If you had the chance to ask questions about recording the Beatles, what would you want to know? In part two of our interview with producer/engineer Ken Scott, Premier Guitar
turned the floor over to
Beatles-hungry musicians with a desire for details. Mr. Scott was gracious enough to respond to their queries.
How much did the room sound of Studio 2 have to do with the ambience of the White Album?
Any room has a certain amount to do with what goes on. “Yer Blues,” as we discussed [in part 1
], was recorded in the small room. “Piggies” was recorded in Studio 1, which was huge. “Martha My Dear” and “Dear Prudence” were recorded at Trident, which had a totally different sound, so it’s hard to say what affect the room sound of Studio 2 had, because the album is so varied. If they were playing quieter, there was more pickup of Ringo. If they were loud, you wouldn’t hear as much of the room.
Was there anything different about the way it was set up acoustically—more live or dead?
Every session was set up exactly the same way, at least to start with. At Abbey Road you followed your predecessors, who had determined the best place for everything. On occasion we changed it slightly, but what they spent years finding out was normally the best.
Did they generally record with the floor uncovered or with rugs?
Always with rugs. In Studio 2 it helped with the drums at least not sliding forward too much. With the wood floor there was no way to stick spurs in without ruining it. Generally there weren’t rugs throughout, just under their instruments, so when needed there was enough ambience from the room.
Were there issues using sensitive condenser mics on cranked AC30s, etc.?
No, I certainly never had a problem with the U67s and U87s.
Did each Beatle have a particular intrinsic idea about what they thought both a guitar and amp should sound like? Did they walk into the studio and plug into whatever was there and just play, or did they fiddle around with settings a lot?
They would always walk in, plug in and work through the songs to determine what the songs would be. Then they might change guitars and amps, and we’d EQ it once we knew the direction of the song and what was needed. In the early days, they didn’t have much gear to mess around with, and they didn’t have the time. They were doing sessions from 2:30 to 5:30 and 7 to 10. When they eventually gave up touring, they didn’t have to worry about budgets or time anymore and people gave them plenty of gear.
On the title track to A Hard Day’s Night, is the solo on George’s 12-string Rickenbacker doubled by harpsichord or something?
That was George Harrison on the Rickenbacker and George Martin on piano at half speed. When you play it at normal speed, that’s what you hear.
What can you tell us about “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from White Album? Any details on the crazy cool guitar solo by Clapton?
Clapton only played on the one track, and with regard to the recording, I have no recollection of him playing! It’s one of the most historical moments in Beatles history and I have no recollection of it at all! I do remember that Eric didn’t want his guitar to sound like a normal Eric Clapton guitar solo, so we used an effect designed by Ken Townsend, which was called either ADT, automatic double tracking, or phasing or flanging. Each is dependent upon how fast you moved this one dial. Chris Thomas remembers sitting and turning the dial fast every time we had to run the track, so that it would make Eric’s guitar sound weird. It’s the original tape flanging used a lot at Abbey Road.
Were there times when you felt that the White Album was a collection of four solo projects under one label?
I guess so, because at the time that overdubs were being done, it was just the songwriter there, controlling everything. The basic tracks were cut as a band. They were together and had a great time. On a couple of occasions, yes, it felt like four solo albums, but overall it was a band project.
What did John use on “Revolution” to create the fuzz tone? Was it a fuzz box or did he blow a speaker?
Neither. They were overdriving two of the mic preamps on an EMI REDD desk that was being used at the time. I was a mastering engineer at the beginning of the White Album recordings, and I happened to go to Studio 3, where they were recording that track. John, Paul and George were all in the control room and had their guitars plugged directly into the board, and Ringo was all on his own on the drums in the studio. Geoff Emerick came up with a very cool way to distort by going in one preamp to overload and into another preamp to distort it even more.
Do you have a favorite Beatles song, and is it one you worked on?
I have several favorites. “We Can Work It Out” is my favorite from Paul. From George, “Something.” From John, “A Day In The Life” and “Strawberry Fields.” From Ringo—not a Beatles song—“It Don’t Come Easy.”
What, if anything, would you have changed on the original recording of All Things Must Pass?
On the original, at the time I would have changed nothing. It was made the way George and I thought it should be made. Thirty years later, in his studio, laughing together, we would have changed it drastically. Neither of us understood why that much reverb was put on anything. We discussed doing it “Un-Spectorized,” taking off the reverb and making it more dry, but the reissue had to be as it was, and all too soon afterward, George got sick and never had a chance to do it.