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Session Guitar: Creating Templates to Ease Work Flow

Greetings! In this column, I'd like to address my approach to projects. This particular week, I am called upon to create a large number of 30-second spots for TV and internet commercials.

The producers were fairly specific about styles and sounds. When this sort of job happens, I like to create templates to make work flow as easy and creative as possible.

If you're not familiar with the term, the online dictionary offers this definition: "A document or file having a preset format, used as a starting point for a particular application so that the format does not have to be recreated each time it is used."

Sounds good to me. Let's get started.

My first templates are in the computer. I set up a template in my program of choice to include at least 12 mono tracks, 12 stereo tracks, a few favorite FX and at least 12 MIDI tracks. I place an EQ, a limiter and a maximizer on the mix buss. I don't keep these on, just ready to go. I also prep a pile of loops as starting points and grooves. I have many virtual keyboards and drum choices and have about three that I like to start with and have those in the ready to call upon at will.

Externally I have several choice keyboard modules. Since I'm doing the composing and playing, I set up templates in a module or three for basic starting-point sounds. This project will be very guitar heavy, but the modules will be my backing band, and I want them all set and flexible to meet my needs.

On to the amp-modeling templates.

Once again, on my job, the HD 500 and sometimes my trusty, older Floor Pod XT are the choice. I create a bank of sounds needed for the project, ranging from heavy/overdriven to as clean as possible, with certain time-based FX to have ready. I also like to have the models be as flexible as possible.

Maybe my semi-overdriven sound can be made almost clean by lowering the drive or shutting off a stomp box. Or my clean sound can be made chimier with a chorus and compressor. A button or two, a flip of a switch and I'm onto another track. Layering is very important here. Just the fact that I can save time by having a separate amp on the right and left help my speed and creativity. Don't think I don't have a Marshall cabinet in the ready with a mic or two on it and a head or two just in case. But, man, I have to tell ya, those tubes have been sadly neglected lately.

Now onto the guitar templates. This is a no-brainer, since I am a guitarist. There are many guitars needed on a guitar-heavy project, so as to keep sonic interest, ear candy, in the minds of the producers: Strat, Les Paul, semi-hollow 335, etc.

If you know me by now, you know I'm going right for the Line 6 JTV-89. Talk about templates? This guitar has 29 starting sounds! I know from experience that no two guitars sound exactly alike. So when a song requires a Strat, it means the "elements" of a Strat. Or LP. Or 335. So when I think Strat, I think in two terms. Position 4, out of phase, or treble pickup. When I think Les Paul, I think neck, "woman tone" or fat bridge; "335" could mean Larry Carlton or B.B. King blues. Or maybe a Foo Fighters rhythm sound.

I own all of these guitars. But why in all hell would I choose to use them and tune them, and accustom my hands to each, when one guitar will give me them all?

I'm not feeling like I'm short-changing anyone by doing this. It's a new world for session guys, and anyone who doesn't keep up will be passed by because I will be able to work faster, stay more creative and be finished before you are tuning up another axe! And I freaking love my collection of guitars. And during this project, I may find the need to pick up a Strat or whatever.

But I doubt it. This is a job. "The right tool for the right job" is the maxim. This is a truth that will not change. But the tools will and have. Try and use tape to record on a deadline. Oh, and those who know me, know of my dislike of capos. I've always hated having to re-tune after a capo was clamped. With the virtual capo feature, I can double a part in another position to give, what I consider, a better sound than a 12-string.

Example: Song is in G. Play open G in first position. Virtual Capo the 7th fret and play in C, and voila! Fuller sound!

Checkout the youtube video below for a demo on the JTV-89. This video demos the guitar models unprocessed.

Ron Zabrocki on Ron Zabrocki: I’m a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just believed everyone started that way! I could pretty much sight read anything within a few years, and that aided me in becoming a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could and was fortunate enough to have some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played many jingle sessions, and even now I not only play them but have written a few. I’ve “ghosted” for a few people that shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I got the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.

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