Back in the day, if you were a keen guitarist the chances are you would learn your trade by buying a record containing some riffs by your favourite player, sticking it on a rickety turntable and then use your hand to slow the record down so that you could hear the riff in super slow mo! Why does this help? Listening to riffs at full speed can often seem like a bit of a blur for the amateur guitarist… trust me, I’ve only recently started making the effort to learn how to play my guitar ‘properly’ so I am a good person to talk to about this! What was that note there? How many times are they strumming that chord? What just happened? Why am I playing a guitar? Who am I? I’m lost!
This is a tried and tested method for learning guitar… even the great Eric Clapton worked in this way when he was younger, slowing down his Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson records and practicing over and over again until he could nail those riffs. So I guess if it’s good enough for Clapton, it’s good enough for me!
There are however some problems when working in this way with traditional vinyl records. For one, with old turntables, it probably wasn’t any good for the needle (or the record for that matter) to be working as a primitive scratch DJ by manipulating the record independently of the spinning platter. However, most importantly, when you slow down a vinyl record, it’s not only the speed that changes… it’s the pitch! This can be rather annoying when the purpose of slowing down the record in the first place is to determine what notes are being played, as the slowed down notes will no longer be at their original pitch! It’s a nightmare!
Luckily, technology has moved on a long way since those days and whilst I am a self-confessed vinyl addict, I would much prefer to make use of todays technology to aid me in this department… technology such as what though? Funny you should ask, because it just so happens that I have a Tascam GB-10 on my desk...
TASCAM GB-10 – PLEASE ELABORATE!
The Tascam GB-10 is an electric guitar and bass trainer that works using the same principle as the old slowed down vinyl trick, but instead functions with MP3s and WAV files. You can hook the Tascam GB-10 up to your computer, (Mac or PC) copy your favourite song files onto the included SD card and then change the speed and pitch of the file independently of one another! You can also loop specific parts of the song if you want, which means that it is simple to keep listening to a riff in isolation (if the song contains such a part).
On top of this, the Tascam GB-10 also has a ¼” jack guitar input, plus on-board amp modelling and effects, meaning that the only other piece of equipment you need to practice is a pair of headphones! Someone slap the guy at the back that also suggested that you will also need a guitar! I’m taking that as a given! Duh!
Additional features of the Tascam GB-10 include a built-in tuner and metronome and a recording mode with overdub. Plus, there is also a footswitch connection for hands free control. So, this thing is pretty much an all-in-one practice solution and from the description, it sounds like the perfect tool for me or any other budding guitarist.
Time to take a look at each of these features in a bit more detail…
TASCAM GB-10 – VARIABLE SPEED AND PITCH AUDITION
This is of course the main feature of the Tascam GB-10, which actually lets you change both the speed and pitch of a file independently of one another. Now, at this stage of my learning, I found the speed audition feature a lot more useful than the pitch audition feature. For learning difficult riffs, the Tascam GB-10 really is a godsend! It allowed me to slow a track down to a speed that I was comfortable to play along with (I’m still very slow!) and was excellent for helping me pick out all those subtle notes and strums.
I thought that the algorithms used for the variable speed function sounded excellent and the original pitch held well even when the speed was pushed to its most extreme settings. Obviously there will be some additional artefacts added to the sound when the speed is dramatically altered (as portions of the audio have to be repeated to stretch out the sound or discarded to compress the sound), but I found that it was still easy to distinguish what was going on within the song and play along. I would however recommend finding a part of the song that has the riff playing with as few other elements as possible (even better if you can get it in complete isolation) and looping this section, as any time-stretched drums and vocals can be a bit off- putting, as the time-stretching artefacts seem most noticeable on these elements.
Did I have any complaints with the speed control? Well, I was slightly disappointed with one thing… although I thought that the speed-altering range of +/-50% was excellent (and more than enough for what I needed despite being an amateur), I found that I could only alter the speed in increments of 10%. Now, it wasn’t a huge problem. The main purpose of this device is to allow you to slow down a riff so that you can figure out how to play it and as I said, with a range down to -50%, I didn’t find a song that this wasn’t more than enough for. Plus, once I could play a song at a slow pace, I could then work on my technique and speed on my own until I was playing it at the correct tempo. However, I imagine that some people will prefer to play along with a song every step of the way, e.g. gradually speed up the tempo of the song as they learn to play faster and faster. For these people, a jump of 10% is probably a little too much and so I therefore would have preferred a maximum step of 5% between different speeds. It’s my only moan though and I certainly found that this thing helped me in my quest to becoming a better guitarist.
