Award-winning engineer and producer Kevin Churko offers recording advice
Do you have a preferred chain for guitar recording?
Yes, but it’s not very sexy. With recording, the simpler the better—always. That’s not necessarily the case in mixing, though, because sometimes you have to get pretty complicated. But as far as recording signals and guitars, it’s so easy to get a great guitar tone at home now with the gear that’s available. It takes a $100 Shure SM57 and maybe some other mics, like a Sennheiser 421. You do want a good preamp, though. I’ll use a Neve pre or even something like a Focusrite ISA 428. They sound great and are not that much money.
The other thing is that I don’t put a lot on guitars, especially rock guitars. They already have so much going into and coming out that it will alter their tone too much.
So no compression?
I don’t use any compression. If a guy’s already going through a cab and has tons of gain going, you can’t really compress anything like that unless you’re doing it multiband, but I find it generally gets in the way. It only works with a great player. With someone like Zakk Wylde, you don’t want to record him and make him sound like someone else. He can probably play any rig and sound like Zakk, but by the time he comes in and sets up his amp, literally all I have to do is put a 57 in front and it sounds great. He makes it easy on me.
Do you use plug-ins on the guitar chain?
On both the Black Rain album with Zakk and the new Ozzy album with Gus G on guitars, the only plug-in was just a Sonnox EQ. I didn’t have to use too much of it, either. Maybe some dipping at 3K and some boost at 8K if it was a Marshall. I’d also take some off the bottom. I tend to get as much done on the way in as I can. But even when I’m working with someone like Zakk, my methodology is to do as little to screw it up as I possibly can. Just try to get the most you can from the amp.
Of course, I’ve found that with the better players—the guys that already have a handle on their sound—I don’t have to do a lot. Place the mic right, go through a good preamp, and it’s done.
What about acoustic guitars?
That’s a little different. On the new Ozzy album, Gus actually played an acoustic intro to a song. I used a lot of room sound, in addition to a Neumann M49 as the close mic. A little further back, I had a couple of Cole 4038s. Most of the sound I used was from the stereo mic setup, which was just a very simple X/Y pattern—but that gave it width. In this case, it was just the guitar, so it could be very wide, very fat, and it didn’t really have to poke through anything in the mix. So, I used a combination of those three mics, with just a small bit of compression, again doing as little as possible. The Coles were going through two GML preamps and SSL X-Rack EQ and compression. The M49 was going through a Neve 1076 pre and a Universal Audio LA-2A compressor.
Do you record room sounds on electrics?
If it’s sort of an organic clean sound, I’ll want some more room tone and I will probably use stereo mics and put them a little further back. But if it’s a typical rock or metal guitar, I’ve tried everything from using six mics and mic’ing the back of the cab and the room, but by the time I get to the mix I’ve gone back to the 57.
You worked with Mutt Lange in Switzerland for years. What did you pick up working with him?
I think the biggest thing I learned working with Mutt is relevant not only to guitar recording but to all areas of recording and production— or life, for that matter. It’s deceptively simple: There are no rules—and, of course, use your ears. We’ve all set up enough mics on guitar cabs to know what we prefer. My preference is usually that simpler is better. However, there can be magic to setting up eight mics and blending them all into a single tone characterized by interesting phasing incoherencies. Many great tones and sounds have been created by mistake, or by folks who don’t necessarily know what they’re doing. It’s important to study and understand our art, but it’s more important not to become a slave to it. It’s all about the end result.
I’ve been lucky to work with an extreme variety of artists with completely different ideas of good and bad. There is no right or wrong, just differences. And one should embrace them all. Is an amp always better? Can a plug-in or box work instead of the amp? Should the plug-in be fed back to the amp? A purist can only refine what has already been accomplished in the past. An audio outlaw can redefine and shape the future.
Rich is a producer, engineer and mixer who has worked with artists ranging from Al DiMeola to David Bowie. A lifelong guitarist, he’s also the auther of Pro Tools Surround Sound Mixing and composes for such networks as Discovery Channel, Nickelodeon and National Geographic.
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.