Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gear Tunes - A Treasure Chest for Guitar Enthusiasts

Gear Tunes (http://geartunes.com) is one of the greatest gifts to guitar fans that has yet come down the wire of the Web, and into their worlds. It is a site developed by guitarist Doug Doppler, and Marc Reiser that allows end users the ability to experience guitars, amps, and related musical equipment in a real world, easy to decipher way without leaving their desks. And, they have done so with a transparency that is truly astounding - there's no agenda, aside from allowing gear lovers to experience the gear.

Much of the genius of the site is its sheer logic and simplicity - it took me a few moments to recover from not being sold, prodded, or pushed by a demo. You select the piece of gear you want to experience, and the site displays a picture of the gear, shows you the signal path you are experiencing, and provides outstanding audio clips that are true representations of what the gear does (not to mention a site logic that I've never experienced before - whether it's a brand, a type of gear, or the gear relative to the signal chain and sound clip, it's never more than a click away).

I recently spoke with both gentlemen, and Doug Doppler was good enough to tear himself away from what he lovingly describes as a 'glut' of gear awaiting demoing (in theory, this site alludes to the possibility of being encyclopedic to the extent of not just current gear, but all gear - new, used, ad vintage). Doug's knowledge, love, and passion for of all musical gear is pretty amazing, and his sharing his time and wisdom is a treat to read.

Gear Tunes Beginnings:

Marc Reiser: "I've been working with Doug for the better part of three years strategizing Gear Tunes, and as you've seen, we recently launched.

"We're off on something that is first, a lot of fun, but second, I think it's also important that we are putting very, very high quality demos and related information into the hands of players at all levels. We're giving folks access to gear related stuff, and we're putting it in one place.

"We're building this model - we're dealer and manufacturer agnostic, so we are looking to work with everybody. We're putting things into the hands of players and driving volume ultimately at the dealer level, which drives volume at the manufacturing level!"

"To me it comes naturally - in some of the areas of the business I've been in over the last twenty years, I've built these utilities that could be used by everybody in a given space. I've enjoyed that collaborative model, but I think in Doug's case, it's a matter of Doug having knowledge, expertise, and his hands on everything.

"I think there is another element to this - that if you roll the clock back, you kind of experience a divine accident. Originally, there was going to be a DVD series, and given the amount of time it takes to create that number of clips, during that gestation period, well, the new iMac doesn't have a disc drive, the iPad doesn't have a disc drive, and so, in a very organic way, the project has never been aligned with any individual manufacturers, or resellers, which has allowed us autonomy from the very beginning.

"It is really fitting for the way people love to experience the Web - there's so much information force-fed us, that having the opportunity to experience gear in an organic way that doesn't feel like it's forced. This is something that I think is well aligned to the Web experience."

Doug onstage with Joe Satriani and Neal Schon
What If Gear Tunes Had Existed When Doug Was A Student At GIT?:

Doug Doppler: "The interesting thing is, it did!

"The internet is a continuum of things that we used to do, if you will, in the analog domain. In 1985, I spent a day in San Francisco with Joe Satriani looking at guitar amps, and in the years preceding that, I'd walk into a music store, and the guys who were in the store would demo gear.

"The same way I heard Joe playing through all these different amps, and the experience was that you'd be physically in the same space when somebody was playing, and you'd learn and you were listening. You had a chance to see the signal chain, and Gear Tunes really embodies that same experience, but in a digital format.

"I like to refer to this as the transparent barrier between the manufacturer and the gear enthusiast. There's gotta be something that pulls these people together and creates an environment to do this, but the less you color that with marketing hype, the closer you can actually bring the manufacturer and the people that use their gear together, which is one of the key things we are trying to accomplish."

Is There An Appropriate Way to Demo Gear?:

Doug Doppler: "First of all, that question is in many ways the essence of what I love about what I do the most.

