Arlen Roth on the Fine Art of Overdubbing
Overdubbing, or layering tracks over previously recorded tracks is something we can all thank the great Les Paul for inventing! He used it back in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s to great extremes, and was such a fanatic with it that his “experimentation” with this new-fangled concept was really a huge “plaything” for him. His novelty use of it was sometimes, in retrospect actually humorous, with Mary Ford turning into 7 Mary Fords singing, and his guitar sped up to in human breakneck speeds!
It was all a very important foundation he formed though, as we now utilize this spark of genius in just about everything we ever do in a recording studio. There is also the great backlash to it, as folks like to now cut things much more live as opposed to adding “sweetening” later, and some are even going back to recording onto actual tape, and keeping the digital aspect of recording down to a minimum. In fact, even when I just did the Thank You Les Les Paul Tribute album and documentary, I was a little surprised to see that we were mostly recording “live to tape” and keeping overdubs down to a bare minimum. This was especially odd to me since I felt “hey, aren’t we paying tribute to the man who invented overdubbing here?!”
I suppose it was really to capture more of that old-time analog type sound, which is, in my opinion far warmer than the digital recordings and re-masters we hear so much today. But I find that over the years I have gotten better and better at the art of overdubbing and I find that the more I can forget the process I am actually taking part in, the more I can be natural about what it is I am playing and contributing to the overall song. After all, with overdubs, we are merely trying to re-create what it would really sound like if we were all playing “live” together.
On this new album I have, All Tricked Out! I really feel that although I used quite a lot of overdubbing, I was able to keep two basic profiles of the types of overdubs I was going for. One was the obvious “layering” approach to the guitars, where there was a deliberately “thick” sound of many guitars playing in octaves as well as harmonies with each other, while the other overdubs were simply that…..for example just adding a Dobro part to a song that already had two or three electric or acoustic guitar parts on it. That kind of overdub is most obvious to me of course, and the “educated listener”, but for the most part and for most who are enjoying the music, it’s simply like another musician has just joined the band!
Any way you slice it, the ability to “overdub” on tracks is the most useful tool any recording player or singer could ever have, and it’s really up to you as to how “tastefully” or how “crazily” you may decide to “go” with it! Just remember that above all, it is a creative tool for all to use!!
Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician — and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all — Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.