Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Venerable Rule of 78's

This is just awesome. Music.

We have a rich legacy of music in this country...have you been listening?

The foreign stuff ain't bad either!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I Like Mics

Tech specs for geeks.

Kick(close mic)......Sennheiser 421
Kick(far mic)..........Neumann FET 47
Snare......................Echolette 419
Tom........................Neumann U87
Floor Tom...............Neumann U87
Room (far)..............Bang and Olufsen BM5
Room (drum geek)......Sony 330

Bass..................Music Valve D.I.
Bass amp..........KMR81i

AcGuitar m/s.......AKG 414 brass capsule
AcGuitar..............Neumann KM84
AcGuitar..............Royer 122

ElGtr.................Royer 122
ElGtr.................Neumann U87SP

Vocal.................Soundelux 251/Avalon 737 Mercenary Edition/LA-2A

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tracking The Record, Part One

Tracking the record means, conversely, recording the tracks, in this case the "basic" tracks. Typically, sessions are cut with a basic group of musicians consisting of a rhythm section (bass and drums and rhythm guitar/keyboards) and perhaps another guitarist/soloist. The singer is usually on hand to provide guide or "scratch" vocals. This entails singing the song all the way through to let the players hear where they are in the arrangement. They could just play the chart, but certain vocal phrases may give them hints on how to play the song better, so it's great to have a singer run down the tune at the same time. Catching a great guide vocal or getting the singer inspired enough to try a few "keeper" takes is a bonus. Of course, the machine is always in record at all times on all tracks.

Paul Griffith

We got in early the night before to set a few things up, patch the tracking room and control room and load in the electric guitar stuff and a few of my acoustics. I brought a small electric rig (Deluxe Reverb, pedal board, Tele, Les Paul, Casino, Danelectro 12-string) and my Guild jumbo 12-string, J-200 and J-45. I wanted to have a rig ready in case I felt a flash of brilliance...which I guess I did not! I played a little on the first song, to give the electric 12-string feel to the track and didn't really play again all day.

Scott Neubert

Scott Neubert brought his collection of guitars and ended up using his J-45 and a Collings. and added banjo, mandolin and Dobro after we got the basic tracks cut. We decided to tackle all of the basic at once before overdubbing. As it turns out, we needed to re-track all of the acoustic parts due to excessive drum bleed into the acoustic guitar mic. We found this out early on and did not have to back track, re-visiting songs from hours before, which can kill the vibe for the guy having to re-track. We tried a take or two and determined which one was best (we never did more than three complete takes on anything), then added the new acoustic guitar on, and Donna sang it for keeps if she was feeling it. The early takes were good and I let the band decide what was the best, if I was ambivalent about two takes.

Steve Mackey

Our pre-production efforts really paid off here. Donna and I had demoed the whole record in Garageband, rehearsed with Steve and Paul and played half of these songs at a gig on December 2nd. Everyone had the demos and many of the charts for at least a week in advance of the session for most every song. This allowed the guys to soak in the vibe we were going for and get some ideas in their heads about what to play.

My Guitars, a happy Steve Mackey

I'm all for spontaneous creativity, but I prefer the basic tracks to have some thought and logic behind them, a more processed approach than hitting record and getting the best moment from three or four people at once with minimal preparation. I figured since we only had one day to ct all of the songs, the pre-production before coming to the studio was equivalent to spending a day per song in the studio. It's a fine line between spontaneity and over-thought and you don't want to kill the vibe with too much planning. Steve and Paul get what Donna is trying to do, Scott has gigged with her many times and Anthony and I have discussed the sound of the record and what kind of mood we were going for at length. We narrowed our options down and it made the whole project fun, quick and exciting. Things went so smoothly - we just hit a groove, stayed in it without stopping for lunch or long breaks, and knocked out nine tracks in 8 hours.

Anthony Aquilato

Anthony brought a ton of stuff from his collection including a pair of Amek CIB (channel in a box) preamps, an Avalon 737, a re-furbed and modded LA-2A and several microphones, including the Soundelux 251 that we used for the keeper vocal tracks. The studio had several channels of Neve and API pres, but we used the board pres for almost everything, with little or no EQ and very little compression. There was at least one mic on everything, three on most things, so we did not leave much to chance, and now have several usable options come mix time...stereo, mid-side or mono acoustic guitar; if mono, which mic: mono KM84 or mono Royer 121. Lots of that kind of thing going on. We also opened the sliding glass door to the 9-foot grand piano room open, taped down the root and fifth of the tonic chord of the key we were in and mic'ed the room in stereo. Theoretically, we should have a room reverb sound with perhaps a slight harmonic content.

My area of the desk

Well, that's it for now. The project continues on into overdub mode. Time to get the strings changed on all the electrics, intonate them and start tracking guitars this week.

Friday, December 05, 2008

London Calling

The folks at Radial Engineering Ltd. in British Columbia have got a few things figured out. I've been using their products for years, both personally and professionally - and sometimes both!

