Well positioned in the peaceful outskirts of Melbourne, Shredd Studios are a great recording choice for musos and guitars aficionados in general. Combining state-of-the-art recording equipment, knowledgeable staff and next-door guitar workshop, this place is a one-stop shop to get your recordings done.
In this modern day of amp modellers, Pro-tools fixing vocals and cheap digital gear, every man and his dog think they can record albums in their bedroom or man cave and sound great. While some are able to do that, most would better off focusing in their music and leaving the recording to professionals who have heaps of experience in the craft.
We had the pleasure to sit down with Michael, the owner, engineer and guitar tech of the house, to talk about his particular experiences in recording guitar.
Capturing the sound
Michael let’s first talk about the process of capturing a good guitar sound. What experience and preferences you have with analog amps and microphones and what is your approach?
To me the key is signal integrity. Capturing a clean signal that represents well the guitar sound and the intent of the player. I will use effects only on the return path, for ambience and feel. But the direct signal path is from the guitar to the amplifier, to the microphones and then to the gear connected to the DAW for recording.
My choice of preamp is an API 512 because of the mids and the way it reproduces the tonal aspects of the guitar. I want to get the signal in but I don’t want to be shaping it and running compressors on my rack when recording. I’d rather keep the integrity the instrument, then obviously shape it later on.
Again, we go from the amplifier into a ribbon microphone or a Shure SM57 then to the API. Maybe I will use a high pass around 80Hz for a clean signal and that’s about it, really.
From there the signal goes in through the converters. I have some Apogee converters, the symphony line, which are really sweet. Another option is the Burl Audio B2 Bomber ADC. With these high quality converts it is easy to retain the integrity of the instrument tone. There is no noticeable loss, really hardly any loss at all.
In terms of level, I like to get the guitars inside that range of maybe 3 dB below 0 dBFS, nice and loud. I want to get the signal to noise ratio up there.
I love it loud
From what I understand, in the past people used to try to record as loud as loud as possible. Is that still the case?
Yeah I’ve always been a purist of that approach. I’ve had many countless wars with people because I’m running a console and I’m running a DAW system like that. I do, and I use my console and the preamps in the front of my racks to feed the signal into my system. So what I’m getting at is the levels on my DAW system are left at zero dBFS.
I do not touch those levels at all. For maximum resolution I set it as a 32 bits system. Yeah I record as loud as possible because you want that signal to noise ratio real sweet. You want the converters working at their best. I think and when they are optimal like that you’re going to get that signal so it has loads of integrity.
Distortion and Re-amping
If you are recording a rock or metal band, do you get the distortion from the amplifier or you leave it for re-amping later?
I get the distortion from the amp. I’ll try and find it from the source on the get go. I don’t rely on re-amping that much. It’s not a bad approach, but I just find that a lot of players prefer to do it on the spot and they perform better when they know they don’t have the freedom of being able to come back and change their choices.
If it gets a little convoluted, sometimes because you’re using too many amplifiers, or maybe because the signals captured from the amps are gone from trying too hard, I guess re-amping is a perfect scenario.
Live recording scenarios
Do you capture the whole band live in the studio or just the parts individually, including the guitar player?
You know, the studio can cater for a whole band, but it needs to be isolated, it needs to be segregated because you get bleeding from one instrument to the other. With the guitar player in one room you avoid that. He or she can be isolated but looking at me while playing or even other players as we have rooms with glass in between.
As an engineer, now you’re hearing that one guitar playing in isolation and this allows you to be really discerning about the choices you make, rather than having to compromise with the other guitar player in the same room.
There are very technical players who can actually record with a click without even hearing the other parts or the vocals. But some players perform better when they play off each other, it makes the performance a bit more natural. We utilise the facilities to adapt to each situation.
If they need to hear the other bed tracks, it has to be at the right level. The player can sit in the control room – with the amp and rig isolated in the recording room – and record while listening to the return channels on the monitors with some added reverb or delay. I’m not recording those additional effects, they are just there to create a good listening experience while recording. Again there is the option, click track, drum track or even the whole set of bed tracks depending on what the player wants.
What about multiple tracks? That can be beneficial but also can go on forever, right?
Adding tracks while recording becomes really quick when you’re working on the console, as opposed to working in the box. You can get that return that channel back to say channel 24. If we need to go for some more tracks we go to channel 23 and then channel 22, from there we can group some of them to a stereo group and keep going.
You want to be ready to add tracks as fast as you can, so if the player feels like the guitar sounds needs a bit more treble at that point I could turn some EQ and boost the high frequencies or something like that, you know. And with the multiple tracks going on we can listen to multiple versions of the same performance. If you are running bed tracks simultaneously you’re not attempting to get the mixing done there and then. But you want to make sure you won’t have major issues when the time comes.
Amplifier modelling controversy
Do players sometimes bring their own amplifier modellers or their own gear? If they actually rock up with an amplifier modeller, like an fractal audio or similar, how do you deal with that?
I don’t use a lot of modelling amplifiers, but I find them to be really quick and gratifying in a really good way. Line 6, Fractal Audio, Behringer, all those kinds of modelling amplifiers work really well. If that is the player choice I will treat in the same way: I will take the modelling outputs and sometimes run them into a preamp to do a pre-lift of the levels if necessary. If not, straight to the converters and the DAW. It all depends on the modeller and how it works.
I’d rather not take the modeller digital output via USB or similar straight into the DAW. I want to get integrity in the signal by running it through an analog stage before the DAW. The high quality converters makes a massive difference. Again, if modelling is done properly, sometimes it’s hard to tell it’s not the original amplifier as the source, you know? Modelling has come a long way and there is a lot of advantages if done carefully.
Last but not Least: the Guitar setup
You run a studio and a guitar workshop in the same place. This puts you in an advantageous position as you can set up the guitars properly before a recording session. What is the approach?
I would rather to a proper setup before going in the studio if possible. Be a little more discerning on the relief of the neck and have the action set up properly. Trying to minimise rattle and noise. Get some relief between third and seventh fret by setting the action a little bit higher.
Live it doesn’t matter that much, but in the studio those things are unforgiving little elements. Those things are quite like the vocal being out of tune, you know. The guitar rattling a little bit in the studio is certainly something that will come up. I do the intonation as well very carefully as that is something that can ruin the recording if not done properly.
I will also adapt to what the situation is. Say most guitars have that issue to be sharp around the third fret. If I know the song requires a lot of playing around that area, I’ll then get a bit flat with the intonation so that it is more in tune around that area. Obviously after recording I can bring the action back down if that’s the players preference to get around the fingerboard.
Having said all that, customers have got to be right and get what they want. So if a customer tells me his guitars are okay and he’s gonna come into to record straight away, I’m not going to get into the ‘tech thing’ with him obviously. I don’t want to upset the balance of it all and start going off about how his guitars could sound better. But I can make some of my guitars available just in case.
For more information
You can find Michael at Shredd Studios and Guitar Worx:
I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview and have fun with your next recording session.
Drop me a line or a comment below if you wish.
For more information on amp modellers: