A friend of mine recently released his first album of acoustic Americana music and I thought I'd share some of the details here including the guitars used and the way it was recorded... because we all love guitars and some of us are definitely interested in how they are recorded.
It's always a tricky thing when a buddy launches an album of music... they might be a good buddy and they might be a great musician but they make music that you don't really like. That isn't the case with "The End of Ours" by Alec Lytle & Them Rounders. He has produced an album of lilting, beautiful, heartfelt songs delivered in an effortless production of sonic honey. The album was produced by Tony Berg (Aimee Mann, Nanci Griffith, Peter Gabriel, Edie Brickell etc), engineered by the legendary Bob Clearmountain and mastered by the equally legendary Bob Ludwig. He also managed to garner the services of some stellar guest musicians on this album; bluegrass fiddler Gabe Witcher, guitarists Greg Leisz and Val McCallum, dummer Matt Chamberlain and various others–I'll let you google some of their recording credits. Quality oozes out of every second and every facet of this album which contains 9 original songs and two covers (including an amazing version of Talking Heads' "This Must Be The Place").
So, guitars... Alec and I are buddies through shared interests and one of those interests is, of course, guitars. Also, in the past few years I've invested a lot of time and effort into learning how to record guitars in my home studio so I tend to pick the brains of everyone and anyone I can when it comes to recording gear and technique.
I've always loved his late 50's Martin with a great back story, so I asked him about it and the other guitars he played on the album:
1959 Martin 00-17
I primarily played my 1959 Martin 00-17. I bought this guitar about 5 years ago from a woman in Half Moon Bay. Her father had bought it new in Livermore when she was a child. After he passed away, she mostly kept the guitar in its case in a closet. Eventually she realized it needed to be played, and put it on Craig's List where I found it. A few years later, she happened to come to a solo concert I was giving in the area purely by coincidence. Needless to say she was very happy to find that the guitar was my primary instrument. It has an incredibly intimate sound, and a dark, smallness that seems to compliment my songs very well. At the urging of the guys at Gryphon Guitars, I don't take this guitar on tour any more...it's too fragile. I have a modern Martin 00-15 that I play at shows. That old 00-17 is too wonderful to tempt fate in the road. I only change single strings on this guitar when they break, this adds to the darkness and smallness of the sound.
1992 Gibson J-100 Xtra
I played this guitar on Frozen Ground and This Must Be The Place. I've owned this one for about 15 years. For a long time it was my only acoustic guitar when I was still primarily focused on my upright bass playing. It's a big, loud strummer. I don't play my 00-17 with a pick so this one covers the louder songs.
1962 Gibson J45
I played this guitar for the last track on the record, 'When I Go Deaf'. It belongs to my producer Tony Berg. Glen Campbell signed it with a black marker many years ago. It's a magical guitar, really dark and woody. The sound is so warm and dry.
I also asked him if he would share details of how his guitar and vocals were recorded because it really is a beautiful sounding album. I've become kind of obsessed with chasing a good recording chain for several of my guitars so I'm always asking. I was stoked when Bob Clearmountain himself furnished the details;
"The mics we used were a Neumann KM-86 on Alec's acoustic guitar while he was singing into a vintage Neumann M-49. The KM-86 had no processing on it during recording, although I may have used a Distressor compressor during the mix. The M-49 was recorded with a bit of UREI LA-3A compression and something like a 90 cycle high-pass filter. I probably added a bit of a 10 or 12k shelf on the SSL E-series EQ when we mixed. All pretty simple, really.
The M-49 was set to its cardioid pattern and—as you can see from the photo—was angled up about 40 or 45 degrees to try to reject as much of the acoustic guitar as possible. For the same reason, the KM-86—also set to cardioid—was angled down toward Alec's acoustic guitar, rejecting a good deal of his voice. While not giving us perfect isolation between the voice and guitar, it gave us quite enough separation to effectively balance the two elements without any problem."
I hope that's of interest to some people and I hope you check out the album, you can hear it on iTunes here, or if you're into CD/vinyl you can get it from Alec's website here.
Alec also sent me some pictures of the recording setup, I'll post them here later if anyone wants to check out the arrangement and simplicity (hella expensive simplicity) of the 86 and 49 mics...
Vancouver, British Columbia
(Photo: Scott McKissen)