Posted on

Q&A with Franfret Guitars: The Real Custom Concept

franfret-guitars

Francisco Rodríguez is the man behind Franfret Guitars, an outstanding handmade guitars brand from Galicia, Spain. Amazing designs, great materials and a deep inside knowledge are the ingredients that this luthier mix with passion in order to get The Real Custom Concept.

At Soundpeers we had an interesting chat with Francisco where he explained many of the secrets of this fascinating occupation and the elements needed when manufacturing his guitars. We had time to perceive how much he gets involved into each of their guitars every time he works in any of his masterpieces.

Q. Fran, your motto is “The Real Custom Concept”. Can you explain us what this means for you?

To be honest I didn’t choose this slogan myself. The idea came out after a client, who owned several brand name guitars and a Fender Custom Shop, decided to buy a new one following his own specifications. When he tested the new guitar, he concluded: “it’s not the same a T-bone steak than a hamburguer”. After that experience, he decided to sell all his guitars and continue working with Franfret.

In my opinion, “The Real Custom Concept” means that you can do whatever you want when you follow a criteria and you are coherent. As a musician you can get the instrument you desire and participate in the whole creation process. I always show the project evolution to the customer considering this a very important part of my job.

Q. I believe that manufacturing one of your guitars from the scratch involves a lot of working hours. How much time do you devote to each part in the process?

Creating a new guitar usually takes me between 90 and 100 hours in average. Of course that depends on the kind of instrument, it’s not the same a bolt-on neck than a glued one. The finish touch also affects time.

When talking about the different phases, I always start with the design. I create the plan in 1:1 scale with a pencil and paper (I don’t use any computer software). In this phase I get myself inside the guitar, focusing in each curve.

Afterwards I prepare the templates for the body, neck, cavities and so on. I always count on a wide stock of woods for my guitars and I personally choose specific pieces to my custom models, depending on cut, weight and appearance.

Q. Which components and brands are you usually using in your guitars?

I use Gotoh machine heads, ABM or Hipshotbridges and CTS and Switchcraft electronics. The pickups I choose depend on the sound I want to get. All of them are handwound: HaüsselBareknuckleGemini and currently B&B pickups(manufactured in Valencia by Pascual Brisa).

I have a wide stock in woods, including mahogany, oregon pine, ash, hard maple, flame maple, walnut and blackwood.

Q. Which one would you say is the most important factor in a guitar considering sound?

There are plenty of them, we have so many variables in a guitar that people can’t just imagine. Woods, pickups, neck deviation, kind of bridges, strings and many more. I consider that the heart of a guitar is a good neck joint. The neck must fit in the body cavity creating a perfect transmission regardless of the kind of neck (bolt-on or glued).

Q. When someone asks you for a custom guitar, what do they usually demand? What does a customer look for when escaping from commercial brands?

Well, the first question is always about the price! From that point they decide if they continue or not. People look for something personal and unique, an instrument which adapts to their needs. These people know that they will get a handmade and unique piece, creating a clear added value.

In my experience I’ve seen everything, guitarists with a great sound and a medium class guitar, lovers from big commercial brands… It’s very difficult to find “your guitar” and “The Real Custom Concept” means something additional. I always leave a piece of myself inside every guitar.

Q. Can you name some artists who use your guitars live or in studio?

The main ones are Oscar Rosende, Antonio Abad and Fernanzo Abenza, guitar players and bass player from the band Brothers in Band, a tribute to Dire Straits. In 2016 they are touring through Spain, Germany and France. I created replicas of some of the Mark Knopfler and Guy Fletcher guitars. For this tour I created a replica of the well-known Schecter Knopfler guitar.

Takashi Peterson is other of our very satisfied customers. He has performed with great artists such as Buddy Guy, Johnny Lang, Dawson Braden, Charlie and The Nightcats, dand now he´s playing his own signature guitar model built by Franfret Guitars. “The guitar is amazing!!! So funky, great sound, wonderful feel and what a work of art, I can feel the dedication to the details.”

We have recently endorsed Fenris, guitarist from the original and promising band Bloodhunter. He acquired our Vento Deluxe model and he said literally: “it’s the best guitar that he has ever played”.

