How to be prepared for any recording situation, good or bad.
The music industry has changed radically from the days of cassette tapes. We now download music from the internet, share music for free, and with the help of any computer, we can have a full-on recording setup for a few hundred dollars. Everyone and their mother is making music, playing music, and downloading music. Because of all this, the recording industry has changed drastically as well. Gone are the days when you needed a major-label recording budget to work in a world-famous studio. Those studios have been dying off for the past ten years. What’s left these days are a few major studios that can barely afford to stay open and thousands of personal recording studios: small one-room workstation studios for rent in business buildings, bedroom studios and laptop studios. My friends, it’s a free for all out there; recording is a battlefield.
Personally, I’ve recorded in every environment from the largest and most expensive rooms money can buy to just a guitar plugged straight into a laptop. I started out recording with a 4-track machine as a kid, worked my way up to way too many singer/songwriters sessions (in every studio setting imaginable), spent almost two months recording a major-label album (I was the guitarist in the band) that cost around $500,000. I’ve worked with other major-label artists as a session guitarist, and done tons of recording at home with my personal setup. Whether it’s recording demos in the best studios in the world or using a Line 6 POD straight into Pro Tools for Saturday Night Live’s recorded segments, the place and method don’t matter anymore. What matters is the product. In order to get the best product, I’ve found that the keys to success are: being prepared, having the right tools for any recording situation, and knowing how to work in any of these environments.
Through the years, I’ve had to figure out what’s important to bring to any type of session. I learned as I went, and each session taught me more about what was important. Obviously, there are too many musical styles and playing styles—not to mention reasons for being hired—to go into all of these tools. For example, I wouldn’t be hired to do a lap steel session for a country artist. That’s just not something I do. What I would like to focus on is general session work, ranging from pop music and singer/songwriters to commercials and rock. These are the sorts of things I’ve been called in to do.
Arm Your Weapons
First and foremost, choose your main weapon carefully. When you bring a guitar, it needs to be one you’re completely comfortable with and one that’s in top recording shape. I’ve had to do sessions where only one of my guitars was with me, and the producer didn’t have any other guitars available. At that point, it’s clutch to know how to coax different sounds out of your instrument, how it will sound best, and how to make it sound like you have different guitars in the session if need be. In any session, you must make sure your guitar is properly setup and well intonated. If it’s poorly intonated, you have half a guitar—anything above the 9th fret is most likely unusable, and you’ll spend half the session tuning to the notes you’re trying to play up on the fretboard. This will not only aggravate and frustrate the producer and the artist, but you as well, and the vibe (and your headspace) will be broken.
Second, bring two guitars or more whenever possible. For your second guitar, it’s best to bring something with a completely different sound, so you have a variety to choose from. One thing that has always worked well for me is to talk to the producer beforehand about what they’re looking for. If they only want rock ‘n’ roll à la AC/DC, then its more likely you should bring a Gibson Les Paul or an SG and leave the Telecaster home. Once you know the style and sound they’re going for, you can choose the appropriate instruments. Personally, I always bring a Stratocaster. That’s what I’m most comfortable playing and what I know how to use best. I like to bring one Stratocaster (typically my Nash Strat) and something that has a humbucker pickup for more rock type stuff. A general rule of thumb: one guitar with single-coil pickups and one with humbuckers. That should cover most needs.
If you have a certain style and a certain rig that you use get your sound, then that may be all you need. If you were someone like the Edge, where your schtick is delay pedals, chimey guitars, etc., then you should just bring the guitars you need to achieve your personal style. If your thing is chicken-pickin’ country licks, and you’re getting hired for just that, then there’s no need to bring that Les Paul. I usually need to be a one-man guitar arsenal, so variety is a necessity. When I can, I’ll bring one Strat, a Tele and a something with humbuckers. If you do that, they’ll think you came prepared and that you have the tools to give them any style they need. It goes a long way.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. The guitars you bring to your session are your weapons. Choose them wisely, for you will be doing battle with them. This is a huge part of recording. Next month, I’ll be addressing some of the key accessories you need to have with you at all times to survive in the recording battlefield, so stay tuned. It’s a jungle out there.
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 to myspace.com/jaredscharffmusic.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.