Reviews: Gear and Software

  • Get the latest reviews of new guitars, amps, pedals.
  • Understand the latest software and plugins for your specific DAW.
  • Unbox the coolest gear.
Installing a Guitar Wall

Installing a Guitar Wall

My studio was starting to look like a music equipment junkyard. Strewn about everywhere were guitars, amps, microphones, all kinds of gig accessories, plus studio equipment as well as old and new monitors. And all the wires… Forget about it. Additionally, there were pieces of furniture I never used. When I walked in the room it was not warm and inviting. I felt like I was running an obstacle course just to get to my computer.

Because I spent so much time in there, and because I wanted to be more productive and creative, I needed to make some changes.

The first thing I did was remove unnecessary furniture. Next I cleaned enough space in the closet so I could store all my gig gear. Then there was one major thing to do: Install a guitar wall to get the guitars and accessories off the floor.

Let me state at the outset that I am less a “do-it-yourselfer” and more a “try-it-this-way-and-that-way-until-I-get-it-right” type of person. In fact, while installing the SlatWall MX Panel and the SlatWall MX Strip, my wife and I looked more like Laurel and Hardy than Do-It-Yourself TV hosts.

But no one knows how long it took us to complete the project, or how ridiculous we appeared while doing so. All people see is the final product and it looks great.

I learned several things while doing this project.

·      First, Stud Finders don’t always work.

·      Second, not all builders separate their studs exactly 16 inches apart.

·      And third, how useful Spackle can be.

While I can honestly say that the task can be accomplished without DIY skills, it would be quicker and more efficient to partner with someone who has those skills.

The on-site directions at Diamond Life Gear are informative, but I wish they would have had some specific DIY videos from the company. Even though there are some decent YouTube installation videos by customers, I think a couple of “official” company videos about the product addressing common installation issues as reported via their support people, would be helpful.

(Watch our video to see our installation process.)

I really liked the angled Guitar Hangers. With the guitars hung diagonally on the wall its like you’re in the middle of Guitar Center. The fact that the guitar hangers can be angled is great for two reasons. First, you can get more guitars on a strip when the hangers are angled. Second, the guitars look more impressive at that angle: like a Guitar Center showroom. I chose 12” hangers for my acoustic guitars because they’re bigger and stick out farther from the wall than my smaller electric guitars, for which I chose the 6” hangers. Picture: Acoustic blocking smaller guitars. I put the small guitars up front and the acoustics toward the back so I can see all the guitars. Picture: Small guitars up front. Putting the acoustic guitars up front hide the small guitars from view.

We played around with the placement of baskets, waterfalls attachments, and guitar hangers. Your choice of accessories will be determined by your individual needs.

I would recommend Diamond Life Gear SlatWall products. And since you’re going to need another person for at least part of the installation, I would also recommend partnering with someone who has decent “do it yourself” skills…and a good sense of humor.

Godin Multiac Guitar

Godin Multiac Guitar

By Stephen Smoke

Yes, that’s my Godin guitar on my shoulder. I don’t normally expose it to the desert sun, but this was for a publicity shot earlier this year and, well, the guitar looks great.

I purchased my Godin after seeing the great Doyle Dykes demonstrate a similar guitar during a mini concert in Vancouver, B.C. in 2016. There were about 30 of us gathered inside the Prestige Guitar shop and we were blown away by Dykes’ playing. At the end of the night the guitar players in the crowd felt one of two ways: Either you felt inspired, or you felt like going home and burning your guitar because you knew you could never play that well. I was inspired and I bought my guitar a couple of days later.

My particular Godin is similar to the Doyle Dykes Signature model, but mine has a 13-pin output. It’s really a guitar that’s the best of both worlds. It’s a GREAT electric guitar with all the bells and whistles, but I can also play it unplugged and it sounds terrific.

The 13-Pin output allows me to plug into my Roland GR-55 synthesizer. This was a huge selling feature for me. I have keyboard synths and they work well, but I’m a better guitar player than I am a piano player.

In the photo on the left you see 3 outputs on the bottom of my guitar. Use the “13-Pin” output to connect to a synthesizer (in my case the Roland GR-55 (see separate review) or any other 13-pin device. Use  the “Bridge” output to “blend” a natural guitar sound with the synthesizer sound using slider controls on the front of the guitar. Push the slider all the way down so that no synthesizer effects are heard, or all the way up so that only the synthesizer effect is heard. It’s fun to find the right blend for a specific song or mood. The “Electric” output is for when you want to plug the guitar straight into an amplifier.

Playing Live

I use two guitars when I’m playing live: the Godin and an Ovation. When I use the Godin through the GR-55 I can make it sound like we’re playing in Yankee Stadium, even though we’re actually playing in a local dive bar. Sometimes I use the Godin and GR-55 to provide a “brass section” or a string pad that makes the band sound bigger and more versatile.


