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“When I’m mixing, I go away into Wagener Land for a few hours … It requires high concentration and I don’t want to be disturbed by anybody or anything in the control room—even opening a peanut will throw me off the track!”
Do you only use close mics, or do you also use room or distant mics?
I mainly use close mics, about an inch or two or three away from the speaker's center. Sometimes I use "Fritz" [a Neumann KU-100 head-shaped dummy with binaural stereo mics in its ears] for a room sound, especially on cleaner tones.
Do you prefer recording in a small or large space?
I would say medium for guitars. Since most of the ribbon mics have a figure-8 pickup pattern [which picks up sound from the front and back of the mic capsule], the reflections of a small room might get in the way. In general, medium-sized, sound-treated rooms are easier to control.
You developed the Creation Audio Labs MW1 direct-injection rack unit as a tool for recording guitar. What is it and how did it come about?
I met Sarge [Gistinger] from Creation Audio Labs at a NAMM show and he asked me, “If you could have any piece of gear for your studio, what would it be?” I was always looking for something that could match impedances and levels between studio gear and instruments, so we collaborated for nine months and the MW1 was born. It’s the brainchild of Alex Welti at Creation Audio Labs. I gave him some suggestions for different features, but Alex came up with a piece of gear way past my wildest imagination. It’s a studio Swiss Army knife that can help you solve a lot of little problems in getting a great guitar tone—I wouldn’t record bass or guitar without the MW1 in the chain.
What tricks have you found for making a rock mix sound big?
It's a matter of mixing each instrument to its fullest potential. In modern mixes, sometimes compressors get put on each track and all the instruments are always loud and in front. But I think creating dynamics—putting the right instrument in the front at the right point in the song—creates that bigness.
But how do you get guitars to sound huge when you also have huge drums and bass and a powerful vocalist?
The secret lies in mixing the important instrument up when it’s needed. That is a constant process that cannot be done by an automated or plug-in process—it's hands-on, all the time. When I’m mixing, I go away into Wagener Land for a few hours, because one move on a fader requires another one down the line. It requires high concentration and I don't want to be disturbed by anybody or anything in the control room—even opening a peanut will throw me off the track!
Tell us about the workshops you teach at your studio, WireWorld.
I do production workshops that go for seven days. We have a live band and go from pre-production to mastered product during that time. It's a hands-on experience for all the workshop guests. We compare mics, preamps, compressors, EQs, etc., talk about room acoustics, little tricks of the trade, and I try to answer any question the students might have. I have people coming from all over the world, so besides learning from me, they learn from each other. It's a great experience.
You’ve also recently started your Ears-4-Hire workshops. How are those different?
Those are more personal—I come to your studio and we work on your equipment to mix or record a song. I will point out weak spots in your studio and show you workarounds if you don't have the expensive gear.
Do you have advice for guitarists making their own recordings at home?
The most important thing is to find your own sound. In this time of plug-ins and presets, it's very important to create an individual sound. If you don't have enough space or can't crank your amp, record a good DI track with a great direct box and rent a big studio for a day to re-amp guitar tones—or use a re-amp service to get your tones.
Wagener’s Top Five Guitar Mics
Michael Wagener’s WireWorld studio is packed to the rafters with an amazing collection of recording and guitar gear. Here are some of his favorite microphones for capturing guitar amps. Wagener places the mics very close to the speaker, one to three inches away from its center.
Royer R-121 (ribbon), $1,295 street, royerlabs.com
Royer R-101 (ribbon), $799 street, royerlabs.com
Miktek C7 (large-diaphragm condenser), $899 street, miktekaudio.com
Lauten Audio Horizon LT-321 (large-diaphragm tube condenser), $1,099 street, lautenaudio.com
Mojave Audio MA-200 (large-diaphragm tube condenser), $,1095 street, mojaveaudio.com