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JTC Guitar as it is today is built on a foundation of super strong, highly jammable backings. So when someone reaches out to us with backings that fit the bill, we’re always happy.
Damir Puh is one of those people, and a killer player too! He’s brought modern, in your face, riff heavy backings to our catalogue, and a flawless air of professionalism that we really value.
So it only seems right for him to share a bit about his approach to all these banging backings.
A Clear Objective
Let’s start with the most abstract, but probably the most important point. A good backing track needs to solve a particular problem. All decisions regarding track creation depend on whether the track focuses on a specific genre or a specific tonality/chord progression.
Many players use different backings for different purposes, so tracks created with a particular profile of player and a particular problem in mind are more likely to offer the right musical solution.
Having a clear objective right from the start makes the process of creating the backing more streamlined, which results in a better track that many players would find useful.
Balanced Track Structure
Structure is crucial in any piece of music and with backing tracks, there’s always the balancing act of musicality vs the utilitarian function of the track in play.
Naturally, backing tracks tend to have extended sections and less variation compared to “normal” songs, but the parts themselves still need to develop and change as they progress. Providing the player a solid musical foundation, while still making things interesting is key, and a balanced track structure, regarding both the macro and micro levels, is the foundation of that concept.
Backings focusing on a particular scale, chord progression or rhythm can allow having long and open sections for the player to practice over. While tracks tackling the “real-band-jam” scenario means more movement and variation from part to part.
Detailed Arrangement and Sound Design
Choosing the right sounds and arranging the ideas into a cohesive piece of music go hand in hand with track structure and the pre-set objective of the backing track.
Even the most generic riff or chord progression could be transformed into a captivating piece of music with tasty arrangement, sound design, and layering.
Choosing the right sounds and arranging the ideas cleverly, immerses the player into the music and offers musical substance that could be mirrored with the lead part.
Providing hooks and ear candy elements is a nice bonus as well, and a welcome addition if creating a genre-specific track that sounds like a song is the objective.
Tight Performances / Programming
Tight performances and detailed programming are some of the key aspects that separate high-quality backings from the average ones.
For example, tight double-tracked guitars or bass and drums sitting right “in the pocket” not only sound better but also give better support for the player jamming, especially when groove and timing are concerned.
Editing plays an important role as well, and the balance of how much/how little is needed is very dependent on the genre. Letting the tail of palm-muted notes ring out in modern metal is just as inappropriate as chopping everything off and aligning everything to the grid on a funk track. In both cases, a correct judgment of what’s needed for the specific track is crucial for it to sound and feel authentic.
On the programming side, there’s always the risk of making everything a bit too perfect, thus turning out sterile and unnatural in the end. Variation in velocity and timing, especially when drums are concerned, is one of those fine details that help avoid that “jamming to a 90s drum machine” feel.
A Great Mix
In today’s day and age, there’s no excuse for poor-sounding mixes. Most VST’s sound pretty good straight out of the box. there are plenty of really good options for DI guitar tones, and plugins and affordable studio monitors/headphones are getting better and better.
Great mixes and masters immerse the listener in the music and that’s always inspiring for someone to jam over. Just like jamming with a band, great-sounding backings make the soloist sound even better, and if the power, punch, and clarity are there, it’s easier to feed off the track and spend hours with it.
A great sounding track also forces the player to pay more attention to his own sound, which is one of the main things novice players neglect.
Managing the low end, taking care of the hi-mid build-up inherent with guitar-driven music, and letting space in the midrange for the lead instrument are some of the main things that make the difference.
PAUL WHITE and DAVE LOCKWOOD strum up a few tried-and-trusted methods of improving your studio guitar sound.
* You don't necessarily need a big amp to achieve a big sound. A small practice amp can sound great. In addition to the miking arrangements outlined in the previous tip, try putting the mic at head level so it 'hears' what you hear. Also, try miking the side or rear of the speaker cabinet to see what that sounds like. It's easiest to find the best spot if you wear enclosed headphones and move the mic around while the guitarist plays. Lift the guitar amp or speaker cabinet off the ground to reduce bass or stand it right in a corner for more bass. If the sound is too brittle, point the amp into the corner and mic it from behind. It's also worth trying different mics, both dynamic and capacitor, to see which one produces the best tone.