Q. Are you currently working in some new projects?

Sure, I’m working in two new models made of walnut for the AXE series. Besides that I’m doing custom orders which are usually guitars with a classic cut.

Myself and Fran from XTONEBOX are collaborating in a new very interesting project. He has a great sense of design and being from the same region, everything comes out much easier.

Q. Few months ago you and other luthiers started out the Contemporary Spanish Guitar Builders association. What is your goal?

We have created CSGB because we consider that it is a must. We all need to stay together and offer our clients a qualified and regulated service. Musicians fear to take their instruments to luthier studios because they might have had bad experiences in previous situations. With this association we assure that everyone has the proper education in the field, declares taxes and so on.

Q. What do you think are the most important benefits that Soundpeers can bring you in order to consolidate your business?

Mainly is about the projection of my work. I believe that this kind of initiatives are very advantageous for both sides, the luthier and the customers. Soundpeers is a showroom to the world.

I would say that in this profession, our market is the whole globe. We have a huge window which is internet and we have the medium. Guitar and bass players from all over the world, welcome to Franfret Handmade Guitars!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAZAcRX38qI

Franfret Guitars Models
Posted on

Xtonebox Custom Amplifiers. First Dream It, Then Build It

xtonebox-custom-amplifier

Couple weeks ago we had the opportunity to meet Xtonebox guys in an interesting sound market which took place in Madrid. At that time we had a conversation about their project and Soundpeers and the way in which we could help them with their business.

Today, you can find the Xtonebox online shop at Soundpeers with plenty of their custom amplifiers, cabinets and pedals (usually at a discounted price). We had an interesting conversation with Francisco J. Pastoriza, Engineering Director at Xtonebox, where he explained us the origin, the present and the future of this fascinating brand.

Q. Hi Francisco, nice to have you at Soundpeers. How long have you been building custom amplifiers and pedals? Can tell us something about your background?

A. Honestly, we have started working hard on this project a year ago. Previously I was working many years in Telecom Engineering, specialised in sound and image, so I had a solid base before starting out this project.

Q. What are your references when speaking about music or amp builders?

A. I’ve always been into extreme music. Otherwise I like lots of different genres when well executed. Speaking about builders, I love Soldano’s work because he is the creator of what we call today “high-gain”.

Q. How did you start out this project? Who is behind Xtonebox?

A. Nowadays I believe that everyone in this business started out as a hobbyist. It happened just the same with us. I used to watch closely custom and boutique markets while I already had many fresh ideas that I could implement. It was just a matter of time before we took the decision to risk everything and do something we love. Right now we are two people at the team working full time.

Q. How would you define the creative process at Xtonebox?

A. First dream it, then build it. All the designs we use are our own, respecting the ancient vacuum tube technology. We try to run away from the concept of creating a custom amp which is a clon from a copy of a Fender or a Marshall. Obviously it is quite hard not to be influenced by these two brands, but I consider that copying everything and adding your logo is just pathetic.

Q. What kind of components do you use in your products?

A. We use stainless steel, aluminium, different kinds of woods, tolex, acrylics, LED lighting, etc. We make and design our own circuit boards using “point-to-point” technique, even in complex circuits. We use Hammond and Lundahl electronic components, which are the best that you can find in Europe. We always use new materials with the best quality and tolerance possible.

Q. If you would have to choose one of your amps, which would you say it is your favourite one?

A. This question is like if somebody ask you who is your favourite son? There is none. Otherwise GREEN-1005 is the first one of our models. This amp is quite special, it has a great design and people are usually surprised with the sound and the volume that you can get from it.

Q. Are you working on some new project?

A. We always do that, we are restless people always executing new ideas or starting out new projects which are in the queue. Our plan is to continue delivering BLUE series with the addition of two compact heads which will deliver unique sound. Also there is a high demand on the 100w series and obviously we plan to have some Pro-Audio equipment around mid-2016.

Q. You have a great design in all your products. What is the relevance that you give to this factor on your equipment?

A. We love design and we try to do things ourselves without copying other existing ideas. We tend to fusion modern and vintage aesthetics. For us it is crucial to get visual attention so we can afterwards surprise with the sound.

