Ken Scott recommends
early in the
studio, on the spot,
rather than waiting
until later. Photo
courtesy of EMI
How much do you feel that preamps
and other gear factor into the sound
that you get?
From my standpoint, very little. I’ve worked
in so many different studios and they’re
all different. For me, the most important
part of a studio—and the thing that has to
be right in the studio, there’s no two ways
about it—is the monitor system. Because if
the monitors aren’t right, then you have no
idea what you’re doing. You’re not listening
to the true sound. How do you work
with the sound if you don’t know that what
you’re listening to is right?
I put it that way—as being “right”—
because we all like to hear things slightly
differently. You get to know what you like
to hear. You hear that inside the studio
and outside the studio. Wherever you listen,
you’re listening for a particular kind
How important is the actual recording
space that the amplifier or speaker is in?
It’s not. You work with what you’ve got.
As far as guitars go, I don’t think it makes
that much difference. There are times that
I’d love to have a guitarist in a big hall so
you can get all of that amazing reverb from
the distant mic. But generally speaking, it
doesn’t matter… [Pauses.]
I suddenly realized as I’m saying this,
to a point I’m wrong! [Laughs.] There’s an
example with Mahavishnu Orchestra where
we started recording at Trident [Studios
in England], and everything went great.
This was Birds of Fire and we didn’t have
enough time to do the entire album, so
we came over to finish it off in the States.
We were booked into Criteria, down in
Florida. John [McLaughlin] immediately
blew up two 100-watt Marshalls. What it
was, the room was so dead. It was that time
with the Bee Gees and disco, and the sound
was very, very dead. John couldn’t get the
sound out of his amp without blowing it
up. Everything was turned full bore and it
just sounded quiet. Everything was being
sucked up. We finished up canceling the
sessions and moving to [NYC studio]
Electric Lady, which worked great. So
that’s an example where, yeah, the room
can affect everything.
What’s your recording process?
It depends on the musicians and the
music. With Missing Persons, because
Terry was one of the main writers, he
knew exactly what needed to happen
from the very beginning. Terry wanted
it to appear that the drums were pulling
everything along. He wanted to be ahead
of everyone the entire time. So the way
we worked with him was, it was just him
playing, no one else, no guide tracks or
anything. He just played the track. Once
we got a drum track that really swung,
that felt great, we knew we’d gotten the
basis for the track. Then we started to
overdub things. I felt so sorry for Patrick
O’Hearn, the bass player, because we’d
be doing a take and so often it was just
eighth-notes and Terry would be, “No,
no, no! You’ve got to hold back a bit. I’m
pushing, I’m pushing!” It was so minute
and Patrick was going through hell, but
it all worked in the end.
So in that instance, it was just drums.
Other times, it’s bass and drums, just
going for those. There are obviously
times where I’ve gone for guitars, bass,
and drums. And then I’ve overdubbed
from there. It depends.
You’ve said that the best way to learn
to record is to limit yourself to 4-track
Absolutely! It’s the thing of making decisions.
Because that’s something that, for
me, is missing these days. No one likes
to make a decision. That’s why albums
are taking three years now. They’ll record
something: “Tell you what, I don’t think
it will work, but let’s keep it until the
mix and make the decision then.” So
you finish up with 199 almost useless
tracks and you’re going to decide at the
end as to whether they work or not. It
makes mixing horrendous. Just make the
bloody decision up front. Have an idea
of the final product and make the decision
during the takes.
I always used to do it. We’d be going
through, “No, that’s not the take,” and
go back and erase it. I’d record over it
and keep on doing it. The decision was
made then and there: “Yes, that’s the
take, we’ll keep it.” That’s why I would
love engineers and producers to spend
some time working on 4-track because
obviously you have to make decisions.
Are you committing to compression
and EQ as it goes down?
Oh yeah, do it right. I like to hear the
record as we’re putting it together, the
When it comes time to mix, you’re basically
able to push the faders up and then
just be creative with what you want to
do with the mix. You don’t have to worry
about making the tracks work.
Yes, absolutely. You already know it
works to 75-percent certainty, and it’s
just zeroing in on the other 25 percent
to make it magic.
Do you have a specific approach to
recording acoustic guitar?
My normal way of doing it would probably
be an AKG C414. I do it really
close, it’s angled at the hole or it’s angled
more toward the bridge end. I’ve found
that acoustic guitars are a little touchy.
You have to do more with the mic and
the mic placement with an acoustic guitar.
So I will experiment more with an
acoustic guitar, trying things.
Have you found any modern microphones
that are useful to you?
No—but there are always exceptions to
the rule. When I did Missing Persons,
the first set of recordings that I did with
them—which were originally supposed
to be demos, and they finished up being
amongst their most popular songs—we
went into Frank Zappa’s studio to record.
Frank had just had that studio built. He
was on the road and he wanted to come
straight back in and start working in the
studio. He knew my reputation for finding
every possible fault that there is in
a studio, so he allowed us to have it for
free knowing that I would find all the
faults and get them fixed before he came
back off the road. The problem was
that all of his best mics, which were the
ones that I would normally use, he had
on the road because he recorded every
single performance. So we had to work
with his sort of “B” mics. When you hear
the album, there’s a mix of some of those
tracks that we did there with the “B” mics
and the rest of the stuff I did at my regular
studio with the “A” mics and you can’t hear
As I say, it’s down to the monitors,
because if you know what you’re listening
to, you can adjust to anything.
For someone who’s working at home
and they’re trying to do a professional sounding
recording, do you recommend
that they go rent some of those A-list
microphones or should they try to get the
sounds with microphones they can afford?
No, try and get the sounds with the microphones
they can afford. But make sure that
what they’re listening to is good.
So put the money in the monitors.
Yes, absolutely, every time.
How can an artist keep their creative
spark and be willing to take chances?
You have to make music for yourself, to
make you happy. You can’t make it to have
a hit. Too many acts these days, they’re
out there to get a record deal or to make
money or to become famous. The Beatles
never started that way, The Who never
started that way. Jeff Beck never started
that way. They started because they wanted
to make music. U2—the same. They
made music because they enjoyed making
music, and people started to like it. That’s
the way to do it.
If you’re doing it purely to make money,
you’re never going to be happy. Because
more often than not, you’re not going
to make that money! If you’re making it
to please yourself, at least you’ve always
pleased yourself. If other people like it,
that’s the icing on the cake.
The other thing is, play out live as
much as possible. You learn your gig from
the audience, from what they give back to
you. You don’t learn your gig in the garage,
rehearsing, rehearsing, and rehearsing. You
don’t get to know what people think of
what you’re trying to do.
Any other tips for capturing great guitar
recordings beyond what we’ve talked
It needs to come from the guitarist in the
first place. If you take Mick Ronson, his
sounds were always unique. He’d get his
tone by going through a wah-wah, finding
the place where we all liked the sound and
then leaving the wah-wah there. You find
your own techniques to get what you want
across. It’s just a question of experimenting
and finding what works for you.