I N   T H E   S T U D I O  

                                                                                               JACK & JOE  NAPOLI

RECORDING AERIAL ACOUSTICS AND THE CHINERY COLLECTION: PART 2

 

THE DYER SYMPHONY HARP GUITAR

 

    If you love guitars like we do, than you never get tired of hearing them. As our good friend and guitar guru, Jim Rickard, use to say, "I never met a guitar I didn't like." Jim was the head engineer at Ovation guitars for over 16 years. He was with the company from the very beginning. In fact, he was the one responsible for the invention of the Ovation piezo electric guitar pickup. It was this pickup feature that really helped put Ovation on the map. As you can imagine, Jim heard a lot of guitars in his day. Sadly, he passed away about seven years ago. It's not often that you get to sit and talk with a master like Jim. It was an experience that will truly last a lifetime. We learned many of the ins and outs of guitar design and construction from Jim. We also learned how a guitar projects sound and how to capture that sound properly using a microphone. What we learned from Jim really came in handy when it came time to record Aerial Acoustics. 

    In last month's article we told you how we met Aerial Acoustics. We also covered the basic recording setup that was used to capture their unique sound. In the next few articles we’re going to take a closer look at the individual guitars that were used in the making of their latest CD, Myriad. 

    Dorothy and Dennis really wanted each song on their new CD to have a unique sound. They felt that each guitar should add a color, or texture, that would complement the musical landscape they were determined to paint. Such was the case with the composition "Nighttime Conversation." When you hear this song you get the feeling of sitting at a table on the sidewalk in front of some quaint little café at night. The song has a beautiful melody, which builds on itself as it progresses. To achieve this effect, the guitars had to be layered over one another. This is known as overdubbing and is the process by which the player first records a foundation track then adds to it by playing along with what was just recorded. 

    Several guitars from the Chinery collection were used to record "Nighttime Conversation." One of them was the Dyer Symphony Harp Guitar. For those of you who have never heard this guitar you don't know what you’re missing. It has a rich sound, with lots of overtones. This is do to its design. The lower half of the guitar looks just as it does on any conventional dreadnought. But the top half of the upper bout incorporates a large extension of the guitar's body, which runs up and over the length of the guitars neck. At the end of this extension is a separate headstock. The two headstocks are joined together by a small piece of brass. The upper bout's extension also has a sound hole to allow the sound of the upper cavity to escape. Four large harp like strings are attached to the bridge and run up and over the upper extension. They are attached to separate tuning pegs at the extension's headstock. The Dyer looks like a cross between a harp and a guitar. This harp like design is how it got its name. When the guitar is played the upper bass strings ring in sympathy. (If you're interested in sympathetic vibration read our August issue of TCG). The sound this guitar produces is very powerful. Each note rings out loud and clear and sounds like it could sustain forever. It was the perfect choice to record the foundation track to "Nighttime Conversation."

    The song features a beautiful melody line, which at times is played using two guitars - an Orville Gibson and a D'Angelico arch top; we'll tell you more about those in the next few articles. A 6-string Taylor model W-14c was also used, along with the Dyer Harp Guitar, to add a supporting rhythm to the melody. This guitar was played by Dennis. At times these two guitars have a separate melody all their own that seems to surface in and around the main melody. This is due to the arrangement and it gives the song a beautiful melodic feel. 

    As you may have already guessed this song was complicated to record from the start. Because so many guitars were used a few problems came up that had to be addressed before recording could begin. The first one was the arrangement. The guitars would have to be arranged so that they all had their own sonic space, which would help to separate them in the mix. But this problem could not be solved completely by arrangement alone. At times six guitars can be heard playing at once. Because they were all acoustic guitars and some of them were playing either in or close to the same register, they had a tendency to cover each other up. All the eq in the world could not separate them when it came time to mix the song. Generally, it's not a good idea to use eq for this purpose, to much cutting, and especially boosting of frequencies can introduce harmonic distortion to the signal. The way we got around this problem was to select guitars that would complement each other in the final mix. Individually, these guitars might fool you into thinking that they might not be the right choice, but when they were all recorded and layered together they would strengthen and reinforce each other. What we were attempting to do was create a sonic wall of guitars. Each guitar had it's own unique sonic character that would help to give it its own separate space in the song. The Dyer was chosen to record the rhythm part because of its dense melodic overtones. These overtones helped support the melody. By now you can see for yourself why Myriad took so long to record -one year to be exact.

