Shedding the Past

So I have this great old (vintage 1973) Otari MX7800 1″ reel to reel deck that I have used sparingly over the past few years (Lynn calls it Godzilla because its the largest piece of pro audio gear I own, weighing in at about 250 lbs.). It sounds great but takes a bit of TLC. New 1″ tape is not cheap, about $150.00 per reel, and I am grateful that it is still available from places like ATR.

The beast, Godzilla

The beast, Godzilla

So when I found 5 reels of used 1″ Ampex 456 Grand Master Tape for $30.00 per reel shipped from Canada, I said, hey that sounds like a helluva deal, right? Tapes arrived today and I put one on with the intention of erasing the old program material. These apparently were used at a television station in Ontario, Canada but the owner did not know how old they were or what kind of condition they were in. I decided to take a chance.

After about 10 minutes of running the first reel through Godzilla, the old lady started slowing down, slowing, slowing, until eventually she would not rewind or fast forward, and could barely run the tape at play speed. I was of course alarmed, thinking that some part had finally failed, some obscure capacitor or relay was fried, and the closest repair depot for tape machines was, of course, in Denver!

After a few frantic calls I was able to get back with Mike Everhart, a very talented engineer and audio tech in Portland OR. Mike had been the tech for this machine for a while when it was owned by Jordan Richter, a young Portland recording engineer. Jordan had sold me the machine back in 2007 I think it was. This old lady has a storied past, previously owned by the famous American punk band, Sleater-Kinney (with Carrie Brownstein from Portlandia no less).

When I arrived in Portland to pick it up Mike was there still doing some last minute tinkering! Talk about dedicated. Anyway to make a short story longer, Mike walked me through some basic questions over the phone and told me that old Ampex 456 formulations were very prone to excessive SHEDDING due to a breakdown in the tape chemical adhesive over time. This causes a buildup of brown gunk over the tape guides and heads, which was immediately apparent once I removed the tape. Mike suggested I thoroughly clean the guides and heads and try again with some newer tape. Brilliant, KISS is the lesson here.

Yes that worked, of course, now Godzilla is cranking along running newer tape just fine. Sometimes vintage is great, sometimes old stuff is just old, and you learn the hard way. Fortunately the price was not too dear this time. Now its time to Shred, not Shed!

New music video: Event Horizon

This started out as a spacey electronic audio work that imagines a lost space probe encountering a black hole. Then coinciding with the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, I added footage from NASA and some visualization to spice it up as a video. As a child I built lots of space ship models and still read lots of Sci-Fi. Think of this music video as a requiem for our abandoned space program.

Event Horizon from Jim Hewitt on Vimeo.

Prairie River plays at Peagreen

I recently hooked up with Len Willey and the Prairie River Band as their lead fiddler and mandolin player. This is a fine group of acoustic musicians, playing old timey songs with a dash of Celtic and bluegrass. Our first gig is coming up at the end of April. Peagreen is an old fashioned grange hall located out in the farm and ranch country southwest of Delta, Colorado. At these Saturday night concerts the place is packed. Hope you can come out for great music and food.

Here is the word from Len:

“It’s time for another evening of old-time and bluegrass music at our
Pea Green Saturday Night concert series, and you all are invited. The
event will be held at the Pea Green Community Center from 7-9:30 pm
on April 26. This month will feature The McCoys, the Prairie River
Band, and Colorado Divide, all for only half a sawbuck ($5) at the

The event is held between the villages of Delta and Olathe at the
crossroads of Hwy. 348 and Banner Rd. Some folks bring a snack to
share, and so can you if you want to. Seating is limited. For more
information call Len Willey at 970-874-8879. “

PONO nono?

There has been quite a buzz lately about Neil Young’s new PONO compact audio player that promises to deliver 192 KHz sample rate audio, which is a much higher rate than most studios use for recording or mixing.
Young claims he can clearly hear the difference. But between what? An mp3, sure. But that is not the whole story.

Here is a great little article (albeit a marketing piece for Benchmark, a company whose converters is use daily). This dispels some of the hype involving high resolution recording.

What Is High Resolution Audio?

