Zone Recording, Part 6

Welcome readers to another installment of Zone Recording. This time, I'll answer a reader question about tone.

I am currently in the studio struggling with my recorded guitar tone. I am using a Tom Anderson Drop Top, A Marshall JMP-1 pre-amp, a Rocktron Intellifex, a BBE 482 Sonic Maximizer, a Mesa 2:90 power amp, a Marshall 1960 4x12 cabinet, and perhaps an Ibanez Tube Screamer. The recording studio is all digital and I am having quite a difficult time getting a good, usable lead guitar tone. I have been putting the pre-amps settings as follows: gain at 17 out of 20, bass up fairly high, mid slightly lower but still above the halfway point, treble fairly low, and the presence fairly high. On the power amp I have the presence almost all the way down and the volume all the way up. I am trying to achieve a sort of shred-style tone that will allow me to play a lot of notes, both picked and legato (similar to Steve Vai, Greg Howe, etc.). The recorded sound that I keep getting is a bit boxy, brittle, and harsh. It is very noisy and when I pick a lot of notes it sounds like a jackhammer even though I use a very light pick attack. I listened to some samples of your CD on and I really liked your tone. If you have any suggestions about my settings, miking the cabinet, amp placement in the room or anything else that may help me to achieve a good recorded guitar tone I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks.

Hello. Thank you for your question. I hope that I can help.

First, turn off the BBE sonic maximizer. This seems to do strange things to the high and low end of the sound. The next is to raise your mid to full and back the bass off a little. The treble and bass on the JMP 1 seem like good settings. Try bringing the gain to 18. Back the presence down substantially. I would bring the power amp down from full since this could be adding to the noise. When I track mic'd cabs the sound is loud but not too loud. I find that this helps with noise and the farting sound that can happen.

The next thing is to get the Rocktron out of the signal chain for studio recording. The sound coming from the amp should be totally dry. You can put the effects on in the computer. This gives you the best signal and the best sounding effects.

The next thing is to put the cab in the corner of the room on an angle (see diagram below):

|               	 x   
|             x 
|         x 
|     x 
| x

The x's are the cab. Then you should mic the speaker (listen to each one in the cab and make sure that the one you are miking has no floppiness or breakup - there might be a bad speaker in there).

Mic the good speaker as follows. On a 45 degree angle pointing towards the outer edge of the speaker around the middle of the cone. This will smooth the sound out.

            -  - x
            -  - x

The x's represent the mic and the lines are the speaker. The next thing you need is a compressor. The mic cable should go into this. If you do not have one you should rent one from your local music shop for a week or 2. The compressor will help smooth out the sound and squeeze it to make playing very effortless. This is the trick. The settings on the compressor should be a ratio of 10 to 1 with an average threshold. The output of the compressor should go into the audio in on the sound card, which goes into the computer. Once you have your sound into the computer add a nice subtle stereo delay around 450ms with a feedback of 10% and a mix level of 15% out of 100%.

This will hopefully get you that sound. If you want to use the Tube Screamer please use it with caution. Only use it for the licks that really need that extra kick. When the lick is over turn it off right away. You have to set it so it is not noticeable when it kicks on. The gain will feel only on your fingers and not audibly. This is the other trick.

I have done this trick on my recent track of "Higher" on the latest Jason Becker tribute album.

May the tone be with you.

David Martone is a guitarist from Vancouver, Canada who has released seven solo CDs which showcase his musical diversity and brilliant guitarmanship.

His 2007 CD is entitled "When The Aliens Come", which features a progressive sound incorporating jazz, rock, fusion and metal influences.

David Martone