Q. How do you see the custom/boutique european sector comparing to the US one?

A. In US people are very used to buy products manufactured in Asia so they value a lot everything which is handmade, and if it is “made is US” then it is much better. There are many big brands with the label “Custom” in US and they are succeeding by their own merits. Regarding Europe I don’t have that much information. In Spain I can give a good reference to MPF, they show great taste and quality in all their products.

Q. What other kind of tasks do you need to deal with on a daily basis?

A. We do repairs and restorations. We have been learning a lot going to the heart of big brands equipment and we do learn from their mistakes. Also we need to deal with all the management, comercial and promotion tasks like every company do.

Q. What did you like the most when you first heard about Soundpeers?

A. The possibility of being part of a community from Spain devoted to custom & boutique equipment, together with some second hand stuff. It’s just perfect for people who suffer from G.A.S.!

Q. What would you demand from a company like Soundpeers in order to help you consolidate your business?

A. We value the promotion that you can give us and we want that projects like yours can grow and get more and more traction. We consider that the work you do here can help us a lot in our daily tasks.

Posted on

Outstanding recording studios in Madrid

estudio-uno

Estudio Uno is one of the most successful recording studios in Spain. Headquarters are in Madrid and they’ve been in business since 2010 with different names.

At Soundpeers we wanted to know more about what kind of gear they use in recordings and what makes them different from other studios in the country. Luis Criado is the Managing Director and Pablo Pulido is the head of Sound Engineering at Estudio Uno. We had the chance to discuss with them these and other questions which pop up.

Q. Hi Pablo, can you start with a brief introduction of yourself, the recording studio and the job you daily perform in it?

I started this business in 2015 as part of the team that producer Pablo Iglesias created in Madrid for Cinearte. At the beginning I worked as an assistant and day by day I got more and more responsibilities, first in recording and afterwards in mixing and production. Audio Engineer career is long, as you need to learn a lot of stuff and you never stop discovering new concepts.

At the end of 2010, mi partner Luis Criado and I started to manage Cinearte recording studio till nowadays. We are working since March, 2014 in our new headquarters in Colmenar Viejo.

Daily work I perform in Estudio Uno changes depending on recording calendar, which is lately very tight, and consists mainly in recording and mixing. I also supervise work in other studios, set up in each of those, equipment maintenance calendar and analysis of technical needs which pop up. Never stop!

Q. You have a lot of quality equipment at your disposal in Estudio Uno. Who decides what to buy in and what is the main criteria when choosing?

Almost always this is a decision shared by Luis Criado and myself, attending to the studio needs. Usually, if I see a need on cabling, equipment or personnel, I talk to Luis and we decide next steps. Musicians also ask frequently for stuff they consider important so we also listen to them and decide accordingly.

Q. Getting deeper on the last question, I can find in your equipment first quality brands such as NeumannShureGenelecNeveLexiconApogeeand many more. Other brands such as Kahayan or Shep are perhaps less known by the general audience. What do non-consolidated brands need to be in a first quality studio like yours? Can you name some of them doing a good job?

They need nothing. Analog equipment business is quite complex: there are pieces of gear with a great reputation agreed by everyone. There is too some “classic” stuff which other brands got to clone quite successfully. In our particular case we always decide depending on the needs as we already own quite a lot of “classic gear” which almost everyone want to use in a project.

We have too some less-known equipment, such as Kahayan or Shep preamps, or some other equipment which might appear as second-class but which we consider completely at the same level.

Shortly we are going to start repairing some vintage equipment not known at all (not even us know what we are gonna get, but our intuition says that we will get outstanding results). It is important to trust your ear, your needs and not just the reputation of a brand. At the end you want the outcome to be the most similar to what you imagined.

Q. Nowadays many guitarists are using pedals which try to clone classic units, like tape echo, spring reverb tank or plate reverb. Furthermore there are trending pedals emulating the sound of great amps such asMarshall JTM 45 or Fender Bassman. These kind of tools are very useful to musicians with low budget and for domestic use. But, do you think they are or will be suitable in a professional recording studio at some point?

In a recording studio you can use everything. My answer is in the same direction as in previous question: if it sounds good, it does not matter the equipment behind. That said, every musician comes with an idea of a particular tone. If he brings his own equipment, of course that is always welcome.

