He argued that tape machines don’t work better, musicians work better with tape.
As illustrated by the smooth gray line, a sound wave is a continuous, unbroken event. In digital audio, sounds are sampled at various points, as shown by the red line. These samples are used to create a representation of the original wave.
Over beer and cheap Mexican food with Masa Fukudome, a Grammy-winning engineer and musical partner-in-crime, the conversation turned to tape-versus-digital, a topic as interesting as watching paint dry. Masa is so old-school that his email address contains “longliveanalog." Analog is warmer, bigger, more musical ... blah, blah, blah. I've heard it all and I'm telling you, the horseless carriage gets you where you want to go quicker. Computers work fast and they're accurate, clean, quiet, and cheap. Tape lacks all of these qualities. However, Masa made an interesting point that forced me to rethink recording: He argued that tape machines don't work better, musicians work better with tape.
Before I reveal Fukudome's theory of recording, let's review the differences: In theory, analog should sound better. Drop a pencil on the floor right now. That click-ick-ick-ick you hear is one continuous sound wave. Digital, by virtue of its nature, contains breaks for each sonic change, be it pitch, volume, or whatever.
Jonathan Strickland, a senior tech writer at HowStuffWorks, explains the consequences of chopping up a sound wave like this: “Some audiophiles argue that because analog recording methods are continuous, they are better at capturing a true representation of sound. Digital recordings can miss subtle nuances."
However, digital technology improves every year as digital devices use higher sampling rates. Although I don't have the science to back it up, I think of digital recording a bit like a TV or video screen. Enlarge a TV or video image and you'll see that images are actually composed of dots or pixels, yet our brain is able to fill in the missing parts. A digital recording of a sine wave may not look like its analog cousin, but our brains fill in what's missing. Unless a recording is truly terrible, most of us focus on the music, not on the subtleties of sound recording.
For most of us, the quality of a recording doesn't matter because we listen with bad gear. About 90 percent of my music listening takes place in the worst possible environment: the stock radio in my 1994 Mercury or MP3s and YouTube videos blasting from my laptop computer's cheap speakers. It must not sound that bad because I listen to music all the time. So, if digital is easier and cheaper and few of us can tell the difference, why does Masa Fukudome argue that analog remains the better way to record? Because musicians are more focused and involved when working with tape.
About seven years ago, I was recording to tape at Bayou Studio in Nashville doing some made-to-order tracks for a TV show. The producers specified that one section needed to contain 13 hits spaced roughly one second apart to correspond with a montage of 13 still photos. For some reason, our bass player—who will remain anonymous—had a difficult time playing it. After about five takes, he asked, “Can't you just fly in part of it?" To which the engineer replied, “Sorry boys, you've got to be able to play to record here." We all got a good laugh over this quip, but secretly marveled that musicians have devolved to the point where playing well isn't necessarily required.
Back in the days of magnetizing rather than encoding, we would rehearse, then track. Once we got a good take, everyone would pile into the control room and quietly listen while making copious notes on our charts. We would talk over arrangement ideas, and then track and re-track as a band until we had a great ensemble performance that was basically done. We would then add overdubs and do any fixes. Because punching in and out with tape lacks the surgical precision of Pro Tools, solos were more likely a performance then a composite of lots of little licks and phrases.
These days, I do most of my recordings alone, playing to drum loops and building tracks. When I do a band session, the process is completely relaxed. We talk it through, make suggestions, blow down a decent take, and then everyone schleps into the control room for the playback. But nobody really listens like they used to. Rather than focusing on what they played, people talk about movies or the industry. If something isn't right, the engineer can probably fix it. For solos and fills, I find myself compiling the best of three or four takes. Although this method cuts out all the wrong notes, it doesn't make for a cohesive part. We get more ear candy, less flowing melody.
Last night I listened to the Stones' Sticky Fingers, a quintessential example of a band cutting live to tape. Hearing this album was like watching a cat fall off a roof, awkwardly spinning upside down, then at the last moment landing on its feet without a scratch. The Stones would speed up, slow down, and careen dangerously around the beat, but they all grooved together. It felt like rock 'n' roll. In Keith Richards' autobiography, Life, he described their torturously long recording sessions, cutting take after take all night until it felt right. I don't know if musicians who were raised recording in the digital world could have that same work ethic.
The analog generation knew how to make music. What you heard on record was actually played by real people. The gear they used for recording doesn't really matter. I think that may be why Joe Walsh titled his new album Analog Man. I use to think analog guys were silly, preachy, and perhaps delusional, but ultimately, I get it now. Digital audio not only breaks for each musical change, digital recordings tend to be a compilation of many tiny performances that are manipulated and flown around a grid. Analog captures continuous sound—a performance committed to tape. Musicians commit to their sounds and parts, rather than getting them close enough that an engineer can make them perfect.
Perhaps the most pragmatic approach would be to combine the spirit of analog with the efficiency of digital—capture a committed performance with a clean digital system. Let's settle for that because none of the studios I use today still have a functioning 2" tape machine or remember how to use it.
John Bohlinger is a Nashville multi-instrumentalist best know for his work in television, having lead the band for all six season of NBC's hit program Nashville Star, the 2011, 2010 and 2009 CMT Music Awards, as well as many specials for GAC, PBS, CMT, USA and HDTV.
John's music compositions and playing can be heard in several major label albums, motion pictures, over one hundred television spots and Muzak... (yes, Muzak does play some cool stuff.) Visit him at youtube.com/user/johnbohlinger
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Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
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Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.
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The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
For more information, please visit gibson.com.