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Back in the ’80s, many guitar solos were very technically demanding. Could most of the guitarists come in and play them in a couple of takes, or did it take a lot of tries—or did you have to edit parts of various takes together?
In general, the players practiced until they could play the whole solo in one take. I remember Vito Bratta [White Lion] playing the solo to "Wait" while we were tracking the drums. We never replaced it, it was just great. There was some comping on some albums, but not to the extent it’s done today. You would maybe have a first half and a second half of a solo, which you comped together.
Since moving to Nashville, you've worked on projects in a wide variety of styles. Is your approach different for each style?
Each artist and each record deserves its own style, so yes, I approach different styles with different recording and mixing methods. The basics stay the same: I track with [Steinberg] Nuendo and mix through an SSL console using a ton of analog outboard gear, but the mics and setup are going to change with every artist.
You've got a huge collection of guitars and amps. How do you choose the one you want for a particular part?
Normally the musicians bring their own guitars and basses, but just in case those don't work for a particular part, I just might have an instrument that works. Over the years, I learned the sound of my own instruments very well and know which ones could work for certain parts. I have a Creation Audio Labs switching system—the Sentinel—and I can compare 20 amps and cabs in a few seconds. That makes the selection process very easy. I’m also using the Kemper Profiling Amp a lot. It has a lot of my amps stored in it and it sounds awesome.
“Normally the musicians bring their own guitars and basses,” recording guru Wagener says regarding the use of his expansive gear collection. “But just in case those don’t work for a particular part, I just might have an instrument that works.”
Do you record the Kemper direct or do you run it to a cabinet and mic it?
My profiles already include the amp, cab, mics, preamps, etc., so I normally use it direct. When I profile a sound, I have maybe one, two, or three amps going to a few cabs with different speakers and a bunch of microphones, which in turn are going through different mic preamps. All the mics are mixed together to one mono track, and then I profile that sound.
Other than having such easy access to all those tones, what’s your approach to recording guitar like today?
I use mainly Royer R-121 ribbon mics in combination with Royer R-101s or condenser mics like the Lauten Audio Horizon, the Miktek C7, or one of the cool Mojave Audio mics. The mics get placed very close, sometimes inside the speaker.
Do you have tricks for finding the best spot to place the mic on the speaker?
Yes—listen! [Laughs.] I re-amp a DI guitar track at low level back through the amp and use headphones to find the sweet spot. If you move the mic around in front of the speaker, you can clearly hear where the placement for the best sound is.
What Is Re-Amping?
Re-amping is a studio technique that allows the sound of an electric guitar to be changed after it has been recorded. Typically, you play your part through an amp, just like normal—but the amp’s sound is not recorded. Instead, the dry sound of the exact same electric-guitar part is simultaneously recorded through a direct box before it hits the amp. Later, the dry guitar track is played back through a re-amping box, which is sort of like a direct box in reverse: The output from the re-amping box is sent into an amp, which is mic’d up and recorded.
The advantage of re-amping is that you can try numerous different amps and effects and experiment with tones until you find exactly what is right for the track. Wagener’s tool of choice for re-amping is the Creation Audio Labs MW1, but other options are available from Radial Engineering, ART, Reamp, Millennia Media, and others.