Otherwise, original equipments are always outstanding, very difficult to clone. But not every time it is easy to have these pieces of gear due to the high cost.

Q. How do you see today this “custom market” in Europe and the US? Do you think these new brands have something to say and are a real competition to well-established companies in music industry?

They have a lot to say. There is a wide range of new equipment which is just fantastic and which offer really good results. Also you can find pieces of gear which seem amazing and afterwards you discover the opposite. It is very important to have a good criteria.

New brands are competing face-to-face with old ones, although it is true that classic brands have a high commercial value.

 

Q. Regarding your particular studio, how many rooms do you have in there and what kind of band can be suitable for each of those? I’ve read also that you even have relax rooms, dining-room, kitchen…What importance do you give to these kind of amenities?

In our headquarters, we have 3 recording studios. Each of those have different acoustic characteristics and choosing one or the other depends on project.

Studio A is usually devoted to recordings with instruments which require a good “room” (live recordings, drums, pianos, orchestras…). Studio B is a room with close to zero reverberation, so it is very good for every kind of records. Studio C is very similar to B and we use both of them in many situations. Everything is interconnected, so you can have as many possibilities as your imagination can think of.

We value a lot other amenities and that is why we are working hard on improving this. At the end, musicians and technicians spend a lot of time inside the studio. This is impacting directly on the result. In the final product you can hear everything: the best moment of a player, the energy of a band, the understanding between the technician and the musician… just everything!

https://tourmake.it/EstudioUnoCB

Q. What is the average time in days that a band needs for recording an LP, at least from your own experience?

It always depends, but most common is 2 sessions for drums, 7–10 sessions for recording and 5–6 days for mixing. 4 hours should be enough when mixing a song. We also take our time in between so we have the base for the sound we look for. Later on, when mixing, we just mix and do not devote time to correct mistakes. Outcomes are excellent in 95% of the cases.

Q. Do you have some tricks when helping musicians who get nervous while recording? For example a drummer out of tempo, a sleeping bassist or a singer out of tone.

We think that there are no tricks. Psychological training is needed for technicians and we use these learnings daily when problems arise. Stopping a recording process or speaking calmly with a musician usually solve the issue. This is something that we study and practice with students who train in our studios and we consider this factor crucial for every technician career.

Q. What are the last bands that you recorded at Estudio Uno?

Quite a lot since the beginning of the year! LeivaGato CharroSinkopeNoa LurPatente de CorsoMäbuRayden, Olivier Arson, Pepe RiveroMichael Olivera… many of them. We are very lucky and many top bands choose us for their projects. Of course, that is not easy.

Q. Having a minimal budget and not comparing to professional studios, what do you think are the main things that a band can have at their rehearsal room in order to start recording their tracks?

Fundamental tool is songs, without them you have nothing. When I started recording I used to have a “M-Box I” and I recorded our rehearsals and everything we played. It is very useful but, every time we needed to put something in the market, we always had a professional recording.

I think that this is something that industry cannot forget. Not everything is valid. Otherwise these skills are valuable and even needed in the creation and pre-production phases. In this case every equipment, even cheap one, can be useful.

Posted on

Q&A with Drewman Guitars: Aerospace technology for an old idea

drewman-guitars

Drewman Guitars is the first brand of aluminium guitars that we have in Soundpeers. The exquisite design and the beautiful ‘radial burst’ archtop finish in the D1 model sparked our curiosity to learn more about these guitars: the manufacturing process, the materials and the company.

A few days ago, Andy, the man behind Drewman Guitars, kindly answered some questions for us.

Q. The company started in 2015, what was the motivation to embark upon Drewman Guitars?

Our vision was always very clear; we wanted to experiment with the tonal qualities of high grade Aluminium when coupled with extremely precise engineering and the classic curves all guitarists have loved for over 60 years.

