Keith Olsen at Sammy Hagar’s house on the first day of rehearsal for Standing Hampton.
Photo courtesy Keith Olsen
Recording electric guitar is really easy,
because you don’t want to use EQ if you
don’t have to—you can just use the tone
controls on the amp. Once you get the
sound you want, just get it from the speaker
into the console. The mic that I use all the
time is the [Shure] SM57. You can’t really
record a snare drum or an electric guitar
without a ’57. You can use other mics along
with it, mic’ing distant and this, that, and
the other thing. But make sure you have
one real close where the speaker is, where
you’re right at the face of the piston instead
of off that voice coil—because there you’re
getting all that cone distortion, because
the cone bends in different ways at different
frequencies. Sometimes it’s pretty
ugly distortion, sometimes it’s good distortion.
It’s not even, so you want to be in a
place where the distortion is all from the
motor—a speaker is a motor, so you want
to record it at the header instead of after
the muffler. [Laughs.]
You mentioned using additional mics and
distant mics. Do you ever do that kind of
thing, or do you rely on just the SM57
Remember “Still of the Night” or “Here I
Go Again” [from Whitesnake’s self-titled
1987 album]? That guitar sound is two
mics: It’s a ’57 on one EVM 12L [speaker],
and then an AKG C 451 with a 10 dB pad
on it on the next one over—also an EVM
12L—in a 2x12 Marshall combo with an
If you want to get room ambience, then
you put an AKG C 12 or a C 414 up at
probably four or five feet off the ground,
facing directly at the amp about six feet
away—because remember, six feet away is
about six milliseconds. As soon as you get
past 10 feet away, then you start getting
slap delay. You want ambience, not delay.
The other thing I always do [for ambience]
is decouple the speakers from the
floor. I always get it off the floor and then
tip it back a little bit so it’s aiming off to
some wall. The angle of incidence—the
angle of reflection—will send it around
the room so you can start generating all of
that room ambience. That’s how we did
most of those parts.
Olsen's "Shavering" Cab-Mic'ing Technique
Keith Olsen has perfected a technique
for placing microphones on guitar cabinets
that he calls “shavering,” because
as he moves the mic into place, the
sound resembles what you hear from an
electric razor. Here’s how you shaver.
1. With your amp still on (and not on
standby), unplug the 1/4" instrument
cable from your guitar but not the amp.
2. Turn the amp’s gain and/or volume
up until there is audible hiss.
3. While wearing headphones to monitor
the sound from the microphone,
position the mic near the grille in front
of the approximate point at which the
edge of the speaker’s voice coil or
dust cover meets the speaker cone.
4. Move the microphone around the
edge of the dust cover, listening to
the change in the hiss as you do so.
5. Stop when you find the spot where
the hiss has the highest pitch or
brightest sound. Leave the mic pointing
at this spot.
6. Additional mics can be placed in the
room or on the speaker as desired
for enhancement, but this microphone
should provide the majority of
Do you prefer doing that in a large room
or a small room?
At Goodnight L.A. [Olsen’s own studio], the
guitar room was probably 10 feet by 14 feet—
it was fairly dead. And when I say “fairly
dead,” I mean if I’d stuffed any more fiberglass
in there, it would have become an anechoic
chamber. [Laughs.] It was fairly dead. But
when I was doing leads and stuff like that, I
would bring the amps out of the guitar room
and put them in a fairly live, open room.
Any other thoughts on capturing great
Yeah. You can get a great guitar, a great
amp, great mics, a great speaker, and have
really cool stuff everywhere, but if the guitar
player isn’t happy, you’re not going to
get it. If the guitar player needs to hear it
screaming loud, put him out there in the
room and that’ll do it. A lead guitar player
has to have enough volume so that there is
that feedback to the strings. That only happens
at a certain volume level, so you just
gotta deal with it.
What about your approach to acoustic
First, get a really good acoustic guitar.
Then, all I can say is you’ve got to use your
ears. It’s an acoustic instrument. You’ve got
to hear what the mic hears. The mic doesn’t
differentiate between wanted and unwanted
sounds. So you’ve got to really use your ears
and just mess with it.
I don’t particularly like putting mics up
on the fretboard—I don’t think it’s necessary
and it never really comes off. If it’s a
really good-sounding guitar, the amount
of squeaking and natural movement of the
hand will be amplified all the way down
the strings [to the mic near the soundhole
and soundboard] and it will be part of the
Occasionally, I record acoustic guitars
in stereo, but then what do you do with
it? As you’re starting things, you’ve got
to look at the big picture. Because if you
have a kit of drums, you’re going to have
snare drum and kick drum in the middle.
