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Thread: Recording Amp Volume Levels

  1. #1
    SuperD Boogie's Avatar
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    Recording Amp Volume Levels

    This is steered toward Les, but obviously I'm open any comments.

    Considering that you prefer the HXDA, which is a 50w beast - not for the faint of heart - how exactly do you record it? Where do you typically have the master volume set? Which mics? Cab isolated?

    Me and my band of old farts are cutting demo tracks at a nice facility in Indy and I'm having volume issues. We cut the base tracks as a group in the same room, but I will cut my solos separately in a couple of weeks. Most of my tracks ended up being too "fizzy" to me because I brought the SuperD's master below 2:00. The whole time I was working out the volume issue instead of focusing on playing.

    How do you get the driving tone and not blitz a condenser or ribbon mic? Maybe just go with a pair of SM57s (1 @ 90 degrees the other off axis at about 45 degrees)? He used a direct box out of my pedal board for possible re-amping but that's going to suck. What do you suggest?
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  2. #2
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    Interested in hearing Les' response too. In my limited experience, it's hard to blitz either a ribbon mic or an SM57 in terms of pure SPL, but I'm all ears...

  3. #3
    Senior Member sergiodeblanc's Avatar
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    My advise is to get the closest to "your tone" as you can in the room, put your trust in the engineer, keep an open mind, and remember "best sound" aways wins regardless of the name on the amp, guitar, and mic.

  4. #4
    OK, but bear in mind that I don't cut bands live, I write music for picture and that's a world where it's mostly about overdubs for a lot of reasons, but mostly because things have to be able to be moved around if picture changes. Mic bleed kills flexibility of that kind.

    So my techniques might not be applicable to what has to be done live.

    With that caveat in mind, I'll begin my magnum opus on miking a guitar amp...
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

    Website: http://www.elfxi.com

  5. #5
    Rule 1: A microphone hears differently than you do.

    a. A microphone doesn't have a brain. Your brain filters out all kinds of sounds that your ears actually pick up, but you ignore them so that you can concentrate on what you want to concentrate on. This is how you can have a conversation with someone at a crowded, noisy party. But the mic and recording equipment pick all that stuff up, and when you listen to a recording, you hear the recorded sound differently than you do when you're playing it.

    b. You probably don't listen to a guitar amp with your ear one to six inches from the speaker of a guitar amp playing at loud volumes. But that's where a mic sits, and it's going to hear a whole lot of stuff you aren't hearing from where you're standing or sitting. And that stuff is as likely to kill your track as make it sound good.

    EDIT: Rule 1, Section Two:

    Put the danged amp in a good location in the room.

    I put my cabs on an Isoactoustics riser stand that decouples them from the floor, tilts them back slightly, and reduces acoustical problems. Often putting the cab on some kind of stand or chair will solve a lot of issues.

    A mic will hear that lightbulb rattling in the room. It'll make the track sound like the phone rang. It'll pick up that bounce of the low frequencies off the floor. It will hear the heat register vibrate and buzz. Etc., etc. Understand the basic acoustics of the room. Understand what quarter and half space bass reinforcement are. Try to avoid creating room modes, especially in the low frequencies that muddy and kill mixes.

    Also, you have a bass player. You don't need to be the bass player. Set the amp up to leave some space in the mix for the bass and kick drum.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 05-06-2014 at 01:17 AM.
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

    Website: http://www.elfxi.com

  6. #6
    Rule 2: The SM57 is a gift to guitar players from the recording gods.

    Seriously. What could be more tailored to the 100-5000 Hz frequency response of a guitar cabinet than a midrange-centric dynamic microphone that can't be destroyed by loud volumes, that's been used to track thousands of hit records, and that you can stick right up on a speaker?

    Nothing.

    You hear guys talking about how they like this or that mic live and hate the 57 and so on. Tell you what, go into any world class studio, and talk to the engineer about his or her first call mic for guitar cabs...but of course, you asked me so I'll tell you what I use. The 57.

    So make the amp sound as good as you can to your ears in the room. Then stick a 57 up to the grille, start at the center of the cone and put on a pair of headphones so you can hear what the mic is hearing. Play the guitar. Find the sweet spot on the speaker cone by moving the mic gradually from the dust cap toward the edge of the cone to find the sweet spot for that song. It might be in the center area, or toward the edge. Play and listen with headphones as you ideally have someone else move the mic.

    Tweak the amp after you find the sweet spot for the mic on the cone. Make it as loud or soft as you have to so it sounds the way you want it to sound in the headphones. In other words, make the amp and guitar sound good to the mic.

