For years, acoustic guitars have relied on pickups for amplification. One problem: Even the best acoustic guitars deliver an oversimplification of true acoustic tone complexity when amplified. Using something called AGE technology, Mama Bear takes your guitar into the digital realm, neutralizes the pickup, and then restores the natural body resonance. The result: now the finest acoustic guitars can sound like, well... themselves. Only louder.
16 Position Input Source Selector: Provides 16 different digital filter choices to neutralize the sound of your pickup so the AGE technology can go to work.
16 Position Target Instrument Switch: AGE technology provides 16 amazing guitar sounds emulated from 16 amazing guitars, from parlors to super jumbos. Allows you to dial up the guitar that matches your guitar's body shape, or emulate other shapes.
Input gain control with red Overload LED: Avoids overload distortion and allows minimization of noise when different pickups are used.
Bypass switch with LED indicator when in bypass mode: Hard-wire bypass to allow comparison of processed versus unprocessed sounds. LED alerts user when in bypass mode.
Output level control: Gain match to next stage for best S/N performance.
Balanced XLR output: For studio use with balanced-input mixing boards.
Hi-Z input stage: Works with Piezo pickups, great stand-alone preamp.
Chassis compatible with Equinox and Solstice: Micro-rack system or two units in full rack mount.
+/- 12 volt supply for analog stages: Outstanding headroom performance.
Wet/Dry Blend Control: Allows "In Between" amounts of processing.
Ground lift switch: For studio use with balanced-input mixing boards.
Phase switch: Allows reduction of feedback
Mute switch: For quiet guitar tuning or elimination of live connection noises.
What a collection of instruments! In the order they appear on Mama Bear's Target Instrument control, here's what D-TAR went with:
1) Parlor -- Lowell Levinger's pre-Civil War Martin "lady's size" guitar with Brazilian rosewood back and sides, spruce top, and Spanish cedar neck. The problem with this guitar is that it sounded almost too big! D-TAR really had to work to record this guitar to sound like a parlor guitar. The instrument is unbelievably light, and incredibly responsive. This is the one that hangs on the wall by Lowell's bed and has for over 25 years.
2) Small Body Fingerstyle -- This guitar is a Martin 5-21-T tenor guitar and dates from 1933. The size 5 still used today occasionally for Martin sized six strings. For some reason, Martin made a lot of them in 1933 with practically none of this model before or after. It, too, has Brazilian rosewood back and sides, an Adirondack spruce top, and a mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard. This is from what is acknowledged to be the "Golden Era" of C.F. Martin Guitars. This guitar is owned by Jessica Turner, and came from famed ukulele collector Chuck Fayne.
3) Small Body Blues -- Late 1920s and early 1930s Gibson small bodied steel strings fall into the "L" model prefix designations, as confusing at that might be, since the "L" designation had previously been used for archtops like the L-4 and L-5. One of the fascinating things about Gibson is their historical utter lack of consistency in either model numbers or specifications for model numbers. Just when you think you know vintage Gibson guitars, along comes the exception to the rule: and that is the rule
The Kalamazoo-based company cranked out thousands of these simple little guitars, many of which found their way into the hands of bluesmen such as Robert Johnson. The ladder braced top produces a sound that already sounds like a 78 rpm record, so if you're after an old country blues sound, this is it. The one D-TAR recorded is an L-00 from around 1932 and is the 12 fret version.
4) Mahogany Orchestra Model -- Martin OMs are considered by many to be the ultimate fingerstyle model guitars with instruments of this style from the 1930s going for tens of thousands of dollars. The OM was the first 14 fret-to-the-body guitar made by Martin, and the originals were only made from 1930 to 1933, being replaced in 1934 by the reissue of the dreadnought OMs are renowned for their power and great balance between treble and bass along with superb note definition. If there is a steel string "classical guitar" then this is it.
In recent years there has been a tremendous resurgence of interest in 14-fret long scale OMs, including several artist models. Guitarist Laurence Juber worked with C. F. Martin Vice President Dick Boak and the Martin Custom shop to design a modern cutaway OM with an Adirondack spruce top and mahogany back and sides; this model is the OM-18-LJ and theirs was recorded at LJs studio with a pair of Schoeps CMC-5s with Mark IV capsules. The dry tone and full response comes through beautifully in this setting.