At this stage of my learning I can’t imagine that I would use the speed-up function of the Tascam GB-10, however, it is probably a useful feature if you are planning on covering an existing song in a new, faster way and want something to play along with whilst you learn. Once you are playing along at a reasonable tempo, you can then use the built-in metronome to practice with at a more precise speed if you don’t think that your cover version quite fits being at a tempo that is a 10% step of the original.
Now, onto the variable pitch feature…. Why would changing the pitch of a song help me learn guitar? I guess that this would be most useful if the song you are trying to play has a different tuning to your guitar. With this feature you could then just alter the pitch of the original song until it fitted in with the tuning of your guitar, meaning you could play along without having to re-tune! This is an excellent timesaving device, although I think that if I were seriously learning a song, I would prefer to retune my guitar and hear myself playing it properly. However, for quick practices, this feature is ideal.
You can alter the pitch of a song up or down 6 semitones and can also perform some fine-tuning in cents, so this feature of the Tascam GB-10 is highly accurate. In fact, it’s probably more accurate than I need, but it is excellent to have this flexibility available. As with the time-stretching feature of the GB-10, the pitch is best altered on a looped part of a song that contains as few other elements as possible as pitching up other instruments (especially vocals) can be off-putting. You will get used to it, but would you be able to concentrate at first if you had Darth Vader or Alvin, Simon and Theodore from the Chipmunks singing over your practice session?
TASCAM GB-10 – RECORDING
This is the feature that sets the Tascam GB-10 apart from most of its rivals and might I add that it is an excellent feature, making the GB-10 a highly desirable product. It means that not only can you record and analyse your performances for practice purposes, but you can also use it as an ideas tool. Just take it with you and your guitar wherever you are and you can capture your ideas on-the-fly whenever a riff idea pops into your head. If you are like me, new ideas often decide to formulate at inconvenient times, e.g. in the middle of the night, and most of the time I can’t be bothered to get up and turn on my computer. Therefore, why not keep the Tascam GB-10 and your guitar next to your bed? You can then make a quick recording whilst an idea is fresh in your mind, save it and go straight back to sleep, ready to work on the idea tomorrow when you haven’t got half of your mind on sleeping! In fact, this is how Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones came up with the riff for Satisfaction! He even states that when he got out of bed and played his recorder back (not a Tascam GB-10, obviously!), he couldn’t even remember waking up in the night and playing it! He must have been really tired that night… or perhaps really drunk is a more likely scenario!
Anyway, the Tascam GB-10 allows you to record and play tracks simultaneously, as well as featuring an overdub mode. The overdub mode makes it simple to build up a song idea bit-by-bit and the Tascam GB-10 creates a new audio file with each new overdub. This means that if you have created an epic composition but whilst adding the last element to it, you suddenly hit a wrong note and ‘ruin’ it, you can simply load up the last file and work from there. Phew! Again, this is an excellent compositional tool for if your ideas are more complicated than just a single riff.
Recording with the Tascam GB-10 is very simple. It features standard transport buttons, meaning that you should be able to record even without reading the manual. It is even possible to perform hands-free recording by making use of the Tacam GB-10s ‘auto-record’ function, which starts the recording as soon as you start playing! There is no need to worry about missing any of the sounds at the start of the recording either as the Tascam GB-10 constantly records audio into a 2 second buffer when it is in ‘record ready’ mode, which gets added onto the start of a recording. Just make sure that you are sufficiently quiet for those couple of seconds before you decide to hit your first chord!
TASCAM GB-10 – TRANSFERRING SONGS
Getting songs onto your Tascam GB-10 is extremely quick and simple. All you have to do is attach it to your computer using the supplied USB cable and the screen of the GB-10 will ask you whether you want to use the USB connection for power or as a storage device. If you simply want to power the GB-10 (the other options are to use two AA batteries (included) or an AC power supply (sold separately)), then select the ‘power’ option. If you want to transfer songs from your computer to the Tascam GB-10, select the ‘storage device’ option. The Tascam GB-10 will then appear on your computer just as if you had plugged in a USB stick and you can drag songs onto it in the usual way.
