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Recording Vintage Guitars by Mike Harrison

I’m a big fan of the past, so anytime I get to record someone playing an old vintage guitar it’s a real treat, especially if it’s a rare one. A few weeks ago, I got to play and record some of these rare birds. I find that most of the time I don’t have to do much mixing to get the right sound.  The vintage guitars are classic and usually have just the right sound. My favorites are the old archtop guitars usually found on jazz recordings, but they work on all kinds of music and can give a song that something extra that it needs.

Tip: Try adding effects or distortion to these guitars to get a sound that is different than you would normally expect.

Here is a recording of a western swing solo using a 1938 Gibson ES 150 archtop electric with its traditional sound. Clip 1 (1938_Gibson_ES-150.mp3)

Here is a recording of a western swing rhythm part using a 1963 Gibson Tal Farlow archtop electric with its traditional sound. Clip 2 (1963_Gibson_Tal_Farlow.mp3)

Left to Right: 1966 Gibson Barney Kessell, 1963 Gibson Tal Farlow, 1938 Gibson ES 150

Next time I’ll show some ways to give a new sound to an old guitar.


Posted: 6/22/2009 11:44:18 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Ideas for Recording and Editing Guitars by Mike Harrison

Shure SM 57This week I’m going to talk about some of the ways I record and edit guitar tracks.

Recording


When recording a guitar amp I always use two microphones for a couple of reasons.

1. I like to have a couple of choices at mix time. Mic number one will be a Shure SM 57 since it’s tried and true and works most of the time for the right sound. For mic number two, I usually use some sort of ribbon mic in contrast to the 57.

2. I also think it a good idea to record with two mics and send each to its own track. Just in case something goes wrong with one of the tracks (bad cord, noise, unwanted distortion, clipping, etc…) and you find out later that the track is unusable.

3. On occasion I might use a third microphone as a room mic to capture ambient sound. This mic is generally placed at the far end of the room opposite the am and sometimes elevated. Or, I might place it somewhere strange, like the back of the speaker cabinet or a foot or two back from the speaker. I use an ABY box to split the signal of the guitar. The A signal goes to the guitar amp and the B signal is recorded to its own track using a direct box. This track with the B signal can be used to reamp the guitar signal to a different amp at a later time. (Reamping is a cool thing and I’ll go into more detail in a future blog)

Sometimes, I record midi information from the guitar using a midi guitar pickup. The midi information can be edited and used as notation if needed for transcription or used to trigger hardware and or software midi sound modules.

When recording it’s a good idea to keep things moving along. I like to record and save all of the takes so that I can review them and pick the best performances later at mix time.

Editing

After you’re done with your recording it’s time to do your track editing. Here are a few things you might need to address. I use Digital Audio Software (Nuendo, Cubase) on a computer so that’s the perspective I’ll be coming from.

1. Cleanup the heads and tails of the tracks. Go to the start of the track and take out any noise that might exist so that you get a nice clean start at the beginning of the performance.

2. At the end of the track make sure the track has a smooth and natural decay to it. If not, do a fade to make it sound even.

3. Listen to and fix any punch-ins. Sometimes I punch in a little early so that after I can go back and fix the punch-ins for a smooth and natural performance.

4. If there’s more than one take, I’ll listen to the different passes and choose the overall best performance. Then I take parts from some of the other takes to make a composite (Comp) track and that will be my final edited guitar track.

Some other things done in editing would be:

1. Lowering or raising the track volume.

2. Making a copy of the track to be offset to use as a fake double.

3. Send the track to an output and route it into your favorite hardware mic preamp, eq or compressor.

Until next time …

Posted: 5/15/2009 3:14:08 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Double Tracking How to Bring Guitars Out In a Mix, Part II

Here are some audio clips of how doubling can fatten a track and give you a bigger sound.
MIX 1  Drums, Bass, Elec. Guitar and Acoustic Guitar. This is the original track with no doubles or enhancements.
MIX 2  Drums, Bass and Elec. Guitar. I made a duplicate track within my software program and shifted the track over 40 milliseconds.  I will call this track Elec. Guitar 2.
Elec. Guitar 1 was panned Hard Left and Elec. Guitar 2 was panned Hard Right and shifted over 40 milliseconds. This creates a sort of fake double/delayed sound.
(Tip:  Make a copy of a track and shift the copy track to the right 10 milliseconds, then pan the original track to the left while panning the copy track to the right.  If you don’t know how to do this, I will be explaining how to in a future blog.)
MIX 3   Drums, Bass, Acoustic Guitar 1 and Acoustic Guitar 2. Acoustic Guitar 1 is the original Acoustic Guitar in MIX 1. Another track was recorded mirroring the performance of the 1st Acoustic Guitar track.
MIX 4   Drums, Bass, Acoustic Guitar 1, Acoustic Guitar 2 and Acoustic Guitar 3. Acoustic Guitar 1 is the original Acoustic Guitar in MIX 1. Acoustic Guitar 2 is the 1st double we added in MIX 3. Another track was recorded mirroring the performance of the 1st Acoustic Guitar track- this one we will call Acoustic Guitar 3.
The Acoustic Guitars are panned as follows: Acoustic Guitar 1 Hard Left, Acoustic Guitar 2 Hard Right,
Acoustic Guitar 3 Center. This is a really big wide sound and what we will use in MIX 5 the final Mix.
MIX 5   Drums, Bass, Elec. Guitar 1, Elec. Guitar 2, Acoustic Guitar 1, Acoustic Guitar 2, and Acoustic Guitar 3
Next time I’ll be going in to more detail on “Editing Guitar Tracks with Digital Audio Software”

