Last month, we began talking about the recording industry. It’s seen some major changes through the years, but one thing always remains: producers and artists will always need musicians with talent. Here’s the fine print: skill on your instrument does not mean that you’re an ace session musician or that you know how to achieve goals in a studio environment. Just as you spend time learning to play your instrument, you must spend time and hone your craft working in a studio. Last month, we got into the most important things a guitar player can do when entering a studio situation. Arm yourself with the best weapons you have to do your work; in this case, your guitars are your main weapons. But just like any battle, the weapon isn’t the only tool that has a huge impact. This month, lets talk about the accessories needed in any studio environment.
Here’s what I bring to each and every session: tuners, multiple full sets of strings (single-string extras as well), multiple capos (different brands), a string winder and cutter, picks of many different types, quality recording cables, small cables for pedal connections, power pedal supplies, and batteries. All of this probably seems pretty obvious, but I’ll go into detail about what it all means.
I started working with D’Addario when I started at SNL. I always loved their strings and thought they sounded amazing. Most importantly, they rarely break. At SNL, I have multiple guitars on hand, and I don’t have time to change full sets of strings on all the guitars. It just takes too much time. The guitars live at the show, so I don’t ever take them home and change all the strings. I’m sure you’re thinking, “You use the same strings for a whole season?” Kind of. Since we only play about six hours a show, one show a week, it’s not too much useage (certainly enough for strings to go bad quickly, though). But since I started using the D’Addario strings on all my guitars, the strings last, continue to sound fantastic, and most importantly, rarely break. Now, I beat the living hell out of my guitars and strings. I use the .011 gauge XL nickel round wounds. They’re rock solid and sound amazing. I probably break a string once every four to seven shows.
For recording, I don’t like the sound of brand-new strings. I found the perfect solution in using the D’Addario Pure Nickel Round Wound strings. They come out of the gate with a much mellower sound, sort of like two-day-old strings. I bring multiple sets of strings to these recording sessions because sometimes I’ll want to use one of studio’s guitars on a track. Most likely, those strings haven’t been changed in months; they’ll feel like telephone poles and sound like mud. And of course, I also bring a bunch of single-string backups for the occasional string break, so I don’t have to dip into a fresh set.
Guitar tuners. Why more than one? Sure, that pedal tuner is doing a great job with your electric. But it’s time to record the acoustic— oh, it doesn’t have an input jack! This is why I also bring a tuner with a mic. I use Planet Waves Metronome Tuner. It’s tiny, lasts forever and has a built-in mic. Another crucial tool to have in your arsenal is high-quality recording cable. Spend some money on great recording cables and keep them separate from your live applications. I can’t tell you how many hours of my life have been spent figuring out why a signal sounds terrible in a studio when nine times out of ten it’s been the cable. If you bring freshies you’re always good to go. I use Planet Waves Custom Pro Series cables. They’re extremely sturdy and sound very clear. I also bring a bunch of tiny cables for connecting pedals throughout the session. Those seem to break more than other cables, so it’s good to have a ton of them.
I also like to bring a few different brands of capos. I find that they all do different things to the guitar. It may be slightly obsessive, but I have certain tuning issues on guitars with capos, so I can swap out the capo and voilà. Problem solved. I typically bring a Planet Waves Dual Action Capo as well as a Shubb. Last but not least, the small things. Nine-volt batteries are a must. If your pedalboard power goes down, you’re going to need something to power those pedals! The show must go on, right? String winders and string cutters are necessary if you break a string.
As for picks, I like to use .72mm for electric, but I prefer the old-school Tortex style for recording acoustics. Every pick sounds different against a string, and in recording situations all those differences are highlighted. With acoustics, I think Tortex picks have less attack on the string, are easier on the ear, and let the notes shine more. The Edge uses a nylon pick with bumps on the thumb part. He turns it around in his hand so it’s the bumps that hit the strings when he does songs like “Where the Streets Have No Name.” That’s how he gets that sound! His guitar tech showed me that trick with an un-amplified guitar, and it was mesmerizing.
There ya’ go. Those are the accessories you’ll need to get you through the battle of recording guitars. Tune in next month, and we’ll get into stuff like amps and pedals!
Jared Scharff has been the house guitarist for the legendary Saturday Night Live band for the last two years. A Native New Yorker, Jared is also a recording artist, producer, songwriter and highly sought-after session player, and has shared the stage with Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Kid Rock, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Roger McGuinn and Debbie Harry. For more information on Jared, go tomyspace.com/jaredscharffmusic.
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