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Bass in your Face! April, 2015

Choosing the right bass for a great DI sound – Nick Kozuch

Low-end excites me more than anything else in the studio. Productions that lack the right amount bass feel weak and lifeless but so many people struggle to get it right. To get a good bass guitar sound it is important to know about the instrument you are working with. Is it Active? Are the pickups single coil? Is it hollow-bodied? These are all important questions that will make a huge difference to the final sound. Get to know the instrument and you will be in a much better position before you switch on the red light!

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Much like recording guitar, we usually decide on what tone and character we are setting out to achieve before recording begins. Our decision is always governed by the style of production we are working on and this will help us decide whether we should reach for the amp or a DI ‘direct input’ box.

At Unit Studios, we often find ourselves DI-ing the bass directly into the DAW and then re-amping and adding additional processing afterwards.

Here’s are our usual DI chain.

Set Up 1 – Klark Teknik DI box – Neve 1073 – Distressor Compressor – Neve 8803 EQ – Apogee Symphony

Set Up 2 – Avalon 737 (DI input / Filter / Compressor / EQ) – Apogee Symphony

If we decide we don’t want to colour the sound with additional amplifier circuitry, the bass may remain in the track having never been re-amped. However, we do usually process the bass ‘in the box’ with EQ, compression and some sort of saturation at mix-stage. 

Whether you are amping or ‘DI-ing’, the importance of having a great sounding bass, which has been set up correctly, is key. So with this in mind, we will consider some important factors when selecting a bass guitar including the differences between body density, neck structure and pick up selections.

Solid Body vs Semi-Hollow Body

Solid body bass guitars, like Unit Studios’ Fender Jazz Bass are the more commonplace bass guitar body type. A solid body offers greater sustain and is less susceptible to feedback than a hollow, or semi-hollow, bodied bass. Moreover, as the body resonance plays less of a role in its sound, solidbodies are available in a spectacular variety of shapes and designs with less of an impact on the tone, which is often quite neutral and responsive to processing that is applied afterwards. 

As you might expect, Semi-hollowbodies, such as the Ibanez ASB180, generate a more acoustic-like tone. The use of the resonance chamber creates greater harmonic richness and a woody, warm sound full of pleasing overtones. This warmth comes at the expense of the ability to crank it up into an amp without risking feedback and often, in a studio environment, means that spill from other instruments and studio monitors can be picked up by the bass’ pickups.

Bolt-on Neck vs Neck-Through-Body Construction

Some basses, including the ESP LTD5 are constructed with a neck-through-body design. In these cases the bass guitar’s neck wood spans the entire length of the instrument. Neck-through bodies tend to provide greater sustain and and response and are often made of a very high quality wood, which in itself increases the quality of the instrument. 

As they are easier to adjust and maintain, most bass guitars have a bolt-on neck, in which the neck is a separate piece of wood that’s bolted onto the body. This design often reduces some of the bass’ sustain and means that the body of the guitar does more of the donkeywork when it comes to generating tone.

Active vs Passive Pickups

The terms active and passive refer to the preamp circuitry of the bass. The preamp boosts the pickups’ output and provides tone-shaping and volume controls. Passive pickups, which have been around since the beginning of the electric bass, provide you with a dynamic sound and a warm, full tone which, owing to their simpler construction is marginally more lo-fi than their active-circuitry counterparts. The downside to passive pickups is that they give you less overall control over the tone of your instrument. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; if you like fat and punchy, passive pickups are the way forward.

Active pickups are a much newer development than passive pickups and need power, usually from a battery, for their preamp. These pickups produce a much higher output level, which will drive amps and preamps harder, creating a tone that is percussive, bright, and clear. 

