Let’s take a look at a cool piece of gear that can help make better guitar recordings. Made by Creation Audio Labs in Hermitage, Tennessee, the MW1 Studio Tool was designed from the ground up to solve some of the common problems we encounter when plugging in to get that killer take.
I’ll admit that when I first checked this unit out I was skeptical about having another “toolbox.” But once I saw – and heard – what it could do, it went right into my rack, and I’ve used it on just about every session since. The MW1 can act as a transformerless D.I. adding no coloration to your sound, or it can record D.I. and multiple amp tracks simultaneously. It can be used to re-amp tracks that have already been recorded or to add guitar pedals to them.
Featuring phase and ground lift switches for noise elimination and an always active Tuner Output, the MW1 is great for muting your guitar via the front panel Mute button and tuning up silently. There’s a super clean Boost output with up to +30dB of gain – a direct relative of the company’s MK.4.23 pedal boost. You can also plug pro level studio gear like EQs or compressors directly in front of your guitar amp signal. Finally, there are both input and output impedance choices for tone shaping and helping to keep interference down with long cable lengths.
The basic design came about when Creation Audio Labs worked with multi-platinum producer/engineer Michael Wagener, hence the name, MW1. Michael is known for the huge guitar tones from acts such as Ozzy Osborne, Metallica and Queen. He worked with those bands to design a box that not only solved common recording problems, but also maintained the highest level of sonic quality.
I’ll briefly mention just a few ways in which I’ve used it recently which may help shed some light on how you might apply it to your own sessions. First, I set it up so that there is a 1/4” cable plugged into the rear Instrument Input. Then, another 1/4” cable goes from the rear Buffered Output to a rack tuner, which is always active. The Boost Output jack on the rear then feeds my guitar amp closet and the XLR Line Level Output runs directly into a single channel of my Pro Tools 192 I/O. Going the other direction, another channel from my 192 I/O then goes to the XLR Line Level Input, which is used for re-amp duties.
When cutting electric guitar parts using an amp, I just plug into the Instrument Input cable, mic up the amp with a separate preamp, and set the level using the Clean Boost on the front, which also lets me selectively drive the amp’s input gain. In addition, I’ll record the D.I. output to a separate channel, from which I can add software amp plug-ins such as Amp Farm or Eleven.
Wisely, they made all of the outputs on this box live at the same time, so, for the most part, the front mimics the rear. This would allow you to record up to six amps at once from a single input. For a simple second amp setup, you could run a 1/4” out from the front Tuner or Boost Output.
Quite often my old amps do have quirky ground issues, with obvious buzzes in the recording chain. An old Magnatone M-10A of mine did this on a recent session, so I engaged both the MW1’s Chassis Ground Lift and Line Level Input Pin 1 Lift, both accessible on the rear of the unit, which solved the problem delivering a crystal clear signal with no buzz.
While recently recording guitarist Scott E. Moore – no, not that one – we ran the K&K Pure Western soundboard transducer from his ‘34 Gibson L-00 acoustic to the MW1 Instrument Input. We sent that signal out to a Gibson Falcon amp with a touch of reverb and tremolo, and mic’ed it up using the D.I. path as a second “clean” channel. Finally, I mic’ed the L-00 directly using an Earthworks QTC1, offering the ability to dial in a great, fat sound from the three individual sources.
What the MW1 has done is totally streamline my guitar recording process. In one single-space rack box, I’ve got a high-end D.I., amp splitter, re-amp unit and a simple, great way to use my stompboxes in a mix. Plus, it keeps all of my cables neat and out of the way, which lets me think about nothing but the performance.
Check out this video rundown of the MW1, featuring Michael Wagener himself, courtesy of Creation Audio Labs.
Check out this video featuring Bryan Lionman walking you through the MW1's features, also courtesy of Creation Audio Labs.
is a producer, engineer and mixer who has worked with artists ranging from Al DiMeola to David Bowie. A lifelong guitarist, he’s also the author of Pro Tools Surround Sound Mixing and composes for such networks as Discovery Channel, Nickelodeon and National Geographic.