    I'd give you amp settings, but mine vary from song to song. Seriously. I do record pretty loud, though. But not stadium levels. Most often the HXDA is between noon and 3 o'clock on the treble gain, between 7 and 8 o'clock on the bass gain, and between noon and two on the master. But I've used much lower levels with good effect, though at lower gain levels. If I need more gain at low levels, there are these pedal thingies...

    BTW, if you're getting a lot of fizz it could be more than a master volume issue. The EQ and presence settings affect that also. And mic placement can ameliorate it.

    Done. Now let's move on to ribbon mics (or condensers if you really must) if you feel like adding something to the sound of the 57.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 05-06-2014 at 01:19 AM.
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

    Website: http://www.elfxi.com

  7. #7
    Rule 3. From here things get interesting.

    OK, you've got your basic thing covered with the 57. You know everything from there is the icing on the cake, because you can always fall back on that 57 track. What do you want to accomplish?

    a. You want it to sound more like it sounds in the room? Blend in a room mic. You can use a ribbon (I would) or a condenser, and again, the best thing is to have someone move it around in the room and try different places until you get a blend you like. Unless you listen to your amp laying on the floor (hey, who am I to judge?) try putting the mic at ear level about as far back from the amp as you like to hear it when you play. That's likely to be a spot where the amp sounds good in the room. Go from there, move the mic around until things sound right; again, it's nice to have someone help with this. See below for phase issues.

    b. You want to add juice, fatness, bigness and what I'll call "Goosshhhzzz?" Put a good ribbon mic on the other speaker (check for phase), or if it's one speaker, on the same speaker in a different spot that you find the same way you found the spot for the 57. Every cab is different and this location will vary.

    Again, you can get phase cancellation with any second mic, so it might be necessary to flip the phase of the mic at the console or preamp.

    You can blow the ribbon on the mic if you don't do this right, and on older ribbon mics it's not a good idea to mic an amp close at all, but modern ribbons can handle high SPL if you angle the mic away from the air blast of the speaker a little. 15-30 degrees off axis is usually about right. I start about 6-12 inches from the speaker. Experiment with location until it sounds good. The mic can be moved in all three dimensions, so it's worth spending the time to find a good spot.

    With mics, it's location, location, location.

    And if you like this recording better than the one with the 57, guess what, you can lose the track with the 57.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 05-06-2014 at 12:31 AM.
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

    Website: http://www.elfxi.com

  8. #8
    Rule 4. I forgot to mention miking the back of the cab.

    The reason I forgot to mention this is that I never do it. I've yet to hear a track done this way that I thought was really useful.

    I'm not saying you shouldn't do it. I'm saying that I don't do it.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 05-06-2014 at 12:32 AM.
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

    Website: http://www.elfxi.com

  9. #9
    Rule 5. Always take a direct box feed in addition to the amp feed.

    Reamping is your friend. If worst comes to worst, you can always get a better tone on another day, use a different amp, or use an amp model if things get really desperate. I've done all three.

    The beauty of a reamped track is that you don't have to play it all over again, and it will match the bleed from your guitar into the rest of the band's tracks. You can concentrate exclusively on the recording tones. Simple!

    This also sometimes means that it's a good idea not to record your basic track with reverb and delay, but use those at the console instead after you've already recorded the guitar. Not always, but sometimes, especially if you're not recording all that often and you won't have a chance to get back into the studio to re-play the entire track.
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

    Website: http://www.elfxi.com

  10. #10
    Rule 6.

    Keep it simple as possible.

    Sure you can stereo record a guitar amp. But why.

    You're miking it close. There's no stereo image two inches from the speaker cone.

    You want that L-R panned guitar thing? Record a second track. Don't simply copy the first track and pan the two identical tracks. Well, I don't. You can if you want.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 05-06-2014 at 01:21 AM.
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

    Website: http://www.elfxi.com

  11. #11
    Rule 7.

    I don't care if you recorded live. Overdubs are your friend. Re-takes are your friend if you can match what you played before. Layering rhythm parts is not a bad thing. Etc.

    The end.

    Simple, right?

    Edit: Oh wait. It's not really the end. Because...
    Last edited by LSchefman; 05-06-2014 at 01:02 AM.
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

    Website: http://www.elfxi.com

  12. #12
    Rule 8. This Ain't A Science Experiment for Purity.

    Look, the idea of making a recording is to have a different kind of creation than an amp demo where the object is to capture the sound of the amp in a room blah blah blah.