I use the Godin even more in my studio. For example, I can add a little accordion flavor a la The Band (Garth Hudson, The Band’s keyboard player, in fact played accordion on one of my songs a few years ago: “Wild Child” from the Trick of the Light album). I love recording Chicago-style horn parts using the Godin and the GR-55. There are literally hundred of sounds at your disposal, via the GR-55. If you’re looking for quality digital patches that sound authentic and if you’re a better guitar player than a piano player, the Godin and GR–55 combo is just the ticket.

But even without the GR-55, the Godin by itself is a joy to play. I love the feel of the fretboard and the acoustic, unplugged sound. It is the best guitar I’ve ever owned.

Saved by The BeatBuddy

Saved by The BeatBuddy

By Randy Winters

The Problem

Have you heard this one before? Three guys get together on Friday night to jam. We all play guitar and enjoy similar brands of beer. After a few weeks, one of the guys gives in and starts to play bass. Along with actually learning the real words to Louie Louie, we start using the drum beat on a cheap piano keyboard. The jams are getting better and hopes rise that someone might actually want to hear us play. And they do. We are asked to play at a friend’s house for a pool party. We need a drummer!

The Solution

After several days searching the Internet for drum machines, I discovered the BeatBuddy by Singular Sound. Their website says…

“BeatBuddy – The Only Drum Machine that Sounds Human & is Easy to Use”

And they were right. I bought one and was immediately thrilled with how good it sounded and how easy it was to use.

It’s a drum machine in a “stomp-box.” It comes with a power supply and a patch cord to plug in the optional programmable foot switch, which I purchased. It also includes an SD card that comes loaded with 10 unique drum sets, with 220 styles in 10 different genres. You have everything from heavy metal, rock, punk, blues and country, to techno and latin.

It only takes a quick glance at the pedal to understand it. You have three knobs to create your sound. Select the drum set you want, set the tempo and volume, and you’re ready to go. The easy to understand instructions explain what happens when you press the pedal.

  • Press the pedal once to start the beat with an intro fill and the beat starts.
  • Press the pedal once during the song to add a fill.
  • Press the pedal and hold it for a second to transition to a fuller sound.
  • Press the pedal and hold it again for a second to exit the fuller sound.
  • Double tap the pedal to end the song with an outro fill.

I was so impressed with the BeatBuddy’s sound quality that I used it on several songs when we recorded our CD. It sounds as good or better than any loop in Logic Pro X. And once you become proficient, you can record a drum track in a take or 2 instead of spending hours building a track with fills and breaks using the loops.

The Happy Ending

By the way, we played the pool party and sounded great. Our friends’ accolades filled us with the illusion of being neighborhood rock stars, so we took our BeatBuddy and ventured out into the world to play at local bars and RV Parks.

It’s been three years now and the BeatBuddy has never let us down. The great sound powers up our band and makes us sound just like pros. Give it a try and you will be pleasantly surprised.

For more information about the BeatBuddy, click here.

GR-55 For Home Studio

GR-55 For Home Studio

In 2016 I purchased a Godin Multiac guitar. It has a 13-pin jack that allows me connect to the GR-55, a fabulous Roland guitar synthesizer.

While I use the guitar to play gigs, I have a few other guitars I use more often, including my 40-year-old Ovation. But when it comes to recording, I love the Godin played through the GR-55. (I use a Logic Pro X DAW.)

I have a Korg keyboard synth that can double as a controller, and I’ve played through a couple of other guitar synthesizers. For me, the GR-55 is head and shoulders above the rest. Partly because I’m a much better guitar player than I am a keyboard player.

I produced a song for someone last year and inserted a kick-ass Chicago-style brass arrangement at the end of a rather sedate ballad. Man, what a difference.

I used to play violin when I was in junior high school and, even though it wasn’t a very “sexy” instrument at the time, learning to play the violin helped me learn to read music, which set me up nicely to learn to play guitar a few years later. More important in terms of the GR-55, I learned a lot about orchestral arrangements, the differences between the sounds of a violin, viola, cello, and bass, as well as the the cool sound of pizzicato strings and other interesting string effects. Using the GR-55, I’m often able to create authentic-sounding string sections, playing different parts, sometimes on three separate tracks, adding depth, elegance and poignancy where appropriate.

I’ve added accordion sounds to several songs that remind me of some early Band recordings. My favorite sound is the Anthem Guitar sound. It’s like hearing a guitar echo throughout Madison Square Garden. Adds huge amounts of audio space.

There are lots of videos on the Roland site if you’re interested in learning about the GR-55, and there are dozens of great videos on YouTube.

I’m not a real gear head. My primary interest is recording in my home studio without having to read a thousand pages to figure out what’s going on. That’s one reason I love my GR-55.

But don’t be fooled. With the power of the GR-55 sometimes I feel like I’m using a jet plane to cross the street. Whenever I dig deep into other features, the GR-55 continues to amaze.

One practical way to use the synthesizer is to figure out all the guitar effects you’re going to play during a gig. You can store the guitar effects, in the order you will need them, and you can move through the list using a foot pedal.

For more information go to