This got a bit long, but hopefully you will find the details interesting. The first part is an overview of the general approach through out the making of the record. The second part is a detailed account of a specific song.
When tracking the basics for each song we typically had 2 amps setup. Kevin's modified marshall. It was some sort of SUPER LEAD early 70's era 100W head plugged into his vintage Marshall 4x12 that had a salt and pepper grill cloth. The other amp was this little Ampeg J-12T Jet re-issue that I had recently discovered sounds huge when you put it through a 4x12 cab. At that time I was really into 3 particular mics for close micing distorted guitar. The old standby SM57
, a Sennheiser 441
, and a Beyer M201
. I would put all 3 mics on both 4x12 cabs for a total of 6 mics showing up on the desk. I would find a blend of the mics I was happy with and either print a blend of each amp on its own track or do a stereo spread of all the mics. Kevin was still trying to reassure himself that the money he had invested in his modified Marshall was worth it. So on every setup he would ask to come into the control room to hear how the amps were translating through the mics. I would do a blindfold A/B and ask him which amp he liked better. A good number of times he picked the little $300 Ampeg and would end up walking back to his recording spot grumbling about the expensive Marshall.
Once basics were tracked, I would cut together (yes with a razor blade) a 16 track master of Drums, Bass and the one rythm guitar pass. We would typically do a few punches for the bass and guitar and have the foundation of the song done. I would then make a 24 track slave reel. I would put a stereo drum mix on 1&2, bass on 3, and guitar on 4&5. I then would have tracks 6 - 23 available for all the additional overdubs.
The majority of the guitar overdubs were done at my studio H.O.S. A few were done at Skywalker to make use of the huge room. In either case the process was the same. We would set up pretty much every amp in a long line and just start playing with combinations until we had something that suited the part/song. Almost everything was recorded with Kevin's Music Man guitar. The guitar has active electronics and was setup to try and accommodate all of his alternate tunings. The alternate tunings are a huge part of the unique guitar sounds on the record. The main advantage of the tunings is that he is able to keep open strings going almost all the time and it helps create those chimey overtones that are usually not as prevalent in distorted guitars.
There are more setups and details than are really practical to try to cover here. I will give details on one of my favorite guitar events on the record.
God Of Wine:
These guitars were tracked entirely at Skywalker Sound. The pass that was recorded when the whole band played was not used. We wanted to make use of the truly cavernous room at skywalker for the guitars and we couldn’t do that while the drums were being recorded. We had been blending 2 or 3 amps at times on a lot of the sounds but this was the moment where I decided to take it as far as it could go. We had six amps going. All in pairs. 2 marshalls, 2 Ampeg Jets and 2 Fender Blues Devilles. The amps were setup in a symmetrical array at one end of the room. I couldn’t do my usual selection of mics on every amp because it would have gotten unmanageable. I committed to a mic on each amp and started blending. The idea was to set it up so Kevin could roll back his volume for the clean parts and simply turn up for the heavy parts. That didn’t quite work because of amp noise. We had to optimize the amp settings for the clean sounds with the guitar volume down a little, play all of those parts then change amp settings and punch in for the heavy parts. You can hear him turn up the volume leading into the heavy parts, but we actually had to punch on the downbeat. There is a particular level of focus that happens when you are punching in on a tape machine into a track that has performances and sounds that you just spent hours getting exactly the way you want. There’s no undo button, there’s no trimming regions, you are just totally screwed if you hit that button at the wrong time. I actually kind of miss how serious that made moments in the recording process.
Kevin was set up to play in the control room. Skywalker had these huge Alan Sides main monitors that were really fun to track with. It really felt like there was a band playing in the room when you cranked those things. It also made it possible for Kevin to get feedback with out being in front of the amps. I would ride the gain of the monitors in the room to help instigate feedback when he wanted it. The guitar feedback gods were definitely shining on Kevin that day. There is a moment towards the end of the song where the feedback plays a little 3 note melody. the root, then a major sixth, then the implied fifth as he starts to play a hammered trill between the fifth and the root. It was a moment when Kevin and I looked at each other thinking, “wow did that just happen?” That feedback with the accidental pick scrape at the beginning of the section is definitely my favorite guitar moment on the record. It highlights what is so special about Kevin. He is an endless supply of beautiful, chaotic, spontaneous, musical and ultimately very emotional guitar stuff. Moments that neither he, or anyone else could ever do twice.
Back to the technical stuff, there are only 2 passes of guitar on that song. Each pass consists of four tracks of audio, A stereo blend of the close mics and a stereo blend of the room mics. Room mics were recorded with Neumann M50s. They had been setup as a Decca tree style array when we did the drums and we left them up to use as room mics on other things. In this case I only used the Left and Right mics of the tree. Those room mics were sent to Lexicon Super Prime Time delays via aux sends on the console. Delays were set to an 1/8th note of the tempo and had a fair amount of modulation on them. You can really hear the modulation at the end of the song when Kevin stops playing the trill and the echoes are trailing off bending the pitch around. The song starts with a single guitar pass playing through the six amp extravaganza. About a minute in the second guitar joins as a double and I end up panning the main guitar mostly right and the double guitar mostly left by turning down the opposite fader of the stereo blend of each. The room mics remain fully stereo from both passes to help glue them together a little. In I guess what you would call the chorus, Kevin engages a morely wah pedal to play the little answering riffs. We used the morely wah to do the slow filter sweeps in the second verse, in an effort to have something new happen when the verse came back. The morely wah is used in the end of the song and is partly responsible for the beautiful feedback moment I mentioned earlier. In the mix of the song there is no additional reverb or delay on the guitars or any other instrument. The whole point of going to sky walker was to use the room and I really wanted the listener to get a sense of the space the song was recorded in. The only exception is the lead vocals. They were recorded dry and all the reverb on them was added in the mix.
Alright, there it is! What I hope are some of the important/interesting details about guitar stuff. I appreciate you all asking about it. It was fun for me to think about it again and try to put it in words.
Now its time for me to get back to cleaning my sound room!