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    I recently recorded an acoustic guitar for a cover version of Brothers in Arms. I used two different microphones – a large diaphragm condensor  Audio Technica AT 4050 near the bridge and a small diaphragm condenser Schoeps CM 64 over the neck. I had seen pictures showing Mark using a similar approach from a radio promo recording he did a few years back.

    I recorded both mics to separate channels of a stereo track into Cubase. When hearing the result I was pleased with the broad stereo sound and left it as it was. Of course you can mix both sources with different panning and volumes to be much more versatile.

    I made a sound file for you for demonstration, you can hear the mix of both microphones but also both individually (in the mix and alone) to judge about their different sound capabilities. The old (1962) Schoeps is a great mic. It has a tube circuit and a nice treble boost for that warm and crisp high end. Of course there are many other great ways to position two microphones, this being just one.

    The guitar is a 1976 Gibson MK 81 by the way. It will be featured in a future article.

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    Today I want to feature a little software that was available as a free dowwnload on the official Mark Knopfler site some years ago. It is a flash mixer with individual tracks of the song Sailing to Philadelphia, in other words, a software mixer that does not only allow to listen to the individual instruments but also to adjust the volume of these. For this reason it was described as “Anatomy of a track”.

    The flash mixer allows to listen to individual tracks and to adjust their volume

    The flash mixer allows to listen to individual tracks and to adjust their volume

    You only need to download one file (mixer.exe) and simply start it on your computer (it requires flash), the individual sound files for each track are already included. Unfortunately the sound quality is not very good due to a heavy compression, and it is only the first two minutes of the song. You will see individual mixer channels for drums, lead guitar, vocals (both Mark Knopfler and James Taylor on the same track), acoustic guitar, bass, and another track for both keyboards plus pedal steel guitar.

    It is fun to mix the tracks as you want, and it is very interesting to hear the tracks alone. As effects are already included for each track, you can hear details like the reverb or delays on the lead guitar. And of course it is great to figure out what Knopfler actually plays. Unfortunately the tool does not allow fast forward / backward, so you always have to start from the beginning again.

    A real gem is the acoustic guitar, a fingerpicking played by Knopfler that was later overdubbed. Note how his unique way of playing adds so much rhythm and groove to the song, something that unfortunately was never recaptured on live performances of this song. I also tried to play a similar picking on the video I made for another article of this blog, so you might want top check out this one again to see the fingering.

    The white '64 Strat that was used for the lead in Sailing to Philadelphia

    The white '64 Strat that was used for the lead in Sailing to Philadelphia

    The lead guitar was the white ’64 Stratocaster that Knopfler played also on stage during the Sailing to Philadelphia tour. You can clearly hear reverb, compression and delay on this track, also note the deep bass, and the percussice attack.

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    One of the  last articles was about how to record a clean guitar, and the POD and the Tubeman have already been mentioned there. This time it is about what these two devices were mainly built for: a distorted guitar sound. You will hear the same track first recorded with the POD (lead and rhythm guitars), then with the Tubeman, both devices were connected directly to the mixing desk.  Here is some background information on both devices.

    The POD

    The POD by Line 6 was one of the first commercial devices to emulate the sound of different tube amps. You can choose between different Fender, VOX, Marshall or boutique amps. In addition it features a variety of built-in digital effects. Like with most digital devices, the number of different sounds and options is astonishing. You can switch between a Fender Bassman and a Marshall JMT in a second, and you can save all sounds as presets. Due to the headphones output it is also very nice for practising.

    The Tubeman

    This is the original Tubeman by Hughes & Kettner. It is all analog and features a 12AX7 tube for distortion. It can be used a a floor effect before any guitar amp, or as a recording solution in the studio. Three tone controls plus a mid boost allow different sounds, while the amount of distortion is adjusted with the gain control and a  selector switch to choose one of four different gain patterns (rock, blues, funk, jazz).

    There is no headphones out, but outs for the mixer (with speaker simulation) or to the guitar amp (without speaker simulation). As it is anaog, you cannot save sounds as preset of course, and there are no effects available. Although a tube requires  high voltage, it is powered with only 9 V which are internally transformed.

    The Verdict

    To me the winner is the Tubeman, its throaty sound has a certain warmth that I miss with the POD but maybe your taste is different. And of course a lot depends on the setting on both devices. And don’t forget that the POD is an early digital device, later ones might sound better. I might compare more recent devices against a vintage tube amp in a future article.

    What are your thoughts? Use the comment function to let us know.

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    In this article you will find a sound clip to hear the sound of a guitar amp …
    (a) mic’ed close to the speaker (Shure SM 57)
    (b) mic’ed at a distance of about 2 m (6 ft.) (Audio Technica AT 4050)
    (c) with both microphones [of (a) and (b)] blended together.

    The close mic’ing results in a dry and precise sound with hardly room. When you move back the microphone, the guitar will become lower in volume. As the sound reflections from the walls always have the same volume, they will seem to be louder now. In other words, the more you go back from the amp, the more room you will hear. Here it depends on the acoustic quality of your room whether this leads to pleasing or unwanted results.
    What is often done is blending the signals of two (or more) microphones. This way you have the precise attack of close mic’ing plus some natural sounding room. You can also pan both microphones differently to create a wider stereo sound in your mix. You should definitely record both sources to different tracks of your recording software to keep all options open in the final mix.

    Blending two microphones inavoidably leads to phase issues, some frequencies are cancelled, others are boosted. This effect depends on the distance between both microphones and varies actually with each inch. Many engineers move around the second (or both) microphones while listening (e.g. with headphones) to find the ultimate “sweet spot”, the position that has a magic sound. But this will be covered in a future article.