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THIS ONE GOES UP TO 11 February, 2015

A brief insight into the guitar amplifiers we have at Unit Studios

At Unit Studios we are a huge fan of the versatility offered by amp simulation plugins like guitar rig — some awesome tones can certainly be produced this way — but nothing quite beats the tone achieved by the real thing. Certainly an advantage of having a bespoke, soundproof live room to record in is that there is no excuse for not making use of great guitar heads and combos, and, as so much life can be brought to a session once a guitarist deafens themselves rocking out on a cranked-up amp (or two), we’ll seize every opportunity to do so at unit studios. We have three glorious guitar amps at the studio and in this blog post we’ll explain a little about each and the tones they can create. This is only a guide, we certainly believe it is important to be willing to experiment, each amp will respond differently to different guitars and effects, but hopefully this brief overview will give you an idea of the kind of tone to expect when recording at Unit Studios.

Fender DeVille (Twin Reverb)

This iconic, all-valve guitar amp was the first to be added to Unit Studios’ arsenal and remains ever-popular because of its incredibly desirable, transparent, clean tone. Its famous in-built spring reverb is great for adding warmth to clean picked parts and lead lines but its distortion channels are great for adding a raspy, rock’n’roll bite.

Marshall TSL60 head

Probably the most recognisable guitar amp manufacturer in the world, Marshall make amps which are loud! With 2 different types of distortion channel — crunch and lead — the TSL60 makes a great thick, heavy din and is perfect for huge phat riffs and blistering solos.

Hiwatt Hi Gain 50

Although not necessarily a household name, Hiwatt amps are fantastically durable and versatile. The hi-gain 50 lives up to its name with a bright, bluesy distortion channel but also has a warm clean channel that adds great depth to clean rhythm parts.

HOW DO WE USE THEM?

As well as capturing a live take straight through the amps along to a guide track or click, recently we’ve been trying a different approach to recording guitar at Unit. We begin by capturing the guitar completely cleanly, DIed through our fantastic Neve preamps. This allows for the part to be closely monitored and scrutinised. Edits and overdubs can be easily achieved while the signal is still clean until the perfect take has been captured. Then, re-amping this clean signal through a number of different amps at once, close-miced and positioned around the room with a stereo pair of room mics means a huge, wide, psuedo-double-tracked guitar take can be captured. We’d certainly recommend giving that a try.

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The right tool for the trade – choosing the right guitar for a track. January, 2015

When recording a guitar a lot of key decisions need to be made to give your track the tone you are after: Which amp to use, how to mic it up and with which mics, how to add effects like distortion and whether to do this in situ with effects pedals or afterwards with plug-ins and hardware. Not mention, of course, how to arrange the guitar parts and making use of techniques like double tracking and re-amping. But, all of this is by the by if you don’t have the right tool to begin with. Choosing the right guitar is really important. Which guitar should you use to create the tone you are after?

There is a vast number of guitars available, each with their own pros and cons, but here is a quick break down of four major guitars to give you an idea of the kind of points to consider when deciding with which axe to do battle:

The Fender Telecaster

One of the first mass-produced solid-body electric guitars, the tele was originally designed with country and western in mind. Although it is certainly great for this genre, its single-coil pickup, lightweight build, distinctive transient and short-lived sustain give the telecaster a great attacky, biting tone. Perfect for indie and punk and favoured by Jeff Beck, Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead and Joe Strummer of The Clash among many others.

Gibson Les Paul

A chunkier, more-sustained tone full of low end requires a heavier guitar and humbucker pickups, such as is found in Gibson’s Les Paul. Its humbucker pickups give the Les Paul a huge level of output, great for metal, blues and heavy rock. There is a reason Slash, Jimmy Page and Zack Wylde have written some of the worlds most iconic riffs on this guitar: it is a beefcake!

The Fender Stratocaster

Arguably the world’s most famous electric guitar, the strat has a very distinctive, clear tone that sounds especially bright and pure on clean channels. Favoured by iconic guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend of The Who, this guitar can take a beating and are very responsive to variations in dynamics. Great for funk, soul, country, classic rock, pop, country and indie but its purity and cleanliness of tone don’t often lend it suitable for the darker, thrashier riffs of metal and hardcore.