"I sit with a piece of gear. One, imagining what the guy using that gear would be playing like. Two, figuring out what I have to do with my hands to begin to do that, which most of the time, I don't know what I'll start with, and then three, how do I make the adjustments on the gear, the mics, and the mic pre-amp to convey that experience to the end user.

"In many ways, that is the DNA on a demo level of what we do.

"I sit with the gear until the gear tells me what it wants, and I do my best to make that happen. It's so rewarding, I can't even tell you, because every time I listen back, its - 'I would never have played that, were it not for this piece of gear,' and I love that!"

Recording The Ultimate Speaker Demo
A Brief History of Doug Doppler, According To Doug:

Doug Doppler: "The short version!

"In high school, everybody was studying with this guitar teacher named Joe Satriani, so I figured I'd give it a shot, and in the next two and a half years my entire musical universe was transformed through weekly, hour-long lessons.

"For the last year, Joe and I would just spend the time playing. He really wanted to not just invest in kind of what I knew, my knowledge of the instrument, but, that he could convey to me the musical nature of how he plays.

"I have cassette tapes that are just awesome - if you could imagine a twenty-four year old Joe Satriani with the wild enthusiasm of being that age, but also with the mastery that Joe had, very clearly in place at that time. It's just fascinating to hear him with the whammy bar - the fine tuning tremolo was still new! He was playing through a Big Muff and a small amp, and sometimes an early, analog Boss DM-2 - when DM-2s were new!

"That experience was augmented by the time I spent at GIT just after that.

"When I went down to Los Angeles, Joe gave me the name of this guy, Steve Vai - he gave me his phone number, most people didn't know this guy, Steve Vai, yet. I spent some time being Steve's guitar tech for a few shows, spent a lot of time watching him play, as he was playing in the clubs in LA, post-Zappa, and pre-Alcatrazz. I saw the first show Steve did with Alcatrazz when he replaced Yngwie.

"To be able to absorb the experience of working with Steve - helping set up his gear, the conversations we had about him playing on stage, him actually asking me how it sounded, the balance and such, I had a chance to climb into his musical universe for a minute.

"The fascinating thing is that in many ways, that experience, as well as the experience with Joe in a very close space with different pieces of gear - in many ways the gear we use today is an extension of the gear that was being used then, there's just more of it, but it really hasn't evolved that much. There's no new pedal that is radically different than the DM-2 that Joe was using.

"The Boss OD-1 pedal that Steve was using. The rig that Steve used was basically the (Carvin) X100B version of his signature Legacys, where there was a master and a slave amp, and basically taking the send of the master amp, inserting effects there, and then having the slave amp coming back in on the power amp return. That is the essence of the Vai setup, and that left a very clear impression on me, in terms of one of the ways you can create a very intelligent stereo rig, that is - utilizing the nature of the master amp, but not doing anything on the slave amp that further colors the tone, and in particular, the Carvins do a brilliant job of that. It allows you to, by placing the master volume on the aster amp - you can literally control the volume of both amps by one master volume. That had a huge influence on my take on organizing a great rig!

"From there, I came back to the Bay Area, and spent a bunch of years teaching guitar, I put out my first instrumental record, it's kind of funny - a guy that I do a number of things with in the digital space, named John Luini, he was running this thing called IUMA, which stands for Internet Underground Music Archive. They were really the pioneers of taking audio clips and putting them online.

"That first record was the first thing in Guitar World Magazine that actually used a URL to a website/audio clip. So, this guy was involved when we did the Gear Tunes Ultimate Speaker Demo. He's now into the streaming space, as well as the video space - he works very closely with Joe Satriani and Sammy Hagar, and we continue to work together. It's very interesting how the technology has woven through this whole experience, but I digress!

"Fast forward a bit, I got the opportunity to do another instrumental record, and the record came out on Vai's Favored Nations label. I recorded the whole thing myself, and Joe was kind enough to hand it off to Steve Vai, and Steve said yes!

