Archive for June, 2007

My Favorite Guitars

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

As any guitar player will likely understand, I have a love affair with the instrument. Not just playing guitar, but the actual piece of art that each guitar can be. I have been playing guitar for more than 30 years now, and trying to build an electric guitar collection for only the past several years. Although by my count there have been more than 120 manufacturers of electric guitars, from Alembic to Charvel, Danelectro to Fender, Gibson to Ibanez, Jackson to Mosrite, PRS to Squier, and Vox to Zemaitis, just to name a few, I set my sites on building a collection of electric guitars that spans the spectrum of my favorite hard rock and metal sounds. This is no easy task, and I am sure I will always be leaving great guitars out of the discussion, as I can’t get to all of them. So what follows is a mix of some fact and lots of my own opinion. I would never expect everyone to agree with my choices. They merely represent a small glimpse into the instruments that make the sounds I love the most. I have left many great manufacturers and models out, as this is certainly no final list.
My favorite guitar manufacturers and models:

Gibson, one of the oldest manufacturers and the one that started it all in my opinion, with their first electric guitar, the Electric Hawaiian E-150 cast aluminum steel guitar in 1935. But it was the Les Paul designed by the legendary guitar player of the same name, that does it for me. The 1952 introduction of the Les Paul, was Gibson’s first ever solidbody electric guitar. So many great guitarists have used this model, my favorites being Pete Townsend, Jimi Page, Martin Barre, Alex Lifeson and Slash. In my opinion it was Pete Townsend and Jimi Page that made the Les Paul a hard rock legend. Deep, gritty tone with sustain for days, and oh so beautiful to look at. My favorite model is the Les Paul Supreme.

Fender is widely perceived as having produced the first ever solidbody electric (even before the Les Paul) model known as the Broadcaster in 1950. The Broadcaster was the precursor to Fender’s Telecaster. A few years later, in 1954, Fender introduced the Stratocaster. That led to Strats which of course have been used by anyone and everyone. My favorites Strat/Stratocaster players being Jimi Hendrix, Richi Blackmore, Iron Maiden’s Dave Murray and many, many more. It’s the classic rock sound. Bright, crisp, round sound. Great for leads and super versatile for going from soft to hard, twang to crunch. Also a classic look that since the days of Buddy Holly have come to define the look of “electric”. My favorite model is the Olympic White 1967 Stratocaster.

Founder Wayne Charvel opened his shop in 1974 supplying hardware replacement parts. Charvel had a custom shop division run by a designer named Grover Jackson. When Charvel ran into financial problems in 1977, Grover Jackson bought the brand and launched the Charvel brand in 1979. It was Eddie Van Halen that put Charvel on the map when he used a body and neck by Charvel to create his first signature guitar that can be seen on Van Halen’s 1978 debut album. That would be the white Strat like body style with the black lines running across it. Charvel continued to produce Fender-style guitars with bolt on necks and manufacturing moved then moved to Japan. Charvels became known as the original hot rod Guitar (although Ibanez had been customizing Gibson and Fenders for years before that). Grover Jackson divided the company into Charvel’s Fender-style guitars and Jackson, which were custom offset designs. I love Charvel’s for their innovative design changes to the Fender-style. Their use of Floyd Rose tremelos, and their use of a single bridge humbucker and two single-coils, that came to be identified with the emerging metal superstrats. My favorite model is the 1986 Model 5 Superstrat.

