Tag Archives: home recording

The Craft Of Recording Electric Guitars

Here is an article I wrote for The Deli Magazine.

You can find the original article HERE.

Recording Electric Guitars

10 ideas for recording amazing electric guitars – by Shane O’Connor 

Recording guitars, although easy at first can be a challenge when you really want to achieve a great sound. Here are some helpful tips to improve your guitar recording chops.

1. Set Up Your Guitar 
Amazing guitar tones start with the player. Recording a great song with a good player is always key. Beyond the player, the instrument must be in top shape as well. Sending your guitar to be professionally set up is a great way to ensure your guitar tracks are properly in tune and there are no buzzes, squeaks or hums coming from the instrument. A professional set up will also allow the guitar to play easier and feel better, which will help to create a better performance.

2. Isolate The Amp From The Floor 
When recording guitars in small spaces, such as a bedroom or a project studio, the physical connection between the amp and the floor can cause the amp to sympathetically vibrate with the floor. This creates an artificial sense of low end that is often hard to eq out and can make your recording sound muddy. By isolating the amp from the floor with dense insulation or a product such as the Auralex Gamma Pad, the amp can accurately reproduce the low end without vibrating with the room. This can be very useful with dense guitar arrangements where layered guitars can stack up to create a muddy mess in the mix.

3. Understand The Room 
The sound of the amp is largely impacted by the room that is exists in. Standing waves are created when a loud guitar amp is played in a small space. To minimize the impact of standing waves, angle the guitar amp at 45 degrees to parallel walls. This will help to keep prominent frequencies from building up in the room.
For more control of the room sound, try draping a heavy blanket over the speaker cabinet. This will eliminate the room sound for microphones close to the cabinet. A second room mic can then be added for control of the room sound in the mix. This creates the possibility for all types of sonic experimentation when it comes time for mix. For example, the room mic can be panned opposite of the close mic. A delay can be added to the room mic for even more spatial distinction.


4. Eq With Mic Placement 

There are tone knobs on a guitar, and often eq and tone knobs on a guitar amp. Although these knobs are easy to use and tempting to play with, drastic eqing on an amp can sound harsh or push the amp to distortion in unpleasant ways. A less conventional, but equally as effective method of eq can be accomplished through microphone placement at the speaker cone.
The closer the microphone is to the center of the speaker, the more low end and high end will be picked up. As the microphone is moved to the outside of the cone, the midrange becomes clearer in comparison. In conjunction with this, the angle of the microphone in relation to the cone can also change the tone of the guitar sound. Angling the microphone 45 degrees outward will reduce the upper midrange frequencies. Angling the microphone 45 degrees inward will increase low midrange frequencies.
Also, different mics will capture different tonal colors from your amp.  Sometimes just switching to a different mic will make a track sound better or sit better in your mix.  Also, using two mics at once gives you the option of choosing between or blending the two tracks later.  Favorites for guitar amps are dynamic mics both for their tone and their ability to handle high volume.  Although ribbon mics are less able to handle loud signals, they are handy for capturing a rich and accurate tone.

5. Pick A Pick 
Although you probably have a favorite guitar pick that works well with your playing style, there are guitar pick options that can drastically alter the tone of your guitar. For more attack on leads and solos, a metal pick can brighten up the guitar tone without having to resort to eq at the amp. In contrast, a felt pick can be the perfect choice for soft rhythm guitar that needs to sit well with keyboards and piano. Before spending lots of money on a new amp or effects pedal, a trip to the music store for a new guitar pick might be all you need. Strings can have an impact on your tone too.  Experiment with different brands, different materials, different gauges and different windings.  Steel strings tend to be bright, loud and have good sustain.  Whereas, nickel-plated or pure nickel strings can be a little softer and the tone is more subdued.  Thicker strings will give you more volume and a bit more sustain, but the thicker the gauge the harder they are to play.  Try to find the right gauge for your desired tone and don’t use such heavy strings that it disrupts your performance.  And finally, check out different windings for your strings.  Most people use round wound strings, but if you’re looking to dull your sound for a real vintagey-vibe try flat wound or tape wound strings.  This is particularly apparent on bass.  Flat or tape wound strings give the notes you play a thumpier attack and limit your sustain significantly.

