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Discussion With Mike Pope: Playing, Preamps and Gear-talk

Meet Editor, Jake Kot

Diversification is probably a subject a lot of players are considering at this point in time with the economy the way it is, whether that be musically, or in the work force. With that subject in mind, I went right to Mike Pope to discuss this potential dilemma.

First off, Mike is an outstanding player in every respect with a sterling resume—unquestioned musical capabilities. But he also divides his time up by being the mastermind behind Foderas electronics as well, and if that isn’t enough, he has developed his own product, the Mike Pope Preamp (MPP1 & MPP2), a personally customized outboard preamp he’s made available to the public.
This is a way busy guy on many levels that flaunts his diversity musically as well as in the [straight] world, and we talked about how he handles, and feels about that.

Where to place our time as artists is the ongoing question, and I’ve always believed it’s best to talk to those who successfully conquer those challenges, and Mike seems to be “the man” as far as exhibiting excellence in a variety of quote unquote career opportunities.

Jake: First off, tell me what’s happening for you musically as of late?

Mike: I’ve mostly been working locally. There’s a really good Cuban group I’ve been working with. They actually won at the Latin Grammys for the Latin/Jazz album of the year, run by a guy named Joe McCarthy. I’m working with a few permutations of that group in different settings as well. I’m also working with a really excellent local guitar player that Dennis Chambers introduced me to named Carl Philipiak, and that’s been a great gig to be on. Honestly, at least in the last couple of months, I’ve really been focusing on my business. A lot of good things have been happening, and this is where the momentum has been directing me. Beyond that, I’m going out with David Sanborn again at the end of June, and then I’m going on a tour to India backing an Indian guitarist that I’ve worked with before at the end of August. I’m also doing some work for the Baltimore symphony. They have a gospel show that was written for orchestra with a rhythm section, and a gospel choir, doing Handel’s Messiah. It’s kind of a note to note version of that particular piece. This is a great, great project to be involved in. The music is spectacular. I’ve also been busy recording tracks for different artists.

Jake: Here in lies the point I wanted to get to in this interview. You’ve shown that diversity is definitely part of your makeup both musically, and as an individual. Your music career blends with your tech work for Fodera, as well as your own product development, and I’m sure I’m still leaving something out. Do you think that diversity you engage evolves purely out of necessity, or is it more about you the individual, and should one be looking at that a little more seriously in these times in your opinion?

Mike: It’s just the way I am—just the way I’ve always been. It is in many ways a burden. Momentum is a big part of anyone’s success. It can be very hard to get momentum happening in one place or another. Sometimes momentum takes a long time to build up. For me, over the years, it’s been difficult. You start to get some momentum happening in one field, and then for whatever reason something in the short run seems to be more engaging, and pulls you away from what you’re focusing on. A lot of times it slows down the big picture. Not that it keeps things from happening, but it definitely slows down the processes of being gold in one area or another.

Jake: If you were talking to a younger student and they was curious on whether they should reach out from just working on their music at this point in time and diversify just a bit, what might your response be?

Mike: One way we can look at this might be in the terms of a career, or a hobby. It’s what you identify with. Your career is what you’re doing as far as finances go, and your hobby is something you love to do, and when you have time to do it, you do it. That’s the way that paradigm works. But when you see the opportunity to turn your hobby into something more than a hobby, you might want to consider that opportunity. If there’s not much happening in your said chosen career at that point in time, it might be the time to look at that hobby a little more seriously, and I think this happens to people all the time. The reason what we’re talking about happened to me personally, was because of my association with Fodera. I took something that was basically a hobby interest, and then it happened to get a lot of exposure in a big hurry because it was plugged into the Fodera paradigm. Then it became a situation for me where I really had to perform, big time, and I needed to have more together than I really had. I had to really deliver on a much higher level than I had been. It became a necessity to dive into it deeper. But it was for me, a creative outlet at a time when I was a bit frustrated with music. I had to be thinking hard and punching in a lot of information to reach this new goal I had setup for myself. In many ways it was a welcome relief. The work I had to put in, in a way, called for a different strategy than one I might follow in my musical pursuits. Some days I love the fact that I have it, and other days, quite honestly, I’m sort of miserable.

Jake: I was going to ask how your relationship with Fodera got started, but you’ve more or less already answered that, so tell me about your outboard preamp that you’ve developed.

