I N  T H E    S T U D I O

                                                                                                 JACK & JOE  NAPOLI

RECORDING AERIAL ACOUSTICS AND THE CHINERY COLLECTION: PART 4

 

THE BIG & THE SMALL - MARTIN PARLOR VS. GOLIATH

 

The age-old story of big vs. small goes way back. Whether it was David taking on a giant like Goliath with nothing more than a sling shot or that little unassuming Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, emerging victorious over his battles with trolls, goblins and dragons, all these stories have the same message in common - size isn't always everything and looks can be deceiving.

If you've been reading along for the past few months you know that our articles have been focusing on recording the acoustic guitar duo Aerial Acoustics and the Chinery Guitar Collection. Dorothy and Dennis used various guitars from Scott's vast collection in the recording of their latest CD, "Myriad." In our forth and final article, we're going to look at some of the guitars and recording techniques that were used to record Yes's classic, "Roundabout."Two of the guitars that were selected were made by the Martin Guitar Company. Martin needs no introduction to the world of guitars. They've been making acoustic guitars for many years and their craftsmanship is of the highest quality, so it's not surprising that you would find some of them in a collection of stringed instruments as large as Scott's. It is a testament to the Martin legacy that two of their guitars would be selected among so many fine instruments. But cream does rise to the top. The two guitars that were chosen were the Martin Parlor and the Goliath, a large instrument custom-made for the collection by Martin.

The Parlor is a very small unassuming guitar that, at first glance, looks like it was designed with a child in mind. The lower bout is quite small and the upper bout is almost nonexistent. It has nylon strings and has a design similar to that of a classical guitar. It was not designed to have the projection that a concert guitar has, rather, as it's name suggests, it was designed with the intention of being played in the parlor or sitting room of a home. Someone would play the guitar to provide after dinner music and entertainment for the family and what ever guests might be over.

When Dorothy first told us about this guitar she was quite excited. She said, "you've got to hear this thing - I can't believe how big it sounds - it's the perfect guitar to play the lead introduction to 'Roundabout'!" When she first showed it to me I remember saying to myself, "I hope she knows what she's doing." The Parlor guitar does not knock you out with its size. But when Dorothy sat down and played it, I couldn't believe my ears. This little guitar was one of the loudest guitars I had ever heard. And more than just being loud it sounded incredible, too. What this guitar lacked in size it more than made up for in sound. There was no doubt about it, this was the perfect guitar to record the intro.

Unlike the Parlor guitar the Martin Goliath is quite large and very impressive to look at. A Gibson J200 looks small next to it. It's one of the largest guitars I've ever seen. While the Parlor looks like it was designed with a child in mind the Goliath looks like the folks at Martin had Bigfoot in mind when they designed this one. The task of playing this behemoth fell in Dennis' lap. While Dorothy plays the intro and main rhythm part, it is Dennis who plays the lead melody.

The Goliath is very impressive looking but the main thing is how did it sound'? In a word, fantastic! But remember, all the guitars had to fit and work together in the song. Because the Goliath sounded great didn't necessarily mean that it would fit in well with the other guitars. There was only one way to find out if it would work and that was to record it, and that's just what we did. As we listened to the playback we realized that the Goliath's sound was a bit too much for this particular song. When placed in a mix with the other guitars it's sound was too over-powering, it was taking up too much sonic space.

Sometimes an instrument's size can work against you in the studio. Large guitars, with a strong low resonance, may sound wonderful when played live in a large room or a concert hall but quite often don't make the best recording guitars. This was the case with the Goliath. Placing a mic near it really emphasized the low end resonance to the point that if Dennis moved just a little it made a huge difference in how the mic picked up the sound. Finding the right mic, and mic placement, was a daunting task. Smaller guitars don't suffer from this as much. Generally speaking, it is easier to mic a small guitar body than a large one. Such was the case with the Martian Parlor. Micing it was a pleasure.

But we still had to find a guitar that was right for recording the lead melody. As it turned out, the perfect guitar for the job wasn't in Scott's collection at all - it was in Dennis'. The guitar that was chosen was a Taylor W-14. Dennis is a big Taylor fan. In fact, he owns three of them. In our opinion, Taylor makes some of the finest acoustic guitars being built today. The W-14, with it's cedar top and walnut back and sides, is a perfect example of their fine craftsmanship. As soon as Dennis tuned up and played the melody line we knew we found our guitar! Now all we had to do was mic the two guitars up and start recording.

I'm sure many of you are familiar with the Yes song, "Roundabout" but you may not be familiar  with how it, as well as many of their songs, was recorded. A few years ago, Joe and I had the pleasure of meeting long time Yes recording engineer Eddy Offord, at a recording convention we attended in NYC. Eddy is a great engineer and a great guy, too. In a conversation with him he told us that many of Yes' classic songs were recorded in sections. The band would record the verses first, then a chorus, then the bridge etc-, until the different parts of the song were completed. Sometimes the members of the band would actually write the parts as they went along. No doubt this was do to the complex arrangements in their music. It was easier, and more effective, to record the band performing the different sections and edit them together later to make one complete song.

When it came time for us to record Aerial Acoustics version of "Roundabout," Joe and I remembered our conversation with Eddy and decided to use the same approach. But this is the year 2002 not 1971. Times have changed and so has recording technology. While Eddy had to splice tape together to complete the final song we had the aid of our Protools system to do our editing... ya gotta love it. You can't beat Protools for its editing capability. But you may recall from our first article that Dorothy and Dennis both loved the sound of analog tape. So we recorded the individual sections on analog, as we had been doing, and transferred them to Protools for editing. Recording the song this way allowed the players to concentrate on the individual sections, playing them over and over again, until they got them just right. Once we transferred them over to our computer, it was snap to edit and put them all together in Protools.

Now that we've gone over the guitars we used and how they were selected, let's talk about mic placement and the recording chain.

The Parlor guitar was miked using one microphone; a Neumann 103. The 103 is a great mic for acoustic guitars. Joe and I usually like to record acoustic guitars in stereo but because the Parlor was so small we could get away with only using one mic. The mic was placed in front of the guitar, about one foot away, and aimed between the sound hole and the lower bout. At this close range, air escaping form the sound hole is usually a problem, but not with the Parlor guitar. It was here that it sounded best. The mic's signal was fed into an API 550 preamp then into an API 5 10 compressor. From there it was sent straight to tape. The compressor was set to a 10: 1 ratio so that it would limit only the peaks of the signal to prevent tape overload. We like to hit the tape pretty hard (i.e.. get a good strong signal to tape), taking full advantage of analog tapes 3rd harmonic distortion -also known as warmth.

The Taylor was miked with an AKG C24 stereo mic, one of our favorites for recording acoustic guitar. The mic was placed about two feet from the guitar. The top mic capsule was aimed between the upper bout and the sound hole. The lower mic capsule was aimed toward the bridge. The Taylor's sound was well defined and focused in that area. It made it a pleasure to record. The Stereo signal was sent to a Focusrite mic pre and then to a Cranesong STC-8 stereo compressor. Dennis' style of playing is more aggressive then Dorothy's. It is this difference in their individual styles that makes their music sound so dynamic. It also makes them exciting to watch. To handle Dennis, the STC-8 was set to a 20:1 ratio. From there the signal was sent direct to tape,

After all of the sections of Roundabout were recorded they were transferred to the computer for the final edit. If you listen to the song, which you can if you visit the Aerial Acoustics web site at: www.aerialweb.com, the editing is totally undetectable and seamless.

Joe and I hope you've enjoyed reading our articles on Aerial Acoustics and the Chinery collection. They were as much fun to write as the sessions were to record. As we mentioned in September's article, due to Scott's untimely death he never did get the chance to hear "Myriad" fully completed. But Scott was generous to the very end. Just before he passed away he presented Dorothy with a special gift; a Martin Parlor guitar of here very own. It was a generous gift indeed, befitting a great player. Scott's generosity reminds us all that it's not how much you have, but how you share what you have with others that really matters; especially at this time of the year. Have a great holiday. We'll see you next year.

Next month -You'll just have to pick up a copy of TCG to find out.

Jack & Joe Napoli own and operate Cloud 9 Recording; Long Island, NY They have recorded with such artists as AERIAL ACOUSTICS, Nine Days, Patti Russo, Kasim Sulton, John Miceli and Alan St. Jon. Web site: www.cloud9recording.com. Email: cloud09@optonline.net.

 

20th CENTURY GUITAR MAGAZINE /  December  2002


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