6. Types Of Guitar Doubles 
A straight double of rhythm guitar might be all a song needs to thicken up the guitars, but often doubling guitars in a dense arrangement leads to trouble when it comes time to mix. Doubling just the root note of a chord progression is a great way to thicken a guitar track without adding too much information. A second double an octave above the root can also work well if it is panned in opposition to the original root note double.
For a lift in the chorus of a song, whole note doubles work well to emphasize the chord changes. On a heavy rock song, whole note doubles with less distortion often work really well to add clarity and harmonic distinction to the chord progression. On less heavy pop or country songs, whole note doubles with different chord voicings can add a sense of spaciousness and fullness to a chorus without adding another part to distract from the vocal.

7. To Eq At The Amp Or In The Mix 
It is often a studio rule of thumb that great sounds should be achieved at the source as opposed to fixing things in the mix. As true as this is, there are always exceptions to the rule. One exception is when to eq a guitar amp. If eq is added on the amp itself, the resulting guitar sound usually changes the way the guitar part relates to the rest of the mix. Eqing at the amp can be thought of as adding an effect and changing the purpose of the guitar part. Eqing in mix can be much more subtle. I often save eqing the low end of guitars for mix, but add boosts to the high end of guitars at the amp while tracking. This ensures that I don’t over eq the low end and muddy up the track before mixing, but still allows me to subtly distort the top end at the amp while tracking.

8. Easy On The Reverb 
Generally, less reverb on guitars is a smart choice while tracking. Unless you are striving for a Dick Dale drenched guitar sound, most reverb can be added in mix. The reverb might sound great on the first rhythm guitar while tracking, but once three or four guitars are stacked on top of the initial rhythm guitar, that reverb sounds distracting and amateur.

9. Linking Effects 
The pedal board you use for live shows might be efficient and stocked with cool noise makers, but that doesn’t make it the best idea for recording. Generally using the least amount of effects to achieve the desired guitar tone is the best plan. If there are effects pedals in the signal chain that aren’t being used, they may be degrading the signal and causing excess noise. Take any pedal out of the chain that is not being used. It is common sense, but try to use the highest quality and shortest cables between guitar pedals.     Think critically and creatively about which pedals you use and in what order. Although a heavy distortion pedal might sound fun on its own, it might not be the best choice for the song. Using a gain boost pedal to push the amp harder might be the most natural and best distortion sound for the song. A more creative use for that wild distortion pedal might be after your delay and reverb pedal. Crazy spaced out sounds from delay and reverb can become even more psychedelic with a distortion and an eq pedal after them.

10. Take A DI 
When recording guitars, I always record a DI signal directly from the guitar before it hits any effects or an amp. I do this for two reasons. If the performance was perfect, but I want to change the guitar sound in the mix, I can use the DI signal to re record through different amps later. This is a good practice, but can also lead to creative uses of amplifiers that would not be possible while tracking the original guitar. One example is swinging a microphone around a vertically placed speaker as the prerecorded signal plays through the amp. This creates a swirling phaser sound that is unlike any phaser pedal.
Secondly, the DI signal can occasionally be used in the mix as a way to beef up the low end of a guitar take without doubling the part. This is specifically useful with heavy detuned guitars. The DI adds clarity to the low end, but does not alter the rhythmic tightness of the original performance.

Shane O’Connor is a producer and recording engineer from New York City. Shane has worked with artists such as Madi Diaz, Tab The Band, and Blackbutton. Currently, he worked out of Skyline Recording Studio. You can find more information on Shane O’Connor as well as more recording tips atwww.shaneoconnorrecording.com.