    Do not be afraid to use EQ, compression, limiting, and other effects including artificial reverb and delay. What you want is a cool sound, not a scientific test result. Whatever works to make the track better, after you're done recording the original tracks, use that.
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

    Website: http://www.elfxi.com

  13. #13
    Senior Member south89's Avatar
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    Very useful info Les. Thanks for the tips as I am right in the middle of laying guitar track for my band. I have found that a sure beta 56 seems to be working pretty good for me right now. AB'd the 56 and a standard 57 and I liked the 56 better this week haha
    My name is Matt and I'm a guitarholic

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  14. #14
    SuperD Boogie's Avatar
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    Excellent, Smithers.

    So, the thought of getting a 50w amp into the sweet zone in a small studio isn't insane. *whew* Our vocalist introduced me as "the most anal-retentive guitarist" to the studio owner. Guilty as charged, but I've been so selective with my gear so far, why not get that translated to a recording accurately? It doesn't have to be perfect, but the vibe needs to be there. I don't think I'm being too demanding.

    Thinking this thru with your suggestions in mind, regardless of the first results, I'll probably overdub a second part on top. If nothing else, it's good filler. While I know the engineer can fix almost anything, I'd rather not rely on that!

    There's so much of your guidance to consider. I'll be pondering options for a few days! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. This thread may need a sticky for future reference.
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  15. #15
    A♥ hoards guitars ♥A rugerpc's Avatar
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    Really, really useful stuff here.

    Quote Originally Posted by Boogie View Post
    This thread is too good and too useful not to have a sticky for future reference.
    ...fixed it for ya.
    Thbbbt...
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  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Boogie View Post
    So, the thought of getting a 50w amp into the sweet zone in a small studio isn't insane.
    Not at all. That's how most folks get a good recorded sound. And volume levels can be absorbed by studio gobos, etc., if there is a volume problem vis a vis the rest of the band. What counts is what the mic hears. Once you've got it sounding good in the headphones you're in business.

    Just remember that an amp at relatively high volume is going to excite room modes and vibrations. If the studio was properly designed and constructed it won't be a problem, they've probably figured that in. If there is a small issue in the studio's construction, it can be dealt with using gobos, bass trapping, an isolation riser, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by Boogie View Post
    I've been so selective with my gear so far, why not get that translated to a recording accurately?
    If you want to, and you can, great.

    But keep in mind that a recording only creates an illusion of reality. Recording is a series of compromises. A close mic'd track isn't going to give you the exact sound you hear in a room. In combination with well placed room mics, you get a step closer, but there will always be that compromise.

    If you listen to the best albums recorded in world class rooms, and crank the volume on the best hi fi rig, it still will not sound exactly like the band sounds in the room. You can even tell if you walk into the next room that there's no live band playing. There are too many sonic cues missing in even the best recording.

    I personally think that recording is still in its infancy. Current technology is cool, especially if sound field mic arrays are employed in multichannel surround sound, but imagine how many mics it really would take to capture what happens to air molecules moving in a room in order to capture every sonic cue your ears can pick up!

    I can envision one day there will be far different technologies used to capture sound than the primitive microphones now in use. Maybe multiple transduction types controlled by specialized computer programs.

    Remember, Mr. Neumann developed the first truly accurate condenser mic in 1928, 86 years ago, but the technology was invented in 1917 by Western Electric and had already begun to be marketed. It's very old technology! Airplanes were made out of wood, wire and fabric back then!

    By 1949 the M7 capsule for Neumann mics was created and it's still in use in mics by Neumann and Gefell. 65 year old technology. And other makers are still copying it. Wow have we made progress!

    The ribbon mic was invented even earlier, early 1920s.

    The industry standard Coles ribbon is a 1954 creation. The moving coil dynamic like the 57? 1951.

    These things are far from perfect! In fact, we are so used to the sounds produced by this recording technology that we actually don't embrace promising new technologies. Recently Neumann came out with a digital condenser mic with an incredibly accurate capsule that converts the signal from analog to digital right in the mic itself.

    Supposedly it's stunning to hear, a real step forward. Know what? When asked who's buying the mic, Neumann's chief engineer said, "No one I know of." Because people want to hear what they've always heard on records (actually some classical music engineers are making use of the mic for its accuracy).