"That afforded us the opportunity to have international distribution, I toured the US as the support act for Michael Schenker on two different occasions, toured Europe opening for Gilby Clarke, and that all opened the doors for a lot of the product demo work that I do, but it also set in place the groundwork I needed to become one of the Guitar Hero session players.

"One of the prerequisites for that was a working knowledge of Pro Tools - because I ended up engineering all my own sessions.

"Again, as you look at GearTunes, intermingled through all of this is a combination of playing, setups, and technology - and as you begin to look at how the ability to work in the environment of Pro Tools was a pre-req for doing the Guitar Hero gig, you begin to realize how intertwined these things are.

"I would not have done that gig had I not had a professional working knowledge of Pro Tools as an application. They would send me the Pro Tools sessions, and I would export my data from the PT sessions, and then they would bring them back into the master sessions.

How Did The Guitar Hero Gig Come About?:

Doug Doppler: "A friend of mine who runs a cafe in San Francisco - he said, 'Hey, I've got a buddy that is a developer on this game, it's called Guitar Hero.' I said, 'Oh, that sounds cool,' and so he set up a meeting.

"We sat down at that meeting, and I looked at him, and he looked at me....

"It turned out that we had met previously at another friend's wedding, and had struck up a conversation. So I gave him a copy of my Favored Nations CD, and they were wrapping up the previous Guitar Hero title, and he said, 'I'll be in touch!

"And, sure enough, he got in touch!

"Basically, they would send me the MP3s of the actual audio tracks that I would work on. Every little thing was done on a tempo map, so literally the songs speed up and slow down, so they sound like the actual audio tracks.

"The things that was particularly exciting for me was that they would send the hardest songs to me! Not because they necessarily thought I was some wizard, I just think they enjoyed trying to see how far they could take it!

"And the hardest of the bunch, actually, the two hardest were Seventeen from Winger - Reb Beach is a brilliant guitar player, and to try and capture his vibe is not easy! It's not just a matter of trying to get inside the track and play the notes - you actually have to make it sound as much as possible like Reb's playing, including his tone, which gets back to the gear.

"I'd literally get on the phone with my guy at Ibanez, and asked which EMGs was he using on this, which Ibanez is closest to what he used on that track. I used a Marshall to get as close as I could to the sound he's using, and an old digital delay to get close to that. I went to great lengths to get the gear right to create that experience.

"I used a similar approach for the hardest thing that I had to do, which was Extreme's Play With Me - that was a nearly impossible piece to play. It took me two weeks to work it up to speed.

"See, these guys thought it was the funniest thing they could do, to send me this track. If you could see somebody laughing through an e-mail....

"It's roughly 200 BPM (beats per minute), with about a million sixteenth notes in the solo, all double tracked. And, it's speeding up and down a little bit to the click track. Brutally difficult, and Nuno (Bettencourt) is a more technically gifted guitar player than I am, so I had to play beyond my own capacity, which meant just speeding up and slowing down with a metronome - it was just nuts. Then there is the classical piece with all these parts at the top, which was equally brutal because it has to be played with absolute precision to sound right.

"I think this is one of the things that is elusive to so many players - it's like, you know what? There are your hands, the gear, and then there's your ear to fine tune it, and as long as you keep moving things around a little bit, the challenge is actually one-third of the equation.

"There's the knowledge, there's practice, and then there's the actual gifting - which, if you look at it like that, I honestly believe that talent is about one-third of the big equation. That means that if you can get really good at those other things, you can really do so much to maximize however little, or much talent you got by investing your time wisely."

The Ultimate Speaker Demo
Where Is GearTunes Going, and Where Will It Go?:

Doug Doppler: "That is a good question, and one of the beautiful things about gear is that the piece of gear a given company is marketing today - right now, we have a glut of gear to be demo'd which have to get pushed through to the site.We have more content offline than we do online, which is amazing when you consider how much we have got already online.

"The content we are creating is actually more valuable over time as a piece of gear sets out in the marketplace. Maybe a piece of gear never got proper marketing in terms of audio clips and video, and we're providing a service where, you know what? We have so much gear, I don't just pick out the major brand stuff, the boutique stuff, I pretty much love all gear!

