I N  T H E    S T U D I O

                                                                                                 JACK & JOE  NAPOLI

RECORDING AERIAL ACOUSTICS AND THE CHINERY COLLECTION: PART 3

 

THE ORVILLE GIBSON

 

Hello and welcome to the third part in our series of articles on recording Aerial Acoustics and the Chinery Collection. As promised, this month we're going to discuss recording the original Orville Gibson.  Before we get started we'd just like to say that this issue marks our one year anniversary. It was last November that our first article appeared in TCG. We'd like to thank all the folks at TCG for giving us the opportunity to write for them. We've had a lot of fun in the past year writing these articles and we love the e-mails we've been receiving from our readers. We like hearing from you so keep them coming. The Orville Gibson guitar was built by Orville Gibson himself and dates back to the turn of the century. The arch on the sound board is also quite high, a lot higher then a conventional modern arch top. We never met a guitar we didn't like but I have to say that if there were an ugly duckling  category for guitars this one would win it  hands down – or at least be in the top five.  This guitar is not the prettiest one in the bunch. But you can't always judge a book by it's cover and this is very true of the Orville Gibson. What this guitar lacks in looks it more than makes up for in sound. 

Last month we described the process we used to record the Dyer Harp Guitar, why it was selected and what role it played in recording the song "Nighttime Conversation." The song has a beautiful melody line that is played over the Dver's rhythm part. The lead melody guitar had to have a full sound with lots of character and definition. The Orville Gibson was chosen because it had both of these qualities. If you read last month's article you'll, recall that what we were trying to accomplish was to record a sonic landscape of guitars. Because there were so many guitars being used in each song they all had to compliment each other. When we heard Dorothy play the melody line with the Orville Gibson against the rhythm part she tracked with the Dyer, we all knew it was the right guitar for the job.  

Recording the guitar presented us with yet another challenge. For starters, playing the guitar was a bit of a challenge for Dorothy. The Orville Gibson was larger than the classical guitar she was use to and, as such, was not as comfortable to play. Dorothy is also use to classical strings. The strings on the Orville Gibson are steel, so the feel and response of the guitar was totally different. But after she practiced with the guitar for a while and altered her playing style to fit the feel of the guitar, she felt comfortable enough to start recording. This brings us to another interesting subject that we'd like to touch on before we continue with the story. The guitar usually dictates how it should be played. Depending on the sound character and set up, some guitars are more suited for lead work while others are better for rhythm. I'm sure you've all experienced walking into a guitar store and picking up a guitar that felt so good that it made you feel like playing every Jimi Hendrix riff ever recorded. While the guitar next to it brought out the Keith Richards side of you.  

This is also true for both acoustic and electric guitars. For the most part, you shouldn't approach playing an acoustic guitar the same way you do an electric. The action on an acoustic is generally higher and the strings should be of a fairly heavy gauge. The acoustic relies on the strings to set the sound board in motion. Heavy strings sound better on an acoustic for this reason. Quite often, guitarists who are use to playing the electric guitar have trouble playing the acoustic guitar, but there are exceptions. Stevie Ray is a good example; so is Pete Towshend. Both used very heavy gauge strings on their electric guitars and both are very fine acoustic guitar players in their own right. But, for the most part, electric guitarists play with fairly light gauge strings. This is not true of everyone but is the rule rather than the exception. As a result the muscles on their hands are not as strong. This makes fingering the guitar and getting a tone out of it more difficult. We've recorded a lot of guitarists in our time and we always run into this problem. Achieving a good sound from an acoustic guitar also requires a different technique, or approach, to playing.  Dennis Smith and I had a very long discussion about this topic one day. Dennis, the other half of Aerial Acoustics, is a fine player. During our conversation he told me that he stays away from playing the electric guitar for the reasons we just mentioned. He wants to make sure that he keeps his acoustic chops in tact and well tuned. Using a heavier pick also helps. You could switch to light gauge strings, but every time we've tried to record someone like that we've always found that the sound quality is not as good. Hey, there's a reason why players like Stevie and Pete use heavy gauge strings, even on their electrics. If you're interested in finding out more about how string gauge and pick selection can effect your sound read our article, "A Picky Situation" in the May 2002 issue of TCG.