Posted: 4/8/2009 9:09:50 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Double Tracking: How to Bring Guitars Out In A Mix, Part I

Double tracking is a recording technique where you record the initial guitar track, then record a second guitar track that mirrors the performance of the first track. When you play back the tracks, you can pan one of the tracks in the mix to the left and pan the other track to the right.   You can also pan the tracks the same and do a 60-40 volume mix (one track 20% lower than the other track) or experiment with different volume levels between the two recorded tracks.

If you want a really wide sound, you can layer multiple tracks. Try recording four takes of the same track. The main thing is to enhance the first take and create a wider or bigger sound. Many artists, producers and engineers have used this technique in the studios for years such as The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Steely Dan.

Tech info: PAN is short for Panoramic Potentiometer (pan pot). On most mixing consoles, the pan knob is located in each input module and is the control that distributes a signal to two channels or speakers in an adjustable ratio. The pan pot dictates the location of the recorded signal, sonically imaged between stereo speakers.

–Mike Harrison


Next time in Part 2, I’ll have some sound clip examples.

Posted: 2/26/2009 7:39:30 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Coloring Your Tone With EQ, Part 2

When it comes to recording and mixing the rule I live by is “There Are No Rules” it seems like it’s all a matter of opinion anyway. What sounds good to one person may sound like X%#! to the next person so this EQ guide is just a starting point.

I recorded an Epiphone John Lennon 1965 Casino guitar thru a Gibson GA 20 amp. I used a SM 57 thru a Chandler TG2 preamp.

Here is the sound of the Guitar with no EQ

Band_Mix_No_EQ.mp3
GTR_NO_EQ.mp3

Here is the Guitar with a few EQ choices I used the Helios 69 EQ plug in by UA.

Band_Mix_EQ1.mp3
GTR_EQ1.mp3

200 Hz +15 dB 2 kHz +8 dB

Band_Mix_EQ2.mp3
GTR_EQ2.mp3

Bass Cut Shelving mode 50Hz -9 dB 1.4 kHz +8 dB

Band_Mix_EQ2.mp3
GTR_EQ3.mp3

300 Hz +3 dB 2.75 kHz +8 dB

EQs work and sound different so use this as a starting point and adjust the gain to your taste.

Next time I’ll be talking about effects and double tracking.

-Mike Harrison

 


Posted: 2/11/2009 11:36:52 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Coloring Your Tone With EQ, Part 1

On any recording session, I try to get the right tone from the instrument using the best mic, preamp, mic placement, etc... But more often than not, I can still improve the sound on mixdown with EQ.

Using the right amount of EQ or equalization, you can make a guitar sound much bigger or thin the sound out to make it sit in the mix better and give a distinct sound that cuts thru the mix without being too loud.

Tip: When I track an instrument I try to capture the way it really sounds even if it’s a little thick for the track.  I find that I can use eq to shape the sound the way I need it. I think it’s always better to keep the original sound intact instead of running the risk of recording the track with too much bass or too many highs.

Using a computer to record and mix, I also rely on software plug-ins that are models of the original hardware. For example, Universal Audio and Waves both make really pro sounding software that does a great job.

- Mike Harrison


Next time I’ll be using EQ to shape the guitar tone — stay tuned!

Posted: 1/29/2009 8:48:40 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Right Tools for the Job

Searching for the right sound on a session can sometimes eat up a lot of time in the studio. That wasn’t the case today. I was working with Jason Roller, a great studio musician who has worked with Ken Mellons, John Berry, Darryl Worley, Mark Chesnutt, Tracy Lawrence, Dolly Parton, The Lost Trailers and Joe Diffie.  Jason had been laying acoustic guitar tracks all day and after we were done I needed him to play some electric guitar. He didn’t have any of his electrics with him, but I said no problem, as  I had just gotten a new Epiphone Slash Les Paul Standard Plus Top.


Photo: Jason Roller

I setup a Gibson GA 20 amp and a couple of mics. I’d already been using a Peluso 22 47 LE tube mic on the acoustic, so I put it in front of the amp along with a SM 57. We went back in the control room and started recording. The tone was spot on! Jason was as floored with the sound as I was. I’ve been recording for many years and I find that sometimes it still takes time to get a great guitar tone. Trying different guitar/amp combinations and finding the right mic to capture the sound of the amp can be a bit of work. Today it was plug in and go! The Slash Les Paul and the Gibson GA 20 is a match I’m sure I’ll be using again.

