Posted by: Rich Sherkin | November 8, 2014

Adventures With The Roland A-300 Pro Keyboard

A while back my Fizzbin bandmate John purchased a Roland A-300 Pro MIDI Keyboard Controller.

a-300 side

The A-300 Pro is an extremely versatile keyboard controller for either USB connection to a PC for VST Instruments or for hardware devices through its MIDI interface.  When John purchased it he had no particular purpose in mind although he does have a Mac full of VSTis as well as an EMU sampler (you may have read about the EMU elsewhere on this site).

I’m not going to write a big technical review of the product as they are readily available on the Net.  As you can see it is a 32 key keyboard with 9 sliding faders, 9 control knobs, 8 pads a transport bar, pitch and mod control, a few interface buttons and an LCD with a control knob as the main interface to the computey bits.  For all the technical stuff you can visit Roland’s site here.

What I am going to write about is a practical problem which plagued us for months in the hopes that if you’re suffering the same issues you may resolve them more quickly.

Hooking the A-300 up to the EMU with MIDI cables was a snap and worked exactly as expected.  Hooking up to our VST Instruments, however, was a different story…

When setting up on a Mac you must add the following ports to the MIDI configuration according to the documentation; A-PRO MIDI OUT, A-PRO, A-PRO MIDI IN, A-PRO 1 and A-PRO 2.  Sound confusing?  A bit.  Once these ports are added you must tell your DAW software about them.  Which ports are enabled and which ports are set up to receive control messages.  If you’ve been following this site you’ll know that I prefer using Reaper by Cockos.  I’ve done a number of MIDI connections to the DAW and haven’t had too much trouble.

To start out in Reaper’s configuration I enabled all the ports with the Control Message option (Enabled + Control in Reaper-speak).  Without much problem I was playing my keyboard into Native Instrument’s Monark synthesizer on Track 1, MIDI Channel 1.  I found that the A-PRO 1 port was the one that worked while all the other ports didn’t seem to.

I then added a second track containing one of my favourite VSTis, Synth1.  I set it for MIDI Channel 2.  My intention was to set up John’s computer with these two soft-synthesizers and have him switch between the two via either the MIDI channel selector or the Upper / Lower / Dual / Split buttons on the A-300 Pro.  This was all working fine until…

Until I tried to use the MIDI Learn function of the soft-synths.  Everything seemed ok with the first synthesizer, Monark, however, I noticed that activating certain knobs and sliders on the A-300 caused unwanted movements of some of Reaper’s controls (pan and volume).  The second thing I noticed was I was unable to MIDI Learn any controls on Channel 2.

Futzing around with this problem was an ongoing thing for months but this month I finally decided enough was enough and I was going to figure out what was going on.  A member of the Reaper Forum, DarkStar, suggested I put a MIDI monitor into each channel’s Effects Chain and really see what was going on.  He suggested a freeware product by IPH Audio Software called MIDIMonitor.  This beautiful piece of software showed me exactly what was going on;  Although the A-300 was sending data out MIDI Channel 2 it contained messages that were going to Channel 1.

What The Frock?

During the course of my explorations I often visited the A-300 Pro’s MIDI Setup screen.  I did not, however, visit the System Setup.  Buried in it is a command called OMNI.  With OMNI set to Off (as it was) the keyboard will only send CC commands out the Channel that the interface is configured to.  With OMNI set to On the keyboard transmit commands on whichever MIDI Channel is selected.  RTFM – Page 70.

Now I am able to use the MIDI Learn functions of each VSTi by simply selecting MIDI Channel 1 or 2.  I’ve done it with more VSTis at once but 2 is practical, especially with the keyboard splitting options.

Next I removed the + Control option from my Reaper settings on each of the MIDI ports.  This stopped the unwanted movement of Reaper’s controls when I turned knobs and moved sliders.  I then disabled all the A-PRO ports with the exception of A-PRO 1 and everything works great now.

Incidentally the MIDIMonitor also showed me that my Yamaha Motif XF-6 was vomiting MIDI Clock data down MIDI Channel 1 without mercy.  This was causing the unaccounted for timing problems I was sometimes experiencing.  The issue is now fixed.  I highly recommend this tool for setup and maintenance of your MIDI kit.  Definitely worth kicking a few bucks to the author for the time it’ll save you.

