december 2011

The new hand-wired EC Tremolux delivers greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts clout with a super hip tremolo circuit and power attenuation capabilities.

There’s nothing more blues than a Fender Tweed. From a visual standpoint, a Tweed Deluxe, Bassman, and Twin are probably the most essential and ubiquitous electric blues accessories. Looks don’t count for much if you ain’t got the sound though, and Tweeds shape the sonic signature of everything from the sting of Muddy Waters’ Chess sides to Slim Harpo’s throbbing and shuffling Excello slabs.

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On the release of rock supergroup Chickenfoot''s sophomore effort, guitarist Joe Satriani and bassist Mike Anthony confess that making it look easy is precisely the point.

Joe Satriani dips the trem on his signature Ibanez JS2400 as Mike Anthony keeps the 4-string thunder rolling at NYC’s Beacon Theatre in 2009. Photo by Paul Bachman
Listen to a track from Chickenfoot III:
Although the collective members of Chickenfoot have plenty of talent and technique to spare, the one thing that’s not on anyone’s side is time. When the band got together in February 2011 to record its curiously titled sophomore release, Chickenfoot III, there simply wasn’t a minute to waste. Vocalist Sammy Hagar’s New York Times, No. 1 bestselling book, Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock, was weeks away from its release, guitarist Joe Satriani was barely decompressing from his Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards tour in addition to the Experience Hendrix tour, and drummer Chad Smith was just about ready to go back to his duties with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“We’d meet up in the morning,” says Satriani, ”and someone would say, ‘I really like that song, let’s do that one.’ And we’d spend a few hours learning it and arranging it, and then record it and that would be it. We’d move on to the next song.”

This mad dash proved to be a good thing and gave the album its fresh sound. “There’s a lot of spontaneity on this album because there wasn’t a lot of time to rehearse the songs,” says Anthony. “We would rehearse it 20, 30 times and then we recorded it.” The time constraints extend beyond the recording session. Because of Smith’s commitments, drummer Kenny Aronoff will be filling in for him on the band’s upcoming tour. But this won’t be a permanent lineup switch. Anthony says, “We didn’t want this to be a revolving-door band.”

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To give yourself—and your mix engineer—the greatest flexibility in the final stages of production, consider splitting your signal before it hits the delay and capturing two guitar tracks, one clean and one effected.


This screenshot from a Pro Tools session shows a mono Tele track (top waveform)
above a printed stereo delay track.


In the past few columns, we’ve examined various uses of compression with guitar— both in pedal and plug-in form. We’ve seen how sometimes it’s best to capture your guitar sound as clean as possible, without the effects in-line. That way, you can add processing at the mix stage—rather than while tracking—in the context of the finished song. This is especially relevant when tracking with a delay unit or echo.

As a mixer, I receive many different kinds of tracks in various states of readiness. Some sessions arrive with tracks that are perfectly printed, trimmed, and labeled. Others can be a mess, with extra-hot levels and track names like “Audio 1” or “Extra track.” Though irksome, many of these problems can be fixed later on. But some things—including guitar parts printed with integral delay effects—cannot. You simply can’t peel off or alter the delay or echo if it turns out it doesn’t sound like what you’d hoped for when you tracked it.

Of course, it’s understandable that layers of echo may be an essential part of your sound. The Edge and Albert Lee are two players who often build parts around precisely timed delay. But most of the guitar tracks I receive do not need to have delay applied during the recording process. However, if you must have delay on the track to get the right vibe, here are a few things to consider when laying down your initial parts.

To give yourself—and your mix engineer—the greatest flexibility in the final stages of production, consider splitting your signal before it hits the delay and capturing two guitar tracks, one clean and one effected. This approach works whether you’re recording direct or mic’ing an amp, or doing both simultaneously.

It’s true, splitting your signal and recording dual tracks takes more effort than simply slapping a mic on your amp and capturing the sound you get playing through your pedalboard. But without a doubt, taking this dual-track approach can help save a great guitar performance that might otherwise have to be redone if your effects were not tweaked correctly to begin with.

If you’re recording into a digital audio workstation (DAW) such as Pro Tools, Logic, or Cubase and using a delay plugin, simply route the delayed guitar signal to a second, dedicated track. This means your dry guitar goes to one track and your echo effects are captured independently on another. In other words, you’ll generate two tracks for each pass.

For example, if you have a mono guitar track and are sending some of that signal (via an aux bus) to a stereo delay plug-in, you’ll want to “print” or record the output of that delay to its own track.

Sure, you could just run the plug-in as a virtual, unrecorded effect and wait to print it in the mix, but what if your plug-in authorization expires in the middle of the session (for example, if you’re using one with a limited free-trial period)? Or what if you hand off the session files to a mix engineer who doesn’t have that particular plug-in? Or what if the settings don’t come back exactly as you last left them? All of these are real scenarios that have happened to me, and they’re no fun. So it makes sense that, once you’ve gotten a great-sounding delay out of a plug-in, you should print the output to a new audio track.

There it is—done.

But don’t just stop there— make sure you label the track clearly. For example, “Guitar 1 Delay Print” reminds you or informs the mix engineer about what is lurking in that waveform. Also, in the notes section of the track, write down what delay you used, as well as the most important parameters. I’ve even taken screenshots of plug-in settings to save with the relevant session. Just remember to label those, as well.

One advantage of using software plug-in delays (and there are many amazing versions available from various companies) as opposed to a rackmount unit or stompbox, is that you can go back after the session to tweak the delay by changing the settings. If you do that, simply reprint the new settings directly over the old printed track or save a new track called something like “Guitar 1 Delay Print - Version 2.”

While I’m on the subject of printing tracks, many of us also use guitar-amp simulator plugins. As with delay, it’s a good idea to print your amp-simulator tracks. This ensures that any mix engineer who receives your session will have the exact guitar sound you wanted.

I always ask my clients to print any important effects or emulations—particularly for the guitar. This is especially critical when doing cross-platform mixing, such as tracking in Logic and mixing in Pro Tools. When working on the same platform, I also ask them not to delete the original tracks so I can adjust the sounds or alter the EQ if need be. I will also ask for a basic list of plug-ins that they use.

So, next time you’re tracking a guitar part, think about how those effects will translate down the line. When using hardware effects, try to split your amp or guitar signal before it’s processed. And if you’re using a DAW with plugins, print your effect tracks separately. It will save time and money, and make you happier with the end results.

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