This month I’ve decided to take a crucial side trip into an area that is extremely useful for discovering exactly how you sound to both yourself and your respective audience. What it is you ask? The answer is the art of recording. The importance of this to your self-discovery cannot be overstated.
Before the emergence of the good old two-track cassette reel-to-reel tape recorder there were all kinds of hassles involved in making any type of multi-track recording. Most of us were challenged in this department because at the time a standard consumer quality two-track tape deck was quite expensive – fetching even more money than a good Gibson or Fender electric guitar.
Fortunately, things are much different today – you can now create decent recordings of yourself, even on a budget. Several of the most important tools you should own in this day and age of high quality, bang-forthe- buck multi-track digital recorders are a few decent quality microphones, such as the Shure SM 57 and the Sennheiser e609 S Silver model. Both are dynamic mics, ideal for close mic’ing an amp’s speaker. You will also want a decent condenser microphone for distant mic’ing, such as the Audio-Technica AT4040. The Shure and Sennheiser should cost approximately $89 to $110, while the condenser mic can be found for around $300.
So why are we talking about microphones? I’ll admit that I got into recording very late in the game – I should have had a simple four-track machine 20 years earlier than I did. However, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. When I finally stumbled into multi-track recording, I first tried to capture myself as I truly sounded. I had a unique opportunity to review microphones beforehand, so I took my time in listening to about 20 different models of both dynamic and condenser mics, and then chose the models that sounded the best to my ear – in other words “like me.” This early multimicrophone experiment was the critical glue that eventually led me to discover that everything matters in the reproduction of what we refer to as sound. Chances are if I hadn’t done such extensive listening I wouldn’t be writing this column now.
Your objective should be to simply observe what happens any time the signal chain gets altered, and it just so happens that the very best way to find out how these alterations change the soundscape is to record them and then compare the differences side-by-side. There are huge benefits on many levels to trying this. First, you’ll get an honest glimpse at how you sound at that moment. And second, you’ll be able to experiment to your heart’s content until you tweak everything to where it sounds how you want it to sound.
There are two basic components I want to concentrate on right here: tone and style. The second component – style – is the direct result of the first element – tone.
These two components will co-exist and flow into each other as long as you pay attention to how your playing evolves from any tonal changes that have been made to your signal path.
Let’s use a simple fuzz pedal as an example. There are a ton of fuzz boxes on the market today and they all have their own sound to offer. However, all of them will severely affect how you play the guitar, partly as a result of their sound, but more importantly in the way the pedal feels. Have you ever noticed that some players sound incredible playing a particular model of fuzz, while others will sound quite bad using the very same fuzz?
This is one of those things that may take some time, on a few levels. There is generally a learning curve where your mind will have to completely surrender to and accept the given effect in order to properly adapt your fingers and touch for getting the optimal results with any given fuzz pedal. Remember, touch includes your picking hand, too.
This is just one example of how you can use the technique of recording yourself to see whether something really works for you or not. Any way you look at it, this technique will immensely increase your ability to weed out any component that isn’t “you,” while at the same time giving you ample opportunities to find the things you need to create your own personal stamp. The key issue here is to be open-minded and flexible, as you can never know what will give you what you’re looking for. But most importantly, have fun experimenting.
Dean Farley is the chief designer of "Snake Oil Brand Strings" (www.sobstrings.net
) and has had a profound influence on the trends in the strings of today