They lead over into the next part. A similar upbeat can be found at the beginning of the next part, which starts  with the last word of  “I wonder if there’s no forever…”  at 0:37. Until then, we  have a total of  the following 10 chords:


    C F Dm G C F Dm G C C

    A closer look reveals that we have the same group of 4 chords as in the intro (C F Dm G) which is repated, plus two bars of a C chord that are something like a filler to connect the part with the next. The 10 bars can be subdivides in 4 + 4 + 2, and  we might write it like this instead:

    C F Dm G – C F Dm G –  C C

    The third part – we might call it verse – starts with “…forever” (0:37). As the following part that starts with “I don’t know what brought you to me” sounds almost identical (melody, chords), we can consider it as a repetition of the part before and call it Verse B , while the previous verse A consists of the following 18 chords.

    Verse A

    F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm G F G  C C

    You can see that the first 8 bars start with the same chords as from bar 9 on, and the last two bars are just a filler to link to the next part, so let’s write it like this:

    F F C C Dm G C C  – – F F C C Dm G F G  – – C C.

    And we can subdivide those groups of 8 bars to groups of 4 bars:

    F F C C —  Dm G C C  – – F F C C  – – Dm G F G – – C C.

    We see that the first and the third group are identical, while the second and the fourth are similar but not the same. The difference are the chords F G (red) at the end of the third group, they are inserted, they change the pattern. If you left them and played the two bars of C instead, you would have a simple repetition which is on the one hand more logical, but on the other hand it sounds a bit surprising this way, and thus adds something new to the song.

    The whole section seems to be repeated with the following verse B (1:14 to 1.44) that can be subdivided in a way similar to verse A:

    Verse B

    F F C C —  Dm G C C  – – F F C C  – – Dm G C

    If you compare it to verse A, you will see that both differ just where those chords previously discussed appear (red). Instead of the F G C C we have only one single bar C here. The total number of chords is for this reason only 15 which is very unusual (16 or 16 + 2 would be normal). We can say that one bar of C is missing, Dm G C C would be normal here (and would in fact sound logical). Leaving out this chord breaks the pattern and again adds something unexpected, it highlights the following part by breaking the rules.

    This next part might be called bridge. It consists of 8 bars, and it is followed by 4 bars of the chorus pattern, and finally two bars C to fill to the next part, so we have:

    Dm G C Am – F G F G (bridge)

    C F Dm G (chorus)

    C C  (fill)

    All of the following sections are repetitions of these first parts. In detail, we have the

    Solo (first 8 bars of verse A)

    Verse B (15 bars)

    Bridge (8 bars)

    Chorus (4 bars)

    3 x Chorus (12 bars)

    2 x Chorus (solo, where ride cymbal starts)

    C F G

    The last chords again break with the pattern. The expected would be  something like C F Dm G C, with the last C as the final chord (the song is in the key of C so it should end on a C). The way it is here, however,  sounds again unexpected and thus adds something.

    The following chart shows the complete structure of the whole song. I also used different colours to indicate different and related parts. Compared with the unstructered list of 126 chords at the beginning of this article, you can see at one glance which part comes next, where something is repeated, and where something happens that breaks a standard pattern (red chords) . The number of different parts that you need to learn is kept to a minimum.


    Some general notes on structure

    At all those positions where a new part begins, a traditional note sheet would display a double bar line. Normally a drummer plays a crash cymbal there, and he might play a drum break before to usher in the start of a new part (on this song the drummer does not because the drum track is kept extremely simple). The beginning of a new part is also a  typical position where new instruments might come in (e.g. note how the electric guitar comes in at the beginning of the first verse B), and the overall volume of the song might change here (note that commercial CD are often mixed at a  rather constant volume as a consequence of the loudness war).

    Working with a band

    I made the experience that when you work on a song with a band, it is extremely helpful to work with musicians who understand such a concept, and who think in terms of such a structure. Only this way everyone will know e.g. where to start best within the song to practice a particular part of the song, or how to play a difficult piece in a loop to get used to it or to bring it to perfection within shortest time. Everyone will know where to pay attention because something is unusual.