* Compression is a useful tool to even out the tone of the guitar and also to add sustain. By using compression, you may able to get a better lead tone with less overdrive. For clean sounds, introduce EQ after compression: for more mellow results, EQ before you compress. Using compression after gentle overdrive allows more control over the amount of distortion via the guitar volume control without the overall level changing too much.
* Hedge your bets by recording a clean DI feed (via a high-input impedance DI box) on a spare track so you can reprocess it later. This way, if the original sound doesn't work out, you can play the clean track back via a specialised guitar preamp/effects unit or even play it via a small amp and then re-mic it. Alternatively, use both the original and the reprocessed sounds to create an interesting stereo effect.
* When you need a thicker sound, try real double-tracking rather than ADT (Artificial Double Tracking). In other words, play the same part twice over on two different tracks. Depending on the player, you may get better results by muting the original part until the new part has been recorded. If real double-tracking is too difficult, use a pitch-shifter to add a small amount of delay and detuning to fake the effect more convincingly than chorus. * When DI'ing, you can still use a small guitar amp to monitor what you're playing. This often makes playing seem more natural and the acoustic coupling between the speaker and guitar strings will add life to the sound. Even a small battery-powered practice amp can help you deliver a better performance.
* To get a more lively electric guitar sound when DI'ing or recording with the amp in another room, mic up the strings and add that to the main sound. Use a mic with a good high-end frequency response -- a capacitor or back-electret mic is best -- and position it around 15 to 20cm from the strings.
* If using a valve amp with speaker simulator, be sure to use a simulator model with dummy load if the amp needs to be silent when you're recording. This is especially important as the output transformer can be damaged by running with no load. In the case of transistor amplifiers, running without a load shouldn't cause problems, unless the amplifier has a transformer output stage (rare in transistor amps). If in doubt, check the manual.
* If you play in the control room with your amp in the studio, you can hear what the recorded sound is really like via the control room monitors as you play. However, you lose the acoustic coupling that you get with a loud amp close to your guitar so the sound may be different, especially if it is heavily overdriven.
* When using cabinets with more than one speaker (for example, four by twelves), listen for the best-sounding speaker and mic that one. Miking close to the centre of the cone gives the brightest sound, while moving towards one edge produces a more mellow tone.
* If you decide to use a gate to reduce noise or interference, put the gate after the overdrive stage if possible, but before compression or delay/reverb-based effects. This is so the gate won't cut off your reverb or delay decays. Adjust the decay time so as not to cut off notes prematurely and set the threshold as low as you can without allowing noise to break through. Either an expander or a dynamic noise filter will do the same job, often with less noticeable side effects than a basic gate.
* To get a 'glassy' clean sound, compress the guitar signal and then try adding a little high frequency enhancement from an Aphex Exciter or similar processor. When trying to achieve this kind of sound, DI techniques often work better than miking because more high-frequency harmonics are preserved. If you like a really glassy top, then try switching any speaker simulation out when using a clean sound.
PAUL WHITE and DAVE LOCKWOOD strum up a few tried-and-trusted methods of improving your studio guitar sound.
At one time, recording electric guitar meant putting a mic in front of an amp and hitting the record button. Of course, you can still do it that way, and in many instances such an approach yields perfectly acceptable results. But there are also viable DI alternatives that may be more convenient in a home recording environment. The fact that guitar sounds vary so much according to the instrument, the player, the amplifier and the recording techniques employed is one of the great attractions of the instrument. But while no two players will ever sound quite alike, there are a few general recording rules that can help achieve consistently good results. It would be wrong to try to define a single 'foolproof' method for guitar recording, so instead we've pulled together a few different tricks, tips and ideas that will help you get the results you want, while still providing plenty of scope for experimentation. As ever, if you get a result by breaking a rule or doing something in an unorthodox way, that's fine. In music, the end always justifies the means!
* As a first and very basic rule, always make sure your guitar is in good condition. Use new strings, properly fitted and check both the tuning and intonation. This may seem obvious, but many players leave their old strings on, tune up and hope for the best. They think the tone doesn't matter because you'll be able to fix it in the mix. More often than not you can't! When fitting new strings, make certain that you don't have any overlapping turns of the string around the tuning machine peg as the tuning will tend to slip. Also, pull the strings to stretch them before final tuning or again, the tuning will slip. If you change either the brand or gauge of strings you're using, check the octave tuning on all six strings to ensure the intonation is OK.