If you’ve got a lead singer, he’s going to be
in the middle. Then there’s that guy who
plays bass—he’s got to be in the middle.
And then, if you’ve got an acoustic guitar
player, well gee, you recorded him in stereo—
it’s just going to sound like it’s in the
middle. There’s all this stuff that ends up
being in the middle. Certain things sound
great in stereo, other things you don’t get
as much phase shift and you get a better
image in the end [with one mic] and just
Is there a particular mic you rely on
I’ve used Neumanns. I like using smallcapsule
condensers if the guitar has a lot
of boominess in it—you don’t want to use
a large- or a medium-sized capsule. There
is an Audio-Technica mic that is stunning
on acoustic guitars—the AT4033. It uses a
different alloy on the capsule—I think it’s
silver instead of gold. It’s really great. I just
found that by accident.
That’s not an expensive mic, either.
That’s not an expensive mic, no. I’m drawing
a blank on artists right now, but there
are a couple of singers that won’t sing a lead
vocal without that mic. It has that edge to it.
What’s your approach to recording
Get a really good transformer DI [direct box],
get a good-sounding amp, and this time don’t
“shaver” the mic—because you want to just
get the poof of air from the speaker. Just mix
that in and make sure you get it in phase.
What mic would you put on the bass
amp to do that?
I’ve used Electro-Voice RE20s, I’ve used
RCA [Type] 77-DXs, I’ve used a Royer ribbon,
and I’ve used a Neumann U 47 FET.
Because it’s such a small part of the sound
that gets to the mix, just about anything
works. You’re really just looking to move
air—you’re using maybe 25 percent of it and
75 or 85 percent of the DI [signal]. The only
other thing to do is to make sure that when
you want to compress, be sure you link the
compressors [on the DI and the mic] so that
when you compress the DI, you’re compressing
the same amount on the speakers and it
stays balanced and stays the same color.
Olsen's Go-To Mics
Throughout his career, Keith Olsen has relied on a wide range of microphones to capture
his world-class recordings. Here we list his favorites for a variety of applications.
To mic electric-guitar cabs, Olsen always uses a Shure SM57 up close. He’ll also use an
AKG C 451 condenser as a secondary close mic and/or a condenser such as an AKG C
414 as a more distant ambience mic.
Olsen considers an Audio-Technica AT4033 an invaluable acoustic mic, but he’ll also
sometimes use a small-diaphragm Neumann condenser.
To capture thumping bass tones that also breathe, Olsen prefers a direct box with a
Neve transformer in it for 75–80 percent of the signal. For the remaining 20–25 percent
of the signal, he usually uses an Electro-Voice RE20 dynamic, a Royer ribbon mic
(such as an R-121), an RCA Type 77-DX, or a Neumann U 47 FET as a secondary mic
to add some “air.”
Olsen’s go-to mic for capturing some of the biggest, most recognizable voices in modern
music is an AKG C 414.
A lot of Premier Guitar readers record at
home. How much of a difference do you
think the gear really makes in the results
they can get?
Oh boy, that’s a loaded question. [Laughs.] If
you have a great song and a great performance
of that song, it doesn’t matter where it’s recorded
or how it’s recorded. You could record it in
your bathroom on a wire recorder that you got
from your grandfather—it’s still a great song.
Gear, equipment, it makes some difference.
Really high-end gear makes a difference. Is the
stuff that you can buy at Sweetwater or Guitar
Center good enough? Sure it is! You can get
that piece of software that PreSonus makes,
and their I/O box, and you can record really
great-sounding stuff. It’s really good. But,
you have to buy the gear, own the gear, learn
how to use the gear really well. And then you
have to learn how to play again—because you
haven’t been practicing because you’ve been
learning how to use all this gear!
How many bands are on MySpace and
have a page on Facebook? You’ve got to do
everything you can to get a leg up. One of
the things that gives you a leg up is if you
have a great song. And if you’re capable of a
great performance, then don’t let technology
get in the way: Pay a guy and go into a real
studio where you can be an artist and you
can work on getting a great performance of
that great song instead of saying, “Huh, I
wonder what this equalizer plug-in does?”
Yes, you can get good stuff at home.
Most of the time, the issue at home is
acoustics—what you’re hearing [in the
room]—not the quality of the gear. The
A-to-D [analog-to-digital] converters in
that PreSonus box that sells for $299 are
really good. Are they good enough? Well
yeah, probably. But there again, what is
more important, a great sound on the kick
drum or a great song?