A lot has happened since the last blog entry. I’ve been sort of holding off doing any writing because as you all know, Dark Fire production was suspended. Although I’ve kept using the original Dark Fire (it’s still the only guitar that does what it does), I also knew that Gibson was working on a variety of tweaks for future versions and (I believe) as retrofits for existing owners.
Well, I’m holding in my hands the production prototype of Dark Fire that will be the basis of the next production run. The biggest difference for me is that the overall noise level from the piezo pickup is much quieter. That’s nice in and of itself, but in terms of sound programming, it gives a lot more latitude on the hex patches as it’s possible to use tons of distortion without having an overly noisy sound. In fact, I’ve been reworking all the “signature hex patches” to take advantage of the Dark Fire’s better electronics. The revised versions, which you can load into Ableton Live, will be available on the Dark Fire site when the re-launch occurs.
With the clean sounds, it’s sort of like a film has been removed; with distorted sounds, the noise is low enough that it’s easy to get rid of it with Guitar Rig 3’s Noise Reduction module. Depending on the patch, I typically use a Noise Reduction Threshold setting of –20 to –45.
Another aspect of the lower noise is that with distorted sounds, the noise is no longer part of the sound’s fabric. Previously any noise was masked with high-gain settings, so it wasn’t that big of a deal; but now the noise has been lowered enough to change the piezo tone, and for the better. From what I understand, there have also been changes in the RIP that affect the multiplexing of the hex outs. For whatever reason the piezo sound is smoother, in a way I’d describe as “more liquid.”
The RIP has some added features too. It’s been optimized for multi-core operation (a good thing, because multi-core computers are becoming more common for musical applications), and lets you choose whether to charge the guitar from the RIP immediately, never, or after five minutes of inactivity. It also has a Live/Hex mode option. I’m still figuring it out, but I think in Live mode you’re charging Dark Fire through the line that normally carries the hex audio; so you can play through the pickups all night without having to worry about the battery running out of juice. However, I often have the Dark Fire running in hex mode for extended periods of time while developing patches, and it does at least a couple hours easily without recharging.
Overall, Gibson has done several little fixes — making sure the MCK has the right feel, adjusting the taper of the piezo/magnetic control in the pickup, etc. I’m sure Gibson would have preferred to incorporate these changes from the beginning, but I think the more important point here is that they did what they said they’d do. While it has surely been frustrating for those who placed orders for Dark Fire and have been waiting for months, those who could afford to be patient will be rewarded with a better guitar than was promised originally.
By the way, I’ve been working a lot with the hex option and have come to the conclusion that where it really shines is rhythm parts, because these parts have lots of strings playing at once. With lead lines, I prefer using the magnetic pickups and running them through particular Guitar Rig 3 programs because you’re usually playing only one string at a time anyway.
The other thing I’ve been experimenting with is “splits,” like putting the pickups through a crunchy amp sound, the bottom two strings each through their own octave divider for a massive bass sound, and busing the top three strings through the aux send, processed with a languid lead sound with delay. Following are the patches I used to do this.
The screen shot on the left shows the octave divider sound used on the bottom two strings. Note the extreme bass boost with the Shelving Equalizer; this precedes the Oktaver, and conditions the string for the most reliable triggering. The shot on the right shows the amp sound that’s applied to the magnetic pickups.
This shows the lead sound used on the top three strings. Applying the Noise Reduction module right after the input makes the piezo sound dead quiet; the Stomp Compressor gives sustain, and Mezone supplies distortion. Taking off some highs with the Equalizer “warms up” the sound, while the Delay Man adds lots of delay for the lead effect.
Doing Dark Fire sound design is a lot easier with the improved electronics, because the revised version has what’s good about Dark Fire while optimizing the areas that needed improvement. I’m impressed, and really having fun — which is the most important part!