    The drummer automatically knows where to play the crash, where to play a break, where to change from hihat to ride, and so on. And only this way you can easily communicate with the other band members: everyone will know what is talked about, what is meant with bridge, first part, second half of … , and so on.

    This is common knowledge among good musicians of course, but I know of many who still have not realized these aspects, sometimes even after playing their instruments for decades. But it is never too late for learning :)

    Note: An analysis of the chords that appear in this song and their harmonic relation can be found in the article about the circle of fifths.

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    One of the  last articles was about how to record a clean guitar, and the POD and the Tubeman have already been mentioned there. This time it is about what these two devices were mainly built for: a distorted guitar sound. You will hear the same track first recorded with the POD (lead and rhythm guitars), then with the Tubeman, both devices were connected directly to the mixing desk.  Here is some background information on both devices.

    The POD

    The POD by Line 6 was one of the first commercial devices to emulate the sound of different tube amps. You can choose between different Fender, VOX, Marshall or boutique amps. In addition it features a variety of built-in digital effects. Like with most digital devices, the number of different sounds and options is astonishing. You can switch between a Fender Bassman and a Marshall JMT in a second, and you can save all sounds as presets. Due to the headphones output it is also very nice for practising.

    The Tubeman

    This is the original Tubeman by Hughes & Kettner. It is all analog and features a 12AX7 tube for distortion. It can be used a a floor effect before any guitar amp, or as a recording solution in the studio. Three tone controls plus a mid boost allow different sounds, while the amount of distortion is adjusted with the gain control and a  selector switch to choose one of four different gain patterns (rock, blues, funk, jazz).

    There is no headphones out, but outs for the mixer (with speaker simulation) or to the guitar amp (without speaker simulation). As it is anaog, you cannot save sounds as preset of course, and there are no effects available. Although a tube requires  high voltage, it is powered with only 9 V which are internally transformed.

    The Verdict

    To me the winner is the Tubeman, its throaty sound has a certain warmth that I miss with the POD but maybe your taste is different. And of course a lot depends on the setting on both devices. And don’t forget that the POD is an early digital device, later ones might sound better. I might compare more recent devices against a vintage tube amp in a future article.

    What are your thoughts? Use the comment function to let us know.

    "Buy me a beer" - donate for the site via PayPal. Or buy a backing track in my online shop :)

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    In this article you will find a sound clip to hear the sound of a guitar amp …
    (a) mic’ed close to the speaker (Shure SM 57)
    (b) mic’ed at a distance of about 2 m (6 ft.) (Audio Technica AT 4050)
    (c) with both microphones [of (a) and (b)] blended together.

    The close mic’ing results in a dry and precise sound with hardly room. When you move back the microphone, the guitar will become lower in volume. As the sound reflections from the walls always have the same volume, they will seem to be louder now. In other words, the more you go back from the amp, the more room you will hear. Here it depends on the acoustic quality of your room whether this leads to pleasing or unwanted results.
    What is often done is blending the signals of two (or more) microphones. This way you have the precise attack of close mic’ing plus some natural sounding room. You can also pan both microphones differently to create a wider stereo sound in your mix. You should definitely record both sources to different tracks of your recording software to keep all options open in the final mix.

    Blending two microphones inavoidably leads to phase issues, some frequencies are cancelled, others are boosted. This effect depends on the distance between both microphones and varies actually with each inch. Many engineers move around the second (or both) microphones while listening (e.g. with headphones) to find the ultimate “sweet spot”, the position that has a magic sound. But this will be covered in a future article.

    The video is in youtube high quality. If you have problems with bandwidth, you can watch it in normal quality directly at youtube, click here.

    By the way, the amp is a clone of an old Fender Tweed Princeton, model 5F2-A. I built it out of scratch many years ago. It has a ceramic (!) Jensen 10″ speaker from the early 60ies and normally sounds great at all volumes. Its 4.5 watts are ideal for recording, you simply set the only volume control to the desired level of distortion and shape the sound with the single “Tone” control. The guitar is a maple neck Telecaster.

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