So there you have it; a keyboard that was kind of useful due to a bad setting is now a totally awesomely useful musical tool.  All from turning Off to On.

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | October 15, 2014

Yamaha Motif XF6 – One Year Later

So I’ve had my Yamaha Motif XF6 now for just over a year now and I have to say that while I love this synthesizer, I haven’t yet uncovered most of its cool functionality.  It is a massively powerful computer wrapped up in a keyboard and there are so many features that it is possible to enjoy the keyboard while still not understanding everything about it.

That is, in fact, the biggest drawback; there are insufficient training resources for this cool toy.  There are eight manuals that accompany the keyboard.  EIGHT!  What the hell is up with that?!?!?

I’ve even searched for a teacher on Kijiji without response.  I specified fluency in the XF series and got nothing back.

The best resource I’ve found is a website called Motifator.  This site is an awesome resource for all things Motif or MOXF.  They have a fellow there who goes by the name BadMister.  He’s the Motif Guru and has been very helpful to me both directly and indirectly through his support of other users.  Thanks dude!

I purchased the Motif as the primary synthesizer for the New Wave band I play in called Fizzbin.  Fizzbin consists of two members; Myself and John Hall, drummer extrodinaire from the Aaron Garner Band.  We’re both drummers but formed this band to play instruments outside our comfort zone.  In Fizzbin we record MIDI and analogue tracks onto the Motif and then play along with them.  This often involves recording live drum tracks and storing them in the Motif.

As with all new toys, the first thing I looked at were options for the unit.  These included the Flash RAM and the FireWire interface.  The Flash RAM made a lot of sense so I added 1GB.  It is REALLY expensive and Yamaha uses proprietary RAM that they charge you way too much for.  Still, it’s extremely useful because you don’t have to load all your samples each time you boot up.  If you use a number of recorded tracks like we do it can be time consuming.  With the Flash RAM the samples remain in the Motif until you say otherwise.  That said…

Managing the Flash memory can be a bit tricky.  When data is in the Integrated Sampling memory or Local Memory it can be manipulated and edited.  Once it is moved to Flash memory it is fixed.  If you want to alter a sound it must be copied back into the keyboard’s local memory, edited then copied back to the Flash.  Not too much trouble but tricky to work out at first.

I have to say the keyboard is outstanding for what I’m using it for!  The sound libraries are excellent with many cool choices available.  I immediately added the Vintage Keys and the Bee’s Knees sound banks.  Vintage Keys provides some excellent samples of…. well…. vintage keyboards.  Moogs and Korgs and Oberheims and more.  One of the Journey samples is used in our Coming of Age cover of Who’s Crying Now.  

The Bee’s Knees is a Hammond B3 sample pack that finally makes my bandmate John happy.  He (and my buddy Rick) are B3 freaks and only accept the real thing.  While the organ samples that came with the Motif are pretty good, this package is…. well….. the bee’s knees.   The modelling is incredible including the Leslie speaker and drawbars.  If you have a Motif but not this library you are missing out!

The Modes I use on the keyboard are primarily Song and Voice.  Song Mode is the multitimbral mode which allows up to sixteen voices to simultaneously play.  If you have MIDI files in your computer that you want to play through the keyboard this is the mode to use.  We take it one step further;  Once the files are satisfactory we record them into the Motif.  The USB port allows the Motif to act as a MIDI device on your computer.  While the FireWire interface provides access to each channel of the Motif (all sixteen) the USB interface is more of a bulk thing.  For the most part, however, that’s all that is required.  Several software packages provide an interface to the Motif through the USB port but we’ll get to them later.

One nice feature the Motif sports is Assignable Outputs.  These are secondary Left and Right Outputs.  We use them to assign drum tracks to a separate set of speakers so as not to muddle the sound coming out of the Mains.  That’s only one use they can be put to.  Very handy.

As a performance tool I’ve found the Motif to be excellent.  Not too heavy it sets up quickly on my Hercules stand with four cables (2 for stereo and 2 for stereo drums out the Assignable Outputs).  Once you’ve got your set loaded into memory you don’t have to drag any USB sticks along with you.  That is unless you didn’t buy the Flash RAM to load your samples.  If that’s the case then bring your stick and calculate load time into the equation.  Oh, and pray the power doesn’t fail.

