By Jim Miller

One of the benefits of writing this column (aside from the adoration of my many thousands of fans, of course) is that I'm considered a member of the Sweetwater staff and thus able to do things like attend the Roland Product Seminar which was recently held downstairs in the mini-hall affectionately know as "Sweetwater University." I wish all of you could have attended, but of course that would be impossible, since there was barely enough room for the thirty or so people who did attend (on a Sunday, I might add) this "hands-on" introduction to the latest goodies from one of the industry's biggest names.

The item I was personally most interested in was the brand new system upgrade for my VG-8 Guitar System, dubbed the VG8S-1 ($195 list). Seems that Roland actually shipped thousands of VG-8s last year, knowing that it sported only about two-thirds the power and features they would eventually pack into it. This is only logical, since they've now had a year of feedback (no pun intended - really!) from guitarists around the world about what might make this great product even better. I personally think it's pretty perfect as it is, but I'm thrilled to have even more features like brand new guitar "models" such as the semi-hollow body Rickenbacker and Gretsch Chet Atkins, a Telecaster, Les Paul with P-90s, a Danelectro with "lipstick tube" pickups and a lot more. The graphic display also has been upgraded, so your new models actually look like the real guitar you're recreating. You also get new amp models including Vox AC-30, Soldano, 4x10 Bassman and a modern Marshall.

Want more? How about a wah pedal or an intelligent pitch shifter that will allow you to play those ultra-cool harmonized leads (like the Allman Brothers Band) all by yourself? How about "B-bender" effects without having to carve up your axe? Or how about completely new algorithms for hollow body guitar sounds? Heck, I just completed a big recording project using only the VG-8, despite having access to lots of "real" guitars and amps, and everyone involved in this project was blown away by the sounds.

Getting back to the seminar (I tend to get a little overenthusiastic over the VG-8), it was also fun to watch, hear and participate in the other product demos (XP-80, VS-880, PMA-5, etc.), as well as having the opportunity to hear the company's new KC-500 keyboard amplifier and Blues Cube guitar amp. But don't get depressed because you missed this event. Believe it or not, this wasn't fun, this was work for all those who attended (except for me, of course). See, the reason behind the seminar was to make sure that your Sweetwater sales engineer knows as much as possible about the latest Roland products so that they can pass along that knowledge to you. Of course, many other companies besides Roland also regularly put on similar training sessions at Sweetwater.

Roland Seminar

But how does this benefit you? Well, it's pretty simple, and it's the reason I'm telling you this story (yes, I do have a point, I'm just taking the scenic route getting there!). With all the many incredible new products available today, you really need to get the best possible advice before spending your hard-earned cash. And that's not always easy because every manufacturer invests a lot of time and money making sure their ads and brochures look great and describe their latest products as the absolute hottest in the business. Nobody's full color brochure says "Almost as good as our competitor's product" or "Not quite as wonderful as you might hope."

So you have to count on someone to filter out all the ad agency copy and give you the clear facts: Does a particular product have the specific features you need for your particular application. The VG-8 may be great for me, but how about you? That's where your Sweetwater sales engineer comes in. He or she spends a ton of personal time (like evenings and weekends) making sure that you get the most accurate, dependable first-hand information on any product you may be looking for.

I know this may come across as sounding like an ad for Sweetwater, but when it comes to spending my own money, I want to be sure that I have all the information I need before handing over a check or totally maxing out my credit cards. So, like you, I depend on my own Sweetwater sales engineer to give me advice I can count on before I make a purchase (hey, companies don't deliver free gear to my door either - go figure).

So when you're thinking about that new piece of gear - you know, the one that'll make your studio just perfect! - you might want to think about how easy (and costly) it would be to make the wrong purchase based on inaccurate information. That's why the Sweetwater sales staff puts in all those extra hours just to make sure the gear you buy is the gear you need. Oh, and don't be mad at them just in case they accidentally have a little fun while doing it, okay?

Say, every so often I have to mention this following bit of enlightenment: While it's very cool to have the latest whiz-bang, killer multitrack or keyboard or whatever in your studio, sometimes the little things can make your studio time much more enjoyable. No, I'm not talking about those little chocolate donuts here. See, I've learned that a small investment in something as seemingly insignificant as cables or a patch bay or some really comfortable headphones can mean a lot. Having that ancient mic stand tip over and smack you in the face right in the middle of a great vocal track is not much fun, is it? Losing your data because you didn't want to spend an extra couple of bucks on a high quality SCSI cable doesn't make much sense, does it?

So go ahead and dream about all that new, expensive gear, but do yourself a big favor and take a good look at your studio. Are you using your old guitar cables to hook up your effects processor? Does the wiring in your setup look like a pile of spaghetti? Are your headphones giving you a headache? Did you scavenge your speaker wire from an old lamp you had in the garage? Odds are there will be several places in your studio where an insignificant investment will pay high dividends in increased productivity and dependable performance. This is a lesson I personally learned the hard way a few years ago and I'm passing it along to you now. Believe me, with a minimal amount of cash, you can make your studio sound better and be a more comfortable place to work!

Well, as usual, I'm out of space. Thanks to all of you who have read my column for the last four years (has it really been that long?). And to all of you who are reading it for the first time: heck, I'm just glad you're not wasting time watching too much TV. Adios until next time!

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