    After the guitars were chosen it was time to start recording. First, we started by recording a reference guitar track, which was played by Dorothy. While listening to a click track, Dorothy played the song in its entirety, playing the melody and rhythm at the same time, in a true classical fashion. This guitar track would be used as a guide track to overdub the other guitars. It would help keep the players in time and also serve as a reference point, so they knew where they were in the song. Six separate guitars would be recorded over the reference track. In the final mix the reference guitar would be removed, leaving only the other six.

     Once the reference track was completed we set up to record the Dyer Harp. We have to be honest, having never recorded a harp guitar before; we weren't sure which mic placement to use. The guitar's projection is wider than a standard dreadnought. For the most part, the sound that a dreadnought produces comes from the soundboard. The neck area of the guitar produces overtones, but the true sound comes from the soundboard area.

     The first order of business was to get Dorothy comfortable. If a player isn't comfortable they won't be able to play correctly. Because Dorothy is a classically trained player this was a very important first step. She is use to holding and balancing the guitar a certain way. This aspect is almost always overlooked by the novice engineer. Once she was settled in and ready to record, we asked her to play the song. While she played I listened carefully to the sound that was being produced. Quite often it is the player's individual playing style that will determine where to place the mic.

     As we mentioned before the Dyer's sound is huge. Two mics placed in stereo alone wouldn't capture it all. So here's what we did. We selected a few condenser mics and one large tube mic. The condensers we used were Audio-Technica 4041s. We've found that these mics sound very similar to Neumanns in the same class and at less than half the price are a real bargain. The tube mic we used was an AKG C24. This is a vintage stereo tube mic and sounds killer on acoustic guitar.

     The C24 was placed about three feet from the guitar where the neck meets the body. The top capsule was aimed at where the neck joins the body. The bottom capsule was aimed at the bridge. The two 4041s were spaced far apart. One was down by the lower bout, aimed at the bridge. The other was up by the soundboard of the upper extension. These mics were also placed about 3 feet away. We made sure that all the mics were in phase with each other. Phasing can be a cool effect in the studio, but in this situation, where we were trying to record the true sound of this guitar, phasing would be a total nightmare.

     The C24's signal was sent to a Telefunken V72 stereo pre amp. From there, the signal ran into a Crane Song SC-8 stereo compressor and then right to analog tape. No eq was used on the C24's signal. The compressor was set to compress the overall signal, but at about a 3:1 ratio. Dorothy is a very even player and we didn't want to squash the sound too much. We just wanted to control it a little so we could get a good solid level to tape. The signal of the pair of 4041 s was sent to two API mic pre amps. The signal from the mic pres was sent to a Manley Vari Mu stereo compressor. The compressor's controls were set similar to that of the Crane Song -just enough compression to control the signal to get a good level on tape. From the Manley the signal was sent direct to tape. No eq was used on these mics either.

     When we listened to the play back we were all very pleased with the results. The Dyer sounded fantastic and as we began to overdub the rest of the guitars we knew we made the night choice in choosing it to record the foundation guitar.

     Capturing the sound of this guitar was a unique experience but we're not finished yet; there's more to come. For more information about Aerial Acoustics or if you'd like to download some mp3s, you can visit their official web site: www.aerialweb.com.

 

Next month -recording Aerial Acoustics and the Chinery Collection part three: the Orville Gibson

 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 /  October  2002


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