The Sound:  The Motif’s sound is  awesome!  Come on, we’re talking Yamaha and samples.  You really can’t go wrong.  I’ve created my own samples, purchased add-on samples and used some of the vast array of sounds that come with the Motif.  It’s an incredible synthesizer, the flagship of its manufacturer.  The only difference between the Motif XF 6, 7 and 8 is the keyboard.  They 8 has the high-end weighted keyboard.  Thy guts in all three are the same.  I cannot stress how high quality this keyboard is.

Not only are the samples incredible on the Yamaha Motif XF but the routing and effects are an awesome add-on.  Choose from a wide variety of effect to route your sounds through.  There is even a Vocorder available for playing with vocals.  Two inputs are available on the Motif for microphones or other sample inputs.  Internal effects routing allows you to shape your sounds and create just what you’re looking for.

There are numerous Modes on the Motif, some which I haven’t even explored.  Those include Master, Pattern and Perform  Modes.  I have a basic understanding of how each of these modes works and where it is used but I haven’t yet had occasion to explore them in depth.  These are another area of the Motif where some external guidance would be useful.

Samples vs wave generation:  I was brought up in the ’60s and ’70s which meant the dawn of analog synthesis.  It wasn’t until the ’80s when Ray Kurzweil decided to start sampling sounds and playing them back.  That said I have to say that while samplers like the Motif are absolutely outstanding at re-creating sounds, there is nothing like sculpting sounds from the oscillator on up.  When I purchased my Motif from a fellow I found on Kijiji he showed me the Korg Kronos which he purchased to replace the Motif.  The Kronos doesn’t use samples like the Motif.  Now I sort of understand why he switched platforms.  Not that I want to switch.  I really love my Motif and it works perfectly for what I need it for.  I do, however, long for the joys of analog waveform shaping.

I think I might buy a Moog Sub 37 – stay tuned ; )

Back on topic – There is also some cool software you can use along with the Motif.  These include the vastly useful Motif XF Editor by Yamaha and John Melas’ Motif XF Tools.  These latter are an invaluable set of tools to control various features on your Motif.  While all the functions it performs can be done directly on the keyboard they are far more easily accessible through software.

The caveat to using the software, however, is learn to use the machine’s features.  If you’re on stage during a sound check with no computer and you need to adjust the EQ of an instrument you’d better know how to use the Motif natively.

There are also iOS applications for the Motif to control its various features.  Here is an interesting little disappointment however;  if your Motif is using a wired Ethernet connection you cannot use wireless CoreMIDI applications.  For example, my Motif is plugged into my network via an Ethernet cable.  This is incredibly useful for loading, saving, transferring and backing up files.  My iPad is connected to this same network through a wireless router.   Even so, the Yamaha iPad applications cannot talk to the Motif over the network.  I must either purchase a wireless adapter for the Motif (not going to happen) or plug the iPad into the Motif’s USB connector using the iPad Camera Connection Kit.  That’s too bad because the iPad application for the Motif are quite comprehensive.

So there you have it.  My first year with the Motif XF6 has been an adventure in learning.  Learning mostly that there are very few resources which can fully help me understand this incredibly powerful machine.  Still I was able to manage to interface the Motif to my DAW (Reaper by Cuckos), load it with songs and samples and most importantly, use it live to perform.  It is an excellent workstation who’s capabilities I haven’t even begun to discover.  As I do, I’ll write about them here.


Posted by: Rich Sherkin | September 26, 2014

Political Support

Join Coming of Age as we rock out at the Casbah in support of Bob Madigan who is running for Collingwood Town Council.  Come on out, meet Bob and rock and roll the night away!


EDIT:  Bob Won!!!

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | September 20, 2014

Cover Tune: Melissa

Originally Recorded by The Allman Brothers, Coming of Age recorded this track live off the floor during rehearsal mid September 2014. It was one of the first times any of the band played the song.

The guitar amps were micd individually with Shure SM57s. The bass went line out directly into the board as did the keys. Drums were micd with 2 overheads, a kick and a snare mic. These were AKG C1000S, AKG D112 and Shure SM57 respectively.

Mixing was done with Reaper with only some EQ and Tape Saturation. These were done with Native Instruments Solid EQ and Kramer Tape Saturation plugins. Also used were Solid Dynamics compressors and TAL Reverb II on the vocals.