Their D.I. boxes are legendary and legion. Their rackmount switching systems like the JD7 are on the gear list of most major guitar and bass players. Their stompbox series of ToneBone pedals are industry standards in quality of sound and quality of build. I've blogged about my love for the Hot British and Classic pedals before. And now, this:

Radial has just released a new line of pedals, based on the ToneBone concept, called Bones. Smaller, lighter, non-proprietary power supplies no tubes - lots of things different from their big brothers. What's not different is the sound...big, fat overdrive and distortion.

I have a London here at the house that I've been putting through it's paces all afternoon. I'm plugged into the new 3 Monkeys "Orangutan" model head, using my Deluxe Reverb with a Celestion Vintage 30 as a cab. The 'tang has it goin' on tone-wise, so the London needs to boost that sound, not obliterate it. It does so...and then some.

For starters, let's look at the jacks: The In and Out jacks are next to each other, at the far right of the back of the pedal, not on the sides. This helps keep it's footprint down on a crowded pedal board.

The 9-12 volt DC jack is the common "Boss" model, which means you can use any similar power supply, including One Spots, that have a minimum of 100mA. No battery power is available, due to the Class A circuitry - which is so power hungry that you'd spend more time swapping batts than playing if it did.

There are two footswitches, labeled Toggle and Bypass. As expected, Bypass turns the pedal on or off. The London is not "true bypass" keeping with Radial's philosophy that active buffers are good things in a pedal chain. It's quiet, switches silently and does not "suck tone".

The Toggle button switches between two settings, 1 or 2. Setting 2 is indicated by a red LED. Each setting has it's own Level control and they share a two-band EQ, Low and High and a Drive control that ranges from Bluesbreaker combo distortion to a raging Plexi.

The 2 setting has a slight (non-adjustable) mid boost to boost your solo with a bit of EQ hump as well as volume, using the Level knob. There are also two 3-position slider switches for tonal tweaking. The Bite switch offers flat, boost or cut of the high end. If your amp lacks or exudes Presence, tame or taunt it here. Kick is a stepped mid-range boost with 3-positions: 0 (flat), +7 or +12dB of juicy gain.The thinking is to offer you ersatz channel switching in a pedal. By setting your amp to it's optimum Clean sound, you can use the London to get a Crunch rhythm sound and a mid-boosted Lead channel.

Careful tweaking of the Bite and Kick controls with the Low and High can get you from Led Zeppelin II to Boston to Back In Black and beyond. Marshall and Vox characteristics are found within a couple of minutes twiddling the controls. This pedal can be transparent or highly colored thanks to it's wide range of available EQ, which is one of the things I really like about the Radial line.

I tested it with my Les Paul VOS, a 1985 Fender Japan Esquire with Fralin pickups, a new Epiphone Casino and a Mexican Fender Strat with the EMG Gilmour pickup configuration. With minor tweaks to account for the variance it guitars, the pedal worked with all of them, the Les Paul being especially nice... which is no surprise as an LP into a Marshall is the sound of my childhood (and arrestedly developed adulthood).

As the clever and informative manual reminds you, small movements and thinking interactively will reward you with great sounds for the time spent. It's not a set-it-and-forget-it pedal, it's much smarter than that.


Monday, December 01, 2008

12 Jangly Mien

Guitars are on my mind these days as I am "casting" the sounds for the next Donna Beasley record. Some tunes need Teles, some need Les Pauls, some Casinos, some a combination of whatever. One stand-out sound that almost requires you to play in a certain style is the electric 12-string. I have a Danelectro model, a cheap made in Korea guitar that sounds amazing and plays great. I've owned Rickenbackers in the past, but their necks are a little too narrow for me. The Danelectro feels like the Jerry Jones models that I really want, but for less than half the price, the Dano suits me fine. I blogged about it a couple of years ago here.

We're going to track with just bass (Steve Mackey), drums (Paul Griffith) and acoustic guitar (Scott Neubert), with Scott overdubbing some mandolin, banjo and dobro. I'll play more guitars and all electrics at home. This will allow me to concentrate more on the takes than trying to listen to the take AND play guitar at the same time.

One of the things I learned from making the last record is that producing is best done - in my case at least - by listening and giving direction from the other side of the glass. I might venture out to give an example of what I want, but I'm going to try to stay in the control room most of the time.

I had been following a strict "no demos, only masters" attitude for a while, and I think that approach can work. On this record, however, we found it easier and more efficient to demo the songs quickly in GarageBand, giving the players something to listen to and get ideas from. The demos are not something I'd want anyone to hear - out of tune at times, out of time occasionally, just a fast and easy way to get the basic feel down and e-mailed to the players. Of course, there are a couple where the feel is so good we may have a hard time beating it in the studio, but overall, they are more "worktapes" than real demos.

We rehearse tomorrow afternoon for a gig that night, playing most of the new record, then go into the studio on the 12th to track it.