* Check your tuning before every take, as it tends to drift in warm studios. Ideally, use a tuner with an audio thru socket and leave it connected at all times. Users of vibrato arms should be especially careful to check their tuning at every opportunity.
* Equipment containing transformers will tend to cause hum interference on electric guitars, especially those with single-coil pickups. Rotate your position in the room to find the angle of least hum and keep as far away as possible from the interfering equipment. As a rule, the more overdrive you use, the more serious the effect of interference. Computer monitors in particular cause serious interference problems with guitar pickups, so keep as far away from these as you can. Or better still, turn the monitor off. (Note, though, that if a monitor is in energy-saving mode and is still powered up, the screen may be dark, but you'll still get interference.)
* Use different guitar types or sounds when recording two or more overdrive guitar parts to keep the sounds separate in the mix. For example, use a single-coil setting for one part and a humbucker for another. It also helps if you use less distortion than if you were playing live, especially for rhythm guitar parts. Otherwise the guitar sounds can blend into a confused wall of sound. Bracketing the sounds using tunable high- and low-pass filters (such as those on the Focusrite Platinum Tone Factory or the Drawmer DS201 gate side-chain), can help confine the sounds to narrower parts of the spectrum.
* If you have enough spare tracks, compile a 'best of' solo from multiple whole takes recorded on separate tracks. Hard disk recording is good for this as you simply cut and paste the sections you want to use. However, you can also compile on tape by bouncing the chosen sections to a new track. Compiling before adding delay or extra reverb will help conceal any edits.
* Create a sense of stereo space by processing a mono guitar sound via a gated or ambience reverb program. A close-miked or DI'd guitar part contains no spatial information, but adding reverb to the sound to create the illusion of space may not be artistically appropriate. Ambient reverb settings will simulate the early reflections of a real space without adding reverb decay. A short gated reverb may also be suitable for creating a more live sound.
* In the recording studio, it's common to leave effects processing until the final mix so as to allow sounds to be changed right up to the last minute. However, guitar players rely on many of their effects to create the right 'feel' at the playing stage -- specifically, effects such as overdrive, wah-wah or delay. Reverb can be added at the mixing stage, as stereo digital reverb is sometimes more appropriate than the mono spring reverb built into some guitar amps. If stereo reverb is to be added during recording, a pair of tracks will be needed for recording. Should you want to replace any of a guitarist's 'essential' effects at a later stage, arrange it so the player can monitor via the effect, even if you're recording without it.
* Don't assume the speaker simulator in your preamp is the best one for the job. Better results can often be achieved by taking the unfiltered output from a recording preamp or effects unit, then processing it via a good quality stand-alone speaker simulator. Extra EQ from the mixing desk or an outboard parametric EQ can also help shape the sound.
* Following on from the previous tip, it's often interesting to try splitting the signal into pseudo-stereo via two different speaker simulators -- for example, using the simulator in the recording preamp and, at the same time, taking the unfiltered output via an external speaker simulator. Panned left and right in the mix, this can create a larger-than-life sound that is more effective than either of the individual speaker simulators used in isolation. As an alternative, try miking a small amp while also DI'ing it via a speaker simulator. Moving the mic further from the amp will capture more room sound. Combining a close mic or DI feed with a more distant, ambient mic can also yield interesting results. The more distant the ambience mic, and the greater its level relative to the close mic or DI feed, the further back the sound appears in the mix. Compressing the ambient mic output can also help create a bigger sound in a live room.