Posted by: Rich Sherkin | August 24, 2014

Fizzbin & Coming of Age at The Casbah

On Wednesday August 20, 2014 both bands which I am a member of made their debut performances at The Casbah pub in Collingwood.  While CoA has performed in public before this concert marked the first time we played in a bar-like environment.

Because of the weather, a local Jazz concert scheduled to be performed outdoors was moved to The Casbah at the last minute.  This made it impossible for us to do a complete sound check but things worked out ok.  The Jazz band (I’ll get their name and update the post) was outstanding!  It was a real treat to hear them.

Fizzbin was originally going to perform two sets, one before each CoA set.  Instead CoA played both sets consecutively following the Fizzbin into.  It was a great night.

Here are a couple of videos from the performance;

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | August 12, 2014

One Night – Two Concerts

Come join us at the Casbah, 18 Huron Street in Collingwood, for an awesome double-feature!

coming of age poster  sized psd

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | February 20, 2014

DIY Keytar project – Phase 1

As a drummer I love to be the guy in the back.  I prefer not to be noticed as much.  I hide behind my large kit and I’m comfortable to play in front of anyone.  Smaller kits…. ok, not so much camouflage but still comfortable enough.

But now with Fizzbin I’m a front man.   As we prepare the extravagonzo of our live show I’m starting to realize how much of my roll as keyboardist as well as vocalist keep me standing in one place.  Vocal freedom is no problem as it can be addressed with a wireless headset mic.  Keyboards have always been a bit of a sore spot though when it comes to giving an active performance (no Keith Emmerson and Rick Wakeman, I’m not talking to you).  Even worse, in this day and age a single keyboard can perform the functions that once required walls of electronics and piles and piles of synthesizers  (yes Keith Emmerson and Rick Wakeman, I’m  talking to you).   This puts the keyboardist on-stage with a mere sliver of an instrument in front of him that he is tied to.  Not very impressive.  Further, if you make that keyboardist the front-man the show could tend to get a little sterile.  My goal is to prevent anything of the sort from happening with our performances.

Enter the mobile keyboard.  Sure the Keytar was a bit of a joke in the ’80s but revisited they make a lot of sense.  Back then the idea was to look high-tech and futuristic.  The focus on the guts of the synths was never a huge issue and the Keytar sort of drifted away into minor obscurity.  Still the keyboardist got his ass out front and could rock-and-roll with the guitar players.  Sometimes having the keyboardist spring into action would even get the bass player moving.  It’s a long-shot but still.  But I digress…

One of the first pieces of equipment I purchased when I began my studio project was an M-Audio Oxygen 49 keyboard.  It has proven to be a great starter-keyboard which works seamlessly with my Mac and my iPad (through the Camera Connection Kit).  It is a MIDI controller which means it has relatively light guts.  The keyboard only contains a USB connection.  There are no actual MIDI connectors which limits its use (or does it ; ) .  It’s also quite light making it easy to schlep around while playing.

Looking at the keyboard the first idea I had to make it portable was simple;  stick a couple of Guitar Strap End Pins into the body of the Oxygen 49, put a guitar strap on it, connect the keyboard to the iPad via a 10 foot USB cable, plug the iPad into the mixing desk (or keyboard amp) and there you have a Keytar. To help keep the iPad’s battery from draining quickly I included a powered USB hub in the mix.

To support the iPad I concocted a device using some old cymbal stand components and and iRig.

So check out Phase 1 of my Keytar project

Careful not to stress the wires connecting the top to the bottom

Careful not to stress the wires connecting the top to the bottom

Inside view of the M-Audio Oxygen 49

Inside view of the M-Audio Oxygen 49

Use washers to reduce stress on the plastic case

Use washers to reduce stress on the plastic case

Drill holes for End Pins

Drill holes for End Pins

iRig iPad holder mounted on cymbal stand

iRig iPad holder mounted on cymbal stand

Keytar Electronics

Keytar Electronics

Baxter inspects the key tar

Baxter inspects the keytar

Strap installed, connected via USB and ready to jam

Strap installed, connected via USB and ready to jam

Playing the keyboard standing vertically takes a bit of getting used to but I’m starting to get the hang of it.  My biggest problem is tapping my right heel to the beat.  It makes the keyboard jump around.  It also makes my bass jump around so I’d better get over the habit soon.