5) Rosewood Orchestra Model -- See above for OM background. This is another Laurence Juber model, but it's the OM-28-LJ featuring Adirondack spruce top and Brazilian rosewood back and sides. Just as with the difference between D-18 and D-28, the sound is a taste more lush and reverberant than from it's mahogany brother.
6) Boutique Fingerstyle -- When you've got a Claxton, a McAlister, and a Traugott all in the same room, you have an embarrassment of riches from three of the top steel string small shop builders working today. All three have at one time or another done work for Santa Cruz Guitars, and they have continued on in the Monterrey Bay area. The final choice was to use the Traugott guitar model as it translated best into a model that really exemplifies what is great about hand made guitars. Interestingly, this algorithm was used by classical guitarist Mesut Ozgen when premiering a new composition by Yale Guitar Department head Benjamin Verdery. Ozgen used a D-TAR Timber-Line pickup with a second custom pickup D-TAR made that went under the string nut of his Gil Carnal lattice braced classical guitar through a Solstice blender/mixer and Mama Bear. The sound was magnificent, and showed that nylon strings played through a model of a steel string guitar body can work in unexpected ways.
7) Slope Shouldered Dreadnought -- The J-45 and J-50 series of Gibsons are among the great enduring models much sought after by fingerstyle blues players. Their recording was of a 1944 "banner peghead" model that features a gold decal scroll on the peghead saying "Only a Gibson is Good Enough." A similar instrument was Buddy Holly's favorite song writing guitar, and D-TAR engineer Rick Turner got to restore that guitar to playing condition in 1989 for actor/singer Gary Busey who bought Holly's leather covered guitar for $250,000. That particular instrument had the odd distinction of having a J-45 neck on an SJ decorated body, a war time artifact from when Gibson was just putting together anything they could ship and not worrying at all about sticking to specifications.
8) Grand Auditorium -- This size guitar is just under modern jumbo specs, and is equally useful for a strummer or fingerstyle player. D-TAR chose Laurence Juber's custom Taylor Grand Auditorium with mahogany back and sides and cedar top. This is one of the finest Taylors D-TAR has encountered with a big, yet clear tone and power to spare. A great guitar from the leader of the resurgence of factory made modern guitar quality in the US.
9) Slope Shouldered Jumbo -- In the mid-1930s, Gibson quickly responded to Martin's reintroduction of the Dreadnought models by doing their own take on the shape, altering the upper bout slightly and rounding off the slopes of the shoulders. One of the most successful of the early Slope models was the Roy Smeck Stage Deluxe, originally made as a Hawaiian lap style guitar. Many of these have been subsequently modified for "Spanish style" playing, and the guitar D-TAR chose was a 1936 Smeck with spruce top and mahogany back and sides. This shape would now be called a slope shouldered dreadnought, but this is basically a very deep bodied version of what would become the Gibson SJ "Southern Jumbo."
10) Mahogany Dreadnought -- The Martin D-18 gets it's own particular spice from the use of Honduras mahogany for back and sides. This gives a more immediate attack and a bit of a drier sound to the guitars. A great example of this was Clarence White's choice of using a D-28 for chordal and bass run backup with the Kentucky Colonels, but when it was time for him to play his incredible leads based on traditional fiddle tunes, he went over to a D-18 as the fast 16th note passages were cleaner coming from the D-18. Their example is a 1944 model from Lowell Levinger. It's beat up in the most beautiful way imaginable; you just know it's got thousands of hours of music in it.
11) Rosewood Dreadnought -- When it rains it pours... D-TAR were able to record two 1934 Martin Herringbone D-28s from the Levinger collection and a 1940 "bone" from Alan Kozlowski. 1934 was the first year these Bluegrass cannons were made and they featured bar frets in their ebony fingerboards. The Brazilian rosewood from this time period is as good as ever was built into a guitar, and the tops were medium grained Adirondack "Red" spruce, a top wood that can now cost more than these guitars cost when they were new. With price tags often well in excess of $50,000, the "Pre-War Herringbone" has become one of the most sought after guitars ever made, and D-TAR got to build their digital version from a choice of three!
12) Super Jumbo -- The King of Kings of jumbo guitars: and the King played one! D-TAR got to record a couple of mid-1960s Gibson J-200s, but the one that really worked for this project was a relatively recent Bozeman-made model owned by an employee of Seymour Duncan. Here's the human interest part of the story: D-TAR had to get the guitar out of pawn in order to record it. Sound familiar? This is a story, versions of which go way back in the history of recorded music, is a classic folk tale, and they happen even now.