Although a lot of engineers prefer to mic up the single, best-sounding speaker cone of a multi-speaker cab, some blend the sounds of more than one. Steve Churchyard: "If I'm using a 4x12 cabinet, I find two of the best-sounding speakers, and I'll put an SM57 right on axis and right on the cone of both those guys. Then I'll mix them in the control room, combine the two together. It seems a little different than just using one mic. It's not twice as good, but it's just mixing the character of two different speakers." While recording AC/DC's Back In Black, Tony Platt used a pair of condenser mics to pick up different speaker cones and give a wider sound to each guitar: "I developed a technique for recording guitars with two microphones roughly pointing at different speakers, which can be spread out in the stereo mix so it's not just a series of mono point sources. It makes for a more open-sounding guitar. That sound suited their particular technique, which involved Angus and Malcolm playing the same chords but with different inversions to get a very big unison guitar sound." Hugh Padgham adopted a similar tactic for recording Andy Summers' Roland JC120 when working with the Police: "The chorus [was] always switched on in order to produce the slightly out-of-tune guitar sound that was all the rage during the early '80s. The amp's two 12-inch speakers would each be close-miked with a Sennheiser MD421, panned left and right one speaker would produce a straight signal while the other would be chorused, and these would sometimes be double-tracked the other way around in order to produce an especially wide stereo picture." Of course, no-one says you have to use the same mic on each speaker cone. For example the SOS interview with Toby Wright shows an SM57 and an MD421 on separate speakers, and Don Smith mentioned using an SM57 and an AKG C451 on separate speakers when recording Keith Richards. Sylvia Massy Shivy also uses the SM57+MD421 combination, but sounds a note of caution when deciding on the exact positioning of the mics: "You have to be very careful with phase, just check it until the signal is the strongest."
Coincident dual-mic techniques are commonly used by professional recording engineers and producers. Not only does the close positioning of the mics help to minimise problems with phase: the mix engineer is also left with plenty of control over the texture of the sound without the need for radical processing.
The 'phase EQ' technique: three mics (two close mics and another further from the amp) are positioned to form a triangle. The faders on the desk (or in the DAW) can then be raised or lowered for each signal. This alters the phase relationship between them and provides an interesting and, according to some producers, less intrusive alternative to conventional EQ. SM57Moving KSM137Stationary SM57KSM137Phasing
In response to Bill Price's comments about matching the phase of different close mics, I lined up a Shure SM57 dynamic mic and a small-diaphragm Shure KSM137 condenser mic on axis, over the centre of the speaker cone. With the KSM137 around six inches away from the grille, I started off with the SM57 an inch further away and then moved it (while recording) through a distance of around two inches, ending up with it an inch closer to the grille than the KSM137. The third audio example combines the SM57 and KSM137 mic signals at equal levels to demonstrate the tonal changes created by phase-cancellation between the two mics. PhaseEQSM57PhaseEQMD421PhaseEQC414BXLS PhaseEQCombinations
The first three audio examples here are recordings from three mics set up in the 'phase EQ' configuration that Jack Douglas describes in the main article. For the final example I've tried to demonstrate something of the range of sounds available using only the fader and phase-invert button of each mic channel.
Adding Ambient Mics
"I've always thought that most people mic amps too closely," comments Alan Parsons. "They supposedly make up with an ambient mic, but I much prefer to find a mic position that works and process that, rather than mix in too much ambience." Despite Parsons' disapproval, though, a lot of the engineers I researched divulged that they use additional ambient mics to capture more of the sound of the room in which the guitar cab was recorded. For example, Al Schmitt starts with the traditional SM57 close mic, on axis but a little off the centre of the cone. "Then I'll put a really good mic up maybe a Neumann U67 or an M50 for the room... It could be anywhere from 15 to 20 feet away."
It's worth noting that the M50 is an omni microphone and, although the omni polar pattern is only very occasionally mentioned for close-miking, it makes a much more sensible choice for capturing natural room ambience. Tony Visconti is also into using ambient mics: "I'm very much a fan of the room sound, too. I always record it if it's a real heavy rock guitar with power chords and crunches and all. I'll go around the room and clap my hands and I say, 'Put the mics there, that's it.' Quite often, I'll turn the room mic towards the studio window, and you'll get a reflection of the guitar sound not directly facing it, because you're looking for reflections." Although he states in the same interview that he'll try to use a pair of U87s for ambience if possible, he's also mentioned elsewhere using PZM mics as an alternative. Perhaps the most dramatic of ambient mic techniques, though, comes courtesy of Chris Tsangarides. His 'Vortex' involves using studio screens to build 30-foot-long walls along each side of the guitar cabinet, creating a flare shape (apparently inspired by the shape of a bass bin). Within this flare, he places a close condenser mic and typically another couple of condenser mics with different distant positionings, perhaps at 15 and 30 feet away. "I walk around while the guy's playing and find a sweet spot and put the mic there", says Chris. By panning the distant mics to the opposite side of the mix from the close mic, you can create interesting panning effects for solos. "If it's a rhythm part, you get this huge sound because the whole thing is spread across the stereo spectrum."