I’ve recently picked up a Korg nanoPAD2 which I plan to incorporate as the neck of my instrument.  I’ll run a second USB cable back to the hub connected to the iPad.  I’ve already tested it and both controllers can be used simultaneously.  Way cool!

I also plan to paint the chassis of my new old toy.  Something a little jazzier than plain grey.  I’ll post more as things progress.


Posted by: Rich Sherkin | February 2, 2014

Guitar Tech – Trial # 1

As a drummer I’ve always been fascinated by guitars and basses.  Let’s face it; Being out there on the front of the stage waving around your cool axe is the coolest.  You don’t have to totally be the frontman but at times you just steal the show.  We drummers just sit back and watch (while hoping you can still stay in time while being so cool).  Thanks to my old bandmates I’ve been able to pick up some guitar and bass licks over the decades.  Subsequently I’ve also picked up some instruments.

Back in  ’95 when my son was interested in playing guitar I got him a Squire Stratocaster.  About a week later I picked up a Squire Jazz Bass.  The Strat is a “Squire by Fender – Bullet Series” from Korea and the Jazz is a “Fender Squire Series” made in Mexico.

Headstock with new Machine Heads

Headstock with new Machine Heads

The Strat had been exhibiting crackling issues with the 5 position pickup switch.  The problems were random, inconsistent and could hit any switch position.  It basically made the guitar completely unplayable save for noodling acoustically in front of the TV.  This was hit home during a Fizzbin rehearsal where all we wanted to do was have a second, de-tuned guitar handy.

I had this problem several months ago and took the guitar in for service.  At the same time I had a set of Fender Locking Machine Heads installed.  The stock Squire heads were the absolute worst.  The guitar would rarely stay in tune for more than a complete song.  The new heads made all the difference.  Highly worth the cost!  Aside from the Machine Head installation, I wasn’t thrilled about the rest of the job done on the guitar.

I decided to take matters into my own hands.  For better or worse I’ve been working on guitars since I was 13.  Some jobs went great and others…. not so much (sorry Jason).  But now I’m 37 years older and have a ton more experience in many fields.  Particularly electronics.  After all, I did build a replica F-16 cockpit.  I figured the problem was either dirty contacts or a bad connection somewhere.  The guitar has never been gigged and has lead a very cared-for life so I didn’t think something really bad had happened.

Before playing Guitar-Tech I wanted to be prepared.  There’s nothing worse than getting part way into a job then having to stop and run to the hardware store to by some tool or other.  I’m pretty well equipped but I did purchase a CruzTOOLS Guitar Tech  Kit.  This ensured I’d have any tools I may need without raiding my own toolboxes.  It also comes in a nice, easy-to-carry case which fits in your gig bag.  I also purchased a Fender Guitar Maintenance Station.  This is basically a rubber mat with a padded stand to rest the guitar’s neck on.  It’s very handy to keep your guitar from getting scratched up during maintenance.  You can make these stations yourself but if you want to part with some cash you can have the Registered Fender logo.

Another item you must be sure to have is a Soldering Station.  Notice how I didn’t say Soldering Iron.  The difference means succeeding in or destroying your work.  A good soldering station with adjustable temperature will allow you to easily work with your instruments while a Soldering Iron is more akin to a fine wood burning kit.  I learned this from my mentor back in ’84 when we made 50 pin SCSI cables and 25 ping Serial cables by hand (Thanks Dr. Lopes).  Do you self a favour and check out Weller’s line of stations.

I also added a close-up lamp with a magnifying glass to help these old eyes see what’s connected to what.  Finally a few extra tools; small side cutters, a de-soldering tool, scissors, wire strippers, a pencil eraser and an Exacto knife.

Basic Guitar Workstation

Basic Guitar Workstation

I watched a couple of YouTube videos on guitar work and decided that at the same time I was in the guts of the beast I would shield the cavities as well.  This guitar isn’t particularly noisy but every bit helps.  On one video I saw the fellow used a metallic based paint to shield the cavities.  On a second the fellow used sticky-backed copper paper.  Having neither of these readily on hand I opted for some metal furnace tape I had on-hand.  Any type of metal will shield noise and this stuff is easy to work with.

After de-stringing and opening the pick guard I immediately snapped a photo of the electronics.  DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.  You may have to shoot from different angles but make sure you get a good reference point of how things were when you started.  You will not remember how it was so take (or draw) a picture.

