RICH LAUVER

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MUSICAL INSTRUMENT MANUFACTURERS
MUSIC SOFTWARE DEVELOPERS
MUSIC STUDIO EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURERS
MUSICAL EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES RETAILERS
PHOTOGRAPHIC EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURERS AND RETAILERS

If you feel you have a link worthy of inclusion here, please contact me with details, but understand that I will only be including links to companies, individuals, and organizations whose products, services, or talents I am personally familiar with and highly respect.

       

MUSICAL INSTRUMENT MANUFACTURERS:

Rickenbacker International Corporation

Rickenbacker is the legendary manufacturer of electric guitars and basses revered by such artists as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison of the Beatles; Roger McGuinn of the Byrds; Pete Townshend of the Who; Chris Squire of Yes; Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys; Tom Petty of the Heartbreakers, and countless others. Made only in the USA, as they have been from the beginning, they have a fiercely devoted following and are highly acclaimed for their quality of craftsmanship and distinctive sound, so much so that their single factory in Santa Ana, California, is at least two years behind schedule in filling existing orders to their authorized dealers.

Schecter Guitar Research

As the manufacturer of my new-favorite guitar, the Schecter Corsair Bigsby, which I acquired in 2009, Schecter Guitar Research cool name, huh? earns a place on my list of respected musical instrument manufacturers. Founded in the 1970s to produce replacement parts for guitars of other manufacture, the company has evolved into a respected entity which designs and produces a complete line of guitars and basses, made in South Korea and set up by Schecter technicians in the U.S. And as I mentioned in my review of the Corsair Bigsby, that setup was the best of any guitar I have ever seen out of the box. 

Yamaha Corporation

With as many different and diverse product lines as Yamaha makes, from musical instruments to motorcycles, you might want to believe that perhaps they have spread themselves too thin, and that their products might not be quite so top-of-the-line as they might if they concentrated their efforts into one or two product lines. You might think that, but you would be absolutely wrong. The company started over 100 years ago by Torakusu Yamaha is a global front-runner in quality for just about everything that bears the name Yamaha, which is a lot of stuff, and that's pretty impressive.

Ovation Guitars

I don't know about you, but the idea of a guitar company being founded by a successful aerospace engineer kind of appeals to me in some weird sort of way. Charlie Kaman, who founded Kaman Aircraft in 1945, and whose company designed and manufactured helicopters, developed an expertise in the field of composite materials while investigating the vibrational characteristics of helicopter rotors that eventually led him to design the now-familiar Ovation guitar with its revolutionary bowl-shaped back, which first appeared in 1966. Kaman's success in guitar manufacture eventually enabled him to found the Kaman Music Corporation, whose subsidiaries now include Ovation, Takamine, and Hamer guitars; LP, Gibralter, and Sabien percussion equipment; and more. Kamen Aerospace is still thriving, too.

Ross Mallet Instruments

While not as well-known as other makers of mallet keyboard instruments such as Musser, Adams, or Yamaha, Ross Mallet Instruments make some very high-quality marimbas, xylophones, and vibraphones in their Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin factory that equal or exceed their bigger-name competitors in sound, tuning, and especially in price.

MUSIC SOFTWARE DEVELOPERS:

Arturia Software

Arturia is a relative newcomer to the music software industry, founded in 1999 in Grenoble, France, and they have developed a most amazing line of software "virtual instruments" that emulate, using a proprietary technology they call "True Analog Emulation," some of the most venerable analog synthesizers of the 1960s through the 1980s, in astoundingly accurate and user-friendly standalone and plug-in digital instruments. Their line includes the Moog Modular V and Yamaha CS80V that I personally own, but also the Moog Minimoog, ARP 2600, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, and Roland Jupiter-8 - all legendary analog synthesizers of their day but no longer manufactured. What's most amazing is that you can now own all those instruments with far higher sonic quality and stability than the originals, at a tiny fraction of what it would have cost you to own the original hardware versions. I am personally blown away every time I use these Arturia emulators by their incredible quality, versatility, and value.

GForce Software

While not one of the bigger players in the music software industry, GForce has distinguished itself, particularly in my mind, by being the developer of the GForce M-Tron, a plug-in virtual instrument that duplicates the sound and performance characteristics of the legendary Mellotron, and includes 2Gb of genuine Mellotron sounds. Need a bigger-name endorsement than me? Keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who made the Mellotron an integral part of the Yes sound, uses this emulator live and in the studio.

EastWest Soundsonline

Founded in 1988 by producer Doug Rogers, EastWest Soundsonline specializes in royalty-free sound samples which are used in sample playback engines such as the Kontakt sample player developed by Native Instruments, which came bundled with the EastWest/QuantumLeap Symphonic Orchestra Silver edition that I own. The symphonic orchestra samples are only one tip of a very large iceberg, through, when it comes to the depth and breadth of the sample sets developed by Soundsonline. If you're wondering why you need royalty-free sound samples, maybe you should review some of the copyright infringement suits brought against some prominent artists who chose to just lift samples from published and copyrighted recordings back in the earlier days of the hip-hop movement.

