In the second part of my interview with Geoff Michael at Big Sky Studios in Ann Arbor, MI, we discuss mic preamps and compression. I am always happy with the way Geoff records my guitar sound and the choice of preamp is critical in that equation.
Geoff: Usually I use some variation of an API. It’s a solid state amp. The output transformer has a nice character to it, a subtle distortion that people like. It seems clean, big and bright, but with low end. I also sometimes use the V76 for guitars, which is a fantastic tube mic preamp. There are people who really prefer those. Buddy Miller, for example. And it’s also my go-to preamp for vocals. It’s just an exceptionally good preamp from every standpoint.
Alex: What makes it so good?
Geoff: It’s brilliantly designed with no expense spared. It has a special way of changing gain with feedback and padding.
Alex: And there is no EQ on the mic pre?
Geoff: Right. I would rarely EQ an electric guitar on the way in. I prefer to get close to where it should be with changing the mic or the amp.
Alex: We do a lot of adjusting the amp itself when we are recording here.
Geoff: That’s going to make a much bigger difference. The Coles with the Matchless frequently doesn’t work, for example. It’s just a little too much bass.
Alex: Since we are talking about mic preamps can you tell me about these REDD 47 clones you are building?
Geoff: Yeah, they’re built from the schematic for the console that the Beatles used on the early records. It’s based on the EF86. It may be irrational, but the two things I love the most – the U67 and the Matchless – both use the EF86, so I thought, “How can you go wrong with a mic pre based on the EF86?” The V76 is also based on a pentode tube, the 804. But anyway, those Beatles records sound fairly cool, and it’s a sound that a lot of people are going for these days. The slight bit of distortion. Just a little bit of saturation that keeps it from sounding too clean in a sort of dead, sterile way, which is ironic because that’s what home recording sounds like now. There’s not enough distorion so you have to go to a studio to get your sound messed up properly!
Alex: You mentioned to me that the REDD 47 is going to have some basic EQ.Are there any examples of when you would use EQ on the way in?
Geoff: Especially for vocals where you have to make sure that you are high passing the mic. Frequently with vocals you are cutting around 300 or 400. With acoustic guitars you are often cutting at around 150 or 200. So you’re just getting these low resonances out, that build up from being too close to the mic. Also if you are going to be compressing before you go to tape you might want to cut some of the low end so that it doesn’t throw off the way that the compressor works. And if you are trying to distort the mic pre, or the compressor, or saturate the tape slightly, you might want to roll off the low end so you don’t get a weird distortion. With tape it really pays off to EQ and compress before so that the saturation is at the sweet spot.
Alex: Let’s talk about compression. You usually compress my signal a little bit on the way in.
Geoff: Especially with a cleaner guitar sound. With a heavier guitar sound you don’t really need to because the amp has already done that. I used to like the Distressor, when we had one, for guitar, but that can sometimes be a little edgy sounding.
Alex: What do you use these days?
Geoff: The Neve 33314 and 33609 compressors. The greatest compressor ever made by man!
Alex: What makes it so great?
Geoff: Its ability to hold something in one place in a mix without sounding smooshed down. It still sounds open and natural. Though for guitar sometimes you want to really hear it a little more, and I do like the DBX 165.
Alex: So you’re saying that the Neve is more transparent?
Geoff: Yes. Whereas the DBX you can hear, but in a good way.
Alex: I like to hear my compression. What other compressors do you use?
Geoff: The LA2A and the Altec are more for tone. Lopping off some of the sharp edges. I also like the Fairchild clone that I built. Those are all tube compressors, though the LA2A is an optical compressor. The fairchild is a variable mu compressor. And that’s actually pretty nice on guitar.
Alex: Excellent. Thank you for taking me through my post-amplifier signal chain.
Geoff: That was fun!
Alex’s Bio: Alex Anest has been performing, recording and teaching music in the Southeast Michigan area since 1996. He was a founding member of the Jericho Guitar Trio, Never Nebula, and Delta 88. With Delta 88 Alex performed across the Midwest and played at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival in 2004. Since then he has toured Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy with songwriter Kevin Meisel. Alex currently performs with Ryan Racine and Gas for Less and the electric anti-jazz ensemble Giraffe. Giraffe is a chance for Alex to bring his many musical influences together – a very enjoyable, though sometimes difficult task for a musician who finds inspiration from artists as varied as Paco de Lucia, George Harrison, Thelonious Monk, and Jimi Hendrix. The common thread among these giants (and the goal to which Alex aspires) is the ability to transcend stylistic boundaries while keeping their own unique musical voice intact.