OK -now back to the topic at hand.  At first we thought that the Orville Gibson would be easy to record, but it proved otherwise. We started by placing a pair of Audio Techniques 4041 mics, in an XY pattern in front of the guitar about 2 feet away. One was pointing toward the direction of the body, the other towards the middle of the neck. The neck was producing a lot of wonderful over tones and we wanted to capture them on tape. We also wanted to get an idea of the stereo image the guitar was capable of producing. While the sound of the Orville Gibson was huge, almost 3D like, it also had a great deal of high end. The 4041s were exaggerating it to the point where we had to roll off some high end at about 7k. The mic that was most effected was the one picking up the sound from the body. It really wasn't picking up the true sound that the guitar was producing. The 4041 that was picking up the sound from the neck was perfect; so we left that one alone.   Sometimes a little roll off at certain frequencies is OK. But if you find yourself twisting the knob off the EQ and still not getting the results you expected, then this is a sure indication that something's wrong. This is caused by the following conditions:    

A. The mics are in the wrong place, or

B. They aren't the right mics for the job, or

C. Both.  

In our case it was (C). The problem was that the mic was not picking up the low end properly. We could have boosted it using an API EQ but we didn't want to go that route. The best solution to our problem was to change the mic. Depending on how many mics you have in your collection, this might not be possible. If this is your situation and you're forced to use a mic that is not really suited for the job, you're going to have to use some EQ to help you out. EQ is a very tricky thing to use and most engineers don't use it properly. But the following example should help get you started.  

First, find the best sounding placement for the mic before you use any EQ at all. Usually the player will dictate where the mic is to be placed. The player's style and technique have more to do with mic placement then most engineers realize. This is very true when it comes to micing drums as well. After you find the right spot for the mics, try searching for the frequency that is causing you the most trouble and then cut it. Don't boost the EQ if you don't have to - especially if the EQ is an inexpensive one. Inexperienced engineers usually reach for the EQ and boost a frequency first. This is almost always a mistake. Listen first to the sound that is being produced and ask yourself, "where are the problem frequencies - what do I need to change"? This brings us to step two. The guitar almost always has some annoying frequency in the mid to low mid range. Start buy boosting the mid band as high as it will go and then use the frequency select pot to sweep through the frequencies. What you're looking for is the one that's causing the most problems. When you find it, stop. Now try cutting the frequency. Cut it until the problem goes away and no more. Don't make the mistake of over cutting the frequency! The idea here is not to kill the sound, but to curve the frequency until the problem goes away. If you do find that you need to boost a frequency or two, only use enough boost to get the job done. To much cutting and especially boosting of frequencies makes the guitar sound unnatural and also introduces phasing into the signal.

The best solution to this problem is to change out the mic and that's just what we did. Because we have a large selection of mics at the studio, this was not an issue. We knew we were after a stereo sound, so two mics had to be used in order to achieve it. The rule of thumb when recording the guitar, or any other instrument in stereo, is to use a matched pair of mics. But the matched pair rule wasn't working for us this time. If you've been reading our articles by now you know that just about any rule in the studio can be broken.  We replaced the 4041 mic, which was picking up the sound from the guitar's body, with a Lawsen L47. The L47 is a great sounding tube mic that proved to be just right for the job. The mic was aimed at the upper bout and placed about 2.5' to 3' away. As we mentioned earlier, we liked what the 4041 mic was doing in the neck position so we left it alone. This mic was placed in line with the 3rd fret but angled down toward the 12th fret. It picked up the neck overtones and harmonics very well. This is a good example of how two different mics can complement each other.  The individual mic signals were sent to a pair of API 550 mic pres, some of our favorites. From there they fed a Manley stereo limiter. The limiter was set to just limit the guitar's peek levels. Then the signal was sent direct to tape. Joe and I like to go direct to tape when ever possible. We feel we get the best sound quality that way.  We recorded the guitar and, after a few takes, Dorothy gave a performance she was pleased with and that was the one we used on the CD. The web site for Aerial Acoustics is: www.aerialweb.com. Stop by their site and down load some mp3s from their CD Myriad, we guarantee that if you do you'll walk away a fan for Iife. While the Orville Gibson is not the prettiest guitar in the bunch it does have a very unique look to it - a look that echoes back to a time when the guitar was built with a different prospective then it is today. Today's guitars come in all different shapes and sizes and I don't think I'm speaking strictly for myself when I say we're all getting very spoiled. But the Orville Gibson is the real deal. It is a guitar of true character that calls out to be played. And the harder you play it the better it sounds. Hat's off to Orville Gibson and the sprit that inspired him to achieve perfection. It doesn't get better then that.   

Next month - recording Aerial Acoustics and the Chinery Collection Part Four - the Martin jumbo vs. Martin parlor: which is louder? You'd be surprised.  

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 / November 2002


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