Advertisements

Thoughts on Reverb

Specifically in rock music, ambience has become a major player in the distinction between sub genres. It can make or break the production difference between indie-twee-pop and surf-chill-wave. A trashy spring reverb on guitar can imply one sub genre, where that same spring generously applied to vocals creates a whole new production direction.
There is a big difference between using reverbs and ambience in a creative manner and using them in an abusive and misguided manner. In home recordings I find that this is a major giveaway of a poor production aesthetic. Even with minimal tools in a bedroom studio, it is possible to create ambient effects that are tasteful and distinct. Often it is more about how the engineer uses the ambience than the ambience itself.
Reverb is frequently described as a mechanism to move and instrument up front or in the distance within a mix. Although on a rudimentary level this may be the case, more reverb on an instrument does not necessarily mean that the instrument is set back further in the mix. Depending upon the settings of the reverb, more reverb may just result in….. more reverb.
In a real room, when an instrument is perceived as far away it has more room reflections associated with it (reverb) but those reflections are more complex and often have a diminished high end content. The depth on an instrument is not just defined by the amount of reverb but the complexity of the reflections and the EQ of said reflections. In home productions I find that this is not taken in to consideration when setting an instrument within reverb. If the goal is to create an ambience that is lifelike, one must consider the components that make up the reverb, not just the amount of reverb.
In other productions where realness is not the goal but lots of reverb is, I find a different problem occurs. The recordist wants lots of reverb like records that they love, but their reverb muddies the mix and sounds cheap or less authentic than desired. Usually, I find this problem is not due to inadequate equipment but from a lack of EQ within reverb sends and returns.
A good starting point with reverb sends is to consider what part of the instrument being sent really needs reverb. A lead vocal that needs a crazy spring reverb may only need 3khz to be sent to the reverb. This way, the reverb can do more to the intended frequencies without meddling with frequencies that are needed for other instruments or other parts of the vocal. Likewise an EQ on the return of the reverb should be considered to shape the effectiveness of the reverb. For example the high end of a long plate reverb may sound excessive in sparse verses, but shines through nicely in a loud bombastic chorus.

EMT 140 Plate Reverb. Not pretty looking ,but pretty sounding.

Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

10 Ideas For Recording Amazing Guitars

Check Out This Article I wrote about recording guitars at MusicThinkTank.com

The Same Old Question

It is the same old question, especially now in the age of home recording.

“how can I get my music to sound like “insert artist” at home with my rig”?

The recording industry will have you sold that it must be “this mic pre” or “that compressor” that holds the key to a golden tone that sells millions of records. The truth is that it is never one pieces of gear that creates a certain sound on a record. It is the culmination of many things, starting with a very nice sounding room (can’t get that at Guitar Center) which create the recorded sound. An experienced engineer touches all aspects of the process.

Consider this breakdown when recording guitars in a professional scenario vs. a home rig. This is not in order of importance, just signal flow:

1. The idea must be discussed between the engineer and the artist as to how the guitar should sound.

2. A guitar is selected, not based on affordability or availability, but what is correct for the part ( a professional studio will have options for this…)

3. An amp is selected in the same manner. (many options…)

4. A cabinet is matched to the amp (even more options…)

5. The cabinet is carefully placed in the room for desired ambient effect (or lack of ambient effect).

6. a microphone, or a combination of microphones are placed (too many options to shake a stick at)

7. a microphone preamp is selected, based on the response of the microphone, how the guitar reacts to the amp, and how the part fits within the arrangement of the song.

8. Eq and compression is chosen based upon the sonic effect desired from the mic preamp.

None of these options will make or break the sound of this guitar, but the culmination of these choices, done by an experienced recording engineer will make all of the difference in the world. Am I saying it is all about the gear? NO. I am suggesting that it is all about careful choices based upon experience. amps

Home Recording Tips #4

Home Recording Tips #4

Recording Vocals

I imagine a lot of you have probably caught on to the theme of my home recording tips. I am largely focusing on techniques that will not cost you a lot of money, and will open the doors to new and creative methods of recording. Often, a simple acoustical consideration, or a change of microphone positioning can be far more beneficial than some fancy API/NEVE/WHATEVER Gooderizer box. Here are some things to ponder before jumping into recording vocals at home:

Acoustical Space:

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE! Don’t build or buy a vocal booth. Unless you are a very experienced acoustical engineer, chances are your DIY vocal booth will probably sound horrible. They are very expensive to build or buy, and often major corners need to be cut to create this within an existing structure. A much better plan is to take some time to treat your existing recording space.