"So, the interesting thing is this - we did a video clip for the Boss GT-100 because I knew there was a community of people out there that would enjoy a simple video about managing presets, and providing them with some presets at no charge.

"They would have someone helping them with the strategy of using a unit like that - in the process of doing that video, I had a guy reach out to me on Facebook, who was like, 'Please get me sounds for my GT-8,' and here I have an e-mail exchange about the fact that there are people out there, that they like that particular unit, and at some point people will flip that unit and somebody else will fall in love with that unit, and the ability to support that with either presets, or sounds enables people at any point in time to be able to check out that gear.

Doug and some friends....
A Glimpse Into The Past?:

"Then we also open the door into the whole vintage market, because at some point - see, I've got four vintage Marshalls here, right now, but - at one point they went from being the current model to being old. At one point, a 1969 Marshall was no longer the new model.

"One of the things I've been conscious of is some of this great old rack gear. There are some people who not only have an interest in it, they want to use it, buy it, know a bit about it.

"One of the demos that will be coming through is the Roland SDE-3000. I actually went back and found an Alesis Quadraverb that I had bought for like $50. Those are significant pieces of gear that people want to be able to come back and find clips for, but they pretty much pre-exist YouTube, which means we are going to be one of the very few resources that people can turn to and find a library of tones, and somebody who is really passionate about presenting them in a way that's applicable today!

Signal Paths, Tonesheets, Guitar Strings, and Attention To Detail:

Doug Doppler: "So - everything you're seeing, especially in the studio - when it comes to transients, the pick I'm using actually makes, or breaks the track.

"The signal chain enables us to tell you all the information that you're wanting to know, and is further augmented by what we call Tonesheets. The thing that is great about these tone sheets, you'll see them appearing on the website in increasing numbers, and they literally document the exact settings I am using on a piece of gear.

"I've documented this stuff extensively, but it takes a little bit of time to bring these things to market. We're just trying to get as many of the clips, the photos, and the clickable signal chains in place.

"The thing that's great about the Tonesheet is that it gives you a starting place - you can go, 'OK, that's the sound, this is where the dials were set. If I dug that sound, let me start there.'

"There are very few manufacturers who do that well, and you alluded to something (I had mentioned some bad experiences with manufacturer's presets) - we're trying to fill in a few of the blanks between manufacturer and the player, which, if players sometimes want to go, 'We need some place to start,' and with the busyness of producing beautiful photos and getting stuff to market, the manufacturers sometimes forget that the players may not really care that much about glossy photos, they really just want to unpack that piece of gear, and have a clue as to how to set it - so they can get on with the business of making music!

"We've worked very, very hard to keep things organic, but also to push through this much content. It's been a lot of joyful, but time consuming work.

"What we're trying to do, when a piece of gear shows up is to document its arrival, and this way we let people know what's coming next. It's important for people to know that we are always getting new gear - it's our lifeline to staying relevant.

"Once I finally have a chance to set down with that piece of gear - the first thing I think about is the signal chain. Occasionally, I'll check out the other demos that may be out there, so I can get some insight as to what people are doing - Brian Wampler (Wampler Pedals) has put down a very long video of audio clips for all his current product line - he sent that to me because he has sent me his product line to demo, and that is very insightful to me, and this mirrors a process we are doing with D'Addario, who have sent me virtually every string they make.

"I worked with their branch manager to map out styles people would tend to use their strings for, and we're mapping these out to specific guitars across specific types of demos, so those strings will be married to other pieces of gear. They are used to produce a demo with a specific genre on a specific instrument - the end result being that we are going to have the largest collection of string demos on the Web, and we're also using them in a way that's, and I'll use your word, organic.

"I don't just want to hear a string going, 'bling, bling, bling,' into a clean amp - that tells me some information, but it actually gives me very little. People don't actually think that much about the strings they use,they think about the feel of the string. What they don't spend a lot of time thinking about is that it's not just the tonal aspect acoustically - that string is a piece of metal, that string is interacting with a magnetic field, having massive amounts to do with the sound that comes out of your amplifier.