    The video is in youtube high quality. If you have problems with bandwidth, you can watch it in normal quality directly at youtube, click here.

    By the way, the amp is a clone of an old Fender Tweed Princeton, model 5F2-A. I built it out of scratch many years ago. It has a ceramic (!) Jensen 10″ speaker from the early 60ies and normally sounds great at all volumes. Its 4.5 watts are ideal for recording, you simply set the only volume control to the desired level of distortion and shape the sound with the single “Tone” control. The guitar is a maple neck Telecaster.

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    There are countless ways to record an electric guitar. While some of these do not really work for distorted guitars, you have even more choices when you want to record a clean guitar: you can plug it directly into the mixing desk, or use a DI-box before. Then there are special recording solutions like digital or analog pre-amps that also emulate the influence of the guitar speaker or even the microphone. And of course there is still the old-fashioned way – using a guitar amplifier and one or more microphones.

    All of these possibilities have some advantages so it is impossible to say which one is best in a particular sitaution. The video of this article (below)  demonstrates some of these different approaches. This way you can hear yourself what you like and what not. Remember however that there are so many variables even in each single approach, e. g. the pre-amplifier can give you a signal that is much brighter than the guitar amp or much darker – depending on your settings. Nevertheless, the video should reveal some general sound differences, like the very bright direct out of the amp or the rather muddy sound when plugged into the desk with a certain input impedance. You will always hear the same guitar playing the same riff with the same guitar cable (with exception of #3)

    Version 1 – Directly into the mixing desk

    Here the guitar is plugged into on of the phone-jack inputs of a mixing desk. These are normally designed for line-level instruments like keyboards or pre-amps. The lower volume of the guitar is no problem, but a guitar expects an input impedance (resistance of the input) of a few hundred kOhms. A normal line in has only something like 10 – 100 kOhms however. This circumstance leads to a strong reduction of the guitar pick-up’s resonance peak. This is the frequency at which the pick-up is loudest. It is a result of the pick-ups electrical values like the number of windings and the resistance of the wire of its coil. Typically the frequency is somewhere in the range from 2 – 7 kOhms, and the effect is more pronounced with a single coil pick-up – a reason of the characteristic sharp treble you associate with a Fender guitar. With a too low input impedance these frequencies are dampened and the sound easily becomes a bit muddy.

    Version 2 – Using a guitar effect as DI-box

    One way to avoid the problem described for version #1 is to use a so-called DI-box (DI for direct injection) – a little device that has a proper input impedance and is plugged between the guitar and the mixing desk. There is another possibility to have the same effect that does not require to buy anything new: use any of your guitar effects as a replacement for the DI-box. A guitar effect has of course a proper input impedance for a guitar, and this is even true if the effect is switched off (with exception of a few effects with a so-called true hardware bypass). You can hear on the video that the sound is much clearer, you have more treble.

    Version 3  demonstrates the influence of the guitar cable

    This is the same setup as in version #2 with exception of a different cable between the guitar and the effect. Here I used a long guitar cable (9m = 30 ft. ) instead of the 3m (10 ft.) cable used on the other versions. The sound is darker. This effect has nothing to do with the quality of the cable or its internal resistance. Instead it results of the capacity each shielded cable has. It acts like a capacitor which changes the resonance frequency of the pick-up (see  version #1).  For example, a Fender Stratocaster pick-up has a resonance frequency about 6 kOhms, but if you connect a capacitor to it, this frequency moves down to maybe 4 kHz (with a small capacitor of a few hundred pF) or maybe even to 2 kHz with a slightly bigger capacitor. You can easily measure the capacity of a guitar cable and you will find values up to more than 1nF ( = 1000 pF) .  The capacity has to do with the size of the cable: if all other dimensions are the same, a cable with 20 ft. will have a capacity twice as high than a cable with 10 ft. – no matter if both cables are low or high quality.

    Version 4 – The POD

    The POD by Line 6 was one of the first digital amp emulators. These convert the guitar signal into digital data and use mathematical algorithms to imitate the effect of a vacuum tube, a guitar amp circuit, or even a guitar speaker. Note that the picture was taken later and does not show the setting used on the recording.

    Version 5 – A Tubeman tube pre-amp

    The Tubeman by Hughes & Kettner is an analog device that uses a real tube. It has gain and volume controls plus different tone controls and allows a great variety from clean to heavily distorted sounds. It has outputs for  a mixing desk or a guitar ams (with or without speaker simulation). Note that the picture was taken later and does not show the setting used on the recording.

    Version 6 – A guitar amp with a microphone

    The heading says it all. In this case a Music Man guitar amp with a Shure SM57 microphone. The SM57 does not cost much and is something like a standard for recording guitars.

    Version 7 – The direct out of the amp

    Some guitar amps have a direct out. With this jack the signal from the pre-amp stage can be routed into another power amp or into a mixing desk. However, the guitar speaker is important to shape the tone, it actually cuts all frequencies above something like 6 kHz. As the speaker is missing now, you get a very crisp but sometimes rather harsh sound. Especially for distorted guitar sounds, this almost never leads to good results.

    Note that the amp setting is the same as in the previous example (!)

    What does it sound like in the mix?

    The next video sequences demonstrate how some of the previous setups sound in a complete mix. All the raw sounds have been slightly EQ’ed, and some compression, reverb, and delay has been added.

    You will hear:

    a) Directly into the desk through the effect (see version #2)

    b) The POD (see version #4)

    c) The Tubeman (see version #5)

    d) The mic’ed amp (see version #6)

    e) The direct out of the amp (see version #7)

    The video is in youtube high quality. If you have problems with bandwidth, you can watch it in normal quality directly at youtube, click here.

    Which version sounds best to you in the mix?

    View Results

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