Mike: The MPP1 and the MPP2 are obviously appropriately named for the Mike Pope Preamp 1 and the Mike Pope Preamp 2. The only difference between them is that one is a single channel, and one is a dual channel. Essentially, it’s studio quality as far as how it’s built, the parts, and that level of design. It’s a very high end solid state design specifically geared toward bass. For the guys that might be carrying some specific kind of mic pre, this matches up to that quality with an extremely versatile EQ built into it. It’s very, very quiet, very high performance, and sounds incredibly transparent and clean, but it’s not sterile. I kind of liken it to washing your hands with a really good soap that has moisturizer in it compared to washing your hands with anti bacterial industrial soap. You want it to be clean, but you don’t want to strip away all the natural kind of goodness to it. That’s what this Preamp does. It really lets the sound of the bass propagate through your system better than most Preamps do. It doesn’t take away all of the bass’s mojo—it lets the instrument really speak. The power supply circuit in it is really, really way over engineered so the transient response is extremely good. In the two channel version, I added a lot of what I feel are critical features to a way a two channel Preamp is done. For example; there are two discreet DI’s built in, one for each channel. And there’s a switch that will link those two DI’s together, so if you have two basses, you have the option of sending them both out of one DI, and that can go to the input on the house board. Or if you’re using an electric and upright, then you can run two lines to the house and keep everything discreet. The effect loops I put in are set up exactly the same way. There are effect loops for each discreet channel, but once again, there’s a switch that allows you to link the two together so you can run the effects of both basses, two channels first, and then run the same effects unit. The DI’s and effect loops are setup to be pre or post EQ. You can still run separate DI lines out to the house pre EQ and effects, but then join the two and run them to the same effects unit in your system. The other really super useful thing I did with this was putting in a super high end headphone driver, like an audiophile part. It’s capable of a dynamic range beyond the range of human hearing. I also put a balanced input on the back panel with a ground lift switch, and I put independent level controls on the front panel for it as well. In addition to all the bass-preamp controls, you’ve got a level control for bass in your headphones, and a level control for the line input into your headphones. So even if you’re on stage running through an amplifier, you can bring whatever you want to into your line input including a mix sent back from the monitor console with everything but bass, or you could take a tap off of a keyboard player if you wanted to, and you can mix this right there at your location so you can hear yourself better, or hear whatever you want to hear better. And, you can still run through your amplifier and not change the paradigm for everybody else. If you wanted to use it in the studio, you could do the same type of thing—you can build your own monitor mix, or headphone mix. You can have the mix sent to you without bass, or you can mix yourself in right there. You can be sending a line pre-EQ so that you can set your bass for the way you want to hear it, or the house EQ can set up the way they want to hear it—it’s incredibly flexible. This unit should make a lot more bass players lives more comfortable. I’ve also been very careful about on how I handled grounding it. There’s even a central ground lift switch for the whole unit. It lifts the audio grounds from the actual chassis. It’ll be damn near dead quiet even without an AC ground lifter. David Gates and I have worked real hard on a circuit, an auto sense circuit. When you plug it in, it starts assuming it’s going to see 220 volts—if it doesn’t see 220 volts, it then flips a switch and automatically switches to 110 volt mode, and then it works normally. So you never have to worry about flipping switches when you’re on the road and going from country to country that carry different voltages—it doesn’t care. It will always work no matter what you plug it into.

Jake: So it sounds like this Preamp went far beyond the quest for tone.

Mike: Oh, it’s got the tone, and that’s the thing. Through all of this, digging through this design and all the stuff that I added, the signal stays absolutely pristine through the circuit. It never leaves the circuit board, so it’s done. Even with the way I did the effects loops, which can be flipped from series to parallel, I made sure to use really, really high end analog switches on the circuit board so the signal never has to get routed to the back of the unit—everything stays right there. Parasitics that you don’t want there that could cause loss of signal are deadly low, just deadly low. I’m extremely happy with how this Preamp turned out.

Jake: The quote unquote right gear is obviously a very talked about subject. What are your thoughts concerning one’s personal gear and the importance of it in the grand scheme?

Mike: First of all, I think you need to look at what the reality of the situation is. If you are a local bass player, and you carry your own gear everywhere, you have to think about the pragmatic side of things. You want stuff that sounds great—you might not want to carry stuff that’s heavy, and what have you. On the other hand, if you’re traveling lot, chances are you’re not using your own gear very much. And what you do use you want to be able to carry easily. It actually really makes a lot of sense to have a really, really great Preamp in your rig that you can pull out when you need to. I think the biggest mistake people make is trying to stack too many colors up in a row to get a sound. It’s like, I want to use this speaker cab because it’s really bright, and then I want to mask this amp a little because it’s kind of dark, etc, etc. They want to wind up with the color green, so they start off with orange, and then they add grey, and on and on, instead of just starting off with blue and yellow. I think that’s one of the big misnomers, particularly once you’ve taken something out of a signal.

So if you put something first in your chain because it warms your tone up, and you think you’re going to brighten it back up later, you’re wrong—it’s not going to happen. You’ll brighten something, but it won’t be just signal–it will be noise, and whatever else. I think that from that standpoint you need good quality gear. I think more importantly, you need to know how to use it. Most guys, in my opinion, really don’t have a clue. In spite of the fact that they make it pretty easy for people to understand this, the fact is that most people don’t have a grip on it. If I look back 25 years, when I was first learning about audio equipment, you really had to know something about what you were doing. Things weren’t as standardized—inputs and outputs could not be counted on for what they were supposed to be. You had to know those things and make sure that the interfacing of stuff was actually going to work. Nowadays, they’ve tried to alleviate as much of that as possible, mainly I think because companies don’t want to answer the phone to answer stupid questions from people. The truth is, in spite of all of that, gear has gotten better, and no matter what you’re buying, you’re going to get a better result if you know what you are doing. Gear definitely matters. And beyond that, you have to remember a lot of gear is designed to sell, and I think that’s one of the big problems. A lot of gear is designed with the sole purpose of getting as much of it as they can out the door as possible. If along the way they can get some good results, that’s great, but it’s more about the price point, and the dealers wanting to sell them, and on and on, which is fine, that’s just not where I’m coming from.

Visit online at www.mikepopejazz.com

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