    Recording is an artifice, and therefore it should be thought of as a separate kind of art from the creation of live music. I try to embrace the plasticity of recording, and use it to my advantage.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 05-07-2014 at 02:56 PM.
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

    Website: http://www.elfxi.com

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by south89 View Post
    Very useful info Les. Thanks for the tips as I am right in the middle of laying guitar track for my band. I have found that a sure beta 56 seems to be working pretty good for me right now. AB'd the 56 and a standard 57 and I liked the 56 better this week haha
    Thanks! Hey, whatever works, works. The 56 and 57 are very similar mics actually.
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

    Website: http://www.elfxi.com

  18. #18
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    All great stuff Les!

    I'll be interested in hearing your experience Boogie. I was in a studio only once. Somebody owed somebody a favor, so we had some time at some local bootiquey studio run by some respected sound engineer. We're pretty set in terms of the rotation that we do for band gigs, so we didn't need to record the full band. The other guitarist (who's also the lead singer) and I were wanting to expand into some guitar duo gigs so we figured that we'd record a few demos to float around to the local tiki bars on the water and whatnot. Truth be told, we're much closer to pro-sounding as a duo as the material isn't as challenging, and the one thing that we do really well (vocals) is front and center. Not nearly as fun though.

    In any case, we head off to this studio and I found the experience really disappointing. It was probably me since this guy has a good reputation, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get him to stop using the auto-tuner on the vocals and way too much compression on everything. He just plain wouldn't listen. The end result, while fine as a demo to get tiki bar gigs, really sounded stupid. I have no illusions of being an artist with a vision, but the best part of what I think we do as a dup is cool vocal harmonies. I can't claim to be pitch perfect, but that's part of the overall sound....Imagine running the Everly Brothers through an autotuner. Yuck. Acoustic guitars were doubled and tripled and run through some chorusy plug in and the end result was an overproduced mess. Since we weren't paying, I guess I can't complain, but in the future, if I ever want to record us (either duo or full band) I think I'd get better results setting up a makeshift studio myself.

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by aristotle View Post
    In any case, we head off to this studio and I found the experience really disappointing. It was probably me since this guy has a good reputation, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get him to stop using the auto-tuner on the vocals and way too much compression on everything. He just plain wouldn't listen. The end result, while fine as a demo to get tiki bar gigs, really sounded stupid. I have no illusions of being an artist with a vision, but the best part of what I think we do as a dup is cool vocal harmonies.
    Well, it wasn't you.

    You had a guy who wasn't going to listen to what you, the artist, wanted to achieve. That sucks, period. It was more about him and his taste than about you and your ideas.

    I know plenty of engineers who have big reputations and yet are really awful. It's one reason I record and mix the majority of my own work.

    Now, it's possible that your vocals were a bit off - but too many engineers are used to auto-tune and would rather spend time playing with that than working with the vocalists for better takes. While it's said that "everyone" uses auto tune in these days, that's really an artistic choice, not to be automatically made by the engineer.

    The best thing a producer/engineer can do is sit down and have a discussion with the artists about their direction, their plan, etc. The good ones attend rehearsals to get a feel for the music and how the artists want to perform it. The great ones who are also musicians can make suggestions about things to try with the songs if they have good rapport with the artists, and can do it without making everyone feel stupid about what they're doing.

    The studio is really an end result of discussions, rehearsals, pre-planning, etc.

    A good producer is like a coach. There are a lot of different coaching styles, but the bottom line is to work with the artists to get great performances. Simply turning on auto tune is a really lazy way to go about things.

    But I suppose it was his nickel, and he wanted to try out things his way. I get that, but the result is that you got what you paid for.

    One other thing I'd like to point out is that most engineers are not producers, but think they're producers. Big difference.

    Finally, it's not generally known that the big name producers get very large advances. So a guy may be very good at engineering - let's face it, it's not as hard to capture sound as it is to help people make good recordings - but there's a reason he's not making hit records.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 05-06-2014 at 09:25 PM.
    I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken...

    Website: http://www.elfxi.com

  20. #20
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    Thanks for the info Les. Well, I'm sure that the vocals "were a bit off" in places. I'd have been happy with either additional takes to resolve anything outlandish, or overdubbing, or whatever...but I know what we sound like live from live recordings and I'd much prefer having "organic" vocals. I'm certainly no artist, and really it didn't matter much in this case one way or the other. It just opened my eyes up though in the event that I ever did want to seriously compose something.

    For what it's worth, I just threw one of the tracks into a little video so that it could be posted on Youtube.



    You tell me. It's not particularly unpleasant, but it just reeks of over-processed cheese to me. Boogie's got me thinking though. Maybe at our next practice I'll mic up the amps and drums, throw in a couple of room mics, create some reasonable sub mixes for the drums and vocals and run the sub outs into my little Zoom and see what I can come up with.

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