Tip: At the start of a session, place a variety of mics in front of the amp at once and audition each one to find the one that works best for you. I’ll put up a Ribbon, Tube, Condenser and the SM 57 and choose the two I like best. Most of the time, I’ll put up two different ribbons instead of the condenser.
 
Here are some photos of the amp and mic placement, along with audio clips of the recording.

GA 20 mic setup




Posted: 11/20/2008 8:18:15 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Recording With Ribbon Microphones Part 2

As promised in the last blog, here are some audio clips showing the results using the Epiphone Blues 30 Combo Amp.

Blues Solo
AEA R84 Blues_30_R84.mp3
Cad Trion 7000 Blues_30_Cad_7000.mp3
Avantone CR-14 Blues_30_CR14.mp3
Cascade Fathead 2 Blues_30_Fathead2.mp3

Funky Rhythm
AEA R84 Rythmn_R84.mp3
Cad Trion 7000 Rythmn_Cad7000.mp3
Avantone CR-14 Rythmn_CR14.mp3
Cascade Fathead 2 Rythmn_Fathead2.mp3

Here are some photos of the mic placement.




As shown in the photos, I place the ribbon mics around 2 feet back from the speaker cab. Place your hand in front of the amp to feel the air pressure coming from the speaker.  Certain ribbon mics are sensitive to air blasts, so to avoid damage to the mic, move it back from the speaker until you can’t feel the air coming from it. You can move the mic in a little closer - 9 inches is as close as I usually go.

Posted: 11/13/2008 8:57:06 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Recording With Ribbon Microphones Part 1

Ribbon mics seem to be the thing to record with these days and if you’ve never recorded with this mic, now is a good time to try one out. Ribbon mics were once fragile and expensive, but now there are many modern Chinese ribbons that are durable and inexpensive, making them obtainable for the small or home studio.  These mics, named for the thin aluminum or nanofilm ribbon placed between the magnetic poles, generate electromagnetic induction.  They have a bidirectional pickup pattern which provides a lot of detail especially in the higher frequencies, creating a smooth sound.  Ribbon mics have been around since 1931, the first being the RCA PB-31 and quickly followed by the ageless RCA 44A.  The modern day Chinese versions are modeled after many of these classics.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog I like using a ribbon mic in combination with an SM 57 for recording guitar amps. Today I’ll be using a few different ribbons to record an amp and show the differences in sound. The guitar amp I’ll be using is an Epiphone Blues Combo 30. Designed and engineered in the United States by Gibson Labs, this amp includes two channels of pure tone (foot switchable), selectable power and class operation (30W Class AB or 15W Class A).  I setup 4 different ribbons and placed them in front of the amp so I could hear the recorded part on each mic. The mics are a Cad Trion 7000, Avantone CR-14, Cascade Fathead 2, and an AEA R84.

Here is a sneak peek audio clip of one of the mics.

Blues Custom 30 with Cad 7000 ribbon mic

Posted: 11/10/2008 9:04:40 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Recording the Epiphone Valve Junior Part 2

Time to put the mics up and my first choice is a Shure SM 57. This mic has been used over and over, not just by me, but many others with good to excellent results. The placement of this mic varies depending on the session, volume, player, etc but on this cut, I placed it close to the grill cloth and near the center of the 12 inch speaker cone, pointed in a downward, off axis pattern. Some engineers place the mic at the rim of the speakercone, others place it in the center and then point the mic towards the outside of the cone. Something to remember - throughout the years, electric guitars have been recorded many different ways and I would encourage experimentation.  Bottom line - do what sounds good to your ear and works for you.
 
Tip: Most people know this, but for those who don’t - To find the position of the speaker, run your hand across the grill of the speaker cabinet till you can feel the edge of the speaker baffle then you can move the mic anywhere from the outside of the cone to the inside of the circular cutout to find what works for you.
So with the 57 in place, I put up a second mic.  For guitar cabs, I prefer to use a ribbon mic as my second and for this job I chose a Cascade Fathead 2. The placement was about 2 feet from the center of the cone, pointing downward at approx 20°. Ribbons are good for picking up the character of the amp since they give you a very detailed sound. I find the combination of the 57 with a ribbon works best for me most of the time.

Epiphone Valve Junior Mic Placement Epiphone Valve Junior Mic Placement Front View

used a Chandler/EMI TG2 mic preamp for both microphones. It has a vintage sound and I thought this to be a good match for the Epi seeing that it also has a classic vintage sound. Darin Favorite, a well known musician around the Nashville area who has played with many country and pop artists (Shania Twain, Pam Tillis and Tracy Lawrence) was the guitarist on the session. The part played was a rhythm guitar part.

In the coming weeks I’ll be talking about mixing, eq, reverbs, delay and other recording techniques.
 
Here is an audio clip using the SM 57: Epi Valve Jr with SM57 mic
Here is an audio clip using the Ribbon: Epi Valve Jr with Ribbon mic

Posted: 10/22/2008 10:00:00 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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