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tadol 02-26-2020 03:59 PM

A Tonedexter story
James May invited me to see ‪Lyle Lovett‬ís acoustic band perform ‪Sunday night‬, as he had an invitation to assist one of the musicians, Jeff White, set-up his Tonedexter better. Jeff plays acoustic guitar and mandolin. He had made some wavemaps with the mics he had available to him, but was having some problems getting the sound he wanted. James first asked what pickup he was using on his guitar.* When Jeffís answer came back as the Baggs LB6, James knew immediately that there might be an issue with the wavemaps since the LB6 has two strings (G&B) out of phase with the rest. Jeff was not aware of this and had trained it with all 6 strings. I knew a little about that as my Barbera has every other string out of phase, and it also requires some special picking so you train the Tonedexter with just strings that are in-phase with each other.

So James made a wedge out of a paper towel, and shoved it in to essentially mute those two strings so as not to accidentally sound them during training. He hooked up his SM81 and created few new wavemaps. With the new firmware, training is incredibly fast. In less than 10 minutes, he had 3 new wavemaps to try from different mic positions (took longer to get the mic properly situated than to train!). The new wavemaps sounded MUCH better - you really want a very flat response mic with as little coloring as possible, so some very expensive mics that may be great for vocals arenít best for training. Jeffís original maps sounded a bit hollow by comparison. The new ones were meaty and present.
Then, James took an extra 10 minutes and using the same mic, made a few new wavemaps on Jeffís other Tonedexter which he uses with his mandolin. Again - very good new wavemaps, both done very quickly in a dressing room while other members of the band stuck their head in to see what was happening.*
From there, we headed to the stage for a soundcheck -*my band has a couple PA speakers, and a couple monitors, but Iíve never had any experience with a professional set-up like this. Stage monitors, in-ears, and a stack of amps and speakers that I normally only see from the nose-bleed section. Plus, back-stage sound board and engineer, out front sound board and engineer, lighting engineers, various roadies and techs for instruments, mics - the professionalism and skill of all these people working together was scary awesome. But James seemed to be very comfortable working with them, and Jeffs pedal board was set on stage, instruments plugged in, and ready to go in two minutes. The initial sound quality was amazing - I donít think there was a soul within earshot who didnít pause and turn to look. There was some tweaking, trying the 3 wave-maps, character settings, but again, the best was to start by flattening out all the previous EQ settings, and then making some very minor adjustments. Lots of comments about how great the sound was -

Then out in front, to the house soundboard - again, incredible sound, but there was more work as they have to deal with room acoustics, none of which I understand, but hearing Jeffsí dread or his mandolin filling the auditorium was wonderful. The other players were equally impressed, and I think James will probably be shipping out a few more Tonedexters very soon, to get similar sound from the dobro, fiddle, and other guitar.

The show was great - Lyle is a great performer - and afterwards we went backstage and chatted with Jeff and Lyle, mostly about the challenge of getting acoustic instruments to sound good on stage without the hassles of using mics. Iíd post some pics of that, but their publicity guy hasnít forwarded the, to me yet - :-(

We stayed at my place on the Marin coast, and after breakfast we took a look at my Santa Cruz baritone that I had put an Ultratonic pickup in a little while ago. It was my first try, and wasnít convinced Iíd gotten my settings correct - but James checked, and Iíd gotten it about perfect, which was quite reassuring - I posted about that install earlier - but now I have complete confidence that I can install a couple more with equally good results.

Then, James updated the firmware in my Tonedexter to the latest, which is ridiculously easy (but I couldnít find my SD card), and then he used his SM81 to train both the baritone and also my maple SC F guitar with a K&K pickup. Iíd really liked the Tonedexter before, but with these new wave maps, it was like the difference between night and day. Especially the baritone - it was really incredible in tone, and clarity, and just a plain natural sound, which with a great instrument, is all I really want. And to be able to crank it up, and even facing the amp from just a couple feet away, fantastic sound with no feedback.