When double-tracking lead or rhythm parts, a useful trick is to reverse the panning of the direct and distant mics. "If there were two guitarists in a band, I would record them like that, so you got a wall of sound that had a transparency that would allow the drums and bass to come through." While experimenting with the Vortex for this article, I was impressed by quite how well the ambient mics seemed to turn a close-miked guitar sound into something that sounded like it was on a record, but the downside of this approach for most home recordists will be that the Vortex is not easy to recreate in a smaller studio so I thought I'd pass on some ways I found to make it more manageable on a smaller scale. One problem most small studios have is that they don't have large numbers of screens, but in practice I found that I was able to get decent results by putting the guitar cab in the corner of the room and using one or both of the room boundaries in place of the screens. Visconti's trick of aiming ambient mics at the studio glass also turned out to be handy to increase the apparent distance of the farther ambient mic.
Combination Techniques & The Phase EQ
Let's look at how the professionals go about combining the close and ambient techniques we've looked at so far, in order to create specific custom setups for different recordings. Joe Barresi, for example, relies heavily on the trusty SM57 and MD421 combination, but he'll choose from a variety of other mics to give character to particular sounds. "The two microphones I use most for recording electric guitars are the Shure SM57 and the Sennheiser MD421, often both, close up, placed at the edge of the speaker, where the speaker centre meets the cone, or, if I'm looking for a more bright sound, dead centre. When I want more low end, I may have an AKG C414 on there, and when I'm after a little more personality, a Neumann U87, backed up a foot, or a ribbon mic, like the Royer 122, or an RCA BK5 or 77." Eddie Kramer has a slightly different approach, working from a familiar setup of favourite close and ambient mics (including the Beyerdynamic M160 ribbon mic) and then mixing them together to taste. "I use a three-mic technique: an SM57, an MD421 and an M160, all in a very tight pattern. Then I can pick and choose the tone quality, because each mic is totally different. I combine these together, and then I put a U67 away from the amp to get the ambience." For his work on Supernatural, Glenn Kolotkin turned to elaborate multi-miking as a way of managing Carlos Santana's complicated setup. "I used multiple microphones on Carlos' guitars: Electrovoice RE20s close, Neumann U47s further away, an SM56, U87s. He was playing through an assortment of amplifiers at the same time, and by using multiple microphones I was able to get just the right blend."
Complex though some of these techniques are, probably the most powerful use of multi-miking I've encountered during my investigations comes courtesy of Jack Douglas, who makes creative use of phase cancellation between microphones. "For guitar overdubs, the best EQ in the world is the phase EQ, which you get by using multiple mics on a speaker. For example, take a Shure SM57, a Sennheiser MD421 and your favourite condenser, and set them up in a triangle with the two dynamics at an angle up against the grille, but off axis. Then take your favourite condenser mic, put a 10dB pad on it, and place it about a foot away, facing the speaker, on axis. "Bring up one mic at a time and get it to optimum level on your board. To check that they're all in phase, make sure the signal is adding and not subtracting as you add in the other mics. If not... reverse the phase. Then start to put up each mic, one at a time... as you move the faders back and forth, you'll hear the greatest EQ, because of the phase relationship... Then if you flip the phase on one of the mics, you can really have some fun it'll act like a filter." Having tried out this technique, I have to say that it's something of a revelation to hear the enormous range of radically different sounds it makes available. When you start inverting the phase of a mic, it sounds like the most extreme EQ you've ever heard, which means that you can substantially reinvent guitar sounds at mixdown without using any heavy processing. For even more sonic mileage, you can also take a leaf out of John Leckie's book and process each of the three mic signals independently. Jack Douglas also points out a beneficial side-effect, in his experience, of recordings made using the phase EQ approach: "When you build a mix I don't care if it's four tracks, eight tracks, or 96 the real nightmare is when you put something up and the only way you can hear it is by blasting it. There's nothing worse than putting up something you're excited about, and it's gone. If you [record guitars] like this, I guarantee that as soon as you put the sound in the mix it will be there. Not only that, it won't wipe out everything else in the mix, because it will have such a separate and distinct character."
