If you have spent any time in the studio, you know that all recording engineers are not created equal. I like to work with competent people who know how to get good tone quickly and can make me feel at ease. So when I was asked to interview someone about gear, I immediately thought of Geoff Michael at Big Sky Studios in Ann Arbor, MI. http://www.bigskyrecording.com/index.html I’ve played dozens of sessions and he always gets the tone I am looking for. I asked Geoff to take me through the typical signal path from the mic through the preamp, compressor, and ultimately to tape (or disk, as the case may be). We started out discussing amps and mics.
Alex: When I come in here to record, I always feel really good about my guitar tone. So I was hoping that you could just walk me through what you do in terms of how you are recording guitars.
Geoff: For me, it’s like you come in and I say “Oh, well he’s going to have good tone,” because your guitar and your amp and your speaker all sound really good. From my perspective a lot of the tone has already happened.
Alex: Thank you! As a person who has good tone, what I’m looking for when I come into the control room is, has it been destroyed by the engineer? It sounds great in the studio but in the control room it may sound thin, muddy or buzzy. I worry about my tone and then I let you worry about recording my tone. Typically I use my tele and your Matchless on the EF86 channel.
Geoff: And we have found that the choice of the EF86 makes a big difference in the Matchless.
Alex: Is there another option of the tube for that?
Geoff: No, but I mean, which EF86.
Alex: I built an amp once with an EF86 channel and I went through three tubes just to find one that wasn’t microphonic.
Geoff: Yes, that rules out a lot of them!
Alex: Can we talk about mic choice?
Geoff: Usually we use a big ribbon mic on your amp. The Coles 4038 or the RCA 44.
Alex: We use the Coles, or the 44, or just an SM57. So maybe you could talk to me about what those different mics are doing?
Geoff: The Coles is just a great mic overall, and especially at a little distance from the speaker I feel like it captures the most natural sound. It’s got more low end. That’s my first choice on Fenders or single speaker amps that are cleaner, where you want a little more of a true low end and you’re going for a bigger sound. The 57 is better for that rock sound where you frequently want the guitar to sound smaller. If I use a 57 I feel like the placement is critical. I think that the best way to place the 57, and I learned this from Tomek Miernowski, is to let the amp have some hiss. Just turn it up and don’t play through it. I send that out through the headphones and then I can move the mic and hear the hiss change. As I move the mic in front of the speaker the tone changes radically, until I find the spot that I think is the right combination of bright but not harsh.
Alex: And you don’t do this with the Coles?
Geoff: I don’t because the Coles is back farther, and once you get back six or eight inches the sound sort of gels and it doesn’t seem to be as critical. And with the 57 I don’t usually mic it from a distance.
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.