Sibelius

If you require professional quality music notation software which will produce scores and parts, including the ability to import and notate MIDI tracks, you have two choices - Sibelius and the other brand. Sibelius is definitely the frontrunner in this tight market primarily for one reason - ease of use. If you've been using the other brand for years are comfortable with it, good for you. Keep on using it. But if you're thinking about investing in a music notation application, then Sibelius is the only choice in my opinion. Because of the nature of the music I compose, and the fact that I'm usually just producing finished recordings as the final product, I don't use music notation software on a frequent basis. But when I'm composing or arranging a work to be performed by live musicians, simplicity of use and a less-than-hyperbolic learning curve is important, and Sibelius has the competition beat hands down.

Cakewalk

I first started using Cakewalk digital audio workstation software in 2004 when I switched over from Voyetra Digital Orchestrator to Cakewalk Home Studio 2004 XL. Once I became familiar with a new interface and got to know my way around, I was glad I made the switch, and upgraded to Cakewalk's Sonar 6 Studio Edition in 2007, when I began working on the "Question" soundtrack. That project required me to have the ability to import a video track so that I could match my music to what was happening on screen, and Sonar has this capability, even allowing you to review your work in full-screen video mode. It also offers MIDI and digital audio tracks in numbers limited only by your computer's horsepower, is fully compatible with just about any virtual instrument or effects plugin, provides automation for mixing, a nice looking and customizable interface, and a whole lot of other features. My only complaint with Cakewalk software is their less-than-robust MIDI implementation, which makes it more difficult to do certain things with MIDI than software sequencers I was using ten years ago. I'm not sure why that is, and they have addressed some of those issues in Sonar 7, the latest release. But all things considered, Sonar is a really terrific DAW and I highly recommend it.

SONiVOX MI

SONiVOX MI is the new corporate home of Sonic Implants, whose musical instrument sound fonts I have been using for a number of years, and frankly their old name was a lot easier to type and remember. However, they continue to produce some of the highest quality sound fonts of anyone I am aware. The term "SoundFont" is allegedly a trademark owned by E-mu Systems, who first developed the technology, but it refers to a sound sample which can be re-synthesized at different pitch and dynamic levels, and played back, usually through MIDI controllers such as a keyboard. The difference between sound fonts and other digital instrument samples is a little murky and I choose not to try and understand it, because, as I will say again, I'd rather be making music. But Sonic Implants - excuse me, SONiVOX MI - makes some terrific sound fonts, reasonably priced, and you can download a lot of them after auditioning and purchasing them, which is really convenient when you need an instrument right away and don't want to wait to receive a CD in the mail.

IK Multimedia

So far I am only familiar with one product from Italy's IK Multimedia, the Miroslav Philharmonik orchestral sample workstation, which I purchased to augment my EWQLSO Silver Edition sample package, both of which are reviewed on my music equipment page. But IK Multimedia makes a host of other digital music recording tools and plugins, many of which sound very intriguing from their descriptions on the company's web site. Included among their offerings are various guitar and bass amp modeling and effects plugins, sampling workstation plugins, and studio effects packages. If the quality of the Miroslav Philharmonik is any indication, they take a great deal of care in what they produce.

MUSIC STUDIO EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURERS:

JBL

You shouldn't notice a loudspeaker, you should hear the sound, accurately and without any added coloration, and this is what JBL studio monitors achieve. The company bearing the initials of its founder, James B. Lansing, has been in the business of making loudspeakers for a very long time, and their experience and dedication to quality has kept them at the forefront of the industry. I wouldn't trade my 20-year-old 4410s for anything, except maybe some new JBL studio monitors when the time comes, but who knows when that might be. They're still working just as perfectly as they did when I first got them. JBL also makes consumer gear, and I have a pair of their DUET multimedia speakers attached to my office computer at the Peabody Institute. Everyone who has heard them is amazed.

Crown Audio

Rugged, well-built, and accurate are three characteristics of Crown Audio that have made them a leader in the design and manufacture of power amplifiers, and their products can be found in major studios, cinemas, auditoriums, stadiums, and just about any other place you can think of where quality and reliability are crucial. They're not the only player in town, but they're one of the best, and they're what I use.

Sennheiser

German engineering excellence - you have heard the phrase used in reference to everything from automobiles to moon rockets. The calculated innovativeness, and attention to detail and quality are the hallmarks of German engineering, and are a part of what makes Sennheiser products among the very best of the best. Well known as makers of fine microphones for the studio, I have been a huge fan of their professional line of headphone monitors for many years, and the model HD 280 Pro is what I use in my studio.

Monster Cable

A studio's weakest link lies in the various cables that are used to connect different pieces of equipment together, and many people seem to want to skimp on this very critical aspect of their studio design. To be honest, during my rock music years, when I was working low-paying jobs during the day, I would buy a lot of cables from Radio Shack. Then, as time progressed, I would buy higher-quality raw cable on spools along with connectors, and solder up my own patch cables. Fast-forward to the present day, when I actually have a low-paying career, and I can sometimes afford to buy the best cables available, and those are made by Monster Cable. 24K gold-plated connectors, supple cables that lay flat when they're supposed to and coil properly for storage, and a lifetime warranty are what set them apart.