Don’t Kill The Room:
I find, for pop and rock vocals, it is often better to have control over the room sound, and be able to blend it into the end result of the vocal ambience. I often do this by moving room treatment around the vocalist and the microphone to taste. Sometimes this will be done with packing blankets hung over unused microphone stands. I can create a semicircle around the vocalist, so that less room reflections are getting into the vocal sound. There will still be some room ambience, but it can be adjusted to taste.

Keep It Open:
For very expressive and dynamic vocalists, I may suggest that they take a big step back from the mic, so that more preamp gain can be used and the compressor can grab the transients with a slower attack time. This can create more room ambience, but that might be just the ticket!

Stay Centered:

If possible, keep the vocalist in the center of the room, away from reflective walls. Even if you are in a space that you want to capture, it is better to give the room a distance to “breathe”

Room Mics:

If you choose to go with a very tight, close mic vocal sound, don’t be afraid to throw up another room mic in the corner of the room. In mix time, this mic may be just the thing to create a vocal ambience that is truly original and specific to your recording. This can also be very useful for a a bridge or prechorus section that needs to sound “lo-fi”. Consider using a trashy mic, through a mic pre that isn’t your “awesome” expensive preamp.

GEAR:

Vocals are the one area where I will admit that the recording gear really does matter. I can’t lie and tell you that the $100 MXL microphone comes close to a nice, refurbished neumann U47. The expensive stuff is expensive for a reason, and if that is the sound that you are after, this is the kind of thing where it will SAVE you money to rent out a facility with this type of gear.

Having said that, there are some mics that are reasonably affordable, which can give a great vocal sound for the right vocalist. I find that large diaphragm dynamic microphones are often far better than the cheaper condenser microphones within the same price range. The Shure SM7B is a wonderful vocal mic for husky male vocals, or the right female vocal (usually more gritty vocals). This microphone can often be found used for under $300.
A microphone preamp can have just as much affect on the vocal sound as the microphone itself. In the same manner as the vocal microphone, the really high end microphone preamps are expensive for a reason. Thankfully there are a few very nice DIY mic pre kits that will compare, and sometimes surpass the sound of a really nice Neve or API preamp. I suggest checking out Seventh Circle Audio as a starting point.

Production:

Before the vocal sound, the performance is the often the first thing that a listener will notice, at least in pop music. The inspiration of the performance cannot be canned in an expensive vocal microphone or mic preamp. An experienced vocal producer can really help to make the most of studio time in tracking vocals. The first time that I saw Matt Taheney produce vocals for The Click Five, I was sincerely impressed by the humor he used in getting into the nitty gritty of vocal punches. A great producer/ engineer will create a fun and exciting vibe around recording the same line 15 times. More importantly, an awesome engineer will make sure that the same line is recorded 15 times until it is right. I find that this type of detail is the sort of thing that gets bypassed in a home recording scenario.

U87 microphone set up for Daisy at The Moontower Recording Studio

U87 microphone set up for Daisy at The Moontower Recording Studio

80 unfinished songs.

I just talked to an artist who was thinking about working with me, but decided to go the home recording route about two years ago. I don’t blame him for this decision, in that he got an advance from his label to create a record. He now has the freedom to record anything and everything in his awesome home studio, but does he? Since then, he has partially recorded around 80 songs. None of them are finished, and there is no record out.

My question to you is, where do you draw the line? Is the creative process just about the action of creating, or does it also involve the resolution of finishing.

This is one of the dangers of embarking on a home recording project without a dedicated engineer or producer. There may be no specific end point. Sometimes the limitless possibilities of home recording can be the most crippling thing for your record.

What if you prepared for your record in pre-production, but you could only afford a certain amount of time to do so?

and what if you cut your record live, making sure to get all the songs done in 3 days?

Maybe every note won’t be perfect, but it will create a record, and in my experience, it will create an exciting record this way. Usually, this can all be done for cheaper than the expensive vocal mic and preamp that you have been eyeing at Guitar Center (trust me, it doesn’t sound as nice as they are claiming)

After a recording like this is done, it has to be done. There is no going back. You can only move forward to new music, which is more creative than sitting in your bedroom trying to figure out how to autotune your home recorded vocal takes…..

If you are currently in a never ending home recording production, shoot me an email Shaneoconnorrecording@gmail.com

I can help your project to move along.