After 12 years as the frontman of the critically acclaimed rock n roll band “onehundredhours,” Tre Sheppard now works as a producer, songwriter, and mix engineer from his private studio, zero:hour, based on the north coast of Northern Ireland. Songs he has produced and co-written have been heard on radio stations around the world, including BBC Radio 1, NRK P3, and across America. His projects have included Norwegian band “John Snow” whose single “Brighter Days,” co written and produced by Tre, had 40 million listens on US radio in one week. As the Vice President, A&R and Artist Development, of Fersk Management, Tre has a proven record in identifying and developing new artists and works closely with record labels, song supervisors and agents in LA and across the globe. He is signed to EMI/CMG publishing, was nominated for a Dove Award in 2011, and is well known in the UK and beyond for his unique blend of “faith, hope and rock n roll.”
I gotta be honest up front here. I’m not really a keyboard guy. I’m definitely a guitar guy, but as a producer and songwriter, I end up recording, playing or working with some sort of keys on a very regular basis. Over the past few years I’ve spent more time fiddling with analogue and soft synths and I own a vintage Fender Rhodes… and I have to admit, I’m finding myself looking at secondhand ads all the time for some more key related toys to make great records with.
One of the instruments I envy (whenever I’m in a studio lucky enough to have one!) is the glorious and gritty Wurlitzer. Not near as well behaved as a Fender Rhodes, but just what the Dr ordered when you want a certain vibe and a bit more attitude from your electric piano part.
About six months ago, I was sent a copy of the Arturia Wurlitzer V to check out and review… It’s been an interesting six-month period as I’ve been insanely busy producing and mixing projects for a variety of bands, mostly in the modern rock and pop genres. I often use vintage sounds in projects like this, though I regularly smash, distort, mangle and generally mess with the original tones to create new sounds for the records I’m producing.
As much as I love the Wurlitzer, I’ve never personally had a good software version of the Wurly that got much use… Real Wurlys? Oh my goodness yes, but a software one, hmmm… not so much.
As soon as I got the Wurlitzer V installed, I opened it as a plugin in ProTools on a normal instrument track. The first thing that struck me was just how great the interface looked! You get a great visual representation of the Wurly in a big plugin window on your screen and you can adjust the normal volume and vibrato controls of a Wurlitzer just as if it was a real one.
Clicking on the ‘output’ option gives you the choice of a direct input, a Leslie simulation or a an amplified output simulation, all of which sound authentic and respond well to normal midi controllers and velocities. The real fun starts when you choose the ‘FX’ option which expands the plugin window again and shows you a graphic representation of a DI box, a Leslie, or a familiar blackfaced guitar amplifier.
What’s so great about this plugin is that you can grab any of the knobs on the Leslie or the amp and they respond as their real life counterparts would affecting the sound. You’ll also get a small pedalboard with five slots for Volume pedals, Wah pedals, overdrive, flanger, phaser, reverb etc. All of the graphics are exceptional and the controls work as expected, making it very easy for a guitar guy like myself to quickly tweak a few controls and get the sound I want rather than digging through buried sub menu options. I almost never want to do that, especially if I’m in the middle of a session or a big mix!
You’ll likely recognise most of the pedals and FX available, so it’s a very user friendly interface and I certainly found it intuitive and fun to find the sound I was looking for, an experience markedly different from some of the Virtual Instruments in my arsenal here at zero:hour Studios.
Of course, you can hit the ‘open’ button and adjust all of the various parameters of the Wurlitzer V including velocities and eq to suit your needs or playing style. Overall, there are 11 stompbox style effects, four guitar amplifier choices, a Leslie rotary speaker and DI available as well as 4 different mic choices and positioning options on the amplifier you choose. Great fun!
More importantly, how does it sound? The answer is really good news: It sounds amazing. It has great texture and sounds very authentic, especially in a mix, with a wonderfully gritty quality when you push it hard through an amp or with other plugins in series.
In fact, the day I got it I was mixing a big rock track which had been sent to me with a very poor Rhodes Virtual Instrument sound the tracking engineer had printed. Fortunately I had the midi track as well, so I replaced the Rhodes with the Wurlitzer V, twiddled a few knobs, and instantly the sound I could hear in my head was there. The artist loved it and asked me what treatment I’d used to sort the Rhodes!
My only negative with the Wurlitzer V is a pretty significant one though… It’s a memory hog and all of that great visual interface comes at a price in practical use. I was unable to run the plugin with great success at less than 256 sample buffer which makes it difficult to use in real life tracking situations. I’m sure there are workarounds, but I’m a guitar guy and quick use with no problems is a VERY high value for me in production and mixing.
I also found that using the Wurlitzer V in a big mix was tricky depending on how many Virtual Instruments were running… though I can often run loads of instances of VI’s, introducing the Wurlitzer V in conjunction with a few other VI’s would often cause a crash or the dreaded CPU warning. I use a Mac Pro 8 Core with 12GB of RAM, so I feel pretty confident that a faster Mac loaded with more RAM would struggle less than I did, though I generally have very little problem with VI’s. I suppose if you want something as authentic sounding and intuitive as the Wurlitzer V, you need to have a pretty smoking CPU and loads of RAM…
To be fair, the sound and ease of use of the Wurlitzer V makes you want to persevere, so perhaps I’ll just have to go get an even bigger Mac and some more RAM! Arturia have a really fantastic Wurly here and at the price they’re asking, it’s a proper steal. Go get yourself some RAM and then rush over to the Arturia website and get your copy!
PS You can check out the Arturia Wulitzer V at www.arturia.com and here’s a nice little video intro of the product from the Arturia website.