Freshly Opened & Photographed

Freshly Opened & Photographed

Examination of the wiring revealed no loose connections (yet… stay tuned) so I turned my magnifying glass on the contacts of the switch itself.  They appeared oxidized.  First I used the pencil eraser on the contacts to remove as much dirt as I could.  I then took some Isopropyl Alcohol on a Q-Tip and cleaned each contacts.  Remember to move the switch to clean the contact under it.

And like magic… All the pickups worked as they should without crackle, noise or cutting out.  Consistently.

Now to the body cavities.

The Original Unshielded Cavities

The Original Unshielded Cavities

I started by adding a bottom layer of tape and then cutting pieces to size for the sides of the cavities.  The trick is to not overlap as much as possible to keep things smooth and slim.  I used a pencil eraser to get into the corners of the tape.

Layer One of the Tape

Layer One of the Tape

All Shielding In Place

All Shielding In Place

I Shielded the back of the Pick Guard for good measure

I Shielded the back of the Pick Guard for good measure

Once I had completed shielding the entire cavity I tested my connections.  Ooops!  Somewhere along the line the white lead heading from one of the pots to the jack had come off.  Where did it go?!?!?  No problem – I have a picture.  I quickly re-soldered the connection and put the pick guard back in place to test.

This time everything worked but I was getting a nasty buzzy-hum on 3 of the pickup settings.  It then dawned on me to turn off my lamp and soldering station.  Both generate noise and are in close proximity of the pickups.  Since pickups are designed to pickup sounds, well, you get the picture.

Problem solved!  With Everything reassembled there was practically no noise present.

Restringing was a bit different with the locking Machine Heads.  Actually is was a snap and the guitar tuned up nicely.

Now the Strat is playable and doesn’t have to sit by itself while all the other guitars are jamming.

I don’t think I’m going to take this guitar much further though.  If you’ll note from the cavity pictures the body of this guitar is made up of layer upon layer of shit-board (click the image to enlarge it).  Look at the porosity in some of the layers.  Yuck!  This is another way the lower end models save money.  If you look inside any Fender body you’ll see a solid piece of wood.  That’s why they resonate so well!

I’ll continue to experiment with this Strat though.  It’s a great way to test out a skill without destroying something too high-end.

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | December 28, 2013

2013 – The Year In Review

So if you’ve read my previous Year In Review articles you’ll roll your eyes as I say; Well I can’t believe where the time has gone but another year has past.  Once again it’s been a great year for Lower West Side Studio and for me musically.  It was a year for learning, implementation and most importantly, for making music.  Here’s a summary;

Drums / Percussion

With two practically complete kits there wasn’t too much percussion I needed.  This year I completed the cymbal setups of both kits giving them each the same number and sizes of cymbals.  They are all A Zildjian but one set is a lighter weight than the other.  The sounds are great and they’re fun to mix and match.

I also picked up a Carl Palmer Signature Series Venus Snare Drum by Ludwig.  This drum is great and fun to experiment with.  Plus I love that it’s green : )

2013 also marked the year that I got back into double-bass setups.  I purchased a DW-3000 double bass pedal for the Gretsch kit, dug my second Pearl bass drum out of storage and used my two DW-5000s on them.  THUNDER!!  I have to admit though;  I hate the double bass pedal.  As good as it it, as good as any of them are, the unbalanced feeling drives me nuts.  Also the second batter mutes the head before it’s done resonating from the first hit.  Don’t argue; it’s physics.


I added some neat toys to the studio this year to enhance some of the instruments.  First, I added the rack-mount version of  TC-Helicon‘s Voiceworks.  This is a great enhancement for vocals featuring EQ, compression and harmonization all in an affordable little box.

For guitars and basses I added each an MXR Custom Badas ’78 distortion pedal and an Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Bass Big Muff PI.  A bassist brought this latter by to jam and I fell in love with it’s power and flexibility.

It’s amazing what kind of expanded range a few effects can add to your sound!


This year was more about learning how to use the software I have rather than acquiring new things.  That didn’t stop me from picking up a few VST add-ins.

These mostly included reproductions of vintage instruments like the Minimoog and other old analog monsters.

I also purchased a couple of great programs for transcribing and tabbing music.  These are Transcribe! by Seventh String Software and TablEdit by Matthieu Leschmelle.