One thing to be wary of though is that although the Tascam GB-10 works with both Macs and PCs, it only supports MP3 and WAV file formats. This means that if for example, all your songs are stored in AAC format within iTunes, you will have to get converting if you want to use them with the Tascam GB-10. It’s not a problem, especially if you are only transferring a few songs over to learn at a time, but it can take a bit of time if you decide that you want to whack a large proportion of your library onto the included 2GB SD card. If you are unsure of how to convert your files to a different format then please leave a comment and ask and I will be happy to talk you through this procedure.
Once the songs are stored on the Tascam GB-10, you can navigate through them and use the transport buttons to play and stop them, etc. You can even perform actions such as hitting the ‘Stop’ button twice to return a song to the beginning.
TASCAM GB-10 – AMPS AND EFFECTS
The Tascam GB-10 comes with a number of built-in amps and effects and allows you to route a sound through up to 3 effects blocks: one for an amp model, one for a compressor and one for an effect (chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo, auto wah or delay).
Toggling the effects between an ‘on’ and ‘off’ state is as simple as hitting the ‘Effect ‘ button on the front of the GB-10. This activates your last used effect. However, it is also very quick to change your effect routings. In this case, hold town the ‘Effect’ button a bit longer and you will see that the screen changes to display an ‘Effect’ heading and a number of tabs; 'Lib', 'Amp', 'Cmp' and 'FX'.
The Lib tab contains 20 slots. 10 of these are Tascam presets, giving you a few useful effect routings to use in your performances, covering a number of different styles. The other 10 slots are for user presets, allowing you to create, save and recall your own special settings at will.
The ‘Amp’ tab contains all the amplifier modelling settings. Here you can adjust the amp gain, master volume, tone, cabinet size and reverb.
The ‘Amp’ tab is followed by the ‘Comp’ tab, where you can adjust the built-in compressor's settings. In this tab you can adjust the amount of compression (Comp), the attack, level and its on/off status.
Finally, there is the ‘FX’ tab, allowing you to choose one of the effects that I have already mentioned and refine them in appropriate detail.
In terms of the sound of the effects, I felt that they were good without being anything special. If I were creating a professional recording for use in a track, I would definitely want to use something better than what the Tascam GB-10 offers. However, that is not what the Tascam GB-10 about and so what the effects are good for is adding some character to your guitar to help bring an idea to life, or simply just to make your guitar sound a bit more interesting when you are practicing.
Whilst I think that these effects will be more appealing to lead guitarists rather than bass players, they are a nice little touch and I like the fact that they are so easy to turn on and off depending on the mood that I am in.
TASCAM GB-10 – SUMMARY
If you are a guitarist/bass player and want the best all-in-one trainer and recorder, then the Tascam GB-10 is a real no-brainer. Yes, there are things that I think it could improve on and that I think that other trainers do better (mainly the fact that you cannot make finer adjustments to the speed of a track), but for a small, portable product (it’s only 6” by 3”) at a great price, it is packed with everything that you need for practising and recording ideas. I have no doubt that the Tascam GB-10 will aid your guitar playing as it did mine and the presence of a built-in metronome and a fantastically reliable tuner are just the icing on the cake. You can even use it to send a tuning note to your headphones or speakers if need be.
For me, the highlights of the Tascam GB-10 were its ease of use (all common functions have dedicated buttons on the front), its excellent recording features and its simplicity for transferring songs onto it. The things that I think it could improve on are that it would be better if it allowed you to make finer speed adjustments, a backlight on the screen would have made it easier to use in bad light and if I’m being extra picky, I would have liked some basic built-in EQ.
If you are after a portable all-in-one solution for guitar practice and idea recording, then you have to check out the Tascam GB-10. Just add a guitar and some headphones and you have everything you need to practice. On this subject though, there is one final thing to consider... the better the headphones you use, the better your practice experience will be, especially if you play bass, in which case you will need a pair of headphones/speakers with a good bass response, otherwise you may find it difficult to hear what is being played.
For more information on the Tascam GB-10 or to buy one, click the link below: