The relationship between guitarist and sound engineer is crucial. Whether it’s a stadium show or a recording studio, a sound engineer is responsible for how your guitar sounds to listeners. So I dug around for tips on mic placement for amp rigs on stage, monitor levels, and recording effects in the studio. Mastering your sound is an essential step at the open mic jam session, recording studio, or even live tour.
If you play on stage with a sound crew taking care of you, there should be a monitor mix on stage for the musicians to hear and a main mix for the audience to hear. In most instances, guitar players probably won’t hear the mix out in the audience so there has to be trust built with the sound engineer since he/she is responsible for the quality of your sound. But for the monitor mix on stage, guitar players have some control over what they want to hear from the monitors. I found a great tip from a sound engineer for guitarists on stage to build a successful monitor mix here at http://www.guitarworld.com/sound-advice-introduction-and-tips-live-monitoring-guitarists.
Don’t like the sound of your guitar in the stage monitors? There are many reasons, but I have only so much space in this column. Here’s a cool thing to try on your next gig: Stand right in the middle of the stage between your guitar speakers, facing the crowd, and with the stage monitors facing the stage.
Ask for your guitar with no EQ in your stage monitor and have the engineer stop when the volume in the monitor is even with the volume of your amp. This works out great because you will be able to hear your amp behind you and have even coverage in front of you. When you change the volume of your amp, it will follow evenly in the monitors.
Still don’t like the sound? To match the sound of your guitar in the monitors to the sound of your amp, try moving the mic around. The center of the speaker is the brightest spot.
Moving the mic away from the center will darken the sound. With a little attention, I think you will find that magic spot and, because the sound will be even, you might not have to run your amp volume as hot. (I did say “might”).
The last column mentioned mic placement for a guitar player’s amp rig. It was only a brief introduction to the idea, so for more information on the topic I found a great article here at http://www.guitarworld.com/killer-guitar-tracks-mic-placement-and-amps.
All tuned up? Great. Let’s get into some microphone placement techniques.
There’s a lot of info and some great books out there on the subject, so definitely do so some research. For now, though, I’m just going to keep this on a basic level.
Assuming you’re using a dynamic microphone such as a Shure SM57, here are some general rules and guidelines to keep in mind:
* The closer you move the mic to the center of the speaker, the brighter and more present it will sound. Conversely, as you move the mic toward the outside edge, it will sound darker and bassier.
* The closer the mic is to the speaker, the more direct and immediate the sound will be. Obviously, this helps with eliminating the sound of the room you are recording in, and if your room is less than ideal, this might be your best option. If you’re recording a particularly loud source, there’s a chance you may experience what is known as proximity effect with the mic. Basically this is a build-up of low frequencies that you may have compensate for either with EQ or by changing your mic placement.
* If you have a cool room with maybe some wood floors, and if there doesn’t seem to be a problem with any weird reflections, then distant micing can be a can be a potential option. I would suggest recording a close-mic track as well just in case you need it. It really depends on the song and what you’re going after because distant micing definitely sounds different.
* On-axis or off-axis? On-axis basically means pointing the mic directly at the speaker with no angle, so in effect, the mic would be considered to be perpendicular to the front of the cab. This tends to sound brighter. but at the same time there is a greater chance of proximity effect. Off-axis means angling the mic a little to the side. This can make the high end roll off a little and make things sound a little smoother.
All of these techniques are considered standard issue, and when you’re experimenting, just remember that there is no right or wrong way – it’s really just all about what suits the song the best.
When I record guitars, I usually start with a SM57 pointed on-axis about one or two fingers width off the grill of the cab with the mic aimed just outside of the voice coil dust cover. Sometimes it’s handy to have a flashlight to see the actual speaker through the grill cloth.
This usually gets me in the ballpark right away, and if I need a little more high end I’ll move the mic toward the center a bit. If I need less, I’ll move it out toward the edge. You’ll find out that small moves make big changes in the tone, so I usually move the mic in half-inch increments.
I know what my usual amp settings should be, so if I find that I’m pushing the tone controls more than I’m comfortable with, I’ll go move the mic instead. Most of the time, I use my vocal booth or a bedroom in another part of the house to record guitars in and neither has a room sound that I’m interested in, so I almost always close-mic the cab.
Have fun and spend some time getting to know how mic placement can affect your tone and you’ll be one step closer to achieving killer guitar tracks!
Another important tip on stage is to always be prepared. This idea moves beyond having an extra set of strings in your case. Take it from someone who has been there here at http://www.guitarworld.com/two-amps-four-guitars-stage-or-studio-guitarists-need-be-prepared-anything.
I was a Cub Scout, but I never made it to Boy Scout. But I did learn about their motto (“Be Prepared”) and what it meant, and it’s taken care of me very well over the years.
In my first blog for Guitar World, I wanted to stress just how important it is to never assume anything is ever going to go your way or the way you planned. If it does, fine, but if not, you need to be ready for anything, land on your feet and be able to do your job.
I’ve been making a living playing music since I was about 22. Some important lessons were learned along the way. My dad was a dock worker in New York, was never late and never missed a day of work in his life. He taught me that if you’re not at least 15 minutes early for work, you’re late. So if I’m called for a session, I arrive about 45 minutes before, and I’m set up and ready to play at least 15 minutes before downbeat.
My reasoning is that if a piece of gear messes up, I have time to suss it out and fix what I need to and still have time for coffee. Which raises another point: Make sure you have spares. Everything. Cables, strings, you name it. If you play slide, bring two. I rarely show for a session with fewer than four guitars, for different sounds, but also I’m covered on that front if something craps out.
If I’m working at a studio that doesn’t have amps lying around, I’ll have a spare in the car. Same at gigs. I ALWAYS have another amp either onstage, on standby ready to go, or if it’s an in-town gig, in my car. There’s nothing worse than having an amp stop working in the middle of a set. You will look like a fool, believe me.
I’ve been playing in Bonnie Raitt’s band since 1993, and the one time a tech didn’t set up a spare, my amp went down, and he had to run a LONG way to a truck for another. It’s just not worth it. It hangs up the show, and I was the one with my pants down on stage, not the tech. Plus, two amps just look cool.
While on the “Be Prepared” topic, I’ll briefly touch on the musical aspect, although I’d really like to cover that in another blog, as it’s obviously as important. Whether you’re a band member, a sideman/road guy or a session player, the more musical styles you’re familiar with, the better. Listening to music that’s not necessarily your cup of tea or in your wheelhouse can still affect your playing in a positive manner. Listening to Latin, Brazilian or Cuban music will only make your playing more rhythmically interesting, no matter what genre you happen to be playing, etc., etc.
So keep your ears and mind open to everything.
Let’s stay on the “Be Prepared” theme and move into smaller accessories that most guitar players feel are necessities. Most of you, like me, may not have the luxury of hiring guitar techs to worry about this stuff for you on stage for you, so it’s always good to be ready. For another insightful list of stage essentials for guitarists look here at http://ezinearticles.com/?Guitar-Accessories:-Other-Essential-Goodies&id;=6458976.
Other guitar accessories or doodads you may want to consider throwing in your back pack, gym bag, or all-leather monogrammed accessories case include the following:
1. Tuning fork/Pitch pipe: Having one of these low-tech tuning devices as a spare never hurts, in case the battery on your electronic tuner fails or the tuner itself gets stepped on by the gravitationally challenged drummer. Both of these devices are like rowboats in a speedboat and sailboat world: After the gas is gone and the wind stops blowing, you can still function using your own power.
2. Penlight: You don’t need to wait until night to use a flashlight. Shadows and small sizes pose as much a problem for diagnosing, say, a simple electrical problem as does the complete absence of light. You can hold a penlight between your teeth as you reach into the back of your amp to fix a broken speaker lead.
3. Cable tester and volt/ohm meter: These items cost about $12 and $20, respectively, and earn their keep the first time they diagnose a bad or reverse-wired cable. Learn how to use the volt-ohm meter with respect to your equipment – that is, know what power supplies you have and what the appropriate settings are on the meter. You can impress your friends with your new “aptitude.”
4. Fuses: As always, a new environment can posses irregular wiring schemes that could destroy your gear – and especially your amp. Your amp’s first line of defense is its fuse. If the house current is weird, the fuse blows, and you must have a replacement to get the amp working again.
5. Duct tape: This is considered as any guitar player’s baking soda – as it is an all-purpose utility invention that cures a wide array of maladies. You can use duct tape to fix everything from a rattling tailpiece to a broken microphone clip. Even the roll itself is handy: You can use it to tilt your amp up for better monitoring. Use duct tape to fix your car’s upholstery or even patch the holes of your jeans, onstage or off. In some circles, it’s even considered fashionable.
6. Peg winder: This inexpensive ($2) crank turns your tuning keys at about 10 times the rate that you can turn them by hand. At no extra charge, these guitar accessories include a notched groove that’s perfect for removing stuck bridge pins in your acoustic.
7. Wire cutters/needle-nose pliers: Strings are, after all, wires. When you change strings, use wire cutters to trim away any excess and use the pliers for digging out the stubborn remnants of a broken string from a tuning post.
In the world of recording, your sound is still as important as on stage. In fact there may be instances where a live stage performance is being recorded. Recording your guitar effects can present different challenges and successes in the studio. Find a detailed presentation on this topic here at http://www.guitarworld.com/recording-effects-add-them-mix-or-play-them-live.
Hey, any Rush fans out there?
A few years ago, I had the unique opportunity to do something really cool, something a Rush fan would definitely freak out over. My band, Collective Soul, had recently recorded a live concert DVD called Home, and the director invited us to his post-production studio to talk about the project.
Well, one of his other big projects included archiving all of the old Rush master tapes to digital hard drives for safe storage. He asked if we were fans and if we were interested in hearing any of that stuff, to which we replied, “Are you kidding? Hell yes and hell YES!”
They had just finished “Limelight,” and there it was in all its glory on this little Pro Tools session. We were given free reign to goof around, soloing up tracks and just listening to this masterpiece. It’s musicianship like this that makes you feel completely inspired and at the same time, completely inadequate, you know?
I just remember looking at the faders, and they were all set to “0,” not a plug-in in sight, either, and when I hit the space bar, it sounded like the damn record! I’m pretty sure it was just a 24-track session as well; if not, it wasn’t more than 48.
One thing that really hit home with me was how so many of those sounds and effects were committed to tape. I mean this song sounded mixed already. We also got to listen to “Red Barchetta,” complete with Geddy Lee’s funny commentary during Alex’s solo that remains forever hidden via the mute button.
Anyway, this brings me to my thoughts on recording effects and the theory of adding the effects in the mix versus doing it yourself with your favorite pedals, thus committing it to “tape,” as it were.
Basically, for me, it always comes down to the old adage, “If it sounds good, then it is good,” and sometimes you have to just trust your instincts. If you think the delay pedal you’re using has a special “thing” that you like and it’s making you play the part better, then don’t hesitate to use it. The engineer or producer may present the argument that they have better delay plug-ins, etc., and they would like to have more options at mix time; well, this is a valid point, but take my word for it: You know and I know it ain’t gonna be the same.
I will say the delay stuff is probably the one thing that can be a little tricky, though. I do believe that you should trust your instincts, but you also have to be mature enough as a musician to know how it fits within the song. The delay repeats almost always need to be in time with the music, and I tend to be a little more reserved on the actual level of effect.
Usually in mix down, I’ll use a plug-in to add a little more “goo” if it needs it, and everything always works out fine. As far as chorus, phase and pitch effects, I almost always print it with my stompboxes and gadgets. The stuff you can do with plug-ins is cool, but it always sounds a little too pristine or hi-fi to me. That being said, always refer to the “If it sounds good” theory, and you’ll be OK.
So just for fun, here are a few clips demonstrating some of my favorite effect combinations I committed to “tape” and didn’t look back. The first clip is from a song from Collective Soul’s record Afterwords. The track is one I wrote called “I Don’t Need Anymore Friends.” It’s very keyboard sounding, and that’s why I like it.
The signal chain was a P90-equipped MJ guitar through an Aphex compressor through a whammy pedal through an Option 5 Leslie pedal through a Line 6 delay pedal and then through my homemade amp set fairly clean. At the beginning of the first chord, I rocked the whammy pedal that was on the octave up-down setting.
“I Don’t Need Anymore Friends”
The second track is from that same record, and it’s called “Good Morning After All.” It’s an example of using an e-bow to get string quartet sounds. The real trick is using the whammy pedal on what would be the first and second violin parts to help get closer to the timbre of those instruments. The whammy was set to the octave up-down position again.
“Good Morning After All”
The third clip is from my solo record, Fight Years, and it’s a keyboard-sounding thing that happens on the song “Sunrise.” It’s basically the same setup as the first clip, but I use a reverse delay setting.
Staying with the “Recording Effects” theme, technology has made a substantial impact in the music recording world. I dug up a list of the best apps that can be used in the studio for your music projects. Find them here at http://www.guitarworld.com/top-15-amps-effects-recording-and-tools-apps.
Guitar World goes in deep with 15 of the best amps, effects, recording and tools apps.
The mobile version of the leading modeling software features up to five amps, five cabinets, two mics and 16 stomp box effects for full digital amp emulation on your mobile. Just plug in via the iRig interface adapter and shred away. Record ideas via a built-in recorder with re-amping capabilities, and then export them as high-quality audio files or MP3s. The hardware also provides a headphone jack, so you can turn the amps to 11 without worrying about annoying parents, girlfriends, boyfriends or the dog. IK Multimedia; AmpliTube FREE, Free; AmpliTube LE, $2.99; AmpliTube, $19.99
At the heart of this app — an iOS version of TC Electronic’s PolyTune pedal — is the company’s polyphonic tuner technology, which allows the user to tune all six string simultaneously. Simply strum across the strings and PolyTune will tell you which ones need adjusting, making for fast and easy tuning of your instrument. The app also offers Needle and Stream chromatic tuning modes as well as a feature called MonoPoly, which recognizes whether you’re sounding one or more strings and responds with the appropriate mono- or polyphonic tuning mode.TC Electronic; PolyTune, $4.99
This awesome app from Peavey and Agile transforms your smartphone into a virtual amp, effect board and recorder with great sound and a huge range of options. The free version comes stocked with a two-channel Peavey ValveKing amp and two pedals, cabs and mics, while AmpKit+ piles on more gear, with extras available for purchase in the app store. Also available is AmpKit LINK, a high-fidelity, feedback-eliminating interface that connects your ax to your iOS device and can be hooked into headphones, speakers or a PA. Agile Partners; AmpKit, Free; AmpKit+, $19.99; AmpKit LINK, $29.99
A collection of virtual instruments, Band includes guitar, bass, drums, piano and more, allowing you to create a full song from scratch. Instruments can be recorded, overdubbed, edited and mixed down, as well as individually raised, muted, panned or soloed. For those in need of instant gratification, you can even add in the glorious roar of a virtual crowd. One of the first, and still one of the best. MooCowMusic; Band, $3.99
SONOMA WIRE WORKS FOURTRACK
Turns your iOS into a virtual four track, with recording in true 16-bit, 44.1kHz quality. Users can record up to four tracks of audio, with the ability to adjust volume and pan each individual track as well as drop in at any point in any track. Ideal for cutting on-the-go demos, which can then be downloaded as separate WAV files to your home computer and imported into the recording/editing software of your choice. Sonoma Wire Works; FourTrack, $9.99
Old-school meets new-school with this iPad-only app (not searchable on your iPhone, by the way), a virtual recall of Tascam’s revolutionary early Eighties Porta One recorder. Record one track at a time using the built-in mic, monitor your sounds on authentic-looking VU meters and use the cassette position counter to track your place in the mix. Revel in all the vintage goodness, even as your songs are saved as WAV files and loaded into iTunes for modern-day accessibility. Tascam; PortaStudio, $2.99
When it comes to mixing and mastering, it’s always handy to have an RTA — real-time analyzer — at your disposal. Studio Six’s RTA features an incredibly clean layout, in both octave and 1/3-octave band sizes, as well as various decay and speed modes, calibration and other features. It’s the first, best and most accurate mobile RTA app on the market—and also a great app to have in your pocket when mixing live sound. Studio Six Digital; RTA, $10.99
This iPad-only digital effect unit features 17 modules, including custom amp EQs and seven types of distortion. StompBox enables the user to build customized effect racks and access them as individual patches, with the ability to chain up to 12 simultaneous effects. A nice and useful feature is the virtual foot controller, which provides access to all patch parameters and amp settings as well as quick shifting between patches. 4Pockets; StompBox, $19.99
Users of the StroboStomp already know that Peterson is synonymous with top-of-the-line strobe tuners. iStroboSoft is a fitting addition to the company’s legacy, essentially a mobile version of its incredibly precise StroboSoft 2.0 software. Simple to use, with a slick and intuitive layout, iStroboSoft tunes quickly and easily with 1/10th-cent accuracy and offers a host of extra features, including noise filter, drop/capo modes and calibration. Guitarists be warned: you no longer have an excuse to be out of tune anytime, anywhere. Peterson Tuners; iStroboSoft, $9.99
A complete music production app that combines a piano keyboard, a 128-track sequencer and note editor and, most impressively, up to 90 studio-recorded instruments. Instruments, which use sampled rather than synthesized sounds, are controlled via the 85-key virtual keyboard, with each tweakable via a variety of options and effects. Furthermore, the keyboard can be split into two rows, making it possible to play or record two different instruments simultaneously. Xewton; MusicStudio, $14.99
For years you’ve been playing “Stormy Monday” in G when, suddenly, your singer decides — onstage — he wants to jam it in F. Whip out this trusty app and you’ll be up and running in no time. The simple interface allows you to transpose a key in either numeric steps or semitone form as well as choose between numeric and written, and sharp and flat notes. Jouni Erola; Transpose, $0.99
“Tailored” for use with the manufacturer’s line of acoustics, this app offers a range of EQ presets to complement signature Taylor body shapes, including Grand Auditorium, Grand Symphony and more. Or customize your own settings using the six-band parametric EQ. Other features include iPod playthrough, monitor level adjustment and a compressor/limiter. Recommended for use with Sonoma’s GuitarJack interface. Sonoma Wire Works; Taylor EQ, Free
A virtual “capo” that is also a useful practice tool, this app allows you to adjust the pitch of a song to match the tuning of your guitar as well as slow down and loop difficult sections of music. For quick reference, Capo will drop markers at specific points in songs, enabling you to find and return to trouble spots. Additionally, a Voice Reduction feature targets and lowers vocal frequencies, making it easier to focus on guitar parts exclusively. SuperMegaUltraGroovy; Capo, $19.99
A metronome — and so much more. In addition to keeping you in time, Tempo can be customized down to each beat and sub-beat, making it possible to program complex tunes with multiple time changes. In addition, the app offers a variety of tempo sounds (including digital, analog, shaker and click), presets (for custom time signatures and rhythms), and a large bright display for easy viewing. Frozen Ape; Tempo, $1.99
A simple, cheap and straightforward practice, rehearsal and performance tool for musicians, GigBaby! includes a metronome, a four-track recorder, a drum machine and a cool setlist manager service that allows you to organize songs by name, tempo and key. Its network-sharing device lets you exchange audio tracks with band mates and friends in order to construct full songs. ioMetrics LLC; Gigbaby!, $0.99
Now whether it is in the studio or on stage, guitar players will be understand what it takes to master their sounds. Just like anything else on guitar, it takes practice and experience to get to know the sound system better so start using this information as soon as possible to get the best sound possible.
Have fun and stay tuned!