Huge year for keyboards at Lower West Side Studio.  This year we replaced our Yamaha DGX-500 keyboard with a Yamaha Motif XF6 music workstation.  This machine is absolutely incredible and we’re still in the process of figuring it out.

I personally love Yamaha synthesizers.  My first hands-on experience was my bass player’s Yamaha C-5.  Now I have their flagship.  Wow am I feeling old.


So what’s happening musically with all this stuff?  Ok… here’s the scoop;

Highway 26 – Following our outdoor Canada Day performance I left the band.   I’m not a Blues guy and they’re a Blues band so it wasn’t a good fit in the long run.  They’ve got a new drummer and are doing well!  Rock On Guys (and Gal)!

Silvertone Rock Camp – Still without a name but with a huge playlist this band is a great weekly getaway for its members.  We should play more live gigs though.

The Drop Bys – My old friends are dropping by once again and bringing along some interesting guests!  We totally kick ass.  I think we should formally acquire the band name High School Jeans because we all still wear the same size jeans we did when we were in high school.  That’s right – we’re sexy : )

Fizzbin – The largest project I’m involved in is the synth band consisting of myself and my friend John.  We are two drummers who play a lot of other instruments besides drums (although some of our drumming is recorded).  We cover ’70s and early ’80s New Wave, Synth and Industrial Rock tunes.  We are in the process of preparing a live version of our set for early 2014.

So that’s the 2013 news from the Lower West Side Studio.  Please keep visiting the blog for more info and fun tales.  Thanks for dropping by!

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | December 26, 2013

A Synthesizer Fit For A Doberman

My wife and I love Doberman Pinschers.  They are a loyal and loving dog but sometimes their intelligence can be frightening.  We have our third Dobe now.  His name is Baxter.

Baxter Enjoying The Summer Flowers

For years Baxter has made it a habit to come into my studio while I played drums and start barking along.  At first he’d bark at random but soon he learned to bark along to the beat.  His favourite music?  Led Zeppelin.  Soon, though vocals weren’t enough.  Baxter wanted to play an instrument like myself and  other band members who would visit.  He began by plucking at the spring door-stops located behind the studio doors.  He would twang and sing for as long as we’d let him (or as long as we could stand it).

Baxter also has an affinity for those plastic trays you place under potted plants to keep the water from ruining your floors.  He likes to take them and bang on them with his paws.

With these things in mind I decided to make him an instrument that A: would stop him from damaging my baseboards and B: satisfy his desire to make music.  I started by removing the sensor from an old Yamaha electronic drum.  The drum was scrap but the sensor worked fine.  I drilled a hole in a plant tray and attached a female XLR connector.   I then attached the sensor onto the underside of the tray (I used tape for the prototype).

Drum Synthesizer for Dogs

Drum Synthesizer for Dogs

The prototype test went pretty well, however, the unit was not designed to withstand the enthusiasm of a musically excited Doberman.

It was apparent that the tray would have to be affixed to something to prevent it from moving around during the performance.  I found a piece of wood, attached four rubber feet to it and mounted the sensor tray on it.  Baxter loved it but unfortunately it couldn’t withstand his enthusiasm…

Unable to Withstand Baxter

Unable to Withstand Baxter

I decided to switch to a plastic dog bowl as the striking surface.  They are built much more tough.  I re-assembled the sensor setup in the new bowl and it worked great!

Baxter's New Drum Trigger

Baxter’s New Drum Trigger

This new trigger setup worked really well and Baxter enjoyed playing it.  Unfortunately he continued to play his springed instrument; the door-stoppers around the house.   What I then did was to attach an upright on the board (a cut off slice of 2×4).  I then attached a door-stopper spring to the upright.  The result was that Baxter can twang it and the vibrations trigger the sensor.  In fact, I have the sensitivity adjusted so that even his barks will trigger the sensor.

I should mention some of the other stars in this production.  I’m running the output of the trigger to my DAW of choice; Reaper by Cockos.  I’m using the JS: SStillwell/drumtrigger plug-in to turn the audio signal from the sensor into a MIDI signal.  From there the signal goes into one of my favourite free plug-ins; Synth1.  I’ve tried various synthesizers and got some pretty cool sounds.  The addition of the door-stopper gives the instrument some sustain.

Over the holidays our son came to visit and he and I had a chance to jam with Baxter.  I don’t know if it’s Top-10 material but it sure tired Bax out!


Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29 other followers