Paul Reed Smith Guitars

A considerably newer company than Fender and Gibson, PRS have been making some guitars since the late 80s and have can be heard in pretty much every genre of music out there, with endorsement from players like Santana, Mike Oldfield and Dave Navarro. With an emphasis on consistency of tone throughout their entire range, and ease of playing, if you are able to obtain a decent one they are an absolute must-have in your studio session owing to their sheer versatility.

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Rupert Neve interview March, 2013

Rupert Neve

Rupert Neve interview on Pensado’s Place

Here it is, Rupert answering questions with Dave Pensado on his circuit designs, capturing music and paying the bank manager in hard times. Rupert Neve for you who don’t know is a legendary studio equipment designer who has lead the industry since the 1960’s through to current times with his fantastic equipment made for musicians and engineers. Check out his wikipedia page for more information, or head over to his company’s website to see what he is making nowadays. Go save up and buy some of his equipment from Studioxchange (tell us that we sent you there) if you so wish to improve your recorded sound! We at Unit Studios use the modern version of the classic 1073 microphone preamp on all of our recording sessions with great pleasure.

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Here There & Everywhere – Geoff Emerick November, 2012

Geoff Emerick, the long standing engineer for the Beatles wrote a book documenting his experiences and techniques when recording the fabulous four. There is a paperback and an audiobook (read by Geoff himself) available. Good reading for understanding the process of recording as an artform. Geoff has many tips about how sounds were achieved in the body of the book. I keep coming back to it for inspiration 2 years after first listening to the audiobook.

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Rec.Audio.Pro November, 2012

Rec.Audio.Pro is a Google Group which serves Recording Professionals. Become a member and get insights & information on the latest techniques and equipment.

  • Get email updates on selected topics of interest
  • Get help on issues you’re having with software / recording techniques etc.
  • Discover new techniques, maximise your ability

Rec.Audio.Pro

A guide to google groups

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Ronan’s Recording Boot Camp October, 2012



I love watching all of Ronan Chris Murphy’s videos, and I just stumbled across something that would be useful for beginners just setting out learning to record music. He is fantastically talented and has an infectious passion for recording. Recording Boot Camp is an Los Angeles based course which Ronan Chris Murphy runs in between his recording sessions. The course is attended by small groups of people and is run by Ronan and his team.

Anyway, here is the link to the videos

Other links relating to Ronan Chris Murphy:

 

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Pensado’s Place October, 2012

Go over to Pensado’s Place to watch interviews with big-name engineers and producers for free!

Pensado’s Place

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Gearslutz Video Vault February, 2012

So, if you want to immerse yourself in the huge vault of educational videos on the Gearslutz go ahead.

From the basics of EQ and compression, to how to mix huge low end in a dense mix, it’s all there.

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Lynda.com Audio courses January, 2012

Lynda.com is a great resource for online education through video. Mostly media related, they have just updated their site with a specific section on Audio courses.

Here are some of the courses on offer:

  • Mixing & Mastering
  • Plugins
  • Recording
  • DAW
  • Pro Tools
  • Logic
  • Garage Band
  • Soundbooth
  • EQ
  • Virtual Instruments

The range is all-encompassing. Take a look.
Subscribtion is affordable at $25 per month (around £16), and you don’t have to commit long term either. For that you’ll get complete access to the entire library of education videos. They have a great Lynda.com iPhone app to browse on the move.

Take a look at lynda.com’s Audio courses.

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Funk Guitar Tips from Nile Rogers December, 2011

Nile Rogers, the legendary guitarist of Disco band Chic gives you an insight into his funk guitar style. He reveals secrets on how to simplify chords to make them ‘not harmonically too thick’ and also runs you through some of those Chic classics including ‘Freak Out’ and ‘Everybody Dance’. Nile, who has also produced records for the likes of David Bowie, Diana Ross and Madonna, has just released his autobiography titled ‘Le Freak’. It has been on my Christmas list for sometime and I can’t wait to get stuck in!

