This page is to provide some (hopefully) helpful hints for the person trying to build their own GM bank.

Before trying any of these hints, make sure you have a backup of your machine - not just the data, but the operating system as well. Make sure that backup includes the Windows Registry as well. This is pretty safe, but I take no responsibility for problems that may crop up - I've had them too, and a good current backup is the best salvation.

If anyone has corrections or additions to this information please E-Mail to: jim@personalcopy.com

bulletIf you're downloading soundfonts from the web in sfArk format and they're not either ZIP compressed or self-extracting ZIP files, don't download with Netscape (see the discussion on this page for an explanation). If you're extracting an sfArk file from a ZIP archive and using WinZIP, make sure to rename the file to *.sfArk - WinZIP changes the extension to *.SFA and the sfArk utility won't decompress the file unless it has a *.sfArk extension.
bulletCheck out HammerSound. Thomas probably has the best starting point with one of his collections of soundfonts. There are all of the large soundfont banks there, and some of them are hard to find on a site that's up and running. In time, I may include some here, but right now I'd rather support Thomas' site.
bulletDownload Vienna 2.3 from the SBLive! site.
bulletGo to the Buzzwood MIDI Test files page and listen to the voices in the bank you have. If you hear a voice you don't like, begin the hunt for a replacement. Before you start though, save the test voice (right click on the voice, left click to Save Link As). Remember where you put it. This way, you won't have to go back to the Buzzwood page every time you want to test the voice.
bulletA good place to start this search (beside here, of course) is the HammerSound Links page. It's difficult to keep links on your site up-to-date (I know firsthand), so if some of them are down, try later or try another.
bulletOnce you have a few samples to try, open Vienna and Import the "bad" voice from your current bank, as well as the replacement voice from the samples you found in your search. You can use the mouse to select one of the voices and the keyboard to play notes. This may tell you enough - you've either made an improvement, or you need to go back and search some more.
bulletIt's probably a good idea to compile a couple of test "sf2" banks. Make sure when you do that you assign the correct Preset number in Vienna. If, for example, you want to try out Trumpet3 with the Buzzwood trumpet MIDI file, the test bank you create should have the imported trumpet assigned to preset 56 (that's the default GM preset for a trumpet). Make a few sample sound banks with different trumpets, all assigned to preset 56; give them different file names when you save them - pick a name so you'll remember which is which.
bulletPlay the test MIDI in your favorite MIDI player, and using the SoundFont control from the Audio HQ applet (this is specific to the Live! card) change from one sample bank to another. If you hear one you like, great!
bulletUse Vienna to open your GM soundfont, and delete the preset you didn't like (you have to delete it to release the preset number for the next step) and them import, from the sample you just created, the new voice you like better.
bulletSave the file. If Vienna complains that it can't save the file - don't despair. Do a "Save As..." and save under a new name. You can use the Information option on Vienna's File menu to personalize the soundfont bank description - this is what you'll see in the SoundFont applet when you load the bank.
bulletCopy this new GM bank to the folder where your sound card expects to find the soundfont, and use the SoundFont control from the Audio HQ applet to load your new, improved bank.
bulletKeep a copy of the old one for a while in case something goes wrong - or should I say for WHEN something goes wrong.

Other helpful hints:

bulletIf you've been playing MIDI files, and now play a digital WAV file and get nothing but a loud irritating buzz instead of the normal WAV sound, unload your sound bank (using the SoundFont control from the Audio HQ applet) and then reload it again. I have this problem, and this works for me. This problem never seemed to happen to me until my GM bank grew above 26mb or so, so this may be related to sound bank size.
bulletRun a disk defragmenting program after you've saved a soundfont with Vienna. If you're working with a large soundfont, the saving process will badly fragment your hard drive.
bulletMusical instruments can play a certain range of notes. The samples of a soundfont should be selected so that they will generate realistic sounds over that range, but many soundfonts extend the range well beyond what the real instrument can play. If your browser supports Java Script you can click here to see the normal range of musical instruments in a new window; otherwise, click here (use the back button on your browser to return to this page) to see the image in the current window. It may be better to have no sound at all than one so wrong that it could never have been made by a real instrument. You have to make the choice.
bulletIf you're looking for what the normal presets in a GM sound bank are, DOWNLOAD this file.
bulletThe current SBLive! drivers (at least the NT drivers) don't seem to deal correctly with samples that aren't 44.1khz. If you open the sample in a wave editor (I like Cool Edit 96 or Sound Forge, but Sound Forge works in Vienna and Cool Edit 96 doesn't, at least for me) you can see what the sampling rate is and convert it to 44.1khz if you want.
bulletIf the sample sound is C4 (middle C), and that sample is assigned to key 60 (also middle C and the marked reference key on the Vienna keyboard), it should play the same note when played by Sound Forge or when played by Vienna. If you play the sample in the Loop dialog in Vienna, it should also play the same note. If not, the sample may be at some sampling rate other than 44.1khz. Samples at a lower rate will be smaller and may well sound perfectly acceptable, but a 44.1khz - 16 bit (this is CD quality) sample set is probably the ultimate.