Behringer

I already mentioned elsewhere on this web site the love-hate relationship that many audio professionals have with Behringer, but the fact is that this is another company borne of excellent German engineering know-how that produces some extremely high-quality pro-sumer audio gear at prices that will make you shake your head in disbelief, largely due to their farming out the manufacturing process to low-wage factories in China, albeit under strict quality-control parameters. The result is some very good quality gear that is not very durable, but easily replaceable from a cost standpoint should something go wrong. If you're on a tight budget, you can't go wrong with Behringer products, but if I ran a primarily analog studio, I don't think I would consider them a viable option. I'm only including them here for their bang-for-the-buck ratio, which remains extremely high.

M-Audio

A division of electronic media giant Avid Technology, M-Audio is a manufacturer of a wide range of pro and consumer hardware and software with applications from gaming to studio technology. I can't vouch for most of what they do, but they make some very high-quality computer interfaces for audio and MIDI, like the Audiophile 2496 PCI interface that I use, which has been a workhorse soundcard used by many people for a long time now and has lots of fans.

MUSIC EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES RETAILERS

Musician's Friend

These guys are so awesome they're huge, and they're huge because they're so awesome. I have ordered a ton of musical gear from them over the years, everything from guitar picks to guitars, patch cables to power amplifiers I even managed to get one of my prized Rickenbacker guitars from them. Granted, it was the 620 6-string, which Rickenbacker makes in fairly large numbers, but I got a great price on it nonetheless, and literally everything in their vast inventory and their inventory is huge, too is offered at just about the best price you're going to find anywhere. Their shipping is prompt, and I have never had to return anything that I've bought from them. We order musical equipment from them regularly at the Peabody Conservatory where I work, too. Their web site is vast, they tell you what's in stock and what's not, and you get what you order when they tell you you will. If I have one complaint with them it's that they continue to mail paper catalogs to me, which are completely unnecessary and waste a lot of paper.

Zzounds

Zzounds is another massive e-tailer of musical instruments and equipment whose selection is vast, whose prices are just about as good as you're going to get anywhere, and whose customer service is outstanding. What sets them apart from Musician's Friend for me is that they're located in New Jersey, and since I'm in Baltimore, if I need something fast, I can usually get it the next day with UPS ground shipping. The Musician's Friend warehouse is in Oregon, so it takes a few more days if I order the same thing from them. My advice - if they've both got what you're after and you're on the East Coast, get it from Zzounds. If you're on the West Coast, get it from Musician's Friend. If you're stuck in the middle, I guess it's a toss-up, so check their inventory for availability. Their prices are for the most part identical.

B&H Photo, Video, Pro Audio

This is one amazing company. They have been around for 30 years, located in midtown Manhattan, and were originally established as a retailer of photographic equipment and supplies, but gradually branched out into video, and finally into pro audio and even music software. I've spent untold hundreds of dollars with them on both photographic equipment - lenses in particular - and various pieces of audio gear. I even bought my copy of Miroslav Philharmonik, the latest orchestral sampling package I've added to my setup, from them. They've got a great web site that's easy to search, their prices are extremely competitive, and if you ever have a question before you buy, you can usually talk to someone on the phone who is actually knowledgeable. If you're in the US Northeast, they can usually get you your stuff the next day with UPS ground shipping. If you're into what they sell and you happen to be in NYC for some reason, drop by their brick and mortar store at 420 9th Avenue. I've never had that opportunity, but I'll bet it's got to be an amazing experience. I hope they pass out drool cups at the door.

PHOTOGRAPHIC EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURERS & RETAILERS

Canon

I have to admit to being old enough to remember when the "Made in Japan" label on a product implied inferior quality, but that's ancient history now. Founded in 1937, just about the time that Japan was about to make a huge mistake, the company emerged in the post World War II era to become one of the most respected brand names in the world. Now known for their photographic and imaging products, and computer peripherals, they are a quality and innovation driven leader in their markets. My primary interest in their products has been in their photographic equipment, specifically the revolutionary Canon EOS system of cameras and lenses, which are unsurpassed. My digital SLR camera and three of my lenses are made by Canon, and they are all awesome.

Sigma

Another Japanese mega-horse of the photographic equipment development and manufacturing world, Sigma offers a wide range of lenses, in particular, which are designed to work with various other manufacturers SLR cameras. I own a couple of their lenses, which I selected only after comparing their capabilities carefully with near-equivalents from Canon, and after having used those lenses for several years now I can say that they are on par with Canon lenses in terms of image quality. They might not be quite as elegant as the better Canon lenses are, especially in terms of their focusing motors which tend to be rather noisy, but Sigma makes some extremely good lenses which can easily fill in some of the gaps in your lens collection at some very attractive price points.

       

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Copyright 2015 by Rich Lauver - Baltimore - Maryland - USA