13) Hollow Body Archtop Jazz -- Once again, D-TAR were blessed with the difficult choice of choosing from several outstanding acoustic archtops. After recording a 1924, first year if issue Lloyd Loar signed Gibson L-5 and a 1947 L-7, their winner was a 1928 block inlay "baby body" Gibson L5 similar to the one made famous by Mother Maybelle Carter.
14) Gypsy Jazz -- Maurice DuPont emerged in France as part of the revival of the gypsy jazz guitar movement making guitars in the style of the Selmer Macaferri designed instruments made famous by Django Reinhardt. Paul Hostetter kindly allowed us to record his DuPont "Petit Bouche," a faithful reproduction of the small oval soundhole version of the Selmer. This was the model favored by Django for lead work. These guitars are explosive, have little sustain, and have all their power in a cutting midrange. They definitely require a particular touch to sound right, but their modeled Gypsy Jazz sound will take you right back to 1938 Paris if you play with it right.
15) Biscuit Blues Resonator (see below for the predecessor instrument) -- The Dopyera Brothers, founders of National realized that the Tricone resonator guitar, introduced in 1926-27 was and would always be a high-end instrument with it's three cones and relatively complicated structure. Hence the development of several single cone model guitars, which started coming out in 1928: the Style O, Duolian, and Triolian. These were even louder, ruder, and brasher-sounding instruments than the sophisticated and warm Tricones, and these were the guitar for blues and bottle neck for the bluesmen of the South who wanted to be heard on the street and in the bars, and to this day, you can't hear one of these instruments without feeling in your pocket for a slide.
This guitar is from the Alan Kozlowski collection, and recording is proved quite a challenge. It, like many old resonator guitars is just full of rattles and buzzes, and even live it sounds like a 78 rpm record played on a vintage juke box with a blown loudspeaker. Thanks to Alan and his great studio, D-TAR were able to deal with all the extraneous noises and perhaps they even have added to the authenticity of this patch on Mama Bear.
16) Tricone Resonator -- The National TriCone was the first of the "resophonic" instruments made by the Dopyera brothers back in 1926. This was years before anyone went electric, and these instruments were acoustically loud, loud, loud! Many were made as hollow necked Hawaiian slide instruments with a shape liberally borrowed from Herman Weissenborn's wood bodied instruments; but some were made as "Spanish" round necked guitars. This was the instrument chosen by Django Reinhardt's friend and rival Oscar Aleman, considered by many to be as good as Django himself. There is a sad story of Aleman returning to his native Argentina during the Second World War, leaving German occupied France. Aleman's two National Tricone guitars were seized by German authorities because they were made of "strategic materials": aluminum and brass or nickel silver.
Their model is derived from a 1929 Tricone that is owned and was recorded by Alan Kozlowski using a pair of Shoeps tube 221 mics, some of the most incredible mics D-TAR has ever heard.
The Recording Process
The recording process was split up into about seven recording sessions spaced out over a year and a half. Much of the process was in learning about the right choice of mics and mic positioning to best capture the true essence of each instrument. Often enough, that meant not using the most common mic techniques, but rather working to really bring out the character inherent in each instrument. D-TAR recorded at Bear Creek Studio in Santa Cruz with Justin Mayer, Owl Mountain Studio in Inverness, CA, with Ethan Turner (yes, son of D-TAR co-founder Rick), On the Path in Santa Monica, CA, with Alan Kozlowski, Laurence Juber's home studio in Burbank, and at the Seymour Duncan sound room in Santa Barbara. Most of the time D-TAR used pairs of Schoeps small diaphragm condenser mics, recording in stereo direct to digital media.
In choosing the guitars to represent in Mama Bear, D-TAR were very fortunate to have the help of some very talented luthiers, guitar collectors, and recording engineers. Their aim was to record a broad spectrum of instruments that would cover a range of body sizes and different wood combinations as well as including some specialty instruments such as resophonic guitars and a gypsy jazz model. Their thanks go out to Ed Claxton, Roy McAlister, and Jeff Traugott who allowed us to record top of the line modern luthier-made guitars, Paul Hostetter, owner of a great Dupont "Django-style" gypsy jazz guitar, Alan Kozlowski, who gave us unlimited access not only to his great guitar collection, but also recorded them in his studio using some incredible Schoeps tube mics, and to Lowell (aka Banana) Levinger, vintage instrument dealer and collector and ex of The Youngbloods, who provided us with some of the rarest flattops and archtops in the world.
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