If Charvels were one of the original hot rods, then Jackson is the hot rod of hot rods. Grover Jackson launched his own line of guitars under his name in 1980. It was in that year that one of rock and roll’s most important relationships (in my opinion) was formed when Grover Jackson met Randy Rhoads, then a 24 year old up and coming guitarist. Together they designed a custom guitar based on Gibson’s Flying V. They continued their collaborative design efforts and in 1981, the famous offset design was born. Jackson went on to create a number of important innovations that would impact the future of hard rock and metal music including more frets, deeper cutaways, and altered pickup layouts. Jackson also is known for its solid body through necks (all one piece) series. More expensive, but too cool. Since those early days, Jackson has become the guitar for a number of my favorite guitarists including the aforementioned Randy Rhoads, Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Vivian Campbell (Dio), George Lynch (Dokken), and Jeff Beck just to name a few. Jackson began a legacy that has now spanned 27 years of creating the greatest hot rods of the hot rods. Nothing crunches smoother than a Jackson. The necks although a bit wider than an Ibanez, are some of the hottest necks I’ve ever played. My favorite models are the Jackson Soloist and Dinky.
Ibanez has been around for 98 years and has long been the premier Japanese guitar manufacturer. Ibanez was actually the premier brand of Hoshino guitars founded in 1909 by Hoshino Gakki Ten in Nagoya, Japan. In the ’60s and ’70s they became famous for making Gibson design like guitars, and the “copy era” was born. They then moved into creating expensive custom Gibson and Fender guitars, by introducing maple fingerboards on Les Pauls, custom detail inlays etc. Ibanez began producing it’s own designs around 1975 with the introduction of the “Artist” used by Steve Miller, and the “Iceman” played by Paul Stanley of Kiss. Other Ibanez designs included the GB-10 played by George Benson, the Roadster played by Steve Miller and the Destroyer used by Phill Collen of Def Leppard. Since then, many other models became adopted by such great guitarists as Joe Petrucci of Dream Theatre, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai. It was Steve Vai that introduced Ibanez’s first 7 string electric, the “Universe” model, that was further adapted and commercialized by Korn’s James “Munky” Shaffer. In my mind, it’s hard to find a guitar that plays nicer than my Ibanez. Thin neck, super sleek body, light but dense, and just sweet to play. My favorite models is the Ibanez Radius 540 R model that became Satriani’s signature JS series and the Prestige.

So although there are tons of great guitars out there and I have left most of them out, I have chosen these 5 manufacturers and 6 models as best representing the sound I love the most in rock and metal. Today, my electric guitar collection includes a 1980 candy apple red Fender Strat, an Ibanez limited edition 2 jack tobacco sunburst Prestige, a 1986 Charvel broken glass Model 5 Super Strat, a 2004 Ibanez RG series 7 string, and a 2006 Jackson DK2M. That leaves getting a Gibson Les Paul Supreme. I can’t wait!

Note: much of the information contained in this blog came from “Electric Guitars, The Illustrated Encyclopedia” by Tony Bacon.

What I’ve Learned During a Project

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

This is what I’ve learned during my first long, 9-song, project with a 4-piece band.  Some of the points I learned from making the mistakes once or twice, some I knew but were reinforced by this experience.

1.  Rehearsal is key.  Make the artist know all songs front to back… I had to do edits on structure because one guy played one part while the others played something similar, but different.  This shouldn’t happen in a well-rehearsed situation.

2.  Don’t let the artist force you to work in unrealistic time constraints – you will do NO good to your work and your artist’s music if you are being rushed.  Working under a deadline is fine, staying up until 1am is alright… but you know when a deadline is rediculous.  Make sure the artist knows as well.  If they don’t, and you put out less-than-stellar mixes and work, they will come back unhappy and not know why.  I had an insanely tight deadline, and have a day-job and a girlfriend I didn’t see a lot for two weeks.  The band realized that this deadline was nuts, but we made it work but I know the mixes suffered.

3.  Get it right at tracking – You can only do so much at the mix.  If the kick sound is off, you might be able to sample in a new drum convincingly.  MAYBE.  If the drummer is playing poorly and you know it, don’t think you can fix it in the mix without compromise.  Get things sounding as best you can at tracking.  Fixing it in the mix is wasting your time.  Enhancing it in the mix is art.

4.  Have the artist play well – Read around online about any of the classic albums made, and the guys who tracked them usually say “I just captured the magic”.  It’s so true man… I’ve never worked with an absolutely genious player, but I have recorded sloppy players and really good players.  The difference is night and day in the end.  A sloppy drummer cannot be saved by mixing ‘magic’.  People will know that the person playing is amatuer, even if their drums/bass/guitar does sound like “Metallica’s Black album yea!!”  I cannot stress this enough…. a poor performance has to be pointed out to the band asap.  They may not wanna hear it, but what else can you do?  A well-played part recorded half-assed is still better than a piss-poor part recorded well in my book.  Why do you think classics still stack up to today’s ‘polished’ sound of lesser artists?

