In a busy neighbourhood in São Paulo, Brazil you will find a musical haven by the name of Cake Music Studios. Run by experienced musician and producer Edu Gomes, this studio has it all: experienced staff, rehearsal rooms, state-of-the-art recording gear with Pro Tools, and top notch musicians to help you achieve your musical dreams.
With countless recordings and live gigs under his belt, Edu leads his staff and guides his clients to success, in between his own stints as a solo artist. We had the opportunity to chat with Edu about his experiences, in particular when it comes to recording Blues, his bread and butter.
“First we want to cover the overall approach. This is something that comes from experience and musicianship almost regardless of gear, but also some tips about what instrument to choose and how to set it all up.
Let’s talk about your approach to recording Blues guitar by covering the essentials: the guitar itself. Are there any special recommendations for guitar set-up? Recommended strings, action set-up and picks? How do you adapt to different player styles?
The main principle to make good music is for the musician to feel fine and relaxed in order to be able to express themselves in the best way possible. That means hard study, dedication and the best equipment that suits them. Of course, some of your preferences as a player may not properly cater to certain demands of sound and/or performance for recording, and that’s where we might need to do some adaptation. The final result is what is most important. If it is good, the gear you use almost doesn’t matter.
Having said that, what is ‘good’? Well, we’re talking about the Blues, so I believe the preferences of all guitarists have been the same for years because it’s the best way to express yourself in the Blues. That means mainly Fender Strats and telecasters, Gibson 335 and Les Paul, amongst others.
Thicker strings, at least 0.10 (note: for the high E), for more sustain and body, and higher action so that the string has more range to vibrate and therefore give you more sound and body. By sound I do mean the sound that comes from your hand, your ability to play the instrument. Strings too close to the frets trend to have less sound and sustain because they have less room to vibrate, especially if your picking is quite strong.
Humbuckers (pickups) reinforce that sustain and body more than single coils, but those on the other hand would give you more tone ranges and ‘bite’. The sound you hear while playing and recording will tell you if you’re in the right track.
Rules are meant to be broken, especially in Blues! One example? Buddy Guy commonly uses 0.08 strings !!! And listen to the sound! What can you say? Well, close your eyes, breathe deeply, bring up your feelings and play the Blues because as I said there are no rules which can’t be broken!!
The Signal Chain
A great player will always be a great player, but their sound can be destroyed by a poor selection of gear and poor recording techniques. Let’s hear what Edu has to say about this.
Let’s move to the next element in the chain: capturing the guitar sound… have you recorded directly from amp modellers? Or always from a real amplifier and microphone setting? What is your preferred setting? Do you dry run a few different settings with the player before committing to one ?
If the matter is the Blues, I always use real amplifier plus microphone settings. I like modellers, which are great for some applications, but not for the Blues I guess. There is nothing that can compare to a real amp with tubes. It’s a physical thing. Try any tube amplifier like a Fender or similar and crank up the volume. Just feel the feedback and control you get over the sustain that comes out. In most amps, I use 50 to 70 % of volume (or more), which is the big deal! It sounds a little crunchy depending on how hard you pick. Dynamics really come up! This is essential for the Blues. Mark that word: Dynamics! That’s why I have several amps ranging from 3, to 10, 15, 20 and 40 watts. You can pair them With 8, 10 or 12 inch speakers. The size of the room or space you’re using for recording will tell which to use. It’s important to notice if the amp isn’t oversized for the space you have. That scenario will give you a muddy sound due to exaggerated volume in the room, especially when we consider room miking techniques.
I always use a Shure SM57 for close miking: off axis for less mid and more bottom and hi, and a bit less often centred if I need very mid/hi mid sound for a particular recording.
The distance is variable: from almost touching the speaker screen to 12 inches. Always listen and compare. For smaller amps I prefer a condenser microphone, usually my GT-1 (Groove Tubes) valve mic. It has a very clear sound. You can use more than one and then mix them up in the mixing stage. If using more than one microphone, always check the phase. The sound should be ‘bigger’ if you’re doing it correclty. If you feel it gets ‘thinner’, you have phase cancellation problems! Position the mics again so that they add up instead of cancelling each other. Sometimes I use my 414TL2 AKG at omni position (surround) for more room and ambience sound. The distance, again is variable, from 2 to 5 meters, depending on the volume and deepthI want.
Let’s face the Interface
So many choices these days but how to choose what will work for you ? How to make sure your fantastic music still sounds fantastic when recorded into the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) ? Let’s hear Edu out.
What is the typical interface you use with your DAW for guitar? What about mic-pre amps and other Interfaces?
At the moment I use Pro-tools 12. Pro-tools is great for musicians who just want to plug and play. Besides, it’s currently the most used Daw software around the world which can make things easier when you want to exchange recording sessions rather than only WAV files, for example. For pre-amps I use API. They aren’t cheap, but more affordable than Neve’s or Avalon for example, and very professional. My interface is a DigiDesign 003, not a top-notch piece, but again, an affordable and professional item.
Have you ever done recordings using a DI box straight to DAW software effects?
I’ve done that a lot, but not for the Blues, I mean the real Blues you know? You don’t get that ‘physical’ sensation I mentioned before, and the ‘feeling’ while playing doesn’t come out the same. I use this option only if a good amplifier is not available!
Blues for Blues sake
In the end the name of the game is letting musicians express themselves. The gear is a means to an end, but the end itself is the music.
What are the main issues, dos and don’ts of recording? Any recommendations for the readers?
The music is the boss! You should always serve the music (and not the gear). If we are talking about the Blues, I guess these matters we’ve discussed are crucial. If you want your guitar to really scream or cry, these technical matters are essential, but as in all kinds of music, the most important is to know what you are doing and to do it with your heart. For Blues this is a must! Music, feeling an expression come from the musician. If you got that part right, you’re more than half the way there!
Finally, how ‘dry’ is the signal recorded?
I usually try to get the sound on the fly. Blues players want the real sound at the moment of recording to get that feeling. So if the sound is clean or dry I keep it that way, but if the subject is crunch or overdriven sound, or maybe a spring reverb sound from an incredible Princeton Reverb, I will use its fantastic reverb, which is very typical in the Blues. I try to get the sound adjusted in the first moments of recording.
Do you leave any effects, compression and EQ for later at mixing time?
Yes I EQ at the recording (not much) and at the mix again if necessary, mainly for cleaning up frequencies because of the mix and clash with other instruments.
I also compress, but very little, 2 to 3 dBs at 4:1. I use analog compressors La-4 by Urei and DBX 160’s. But quite often I don’t compress at all when recording. Only at the mix to put things in their place and make them stand out when needed.
I Almost never record with reverbs or delays, unless I’m very sure about it, otherwise you can’t take it out later.
‘Mestre’ Gomes will share some final words for aspiring Blues musicians.
Any final remarks?
Just remember, we’re talking about a culture, rather than just a music style! The Blues is very seriously linked to guitar and guitar sound! So I try to keep it this way, pure and faithful to its nature.
I do record many other styles, and therefore have a greater variety of procedures and techniques that maybe we can cover in a future article”
Well I hope you’ve enjoyed this insightful interview. If you want to know more about the Blues or if you want to take your recordings to the next level with some help from Edu follow the link below:
If you want to read more about recording experiences with DI or Amp modelling check this article here:
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