"I have never heard any dialogue about, if you will, the magnetic implications of different strings, but trust me, it is huge in terms of the sound that comes out of your amp!

"Everything in the signal chain matters, but if you think about the physical makeup of the string and it's ability to translate that information ultimately out of your amp's speaker, as opposed to getting down in the weeds with it, my goal is to try to get some sounds where people can go, 'I'm digging that tone, I'm thinking about some new strings, so let me go through this library of sounds here, and see what's going to work.'

Photo by Jim Corso
"So, over the next few months you're going to see an increasing number of strings listed on the site, and that's just one of the things we're trying to support.

"We're having a lot of fun in the process of doing this, because as you pointed out, we know that information is often not out there, and honestly, you could spend a considerable amount of time and finances providing this resource.

"As opposed to doing it piecemeal, like, 'We'll add this if people seem to like that,' we've really opted to go completely overboard and say, 'Let's make the site that I would want to have for me,' all the bells and whistles I would want to have on there, so I can navigate the site easily, I can find what I want easily, and if I want to have this, 'I'm lost in YouTube,' experience, you can have that, as well.

"One of the things I'm most excited about that we've brought into this design is the 'next/previous' concept, where you're actually inside an actual demo, and in the upper left and right corners, just above the photo, you can see these little pieces of gear that are, the opacity has been brought down on the photos, but literally you can be inside one demo, and without having to back up, or re-select, you can cycle through pieces of gear, either by type of gear, or by brand - you can cycle through Fender guitars, or different Boss pedals.

"It allows you to have an experience that is the experience you want to have, without the impedance of the bad navigation that plagues so many manufacturer's demo sites that are out there.

"We want to do something, not so we can be better, but so the end user could have a better experience."

GearTunes and Real World Connectivity:

Doug Doppler: "The beauty of it is, it's going to continue to grow, and there are many things that we haven't announced yet, haven't yet brought to market, that are going to make this thing continue to grow and get cooler.

"One of the things we're excited about doing - we did The Ultimate Speaker Demo as a live webinar that kicked off the soft launch of the website. The webinar is a powerful tool for us to be able to do with the website, that is a key to how we are going to make this rather than just some URL, people actually have the ability to interact with me directly, they can submit questions in advance, it can be re-watched.

"We are going to continue to use this as a key part of not just extending the website to the world, but more importantly, so that people who maybe don't have a Joe Satriani, or don't have a boutique shop, or a large retail store in their area - but maybe have a million questions, and spend a lot more time playing guitar because they don't have the distractions of living in a major hub like where I'm based - they have great questions about stuff that they may not have under their fingertips, and they have great ideas, too!
Everybody that has questions usually inspires me to think about something in a way that I hadn't always thought about!

"Very early on in the development process, one of the manufacturers pointed out - they can't have their gear in every major town. They're a big enough builder that everyone knows who they are, but they're small enough so that their distribution channel means that they are largely dependent upon word-of-mouth and the Internet to carry their brand.

"People often have to buy on confidence alone, which means that we can play an invaluable role if we handle that responsibly for the manufacturers and the consumers.

"We know that there is a lot riding on our shoulders, just because of the type of mission we are doing. We're going to be serving a lot of people that there just hasn't been the bandwidth on a couple of different levels to serve, and we are really excited about being able to present in the space a way that makes us completely unique to anything else that is out there!"

Summer NAMM and the GearTunes Treasure Chest:

There's much more happening with GearTunes, and it's my understanding that they will be unveiling something truly spectacular at Summer NAMM in Nashville here in a few weeks. However, Doug Doppler and Marc Reiser may have already delivered the real gift, the ability to experience real world gear with real world applications to guitar enthusiasts the world around.

Thanks to Doug Doppler, Marc Reiser, and GearTunes!


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