5.  Have a reference – Import some tracks from a related artist into a track in your sequencer for reference.  I didn’t do this due to the lack of time, but I was I had… I noticed at the end when I DID have time to reference a professional mix that the width of my mix wasn’t where I wanted it to be.  The snare also wasn’t cutting like I’d like it to be.  However, this leads to the next point.

6.  Get your own sound – It’s good to reference, but don’t try and carbon-copy a sound of another band, especially if you are recording/mixing songs for a band who wants their own sound.  If your snare drum isn’t as fat as you’d have hoped but is cutting through and sound good, move on and continue to work.  See what the band thinks.  They might love it.  If a sound you are going for isn’t working, change it.  There has been enough times that I’ve tried to fit a square peg in a round hole.  Often this starts with tracking the proper instruments with the right mic.

7.  Don’t give out your thoughts – If you think a drum track sounds odd, you’re probably right… but don’t tell the band this in a listening session.  Let them tell you.  If the band says “Man that drum track is cool!”, then perhaps it’s just that you created an original sound that differs than the original goal.  If you tell the artist right off the bat that the bass track is bad, they will focus on it and not hear anything else in the SONG.  How can anyone give proper feedback if they have pre-conceived thoughts running through their mind?

8.  Take a break – Don’t work for 6 straight hours.  If you have a day job, allow yourself some time to walk around and get some water every now and then to clear your head.  Often I’d go nuts sitting there for hours on end going over a guitar part or two, and I realized I had to get away for 5 mins to let myself gain perspective.  Mixing is an art, and art is something that, for me, works better when I’m fluid and creative.  When I start to get bogged down and wracking my head about specifics over a length of time I know I need to get away and let myself start again with creativity in mind.  That’s why I personally take breaks.  For you, it could be any number of reasons.

9.  Match sounds – One of the hardest things I experienced when doing 9 4+ minute songs is that I had to get them to all sound like they were all part of the same production.  The kick was the same volume in relation to the mix as the rest of the tunes (with exceptions based on song style), the guitars had a similar vibe… or sound… to them.  This isn’t saying all bass parts must have the same amp tone, or anything like that, but when put together the songs on a 4-piece band’s disc usually need to sound like a solid piece of work unless specified otherwise.

10.  Ask in advance – When starting a project, ask the band where to go.  Where do they want to go.  It’s their art.  You aren’t a major label producer, so you just need to help them get to where they want to go without forcing them somewhere else.  If it’s not working for you or them, it’s better to find out now rather than later.  Ask them what instruments they have, what amps they use, what previous studio experiences they had, what mics were used on any previous work, etc. The more info, the less surprises later on.  Last thing you want is for the bass playing to bring in a wooden stick with elastic bands as a bass hehe.  If rentals are needed, nows the time to mention it.  I can’t stress enough how much it helped me to have a sit-down meeting with the band before starting.

11.  Know thy music!! – How can you track a song if you aren’t sure of the direction the song wants to go?  Go see the band do it’s thing live or in their practice space.  It’s a good thing to see the music being played before hand especially if you don’t know the band very well… because if the drummer does a ton of double kick in a song you may want to use mic A instead of mic B.  Of course, not everyone has the time to go out and watch all their projects live before hand… this is just something I personally try to do.

12.  Have a pair – Don’t be afraid to ask for payments, push a deadline back, etc.  If you don’t ask, nothing will get resolved or discussed.  The artists knows they will have to pay, so asking them to do so isn’t rude.  It’s part of the business.  If you are doing this for free/fun, then you can really be lenient and really have some leeway!

13.  Master elsewhere – Try and convince the band to master at a professional facility.  It’s often hard, but show them work you’ve recorded that was professionally mastered.  If done well, it will convince them.  Often projects I record would rather have me do it for cheap and just boost the volume, or worse yet get the mixdown and attempt to master themselves in a pirated copy of Adobe Cool Edit…  There is no real way to get around this to my knowledge.  Even bands I know that have gone to $50/hr places want to try to master their own music.  Often they aren’t sure what mastering is, or they think it’s just a loudness issue.  Try to explain, and don’t talk down to the band!  Remind the artist that if they are spending money on the first 3/4 of the process, why skimp out on the finishing part?  The crappy paint job on a car will make it look like crap no matter what’s inside.

Those are my major lessons for myself.  I hope someone has learned something from reading this.