Too Many Mics?
Being by nature rather sceptical, I have to admit to initially dismissing many of the recording methods in this article as 'studio snake oil', and because there was usually too little time during my own sessions to experiment with new ideas, I'd usually end up with an SM57 glued to the speaker grille by default. Taking the time out to trial the above techniques in the studio showed me quite how much I had been missing not only much better raw recordings, but also tremendous extra flexibility at mixdown. But don't take it from me listen to the audio examples for yourself and make up your own mind. If they don't expand your recording horizons, I'll eat my SM57...
Even working on the assumption that you're only using one mic, the professionals have an awful lot to say about where you might put it. For a start, it seems to be fairly common practice to audition the different speaker cones of your guitar amp. "They're supposed to sound the same," says Roy Thomas Baker, "but if you're using a 4x12 cabinet, each of these four speakers may sound different." While there's nothing necessarily wrong with plonking your mic right at the centre of the speaker cone if it gets what you're after, a lot of producers take the time to experiment with different positionings off axis, where the sound is typically warmer. Mike Hedges: "Depending on where you have [the mic] outer speaker or inner speaker you get the difference in tone from the edge of the speaker and the centre of the cone."
In fact, Mike Clink also tries small changes in position even when working with basically on-axis sounds. "I'll point [the SM57] exactly dead on, though I might move it an inch or two to get the right sound." Directional mics, such as cardioids and figure-of-eights, exhibit different frequency responses off axis broadly speaking, off-axis sounds tend to be duller, although it's a complex effect which is different for each model. Professional producers are well aware of this, and employ the effect to refine their sounds. For instance, Chuck Ainlay comments "I'll usually start with a [Shure SM57] on the amp; but not straight on axis with the middle of the speaker; it's usually off-centre, angled towards the middle of the speaker and generally just off the grille." Jay Graydon refers to a fairly similar setup: "I position the mic about one inch left of the edge of the speaker-cone centre, using a 22-degree angle, and about one inch back from the grille cloth." Andy Johns, on the other hand, has said that "the miking technique I used on electric guitars for years was two [Shure SM57s], one straight on, and one at 45 degrees. Put 'em together, and it always works." The question of how far away to place your mic really divides opinions.
While Chuck Ainlay's 'just off the grille' seems to express the majority view, Bill Price preferred a position six inches away on the Sex Pistols sessions, while Steve Albini usually starts from around 10-12 inches away. Alan Parsons, on the other hand, avoids close placements: "Every engineer I've ever come across has always had the mic touching the cloth, and the first thing I do is move it away literally a foot. Let's hear what the amplifier sounds like, not what the cabinet sounds like... I might have it even further away if it's a really loud 4x12 cabinet as much as four feet away." Ben Hillier also extols the benefits of more distant placements, up to six to eight feet, when he's trying to capture his favourite 'amp in a room' sound. All speaker cones are not created equal! Normally, if an amp or speaker cab has more than one speaker cone each will sound different, and it is worth finding out which one you prefer. You can even try recording two different cones and blending the sounds, as described above
Audio Examples: Miking Different Speaker Cones SM57Left SM57Right SM57LeftSM57Right
To compare the sound of the Fender Twin Reverb's two speakers, I placed Shure SM57s directly over the centres of the different cones, on axis and right up against the grille. This also gave me the opportunity to try out the dual-mic technique mentioned by Steve Churchyard. You can hear the range of sounds available from mixing the mics in the third audio example, which starts with the left-hand SM57, but then fades in the right-hand SM57 until, by the middle of the example, both mics are at equal level. The left-hand SM57 then fades out during the remainder of the audio example. C3000Left C3000RightC3000LeftC3000Right
Here's a stab at Tony Platt's dual-mic AC/DC technique, using two large-diaphragm condensers, about six inches apart and pointing at different speakers, placed about six inches from the grille. In the third example I have panned the mics a little left and right respectively, to demonstrate the stereo spread effect he talks about.
Two Mics Together
One of the things that initially surprised me was that coincident dual-mic techniques, where the two mics are placed as close as possible to each other to minimise phase cancellation between them, actually appear to be more commonly used than single-mic techniques. John Leckie explains: "There's an amazing difference in the sound and colouration you get from adjusting the balance of each of the mics, and you can get radically different textures depending on your mix of the two." The majority of favoured mic pairs seem to include the trusty SM57, but its most popular partner appears to be the larger-diaphragm MD421 users include Bob Rock, Bruce Fairbairn, Alan Winstanley, Joe Barresi, Simon Dawson, Stephen Street and The Matrix.