Body: Milled from a single billet of 7075 grade aluminium, designed and machined with precision in Oxfordshire, UK
Body Weight: Milled aluminium body piece is only 2.85Kg (for reference a Gibson Les Paul Standard Body Circa 1994 weighs 3.5Kg, and the newest models with body weight relief are 2.5Kg)
Body Finish: ‘Radial burst’ machined finished archtop
Neck: 24.75" scale length with 22 Frets, Mahogany back with Rosewood fingerboard
Tuners: Vintage Double Line Tulip tuners
Neck Joint: Recessed 4 bolt-on neck construction
Pickups: Choice of IronGear Dirty Torque [neck] + Blues Engine [bridge] or Seymour Duncan SH-4 & SH-2 Hot rodded Humbucker Pickup Set [Seymour Duncan set + £80]
Bridge: Classic chrome Tune-o-matic bridge
Tail Piece: Classic chrome stop-tail style tail piece
Controls: One volume pot, one tone pot, 3-way pickup selector switch
Strings: Ernie Ball Super Slinky 9–42 9's
Case: Black hardcase with plush lining and accessories storage
Assembled: Each guitar is assembled and tested in Wiltshire, UK, just 12 miles from the facility where we machine the aluminium body

Q. As stated in your website, aluminium guitars emerged in 1890’s. How does the manufacturing process and materials differ from then?

Well, the purity of the raw product is probably not that much different than it was back then BUT access to computer controlled milling machines and CAD modelling has made the process more aligned with the Aerospace sector than anything else. We use the same machines to sculpt our hollow-body arch-top guitars as are used for specialist part production for Ferrari and Airbus industries, not very musical I agree, but it ensures we deliver identical tonal resonance with each body we produce AND everything fits perfectly. We call it “built in quality control”.

Q. How long did you spend developing the D1 model?

Months! From initial ‘back of an envelope’ sketches to first draft CAD, 3D modelling [where you could fly through the pick-up holes and look inside the body cavity] through to initial prototyping and then testing the first run production model, Months!

Q. There are several companies working on aluminium guitars, how do you see the market?

There are lots of brands out there that try this, some are beautiful to look at, some are not! some are very micro-phonic, some feedback, some don’t. I know that this is a very small segment of the market and we don’t want to change the world but we do think that there is space for us all and if we all keep innovating and enjoying the process, why not!

Q. In your opinion what are the benefits of aluminium body instead of wood?

Quality of finish; I love the way it feels, it’s different from a maple quilt top [not better, different] but the main benefit is the resonance and the sustain, we get great results in this department and it’s a joy to listen to.

Q. How would you define the tone of an aluminium guitar?

It’s not harsh, cutting or extreme, it’s jazzy when rolled back, it’s grunty when driven hard; dig in and get those punchy mid-tones. It’s got bass when you play those BIG power chords too! I like to hear that mid-driven blues tone come through and it does that very well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68FPncMRJdA

Q. Are you working in order to expand your product line?

Yep! the D2 double cut is on the [virtual] drawing board but I’m not throwing loads of time into that right now, the D1 is the main focus.

Q. What benefits do you think Soundpeers can bring to your business?

Soundpeers seem to want to get behind the brand, innovation seems to excite them and new stuff always sparks the imagination, I think that Soundpeers could help with that push that us small producers really need out there where we’re competing for survival amongst some pretty scary competitors!

Drewman Guitars Models

Posted on

Nailing Led Zeppelin Tone at Royal Albert Hall, 1970

long-live-led-zeppelin

Jimmy Page is one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time. He revolutionised pop and rock music scene during those crazy late ’60. Together with Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, he linked America and Britain, British pop and American blues. He did create a new sound, a new way of behaving on stage. Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk and Pop merged together, increased the volume and gain and established the roots of what we call today Hard Rock. Jimmy Page played with The Yardbirds and yes, he did create Led Zeppelin!

In this article we will find several clues on how to nail his tone during the Live concert at Royal Albert Hall back in 1970.

From The Live-DVD The Song Remains The Same

As a musician, Page is a very straight forward guitar player, relying his tone on his fingers and his knowledge of harmony and melody. He is a very dynamic player, using his picking technique as a way to create overdriven or very clean sounds. If we put his technique aside, we can get close to his tone very easily using a big amount of money. But, if we have a limited budget, spending smartly a couple of hundred pounds should be enough. Moreover, if we are skilled enough with the soldering iron, we could even go cheaper manufacturing our own gear.

