TV's troubleshooters answer your questions
More expert assistance from TV's top musician advisers — Rockschool's Deirdre Cartwright (guitar), Henry Thomas (bass) and Geoff Nicholls (drums). If you've got any playing problems write to: The Rockschool Club, One Two Testing, (Contact Details).
I saw in the magazine somebody mentioned an Octoban, which I think is a sort of drum. Could you give me any more information, as I've never heard of it before. Is it still made?
Octobans are special melodic tom-toms made by Tama. They are still available in sets of four or eight (distributed by Summerfield: four highs £322.28, four lows £403.51, full set of eight £725.79, all including stands). They're single-headed, with 4mm thick fibre shells. Where they're different is that they are all the same diameter, but the lengths of the shells vary. The general appearance is long and slim. They can be tuned to exact pitches (eg the diatonic octave), so you can play tunes on them if you wish. GN
I've seen plenty of mention in the magazine and even down the pub of "active" basses. Now before you start thinking I'm a complete dummy, I do know this has something to do with a pre-amp built into the bass. But could you tell me whether you think this makes any difference to the bass being better to play? And what's so special about having an amp built into the bass when there's one on the end of the jack lead anyway? Thanks for your time Henry.
If you're getting a good sound from your guitar you're definitely going to feel better about playing it. So to that extent a pre-amp might be a good idea. Normal basses without a pre-amp use "passive" circuitry, which means that you have a basic tone from which you simply subtract treble to alter it. With an active bass the pre-amp actually boosts the output of your instrument and allows you to select a wide range of frequencies to be cut or boosted. So in other words you're adding to the sound with an active bass, as opposed to subtracting from your basic tone with ordinary instruments. Your stage amp can only add to the original sound, so if you have a bad sound coming from the guitar itself to start with, then the amp isn't really going to save you. The better the original signal, the more scope the stage amp will have. HT
My problem concerns snare drums. I'm reasonably happy with the model I have, but I've noticed recently that there are many other depths available than the 6in one I use. Could you tell me what difference these measurements make, if there's such a thing as a "standard snare", and whether you think it's worth having two snare drums (like Budgie had in your June issue).
Sunderland, Tyne& Wear
Snares usually vary between 4in and 8in deep, occasionally more, occasionally less. The deeper the drum, the deeper the sound. Shells are metal or wood: metal suits the attack of the snare beat, wood gives a "warmer" feel. Around 5in used to be standard, but deeper drums (toms as well) are becoming more common. This is probably because recorded drum sounds are so impossibly "fat" these days that drum shells are getting deeper in an attempt to keep up. I've been using a 6½in snare which feels good, but I've noticed that when you hear it through a big PA in a big hall it can be too deep — in other words it loses the crisp edge of a 5in drum. In a rehearsal room with no mikes the deep drum sounds great. Your 6in drum sounds like a good all-rounder.
As for two snares — well, that depends on what you have in mind for them. If you feel that the music requires different snares on different songs, that's up to you and your band. The photo of Budgie showed that he's got a wooden Eddie Ryan snare for most of the time, with a metal Ludwig one converted for timbale-ish sounds at particular points in the music. GN
Please help me. I am about to purchase a brand new acoustic guitar and don't know what to look for. Can you give me some guidance? I should be able to spend about £200. I currently play an Aria six-string and an Alligator amp.
Chadwell Heath, Essex
If you're shop-hunting for an acoustic, there are a few things I'd suggest to bear in mind. Go with a friend who's interested in guitars, and get them to listen to your playing from the far side of the shop — this will give you an idea of the projection and quality of the acoustic's sound. Make sure yourself that the bass and treble strings are evenly balanced in volume and clarity, and check for the usual problem areas like rattling and buzzing frets as you play. Remember, too, that you get virtually no bridge adjustment on an acoustic, so it should be right in terms of action and intonation as it stands. Ask the assistant whether the guitar has a laminated or solid top: a solid-top acoustic will very gradually "mellow" in tone as it ages; a laminated-top acoustic will stay the same. As an existing electric guitarist you may find a slimmer-necked acoustic more comfortable. Brands to watch for include Yamaha, Takamine, and Washburn.