Iíve got a few takeaways from all this -

The Tonedexter is amazing if you are really interested in very simply achieving a great acoustic sound - but you need to pay attention to a few simple things. Confirm the exact pickup you have installed, and if you need to follow a special training process, then follow it. Use as flat and clean a mic as you can - the SM81 compared to the SM58 Iíd used before was a huge (and very positive) difference. Iíve ordered a very inexpensive Behringer test/ref mic to see how that will do. And finally, the mic position has a huge effect on the final wavemap - and since it is so easy and fast to make a wave map, then make a few from different positions to hear the differences in a good set of headphones. They might all be useful, depending on the PA arrangement and room you are trying to fill.

Another takeaway - if you need a great pickup, the Ultratonic is a fantastic choice. But if you donít want to save a little, or are intimidated with the installation and set-up (which isnít hard), a K&K works really well.

Finally - if you have ANY questions, or need some advice about your Tonedexter (or Ultratonic) - James is the best and most accessible resource you could ever hope for -

hiddenmickey 02-26-2020 04:34 PM

Very cool story! What model Behringer mic did you order?

martingitdave 02-26-2020 04:56 PM

Excellent story and post. Those of us who use James's Tonedexter are sure to agree with your assessment. Thanks for taking the time to share.

Cuki79 02-26-2020 05:01 PM

Great story thanks!

SpruceTop 02-26-2020 05:19 PM

Interesting & Fascinating! Thanks!

varmonter 02-26-2020 05:27 PM

ive always been a big lyle fan..
seen him many times with his large band and his small band. once as a duo
with shaun colvin( great concert).
thanks for the story..

Ten 02-26-2020 05:34 PM

Hmmm, compare that to my Sunday night...yep, you win.

phcorrigan 02-26-2020 06:04 PM

Very cool! I'm seeing Lyle tonight in Portland, OR!

Petty1818 02-26-2020 08:24 PM

A very cool story! It definitely makes me realize that I really need to sit down and capture various wavemaps. I think a lot of us record a few examples and leave it at that but with some experimentation, you can probably get incredible tones.

I see the LB6 was mentioned again. This is a pickup I really want to try, I just can't decide between the Micarta (standard) or the Bob Colosi bone version. I tried bone once when I had my Anthem installed and my Taylor was far too bright. Not sure if that was the bone or a combination of the bone and the element impacting the tone. The Soloist is the newer pickup that people seem to like but at $300 (more like $400 for us Canadians), it's a big investment.

gfirob 02-26-2020 08:54 PM

Great story, and very nice pics too. It is great to see Tonedexters working on such a professional level.

And I had no idea James would do house calls to make your wave maps for you! Is this a great company or what? I'm calling him up right away...

zeeway 02-27-2020 06:56 AM

I was lucky enough to attend a Lyle Lovett/John Hiatt concert a few years ago, and was blown away by the pure talent of those two. Just two guys sitting in chairs with no fancy lights or effects, just super players and performers. A great memory.

I am also lucky enough to have just bought a Tonedexter. After several years of struggling through disappointing pickups and preamps, I have an amplified sound that makes me smile instead of frown. Yesterday, was the first TD powered gig, and the smile continues...

Petty1818 02-27-2020 08:43 AM

This thread made me look a bit more into Lyle Lovett and I came across Elvis Costello's Spectacle on YouTube. I remember watching all of the episodes but the one that stood out was the John Prine/Lyle Lovett performance. They both did one solo song and they just killed.

Brent Hahn 02-27-2020 11:52 AM


Originally Posted by tadol (Post 6303269)
James May invited me...

Thanks for this -- forwarding to all the TD people I know, which is getting to be quite a few.

Having visited a few of their recording environments, I'm beginning to suspect that room treatment (or lack of it) may be a factor.

phcorrigan 02-27-2020 02:08 PM


Originally Posted by tadol (Post 6303269)


Do you know what the third box on his pedalboard is?

Thanks for posting this, by the way.

Cuki79 02-27-2020 02:11 PM


Originally Posted by phcorrigan (Post 6303978)

Do you know what the third box on his pedalboard is?

Thanks for posting this, by the way.

Looks like a Line 6 M5

Extracting the IRs from his Tonedexter, the guy could probably reduce his pedalboard to a single Line 6 HX stomp (that has 2 inputs: one for the Mando the other for the guitar).

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