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Helix in perspective

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We guitarists have grown up with stomp boxes and FX of various types. The oldest among us remember the day when reverb and tremolo were the only thing available. The idea of overdriving an amp was not even dreamed of (I'm admitting my age). When Electric Ladyland came out people had simply never heard sounds like that. Period. No modulation or time distortion. We had absolutely no concept of how they heck they did this. Frankly, for rock musicians at the time the world stopped on a dime. Holy ___! What was that?


One can't describe the experience of turning out the lights, stretching out between the stereo speakers and listening for the very first time to And the Gods Made Love - the manual flanging and the Echoplex - nobody had any idea how they did this. After Woodstock I heard about the UniVibe and got one, repairing it over and over until it died. Later, when the very first Tascam Portastudio came out (another stunning advance) I figured out how to gently tweak the speed up and down when recording a second track to achieve the flanging and it was mind-blowing (manually hitting the phase right on a cymbal hit was like a drug). I recorded a track with a plastic recorder (flute), manually bending notes by rolling the finger tips. Flanging that track beat the pants off of the flute part on If Six Was Nine (young musicians need to hear that song). No stomp box could duplicate that. But now with modern gear such as Helix you can time-mod a loop and play on top of it to get the effect live without a stomp box simulation.


As for overdrive, in the early 80's I had my 50W Marshall half-stack modded with a master in order to create overdrive at club volumes and when I received my Boogie MkII it was truly fantastic. Today we are used to all this stuff and I would imagine that there are around 500 stomp boxes to choose from. Helix, its predecessors, and its competitors can offer a ton of stomp FX in a single package, plus modeling, which has redefined the world of live and recorded music. Frankly, the idea of paying $1,500 for such a great device is a bargain.


A few years back I saw a posting looking for a guitarist that stated that the applicant "must have a real amp". It sounded funny at the time, but that was when I thought that making two trips to haul my gear to a rehearsal was normal. Now, as long as you have a Helix and a FRFR that can push some air, that's all that really matters. It makes me think that I could make a mint by creating a fake Marshall half-stack that weighs 20 pounds and has a shelf for mounting a FRFR inside.


I apologize for using a forum for airing such thoughts, but young musicians are used to being in a world of great FX and in which guitarists didn't grow up learning the licks from Gimme Shelter and thinking they were guitar heroes, but learning the licks of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. (There are way too many gunslingers these days and too few artists.) Perhaps the budding guitar gods of today might not realize that musicians born before 1957 were here when there was not anything whatsoever orbiting the earth but the moon, when the coolest gizmo in town was a 2.5 inch square portable AM radio with a wrist strap, and where the only sound you could get from an amp was a clean one with no breakup whatsoever.


The Helix, along with its competitors, is a godsend and it's nice to be living in a world where older musicians do not have to retire simply because their backs are shot from years of loading and unloading a a couple of hundred pounds of gear three to five times a week. (The Boogie combo was heavy enough, not to mention the Marshall, plus my rack, Strat and Paul.) A Helix, a L3t and a guitar case will do it for me, all on one lightweight hand truck – plus it keeps me in the game.

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I'm old enough to remember when you bought a distortion Plus to get your amp to distort, too...

I'm not old enough to play along with Hendrix LPs when he was still alive however...

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Don't you dare apologize - I'll beat you with my walker (at least till I fall over, and even then I'll play hell with your ankles...)!


I exceed your cutoff date, and think your post has a relevance that can't be repeated often enough - and no, this is NOT a "get off my lawn" thing, it's an "understand the roots of all this, respect the origins of it, and don't take these modern miracles for granted" thing. 


You cite some milestone examples, don't forget the Beatles w/George Martin at the desk.  That period of time (mid 60's thru mid 70's) was astonishing for the raw amount of creativity and expression that was pouring out of our speakers - up until then the recording studio was there to capture the performance as it happened, and suddenly it became an instrument where time and sound could be manipulated, became a part of the creative process.  This can NEVER be overstated, it's importance is paramount.


When I was - I dunno, 15 years old? - you'd get the word that Zeppelin/Tull/Yes/Purple/Zappa/Floyd/etc was dropping a new album, and we were like kids waiting for Christmas,  We had no idea what would be coming - but we knew there was going to be something amazing, Not only would the music be distinctive, each artist with their own unique take, but the potential for sonic boundries to be expanded kept us breathlessly waiting.  And the local FM jock with the balls to drop the needle on the whole album end-to-end was our hero.


The Shure VocalMaster - all six channels of it - was the defacto PA for club/high school/garage bands, the Fuzz Face was the go-to if you wanted distortion (no one told me that mine would become a collectors item - damn!), echo was a studio-only process with the Echoplex and BInson still 5 years out.  At that same 15/16 year old period I interned at Cleveland Recording, home to James Gang, Grand Funk and the other mid-west heroes of the time - looking back it seems like using flint-and-steel to create fire. None of the tools we so blithely take for granted now was anywhere to be seen.  But buy a Helix and every imaginable tool to craft and manipulate your sound is in there, for less than the price of a decent used car.


There's a post just up - some guy beefing about the 2.1 update messing with his sound.  Boo hoo - go ahead, sell it and go back to analog, amass a pedal board the size of Rhode Island and a rack like a Fridgidair. Or quit yer whining, put the time in to tweak yer stuff, and bless your good fortune that something like the Helix (and yeah AxeFX or Kemper) even exist at all.  Or better still - get a Princeton and a Fuzz Face - take it from there, bucko, and god go with ya.  And remember, some truly great music was made with nothing more....


It's Thanksgiving, and certainly I have my list of things to be thankful for.  I'm still standing after some medical issues that should have killed me (MORE modern miracles!), I'm respected and sought after in my day-to-day profession, I don't go to sleep at night worried about money - and I'm still performing, and the Helix has brought me more sonic power with less tonnage to cart around than I would ever have conceived possible as little as 20 years ago - certainly back when I was waiting for "Thick As A Brick" to drop.


BTW - shot over to Sweetwater and broke out my calculator - not including volume pedals and minor accessories there's 894 different pedals there.  Your estimate seemed a little light - and that's not counting any of the boutique, "from the manufacturer only" pedals out there...


Again - go ahead and get ON my lawn, there's a ton of young talent out there, you can still (if rarely) find truly distinctive musical art happening.  But do not for one second take for granted the power and flexibility available to you in a 20 pound box - as much as you should respect, and research, the roots of the music itself you should do the same regarding the technology we use to make it happen at all.


Good Times!!  Happy Thanksgiving all !!!!

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Good read!


I too got the 1st Tascam Portastudio!

As did I, and my running joke at the time was "If you went back in time and showed this to George Martin, they'd never find your body.  George: "Paul, John!  Look what I've got..."".  Gotta love dbx, made the small format tape platform viable...

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