Credit Wikipedia

I will briefly mention that you need a good Les Paul style guitar with PAF humbuckers. “Good” depends on our budget, of course. Regarding the amp, a Marshall JTM-45 (or similar) will help, but, as probably you do not play at Wembley Stadium very often, we can forget the amp for a while.

So, how can we achieve his tone without having the chance of cranking our beloved Marshall amp? Well, the best way in my opinion is using some pedals used as foundation, a kind of overdrive pedals that became very popular lately. As we will shape our tone using pedals, we need to set our amp as clean and plain as possible, with as much headroom as we can. We do not want to interfere with our plan of nailing Led Zeppelin’s lead sound!

Foundation

The fastest and most sexy way to achieve this is using a Catalinbread RAH, a pedal that was created precisely to nail the tone of Jimmy Page’s Hiwatt/Marshall combo at Royal Albert Hall show. Other option involves using other foundation pedals that nail Marshall JTM-45 sound: Wampler PlexidriveCatalinbread Dirty Little SecretTech 21 BritishZ.Vex Rock of Sound… the market is loaded with options. If we choose the Hiwatt road, as far I know there are only two options: Tech 21 Leeds and Catalinbread WIIO.

Yes, I love Catalinbread stuff, my fault. But as I mentioned above, you can find a very good fit in WamplerTech 21 or Z. Vex pedals.

Wah

 

Credit Pat Hoss

Focusing in my research in the ’70 Royal Albert Hall show, Jimmy Page used a VOX Wah, the very original pedal. The closest one should be a VOX Wah 846-HW, but a Dunlop Crybaby, a VOX 847/848 or, if you want greater quality, a Fulltone Clyde Deluxe will bring you the wah filtering you want. Page used the wah mostly as a kind treble booster, just turning it on and letting it at toe position, which mean that filter reduces the bassier frequencies. These settings are perfect to be in front of the band mix during a solo.

Fuzz

 

Credit Terekhova

To increase the overdriven tone he used a Solasound Tone Bender MKII, the most successful British fuzz pedal at that moment. We have some nice options like the Fulltone SoulbenderEarthquaker Devices Tone Reaper (both MKIII implementations), Throbak Stone Bender or, my favourite, Del Rey Pro MKII. MK refers to the version, being the MKII the second version of the effect and, guess what, MKIII the third. Otherwise, if you want to getting in the world of DIY pedals, this could be a great option to start.

Echo

In order to find the right atmosphere and “epicness” in his tone, Page relied on Maestro Echoplex EP-2, but there is more than repetitions in those units. The preamp section of the Echoplex gave him something extra (sparkling highs, softer mids, creamier bass). There are some nice pedals out there to get this tape echo formula, like the well regarded Strymon el CapistanMad Professor Deep Blue Echo or Wampler Faux Echo.

 

Credit Wikimedia

But as I stated before, what makes the Echoplex special is not only the echo itself but its preamp section. There are many pedals out there that try to copy this special tone, like the Xotic EP Booster or the MXR Echoplex Preamp. Having a stand alone preamp gives you an extra option: to use it as a booster. Despite of that, in my opinion, instead of having two different pedals to achieve one unit sound, the best way to nail Jimmy Page tone could be to use a Catalinbread Belle Epoch, a pedal which reproduces all the wonders of a real Echoplex EP-3 unit (remember that Page used the EP-2 at that time, although an EP-3 is regarded the best version).

We should consider that during those days the amps had no effects loop, so everything was in front. It can get messy so easily, but a great tape echo in front of a cranked Marshall amp is the quintessence of classic rock, in our case the order of pedals should be:

As final summary, we could consider that Jimmy Page’s guitar tone is moderately easy to recreate, you just need a small bunch of pedals through a clean amp. What we cannot copy is the way he used that tone. We will never be able to nail his fingers. Even if we could, unfortunately we will not have John Bonham or John Paul Jones covering us neither Robert Plant in front screaming poems. Probably we will never be able to play at stadiums, life is unfair, I know. Perhaps getting close to his tone and being able to understand his technique, we can find our own tone. I think there is nothing better than play a simple chord or scale and smile because “there it is, MY tone”.