I've been using a Hondo Strat Copy for about nine months now and I've got a bit fed up with the sound. I've decided it's the pickups that are holding back the sound of what is otherwise a fairly decent guitar. Do you think it would be a good idea to change them? Is it something I could do myself, and what makes do you recommend?
West Croydon, Surrey
If you're convinced that it is the pickups that are the weak link then yes, it probably is a good idea to change them. Choosing from the many brands is tricky, as it can be difficult to judge exactly how the pickups will sound once they're on your guitar. Some pickup makers are sensible enough to supply dealers with demonstration guitars that have various types of pickup bolted on, or with the facility to slot in different types. So it's worth tracking down a dealer who has this kind of set-up — ring up before you visit. The fact that the Strat shape is so popular at the moment should help you here. I personally use and like Schecter pickups. Pickup replacement of exactly the same types is a reasonably straightforward bolting-and-soldering job, but if you're at all unsure get the local repairer to do it for you. Perhaps they'll let you watch if you ask nicely.
I can't afford to lash out on a new set of strings just because they might work out better, so I wonder if you'd give me a bit of advice. Could you tell me what the basic difference is between the different types of string that I've seen? The ones I've written down, all sorts of makes, are "roundwound", "flatwound", "groundwound", and I think "halfrounds". Are they just the same string with different names?
Roundwound strings have a central playing core which has rounded wire wrapped around it. They give a very bright sound with a lot of sustain.
Flatwound strings have the same metal core but with flat metal tape wrapped around it. They give a punchy, more middley tone.
Groundwound strings are a combination of the two, being roundwound initially and then having the string's surface polished down to give a smooth feeling for the fingers.
I'd hate to sound ignorant, but I've never heard of halfround strings. Maybe there's somebody out there who knows what these beauties sound like. I have, however, heard of "pressure wound" strings. HT
After having watched your television series I was very impressed by the sound produced by the lead guitar. I have an Ibanez guitar and a Marshall Lead 12 practice amp with a fuzz box and an analogue delay, but no matter how I set this up, I cannot produce such a warm sound. It's either too rough or too flat. Please could you tell me what setup you use for playing, and how I could improve my sound.
For most styles of music including rock, I use a Schecter (Strat type) guitar, fitted with Schecter single coil pickups and a Kahler tremolo system. I use a Sessionette combo with a 1 x 12 speaker, and to get a really screaming sound I use a Yamaha distortion pedal (noisy but effective).
I think it's very difficult to get a good rock sound at low volume which could be the reason you are experiencing difficulty. I think the main problem is your amp which is, after all, a practice amp. As regards smaller amps, something like the Sessionette is really good, but even that is more powerful than your Marshall.
I think distortion can only add to or disguise the sound you already have, it won't necessarily improve it. For example, if you've got a basically clean sound then if you put on a fuzz box, it will just sound fuzzy, like a thousand bluebottles, and you won't get the overdriven amp sound that you're after.
I think you'll have to practice on your technique and ideas, and save to get a more powerful stage amp. DC
Thanks for Rockschool and now the Rockschool column in One Two, which is very informative, specially the drum bits — but then I am a drummer! I'm new to the drum kit, and am having trouble finding the right kind of sticks for my playing. Our group is quite heavy metal but with a few quieter bits, so I need power and then subtlety (yes! a subtle heavy rock group). Can you tell me what type of sticks there are and what might suit me? Thanks.
Doncaster, South Yorks
Sticks are usually made from hickory or oak, sometimes maple or other woods. Oak is harder than hickory, but not quite as supple, so there's a noticeable difference in feel. The main thing, especially with cheaper sticks, is to take time going through loads of them — roll them on a flat surface to be sure they aren't warped — and select some well-balanced pairs. With dearer sticks this is usually done for you by the manufacturer, but check anyway. Some sticks have nylon tips which give a sharp ride-cymbal sound.
As regards your "problem", two things occur to me; first, it seems obvious that heavy playing requires heavy sticks. But I've sometimes been surprised to find a heavy player using lighter sticks than I'd expected: the heavy sound comes from the style of playing and the size and tuning of the drums. So choose the stick that feels right for you. Secondly, playing loud then soft is really a matter of dynamic control: this may seem obvious, but volume is largely proportional to the height of the stroke above the drum or cymbal. If you can control this you'll be able to play loud and soft within the same song — you don't have to change sticks to do this. GN
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