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Red Bull Gives You ‘Tings’ – Music Lectures + More December, 2011

Red Bull Music Academy website. They specialise in lectures and interviews with some of the best music producers, artists and performers in the business. It’s a huge source of information that we can’t get enough of. From ?uestLove to Trevor Horn; Benga to Bernard Purdie. Big dogs revealing big secrets. Check it out!

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Drum position tips with George Massenburg November, 2011

Andy and I had the pleasure of going to a 2 day class held by George Massenburg and Chuck Ainlay. At the class we learned many techniques, but one that especially stuck was their method of overhead microphone positioning shown here by George himself:

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Spectral Management: EQ tips September, 2011

Spectral management refers to a process for allocating parts of the spectrum to different instruments and voices. Read more on the iZotope blog.

To Summarise the blog, the 10 octaves of the spectrum that we hear are revealed, and tips are given on how to use them best for loudness, clarity and a ‘nicer’ sounding mix. It covers how to utilise the octaves for sustained instruments and also percussive or transient sounds to your benefit. When instruments are in the same range, they need to be equalised to find their own space in the mix without clashing with each other. These links cover the theory behind the technique.

Download the PDF version of this guide.

Read the feature on the iZotope website.

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Phill Brown: Q&A and Book May, 2011


Phill Brown, famous for engineering hit records such as ‘Jimi Hendrix: All along the Watchtower’, ‘Dusty Springfield – Dusty…. Definitely’, ‘Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden’, ‘The Coral – Roots And Echoes’, ‘Rokia Traore – Tchamantche’ & ‘Laura Marling – Alas Cannot Swim’ amongst others, has just released a book and is currently responding on a Q&A forum. For those wanting to learn from the pro’s, this guy has worked with the best musicians all over the world from the 1960’s up until today.

You can see his responses to questions by going to the Gearslutz forum Q&A section here.

Or alternatively you can buy his book for just £8. It’s titled ” ‘Are we still rolling?’ Studio, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll – One man’s journey recording classic albums.” This is a link to the Amazon.co.uk product page: Buy the book.

He’s an inspiration to anybody in the music business. The book not only documents his recording techniques, experiences with the stars and funny stories, but also allows him to reflect on how his personal life and family development over the years was affected by his role in the music industry. It is a fantastic read, we already have our copy here at Unit Studios.

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Tim Oliver: Music blog April, 2011


Here is a great resource of music programming tips & tricks provided by friend of Unit Studios ‘Tim Oliver’

Click here to see his music production tips blog
Tim guides the reader on detailed explanations of how to correctly program synths & sampled instruments in his blog. He takes great care in pointing out how musicians often stumble into problems when trying to get a great programmed sound using their computers & keyboards. Take it from me: Tim knows his stuff and you should follow his blog closely if you are interested in improving your production skills. He updates it fairly regularly so keep checking back… or alternatively follow his RSS feed using something like Google Reader to be automatically updated.

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Side-Chaining in Dance Music March, 2011


Ever listened to a House track and noticed the huge pumping and swelling synths on the offbeat? This effect is called side chaining which is a great studio tool that we always find ourselves using at Unit Studios.

It’s a really simple technique, which uses a compressor to go into gain reduction when receiving a key from another sound. In dance music, this sound is usually a bass drum. This mean you can have a synth sound that is only compressed when the bass drum is heard thus creating a pumping effect.

Many producers use this technique including Mount Kimbie, Joy Orbison, Armand Van Halen, Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk.

How to do it in your DAW

1. Edit a kick drum pattern to play on the 1, 2, 3 and 4 of each beat.
2. On another track record a sequence with long sustained chords using a synth sound.
3. Insert a compressor onto the synth track and set the key input/ side chain to the kick drum track. (This means the synth will only be compressed when the kick drum a played)
4. On the compressor set the threshold to -20db ratio to 8:1
5. Adjust attack and release times to your taste
6. Press play

It’s that simple and sounds great!!

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