It’s a practice in capturing extremes. On one extreme you have the single microphone capturing an acoustic guitar. Purity of tone is paramount. If you start with a great sounding Wayne Henderson Dreadnought, you only want to capture its incredible tone. One great microphone, minimal processing and you’re good to go. On the other extreme, you have an electric guitar with a variety of pedals and multiple boutique tube amplifiers feeding hemp cone drivers with everything at 11, for tone of course. And in the capture of those tones, multiple microphones with a pair of stereo DI’s and half a dozen plug ins to finish off the signal chain. The resulting tone is almost nothing like what was produced acoustically by the solid body G&L Stratocaster. But by adding multiple layers of unique distortion, you end up with the desired tone. Both techniques are perfectly useful and can produce beautiful music. I would like to explain how I do it. This is by no means the best way. Everyone’s approach to music production can be valid. It’s about the resulting emotion.
Our guitar players in Umphrey’s McGee are masters of their craft. Not only are they great players, they can create complex and gorgeous guitar tones which require only reproduction to fit into my mix, sans correction or modification. I want to capture their tones accurately, with some degree of isolation from the other onstage noise makers. I want to place them carefully in the mix so their natural dynamic playing stays mainly in the pocket, requiring only soft fader moves.
First let me explain how I capture their signals. Jake plays through two amps. His clean amp is a Schroeder DB9 tube head and matching cabinet with one 12″ Weber and one 12″ Celestion driver. His dirty amp is an Oldfield JC-110 tube head with matching cabinet containing two 12″EV drivers. Each cabinet is mic’ed with an Earthworks SR25 cardioid condenser microphone. Each amplifier’s parallel speaker out is routed to a Hughes & Kettner RedBox Pro, a great transformer-based direct box used as a post amplifier DI with passive filters which emulate the response of a closed back speaker cabinet. Brendan plays his clean tone through a Mesa Boogie Lonestar tube head with a Hard Trucker JG1 cabinet loaded with two 12″ EV drivers. His dirty tone is through an Oldfield Marquis 80 amp loaded with two 12″ Celestion drivers. Brendan’s cabinets are also mic’ed with Earthworks SR25’s, but use two Palmer PDI09 DI’s on the parallel speaker outputs. They complement his tone better than the RedBoxes.
Those eight signals continue into our Midas ProX console where I set the preamp level so each signal reaches about +3db to +6db when loudest. I like using as many bits of the A/D converter as I can without clipping. Once captured, I want to combine the mic and DI. I delay the DI signals to compensate for the time necessary for the sound wave from the speaker to reach the microphone. That measures out to about 0.33ms. This allows the signals to be combined without the comb filtering inherent with the different arrival times.
For the Schroeder, I pan the mic to 9:30 and the DI to 1:00 (as referenced to a clock face for those uninitiated). For the Oldfield I pan the mic to 1:00 and the DI to 9:30 (opposite the Schroeder). Those settings cause the combined signal to sit around 11:00ish in the stereo field. But since the mic and DI are slightly different, the image floats around a bit, adding depth of field without altering the signal or mangling it with plugins. Brendan’s signals are panned to 11:00 and 2:30, resulting in an image around 1:00ish. With Jake’s guitars floating around 11 and Brendan’s around 1, they maintain beautiful symmetry, slightly spread with depth and texture.
Because I like the signals coming from the Earthworks SR25s and the postamp DI’s, I use no parametric EQ or inline compression. The high pass filters are set between 80Hz and 100Hz depending on the amp. I do utilize parallel bus compression for each amp. I have 4 stereo subgroup buses for that use, one for each amp. The 8 channels of guitars are routed to the main Stereo mix bus and to its own compression bus which is also routed to the main Stereo mix bus. Like my drum channels, the dynamic uncompressed signal is combined with the heavily compressed subgroup signal. The main benefit for me is to add RMS energy to the guitar signals without the dulling effect that can come from inline compression. They sound beefier with than without the parallel compression, with all the attacking transients intact.
I like to keep the 8 guitar channel faders set at -6db and control their level with the assigned DCA fader for each player. The resulting tones are amazing, full of detail and complexity, captured and amplified and ready to be mixed with the rest of the band.