My take is that a high resolution audio player is a welcome addition to the market, but it is not necessary to use the computer resources necessary to record at 192 kHz sample rate. More than sufficient is 96 kHz (24 bit), and even that might be overkill. Yes I can hear the difference between 16 bit CD quality (44.1 kHz) and high resolutions. I would welcome a player that allows me to hear my masters recorded and mixed to 88.1 kHz or 96 KHz at 24 bit, so they sound like they do in the studio, and that is what it’s all about, right? Anyway the future of audio delivery is about streaming high resolution formats anyway, so bring it on!

The Magic of the Minimum Dose

I have been taking an online professional mixing class from Audio Master Class out of England, and it has been quite an eye opener for me. I have completed 11 of 12 modules, working on the last one this week of Christmas, 2013. I am getting much better results as I get near the end.  The last module I submitted was rated 5 out of 5 in all categories. It was a rock mix that started out with an acoustic guitar and vocal, and built up to a full slammin’ drum, bass, Hammond B3 and electric guitar screamer, then came back down again. Quick difficult to get right, actually, due to the extreme dynamics.

Why take a class like this?  We project studio recording types tend to work in isolation, and getting feedback from other professionals really helps polish our chops. In my case I thought I was pretty good at mixing, but I found out I really had a lot of room for improvement (don’t we all?).

First of all, if you are not in the field of audio engineering you might ask what is mixing in the first place? A mix engineer takes recorded instrumental and/or vocal tracks from a session and makes adjustments in level or loudness, frequencies or tones, and sometimes adds to or takes away portions of the recording.  If you listen to raw recorded tracks often the sound is awful, with instruments, electric guitars especially, competing for the same sonic space. The role of the mixing engineer is to bring balance and musicality to the overall sound of a song. This can involve raising or lowering the loudness or level of tracks, adding EQ (adjustments to tone), compression (lowering dynamic range in order to raise the overall punchiness of a track), adding reverberation, and sometimes leaving out sections of a recorded track, or an entire track, if it did not fit well into the mix.  The mix engineer can take it further if the producer desires it by applying technical fixes to intonation (bringing an out of tune note back into proper tuning), fixing timing or rhythmic problems by editing sections of audio, removing clicks or pops that may have gone unnoticed, and in general just polishing up the tracks.

In particular I have learned though experience something that is often stated by engineers, but may go unappreciated until you try it.  That is, very small adjustments in EQ and volume can make a huge difference in how a track melds into the overall mix. In the field of Homeopathy (an alternative medical practice that has been around for 150 years or so) there is the principal of the minimum dose of medicine.  When applied correctly, the minimum dose is often more effective than drugs given in larger amounts (think vaccination, for example, where a very small amount of what could ail you can be preventative of the same illness).  I think this principle of the minimum dose can be applied to music as well.

We measure changes in loudness in units called “decibels”, or dB.  These are relative measures of loudness when applied to sound as it reaches your ears. Our ears are incredibly sensitive to changes in both loudness (in dB) and EQ (equalization or adjustment of the relative loudness of certain frequencies or tones).  Sometimes all it takes for a track to “gel” in the mix is as little as 1/2 of a dB, or a slight bump or dip in the center frequency or gain of an EQ knob.  Before I took this course I had a hard time discerning these differences. Now I am amazed at how much better my tonal  comprehension is as I compare my work to the feedback received from my submitted mixes.  Yes, that egg shaker was a bit loud, I can hear that now.  Let me pull that fader down just a smidge!  Ahh!  The magic of the minimum.

The same principle applies to reverb, something which I have always loved to have in my mixes.  I always thought of reverb as an effect, something to bring attention to a track.  I guess that comes from playing and recording a lot of acoustic instruments, such as violin, which often sounds lovely drenched in reverb.  And hey, it can smooth over mistakes and intonation problems (secret, don’t tell anyone!). But a high dose of reverb can also make a mix sound muddy.

I have learned how to add just a touch of reverb to a vocal to get it to gel. If you can hear the reverb, if it stands out, maybe that is not what you really want.  So turn down the reverb send for the track, and then listen. Does the vocal still sound sweet?  Then take it away altogether. The minimum dose is often the amount of reverb that makes the track gel or fit into the musical space of the other instruments, such that when you take it away you notice its absence, but only when you take it away.  This is not to say that you cannot use reverb as an effect, but too much makes for a muddy mix more often than not.  This is another important lesson learned.