Also high on the list is the pairing of the SM57 with a large-diaphragm condenser of some type, and Steve Churchyard, Toni Visconti, Jim Scott, Stephen Street, and John Leckie all name-check the U87 in this role. However, John Leckie states an interesting preference for an SM58 and U67 rig instead: "SM57s tend to be that little bit brighter than the SM58, which really isn't what you want when you're miking up an electric guitar amp. You really want to pick up a flat signal, an 'unstimulated' signal I suppose is the word... The U67 gives you the warmth and a broader sound." Referring to this setup, Leckie also explains more about what makes double-miking so powerful: "If you brighten up the U67, it's totally different to brightening up the SM58, so sometimes I'll add a little brightness to the 67 and a little compression. But between that combination, I find I can get pretty much everything I need. They're rarely used at equal level; sometimes I'll favour the SM58 with the U67 at 10-15dB down. Even 20-30dB down, just bringing it in, it's amazing the different colour you get how much the tone of the guitar changes." Coupling an SM57 with a small-diaphragm KM84 condenser finds favour with Bill Price and John Fry, while Mike Hedges chooses his favourite Sennheiser MKH40.
Bill Price also mentions the importance of finding a very close phase match between the two microphones. "What one had to do was balance those mics equally, grab a pair of headphones out in the studio that were turned up nice and loud, and fractionally position one of the mics so that they were perfectly in phase at high frequencies, because if you had one mic five inches away and the other six inches away you'd obviously get really bad phase shift that would take the top off the guitar sound." Beyond specific favoured mics, a number of engineers also mention more general principles when choosing pairs of mics for guitar recording. Jim Scott and Stephen Street both mention using a 'cheap' or 'bad' mic with a good mic (both give the SM57+U87 combination as an example). "Between the two you can find the ideal sound," remarks Jim, "and you can get brightness and fullness." Steve Albini, on the other hand, finds it useful to think in terms of blending 'bright' and 'dark' mics. "Normally I'll have two microphones on each cabinet, a dark mic and a bright mic, say a ribbon microphone and a condenser, or two different condensers with different characters." Eddie Kramer's discussion of his Hendrix sessions reveals a similar preference: "Generally speaking, it was either a U67 or a Beyerdynamic M160, or a combination of both, which I still use today. It might be slightly different, of course, but the basic principle's the same a ribbon and a condenser." The 'Vortex' setup described by Chris Tsangarides, is a great way to add ambience. The setup pictured above is a variation created by the author for a small studio, where one of the walls was used in place of baffles for one side of the flare.
Audio Examples: Ambient Mics & The Vortex SM57Close C3000StereoAmbience SM57C3000Ambience
To illustrate the possibilities available from ambient mics, I recorded the same guitar performance with three mics simultaneously: a Shure SM57 close mic on axis to the centre of the speaker cone and up against the grille, and a stereo pair of AKG C3000 large-diaphragm condenser mics a few metres away. The third audio example illustrates the range of sounds available by mixing the close and ambient mics. The example starts with the SM57, but then the ambience mics fade in until, by the middle of the example, all mics are at equal level. The close mic then fades out during the remainder of the audio example, leaving just the ambience. VortexMic1VortexMic2VortexMic3VortexMix
These examples give some idea of how Chris Tsangarides' Vortex technique can sound, even when adapted to suit a smaller room, as I've described in the main article. The guitar cabinet was set up in the corner of the room, with a single, large acoustic panel making up one side of the 'flare'. All the mics were large-diaphragm condensers: the first, an AKG C414B XLS, was on axis over the centre of the speaker cone, right up against the grille; the second, an AKG C3000, was two metres away, pointing at the cabinet; and the third, another AKG C3000, was four metres away, angled to catch the reflected sound from the control-room glass. The final audio example starts with the C414B XLS close mic on its own, then fades in the two ambience mics (panned a little left and right) until, by the middle of the example, all the mics are at equal level. The close mic then fades out during the remainder of the audio example.