If you are a budding recording musician or engineer, you might want to check out this class at  The course is not cheap but I have found it to be extremely beneficial. Now turn up that kick drum  1 dB and you will have it!

New Studio Completed

Barn Jazz Productions is proud to announce that our new recording studio is open for business! All the hard work of wiring, construction, acoustic treatment, and configuration of gear took some time but the wait was worth it. Here is a photo of the new space. We now have room for an entire band, a luxury that we did not have in our prior space. If you would like to book some time please send me a message using our Contact Page and I will get back to you promptly. Here are some before and after photos.

New Studio Space

Work is progressing on our new studio space in Grand Junction, Colorado. We have acquired a house with a large, walkout basement are fitting it with acoustic treatment and sound isolation for the doors and windows.  The new studio does not have a name yet, but we are excited.  The space is twice as large as the previous Double Diamond Studio in Oracle, AZ.

tritraps_sSo far this year we have produced two CD projects for local singers and bands. There is a lot of acoustic music happening in the Grand Valley,  and I am excited to be a part of it.  Here is a shot of the far end of the room with some initial acoustic treatment in place, TriTraps (bass traps) from GIK Acoustics.

The Bone Tree CD was recorded in our temporary facilities in a rental house in GJ, so it looks a bit crowded. The new space will be a welcome change.  Bone Tree is from Whitewater, CO nearby.  Here is Bob Eakle of Bone Tree. Bob and Lisa made a great debut CD that is available from them at

Bob and Mando

Pea Green Concert 2012

Just completed my first live performance with Way Down Yonder, a long-time Grand Junction bluegrass band, at Pea Green on Dec 22, 2012. Yes you heard that right, Pea Green is a performance hall located out in the fields and farms of Delta, Colorado, and a nicer and more appreciative crowd cannot found. We had a great, and opened along with the McCoys for one of my favorite local bands, Stray Grass. Way Down Yonder consists of myself on fiddle, Joe “Que” Quesenberry on mandolin, Dennis Costlow on banjo and lead vocals, Carol Quarrels on guitar and vocals, and Big Dog Kyle on acoustic bass.

Way Down Yonder

Joe “Que” Quesenberry on mandolin

Fungus Amongus

So I read this article from The Economist 9/22/12:

MELODIOUS SOUND FROM FUNGUS? The sound of a Stradivarius violin is the time-tested standard of excellence. The warm, mellow tones of the violins made during the late 17th and early 18th centuries by Antonio Stradivari were a combination of extraordinary craftsmanship and created in his workshop in Cremona from different types of wood and, possibly, different chemical treatments. Today, Dr. Francis Schwarze of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology is seeking to equal the sound of the Stradivarius by using a fungal treatment in order to make what he calls “mycowood.” Knowing that sound travels faster through healthy wood, which is stiff and dense, than it does through soft wood that results from a fungal attack, Dr. Schwarze began applying two types of fungus to Norway spruce, used for the instrument’s body, and to sycamore, for the back, ribs and neck, to make his violins. The unusual thing about the fungi that Dr. Schwarze used is they thin the cell walls of wood without destroying them. After the fungi has done their job, he treats the planks with a gas that kills the infection. The result is a mycowood instrument that a panel of experts thought was a Stradivarius.

Does that mean if I take my old fiddle and give it a fungal treatment, will it sound like a Strad? Somehow I doubt it. Besides, its a FIDDLE!

Barn Jazz Vol 2 – The Night of the Dancing Vegetables

My latest CD is complete! Started work on it in 2005, received the final master back from Bob Speer at CD Mastering Services in April, got the first 100 pressings from Discmakers last week. Sounds really good, and great feedback from the first few people to get a copy. It is available on CD Baby for physical purchase or digital download at
cover art

Cover art courtesy of John Medley, Oracle AZ, from his collection of vintage vegetable crate designs.

By the way if you go to CD Baby you can preview some of the tracks to get an idea of what this barn jazz stuff is all about. I would really appreciate a review if you find the music worth the time.